Chapter One

 “It looks like a dump, Tera,” Natlarn said as the two pilots got out of their jets and stepped into the sandy ground of the ever-wide Titania desert, many miles from the nearest base or civilization.  High mesas and sagebrush were found nearly everywhere, and rock arches could be seen in the distance.  In front of Natlarn was a small shack, with flimsy boards and had a ruined look to it.  Being out in the middle of nowhere, Natlarn could only wonder why such a shack was being built in the first place.
 Tera looked at him firmly.  “Don’t insult my cousin, and looks can be deceiving.  C’mon, you slow-poke.  Brad is expecting us.”
 “Being called a slow-poke is an insult to all cheetahs, stripe-dog.”
 The badger laughed.  “So is stripe-dog to badgers.”
 “Can Venom satellites find this place?”
 “Nope, and neither can they spot our jets out in the open.  You can’t see it, but this place is protected by a electronic field that covers a five-mile radius from this building.  When those satellites take pictures of this place, it would only show up as an empty place of sand and cactus.  My cousin is a genius, you see.”
 “But what about patrol ships?”
 “Why would this place interest them?  Andross doesn’t want the whole planet, sand and all.  He only wants the resources under it and the bases.  Don’t worry.”  He then opened the shack’s door with a loud creak.  A trapdoor was found under a rug.  Tera gave it a few knocks and waited for a few moments.
 The door opened upward and a badger head popped out.  He was larger than Tera, and had a chef’s hat on.  He smelled of tornab crab, which delighted Natlarn.  “Tera!  Long time no see!  You must be Natlarn!  Welcome to my abode.  Please, come down, come down!!”
 Natlarn, following Tera and Brad, climbed down the metal stairs to an entirely new atmosphere.  Instead of looking like the interior of a shack, it looked very much like the interior of a rich home.  The kitchen was almost a mess, for it was being used, and it had state-of-the-art stoves and microwaves, and even a fridge that opens on verbal command.  On top of one of the stoves was a huge pot, and the delicious smell of tornab crab came out of it.  Natlarn can’t wait for dinner.  Because the place was underground, there were no windows, but the house was lighted by flourescent lights all over the white ceiling.  There was living room, complete with a coffee table, a red leather couch for five people, and a big screen TV with a CD player and stereo.  Natlarn imagined the stereo at full blast, rocking the flimsy boards of the shack on the surface.  Between the kitchen and living room was another carpeted room that consists only of paintings on the wall and a large table.
 Brad gestured to the living room.  “Make yourselves at home here.  I got to tend to the crabs.”
 Natlarn sat at the couch, and it was very comfortable.  Tera sat with him, slouching back tiredly.  “So, Brad, you made this place yourself?”
 The big badger nodded, picking up a wooden spoon.  “Yep.  I was the architect, and this place was built quite some time ago.”
 “But why in the middle of nowhere, and underground?”
 “Because I wanted it to be that way.  Despite my good nature, I don’t really enjoy being host.  Besides, I’m unique whenever I want to do something.  It excites my lonely life.”
 “When was the last time you had a visitor?”
 “Well, it was Tera a while back.  How long ago was it?”
 Tera partly opened his tired eyes.  “Two years ago, during duty break.”
 “Two years!  How can you live alone for that long?”
 “I don’t know,” Brad said, stirring the pot.  “Open fridge.”
 The fridge door opened, and Brad reached in and got out a red spice.  “Close.”
 The fridge did as it was told, and Brad added in the spice.  “You like tornab crab, Natlarn?”
 The cheetah’s mouth watered.  “Oh yes, it’s my favorite.”
 “Really?  So is mine.  How long are you going to stay here?”
 “A couple of days at the most.  I got to get some supplies and fuel for my jet.  Since me and Tera are outlaws, I got to find a way to provide justice while dodging from justice.  Oh speaking of food, if you are in the middle of nowhere with no transportation, then how could you resupply your stock?”
 “When I heard that the Venom forces are taking over this planet, I went over to the base and used almost all of my savings to buy groceries to last me for at least nine years.  Figuring my size, that’s a lot, isn’t it?  I also installed that force field that keeps me safe.”  He took the pot off the stove top and with tongs, picked the crabs out into a large plate.  “Now then, shall we eat?”

 Natlarn was wolfing down his crab ravenously.
 “When was the last time you had this crab, Nat?”  Tera asked.
 “Too long ago.  About three days.”
 Brad chuckled.  “Yep, that’s too long.  Ha, ha, ha!”
 Tera just rolled up his brown eyes.  “So, Nat, how do you plan to kick some commanding officer’s butts?”
 “Well, first off, we need more help.  More pilots that will give us a better edge against them.  Because of their high ranks, they have the power of the Katina Military, and since they could hide their true plans from General Pepper and even Commander Grey, they could send a squadron or two without their knowledge.  Since we’re outlaws, those four cretins could just explain to them that they wants me and Tera in prison.”
 “But what if Pepper and Grey is in league with them?”
 Natlarn gave Brad a startled look.  “I dearly hope not.  Imagine Pepper sinking as low as Andross.  And Bill?  If Fox McCloud finds out that his own best friend had become traitor, he’ll forget about Andross probably and hunt him down.  He’ll be angrier than Falco can even dream to be, and that’s almost impossible.  No, Pepper and Bill Grey is not with those four, I hope.”
 “Those four, who are they?”
 Natlarn sighed and tried to think up of their names.  “Commander Broluck, General Yarseea, Captain Grenmen, and Sergeant Buck.”
 “I heard of Broluck the serval, though not much.  Never heard of the others.”
 “General Yarseea is a Hare that is in third of command under Broluck and Commander Grey.  I don’t see him much, but he’s respected for his military tactics and intelligence.  It will be tough going against him.  He’s a great pilot.  I used to admire him, but now, I will hate him dearly.  Hmmm, Captain Grenmen, what can I say about you?  He’s a white weasel that is a newcomer to the Katina Military.  I heard he’s a smart one, but only average as a pilot and phaser shooter.  I also heard he’s a pompous ass.  Killing him will be my pleasure.”
 “And Sergeant Buck?  What about him?”
 Natlarn shook his head and sighed deeply.  “Of him, he’s the hardest for me to kill.  You see, Brad, Buck was my friend for a long time, almost like brothers.  When I realized that him of all people were involved in the conspiracy, my heart was broken into a million pieces.  I despise him now, but the memories of our good times together will never leave my mind.”
 Natlarn had finished his crab, and was now drinking his red milk.
 “What did those four did that makes you hate them so much?”
 Natlarn paused, put down his milk and walked away wordlessly.  It was up to Tera to explain to his cousin.  “Natlarn had a former flame named Fran Beshale.  When Nat was away on a mission, Fran died suddenly when the engine she was working on exploded.  Broluck and even Buck flatly lied to Nat, saying it was an accident.  Nat now knows that a bomb was planted on that ship and they intended Fran to be killed.  Fran discovered a dark secret plan about the four usurping the Katina Military and ally with Andross.  Broluck found that out and lured her to her doom.”
 “Oh dear.  Well, it might be a tough road for you both ahead, but you will always have my faith.”
 “Thank you, dear cousin.  You have been most kind.”

Chapter Two

 Fran impatiently awaited Natlarn as she sat at their reserved table at an eatery at the Katina Headquarter Base.  She was out of uniform and instead wore a red dress with a silk linen at the bottom.  Her German shepherd head was glossed neatly, and at her right ear was a golden earring.  Finally, she spotted her fiancé hurriedly coming to her.
 “Sorry Fran, I got caught up in the crowd traffic,” excused Natlarn.
 “You could have come here earlier.  You graduated the Academy with high honors and still you’re late.  And you’re a cheetah of all animals!”
 “I don’t have good stamina.  Well, I’m here am I?”
 After their dinner, they both walked outside under the stars and when they found a grassy spot some distance away from the nearest building, they laid down next to each other and relaxed.
 “Nat, how can we keep on with our relationship like this?  You’re busy and I’m busy, and we don’t see each other as much.  There are some days which we can’t even say hello to each other.  I’m worried.”
 “Don’t Fran.  We’ll get through this all the way to the end.  Maybe once Andross is defeated, we can go back to our old ways again.”
 “I hope it’s going to be soon.  I missed you so much.  But, I’m afraid to say this, Andross seemed to be a stubborn character and this war might go on for years or more.  Even you will have to leave on a mission someday, getting yourself almost killed.  All these busy scheduling is giving me headaches.”
 “I know what you mean.  Hey, are you thinking of..”
 “Splitting?  Well, not forever of course.  I still love you, but..”
 “I understand, Fran.  We can be just friends till the war’s over or we retire.”
 They both sat up.  Fran said, “Okay, Nat.  Just friends.  Just don’t start getting interested in other girls, you hear?”
 “And I trust you the same with other boys.  Well, I guess this is it.”
 “Can we have one last kiss?”
 They did so, for the last time.

Chapter Four

 I could have married her.  I could have...
 “Nat?”  Tera asked as he stepped into Natlarn’s temporary bedroom.  The walls were painted yellow, and Natlarn was sitting on his king-sized bed, head bowed in sorrow.  He raised his head up only to greet his friend and co-pilot.
 “Yes, Tera?”
 “Brad mentioned to me that there is a place in the Fortuna Base that is a saloon for pilots of all kinds.  Maybe you could find someone there that will help us.”
 “That’s good, but still, we would have to face an entire military force, and those four can use it almost without suspicion of the pilots because we are outlaws.  We need more than pilots to bring those four cretins down.  Somehow, I’m going to have to get the attention of Bill Grey or even General Pepper.  They may be caring soldiers, but I believe that they think that their own followers would not betray them.  Those four cretins in Katina are at the advantage now.  Speaking of cretins, I wonder what they are doing now?”

 Sergeant Buck, leaning on a rail at the second floor looking down at the streams of pilots and other personnel going through the main center room, was not pleased with the latest news.  Natlarn escaping will not be good.  Not good at all.  I wanted to send four jets out to chase them, but what did Broluck say?  No.  Right in front of my face!  Stupid fool, he doesn’t know Nat as well as I do.  Not stopping Nat now will doom him, as well as me.  His beeper fastened to his gray belt raddled, and he looked at it.  “Broluck wants to see me again, along with Yarseea and Grenmen.  Now what do they want?”
 Almost grumbling out loud, he walked through hallways and got up to the ninth-floor, the very top floor of the entire pyramid Base of Katina.  It was forbidden for anyone besides Buck and his three partners, and it was there where their secret meetings for usurping the military throne were held.  While it was small and sometimes cold, at least it’s private and well-lighted.  It was so private that Buck himself would have to use his I.D. card to tell the elevator to go up to that floor.
 The elevator door opened, and Buck saw the meeting table with Broluck sitting down, and Yarseea and Grenmen were standing chatting with each other.  They greeted Buck as he stepped out the elevator.
 “You called for me, sir?”
 Broluck stood and smiled a smile that only a serval with good news could make.  “Ah, yes, Buck, I did.  Please, all of you sit down.”
 Yarseea and Grenmen sat at Broluck’s right, while Buck sat at the left side of the table.  In front of them was a sheet of paper.
 “Written on those sheets of paper you have, is Emperor Andross’s promise of the time to strike and what we must do in preparation.  It was earlier than I expected, and you might be please on what he will do.  He had to write this because we can’t get an open channel to him by phone.”
 Buck read the typed sheet:
 Broluck, Yarseea, Grenmen, and Buck, written here is the date on which I will send fifty fleas and two starships to the Katina Base on a false attack.  It may be a small force, but I will handle that.  Tomorrow, an unidentified cargo ship will dock at your base with a box of sixteen brainwash devises.  On receiving the package, send sixteen people with total access to all the fighter jets at your base, and use the brain devises on them.  Another package that comes along with the devises are shock bombs, invented by my own scientists.  Those microchip bombs make no explosion or anything that exposes them.  However, when it attaches to a jet engine, and then   activated, the bomb will “shock” the engine into submission and the engine won’t start for the next two hours.  It is your responsibility to make the controlled people plant the bombs on as many jets as they could, and to make it timed right so that when the attack comes, the jets won’t be able to move.  The attack will come three days from delivering your package, so make this quick!
 Now, when we are successful and the Venom Forces had taken over your base, I can freely influence your Bulldog and Husky unit pilots to be loyal to you no matter what, and I will protect you anyway I can once General Pepper or Commander Grey had counter-attacked.  Now, only when all of your pilots are willing to go against Corneria, you four shall have the right to take over Katina for yourselves and with me as your ally, we can crush those Cornerian infidels!!  Good luck.
         Andross, Emperor of Venom

 “So,” Broluck said when Buck finished reading it.  “How does it sound?”
 Buck smiled.  “Good plan.  We will succeed.”

 “Welcome to my storage room, Nat,” Brad said as they went to the underground house’s basement.  It was a fairly dark room with several large freezers with great big metal doors and their windows were frosted.  At the other end were cans that stacked all the way to the ceiling.  “Those freezers hold almost all of the meat and anything that requires frozen storage.  For nine years storage, these freezers have to be huge,” he said as he led Natlarn to the area with the cans.
 Nat was amazed with the sheer numbers of the cans.  “There must be millions of them!”
 “Just about a couple.  I didn’t bring them at one haul of course.  These high tech cans can make food fresh for years on end.  I began buying those almost five years ago.”
 “Five years!?”
 “Isn’t food-storage technology wonderful?  Well, you once told me that you wanted supplies.  Take all the supplies you can carry.”
 “Really?  How many varieties are there in these cans?”
 “A couple hundred, I’m not sure.  Take all you want except the handda berries.  I can’t live without those.”
 “I won’t.  Thank you very much, Brad!”
 Nat went through the cans, took about twenty of what he wanted, and prepared to leave for Fortuna.  Tera was already packed and ready, and when Nat got into the cockpit, Brad hurriedly gave him a scrap of paper.
 “I almost forgot about this.  Show this to a large female tiger at the saloon you’re going to.  She’s a regular customer ever since the Starfox team beat out Starwolf and saved the base by disarming the bomb.  I’m not sure why Andross would want the Fortuna Base, but I’m glad they were gotten rid of.”
 “What’s the tiger’s name?”  Nat asked, taking the note.
 “Tigress Mondale.  She’s an easy sight to see.  This note will show her that you and Tera are known by me.  She hates Venom, and like you, is looking for pilots that want to fight them like Starfox.  She’s a mercenary, but once you showed her the note, she’ll fly with you for free.  Well, good luck!”
 “Good luck to you to, Brad.  You have been a good host.”
 “Thanks.  Just don’t come back soon.  You know how I hate visitors.”
 Tera yelled impatiently from her cockpit in a distance.  “Can we go, Nat, or will we wait till those four cretins take over Katina?”
 “Right, let’s go!”
 Brad backed off a safe distance away, and watched as the two determined pilots floated upwards, and with their engines roaring, blasted off into space in mere seconds.  Silently, he waved at them, then went back to his house to enjoy his normal lonely life, the way he intended it to be.

Chapter Five

 The Fortuna Base, the only building at the whole planet except for scientist research structures, was the only place for pilots to do anything in the dead, cold planet.  It was much bigger than the Katina Headquarter Base, but lacked the importance.  Andross once took control of it easily when the place was deserted, but when the Starfox team went over to take it back in Corneria’s hands, Andross had the base to have a bomb ticking away.  Fox McCloud tried to disarm it, but the Starwolf team dropped by, and the Starfox team had no choice but to drive them away.  All four of the Starwolf pilots escaped with smoke coming out of their engines, and Fox successfully disarmed the bomb, saving the structure for Corneria.
 Under the banner of Corneria, the Base somewhat flourished.  Trade opened, thus it was busy place for cargo, patrol, and messenger pilots to go to.  While the Base was always under alert for Venom Forces, at least for now the place was safe and secure.
 The day after leaving Brad’s home, Natlarn and Tera landed on the East Dock of Fortuna Base, and braving the snowy wind, walked inside the building on the way to the only saloon of the Base, and also one of the largest of the entire Lylat System.  In fact, the Fortuna Saloon was the best place in the whole system to find rogue pilots, a spy or two, and the everyday brawler.  Their red brog wine was the legendary drink there.  Natlarn tried it once.  A couple hours after one glass he got a major headache.
 The saloon was rowdy as usual when Natlarn and Tera got there.  Along the right side of the wall was the main bar, with thousands of wine and beer glasses on the cabinet on the wall of red and gold wallpaper.  Dozens of pilots sat on the stools in front of the bar, all of them drinking.  Elsewhere, there were tens of tables where the pilots would play cards on, and all of those were used at the moment.  On the other side of the wall from the bar are casino slots, the only ones in the galaxy, and their bells and whistles could be heard over the crowd noise.  An automated piano was playing by itself, playing “Pilot’s Paradise” loudly.  The saloon didn’t have a stage however.  The pilots come to talk and drink, not to watch shows.  Can-can dancers are non-existent for hundreds of years.
 “Boy,” sighed Tera as they entered in.  “How can we find this Tigress Mondale?”
 “Why don’t we ask?”  He then tapped a groundhog’s shoulder.
 “Excuse me, where can we find a pilot named Tigress Mondale?”
 “What, you never heard of her?”  The stranger said, almost soberly.  “Tigress is the biggest female tiger that ever flown a plane!  She’s o’er the bar.  She stands out of the crowd.”
 “You think she’s a good pilot?”
 The hedgehog almost laughed.  “Are you kidding?  She flies cargo planes, but give her a fighter plane and she can blast anyone she wants.”
 “Cargo planes?  I thought she was a mercenary.”
 “Oh yeah, she’s that too.  I hope you’re not from Venom.  I heard she left a Venom spy with his head pointing south but his body was facing north.  Well, see ya later.”
 Tera gulped a bit.  She spotted her in the distance.  “That stranger was right, Nat.  Tigress stands out of the crowd.”
 “Oh yeah, I see her.  Boy is she big!”
 They walked over to the far side of the room at the bar, and stood by a tiger that was about six-foot-nine tall.  She wore a leather shirt and pants that was filthy and some parts of it were bloody.  Her arms were striped and muscular, and when she opens her mouth to drink her red brog wine, she exposed her long fangs that unnerved Natlarn a little.
 “Um, excuse me, Madam, are you Tigress Mondale?”
 Tigress faced this cheetah.  “Who’s talking?”
 “Cadet Natlarn Berola, formerly of the Bulldog unit.  The badger here is Tera Crista, also of the Bulldog unit.”
 “Fighter pilots eh?  You look too young to retire.  Why did you say formerly?”
 “Well, we’re both outlaws, Madam.”
 “Don’t call me Madam, Natlarn Berola.  I’m Tigress Mondale, the best cargo pilot in this side of the Lylat System.  What do you want?”
 Natlarn remembered the note Brad given him.  He pulled it out and gave it to her.  Wordlessly she read it.  When she gave back to note to him, her yellow eyes suddenly sparkled welcoming.  “So, Brad sent you.  I thought he hated visitors.”
 “He does,” said Tera.  “But he’s my cousin, and he welcomed us without any trouble.”
 “You knew Brad, Tigress?”  Asked Natlarn.
 “Yep.  It was long time ago, and we were in school together.  If we were ever together in a relationship, we would’ve been a strange pair.  He’s the ones with the brains, and I’m the one with the muscles.”
 “Well, he had gotten big.  Almost as much as you.”
 Tigress laughed.  “Must have been the weight of his fat brain bearing him down, and he wanted to even things out.  You want me to join you both?”
 “Yes.  We’re looking for help to bring justice to the ones who banished me.  They’re not from Venom, but they’re going to be allies with them.”
 “Venom people are stupid idiots, but Corneria officials who decides to ally with them are worse.  Well, give me a fighter plane big enough to fit me, and I will kick their phony butts with you both.”
 Natlarn smiled, and shook her big paws.  “Consider it done!  Welcome to my team, Tigress!”

 In order to raise enough money to buy a big fighter plane, Tigress was forced to sell her cargo jet, and with the money, bought a bigger but similar jet to the ones owned by Natlarn and Tera.  She named it The Stripestar, and agreed to become the tail wing pilot of the trio.  Besides, she was more of a follower than a leader.
 “So, where are going to next?”  Asked Tigress.
 “I’m not sure, but Corneria might be next.  If we are going to win this thing, we’re going to need the help of an air squadron.”
 “But you are an outlaw.  Don’t you have a price on your head?”
 Natlarn jokingly rubbed his furry head.  “I didn’t feel anything.”
 Tigress chuckled once, but that was it.  “No, I’m serious.  How can we get a squadron’s attention?”
 “I don’t know.  Maybe Lady Luck will be on our side.”
 “If she is then I should have gone over to those casino slots and raise enough money so that I won’t have to sell my cargo plane.”
 “Why you need that anymore?”
 “My cargo is still in there, I just remembered.  Oh well, the guy’s a millionaire anyway, and can afford to lose a couple thousand cartons of tornab crab.”
 Natlarn sounded shocked.  “Tornab crab?”  He then cursed and was almost whimpering as he sulked on the way to his jet.
 Tigress gave Tera a confused look.  “What was that all about?”
 “It’s a long story.  Let’s go.”

Chapter Six

 Ever since yesterday, life had been a fog and a blur for maintenance worker Henry Garca.  He was an ordinary worker that scored low in piloting but high on engine repairs, thus landing him the job in the Headquarter Katina Base.  He was kind to others, sad when his friend Fran had died, and liked his job.  So, it was to his great surprise that Commander Broluck himself had called for him to go to his office.  Henry couldn’t find out why.  He never did anything great or wrong that would get his attention, so what does Broluck want?  No wonder the bobcat was confused as he walked over to the sixth floor to Broluck’s office.
 “Congratulations, Henry,” Broluck said with a grin.  “You have just been promoted.”  He then picked up a microchip that he had laying on an uncovered box.  “Attach this to the nape of your neck.  The microchip will then enhance your health considerably.  It had just been invented, and you alone will be one of the few to have this!”
 Henry was too overjoyed to question him.  He immediately attached it to his neck, but as soon as he did that, a change went over him.  His sparkling brown eyes, filled with intelligence and kindness, had gone straight forward and dull looking.  His facial impression was like a zombie.  He heard Broluck talking to him, but it was a strange blur to it.  Still, he understood exactly what he said, and his loyalty for him had rose up dramatically.  It was like mindless loyalty.  From that moment, everything was strange to him.  If he had kept his mind straight, he would have questioned Broluck’s method, but it was already too late.  After the meeting, he went straight to bed, but instead of sleeping, he stared at the ceiling, not even blinking his eyes.  Still, the dust collecting on his eyes didn’t hurt him.  He was devoid of feeling.
 At exactly four in the morning as his master told him to, Henry got out of bed and without changing his clothes or anything else, went straight to the Main Garage and found a box of microchips.  He looked around and found three other comrades at the same state of mind as he, but he ignored them.  He picked up the box and one by one, attached one microchip to each jet engine calmly, with zombie willingness and expression.  He did so continuously for five straight hours, not tiring, not faltering in his step, and not slowing nor hurrying in his pace.  When his box was empty, he dropped it right where he stood, and left.  He didn’t feel any joy for obeying his master’s orders, and felt no loss for dooming the one hundred plus jets he attached the bombs to.  He went to bed again, and this time slept.  When he woke up, he had a splitting headache and scratched off the microchip on his neck.  He simply stared at it, wondering what it was doing there in the first place, and threw it away without any thought.

 Around noon at the same day when Henry woke up with the migraine, a console officer in the Katina Command Center was startled to find fifty small blips and two large ones on his radar screen.  He almost panicked when he gotten the blips’s identifications: fifty Venom fleas and two starships, and they were all heading to Katina.
 He reached for his comlink and almost yelled to it.  “Commander Broluck!  Come in please!  Commander Broluck!”
 No answer.
 Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.  He tried a different channel.  “General Yarseea, come in please!”  No response.  He tried Grenmen, but no response there.
 Aw the hell with it.  He stood up and ran to the alarm switches.  He pulled down the red marked one, and as the bells rang and the sirens flashed, he rushed to a general microphone.  “All pilots!  All pilots!  To your jets immediately!  Invaders coming here from northwest!”
 The next few minutes was a blur of noise and trained chaos.  Pilots rushed to their jets, pushing and shoving along the way.  Maintenance workers and non-pilot personnel ran to find their emergency shelters at the basement.  Every one of them had a sense of fear, despite their victories against Venom, and that accelerated their pace.
 An eagle pilot climbed into his cockpit of his jet, not knowing what to expect.  Still, he didn’t expect the jet not to respond when he clicked on the buttons on his console.  None of the lights were turned on, including the targeting monitor.  It was like his jet went dead.
 “C’mon, c’mon!”  He yelled in frustration, but nothing worked.  He stood up from his cockpit and frantically looked around.  To his greatest shock, he noticed that he wasn’t the only one.  In fact, all three hundred and eighty jets of the Main Garage didn’t even move one inch.  The other pilots, equally disappointed and confused, were screaming and cursing.  Dumb-founded, the eagle sat and slouched on his pilot seat.  Looks like Katina’s undefeated streak would be over after all...
 When the Venom invaders reached the Base, only three defense jets, from the East Garage, had flown to intercept them.  For Venom, it was an easy conquest.  Only five of their fleas went down in smoke.  The Venom troopers had a harder fight against the stubborn pilots, but they were more experienced at infantry-type combat.  After twenty minutes, the Katina Headquarter Base, one of the jewels of the Cornerian Military, had fallen.

Chapter Seven

 Other than Corneria City, one of the more bigger cities of the planet Corneria was a place called Brahaba, located in the southwestern hemisphere.  Brahaba was a seaport, and doesn’t attract many flying visitors.  The people there were more concerned with what was happening in Corneria itself rather then in space, and Natlarn knew that.  Therefore, he had a better chance of not being known as a space outlaw in this city than in Corneria City.  Still, he had to be careful.  Not everyone in the city were domestic-conscious.  Because of the mountains that surrounds the city other than the sea, Natlarn and his pilots found it dangerous to fly directly to there, so they landed on a dock on the other side of the mountains and took a train to the city.  There was no airport in Brahaba anyway.
 “So, what are we going to do?”  Tera asked Natlarn as they sat in a room at the train, the window showing trees at a fast blur.  The train was capable of going 150 miles per hour.  Tigress was at a bar somewhere in the train.  Natlarn found out that a saloon or bar was a place where Tigress belonged, just as he was in the cockpit.
 The cheetah shrugged.  “First of all, I have a friend who lives in the city who might help us.  His name is Jo’hara and he’s a bit of a dark one, if you know what I mean.”
 “No, I don’t.”
 “Well, he likes black roses, black paint, black clothes, anything shaded or dark.  He lives a few miles from the city limits, alone from any neighbor.  He had only his roses to talk to.  He’s like your cousin Brad, but once in a while he wants visitors, so he would call his only friend, which is me.  Last time I saw him, he talked for hours about everything on his mind, from what he saw a couple days before to what he ate earlier that morning.  However, once he gets winded down, he becomes quiet and silent as a ghost.  He amazes me all the time.”
 “How can he help us?”
 “He’s a pilot like us, though his skills may be a bit rusty.  He haven’t got the chance to fly in a long time.  His best ability is computer hacking.  He’s dangerous to Corneria, for he once secretly boasted that he broke the gauntlet of codes and reached the Corneria Mainframe Computer.  If he could do that, then the entire planet will be at his mercy.  Thankfully, Jo is a loyal fighter to Corneria, and hates Venom just as much as anyone else.”
 “Can he get into any of the Venom computers?”
 “Nope.  He’s good, but Venom has an entirely new system that Jo still haven’t broken into yet.  If he does however, he will be as threatening to Andross as a thousand Fox McClouds.”
 “What species is he?”
 “I’m not very sure.  He got the looks of a puma, but he claims that his race is unknown.  He’s black-furred and at the same height as me, though he’s stronger.  Now don’t comment on any of his looks, please.  He wears only black leather clothes, despite the heat that goes around here, and get this, his eyes are black also.  Completely.”
 Tera gasped a bit.  “What, no pupil?  Iris?”
 Natlarn shook his head.  “No.  It was a genetic and rare disease he got from birth, and it’s the eyes that will get your attention.  At dark time, don’t even think of finding him, for even if he’s two feet away, it would be like he’s not there.  He would have been a great thief, but he got very good morals, though he views morals different than we do.  He prays for forgiveness after every dogfight during his time as a war pilot, and he also does the same thing if he kills someone intentionally in a fight or accidentally.  You’ll like him, Tera.  He’s got a good natured personality.  He’s also chivalrous, so Tigress had better watch out for his charm.”
 Suddenly the door busted open and Tigress, her weight stomping the floor, burst in, flaying a newspaper wildly.
 “Nat!  Tera!  The Katina Base had fallen to Andross!”
 Nat felt the world had turned against him.  “Dang!  We’re too late already!”
 Tera felt like banging his head.  “Now what can we do?  With Andross taking over, our goal may be impossible to reach!”
 “Nothing’s impossible.  Any other news?”
 “Very little.  There was a rumor that almost all of the jets at Katina failed to start.  Also, communications were down.”
 “It had to be Broluck!  Had to be!”
 Tigress still had a little hope left.  “The Katina pilots won’t give up so easily.  They’ll find a way to fight back.  The only main problem is for us to get inside the Base to catch those four fools without alarming the entire Venom force there.  After all, despite our feelings, our main goal is to catch Broluck and the three others, and not really to free Katina.  Object if you may, I think freeing them is up to Bill Grey and General Pepper.”
 Nat got an idea.  “Hmmm, there is a way for us to do both jobs.  In fact, I think Jo’hara will make Andross regret taking over a planet with a Corneria-based computer system.”
 Tigress gave him a puzzled look.  “What are you talking about?  Who’s Jo’hara?”
 “I’ll explain to you on the way.”

 At the Brahaba train station, the trio dropped off and rented three floating bikes and roared their way over the green grassy fields to a lonely house miles from the city.  It was a structure unique to anything in the galaxy.  It was igloo-shaped, but big enough for comfort.  Along the front porch was a large bed of black roses, and the outside walls of the house was black painted.  Standing on the aisle way in the front yard between the roses stood a figure smelling one of the roses, the same color as he.  Tera couldn’t see him all that well in the daylight out in the open, but she could see he was wearing black slack pants and a black vest.  However, when the figure faced them, Tera almost gasped.  His eyes were darker than coal.  There was no sparkle in them, like a black hole in an empty space.
 Natlarn however, viewed the figure differently.  “Jo!  How are you old friend?”
 Jo’hara smiled.  At least his teeth, gums, and tongue aren’t black also.  “Nat!  Long time no see!  I’m okay here.  And who are your companions?”
 “Tera Crista, a co-pilot of mine from the Husky unit.”
 The badger shook paws with the puma.  While he tried hard not to notice, his black eyes bore onto him.
 Jo’hara had to strain his neck to see Tigress’s face as they shook paws.  “Tigress Mondale, best cargo pilot there is.”
 Jo’hara, as always with any female, turned in his charming side.  “Ah, Tigress,” he said calmly, and kissed her palm.  “Such a magnificent name for a magnificent lady.  I’m pretty sure you was named after someone famous who has a beauty like yours.”
 “Well, thank my mom.  You haven’t introduced yourself formally to me.”
 Jo’hara blinked his eyes then chuckled.  “Oh right.  Where are my manners?  Ahem, I am Jo’hara Prather, former pilot and present computer expert.  Now, what brings all of you here?”
 “We came for you to help us.  Can we come in?”
 “Right, right.  I am so sorry.  I’m so amazed with Tigress’s beauty that I forgotten my common sense.”
 Natlarn heard Tigress chuckle.  He realized that she had a tough-like attitude and this reaction surprised him.
 The inside of the house was what Natlarn expected from an interior decorator like Jo’hara.  The windows had black curtains, there were four lamps in the single-room house, and a small bed was on one side, a computer on the other.  On the center was a table with five chairs, and on the far side of the house was the kitchen.  The bathroom was an outhouse in the backyard.  Jo’hara and his visitors sat by the table.
 “You wanted my help, Nat?”
 “Yes.  Did you know anything about what happened with me the last couple of days?”
 Jo’hara nodded.  “I was quite shocked that you was arrested and that Fran had died, but when I found a document in the Katina Mainframe about the real truth about the matter I was devastated.  I thought Venom were the only ones who could do such things.”
 “I thought so too.  Look, I need to know several things.  First there was a rumor that the jets defending the Katina Base didn’t start.  Is that true, and if it is, how?  Second, we want to know about how to stop any alarm systems in the Base that would’ve spotted us intruding in the base.”
 “Why do you all want to sneak in if General Pepper is going to try to take the base away from Andross?”
 “We have other things in mind.  I want to bring justice to Broluck, Yarseea, Grenmen, and Buck.  They killed Fran and they must pay for it.”
 “So I see.  Well then, let’s crack a code or two, shall we?”

 His dark paws were like a blur as he hacked through the computer systems.  Soon, Jo’hara, with little problem, had gotten into the Katina Mainframe, with access to anything that had been downloaded into the computer, from food schedules to updated reports, as well as any recorded messages through the phone that had called to or from the Katina Base.  Cargo logs are in it also, and profiles of thousands of personnel of the base, to name a few.  Jo’hara loved the power, but he was careful not to use for evil methods or gains.
 Jo’hara found a report from a high-ranking pilot of the Venom Invaders that was downloaded into the computer after the attack.  This was one of the things he was looking for.
 “Okay, let’s see here.  Oh here.  The shock bombs were successfully recharged from the engines for further use.  Hmm, I heard of shock bombs, through cargo reports I went through a few days ago.  They don’t make any explosion at all, but it stalls or stops an engine dead for several hours.  That solves your first question, Nat.”
 Nat sighed.  “Andross is getting stronger all the time.”
 “So are we,” Jo’hara replied back.  “There are now forty-five fleas and two starships guarding the Base, and five hundred Venomian soldiers.  That would be a problem when sneaking in, Nat.  Let’s see, there are alarm systems that I can easily take care of.  You want me to stop them?”
 “No, not now.  You have a laptop computer?”
 “I have a plan.  Jo’hara, can you still fly good?”
 “I think so.  Am I going to join you three?”
 Natlarn smiled.  “Take a guess, my friend.”

 To be continued......