Disclaimer

I realize that many other people have made fan-fics based on the same thing. I believe that mine is the longest I've seen. Before you read, please understand that the ideas and philosophy in this story are my own, and that you may not see what I see. I respect your view; please respect mine.

Before you delve into this story, I wish to get a few things straight.

First and mostly, the views in this book are my own. I know that there are a great many other people who have tried writing stories like this one, and for the most part, I enjoyed them (except for Queen Paladin and the Holy Crap Wars.). But, I realize that this screws up many other peoples' views. Here's how.

The introducing of a certain well-known was from Benimaru Itoh's comic strip. I included her in the book for a romance role for Fox McCloud, as you might have guessed. If I end this up like a Han Solo Princess Leia romance and get them to marry each other, I beg you to hunt me down and either jail me or put me down.

A second (and confusing) new element includes the introducing of several new pilots whose names I made up. Up till now, the main characters were just Fox, Peppy, Slippy and Falco (and the other character in the comic strip). This is to convey a sense of teamwork and trust.

Katt Monroe is part of StarFox, and not a freelance pilot as you've seen in the game. Don't be alarmed at the conflicts between her and Falco, this is expected.

I'm merging three different elements here. The first two are the StarFox games themselves, and the last is from Benimaru Itoh's comic strip, like I said. And a fourth, which is my own element.

I will admit that I am a StarWars fan, and I used a force-like concept to explain Fox's unexplainable ability as a pilot. The mention of a stike is similar to that of a lightsaber, so now you know the reason. I justify this with Gundam wing and other such science fiction shows and movies that try to use this same concept.

I start this story with Fox just about to graduate from the academy. You'll find out that he gets rejected and you'll find that the team itself is made of the same people. This is to convey a sense of righteous rebellion and determination to do the right thing…

Acknowledgements

I give a very special thanks to my mom, who bought me the games in the first place and subscribed for Nintendo Power, allowing me to see the first StarFox comic. I thank them as well. I also thank George Lucas and Shigeru Miyamoto, who both contribute to ideas of science-fiction and fantasy alike, although none of them did help me much, only because they make some good stories. To my friend Daniel Bradfield, I give my thanks, also, for spending countless hours with me to learn more about Star wars and other sci-fi subjects, including StarFox. He is one half of Bill Grey.

And lastly, I thank my friend, Sean Michael Blount, who had more imagination than anyone else and was kind enough to give me some. He will always be the other half of Bill Grey.

"I will be the first to say that love will never solve anything...but it helps. Because in the end, all that really matters is how two people felt about each other in the first place."

James "Fox Sr." McCloud, commander of Air force unit 6498, Star Fox.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Star Fox, mercenary unit 6032.

Chapter 1: Beforehand.

" Why are we still here? And may I ask whose bright idea it was to come to this place?" said the static ridden sarcastic voice emitting from the headphones.

"Oh boy," thought Fox J. McCloud in annoyance.

He did not need to hear it from Wing 7 right now.

He clicked on the com. "Well, you were the one who wanted to get your results turned in sooner than later, so if you want to blame anybody you should blame yourself. Yes, I picked this mission, blindfolded, but I sure didn't want to come out here today, either." Fox inhaled deeply and slowly let out his breath.

Bill could see his friend's feelings clear enough without looking through the transparisteel cockpits. "Take it easy, man. It's his last day, too, just like ours, and you can't really blame him."

Fox nodded. "Cool it," he told himself. Fox rarely got angry, especially with his team. He considered anger and any other extreme emotion a hindrance during a mission ...and everyday life. It could get you killed or screw up an otherwise peaceful existence.

Although he had been, in a way, blindfolded when he picked this mission, he hadn't exactly picked the mission blindly. His test results showed that he had a certain power, like a natural instinct. In fact, in this part of the galaxy, many people had it, though few could actually exploit it. Fox was just another pilot, learning how to use this instinct, alone.

He mused silently to himself. Not many people, actually, had the unique gift that Fox had, but then, he had to be sure which one he was thinking of. If it was piloting, it was tied to more people than he knew, though he would not be the first to admit this. If it was his instinct, he was sure there were other people, though he hadn't met them. But it would be interesting if he had, he figured.

Many claimed it was a psychic gift he had, and the fact that he could use it, was more interesting to some. Something like some movie character he had seen, but it wasn't at all. He could probe minds, thoughts and feelings and decipher them as well, like this mission. It came naturally and he wouldn't have to reach out for this ability, since it came when he wanted it to.

In any case, he felt the mission, and it would give Fox some time to strategize. Still, before he reached this point of space, he already knew what to do. He always knew and would always know the correct choice.

Fox smiled. Just another trait passed down another generation.

He had been staked out this place for three hours, and there was still no sign of the cruiser that was supposed to make a pit stop at his location. Fox sighed, knowing that the enemy was always late, always impolite. Not that Fox was mad. But being in a cockpit of an Sd-102 for three hours wasn't exactly fun, either, and this could bother even him.

"Oops!"

"Didn't catch that Fo-?" Bill Grey, Fox's best friend, stopped short. Saw the reason.

Fox had failed to watch for the Scyther unit cruiser that was heading straight for them. The giant wedge shaped cruiser lunged forward, still slowing down, not yet realizing that there was a squadron surrounding it until, as the computer usually said, the ship came " To a complete stop." Fox shook his head and immediately ordered his wingman various commands.

"Wing 3 and 7! Cover Wings 8 and 2! Wing 2 and 8, fire on the gun turrets and intercept the Tripars afterwards. Watch your rear for incoming fighters! Bill, follow me! We'll take out the shield generators."

Fox banked hard to port, targeted the generators and throttled the joystick while thrusting forward. It would begin now, the battle, and there would be only one victorious side. He knew he could take them.

As if in response, several fighters appeared on scanner, blinking in a red light.

The CMD flashed at their arrival. The Tripars moved in quickly, overwhelming several fighters, while scattering others. Fox looked on and forgot his earlier question. He started shouting more commands. "Wing 5 and 9, intercept the incoming fighters with your lasers. When they're gone, home in on the laser cannons with Wing 2 and 8. Report in when you're finished," Fox told all of them. He wouldn't let them go free without a fight.

The cruiser responded to the challenge with a flurry of laser bolts. The vessel was clearly intent on its departure, but it would take a few minutes for it to get to its hyperspace point.

Fox took a hard, steep climb. Something was wrong. Something was chasing him. He looked behind him. There was his enemy, locking on to him and ready to fire.

"Fox! You're being locked on!" Bill shouted to his friend.

"Yeah, got it, give me some room Bill." He maxed his speed, figured he didn't need lasers for now, and redirected his power (discluding engines) to his shields." Getting ready to maneuver." He held tight to his controls, knowing that it was possible that the warhead would lock on and hit Fox square in the engine. Then he'd be in big trouble.

The missile was launched, the warhead making a blue streak. "A concussion missile! Someone knew we were coming!" Fox said. Most ships were outfitted for Protons, but concussions strictly for dogfighting, and it took a while to load them. The fact alone showed that either the cruiser was extremely cautious or had been expecting an attack like this. It struck Fox as a little ingenious, coming prepared.

In any case, the missile was coming for Fox, and it was ready to blow on impact. He pulled the throttle and shifted into his maximum speed. He could run. There was no shame in doing that.

"Oh boy Fox!" said Bill cheerfully. "Look, there's 3 fighters on you're tail! Can I take one out , please!?"

"No!" said Fox, laughing out loud at Bill's unusual behavior." It's all right, I got it under control."

And he did. And he showed why.

The mentioned fighters fired lasers, ion bursts, missiles, and smart bombs, greeting Fox with a hailstorm of projectiles. But the pilot maintained his shields, and what would have been any other pilot's nightmare became a pastime for Fox. All while this happened, the cruiser targeted him and fired its lasers. Fox fired all his chaffs, causing some of the warheads to detonate. The remaining debris, however, was big enough to punch holes through shields and hulls. Some of the enemy fighters found this out the hard way.

Too bad.

Pulling a corkscrew, he headed towards the Scyther cruiser, its undestroyed turrets firing at Fox. Fox pulled barrel rolls, corkscrews, dives, climbs and outmaneuvered every threat available for destruction. And if that wasn't enough, the following lasers, projectiles, and fighters, all combined with the laser blasts from the Scyther cruiser.

It was called Flying, a half-forgotten skill, known only to the aviary clan of the Cornerians, mistakenly bestowed upon him. Something that only those with feathers knew about. A skill that Fox wasn't supposed to know about, but reigned in. The humble pilot acknowledged the fact that he was a good pilot, but also kept himself low enough to encourage other pilots. The fox was a fox, nothing else, but that would never explain his skill.

Maybe I'm part bat. Doesn't matter, I'm flying now.

"Wing Lead," phoned Wing 8, " We've managed to keep the lasers down. You're run is clear. Go for it!" The pilot turned away and homed in on the remaining fighters. He was firing soon after. He lost both wings, but could still shoot.

Fox called out. "Bill, let's have some good old-fashioned fun. Follow suit!"

Bill let out his best war cry, reserved only for the heat of battle. "I'm gone, Fox! Flat out gone!"

They were heading towards the shield generator, located at the top of the ship. Fox and Bill made strafing runs on the hull, causing panels to go black and crisp. But Fox noticed an irregular pattern of the hull sections. They were starting to rise. A closer look revealed danger to Fox.

"Uh-oh," said Fox.

"What?" inquired Bill.

"Check out the hull."

Bill looked in the indicated direction. The hull section slid away to reveal several warhead launchers, all locking on.

"Looks like," Fox said, "we've upset them."

A wild Bill and cunning Fox flew past the hail storm of war heads and remaining lasers, Fox shouting orders the whole way.

"Wing 8 and 3, take Wing 5 and draw off the main fire! Give us some time!"

No reply. Fox repeated again. "Wing 8, do you copy?" Still no reply.

"Wing 8 is gone, sir!" said Wing 3." I'll keep them busy, but we can't hold out much longer." The older pilot showed it. His starboard wing was gone and several black streaks showed around his main hull.

Fox sighed, and pulled the throttle for max speed. Then he felt another tinge of fear; something was going towards Bill. An invisible feeling, but a strong one, something he was unable to ignore. He could feel out the outline of a target. At Bill.

"Bill, get on port side," said Fox.

"Fox, I'm okay here. I'm moving in," argued Bill.

"No, I mean it! Get over here!" Fox started to worry, noticing that a single launcher was already locking on to Bill.

"No! I'm okay... Hey!"

Bill's eyes opened at the sight of two missiles, already on pursuit. Fox did the same, though not to copy his friend.

"Fox! Get me some room! I'm not going to make this!"

Fox swallowed, only 5 seconds before impact.

4.

3.

2.

1.

Oh MAN!

A brilliant fireball thrust in all directions. What was once Bill's star fighter was now only a collection of debris, joining the rest. Fox had never seen his friend go down, and was amazed that Bill had gone.

Fox couldn't dwell on it. Wing 3 was already tired and Wing 5 was missing another wing, though he was maintaining control. He had to fire. It was not going to be long before the cruiser headed into hyperspace, and the mission would have been nothing.

Fox set his aims, set to smart bomb launcher. Blinking hard, the sights turned red.

"Fire!"

Literally, thought Fox.

The bombs, locked on to the shield generator, did more than destroy them, they crippled the ship itself! It seemed that Bill had not left without swinging and hitting his target, HARD. Fox had to smile, in spite of himself. And he had only finished the job. That was one good thing about Bill's leave.

Any laser, thought Fox, could destroy the vessel now.

"Oops!" said Fox , sarcastically, as a pair of lasers left his ship, the bolts landing and splashing on the cruiser's main hull.

The vessel shuddered. Light escaped from it. An orange glow engulfed Fox's vision.

Boom!

"It's gone," said Fox. "Return to base."

Suddenly, the cockpit lights went out. Fox's vision quickly caught on, but he found it was unnecessary.

The cockpit opened, showing a bright light. It grew brighter. The Space outside disappeared, and the image of a room replaced the transparisteel surrounding.

Fox stepped out and took a deep, refreshing breath. The eighteen-year old stepped forward. The young pilot inhaled, exhaled. He enjoyed the fresh air, as opposed to the air filtration inside the ship. There was more... smell to it.

"I guess were out of this academy!" said Bill, coming up behind Fox. "This simulation won't change MY grade!"

Fox smiled at the beaming husky, who was obviously happy at the results of the simulation test they had just taken. He was Fox's height, and was also the same age, both born in June of 3506. His fur was that off a silver-like gray that seemed to gleam every time he moved. He spoke in a Californian surfer accent and liked using its terminology.

Fox laughed. " I know it won't, Bill. I assure you, we're both gonna be outta here soon, what with us graduating."

"So," asked Bill, "what're you gonna be? Admiral, Senator?"

Fox looked at his with renewed humor. "Naw," he said. "Just a wingman." He saw Bill's unbelieved look.

"Wingman?" exclaimed Bill, amazed at Fox's low point of view. He knew his friend was humble, but gosh! "You, my friend, think WAY too small for your own talents! You could be an Admiral in 2 weeks and a senator for this planet in two months! At the very least, a Commander!"

Bill looked indignantly at his best friend." Are you feeling okay? Are you coming down with something? I usually don't hear that talk around you," he said, lying through his teeth, since he had heard it dozens of times before. "Did you meet a girl?"

Fox grinned. "No way, Bill! You know how I feel about love and war." Fox didn't reveal, though, that a certain girl he hadn't noticed before, but remembered somewhere, had caught his attention. He knew, though, that it was not the center of his own remark.

Bill knew what Fox meant. Fox thought that wartime was the worst time to make friends or to fall in love. And Bill agreed, openly. How could you tell a girl you loved her and then leave her by dying? That was just painful. It was just as bad with friends, because you'd never know when they would die, either. You shouldn't be able to do that unless you knew for sure you were going to survive. Bill had to think more about that, since it was probably going to happen to both of them, soon.

" I still think I'm not the best, " Fox continued. "Sure, I'm good, but there are probably other pilots with better skill. I would be a great wingman." He picked out in his pockets and extracted a lollipop and stuck it in his mouth. He pulled out another and handed it to Bill. They were never too young for this stuff, and never would be.

Bill looked uncertainly at his friend. Fox, he knew, was the only pilot worthy to be dubbed "The Best." Every award, certificate, and accomplishment that went through him was only shrugged off as "Dumb luck!" or "Bad simulation challenge!" or just never bragged about.

Fox was way too humble. At least he also gave.

Bill licked the top of the sweet, then decided into just biting the stuff, a crunch! going between his teeth. He dropped the wrapper into the disposal unit. His best friend could go on the way he was for months. He was still his friend, though, and it wouldn't change.

Bill's friendship went to the fact that both their fathers were on the StarFox team. His Father was one of Jame's best friend, and the two pilots, whom were barely kids, met each other in the daycare center on base. They went to school together, then jr. high, but shifted into the Young Adult's Institute of Aerodynamics, then shifting into the training center of the Cornerian Airforce Piloting Academy. They had been sent to the same bunk and they moved up the rank, Bill having a bit more trouble, but Fox cheering him on. They finally got to the point where Fox was Training Commander, and Bill was Training First Lieutenant. They conquered the arena, and became better friends.

But it was mostly because Fox believed in doing what people liked and wanted to do for a cause, for a good thing, that made Bill his best friend. Flying, to save the world. Bill had loved the philosophy, and he believed it, not for his friend's sake, but because it was true. Fox was right. There was no better reward than feeling good for doing a justful thing with your own talents.

"In any case," said Fox, also biting into the candy and dropping the wrapper into the trash, "the hard part is over. We'll have graduated, we'll sign on to the same team and better it."

Bill sighed, and smiled. Things could be worse. Fox could not have signed into the academy, and they would have never been friends. Not that Bill didn't have any other friends, but Fox was the only kit that Bill would trust with his life. No one else. They had argued, as some friends did, but...

At least, he thought, things were going right.

Nothing, thought General Pepper, is going right.

The General, sitting in another officer's office, was in a turmoil of thoughts. Whether or not to hit the man sitting across from him in the jaw or the skull had crossed his mind a thousand times in one second. But that wouldn't solve everything. What would that accomplish?

General Pepper maintained his composure, sitting still. Hitting wouldn't be an answer worth going for. He'd be kicked out and stripped of rank within the day, and it wouldn't help Fox in his present situation. Still, it didn't keep the boxer dog from clenching his teeth, the effect numbing his gums. He took a good look at the figure before him.

The man sitting across from him was Admiral Skyes, a hawk, and a well decorated soldier from the Nova wars. He was referred to as "Captain Gold," on account of the fact that he had so many medals that he couldn't wear them all on his uniform. General Pepper had a feeling that the Admiral hadn't gotten all his medals legitemitly. "Sharpshooter of Handguns, Rifles, Cannons, Ship's Cannons, Missile Launchers and Assault Cannons?" There was something unusual. But, on to the problem at hand, which was Fox's problem. It hurt Pepper so that it couldn't be ignored.

Pepper knew the admiral was the cause of the problem.

"I have a good mind to stick that pen you're holding into your throat! Give me one good reason why you won't let Fox graduate!" the General yelled, rage taking over, but not clouding his objective.

"Because," The Admiral said simply, smiling.

The general sighed angrily. " I need reasons! I'm sure you haven't uncovered anything about him that isn't satisfactory, because if you did, I would have known first. He is, after all, my responsibility." That was true. If Fox were arrested, Pepper would be among the first to know. If Fox were killed, the General would know about it in 2 minutes.

The admiral smiled thinly. "I would have expected this from you. You know as well as I do that you think of Fox as someone to protect. I don't blame you, what with sending James to his doom-- "

The general could not hold it in. Springing upward, the general ran up and slammed the desk in front of him with open hands, bending it in a way that would never become unbent. His animal instincts kicked in, making him snarl his next words.

"Why!? And leave his father out of this!" He wouldn't let anyone talk about James if the subject wasn't directly about him. Fox's father had no place in this conversation. " You tell me that there's something about him, that he has a flaw. What is it?"

The admiral kept smiling. " Why, he has no killer instinct! He could never kill unless he had to defend himself, he won't stop for his wingmen, or help them out. Bill Grey got destroyed in the simulation earlier because Fox couldn't be clear on Bill's danger. The boy had no control. He doesn't think, only feels, and one cannot rely merely on feeling alone.We talk of strategy and Fox talks of his surroundings, which we know of!"

"But," Pepper interjected," he is a magnificent pilot, with training with a stike blade. He can pick off fleas on a table without scorching it, in a ship or with a blaster. He has professional credits in culture and biology. He can outmaneuver any warhead shot at him--"

"Which," the admiral countered, " is another problem. He can't take a hit. He spends his time using simple tricks and nonsense suicide maneuvering, all while his wingmen are being battered around. He won't graduate with an uncaring attitude. I won't allow it."

The general sighed, his anger leaving him with exhaustion. For nonsense reasons and stupid excuses, even if Fox did ignore his wingmen sometimes. But that was enough talk. The meeting was over anyway, and the admiral pointed that out. "Now, if you please, step out. We can't converse anymore. Set another appointment to try your luck again." The admiral stood, turned, and left his office.

Three hours later, General Pepper, tired and upset, walked to Fox's bunk. He should have seen this coming. The admiral had been doing this to at least ten other young adults for at least three years. Pepper had found some places for them to go. A group of them had parents that knew James well. But nonetheless, there were other pilots that had been kicked out, some older than Fox, some younger. At least 8 other young pilots had been kicked out with Fox, all around his age, one that was even kicked out for the same reason Fox was, or at least, close to it. One was a ship designer's son, another a royal family member, not monarchy, however. Another was a brilliant mechanic, still another a well known fighter and pilot, and one that even had an excellent sense of direction that made him a brilliant navigator.

One was even a fine looking young woman, also fox, of the desert type, that General Pepper knew well, perhaps had even caught the attention of Fox. She was a pilot, after all. It was around that time, to notice girls, instead of piloting.

He immediately mused on what a girl would find in Fox.

Well...

He reviewed his knowledge of Fox. Half-breed, a Desert Kit Fox mixed with a red fox, grew at a normal rate, learned at an astounding rate, flew like the rate of flying never existed, and his scores indicated that he could never be placed on the chart, because there wasn't enough space to place it. Well. Maybe it was boasting, but the kid had already collected several of the best awards.

Fox had been an ample student, but usually looked at the clouds, wishing he could be among them, where he should be. He excelled in mathematics and meteorology. He also worked well with alien languages and earth science. At the age of 9, he was sent to a brilliant sword instructor, who taught him to develop his psychic-like ability, so that he could learn to use a stike, a metal blade that could cut through just about anything, if not everything. In the meantime, Fox was still in school, and taking several other classes, including a splash of Drama, Basic Language Classes, and excelling in navigation and Planet IDing. Then he moved into Customs and Culture, and grabbed its throat, succeeding in it. His nature was that of a student who spent more time on other subjects and not others, making his grades that of a B

Within a year, Fox had already taken gymnastics, at least six alien communication forms, including Steif, alien fighting techniques, could play the violin with ease, and could work wonders with a stike, though he was too young to carry one. But when he entered the academy, Fox earned a license to carry one, though he never had one made. There were too few veins that held the leknith, the blade's metal, in the Lylat system.

However, Fox had a laced stone that held the metal.

It could be duplicated with no charge, save to build the weapon, but it held Fox's prized possession, one crystal, a gray smoke quartz. It was clear, but gave a grayish glow to it. It could have been used in a saber for decoration, but it was all Fox had left of his father, and he wouldn't stand to use it. Pepper understood this clearly. It was not uncommon for a young person to treasure his parent's gifts, especially if it was their last.

Walking into Fox's room, he noticed the slumped figure of the room's occupant. Bill was talking to him, deeply depressed that Fox wasn't going to graduate with him. He saw Pepper, and told Fox he had to go, and wished him luck, that he hoped their paths would cross again, someday. Bill walked past Fox and brought Pepper over to a corner.

"He's very bummed out, " he said. Bill looked a mess. Obviously depressed over the past events, Bill himself showed signs of stomach irritations, headaches and looked noticeably paler.

"I've never seen Fox look so sad. It ... scared me. So asked him why he was blue. Do you know?" Pepper indicated he did. Bill continued. "Anyway, he says he doesn't know what to do. I can't help. I don't know how."

Pepper smiled, in spite of himself. "Look," he said. "I know what to do. You don't worry now. Just get some rest." He took Bill aside and explained his plan. When he was finished, Bill looked relieved.

"Okay! Yeah, I feel better now. Thanks for helping him out."

General Pepper smiled. "You just graduate now. I'll deal with Fox." The younger pilot nodded and walked away from the dorm, still depressed, but feeling better.

He walked into Fox's dorm. Or, at least, his former dorm. He extracted some pills. If he was right, Fox would have an upset stomach, and even a small talk would make the younger figure throw up.

Very depressed, thought Pepper, and probably not in the mood to talk. But had to. There was something Pepper had to give Fox.

Fox, who had felt Pepper's presence, somehow, turned and looked with red eyes. The usually good-looking student was a wreck, his fur mussed up, ears turned horizontal, and his fur looking noticeably lighter than usual. He showed a sign of nervousness, through his fingernails. They had become jagged and sharp. The youth looked ready to die. He probably had even considered it.

"Hey," said Fox, not really caring about his looks.

"Hey," said Pepper, not caring what Fox looked like.

"You heard," said Pepper.

"Yep." Fox stared blankly ahead of him.

"Here," said Pepper, handing Fox the pills. "Take these. I don't want you to start throwing up on me while we talk." Fox took the pills and pulled out a packet of sealed water. He tossed the pills into his mouth and drank from the packet. He swallowed both pills and felt the medication working instantly. He coughed once, relaxed, and looked at Pepper.

The older Cornerian's visage was an old one, one battered at by age, war and emotion. It was hard for Fox to forget his father figure's face, and Fox felt glad that Pepper had come to try to help out.

"Look," said Pepper." I'm sorry, but I can't get Skyes to change his mind."

Fox nodded. He knew that the councilor would never go back on his word, not for any amount of credits. "He didn't listen." Not a question.

Pepper shook his head. "Nope, and he won't. And I don't want to go for the courts. It would just take too long. I wouldn't like for you to be publicized, either. I've got only a few options, and there's only one I can think of that'll actually help."

Fox looked up, ready to hear what Pepper said. He trusted the older man's counsel.

"I own a place on Macbeth. It's a small place, not too big, but enough to fit a few people. I can let you live on it for free. You may have to open your account and extracted at least 10,000 credits, just to keep you sustained for a year, but I'll pay medical, water, and electrical bills. You can live there while I think of something. You okay with that?"

Fox, in spite of himself, smiled. "Thanks." And he stuck with that.

"Then take these tickets with you," he said, digging in his pockets and extracting tickets that he had bought earlier. "They'll get you to Macbeth." He pulled out a small piece of paper. "This is the address. Just follow it and you'll be fine. I also got you a fake ID." He pulled out another item, an ID disk.

Fox took it. "Hunter Parks?" he said, saying the name on the disk. "Nice name. Should I keep my regular one with me?" he asked.

"Yeah," said Pepper, "just in case they only let air force pilots into certain areas."

Fox sighed, nodded and looked ahead. The younger canine had packed earlier and was planning to leave anyway. He stood up, bags in hand. Started toward the door.

"Fox."

Fox turned, waiting.

"I forgot. Take this. It's a blade maker catalog. It'll help you find blade makers and metal cloning shops. Use it when you think you're ready. I know it'll be almost time."

Fox took the booklet. He looked at it for a second and then stuck it in his backpack. But he didn't leave, only stood, waiting for Pepper to finish, knowing there was more to be said.

Pepper's voice grew confident. "Remember, It isn't the end yet. You crash a ship, you get in another one. The bad news is not the last."

Fox considered, then nodded. Turning towards the door, he walked out towards the gates and an unknown future. He wouldn't be able to tell, but he hoped it was better than his current position.

Until then, Fox waited for the worst or best.

Whichever came first.

 

 

"So are you gonna blame me for someone's death? I was trained to follow orders. You were trained to give them."

Peppy Hare, First Leiutenant of Army unit 6498, StarFox.

Chapter 2: Prolouge of Prolouges.

General Pepper emerged from the cool, refreshing shower unit. It had been a hard day, and this was the only way to make it a soft landing. It could have been worse. At the worst, Fox would have been the one to take a swing at Skyes. He dwelled on that thought.

"Naw," said Pepper to himself. Fox would never hit a man dishonorably, and not without a good reason. This incident, Pepper thought, was probably not a good reason to Fox, though Pepper couldn't imagine why it wouldn't have been. But at least Fox was on his way to Macbeth. It would take a day to get there, and a day to find Pepper's estate.

And now, thought Pepper, the worst part of the day.

Sleeping.

It would never solve problems, he knew, and it would only distract Pepper from every other possible solution. The dream was always the same, since the day that James McCloud had gone under. It would always be there, until James was avenged, until Andross was lifeless. Until Fox became a pilot and choked the ape's neck so that he was lifeless. But...

Until then, he would be in bed. Dreaming.

So he lied down and pulled the covers over. The lights clicked off, leaving the General in the dark, the shadows enveloping him into a black sheet of supposed fear, though Pepper wasn't. He closed his eyes and waited for the images to appear.

In the cold state of dreaming, Pepper saw the whole incident, not caring how long it took. It was the same.

It was a long time ago, in the days that the Nova wars were far over and done with. A young, eager pilot took his course in the academy. This pilot was James McCloud, future father of Fox. The fox himself had surpassed every test with flying colors and mostly blindfolded. "A" was the only grade that could be given to him, and even that was a huge understatement. The only thing that kept him from going was lack of fuel, and that was easily fixed. In only seven weeks, the young pilot had earned himself a Commander's seat in mercenary unit 6498.

And that was the beginning of Star Fox. It was made up of only the most elite pilots in the system, and though they were all good in some way or another, all of them knew that James was the best. Among them had been Rially Tix, Pigma Dengar, Peppy Hare, Alabner Lombardi and Charles Phoenix.

The squadron was sent on every mission known to anyone. Whether it was on the ground, in the sky or under the sea, the elite fighter squadron could be seen helping out or conducting the mission. It was a multipurpose squadron, and that meant the best.

But the squadron had become so good, that it seemed they would solve every problem before it actually became a problem. Every bad guy around knew not to mess with StarFox, or else become another piece of debris. The law was upheld by the squadron, and the only thing they didn't do was local law enforcement and mystery solving. They had almost no enemies.

Almost.

And James McCloud was no exception when it came to being an unknown enemy.

The villain of this young hero was an older man of the sapien species, a primate group. His name was Andross Oikonny, but everyone knew him as Andross.

This individual was a genius of the fields of weaponry and space deployment, as well as ship repair and ship building. Compared to Beltino Toad, he was second to none. He had created the main fighters of the Cornerian air force. He had exploited weapons of destruction, some so deadly that they were turned down, though Andross didn't care. But he still had evil intentions, though he waited for the right moment to strike.He had reasons. But...

However, like all villains, he had a soft spot.

His secret love was a young desert kit fox named Vixy Forages. She had gone to high school only a year or so behind Andross, but three years was enough for him. He had tried to tell her of his love, but still couldn't tell her. He knew he had evil intentions, but also knew that Vixy wouldn't approve. It stuck in his stomach for the longest time, and her image was always in his mind.

His love for her started only a few years before James went to the academy. Even then, Andross hated his guts, on account that at one point James' own father had closed a business deal that had almost put them into debt, though it was for a good reason. But he knew Vixy, and he didn't bring himself down on hurting James, since he knew Vixy wouldn't approve.

So, not wanting to hurt her, he tried secretly to assassinate James, to kill the young pilot while remaining anonymous.

But…

Poison in a drink was always spilt, bomb in a burger was somehow avoided and picked up by some other geek. Faulty lab equipment was used carefully and no one got hurt until the next class. He accidentally burned down the school library when he thought of putting a bomb in a book he thought James was going to read. But, at the last second, James picked up another copy of the same book. So it went off in the library, though no one was hurt.

Even after James had graduated, he still tried, but failed. Every attempt had failed. Finally, one came so close, leaving James with a scar across his cheek when James was 27. Andross could have partied if something else hadn't have happened that day.

Vixy had died of unknown causes. Apparently, an explosion went off, and she was in it. In any case, all blames from Andross went to James. In fact, he tried taking a swing at the young commander. He was put in jail for a week. He spent his time thinking up a way to get James killed and humiliated. Finally, he did.

He knew himself that StarFox was the most commonly used squadron. It would be used for full-fledged battles. If a galactic war broke out, StarFox was sent to help untie the hostages. As said before, it was a multi-purpose squadron.

So it would be no surprise to him that if he sent weapons out, they were the ones to respond. He had planned it carefully. Just lure the fox out of his den and overwhelm him. He sent only one creation to cause havoc;

A Bio-weapon.

Andross had been obsessed with building weapons that would cause destruction, but hated battles that kept warriors from fighting their own battles. So he created weapons of destruction that would be controlled from a central cockpit. The pilot could control all functions that the Bio-weapon held, usually laser cannons, concussion missiles and operational hands. These were among the first mobile suits known to anyone.

Andross's plan was to just send one pilot to wreak havoc.

But he was creator of not just one Bio-weapon.

He made 5.

Andross had found his strategicness and began to see a surprise surrounding the young leader. After the first Bio-weapon received several direct hit, Andross released all his Bio-weapons, all of them targeting on James' unit. Andross was intent on killing James unfairly.

Unfortunately, James had never heard the word "unfair" when it came to his opponents.

James was not killed. He pulled every stunt he could think of and more. He fired every warhead and laser he had available and still gave commands to his wingmen while dodging a blizzard of debris, missiles, torpedoes and laser fire. He survived, and though several members of the squadron were killed, he was able to destroy all five bio-weapons within the day.

The mentor of Fox McCloud showed what he could do, and Fox was careful not to miss any minute of it on the holo-cast news. The child hadn't known that he could look out the window and see the whole incident with the best of ease until halfway into the fight. He was about 10 when Andross attacked.

Within the day, Andross and all his comrades had been captured. The group went to court and the lawyer did his best to defend them, but to no avail. All of the scientists and soldiers admitted to building the weapons and setting them loose, not feeling the least bit sorry. They were charged with treason and murder. They were not killed, though. They were sent to a worse fate.

They were sent to Venom.

Venom was the last planet that anyone expected could sustain life. Its atmosphere showed ample signs of oxygen, but the majority of it was stored in its ground. It had no visible signs of water and it rained acid rain constantly in several areas. The rocks seen from above showed signs of heavy corrosion and virtually 98% of the landscape could not be viewed at all, due to the thick clouds. So it was considered the perfect spot for convicts. They would eventually die due to severe burns from the acid rain.

Even so, however, no had ever been on the surface, so though it was unknown if life could be sustained, it should have been no surprise for anyone that it could. But it was.

5 years later, strange activity occurred in Venom and on surrounding systems. One example was the disappearances of pilots, soldiers and scientists. Another was the disappearance of cargo container and starships, as well as star fighters and equipment meant to build them. A final clue was to the low stock supply of warheads and starship designs. They were either stolen or bought buy shady dealers.

So a detective was sent to investigate the disappearances of nearly a thousand people. The first stop was at Macbeth, a place of the indicated activity, and one high in it as well. It was, after all, an industrial planet. It was chock full of metals and wood, and would serve the needs of several starship designs. It was a place where starships and star fighters were built, as well as their weapons, engines and navigational equipment.

But when he arrived there, most of those things were also being stolen or bought off by unknown people. He looked closer to the problem, noticing that some of the people he interviewed were badly shaken by some unknown cause. Some of them had also mysteriously disappeared, making the problem a bit more unusual. Why would they have gone?

The investigator searched on, coming across some startling evidence, such as horrifying murders of the lost person's relative. And the instance of a whole cruiser fleet disappearing brought the news right out. So, after an adventure that almost killed the investigator and sent him to a hospital for a day, he told his findings to General Pepper.

"The investigation, said the detective, has interesting turns. It seems that there was a higher force at work. The group has been called VAC. What it means will be told later. This is what I found.

"Every person who had disappeared had also cleared all bank accounts and sent them to another account called VACC. After looking into the account, it seems that they have an unusual amount of money, summing up to nearly 900 billion credits. Those credits have also been used recently for buying odd parts and scrap, as well as starship designs. Not only that, but it seems that most of those credits were not received legitimately, as if there was a bank robbery over the phone or something. Indeed, some banks on Macbeth are complaining about their lack of credits, not knowing where they went.

"And now we go onto the missing persons profile.

"The people who have been lost have also been high students in their field, whether it was piloting or strategicness. Groups of sharpshooters and starship designers have also gone missing. I've looked into the morgues and I've not found one person that was missing as dead. It seems unusual that such a group of people would all be lost, especially if some students were removed while still studying. And, might I remind you, that most of these individuals were students, teachers and soldiers as well. I found out why these people have gone missing.

"The first indication of blackmail was the mention of threats and rumors in some interviews. In one such case, a well-known scientist (name withheld) was told to join the "Cause" or his whole family would be killed before his eyes. Later, his family was found, all killed by gunshots and stabs to the heart. I found that the people who were lost have also had families that have died in unusual form. Looking closer, I found the cause of all the misery.

"The initials VAC stand for Venomian Against Corneria . And the term VACC was a way of saying that it was their Collection of money. A higher force was at work and they needed money. That is not all. As you might know, a cargo fleet bearing trillions of credits worth of war material mysteriously disappeared.

"The fleet included a cargo of laser cannons with ion collectors, engine spare, warheads, transparisteel, ship blueprints, a highly skilled technical staff adding up to nearly 500 people, and metal plates and ship frame work. There was a com signal sent to us and after a brief firefight, the fleet vanished.

"After looking at several planets, all of the fleet routes came across or near Venom. So I conclude that convicts are probably stealing these materials, probably to strike against us. I also see another problem. After listening to several witnesses, I came across the name Andross.I have a feeling that he might be leading these people."

After hearing his name, the Cornerian Airforce decided to send a renaissance mission to Venom, to inspect the planet and report back to headquarters. So StarFox was sent to Venom to investigate the Planet Venom. But James, who had already lost four pilots several years back, decided that only he, Peppy Hare and Pigma Dengar should go to Venom alone. "A small target," said James, " is harder to hit than a large target." And so they were sent to Venom after agreeing that it would be a whole lot safer to send a smaller squad to Venom.

No sooner than they had passed Sector Z than James felt Pigma's anxiousness to get this over with. There was something else, but James couldn't decipher it.

They passed Macbeth. James felt out for Pigma again. He saw that it had something to do with money.

They passed Titania, James felt that Pigma was having an evil thought. But he deciphered it as something towards VAC.

But when James got to Venom, he felt he had to go back, fast. Pigma was planning something. Something about him was wrong.

No sooner than James had started pulling up, he felt a volley of laser behind him. He tried to dodge, but the lasers hit the target dead on. He turned in his seat to see his assailant.

It was Pigma Dengar.

In the instant that James had deciphered Pigma's betrayal, a full squadron of fighters flew out of a hidden hangar bay. Peppy was shouting to James, waiting for a reply. James and Peppy started fighting, though they knew it was futile. Then James saw only one option.

"Peppy," James told his friend, " let's land. They want us. I won't let casualties occur yet."

"You better not!" said Andross' voice over the com. "Now, why don't you land and lets have a little chat, shall we?"

The captured heroes stepped out of their cockpits. James and Peppy were instantly covered, being felt for weapons. Andross' men managed to take two pistols and a stike saber blade. Peppy was taken in one direction, James another. They were forced into separate rooms and closed up with tight security.

After interrogation and brief torture sessions, the two were thrown into adjacent cells, next to each other. Peppy had taken a beating from electrical surgeon needles and James was burned from laser blasts, set on the lowest frequency. They were tired and every move brought pain. After asking what had been asked of the other, they settled down. Neither spoke for nearly hours.

Finally, James spoke quietly. "Peppy?"

Peppy turned to James. The younger pilot had taken off his belt and opened a small hidden compartment. Inside was a lethal blade, suited just for escape.

"Please, take this. It's my belt knife. They didn't check it. Take it. I won't need it."

Peppy looked at his friend, knowing what his meant; an escape plan." But you're better fit than I am to get out of this hole! You have more to live for! You have a son, a future! I can't let you waste that life, James. " He looked at James with a glare in his eye. "I won't let you. You can't go now."

The other stared at Peppy, neither angry or sad. Just tired. Really tired. "Look," he said. "I know my kid is going to grow up with a good life ahead. Maybe then he can avenge me, if I die. But you need to see him to his future. Look, if anything is going to happen, it's going to happen to me first. It'll give you the time I won't have." He gazed at the older pilot. "And that's an order."

A guard walked in. " The boss wants to see you. I guess your time is up. Get up and start moving!"

Peppy quickly hid the weapon in his pocket. James got up and Peppy tried to follow him, but the steel bars from his own cell blocked his path.

"Hey! You stay here!" ordered the guard. "I'm talking about the other guy!" James looked up at Peppy. This was it. They both walked towards the door.

The door closed. It would be the last time Peppy would see James.

The old starpilot felt miserable and almost lost his nerve. But he then realized the true meaning of horror; having lost all connections with your nerves. He understood then that you had to remain calm. Or else. "I won't lose it," he repeated to himself until he regained his composure, nearly an hour later.

The next day, Peppy was called in. The old star pilot looked up into the eyes of the same guard that had taken James.

"Hey, the boss wants to see you. Now it's your turn."

Peppy shifted into a deep trance , but found his voice. "Can I use the 'fresher right quick?"

The guard snorted and then grunted. "Yeah, get on with it."

The guard turned his back on Peppy. But Peppy had been planning this. He took advantage of the situation and cut the guard's throat in one silent, skilled move. It was time to escape.

Peppy took the man's blaster and ran. He didn't have much time before the other security members checked on the late soldier. He ran swiftly, but cautiously, moving in only after he glimpsed over the next turn. He had to kill a soldier or two, but he still maintained his stealthiness.

What Peppy didn't know was that it would have been through 12 floors of blaster hell that was in between Peppy and his ship. But since the enemy cheated, Peppy thought that he should too. He leaped into ventilation shaft and started crawling down various chutes and made different turns here and there. He was literally traveling blind. But the blind had their sharpened senses, and so did Peppy.

After about a half hour, Peppy emerged, grimey and dusty. He had gotten to the hangar bay, his ship parked behind 3 soldiers, all conversing. If Peppy had been fast, he would have been able to kill all 3 with no problems. So Peppy moved silently and took cover behind some barrels. He got in a position where all three soldiers were in a line, one behind or in front of another. Aiming carefully, he took a breath. But as he did, one of the guards saw Peppy and reached for a small unit on his belt. Peppy gasped, but then fired. The bolt went cleanly through the skulls of all three soldiers. Peppy got up and ran.

The only problem was that the alarm had gone off. But it was a big problem.

In a split second, Peppy was in his ship, igniting the engine and lifting off. He slipped past the towers and was off in the sky.

General Pepper woke up.

Even so, he felt as if he could see the rest of the story.

At the time, Fox was in the academy, trying his best to be at the top. He had been doing well, but they arrived at his school to tell Fox the news.

At first, Pepper tried to give it to Fox in a slow way, but Fox wasn't understanding. They had been in the hallway during the period, so they were alone. Then Pepper gave it to the old way. Fox had closed his eyes, tried to hold back tears, and Pepper could tell the younger man was trying to make it impossible. No one, then, had thought that James could still have been alive. Fox had been told that he could go home, but Fox had no home to go to, unless it, he had said, was with Peppy, since he figured his dad would want it that way.

So Peppy decided to become Fox's legal guardian, since he felt that it was his obligation to watch over the youth. They left for Fox's house, and Fox was allowed to remain there.

Pepper sighed, no longer sleep, but fully alive. After the incident, several things had happened. Peppy had been so traumatized by the incident that after taking several tests, he had developed a psychic membrane, and he felt he needed to use it, to monitor Fox at all times, so he become a psychic. Fox had learned to use a stike, and became expertise in fencing and he excelled in math and aviation.

So Pepper had decided to keep Fox in the academy, no cost. Now all that had been endured, lost and spent was for nothing. Unless a miracle was supplied. The problem was, where was he going to find one? There was almost no hope.

But as it turned out, he found, the Lord works in mysterious ways.

About three months later, General Pepper walked to his office, still looking for solutions, not knowing was all too near. He turned on the holounit and watched the morning report. After hearing problems about mail carriers being burned and a few murders in the news, he set off to his office.

"Good morning sir," the secretary chirped. " I got some blueprints for you to look at."

Pepper took the package and went into his office, present situation out of his mind for now. He opened the package and looked at its contents. They were blueprints, from one of his friends, Beltino Toad. But Pepper had no idea what they were for. The General became puzzled for a moment. Then, a slow grin came to his face.

There was his miracle.

"Uhh, 4O-2?" the general asked his secretary.

The droid turned.

"Who delivered this package?"

The secretary answered. "The contents were delivered by Mail Carrier Unit 903."

Pepper suddenly grew ill of a thought. "What's its current status?" he asked, feeling that luck was on his side.

"The vessel was injured and most of its contents were burned or lost. The marking on the package show its story, sir."

Pepper grew sick and ran back to his office and looked at the package container. There, on the side, were several burns and blackened spots. He felt even more ill. This blue print could have been destroyed.

But, looking at the contents, he lost all thought of the incident. He put 2 and 2 together . Suddenly, he felt better than ever. He ran back to the secretary.

"Uhh, 4O-2?" he asked.

The secretary turned, ready to answer any other questions Pepper had. "Yes, sir?"

Pepper grinned. "Are there any positions open for another airforce squadron?"

The droid shook its head, giving it an almost lifelike feeling. "I'm sorry sir, but there are no positions open, not yet. The legislation forbids the airforce from having more than 12 squadrons."

Pepper felt a sinking in his stomach. The feeling soon went away, as he thought of another idea. "About that squadron loss a few weeks ago. How many losses were there?"

The General was feeling better and he started grinning again.

The droid stared back at Pepper. "The whole team was wiped out at the battle at Sector Y. There were no survivors."

"But," cut in the General, "the position is still open, right?"

The droid answered in a usual tone. "Yes. No one has taken the position yet, because it is a mercenary unit, and most officers dislike the mercenary units. Would you like to fill in a squadron for the loss? It will take a few days for an answer."

"Would I!" the general exclaimed. He was feeling as giddy as a schoolboy, though he was never giddy, even as a schoolboy. "Yes." he said, regaining his posture. "Send the forms to my office and I'll have them ready in an hour. Also, I want you to give me a list of youths that have been kicked out in the recent past, at least three years. Also, how much money do we have stored?"

The droid gave him a sum of money.

‘Perfect’ thought the general. I've got enough money for this and an extra ship!

 

"It's not enough that I have to put up with taking care of eleven other individuals. I also have to put up with the fact that a lot of other people hate me, too."

Fox J. McCloud

Chapter 3: Mercenary Unit 6032;StarFox.

Fox McCloud woke up, head throbbing. Oh boy. I've got a hangover. Perfect way to start the day.

Whoever invented alcohol obviously didn't include the words "Gives you a throbbing head after a night of fun," on the bottle. It was safe alcohol, so it didn't screw up your insides, but it still gave you the hangover to warn you of the consequences. That said, it took him about two falls to regain his posture.

He felt groggy, something he usually didn't feel in the morning. And if that wasn't bad, it looked like is was going to rain. Cool. He loved the rain, and rainy days. It let him savor bad moods by getting rid of them.

He couldn't actually remember the night before, cause the stuff he drank was said to cut your memory off for three hours, so that you couldn't remember if you even drank the stuff, if you weren't careful. Come to think of it, he wasn't even sure if he had drunk at all…

In any case, he decided, he was not going to drink again (if he had). Even if he was careful, the head was going to be off the walls anyway. Falco was already showing the glory of drinking, in the form of cursing in 7 different languages, fluent to the both of them. He obviously wasn't having the best time with this turn of the day, either.

"Good Lord!" sounded the blue-feathered avian, "I thought it only happened when you drank alot! My head feels full." Falco went back to cursing in all his favorite languages, stopping when Fox looked bemusedly at Falco. "Was it something I said?" the older pilot asked, knowing that Fox could whoop him any day of the week, of the month, of the year. He started rubbing the red part under his eyes.

"It was your fault," shot Fox. "If you hadn't taken that bet and gone to that drinking pub, I would be in good condition! Now I have a hangover worth getting my own head cut off."

Falco grinned. "Well. I guess you won't be happy until you get some coffee in your system! And if you cut my head off first, I'll find a way to take off yours, too. Let's head out, I'm starving."

Fox nodded, fully agreeing with Falco's proposal. Then he stopped. "Wait. What's that smell? And where's Slippy?"

Falco looked puzzled, smelling it too and also wondering where their amphibian friend was. It wasn't like him to be the first one up; they left that to Fox. Fox was always up, either because of his unwillingness to sleep or because he felt sick. But Slippy?

Fox walked into the kitchen area. His eyes widened as he saw his amphibian friend sitting at the table.

Drinking coffee.

Fox almost lost it. "What's this?" He didn't glare, but he didn't exactly like the fact that Slippy had been holding coffee from them. "Are you keeping this from us?"

Slippy, surprised at his friends early awakening (Though Fox was usually the first one up), stammered. He clearly was hiding something, or was worried that he was busted for something.

" I was g-gonna tell you guys! Seriously! I wouldn't hold anything on you!" Slippy was almost never nervous, though cautious. But still, he never spoke like that. "I got this yesterday, remember? 'Eggs, beef and coffee'?"

Fox glared, but his gaze was softening as he slowly remembered the day before. "Oh yeah." He looked sheepishly at Slippy. "Sorry. I though you were blackmailing us." He figured that alcohol could tighten your nerves, so he held in check and kept calm.

Slippy smiled. "No hard feelings. I understand, after last night. But this stuff works wonders on hangovers! It ain't supposed to, but it does, somehow. It's cappuccino. Pretty strong, though, but effective." He sipped at the drink a little more.

"Oh yeah, I got a mission profile for us. There's a Venomian cruiser carrying stolen food supplies. It's going to pass through the Sherwood Canyon. Shall we apprehend the goods?"

Fox immediately got into the spirit of the name. "Lead the way, Little John! On to steal from the rich and give to the poor! Come, Will Scarlet!" said Fox, indicating Falco.

Falco shrugged, not at the least entertained. "I'm game. Let's go. But first, a drink of coffee to get us started."

Everyone concurred.

"I'm sure Robin Hood never had to sit on a rock for 2 hours, waiting for a carriage full of goods."

Falco, both irritated and tired, sat under his shady spot in the rocks. It wasn't raining after all. In fact, the day had been sunny and mild. Behind him was Fox, relaxing comfortably. At first glance, one would think Fox was having a good time.

The truth was, Fox was bored out of his skull. But it was patience that kept him in check. The only thing that had kept him from taking his bike out into the canyon was to think about how Sherwood Canyon had gotten its name.

"How long has it been since Slippy left?" asked Fox.

Falco glanced at his chronometer. "About an hour. Should we go look for him?"

Fox thought for a second. "Naw. He's probably still looking, or else he would have called in."

Fox had to admire the young toad's courage. To Fox, courage was simply doing what was right or saying what was right, even if you were scared. But Slippy had not always been that way. The young pilot had been much different. That was an understatement, though.

The reason Slippy was with Fox and Falco was from the fact that he, too, had been kicked out of the academy.

The reason?

Poor flight performance.

But when Fox found out what that meant, he was shocked. It was not that he was a bad pilot.

It was just that he was a bad communicator.

Something that wasn't exactly necessary.

Slippy had taken a test. The test consisted of the capture of a cruiser and the covering of supply carriers. The mission was a success, but 7 pilots were destroyed in the simulation. The problem was Slippy's failure to communicate clearly. He tried to tell the flight leader that he was being locked on, but he stuttered up every word, all the while the flight leader saying "What? What was that, Slip?" That pilot, too, had been "killed".

After he had been kicked out, Slippy went to a doctor to see what could be done. After several sessions, Slippy had gained confidence in speaking, and he could speak as clear as crystal, flawless as a pearl. But he was still kicked out, and that wouldn't change. A really stupid reason, it was.

Fox was thinking about why Falco was in this predicament, though. He sensed feelings of anger, indifference and Fox could tell that Falco didn't want to talk about it. All Fox could feel was the fact that it had to do with a friend. Fox had asked once and he had felt a rage of emotions flowing through his friend. The older pilot had glared at Fox and said, "It's not a very nice story, and I know I won't tell it to you. Just leave it be." Fox was a bit worried. He laid off.

At that point, Fox mused at how they joined up in the first place.

For one, Fox knew who Falco Lombardi was. At one point in the academy, Fox had gotten in trouble with a group of pilots who were obviously a gang. They attacked Fox, and Bill could not help because he was in the simulation chamber anyway. Just before they proceeded to stab him, Falco came in and basically beat the crap out of the others. He took Fox to medical, and they became acquaintances. But Fox never saw Falco after the older pilot had been kicked out. He finally met Falco again, though the older pilot didn’t know it until he was told.

Fox had walked into a pub to find out where General Pepper's place was. It was the first day Fox had gotten to Macbeth. He found out where Pepper's place was and was about to leave, when he noticed an avian yelling at the bartender. This bird, of course, was Falco. Fox walked up and asked what was wrong. Falco turned and was about to yell, when he saw the young fox's face. Something about his visage had calmed Falco down, and Falco calmly told Fox what the problem was.

He claimed that the bartender had been selling drugs to people and kids, and Falco had tracked him down to the pub. Fox looked at the bartender and tuned into his thoughts. He had a knack for reading facial expressions, though everyone knew it was more of something else, like a psychic gift.

The bartender was guilty, but it was going to take a little coaxing to convince the bartender. Fox looked at the bartender again and smiled, oddly. He told Falco to stand back. Falco, thoroughly confused, stood a few paces away. Yet he kept an eye to see what Fox was doing.

"You're lying, aren't you?" said Fox, cheerfully.

The bartender almost started on Fox, but he suddenly jolted, as if he had figured out some long forgotten clue. "Yes," said the bartender, as if he was in outer space.

"You'll even give me the evidence, right?" said Fox, slowly, but politely.

" Why shouldn't I?" said the bartender, dropping several containers of opium.

"Whoops!" said Fox, "I guess I've exposed your secrets!"

It only took a minute to call the authorities, and Falco punched out the bartender to make sure he didn't move. When the bartender came to, he was in a cell.

After the ordeal, Falco immediately proceeded to find out about him. "So what's your name?" the older asked. Fox told him and Falco was amazed. "McCloud? Fox! What are you doing here?"

So Fox told him about the trouble at the academy. Falco was even more amazed than before. "They kicked you out with those scores?! They've gone bad!"

Fox, seeing what the two had in common, invited Falco down to his place, and it wasn't long before Falco agreed to stick with Fox at Pepper's place. Pepper fully agreed to Falco's staying at his house, figuring that it would be safer too.

To Fox, Falco was the kind of person who would get irritated easily, and wouldn't stand to sit and watch when he could do something. Born on Fortuna, he got used to the cold and ended up hot-headed. He wasn't that bad, and lately he was a lot more patient than usual. Maybe it was more because Fox had gotten scorched when a bolt nearly hit his leg. He had turned out alright, but Falco seemed paranoid at the younger man’s safety. A good friend, he was.

And then there was Slippy…

As for Slippy, that meeting was accidental. Fox was going out to get some more food, when he heard some grunting and shouts. He ran into the corridor from where the sounds were coming from. In there he saw 3 men with switchblades surrounding a fourth, unarmed. The 3 seemed to be injured, and there were several other bodies on the ground. It seemed like an unfair fight, but Slippy, the fourth person, was holding his own.

Falco, who had been looking for Fox, had followed the younger pilot into the alley. He was going to ask Fox where he had been, but also saw the action. Fox looked back and saw Falco. Then one of the knifemen saw Fox and ran towards him. Fox turned and backhanded the man, knocking him unconscious. Another came from behind, but Falco grabbed the man and smacked the man with a flurry of fists to the mouth. Slippy, who had no idea who these people were, looked on after breaking the arm of the remaining man. Fox weaved in and out, taking on one of the guys who had been on the ground moments before. Finally, he turned the guy around and strangled him. The guy tried to turn a knife, but Fox settled with turning the man's neck in an angle that broke it instantly.

Afterwards, Fox asked for Slippy's name. He was about to ask about the younger pilot what had happened, but Slippy cried out, pointing behind him. One of the men had a blaster pointed at Fox. The pilot turned and saw, tried to dodge but the bolt ripped through his lower torso. Falco pulled out a concealed blaster and shot the man in the head. He looked back and saw Fox bleeding badly.

The young pilot was rushed to the medic, coughing and unconscious, but with Slippy and Falco telling him he was going to pull through. Fox had been nearly killed, but he fought to hold on. The droid units moved him into a surgical room and repaired his damaged kidney.

Fox was hospitalized for several days, but in those days Pepper, Falco and Slippy had all come in to see how he was holding up. Fox was glad, but then asked why Slippy had been attacked.

Slippy explained that he had run into a gang of hover-bikers. The group was harassing a few people on a transport unit. The passengers were scared, irritated and were wishing that the group went away. Slippy moved in and told the bikers to beat it. The leader didn't take to kindly to this and tried to beat up Slippy. But the younger had been trained in 2 different fighting styles and made quick work of the leader. Then the rest decided to join in, and Slippy took them as well.

But Slippy knew when to high tail it, and he soon ran off. That was when Fox had helped out and got shot by the leader. Fox invited him to stay awhile at Fox's. But Slippy stayed for more than a while.

In a week, Slippy had moved in.

In the time between then and now, Fox had taken advantage of the stike handbook. He built it using his father's gray smoke quartz, as a decoration, figuring it was better in there if his father's last gift was also protecting him. The blade builders fit all the components within two weeks and it cost only 120 credits, which wasn't exactly a large sum of money. The handle was curved and smooth, fitting the traits of a rapier and a longblade, fitting Fox's hand easily and the "On" switch, for creating an energy field that could melt metal, was concealed on the bottom, giving confusion to his enemies if they tried to use it against him. The blade, with the field on, was a scarlet red light. It was good for lighting up dark areas and he took great care in using the blade, utilizing it more as a tool than a weapon. He himself had added his own special feature, in case someone tried to use it against him…

He was patting the hilt on his side now, the sword like weapon in a rectangular sheath. Since the blade could retract, the sheath was no smaller than his hand, although the handle was as long as his own forearm. The top of the blade showed, so that Fox could pull it out quickly easily.

But suddenly, his thoughts were interrupted by a small droning sound. It was too far to identify, but Falco heard it too.

"D'ya think…. " asked Falco.

"We'll see," said Fox.

A minute went by. No change in volume. Suddenly, the com alarm went off.

Fox reached it first. "Slippy?"

"Down here!" came the reply.

Fox and Falco both looked down a nearby ledge. Below them, Slippy was tailing a cruiser and was identifying the cargo. The young pilot moved in and out, trailing close enough to hide behind it.

"Let's go!" called Fox.

He and Falco jumped on their bikes, and headed towards a natural ramp leading into the canyon below. Engines bursting, it wasn't long before Fox caught up with the cruiser and got to its right, Falco following suit as best as he could. Fox shuffled in his seat, extracting his stike. He flicked the weapon forward, the retractable blade thrusting outward, switching the field on. He set to work immediately, slicing the hull with the blade's reddish glow. He struggled, noticing how fast the vessel was moving. He called to Falco, who immediately turned up on his right.

"Falco!" he shouted. "Disable the main engine. I need this vessel to slow down."

Falco drew out a rifle and aimed at the fuel pocket. He shot a volley of lasers, melting the engine into a molten slag. Grinning, he moved to the left side and started firing on the hull rapidly, to distract the pilot. He moved slowly and strafed up and down the hull.

Fox was finishing up on the hull and was moving closer. The pilot and co-pilot didn't see the damage until it was too late. Fox entered the hull, leaping off his swoop.

The guards immediately started firing at the strange new invader.

Fox dodged and blocked the lasers using his blade. He started to advance and finally got close enough to cut down one of the soldiers. He leaped forward and cut down every guard, swinging, parrying and all-in-all, slicing every one of them, all the while heading towards the cockpit. He quickly punched out the pilot. He was about to go for the co-pilot, but this soldier was particularly too fast.

The co-pilot had already brought up a pistol and was aiming towards Fox. Fox tried to duck, but he was too slow. The bolt caught him on the shoulder. He let out a cry of pain as he dropped the stike, which rolled away from him about 7 feet.

The gunman aimed for another shot, to kill. It was pointed at Fox's head. Fox clutched his wound and looked at his assailant, then closed his eyes. The gunman grinned evilly and pulled the trigger.

The bolt sounded out. But when Fox opened his eyes, he saw Falco standing over him, noticeably concerned over his friend's injury.

Falco helped Fox up. Fox looked to the side and saw the co-pilot's corpse smoking. A large, red hole was centered at his heart.

Fox walked towards the pilot's chair. Falco sat across from him, looking at his friend, worried.

"Where's Slippy?" asked Fox.

Falco answered. "He's in the cargo bay, loading the supplies. We've secured the bikes on the rear of the ship."

Fox nodded, taking the controls, but looked at Falco, who looked a bit shaken. "Are you okay?" he asked.

Falco looked a bit irritated, not to mention alarmed. " The question, Fox, is are YOU okay? That wound doesn't look too good. Let me get the First Aid." He said this in his usual irritated way, but Fox could tell that the older pilot was being softer on his younger friend than usual.

Falco exited the cockpit, returning with some alcohol, a rag, and some gauze.

Falco applied the alcohol onto the rag, then cleaned the wound out with it, making Fox wince as he piloted. "Geez, man, I don't think you needed to put THAT much alcohol on the rag!"

Falco stared a little harshly at him, but put gauze on the wound, wrapping it until it was at a good thickness, then cutting the rest off. Falco looked at the wound once more to make sure it wasn't getting out of hand. He sat back and sighed, relieved that Fox was all right. But he wasn't finished.

"Look," said Falco, when he was done wrapping the wound. "This is getting a little dangerous. I've been too stubborn to notice that. You've been shot three times, one that sent you to Medical. We can't keep doing this. If we do, you could get killed, or we could. Besides, I got a feeling something good is coming our way. I know there's better. What do you say?"

Fox glanced at Falco, glad and amused that Falco was concerned and was thinking of his friends in good terms." Sure," he said, "we can stop." He was rather confused that a paternal instinct had come over Falco, even though Falco was nineteen, a Fox still a year younger. But, it was okay to know that someone cared.

Falco grinned. "Besides, we're getting good money for this good deed, enough to keep us... sustained."

Fox laughed. At the very least, Falco was still acting a little like his normal self.

After getting paid their money (which, it turned out, was a GOOD amount of money), Fox, Falco and Slippy headed towards Fox's place. It was argued that they should go to a pub first to celebrate, by Falco, but a simple reminder of the earlier morning's hangover from Fox and the whole subject was turned down. Besides, Fox still wasn't sure if he had gotten into trouble before, which, of course, he hadn't.

As soon as Slippy opened the door, Fox stepped in and plopped on the couch. He was tired, but he still had enough energy to turn on the stereo and start listening to as much music as he could. Falco took cover in the kitchen, cooking something that smelled bland, though it was actually quite good. Slippy looked through the mail and came up with the few packages that were under his arm. The effect was comical to Fox, with Slippy looking bulky and unable to move freely. He chuckled silently.

"Hmm, lessee... junk mail, junk mail, bills, something for me, something for Falco, the NP press for Fox, letter from Mom... Lifestyles of the rich and heinous, featuring Andross?"

Fox looked up. "If you want to draw on pictures of the ape, by all means..." He shrugged and smiled.

"Oh. And something for you," added Slippy, a little confused. "From General Pepper."

Fox's gaze shifted towards Slippy. "What?"

Falco poked his head out of the kitchen.

"Let me see," said Fox.

Slippy handed him the package. Fox opened it.

It was a holodisk.

Fox didn't breath for the next second. Holodisks were disks that showed recorded holographic images, and they were strictly expensive and secret. Only a thumbprint would unlock the recording, which could be shown on either a platform located on the disk, or on a video screen. As it was, they had a video screen with holodisk capabilities, though they seldom used it.

Fox inserted the disk into the screen and had the computer scan his thumbprint. The message began.

On the screen an image of General Pepper was shown, wearing khakis, a Hawaiian shirt, sandals, sunglasses and a lollipop in his mouth. Fox had seen Pepper that way, especially with the lollipop, but not often when it came to various slacks while in his own office. And the fact that he wasn't wearing formal clothes on a holodisk recording only served to confuse Fox further.

"Hey Fox! I got news for you. If Slippy and Falco are there, that's good! This concerns them too."

Falco and Slippy looked at each other. Fox watched on.

"Anyway, remember, Fox, when I said I'd find a way for you to get in? Well, I did! It seems there's a few positions up and open. So I got you and Falco and Slippy in! I found the perfect solution to your problems! Here's how.

"About a week ago, a mercenary unit was on its way to Sector Y. By now, I'm sure you've heard of the trouble there, with the war going on. Well, this unit sadly got destroyed in the ensuing battle. There were no survivors, and every ship was destroyed or captured. A sad ordeal," said Pepper, shaking his head.

"But, I received a ship blueprint from Slippy's father and I got the old man to sign a few contracts, so that he could build 15 prototype ships. And since there were enough positions open I got you and 11 other pilots in the gig. And looking into the records, I found I had enough money to build a squadron. But there's something else."

Fox listened intently, patiently.

"The problem," said Pepper, sarcastically, "is that no one will take the ship under their wing. They don't think it's reliable!

"But I, on the other hand, think it is the perfect ship. I'm sure you would agree with me too, when you see it. So all I needed was a squadron leader.

"And I decided to give you the squadron, Fox."

Fox gaped, knowing what this meant. He leaned forward.

"Fox J. McCloud, I've given you the responsibility of the rank of Commander of a Flight Squadron. You're job is to ensure the completion of missions and objectives, and to ensure the safety of your wingmen, your ship and your friends. I've given you the Commander position of Mercenary Unit 6032;

"Star Fox."

Fox blacked out, only for a second. Even so, he fell backwards, into the couch. Falco looked back at where Fox had landed and helped him up.

"I'm expecting this message to get to you on the 23rd, and there are a few members of the team you'll probably know about. One of them is Peppy Hare, the original member of Star Fox. He decided to help out when he heard of the news. He'll be there on the 27th, so you had better pack. You need a transport to Corneria and when you get here, contact me.

"I'll be seeing you later!"

The transmission ended.

Falco blinked before speaking. "Hey, wasn't my uncle on your team?"

Fox nodded. "Alabner? Yep, he was there. He, Peppy and dad flew some wicked ships back then. Something called an Arwing...? I can't exactly remember, but you remember me giving you that simulation disk, right?"

Falco thought back. "Yeah, now that you mention it, you did. Pretty hot ship."

Slippy spoke up. "Me and my dad drew up those plans, you know."

Fox nodded, not really wanting to hear it. "We know, Slip. Your dad's pretty cool, anyway. Especially if he's making a new batch of ships."

Fox slowly gathered his thoughts. He was now a Commander. He was going to meet his Father's friend on the 27th, someone he knew well, but never saw since he had been kept in the academy. But repeating the date in his mind showed a big problem.

"Wait!" exclaimed Fox. "Today is the 27th!"

Everyone panicked, but Fox got a hold of the situation in a minute, telling Slippy to find a few backpacks and telling Falco to help him find their clothes and getting them clean, getting all their socks, boots, shirts, jeans, flight suits and flight charms out and into the areas they had room in their packs for. After they were done, they all plopped onto the couch and gasped desperately for air, Fox getting his before any others

No sooner than they were done, the doorbell rang out. Fox ran to the door, opened and look into the old, kind visage of Peppy Hare.

"Hey Kid!" yelled Peppy.

"What's up, Peppy?" responded Fox, cheerfully.

And the four sat down, introduced themselves and set to work. Peppy started on the squadron arrangement. He told them about the laws and costs, that they wouldn't get regular pay, but would get paid when they got hired. They would still be given supplies to sustain themselves, though. Then he explained the differences of teams and squadrons.

"Well, we're all tagged for the mainstay unit. So any time they ask for a squadron, it's all 10 of us. When they only want a team of pilots, then it'll be us only."

But Fox looked past the given answer. Fox knew as a fact that Peppy had been blessed with the gift of being a partial psychic, possibly as a result of trauma from the Incident. He tuned directly into his thoughts, since Fox had developed his own… gift.

Peppy, there's usually 5 in a unit. Who's the fifth member?

Peppy's thoughts, if put into the form of a visage, would have shown complete confusion. Fox sensed this immediately. Yeah, you're right. The Airforce still hasn't picked up a flight lieutenant. It'll be just the eleven for the time being. Fox shrugged inwardly.

Peppy changed the subject. "Anyway, the problem is that I don't have enough money to get us to Corneria. And there's only one ship that leaves in the time we need to be at Pepper's. It's called the Boardwalk. Any ideas on getting onboard?"

Falco thought. "Nope," he said after a while.

Slippy thought." No go, " he said.

Peppy thought. " Nothing here," he sighed.

Fox thought. He grinned. "I got an idea."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"When you reach your goal and what your goal is are both one thing. But where your destination takes you and how you reach your destination is entirely another matter."

Fox McCloud, Commander of Mercenary Unit 6032, StarFox.

Chapter 4: Bad Deed, Good Rewards

"I can't believe I let you convince me to do this! And when I get out of this tube, I'm gonna shoot you!" Falco yelled.

Fox glared at Falco. "If you didn't want to get in this plan, you shoulda gone with Slippy and hidden in the water main!"

Fox did not want to hear it. It was the closest he was to mad.

If Peppy was mad or angry, he didn't show it. He was actually quite content with Fox's plan. Stowing away on the Boardwalk seemed to be a good idea at the time. But being cramped in a tube that was used for transporting cargo seemed to be no fun. At least, for the younger pilots.

In any case, they were almost out, and no one had tracked them.

"Move over," said Falco, irritated.

"You first," retorted Fox.

Falco glared at Fox. "You're squishin' me!" he said.

Fox glared back. "Don't make me mad, or I'll knock you down outta this tube!"

"Shut up, both of you!" said Peppy, not mad, but not getting too much air either.

They all tumbled out of the tube, rolling into a heap of fur and feathers.

Fox got up first, being cautious, and then indicated that the coast was clear. Falco, followed, glad to be out of the tube, and Peppy last, more or less smiling. All of them were exhausted. After a quick search of the area, they immediately sat down to rest.

It seemed that indeed, no one had tracked them from the control tower. It was only a matter of staying absolutely still for a half hour, then crawling the rest of the way.

They had heard that the trip would take only 12 hours to get to Corneria.

Even so, Fox showed his weariness by finding a soft suitcase, lying his head on it and soon snoring without a word said, all in a few seconds.

Peppy and Falco were amazed at the speed at which Fox had dozed off, but they couldn't argue with Fox's idea of sleeping. Finding a soft place to rest, they soon followed suit to Fox's state of mind. Soon, the trio was snoring soundly, Fox squirming in his sleep.

No one knew of the evil lurking below.

An hour later, the trouble began.

Fox was the first to hear it, though the sound had not been sounded out yet. Yet he still leapt up, his blade drawn. Then the noise began. A blaster bolt rang out and there were screams of pain and fright. Fox grew startled at the sound, but remained as calm as he could. He looked towards Peppy and Falco.

Falco and Peppy were also awake, springing upward and drawing blasters quicker than light. They left their bags and ran towards Fox. Falco bore a rifle, while Peppy was packing regular heat with a customized blaster.

"What was that?" asked Peppy.

"It sounded like a blaster bolt," said Fox.

"Great," said Falco, getting irritated. Fox laid a hand on his shoulder and Falco calmed a bit. He sighed. "I can't believe we've stowed away on a vessel that's about to be hijacked. Now we have to help out and be found out at the same time, don't we?"

"Sure," said Fox, grinning. "How fast can you fire a blaster, Falco?"

Falco smiled back. Looked down and saw a cargo hatch. Being careful not to be seen, he opened the hatch slowly, until the sight downwards was clear. He took a quick look down." There's about 15 of them," he told Fox and Peppy, "all reptilian, and one with a yellow flight suit. He seems to run everything down there. Should we see what they want before we attack?"

Fox smiled yet again. "Now why would we let them do that?"

I'm pretty sure they're looking for me. They have to be. Somehow, it’s just obvious.

"Fara Phoenix! If you don't come out now, I'll start killing people, one-by-one!"

Oh great. I was right. Better get out. Don't want to be guilty for the murder of an innocent bystander.

"Whaddya want?" asked Fara, in a hard voice. She stepped out clear into open space. Everyone was stowed to one side or another. Not she, though. She would stay right here, until they caught sight of her, which was now.

The Ringleader looked at the young Desert Kit fox. She had shorter ears, indicating that she was part forest fox as well. She had a paler fur on the tip of her own tail.

Her visage showed a kind, warm, beautiful face, but on it was a mask of determination, bravery and fearlessness. She was slim, but he knew she could put damage into her punches, which were hard, and which she had to pull off quite a bit. She had a length of hair between her ears that stayed between them, and fell forward in front of her face.

She wore a green bodysuit, with a purple covering that covered all of her upper torso and part of her waist. She also wore purple gloves, wearing the uniform of the ship's crew. At first glance, one might think she was an exotic dancer in her suit, but again, it was only the ship's uniform.

She was clearly not vexed when it came to being in the open. The reason seemed clear; she was so beautiful. And the Ringleader showed it, eying her and swearing to himself, while grinning at the prize yet to be won.

"I want you to come with me. Andross has kept his eye on you, and he has offered a ... reward, from you, concerning you. If you ignore, I can shoot you, and get my reward from you later. But I'd appreciate it if you came now."

Fara stood her ground. "No," she said, defiantly. She knew what he had meant. Her ex-boyfriend tried to get too frisky with her earlier, too, and she did not need this right now. She should have accepted the weapon he tried to give her afterwards as a parting gift.

She regretted both parts. Why did it have to happen to her? Sure, she thought of herself as attractive, though not in vain, since it was true, but she wished often that her looks were less capturing, so that being captured was something that happened only once. The Ringleader glared at her.

"Now," he said, through gritted teeth.

Fara glared back. "You could kill me first. I wouldn't mind then." She meant it.

"NOW!" shouted the Ringleader, losing his patience.

Fara stood her ground. "No. If you want me, kill me first."

The Ringleader glared. He brought his pistol up, and walked over to Fara until he was about 5 feet away from her. He aimed for her heart. He would not enjoy this, but he would enjoy her... later.

Fara closed her mind off. She was brave, and she would die doing the right thing. She took a deep breath and held it, knowing that she had chosen her path correctly. Still, she wondered where her guardian angel was.

The Ringleader pulled the trigger.

In that instant, something reddish-gold and incredibly fast came between the two of them, with a scarlet streak of light waving in the direction of the bolt. The bolt splashed harmlessly on the blade and ricocheted past the Ringleader. He ducked to avoid the bolt, and was equally confused, as Fara was when he looked up. He pointed the blaster at the figure.

As if in response, the figure turned and swung the blade in an arc that sped through the nozzle, slicing it off and malfunctioning the weapon. The Ringleader dropped the blaster in surprise, backing down a few feet. The figure then became one and was clearly visible.

Fara looked at her guardian angel.

In front of her was another of her type, about her age, or at least her age, as far as she could tell. He wore a young face, woven with worry and youth, but somehow, he seemed to have that dullness that indicated he had went through a lot in his life. He had green eyes, and had an expression of someone who loved excitement. He was somewhat thin, but only to a point where anyone could tell that he could kill with his hands. He looked at her and was about to ask if she was all right, but stopped short when he saw her.

He looked at her oddly, as if he had seen a ghost. She blushed and smiled. But the smile faded when she noticed the gun pointing towards him.

Fox read her mind and turned, to block the bolt with a quick swing. But it was too late. The bolt hit him in the same place that had been injured the day before, and Fox shouted out, in pain. But he wasn't dead yet. He cut at the Ringleader and scored a hit on his arm, gashing it. But at that moment, a flurry of bolts shot toward him and Fara. The hailstorm of death sailed toward their target.

"Run!" shouted Fox. Fara ran, as Fox did behind her." Hide here," he said, pointing at some bathing units. Fara kept low and out of the way as Fox hurried back to the battlefield.

Fox turned and intercepted bolts that were hurling toward him. He put his whole concentration into his mission; staying alive. He did so, and deflected every bolt that was close to him.

Even so, he realized he couldn't hold out much longer. All he had to do was miss one bolt, and it was over. It was that real.

He had a feeling that if the battle wasn't over real soon, it was going to end in victory for the Ringleader. Even now, a bolt had been barely blocked, one that had been sailing towards his heart. Yet another seared past his wrist, scorching it. He felt warmth in his arm and saw blood trickling down it, from his shoulder. He gritted his teeth and prepared for the worst.

Just then, a voice sounded in Fox's mind.

Need help, kiddo?

Two bolts whizzed over his shoulder in the opposite direction and hit two of the incoming terrorists. Figures of two men holding blasters suddenly became clear. Falco started blasting quickly and wildly, hitting every shot on someone. Peppy aimed and caused kill shots, either hitting the head or the heart, either way killing the target.

Someone sought fit to attack Fox's rear and immediately slashed at Fox's legs with a dagger. The fresh star pilot jumped into the air and completed a side flip, bringing with him his blade and his skill. The attacker immediately turned into two masses of burning flesh.

Fox kept deflecting the bolts as they grew less and less in number. Then the last man went down, and they all lowered their weapons.

"Looks like we ruined their picnic," said Peppy.

Falco scoffed. "More like we rained hard on them."

Fox wasn't satisfied. There was something wrong. He looked behind them. He saw the hostage and the captor. It was the remaining Ringleader.

"YOU!" yelled the Ringleader. "You ruined my plans! And now she might die for it!"

Fara Phoenix stood, strangled in the Ringleaders grip. His arm was under her chin and he pushed her neck to the brink of fracture, causing her to go limp. At the same moment, he held a blaster in his other hand, pointed at her head. She recovered and her face showed fear. It hurt Fox to see a person like that, being afraid.

Fox didn't like the idea of letting the Ringleader go, but he felt something coming. It would give him time. So he started negotiating first. "We won't hurt you. We just want you to get out of the ship. Let the girl go and we'll let you go."

The Ringleader laughed. "Ha! And then send maybe several fighters after me? I know who to trust and it's not you!"

Fox sighed. Scratch that.

"Okay," said Fox. "Who sent you, and why?"

The Ringleader answered. "It probably doesn't matter, since I'm getting away anyway. I was sent by Andross. He had seen her picture and said it reminded him of someone. He didn't say whom, but he told me to get this girl. My reward is a lot of money and a glorious night sleeping with this fox! And, thanks to you and your comrades, the pie that would have been cut between my soldiers and I is now all mine!"

Fox shook his head. "I can let you go, I promise. " He raised a hand, stopping Peppy from speaking. "I don't know who you are, but I'll let you go if you let her go." He figured General Pepper would have a fit, but if it could save a life, then it was a choice of the moment.

The father of Fara had just stepped out into the crowd and was trying to go towards Fara, but a taller figure, a human, stopped him, keeping him safe. Fox continued. "I know you don't know who I am. I'm--"

"I've heard of you, Fox McCloud," The Ringleader said, smiling. "You're the kid that got kicked out of the academy, aren't you? You might have well just dishonored your father! And what with your father dead!"

Fox glared. He was getting angry, but he held it in. "Don't say that," said Fox, through gritted teeth. "You don't want to say that." He bared his teeth, holding his saber tightly.

Fox could hold his temper in check, until the mention of one of his family members rang into his ears. That would be the only time he would get angry, and even after a long while since the incident, it was as though the wounds were still fresh.

"Yes. You are the son of James. Your dad died a coward, I hear. He screamed REAL good before he died!"

The mention of his parents within his mind took over his present situation. He could sense that the man before him was lying, but though there were those rumors that his father was still alive, they were always few, and the enemy had always insisted that he was dead. Which made him mad.

Fox was deep into his thoughts when a feeling overwhelmed him.

Slippy, wet from the bathing unit, opened the hatch to the bathing unit and showed himself. Somehow, he had gotten into the water main system and had put himself into a bathing unit. He appeared and stood looking over the crowd and the Ringleader, though still in the unit itself. The Ringleader yelped and pulled out a blaster. He aimed at Slippy, but the frog gasped and submerged himself again as the bolt cut through the air. The Ringleader suddenly remembered Fox and turned to fire. But Slippy had distracted him too long.

That was the distraction Fox needed. Putting his anger aside, he ran towards the Ringleader, flipped over him, slammed a black boot into his throat and pulled Fara out of the way. He ran a few feet before seeing Slippy gasping for another breath. The Ringleader reeled over from Fox's kick, breathing desperately for air.

"Now, Slippy!" yelled Fox.

Slippy had no time to decipher what had happened while he was submerged. But caught what Fox was saying and complied. He brought the heavy plate that was once the top of the bathing unit onto the Ringleader, smacking it with a horrible crunch.

The Ringleader stared ahead, skull broken. Then he fell down and Ringleader he was no more.

Fox looked at the body of the Ringleader and back at Fara, who was shocked still of the whole incident. His shoulder dripping with blood, he suddenly became exhausted, blacked out and remembered nothing more.

When he awoke, Fox noticed first that the room was a comfortable gray. He looked at his shoulder, the wound in bandages. He sat up, found he was a little weak but still found strength somewhere. He looked ahead at the conversing troupe. Falco, Slippy, and Peppy were among them. With them was a person that Fox remembered for somewhere, but couldn't quite place. Wherever he remembered this figure, he was sure he had seen him earlier.

Fara was the first to notice his awakening. She indicated him with a finger and the fox that Fox somehow knew came forward. He was a Desert Kit fox as well, but he seemed purebred. He wore a happy expression and seemed relieved that Fox was all right. He had a purple vet, khakis and a pair of reading glasses on his face.

"Ah! Good to see you feeling well! I must say, you showed an excellent performance, what with that saving my daughter and all! I thank you!"

Fox, still not knowing who this stranger was, stammered his next few words. "Err... yeah, sure. No problem." Fox looked at the fox. "Wait. Do I know you?"

The old canine laughed. "If you do, it's because I was your father's wingman! Charles Phoenix, at your service." The old man bowed down. "I became ship magnate after the unfortunate incident. But I've been living well! I'm glad to see my Commander's son doing well!"

Fox realized he was talking to a rich guy. And even this was a huge understatement. "Oh! Sorry I didn't recognize you well! I'm Fox, James son. Oh wait. You already know that." He sat up and almost fell back, but Fara helped him up. She looked up and looked away, as if looking at him would infect her with something, though something already had.

The old fox chortled. "Of course, no hard feelings. I became worried when I heard about the loss of blood. That's why you went out for a good two hours! Fortunately, your blood type is also mine, so I decided that since you saved my blood I should give you some of mine!"

Fox found a smile in the joke, corny as it was. But he remembered their stow away. "Sorry about stowing away on your ship, but I-"

"Oh, don't worry!" interrupted Charles. "I realized that if you hadn't stowed away, you wouldn't have been able to save my daughter!"

Fara, looking at Fox, blushed and turned away when he looked at her. Charles noticed this, but kept it to himself, smiling. "Anyway," he said, "what business brings you to this vessel? Your father wouldn't go to such extremes, and I would think that neither would you."

Fox got out of the bed, standing a little clumsily, but regaining posture. "Yeah, I know. But I got a message from General Pepper and was asked to get to him immediately."

Charles looked interested. "Really? What for?"

Fox told him about the squadron, the simulation, the kicking out and when he mentioned Star Fox, the new clan, Charles immediately looked at Fara.

"Oh, you don't say! Well, I hope you find a flight lieutenant, don't you, Fara?"

Fara looked at Fox, then at Charles. "Yeah. Hope so."

"Well," said Charles, " I may have talked too much, but we'll be on Corneria in nine hours. Oh yes! It's been two hours since you blacked out and it was 3:45 in the morning when the mess occurred."

He eyed Fox, knowing that there would have to be some compensation. One did not go doing good (if unintended) deeds without rewards of gratitude. "Well! I suppose I'll have to reward you for your good deed! I do think it would be the best."

Fox's eyes widened. "Oh no sir, really, you don't have to!"

But Charles was already ready to accept anything Fox wanted, whether it was a night on the ship, or even a night with his daughter. "Really, I must insist! You can't go on un-rewarded! I know how humble you and your father were, but I must insist!"

Fox sighed and started thinking. He looked at his friends. They knew how rich Phoenix was, and if it was a moon Fox wanted, then it was done. As it was, Fox found out that was what they wanted; a moon, or money. He thought of other alternatives. He wasn't greedy, but he could ask when necessary. He smiled.

"First class tickets,'' he answered," would do just fine."

"Of course!" answered Charles in return. "No pay!"

Nobody else noticed Falco, Slippy and Peppy, as their looks faded into shock and dismay.

And nobody noticed how glad Fara was for him not taking money.

That night, Fox couldn't think of anything that night except for the way Fara's voice sounded, smooth and crystal clear. She was the only image Fox could see when he closed his eyes. He couldn't help it, it was so... soothing to see a soft face in his dreams.

"First-class tickets!" exclaimed Falco. "You could have asked them for money or a moon, but you picked First-Class tickets!"

Falco had been on the net, calling out for room service as if he wouldn't have another chance to eat. Slippy was taking a bath and was using the scrubber with great comfort. It had been a while since he had taken a bath, and Fox had reported this to the younger pilot immediatly after they had gotten in.

Peppy took interest in going down to the ship's galley, but he immediately thought better of it. He didn't like the idea of sitting in the bar with a hundred people next to him, asking questions about their stow-away. So he settled for playing a few rounds of Blackjack with Falco. Those few rounds had added up to nearly fifty rounds of 21. And now and again, the two would pass onto Hearts, Poker, Gin Rummy, Solitaire, and back to Blackjack.

Fox smiled at his friend. "Moons aren't nearly as comfortable."

"Besides," said Fox. "I've got other things on my mind."

"Like commanding the squadron or finding the right flight lieutenant?"

Fox didn't answer. "Fara Phoenix, huh? That's a nice name..."

The rest of the members looked at Fox and grinned.

And the Boardwalk sailed on towards Corneria.

Fox was amazed that news traveled faster than the speed of light. Then it dawned on him that it always did. Since his father's death, Fox had developed a slightly acute fear of reporters, and constantly felt more than a bit claustrophobic in such situations. Falco, Peppy and Slippy all felt the same way, and thus were equally concerned when they saw an especially huge crowd under the ship.

When she landed, the news of the incident on the Boardwalk had already reached Corneria. The four stepped out to greet the sun, but were greeted by several hundred reporters, some from the newspaper, some from fans, some from officials, all wanting to meet and greet the young pilot and his comrades. But Fox didn't like publicity when it made you claustrophobic.

He yelped when someone scraped his arm and yelped again when another grasped his shoulder. The whole time, people, both Human and Cornerian, were asking questions.

"What is your name?" asked one.

"Ow!" cried Fox.

"Are you James McCloud's son?" asked another.

"Uff!" he coughed, as another reporter belted him accidentally in the stomach.

Fox was getting dizzy, and he imagined that his feet were being lifted off the floor. Or did he? And more than once, he felt his tail getting pulled by some girl that thought he was cute. And he finally howled out in pain when two people pressed heavily against his injured shoulder. The reporters showed no mercy to the young man and Fox was getting the feeling that he couldn't breath right, partly because his lungs weren't working and partly because the crowd itself needed air to talk to the poor benign canine.

But Charles was with them the whole way. He pulled Fox out of the crowd and the group ran to the Men's room. Some of the female reporters became dismayed, others not caring about gender. Hiding there clearly wasn't going to help.

So Charles threw them all in the ventilation shaft, staying behind and telling them to find a way out. Peppy had no qualms about being in the shafts. They had, after all, saved his life before. Fox lead the way, Falco tailing, then Peppy, finally Slippy.

They made it to the front entrance, but there were even more reporters. The long dead son of James McCloud had emerged and was becoming a celebrity, at a speeding rate.

It gave Fox no pleasure knowing that he had probably set a universal record for this category.

But they managed to outrun their followers, taking a shortcut to the Cornerian Army part of the spaceport. The guards stopped them briefly, but Peppy flashed his I.D. and the guards let them pass.

Figuring that the worse was over, Fox decided to get a drink before heading on to Pepper's. So they all sat down for a rest before heading to Pepper's.

Peppy took a quick look at Fox, seeing a few bruises on the younger man's arms, and his shoulder had started to bleed, but had stopped. "You okay?" he asked.

Fox smiled. "At least we survived that war. So if we survived that, we can survive anything else, I’m sure."

Peppy smiled. Just like his father. But the group decided to move on, and it only took a minute to find Pepper's office.

When they got there, Pepper was clad in slacks, looking comfortable and was relaxing when the pilots came in. "Ah! Great! You got here just in time! I was wondering what kept you, but then I saw the news." He turned to Fox. "Good job, Fox! You're doing great, what with saving that young girl's life. But anyway, I've gotten you here; so I'll show you the pilots, Fox. But before I go any further I want to ask you a question."

Fox looked at Pepper. "Yes?"

Pepper sighed and tried his best to make the words sound right. "Are you comfortable with taking on this job? Because I don't want to force you to do anything you don't want to."

Fox smiled. "No way! I love this turn of events. Who's on the team?"

But instead of answering Pepper got up, walked to a nearby door, marked with "Leads to Hangar Bay 1", and gestured to the group of pilots.

"Come on! I want you to meet them."

Fox got up, shrugged, confused, but nonetheless eager to see the new recruits. Falco then got up, then Slippy, then Peppy. "We might as well," said Fox.

They walked through the door, into a hallway. They walked a few steps and reached the simulation hangar bay. General Pepper opened the door and went in.

In the huge Hangar bay stood 7 pilots, all talking and conversing, some about fun, some about friends, all about the members of the group. They stopped talking and turned to see General Pepper and the 4 new pilots. They were all apparently interested at the newcomers and one especially took an interest with Fox instantly.

"Boys and girls, I'd like you to meet the several other members of Star Fox. This is Slippy Toad, son of your ship's creator."

Slippy nodded. "Hi!" he chirped. The others followed suit, exchanging greetings, yet not introducing themselves yet.

"And this avian bird is Falco Lombardi, our fighter specialist."

Falco nodded. "How ya doin'?" he asked.

"This here is Peppy Hare, one of the original members of StarFox."

He also greeted the new pilots.

"And this young fox is Fox McCloud, son of the commander of StarFox. He will be your Commander and you are expected to follow his orders well."

Fox smiled. "Hey. Nice to meet you."

The pilots seemed a bit more interested at the mention of "McCloud", except for one pilot, who was staring at Falco coldly. Falco had not noticed her yet.

The General continued. "I've chosen you all to come here, so that I may ask you to join a squadron. Before any details, I'll introduce them to you." He turned to face a young wolf, about Fox's height and age.

"This young man is Wulf O’Donald."

Fox started at the name. Then he looked at the younger pilot. " The good twin?" he asked.

Wulf smiled. "Yeah. Don't worry, I won't bite. I'll be identifying ships on reconnaissance missions."

Pepper described Wulf. "18 years old. He excelled in ship identification and cargo inspecting, and has an ample record in sharp shooting."

The General continued. " This is Kiyo Tix, a weapons engineer."

The young husky female looked up. "Hi. I'll be the ship mechanic also." She looked at Fox with a glint in her eye, and Fox noticed this instantly, nervously greeting her back.

"17, she holds highest record for rifle marksmanship and has majored in onboard weapons engineering and repair. She's been trained in 3 types of fighting."

Fox couldn't quite put his finger on it, but there was definitely something familiar about her, as if he had either seen or heard of her before. He couldn't stop thinking of Bill when he looked at her, partly because she was also a husky. He shook the thought away and decided to reserve his questions for later.

The General also chuckled, then continued. "And this is Katthrine Monroe," he said, indicating the young feline. She had a snow-white fur on her and was more of the type of pilot that caught other pilots' attention, even if they weren't her own species. Fox knew this right off, ending up in his own thoughts and staring at the younger pilot until he found himself doing so.

And that's when Falco also noticed her and squeaked. "Eep!"

Fox looked at Falco. "Something wrong?"

Falco stared at the new recruit. "I know her!"

Katt in turn also looked at Falco, eyes widening, teeth gritting. "Well, Falco. I guess we're stuck together, aren't we?" she growled.

Falco, eyes widened, nodded.

Fox was about to ask what the problem was, but Peppy caught him first, shook his head. He would explain later. Now wasn't the time.

General Pepper, on the other hand, looked on with great interest. "Is there a problem, Fox? Because if she's not good enough..."

"No! No, of course not," said Fox. "But what is her main position on the team?"

Katt, not really angry anymore, looked up and flashed a smile. She figured there was no reason to be inconsiderate to her commander. "I'll be in charge of hyperspace coordinates, logging them in before any major battles. Nice to meet you Fox."

"17, she majors in complex maneuvering and has an uncanny sense of direction. She has excelled in hyperspace preparation and logging."

Fox noticed her friendly matter, but still wondered.

"And these two are Eli and 'Liz' Medus. They'll be on the pre-flight ship check, making sure you're ready to go." He indicated the remaining two pilots, both of the reptilian mutate. The female was slightly younger than Eli.

"Both siblings, 16 and 19, they've been trained in 2 forms of fighting and hold record times in flight preparation."

Eli, the older brother, looked up and treated his Commander with a grin. "I'll be in the hangar for the most part, but when you need me or my sister, just give us a holler." The younger pilot looked at Fox, almost like she was in a dream. She tried to speak and gave a series of hand signals. Eli explained quickly. "She can't speak, she's mute. She got sliced in the throat and her vocal cords were damaged. But I outfitted a device that she can use that will allow her to communicate with you during a firefight."

Fox, puzzled at first, nodded. "That's no problem. As long as we understand each other..."

Eli smiled, as did Liz.

The General cleared his throat. "And now, if you please, none of you have seen the ship, and you won't, yet. But for now, just step inside the simulation chamber and begin the first simulation. When you're done, exit the chamber and follow me. Have fun!"

The Star Fox team all acknowledged.

Fox stepped into the fake cockpit. The coolness of the inside greeted him, making his fur stand on end for a second. Then he relaxed. The coloring of the fur wouldn't start for another week. Must be going on early. Gray didn't look so bad, anyway.

"Log in," he ordered.

"Fox lead, standing by," Fox said, recognizing his position. Then a thought occurred to him. "Hey! Where's that other pilot? We're one short."

The General's voice rang in. "Oh yes, that's right. We haven't found a good flight lieutenant. The main priority was getting you here. But we'll just go on. Fox 2 will be here."

Fox shrugged. "Okay. In the meantime, Falco'll take my right wing. Proceeding with login. Fox Lead, standing by."

"Fox 2, standing by," said Falco.

"Fox 3, standing by," said Slippy.

The rest followed, first Peppy, then Wulf, then Katt, Eli, Liz, and Kiyo.

The simulation started.

"Okay," said Fox. "The mission priorities are simple, but there'll be a lot of the enemy. Identify all cargo containers and destroy any bearing war material. If you get a fighter, call anyone else. Remember, we don't abandon each other."

The rest of Star Fox acknowledged Fox's words. He targeted the closest container. "Fox 9. Go for my target."

Kiyo grinned. "Yes sir!" She turned a roll and scanned the ship. "Well, looks like a bottle with bang in it!"

Fox recognized the pun; bombs in the bay. "Okay, let's cover Kiyo. Fox 9, start making a pass. You got the target now."

"I got you! Moving into position. Hey Falco, I don't suppose you have some time on your hands, come and help me."

Falco clicked on the com. "Fox Lead?"

Fox acknowledged. "Go ahead, have fun." He watched as Falco left the group. He also noticed a flaw. Pepper had said that he had a new ship schematic, but the simulation ships were just plain ordinary Sd-102 units, the mainstay fighters of the air force. But as he wondered what was going on, Katt had sounded in.

"Fox Lead!" shouted Katt. "We've got company! A full squadron of enemy fighters coming our way!"

Fox looked out the port side. "Fox 3 4 and 6, intercept the incoming fighters and cover our fire. Fox 5, I'm moving to identify that cruiser. Stay behind."

"Roger, Fox Lead, moving to starboard."

Liz moved far enough to target any incoming ships. Already, a ship had started attacking Fox, the enemy zipping up and down Fox's position. She started to fire at the ship, but another enemy locked on to her and she moved out of the way. Slippy wasted no time in helping her out, and soon the fighter was in pieces. They both moved to cover Fox.

Fox was amazed. The simulation tests were more aggressive, more accurate, and in a word, more challenging. Even he had trouble just trying to outmaneuver his assailants. He figured that the simulations at the academy were probably less realistic, now. He moved with grace, dodging, darting and flying like a falcon. He looked back and noticed a single fighter on his rear. "Fox 5, I've got trouble here. Care to lend a hand?"

Wulf looked towards Fox's position. "Yeah, I seem him. I'm coming right for him! Stay in shape, he's in my sights."

Wulf took the opportunity to offhandedly fire a laser at an incoming ship. The projectile splashed against the shields of the fighter and ignited the fuel, causing the ship to explode, slowly. Amazed, he set his mind towards Fox's dilemma. He set his targeting box to missile and waited for the box to turn red.

The fighter was already trying for a lock, and Liz was firing crazily at the ship.

"I got a lock," he informed Fox. "Time to duck and cover!"

"I heard that," said Fox, immediately pulling a 90-degree nosedive that sent his heart to his throat. Liz and Slippy soon followed suit and headed for Fox's position.

The sights instantly turned red. Wulf pulled the trigger.

The bomb floated slowly, but gained speed as soon as it was a safe distance from his ship. The enemy saw this, tried to turn, headed towards his squadron...

Too late. The warhead exploded behind the fighter. But the surrounding blast took with it the squadron of fighters and part of a cargo container full of other warheads. A chain reaction set off and the container went off, bursting in flame and took with it another group of fighters.

Kiyo was laughing his hardest. "Now THAT was really interesting!" he chortled. Tears started streaming down his face and his laughter was so infectious that Fox and Wulf both started smiling, laughing. Fox felt better about the team, and at the same time, set his mind towards the objective at hand.

The best part was that no enemy fighter had taken advantage of the moment. Fox, still grinning, took the liberty of identifying another container. "Fox 8," informed Fox," go ahead and finish this container. Fox 7, cover your sister."

"Roger," said a computerized voice, coming from Liz's ship. "I got you, Fox Lead," came Eli's reply.

Not wanting to take much longer on the container, Eli started firing volleys of bombs, each one crashing into the ship with a hollow bang at the end. Liz followed suit, throwing all she had at the container. Fox started to make runs on the remaining fighters, and the rest of the squadron helped to mop them up.

Suddenly, the container broke apart and erupted into a golden ball of fire. The mission was complete.

"Everyone, heads up. New cruiser on the scanners." Fox watched as it fired several missiles toward each one of them. Kiyo out-maneuvered one, Kiyo and Wulf both used their chaffs, and the rest either shot them down or took the hit. They lined up in formation. The simulation was over, but Fox wanted to put holes in all of his enemies before he left.

"Fire all warheads!"

He watched as all torpedoes, bombs, heavy rockets and missiles speed toward the cruiser. Some moved fast, others moved considerably slow, but every one splashed against the hull.

For a moment, the cruiser did nothing.

A bright light escaped from it, the hole turning larger until fire escaped through. The cruiser blew into a billion shards.

Fox sighed. "Let's jump outta here."

The simulation stopped.

Fox stepped out of the chamber, taking a deep breath. He was glad. He had a squadron that kicked tail and friends that were in it. He turned to face General Pepper, obviously pleased. "Well! I didn't expect you guys to be THIS good! You are most definitely an elite squadron."

"I noticed that you must have seen every other of your comrades ships as our mainstay fighters. But the ship design, as you remember, is totally different, as are the speed and weaponry. I'm actually quite surprised that you adapted so quickly to the controls! The ship design is different, but we couldn't install the proper programming to show the ship. So I've decided to show you the ships you are to fly as a mercenary unit, personally. Follow me!" he said enthusiastically.

Liz was the first to comply, eager to be next to Fox. Fox noticed this and shifted uncomfortably. Falco followed, walking fast to avoid Katt's gaze. Kiyo followed, interest falling from Fox onto Wulf.

Already! thought Fox. He hadn't expected this to happen so soon. Oh well...

General Pepper walked on to another door and opened it, stepping quickly inside.

Fox looked forward and let his jaw drop.

"Hey! I thought you said that these were going to be new ships! These-"

"Are new models," siad Pepper, cutting Fox off.

He smiled. "This," Pepper said, " is the new and improved T5-ing4 Arwing."

The whole group gawked at the ships, and some swore in fascination and sucked in breaths of air. They all looked at the ship with interest, and everyone could see that Fox was itching to get into the cockpit. It seemed that the ship itself had came from God.

The ships were all identical. It showed a slim, white frame, the nose of the ship coming into a point. On either side of the cockpit, there were blue large weaponry units, showing lasers and launchers, as well as two rods that seemed to be ion cannons. The cockpit itself showed a comfortable seat and two orange shoulder clasps, instead of the usual safety straps. The wings were thin and had a mechanism that showed they could be shifted for cruise speed or for a fighter stance. It didn't take an expert to figure that these ships were something special.

"Like I said, " continued General Pepper," they were made by Beltino Toad. He's been telling us of several other vehicle schematics for land and water missions, but they haven't been built, yet." He still smiled, noticing that no one but Slippy had bothered to listen.

The rest of the pilots were engaged in probing and studying the ships with critical eyes, and for a moment, with the way they were circling around the ships and inspecting them, they seemed almost wild, primitive. No one spoke. They were almost like a native tribe, curious as to what the term Techno-olgy meant.

Then Fox spoke up. "Where's the command ship?" he asked. The rest of the pilots also looked up and began wondering the same thing, figuring that the mother ship was probably just as flashy.

Pepper grinned. "I also want to show you that. So follow me." Without another word said, he walked to another hangar door and opened it. The pilots followed, curious to see the mother ship. They walked into the hallway and General Pepper came to a door, with a hangar rack at the side, holding silver jackets with the mercenary unit insignia. On it there were the initials SFX. Pepper stood next to them.

"Before we continue, I'd like you to take one of these jackets. It doesn't matter which one, but it'll be your uniform along with the standard flightsuits." Fox looked at Peppy, and the squadron all looked at each other for a second, not one making a move to pick one up.

Then Liz stepped forward and plucked a trench coat sized jacket and pulled it over her shoulders. It was at least twice as large as she was, with the exception that it didn't reach the floor, and the sleeves had to be pulled up, but she showed her approval by smiling. She nodded and indicated that it didn't affect the temperature at all.

Fox followed her and he pulled a jacket off the rack. He rolled up the sleeves and pulled the coat a little. "Nice wear," he said. He made o move to zip up the jacket and kept it that way. Falco followed and then Kiyo, then Wulf and the rest pulled a coat off the rack. There was one more, and everyone looked at that one, for the new flight lieutenant. It was designed for rolled up sleeves, and it seemed the zipper couldn't be pulled up all the way, almost as if the jacket were for anyone with Fox's attitude.

Pepper commented them. "Lookin' sharp. I knew you kids would look good in 'em. Anyhow, let's snoop around the Great Fox."

Fox looked up sharply. "WHAT!?"

Pepper grinned madly. "Take a look."

Inside the hangar, stood the Great Fox. The ship was shaped somewhat like a goose, but that added to the beauty of it. It was roughly 500 meters long and had a portion of the hull sticking out, which Fox assumed was where the ships would exit. Another port was on the ship's "neck", where the ships would enter. A droid stood by the ship's main hatch. But Fox knew everything about the ship.

It was, after all, his father's command ship.

Pepper had been talking about the ship's components and was leading the group into the ship. Fox stared at the vessel, and he saw the group ambling off, the droid also following.. He ran to catch up with the group. He entered the hull, but found that he wasn't the last.

Liz had been standing by him, and Fox yelped and jumped back when he noticed. He regained his posture. "Oh, sorry. It's just that you surprised me." She nodded back, not having any hard feelings, just smiled. She walked ahead and Fox followed in deeper into the ship. He saw Eli staring at him, giving him a "Careful with my little sister" look, a warning look. Fox looked back and nodded, understanding fully. Eli smiled back.

"Anyway," said Pepper," this tin can here is Rob 64. He'll be the onboard repair droid of the ship." He walked through the ship, pointing out the bunks, the washrooms, the cafeteria, the medical unit, the main deck and the hangar bay, each with a brief description, but General Pepper was interested in getting to the hangar. He started giving the information about the hangar, what it had, but what caught Fox's attention was the ship inside it. It wasn't an Arwing, but Fox recognized the ship instantly. It was one of the ships that he had had his eye on for a long time, and had even considered buying.

A Sector RIP 345 starship.

The ship had a slim, narrow shape, set so that the front was at a point. It sported four wings, two on each side, and each one had a different weapon on it, two with lasers, two with Ion cannons. It had a gunner's chair at the top, but the ship itself was supposed to have been a mere transport. What it was now was a clearly modified hot-rod. Only a slight blackened spot on the engines showed previous use, and then again the whole ship was clean as a preacher's sheet. It had a tan color, but a purple streak ran down the side, and on it was the insignia of a Fox with wings.

Pepper also saw the ship. "Oh. That's a ship that needs to be shown to Fox. I was planning it as a graduation present, but... It's there, but it's Fox's ship. No time to--"

But the whole squadron had seen the ship and was already inspecting every inch of the vessel. Pepper sighed, but grinned anyway, figuring that it was going to be sooner than later.

Fox had already ambled up the cargo ramp and was looking at the galley, the cargo bay and finally he climbed into the cockpit, which was designed to hold four people, and the ship itself could hold 8 more passengers, for the full squadron, though its own design was not for a whole squadron to be seated in.

Wulf had taken a good look at the navigational units and sat in the seat that controlled it. Falco was in the Co-pilot's seat and was testing the joystick, surprised at how it smoothly it handled.

Pepper had climbed in. "Well, you were gonna look at it later. Besides, the tour was already done. But whether or not you decide to go with us, this is your ship."

He looked at Fox, who looked back. "So. Are you gonna join?" Pepper knew the answer, but he wanted to hear it.

Fox thought about it for only a second. He decided. "Yes."

Pepper smiled. "So! What're you gonna call the ship?"

Fox grinned. "Swift." And he stuck with that.

Fox thought of his life. It was stuck on the insignia of a fox with wings and was gonna be for a long time.

 

"The only thing wrong with interrogating a person is that if you have absolutely no experience in the area, your more than likely going to get false information. Of course, loyalty usually by passes that, and of course, friendships clear out a great amount of it."

Katt Monroe, Flt. Officer of mercenary unit 6032, StarFox.

Chapter 4: Tails of the team.

Fox sat in the Air force cafeteria, sucking on a drink. It was sweet, fizzy, and tasted a bit sour, but that was good. Variety was always a good thing. Like his team.

He had seen a couple of familiar faces, even talked to them a bit. He had gotten to know every one of his pilot's names, and stopped calling them by their designations. He considered every one of his pilots equal.

He hadn't seen Bill, but he saw a lot of pilots that showed indifference or anger toward the mercenary unit. It seemed nobody around liked the pilots, save for a few that recognized one or two his team, if not him. Those few had no hard feelings toward the unit. He looked on as he saw Falco and Wulf playing chess. Wulf was winning, of course, but it didn't bother Falco any. After all, Falco never got mad losing a game, unless it involved money, which he couldn't bear to part with.

At that moment, he remembered his past question. He turned and saw Katt, sitting on the other side of the room. So Fox decided to find Peppy. He got up and started looking.

"Hey," he said, as he sat beside Peppy when he found him.

"Hey," responded Peppy. "What's up?"

Fox looked at the old spacer. "Remember Falco and Katt?"

Peppy looked at Fox. "Don't go there. It's a sad story."

"Well." Fox smiled. "I would like to know what went on between them."

Peppy sighed, but prepared to tell Fox. "Well, it's not a pretty story, but I'll tell you."

He leaned back, wondering where to begin." Well, Falco was a top student in the academy, about a year before you. He loved to fly, but he had a problem. He had a tendency to outburst and get furious easily. Well, somehow, he made friends with a seventeen-year old girl. Of course, this was Kathrine. They became good friends and I suppose Katt took, ah, an interest in him, though I think Falco didn't relay it. Probably didn't know the kid liked him. But he was her friend, and that was enough."

Fox still looked unconvinced. "But..."

Peppy continued." See, here's the thing. You know how pilots have to take those tests at the end of the year, right?" Fox nodded. "Well, Falco had taken a test that involved the capturing of a heavy freighter. He wanted so badly to do it perfectly. So he took the test. Katt was on his squad, so she was there, too."

Peppy frowned a bit. "But things had gone wrong. The freighter was nearly destroyed, and the only thing that Falco could do from getting it destroyed was to put his ship between the laser blasts. Crippled his ship, but he could still go on in the simulator. Katt was on the verge of destroying a fighter, but she accidentally nicked his craft. Even so, he lost both wings. He was getting so pissed, he finally broke loose and destroyed the only vessel carrying enemy fighters. He did it single handedly, too. Pretty good, and they beat the simulation, but when it was over, he got on everyone's case and jumped on nearly every pilot in the room."

Fox raised his eyebrows. "Then what happened?"

"Falco was getting so mad, Katt even tried to comfort him. She put his hand on his shoulder, but Falco reeled around and swung, not knowing whom it was grasping his shoulder. He slapped Katt and started yelling at her, but..."

Fox jumped at the fact that Falco had been so violent, once. "But, what?"

"He stopped. He was so shocked, didn't know what came over him. He couldn't speak. Katt stared at him, and tears started streaming down her face. She was so angry, so sad that Falco had done that, had been so violent. He tried to apologize, but she ran off. When he started to follow, the security guards pinned him down, hearing the commotion on the recorders. They beat him down, but Falco hardly put up a fight. He was shocked at his own violence. They put him in a cell for a day. He didn't graduate."

Fox was amazed. "What did they do next?"

"They scheduled him to go to psychologist for four weeks. But the event had clearly changed him. He was released in two weeks. But he was not allowed to enter the Cornerian Airforce's grounds, ever. Until now."

Fox had his mouth open a bit. "Wow. Man, I didn't know about this." Fox had an idea. "And all these pilots have been kicked out?" he asked.

Peppy nodded. "Yep. All of them for stupid reasons, also. 'Cept me."

Fox looked at Peppy. "What about Katt?"

Peppy thought, and smiled, as if somewhat amused by her story, which wasn't long. "Hmm... oh yeah. Well, she had an even harder time. The simulation experts had all agreed. She had some definite skill. She was an absolute daredevil. She could make some of the most suicidal maneuvers known to men. Like you." He grinned, but continued.

"That's when Skyes came in to evaluate her. He claimed she was far too reckless, that she would crash way too many ships before she died. Of course, everybody thought it was a bunch of bull. But, he was, after all, the administrative councilor. He, and he only, could decide who was in or out."

"Anyway, she had nowhere to go so she started doing mercenary jobs, sorta like you. She never got killed, as you can see, and she spent most her time talking to her parents about the incident. Now she's eighteen, and now she's here."

Peppy smiled again. "I read your mind Fox, and I know what you're going to do. You're going to ask the other pilots their stories."

Fox raised his eyebrows at the telepath. "If it's okay…"

Peppy shrugged. "Depends on if they want to talk about it." He raised his own eyebrows. "You never did seem to talk to the other kids when you were young. You were like Bill, you liked talking big talk to the grown-ups and whatnot."

Fox shrugged. 'I'm stuck with these guys for a long time. The people I spoke to I was only going to know for a day."

Peppy considered. "Well, you might want to talk to them. I'm sure they'll tell you."

Fox got up. "I'll do that."

 

He didn't have to look far for Kiyo. She was sitting down, trying mightly to get boozed up, but was failing. For the second time, she cursed the safe alcohol brew. Ever since it was agreed on earth to have fluffy alcohol, it had been made so that you'd have to drink about 100 just to feel the effects, and then it went away. With the mixture she was drinking, you'd have to drink less, but there were no health hazards, and only the human mind kept the body and thoughts from going insane, or losing judgment. Plus, it was better tasting than regular (and illegal) beer, too. The new alcohol (if you could call it that) gave the drinker a mind rush, but it wasn't wholly addictive as hard liquor, and it was more like a caffeine rush.

She was having fun, though, and besides, no one could tell if she was sober or drunk, since she was out of control. She shared a joke with a few more pilots. Fox walked up behind her. If anyone was disgusted with his team, at least they weren't disgusted with her. She began.

"This cartoon producer has a reputation for drinking coffee day in and out, because he finds himself tired every morning, and nobody knows why. An artist comes in with a disk that has his whole cartoon on it. The producer looks at the cartoon and asks to borrow it. The artist agrees, but the next day, the producer ain't drinkin' coffee. He asks if he can borrow another disk, and the artist agrees, and every day, the producer ain't drinkin' coffee. So the artist finally asks, 'Why do you keep borrowing my cartoons?' The producer looks up, confused. 'Those were cartoons? I thought it was a great way to cure insomnia!'"

The pilots all laughed, one even blew a drink out his nose, making the crowd erupt with laughter. Fox couldn't help it, and soon he was grinning and laughing. He faced Kiyo. The crowd died down and some left, still laughing.

"That was a cool joke. Where'd you come up with this stuff?"

Kiyo grinned. "You have to know what to say, when to say it, Fox. It isn't what the joke is, it's how you say it and when you say it. If you," she grinned, " ever hope to fall in love, you gotta know that." She sipped at her drink. "No offense, 'cause you look good and all, but even if you do look cute, you aren't my first choice." She considered, and eyed Fox again. "Well... maybe second." She looked at Fox. "You like anybody?"

Fox smiled back. He explained his dislike for falling in love during wartime, why it was the wrong time to get engaged or make friends. She grinned, chuckled, but fully understood.

"Understandable. That's a good reason." But she made a little twisted, confused face. "But we're friends though, ain't we?"

Fox considered, then found himself nodding. "Yeah. We are." He got back to his original question. "So. How'd you-"

"Get stuck with you?" she finished. "Don't worry, Peppy told me you were interrogating the team. I don't mind, but be careful when you ask Eli. He had a... harder time." She cleared her throat, frowned for a second, but smiled again.

"Well, like the rest of us, I was kicked out for reasons that were just plain bull. This time, though, it wasn't my fault. But..."

She tossed what was left in her glass into her mouth, then cursed at not having any credits for buying more drinks, that she should have brought more. But she still grinned. " As you know, I'm a weapons engineer. I took a full fledged course in weapons preparation, you know, putting them together, pulling them apart,etc.. I was a good pilot, among the honors, but I didn't brag. I just moved to see the sciences of charging and inertia and all the rest. But I took a test to see if I was as good as I seemed." She sighed, but still hung on to her smile. "I shouldn't have."

Fox cocked an eyebrow. "Why not?"

She sighed again, though she kept on her friendly visage. "Because I had tried to prove myself in areas that were already in my reach, that's why. There were breaks, at 15-minute intervals, but I figured I could finish the test in two tries.

"So I sped up the work. All the while, I told the teacher that I was done with this, done with that. One of the other students wanted to pull a prank on me. He or she figured that they could lower my grade by telling the teacher I was done before I really was. Well. Break came, and I wasn't done, yet. I had to connect one wire, just one, but the teacher wouldn't have it! It would have taken just one second! But the teacher pressed me, and I had to go."

She started toying with the empty glass. Fox gave her a few credits, for her to buy another drink. "Thanks," she said. "You're really a nice kid, but like I said, second choice..."

She ordered another drink. "Shoot, I didn't know that we were working on ships that were going to be piloted." She grabbed the drink in front of her and drank noisily from it. "Well, whoever it was that told the teacher I was done, they got kicked out too. But anyway, one of the pilots took the ship out to test out its firing mechanism. I didn't know he had chosen mine. He died. And I was blamed for it!"

She hadn't gotten "boozed", and it looked like she wasn't getting anywhere. She sighed, not at the incident, but at her status of not being drunk. But she continued. "I told the officials that I hadn't said I was done, but they charged me with murder. They thought I had secretly planned to take a life! Wow!" She still smiled, though.

"They found me innocent, but I had still killed a man, accidentally. They found out who this other figure was. Some reptile, young, but not like me, began with an 'L'. Leon, something or other, Polas, Powski… I forget." She thought for a second, shook her head. "Can’t remember. Anyway, that was just this year."

Fox nodded and smiled. She grinned back. "Well! That's my story! I'm sure you enjoyed it." Fox nodded, said he did.

Fox cleared his throat. "Would you excuse me? I gotta-"

"Ask other people about their story? Sure! Go ahead. But," she warned, "be careful with Eli."

Fox nodded, and moved on.

Fox looked for Eli, and found him sitting with Wulf. They were talking about how many credits Andross would have in his account. According to some people, He had so many credits he could throw half his money out a window and still be somewhere in the trillion's digit.

Fox walked up and shared his opinion.

"Well, if he had that many credits, don't you think that he would have bought this planet already?"

The other two considered, then agreed. "Excuse me, Wulf, " Fox asked, "but could you step aside for a second? I gotta talk about something, to Eli."

Wulf nodded, and he went to where Kiyo was sitting. They started to talk and Wulf offered her a drink. First choice.

Eli looked up. "I know what you're gonna ask me. I shoulda figured you were this curious. I don't blame you. Maybe it is a good idea. Want a drink?"

Fox shook his head. "If you don't want to talk about it..."

Eli smiled, but sighed. "Yeah, but I should. Besides, I notice that every time I talk about it, it seems to come off my shoulders. So... I'll tell you."

He closed his eyes briefly, remembering bad times, but not dwelling into it. "It happened about two months ago. I believe it was after you left?" Fox nodded. "Thought so. I was a pre-flight checker, seeing that ships were ready to rumble. I was also a good ship disabler, with lasers or ion cannons. My sister was a calibration officer, making sure that the ship could fly well before lift off.

"She worked wonders with lock-on techniques. But that had nothing to do with it. I had this friend, you see. I trusted him with my life and thought he was a good guy. So I walked into my room with him. I had forgotten something, so I decided to leave him there for only a minute."

Fox could already tell what had happened, and was already regretting it. As far as he could tell, Eli had forgotten the memory a lot, and dwelling on it didn't bother him much, at least not enough to make him overly angry.

"It was only for two minutes. In that time, Liz had walked in and saw my... friend in there. She also shared my room, since she was younger. He saw her, and I guess he had something for her. So he tried to move in on my own sister. She protested, but it was no use."

Fox began to sweat on account of asking this pilot his story, but Eli saw this. "It's all right. I'm not mad. But...god. She lost her virginity and her voice that day. I came in and saw him. He saw me, and pulled a knife on me. I stepped back, but Liz decided to take advantage of this situation. Bad move. He turned and slit her throat, badly. It damaged her vocal cords, and she couldn't speak."

"At that moment, I got so mad. I jumped on the guy's back and pounded him, just struck him left and right. I was so angry at him, I didn't see the knife coming towards my shoulder. But I didn't feel it. I just yanked it out and I stabbed him. I stood there, shocked."

Fox looked grim. "Man. I'm sorry."

Eli looked up. "Don't be. Anyway, I killed a man. The authorities found me and arrested me, but let me go. I still went to court. They found me innocent of murder, but guilty of manslaughter. So I get kicked out. Now my sister. She can't speak, so they figure that she's no good. Out she goes." Eli smiled, though. "What really pissed me was that they had instruments on board that could be used to respond to other pilots. They didn't listen, though."

Fox looked at Eli. "Is that why-"

"I'm more than a bit protective of my sister?" finished Eli. He nodded. "Yeah. I didn't want anybody to touch her unless they were really serious. Even then, I'd still watch out for her."

Fox smiled. "Well. I hope you know that I don't have any strong feelings toward your sister."

Eli smiled back. "Yeah, I know, but she says she kinda likes you, so... just be careful, okay?"

Fox grinned. "Okay. Sure."

"And, I know that you probably like Kiyo," he said.

Fox looked up. "Nope. I mean, she's cool, but she's like one of my best friends, or something." It seemed true. He knew that he had heard her name somewhere, before, but he couldn't think how or where he heard it, and again, for some reason, he thought of Bill he saw her.

Eli laughed, forgetting about his story. "You think Wulf likes her more?"

Fox looked back at Kiyo. "He's probably her first choice."

Fox felt a little shaken, but a drink with Kiyo and he was back on his feet. He searched out for Wulf. Kiyo had said he had left for the arcade, to find Slippy. So Fox started to follow. But he thought better of it.

I know his story. They thought he was untrustworthy, what with being a criminal's twin brother.

Fox grimaced. He had met the other twin when he was on MacBeth.

He was trying out some simulations, and pilots were losing against him. He figured it was a good way to hone his skills. But along came a rogue, a canine with a bad attitude. He wanted to challenge Fox to a dogfight, but Fox turned down the deal and walked away. The older pilot settled with giving Fox's parents a couple of... interesting and profound names. Fox turned back and accepted the challenge.

They both gave rules. No warheads, shields up to normal height, not overload, lasers only, death match. After only a minute, they stepped in.

They launched out from the simulation bay and the battle started.

The two had shot at each other, maneuvered, accelerated, braked and doing all the tricks known to pilots, and then some. They battled for about an hour, but Fox was on top. He settled the match by blowing both the pilot's engine and hitting him with a volley lasers to the shield generator. The pilot cursed and swore. He vowed that next time Fox wouldn't be so lucky. He declared his name and left.

His name was Wolf O’Donald.

Fox knew enough about Wulf and Wolf to go on for about thirty minutes, which was, to say, enough. Even if Fox didn't know exactly why Wulf had been kicked out, he had no doubt that it had to do with his older brother.

Wolf had been born 5 minutes before Wulf was, and the O’Donalds had been blessed with two young boys. Blessed. Oh boy. When the two were both twelve, Wolf showed his dark side. He was brilliant when it came to math, but he expressed hate for his brother, since he became jealous. For almost nothing, that is. The two had both gotten the same awards at school, though Wulf was better known. While the younger brother had been popular, with many friends, the older had taken shelter in the shadows.

But even Wulf wasn't a happy child. Since Wolf had expressed his hate for his younger brother, it tore at Wulf to bits. He had developed a fear to his own brother, though it wasn't his fault. He became so afraid, he wouldn't even speak to him, knowing how dangerous it was.

They both had lived on Macbeth, and their parents had been divorced when they were both nine, though they still attended the same academy. So Wulf could still see his brother lurking around the shadows.

When he gathered his courage to do so, however, the older brother sneered. By then, Wolf, although getting good grades, was hanging around the wrong people. He pulled out a switchblade and tried to cut at Wulf. By that time, also, they had been to the academy, which meant they had both been trained to kill. But, while Wolf's intentions were to kill without reason, Wulf's intentions were to maim to protect his own self.

So, in an effort to protect himself, he pulled out a cutting knife from the kitchen, all the while being cut at by all sides from Wolf. But the younger pilot was more determined to stay alive, and he got himself out of the ordeal, ending it by cutting the older brother's eye with a quick stroke. From that point on, Wolf could not see out that eye.

But even then, Wulf still felt awful. He hadn't wanted to hurt his brother in any way. Even if his brother showed enmity to him, Wulf still loved him as a brother.

The younger brother was kindhearted, and would never kill unless he had to, though he could do so by just putting his hands around a neck and squeezing.

Fox hadn't known, though, that the pilot named Wolf was the leader of StarWolf, Andross's main fighter squadron. From what he heard from Slippy, they had destroyed the freighter that put Fox in the position of commander.

Fox supposed that Wolf showed his enmity to Fox when his father arrested Wolf's father for stealing Cornerian star fighters and selling them as scrap. James had approached slowly, but Scott, Wolf's father, had killed several people before they had stopped him. In three months, he was executed for murder. Wulf had to make it past that whole time, and it was made worse when his own mother died.

Since then he had moved in with his uncle for a little while, but stuck with the academy. Wolf, on the other hand, went out and got lost, until he declared that all people of the universe would feel the sting of Star Wolf.

He had to both thank them and curse them at the same time. Well. They would meet again. But now, at least, he had a better reason to protect his whole squadron.

Fox thought about that and knew something was missing.

Where would they find a flight lieutenant?

 

" People constantly ask ' Why are we born, why do we live, why do we die?"

"I ask, ' when is everyone going to shut up and face the fact that it is going to happen, no matter what?'"

Eli Medus, Second Lieutenent of Mercenary unit 6032, StarFox.

Chapter 5: A new member.

"Hey," said Kiyo, around a mouthful of her sandwich. "Isn't that Fara Phoenix?"

Fox looked up from his salad and put on a horrified face. "What?! Where?!" He quickly got up and tripped over his chair, but got up quickly. "I hope she didn't see that," he said, a little stupidly.

They were in the cafeteria, as was the rest of the team, scattered along the room. Though Fox would have been classified as carnivorous, he still liked leaves and occasionally ate veggies. He had been talking to Kiyo about the weapons systems upgrade she had just installed when she pointed out the approaching figure.

Kiyo raised her eyebrows, though didn't smile. Yet. "Well. I suppose she'll be walking this way soon. I'll wave her over."

She grinned evilly then and stood up. But her grin faded when Fox grabbed her shirt and pulled her down. He saw Fara. She was wearing jeans, a men's shirt and looked almost tomboyish, though was still easy on the eyes. A braid of dark, long and curled hair fell before her eyes.

"Please, don't!" he pleaded, almost begged, stomach on the table looking up like a starving puppy. "I can't let her see me yet! I'm not ready to die!"

"Let go of my shirt, moron."

"I'm not a moron."

Kiyo grinned again. "What are you going to die of; high stress? C'mon, she might want to see you, thank you, I don't know, maybe ask you to get under sheets with her--"

She stopped short as Fox pulled her down more. "Look! I... just don't know what to say. It's like you said. 'It's not what you say, but when and how you say it.' Please?"

Kiyo considered for a moment. "Okay."

Fox blew air from between his lips.

Kiyo wasn't finished. "But if she asks about you, I won't hesitate to spill my guts, 'kay?" She grinned again.

Fox almost started on her, but thought more about it. If he wanted to tell Fara about himself, he would have to do it himself. "Okay." He looked toward Fara. "I'm going to the fresher, okay?"

Kiyo grinned at the older pilot. "You're low, you know that? I can't believe you." She still smiled. " 'Kay, bye." She waved him off.

Fox ran to the fresher and stayed there, looking out.

Fara approached Kiyo. "Hey. What's up?"

Kiyo grinned. Fara didn't have to ask. "He went to the fresher. I think he's shy. But cute."

Fox, of course, with his sharpened senses, could hear everything. He felt flustered. Oh boy. She was saying the word cute, and referring it to him. Fara looked a little dismayed, but she shook it off. "Well, could you tell me about him?"

Kiyo, as she said, spilled her guts out about him, how old he was, what he liked and his scores. But she also understood that you couldn't live without guts, and let Fox live on his part. So she left out any part of him liking Fara. When she was done, Fara looked more dismayed. "But do you think he likes me?" she asked.

Kiyo hesitated for a second, unsure whether or not to tell her. "I, uhh," she started, but couldn't decide. She looked back at the fresher, at Fox.

Fox cut her off, shaking his head. Kiyo found the right words.

"I think that he might want to be your friend. But I warn you; he has this philosophy about making friends. He can't stand to tell a person he's their friend if they don't know if they'll survive a battle or something."

Fara considered, then pulled down at her shirt. She smiled. "Okay, then. Friends it is." She scanned the room, looking for Fox. She shrugged and smiled. "If you seem him again, tell him I'll be in a training area."

Kiyo nodded and Fara walked away.

Fox sighed. If she knew...

He blew air between his lips and calmed down a bit as she left.

At the very least, that part was over. He walked out of the door and resumed his seat.

Kiyo grinned. "I know you heard every word of that! Anyway, she'll be in a training area of some sort. Must be using firearms." She laid off a bit. "Do you like her any?"

Fox considered. "She's seems nice, but I won't hurry to ask her out."

Kiyo eyed Fox critically. "Look, she's my best friend, she can kick some serious tail and I know her well enough to know that she's very nice to everyone, and views everything with kindness." She put on a smug and endearing face. "Unlike myself."

Fox shrugged. "I agree that she's easy on the eyes, but you know how I feel about love and war."

Kiyo nodded. "I get what you mean."

"No, you don't"

"Yes, I do."

"No, you don't."

"What're you saying?"

Fox sighed. "I realize that you like Wulf a lot."

Kiyo could already see what he meant. The term, "Like Wulf a lot," meant that Kiyo only "Liked Wulf a lot." This was, to Fox, a bit more complicated.

"Well, I can't imagine why you can't be around her. Is the little pup shy? Or is there another reason why you haven't asked her out? I’d sure like to know, for one."

At that, Fox pulled out his wallet and thrust his mother's pictures at Kiyo. She seemed to change color and she stammered. "I'm sorry, Fox. I didn't know."

Fox nodded. "It's okay. A lot of people don't."

But she still stuck up for Fara. "Look, Fox. It ain't as if you're in love with her. But she seems to like you a lot."

Fox could almost swear that Kiyo sounded like Bill, and for a second, reminded him about Bill. "I gotta go. I'll see you later." He got up, took the wallet and left.

Fox walked around the cafeteria, bored out of his skull. So far, he had not seen any of his old friends from the academy at all. It made him both tired and sad that he had not even seen Bill around. More than anything, he wanted to see Bill, just to tell him he was alright.

Fox felt a good feeling behind him, something... friendly. He tried to ignore it, and he settled for looking at Fara to leave the area. But it was too strong. He looked behind him. And saw a familiar face.

The pilot looked at Fox for one second, as if he was dreaming, but realized he wasn't. He slowly grinned, and Fox did likewise. "Bill!"

The other looked. "Fox?! How'd you-"

Fox was too happy to let the other finish. "I can't believe it! You're here?!"

Bill was more amazed, but still happy. "You're here?! I thought you didn't graduate!"

Fox nodded, but still remained calm. "Well! They couldn't keep me away!" He gestured for the other to join him for a drink.

Bill hadn't changed much, save for the fact that he was wearing an official uniform. Likewise, Bill noticed Fox hadn't changed much, except that he was wearing a flight jacket, bearing the insignia of a fox with wings, which Bill recognized from somewhere he couldn't remember.

Bill asked Fox what had gone on, and Fox told him about how he got to MacBeth, met Falco and Slippy, what had gone on and how Fox got his call. "Didn't you hear me on T.V.?" he asked.

Bill nodded, "Yeah I did, but I didn't know you were coming here!"

So Fox continued and told Bill about the incident on the ship, Bill likewise telling him he was in control of the Husky unit. Then Fox told them about his own squadron's name and Bill looked shocked.

"Star Fox!? As in 'James'' Star Fox'!? With the GreatFox?!"

Fox nodded at all three. He told Bill about the team, their stories, and by the time Fox was done, Fox was out of breath, but still happy. His orange fur bristled a bit as he finished, and he remembered that the fur would now be changing back from orange to red, within the week, due to the fact that he had lost some blood, and the change had been interrupted because of this. He would be rapidly changing.

"So, who, how and what is your squadron?"

Bill told him about the squadron, a few of the mission they had and what Bill thought about them. "They're good, but they don't know how to actually fly, like you. But your team, it sounds good! My team has only been in three missions, and they weren't too challenging; disabling a freighter, covering supply transfers, the usual. But man, I'd love to be on your team!" He looked at Fox. "Nice skin tone! You do that naturally?"

Fox nodded. He saw Kiyo, just finishing up her lunch. "Hey, you wanna meet a few of the pilots?"

Bill grinned. "Sure!"

Kiyo sat down and saw Fox coming up to her. Bill was behind him, though she didn't recognize him. But when she did, she grew a little startled. Bill saw her there, too and jumped back a little.

It was then when Fox remembered where Fox had heard Kiyo's name, and where he had seen her before they met. He had heard it from Bill.

Kiyo was Bill's little sister.

"Oh, yeah," he murmured. "You know her. Never mind."

But Bill wasn't listening and neither was Kiyo. He got to the question first. "What're you doin' here, Kiyo?" He looked at her, oddly.

Kiyo gaped back, standing up. "What're you doin' here, Bill? I thought you were with Mom!"

"I thought you were with Dad!"

Fox grinned, knowing that they would hug later. Their parents had been divorced, and they only had the chance to see each other one week out of the year. "I get the indication that you guys are surprised, huh?"

Bill shook himself out of his present situation, as did Kiyo. "So, where's the rest of your team?"

Fox retorted back. "Where's your team, Bill?"

They both smiled, and agreed to find both their teams. They both came back and the group met up. Most of the other people in the cafeteria looked on, confused. A Mercenary unit talking to an Airforce unit? It was unusual, but it was there.

Bill introduced Fox to his team. First up was Demos Reck, a human, then Fender Litle, a Hyena, Will Scarlet (which was unusual, since his personality fit the bill of the legendary character) also human, Jeff Forts, a Ferret, Camm Deaid, yet another human, Yen Fon, a Feline, Starr Dange, a Dingo, Sean Kott, a Cheetah and Donna Gears, a Parakeet. They all wore green flightsuits and were interested with Fox's team, who weren't wearing identical uniforms, save for their jackets, but they didn't notice this at all. They talked on, some about how they made it through, how they did, but Fox's team was the real interest for the Husky unit. They were shocked that Skyes would knock them out with their scores.

Bill told them about a few missions Fox and he had pulled off, though he credited his friend the most, the way Fox did. The group of 23 pilots all talked and everyone not involved were amazed at the cooperation of both teams. It was some time, though before Bill noticed something.

"Wait. There're only 9 of you. Where's your 10th?"

Fox looked puzzled as Bill did. "I'm not sure. I don't know who this pilot is, either. None of us have seen him. I'm wondering where he's been hiding out. I mean, he must be hiding out because we should have already gotten our flight lieutenant."

Kiyo shrugged it off as she remembered StarFox's agenda for the day. "Hey, we're gonna take a test, Bro, in an hour. You wanna take a look at our stuff?"

Bill thought. "Sure! I'd like to see how you guys do."

"First, though," interjected Falco, a hint of pride in his voice, "you should see our ships."

Bill whistled softly to himself as his gaze skimmed across the surface of the Arwing. It was rare that he saw such ships anymore, but it didn't take a genius to realize that this was something special. "I swear, you guys have it good."

Fox shrugged, as the rest of the pilots inspected Star Fox's ships, indubitably impressed. "Our job isn't exactly supposed to be easy living, but we'll try to get on as we go." He cocked an eyebrow. "What have you been flying?"

Bill grinned. "We signed on to take the new Velocity-class fighters, and so far they've worked for us, due to the missions we've been on."

Fox saw past that. "You said that you've only done protection and escort of vessels, including reconnaissance missions. You've done more. I know it."

Bill wouldn't lie to his best friend, so he resigned. He sighed. "Yeah, we hit a fracas over MacBeth, about a month ago. You hear about it?"

Fox nodded.

"Well," he continued, "Afterwards, we tried to find a way to Venom through Area 6, but they cut us off before we even got past their minefield. Then we tried to back up a vessel at Sector Y, but it got destroyed before we got there."

Fox smiled. So, his friend had seen battle before Fox did. He shrugged. "That's all right, Bill. You did your best, and it came in handy."

Bill shook his head. "You know, they're thinking about sending me off to Katina, to help out their base. They're thinking maybe we don't have the skills to make it through the war."

Now Fox was getting a little peeved. Not at Bill, but at the air force. Bad enough having to be kicked out of the academy, but you could be kicked out to Katina, instead. Katina was basically like serving time in jail; nothing to do, nowhere to go except its capital, Bethias, and it was hot, with an extra side of work. True, the base there was pretty important, but it wasn't as if it was going to be attacked any time soon.

Kiyo came up. "Hey Bill, we're about ready to start."

Bill nodded. Time to see if Fox was made of the precious metal Bill thought he was made of.

Fox stepped into the cockpit of his fighter, for the first time. He was so excited, but he knew what it was like to fly. Then, he remembered that it was a test, and that he really hated tests, but then again recalled that he was a squadron leader. It wouldn't bother him, as long as there were more essays than questions. Essays were so much better because you could right what you wanted to on them.

It was Fox's belief that the best thing about flying was that you never had to follow things out of the book to stay alive, and that you could imagine your own moves up. So he savored in the fact that Pepper was going to let him roam free like the wild animal Pepper used to call him.

Slippy, on the other hand, felt a bit sick and went to the bathroom immediately.

Fox was dressed in a black flight suit, with his silver jacket on. Falco settled for blue, as did Slippy. The rest of the team wore either gray or red, but all with their jackets on.

Fox had to put Falco on one squad while putting Katt on another, and that had taken some figuring out. In the end, he decided he, Peppy and Kiyo would be team leaders. Fox was the head honcho and Peppy was his second squad leader. Kiyo was, of course, his third. Peppy took Slippy and Katt, while Kiyo took Liz, Eli and Wulf, and Fox took Falco.

"Log in," he said.

"Fox 2."

"Fox 3."

"Fox 4."

The group all logged in. This was it.

"Start your engines!" he said. "Set your lasers on increased recharge and get ready to lift off." He looked at the pre-flight screen. They were ready. "Kiyo, lift off."

He watched as Kiyo lifted off , with her team behind her. "Peppy, lift off."

The spacer acknowledged and the group sped away, in a good formation. He was left.

"Okay, Fox leads! Let's move out!" he cried out as he pulled back on the throttle. They sped away, the hangar moving from them incredibly fast. Fox pulled up and was away. They began the test.

"Okay. Let's see what Pepper has to say now." He let the comlink run for a minute. Then Pepper spoke in.

"Well! Now you get to show the airforce your talents! This test will put you on the listing for Airforce callings, so we can figure out who can be called on for service, since your new.

"First on the list. Move to port side. There'll be an obstacle course. You must fly through the course in a time limit of 5 minutes. It'll be a little long."

Fox moved over to port. "Check, I got it. Get ready to have fun, guys!" He whooped as he made his way towards the course.

It consisted of a series of blocks, tubes and objects in which all had sensors. When a ship passed through the sensor, the computer would log on, and it would be recorded. Depending on which turns and which sensors they took and passed through, they would get a different score. That score would be added up to the squadron score. But even then, they would still have to beat the time to get scored.

Still, they were speeding through the obstacle course with ease. Fox especially showed this, and Pepper smiled at the pilot's eagerness to be a commander. He was like a child, but had the maturity of a grown up. He seen a lot, endured a lot, but at the same time, he stayed calm and made himself more like a teen.

Fox weaved through every turn he saw, and he caught of most of the pilots' attention. He looped through several tubes, saw every turn possible, but made them better by accomplishing the near impossible. But they all continued on, making the best maneuvers they could, which were some of the best. The time was reaching four minutes when they cleared the course.

"Well," said Fox, "I can see this ship holds a lot of speed, but at the same time, the handling is magnificent. The wing arrangements give the ship a lot of dexterity, also."

Pepper wasn't listening. The team had already hit past the record score by thousands of points, and then some. He almost dropped the lollipop he had in his mouth, but he caught it before it fell. He regained his posture and, though still in slacks, brushed himself. "Well! An interesting test of your pilots' skill, Fox! Now, move a distance away from the course and go through it backwards. The other course will be on its other side."

Fox complied fully and the team headed back. But nobody noticed the young pilot's face, as it held a twisted, mischievous grin.

Bill Grey and his team were sitting out side, watching the test results coming out, as well as watching the whole team flawlessly move through the course, with ease. Jeff came up and studied the chart. He looked back at the readout on the computer, then looked at the printout again, mouth dropping.

"Bill!! Check this out! Fox's team... it's... perfect!"

Bill looked at the readout and almost blacked out. He felt giddy and just plain happy. He wasn't too surprised at Fox's performance, but a whole squadron that could get such a ... near impossible score... well, then that team was magic! Only his team came as close, and that showed that none could be as good. Bill knew the majority of the score came from Fox, and confirmed this by reading the chart. The other pilots were as good as Bill's own team, but even so, he wished so badly that he could be on the team. Yet it felt good that they were still on the same side.

He looked up from the papers to see his team crowding the video screen, all not talking.

"Hey, what's going on?" asked Bill.

Camme answered. "The team is going through the course, again!"

Bill was unimpressed. "So?"

"They're going through it...backwards!"

Pepper couldn't believe his eyes. My god! I didn't expect this. He could only gape as Fox had taken his words literally.

Fox had put his ship into a gravitation lock status, causing him to float in the air, by means of the repulser jets underneath the ship. But, at the same time, he pushed the throttle forward, reversed engine thrust, used his retro boosters, and shifted into a steady, slow but sure course backwards.

The rest of the team acknowledged this maneuver.

Soon the whole airforce stood outside, watching the spectacle with great awe.

Bill's team, however, were still far closer to the incident than anyone else, besides the pilots that were performing this great feat.

The crowd gave off "oohs" and "Ahhs", but for the most part, everyone did say "Wow." Fox looked out the cockpit to see a near thousand pilots watching them from below. The whole team was having no trouble doing Fox's (or rather, Pepper's) command. They simply asked no questions and followed suit. They moved in and out, being careful not to hit anything behind them. They passed through the sensors, quickly and quietly. Soon, though, Katt spoke up.

"Uhh, Fox Lead, should we be doing this?" She wasn't nervous, just curious to know if this was necessary.

Fox chuckled to himself. "Not really, but it'll get us some well needed boost to earning missions for ourselves. Besides, the man is a General, so we should follow his command strictly."

The team thought for a second, then Kiyo started to laugh silently, then Peppy and then everyone else just smiled at the thought of "strictly". Fox pulled up to avoid collision with a tube he decided not to go through. As they closed in on the end, Fox put him self into a gravitational lock again and turned the ship around. Everyone followed, and soon the squadron was in formation and cruising in their usual speed. It was time for phase three.

Fox looked down, something catching his eye for a second. He could've sworn he had seen a red blip on the radar a second ago, but when he looked down at it, it was gone. He took a moment to relax, but kept in check that it might've been there for a second. He had to be careful.

Fox's thoughts were shattered as Pepper spoke into the com, a bit amazed at the performance Fox had shown him. "Well! I see you've... utilized the Arwing, ah, well. How'd you know how to do that?"

Fox dismissed telling how he learned the trick and settled for telling him, "I learned it."

Pepper stood silent at the answer. It had been his father, all right. The teacher. No. THE teacher. The one who gave him wings when Fox was supposed to remain on the ground. The one who made Fox Icarus and who was taught how to stay away from the sun, and then taught him how to get past it. It still amazed Pepper, however, that Fox was able to learn it in the first place.

"Anyway, the second task is too easy for your team, I'm sure. There'll be a few holographic turrets up ahead. You are to use any means necessary to destroy them, but watch out for the replacement missile turrets. They will have two replacement waves, one after the other. After you are done, engage the enemy fighters, as they will have been launched at you."

Fox looked ahead as the turrets showed up. The battlefield was that of a large city, but Fox knew it was uninhabited. He rearranged his headset and spoke into it. As before, he had a plan, but it didn't stop him from having fun.

He started giving orders. "Kiyo, take your team and make a mess of the eastern turret side. If you get in a fix, give us a holler. Peppy, I only have two wingmen, so I need you to take on the western side. I'll cover both of you guys. Get goin'!" Fox switched to missiles and waited patiently for Team 2 to make its run. He opened his comlink, this to Slippy.

"How many are there, Fox 3?" asked Fox.

Slippy took a close look at each side, his eyes skimming over the surface. After a few seconds he made a rough estimate. "About 30 on each side, 30 missiles and the rest are lasers." He moved starboard to avoid a laser blast. "Should I go?"

Fox cautiously moved forward, making sure he got a good distance before he started his run. "Yeah, go ahead."

Team 2 sped off, firing lasers with deadly precision. Several of the turrets took critical hits and blew, but the ground opened to reveal replacements, as Pepper had said. The group sped in and out, and fired again. But a shield, encasing the turret in a safe position, stopped the bolts. It was going to be hard, thought Fox, but to the contrary, Kiyo had no problem avoiding their fire. Fox looked over to Peppy's position and sped off in that direction.

Team 3 was making its run elegantly, strafing side to side. Suddenly,. Fox 7 broke off, a missile on Katt's back, and closing in. Peppy broke off to intercept it. He locked on carefully to the warhead, then let fly with a smart bomb to the missile. The missile erupted into a ball of golden destruction. Fox made his move and closed in on the missile turrets.

Falco called in. "Team 2's having a fix. Should I break off?"

Fox thought for half a second. "Go ahead, but watch yourself!"

The destroyed turrets were replaced, but Peppy had already destroyed at least two of the three turrets that resided in the area. Fox hurried the situation by shooting the laser turrets.

"Uhh, Fox?" said Kiyo. "I think we should cut this short. There's already enemy fighters on our port side."

Fox looked at the indicated direction and saw several "ships" darting through the city. So Fox took a moment to fire a offhanded bomb, the warhead smacking into the ground and destroying the remaining turrets.

Fox turned his attention to the incoming fighters, but it would take them about 55 seconds before they got there. So he called out to the whole squadron.

"Okay, get into an attack group. Keep an eye out for each other, we want to do this perfectly!"

Fox watched as his squadron assembled quickly, moving into a position that allowed anything in front of them to be hit, no matter how many enemies there were. The "ships" were just plain, ordinary plastic replicas, with a computer in them that shot out real laser bursts, but could be destroyed, nonetheless. They were inexpensive, but effective. He aimed now at one of them, waiting for them to be in range.

All the while, he couldn't help but feel that there was something wrong about what was going on. H couldn't shake off the feeling, it was ... there. He couldn't see it, but he was cautious. He called to Wulf. "Be careful, there's something not right here."

Wulf nodded. He heard Fox's voice, and, though he didn't know Fox well, he could still feel some truth in the voice.

The CMD blinked as Fox's craft came into firing range. Fox fired his smart bomb, then followed up with lasers. The team fired also, shooting everything they had. The warheads, lasers, missiles and protons all exploded on the enemy's ships.

"Well!" said Kiyo. "That was quick!" She was about to move out, as was everyone, besides Fox and Wulf, when she looked back at the area where the fighters had been.

They were still there.

Pepper jumped up. "What is going on?! Didn't they destroy them!?"

An aid came up beside Pepper. "No sir," she said. "The ships seem to have shields on them, sir."

Pepper looked up, wondering what this meant.

"General Pepper!"

The general looked up.

"There are enemy ships in that sector! That's no simulation... That's real!"

Pepper looked at the view-screen, horrified. What were they going to do now?

"We're going to fight back!" said Fox, in a determined voice. "Peppy, take Katt and Slippy to port side and start firing what you got at the ships! We need to clear this area, fast!" Kiyo pulled up beside him, ready to cover his wing. To his left, Wulf was hovering a few meters away, making sure the Commander was still at his own. "Okay, I'm going to change the order a bit." He looked a little puzzled, but he had a plan. "Scatter and fight!" he yelled simply.

No one asked how Fox had made up such a simpleminded plan. They all moved in different directions, still skeptical, but Fox's prediction came true. The enemy became confused, not knowing whom to target. It was a little while before the leader of this group gathered them up and started giving orders. But that gave Fox time to make arrangement, as well.

"Kiyo, follow Wulf. I'll move to port and use my remaining bombs on any followers. He took a breath, let it out, and proceeded. Kiyo moved away, and a few enemy fighters moved to intercept her. Fox charged up his weapons quickly and locked on the three fighters. He moved the cursor over them to keep the lock, squeezed the trigger...

The warhead sped to the middle of the group, but Fox made a final move. At the moment the warhead was launched, he fired at a group of fighters that were making runs on Slippy's ship. The group veered starboard and sped towards the warhead as well.

Peppy took the moment to watch the spectacle. "Whoa!"

The bomb ignited, a flare that engulfed several fighters, hiding them in the light. When the explosion subsided, the fighters were gone.

Fox turned to port and saw Slippy out running a fighter, but the other pilot wasn't about to give up. So Fox swooped in and lured the fighter towards him. It worked, and soon, the fighter was following Fox and shooting with prejudice.

He looked on as Kiyo pulled the rest of the group out of the fire and sped to the center of the fake city. Though it wasn't exactly a real city, there were still corridors and secret flight passageways that pilots could take. Needless to say, it was quite possible to smash yourself in the city as well.

The odds still looked bad, and it looked like a long afternoon. But after the spectacle in which several fighters had walked into a warhead, Fox tried to shake a fighter that somehow managed to stay on his tail. He flew with all his knowledge, even fired chaffs, but the fighter managed to stay on, though it wasn't hitting Fox too well.

Fox felt a hard jolt, and became blinded as a warhead screeched past him. He moved down just in time, but the warhead exploded, damaging Liz's ship badly. Fox fought to stay in control, but also set up a comlink with Liz.

"Liz, move out of range and get back to base! Get your repairs done, go put the kettle on." Liz acknowledged, and Eli escorted her past the firing range.

Fox still hadn't shaken his attacker, and his eyes were still adjusting to the light the warhead had given off. Wulf had been trying for while to get Fox's bad guy. But every time he moved in, a fighter would zip past, firing at Wulf and causing him to back off.

Fox was about to pull a risky downward corkscrew, when all of the sudden, the fighter blew apart. Fox looked at where the craft had been. In its place was an Arwing. The pilot was in a black flight suit, similar to Fox's, but was also wearing a helmet that shut off all view from the outside.

"Shadow 10, holding station," replied the pilot. The voice was coded, the vocalization tampered with.

Fox gaped at the ship. He wondered if Liz had taken the other ship, but then the voice wouldn't be so fast, then. It would have been computerized. Fox looked at the pilot.

"Well, you might as well help out with us. I'll ask for your name, later."

The pilot nodded, sure that Fox could see.

Fox wove a carpet of destruction, firing lasers at incoming ship and scoring direct hits. Shadow 8 kept an eye out for Fox, intercepting any fighters attacking him. The two maneuvered with grace, like dancers, and made chaos wherever they went. It seemed as if they could read each other's minds, and for a second, Fox wondered if maybe he was.

The rest of the group was too busy to acknowledge that another Arwing had entered the fray. They just kept fighting. But as Fox was intercepting a fighter, he ran into view of another ship.

A cruiser.

"So," said a voice. "You must be Fox McCloud!"

Fox was confused at how the voice had identified him so quickly, or how this voice meant anything to him, unless it was Andross' men. He looked toward the cruiser and saw fighters coming out of the hull.

The unknown pilot moved forward. "I'll take him out, "said the pilot.

Fox felt a cold feeling, a danger sign. "No. The ion cannons are way too strong! They won't disable your ship, they'll destroy it!" He knew a modified cruiser when he saw one, and this was no exception.

But he was already firing on the cruiser. The fighter moved in, but broke off as a missile locked onto him. The pilot yelled out. "Fox, I--"

It was too late. The missile had already punctured the fighter's shields. The ship broke apart, and exploded.

Fox felt his stomach sink. There were people dying, and to make things worse, Fox had never known whom the pilot was. An ion blast almost hit him, but he moved quickly out of the way. He felt a heavy weight on his shoulders, felt deep sorrow.

He also felt an escape pod lock onto Fox's hull.

Fox looked down, amazed. Somehow, the pilot had managed to send a bee-line to Fox's ship, and the pod had responded to the signal. He felt a little giddy, but relieved. He didn't hear the com unit go off, but a pilot's voice came online. He could tell that the voice was being faked.

"Fox McCloud, I'm here to relieve you of your... well done duties. You may return to the base, or you may stay to help out. I recommend that you leave, though, if you're carrying a pod with you."

Fox nodded. "I understand. I'll have my fighters fire their last warheads, and then we'll return to base. Anything to make this easier... Bill. "

Bill chuckled. " I guess I can't hide from you. Sure. Help yourself!"

Fox shouted to his men. "Okay! We've been called off, but I want you to fire your last warheads before we leave. Waste no time, we need to get back to base, right away."

Fox fired his last warhead, and saw light protrude from his other fighters, as they fired their last warheads. The vessel became blackened, but it still fired.

Fox didn't dwell on his failure to destroy the vessel. He had to deliver the pilot to the base. He was pretty sure the pilot was unconscious, since neither hadn't spoken. Indeed, when Fox looked at the figure, the pilot was not moving.

StarFox moved back to the base. Not one of them spoke.

When they got there, Fox saw Liz waving at them, relieved that they had returned so quickly and safely. She saw the Pod on Fox's hull and moved back as the team landed, one by one. Falco, then, Peppy, Slippy, Eli, Katt, Fox, Kiyo and Wulf.

Fox stepped out of his ship, and Falco followed. The pod's locks had been melted, and they were fused together. Fox thought for a second. "Step back," he said. He pulled out his stike, ignited it, and sliced the cockpit open. The alarms on the ship went off, but Falco outstretched a blaster and shut it up.

Permanently.

Fox was careful to step on the pod, and he checked to see if the pilot was injured in any way. He removed the belts and called over to Falco. "Give me a hand, I need to get this pilot out!" Falco hurried over and carried the pilot's feet, laying the figure next to the ship, in a sitting position.

Fox removed the clips on the helmet, being careful not to force them. He carefully slid the helmet off. He looked at the pilot, a cut over her head, the only visible injury.

It was Fara Phoenix.

Fox sat in the lobby section at the Base Medic Center. He had to admit, he had been a little stupid. He had thought the pilot would've been male, but Fox had been wrong. It didn't surprise him to see a female, but to see a pretty face fighting wars? And someone he had kept an eye on? Well!

He was concerned with the safety of his own pilots. His only injury was that his shoulder was bleeding over an adrenaline rush. But Katt had been partially blinded from a laser blast, so she was checked on. She wouldn't be able to fly for two days, but she would recover. Slippy had thrown up, again, and they thought he might have stomach flu. Everyone else, save for Fox and Fara, were alright.

Shortly after he had removed the helmet, a wave of exhaustion overwhelmed him and he stood up. A whole gaggle of reporters had surrounded him and that only made things worse. After a step, he keeled over, and several reporters had been put under arrest for putting him under a great deal of strain.

He was losing blood, seriously, but it was mysterious as to how Fox had lost so much. But the pilot recovered after only a few minutes in a resting tube. They had no idea how an injury that had occurred a week before had become so serious for them not to check it out. Kiyo had taken his jacket, and she agreed to wash the bloodstain on it.

Fox had been waiting at the lobby for about an hour. Fara had been rushed here, with nothing more than a cut. But it could mean concussions, contusions, possibly even internal bleeding. The medics had explained that she had not been breathing well, not while she was in the cockpit. Fox wasn't worried, but he wanted to be sure everything was alright.

But why am I here? Is there something else I want to do? Do I... LIKE her?

He considered the fact. It wasn't a bad thing, but was it true? He couldn't tell Even his own unique instincts couldn't tell him what true love was.

True Love? Whoa! That was going way too extreme.

He had to approach this carefully, or it would catch him in the--

"Commander? A word, please," said a medical officer.

Fox stood up and walked to the medic. He was a smaller, possibly younger, griffon type. He held a few X-rays in his arms. Fox grinned, with effort. "What's up?" he asked.

"First, do you think you could answer my question first? Who is she?"

Fox answered. "She's a flight lieutenant that helped us battle an enemy force, Fara Phoenix. She was shot down, but we rescued her. We just met. At least, I did. She was unconscious at the time."

The medic settled down some. "Well, she's recovering fine, but the damage to the pod shut off the oxygen supply to her ship. Had you not cut her out of there, she might've suffocated. She also has a small cut over her head. We don't know for sure, but she might also have a concussion. We need to see how she does, and examine her. If she looks good then she's free, but if she isn't improving, we need to check her."

Fox nodded. "Can I see how she's doin'?"

The medic nodded. "She's... relaxing. You can go to see her." The medic pulled out a small, thin computer. "I just need you to type in your number, name and scan your thumbprint." He gave the computer to Fox.

It only took a minute, and Fox was in there. He saw Fara, on the bed, relaxing.

Of course, in her own way. She was engaged in a battle with Kiyo, who had somehow managed to slip past Fox. They were already heavy in the chess game, and Fox was wondering how long Kiyo had been there. He saw Charles in the room, and the older fox saw him first. The other two hadn't noticed him yet.

Charles brought Fox outside of the room. He cleared his throat. "Well done, young lad! I must congratulate you on your entering in the Airforce services! I must say I was quite surprised when I heard you saved my daughter, again! I could never reward you enough!"

Fox felt more comfortable with the older man than before, though he didn't know why. "Then don't! I feel happy knowing I helped out." He paused for a moment. "Hey, did the squadron take down the cruiser? I blacked out afterwards, and I didn't ask yet."

Charles grinned even wider. "That's the glory of it! Your squadron's bombs did most of the damage, and the vessel retreated shortly after you left, and from what I've heard, it probably won't enter the field. I must say, when I heard about your... feats- an understatement, I'm afraid- I was enthralled! And to hear that my daughter was helping your team for no reason was an even greater joy."

Fox smiled. "C'mon. You knew she was on StarFox. Admit it."

Charles shook his head. "I'm sorry, but she isn't. She was just a testing pilot on duty. She is, indeed, a flight officer, but not yours, I'm afraid, though I'm sure she was going to be one of the Airforce's choices. That's one of the reasons we came here in the first place. But she has the heart of the fighter, just like you. I may be wrong, but I think she holds your father as her idol."

Fox hesitated for his next question. "I wanted to talk to you about that. I was wondering, if I kept an eye on her, and if she is interested, do you think she could join my team?"

Charles eyed him suspiciously. "Are you trying to win her over? I'll have you know that several other young men had already tried to get too frisky-"

"No! No, it ain't like that!" He was startled enough that Charles was being overprotective about both of them, but he would never try to hurt anyone, especially not Fara.

Charles regained himself. "I'm sorry, but I'm a bit protective of her sometimes." He considered before answering. "Only if you promise that you'll keep your whole attention on her, and her only, and not in any vulgar ways. Deal?"

Fox nodded. "Deal. Is she holdin' up well?"

Charles grin toned down a bit, but Fox could tell that he wasn't dismayed. "Yeah, but the doctors think she might have a concussion." He looked a little sternly at Fox. "I hope your intentions with her are... honorable. Shortly before you arrived on my vessel, her former boyfriend got... excited with her."

Fox smiled. "Don't worry. I'm not interested with girls that much. She's pretty, but I'm not into her like that. But I'll keep an eye out for her. How's that?"

Charles looked up at the ceiling, then smiled and looked at Fox. "Okay. But you better promise!"

Fox held up his hand. "I promise."

Charles grinned. He knew that if something happened, at least, he thought, it would happen with Fox.

Fox walked into the room. Kiyo was losing, but they still talked. Finally, Fara got Kiyo into checkmate. "Well, I guess that makes the score even!" She looked up and saw Fox. "Hiya! Glad to meet you, Commander McCloud!" Kiyo looked back and saw Fox. She waved back also.

When she spoke, she had the same cavalier voice that Kiyo had, and she talked just like her, too.

"Well! You came just in time. The Admiral was gonna... evaluate me. You know, Admiral Skyes?"

Fox jumped a little, but held calm. "Really? He might get on your case, so be careful."

Fara laughed, and Fox couldn't help but feel a bit... good. He liked her laugh. "I know the drill, Commander! 'Captain Gold's' gonna destroy me with his copper medals. I've met the jerk before. What a creep.

"You wanna know what he tossed me out for? He thought I was attracting too many guys! This one kid thought he could get away with saying ' I had my way with a girl named Fara!' and I got in trouble for it." She grinned.

"So did he. It was around the time you got booted out. I heard your story, and I'm amazed that the old fart put you out. You're too... cool. Too cute."

Fox could almost feel his fur changing back to red, but he knew it wasn't happening. He shifted nervously, something he usually didn't do. He spoke clearly, though. "Thanks. So. You holdin' up okay?"

Fara nodded. "Thanks. That's the second time I owe you."

"Just one," he corrected her. "You took out that enemy behind me. I would've gotten crashed, had it not been for you."

She grinned even more. "Bull. You coulda taken him." She settled down to an embarrassed smile. "I'm sorry I didn't follow orders. I shoulda listened."

Fox waved it off. "It's alright. You didn't know. I don't blame you." He sat down. He looked at the food. "Jello? That what they feed you? You should sue."

She nodded. "I should! This stuff tastes terrible, although the cornbread is quite good." She smiled a bit. "Do you mind staying here, Commander? I could use your help against Skyes. I know you could help me out."

Fox didn't need to think twice. "Sure. I owe him a bit, anyways. Shoulda punched him out there and then."

Fara smiled more. "I don't suppose you could stay for a quick game of chess, sir?"

Fox nodded. "First, let me get Bill down here. I need him to brief me on the situation about the cruiser."

Fara shrugged. "Sure. The more, the merrier."

Fox didn't sit just yet. "I was wondering, would you like to join StarFox? We haven't found a flight lieutenant yet, and you're my--our first choice."

Fara jumped at that. "Would I! You bet your arm I would, sir!" She settled down a bit. "Wait. Your not sour that I already blew one of your ships, sir?"

Fox shook his head. "Not to worry. Beltino Toad is sending us another twelve for our command ship, just in case." He extended a paw.

Fara thought for a second, smiled and extended her paw. They shook. "You got it. Flight lieutenant Fara Phoenix, at your service."

So Fox called Bill, who said he'd get down to where they were. Meanwhile, Fox had started playing chess against Fara. The two talked about how they got kicked out, some cool test scores, and yet, they couldn't help but stalemate each other. They weren't intending on it either. Fox could almost swear that Fara had been anticipating his every move, but he couldn't tell how.

Bill got down, saw Fara and greeted her. He hugged Kiyo and they all talked. They stuck on about the battle, even found a few interesting references to Skyes. Kiyo had made a huge crack about him, just when he came in. She turned and squeaked when she saw him.

He wasn't smiling. On the contrary, he seemed a bit flustered at Fox's presence. "What are you doing here, Fox?! I kicked you out! And you! I thought I kicked all you three out!"

Fox put on a neutral face. "We're like bad horror movies. We return with sequels."

Skyes seemed to calm down a bit, but still held a look that could have destroyed the whole air force, if looks could kill. He shrugged. "Anyway, I'm not here for you. I came to evaluate your younger friend, here. It seems that she is most unreliable. She missed almost all her sim testing before she appeared for her flight testing. If I had my way, I would kick her out. But, I'm afraid the best I can do is... strip her rank down to cadet."

Fara wasn't smiling, but she wasn't frowning, either. She could still fly. "That it?" she asked. "I thought you would find something worse, for me."

"Well, Ms. Phoenix. If you want more punishment, I could send you down to the cells for insubordination."

Fox grew tense. He couldn't think up one reason why Skyes would hold her for that call. She hadn't exactly betrayed anyone, or had disregarded orders in any way.

"I would, too. In fact, I will!" He pushed down his com unit. "Send down a team. I need you to move this young woman to the cells, immediately."

Fara jumped, hair standing on end. Fox gritted his teeth, then bared them. "You wouldn't dare. You can't take her out of here. She's in a medical center, for God's sake!"

Skyes' smile grew wider. "I make the rules here, boy. You may be a Commander, but you make a wrong move and I could have you killed." He chuckled softly.

Fox's eyes grew narrow. The team had moved in.

He lost it then and there.

The rage he had felt on the Boardwalk had erupted. He couldn't stand and watch. He only felt. He jumped on the nearest soldier, tackling him into the wall. The guard grunted, but didn't get up. He merely sat there, dazed. Fox turned and kicked another soldier in the mouth. His mouth started bleeding, and he pulled out a stun stick.

But Fox was too fast. He grabbed the wrist of the soldier, moved it into an awkward angle and heard it snap. The guard howled, cursed and started cradling his arm. But the guard who had been on the ground had gotten up and put Fox in a chokehold. The younger man coughed, but he remained conscious. The guard pulled harder, and Fox seemed to subside, but as he let him go, Fox did the unthinkable, something he would have had to think twice about if he had the time.

He bit the guard's arm.

The guard screamed, high pitched, though he was male. Fox got up, eyes widened, and spat out the blood. As amazed as everyone else, he had no idea why he had done that. He hadn't known what had gotten into him.

The admiral pulled out a blaster and pointed it at Fox. The younger pilot gasped and tried to move. The admiral fired.

Again, the bolt had hit him in the shoulder. Fox didn't feel it much, he had gotten use to it, but it still bled. Oh boy, he thought.

At that moment, Bill, Kiyo and Fara had pulled a blaster from their belts. They aimed at Skyes. Bill was, perhaps, the angriest out of them all, and both his words and visage showed it. "Put your weapon down, Admiral, or I will not hesitate to kill you!" he yelled. "Put your hands on your head and keep them there!" He walked to Fox, helped him up, but kept his sights on Skyes. "You okay?" Fox nodded, but grabbed some gauze from a nearby cabinet.

"Hey, Kiyo, " he said. "Could you give me a hand?" She gave her blaster to her brother and went to aid Fox. She wrapped the gauze tightly on his arm, checking for any major bleeding, but seeing no indication of it whatsoever. Fox moved his arm a bit, felt only a little pain, but still reaching for his stike and holding it in front of Skyes.

At this point, Fara had gotten off the bed, taken out the needles in her arm and wrapped some gauze on her arm as well, where the needles had been. She stood, blaster in hand, still clad in her black flight suit.

General Pepper ran in, hearing the commotion. But when he saw Skyes on the floor, kneeling, he tried to suppress a chuckle, failed and started to chortle. "HA! I knew if you tried to get the best of his team you'd get the worst of him! What'd you do this time?"

Skyes glared at the General. "Stop your questions and help me out. Now."

Pepper grinned. "Well! I could very well help you out, but then you would have to call off your guards there. Do it."

Skyes glared still, but complied. "Get yourselves to a medic and check those wounds. Forget any past orders. This never happened, understand?"

The guards stood, nodded nervously, and left. Fox wasn't sure if they were afraid of Fox or afraid of Skyes.

"Oh! You'll also have to get Fara her rank back also! Can't help till you do!"

The Admiral grimaced. "Very well. Fara Phoenix, you still maintain the rank of Flight lieutenant. You may resume your duties of that rank."

Pepper nodded at Fox, who stepped back, waiting for the Admiral to get up. He stood a little ways, to make sure the Admiral didn't pull off any tricks. Skyes got up, looked at the commander. He was about to leave, but Fox stopped him.

"I will tell you now, if you so much as approach my team with any intention of harming me or them, I will kill you. You are to consult me first before approaching them first, and if you fail to do so, I'll have you arrested for stalking my team. If you lay a finger on one of my men, I'll see to it that there's a blaster bolt in between your eyes." Fox glared at the Admiral. The older man looked smugly at Fox, then left.

Fara cleared her throat. "Well! Least he's gone." She walked towards the door, Fox telling her not to go. She hadn't been cleared, yet. She grinned back.

"If I had a concussion, would have dropped like a stone when he took my rank." She smiled a bit softly. "I didn't get to meet you, so... did you wanna hang loose for a while?"

"Sure." But he noticed Fara's feelings. "Did you want Kiyo and Bill to come?"

She nodded. They checked Fara out, and from there went to the bar.

"As far as I'm concerned, a gun is not dangerous as the person wielding it. If its something for defense, maybe it's not so bad, but I figure that things become dangerous not because of what they are, but what we are."

Fara Phoenix, First lieutenant of Mercenary unit 6032, StarFox

Chapter 6: Letter of Challenge.

Slippy sat in the worst part of the bar, the place where drunken pilots usually hung out, when they got the credits to do so. He sighed. Fox had agreed to meet him about an hour ago, at this place. It was horrible. The place was a complete dive, and that was a downright compliment. It was too hot to stay in one place for too long, even inside the spaceport. He decided that if Fox didn't show up in thirty seconds, he was going to leave.

27 seconds later, Fox showed up, breathing hard from running fast. "Sorry. Had a little appointment."

Slippy looked at his arm. "What happened to you? You get shot again?"

Fox nodded, a little bewildered. "It's like every time I want to avoid a bolt, I get hit here. Must be a bad omen." He shook his head.

Slippy grinned. "Let's hope not. I don't want to fly with someone whose path got crossed by a black cat."

Fox raised an eyebrow. "Katt walked in front of me, and she was wearing a black flight suit."

Slippy considered, but then shook his head. "Naw, I wouldn't worry. There's a difference. Anyway, what kept you?"

Fox pointed a thumb towards the area that Fara, Kiyo and Bill had sat down at. Slippy nodded. "Say no more. She kinda looks familiar. I mean, I saw her on the Boardwalk, but there's something else."

Fox nodded. "Exactly. When I saw her face, I seriously thought she was my mom! She looks almost exactly like her." To prove it, he pulled out his wallet and found a picture of his late mother. It was the same species, looked almost the same, except that Fara's pelt was slightly darker.

Slippy nodded. "That explains it. Bet you're having a time asking a girl out if the girl looks like your mom, huh?" Slippy almost laughed, but stopped short. "Whoops. Looks like someone decided to pick her up before you did, Fox."

Fox turned. A huge man stood behind Fara, and he was smiling. Fara was almost baring her own teeth, and Fox could tell her ears had gone flat, but she held in check. A quick look into the man's mind was all Fox needed, and he didn't like what he saw. A very interesting and profound proposition, thought Fox.

Fox had heard Kiyo's words before, and somehow, he knew exactly what to say, and when to say it. But he also took into consideration about what he would do.

He walked up to the man. He was a human, un-evolved, just a regular person. It was a ground soldier, a gunman. Fortunately, Fox knew a lot about these types of fighters. They had lots of guts, but no knowledge of pilots, whatsoever. Unless they were famous…

"Hey!" he said cheerfully. "And who might you be?"

The man growled at Fox. "Get lost, short stuff." He turned back to harass Fara some more.

Fox raised an eyebrow, thoroughly amused. On the contrary, Fox was a normal height. It was just that this man was... huge! He still grinned. "I hear you can never get anywhere when you harass a young lady. But I suppose you wouldn't know that very well, now would you?" He shook his head. "I'm surprised at you. You want a drink?" Fox opened his hand to reveal a few credits, but everyone who had looked had noticed that Fox's hand hadn't gone anywhere near his pockets, and Slippy still held his wallet.

The man turned and glared at Fox. "I told you to beat it, or else!"

Fox still smiled. "Or else what?" He shook his head. "That's the problem. You don't know how to drive people away. Unless you pick on them." He looked up and smiled some more. "Do you know who I am? If you did, you probably wouldn't care, would you?"

The taller man sneered. "I could care less right now. You wanna fight?"

Fox still kept his grin. " Could you hit me? I'm fast. Not saying I would like you to try. But if you really want to, try it. I won't fight back." He smiled some more. He wouldn't.

The bulky guy stood for a second. He snarled and reeled backward for his first punch, aimed at Fox's skull. He let fly to Fox's right part of the head. He was clearly going to fight.

Fox was too fast. In a second, the younger man had side-stepped to the left, ducked and turned. He kept his hands behind him, just to show that he wouldn't fight. He put on a not interested-not bored face, just plain and normal. He stepped back a bit. "Take your time."

The man turned, rage burned into his visage. He aimed for Fox's kidney, and thrust a punch towards the younger man's lower side. He put all his power into it.

But again, Fox had dodged and turned. The man threw another punch to the chest, but he missed, yet again. Fox moved to the side. He was still a bit cautious. He moved, carefully. The man turned again, but this time kicked towards Fox's stomach.

Fox was no fool there, either. He had expected the man to start kicking.

He back-flipped onto a table, careful not to knick any of the bottles. He succeeded in doing so, but he still stood a bit shakily. He found his steadiness and held tight. The man kicked at the bottles, knocked them down, but didn't hit Fox's legs. The pilot had already pulled a side-flip off the table, and was on the floor in a second. He stood tall and dodged another punch.

Even while he was dodging all the punches and kicks, he didn't realize how close he was to Bill, Kiyo and Fara. He dodged yet another punch. This one nearly hit Kiyo, but she shifted to the right, the fist knicking her nose, slightly. The man finally lost it, and let fly with all his strength. But he hadn't seen Fara in the way, and as Fox dodged the punch, he saw it sailing towards Fara. She almost yelped and tried to duck, but she wasn't fast enough to dodge it.

Fox was, however.

He lifted up his arm with blinding speed and power. He blocked the punch, the fist stopping. Fox did the most primal thing for the second time in the day.

He bit the man's arm.

The man yelled, but had enough power to throw Fox to the side with force. The young man flew, but he forced his feet upward, completing a flip with ease. He landed on his feet and stood.

The man had been looking at Fox and turned to Fara. He grinned evilly, but the younger woman was too smart. She lifted her leg up and connected it to his groin.

The man looked at Fara, his mouth open. He breathed outward, groaning softly. He fell to the floor, hands between his legs, and almost started bawling. Fox picked him up, not mad, but still a little irritated.

He looked into the tall man's eyes. "Just to let you know, you were about to hit this girl. Let me tell you about my team, for starters, 'kay?"

The man nodded. "Good", said Fox. "This is Fara Phoenix. She's top rate in biology, medical and has a knack for flying which makes her nearly untouchable. She has studied in nearly thirteen fighting techniques, including boxing, and if you think that's funny, she could shove that bottle she's holding down your throat."

He pointed to Slippy. "This is Slippy Toad. He's an expert at mainframe hacking and can repair an onboard computer in nearly three minutes. He has studied fourteen styles of fighting and has mastered marksmanship with a pistol."

"Over to my left is Kiyo Tix. Her expertise is in repairing and modifying weapons. She wields a rifle like a sword and uses it a lot like one. Her best score on a shooting range is 99.9999%."

Now Fox smiled. "I've won so many awards in the academy, it would make you have a brain overload. I've been trained to use a stike and though my aim is not as good as Kiyo's it will hit when I want it to. If you decide to mess with my comrades, or me, remember that my name is Fox McCloud.

The man looked horrified at the name McCloud, but he spoke. "Clear, sir."

Fox looked at the man for a minute, then let him go. The man walked away, looking at Fox incredulously.

Fox turned. "I won't let any member of my team get hit or picked on. I let him know that."

Fara grinned. "Cool! Think he'll come back?"

Fox shrugged. "If he does, he won't talk to me. He knows not to mess with anyone like us. What do you think, Bill?"

Bill thought for a second. "I thought that was a pretty neat side-flip back there, Fox."

Kiyo looked at Fox for a second. "D'ya think he dislikes you cause you're... evolved?"

Fox shook his head. "The senator for this planet is a regular human. Why should he be?"

Fox thought of the beginning.

The race originally came from earth, but there were political problems (Not surprising, even now, is it?) and a group decided to move away from the area. Settlers had arrived to Corneria, and had tried to settle. It was a group of farmers, technicians, the usual lot of settlers, coming to the planet to avoid political wars between certain countries. It was around 3004. They lived for nine years on the planet. But, they came at a wrong time. A little too early.

After the nine years, the atmosphere lessened itself into a state where UV rays could touch the surface more often. But, it caused a mutation in the humans.

Along with the settlers, they had brought animals with them. Some were the usual lot, like cats, dogs, birds, but some were for showing other aliens their zoos, so they brought Lions, fish and foxes, plus a few more.

What was really interesting was that, when the UV rays started mutating the humans, it mutated them into a form that was dependent on whatever contact they had with an animal, so that any cells, like from fur or skin, that had gotten on their own skin was implanted into the humans genetic code. So whoever touched a fox became a fox and so on, and vice-versa. The animals would grow into a state where they stood upright, and they had accquired human language as well.

Needless to say, quite a few people became amazed, confused, and even a little hostile. Everyone seemed to hate each other. Sure, there were people who still cared about others, but it seemed war was on the brink when, finally, they all came to their senses. They were fighting for a reason that still needed to be examined.

After hearing that the human mind had been tampered with and was allowing the people to become hostile during the mutation, everyone seemed to settle down. But still, they needed to tell some other planets about this past problem, which it really wasn't, since now, all senses were sharpened due to the mutation. And they weren't at all sure if this would be like the Island of Dr. Moreau, and there would be some untrust and what-not.

So, after being sure that the wars on earth were over, they headed to their home planet to tell the news. It wasn't long before both sides decided to fully colonize the planet. Humans met the evolved, and they lived happily ever after. And they found both friendships and affection to humanoid animals of the opposite gender, and so a new strain of humanoids was made. For example, since Fox's dad was an animal to humanoid strain, and his mother was a human to humanoid, he was considered a "half-breed".

Since then, everything was at peace.

Ha.

That had been nearly ages before the Nova wars, and before Star Fox, and yet people were still fighting, like the imperial threat against a rebellion in one galaxy, in another system, an alien threat to a human race.

Fox shook himself out of his trance, and then thought for a second.

Why were they fighting now?

Next day was a hot one. Pepper and Peppy were sitting at a table, playing 21, then Falco joined. Soon after, Fara, Fox, and finally, Katt. No one knew how exactly they had found out about the game, but they were all there. For once, Fox didn't hear the complaints between Katt and Falco, and the playing group was looking quite comfortable, as opposed to the rest of the people in the galley. All of them, except Pepper, were wearing flight suits. Again. They were changing out of them, but they wore different colors. Fox, Fara and Peppy in black, Falco in blue, Katt in orange.

The game had stayed to a minimum, no one exactly winning, no one exactly losing. The deals went clockwise, the drinks were drunk and Fox was up to deal. No bets, either. Fox shuffled, not showing off in any way. He passed the cards out and showed half his hand, as it was a rule.

"Hit me," said Falco. Fox passed a card. "I'll stay," he replied.

"I'll stay," said Fara.

Peppy smiled. "21."

Pepper also smiled. "21."

Fox looked at his hand. "21. I win."

The smiles faded, and Fox grinned. Fara, Falco and Katt all showed 19 in their hands. Fox passed the deck to the left.

But after a while, the game got tiring, and one by one, everyone started leaving. First Katt, then Peppy, Falco, and Pepper. "Keep the deck for me, okay?" Fox nodded. Fara and Fox kept playing. They chatted, not about really anything.

Fox started. "You like the Arwing?" He passed up on the cards.

Fara grinned. "Do I! The ship is a piece of art! Too bad I got caught in the battle when I was testing it. My objective was to remain anonymous, cause they don't allow female test pilots. Anyway, who came up with it?"

"Beltino Toad, Slippy's dad. He heard when his kid got dumped out, so he decided to modify the older ship to get him back in." He explained the speech impediment Slippy had before, and Fara was amazed.

"Skyes kicked him out for THAT!?" She stopped. "Whoa. That's cold! So tell me how they got you down again, sir."

Fox sighed, but kept his chin up. "Well, I was one of the best in the academy. You saw my scores?" Fara nodded. "Well. I took a test, passed it, and I thought I was going to graduate. But they kicked me out for reckless behavior."

He looked up. "Do you think I'm like that? Let me tell you, I came to the medical center as soon as I had heard Katt had been blinded, and I came as soon as I heard you were in intensive care for a while." He stopped short. "I couldn't help but see that you were alright." He smiled.

Fara smiled back. She felt okay around him. There was something about him she found so... charming. He had felt care for his team. And she liked that. "Thanks," she said. "I've never met someone like you, sir." She smiled, but quickly regained herself. "I mean, who took care of his team with great care."

Fox felt a bit hot, worried, even had his stomach churning. He had a sure feeling that Fara was feeling alot better, which she wasn't. "Err, thanks." He continued.

"Well, I was in the cafeteria when an aide came up to me, and everyone just stopped. They couldn't believe that one of the academy's best-"

"THE best, remember, sir," Fara corrected him.

Fox shrugged. "I'm good, but I don't think I'm that good."

Fara eyed him suspiciously. "Where's Commander McCloud? C'mon, you are, I'm telling you!"

Fox shrugged again. " Thanks. And you can call me Fox, whenever you want, no need for the 'sir' part. I mean, we are on a mercenary unit. Anyway, everyone was surprised that an aide was talking to me, because, as you know, when you talk to an aide, it usually means trouble. The aide was a bit surprised also, but made no waste of time telling me that I had not passed, and had been kicked out."

He sighed. "Everyone was shocked. No one could believe that I had been booted out. So I took advice from General Pepper, and he told me I could stay on his estate on MacBeth. So I stayed there for three months, till now."

She decided to change the subject, since she sensed it was beginning to affect Fox. "You think Andross'll come to an end unexpectedly?"

"He better, else he takes control of universe."

She snickered. "You know as well as I do that even he is mortal. And besides, there are other systems in the same dilemma as us, so they could help us fight back."

Fox looked up. "You think so?"

Fara nodded. "I know a lot of people that Andross has messed up, and I'm sure they' like to get a piece of him. She paused for a second. "Is there any personal... feelings towards Andross from you?" She talked again, hurried. "If you don't want to talk about it, it's okay."

Fox shook his head. "Nah, it's alright. I do have personal feelings towards Andross, but I don't let them get out of hand. I'll tell you."

He started, finding only one way to begin. "I loved my Dad. Who wouldn't? Everyone liked him. They felt comfortable around him, and he loved me back. My ma had died when I was young. So he was all I had left. He would never say he didn't have time for me, but I understood that he was a pilot, and that he would have jobs. So I didn't ask him for much. Just a ride in a starship with him every weekend and we were together, father and son."

"He taught me how to survive, how to pilot, how to cook, which he did well. He took me to a shooting range."

"That's where I learned how to kill, accidentally."

"Some idiot thought it was a good idea to steal people's wallets while they were aiming at targets. I caught him trying to steal a wallet, but he saw me looking and tried to chase me. I didn't want to shoot. I knew it would kill him, but apparently he hadn't rented his gun from the lobby. He pointed and aimed. I shot. He died. I lived. And I was 7!"

Fara looked incredulously at him. Fox raised his hands. "I'm not lying! If you look in my records, it's in the back section. I can prove it. But not now."

He continued. "I saw him destroy the Bio-weapons Andross had sent. I thought it was his best work yet. To show he loved me (which he didn't have to), he gave me book about piloting. I read that book every night." He gazed at the ceiling thoughtfully. "Matter of fact, I still do!" He shook himself. "He also gave me this," he said, as he held up the handle to his stike, to show the decoration. "He found it when he was rescuing hostages on a nearby planet."

"He was sent on nearly every mission, but from that point, he stopped taking too many members of his team, 'cause four of them had gotten killed in the Bio-weapon incident. The only time he did, he did it only because he absolutely needed to. But, it was his downfall." Fox shuffled the cards in his hands.

"There was a member on his team, Pigma Dengar. Dad trusted him, and he took him to Venom when he was sent there. But Pigma had been setting him up, and my dad got captured. Peppy got out, though. But I still think my dad's alive. Everyone on the Venomian side denies it, but I know there's something wrong about it."

Fara was smiling, thinking about the game. But she shook, as if a cold hand had touched her shoulder. "Did you feel that?" she asked.

Fox didn't have to answer. There was something wrong... not right. He heard a faint beeping. He leapt up. "Run, Fara!" he yelled.

She got up and started scrambling, but a huge explosion blew them from the table.

Fox landed on something sharp, and remembered nothing afterwards.

When he came to, the first thing Fox noticed was the pain.

In his shoulder.

"Geez." He didn't have to be told. Someone had tried to assassinate him. Well. Looks like there was no reward for the loser. It had almost worked. Fox's hand shifted to his side, but he felt only sheets. He looked up and saw a ceiling. Below it, Fox was in a medical unit. He must've been in intensive care. He wondered if Fara--

He sat up quickly. In front of him, Peppy was standing. He ran forward. "Hey! Are you okay?"

Fox stood up. "Where's Fara?"

"Well she--"

"Where is she? No explanation, just where?"

Peppy saw Fox's eyes, and he knew something was wrong. "She's in a room about three rooms to the left, but I don't think you--"

Fox was already running to the room. It only took him a second, and he was horrified at where she was.

Intensive care.

He ran around to the window. He looked and saw three officers inside. He banged on the glass and mouthed the words "Let me in!" to the guards. They let him in.

He became relieved as he saw her in a resting tube.

Resting tubes were really just small, compatible medical chambers that sedated the unconscious and repaired any organs or damaged parts of the body with a healing gas of some sort, based on the disease or condition. Since both humans and cornerians were similar, just about anyone or anything that was humanoid could be put in one.

He pulled an aide to the side. "How's she doing?"

The aide looked oddly at Fox's right and answered. "She suffered only a few cuts, but the worst injury is on her leg. It has a foot long gash on it, about a fourth of in inch in depth, but she can walk on it if she doesn't strain too much.

He felt Fara's body coming back from a long coma. She opened her eyes quick, became agitated, broke the glass, jumped out and tried to pull her blaster out, which hadn't been removed, evidently, when she was placed inside.. "Hey! Where am I?" She pointed the pistol at Fox, but lowered it when she realized what had gone on. "Oh. Never mind." She holstered her weapon. She gaped. "Jeez, Fox, you're bleeding! Get some gauze on, right now!"

Fox was amazed, not at the quick revival, but on the part that when he saw his wound, there was blood on the whole left side. "Yow! Help me out!" He looked all around for gauze. Fara found it first, and she immediately stuck it on him.

Pepper strode in, after waving the guard inside. "Fox! What do you think you're doing?!" He wasn't mad, just really surprised by Fox's downpour of blood, some of which had gotten on Fara. "You're bleeding hard! Get back in your room, kid!"

Fox looked at Pepper, then Fara. "These doctors just saved your life. Maybe you should thank them."

Fara nodded. "Thanks for the hospitality, dudes. I owe you." She smiled at Fox, though she guessed who had really saved her.

Fox got back into his bunk, on the GreatFox. He moved into the shower unit.

Pepper sat back. He relaxed a little, but felt a bit uncomfortable with Fara in Fox's room. He had better monitor the area. Still, he proceeded with his first business. "Well! I suppose you already know who wants you dead, Fox."

The younger man closed the door after him. "It's crossed my mind, a bit."

Pepper sighed. "I got a full investigation on the ordeal, Fox. I'd hate to say that a lot of people, besides you two, have gotten hurt in the ordeal. So, it's a main priority that we find out who it is."

Fox scoffed, as he turned on the water. "Really! C'mon, Pepper. You know as well as we all do that Andross wants me dead, so there. We could tell the world."

At that moment, Falco, peppy, and Wulf had walked in. "Where's Fox?" asked Peppy. Pepper pointed to the unit.

Pepper countered Fox's earlier comment. "So, you think Andross would really bring himself about 7 light-years just to whoop you?" The General shook his head. "Someone was in on the job."

Fox considered. "You're right. I would like to know who wanted to kill me, so keep searching." He paused for a second. "Any ideas?"

Fara spoke up. "Skyes hates our guts, could be him."

Pepper considered. "Maybe, but he's also a coward, so we should look for other people, as well. This had to be a group thing."

Falco thought for a moment. "Well... We know that we would be the first ones interrogated, so we're off the list, since who would want to kill us?"

Fara thought about Falco and Katt. "Of course, the other guys didn't get caught in the blast, since they left a few minutes before the blast." But she thought more about it, thinking about what feeling or odd stuff was going on. She glanced a bit oddly, as if she were dreaming, though they could tell she was clearly thinking. "But, I somehow know you didn't do it. Neither did Falco, Katt, or Peppy."

Fox spoke from the shower unit. "They didn't." He wondered who was outside, since he hadn't seen them, yet.

The water came off. After a quick minute, Fox walked out, clad in a green flightsuit. The pilot was wet, but he had dried himself off naturally, by the infamous shaking, and with his towel. "Oh. You're here," he said, indicating the group. "Well! I played cards and almost got killed! How was your afternoon?"

Pepper brought Fox into the bridge. He was not happy with what he was going to tell Fox. "Look. After you got in that accident, we found a holodisk. It was found underneath Fara. It's a recording of Andross."

Fox looked up. "Can I put it on screen?"

Pepper nodded.

Fox took the disk and put it into a small compartment. The screen flickered, then turned on. Fox saw the image of a battle worn ape. It was Andross.

The figure smiled. "I'm not sure if I killed you or not, but I must congradulate you if you did, which I am pretty sure of. You must be a fine pilot by now, boy. I'm sorry to say that I must end your life, soon. But don't worry! I'll make sure we capture you before I kill you, myself!

"I know you are in command of StarFox. How quaint. After you made a mess of my attack with the cruiser, I decided to look into it, and I found you. Well! I must see about that soon. In any case, I have called upon you take a task." The image turned to three soldiers, all bound up.

"There are several prisoners on my vessel, right now. I've made certain that each one was fitted with a proximity collar, so they cannot leave the ship." The camera returned to Andross. "If you choose to free these prisoners- and I might add that they are soldiers of yours- you will take your squadron to Sector Y, and there, you will battle my squadron, StarWolf. If you succeed in destroying them, I will release your prisoners. But if you fail, I'll find another squadron to take on my own. Well. I must be going. It's been so nice to see you again. Good-bye."

The recording stopped.

Fox shook his head. Not this fox. "No way. I'm not going."

Pepper gaped. "But, there are people being held hostage! You can't leave them!"

Fox thought for a second. "Play back the recording, ROB."

The droid looked up. "Yes, sir. Playing back the recording." The screen flashed back to the image of Andross. Fox held up his hand. "Stop."

The screen froze. Fox nodded. "Play it, again."

The image started again, but at the point where the camera was on the three soldiers. "Listen to what he says, but look at the prisoners."

"-prisoners-and I might add that they are soldiers of yours."

Kiyo caught it first. "Wait! They're wearing piloting uniforms!"

Fox nodded. "They want to get to us, and this was a good way to persuade me. Too bad we caught it." He turned to Pepper, who was impressed at Fox's ingenuity. "But, if they can't get me there, they can get us here. We still don't know who's trying to kill me."

Pepper thought for a moment, but then he thought of something. "Wait. I was at the table, too. So were Falco and Katt."

Peppy looked up. "So was I."

Fox looked at Pepper. "Are you saying that he might've tried to kill you guys, instead?" Fox considered. "Possibly, but then, it was only for the team. If they killed you, for example, Skyes could kick us out. But he can't get us now, since they tried to kill me and failed. Still, I feel they're going to attack Corneria, soon. They might have tried to get us out, just to get us out of the way, so I think they're gonna pursue, instead."

Pepper stood. "Should I alert the Base?"

Fox stared at Pepper. "Hey, man! That's your battlefield. I can't make you. If you want to."

Pepper nodded. "Better get them prepared. I'll take the disk, too." He opened the compartment and took out the disk. He walked out of the bridge.

Well. That was some letter of challenge.

It was no later than a day when the army set up defenses around the planet. No one was going to take a chance. As they worked, a figure watched closely to his screen, smiling at how difficult it was going to be when they attacked. He respected their persistence. But it meant nothing more to him. It was just another obstacle to be smashed.

"Master Andross?"

Andross stood up. Before him, stood a young man, no older than Fox. He wore a green flightsuit with a black jacket, as well as boots that matched the color. But on his right eye was a black eyepatch.

Andross smiled. "Commander Wolf. How goes the operation?" He didn't need to know. They were probably ready.

Wolf eased himself. "The battle cruisers have already rendezvous with us, and the Bolse satellite shows no sign of enemy craft in the area. I would say that if we leave home, we are insured to the last drop. In any case, there is no word on our operative that Fox will leave the base, at least, in any time soon." Wolf smiled. "But, may I share my opinion?"

Andross looked at the young pilot. He had interest in Wolf's work, and he was his most trusted ally. He smiled back. "You may."

Wolf's smile faded only a bit. "I don't think Fox will be leaving the base at all. He's too smart for that. It would be no surprise if he found the transmission to be a fake. He would rather protect his pilots, I think, than people he knows aren't real."

Andross was not angry, but wondered how Wolf could have figured out that they weren't carrying real prisoners. "How did you know?" he asked, not in anger, but in curiosity.

Wolf gave the older man a close look. "Why would you dress ground soldiers up in flightsuits?"

Andross' mouth opened. "You- How?- But?"

Wolf held up his hand. "Fox would find out too. I've met him. An honest, modest and intelligent youth, with his sights to the sky. I know the breed." He grinned. "I am the breed."

He sighed, not knowing how to ask his next question. He had wanted to ask this for a while, but he hadn't known how an enemy pilot would find him attractive.

"I should tell you. That girl, from the Boardwalk, is on his team. I was wondering if-"

Andross cut him short, knowing what he was going to say. "I understand what it is that you want, and you might think I'm going to kill her, also. But in this case, if you succeed, I will make sure that you get your wants."

He looked sternly at the younger man. "But, if you fail, you must see to it that you capture her, yourself. If you're alive, that is. I would think there would be no reason you would fail besides this."

He smiled. "However, she might die. Just to let you know, she could get caught between crossfire." It was possible, though regrettable.

Wolf nodded, understanding. He continued. "My squadron is ready, but I'm not sure about the pilots you hired for this mission. Do you think it will compensate for our losses at Sector Y?"

Andross turned back to Wolf. "I agree, they're not at all too good. But, after all, it is your problem."

Wolf considered, nodded. "I will make sure they are trained well, before the attack." He saluted Andross, then turned and left.

He sighed, knowing that it would be a while before his pilots could master Fox's. He turned a corner to his left. Proceeding down the hallway, he wondered who had built this ship.

The Toxic Sac was among the largest of ships that Wolf had ever seen. It was more than three times as large as their next largest craft, a Posieden-class battle destroyer, which lengthened itself to more than 400 meters. About four times, in fact. It held laser ports on nearly every inch on the outer hull.

But Wolf was still cautious.

There was still the risk of the ship being destroyed by several small craft. Or one.

If Andross had heard that from anyone else, they would find themselves with a broken neck or a bomb in their room. And anyone else would have just laughed at the fact. Except his team, which would have considered, since it wasn't their place to argue, anyway.

It could take a strong effort, but a simple craft with the right pilot and the will and determination of an ant (which was, contrary to size, a lot) could take on a huge Venomian armada with nothing more than a light laser cannon and almost no shields. Indeed, he had seen such people do things like this. Alarmed mothers moved boulders with their bare hands to save their child, scared men saved banks by approaching the enemy and wrestling away the weapon. Amazing what one could do when put under extreme pressure.

Yet, even with this knowledge, he knew that he, his twin and Fox, as well as both their teams, didn't need those extermities, because they were already used to the pressure.

All they had to do was do what they had to do. He had learned not to underestimate his opponent, to keep your fists up, because you might not know when your opponent was defeated until you took a pulse, and clarified.

Furthermore, he felt it necessary to wipe every smudge from the window, cause you wanted to look good for the ones you would soon take over.

All it took was one laser in the head, and it was game over. Make a wrong move and it would catch you in the butt good. Maybe not kill you, but it would be a blow, for a start. He tried to find a better term. He thought one up. And smiled.

"It doesn't have to be a sword, a gun or a tank. A person can be killed just as easily with a pen." He said this silently. "After all, the pen is mightier than the sword."

 

Eli stood in the hangar bay of the GreatFox. He had been called here to repair a fuel tank that had been damaged when Falco had been demonstrating his knowledge on bombs. He took epoxy, a few other elements, and let fly with a powerful blast. Unfortunately, the blast had put metal into the air, and with it, Fara's left ear had been cut through, Katt had become blinded, again, and the gas tank took an especially large piece on the surface. Fox had laughed uncontrollably, as did Slippy, experiencing the blast, but Eli, although also amused, was a little bewildered when he thought about it.

Their fuel tank had been damaged, and yet, they hadn't left for orbit, once! Well. That was an unusual thing to have had happen.

He looked at Liz. He sighed a bit. The younger sibling had been told that Fox wasn't interested in her, but not with anybody else. She took it well, but she was concentrating a bit more onto to Bill, now.

This wasn't going to be pretty. Not at all.

He looked back at his work. Yet another member of the canine family to warn about, if Fox hadn't.

He turned to his work. Almost done, but an extra layer of patches would ensure him to the most. He slapped the material on, almost carelessly. But it held, and he nodded to Liz, indicating that he was done.

She nodded, then indicated that she was going to use the shower unit, quickly. She ran inside the ship. Eli waited few minutes. He used this time by pulling kicks into the air, punching at imaginary enemies, doing flips off the hull of the ship until he got dizzy and disoriented. He settled for taking a look at Swift, but Liz came out shortly after.

She was clad in her usual blue flight suit, but she wore her hood on her trench coat. Nowadays, she would wear a regular jacket like everyone else. She stepped outside through the door, and motioned for Eli to follow. He looked at her hood for a second. Eli arched an eyebrow. "What're you doin'?" he asked.

She stood at the door leading out of the hangar. She walked out, and he followed. There were clouds, but he couldn't see what the problem was. "Why do you have the hood on?"

Liz smiled, not willing to reveal the secret to her brother, just yet.

Almost suddenly, a bolt of lightning flickered, rumbled lowly and subsided. Eli looked up, then looked down as droves of raindrops showered upon them.

"Oh." He stood for a second, feeling a bit stupid that his sister had tricked him, then ran back inside to get his jacket out. He stuck his forked tongue out good-naturedly at Liz. "Funny. I found that funny." Whatever happened, he still loved her.

Together, they walked across the airfield. Eli was ahead, but was at a distance where he could hear anything that Liz was making. Nothing except the splatter of puddles, here and there. Since she had lost her voice, and since both had lost their parents, he had developed an acute system for tracking and monitoring his little sister that worked well enough for him.

It seemed that the rain wouldn't be letting up for at least a week. He sighed. Rainy days were depressing. He walked a bit faster.

Soon, they had reached the base center. He walked in, opened the door, let Liz in and hurried in himself. He welcomed the warm air of the inside and looked over to his left. He walked in the direction of the bar.

Fox was sitting on a bench just next to the window they had walked past. He got up, then reached for Eli's shoulder, tapping it. "Hey, you guys okay?"

Eli nodded. "Why?"

Fox sighed. "Pepper just said that there's an Venomian armada incoming to Corneria, led by Andross. It'll take them at least five days to get here. I'm just asking, cause a few of the pilots from other teams I spoke to were a little jittery." He looked over Liz's shoulder. Bill was coming.

Liz turned around also. She smiled at Bill, a little too oddly. Bill smiled nervously back, but walked to Fox.

"Hey, what's with her?" he asked.

Fox grinned. "She got off me and she's looking for you, I think. She knows I'm not going to love anybody soon." He cleared his throat. "You suppose Andross is gonna be use his ruthless attacks when he hits here?"

Bill grinned. "He ain't gonna touch us, as long as we stick together." He thought for a second. "Oh wait, that's right. They're gonna send my team to Katina, so I won't see you for a little while."

Fox shrugged. "Hey, so long as you come back alive, okay?"

Fox walked over to where Kiyo was, which was at the bar, ironically. He saw Fara there, not talking about anything special. He walked up to her. "Hey."

She smiled. "Hey. How's the ship?"

Fox looked up. "It's fine. That reminds me." He stood up and looked for Falco, scanning with his eyes. He found him over at the rear of the bar. "Hey! Nice fireworks! Show me some more, later!" Falco looked up, and grinned back.

He turned to Kiyo. "You're getting boozed? I don't think that's a good idea."

Kiyo had been feeling a little warm, and the rush in her head was getting to her a bit too much. It would only cause a headache near equal to a hangover. She went up to Fox, and tried to get him to go back to the ship, with her, alone, for what she said would be some fun under sheets. Fox smiled. "You can go, if you want. I think I'll stay right here." She shrugged, not acknowledging the fact that she liked Wulf better, anyway. She tottered back to the entrance. Fox looked at Wulf. "You better see if she's alright, so go ahead and tail her. But don't fool around with her or Bill will kill me." He shook his head. The girl was probably going to get a hangover, and then she'd never drink again. Good.

Fara turned to Fox. "You know, when I saw you, I thought I might have known you, somewhere."

Fox turned to her. "Yeah, I thought so, too. When I saw you, I remembered a... starcruiser... I took the controls... I flew a bit, taking care of what my dad had said. The flight was-"

"451, of the Cornerian Spaceport," finished Fara, not amazed. She knew she had seen him somewhere besides the ship.

Fox, on the other hand, was thoroughly amazed. "You were on it?"

Fara nodded, grinning. "I think you were the one who inspired me, though you didn't exactly fly conveniently. You took care to what your dad had said, but both of you were suicidal! I was sitting in the back of the cockpit. Your dad was the pilot, but my dad had let you take his controls. I didn't know you, then." She thought a while. "But, I had heard your name from him. I asked him once, but he just smiled and said ‘he's someone you'll fall in l’-"

She stopped short, realizing what he had said to her. She felt flustered, though she realized Fox hadn't understood what she had said. Oh my God. I'm going to have to bury Dad alive. She hiccupped, but took a deep breath.

"Someone who what, Fara?" he pressed.

Fara regained herself, then spoke clearly. "He said son to someone who was a good friend of his. He said you were training under a sword master." She looked up at him. "That true?"

Fox nodded. "It was true, I was training to use a blade. That's why I'm licensed to carry a stike around."

He looked out. "I studied for nearly everything you can get credits for in high school. I didn't play sports, except for the Disk toss." Disk toss was a game in which a disk with a repulsor-motivated disk was placed in a court. The point was to throw the disk into a small outlet, called the base, so that the players could get points. The catch? The other team would throw balls that would stun players for a minute, at least, if they were on the defense. A sensor on the disk would identify who carried it. If one team were carrying it, then the other team would be activated to throw balls, until they got the disk, or lost.

"I would play it by myself, with holograms or other players. I wasn't the best, but I was on the team." Fox looked at Peppy. "He sent me to school, when dad got captured. I owe a lot to him. My life. If he hadn't escaped, I wouldn't have one."

Fara smiled at Fox. She liked how he was thinking of others. But she got on hand to the other problems she had. "I would need an umbrella just to get out there. D'ya have one I could borrow, Slippy?"

Slippy handed her his umbrella, and she walked out. He turned to Fox. "I hope Andross doesn't cut in too soon. I don't think we're ready. I can't think of a plan, besides putting up our bombardment shields."

Fox nodded. "I know, Slippy."

He walked back to the bar. He saw Katt sitting there. "Hey," he said.

Katt turned. "Hey."

Fox looked at her. "Do you know where Falco went? I saw him a minute ago, but he left."

She shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know. I wouldn't care, either. " She turned to Fox, but saw how he was looking at her, sadly, but not that he was sad, just... serious.

He sighed. "What happened, Katt? Is he really that bad?" He shook his head. "Let me tell you, even if I have no clue as to how bad he was, I'm sure he's a lot better, now." He looked at Katt. "I'm just wondering what happened that was so bad to have driven you away from him. I know the story, but tell me what your feelings were on the situation."

Katt sighed. "I was angry. He was my friend, but he struck me. I don't need to draw a schematic, do I?"

Fox shook his head. "I realize that back then, you must have been angry, even a little scared of him. But it's no excuse to act like Falco's your worst enemy. He's your teammate and friend and if I know him, he just wants to be your friend, again."

Katt felt flustered. She wanted to tell Fox something that she didn't want to tell Falco, but she couldn't. "Fox, I, uhh, I mean, look." She calmed herself. "There was something else."

Fox turned. "What?"

She gathered her courage. "I felt emotion to Falco, before the incident. I don't want to tell you what it is, but I suppose you get what I mean." Fox nodded. She continued. "I didn't want to tell him, but when he hit me, it was too late. I was too scared."

Fox looked at Katt. "And yet you seem to hate him? It was never too late. He would've listened. I know he would. I read what he was like, and after living in the same quarters with him for three months since I arrived at MacBeth, I knew he was changed. I can hold him steady just by putting my hand on his shoulder, to let him know I'm with him to the end. You can do that too, because you love him."

She jumped back at the term "love". "What? You think I could love him now?"

Fox smiled. "No. I know you can love him now." He thought better of it. "Of course, it's always safer to go slow, so be careful. Don't try to jump on him. They'd boot you out, for that."

Katt stared at Fox some more. "What do I do?"

Fox shrugged. "Start a conversation with him. If it leads, then catch him. I can't say that he'll apologize, but he will forgive you."

Katt thought about it. She nodded. "Alright. I'll talk to him. If anything happens, I'll let you know." She got up, stood for a minute and left.

Fox walked to Bill, who was at the window. He looked outside. "Geez. Raining hard, huh? Couldn't go near the stuff without an umbrella."

Fox nodded, but slowly looked outside. He was concentrating on ideas for stopping the Venomian armada from entering. There were a lot of different strategies, like setting up more cannons, more planetary defenses, even setting the shields on high just before-

A smile formed. "I've got an idea."

" We wanted the best and brightest for this mission. Brink and Robins are not neural specialists; they are brave, bright and creative thinkers."

"Does that include you, Commander Low?"

"My job is to keep everyone alive. I don't have to be brilliant; I just have to be careful."

Commander Boston Low of shuttle mission "Attilla".

Chapter 7: Attack of the Titans?

Falco sighed. It was only one day after Fox's idea, but he was still worried. He calmly told himself that this was normal in a lot of people. Maybe he wasn't going to die, but he could be scared of the possibility.

He sat alone by the GreatFox. Fox had gone to test out the ship, to see if the components worked correctly, and Slippy had gone with him, as well as Fara. He noticed that Fox had... been around her, at least for the last few days. He shrugged to himself. Who knows?

Katt walked up to him. Falco started to move, but she spoke to him first. "Can I sit here?" she asked.

Falco, who was a bit taken aback, nodded. "Sure."

She took a seat, next to the GreatFox's hull. She was looking for a way to say what she wanted to say. She couldn't speak for a moment, but Falco could tell she was struggling. She sighed. But she put on a different subject, first. "So. I hear that Fox has some new idea." she looked at Falco. "Do you know what it is?"

Falco shook his head. "He's keeping secrecy. If he said it to me, I would tell you."

Katt frowned. "No, you wouldn't. You would keep it to yourself, wouldn't you?"

Falco sighed. "I don't know."

Katt started again. "How've things been going since they booted you out?"

Falco shrugged. "I decided to do some freelance fighting, hunting Venomian units where I could. Fox decided to join, but we decided to quit when he had gotten shot a few times."

Katt stared. "Fatal?"

Falco shook his head. "Naw. Well, maybe once, when he got cooked around the kidney, but he survived that."

Katt was a bit interested, now. "How'd you get here?"

Falco told them about the call they got from Pepper, how they stowed away, stopped a hijacking and survived the press from their unlimited ammo of interviews.

Katt was enjoying herself, at least a little, and for a moment, they seemed to be the friends they had once been.

Falco asked, "Do you think Fox likes Fara?"

Katt grinned. "Does the sun come from the east?"

Falco chuckled. "I suppose so." He stopped short and realized for the first time that he was speaking to Kathrine Monroe.

He almost stood up, but decided to sit down. "I don't know why you're hanging around me all of the sudden. It's like you've forgotten-"

"Forgotten what, Falco?" she interrupted. She instantly regretted him starting the conversation like he did. It was way too fast. But she believed what Fox had said.

Falco, on the other hand, regretted having started the conversation at all. "I can tell you what you've forgotten."

Falco looked deeply into her eyes, saying his next words softly. "Forgotten a time when we were friends, when I became reckless, when I turned around and swung my arm for a reason that means nothing to me now. When I turned from something I hated into something I am, right now. When I was young, but learned more than an adult could learn, unless he was in a war. When I was your friend, but didn't know how much you meant to me until I became someone I hated."

Katt looked at Falco. "Falco, I-"

"What?" he interrupted. "You hate me?" He calmed. "I don't blame you. I was stupid. I admit that my own want to be the best made me the worst." He looked at the floor. "I lost a lot of things that day, but I didn't want to lose you." He looked outside, at the pouring rain. He had nothing left to say, but it didn't mean he didn't want to talk to her, to tell her it was all right.

Neither of them spoke for nearly ten minutes. Falco didn't know why he was still hanging around the joint, but he wanted to say something, to Katt. She beat him to it.

"Look," she started. "I know I've been acting a little wrongly, since we met up again. I'm just kind of...still angry. But it's no excuse, I know. I shouldn't be doing this, especially now." She closed her eyes. She almost started, but held herself in check. She was touched by his words, and she almost hated herself. Here she was, acting wrongly on a person who had no hard feelings, who knew he had a scar on his own soul, who was more scared than she was, someone who had been beaten up by a Cornerian who thought Falco had hated her. And she hated herself for it.

"I'm sorry, Falco. I just got angry when I saw you being violent. I didn't want you to be. But I'm sorry." She got up, was about to leave, but Falco reached out to her. He held her hand.

"I'm sorry, Katt. It was my fault, I was stupid, but I'm willing to make up for it." He looked at her. She had started streaming, droplets on her face. He smiled. "I don't want us to be mad. Not ever. Don't beat yourself up on it, either. I don't want you to be hurt, in any way."

She smiled back, then threw her arms around him. She embraced him, knowing that it was alright, now. Falco was shocked, but didn't mind. He just put one arm around her shoulder. They walked out. Maybe he didn't love her, but he was her friend, and that would be enough, for now.

Now the team was together. But the point was, so were they.

Fox looked over Kiyo’s shoulder. "Is it me, or is Katt actually talking to Falco?" He said it in a nonchalant way, almost as if he had expected this, since he did.

She turned quickly to see the joyous news, though it should have been mailed to Riply's "Believe it or not!" magazine. "Where? I've gotta see this!" She saw Falco and Katt. "Oh my god. It's true." She considered crying sarcastically at the happy news, but thought seriously for a moment. "Wait, maybe we just drank too much."

Fox shook his head. "I'm drinking a Broth, you're drinking a knight. We're not drunk."

Fara walked up. "Excuse me, but did I hear you say that Katt is speaking to Falco?" She grinned. "I gotta see this." She walked up to Katt.

"What's this?" she asked." I'm not going to believe you, but just try to explain this."

Katt looked up from her conversation. "Nothing. We're just talking." Falco nodded, agreeing.

Fara shrugged, uncertain whether or not this was true. To ensure herself, she pinched herself, feeling somewhat foolish afterward. She reported back to Fox.

Fox was still a bit amazed. He hadn't expected them to forgive each other, but it was good that they did.

He swallowed the rest of his drink. "I'm going to check on the ship, okay?" Fara and Kiyo nodded.

He turned and left the bar. He had some work to do. He put on his hood and walked out of the base center.

He welcomed the rain's splash back from the ground. He loved rain. It was soothing. He would go to sleep thinking about the noise it made.

He walked onward. If anything he disliked about rainstorms, it was the thunder, and he didn't hate it that much. He probably wouldn't mind flying in the weather, either.

He shuffled over to the hangar bay, walked inside and took off his hood. He breathed in, then exhaled softly. He had thought about taking the ship out for a quick check of the area. He started to walk, when he noticed something on the floor.

A puddle. Shaped like a foot. He saw more, just ahead.

Fox felt a cold chill run through him. He knew there was something wrong. His hand went to his stike. He cautiously moved forward, one hand on his hilt, the other on his com. The blade flicked forward, and he lit the room up with the saber. He took a free style stance.

He clicked the com. "Kiyo? Come in."

The younger female's voice came on. "What's up?"

Fox kept his eyes in front of him. "Is the whole team still at base?"

"Yeah," said Kiyo. "Why?"

Fox lifted the blade. "Did any of them come around the hangar, at least in the last hour?"

Kiyo paused for a second, to ask around. After about a minute, she spoke again. "No, only Falco and Katt, and that was nearly three hours ago. Why?"

Fox didn't bother explaining. "Just get security down here. I think we got a problem." He clicked off the com and reattached it to his belt. When he looked up, he put his blade in front of him with lighting speed, blocking whatever it was that almost hit him.

He adjusted his eyes. In front of him, a slim figure stood, with a blade, a stike. The handle was different, but the weapon was the same. The figure stepped out into the open, sword still in hand.

It was a normal human female, about Fox's height, and she wore freighter grays, with black boots. On her vest was an insignia, one of a fang, with an outcrop on it, like a sac. The figure stooped a bit, leapt into the air and brought her blade down on Fox. He blocked it easily, though he was impressed with her speed.

The woman spoke. "Someone said I would find a good challenge in this hangar. I guess they were right." In response, Fox lifted his blade and took a fighting stance, ready to receive any blows she would use. He needed her alive. She leapt into the air again.

Fox put his curiosity out of his mind and threw his blade into the air, the blade striking hers and blocking it. He caught the blade and got in a defensive stance. She whirled and turned the blade so that it slid into a position where Fox's neck was. Fox put his blade in a forty-five degree angle and blocked the sword. He blocked about five feints before he backed away and jumped onto the hull of the GreatFox. He regained control of his balance and ran to the neck of the ship.

But she was smart and also leapt on the ship. She made no waste of time following him. He turned, knowing he couldn't run from her, anyway. He hacked at her waist, but she caught it. She returned the blow, Fox blocking and hitting back. They parried and thrusted, no one winning the battle, but climbing up the ship, till they were at its highest point.

Finally, she leapt about three feet into the air and kicked his chest, sending him sprawling. He regained posture, jumping onto his feet quickly. He blocked another blow, but this one had power in it. His blade was pushed back, and in the process, his shoulder got cut, his own blade cutting into his own flesh. He grunted, but held control of the battle.

The human sneered at him and was about to put up another blow, when Fox held out his hand. At that moment, something incredibly strong and invisible pushed her and sent her flying. She screamed, as she realized that she was falling off the ship.

She fell the whole hundred feet down, and there she would lie, for the next hour.

Fox looked down at his would-be assassin. She lay there not moving. He sighed. There had really been no choice. He had to fight, to protect himself. But it was still bad enough that it had to be a woman.

Peppy ran in, with four guards behind him. They all looked down at the dead figure. Peppy looked up and saw Fox, motioning for him to come down. Fox nodded, and in less than a minute, he was on the ground.

Fox breathed deeply. "She just attacked me. I fought back, but I didn't know that it had been that bad until she died." He explained the battle, Peppy nodding, understanding it had not been Fox's fault.

"It's over, now," he said to Fox. "Don't worry about it. We'll look into."

Fox nodded. He thought for a second. "Look, I'm going to be on Swift. I had to put it through preflight testing, so I'll be back. I just need to determine whether or not she sabotaged the ship." Peppy nodded, and the youth headed into the GreatFox's Hangar bay.

"Sir?"

Peppy turned to the younger officer. "What is it?" he asked.

"This insignia."

Peppy knelt down. He inspected the clothing on her left breast. He stood up. "Tell General Pepper that we got a spy here."

General Pepper sat in his desk, Fox in front of him. The younger man was wet, having walked in the rain. He motioned the younger pilot to sit down. " I heard you had a jolly fight with a spy." He looked up. "Anything unusual about this spy?"

Fox nodded. "She was trained well. She could have killed me, if she had been more determined. Is there something I should know?"

Pepper nodded. "We think there may be another spy in the base. I'm sure they may try to strike again, but more secretly. They know we're onto them." He sighed. "But unfortunately," he said sarcastically, " this has led me to believe that you should leave the planet if the Venomian armada tries to escape. It would only be safe, and I think it would be better if you took the battle up to space."

Fox nodded. "I understand, sir. I will, though, stay to see if my plan works." Pepper thought for a second, then nodded.

"Very well. But you better hightail your tail if you want avoid any problems with Andross."

Fox nodded, and left the room. He grasped his shoulder, feeling no pain at all. He sighed. It was bad enough that he had to kill a woman, but the fact that his shoulder kept getting injured was getting a bit bewildering and irritating. Maybe it would have been better if she struck his leg, or his tail, but no, it had to be his own shoulder.

Wow. Talk about a bad stroke of luck.

He had not walked far before he ran into Eli. "Hey, did you want to help me move Swift out of the hangar?" Eli cocked an eyebrow, but Fox explained. "I'm going to fly the ship out of here when the Venomian armada gets here. We're going to leave the planet for a while."

Eli stood a second, thinking, then agreed. "Sure, I'll help out. Should I get Liz to help out?"

Fox nodded. "Get Fara, too."

Eli cocked his eyebrow, again.

Fox looked back at him. "What?"

Eli breathed in a second to let the tenseness of his body out, then asked his question. "I realize this might seem personal, but I have a question. Do you like her?"

Fox shrugged. "She's okay." And he walked away. Eli put his past question away and started looking for Liz.

Eli stood inside Swift's cockpit. He made himself comfortable after only a few minutes, sitting himself in the navigator's seat. He stuck a music disk into the recorder and waited for the rest of the group. Liz was in the back, sleeping soundly, as she didn't get much rest after hearing about the Venomian armada. But she had shaken off her worries, knowing she was on a team that could be at her side. In the meantime, Eli sat quietly, waiting for someone to come.

Someone did come, but it was General Pepper. He walked in and noticed the cockpit open. He found Eli sitting in the seat. "Oh, hello Eli. I was looking for Fox, but if you see him, could you ask him if, while he's up in the air, he could take a look around the Mark 2 space observatory?" He shifted nervously. "We lost communications up there, but we haven't caught any ship's on scanner. It's just a quick light speed glance, that's all."

Eli sat up and grinned at Pepper. "Sure, I'll tell him. I'm supposed to be going, so we'll set a course in the direction."

Pepper nodded, then left.

Eli sat for still a moment, considering what Pepper had said. Maybe it was a downed transmitter, since the base was frequently having problems in the sector, seeing as how it was close to Sector Y. The thought made him jump, though. There was supposed to have been some trouble in that area. Perhaps someone stopped by to clear out some of the enemy?

He shook himself out of his fright. Nothing to worry about until there was something to worry about.

"Hey, Eli."

Eli jumped, yet again.

Fox cocked an eyebrow. "You okay?"

Eli breathed deep and calmed himself. "Yeah. Hey, Pepper came by and asked if-"

Fox cut him off. "Yeah, I know, I just ran into him." He nodded. "We'll check it out, but I want you to get your blaster, just in case."

Eli looked unconvincingly at Fox. "Are you sure? It might be a downed transmitter."

Fox smiled at Eli. "I read thoughts, and I know what you're thinking. There is, after all, trouble in that sector."

Eli nodded. "Okay. I got the ship prepped, so you can take off when you want to."

Fox nodded. "Okay. Repulsors on." Eli left the cockpit, and came back in less than a minute later, blaster strung on his right hip.

The ship lifted slightly, as the sound of the engines came on, faintly. It stayed about a meter off the ground, but did not move.

"Main engines, on."

The sound grew louder, coming to a quiet, but noticeable roar. The ship lurched forward, but everyone, except Liz, who was still in the back, was strapped in.

"Get the navigational equipment on-line, Eli." Fox turned to stare back at the open hangar.

Eli switched on the navigation computer on, looking at the radar, the comm board and space chart. "We got it," he said to Fox.

Fox nodded. "Okay. First time with my piece of machinery." He clutched the throttle. "Carry on!"

The ship lurched forward, the hangar moving backward. Fox felt the sudden, but soft G-force, and in a moment, they were in the air. Fox held the joystick carefully. He moved his hands around the circuit board, logging in hyperspace coordinates. Fara kept an eye on flight systems, to make sure that everything was go. She wondered why she was so worried, though she felt a chill, like something was going to happen.

Eli busied himself by making sure that the coordinates that Fox had logged in were accurate. He acknowledged it, and Fox put the craft into the otherspace mode.

Within a minute, they had moved into hyperspace.

Fox settled in his seat. "You know," he said, "I think we should get the body armor ready, just in case we meet some unfriendlies." He looked at Eli. "Could you get the armor?"

Eli nodded and left the cockpit.

Fox sat silently in the pilot's seat. He then became acutely aware of the younger Fennec fox sitting in the co-pilot's seat, staring at Fox. The older pilot shifted a bit uncomfortably in his seat. She smiled, knowing that he was nervous. She was, too.

Fox tried to make a conversation. "How's the ship?"

She grinned. "It depends on the pilot. I like it."

Fox gulped silently. "Do you have a blaster on you?"

She nodded. "Yeah. I figured I would need it."

Fox stayed silent for a second. He thought after a while. "I remember you asking me if I had felt something when the bomb was about to explode." He looked at Fara for a second. "Do you have that keen instinct?"

She nodded. "Yeah. It's like I can feel something before it happens. I have trouble with it, though, because I don't trust it very often." She looked at Fox. "Do you have it?"

Fox nodded. "I didn't need you to tell me about the bomb. I felt it around the time when you asked me." He didn't know what to say. But he dwelled on that thought. "You know, I remember Kiyo telling me that it's not what you say, but how and when you say it."

Fara nodded. "She told me that too. I kinda messed up on that part, the bomb." She looked nervously at Fox. "She was the only one that knew I was on the team before anyone else."

At that, Fox looked up. "She did?" He thought for a second. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Fara shrugged. "I was afraid, I guess."

Fox cocked an eyebrow. "At someone who saved your life?"

Fara laughed for a second. Then she became her normal self. "When I first saw you, I thought you were my guardian angel or something." She smiled and blushed a bit. "But when I thought that, I almost believed it. I did believe it. Like you were going to watch after me."

Fox looked at her. Quickly, she changed her words. "I mean, you're the guardian angel to the whole team. Aren't you?"

Fox nodded. "But, for some reason, I'm always watching over you." He wasn't embarrassed for saying it. "Your father asked me to watch out for you, so that's what I'm doing." He sighed. "In a sense, I am your guardian angel."

She smiled. "You promise to watch over me?"

Fox nodded. "You bet."

They looked into each other's eyes for a few minutes. They didn't care who the other was, but they both felt lightheaded. Fox didn't see the figure standing to his left. Neither did Fara.

"You guys okay?"

Both Fox and Fara jumped at Eli's voice. The reptilian pilot grinned. "I thought you were becoming narplectic."

Behind him, Liz, who had also been smiling, had picked up a rifle from the weapon's cache. She handed one to Fara and handed both Fara and Fox a thin body armor vest. Though it was no bigger than half a centimeter, it could stop a blaster bolt with ease, until it hit the same place about three times. Then it would break.

Fox slipped off the top part of his flight suit and put on the body armor. Fara did the same and they got ready for any trouble they would encounter.

Eli looked at the navigation board. "We're coming up on the base. You can drop out of other space in three seconds."

Fox watched as the time elapsed. The stars slowly reappeared then the outline of the base could be seen.

"Uh-oh."

On the starboard side of the base, a Venomian cruiser was hooked up.

"So much for the Downed Transmitter Theory," said Eli.

Fox shook his head. "We should get out, I think. It's too dangerous."

Fara looked at him. "There'll be people, probably hostages." She grinned. "I'm not afraid."

Fox looked back at Fara. "That's a crock. You're not sure, so you're not afraid." He looked at her more gently. "But I am. For the team, at least. " He added quickly.

She smiled, touched by his hidden concern for her. "I'll stick with you, then."

Eli nodded. "We should take a look at the base. The soldiers inside might be held hostage, and besides, we can always escape the old-fashion way." He thought for a second. "The soldiers might still be alive. They could be putting up a fight."

Fox considered, then nodded. "Okay. But I'm putting up a timed message to Pepper's office, in case something goes wrong."

The rest nodded, as Fox went to the consol to record a message. He started.

"General Pepper, this is Commander Fox McCloud of Mercenary unit 6032, Star Fox. I'm recording this message concerning the Mark 2 base on the boarder of Sector Y. I'm here with Eli and Elizabeth Medus and Fara Phoenix. We've just arrived at the coordinates you gave us, and we've discovered that there is a Venomian unit attached to its starboard side. We cannot determine if the soldiers inside are alive, dead or captured.

"After brief counsel with my friends, we've decided to search the base to see if it needs assistance. This is a timed message, so when you receive it, it should already be about fifteen minutes since we have entered the base. To be certain that there is no messing up, I suggest you send in a small group of soldiers when you receive this message. If you can, tell two of my squadron that we are here. Wish us luck" He turned off the recording.

"Okay," he said. "Let's go."

Fox piloted the ship into the nearest hangar, but cautioned himself, as there were guns inside, as well. As far as he could tell, the power was still on. The lights were still on, but no voice welcomed them on the intercom. He landed and turned the ship off. He got up out of his seat and opened the hatch.

"Take a pack with you, "He said to them all. "We don't know how long we'll be here." He retrieved a medium pistol, knowing his own blade was ineffective at long range. Checking to see if there was an adequate amount of ammo, he meanwhile pulled out another cartridge from a secret compartment in the seat's arm rest.

Eli stepped out first, keeping his pistol in front of him. He scanned the hangar carefully. So far, no one had been at the turret, but someone would creep in here. He quickly looked to his immediate left, hearing a groan of metal. He stared at the direction it was coming from until he was sure that there was no one there. He then motioned for Fox to step out.

Fox walked out of the ship, keeping his blaster at his waist holster. A quick scan of the area showed no signs of life. "Follow me," he said.

He ran to a door at the left side of the hangar, hand near his blaster, ready to snap out. He was still going to be cautious. Fara ran next to him, blaster drawn. She moved quietly, but with a swiftness that Fox followed. Eli kept a lookout while Liz followed suit with Fox and Fara. After she was far enough, he ran as fast as possible. The door was locked, however, dismaying Fox only slightly.

Eli took out a portable computer from under his arm. Opening the door panel, he checked to make sure it was locked. After clarification, he started tapping various keys. At that instant, a sudden thought came to Fara.

"Hey Fox," spoke Fara. "What exactly do they do at this base?"

Fox was about to answer when a bright light came from about 80 feet to their right. A ball about three feet in diameter sped towards them. Fox pulled Fara out of the way. "Eli, get out!"

Eli jumped up and rolled to his left. He grabbed at Liz's ankle and pulled at it, causing her to drop downward. The ball splattered and exploded against the door.

Fara, who had been pulled by Fox and was now under his arm, snapped up her blaster and fired at the invisible assailant. She wasn't exactly blinded, however. She had a good feeling that she had shot at his right arm. A sharp yell confirmed her target had been hit, along with the clatter of a weapon, indicating that he was disarmed.

She looked up from under Fox's left arm. She was lying down, but she saw the attacker. On his right arm was a deep wound. He pulled out his blaster, unable to use the rifle that he had, aimed at her and pulled the trigger.

Fox's blaster reacted first, however.

The bolt ripped through the air and disappeared into the man's skull. The man dropped into an awkward position, but it seemed that he wouldn't care. Even so, his bolt went flying towards Fara and she yelled out. Fox rolled her to his left and dodged it.

She had her eyes close, but when she opened them, she saw Fox under her, clearly surprised. "Hi."

She scrambled up, helped Fox up. The whole time she smiled in a way that more than caught Fox's attention. He looked over at where the door had been. "Hmm. Someone was nice enough to open a new path for us." He walked to the hole in the door and stepped through. He drew his blaster and motioned them to follow.

Soon, everyone was through the opening. Eli cradled the rifle in his arms, being sure to keep his finger on the trigger. Fox stopped suddenly and grouped them together.

"Okay. Our objectives now are to make sure that all survivors (if any) are to be escorted to Swift, immediately. If you're in a fix, just contact me or Fara."

Liz signaled with her hands, clearly confused. Eli translated. "Yeah, what do you mean, Fox?"

Fox smiled. "To make sure we all don't get captured all at once, we'll split to two groups. Fara'll come with me, you two'll stay together." He pulled out a data-plaque. "Insert this into your palm computer. If you get lost, consult it." He pointed to a small outcrop of the map that it projected. "D'ya see that?" Eli nodded. "That's where the brig is, so check there, first. We'll check the cruiser's entrance."

Eli nodded. "Okay. Should I just take them directly to the ship?"

Fox nodded. Eli and Liz ran down the corridor and disappeared.

Fara looked at Fox. "Hey. You didn't answer my question."

"What question?"

"I asked what they did at this base."

"Well, they test weapons here." He turned and walked towards the ship's connector.

Fara sighed. "Should’ve figured."

It was Fara who spotted the first prisoner. She tapped Fox's shoulder. He turned and saw the prisoner too.

About thirty feet away, a group of soldiers had their hands up. In front of them, another group of soldiers that Fox figured were Andross' men had their blasters pointed toward them.

Fara walked up to the group, staying behind a clutter of junk, making sure she was out of their view. Fox took cover behind an ammo box and thumbed his pistol settings. She turned and saw Fox taking a breath. She knew what it meant, and she held hers . She turned as soon as Fox did and fired at the nearest soldier.

The battalion didn't realize what was going on, confused and jittery. They started shooting wildly at Fox and Fara, but their bolts seemed to hit nothing. Fox took his time, aiming first and shooting next. Fara followed the fad, careful not to hit any of the good soldiers.

As it was, the prisoners had taken control of the situation much better than their enemies. They picked up the discarded blasters and helped Fox and Fara out.

When Fox figured it was safe enough to step out, he did so, still shooting at the remaining soldiers, who were retreating into the other side of the room. They escaped, but Fox had other things to worry about.

The nearest soldier turned to him. He was human, with shoulder length hair tied in a ponytail, but he was also large and towered over Fox by more than a foot. He looked down at Fox and smiled. "We owe you, young one." He shook hands with Fox. "I'm Sergeant Bak, leader this base." He cocked an eyebrow. "And you, sir?"

Fox smiled. "I'm Commander Fox McCloud of mercenary unit 6032, Star Fox. This is my comrade, Fara Phoenix."

The sergeant bowed pleasantly. "I'm honored." He turned to Fox. "Did you come to save us?"

Fox shook his head. "I'm afraid that we came to investigate the fact that the communications were down. But when we saw the cruiser outside, we figured we should help you." He looked at Bak. "Are there any more prisoners on this ship?"

Bak nodded. "Yes. We estimate at least fifty other people, some families."

Fox sighed. This was going to make things hard. As it was, he didn't have enough space in his ship to carry that many people. "Do you have transports?"

Bak nodded again. "We stored them in the port side hangar, but it's the closest to the cruiser, so even if we did get them out, they could still shoot us down."

Fox sighed again. "My ship is in the starboard hangar. You can get your men there-"

Bak shook his head. "I'm sorry, but I feel it's better if we were to help you out."

Fox nodded, then considered a thought." I left a timed message to General Pepper. He could get some ships here."

"How long ago was that?"

"About five minutes ago. They could be here in about half an hour. How'd this base get captured?"

Bak thought for a second. "Seems like we would always get this message saying that there was a cruiser of some sort every five minutes. We sent out a squadron to deal with it, but almost all of them were destroyed. We didn't see the enemy for a long while, then it seemed to appear out of nowhere. We tried using our turbolasers against them, but their shields had been augmented, and they managed to get on board before we could stop them.

"About that time, I had woken up and gathered my troops to battle against what they had, but they managed to overcome us and we had to keep running to get them from killing us. About 5 minutes ago, we surrendered, because there were hostages and we wanted no casualties."

Fox nodded. If that was so, then Andross' ships were probably outfitted with cloaking devices. "In any case, the troops should be here in about 30 minutes.

Bak grinned. "That'll give us some time to find the rest of the prisoners. That is, if they haven't already been delivered to the cruiser." He thought for a second, then dug into his pockets. He retrieved a small palm computer and switched it on. An image of the cruiser appeared. "I have an idea."

"What's that?"

"We know they're already attached to the base, and they're not going to take chances with sticking around. But, in addition to the fact that they're men are still in the base and the fact that it'll take time for them to get there, the ship's hatch is located on the rear of the ship, near the engine room. That means we might have a chance to disable the ship and turn a few tables."

Fox nodded, understanding. If they were to destroy or disable the engine, the enemy would become sitting ducks. Plus, it would give them a chance to confuse the enemy, allowing time for their own escape. "I would suggest that you and your men should escape in my ship," he offered, one last time.

Bak looked into Fox's eyes. "In my culture, a native american culture, someone who saves a life must be repaid in some way. I can't leave you, especially if you saved all my men's lives." As if to confirm this, the battalion stood and saluted them.

Fox seemed uncertain. "I'm only a pilot."

Bak smiled. "That's what your father said." He showed a concern for this particular youth. "One hell of a pilot."

Fox was amazed that a ground soldier knew his father, personally. He sighed. Just then, the com came on. "Eli?"

The younger pilot's voice rang out. "A little help, please?"

"It's not exactly wise to go things alone. A man can shoot a bullet, but how many people does that man think it's going to go through the one in front of them?

Kiyo Tix

Chapter 8; A Rescue in the Dark.

Eli was stuck next to a door, while Liz was firing wildly at the enemy soldiers. She already had a wound on her leg, and both of them were running low on ammo.

Eli sighed in frustration. When they had gone off to the prisoner cell, he found that the prisoners had been moved. He decided to play hero, and didn't report back to Fox. He and Liz followed for about 3 minutes before a troop felt a bit jumpy and turned and saw them.

They had tried to move in, and they had rescued some of the prisoners, though a few had worse injuries. One of them had a limb missing, and Eli was busy in quickly ripping off his shirt and wrapping the cloth around the wound. He pulled out some medical alcohol and applied it onto the wound, all the while keeping his head low and shooting at anyone who came too close for him to ignore.

That was around the time when Liz failed to dodge bolt and it ripped through her calf with a great deal of pain. She didn't complain, however. How could she?

Just then, blaster bolts came from behind them, and Eli wasn't scared at that fact. Fox ran in the room and fired at twelve of the 20 soldiers in front of them. He succeeded in hitting 3, but he had to duck to keep himself from being shot.

Fara came in and several other men followed, blasters blinking in the already dim room. It was a corridor war, which meant that the two sides were basically getting nowhere. She handed Liz and Eli a cartridge each, and at that, Eli stuck the clip in until his weapon reached full.

Fara called to Eli. "How many more hostages there?"

Eli shouted back. "None, if you mean that they're being held hostage, cause they haven't even considered them, yet. There's still five more left, three of them are children. We have to be careful."

Fox heard all this, and he ran in the other direction, thinking about Venom and Peppy. No one bothered to ask him where he was going, but he pulled a soldier to the side.

"Take whatever civilians there are into my ship. Tell them to stay there, or near it, if there's no room." The soldier nodded and called out to the twelve rescued prisoners. They followed him into the hangar, and Fox ran to his left.

The battle inside the corridor, meanwhile, was getting more intense. They had plenty of cover, but it was getting hot and already several soldiers were dead or dying. It hurt Fara to see so many people risking their lives and fighting for stupid reasons, some which probably went to Fox's dad. She dodged a bolt as it zinged over her head, missing her by only centimeters. She continued to fire.

At that moment, an explosion occurred over the heads of the enemy. Blaster bolts spewed out of the explosion, killing all but one of the remaining soldiers, who had gotten shot in the shoulder. A figure stepped out, but the smoke around him kept him from being identified, though Fara was sure it was Fox. He picked up the living soldier and glared at him.

"Where are the remaining prisoners?" The soldier looked back at Fox, clearly terrified, but not willing to tell him. Fox spoke again. "Not telling me would be a very bad thing, and you'd be punished, severely."

The soldier finally lost it. "Okay, I'll talk! They've been taken to the cruiser already. I won't lie to you, they're easy to get out if you hurry. They're located at the entrance of the ship, ironically, 'cause that's where all the free space is in the ship. We're already carrying cargo, it's warheads, but if you get caught, we might all die!"

Fox glared at the soldier again. "You'll live, but I won't say for how long. That'll be determined, later." He shoved the guard towards Bak. "He talked."

Eli, who had been talking on the com, nodded, then turned to Fox. "That was General Pepper. He said that they'll disable the ship, but they can't get the troops in quick enough, so we might have to wait."

Fox shook his head." We can't stop now, just to wait for them to catch up. We've already got an injured man with a problem that will need medical attention, fast, and one of my own team is losing blood from her leg. We can't assume that they'll let the prisoners live, cause they've already killed a number of Bak's men. We have to make sure that they don't kill the hostages." He thought for a second then ducked into his pack.

Bak nodded. "He's right. We just need to fill our ammo clips and run for it. It shouldn't take too long, we're already next to the hangar as it is."

Fara spoke up. "These people wouldn't be expected the hatch to be open, and I wouldn't count on a warm welcome, either. Do we have adequate door service? Anything to get us in with no trouble?"

Fox grinned, pulling out several charges. "They'll open up, even by the hair of their chinny chin chin." He chuckled to himself, and they ran to the ship's position.

Fox stood up and ran to the corner of the corridor. He had just set the last charge. He waited as the counter stuck zero, the door blasting inward.

He walked toward the door, but a bolt sliced into his jacket, scarring Fox.

In the shoulder.

Oh boy. Now they needed Katt to come by in a black flight suit and they'd be cursed for life.

He hardly felt any pain in the shoulder, and it amazed Bak immensely. Fara shook her head and indicated that it would be explained later. She stepped out and fired into the smoke, Fox running into the hatch, still firing. He jumped to his right, a bolt zipping past him at the same moment, causing him to duck and roll on his shoulder.

Bak picked up a discarded rifle and signaled to the rest to help out. One by one, Bak's men started to move in quickly and firing at the same moment. A few were limping, but they had said that they had wanted to help out in any way they could. Soon, they were all in the ship.

Even then, it wasn't too easy. A few of the enemy were pushing inside the room, filling every available covering space possible. For the first few minutes, it was simple, but as the targets decreased, so did chances of actually hitting them. Fara was able to hit a few of the remaining, but in the process, a bolt caught her across the cheek. She applied some alcohol on it and stayed low for a bit.

Fox, on the other hand, was doing his best in blocking as many shots possible with his own augmented skills. He had brought his stike along, this time. Any time a bolt sped his way, it was blocked, and even though he was still bleeding, he could still fight. He would, at some point, have to take cover when a flurry of bolts was coming towards his way.

The way he figured it, the enemy knew who he was, and they were targeting him.

Bak, of course, knew this. He ran towards Fox and blasted at anyone bold enough to aim at both of them. At a rough estimate, there were about 8 guards left, as opposed to 15. But he knew that backup would arrive.

At that moment, they both heard something behind them. A quick glance revealed a grenade. Fox ran away from it, while Bak fumbled for it, picked it up and threw it right back. The weapon sped towards the center of the enemy and they ran, the blast catching 3 of them.

The enemy out, the remaining troops fired at them, and the quick firefight was over. Fox blew air between his lips. This part was over, but he wasn't taking any chances. He fumbled in his pockets and extracted two charges.

"Fara, put these on the door over there. We don't want anyone coming in at a bad time. Bak, get your men to help me out here. We're gonna get the prisoners out here." Bak nodded, then signaled his men.

"One of you, make sure that Lieutenant Phoenix is safe." A group of hands went up, and it was all Bak and Fox could do but keep from laughing. He regained posture. "Get any weapons you see from the ground. We might need the civilian's help."

They all ran to the rear of the ship, which wasn't too far. Every once and a while, Fox would stop, to make sure that there were no guards, and occasionally, it paid off. They had to kill four guards before they were in the back, and Fox hesitated from going in.

"Wait. We want to make sure how many guards there are." He opened the door, slightly, so that it was only a few inches from the floor. After a few seconds, he got back up. "There's about twelve of them, but they're playing cards, so we might have the drop on them." He looked at Eli. "We ready, yet?"

Eli nodded. "I've got no time to bleed off."

Fox hit the door controls and fired his blaster. The rest followed after only a few seconds.

The guards were clearly taken by surprise. Even so, they weren't going out before a fight. One showed this and a bolt zipped past Fox, hitting Eli in the lower torso, the older pilot grunting and flailing a bit. He wasn't dead, but he was hurt, and he brought up his blaster to fire.

Just then, though, a bolt sunk into the lightbulb and the room was shrouded in darkness.

Fox stood deadly still. "No one move for the next few seconds," he said to everyone, regardless as to whom they were, Venomian or Cornerian. Everyone, regardless of who they were, complied.

He pulled out his blade and ignited it quickly. The room lit up, showing a guard under Fox's left foot. Not knowing how to control the situation any better, he picked him up and slammed him into the wall.

Everyone else reacted quite nicely, some shooting at first sight and some taking cover.

Bak had been a bit jittery, what with the lights going off, but with the lights now on, he continue to fire at the rest of the guards, who had stationed themselves behind the table they had been playing on. Soon, they were all captured or dead.

Bak checked every guard for a key, finally landing the target on of the dead guards. They had been smart, since it was on a low-ranking officer.

Eli got up, Fox checking the wound, which was nothing more than a large blister. Eli pulled out a med patch from his pack and rubbed it on. He nodded to Fox, indicating that he was okay. "Yeah, don't worry, it ain't gonna kill me."

The com went on, Fara's voice ringing in Fox's ears. "Charges are set. Give the word."

Fox shook his head. "No, wait until someone comes knocking for the surprise." He didn't want to waste charges for opening doors. The com went off, then on again. This time, it was Pepper.

"Well done, Fox! I would expect no less from someone like you. Are you doing okay?"

Fox answered slowly. "Yeah, we're all okay, for now. But you need to fit a few people into the shuttle. Did you disable their ship?"

Pepper walked through the door behind them, clicking the com off. "Yes. Are the prisoners okay?"

Fox nodded. "But one of them needs to get to a medical center, immediately. And Liz is losing blood."

Pepper nodded. "Just get back to the ship with some of these prisoners and I'll make sure publicity doesn't suffocate you." He grinned and nudged Fox towards the door. Fara walked in and handed Pepper the charge detonator. Eli ran towards the hangar where their ship was, Fara and Fox following afterwards.

It didn't take them long before they reached the ship. But even so, there were still some uncaptured guards; one stationed him at the missile turret inside the hangar, some 7 meters away. Fox saw this and yelped. "My ship!"

Fara kept herself from giggling and brought up her pistol. But she didn't aim for the guard. Instead, she aimed in front of the turrets. She fired, just as a missile was let loose.

The bolt splashed against the thin skinned warhead, designed so that even the vibration of an afterburner would set it off. The missile exploded, blinding Fara and causing Fox to miss the guard, who himself was caught in the blast.

All of them were thrown back into the door. Fox got up and got Eli to stand, pushing him to the ship. Fara seemed to have the worst of it, however, and in addition to her not seeing, her nose started to bleed, though only a little. She could taste blood within her mouth, but she spat it out. Fox helped her up and put his arm around her shoulder, directing her towards the ship.

They got in, the engines already charged up to go. Fox gave the signal to Eli to take off, and they sped out of the hangar. After setting Fara down on a seat, he turned to Eli. "Put us in a flanking position around the Cruiser."

Eli complied, but then the comlink went off. "No need to hang around, Fox," said Bak. "We've got everybody on the shuttle and it's leaving." As if to confirm this, a shuttle moved out of a hangar bay adjacent to the one that Fox had just left. "You can go now, Fox."

Fox smiled. "I copy." He turned back to Eli. "Get us back to Corneria."

Eli nodded, and in a minute, they were back at their home planet.

When they arrived, the rest of the team was already in the hangar, along with a group of medics, officers and a few record keepers. As soon as they got out, Liz and Fara were helped out of the ship and carried off to medical, while the record keepers interviewed Fox and Eli.

When they were done, Fox sighed, happy to be out of the interviews. Not that he had an acute fear of publicity, but he had found out at the Boardwalk that some things were better left unknown, at least, if it swarmed you with reporters in the end.

Falco stepped up to Fox. "How's the ship?"

Fox grinned. "I'm keeping it for a good long while."

Kiyo spoke. "Anyone for a quick break?"

"Yeah, I could do with a refreshment."

Peppy frowned a bit. "You go on ahead. I gotta talk with Fox." The group walked away, now concentrating on Eli.

Peppy turned to Fox. "I got some news. It's not good, but it shouldn't be bad, either." He took a breath. "Just after you left for the base, a few of our contacts discovered that the Venomian armada is speeding towards Corneria a lot faster. It'll still be at least two days before they're here, but we need to go over your plan."

Fox nodded. "Okay. Let's talk it over a couple of drinks, okay?"

Peppy nodded. They left for the bar.

Andross heard the door behind him open. Wolf stepped in. The young pilot wasn't afraid, but it wasn't wise to report failure in a cavalier attitude, either. "Sir, I regret to inform you that the Viper was liberated at the Mark 2 base, earlier this afternoon."

Andross turned to Wolf and shrugged. "I do not find it unfortunate. Who was sent to the ship?"

Wolf answered. "Fox McCloud, sir."

Andross chuckled. "I should have guessed. Yes. He is indeed a good soldier. I look forward to meeting him." He looked at Wolf. "And your team?"

"They are doing most excellent, sir. Several of them are among the best we've trained. I grow less worried each day."

"Good work, Wolf. I'll see to it that lieutenant Phoenix grows attracted to you." He waved the younger man away. Wolf turned and left.

"She was going to shoot, Luke. Second Rule of self-defense is to shoot first, ask questions later."

"What's the first?"

"Be somewhere else when the shooting starts."

Commander Wedge Antilles of Rouge Squadron.

Chapter 9: Mission 1; Defending Home.

Fox kept his eye open. He had already slept long enough and had asked if it was all right if he could help keep a close watch on the skies. He was gained clearance and they let him in. He busied himself by over-going the new prototypes for a tank and a submarine.

Already, the two days had passed. The Venomian armada was getting closer and it made Fox a little curious as to why the Venomian armada hadn't already moved into hyperspace and blasted them already. He recited a poem he had made as a child.

"Many years ago, when we were having wars,

When widows hid in kitchens, and closed were all the doors,

There was a kid who made his name on oak, and then he vowed,

"I shall not fire any gun and make the silence loud."

He drafted into military, surpassed his every peer,

Strong as bears in hunting motion, faster than a deer,

Precision matched with wolves and then he's also deadly now,

And yet he say's "I'll not fire weapons, making silence loud."

The war came swiftly, consuming anger, and turmoil soon to came,

The rich were poor, the poor were dead and strong were now the lame.

He looked down at his people, but still he held his vow.

"I shall not fire any weapon, making silence loud."

He soldiers came in, bullets flying, causing screams and yells,

And then he fired a .9 mm and a month later there were bells.

And looking down into the coffin, he knew he broke his vow.

"The only thing I was good at was making silence loud."

At that moment, he sensed someone's presence off to his left. "Where'd you learn that poem?" asked Fara.

Fox sighed. "I wrote it when I was twelve. We had an assignment in school about it."

"I never did find poetry interesting."

"I'm kind of an interesting person."

"I'm sure all the girls say that."

Fox cocked an eyebrow. "What girls?"

Fara stood confused. "No one's ever had a crush on you?"

"They sure weren't going to tell me!"

Fara grew a little hot. She hadn't revealed her secret, but she knew Fox could sense it. "Well, I think you're okay."

Fox smiled, seeing past her mind.

"Stop that!"

"What?"

Fara eyed him. "You probed my mind. I felt it."

"It's not really hard to tell that you like someone on the team." He hadn't gotten through her mind completely, and he settled for making guesses. He knew it was someone on the team, maybe not him. "Is it … Wulf?"

"I'm not telling."

Fox smiled.

Fara sighed. "Is it my job to tell you?"

"No, but I'd like to know who it is you like."

Fara sat on the couch adjacent to him. She avoided the question. "No one liked you?"

"Like I said, I don't know for sure."

Neither one spoke for a minute.

Fara started up a conversation. "You know, you never mentioned your own mother to me."

Fox was a bit taken aback by this conversation. No one had ever asked about his mother, and the only connection to her was through the tiny picture in his wallet. He seriously considered the question.

"I don't really know."

"What can you remember?"

Fox sighed, and inwardly closed his eyes. "She was a fox, too. She used to be on my father's team, one of the best, but then she decided it was too dangerous, so she stayed home since I had been 3. She and dad would give me the basics on flying, almost evolving me into a bat."

Fara tried hiding her smile, but she ended up laughing. Fox only smiled.

"I seem to remember her as having claustrophobia, but she lost that sense after being in a cockpit several hundred times. But other than that…"

Fara could tell that his next words were going to be sad.

"The only memory I have of her is when she died." He shook his head. "Too violent to forget. She died in a car explosion."

Fara's stomach turned. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."

Fox shrugged. "There's no way I can remember her in any other way." He changed the subject. "You better get some rest. You'll need a clear head tomorrow."

Fara nodded, then laid down. Soon, she was fast asleep.

Fox sighed. It was bad enough that he had a friend in the air force that was going into battle without finding out that a girl on his own team took an interest in him, as did he.

Yep. Just like his father.

Fox could sense that Fara was asleep, but she was also quite content. Fox could only chuckle as she squirmed around, semi-comically.

But Fox soon found that this wasn't funny at all. He felt a chill going through him.

No.

He woke up Fara. She looked at him oddly as he picked up his com.

"THEY'RE HERE!" he yelled into the speaker.

Suddenly the whole base seemed to come alive in a matter of moments. It was only 2:00 and everyone had been asleep. Almost a minute after Fox had sounded the alert Star Fighters were already pouring out of the Hangar, waiting for Fox's plan to commence.

Fara looked at him. "You ready?"

"No. But I don't have a choice either."

Falco ran into the room, followed by Peppy, Kiyo, Slippy, Katt, Eli, Liz and Wulf.

Fox smiled. "Up already?"

They ran for the command tower. Fox opened the door, greeting Pepper, who was still clad in his pajamas.

"We couldn't detect them in the air. Why did you wake us?"

Fox looked back at Pepper. "Do you trust my feelings?"

Pepper nodded. "Enough said. But we still can't track them. When are you planning to turn on the shield?"

Fox had closed his eyes and was already in a relaxing state. He tried to put all his worries away and succeeded in doing so. He felt out for evil in the air, to position he wanted them in.

Slippy spoke up. "What's Fox's plan?"

Falco turned to him. "What's the difference between a rock and a shield?"

Fox's Eyes flickered open. "Now."

Pepper flicked on the switch and put the shields on Max. They looked out the view port.

"What is the difference between a rock and shield?"

Suddenly explosions occurred as cruisers who weren't there before were crashing into the shield. Everyone looked at Fox in amazement. His plan had succeeded fully.

"You can never see the shield, but it's just as hard."

"Let's go. They'll send out pods in a little while. This was just to buy us some time." He ran to the Hangar bay.

General Pepper shook his head. "No, Fox, I can't allow you to go out there. The Venomian armada is gunning for you, mainly, and we need them to be as close as they can before you launch."

Fox sighed. He saw Pepper's point, but it wasn't as if Fox would like it. "If you say so..."

The com went off.

Out in the distance, Fox could hear various commands from the hangar. Serpent and Cement teams were being prepped. Probably Bill had already left, too and the only ones left were them and Slicer squadron, and they were already beggining to group, anyway. He looked outside.

He had taken the test, beaten it and in the process, he saved hundreds of people by stumbling onto a cruiser attack. Had it not been for them, the city could have been incinerated. And now this. He was being kept from battle, from fighting for the right cause. He didn't like it. He sighed.

He turned to Slippy. "Did the parts come in for us to customize?"

Slippy nodded. "Sure did! Did you want to fix our ships up some?"

Fox nodded. "We don't really have much to do, anyway."

Fox took the wet sponge once more and wiped a dark streak out of existance. The hull of the ship was gleaming, almost, and Fox reached for the polish. He had long since wanted to customize his own ship, and during the morning, he had installed a new 2DN-12G "Blackhole" engine in the ship, along with an A-22 multi-purpose launcher and a "Silver Lining" joystick.

He stepped back and sprayed the ship, the preservant working clearly. I would be impossible to keep the afterburner jets clean, but he didn't want that, anyway. The ship would be protected from dirt, though laser stains were a bit harder to control. He covered th whole ship, save for a small space next to the cockpit. He took up a paintbrush, dabbed it in vaccuum-safe paint and slowly drew the words "Silver streak" on the side. Perfect. He smiled.

Fara had just finished, also, and had gotten her ship in a jet black color, save for the weapon system module, which was a reddish-orange. In the same color, next to the cockpit, were the words "Phoenix Ember".

Everyone else had the usual gray ship, but the names on the ship and the color lines on the side were all different. Falco had a goldenrod color on it, the name "Pure Wing" inscribed on the side. Peppy's was a black, the words "Old Hand" on the side. Slippy had a violet, and the name "Trident" was inscribed in paint. Kiyo's was brown and had "Desert Strike". Wulf's was an icy blue, with "Ice Sickle" on it. Katt was white, with "Clear Sky" on its side. Liz and Eli's were both light green, "Glamdring" on Eli's and "Orchrist" on Liz's, from some book they had both read before.

Fox knew most pilot traditions, which was that craft art was promoted and used frequently. Most squadrons would keep their usual colors and add a design on it on the side, but Fox McCloud knew otherwise, and figured it showed individuality and would be easy to identify who the pilot was without having to look on the radar. He kept in touch with the ship naming though, and decided on his own ships' name. 'White Fire' he had decided.

Just then, Falco called to him. "Fox, the general sent out a call."

Fox looked up and jumped down from the jet. "What channel?"

Falco shrugged. "It's all out the base. Sounds urgent."

Fox nodded. "Must be warning signal."

"Nope, it's throughout the city, too."

Fox furrowed his eyebrows. "That's only for emergency calls!" He picked up his headset.

"--peat, this is not a drill, get to your transports and head for the hills. You have 5 minutes to pack before the first transport leaves for the capital city--"

Fox was already running down the hangar, the rest of the team tailing him.

When they got to the control room, Skyes was there. "What do you think you're doing? This is a restricted area!"

Fox nodded. "Really? Then you should have kept it more secret."

General Pepper ran up to them. "There are several squadrons on the other side of the planet. They've already cut off the attack, but we were unfortunate enough to have the enemy drop what ships they had into our area. They've sent in ground transports to launch the air attack, and we can't stop them in time. And even if the other squadrons hurry here, we'd still be wiped out. We've sent out Serpent squadron and Cement unit out to battle them, but it may not be enough."

He turned to Fox. "We need you to go out there."

Skyes nodded. "I reluctantly agree. You need to be out there. You may as well, they're heading here. Better to meet your destiny sooner than later."

Fox nodded. He didn't much like the man, but he had a point. There was no use prolonging the inevitable.

Liz and Eli checked their ships before they got ready. Fox stepped in. "Log in."

One by one, they called out their designation numbers. Fox logged them all into the computer, designed so that if one was destroyed, it would sound out.

"Listen up," he said. "This is a war, and I don't need to tell you that. Your main priority is everyone else on the team, then your life. Just keep an eye on one another, Okay?"

The team acknowledged, all answering in a somewhat worried tone. Just then, Falco sounded in. "Boss?"

Fox smiled, knowing it was something funny. "Yeah?"

"I gotta take a leak."

Everyone else seemed to lighten up a bit and Fox laughed. "Hurry up." He realized that Falco’s request was just to clam everyone else down.

It was still not morning yet and from what could be heard, the armada was locating itself on the outer parameter of the base. they weren't stupid enough to fall into a trap of some sort, but they could figure out that there was no trick to be had.

Falco exited the hangar, then returned a minute later. Fox put his straps on. "Start launch sequence."

He watched as every craft in the hangar lifted a few feet into the air. The engines went on. Fox could hear the roar of the engines as they flared to a maximum burst.

The tower communicator sounded. "Mercenary unit 6032, you are go for launch."

Fox pulled back on the throttle. He was pushed into his seat, but welcomed the g-force with ease. He set to work immediately.

"Okay, team. Check your G-diffusers and report in." He took a reading of his own G-diffuser, and as far as he could tell, it was already creating the protective shield around his ship. Everyone checked in okay, except for Slippy.

"Fox, my G-diffuser is only exerting half the amount it should, even though it's on full."

Fox nodded. "Okay. Just re-route all infrared scanning power into that component."

Slippy acknowledged. After only a second, he confirmed that he was ready.

Through the static, Fox heard General Pepper's voice. "Star Fox, the enemy is using assault carriers to bring in its fighters into battle. They're headed to Corneria city. I've already sent a squadron to deal with it, but it might not be enough. They'll be there before you so be prepared. Send half your team to deal with them. The other half will take on any tanks or carriers that made it through. Good luck."

Fox nodded. "Okay. The enemy is using assault carriers to bring in their ships and they're headed to Corneria city. A squadron was already sent there but they might not be enough. I'll need several of you to volunteer to help them out."

Kiyo chirped happily. "I'd be grateful to go."

Eli followed. "Okay, as long as I get a chance to drop a few before the other squadron's done."

Liz agreed, as did Katt, then Falco and finally, Peppy.

Fox nodded. "Go on ahead. The rest of us will keep the carriers at bay." He turned his comm frequency to Pepper's. "Where are the remaining tanks and carriers?"

Pepper spoke. "We got indication that at least 32 were spotted over a nearby lake. Wait a second." The com went silent for a moment. " Alright, they're over there, but their also carrying troops. They've taken over a magnetic trolly in the area, and they've shielded it well. Our guess is that they plan to send their troops to the base using it. You better stop them. Be advised, they're probably going to arm the trolly, so be careful."

Fox nodded. "You heard him, let's move."

The ships moved onward.

Fara was the first to be hit. "Hey, where'd that come from?"

A flurry of bolts sped past them, some splashing off the shields, others spiraling into the air. Fox dived downward while the rest scattered into different directions. The tanks still fired, but could not maneuver as well on the ground.

Fox looked around the area. It was still dark, but it was at a visible part of the night. There were a few buildings here and there, which provided a somewhat decent cover for the group.

Slippy took the time to lock on their position. "They're coming up on the targeting screen."

"Thanks," said Fox, as the red crosshairs appeared on Fox's radar. He dodged a bolt and then resolved to start taking out the trash. Slippy had busied himself by looking for the trolley. "I'll report back when I find it," he said. He sped off in an opposite direction from Fox.

"Follow him, Wulf," said Fox. "He might need cover."

Wulf acknowledge and soon followed Slippy.

Fox dove as another flurry of bolts screamed past his Arwing. He charged up his laser and put his crosshairs on his nearest target. He quickly fired and dodged another laser. The bolt sped smacked into the tanks hull, the inside first igniting slowly then exploding afterward. The remaining tanks formed a line and fired strenuously at the group.

"They're behind you!" shouted Fara.

"Could you be more specific?" said Fox.

"Fighters at 5:30," she said.

Slippy reported in. "Half the fighters at Corneria city broke off to fight us. Should we get the rest over here?"

Fox shook his head. "We should be able to handle this by ourselves." He dodged a laser narrowly. "I hope."

Kiyo wasn't mad at him, but it irritated her that Fox had just called in saying she couldn't pursue the fighters that had just gotten to his position without her knowing. "Alright, but give me a holler if you need any cover." She broke off the connection to her Com unit.

The battle started somewhat well, but with an increasing amount of fighters coming towards them, it was getting tougher. The squadron that had been sent before them was doing okay, but already half of their team was downed, but not dead. During the fight, she had gotten mad enough to rip off her headset, due the amount of complaints coming from the other squadron, telling them not to hit them, or collide with them.

It was dark, still, but she could see the sky turning a dark orange. Still, it was hard enough to see through the city without shooting a comrade on accident.

Just then, Pepper sounded in. "Kiyo?"

She re-adjusted her headset. "What's up?"

There was a bit of nervousness in his voice as he spoke his next words. "After some renaissance flights we've confirmed the arrival of a Bio-weapon somewhere around the mountains, coming towards you. I won't bother you with details, but he calls himself Garanga, though evidently it's the name of his craft. If you have time-"

"I'll take it down, don't worry." Kiyo cut the Com off. She griped silently to herself. If it wasn't enough to have to blindly fight the enemy, it was saving the city from a possible hundred-foot behemoth! She thrust the joystick to her right as she moved to avoid collision with a corporate building.

Falco, on the other hand, and in spite of his usual nature, was having a great time. He sliced through squadrons with almost no regard to his own ship, relying only on his own instincts.

Still, he knew it couldn't last, and promptly decided he was bored. "Should we bomb what we can?" he asked Kiyo.

Kiyo shook her head. "Let's see what Eli says, first." She switched to Eli com. "Should we blow the rest?"

Eli considered. "These buildings have been reinforced with armor plating, so as long as you put the bombs on low, yes, we could."

Falco was the first to comply. "Okay, I'm above the city. I'll pull the trigger when Kiyo wants me to."

Kiyo nodded. "Let her go."

Kiyo watched as the bombs flew from both sides of Falco's Arwing. They spun slowly, but gained velocity. The night became an instantaneous day, then simmered into a night again.

Kiyo smiled. "Okay, did we get most of them?"

Katt read the charts. "Yep, they're vaporized or downed. A few managed to escape, but they're in bad conditions."

Katt spoke up. "Should we let them leave?"

Kiyo thought for a second. They might have been doomed, anyway, but that couldn't be clear, and Kiyo didn't want to take any chances. "Okay, let's follow them."

They all sped out of the city, first Katt, Kiyo, Falco, Eli and Liz.

Liz pulled ahead.

"I'll check out the area," the computerized voice said. She disappeared ahead of the mountains.

A second later, she sped past them, and from what Kiyo could see through her cockpit, she seemed terrified. She looked in the direction that Liz had come from.

Across the horizon, ahead of her, she saw movement. A second of staring brought a glare from the metal into he eyes. She looked away for a second, then glanced back.

A hundred feet in front of her stood Garanga.

"Fox, we've spotted the trolley," said Wulf.

Fox nodded. "Confirmed. We'll be there in a second, since we're almost done. Keep the train occupied."

Wulf acknowledged and shut off the com.

Fox thought a second. "Hey Slippy, d'ya just want to finish this quickly?"

"If it's clean enough, sure!" said Slippy, enthusiastically.

Fox chuckled. "Alright, go ahead and bomb the rest."

Slippy smiled. "Smart bomb or Proximity?"

Fox shrugged. "Whatever holds your appeal."

Fox accelerated as Slippy fired a Smart bomb into the remaining group of tanks, the armored vessels bursting in flame. Fara followed, then Slippy.

Fox heard Wulf on the Com, his voice ridden with sarcasm and static. "If it isn't too much trouble, could you find a way to slow this train down?"

Slippy was on it. "All we do is destroy the track behind it."

Fox eyed the idea with skepticism. "You think they'll be mad if we do? The air force, I mean."

Slippy shook his head. "No way. It's a battle, anyway. Things are supposed to be destroyed."

Fara took advantage of Slippy's words. "Just hurry on up ahead," she said, as she swung her craft directly over the rail. "I'll catch up in thirty seconds."

Fox sped ahead, dimly hearing a thud as the bombs behind landed on the track. "Is it slowing down, Wulf?"

Wulf reported back. "It stopped completely."

Fara cut in. "Not to make things any more difficult, but there a class five cruiser heading towards our position."

Fox dwelled on that. It was a class five cruiser that had attacked them during the flight test. "Alright, let's tell the general, then we'll intercept the cruiser."

Wulf nodded. "General Pepper?"

The general's com went up. "What is it?"

"The train has shut down completely, you can send in reinforcements."

The general acknowledged. "We're sending them now."

Wulf nodded. "Fox, they've received the communication. We can go for it."

Fox grinned. "Okay. Let's give that cruiser some deadly force."

They sped towards the cruiser.

Whatever Kiyo had expected the Garanga to shoot, what was coming out of it was completely ridiculous.

She had to avoid a hailstorm's worth of lasers, missiles, torpedoes, ion blasts, and cluster bombs all at once. She had no doubt in her mind that she could have avoided the majority of them in a different ship, but she was glad to be in this one.

She kept her shields high, but she still had no idea where to shoot first. "Slippy, could you give me a readout of the mobile suit's shield?"

Slippy nodded. "It'll take a second, but I can get it." He dove away to get himself some free space.

Falco took the opportunity to charge a laser, figuring that locking onto it might show where a weak section was. "I locked on the mid-section." He fired.

The bolt spewed from Falco's ship, smacking into it with a powerful blast. The Garanga didn't seem to be crippled, but it did slow down a bit.

Suddenly, a communications line was fixed onto all the ships. "You annoying flies! How dare you try to shoot down Garanga! I will make sure you die!"

Peppy shook his head. "Sorry, Falco. That bolt didn't do much to the suit."

Falco grimaced. "Where's the weak point, then?"

Kiyo had an idea. "Falco, cover me while I make a landing run."

Falco couldn't believe what Kiyo had said. "Excuse me?"

"You heard me right," she said. She brought her ship down. "The rest of you just keep him busy. Don't shoot him."

She and Falco moved into a clear forest area. She slowed down to a halt and popped open the hatch. She stepped out and signaled to Falco that she had made it down. He nodded and sped off.

She immediately went to her emergency pack and pulled out a blaster, three cartridges, a grappling hook and thirty feet of wire. She pulled out her comm. From the ship and set the power so that it hooked to her battery pack on her hip. She readjusted her headset and ran.

Katt spoke into the comm. "What are you doing?"

Kiyo grinned as she kept up with Garanga. "I'm gonna fix its engine problems."

She ran as fast as she could until she was near the leg. She set her blaster so that she could fire the grappling hook and cable onto it. "Okay, where can I hang onto…?"

She spied a piece of the craft that was jutting out just a bit, and as far as she could tell it looked as if it could hold her weight. She held the blaster tight in her hand and fired at the spot. She felt the hook fasten and she clambered up the cable as quick as she could. She pulled out her tool kit and set to work.

She started by first working off the panel with a compact cutting torch. She threw the panel off as soon as she was done with it. After that, though, she found herself staring at a serpent's nest of cables and panels. Not caring what to do, she sliced them all, then immediately regretted it, since she might just as well had just blown herself up to destroy the suit.

Instead, though, the Garanga stopped in its tracks and stopped firing everything except its missiles.

Relieved that the suit hadn't caught fire on her, she clambered still higher until she was directly behind the cockpit. Not wanting to take any chances, she blew the hatch open. She stepped inside.

Inside the suit was a medium sized ape. He turned and looked in rage at Kiyo, then brought up a pistol.

Kiyo, however, prided herself on her quick draw and brought her pistol up with a blinding speed, squeezing the trigger and sending Garanga's pistol flying out of his hand.

She stepped forward. "My intention ain't to harm you, but whether or not you can live longer is up to my superiors." She aimed at his head. "You can live longer now, but you have to follow me."

Garanga looked at her, almost as if he was considering it, and started to get up. But then he slammed down on a control panel and lunged at Kiyo.

She fired and ducked as dead tissue sprayed on her, along with blood. "Yuck."

She ran out of the cockpit, knowing that Garanga had hit a self-destruct mechanism. Jumping out of the suit and running at full speed, she felt herself getting lifted off the ground as the explosion rocked the ground.

She fell on her back and felt broken inside. She hoped she wasn't dying. But she could feel nothing but pain. She dropped out of consciousness, just as the sun rose over the hill she was lying on.

Fox dodged an incoming bolt, and for a second he could swear that he could feel the heat of the laser. Maybe it was his imagination, but then again…

They had followed the class-five cruiser over a deep lake. Slippy was missing a wing, but fought to regain control. Fara's shields were still high, as were Fox's but Wulf was having no such luck.

Fara suddenly called in. "Fox, there seems to be a torpedo launcher on the left side. It seems to be the only vulnerable spot on the ship."

Fox nodded. "Okay, concentrate all fire on that section."

As if in response, the cruiser opened fire on the ships. The group retaliated, hitting both missiles and the launcher.

Fox suddenly had an idea. "Let's keep them busy for a few more seconds." He looked behind him, as a orange glow brightened behind him.

The group fired all they had, at the cruiser, but the cruiser was clearly not going to give up. Though it had more missiles, it switched instead to lasers. The group scattered as they struggled to avoid the blizzard of bolts.

That's when the sun went up.

The cruiser held fire for a second, but began to fire a second later. By then though, Fox had managed to speed up, land a bomb in the launcher directly and pull away with the rest of his team.

The cruiser suddenly blew apart into several large pieces, none of which were connected in any way. Fox sighed to himself and sped from the melting craft, as it plunged into the lake.

 

 

Kiyo woke up almost immediately. She sat up quickly, but regretted it as she felt a sharp pain in her midsection. She looked down and saw her arm in a sling, and noticed that part of her midsection was covered in gauze.

Fara stood next to her. "Calm down. You're gonna hurt yourself worse."

Kiyo settled back. "Am I in the medical center?"

Fara nodded. "You broke three ribs and your arm, but they were able to patch you up. You can't move around for a little while, though."

"How long?" she asked.

"About two days. Four, if it's that bad, but they said It doesn't look that way." She tried to change the subject. "Did you see this Garanga?"

Kiyo nodded. "He was a Sapien. I guess he thought I was going to kill him. That wasn't necessarily true. I would have maimed him, but he lunged at me just before I shot." She thought after a second. "Did you get my ship out?"

Fara shook her head. "No. Wulf did."

Kiyo smiled. "Thank him for me, would you?"

Fara grinned. "You bet."

Fox sat down, tired. He had not been bored, but the battled had drained a lot out of him, afterwards. He almost went to sleep, but struggled to stay awake.

Pepper walked in. "Well, time to leave."

Fox groaned. "What time is it?"

Pepper looked at his watch. "9:30, and time for you to leave."

Fox looked up. "Can we move Kiyo into our medical room?"

Pepper nodded. "She can walk, but you might need to help her there."

Fox shrugged. "What do you need us to do up there?"

Pepper cleared his throat. "There's a battle brewing in sector Y, between our fleet and a few hundred of Andross' mobile suits. We need you to help clear out the area."

Fox nodded. "Do you have the blue marine and the Landmaster ready?"

Pepper nodded. "They haven't been tested yet, so be careful."

Fox nodded. The Blue Marine and The Landmaster were two vehicles designed by Beltino Toad. The blue Marine was a Submarine with the finest of handling and a near infinite amount of rechargeable torpedoes. The landmaster was a tank that could supposedly take more punishment than any other craft the air force had to offer, plus it had the added benefit of flying, when you wanted to. But since they were both new, they had not been tested, and since the war was coming up, Beltino decided to let Fox handle his second pair of prototypes.

Pepper grinned. "Well, if you catch up with Andross, give him what for. Got it?"

Fox grinned. "Yes sir."

Fox got up and walked to the Hangar, uncertain of what to expect.

"We're all gonna die. The point is how you check out. You gonna go on your feet? Or on your knees, begging?"

Chapter 10: Mission 2: Arms and Wings.

All Fara could concentrate on at the moment was on the tiny probe that was hovering between her and her bunk. She slowly brought up Fox's borrowed stike and aimed carefully. She saw the probe fire and at once she tried to bring the stike down fast enough.

Too late.

The mild laser burst hit her leg and she yelped out.

She wasn't mad, yet, but she wasn't exactly learning at lightspeed rate, which was really unusual. She felt that she was capable of learning Chaos theory within an hour, but somehow this was different.

Fox could only smile. "Ignore me."

Fara sighed. That was the problem. Fox. She couldn't help but try to impress him, and yet she couldn't be rude enough to kick him out. Besides, she admired him a lot.

Fox still smiled. "Don't hurt yourself thinking. Just let yourself drop out of your mind and take control of instinct."

Fara breathed in, let half out and brought the stike up again.

The probe fired yet again.

She swung the blade to her waist and felt the force of the bolt slide into it, then out, as the bolt ricocheted away from her and into the door.

Just then, Katt walked in. She casually moved her head and avoided the bolt. "Bad news, Fox. Seems like the Shogun suits are trying to back the Fleet into the radiation zone at Sector Y. That way they can disable them first and capture prisoners."

Fox looked up. "But won't the Shoguns also be disabled?"

Katt shook her head. "They've been modified with new navigational equipment that can withstand radiation. That includes their cruisers, but so far there are only twelve left, as far as they know."

Fox nodded. "Are our ships modified in the same way?"

Katt shook her head, but smiled. "That's where Slippy’s break comes in. If you let him have fun putting in the components for the navigation equipment, we have a deal."

Fox chuckled. "Okay, we have a deal."

She left the room.

He turned back to Fara. "Okay! That was a good block." He took out a long thin stick, and after handing it to Fara, pulled out one for himself. "Not many people know how to use a stike, but there are those few that know how to use one. To prepare you, we'll just practice some light drills."

She held the stick up. She knew defending herself was more important than attacking.

For a second, they both seemed reluctant to attack each other, but still circled each other. Suddenly, Fox struck , at her neck, but she blocked with incredible ease, and tried to stab at him. He blocked it, shoving the stick to the side.

She made an advantage of it and swung the stick around, twirling and feeling at the same time. Fox barely blocked it, but he had been using one hand only. He put his other hand on the handle and thrust outward at her waist. She jumped back and avoided the stab, cutting towards Fox's arm. He brought his arm down and cut at her legs.

At that point, she jumped straight up and almost hit her head, but at the last second, she brought her legs up, jumped from the ceiling and flipped from it, bringing the stick down with her in a slashing motion. Fox brought his own stick up and slashed at her.

Both sticks hit hard against each other, and they both fell apart, breaking at the handle.

Fox looked oddly at the stump he held in his hand. Fara followed suit, not understanding how they managed to accomplish that. Fara shrugged. "Doesn't matter. There's gotta be a pipe around here somewhere…"

Fox shook his head and smiled. "Don't worry. You did good enough. I don't think we'll need to train anymore."

Fara cleared her throat. "We better go check to see if the ships are ready yet."

Fox nodded. "Yeah, besides, my hands are throbbing."

Falco was getting more irritated by the moment. "I don't understand, Slippy! How do you win with every hand you get?!"

Faloc, Peppy, Wulf and Slippy were engaged in a game of Poker. So far, Slippy had been on a hot streak, but Falco couldn't help but be amazed at the odds of Slippy's winning streak.

Slippy was laughing. "I don't know but I frankly don't care!"

Falco's eyes narrowed. "I better check your sleeves." He took the moment to pull Slippy' jacket from him. He checked both pockets, the sleeves and even the slits where grenades were carried in. Nothing.

Falco sat back. "I get stuck playing with a frog that's on a totally hot streak. What a day."

Wulf agreed. "Yeah, I wish we could play something different this time."

Falco had been talking to Kiyo about her test. "What'd you say his name was, the one who screwed with your test?"

"Leon, Pow-"

"Powalski?"

Kiyo looked up suddenly at him. "How'd you-"

Falco scoffed. "I've met him, before. He was head of his class in meteorology, and one day I guess he took a turn for the worst, when his parents died. He used to be on my simulation squad, before he was kicked out. But... man."

"What'd he do?"

"Well, he seemed to have a knack for quick crimes, the kind of stuff you had to be quick to be able to do. He could steal a car in 30 seconds flat and without leaving behind any streak marks, either. He's elusive and hard to catch. I've tried dozens of times to catch him when I was kicked out myself, but he had already ganged up with Wolf and was way too hard to get."

Peppy spoke up. "Black-Jack?"

Everyone agreed to it, and Kiyo and Fara stepped in to play.

The past few days had resulted in the learning of the Zen of Poker, and everyone had all in all taken it easy. The food stayed regular, the drinks were normal and the cards were played. They had played old maid, Gin Rummy, Poker, Solitaire, Free-cell, Black Jack, Hearts, Seven Card Collection and a few others.

Before they could begin, though, Fox stepped in. "You all ready to check the ships?"

They all nodded.

"Good. Follow me."

They walked about the length of the ship, going deeper into the hull. They finally made it to Hangar, where Slippy was waiting. He smiled as they all gathered around her best work yet.

He started. "Before we get to flying, I need to tell you all about my modifications to the ship." He turned to a portable readout.

"As far as I've studied, Sector Y is the least hazardous of all the sectors, though flight is usually restricted anyway. As you all know, the fleet has been backed to that point, so that means we'll need to use some extra protection."

He turned to an outlet, which let her display the readouts on a larger screen. After plugging in, he continued. "With this new navigation equipment, the computer will zero in on a near perfect course with whatever you need to get to, providing safe passage into the sector. The amount of radiation will not interfere with the computers while it is turned on.

"To protect ourselves fully, I've connected it to the ignition port so that it turns on as soon as the ship does. But you can't have your shields under 45, because it might burn out. Understood?"

No one stirred for a moment. He shrugged. "Thank you."

Falco raised his wing. "What's the competition, Fox?"

The younger pilot smiled. "The battle between Andross in Sector Y has been against shogun suits, so far, and it expected that they have no other vehicles besides that."

Shoguns were small, agile mobile suits, with jetpack capabilities and the advantage of being able to fight in space and on planets. They were standardly equipped with laser cannons, but the newer craft, which Fox was sure they were using, were equipped with beam swords, if the cannon should ever be destroyed. Some of the models were fast, some were better protected, but all of them with the same flaw, which was that they has no lock on computer.

"The Venomian armada has launched most of its suits, but it's often an off and on attack pattern. Still, the fleet can't move any further into the sector, else they lose all systems."

Wulf spoke up. "When do we leave?"

Fox smiled. "10 minutes."

Every pilot besides Peppy and Fara groaned.

Fox's grin grew wider. Nothing like lowering your pilot's spirits as a joke just before you launch.

Wolf sat in his master's chambers. It was not often that he would be called here on such short notice, but what with the attack going on, it wasn't surprising anymore. "How may I serve you?"

Andross stared back at Wolf. "The GreatFox has just been sent to Sector Y. I've called you here to ask if your team is ready."

Wolf handed him a packet of prints. Andross needed to only see the piloting stats. He knew that it was in this area that Fox would reign in.

But after a short glance, Andross knew that, with Wolf's team, Fox was going to have to find a good resting place. He smiled. "Very good, Wolf. I have an assignment for you." He handed a packet to Wolf now.

"As you may know," he continued, "our soldiers were able to take over a base located in Fortuna. Since it was one of the more important Base locations, Corneria has repeatedly tried to take it back." He turned to Wolf. "That's where you come in."

"I believe that with Fox on the loose, he will bring his team to take the base back again. I'm sending you there to wait for him. Do you accept?"

Wolf nodded. "I'll make sure he never makes it out." Andross waved him away and Wolf left the chambers.

Wolf didn't like the cold, but he decided as well that he could handle it. Half his team was only human, but it didn't bother Wolf.

Still, Wolf hoped that he wouldn't have to wait too long, as it wasn't in his nature to be out of battles for more than a week. Why, just yesterday he had finished a bombing raid on Katina, and though the enemy was still abundant there, he wasn't bothered at all.

He stopped short for a second before heading into his own bunk. He had no intention of letting his brother go unharmed, but he still did not know if he could bring himself down to accomplish it.

He let the problem go. There was time to think it over.

Plenty of time.

"No, Fox, the doctor said that you're only limited to water for the next few weeks."

Fox was almost about to go on his knees, but at once remembered that he was the Commander of the ship, and besides, being cramped in his cockpit, where exactly was he going to kneel? He resigned, as he knew Eli wasn't going to help him any. "Alright, I'll stick to my water rations."

Eli smiled. "That's better. You'll thank me after this."

Fox grimaced. "Not bloody likely."

They had been hovering along with the fleet for an hour. Every member of the tem was there, but it seemed as if they had arrived too late. When they got there, the Fleet was battered, but not beaten. After a report, it was concluded that the Shoguns had backed off to replenish supplies. The Fleet could go nowhere, however, due mainly to the fact that the radiation from Sector Y had already infected the computer systems.

That said, Slippy immediately volunteered to show them the new design for protection of the Navigation equipment. Fox agreed and soon Slippy and Kiyo were on their way to the Flagship.

Meanwhile, Fox had been complaining a bit about the fact that the water had gone bad. He wished that he could take a sip of soda, but he knew it was out of the question.

A flicker of light showed on Fox's screen. It was there for only a second, but Fox was more than sure he had seen it. " Falco, move your team a kilo forward, report if you see any enemy."

Fox watched as Falco, Katt and Peppy moved forward to the position.

Falco's eyes flicked to the side. He could see nothing. "There's nothing out here Fox. What are you looking for?"

Fox never answered. At that moment, a shower of lasers penetrated the vacuum with deadly force. Fox shoved his stick to the left, firing chaffs at the same moment to avoid any warheads. Adjusted his headset. "Kiyo, Slippy, are you out?"

The communication speaker cracked. "Almost every ship in the area has been modified. We're exiting now."

Fox nodded. "Hurry up, they've begun an attack on the Flagship!"

Fox tried to lock on the shoguns as they sped past, and though he succeeded, it was too late. By that time, the shoguns had already fired their missiles. They sped quick and Fox could only look away.

Though the cockpit was lined with a tinted transparisteel view port, even covering their eyes didn't block out most of the light that was exerted from the explosion. The light dimmed to a small fireball of metal and energy. Fox squinted as two objects sped towards them at a fast rate.

It was Kiyo and Slippy.

Fox opened communications. "Take evasive maneuvers and log in."

Fara acknowledged, as did everyone else. Fox pulled his throttle and hurried towards the nearest Shogun squadron. It was at that moment that Slippy noticed something.

"Fox, they must have been stationed behind the Venomian armada the whole way. It's the only way that the fleet could have been attacked so quickly."

Fox nodded. He opened a com to the nearest cruiser. "Did you see or notice any Venomian ships around the Sector?"

The Commander of the ship paused a moment. "No, come to think of it, we never saw the Venomian armada. Just the Shoguns."

Fara spoke up. "Why don't we follow the squadron? They might lead us there."

Fox agreed. "Let's follow. Kiyo, take Liz and Katt to help the cruisers out."

Kiyo grinned. "Yessir!"

As bolts zipped through the air like mad hornets, Fox locked on at the Shoguns. Targeting the closest, he launched his warheads. They impacted on its surface and exploded for a brief second, the smoke clearing to show no indications of survivors. He could hear indistinct conversation on the com.

"-Fara, watch port side-"

"-I got it…-"

"-Someone behind me doesn't like me-"

"-I got him down-"

"-I'm hit, but alive-"

"-Watch it, sis, two to starboard-"

"-Got you-"

"-Fox to the right-"

Fox pushed his stick forward, turning the craft downward. He regarded the Shogun behind him and began evasive maneuvers.

Even so, the Shogun scored direct hits. Fox switched his com on. "Any help would be appreciated, guys."

As if in response, the fighter blew apart into several fragments, then turning into millions of them. Fara swooped low over his left side. "Where's this tuff fight fighter of yours, Fox?" she kidded.

Fox shrugged. "He must have gone to his maker."

Peppy, Slippy and Falco looped away in a good formation, lasers tracking anything that didn't have two wings. They found their targets, as two more shoguns erupted in flame, injuring a third. Fox brought his lasers over the crippled mobile suit, causing it to blow in half before it shattered into smaller fragments.

Slippy spoke up. "The fleet says that they're fully operational. They're ready to go."

Kiyo whooped in her headset before speaking. "The Shoguns ain't putting up much of a fight! Should we escort, boss?"

Fox stifled his laugh. "Go ahead. Watch yourselves."

Fox watched as Kiyo pulled away and fired at yet another incoming squadron. He shook his head, but smiled. It'd be a long time before someone brought her down. A long time.

He failed to notice the remaining Shogun closely following. He picked it up, but by that time, he was locked on.

"Hold on, I got another hornet behind me. Give me a second." He felt pretty sure that he could outdo this fool. He sighted the closest Freighter and zoomed for it.

He heard the alarm go off, as a warhead followed him speedily. He fired his chaffs, but made certain that the Shogun was still behind him. He felt the impact as the warhead scattered away from him, blowing up, causing no real damage, save that now his craft was spinning. He soon grew fond of this turn of events, as the shogun couldn't aim well with him spinning. He saw the freighter in front of him, and fired one last countermeasure. He saw the brightness of the chaff behind him, and he was more than sure that the Shogun behind him could, as well.

At the last second, he pulled up.

The Shogun, apparently blinded by the chaff, hadn't seen the freighter and was now on a collision course with the Freighter. He tried to pull up, but it was too late. The Shogun splashed harmlessly into the Freighters shields, the explosion not doing much more damage.

Fara took cover under the umbrage of a carrier vessel, its cannons pulsing as it fired almost non-stop into the onslaught of Shoguns. She took the time to reload her launchers and build up her shields.

"Almost makes you wish that there was more space between yourself and these guys, right Fox?"

Fox cocked an eyebrow. "Why're you asking me?"

Fara shrugged.

Peppy suddenly sped between both of them, several fighters bolting around his rear. "Shoot! I've been tagged!"

Fara aimed closely at the Shogun nearest to Peppy, and fired. The laser hit, but the explosion drained the shields of the next Shogun in line, causing it to ignite as well, the explosion taking out every other fighter.

Peppy, amused at Fara's sharp shooting, opened a Com to her. "Where'd you learn that?"

She shrugged again.

Fox took a moment to reflect. Though they were far from where they started, there was no sign of the enemy Venomian armada. "Okay, just shoot at the remaining Shoguns, but don't destroy them. Just keep them running for a few more minutes."

Fara opened a Com. "Do you think they'll call our bluff, Fox?"

Fox shrugged. "Cross your fingers."

The remaining squadron of Shoguns took the offense immediately, using booster to fly backwards, allowing them to shoot at Star Fox. Fox only barely dodged a laser, and he was getting worried that any of them might run out of fuel, soon. He gritted his teeth and pressed on.

"Look!" yelled Fara.

Behind the squadron, the Venomian armada seemed to materialize itself out of nowhere. It began firing their lasers.

Fox shook his head. The Venomian armada was cloaked the whole time, no one even realizing it until it was too late. "Any one ready to die?"

Slippy’s voice seemed indignant. "Whadd'ya mean!? I just installed the new navi-systems!"

Fox chuckled, but considered. Even if they put their ships on high throttle, they would still get hit, and the gunners were especially good at finding their target. Still, they could run, since the fleet was near the jump point, anyway.

Still again, they could always get behind the Venomian armada and attack from behind. The engine backwash wouldn't do too much damage. They could blindside it, which meant that they could level with the ship and avoid the lasers by getting into the blind spot in the ship. It would be suicide, with the number of ships.

But somehow, Fox didn't want to turn back. "Everyone, transfer all laser power to engines and shields."

Peppy barely believed what his friend's son was saying. "What!?"

"We're gonna do a little drag racing," he explained. He took the moment to shuffle in his seat to rearrange his vac-suit and helmet.

Fox opened com to Slippy. "How long is it going to take to get past them?"

Slippy paused as the readings were analyzed. "It'll take at least 2 minutes, 1 if we use the afterburners properly."

Fox nodded. "Get ready."

They all opened full throttle at once.

The sudden G-force pushed Fox into his seat. He almost couldn't breath, but he remained as calm as he could. He looped here, rolled there, and avoided every laser shot at him.

Fara followed suit, getting hit only once, but still in control. She felt her breathing getting shallower, but she gritted her teeth. She glanced at her computer screen. 50 seconds left.

Falco, on the other hand, was yelling his personal war cry out the longest he had ever done. He took the time to use up all his warheads, doing considerable damage to the Venomian armada, even destroying a cruiser.

Peppy fired the whole way through, striking mobile suits with every hit. He felt his own breathing getting shallower, but he held on. 40 more seconds.

Fox swore as a bolt nicked the edge of his ship. He fired a chaff just to make sure he was covered. Sure enough, a missile hurtled to his left. He gained speed, almost blacked out as he did, but remained conscious. The warhead shattered, but again, no real harm done, and then the spinning came. He shot another warhead as 20 seconds remained.

Slippy managed to talk to Fox. "10 more seconds."

Fox gritted his teeth and closed his eyes. "5…4…3…2…"

He killed thrust and gasped for air. He could hear everyone else reacting the same way, save for Falco, who was laughing out loud at the damage he had caused while getting to where they were. At least they had blown past them.

Fox took a second to get readings on his teams shields. "Okay, we're in the green, so I guess we can move on." He set his systems on normal, the laser recharge setting at increased.

It was only then that Fox saw the remarkably huge blip on his radar. He shuddered as he looked up from the screen.

In front of all of them was a huge mobile suit carrier, bearing the Venomian insignia. The command module was set at the very front, giving its fore a enlarged bubble, its hangar at the bottom of the narrowly set shaft. To one, it would give the impression of a horizontal joystick.

Slippy took several readings. "It's not carrying any suits, so it's not dangerous."

As if to scold Slippy's ignorance, the cruiser immediately opened fire, sending thousands of colored light into the space between them.

"This one has got some serious molars!" yelled Fox. He pulled out of the gunfire just as it stopped. Fox grew confused.

Just a minute ago, it was attacking us. But now… What's going on?

Fox watched as a section of the hull split apart to reveal a hidden compartment. Within in it was a Shogun, but unlike any other shogun they had seen. The shogun was made of near black chrome, making it hard to see in the night like space.

Suddenly, it lunged straight for him.

Fox peeled away only microseconds before the Shogun reacted, giving him only the tiniest head start. He hit max thrust and sped away just as the Shogun nicked his left wing. Though only a nick, it felt as if the whole ship was exploding. He glanced back at the armored hulk.

Fara was already making passes on the Shogun, but doing only slight damage. The rest of the team immediately followed suit, making several passes, each one doing only the slightest damage.

Kiyo called in. "Hey, boss, most of the fleet has already made the jump. Should we help out?"

Fox strained to keep his concentration on his piloting while talking. "Keep your shield high and your engines fast. It'll be a bumpy trip."

The cruiser had already sped away, and it was already making a run for it.

Kiyo acknowledged. "Aye, captain."

The Shogun opened communication, including the visual switch. He was about Fox's size, slightly bulkier and he was a sapien. On his left eye was a small scar, and the pupil was a pale gray. "Good timing! You guys came to see me test this thing out."

Fox watched as several bolts spewed from the barrel of the Shogun's gun and head toward Falco. The older pilot tried to dodge, but Fox could tell that he had been hit.

Falco cursed. "My left wing is gone, Fox!"

Fox glanced over at Falco's ship. Indeed, the left wing was missing, and it seemed to ignite. "You got an oxygen leak, buddy," he called.

Falco nodded. "I got it."

Fox shook his head. "Go take a walk, Falco. Get back to the ship and start licking your wounds."

Amazingly, Falco didn't seem to get angry at Fox's order. "Gotcha." He sped off, taking the long path past the Venomian armada.

Fox set his CMD for the Shogun and peeled away to face him. But no sooner had he spotted him than several bolts screamed toward Fox. He pulled up and tried to get closer, but every time he was within range, the Shogun would fire. Everyone tried, but the suit was far too maneuverable for anyone to hit.

Finally, Fox shielded himself and pressed into the Shogun's fire. He zipped past all the bolts and he fired several missiles at the shield the Shogun had been holding. The shield turned into a molten slag, but the Shogun's shield had gone down immensely, due to the fact that the shield was actually the generator.

The Shogun spoke again. "Cocky little freak! How dare you destroy my protection!" The shogun took several hits from Fara and Wulf, but he moved out of the way and sped towards Fox faster then he had been before.

Fox sped away, but he knew he would be overcome. He looked at the Shogun's shields. He was almost done, but Fox was going to get his before the Shogun would.

Fox had an idea.

He lopped downward as the Shogun locked onto him with a warhead. He looked down, seeing that he had two chaffs left, along with on flare.

The Shogun matched Fox's move, but so did Peppy. He shot at the engine, and the Shogun seemed to slow down.

Fox aimed his last flare behind him.

The mini-warhead smacked into the Shogun's hull, and the pilot screamed as the ship ignited. It blew into two fragments, the left side and the right side. Violent as it was, it was a bright spectacle.

Fox blew air between his lips. He turned to where the Venomian armada had been. It was gone, but it didn't bother Fox. "Head home," he said tiredly.

Peppy regarded the escaped Venomian armada. "Where'd they go?"

Fox shrugged. "I dunno. I suppose we earned a night's respite from them."

The squadron drifted silently into the hangar of the GreatFox. Every pilot there was too tired to do more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"I guess I haven't had much to laugh about."

"Well, that's when you have to laugh the most."

Maggie Robbins, star Reporter of Terra, to Commander Boston Low.

Chapter 11: Mission 3; Collection of Matter.

"No, Slippy, as Commander of this ship, I forbid you to ever throw out our garbage in space."

Fox had been at this conversation between the younger pilot for a half-hour, already. The argument had started when Slippy had noticed that their garbage containers were filling up to the brim. Though no one else could smell its putrid smell, Slippy, who had been endowed with the gift to have a sensitive nose, could only keep himself from gagging. So he had gone to Fox, who was hanging out at the cockpit.

He put the argument up to Fox, and since he couldn't smell the garbage itself, he figured it wasn't a big deal.

But Slippy, though not really considered stubborn, showed Fox that he was adept to arguing as well as anyone else.

Impressed as he was, Fox would not go back on his word. "You know my feelings about tossing trash into space. You do it enough times, it'll end up just like Earth did, 700 years ago, before they cleaned it up."

Slippy shook his head, but knew Fox had a point. They might as well wait until they got to Fortuna, so they could recycle what they had. "Alright, but at least let me use a gas mask around here, will ya?"

Fox raised an eyebrow. "I don't think terrorizing the crew is what we have in mind. Do you really want them to think there's a gas leak?" He thought for a second. "Okay. I got it. We'll just fill your necklace beads with some air fresheners, or something."

Slippy considered. His beads contained several deadly gases in each, so that if he ever had to escape from the enemy, he was out in a jiffy. Plus, he had grown immunity for the gases, simply by keeping his skin wet, as it was the only entry point for the gases. But he had also made those beads, so if he wanted an air freshener…

"Okay, we could do that."

Fox smiled. "See? There are other alternatives. If you need help, call for me."

Slippy nodded.

Fox went back to his state of being bored. Not much had happened, and it had been three days since they had cleared Sector X. Fox considered scouting ahead at the asteroid field, but Peppy had talked him out of it, saying that he'd rather shoot himself first than see Fox go smash himself into the moon sized rocks.

So Fox was compelled to stay inside, having nothing better to do but play cards with Falco, or spend time in the simulator.

He watched as Slippy exited the cockpit of the GreatFox. He envied everyone else, they all had a problem, but Fox hadn't asked to become the world's most perfect being. As much as he didn't want to admit it, he was good, and no amount of failures could erase that, not with the records Fox had now. True, he had been shot more times than usual, but he had never actually been shot down.

He truly hoped that all other rival pilots from here on were better.

Then there was Fara. That was a problem he had yet to figure a way around. He knew that she had affections for someone on board the ship, but he had feelings for her too. The only thing he wanted her was to be happy, but at the same time wanted so badly to say something to her.

He shook the thought out of his head. He decided to wait until the war was over, then he'd figure a way around. But if Fara did find affection for him…

Again, he shook the thought out of his head. Peppy suddenly appeared behind him, and Fox regretted his thinking all over again. He realized the psychic had picked up on his thoughts.

Peppy was smiling. "I know what you're thinking."

Fox sighed. "D'ya always have to keep an eye on me for these things?"

Peppy shrugged. "From what James told me, he never had that Male/Female discussion with you, that he planned to tell you after he had gotten back. Should I begin?"

Fox settled down. He had expected that Peppy would have this discussion with Fox, sooner or later. He shook his head. "I know the whole drill, Peppy. They told me in high school, remember? You start noticing the opposite gender, and then-"

Peppy shook his head. "It's a lot more effective if a parent talks about it."

Fox shrugged. "I've no doubts about that, but you know my feelings of love and wartime reinforce the warnings."

Peppy raised an eyebrow. "That's exactly what James said, and he ended up marrying your mother, who was on the same team."

Peppy sat back in the co-pilot chair. "What gets me going is that you never talked to any of the other kids, except for Bill and his little sister, and you all talked to grown-ups, simply because you all had a certain… charisma that made it hard to ignore any one of you. Nonetheless, you never made many more friends, and for a while, it seemed as if you would end up as a lone-wolf, until we found that you did have friends, but they only did the same thing you did. And none of them were girls, either, besides Kiyo."

"I remember several other young women who were always looking in your direction. You were never rich, but you were in a good status. And more than once in high school I heard a few 'he's mine' calls. You've never even been on a date, and you go to the movies by yourself."

Fox interjected. "I know what you're saying. Every girl I could have fallen in love with were in my young childhood, but what with my dad getting captured and being rejected from the academy, it's been hard. And now I have a whole squadron to look after, possibly blotching up my future."

Fox spared a glance in Peppy's direction. "And?"

Peppy continued. "Now, this particular young lady is on your mind. I know James would be more than a little overprotective, since it was his objective that his only boy be able to grow up, to be a warrior. But along with your ability to become a poet with your slaying, you have gained the charisma to unwittingly woo the opposite sex towards you. I can remember some older women who even complimented on your looks. So now you understand why James would have been overprotective, and now you know why I am, too."

Fox interjected. " But what does this have to do with my feelings about wartime loving?"

"Well, like I said, you can woo the opposite gender to you without knowing it. You destroy an enemy, the women will go nuts, thinking that you were brave, heroic and agile, instead of lucky, cold-hearted and mean."

"But I'm not like that."

"Of course your not, but nevertheless, they will become attached to you. And now Fara's in the league. If you ask me, I can understand why some of her former 'boyfriends' tried to go all the way with her. Almost don't blame them."

Peppy sighed before continuing. "Have you heard of paradigm shifts?"

Fox shook his head.

"Paradigm shifts are major changes in a scientists view of a theory or belief." He stared at Fox directly in the eye. "I feel that you might also fall into the same shifts."

Fox sighed.

Little did Peppy know was that Fox was already shifting.

Fara was more than a little shocked when she found Fox's records, finding that he did indeed kill a person at the age of seven. Her eyebrows lifted, she logged of the ship's computer and looked up through the viewport. Everything in front of her was either blocked by a star or blocked by a rock. She was as bored as Fox was, and after secretly trying to sneak out to scout the area, Peppy had said that he'd rather shoot himself than-

Slippy came in, and Fara noticed a faint odor around the pilot. "What's that smell?"

He explained his ordeal to her, about how bad the smell of the garbage was, that he had to fill his necklace beads with air fresheners. Fara seemed to grow more amused.

"I'd hate to be in your shoes. How's Fox holding up?"

Slippy arched an eyebrow. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Fara grew a tad indignant. "Nothing, just how's he doing?"

Slippy sat back in a chair. "He's bored out of his skull. I guess there's nothing to do here, really, 'cept play cards." He looked at Fara closely. He figured asking the next question would be suicide, but he went ahead carefully.

"Fara, is it just me, or do I sense a vague amount of emotions for Fox?"

She sat, shocked that Slippy had pinned her down with the question. "I… well, I uhh…" She seemed to be both confused and flustered, but she calmed down a bit. "We're just friends, okay?"

Slippy shrugged. "Sure. I won't tell anyone, I swear." He eyed her suspiciously. "What prize do I get for guessing right?"

Fara grew angry at the question and threw a pencil at the younger pilot, who spoiled the mood by catching it in one move. "Forget it," he said, still smiling. "I don't have to keep you occupied by asking you questions." He stood and left.

Fara was flustered. She knew that Slippy had only meant to ask nicely, but she wasn't sure at all. She calmed herself and resumed watching at the computer screen.

Then again, she couldn't shake the thought out of her head. She knew that she had kept an eye out for Fox since the Boardwalk. The male, whom she thought of as a guardian angel, was also commander, which that made things worse. You couldn't have relationships with other members without written permission, and neither one was old enough to get the papers, either.

She thought this over. She surprised herself by realizing that she had been thinking about both of them in intimate terms! She was neither old enough, nor, as far as she could tell, mature enough to take on something like this, although this thought alone got her one step closer.

She immediately resolved to clear out her head from the thoughts of Fox.

There was plenty of time to decide.

From inside the Base, Wolf O’Donald was clad in a snowsuit, waiting outside in the near freezing temperatures of Fortuna. He glanced upward at the sky, when Leon appeared.

"Still waiting?"

Wolf nodded. "The snot should have been here a day ago."

Leon shook his head. He knew as well as Wolf did that Fox had been preoccupied at Sector Y. He didn't bother mentioning that, though. "Let's head inside, it's too cold here."

Wolf took a silent glance upward once more, and entered the base.

Inside, Wolf could feel the warmth of the heating units located at the top. It had taken them a long time to get to the planet, but StarWolf had made it. Now here, it was all he could do to keep himself from flying out to space to confront Fox.

Leon Powalski followed, a few steps behind Wolf. He was Wolf's loyalest friend and he treated Leon that way. He had already been his friend since high school, and both could watch each other's backs.

Passing through the once Cornerian corridors, he saw several members of his team, including Andrew Oikonny, Andross' nephew. Wolf considered him a spirited pilot, with enough knowledge of flying to keep him in the air for a long time. He did everything by the book, and he liked it that way.

Which was one of the reasons Wolf never liked him that much. Wolf knew that one of the best things about flying was that you could do just about everything you had in your own mind.

That was the only thing that he knew Fox would agree with. But Andrew followed things straight out of the book, and that's why he never considered himself a good pilot, which he wasn't.

Wolf entered the command center, modified with Venomian technology. The base, once crawling with Cornerians, was nothing more than a simple hideout from the cold. It still got cool inside, and though Wolf was adapted, most others had to complain about it, which only annoyed him. He turned to one of the officers.

"Have you located their position?"

Pigma Dengar looked up at Wolf. Though Wolf was younger by more than a few years, Pigma respected the teen. "They're in the asteroid field. They haven't modified their ship yet, so it'll still be a while before they get past." He arched an eyebrow. "You really think they can make it past the field intact?"

Wolf nodded. "I know this pilot. He'll make it through." More than anything, now, Wolf had wanted Fox McCloud to stay alive for as long as he could, until he reached the base.

It would be the only time Wolf ever wanted Fox to survive

Again, Eli was compelled to argue with Fox. "NO! The doc said you should stay on water rations."

Fox was willing to do anything for the bottle of soda more than three meters away. "It's carbonated, caffienated, flavored and sugared water!"

He realized that it was the stupidest excuse, and he tried vigorously to reach a bottle ten feet away from him. Katt and Wulf were hanging onto him, and Eli had grabbed the bottle that Fox was moving with a psychic hand. Neither side was winning, and they achieved nothing more than a standoff. As both Wulf and Katt found out, Fox had the constitution of a rock and the will of a warrior.

Peppy came in, and immediately organized the situation. He only sighed at Fox's problem and set to work.

If it was one thing Peppy knew, it was how to settle down the younger pilot. He sent a message, via the mind, and Fox quit struggling.

"What are you doin', kid?"

Fox responded. "I'm tired of drinking water! I need some suger!"

"Eat a fruit."

"I'm a carnivore."

"You always eat fresh salad."

"Alright!… I'll back off."

Fox rose, and walked away, no thought of soda on his mind. He settled down.

Wulf turned to Peppy. "What'd you tell him?"

Peppy nodded. "I'll tell you later."

Fox seemed to settle down, and he sighed and stuck his hand in the cooler to get out water. He moved to one of the bar benches and sat down. Slippy came in just when Fox started pondering on whether or not his hand was really a paw…

Slippy walked up to Fox. "Could I ask you something?"

Fox nodded.

"If it's alright, I'd like to reconfigure the laser turrets, so that if we need to enter the field, we'll be ready. I'll need to stay on the ship for the rest of the mission, until we hit Fortuna."

Fox briefly considered, than agreed. "Sure, but if the garbage is gone when I get back, I'm going to kill you, 'kay?"

Slippy nodded. "So, What's the mission?"

Fox thought for a second. "The Venomian armada sent out several cruisers to take over Fortuna base. They succeeded in doing so, and our job is to retake the base."

He looked outside and ticked off the points off his hand/paw. "First, we have to make it past the asteroid belt. And that's hard enough assuming that there's nobody to ambush us. Second, we have to take out the probes around the field, so they don't locate us."

Slippy nodded. "What's the last?"

"Finally, we have to deal with Star Wolf, and the whole team is there."

Slippy shrugged. "Shouldn't be that hard."

Fox eyed him as if he had suddenly said kissing him would turn him into a prince. "Are you kidding? Wolf has more moves up his sleeve than cheetah, and he's twice as violent with his gun than he is with his language!

"Let me put it his way. When I battled him, it took me two hours just to chip away at his shields, and during that time, he had me in several pickles. I think he had trouble with me, also, but assuming that he hates me because I beat him, he's probably had more practice."

Slippy nodded. "We'll just see when we get there."

Fox corrected him. "If we get there."

Slippy gave a thumbs-up sign to Fox, who was seated in his Arwing. He was done with the weapons system. Fox pulled throttle, and exited the hangar.

He heard a faint whoosh as Fara and Wulf pulled out of the Hangar, followed then by Falco and then finally Peppy. He took readings from each ship and headed forward.

Peppy warned sternly to both Fox and Fara. "Don't smash up those Arwings, hear me?"

They both nodded. "We'll keep the maneuvering to suicidal, okay?"

Peppy nodded. In his eyes, that was acceptable. "That's better. I want you kids to play safe."

Fox rolled his eyes. "And me without my helmet." As a matter of fact, Fox had forgotten to bring a Vac-suit. He shrugged. Slipping a straw between his teeth, he sipped at the water reserves in his tank.

Out of nowhere, several lasers burned through the void.

In his cockpit, Fox yelped out as he bit into his tongue. The surprise had allowed him to clench his teeth. Swearing at the same moment in all his favorite languages, he shoved the stick to star board and found himself staring at a huge rock. He immediately shifted out of the way.

Peppy had hurried to cover him. "Where'd that come from?"

Fox set his throttle to zero and watched the collection of debris in his path. He calmed himself and closed his eyes. He felt past the debris, saw something else out there. He twitched his joystick to the right, slightly, eyes still closed. He pulled the trigger.

The laser snaked out and found their target, a boulder whose explosion was made of fire and fuel rather than rocks and pebbles. Fox opened his eyes and pursued the unseen enemy.

Only several seconds afterwards, several fighters came from their hiding place and sped away. Falco was the first to move and locked onto the fighters, firing as quickly as he had locked on. The fighter blew apart moments afterwards.

Fox was engaged in a series of complex maneuvers, and no one there looked uneasy.

Slippy sighed as he watched out the viewport. The stench was getting worse and Eli had said it wasn't possible to open the garbage hatch, since Fox had ordered otherwise.

Turning away, he mused to himself on whether or not to hack into the ship's computer. It would take time, and he could get caught, but he was willing to take those risks.

Anything, as long as it wasn't torture.

Fox dodged yet another flurry of lasers and asteroids. It was getting harder.

Fara bore in with both lasers and accuracy. Taking out several fighters, she dived downward as Fox fired a pair of concussion missiles. The pair of doom struck against an asteroid, and with it took out eight hidden fighters.

"Great shot, Fox," complimented Fara.

He would have responded, except that several fighters had decided to quit playing hide and seek. They pursued him through the field of boulders, several not going far before smacking into a few large rocks. Fox fired a flare, taking out the next 2.

From what Fox could assess from this was that the rocks in the field were putting a great strain on the enemy's shields. Indeed, even firing a pair of uncharged lasers could take out the enemy without much difficulty.

"Fox," called Wulf, "The enemy is fleeing! Orders?"

Fox thought about a few seconds. Going through the field was dangerous, but so far they had managed well enough. He made a decision. "Let's go. But if any of you feel like you won't make it, turn back."

"Let's press on," answered Falco.

The remaining fighters dodged in and out of the asteroids, hoping to keep their pursuers from following. At the same moment, however, turrets that were mounted on a few of the asteroids started firing with extreme prejudice. Wulf broke off at that moment, but used up his warheads to keep Fara, Fox, Falco and Peppy. "Wish you guys luck, you'll need it. Watch yourselves."

Fox smiled. "Thanks." Unlike his brother, Wulf was a good person, and Fox couldn't help but admire him. He turned his attention back to the fighters ahead. They were growing fewer in number, but more of them kept coming anyway. The ones who remained were good, because Fox was definitely having a hard time getting through, and a quick glimpse into Fara's mind showed the same thing.

"Fara, if you're having a hard time--"

Fara's reply was more than a bit irritated. "I can handle myself, Fox; just concentrate on yourself."

That stung Fox a little. He didn't like the idea of Fara smashing herself into a rock . It wasn't as if he loved her.

More than anything, though…

Fox wanted her to be safe.

Slippy sipped at his water. So far, it was the only thing he wanted to drink, because he figured he was a lot more scared than anyone else out there in the field. He tapped at the keyboard and smiled.

So far, the first few levels of security were easy to pass, and the best part was that he didn't have to shut them off, either, so if there was an emergency, he wouldn't have to be guilty of any foul play, which he wasn't committing. But if this was a chance to take the garbage out…

Sure!

He read the display.

So far, he had gotten past the laser security system, the camera system, keychecks and detected shutdown, which would disable the computer if the computer detected illegal hacking. But he had played with systems like these, and had once been asked to hack into Andross' mainframe. He didn't know what to look for, but the officials obviously did, and they gave him a …substantial reward. But it was easy to do this stuff, he had even taught Fox to do it. Falco also had some experience in this area, too, though not as much.

He had already found the waste management system and began a rundown on anything related to the dumping of their garbage.

Only about fifteen minutes left…

Fara had regretted talking back to Fox the way she did, but she didn't concentrate on apologies. Instead she concentrated on her flying.

The battle was getting thick with fighters and asteroids alike and Fara was getting scared. It was like being claustrophobic, but she held in check, since she figured Fox would be needing her skills about now.

Oddly enough, Fox's voice rang over the com. "Bogey tied to me, I need help!"

She put her ship behind his enemy and aimed.

To the left.

The fighter called the bluff and sped in the opposite direction, obviously not noticing the asteroid until the front part of his ship caved in and exploded. He would never have had time to become afraid, because the dim realization of his mistake ended when the explosion did.

Fox was impressed. "Nice trick, Fox 2."

Fara smiled. "We'll keep it at Fara, okay?"

Fox chuckled.

Peppy fled as fast as he could, but he still could not outmaneuver his enemy. The pilot was growing more determined to stay alive than ever, but Peppy knew that wishing would not bring the wing he had just lost now back. He gritted his teeth.

"Fox, I'm a bit crippled. I need to head back, okay?"

Fox nodded. "Okay."

"Take care, kiddo. You need to get past this, you hear?"

Fox nodded.

Falco's voice cut through. "New enemy at .72, watch yourselves!"

Fox looked up at the new enemy.

The… machine, if you could call it that, was three times as large as the Great Fox. It had several deadly looking lasers on each side, and it seemed to Fox as both a psychological and physical piece of war craft. It sent several missiles in Fox's direction.

Fara knew that she was not the commander, but there was only one thing to say. "Run!"

Fox turned his ship and fled away from the warheads. He felt the concussion of the missiles as they exploded against the asteroids, but that still left 2 more missiles that Fox had to use his chaffs on. It wasn't doing too much damage, but when they got past the asteroid field, they would be over open grounds.

Fox clenched his teeth and ran.

Slippy looked on as the GreatFox reversed direction. So far, everyone who had planned to get back to base had gotten back, but Falco, Fox and Fara were still out there. He knew that they would survive, but always the possibility…

He went back to his work. He had found he correct command code. Granted, it was long and hard to remember, but he could do it. He had a plan.. He brought his laptop onto his knees and watched as Falco, Fara, and Fox, were getting closer. He typed in the code…

And waited.

Falco transferred his shield power to Fox, and with that he transferred his laser power to his own shields.

So far, the cruiser had only attacked Fox and was not paying much attention to Fara or Falco. He should have been relieved, but he was Fox's friend and didn't want to see him get pasted.

He saw the Great Fox ahead. By then, everyone should have gotten to the laser turrets, and to confirm this, they started firing. Falco was happy, but was also disappointed that the lasers weren't doing much damage, either.

Fox was running short on fuel, and he knew he had to get back to the ship. He got rocked as another missile hit his rear shields. Despite his skill, the missiles were doing too much damage. He braced himself and pushed onward.

Slippy looked on. Almost time to hit enter.

Fox grew jumpy and ducked another missile.

Not much more time.

Slippy hit enter and grew relieved as the stench was removed from his nostrils.

Fox didn't know what was going on, but he took advantage of it by diving downward.

The cruiser sparked as huge fragments of garbage clogged up the launchers. The thin-skinned missiles exploded in the launchers, and rocked the ship as a huge chunk of it drifted away from it. The piece would do nothing more.

The rest of the ship did, however. That instant led to a moment of blinding, as the cruiser exploded into a collection of matter that would now become another group of things to avoid in the asteroid field.

Fox looked up and saw the garbage hatch open. "Thank you Slippy, but now I have to kill you." He shook his head and smiled.

Slippy smiled to himself. Nothing like saving the day and having a better reason to do it.

He got up and immediately sought to hide himself.

 

 

 

"Do you believe in fate?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"Because I don't like the idea that I'm not in control of my own life."

Tom "Neo" Anderson, criminal computer hacker.

Chapter 12; Mission 4; Enter StarWolf

Pepper entered his quarters, over stressed and overly tired. He fell onto the bed, and then got off, read to take off his uncomfortable and unnecessary ensemble. A quick second in the closet and he was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. Though he was considered a senior officer and was both respected and over 40, he had yet that rogue boyishness in him, and this phase had only been rekindled by his "nephew, meaning of course Fox.

Indeed, he was a responsible leader, but his own doctor had recommended that he have a lower stress life to avoid future heart problems. Fox’s therapy proved a good treatment, and knowing his him and his father, Pepper would not have to worry about paying the medical bill, if his doctor was right.

It was not as if disastrous things had happened, but the news going about wasn’t good either. Word was that StarWolf had moved to Fortuna only a week before. It was a heavily armored base, but it was among the most undefended portion of the system, too. There was no word as to where or when support for the base would be coming.

In Katina, various attacks to the local base had left it hanging on a thread. In the ensuing battle, the commander of Bulldog unit got pasted and although they were able to fill out most of the squadron’s losses, they could not find a suitable officer to take commander of the pilots. Except for Bill Grey, that is. After a debate, it was decided, against General Pepper’s will, that Bill Grey take command of Bulldog unit in addition to his own squadron. They claimed that after his services, he would be promoted, but the poor kid only shook his head and let himself be taken under the command of General Arkady. So now, Bill had 22 pilots to look after.

Another blow to the solar plexus was the possible existence of a base under the sands of Titania. This would be a hard target to destroy, if it were true, because it was hard enough to hit a base without the soldiers running around looking for it while their men died of dehydration. And if they had installed missile turrets, then it would be hard for aircraft to locate the area in itself, anyway.

A navy unit was on Zoness, and was already excreting tremendous amounts of toxic waste in the seas. It was mostly made of islands, but the majority of it was made of seas.

As was Aquas. In fact, there were only a few small islands here and there, and dikes could not be set up to expose land, but this didn’t matter much. What did matter was that the navy from Zoness had, for some reason, taken an interest in the ocean planet. Spies claimed that the navy was manipulating sea animals to use as bio-weapons or transports.

On Macbeth, there were supposed rumors that there would be a hostile company takeover, involving the Venomian airforce. It was not known as to where it would be, what company would be taken over, when they would or why they would. But personally, Pepper blamed everyone else on the planet. For some reason, there was a non-fatal war going on between several of the companies in response to a sharp increase in the need of supplies, and there were bouts as to who would get them.

And lastly, for some unknown reason, the Venomian armada was drifting in and out of Sectors X and Z, Z being the most dangerous and restricted of all radiation sectors. No one knew why, and no one would know why, until they brought a squadron around to the planet.

But on the upside…

StarFox had made it through the asteroid field intact, and this would enable them to move in on Fortuna base, along with several ground units. Several squadrons, including Serpent and Dragon squadrons were still active and they had been doing a good job around their areas. Cement squadron, however, had been disabled and only four pilots were left from the ordeal. The Fleet had back the armada away back to solar, but the armada was only wary and could still strike back at any moment. He hoped that Fox would do all right. He exited the room in search of a good way to douse these worries.

The general plan was to send StarFox to battle any fighters there, and the fleet would back them up by immobilizing any escaping ships. It was possible to achieve, but with StarWolf there, things could go wrong, and then people could be killed.

He sighed. Well. No on had said the mission would be that easy…

In the bar of the GreatFox, Kiyo was sitting on a stool, ROB64 located on the other side of the bar, cleaning out the previously used glasses.

"Throw me a few chillers?" asked Kiyo.

ROB set down his chores for the moment and filled two glasses up with a pale arctic blue liquid that seemed to glow a bit. He handed them to Kiyo. She smiled. The droid was pretty cool, an there was a lot of talent in its-no, his- circuitry. She said as much to ROB, who bowed down. "Thank you, ma’am."

Kiyo got up, both glasses in her hand. The second drink, however, was not for her.

Glancing up ahead of her, on the farthest side of the room, sitting on a chair next to a table that looked out into the stars ahead, sat Wulf. The younger man had been there nearly all day, which spooked her when she though about it. No one else had noticed that he was there all day, and Kiyo wanted to talk to him. She thought he knew the answer to the problem, but she had to be sure.

The two, while a year apart in age, were about the best of friends t each other, the older comforting her when she needed it, and vice-versa. She had met his five-minute older brother once, but that was it, and she never heard much good about him since.

She sat down next to Wulf, handed him the drink and stood silent.

"Thanks," said Wulf. He sipped at the drink slowly, then put it down.

Kiyo started slowly. "So. What’s on your mind?"

Wulf sighed. "Well. Today, we have a mission to accomplish. With it includes the recovering of a base; and down there, we have to battle my brother. I guess that explains this," he said, waving at the window before him.

"And," prompted Kiyo.

Wulf stopped completely, then took in a breath before speaking. "So. How do I do this?"

Kiyo shrugged. "It's not for me to answer, little buddy. He's your brother. But since it is that way, you should follow whatever you feel is right. Those are usually the best feelings to follow. Look at Falco, for instance. He used to be in a gang, until he decided it was a bad idea. He knew what was right, and even though they nearly killed him for dropping out like that, he did what he felt was right."

Wulf nodded. "So what do I do?"

Kiyo considered. "Well, I brought this matter up with Fox, and he said if you felt you needed to, you could disable him instead. He knows it's a family matter, so he'll let you take care of it."

Wulf nodded again, smiled sadly. "My brother wasn't bad. We used to get along with each other really well. He'd be my friend, I'd be his, and he didn't change until Dad died." Unlike his brother, Wulf had never blamed James for his father's death. The path Scott had taken was a lonely one, with no exit, but he had picked it and no one had seen his detour until he was tried.

Kiyo put a paw on her older friend's shoulder. "Hey. Don't sweat anything until we get down there, alright?"

Wulf nodded. He looked at the cup, drank everything out of it and got up. They left the bar, leaving ROB to do the rest of his chores.

"Aww, man!"

Fox, Falco and Fara laughed out loud as Slippy lost another hand against Peppy.

They were in the galley, with Peppy playing Slippy in seven-card pick-up. The two had been engaged in the game ever since Slippy claimed that he was the best card player on the ship, which wasn't necessarily true because he had yet to challenge Kiyo and Fara, as well as him. Still Peppy was dumping the worst on Slippy's weak claims and Already Slippy had lost hundred credits, though Peppy warned him not to. Slippy ignored him until those credits were gone an he had not too much else to gamble with. So the remainder of the games were no-betting style and risk free. Slippy had claimed it was because he had been up all night fixing Falco’s damaged ship. Fox was amazed at how persistent Slippy was, but that alone could get him in trouble and so he took upon himself to look after him.

In any case Slippy was losing by about 36 hands out of the 40 that was played. Fox and Falco had joined to watch and were enjoying it, having been since the fifth hand.

Kiyo, who had been talking to Falco a little, continued. "So, what do you know about this Leon character?"

Falco snorted. "What do you want to know? He's got a few records that keep the mercenary soldiers out and about." He saw Kiyo's confused stare, and he elaborated. "Leon has (or had) a reputation for being a sleazy and frightened criminal. When he was in the academy, he played pranks on people, and other cadets as well. His friend was Wulf's brother, Wolf, but that kid got kicked out of the academy.

"While I was on Macbeth, I came across his name as a drug dealer. He had been selling hard liquor to minors and was making profits on it, too, but only because he was very well hidden, not to mention that he had a huge advantage in flying. I tracked him down to the 'Last Guzzle' bar, but his comrades had warned him about me. He fled, just after torching my leg with a blaster. I was almost stupid enough to chase him, but I was hurtin' too much. Then I met Fox and the rest is what we're living in. Leon joined StarWolf, too, and we're supposed to be taking them on."

"Coincidence?" asked Kiyo.

Falco snorted again. "Not likely. Naw, if anything, he's after me."

Kiyo shrugged.

Out of the corner of his eye, Fox could see Kiyo and Wulf exiting the bar area, the older looking noticeably depressed. Fox immediately felt sorry for him, knowing the cause of the depression; His brother, most likely. Yes, this was probably the core of the problem. For a moment, Fox wished that Wulf were the commander instead of Fox. Wulf would probably have a better idea of what to do, and Fox didn't want to get tangled in family affairs.

At that moment, though, he smelt something. "Hey. Something's burning." He looked behind him and saw a panel smoking heavily. He and Fara yelped at the same moment. Katt opened the panel and Fara used an extinguisher on the burning piece of metal. The smoke subsided quickly.

Kiyo was the first to approach the panel. Keeping the rest of her body a safe distance away, she peeped into the component and quickly withdrew her head. She grinned sheepishly. "Hating to be the bearer of bad news, it seems that our cooling system has officially burned out! Again!"

Peppy and Falco laughed out loud at the extreme irony. Katt blinked and groaned. "Really? Jeez, this ship just does not stop, does it?"

Fox rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I know it's a bunch of bull, but it's like I said, we can't do anything but wait until we get to Macbeth, so that Beltino can have a look. So there’ll be no more modifications, Slippy. I don’t want any from you either, Kiyo. The last one you pulled on the sim modifier heat vents is probably the reason this ship is in a pickle. Look, you guys, I'm not blaming anybody, but no more modifications, for future reference. And I agree that this ship needs some work."

Just then, ROB came up hurriedly. "Sir, ships coming out of hyperspace, port side! No conformation on the ship models!"

Fox jumped up quick. It could have been an ambush, and they had just never seen it coming, but it couldn't be Star Wolf, because they were too close for a jump. In fact, they were within viewing distance of the planet itself. "Everybody to your ships!" he yelled at once. He ran down the hallway, 11 other pilots following him. They got into the freshers and quickly donned on their flight suits. These were of different make than their usual attire, however. The suits were skintight, and they were specially made for space battles. It was a blue color with a gray spot in the middle, with the insignia of the team on the right breast area. They had been shipped to the team right after the ordeal of the asteroid field, but Fox thought personally that Fara looked stunning in the attire, though he kept that to himself.

On entering the hangar, Fox wondered if maybe he should use Swift. He had not used it in a long time. He considered, found himself nodding and moved for it. He called out. "Anyone who wants to help me out on the Swift?"

Only Fara's hand shot up, and everyone noticed that. They stared at her, Fara feeling a little embarrassed, until Peppy took a glance into her mind and also volunteered. Fara thanked him secretly.

Fox ordered the log in. Soon everyone was set to go. A second was all that was needed for Fox to launch and in half a moment the rest of the team was outside of the ship.

"Falco, take Fox 6 and 10 to .31 and wait before your run." He saw Falco speeding off to starboard, Fox 6 and 10 following suit. He could barely make out the shapes of small ships, about two dozen.

As they drew near, Fox's fear began to vanish. He had no idea who it was, but he could sense no danger at all. The squadron ahead was not hostile. He grinned as he knew who it was. "False alarm. Break off, there are no enemies."

Everyone besides the psychically gifted, who were on board with Fox, could decipher this and despite that, they obeyed.

Bill Grey's voice sounded over the com. "Hey Fox! You didn't have to send out a welcoming commitee!"

Fox grinned wider. "Bill! What brings you to nowhere?"

Bill chuckled. "Thought I was the enemy, huh? No need to worry, it just us, plus Bulldog unit." The 23 ships broke apart and rearranged themselves as the set behind the GreatFox. Bill's next word had less enthusiasm in them. "Hey listen, buddy. Our shop was destroyed by a surprise attack on Katina, and we had no way to fix our ships, so Slicer squadron took over while we looked for you. Would you mind if we used your facilities?"

Fox shook his head. "Not at all. The doormat says 'welcome' to you always, Bill."

Fox was amazed. "Geez. I knew we had enough room to fit 50 ships in, but I didn't think we'd actually have to use that space!" The hanger was filled with the buzzing of pilots here and there, most of them moving into the cafeteria and bar area. Bill had arrived with ROB tailing him to make sure he had no weapons on him, though Fox trusted him with his life. As James had once explained, it wasn't necessary to have all that room that the hanger had. "The only thing that keeps it full is war," he had said, and wondered if he had not just plopped himself into a doozy of a war.

Most of the pilots had already entered the cafeteria, thought there were still a few more ships still in space. Bill turned to Liz. He had just confessed about his crush on her to Fox, but she didn't know that. He smiled at her. "I don't suppose you'd mind taking over the rest of the pilots?" he asked.

She smiled back and indicated that she'd love to.

"So," continued Fox. "They gave you two squadrons?"

Bill nodded. "Yeah. Our base got attacked and they lost four pilots. We replaced three, but they couldn't find a good commander, so they handed them over to me."

Fox shook his head, concerned on his friend's burden. "Dude, I'm sorry."

Bill shrugged. "They're paying my team double."

Fox's eyebrows shot up and his jaw shot down. "Dude, I envy you!"

Fox and Bill then moved into the cafeteria, and Bill plopped onto a chair. He looked at Fox's attire. The only difference was that Bill's skintight suit was a green color, but he still shook his head. "Is that all you guys have to wear?"

Fox cocked an eyebrow. "Why? Are you sick of that indigo and orange yarn crap you always have to wear when not on duty?"

Bill nodded enthusiastically. "Yeah, I am sick of that orange and indigo crap we always have to wear! And you also forgot the fact that it's a turtleneck! You guys don't even have to change suit during formal occasions."

"Yeah, I know. Is it that bad?"

Bill raised his eyebrows. "Fighting against Andross is one thing, but in something that makes you look like a pansy? No me gusta, my friend." He changed the subject. "You got any water?" Fox handed him a bottle of fresh water. "Thanks. You could never guess how stingy those officers can be sometimes." He guzzled some down, made a 'Oh-my-that's-nasty' face. "Jeez, Fox, the water here is a least ten days stale!"

Eli had just been passing by and Fox shot him a look that figured Fox had been right all along. "Yeah, some people just don't know when I've told them so."

Eli shrugged, smiled and walked off.

"So, what are you up to, O' Flying Fox bat?"

"Why?"

"Inquiring minds, like mine, would like to know."

"Well, we've been scheduled to hit Fortuna base today, about an hour from now."

"The overtaken base?"

"Yeah, it seems that Ivy city Base can't penetrate it well."

"What's the procedure?"

"We're sent in to blast the defense into confusion, then get them running in circles while a troop transport lands and sends in the infantry."

"And you're basically..."

"Keeping the flyboys busy. That's pretty much our job."

Bill looked down into the half empty bottle. He had been figuring something since they had gotten on board, and he really had no permanent assignment. "Do you think it could be 'our' job, Fox?"

Fox frowned. "What do you mean?"

Bill didn't answer immediately. "You've helped me out in some of the toughest scraps I've been in, even if the majority of them were in the academy. I've always respected you as a pilot and as your best friend. And you helped reunited me with my sister, though it probably would have occurred anyway. And despite that, I've never really paid you back. But if you let me help you out there today, it would make me proud to be your friend. And at that, I'd probably explode on how you’re doing now."

Fox considered. Bill was one of the best pilots he knew, and they could cause some serious mayhem on the enemy. It would be near impossible to keep a lot of pilots at bay, but with the extra support and firepower of Fox's best friend and his squadron...?

"It would be an honor to fight beside you, my friend," he answered after a moment.

Bill grinned wider. "Hell, give me one of your Arwings and I'll win this war for you!"

Fox smiled. "Yeah, sure, considering that you'll use it!"

"Hey, in any case, I'm willing to help the best."

"Which is a wonder why you're not on this team, Bill."

Bill grinned as he ventured his next words bravely. "I could never replace your girl, Fox."

Fox jumped at that. "Say what?"

Bill grinned his widest. "C'mon, I've been checking you and the Phoenix kid out and I think she could be your match. You two were literally made for each other. She has a psychic control that she knows how to use well, at least in terms of communication, much like yourself and Peppy. She's your second in command officer and she basically admires your skill. She's willing to follow her leader, and you, I think, look swell enough for her." He reached over at a pale Fox, brushed back a little of the coarse hair between his ears with his paw and sat back down again.

"Not to mention that her father was on your dad's same team, so there's familiarity, and remember that your mom was also on your dad's team. I also admit that she is pretty stunning, especially in that flightsuit she's wearing. Thank goodness for skin tight material." Fox's bewildered gaze caught Bill’s eye and Bill tried again. "The kid's perfect for you!" The 'kid' term was only there to remind Fox about how much younger she was, making her a great choice.

In any case, Bill's words seemed to have an unintended effect. Fox's breath left him quite suddenly. He choked out what he could, and Bill could almost sense his friend's queasiness. "I'm-...not--that-- sure-I‘m- ready?"

Bill shrugged. "Doesn't matter. Being your friend for the longest time, I think she might come to you! She was offered a couple of jobs as an exotic dancer and stripper (And I'm surprised that I know this much as opposed to what you know!), but she turned them down. Like I've said, I've been keeping an eye out on her for a while. Looks like your philosophy isn't working on her now!"

"Working on who?"

Fox yelped and jumped up as Fara materialized out of nowhere, which wasn't exactly true. She had just been standing behind him. Bill, thankfully decided to pull Fox out of this one, but also to leave a trail for her to follow. "Just Kiyo, cause he didn't think she'd be his friend. Like you." That last part was to let Fara know that Fox was her friend, also.

Fara nodded. She was still clad in the skin-tight suit, and Fox looked away. He was clearly confused and he needed time to gather his thoughts. In the meantime, Fara spoke to him. "We'll be coming into launch range in 45 minutes. Is Bill going to leave?"

Bill shook his head. "Naw, I'm going to help you guys out."

Fara cocked an eyebrow. "You'll need to contact Katina Base first."

Bill nodded. "I've got it hooked up already and I still need to make the call." He looked at Fox, who was still a little shaken, then leaned close to Fara. "Better take off the suit and put on a regular one. I think Fox likes you a little, but he's shy." He looked at Fox to be sure that he hadn't tapped into Bill's mind. Fox straightened himself out, but the view was obscured as an image popped up in Bill's sunglasses. A large human male stood in a corridor. Bill reached near his ears and put a small microphone in front of his muzzle.

"General Arkady?"

When he spoke, he did so in a German accent. "Ahh, young Bill Grey. We've been expecting a call from you. How goes the squadron?"

"Good, sir, but I was wondering if we might join StarFox in the attempt to take back Fortuna base?"

The General considered briefly, then nodded. "Very well. You are my best pilot, Bill, and I would hate to have the squadrons return without, so remain cautious and strong, young sir."

Bill grinned. This was one of the reasons he liked this guy. He gave Bill a good amount of respect, and being friends with the son of a legend was good too. "You bet, General. Bill, out." The image disappeared and was replaced with a view of Fara, clad in a gray flightsuit, and Fox in a green suit. Fara's attire, Bill mused, made her seem a lot like a criminal and a tomboy, but then again his sister was always like that. He shrugged inwardly.

Fara had been speaking to Fox. "So, you gonna fly the Swift or your Arwing?"

Bill interrupted. "Hey! You mean he actually gets to pilot his own ship?" Having seen it already, and also having explained to Fox that he had his own personal craft, a model TK-77 Hounder vessel, he was amazed to find that- "Fox can fly his own ship in battle?"

Fox nodded. "We're a mercenary unit, dork! Of course I do! We get freedoms for a lower payment of respect!"

Bill shook his head. "You may not know this, but you guys are making some serious ink back at Corneria. I was taking a stroll around there and there were newsstands just overcrowded with people wanting to get their mitts on some souvenirs!"

Fox shrugged. "I'll worry when the press gets in my face. Yeah, I'll pilot my Arwing, Fara."

She jotted this down in the electronic notebook she was holding. "Well, the team's about ready Fox. StarWolf is still at Fortuna, just to remind you."

He nodded, then got up. "Well, lets go tell the rest that they're helping out." The three left, leaving a half-empty bottle of water that Bill had forgotten to drink.

Directly ahead of him, Wolf stared at the hangar opening, exposing a beautiful view of the snow-covered tundra. Around him, 23 pilots were scrambling here and there to prepare for a battle Wolf had already prepared for a day earlier. No one but him had bothered to prepare. Not a person.

He stepped out of the cockpit of his craft, the Wolfen. He smiled, looking at it. This was the ship he was born to fly. The ship was highly maneuverable, had sporting shields, a powerplant that wasted not a single cell of energy and weaponry matched to that of the Arwing. The ship was a pointed hull with two wings curving upwards and away from the cockpit, and then a mirror image of that below, making it a four-winged craft, each holding a laser or ion cannon. He knew well enough that it was not quite the Arwing’s match, but it was the closest until the newest ship came out.

He had been ready for Fox for several days, already. Wolf dreamed of Fox’s death under his own hands. Not a clean business, but it was preferable; both would be in the environment that they reigned in, at least. He had outfitted his ship with Mag-pulses, which, rather than destroying a target, would disable it instead. It was commonly used for missions in which information was needed.

But he had these for two reasons; his twin and Fara Phoenix. Andross believed that a total brainwash was necessary, but Wolf, for some reason, didn’t feel right about that. As for his brother, Wolf had convinced Andross that killing Wulf was like destroying a weapon; as long as it still has ammo, it’s useful. Keep feeding it clips, and it would last a long time…

Wolf nodded and spoke into his headset. "Launch the AI fighters…"

Fox, for the second time in the day, was seated in a ship, in space. The only difference was that now over thirty ships wee under his and Bill’s commands.

In one of the ships, however, Fox couldn’t help but notice a deep sadness within it’s pilot. It was, of course, Wulf’s ship, and Fox wished again that Wulf had been in charge. Wulf would have known what to do. He himself had an upset stomach, and the worst part of it was that Wulf had not eaten that day. It gave him no pleasure knowing that the first thing to come out of his mouth was yesterday’s lunch, and Wulf slipped on the mask to be safe.

He set a link with Kiyo. "Kiyo, cover Wulf and keep an eye out for him, okay?"

Kiyo nodded. "Roger, Fox. I understand clearly. Kiyo out."

Fox then sent a com channel to Bill. "Is the Ground Unit Transport following, Bill?"

Bill looked behind him. There, right behind him was the GUT, which now held the best two battalions in the Cornerian army. "Sure is. I’ll get a few ships to cover it. Bulldogs 3 and 6, cover the transport. We can’t have it destroyed." The pilots acknowledged and drifted to the ship until they were about 15 meters from it. "Well, Fox, the troops are all ready. We’re entering the atmosphere now."

"I got you, Bill." Fox held tight.

The ride down was by no means enjoyable. The friction of the gravity well caused the ships to shudder and shake violently. The wind buffeted at the ships, tossing the pilots inside their ships around. A red glow formed in front of the ships and the only thing that kept the ships from frying was the heat shield.

"Fox?"

That was Liz. Her ship had a speaking modifier linked from her brainwaves, allowing her to say what she was thinking, which could be a hindrance at times. The computer was modified so that it seemed that it was she herself that was actually speaking. But this seemed unusual at this time, since the computer didn’t sense vibrations and had a clear, unshaken voice, rather than everyone else’s. "What’s up, Liz?"

"My shields are not at full, but the scanners show otherwise."

"Will it let you recharge more?"

"Yes, sir."

"Slippy? Evaluation, please."

"Well, it could be that her ship’s scanners are faulty, but I would think that most of the time anyway. What we should watch out for is any leakage activity in the main powerplant, because if that is the case, she could burn out the whole system, and that could also mean the ejection controls. I’ll accompany her back if anything goes wrong, okay?"

"You heard him, Liz." He shut off the com and shook his head. The Arwings were new enough, but that only left more problems. Being new and the first prototypes, the Arwings were never really that reliable. But Fox figured that a little cleanup (mainly in the ship’s performance) would do a good work. So he spent a week customizing his ship to his wants and needs, and pretty soon, Fara stepped in, then Slippy, Kiyo, Peppy and Wulf. Those that weren’t modified, however, were having endless problems.

For example, Falco, whose Arwing had not been modified, was out searching for probes when a terminal shorted out. Trying to fix it, he smashed into the same object he was looking for, and though the probe had never survived, Falco would have ended up the same had not Peppy snagged a magnetic line onto his ship before he nearly smashed into another one.