Chapter One

 “Looks like you haven’t lost anything yet, Jo!”  Natlarn exclaimed as he spotted his new wingman make a somersault in the open air of space.  Jo’hara was testing his new jet that was similar to a Bulldog class, and he was flying like the expert pilot he used to be.
 “Yep!  Almost a little dizzy though...”
 “Don’t worry,” said Tera.  “The first time was a doozy for me too.”
 Jo’hara was enjoying his new membership in Natlarn’s team.  While he preferred to sit behind a computer, he liked flying, but still had the shivers of the danger of being in a dogfight with all those lasers flying around, the smoke, the fire...
 “When shall we reach Katina, Nat?”  Tigress said with an anxious tone.  “I want to break a couple of Venomian bones.”
 “Two hours, Tigress, don’t put on your armored fists yet.”
 Jo’hara gulped soundly.  “Armored f-fists?”
 “Got them in a rowdy town in Titania, my puma friend.  Capable of cracking a window pane with one flick of my finger.  Those lizards better get out of my way, or they’re going to feel something metal and sharp on their puny faces, ha, ha, ha!”
 Jo’hara chuckled mildly and nervously.  Despite his very dark appearance, he was never one to kill with hatred or malice.  He only does so in all cases when he was revoked.  He wanted his soul to be clean, so after every time he kills someone; intentional, catch-22, or accidental, he prays for forgiveness, but he’s not very pious.  He doesn’t pray when he only injures someone, nor does he do it if someone else does the killing.
 Now Tigress was another matter.  Even after a day with her, he knew her as a good-natured lady, but she wasn’t very feminine at the way he looks at it.  She had a burly type of attitude yet gentle at the same time, and while she doesn’t curse or wreck things, she looks like the one who would do so with only a moment’s thought, like Wolf O’Donnell.  When she speaks of anything Venom related, Jo’hara could notice a hint of hatred in her tone of voice.  Something must have happened to her in the past that made her view Venom that way.  Unlike him, Tigress loves to fight, and when she does, her opponent (or victim, as Jo’hara would so accurately put it) would regret even raising his or her fists.
 Take a couple hours ago in Corneria for example.  Jo’hara was trying to buy a fighter jet, but the garage shop owner, an armadillo, was very stubborn towards feline buyers.  When he finally did offered a price, it was way too high of a price for the jet.  Finally, after hearing enough scorn for the feline race, Tigress grasped hold of the owner’s neck and picked him up with her right arm.  Natlarn tried to calm her down, but before she could do so, she already threw the armadillo ten yards away.  Immediately after, the owner accepted Jo’hara’s money at half price, and then after receiving it, quickly ran away.  While Jo’hara liked her, Tigress just wasn’t his type to make this friendship to go any further.

 “Jo’hara, how far from Katina can the Base’s radar stretches to?”  Nat asked.
 “One hour from the planet at half-impulse’s distance.  I don’t know the distance in miles or kilometers.”
 “No need to.  When the Base alarm systems and radar malfunctions, how long do you think they could fix it back to functioning?”
 “Depends actually.  However, I can add a couple obstacles in their computer to make it harder to be fixed.  About four hours tops.”
 “Good.  Just before an hour to the planet, we’ll stop in mid-flight and give you time to do your work.  Once you have confirmed that all of the alarm systems and radar had been inoperative, we go to the planet at full speed ahead.  If we find some fleas along the way, kill them off as quickly as you can.  I don’t want them warning the Base of our presence.”
 Jo’hara said confidently, “Don’t worry, Nat, I can control the communication lines in the Base also.  The Venom ships may be able to hail them, for they have a different computer system, but the Base won’t be able to receive them.  Heck, I can make their food servers bring the wrong food to the customer if I want.”
 “Don’t Jo.  I know you like to mess up things in computers, but don’t do anything unnecessary.”
 Jo’hara complained jokingly.  “Yeah, yeah, you never let me have fun.”
 There were several laughs in his comlink.

Chapter Two

 Buck screamed when he woke up from his horrible nightmare.  He rubbed his head and felt the two short elk antler stubs, calming himself.  He was sweating, and his chest heaved inward and outward quickly.  He got out of his bed and took a quick shower, but that didn’t help his nerves all that much.  The dream that so spooked him was seemed to be a prophecy.  In the dream, Buck was shaking paws with his new ally Emperor Andross at the Katina Base.
 “We will now have the greatest opportunity to conquer the Lylat System for the glory of Venom, Emperor,” Buck said in a joyful voice.
 The towering in mind figure of Andross nodded.  “Yes, now is the time.  Once I control all of the Katina pilots, I alone shall destroy Corneria.”
 “Wait a minute, Katina is your ally, not your conquered planet.”
 “It is now, for I made measures to achieve me of this marvelous planet.  Look behind you, Buck.”
 What the elk saw as he turned his head will be haunting him forever.  Hung from a thick series of ropes were the dead bodies of Broluck, Yarseea, and Grenmen.  The bloody ropes were tightly wrapped around their necks, and their faces were ghastly.  They seemed to float in mid-air, like ghosts that still haven’t gotten their bodies decomposed yet.
 Buck turned around, eyes wide with sudden fear, to face Andross.  The evil ape had a hangman’s noose on his paw.  Andross stared at him with the glaring red eyes of the devil himself.  “You’re next, Buck!”
 A split second later, Buck woke up.

 Buck was looking like a dead person when he came in Broluck’s office.  His eyes were sleepy from lack of sleep due to the nightmare, and he slouched as he stood like a hunchback, and didn’t even bother to salute to his superior officer.  Broluck was too shocked at his appearance to notice the disrespect.
 “Buck, what happened to you?”
 “I had a nightmare, Commander.  It was like a warning not to trust Andross any further from now on.  It was like a way of showing Andross’s true evil.”
 Broluck shook his serval head.  “Oh come on, Buck.  That’s just a dream.  Andross gave us his word that he won’t try to conquer our base.  He wants us as allies, not as pawns.  He’s just protecting us from Corneria’s harm.”
 “It seems like to me that we’re not his ally, but his dependant.”
 Broluck stood up, angry.  “Sergeant, are you saying that an alliance with Andross is a big mistake?  Well I’m not going to stand here and hear this absurdity.  Go back to your quarters and get some sleep.  That dream of yours is affecting your speech and mind.  Maybe once you get fully rested you will have a full mind going and think that the dream won’t ever happen, even if it’s a symbol of something horrible happening or whatever.  Dismissed!”
 Buck sighed and slowly saluted him before walking out.  The nightmare clearly disturbed him.  For the first time since the whole plans of usurping the Katina Base, he asked himself distressing questions.  Why was I so totally blind?  Of course I knew about Andross’s misdeeds and evil intentions, but why did I and the three others trusted him?  Sure he gave us the shock bombs that led to the Bulldog and Husky units’s first defeat, but will Andross help us again?  Will the emperor betray us?  Will I really be hanged like what the dream said?  And what about that Natlarn?  Have I doomed myself by making him my enemy?  Will my very own soul be at the mercy of the devil because I myself was the one who suggested that we put a bomb on the jet that Fran Beshale was ordered to fix on?

 Meanwhile at the office, Broluck chuckled at Buck’s dream.  “Stupid, superstitious fool.  That nightmare is just a figment of his imagination, nothing else.  There is no evidence that Andross will betray us.”
 He then looked at the computer screen that was on his desk, reading an officer’s report.  The screen suddenly flinched and flickered.  “What the heck?”
 A crackling message blared from his audio phone.  “Sir!  All the radar went down, and-”.  The message went blank silent.  Broluck puzzlingly pushed the phone buttons, but there was no response.  Nothing on the comlink either.  His computer monitor went black.  “What’s going on here!?”  He yelled frantically.  His entire base was falling apart suddenly.
 He burst out of his office to find his entire floor in chaos.  Secretaries were running back in forth in panic, and the noise was of confusion.  Broluck yelled to out drown the noise.  “Is there any explanation for this?”
 A rabbit went to him, eyes nervous.  “We don’t know sir!  We can’t communicate with Engineering even with our cellular phones, neither can we do it with the people one floor down!  Not even the elevator works sir!”
 “Drat!  We’re stuck here!  Is Buck, Yarseea, and Grenmen here?”
 The hare couldn’t say anything, but Buck came along with a chaotic white weasel.
 “Any explanations, Grenmen?”
 The white weasel simply shrugged his shoulders.  “Nothing, sir.  Nothing except the lights are working.”
 “That’s unusual,” replied Buck.  “The lights are connected to the communication lines so if that one falls, then should the other.”
 “You think the mainframe computer was sabotaged by some hacker?”
 Buck shook his head.  “That hacker would have to be a complete genius to crack the codes to get to the computer.  No, I think that’s impossible.”
 “You’re right.  A simple hacker can’t get in.”
 Jo’hara was not just a simple hacker.  He was a complete genius when it comes to computers.  He and the rest of the team landed on a thawing snowy ground eight miles north of the Base.  They found a large cave nearby and hid their planes there.  Natlarn slapped on the puma’s back heartily as they rested inside the cave.
 “We owe you one, Jo’hara.  Now, the elevators are down right?”
 “Yes, and the radar and the communications.  Nothing else, Nat.  I swear to you.”
 “Good.  Now then, once we get inside the Base, be aware that not everyone we meet are from Venom, okay Tigress?  Therefore, be careful on who you’re picking a fight with.  Once we reach the elevator door, we’re going to have to force the doors open and then climb up the ropes to the 5th floor.  Once there, hopefully the ones we’re looking for are there.  If not, we’ll just simply find another floor.  Stay together at all times.”
 “How can we get the Base?  It’s too long to walk, and they will visually spot our jets coming.”  Asked Jo’hara.  “Katina Base doesn’t have any anti-aircraft guns, but there’s no way a mainframe computer can control a fighter jet.”
 Natlarn went to the cockpit of his plane and brought out a flare gun along with a red flare.  “We’ll attract a transporter to here, and we take over it and land at the East Garage, for that’s the closest to the elevator doors.”
 Asked Tera: “But if all of those systems there are going out of circuit, then won’t the patrolmen not be able to come here?”
 “Remember that I only turned off the necessary ones.  Only the minority would panic.  I believe the patrol won’t even notice what is happening.  According to the rules, any patrolman can leave to rescue without asking their superior officers first.”
 With the talk out of the way, Natlarn went out of the cave and used his flare.  A streak of red light rocketed upwards into the sky, and then went into a short arch before it disappeared completely.  “There,” thought Natlarn.  “Hopefully some patrolman sees it.”

 Natlarn was right.  Private Harbo Aarda, a monitor lizard from Venom was the one to see it.  Following the rules exactly, he went straight to his transporter ship and flew off to the area where he spotted it take off from.  Just in case, he had his phaser strapped to his belt.  It won’t be the first time rescuers would be fooled by Cornerian spies.  A few minutes later he spotted a black-wearing puma and a huge tiger waving their arms in an area next to a huge cave.  He landed his transporter, and opened the door.
 The tiger was just outside, and soon all Harbo could see was a spiked, gray fist.  As soon as the fist collided with his face, he could see nothing but darkness for eternity.  Aw well, serving Venom wasn’t paradise anyway.
 The body of Harbo was dragged outside in the open to be left as carrion, and the four pilots went into the transporter, their hopes rising.
 Tigress was especially joyful.  “Oooh, I enjoyed that punch!  Did you hear the bone crack when I did that, Jo?”
 Jo’hara was squeamish.  “Don’t remind me, please.  Just the sight of him with that snout bent in several places makes my stomach turn.”
 Tigress just laughed and took the controls of the ship, since she was more experienced with non-fighter jet ships.  Her years of flying cargo became useful this time.  In the back of the ship was a laser machine gun, and Natlarn possessed that.

Chapter Three

 They docked at the East Garage among the other Bulldog class jets, and a Venom soldier ran to the transporter’s door to help.  What the soldier got instead when the door opened was a laser shot right at his chest that threw him down dead.  The sound of the shot alerted the three other guards, and they returned fire.  One of them tried to sound the alarms, only to find that it didn’t work.  He cursed at the alarm system and aimed to fire.
 A soldier fell as a laser went through his stomach, and the two others saw a huge tiger rushing out of the transporter, firing her weapon as she ran.  Following her was a puma, firing his weapon.  Lasers went back and forth, hitting the jets in between.  Finally, one of the two remaining soldiers fell, and the last one desperately tried to run away, only to be shot in the back by the puma.
 A witness to the fire fight hid behind a crate in another part of the garage.  The hare looked on with nervousness, not wanting to be found.  To his surprise he saw Natlarn coming out of the transporter, along with a badger named Tera, and they along with the tiger and puma made their way out into the hallway.  The puma laid down by the fallen soldier he killed, and did some inaudible prayer for some strange reason.  As soon as they were gone, General Yarseea went out of hiding and went to another transporter, escape plans in mind.
 The hallway was in chaos with running people and Venom soldiers wanting to keep order.  Since panicked people rarely notice their surroundings, they barely noticed an outlaw cheetah carrying a machine gun running through the crowd along with a badger, a black-eyed puma, and a huge tiger.
 A guard noticed Tigress however and went over to intercept her.  “Hey, no hand-held weapons allow-”
 A punch from a spiked fist silenced him forever.  “I don’t take orders from Venom scum!”
 The four ran over to the elevator door, and along the way, Jo’hara picked up a crowbar.  “Okay, all I have to do is to slide this crowbar across the opening of the closed door to open it automatically.  I took a quick look at my computer on the transporter and I noticed that the elevator itself is on the basement, so it won’t block us on our climb.”
 Natlarn nodded and Jo’hara pushed the crowbar through the line-opening at the center of the door.  With a faint whisper, the door slid apart and several strong ropes were hanging on the vertical hallway.  Tera took hold of the ropes first and began climbing up, then came Tigress, Natlarn, and finally Jo’hara.

 Buck was beyond nervous.  He had a big hunch that somehow Natlarn was involved in this, and is now roaming the base, finding a way to get up to this floor.  But how can they get up there?  The elevator is dead.
 But aren’t ropes made not only to pull and let loose a huge elevator, but to be climbed as well?  He scurried to Broluck, pushing someone on the way.
 “Sir, the elevator may be inoperable, but Natlarn can climb the ropes up to here.”
 “What makes you think Natlarn is involved in this?”
 “A hunch sir.  I know Nat more than you do.  In fact, I believe he has a friend who is capable of computer hacking through mainframe defense computers.”
 “Why didn’t you notify me of that before?”
 “It just occurred to me.  Send all the soldiers on this floor to wait by the door, now!”
 Not taking any chances, he ordered all six of the guards to face the elevator door, and wait to ambush the intruders.  Not questioning his authority, the soldiers did so.  The three on front knelt and the three behind them stood, all of them aiming their laser machine guns at the door.
 Meanwhile inside the elevator shaft, the four pilots had reached the closed door with the number 5 painted on it.  Natlarn halted the team to a stop, then he himself climbed up right next to Tigress on another rope.  “Tigress, grab my ankle and make sure I hit the ropes so that I won’t be like a shooting pendulum.”
 The tiger nodded and grabbed his ankle tightly, not letting go.
 “Alright.  Jo, use your crowbar to open the door, then drop down and grab the rope when you drop below view of the people in the door.  I have a hunch that there are soldiers waiting at the door.”
 The puma nodded nervously and prepared to use the crowbar when Natlarn interrupted him.  “Oh, one more thing, Jo’hara.  Let’s hope that when those soldiers are firing at this shaft, one the lasers won’t hit the ropes and tumble you downwards.”
 Jo’hara grumbled.  “Oh, that’s optimistic, alright.”  Still, he had the courage to drive the crowbar through the opening, then wiggled it to attempt to open the door.
 When Buck saw the crowbar sticking through the door, he knew that a fire fight will happen and ran into Broluck’s office.  To his surprise, outside the window was a transporter hovering close by the window.  It’s door was open and Buck could see Yarseea inside.  Knowing what to do, Buck picked up a computer monitor and threw it at the window, breaking it down.  A gush of cold air rushed in, shivering the elk.  Buck then jumped from the window and landed on the transporter to join Yarseea.  They waited impatiently for the two others.
 The elevator door opened, and Jo’hara expertly let go of the rope and dropped a few feet down before grabbing it again.  The six soldiers, seeing an illusion of the intruders, fired instinctively at the shaft.  To Jo’hara’s great luck, none of the lasers hit the ropes, thus his life was saved.  The six soldiers stopped firing, confused that no one was there.  Then it was Natlarn’s turn to finish the job.  With Tigress holding his ankle, Natlarn grabbed his laser machine gun and let go of the rope.  In a half circle he dropped to the level of the soldiers, and up-side down, he released a relentless barrage of laser fire at the soldiers.
 The soldiers, never given the chance to fire back, fell with smoke coming out of their chests, their eyes dead to the world.  Tigress, still holding Natlarn for his dear life, swung him into the floor.  Natlarn stood on top of one of the dead soldiers, his burning eyes hunting for Broluck or any of the fiends he long wanted to catch.  He spotted Broluck cowering like a kitten in the back side of the floor, and ran after him.
 Grenmen rushed into Broluck’s office.  Confused at the broken window and the transporter just in front of it, he hesitated, but he saw Buck clamoring for him to come aboard the transporter.  Upon reaching the ship, Grenmen grabbed Buck with panicky eyes.  “Go!  Go!  We’re not safe here anymore!!”
 “What about Broluck?”
 “Never mind him!  He’s captured!  Go!  Go!”
 Grenmen closed the door behind him suddenly, and the transporter moved away into space, leaving their boss behind at the mercy of Natlarn Berola.

 Broluck, having played all the cards, rushed into his office just as the transporter that would have rescued him was nothing like a blip in the sky.  Immediately behind him was Natlarn, a cheetah that Broluck thought to be gone forever.  Knowing he was trapped, Broluck faced Natlarn, backing up close to the broken large window.
 “So, Natlarn, this is the end.  Feel happy now?”
 “Only partly, Broluck.  You’re not the only one I’m looking for you know.  Still, at least some justice will be done.”
 The evil serval smiled.  “Yes, but it won’t be the judge controlling my destiny, it would be the devil himself!”
 And with that, he turned and jumped out the window, plummeting to his death 5 stories down into the ground.  He died on impact.  Natlarn stood by the window, looking down at the corpse.  Of course, he felt relieved, but he only wanted Broluck to be in jail, not dead.  Just then, his comrades came by him, and Jo’hara held his mouth in disgust at the sight of the stain on the ground.  In complete contrast, Tigress chuckled and patted Natlarn on the back.
Chapter Four

 To Natlarn’s greatest disappointment, none of the other three were found.  However, an eyewitness told them that they escaped by transporter.
 “Great, we’ll never find them now,” Tera spoke with distaste.
 “Oh, we will, we will,” replied Natlarn.
 Less than an hour later, a Cornerian force led by Bill Grey attacked the Katina Base and easily downed the Venom fleas and the two starships.  Once again, Katina was under the banner of Corneria.  Bill wanted to thank the four courageous pilots that killed the radar in the first place, but they had already left for space to find their prey in their hunt.

 The transporter carrying the “prey” eventually ended up at a base in Zoness.  The base was on a small island, surrounded by the greenish polluted ocean, and a sickening smell disturbed the renegade threesome.
 Buck held his nose.  “Look, I know that Andross must have done this for his benefit, but can you both tell me why in the whole universe would he pollute the whole planet?”
 Grenmen replied, “It wasn’t actually him that made the oceans like this.  It were the scientists that were sent here by Andross, and their biological weapons research were the culprits.”
 “Well, I guess that’s a good reason for it, but can’t they just spew out stuff that smell like roses and perfume instead of something that smells like the entire population of Corneria had gone to the bathroom, all at once?”
 “Disgusting, but true,” Yarseea said simply.  To their relief, the interior of the base smelled like any other, but it lacked the bustle that they were getting used to in the Katina Base.  In fact, it was almost quiet and abandoned, except for a few lizards that paid no attention to them.
 “Uh, Yarseea, are you sure this was the base that Andross told us to go to after we left Katina?”
 “The exact one.  I’m just as confused as you are in this.  Let’s go to the Command Center.  There we can call Andross and see what’s going to happen next.”
 To add fuel to their engine of confusion, even the Command Center, the heart of the body of every Base; Corneria or Venom owned, was quiet except for one lizard sleeping in front of his console, his head resting on the keyboard.  Angrily, Buck came over to him and tapped him in the shoulder.
 The lizard awoke with a start.  He looked at Buck with sleepy yellow eyes, and his voice had a tone that showed his indifference.  “What?  Who are you?”
 “My name is of no business.  Why is this base so sparsely populated?”
 “How should I know?  Two hours ago, about 500 people were evacuated, and they left me here in this manure-smelling planet.  Ah, just as well, for they never pay any attention to me.”
 “Evacuated?  Why?”
 “The reason is of no business, you say.  Now, will you leave me alone?  I’m going back to my sleep, if you don’t mind.”  The lizard then dozed off rudely.  Buck, his eyes red with fury, sulked back to his two comrades, shaking his fist.
 “What a buffoon.  If this base is under bombardment and the officers are running back and forth screaming, he will be the one who’s complaining about being interrupted of his sleep.”
 “Never mind him,” said Grenmen.  “Yarseea is trying to contact Andross.”
 Yarseea banged the monitor he was working on with his fist.  “Damn it!  I can’t get to him!  There’s no connection to Venom at all!  What is going on here!?”
 “Shut up!”  The stupid lizard at the console complained, and then went right back to sleep.  Buck reached for his phaser, but Grenmen stopped him.
 “It’s a waste of a laser, my friend.  Let’s go back to the transporter and try another base here.”
 Unexpectedly, a faint explosion got their attention.  Panicky, the trio rushed out of the Center and saw smoke coming out of the front of the base where they landed their transporter.  When they came out, the transporter was in flames, already destroyed beyond repair.  Buck threw up his arms, eyes showing a combination of angriness, confusion, and absolute horror.  “No!  We were duped!  Andross had double-crossed us!  We’re trapped here!”
 Yarseea spotted another lizard, ran to him and got him by the cuff of his collar.  “What happened?”
 “By of Emperor Andross’s order,” replied the lizard cooly.  “This vehicle was to be destroyed.”
 “Are there any way we can get the hell out of here?”
 “None.  This base is officially dead to the world.”
 Stricken with horror, Yarseea released him, and backed off.  He and Grenmen stared at the burning transporter with hopelessness.
 The lizard wasn’t finished yet.  “I hope you enjoy your stay here.  Hopefully you’ll stay here long enough to think about the punishment for  failing Andross.”
 That was the lizard’s last words.  Buck, as doing an indirect revenge on Andross, pulled out his phaser and shot the soldier to death.

Chapter Five

 Natlarn and his team had landed on a desert somewhere in Titania, not knowing where to go.  They knew that they were against time, but they have no clue on where Buck, Yarseea, and Grenmen had gone off to, and they were frustrated.  Still, it was night time, and they needed their rest.  The four gathered around a campfire, and were eating their canned food rations Natlarn got from Brad seemly days ago.  Jo’hara, as usual, had his laptop with him at his side, like a loyal pet.  He watched Tigress checking her armored fists that still stained of blood.
 “Tigress, what did the Venom soldiers do to you that made you hate them so much?”
 The huge tiger paused a bit, pondering.  “It’s a long story.”
 Jo’hara raised his paws.  “Hey, I got time.”
 “I was afraid you’re going to say that.  Well, be prepared Jo’hara.  Knowing you, this story of mine might not be right for your stomach.”
 “That’s okay.  If I’m going to stay with you longer, I gotta get used to blood and guts, you see?”
 Tigress sighed, as if not wanting to go back to memory lane.  Her past was almost a mystery as Leon Powalski, and she rarely would speak a word of it.  The past always depressed her, but she knew she would have to face it, sooner or later.
 “Alright, you asked for it, bub.  Here it goes....”

 It was thirteen years ago, Jeff and Shirley Mondale along with twelve-year-old Tigress were on board a passenger jet on route to Fortuna Base to see her uncle.  The Lylat System was very peaceful at the time, and the planet that was now Venom was called Edena then.  Andross at the time was just a doctor in medical school, and Fox McCloud at the time had other things to worry about than joining the Academy to follow his father’s footsteps.  Tigress was seated next to her parents, anxious to see her relative after so many years.  She never actually been to Fortuna, and she liked the cold, so Fortuna’s notorious winters didn’t bother her.
 The pilot’s speaker quipped in.  “We will be reaching the Fortuna Base in four hours.”
 Shirley tapped her daughter at the shoulder.  “Did you hear that?  Only four hours!”
 Tigress didn’t say anything, but smiled.  Suddenly, there was a buzzing sound and a red flash that wisped by the jet by mere inches.  The twenty passengers around Tigress yelled and panicked, standing up and bumping into others.  Tigress, not knowing what had happened, frantically scanned around.  “What’s wrong?  What was that?”
 The same sound buzzed again, and this time an explosion occurred that rocked the jet.  Tigress was already in tears.  “Mommy, Daddy!”
 Shirley hugged her tightly, and the pilot’s speaker cut through the confusion. “Remain calm!  I repeat, remain calm!”  Static ended the order.  The transporter sputtered through space aimlessly, then stopped.  After what seemed to be eons, the ship was still, no engine running.  Suddenly, there was a jolt like a quick earthquake, then a feeling of being pulled.  A passenger looked out the window in horror.
 “That ship had a tractor beam!  It’s pulling us to God’s know where!”
 “Can you tell what it is?”  Asked Jeff.
 “It’s a pirate ship, no less.  We’re done for!”

 The passenger jet was sent to Titania, which was a hot spot for pirates at the time.  Both the pirate jet and the victim ship landed on the middle of an empty desert.  The door of the passenger jet opened and a gun-carrying lizard in rag clothes came in roughly.  His face was painted blue, making him look more menacing, and his machine gun aimed at one of the passenger’s face.
 “Outside!  C’mon move it!”
 The passengers were forced to come out, including the pilot and the only stewardess.  At the pirate’s order, they formed a line and knelt on the sand, facing the pirate.
 Jeff spoke angrily and demanded, “What do you want?”
 “You’ll see, once the others come.  When they get here, expect your lives to be changed forever!!  Now, stay there and keep quiet, or things will start to get messy here!”
 After an hour, three fighter jets came to the area, and their pilots, all of them lizards, had the same menacing appearance as the first pirate.  They looked at the hostages with laughter, holding their metal handcuffs to be used soon.  Tigress, not taking it anymore, laid down and cried.  One of the pirates came up to her, and picked her up by the ears.
 “Stay up, you miserable whelp!  This universe has no room for crybabies!”
 Shirley and Jeff, still kneeling, grabbed hold of the pirate’s arms and forced him to release their daughter’s hold.  “Leave her alone, she’s only twelve years old!”
 The pirate simply laughed and pulled out his phaser.  “You’re going to regret touching me like that!”
 The next moment was one that changed Tigress’s life forever.  The pirate aimed at Jeff first, and fired the first shot.  The laser pierced his heart, killing him instantly.  The pirate then fired directly at Shirley’s head.  At the end, Tigress screamed a blood scream, and fell herself over her slain parents.  The pirate once again had her by the ears, and pulled her off them.
 “Ha, ha, ha!  Look’s like you’re an orphan now!”
 The other pirates laughed just as evilly as he, and the laugher rang through Tigress’s tormented mind like echoes.

 “But what do pirates got to do with Venom soldiers?”  Jo’hara asked as the story ended.
 “The majority of both of them are lizards.  I hated those pirates with a vengeance, and when the Corneria military finally kicked the scum out of the Lylat System forever, I thought that evil will be gone for good.  When Andross took control of Venom and most of the Venom soldiers were lizards, I turned my hatred towards Venom.  That’s about it.”
 “What happened to you after your parents died?”
 “I was sent to a pirate hideout, and I served as a slave for the next two years before Corneria rescued me.  I guess you now know how I got my tough attitude from, Jo’hara.”
 Jo’hara nodded, and yawned deeply.  “Well, if there’s nothing else to do, we just might as well get some sleep.”
 The others agreed except for Natlarn, who was wide awake still.  As the others were soundly asleep, he stood up quietly and walked a few hundred yards by himself, bearing the chilly air and gazing up at the sky.  He halted when he spotted the Lucky Star, and just watched it glimmering in the black sky.  He made a wish, then went back to the campsite and slept.

 A beeping sound woke up Natlarn early in the morning.  It was dusk, and the chilly air was still there, not yet erased by the sun’s heat.  He sat up confused, but then realized that it was the phone on Jo’hara’s laptop that was ringing.  Jo’hara had already opened it and answered the video phone.  Calling them was a badger that Jo’hara didn’t know, but when Tera saw him, he knew him as his cousin.
 “Brad!  What’s happening?”
 “Tera!  I’m getting sick.  Probably food poisoning.  I can’t get up easily anymore, and I need help.”
 Tera knew he had prey to hunt with his comrades, but this was family business.  “Don’t worry.  We’ll be with you shortly.”
 “No, no, you alone, please.  You guys are chasing your enemies, and I don’t want to interfere.  I just want you to come, Tera.  I’m sorry.”  Then, the screen went blank and flickered.
 “What happened?”
 “A phone transmission might show a satellite the whereabouts of the caller.  Brad is hiding from the Venom forces, so when a sensor shows a satellite on his range, he cuts off the phone instantly and automatically.  I better get there quickly.”  He replied and went straight to his jet.  When he was in the cockpit, Natlarn came up to him.
 “You think you can be with us when we finally catch those fiends?”
 “I hope so, Nat.  I wish you guys luck!”
 “Hope Brad gets well.”
 Tigress cut in humorously.  “Ah, he’ll be fine.  Think of this as a lesson for him to get on a diet.”
 Tera chuckled and waved before he floated in mid-air and flew off, leaving the three alone.  Natlarn got an idea.
 “Jo’hara, that transporter where Buck’s group had escaped on, that was Corneria owned, wasn’t it?”
 “Why yes.  Why you want to know?”
 “You think you can find the whereabouts of that ship by your computer?  It should appear on your screen, no matter where it is, right?”
 Jo’hara nodded.  “Why didn’t I think of that?  Good idea, Nat.  I’ll look into it right away.”
 Since there are only four transporters owned by the Katina Base, it took little time for Jo’hara to find the location of the vehicle.  “It’s in an island in Zoness.  However, the transmission is sputtering, which means it’s partly destroyed.  I think that’s Andross’s work.”
 “Andross is the most ruthless double-crosser in the Lylat System.  Let’s go.”

Chapter Six

 Buck refuses to sleep.  With Andross abandoning them, it won’t be long till Natlarn had reached the base and kill him.  Andross would probably be the one who gave Natlarn the location of the base in the first place.  He should have known that Andross was a betrayer.  Why was he so blind towards this?  Why didn’t he trust his common sense and gut feeling?  He sat up on his bed in his quarters, staring at a wall for minutes without blinking.  All hope was lost.  However, he would fight Natlarn because if he loses that, then his life would truly be expendable.  There would be nothing left to live for.  If he kills Natlarn, then Andross might finish the job.
 The doorbell chirped and Grenmen came in.  The white weasel was more poorly dressed than Buck.  He wore a loose fitting green uniform of a simple soldier, since he discarded his Katina uniform long ago.  His hair was frazzled with stress, and his eyes were blood-shot and dark due to lack of sleep.  He used to be finely groomed, but that was when he was enjoying the luxury of high power in Katina.
 Grenmen did all the talking.  Buck just didn’t have much heart to speak.  “Buck, three Cornerian class jets are in radar range.  Just as we expected, the Venom ships didn’t bother to attack them.  They might be Natlarn’s group.  What are we going to do?”
 Buck didn’t say anything.  He was the leader of the group in Broluck’s death, but it’s futile to do anything now.  Grenmen impatiently stamped on the floor.  “C’mon, Buck!  There’s still hope for us left!  Maybe Natlarn would just arrest us rather than kill us, and we can use our money to bail us out!”
 Buck finally said something, but it was a laugh.
 “What’s so funny?”
 “Funny?  There’s nothing funny about this.  You really think General Pepper and the Ruling Council of Corneria will let us get away in bail?  Ha!  If that happens then our justice system is really out of whack.  We might be sent to jail, but we have snow in hell’s chance of being there for years.  They might sent us to death row immediately.  However, personally, I think Natlarn himself will be the executioner right here in this base.  When will he get here?”
 “In a matter of minutes.  We gotta do something!  We have to fight them!”
 Buck grumbled, but stood up and faced the weasel.  “We split up.  I don’t care where you or Yarseea will end up in, but just be alone when they meet us.  That way, they might split themselves and they’ll have to face us one-by-one.  Now go, and leave me alone.”
 Nodding, Grenmen took off leaving the door open, heading towards the second floor.  Buck just stayed in his room, waiting for the expected to happen.  Here, in this very room, the fight to the finish will happen.

 Buck was right.  When Natlarn’s group forced themselves into the base, they split up, looking for their prey with equal determination.  Natlarn searched through the first floor of the almost empty base, while Jo’hara and Tigress scanned the second and top floor.
 Hiding in a crate-filled cargo room at the top floor, Yarseea panted nervously for his hunter to come.  The place was partly dark, the light only coming from a window behind him.  All around him were wooden crates, most of them empty like the base itself, and some containing an awful smelling food ration.  Yarseea held his nose and twitched his whiskers.  “Must of been spoiled,” he thought.  He was kneeling, and the hard floor was hurting his knees.  He was getting old, but he can keep up a good fight.  Maybe he can get out of this mess.  Once Natlarn and his pilots, whoever they are, are killed off, then maybe Andross might see his folly and come back to him, asking for forgiveness.  He could be his ally again, or maybe even a joint leader.
 “Yeah, a joint leader.  I like the thought of that,” he said, almost delirious with false hope.  He envisioned himself wearing the luxurious clothes that only emperors wear, once Andross dies “by accident”.  He would rule the Lylat System with an iron paw, forcing his subjects to do his bidding, and he would count his gold coins and credits every night before going to sleep on a silk and cotton bed.  He chuckled to himself, his eyes literally green with greed.
 A sound of the door opening knocked him back into reality.  The hunter was in the same room, and he knows I’m here.  Well, I’ll show this fool that prey can fight back!  Unwisely, he stood up and appeared out from his hiding spot.  He soon came face to face with a female tiger about twice his size, and carrying armored, spike fists.  The tiger eyes glittered and a feline smile went across her face.  In seemly slow motion, Yarseea simply stood dumb-struck as the tiger raised her right fist and strung it back.  In a faster sequence, the fist grew larger as it neared his face, till all he could see was the grayness metal of the fist.  Unlike cartoons, you don’t see stars when knocked out; only blackness.

 Grenmen was the only one left of the three that still had a glimmer of hope left.  He knew that Andross won’t go back to him, like what Yarseea had hoped, but what if he would escape from the base using one of Natlarn’s jets.  Maybe he would get a chance if he travels alone, like a renegade, and fight Andross and Corneria like a slithering weasel like him, striking quickly and disappearing.  “Yeah, that’s the ticket.  Be a terrorist, show those fools who’s right and wrong.  Maybe then, they will fear me.  Why, I’ll be more notorious than Andross!  Ha, ha, ha!”
 It was the laugher that exposed his hideout place in a room at the second floor, for his own hunter was just on the area when he heard it.  Grenmen was still laughing when the hunter found him, his phaser aiming at him.
 Grenmen almost gulped with shock.  This hunter was nothing like he had seen before.  Black eyes, black fur, black clothes, like a shadow.  “Who are you?  What are you?”
 “What am I?  I am your worse nightmare.  Who am I?  The name is Death!”  Almost immediately, the black puma fired a laser at the weasel, but Grenmen, showing quick agility, jumped out of the way and pulled out his own phaser and fired back.  The puma showed quickness as well, dodging the laser and diving behind a crate.  Grenmen hid behind another crate only fifteen yards away.
 “You’re never going to get away alive!”  Yelled Grenmen, firing at the crate the puma was behind.
 He heard the puma’s response.  “You won’t either!”  Another shot was fired.  For the next several minutes, a firefight exploded around the room, with the only one damaged are the crates receiving the brunt of the lasers.  Finally, when Grenmen rose again to shoot back, a laser struck his stomach, and he fell screaming.  His phaser was accidentally thrown away from him, and his life was draining away.
 He saw the puma stepping by him.  Grenmen spoke his last words.  “If you are my nightmare...then why am I going to eternal...peace?”
 Grenmen closed his eyes for the last time.

 Buck continued to stare at the wall like a statue suffering from hopelessness.  Everything he strived for: power, money, respect, had been thrown away into a deep, dark pit that he would never hope to reach into, unless he himself would go into the pit, never to come back out.  He remembered the nightmare he had on the day of Broluck’s death.  “That was a warning, and as usual my greatest folly was to ignore it, and now I’m paying the consequences over and over again.  Death will be a release, but if it is my destiny to kill Natlarn, so be it.”
 A familiar voice called for him.  “Well, well, I finally found you.”
 Buck turned to find Natlarn standing at the doorway, his phaser on hand.  Buck didn’t stand up in alarm, but simply sat there, looking like a depressed suicidal person with stubby antlers.  “Yes, you found me Nat.  Now what?”
Natlarn came close to him, but not too close for he was thinking that this may be a trap.
 Buck continued on.  “Are you going to kill me?  Arrest me?  What?”
 “It depends, Buck.  If you decide to be cooperative, then one of my pilots can call a Cornerian transporter along to arrest you and take you to trial.  If you decide to fight, then it will be the end for you.”
 “Even after all that had happened, you’re still willing to give me a chance in life?  You can put away your phaser.  I’m unarmed.”
 Natlarn did so rather reluctantly, but his fingers still twitched to use it again.  “Think of me whatever you wish, but I’m not a cold-blooded killer.”
 Buck grinned, and that spooked Natlarn a little.  “Really?  Would you be one if I told you that it was I who ordered Fran Beshale to be killed by a bomb?”
 It was hard to describe what happened to Natlarn next, but it seemed like a volcano had erupted inside his brain.  His own former friend, the one who indirectly killed Fran alone?  It became a direct shock to him, because he thought all four of the officials were the ones who ordered the bomb to be planted, not Buck alone!
 The next few seconds was a frenzy.  Natlarn, ignoring his phaser, grabbed Buck by the neck and tried to choke him, his eyes wild with fury.  Buck counter-attacked by kneeing him on the stomach and both were shoved to the floor.  Like angry rival snakes, they rolled on the ground, scratching, biting, blood pouring and screams ranging in their ears.  Natlarn gave Buck a kick on the knee that sent him reeling, and punched him again in the face, and again.
 A bruise on his right eye, Buck knew he had been done for.  He spotted Natlarn’s phaser still fastened to his belt and tried to make a grab for it.  Natlarn noticed it and grabbed Buck’s reaching arm in time.  Buck growled with desperate fury, and head-butted him.  Natlarn stumbled back, holding his head.  He looked just in time to see Buck running to a drawer and reached out a knife.  Natlarn, smart enough to know what to do, pulled out his phaser and aimed it at him.
 “Goodbye, my friend!”  A laser shot out, and struck Buck almost at the neck, a near fatal wound.  Buck screamed once before staggering to the ground, his knife thrown away four yards away and unreachable.  He laid on the floor, holding his bleeding neck for dear life.  Relieved, Natlarn stood and went close to his enemy.
 Blood coming out of his mouth, Buck said his final words.  “Nat,...I’m so...sorry..”
 The elk closed his eyes, and went limp.  He was now dead, and the hunt was now over.

Chapter Seven

 The sun was shining bright and cheerful as the pilots met Brad and Tera in front of his home in Titania.  Brad had recovered completely, and Tigress was a bit upset that it wasn’t food poisoning at all, but just a cold virus that got out of control.  She was hoping Brad would be on a diet soon.
 “Congratulations, Nat.  I’m sure the ghost of Fran will rest easy now.”
 “I’m sure too.  We made a great together, didn’t we?”
 Jo’hara smiled.  “Yes, we surely did, Nat.  It was the greatest adventure in my life.”
 “Do you want more, my friend?”
 “What do you mean?”
 “On the way here, I was thinking.  Buck wasn’t the only one who got away with justice at first.  There are many like him, and I believe it’s up to us to make sure that all criminals are sent to death or to prison for life.”
 “You want to be a leader of a team like Starfox?”
 “Yes, but not as mercenaries.  Bounty hunters.”
 Tigress though that was appealing.  “That sounds good, Natlarn.  As long as it’s Venom soldiers we chasing after, I don’t mind being with you at all!”
 Tera jumped in.  “Count me in!”
 “Me too!” replied Jo’hara.
 Brad laughed cheerfully.  “So it’s settled!  Now, who are you going to call yourselves?”
 “Hmmm, what about,...the Justice Cadets?”
 “Why you chose that?”
 “Because I started this whole hunt to find justice on my enemies.  Justice was the main thing to drove me to this result, I believe.”
 Jo’hara nodded.  “Justice Cadets.  You know that sounds good.”
 The others agreed.  Brad clasped his hands.  “Now, who’s hungry for torna crabs?”
 Natlarn smacked his lips hungrily.  He was the first one at the dinner table.

The End