Enter Pandora Episode #3 of SunHawk

W. Jones

Special Note: This story does include a small amount of sexuality and strong language. Please be careful if you choose to read this story. Thank you.

Chapter I Twinkle of the Shyer

Data Log Captain Alison Dallas

It has been four days since our first mission package was given to us at Katina. It has been roughly twenty two hours since we accomplished that goal, a simple spy mission on the borders of MacBeth, surveying the signs of enemy activity in that region. Thus far, this ship has seen only one engagement action during the mission other then our first engagement over a month ago when SunHawk first took to the stars. An attack of two enemy carrier cruisers on us ended with total failure. The SunHawk destroyed both ships and fighter crafts all under ten minutes. That was our first real encounter with the enemy which lead to combat, and I am very much impressed with its outcome.

In sick bay, Lieutenant Kesh has been placed into an artificial coma for Dr. Q'Ronni and Sparky to have better luck in observing the virus placed in her mind by Andross. Although they are not sure, they speculate it will be at least two days before she can be awakened again.

As for the rest of the crew, no real change since I first met them. Commander Grant continues to remain tenacious in his pursuit to increase the efficiency in our ship. Apparently, he doesn't seem to believe in the term, "if it's not broke, don't fix it." He has been partially successful in his attempts, and a few of his personal upgrades did prove worthwhile. Other then that, he has just been the best choice for a second in command. Coming from me, that claim may be invalid since he is also my first.

Chief Maurine has been totally engrossed in finding the ones who have attempted to betray us to Andross and the Venom army. More important to him though is finding the same beings who used Kesh as a puppet in their scheme. He seemed like a man possessed while performing this duty, and it should not belong before whoever has done this to Kesh is in lock up. When he first came aboard this ship, I had my doubts about Robert Maurine as security chief. Now, I see I was mistaken. The amount of insider trouble is the lowest that I have ever seen in my military career.

There is really no one more interesting on board the Conner Seacore. The alien wolf has remained somewhat isolated from the rest of us over these first four days of being here. Thus far, a select few of us, namely Maurine, Mr. Grant, and myself have been the only ones to make significant conversation with him. He has remained kind to the whole crew, greeting them warmly even when many of them shun him as an outsider. I cannot help but realize how remarkable his self control to rudeness is. This whole time, other then the incident where he injured Kesh to save me and rendered the doctor unconscious to escape, he has not hurt a single soul while on board. Yet, much of the crew remain fearful towards him. Whether it be for what he is, or what he can do, I do not know. Perhaps he will tell us when he feels it to be right on who he is.

We are now seven hours away from Aquas where we will receive data on our next mission. On our way there, we are scheduled to meet up with a shuttle carrying more ground troops for our ship and a group of rather unique passengers. A small part of the team who developed the SunHawk's gravity drive along with Sparky. This may be an interesting number of days.

Captain Dallas Data Log

****

Captain Dallas sat in her chair, in a bit of a slouch, waiting for the first sign of a ship to appear on there sensors. Not usually the person to be in a bad mood in a common day's situation, Dallas was growing more aggravated by the minute. Their rendezvous at this position was over an hour late. As she had told Kesh and Maurine when they first came on board, Dallas did not hold well to being held up because of someone's mistake in scheduling.

An entire hour she waited with patience, growing more restless with the pass of every second. She ordered long range sensor sweeps to be performed every ten minutes to locate a new arrival. This lasted for thirty minutes, and the Dallas had the ship start up search patterns of the area. It was a full two hours before their rendezvous even showed up. But this time, Dallas, knowing they should already be receiving mission orders now, was totally furious. However, Dallas was not one to make a bad impression by letting anger cloud her performance. She would find out who was responsible for being late later, and she would give them a serious talking to. For the time being, Dallas just watched as the newcomer made a slow entrance.

The ship was a small Cornerian transport shuttle/troop carrier. Inside it were over one hundred new grunts trained for superior ground warfare, all posted on SunHawk. Dallas was somewhat thrilled when she heard that this new group was fresh out of Fort Rage, one of Corneria's toughest training facilities. Even now, they were sending the best of the business to her. Never in her career, or in her life has felt so untouchable. Also inside the shuttle were five or six engineering scientists sent from Corneria. They were all coming to observe the integrity of their soon working project. The gravity drive. Dallas had no idea what to expect from these people. She did know that they would be spending much of their time with Sparky around the gravity core, looking for ways to make it work better.

It was here that the middle aged wolverine entered the bridge and stood beside Dallas. She looked up at her old friend, and smiled. "Is that them?" asked Sparky.

Dallas let out a yawn before she answered. "Yes. And they're only two hours behind schedule, making us late too. Oh well. You know what they say. 'Better late then never'." Dallas shook her head angrily. "But when I'm done with that pilot or whoever is responsible for this, they are going to learn that being on time is the only viable and most healthy choice known." She got to her feet and looked down at her computer, seeing that the shuttle would not be there for another ten minutes. Dallas sighed and watched the shuttle approach the ship for a small time.

There were times which Dallas felt a dark shroud was covering her soul, keeping her mood in a musty hole. It did not always happen, and only since the battle at Katina. Dallas shuddered, that moment in her life finding its way back into her mind, and her soul. Just as quickly as it shown itself, Dallas forced it back out. However, it was there long enough to make her noticeably tense.

"Are you all right, Captain?" asked a bridge worker.

Dallas nodded to him. She was still a little nervous about something. She removed her glasses and took a breath. "When Commander Grant gets here, tell him to supervise the new marine posting. Sparky, I want you to great our engineering guests and take them to their quarters. I'll meet them later." Dallas left quickly, leaving both the bridge worker and Sparky wondering why this just happened. Sparky knew Dallas for over twenty years, ever since she was a young pup. Always, she had been strong. Why she was doing this now, it was confusing.

The halls were like a sauna. Everyone walking down these halls, traffic of the crew to do business. All of these people in these little areas created a environment like a savanna suffering from drought. However, Dallas was basically unaffected by the heat. She walked down the hall, keeping out of the way of people who were in a hurry, saluting back to a random soldier, pilot, or crew member. She hardly ever looked up into their faces though. Dallas came to one door, a large sliding door which lead into someone's quarters. Dallas knew who lived here, for she posted the person to live here herself. Gravely, Dallas walked over and pushed the announcement button. At once, a voice from inside welcomed her in.

The inside of the quarters were nothing which Dallas expected. On the wall was a small obelisk of pearly white stone marble carved into a perfect diamond shape. Encrusted in the stone was four jewels, all colored a bright blue, which sparkled even when there was no light to reflect. Surrounding the stone was an upside down triangle made of a silver composite. Away from this, sitting next to the bed, a platinum statue of a dragon, down on all fours with its wings spread, with a blue jewel as each eye, and one embedded into the breast. Dallas continued to look around until she saw a black overcoat and a sash over the back of a chair. On the table next to the chair, the black colored sword hilt which Dallas identified as Conner's only weapon, his psionic thunder blade. Also was a badge of sort. A circular bluish jewel surrounded by two dragons, one on either side, both guarding the jewel from an unseen enemy. Dallas walked over and picked the badge off the table, gently holding it in her hand. She ran her finger around the edges and the smooth surface of the crystal.

"It is the symbol of our people," said Conner. Dallas turned around and looked at him standing in a door. "The two dragons protect the soul of every Shyer from the pains of corruption. To submit one's soul to darker desires is to forfeit their protection. To do that is to welcome the most unruly of pain when the soul leaves the body."

Dallas handed the badge to Conner, who placed onto his breast. "That is when they die?" asked Dallas.

Conner shrugged. "That and other things. There are other ways to end the lives we live in other then death. You can't understand, for no one who is not Shyer rarely ever does. I suppose you could call it the climbing to a higher level of existence, or even a type of evolution. It is who we are, and what we are entitled to. Don't ask how it came to us, for I do not know. All I know is that it is a belief which I hold most dear into my heart, and I will not sacrifice it for anything. Not even my life. This I am sure that you do understand."

"Actually, no," said Dallas. "I can't see the logic in giving up life to keep faith in religion. If I had a choice between admitting that I had no value to my religion and giving up my life, I would take the side of living. But then again, I suppose that would be easy since I have no religion."

Conner turned to her and half smiled. "That is the one difference between us, Captain. I am a man of faith and little action unless I am provoked into it. I will kill to protect those who I love, and I have injured before to protect myself. However, to cause pain or take lives is not looked on lightly in my caste back on Shyer. You, however, are the exact opposite. You act, and you commit yourself to your actions no matter the consequences. All you have to be is convinced that what you are doing is the right thing, and you will do it. Back home, that is looked on as a trait of the text book space commander. I think you would be rather welcome back on Shyer, Captain. As a member of or Executor Caste. I'm not sure you would make the finest religious sister though." They both laughed quietly at the candor, Dallas amused at the thought of being a nun. A person who was everything she was not, and a person who was not her.

"Shyer?" said Dallas, sitting in the chair. "Tell me about it, please."

Conner sighed heavily, as if doing this might be difficult. "Well, there is really not much to tell. Our climate is basically a cold air environment. Not anything like your planet Fortuna, but more like Corneria, minus twenty degrees in the ambient temperature. The forests of Shyer were so vast, even from orbit they looked impressive. Some of them spanning entire continents. The mountain ranges, and the huge, huge lakes over the planet. You see, our world did not have a real great ocean. We just have giant lakes, hundreds of miles in diameter. The rainfall on our planet is extreme, to say the least, and floods were not rare. I was the most happy when I lived on Shyer, learning, dreaming about my future alongside my brother. I… I…"

Dallas could see that he could not go on after mentioning his brother. She did not ask about it, for what happened was obvious. It was also none of her business. She went over and sat beside Conner, and gently laid her hand on his shoulder. He only smiled at her, accepting her friendship.

"Thank you," he said. "Now, I have a favor to ask."

"Name it," whispered Dallas.

"I request a shuttle craft. I would like to go to Corneria."

"What? May I ask why?"

"I'll be honest. I feel I have been sent to this star system for reasons other then to aid you in on this ship. I have to find out what that is. I feared this from my last meditation, when I saw a vision that I was sent here to find someone. I must go and find out who or what that might be. I believe I will find that answer on Corneria. So, please give me a shuttle."

"Of course I'll give you a shuttle. But can you fly it? I'm not going to simply hand over a shuttle unless I'm convinced that you can pilot it safely. Quite frankly, Conner, I doubt that you are the type to fly any kind of machinery."

For a moment, Conner sat without movement, looking into Dallas's eyes. Then he nodded. "You are correct, I have no skills in being a pilot. Not even in my own home world. If I were to go, I would required someone to pilot the shuttle to get me to Corneria. I must urge you that this is an important doing this is. For my…my people to send someone like myself to this kind of place does not come without reason. Serving on this ship alone does not seem to be a reason which they would consider worthy. I must know, so I am asking you for this favor. Please."

Dallas stood unmoving for a second, thinking on this. She did not know Conner well enough to be able to tell whether he was as sincere as he sounded or not. Nevertheless… "All right. You got it. I'll have one of our fighter pilots meet you in Launch Bay 2. When is the soonest you wish to leave?"

"Right directly would be very excellent, if you do not mind. The less time I spend on this the better I'll feel. Is that a problem?"

"No, not a problem at all. I'll get a pilot ready and he'll meet you in the bay. Fifteen minutes."

"Fifteen minutes," repeated Conner. "Done. Thank you."

Dallas, with a slight frown, nodded to him and turned around and left the room. Conner looked at the door after she left for a while, a little confused at her disposition. Someone who could change moods so quickly and so unexpectedly. Conner knew no one who could do that, go from warm and friendly to suddenly cold. He shook his head, not understanding what kind of people these were. As Conner went on to get ready for his journey to Corneria, he thought about this, trying to make sense of it. Success, however, was a door in a hall of endless other questions.

****

The shuttle carrying Conner and a single pilot departed the SunHawk roughly seventeen minutes after he made his request to Captain Dallas. It sped away from its mother ship, making the least amount of time to spend on its trek to Corneria. Conner fell asleep not minutes after they took off. Meditation was an excellent means of clearing the mind, but it was still a poor substitute for sleep. Since he went to sleep, Conner did not see the jewel in the Shyer badge begin to shine brilliantly. The pilot saw it, but he had already seen such things with the eccentric wolf. He choose to ignore it and continue on to Corneria, letting Conner sleep. Outside, the transport ship passed by them and headed on towards SunHawk.

On board the transport. A single set of eyes in the dark watched from a window as the speed shuttle bolted away from the area. The two eyes, one colored a very light blue, almost white, while the other was a dark brown, squinted as they watched the shuttle move off. When the shuttle was gone, the person moved away from the window. The door opened, flooding the dim the room with the hall light. Standing in the door, the silhouette of a slim and attractive female canine with those dual colored eyes, glaring coldly back towards the window. She looked at the window to space outside for a long time, and then she walked.

****

A little time with a person like Conner, and anyone's attitude could be changed. Dallas did frown very much at having to wear her dress uniform. She frowned that she had to even wear a uniform period for this command, which was required. However, it was customary to do so when important people came on board. These scientists were considered important for they were members of a benefactor organization for the Cornerian military with their new and very impressive technologies. It was their studies which brought the SunHawk their gravity core, which would allow the ship to travel outside the Lylat System for the first time.

Now, these scientists were coming back to observe and inspect their creation, and Dallas was rather aggravated about it. Of course it was planned and stated already, but Dallas felt that there could be better things to do other then pleasing a bunch of scientists, such as fighting a war.

Dallas looked at herself in the night blue dress uniform, and kept a neutral expression. The material in the uniform made her itch horribly, and she almost found herself taking it off and forgoing any kind of uniform all out. However, a sense of duty kept her from doing so. It was a while before Dallas turned away from the mirror to leave. When she did, it was for a bigger reason.

"Bridge to Captain Dallas!" The sudden urgency in the voice of Grant brought Dallas to attention. She picked up her own communicator link and accepted the incoming signal.

"What is it, XO?" she asked.

"Sir, get down here right away! The scientist's transport just suffered an explosion!" Her ears perked up with surprise, which then turned to fear. Not bothering to put on the uniform jacket, Dallas sprinted out of her cabin and down the hall towards the bridge.

Chapter II Cold Heart

The bridge was running like the wind with business. People working with their stations in the sudden crisis in a augmented level of motivation. Dallas did not stop to look at them when she rushed into the bridge. She rushed inside and towards the front where Grant and Maurine were standing, looking at the screen. The transport was totally out of control, a large chunk of its aft section was torn wide open, flames pouring out of it and then dying in the airless space. Large to tiny shining fragments of the steel hull were flying in the form of a sliver dust cloud. Dallas ordered a magnification on the area of the damage. A rectangle box surrounded that area, and then it zoomed in. They all watched the inflated area of the view screen, and gasped in terror. Bodies, humanoid, all of them, were now floating freely and without movement among the debris. A few of the people were no longer in one piece.

"Good lord," said Dallas under her breath. "All right. I want a rescue team on that ship at once! I also want a maintenance crew out there, damage control assessment, radiation survey probe, HAZMAT crews, even a photographer probe out there. I want all of it out there, right now." For a second, a lot of the men and women just stood around, listening to Dallas but not being able to react to it. Dallas began to fume. The crew snapped out when she rammed her fist into her computer console. "Goddamn it! Move people! There are people out there who might be in danger and they won't wait for us to pull our thumbs out of our asses! Get moving!" It was slow at first, but people began to follow her orders. She grumbled heavily as she went on to give orders. "I want a squad of fighters out around that transport guarding against anyone who might be running away, that might be our bomber if there is one. Move the ship into an attack/defense position in relation to the transport and bring our anti-aircraft Talon weapons on line as well."

****

The operation to inspect the transport ship went smoothly enough, but very quickly. The SunHawk was placed in an attack position near the transport, ready to stop any one trying to one away. For the same purpose, four orange Arwings were deployed to a screening position around the ship. There to guard against possible bombing or sabotage suspects who might try to run, and also to safeguard the workers. A total of seven hazardous materials worker SCV's were deployed to clean up. Huge chunks of scorched steal were floating alone, separated from the ship where it was once part of a hull, some of them were small strips of the ship, many the sizes of pencil carvings.

The carnage caused by this explosion was atrocious. There were over ninety dead people floating outside the ship. All but about seven or so were killed by decompression of being spaced. Others…must have died in the explosion. There were body parts in many places, severed limbs, shredded torsos, all the result of an explosion blast. The poor souls must have been sitting next to the explosion when it happened. Others were killed by shrapnel. Droplets of blood were creating another cloud of red. Many of the HAZMAT SCV crewmen began to lose their stomachs, but leaving it all here would be more unacceptable. The intestinal integrity of a few workers was less important then cleaning up a mess like this, where they often never got touched.

As the SCV units went on to work, a boarding pod rocketed up to the transport, up to its docking ring. On a slow approach, the pod latched on to the transport, and the seventeen member search and rescue party entered the derelict and broken space ship. At once they began to pick up life signs.

****

"They found only one survivor?" asked Dallas, looking at the returning rescue pod. "Not a single other one?"

"Yessir," replied Grant, sighing under his breath after he answered. "There were a total of one hundred and twenty nine people on board that ship. The science crew, transport crew, and all the ground pounders. All but one of these three categories: dead. The survivor is being brought over now, and they'll take her directly to sick bay. The rescue party reports that the survivor was pretty well wounded, skipper. A few shrapnel burns it looks like, nothing fatal, but it could have turned that way if they were not treated."

A nod came from Dallas, following were more orders. "The HAZMAT crews are not scheduled to be finished their cleanup for another hour at least. When they are finished, Commander, I want you to take a few crew members and survey that explosion damage, try and find out what caused it. Then I want to strip search that ship from one end to the other, up and down and side to side. Overhaul the whole damn thing if you have to, find anything that might shed some light on this catastrophe. Our sensors told us that nothing was wrong with their engines or anything else before the ship exploded. I smell a rat here Commander, one as big as a Fortuna glacier pack. I want it caught, and I want it caught right now."

"We'll do what we can, Cap'n. You might want to have Maurine take a look into the survivor. I always do have suspicions into sole survivors in a situation like this." She nodded to him, and Grant left to get a boarding party ready for her task of them.

A few minutes after Grant left, Dallas too began to exit the bridge. As she went, she sent a communication to Maurine to meet her in sick-bay. It was time to meet the only one to walk away from this disaster in person. She too believed in what Grant told her about sole survivors.

****

"All right, only one more."

Dr. Q'Ronni opened the bloody tweezers one more time, and stock them in the blackened wound. The girl, a collie, lying on the table, gritted her teeth with a slight whine. The pain was terrible, cold steel warmed by her blood prodding into her stomach to get a fragment of scorched bulkhead. All the time, the collie tightly closed her eyes, trying in vain to vent out the terrible hurt. A tear rolled down her face.

"There." Wyn pulled the pincers out quickly. At the end of it was a hunk of black metal, shining with the collie's blood. "That was the last one my dear. Let me bandage these wounds up and we'll be done." The Collie, keeping her eyes closed, nodded to the doctor.

Dallas and Maurine walked into the infirmary and looked at Wyn treating the surviving Collie. Dallas saw the pieces of shrapnel on the operating tray near bye, and the blood stains they left on the cloth they sat on. Unless this woman enjoyed the pain in self inflicted injuries, or if she had no feelings to being hurt which would put her in the explosion area on purpose to give an alibi, she was no longer a suspect. Dallas breathed heavily, frustrated in knowing that this was going to be a thorn in the foot of a case.

Finished, the doctor stepped away from the table and the collie slowly sat up, four square white bandages covering wounds on her stomach. The girl opened her eyes, and Wyn half jumped at sight of them. The collie's eyes were of two different colors, one a light pale blue, the other deep brown. "I…I must urge you to take it easy the next few days, my dear. Those wounds will heal on their own, but they may tear further if you over work yourself too much." Wyn handed the collie her jacket, Dallas stepped forward.

"Do you mind if we ask you what happened?" asked Dallas. The Collie got off the table and slipped her jacket on.

"I always thought that introductions came before investigative business, or any kind of busi-ness for that matter." Dallas noticed the same accent in her voice that she saw in Conner. She wondered. "First, I am Dr. Pandora Freelancer. You might have know that I work at the Cornerian Institute of Space Travel Technology. I wasn't on the original team which developed the Gravity Drive system, but I know as much as anyone else on it. Now, I guess there are only a few who know anything about that system. Anyway, you had questions to ask me, Captain?"

"Yes. What happened over there. What caused that explosion?"

"A bomb."

"It was a bomb?"

"Yes, yes, quite. You see, someone set a fire in the forward section of the transport ship, a sensory equipment room if I recall. The ship's commander hustled all of the people into the aft of the ship in engineering so the fire gases could have time to vent outside before they got to us. Someone had set a bomb in the engineering section, set to kill everyone in the room while destroying the engine core. The bomb itself wasn't what tore the ship apart like it did, that was the results of the engine going critical because of the bombs damage. I was close enough to the bomb to get these injuries, but I was able to remain calm enough to get out safely before the engine evaporated itself. I made my way to the front of the ship where I stayed until you all came along. Thank you, by the way." Pandora let out a deep heart warming smile on her face, showing gratitude through expression.

Dallas maintained a constant frown as she listened to Pandora's story, and soon after. When Pandora finished, she shook her head. "There were almost a hundred soldiers on board that ship, all of them trained to remain focused even if the floors of a space ship were pulling themselves apart right under their heels. Trained to remain calm even when they're at the end of an execution line while they watch their buddies get shot down without mercy, working their way up to them. Now, you're telling me that these boys were all panicked when you were remaining calm enough to get out. Pardon me, Ms. Freelancer, but I find that exceedingly difficult to believe."

"If you don't mind me saying so, I have doubts as well," said Maurine. "Our engine cores are built with tough reinforced composite shields, resistant to a nuclear blast. I'm pretty sure it can remain in sync from a typical house hold pipe bomb, or any kind of conventional bomb."

Pandora nodded, understanding their thinking even though she could pull out flaws in their logic, a few that she exploited to show them the flip side to the coin. "That is true, my friends, all of it is. However, Captain Dallas, most of the soldiers you speak of were standing next to where the bomb was when it went off. Most of the inexperienced and younger ones were the people to survive that blast and watch their commanders and influencing heroes die in fire. When that happens, they began to grow a little hysterical. As for the engine core, the ship we traveled on was an old style solid fuel transport which was not equipped with the shielding you are referring to. The bomb must have used its heat to ignite the fuel which caused the engine core to explode."

Pandora looked at Dallas and Maurine and saw they were not looking on her well, both very skeptical. She giggled with her breath and shook her head, a crooked smile on her maw. "Look, I am only giving you the best scientific evaluation from what I have seen with my own eyes. If you don't like what I have said, then that is your problem. If you don't believe it, then go take a look for yourself. It is just that these half wit commanders which Corneria is putting on these ships have not a brain cell to share between them. It is ridiculous that they are persisting to do so, when the ones to suffer because of their incompetence is us, the common working civilians. Quite frankly, I am growing sick of it. Whoever though of ferrying all hands to one room while there was a fire on board. If you ask me, putting us all in escape pods would have been more logical."

She smiled more deeply when she was finished. Dallas stared at her for a moment, contemplating her words. It was possible that Pandora was speaking truthfully about home, a lot of the leaders back home being incapable in their duties. As for what happened on the transport…

"Thank you Dr. Freelancer. I'll take a look into your claims about what happened on that ship. As for our leaders back home, that is for the people to decide. That is all, doctor. Thank you." Pandora nodded to them and quickly walked out of the sickbay. Wyn and the nurse assisting him also left and Dallas and Maurine were left alone.

"Is it just me, or is that woman as icy as a dead man stuck in ten feet of ice?"

"Oh, she's a lot colder then that?" answered Dallas. "She didn't even give a damn about any of the people lost on that ship. I could see that in those bizarre eyes of hers. Even with her injuries, I don't trust her alibi. Did you sense anything?"

"Not a lick," he answered. "I wasn't getting anything from her. She might be a telepath able to block my readings. Who knows, Cap'n."

"I want you to assign a security team to keep watch on her at all times while she's on board. Also, get word to Grant and fill him in on the doctor's story. Then have him send orders to the team on the transport to search for everything which might support or discredit what she has told us. I want answers on this Chief. Someone put a big iron screw right into our brain pan while we weren't looking, and I want to spike that piece of filth responsible for it."

Maurine nodded to her, agreeing with her point. Dallas could see that sorrow in his eyes, knowing that his thoughts were not entirely towards her words. Dallas followed his gaze into the isolation lab and at once understood. Laying there was Kesh, in a deep coma, an air mask attached to her face. Never had Maurine seen Kesh in such peace and such chaos all at once. She was unmoving, quiet as a mouse, so lovely even in her situation. Yet, Maurine knew that on the inside, inside her mind, Kesh was fighting a war which was more brutal then anything that could be caused by Andross out here. A tear began to form at Maurine's eye, a sign of obvious love which Dallas spotted. She placed her hand on his shoulder.

"Don't worry about Kesh," she said softly and with comfort. "She'll be fine. Right now I need you to concentrate on your work."

Maurine wiped the tear away and nodded to her. She smiled at him and they both left together. Behind them, Kesh, lying on the table. Her eye began to twitch.

****

General Pepper had seen the video enough times to memorize the exact times where certain events happened. He had watched Star Wolf nearly be destroyed by the black wolf, whoever he was, over eighteen times now. He had kept the video image to himself for long enough, now it was time to show it to a few people who would find it most invigorating to watch. There were five people who were stuck here on Corneria who would be extremely interested.

The lounge door was left open, and Pepper could hear the inhabitants inside clearly talking among themselves. Pepper walked in and the four members of Star Fox all stood up to greet him. Fara Phoenix was also there, sitting next to Fox while they were talking. Also present were friends of theirs, Bill Grey and Katt Monroe. Pepper smiled at seeing all of them in the same room. This was good, better that they were all here to see this.

"Hello General," said Bill.

"Commander. How is your arm Peppy?"

The old hare looked down into his arm and sighed. "Well, General, it bites at me a few times, but I think I'll be up and ready in about a month." Pepper nodded to him saying that he was glad. He then noticed Fox scratch his cheek, a contemplative look in his eyes.

The old mastiff entered the room and shut the doors behind him, a big sly grin on his maw. All of them were wondering what he was so happy about. "I have something to show you people," said Pepper. "I think that all of you will find this video here interesting. Especially a certain few of you will find it very…entertaining."

Pepper showed the seven people the video of the black wolf attacking and beating Star Wolf in a four on one fist fight. All of them enjoyed the sight of this, their worst enemy being shown that they were not as strong as they thought they were by one complete stranger. However, they all got some fear of the black while they were enjoying watching the video. Seeing the powerful creature, night black fur with white patches on his arm and in his long hair, and the glowing blue eyes, all of it tear Wolf and his minions apart like that. The thought of someone this powerful made them all glad he was probably on their side. Katt felt herself being attracted to the extremely handsome black. Bill was just enjoying watching him ram his fists into Leon like he was a hanging sack of sand, a sack that bleeds. Never had Bill ever thought that he would enjoy seeing Leon's face. Peppy and Fox were slightly disappointed that nothing happened to Pigma, but it seldom does either.

Pepper stopped the video after Pigma backed away from being beaten down. The general turned to the people inside, almost all of which had questions. "Who is he?" asked Fox at once.

"I wish I knew," said Pepper. "Hell, I don't even know if he's still alive. This happened on the Tooth and Claw just before it was destroyed. Whether our possible friend here got off of the ship in one piece, we don't know. But I would like to find out. However, we have to assume that whoever this guy is, he's damn good at remaining anonymous from people. He might show up, and if he does, I want you all to keep your eyes open for this guy while you're out there. Let's see if he comes to us." Pepper smiled to them all as he began to leave. "Please feel free to watch this video as much as you want, to pull out anything you might think useful." Pepper left the room. At once, Bill and Falco began to watch the video again, probably just to watch Leon get nailed.

No one except Fara noticed Fox as he quickly left the room after General Pepper. Fara herself left quickly after her love.

"General!" called Fox, getting Pepper's attention before the elevator doors closed. "I've been meaning to ask, did you or any of the military counsel receive some sort of request from Captain Dallas on SunHawk?"

"Actually, Fox, the last time I talked to Alison Dallas was when I gave her the command of SunHawk almost a month ago. Why, were you expecting something?"

It took a moment for Fox to answer, but when he did. "No. No, sir, I was just wondering. Thank you General." Pepper nodded to him and let the elevator doors close.

Fox sighed like he had been severely disappointed about a truly vital thing in life. Behind a corner, listening to everything that just happened between Fox and General Pepper, was Fara. She heard all about Fox's inquiry about Alison Dallas. Fara knew about Dallas, and how attractive she was in both physical and mental attributes. When Fara heard Fox ask about Dallas…

Outside was not the only place for a storm.

Chapter III Scope of the Evil Mind

As ordered by Captain Dallas, Maurine had a small team of security guards keep a constant eye on Pandora Freelancer at all times. It was quite obvious that the girl was vastly not trusted, both in the validity in her story about the transport's destruction and what she might do while on board the ship. The security guards did their best to remain inert to Pandora's awareness towards them. Fat chance. Many times Pandora cast glances to the two guards shadowing her, and she smiled wickedly. She knew they were there, but thus far she made no motion to elude them.

As for the duties outside, Dallas waited for word to come in from the search crew in the dead transport. Grant himself had gone out to supervise the damage assessment in trying to find the physical truth in what really happened. They were out there for a solid four hours, and they found little more the nothing useful. Other times, Dallas was checking in to the security team tailing Pandora. The fact that the collie was aware of her followers did not concern Dallas very much. In fact, she welcomed it. She did not believe that Pandora would try anything foolish while she knew that an armed squad of security guards was watching her every move.

The guards followed Pandora into the halls where all of the crew accommodations were located. Not the senior crew or anyone vastly important. The guards were starting to believe that Pandora was just teasing them by leading them across the ship. They kept after her though, even when she began to double back. Seeing that Pandora was heading back their way, the guards backed against the wall to let her pass.

Pandora grinned at seeing this, she tucked her hand into her jacket like she was scratching her bandages. Like she knew, the guards did nothing in response save look her over again. Pandora made her move when she reached them. She pulled her hand out at a flash, a lightning rod in her hands. She rammed the rod into a guards stomach. The guard heaved a breath, all of the air shoved out of him as the electric currents proceeded to cook his insides.

Taken by total surprise, the other guard watched for a minute and then tried to grab for Pandora's lightning rod. Like a blur, Pandora jumped away and grabbed the guards wrist. He looked up into her eyes. Just as he saw in Conner before when he first came on board, Pandora's eyes were glowing. Only her good brown eye glowed into a fierce flaming orange, the other one just remained a milky white covering. The guard practically swallowed his own Adam's apple.

Pandora raised her fist, a grin on her face. "Nighty night, jerk off." The last thing the guard saw was a fist slamming into his eye, then darkness. She let go, the comatose guard dropped to the floor. Still grinning, Pandora knelt down and pulled a phaser out of the guard's holster and slipped it into her own belt. By the time any of them knew about this, her plan will already be going too smooth for them to worry about it any longer.

She walked down the hall, feeling the bulk head on her finger tips as she went. Pandora walked down the hall until she could feel that she was at her intended destination. A door leading to someone's quarters. Confident that she was where she needed to be, Pandora pulled a card-key connected by wire to a small hand-held digital device. She placed the card into the locking slot at the door, and at once began to type commands into her device. Within minutes, the door slid open.

"By the name of Tareck, your people's idea of security is a joke." Pandora slipped into the room and closed the door behind her.

Inside was everything she recognized. A jeweled diamond shaped obelisk on the wall surrounded by a platinum triangle, and a dragon sculpture next to the bed. Pandora stood in the middle of the room for a moment, looking around at the things which, at one time, she too held important. She walked over to the obelisk and touched its glassy surface. "All right brother Shyer, whoever you are, where are you keeping your useful belongings now." Pandora cracked her knuckles, went to a dresser, and pulled out the top drawer.

****

Rain can fall hard on Corneria, but it falls more effective during the night. People sleep in the comfort of their homes away from the harsh weather, some of them use the rainfall to help them sleep, for others there sleep is disturbed. There are not many people who are found walking outside during a stormy night. They did venture out into the rain when they found they had little choice but to do so. In this case, Conner walked carefully through the rain soaked streets to get to a direly important destination.

Around him were the seemingly abandoned buildings, dark and rundown, all of them. However, Conner could feel the souls living inside them, living in poverty. At least they had shelter, now warmth and food. Conner wanted to help, but he had nothing to give which he could afford to part with. He sighed at seeing a small child run across the road before him into a new building. A child wearing tattered rags and thin flesh. As stated in the texts of Tareck Ramah, no society is truly evolved until the shed the stench of poverty and a need for violence. Conner held nothing but pity for these people as a collective. It was individual souls such as Captain Dallas which he respected.

It was quite obvious that part of the reason which Conner was sent to the Lylat system was to help Dallas and her crew on SunHawk. If it were not, then the ethereal jump orb would never have taken him to the SunHawk in the first place. Despite this, there had to be something else to him being here, and Conner knew only one person to go to if he wanted to find it.

He stopped in the middle of the street and looked on. This rundown old suburb ended here. Beyond this was nothing but fields and forests. Conner held his hand out in front of him, and opened it. In his palm was a ruby, cleanly cut into a flat rectangular shape, resting in his palm. Conner began to turn in place, counterclockwise to the buildings, keeping his eye on the gem as he did so. He almost did an about face before he got the results he wanted.

The ruby began to glow a fierce blood red and whined in a musical tone. Conner looked forward to where his hand was pointing at, where the jewel was leading him. A broken old shack with a faint candle light inside. He had found his destination. He tucked the ruby away in his pouch, and covered the Shyer badge with his sash, concealing it from view.

No answer came at first when Conner knocked on the front door. He knocked again, and a third time until he heard a rustling sound from the inside. He stepped away from the door and waited until it opened. An old woman dog, gray and white hair, tired eyes, and an old face appeared at the door. She looked up into the face of the black wolf before, and squinted in suspicion.

"May I help you with something?" asked the old dog.

Conner smiled. "Qein chi florien mecdeth?" The old woman's eyes went wide at the sound of her native tongue being spoken. She pulled out a short sword quickly, ready to defend herself, her eyes glowing a bright white light. Conner uncovered the badge of Shyer, and smiled. "By the name of Tareck and the people of the Catholaie Caste, I do require your assistance."

The old woman nodded to him, and returned her sword to its hidden scabbard. "Catholaie son, you are welcome here. I drew on you in case you were sent by the Executors, trying to pull me away from my home. Our home is a shadow now, we have to settle down somewhere." She paused for a moment, looking into his peaceful eyes. "The Executor battle fleet? Have you seen it?"

Conner shook his head. "I have seen nothing belonging to Shyer ever since I stepped through the gateway. You are the first of our people I have seen ever since then. I must ask, Reverend Mother, do you know the reason for my being sent here?"

"Come inside, my son, out of the cold. I will tell you all that I know."

Conner followed the old former Catholaie sister into her home. There, Conner sat across from the old woman at a Shyer ritual table, a single candle burning in the center. The old woman sat down to, and they began to speak. "My son, I did know that one of our own has entered this system within the past few days. I can see now that that person was you. You are right in your assumption. I know who you are Conner Seacore. You have the instincts and abilities of both the Executor and the Catholaie. You would not have been sent here without a purpose greater then serving these people in their petty conflicts. I know what that purpose is. We are not the only Shyer in this system."

"Who else is there. Is it me finding our brethren which is the reason I have been sent here. I am not believing that."

"You are wise not to. There is so much more to it. This system is in so much danger from our people, and here is why. The vermin of our people is here, Conner Seacore. The one who brought fire and sadness to our world, and the one who has gone into the place where the mind does not return whole. She is here."

Conner half choked on his own saliva, so much surprise and horror was running through his neurons that he could not think objectively. After he regained his ability to talk, he was talking in a icy voice of hate. "Pandora. She is here? In the name of Tareck, she is here?"

The old woman shook her head, shrinking away and crossing the air in religious fashion from the sound of a sinful name. "Still there is more, my son. You must keep this knowledge about the betrayer being here from the Executors should they come here. You know what will happen should they discover the truth. The Executors are not above destroying a world they believe the wench to be on if they believe it necessary for the survival of our people and others as well. If they find out that she is here then they will send the entire fleet of our ships here to try and retrieve her. If they find that is impossible, or even improbable, then you know what they will do.

"Secondly, the woman knows that there are other Shyer in the system, namely yourself. She will be drawn to those positions to get her hands on our technology. From what she has done in the past, you know how dangerous she is if she has our power in her hands."

"Good lord. Thank you, mother, I know have my answer. Now I must hurry if I am to reach her in time before she can cause any damage to those who cannot defend themselves accordingly."

"So you do know where she is?"

"I know precisely where she is. May God help us all if she is successful in her intentions." Conner ran out the door as fast as he could, and he ran out of the town towards the star port even faster then even he believed he could go. Behind him, the old woman shook her head, still having not told him the true reason for being here.

****

It did not take long for the SunHawk crew to figure out that things have gone wrong. When Dallas tried to get word from the security detail watching Pandora, they failed to respond. When this happened, Dallas knew that Pandora had made her move. They two guards, one dead and another unconscious, were found in the corridors outside general living quarters. Dallas knew that Conner's quarters was close to here, she decided to check there first.

As she had predicted, Dallas found that the door to Conner's quarters was left wide open, and the insides have been totally ransacked. Dallas saw that the dresser contents were torn apart. The bed was ravaged, some of the sheeting was torn up. The dragon statue was knocked on the floor, but remained intact. Whatever it was that Pandora stole from here, Dallas knew it had to be dangerous in her hands. She left the room and joined Maurine outside.

"I want a level five security alert on this ship as of right now. If it doesn't have a military clearance I want it arrested and detained upon confirmation of sighting. All security guard teams are to be placed on duty and on full alert. Is that understood?"

"Perfectly, sir," answered Maurine.

"Good. Go and make it happen then." Maurine left, and Dallas watched a medical team take the dead body away and the injured guard to the infirmary.

It was no wonder that Dallas was seething with total anger right now. There was an already proven to be dangerous collie running amok on her ship without a leash, ready to cause trouble wherever she could. Plus, Dallas had no information on what all belonged to Conner, so there was no way of telling what Pandora stole from him. At least, not until she used it if that was her plan, which Dallas deeply hoped was untrue.

****

A young buck kept his eyes on the console at all times during the confusion. Sparky had instructed him to remain focused as best he could. Easier said then done with security guard traffic coming through here every two minutes. Other then that, the gravity drive core room was relatively silent. The buck preferred it that way, a silent environment to work in. Since the science crew who were scheduled to work with them on improving the gravity drive efficiency were all dead, and one of them was being hunted by security, no work was set for the day.

However, Sparky had other plans for them. He always had an idea to help squeeze another ounce of energy out of the main systems and implement it into the drive. The gravity drive was Sparky's first love on the ship, and he would do anything to keep it safe. Even against impossible odds.

"Hello everybody!"

All of the engineering crew looked up, startled looks on their faces. A collie stood in the main doorway grinning at all of them. In one hand she held a phaser, in the other was a small metal sphere which she tossed into the engine room. The smoke bomb detonated with awesome precision, flooding the entire room with gas in a microsecond. At once, Pandora could hear the choking and gagging from the people inside the room. She was immune to the effects of the gas, leaving her free to go about her business. As Pandora walked through the gas to where she last saw the engine maintenance console, she listened with glee as the bodies of the gas victims dropped to the floor.

"Y' all just go to sleep now, and let aunty Pandora go about her business." Pandora found the console and playfully touched the controls on it, starting to sing to herself as she went on to work.

What a fun life of chaos this is.

****

The bridge was silent as a ghost town during the hunt. Everyone was tense in knowing about Pandora, how easy it was for her to dispatch the guards tailing her, and then disappear without a trace. They knew she was dangerous, and no one knew what she was planning next. That coupled with the fact that she was capable of anything was what terrified the crew the most. Quite frankly, it was scaring the piss out of Dallas as well. Even while she was waiting for word to come in from.

She has already made one move by terminating the internal sensors. There was no way to track her while she was on board, and there was no way in telling what she was doing. No way to tell if she was murdering someone just like she murdered that security guard. Never since the battle at Katina has Dallas felt so helpless. All she could do was wait, and react.

"Maurine to Captain Dallas."

"Go ahead chief."

"Captain, something strange is going on in engineering. All the doors inside are locked and no one is answering our calls."

"Thank you chief. Dallas to Sparky, come in please." No response. Dallas repeated her call, and again there was no answer to it. She asked for a video feed into the engine room, only to find out that all but one of the visual sensors were inoperative, the only one remaining was not responding.

"All right. I've had enough of this merry-go-round from hell. Try and get the eradication pulse emitters in the engine room on line and see if we have control of them."

"Captain, if we flood the room with EP radiation we'll kill everyone in there," said the raccoon bridge worker.

"I know. It will be a last resort tool, and we will use it if there is no other way. However, I'll be damned if I let this bitch force me to kill my own crew just to kill her without a fight. Get word to Maurine. Tell him to get confirmation that the intruder is in the engine room. If she's not, don't bother getting the EPE's ready for use. If she is in there, tell him to leave a few guards there and to report back here."

"Captain?"

"What?"

"I don't think he'll need to get confirmation on something we already know." Dallas, not liking the sound in the raccoon's voice, joined him at his station. On its screen was a message to Captain Dallas. It said that the hostages in the engine room would be killed if any attempt to storm the engine room was carried out. Also, on an inset picture frame was a video feed showing the hostages. When Dallas saw Sparky unconscious on the floor, she hatefully began to growl. It then went blank.

"Get Maurine on the line, forget bringing him here. Tell him I want at least two guards posted at every possible exit from the engine room. I want those guards armed to the teeth and armored good enough they just as well be armored cav. I want them there in less then twelve minutes."

"Aye, aye, Captain. Do you still want me to warm up the eradicator pulse?" Slowly, Dallas nodded.

****

Sparky's head was practically splitting, at least that's what it felt like, his headache was so bad. He even found it difficult to open one eye to look around. All of the gas has been cleared out of the room, which at least took away the added weight to the discomfort. He tried to sit up, to no avail. All of his muscles felt like jelly, movement by a single inch caused ache. Sparky stopped moving and began to relax at once. After some time, he could open his eyes and look around.

About seven people were all bound and gagged, including himself, except he was minus the gag. He was being kept separate away from the others for some reason. The rest of the engineering crew were all still unconscious by the effects of the knock out gas. With the pain and lack of energy, Sparky knew it was probably more then just knock out gas. He tried to look around to see his captive, but he had a limited field of vision to use because it was to agonizing to turn his head.

"Don't worry," said Pandora, seeing that Sparky was awake. "It's just a nerve and muscle inhibitor, really nothing to worry about. You should be able to move without screaming in about seventeen hours from now. Really is a remarkable chemical. Not lethal in the slightest, but it excels at rendering victims immobile and helpless. You can also mix its effects with other agents as well, as you might have guessed with my sleep inhibitor. With this stuff, you never have to worry about retaliation from hostages and other captives, just the idiots who would be stupid enough to throw their lives away needlessly." Sparky looked up and saw Pandora standing over him. "Catch my meaning?" She snickered and backed away from him, standing in front of the gravity core.

Sparky watched her place a small metal box on a work desk nearby. After this, she opened a panel at the base of the core and began to probe inside it with a wire search tool. Sparky could only watch as the collie dug deeper into the system. She even poked her head into it trying to get a more clean view of the data wiring.

"In Tareck's name, this system is primitive. I'd rather be playing a Shyer field ball game on a wooden platform then mess with this bee hive. But, I can't let you people beat me to what rightfully belongs to me."

"What do you mean?" asked Sparky. "What are you planning?"

"Oh nothing really. Just to get rid of this system so it can't be used by you Lylat worms. You people truly are unevolved aren't you? You cannot understand the power which you are screwing with here. The ability to fold space, travel without moving in a sense. The ability to actually create a quantum singularity, a black hole. With a few modifications on this thing, you can travel through time. My dream. My ultimate goal. To travel through time. To see the past. The past of my own people, and how they came to be. To travel ahead and meet my kin after a thousand and one years. And also," she began to get angry, "to take back what rightfully belongs to me. I pity the poor sucker who tries to get in my way."

"Time travel? Not likely. This ship can't break the barriers of light, which what is needed for you to successfully travel through time. It can only work around it. You're wasting your time here, missy."

"Am I? What would you know about time being wasted? All you ever do is skulk around in here and dream about the day you get to use this scrap pile turned into something pretty to look at. Yet, with this, I could set the way to my dream very easily. Too bad. But still, I will be taking control of time for myself. Not even God can do that. Time is the only thing which does not answer to a single entity, form, or being in all of existence. It is the ultimate free will. However, it is set by destiny to be placed under my boot. That was set a long time ago."

"You know something? You're crazy. Time travel isn't just something you can screw with blindly. If you can compose a way to use it, then you have to be careful. You just can't go back and start changing the past without having serious consequences afterward."

Pandora stared at Sparky, her dual colored eyes narrowing at him. Sparky, always proven to be hardened in bad situations, found himself shivering at her gaze. He looked away from here, that one ugly part in her eyes overwhelming her physical beauty.

"I have some very helpful advice for you old one," she growled. Pandora gently walked over and jammed her foot into his groin. Sparky winced in pain, growling violently because of her action. "Try keeping your mouth shut unless you know what the hell you're talking about. You don't know spit about time travel, and you won't find out in the limited remains of your lifetime. I've studied it my entire life, and I have came closer then you can possibly imagine to making it work for real. That is why I cannot allow this ship to go on living. Not with this device running smoothly on board. This technology is mine to integrate myself. I cannot allow you to keep the potential of time travel. Sorry about this." She removed her foot from Sparky and looked down at him, pondering for a moment. He looked up back at her, almost able to see her reflection in her eyes.

For a small time, he laughed at amusement, knowing something which could be used. "You just don't know as much as you think you do. You need a specific set of security codes in order to enable a singularity jump through the core. Only I and Captain Dallas hold those codes. Sorry, but you're up a white water creek without a boat. Poor you." Smiling, Pandora knelt down next to him. She took hold of his shirt collar and pulled him up so his face was up close to hers. Their visions were locked together, neither one able to take their look away from the other. It was Pandora who held control of it. Sparky shuddered as he felt her fingers lightly brush his cheek in a loving manner, but then it became soothing to him.

"Webster Herrick, rank of Lieutenant in the Cornerian military, degree in engineering science. You've been in this service for nearly twenty five years, and you are responsible for or were involved in the conceptions of over twenty-nine different engine designs, electrical systems, anything which make these ships of yours run more smoothly and with greater efficiency. You are currently unmarried, you have no family, and you have no children. No one to go home to. Does that trouble you at all? Knowing that you a relatively alone in the universe?"

Sparky did not answer at first. He simply stared at her, suddenly caught by her lavishly beautiful complexion, and tremendous figure. The skimpy top which she wore, a top piece to a bathing suit, made him swallow. After a while, he did get up to answering. "I…I have lots of friends. Loneliness is something I really don't think about these days. And I never regret having never been married. It was my choice in life."

"Yes, but aren't you the least bit curious at what you have missed in life. The feelings of having someone to return home to, to hold in your arms when you need comfort, to grow old with, to love in general in both sexual and emotional ways. You mean to tell me that you can look back on your life and you don't think your life would have been happier if you would have chosen this path? You honestly have no regrets?"

"That's what I'm saying."

For a long moment, Pandora regarded him with interest. She seemed to dig into his mind with those eyes of hers, pushing at his subconscious mind until she got to the neurological destination she wanted. It was here which Sparky started to feel strange, unnatural in spite of himself. It was a feeling which was new, and rather frightening. Yet, it was also pleasing, pleasurable.

"Tell me something," whispered Pandora into his ear. "When you look at me, do you like what you see?"

No answer came for a moment. "Well…you are a very attractive, if that is what you mean."

"Yes. Attractive as in sexy, or attractive as in all aspects including beauty of the mind?"

"That doesn't matter."

"I doesn't? Since when do you know what matters?" Pandora, never removing her smile, took his hand and moved it to her chest, right over her heart, almost touching her breast. Sparky could feel the soft but quickened beating of her heart. He shuddered at this feeling, excitement and tension going strait to his nerves.

Her voice became seductive. "That, what you are feeling right now my friend, is what you have missed. I used to have it, and I miss it very much. I want that feeling back. I think we have both been alone for too long. You know, I can give you all of that which you have missed. I can love you, and we can be together. All you have to do is say that you want to come with me."

"That I want to come with you?" repeated Sparky, his voice in almost hypnotism.

"That's right," said Pandora, aflame with glee at him. "Say that you want to go with Madam Pandora across the veils of time and space. There, she can be my wife and lover for all time, we'll grow old together, maybe have children. Say that you want that life. Say that you want me, and it will be done. Say it." Without thinking, Pandora's tongue shot out and nicked his nose, she giggled playfully.

Pandora slowly leaned forward, Sparky's eyes went wide, knowing what was coming. Inch by inch, their faces came closer together until their lips touched. A searing wave of pleasure racked through him, brought on by the warmth of the kiss. For only the briefest of seconds, Sparky tried to fight it, but then stopped, excepting the small moment of joy. For a moment, he thought the kiss would actually burn him. Both it, and her, were hot.

After a time, Pandora took her face away and looked at him coolly. He could only smile at her, now happy for even the briefest of periods. This collie surely knew how to make men happy. "That was just a small fragment of what could be yours," she whispered. "Say you want all of it, then you and I will leave this ship while it is warped to some dimension where it will stay. We'll be free to develop a way to travel freely through time. Just say you want to go with me, and give me the security code, and you'll have it."

After hearing her request for the codes, Sparky's complexion turned to a deep frown. Angrily, he slowly shook his head despite the pain in his neck. "No," he breathed.

"No?" asked Pandora, confused at this. "No? What do you mean 'no'? I am offering everything to you old-timer. I am giving you my body for a small price from you, and the best opportunity for power you could possibly imagine. What do you mean 'no'?"

"You didn't care about any of that," whined Sparky. He spat down onto her foot. She followed it, and looked back to him, now obviously angry. "All you wanted were the security codes to enable a jump. Sorry, sister, but you're gonna have to get everything you want yourself." He gave her a great beaming smile, his best gesture to make to make another being look foolish.

For a small moment, Pandora growled with fury. Then she calmed again, and gave him a friendly smile. "Your choice," she whispered. "Your loss. You can only choose the path you want." She started to get up, but then glanced at him again. With a flash movement, Pandora grabbed hold of Sparky's crewcut hair and rammed the back of his head into a pipe. He fell to the side after she let him go, the bleeding pain on his head taking a small but noticeable toll. He looked hatefully into her eyes, swearing that if he was able to move he would kill her. "That was for disrespect. Spitting on me was vastly unnecessary."

Pandora turned around, ready to go back to work. Sparky only grumbled, glaring at her as she walked away. Occasionally she would look back at him and smile evilly just for the joy of agonizing him.

****

Almost nothing could be done except look into scenarios on what to do and all of the different consequences which came with them. All of them ended in the same outcome. Pandora saw them coming, killed all the hostages, and was either captured or the cat and mouse game started all over again. Dallas was totally unwilling to let Sparky be killed by this woman. But if it came to that by using the eradication pulse, Dallas would use it to end any sort of pain that this woman may ever cause again. This was, in all aspects, a total last resort action.

Still, Dallas was not going to just give up and let the woman do whatever. She was going to find away into that engine room and stop Pandora before she caused the worst kind of disaster known. The thought of that woman being in touch with the gravity core was nerve chilling.

"What about this?" asked Dallas, pointing to the schematic of this area of SunHawk. Maurine followed her finger to see her pointing at an access tube leading into the engine room. "If we can get into this tube, we might be able to get in there without Pandora knowing and take her by surprise."

Maurine stopped her quickly. "No, no, no, not that one. That tube has been sealed off at the engineering end. No way to get in there without making noise. You might as well sneak a grand father clock inside a minute before noon. Your better choice is through the ventilation ducts under the floor." Dallas looked closely at the charts, seeing the maze like layout of the air shafts bending and weaving in the unseen parts of the ship. She narrowed her eyes as she looked at the ones which lead to engineering. "Where would they lead?" she asked.

"Right to the underside of the gravity core."

"What?"

"No, listen to me. Sparky told about a single wire in the engine systems underneath the core which you can cut. Once that wire is severed, the core will cease to function in all fields, making it nothing more then a spectacle to Queen Nuts in there. After that, you can sneak in through an access panel in the core's base. It'll be a tight squeeze, but I think you're thin enough to do it."

Dallas smirked at him, slightly annoyed. "Thanks." She watched as Maurine folded the chart up. She followed him to the room where she would enter the vent shafts. There was a problem though, hot air coming from the vent.

"If I go in there I'll be baked alive."

"I know, I've already got word to the environmental controls to terminate the vents. Still, that hot air has been going for over an hour now. It's quite likely that its surfaces are going to be smoldering."

"How long before I can go in there?"

"That's the problem. At least five hours."

"Unacceptable!" screamed Dallas. "In two hours, maybe even one, this ship will probably be taking itself apart at the seams because of that monster. We have to cut that time down."

"We can flood the tubes with cold air which will cut that time down to just over an hour. It'll be cold, but freezing is always said to be better then burning."

"Unless you grew up in a desert like I did," said Dallas. She sighed, realizing that there was little choice in the matter. However, Sparky was the only person on this ship which she has known longer then her duty time here. Thinking of him being held captive by Pandora brought a hurt to her heart. A sick, queasy feeling at the pit of her stomach. "Forty minutes," said Dallas. "You have that time to get it ready for traveling in. If it's not ready by then, then we either find another plan or I take a risk at being roasted. Is that all clear?"

"Perfectly sir," returned Maurine. "We'll have it done." He left quickly for environmental controls. Dallas went to her office with the schematic to study the vent shaft layouts.

****

"You actually think this broad is on our ship?" asked the pilot. He banked hard to keep the speeder shuttle from making unwanted contact with an asteroid.

"Thinking has nothing to do with it," replied Conner. He let loose of the handle which he used to keep from falling out of his seat. After this, Conner slipped on the seat restraints. "I know she is. If we aren't there in time then I fear there will be no SunHawk to return to." He was starting to grow a little angry. "Can't this thing go any faster?"

"Hey, we're already blowing a hundred and ten percent into the thrust engines. The slightest peep more and they'll burn out, which 'll get us nowhere fast." He looked out the window and smiled. "Look on the bright side. It least we're clearing the asteroid field."

Conner only sighed in reply. Each moment knowing that they were not back on SunHawk made him all more fearful to what might have already happened. However, they could only go so fast. Conner grew more angry with himself for leaving the ship in the first place. He had to go search for the more serious objective, but it would have came to him in time. He damned his loss for patience, and desperately hoped it did not cost the lives of his knew friends.

The thrusters clearly scorching themselves from the tremendous power being poured into them, the shuttle bolted out of the asteroid field into space, making its way to the last known position of SunHawk. Last known. Conner swallowed.

****

The grating shielded panel which lead into the vent shafts was spewing out cold air, which did chill the room a great deal. However, Maurine was certain that the vent shafts themselves were still more like lava tubes. He unscrewed the fasteners to the grate, pulled it off, and stuck his arm inside. It did feel slightly warm, but better then forty minutes ago. That time, his hand would never have made it that far without being burned. It was obvious that it was going to get hotter deeper into the shafts. The captain was going to have a fun time squirming through these shafts.

As always, Dallas appeared a couple of minutes early into the room. She saw Maurine looking into the vents with a flash light, inspecting them internally. She waited until he reemerged from the shaft, then she went over and knelt down beside him.

"It's official," said Dallas. "Pandora lied to us on almost everything about how the transport blew up."

"How do you mean?" asked Maurine. "The engine core didn't go critical. All that damage was caused by a really big bomb which was probably placed by her. She put herself in a position where she would both be injured and have a clean chance for escape. Both worked, and she survived her own sabotage escapade. Grant and the damage control team found signs of a fire in the forward parts of the ship, probably set off by arson, namely our friend in there. Then all of the people filed into the engine to follow procedures in a fire situation. A procedure which got them all killed. Then Pandora got away from the bomb area, put herself someplace safe until our people got there. They would see an injured survivor, still a casualty, and she could make up whatever story she liked. End of case, she goes off to do more dirty work."

Maurine thought for a moment, confused about many things. Then, after a bit, he shook his head. "It would involve a lot of planning and thinking to carry out something like that. Especially the part of knowing where to stand in the engine room when that bomb went off. There could not be very many people between her or the bomb sight or the shrapnel would never have reached her. Plus, she would have been very close to the door in order to escape from the gravity force of the hull breach. I find this hard to believe."

"So do I," replied Dallas. "So…do…I." She knelt before the vent shaft entrance for moment, pondering on who, or more appropriately what Pandora actually was. Dallas believed that she was a Shyer, just like Conner was, only an evil, twisted version from what Conner described to her. This proved to Dallas that no matter how evolved and enlightened a race grew to become, they would always have a single sparkle of evil hiding in its midst. "Is it ready?" asked Dallas, finally.

"As ready as it'll ever be in forty minutes." Dallas stood up and took off her uniform jacket and handed it to Maurine. She also removed her eyeglasses and handed them over. "Are you sure you won't need these?" he asked.

"I'm only partially far sighted," she replied while unbuttoning her blouse. "I think I can cut a wire and aim good enough to hit something. I'll go in, cut the wire, and try to get to unlock the doors without her seeing. You guys just get in there and get the hostages out while I keep her busy. After that, wait for my word to hit those EP emitters." Maurine looked at her with a shocked complexion, not believing her to be serious. The look and the glint in the green eyes told him that she was nothing but serious. He nodded to her.

Dallas slipped off her blouse and handed it over, a white sleeveless tank-top as a shirt. Maurine picked up and cocked a phaser pistol and handed it to her, which Dallas set on the edge of the vent shaft. "Are you sure you don't want mine?" asked Maurine, unbuckling his heavy phaser. She shook her head no as she fitted a headset on, carefully placing the ear-piece and adjusting the microphone accordingly. Maurine also handed her a wire cutter which she tucked into her belt.

"Be careful Captain," said Dallas. "Even from here I can feel that woman's insanity like a plague. She's probably just as capable of anything." Dallas nodded to him.

She was now set to go. Dallas stood up and poked her head into the shaft. The air flow had stopped, the vents in this area were all terminated. It was yet to be seen whether Pandora would notice it or not. That wasn't Dallas's worry right now. Her worry was getting there before Pandora carried out her plans. Dallas pushed with her foot, and she slid easily into the shaft.

"Seal this vent behind me!" she called back. Maurine picked the grate up, put it back into place, and began to screw it in. Through the grate, he watched Captain Dallas crawl through the tube, the dust off the walls being collected into her tail.

"Some people can handle anything," he whispered to himself.

****

For the last hour, all Sparky did was watch helplessly as Pandora went on to tamper with the gravity drive. He watched her pull out wiring, attach leads, cross circuits and otherwise make a total mess of his system. Yet his body was still as useful as an iron weight. All he could do was lay there and watch. He did try to make small conversation with Pandora, both in trying to know and understand her and slow her down. It worked, partly. However, for every entrance of talk, Sparky would acquire another bruise at her hands. Sparky's old self could not take abuse like this for very long.

"May I ask you something?" he asked nervously.

"I don't know," replied Pandora. "I think you can, you've been talking to me endlessly for the past hour. Try and ask your question if you must."

"What exactly are you doing with the gravity drive core? You can't initiate a jump without the security codes, as I said already. If you are planning to steel this ship by use of jumping out, you're going to have a bear of a time in cracking them." Pandora could feel his smugness, slightly amused by it.

"You actually believe that I went through all of this without some sort of planning, don't you? You don't know anything about me, so why do you insist on this pointless chitchat? All you understand is how to work an engine and how to be a soldier. Your scope of range is so limited, your perception of a soul is only with that of life. You have no idea how small you truly are."

She stopped, and smiled evilly. "If you must know, I have no interest in stealing this ship or even this little core of yours. I am not going to just blow it up, which would cause effects even on Venom by the way, it is quite unlikely that Andross would survive the blast. No, I have something else in mind.

"You see, this core, through the appropriate calibrations and modifications, can jump across dimensional boundaries as well. That is what I am doing here. This ship will jump across the dimensional veil, and upon arriving, the core will be disabled permanently. No way to come back, sorry. I'll keep the nature of that dimension a surprise for you, but I can guarantee that you will not like it. As far as the codes to enable the jump, I'll get them. Even if I have to hack into your computer system and rip them out, I will get them." Pandora shrugged her shoulders, smiled, and went back to working on the core.

"I do understand one thing," snapped Sparky. "That you preach that your species is an enlightened and evolved race, seeing the light of universal knowledge. However, you are a true contradiction to your words. Clearly, you have lost your mind. Only an insane person would consider something like that. You certainly are not like our friend Conner, a kind soul in all as…" Upon hearing the name of Conner, Pandora reared her head.

Sparky's talk was cut off. Pandora darted across the engine room and grabbed hold of his throat, and hoisted him into the air. He looked down into her orange glowing eye, and grew afraid.

"What was that name!" she screamed, slapping him in the face. "Conner did you say? Come one! Come all! Speak up, damn you!" Sparky was fighting to get air, his arms unable to do anything except hang at his sides. Pandora was persistent, refusing to give him relief until she got what she wanted. Sparky nodded to her. "It was Conner?" Another nod. She dropped him carelessly, and smiled wickedly. "Brother Shyer? Yes." She walked away slowly, thoughts of all kinds racing through her mind. After those thoughts, she looked back at Sparky. He was coughing, gasping and fighting for the air he lost. She chuckled and went on with her own small talk.

"You see, Andross has the correct idea, but the wrong means of doing it. Biological warfare is so small time compared to what I am locking on for the future. The ability to splice genes and create super strains of the most deadliest viral infectionists in the universe is insignificant compared to the ability to manipulate the river of time, to harness the power of quantum power. You understand that can't you. You can kill a person by destroying his cellular matrix with a bacterial strain, but that is no where near as efficient as going backward in time and slaughtering his ancestral family. None existence all out is a lot more clean then a dead sick person."

Sparky was now more afraid of her then ever. "You're insane," he breathed. "You are insane." She only smiled at him, getting off from the vibes of fear she was smelling.

"Your probably right on that. But you know what they say. It's my mental integrity. I should be able to do with it whatever I want to." Pandora turned around and went back to working. Before she started, she input a command in the computer. At once after the command, music started to fill the engine room. An old Cornerian opera melody, soft and slow tone to it, almost as seductive as it was soothing. Pandora closed her eyes and listened, taking a moment to feel at peace before she went on to work.

Chapter IV Dancing Madness

What Maurine said was true. These shafts were like long ran exhaust pipes with their heat. The sweat poured off Dallas's brow very cleanly. The metal surfaces of the ducts were only a few degrees below the point where they would begin to burn her skin. Even on the deserts of Titania where she was raised, Dallas could not remember heat like this. Yet, this was her grounds. Having been raised on a hostile environment like Titania, Dallas was used to being in a hell hole.

She crawled along the shaft, keeping low as she could away from the hot air at the top surface. This did almost nothing to cool her down. With every crawl, Dallas swore to herself silently. She now knew why the ship corridors were so hot over the days. Someone pouring energy into the thermal heaters making the entire ship an oven. Nothing else could get the ship that hot. Dallas made a mental note to talk to whoever was responsible for this.

Her thoughts were interrupted by Maurine's voice through her com-link. "At your next intersection take a right. Another fifty meters, up one deck on a ladder, and you'll get to a second shaft. Take it for thirty meters and you are practically there."

Dallas shook her head. "You know, between this heat, your constant surprise calls, and the thought of Pandora, I won't be surprised if I come out of this with a less stable state of mind."

"I'm sorry, Captain. I'm just keeping you updated. I might also give you a warning. When you get to the bottom of that first access ladder it would a good idea to stop transmitting and just to listen. You'll be passed through a vent shaft that goes strait through the engine room at the ceiling. If you are too loud, Pandora might hear you. Oh, I must also say that you have another twenty minutes in those shafts before you start running out of air."

"Oh, great." Dallas growled in anger at this news. She kept crawling through the shaft, keeping Maurine's instructions and his warning in mind. "If I don't make it go ahead and turn the air on. I should be out by then."

"Captain, whoever deigned and built this ship didn't give mind to its environmental systems. The vent shafts only have three settings. Normal, very hot, or very cold. Normal is inoperative right now, so if I turn on the air shafts you'll either freeze to death or you'll burn to death."

"I'd rather do any two of those then be asphyxiated, thank you much. Twenty-two minutes, turn those air machines back on. Even if I am still in here."

"Yes sir."

She found the intersection Maurine spoke of and took a right, pushing her way around the corner. She could feel the air growing a little more cool. This might be do to the dying air, not as much to carry the heat through the vents. Dallas tried to move more quickly, buying time to take when she needed it. She finished turning the corner and looked forward. She could not see what was fifty meters ahead, not even signs of the ladder well that was supposed to be there. She went on to crawl forward, inch by inch. Some of the metal plates were bent out of shape and their seems were busted, creating sharp edges to crawl over. Dallas winced in pain as the protruding edge cut her pants and scratched against her leg. Nothing real serious, certainly nothing to slow her down. She went on.

It did not take long for Dallas to get to the ladder well. She remembered the instructions from Maurine to climb one deck to get to the shafts leading through engineering. That was her danger point. That shaft went strait through engineering, up high in the corner. It was very likely that Pandora would be able to hear her in that shaft, and Dallas would be a sitting duck. Yet, it was better to take the risk then let Pandora cause chaos on her ship. Dallas crawled out of the shaft and got onto the ladder, beginning to climb. She ascended the ladder quickly and found the new shaft and climbed into it.

Dallas could now hear the Cornerian opera through the shaft. It confused her, but only for a moment when she put it away. "I'm in the new shaft," she said into her mike. "Now where."

"Next left, take it. After that is the danger zone."

"Yeah, yeah. Is it possible that she'll be able to hear me even if I don't talk?"

"Not unless you make a noise louder then that crap she's got playing. However, you might want to pray she doesn't notice the shaft panels wiggle underneath you as you cross. I don't think she'll be paying attention to the ceiling, but you can never tell what she is thinking. Hell, I can't even do that."

Dallas made no response. She kept crawling, finding the turn at once. She went in and started to inch her way as quietly as possible this way forward. The music was loud enough to make Dallas's nerves quake. She crept silently to a vent grating which fed air into the engine room. It was located about half way between the shaft. Dallas slid to it, remaining deathly silent as she went. As if she needed to. The music was loud enough to filter out any noises. She got to the grating and looked through it.

At once, she spotted Pandora. The collie was standing right away from the core. She was standing there, not doing anything. Dallas could see that her eyes were closed, perhaps taking a moment in the music and not working. She could also see that the gravity core has been tampered with. Wires were pulled out by the bundles from inside, and Dallas was unsure if she would be able to disengage the system now, but would have to wait and see when she got there. She saw Sparky, sitting in a corner like an old sack, immobilized by some means. All of the other engineers were piled up away from Sparky, they were still unconscious. Dallas had seen enough of the engine room. She pushed on.

Dallas almost choked when the panel underneath her creaked. She waited there for a moment, seeing what would occur because of it. After a few minutes, Dallas heard nothing and felt nothing. Pandora did not notice the noise, probably because she was too enthralled in the music.

Dallas reached the end of and swiftly pulled herself out of it. She slipped and felt herself begin to fall. Dallas quickly took hold of the second ladder, grabbing it just in time to keep herself from falling down the well. She looked down to see that it dropped over seventeen decks strait down. She swallowed nervously and began to descend. "I swear that if I get out of this alive, I'll take a long, quiet vacation. Boat trip on Aquas. Hike the Cornerian forests. Anything. Even if I have to visit Dad on Titania." She stepped down, step by step, until she got to the next vent shaft. It took time for her to climb in, she almost fell again, but she did it.

At once, Dallas saw the base of the core. With a smile, she started to crawl towards it. She was almost home free, where the real battle would take place.

****

It was truly deranged. Pandora danced around the core, madness in her eyes, stepping to the music at each step. Sparky thought he had seen insanity once before, once during his academy days. Now, he was looking at true madness. Pandora was graceful and beautiful in her dancing. Every step was in tone with the music, and every movement was angelic. However, Sparky was not at all touched by the dancing. To him, it was the ballet which told him that he was soon going to die.

Pandora stopped dancing, and looked at the core crystal, slowly rotating in its center. She wolfishly grinned, bearing her sharp white teeth with glee. It was only a few more amounts of work to be done, then all that would was required was getting the codes. She stretched her arms, and glanced at Sparky. "Well, thanks a lot old dog. You were a pleasant one to talk to you know that. I'd like to see you some time in the future, but that won't happen, will it? Pity."

"Don't hold your breath," spat Sparky, refusing to look at her. Pandora looked at him for a moment, expressionless. She just shrugged, pulled out a phaser pistol, and aimed it at Sparky. Slowly, she began to depress the trigger. Sparky shut her eyes and looked away.

"I really wouldn't do that if I were you." Pandora turned around to the new voice. Dallas stood there, a phaser in her hand pointed at the back of Pandora's neck.

Pandora stared for a long moment at Dallas, very surprised that she was there. "What the… How the hell did you get in here?"

Dallas narrowed her eyes, regarding Pandora coolly. "I crawled," she hissed. The phaser pointed at Pandora did not budge and inch, while Pandora's was beginning to lower. Pandora's expression went from surprise to one that a rich man would give a look to a dying stray mutt that just bit him. No respect, but with a tint of amusement.

"Drop it," growled Dallas, raising her pistol to Pandora's white eye.

"Wee!" cheered Pandora. "A stand off. What fun. A dog versus a dog, one superior but the other having a commanding tactical advantage. If you don't mind, I'll take the next gate back home."

"Fine with me," said Dallas. "Just as long as you get off my ship, I'm content."

"Oh, I'll leave, soon enough. You see, Captain, I've already demonstrated to your engineer here the disadvantages towards myself if I let this ship go on with its measly existence. You go on to explore the galaxy after your pathetic excuse of a war ends, and I'm stuck with what? Nothing! Nothing which is entitled to me. Sorry, but I'd rather cash in and go home with what I deserve."

Pandora charged, Dallas fired. The laser blast struck hard into the collie's shoulder. Pandora staggered back from a hit that would have normally knocked a person clean onto the floor. She was still walking. Pandora lost her phaser though. Dallas watched it fly out of her hand and against the wall. For a moment, Pandora was doubled over from the blow, smoking coming from her shoulder. Pandora began to laugh horribly.

"What's so funny?"

After a moment, Pandora stopped her hysterical laughter and faced Dallas. "Your idiocy. Nice shot by the way. I am impressed. But you forgot one thing. Maybe you should turn the heat level of your beam down a touch. That way you won't cauterize the wound you inflict, and you'll leave it to bleed. I thought a soldier like you would know something like that. How disappointing."

"Shut up!" raged Dallas. At the same time, Pandora threw a piece of metal, ninja star or shuriken of sort. Dallas could react in time to shoot back or move out of the way. The steel star nailed her phaser pistol. Circuits and wires sparked out of the weapon into her face, Dallas tossed it to the floor. She looked at the phaser and saw the shuriken imbedded deep into the pistol muzzle. Dallas then glared at Pandora, who was obviously faking a dumbfounded look.

"Wow," rooted Pandora, clapping like a happy school girl. "Something new and cool. I've never done that before. I guess I can do a few more things then I thought I could. Maybe I should get more involved with the community."

Dallas paced towards Pandora, her fists up and ready for a fight. Pandora looked at her, surprised by this gesture. She shook her head, knowing that it was a fleeting and futile maneuver. She put her own dukes up, readying herself for combat while also mocking Dallas's move. Angry, Dallas barked viciously and charged towards Pandora, who was grinning like a demon in a room of pain.

The distance between them closed in an instant. Dallas through a balled fist strait towards the collie's nose, letting it fly at incalculable speeds. The fist nailed Pandora hard, knocking her backward, but again not off her feet. Pandora staggered for a moment, holding her nose, rather astonished at this event. She pulled her hand away from her face and looked at it, seeing the blood.

"That," snarled Pandora, licking the blood off her hand, "was the most fatal mistake in you short life, honey." Her brown eye started to blaze orange, fire practically coming out of it. More like a volcano then an optical organ. Dallas saw this, and grew fearful. Pandora, just like Conner, was a Shyer. Dallas saw how powerful he was, and it was very possible that Pandora was the same. Shyer or Lylatian alike, Dallas was not about to back down. She charged again, trying to deliver a kick to Pandora's knee.

The collie stepped to the side quickly and let Dallas pass by her. Before Dallas knew it, Pandora grabbed her by the hair and jerked it back. Dallas grunted in pain as the collie wrapped her arm around Dallas's neck, cleanly subduing her. Dallas grabbed hold of the arm pulling into her throat and tried to pry it off, but her strength was barely half what the collie's was. She did what she could to lessen the pressure of Pandora's constricting muscles.

"You foolish, stupid, ignorant bitch! Are you truly so blind as to attack something you don't understand? You all are too conceited you are clouded mentally from one end to the universe to the other. Your field of knowledge is so small, you have luck to live in it. And you are all planning to explore the rest of the galaxy? To the ultimate unknown? The final frontier? Maybe you should thank me for doing this. I'm saving you from what will obliterate your existence prematurely." She pulled her arm harder into Dallas's throat, getting a louder groan.

Dallas made no movement to resist the hold on her. If the plan was going smooth enough, then the hostages were now being ferried out. It was a pity that there was no way for Dallas to verify that this was being carried out without giving the knowledge to Pandora as well. She had to hold out.

"You are the real fool here," continued Pandora. "You think you are so huge because you run this big command ship. What do you think an ego is going to be good for use in the voids of space? You think the forms of life you will find out there will be impressed with your big time career? I think that a few of those creatures you will find might be very impressed with that little stunt you pulled off at the battle of Katina."

Dallas's eyes widened, horrified at what she just heard. "What…what did you say?" Dallas began to growl with terrible hatred. Pandora just giggled at this new amusement.

"I'm saying that I know about what happened aboard your old ship. The Illuminauti was it? What you did, very impressive. And you call me a mass murderer. I may have systematically slaughtered over a billion people in my life, some because they were forced, others because the deserved whatever they got. But even my first taking of a life did not even come close to that."

Dallas had enough. She yanked hard on Pandora arm, breaking her grip very briefly which was enough. Dallas closed her jaws on Pandora's forearm, teeth sinking into flesh. Blood was tasted on her tongue. Pandora screamed out, trying to pry the husky's jaws open to release her arm. Dallas did so on her own, and then stepped backward, throwing her hips into the collie's waist. Pandora was elevated into the air, and then found herself flying forward. Dallas fought to regain all of the lost air, while Pandora landed hard on her bottom. Just as quickly, she was up and facing Dallas. It was here that she saw.

"No," whispered Pandora. All of the hostages, the engineering crew, Sparky were all gone. A door into the engine room was wide open. Her and Dallas were the only ones in the room. "No!"

"Nice turn of events, huh? You sorry, twisted maggot spawn. I guess it's just you and me now."

Pandora threw her hands into the air. "I guess so. What are you going to do, just stand there and look like a true meat head?"

Dallas was not willing to let insults get to her any longer. The last time she did, the results were vastly uncomfortable. She sauntered calmly over to Pandora, who was leaving herself unguarded, and threw a jab towards her chest. Pandora easily blocked the punch away. A haymaker attempt was tried for the cheek bone, which found nothing but the wind to strike. Pandora chuckled. "Pathetic," she spat, herself lashed out and back handing Dallas square in the temple. The impact caused Dallas to go dizzy for a moment. Smiling with mirth, Pandora grabbed her by the fur around the shoulders and raised her knee into the abdomen. Dallas fell, all of the wind knocked out of her. Pandora let her lay there for a moment and gasp for air, gained pleasure out of seeing the husky suffer. After a while she reached down and grabbed Dallas around the muzzle. Seeing the hand wrap around her snout, giving her just enough room to breath through the nose. She was lifted up and at once her eyes were locked into Pandora's. She could feel her mind being torn into, all of her knowledge and experiences searched and ransacked. The sensation was terrible because Pandora also took the opportunity to show her a bit of pure unrefined insanity. When she was done, Pandora let her down easily, amused that tears were coming from Dallas's eyes.

"Thanks," whispered Pandora into Dallas's ear. She let go over her nose and then slammed her fist into the cheek, and Dallas fell to the floor. "Those codes are just what the doctor ordered."

The core was now beckoning to her. Pandora looked hard at the machine and again smiled at her plans. This would not be the last time she would prevent someone from beating her to her ultimate dream through such murderous means. She didn't care though. To her, death was just another statistic of minor payment. "Computer, begin gravity core sequence. Set destination jump point through program Dissolution Alpha."

A few beeps and chirps sounded through the engine room, followed by a female computer voice. Command Accepted. Gravity drive system on-line. Program Dissolution Alpha has been accepted. Please input security code to initiate jump sequence.

"Code as follows. Five, seven, two, Echo, nine, eight, Sierra, Handicap."

Code accepted. Gravity drive jump sequence has been initiated. Please enter count-down time limit for singularity formation.

"Time fifteen minutes silent countdown. Enable."

A loud warning siren sounded for a second then ceased. The engine room lit up red. Dallas saw what was happening and desperately started to try and get up. Gravity drive jump sequence has been enabled. You now have fifteen minutes until singularity formation begins. The minimum time to initiate jump termination is T-minus ten minutes…mark. Please note that there will no longer be any time warnings from this point.

It was done. Pandora jumped in the air and cheered wildly, again starting to dance around like a maddened spark. Dallas was devastated by the action. She could not get enough air to breath to terminate the call herself. Her head sank to the floor, seemingly defeated. Pandora looked over to her, almost forgetting that she was there.

"And now Captain." Pandora walked to a locker and opened it with a magnetic key ring she carried. Inside were many guns, phaser pistols, rifles, and machine weapons. Pandora picked out a short rifle and shouldered it. "You get the undying honor of being my ticket off this ship. I wish I could stay and spend a bit more time with you people, but I really do have to jet. So, you are going to take me to your little KitHawk attack ship so I can depart." Pandora tore off a piece of Dallas's tank top, at the bottom waist.

Dallas was roughly yanked to her feet and then shoved to the door. She was still a little sore in the head, causing difficulty to walk. Dallas remembered the eradicators, and the instructions she gave to Maurine. Kill the both of them. Unfortunately, a whole piece of cloth was tied into her mouth as a gag, and her plan to end this was now shot. Dallas could feel Pandora's hand on her shoulder and the phaser muzzle being jammed into her back. Together, the two left the blood lighted engine room, the crystal in the core spinning slowly on its point, not changing.

Chapter V Family Lost

Her head seemed to be clearing up with every step. This was probably just because of the feelings of her light head. She still felt groggy due to the impact of Pandora's fist. No doubt that Captain Dallas had a concussion as a result of it. She could feel the tip of the rifle being sported by Pandora dig deeper into her back flesh, causing her to bend backward a small bit.

They passed through the halls swiftly, people backing against the sides of the halls to let them pass. Maurine had already given the order to all of security to let them pass without molestation. Pandora grinned at this, happy that the young jackal wasn't the fool she took him for. However, everywhere stood security personnel, some armed like space age knights just waiting to take advantage of her mistake. None came. Pandora made her way clean down into the lower decks where the KitHawk was being stowed.

It didn't take that long to get there. While in the elevator, Pandora used the microphones in it to warn them. No troops were to be in the hallways leading to the KitHawk, otherwise she would kill Dallas. Maurine sent confirmation at once. Sure enough, Pandora got her wish. Not a soul wandered those halls. However, there were tons of cargo containers and barrels littering the paths. A vague annoyance, nothing more. Pandora pushed Dallas into the hall. Together, they began to weave around the junk littering the hall.

A dark flash caught Dallas's eye up ahead of the corridor. It was only a glimmer of darkness, nothing more as far as visual stimulus. But Dallas knew better, and she kept her smirk hidden. They kept moving forward, and Dallas waited ever patiently for something to happen. What did happen was not what she had in mind. At the far end of the corridor, standing alone and in a commanding stance, was Conner.

The black wolf looked up into the eyes of Dallas, and smiled to her. She returned the smile and stepped to the side, giving him a view of Pandora.

"Hey!" whined Pandora. "What do you think you are do… Oh." She saw the dark lobo standing there, glaring at her with a sub-zero perspective. She only smiled at him with a warm, friendly beam. "Long time no see, brother." Dallas's eyes widened out in horror when she heard this. "It's too bad you were not here earlier. We had quite a party here, didn't we doll? You see Conner, you, like always, have came just a moment too late. I have already set this ship to go to the darkest and most lousy corner of all creation. Really popular vacation spot of your a sick twisted mongrel."

"I suppose you must feel right at home there," said Conner. "You would."

"Come on Conner. This family feud has gone on for too long. I married your brother for one reason, and that was because I loved him. What happened that day was an accident. I suffered too. If you don't want to believe that, fine. You want to consider me a monster, that's fine too, it would be a legitimate conclusion now. So what. You will recognize me as a person with feelings." She raised the rifle and struck Dallas square in the back with its stock. Dallas yelled out in pain and fell to her knees. She then felt hair being yanked, and then being tossed hard into a wall behind a stack of containers. She began to lose consciousness around her.

The collie raised the rifle and opened fire at Conner. He ducked in behind the corner as a barrage of heated laser fire tore into the wall that was behind him. Bits and fragments of that wall were shredded outward in a fan pattern. Conner threw up his coat in time to block the thermal shrapnel.

"Pandora!" he called out, reaching into the coat to retrieve his thunder blade. "End this! This fighting between us is only going to hurt these people who don't deserve it. Please, let us finish this elsewhere!"

His only reply was a singing red laser blast very close to his face. Close enough to almost scorch his nostrils. Conner threw himself backward from the laser shot. Angry at such a reply, he growled and flared his eyes.

"Shut up!" screamed Pandora. "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!" She fired more down the hall, hoping to catch someone peering around the corner. "Everyone deserves to die! Everyone does die! Even you and I! It is how the person dies which determines whether he deserves it or not! And this has nothing to do with you, me, or your stupid brother!

"Don't you see Conner! I still love your brother. He is my husband after all, should I not love him. What happened with our daughter was an accident. I did not want it to happen. She was just…in the wrong place at the wrong time. Once I get this technology to travel through time and space at the blink of an eye, I can find our daughter, and we can all be a family again. Does that not sound appealing to you? Brother? Conner?" She eagerly looked down the hall for a sign.

He stayed in behind the corner, not budging an inch because he knew better. Conner heard Dallas cry out in pain, knowing that she would have to be tended to soon. Conner unsheathed the sword hilt and held it in his hand. He still could not help but think of what Pandora has said. Did she still love his brother? Or was she simply trying to get to him? Conner shook his head, taking the old self advice never to trust her again if he met her.

"Sorry Pandora!" he yelled. "But I still must stop you! You must answer for your crimes no matter how much love you still have for Derek! I do wish I could believe you when you say that, almost! But our homeworld is dead because of you! For that, I may very well kill you!"

Pandora grumbled angrily, looking down at Dallas who was getting back to her feet, then back towards Conner. The, she smiled with insanity and stepped out into the open. "Come on then Conner. Maybe I was responsible for the destruction of Shyer, but they all deserved it! All of the Executors were just asked for a big foot to be rammed right up their butt! And I gave it to them! Go ahead and damn me for that! I don't care! Just come out here, and play with me one last time. I've been alone for quite a while now."

Behind the corner, Conner tightly gripped the sword hilt, ready to dive out and rush his brother's wife. Pandora stood square in the middle of the corridor, the rifle level and pulled hard against her shoulder, ready to kill.

It Happened…

Like a living, blurring shadow of speed, Conner dashed out into the hall way. Pandora fired at once, hoping to nail him dead on. Expertly, Conner bolted to the side as the laser blast passed by. She fired again, trying to rake the hall and cut him in half. He rolled under the laser barrage and got back to his feet just as quickly. There he stopped, half way to her. Pandora watched the thunder sword explode with life as Conner activated it. The bright blue sword illuminated the room cleanly, and Conner held it before him ready for a fight. He then bowed to her to show mutual respect of an enemy, an Executor custom. Having always hated both any kind of chivalry and any custom of the Executor Caste, Pandora fired at him.

Conner swung the blade and blocked the beam, and watched it reflect off the sword back towards her. The laser struck a light on the wall and created a bright flash. Pandora was blinded by the flare like radiance, causing her to drop the rifle on the floor. The blindness was shaken out at once, but not soon enough. Conner charged forward with great force, jumped forward with a powerful bound, and swung the blade. The sword easily sliced through a chemical drum next to Pandora. A drum which was itself hold to others. The collie jumped out of the way in time before being crushed by thirty tons of petroleum products. Conner landed cleanly on the other side of and immediately began to help Dallas.

The husky opened her green eyes slowly, and smiled at Conner's warm and welcome face. For once, she felt secure while he held her in his arms. Conner looked up to try and see Pandora through the mess of spilled oil drums. She was getting up but slowly, still going to try and escape. Conner helped Dallas to her feet and the both looked coldly at her.

There was really no where to go, and Pandora knew that. But she was not even close to being worried, which was self evident with her insane laughter. "You poor fools. Sorry Conner, but you really accomplished nothing. You are just minutes away from being warped into the place of nightmares. It looks like I'll be going with you all, but what the hay. My life was enough of a nightmare to be a little used to it all."

"That's where you are wrong!" barked Dallas. She coughed, obviously tired from the ordeal. "You see, before I came into the engine room, I took the liberty of cutting the command wires from the core to the power supply relays. Without that, the core is nothing but glass and crystalline matter. Sorry, honey, but we aren't going anywhere."

Pandora looked at her, shocked, horrified, defeated. She yelled into the air in hateful rage, wanting to rush forward and murder the warship captain. Not with Conner there. As strong as Pandora was, she did not come close to Conner as far as warrior skills go. All she did was smile at them, and then go into the inside of her jacket. Conner almost gasped when she pulled out his ethereal travel orb, and join it with a stone talisman.

"No!" yelled Conner, trying to run forward and stop her. "You can't!"

"Yeeesssss! I can!" She raised the talisman high above her head. "Umnes Voltan Rijka Flis Mactorrisi Carra!" The orb flared with radiance, and blew flame started to poor out of it. A sudden and powerful gust of wind shot through the corridor which caught Dallas and Conner, nearly sweeping them to the floor. All it did to Pandora was blow open her jacket to expose her half bare front, moments before she disappeared in a ball of blue fire, screaming in the most insane hysteria either of them have ever heard.

The light, the light…it's so beautiful! Time!

Chapter VI Aftermath of Madness

Two days. Two days time since that chaotic day. Dallas once again looked at herself in the mirror, now in common duty uniform. For the entire two days, she could have sworn that there was not a single time that she smiled. All gloom, depression. On her forehead was still a bandage, even after the time, a cut from the confrontation with Pandora. It has been two days since the collie took her own life by fire, using that strange crystal orb she stole from Conner. Overall, it was he who seemed to be in the most pain from this incident. Now, Dallas knew why.

She fitted the collar on her uniform one last time, trying to hide another bandage on her neck. Just a slight burn, nothing to worry about. Then she wondered why she was trying to hide it. There was nothing really to hide, just a burn, skin deep. Dallas pulled the collar back down to its more comfortable position, and walked out of her quarters. It was going to a difficult task before her, asking her own crew of certain things which she never thought they would have to.

All of the senior staff were seated in the meeting lounge. All accept Kesh, who still slept in the infirmary. Conner was also not present, as he said he would not be. All the rest were there. Grant, Maurine, Sparky, and Dr. Q'Ronnie. Dallas's eyes went to her old friend, Sparky, who sulked in his chair with a look of deep depression. Dallas knew the story on how Pandora tried to seduce him into betraying them. When she looked at the old wolverine and knew that he could resist someone as gorgeous as Pandora, a new respect was formed for him. Dallas calmly walked over to the table and sat next to her long time friend.

All of the meeting attendants came to attention when the heard the gavel being struck by Dallas. The room silenced, and Dallas went on.

"This meeting was called by me to discuss what must be done, and soon. Everyone in here now knows what has happened two days ago, when the Shyer female, Pandora, boarded our ship and nearly killed us all. Some of us had the unfortunate experience of going through with this first hand, namely myself, Sparky here, and Mr. Maurine was involved as well through telepathic contact. The rest of you may have seen her, but you knew nothing of what happened until you were briefed on it later.

"I have received the jump data from the engines given to us by Sparky here, and it did not look good. If Pandora had succeeded in her intentions, this ship, along with everyone on it, would have been warped to some sort of other dimension where the mind of normal people cannot live. That plan of hers failed, and she left the ship under rather unusual and outlandish circumstances. Quite frankly, I think we won't be seeing her again anytime soon.

"Our friend Mr. Seacore seems to think otherwise though. That is why I called this meeting. He saved my life twice and this ship twice also in all practicality. I think his word should be heeded since it was his property which Pandora used to escape. And I am seriously listening and believing him when he says this. It will be far too dangerous to the entire Lylat System if knowledge of Pandora's presence here, even if she is dead, were to get out into the public eye. I have no idea the consequences of that happening, but from the way Conner told me about it, it can not be good to put it to the test. So, we are going to give him what he wants, which is probably in all of our best interests.

"Here it is. All crew members who have any kind of contact with the knowledge of Pandora are to be neurolized. All information within the last two days is to be wiped from their memories, all except Conner that is. This includes all but two of us. I have chosen the two who have had the most contact with her, to be prepared just in case we are incorrect about our presumption about Pandora's demise. The two who I have chose are myself and Sparky. I…"

"Excuse me Captain," said Sparky, cutting her off. "But I would prefer you chose someone else besides me. It's just that I don't want those memories of what happened. If you went through what I did, you wouldn't want them either. To stare down the barrel of insanity's shotgun is a memory that I don't want."

Dallas smiled at him, understanding perfectly. "All right old friend. I know what you mean, because I took a peek down the same barrel. I, however, have no choice but to keep what I know. Maurine will take his place, since he was the only one to know enough about this.

"Also, no log entries are to be made at all about Pandora. I don't even want her name mentioned, not even a hint that a person like her was here. If you already have made an entry about it, go back and erase it, create a new one for that day. Make something up, I don't care. Just make sure no big incidents are in it which can be checked by someone else. That, as they say, is that. We may have seen an actual demon on this ship. It may be gone now, but just in case it's not, we are going to be prepared. Thank you, meeting adjourned."

****

Just like the first day he was here, Dallas found Conner wandering the paths of the SunHawk's arboretum, admiring the dense green foliage. She walked up to him and stood at his side, following his gaze to a maroon colored rose, blooming in the green brush. Conner sighed as he looked at the rose.

"I guess we have found two beings who are relatively alike," he said just over a whisper. "Somewhere between a void of total darkness, total insanity and love. In Pandora's case, it would be a black rose, with one tiny spot of brightness somewhere deep in the inner workings of its petals. But, I guess this representation is close enough."

A long silence enlisted between them, sort of a rift being formed. "You never told me that your home world had been destroyed. The way you described it to me that day, how beautiful it is, it was. Never that once did you mention that you were a refugee from a dead world. Why not?"

"I suppose it was not important really. I described to you the way my world was before Pandora destroyed it. By using an immense graviton magnet, she pulled a passing meteor into our atmosphere, which impacted hard onto the surface. It is still there, along with all of deposits of energy crystals which we use for power. But no one will be able to live on it for another thousand generations. That is why I could not allow the knowledge of Pandora being here get into the open."

"Why not?" asked Dallas, angrily. "Who are you trying to keep a secret from? It seems that the best way to defend against her would be to warn everyone about her, if she's even still alive."

"Oh, she is alive. And she will be back. What she stole from me saw to it."

"What was it?"

"A gate orb. It is what I used to transport myself onto your ship here. Remarkable piece used for short distance travel through space. However, it surely robs you of bodily energy. I saw the talisman which Pandora coupled the orb with before she escaped. I don't remember what it is called. Some Shyer artifact of ancient lore. When coupled with the gate orb, it can be used to jump through time by short periods. That is where Pandora went. She used it to jump to some point in the future."

Dallas looked down, exasperated. "My God," she whispered. "We'll never know when she might turn up."

"It has to be some time within the month. The gate can only take a user a short distance. Both through space and through time. It can only carry forward through time, anywhere within a month's period. She could be somewhere right now. Yes, we will see her again. That is what I am afraid of. Knowing that she is out there in the open. We, I will face her again. I swear it." Dallas saw Conner clench his powerful fist, and his eyes blaze with blue fire. How obvious it was that he did not hold pleasant feelings for her.

"But why must we keep her a secret from everyone?" she asked. "I don't understand."

Conner looked at her pleasantly and smiled. "It is better if you don't. Just please trust me when I say this. It is for the best for your homes. For your lives."

Dallas nodded to him, not understanding what he was getting at, butting willing to go through with it if it is for the best. She looked at him, and their eyes locked. Blue and green, two different worlds merging peacefully.

"That was the second time you saved my life. I can't imagine I will ever be able to pay you back. I'm sorry."

"Don't be," he returned. "We are not ones to hold debts. We do what we do, because it is who we are. It is my pleasure to be of assistance to you, m' lady." He took her hand and gently held it for a small time, and then kissed it

Dallas smiled, flattered by this. "Please," she whispered. "Call me Alison. I insist that friends call me by my first name."

"Very well, Alison." He held her hand tightly, and smiled to her. Together, they stood her and looked at the rose. A lovely dark fire radiance wrapped into a flower. Dallas placed her head against his shoulder. He smiled at her gesture, happy to have a new friend. He placed his arm around her.

The End

Note: Star Fox is a trademark of Nintendo inc. and has been used without consent. The crew of the SunHawk, and Pandora Freelancer are my characters and are not to be used without my consent. Just in case you are unsure, the SunHawk crew includes Captain Dallas, Grant, Sparky, Kesh, Maurine, Conner, Sparky, and Dr. Q'Ronni. Look for the next story, Agendas of War, very soon.