Events In Motion

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8 of Halo: First Contact Redux The beginnings of negotiations between the UNSC and the Cornerian Republic while dark plots lie on the horizon.


Halo: First Contact

Chapter 7: Events In Motion

It took two hours to put the scattered fleet back together. Survivors of the fallen ships had been recovered and what could not be salvaged was destroyed. The Ironclad was being tugged by The Immortal. The destroyer was still serviceable and could be made to fight again after serious reconstruction. Most of the crew had survived the explosion with twenty percent casualties, most being the engineering team and a few marines and pilots who would all have to be replaced. It was cold calculating and ugly work. But there was little space for empathy in the military.

A final count of their strike craft was just as grim, over a hundred casualties with a loss of fifteen percent of their total pilot pool. Forty longswords and twenty eight broadswords had been shot down, none retrievable.

There was no trace of the Midsummer's Solace. Whatever abhorrent weapon had hit the cruiser made sure that there would be nothing left to find. Once the prowlers returned, their commander was interested to find a concentrated cloud of gamma radiation where the ship had once been. All data on the battle had been collected and was being sifted through by analysts before sending it back to HIGHCOM on Reach for further analyzation.

The grand total, two corvettes, a destroyer, a strident frigate, and a marathon cruiser, it could have been worse and Matthias should be glad that it had not been. But he still felt as if it had been a personal failure on his part. Maybe if he had given different orders or taken the alien carrier as a more serious threat...he didn't know. All he knew for sure was that he had lost five ships and over a thousand of the people he had been responsible for.

And that was not the extent of his worries. Far from it, he was just getting started.

The fleet had moved to orbit the alien world, floating at a neutral distance from their cornerian opposites. At the moment both flotillas idled. Matthias was still trying to figure out how to take the next step. He was no negotiator, which didn't matter as he could not speak or understand their language anyways. Liam however, did. That made him the only suitable candidate to represent humanity, placing that weight firmly on his shoulders.

He did not envy him.

The poor kid was still torn up over the loss of the Solace. He didn't look it, but Matthias knew Liam well enough to tell. After the battle, he had dismissed himself from the bridge and disappeared deep into the supercarrier, no doubt to vent at one the firing ranges on the lower decks, something he was prone to do. Matthias decided to be lenient and allow Liam to wander off just this once. He needed to cool down before he would be able to focus on his duties once more.

Their guests on the other hand were still here on the bridge.

Matthias was at a loss for the moment as to what to do with them. Until dialogue was instigated with the cornerian fleet they were kind of an ambiguous entity. Only one of them understood him and vice versa. That was an eminent problem that would have to be solved before long. Communication was vital if they wanted to ensure that relations flowed smoothly. That gave him an idea. Ash might be able to think something up and if he knew that A.I. at all, she already was hard at work. He just hoped that she would have some good news soon. Later he would ask her to work with the AI aboard The Immortal. Sir Warren would be able to assist her.

Until then he would have to content himself with their intermediary.

The admiral stood up from his chair and walked over to where his guests still sat. He personally did not like that such a place like that was on his ship. Back before all of this, when he had been escorting important UEG figures through the inner and outer colonies they had desired a certain modicum of comfort, and thus the chairs. At least they served a real purpose now.

Matthias shook his head.

'Civilians.'

He stopped in front of his guests, directing himself towards the cerulean vixen. "The venomian fleet has fled. The planet is secured."

She adopted a grateful expression on her muzzle and stood up to perform a discreet but humble bow. "Thank you, Admiral, for your peoples' assistance and sacrifice. I am aware that you suffered losses and you have my deepest sympathies."

Matthias was surprised to hear the sincerity in her tone. "Thank you." He replied with a curt appreciative nod of his head. "They will be remembered." Indeed, no doubt the press back home would love to capitalize on it, damn vultures.

He stepped back and motioned for her and her friends to follow him. "Now that we have taken care of the problem we can get down to business. We must contact your fleet and arrange a meeting. There is much that needs to be discussed."

The vixen agreed with a bob of her muzzle but looked hesitant. "Where is the Lieutenant? He left rather abruptly."

At that the admiral sighed. "Lieutenant Callahan has taken a brief leave of absence to grieve. He had many friends aboard the Solace, the fallen cruiser. But he will be back before long."

She paused for a moment before nodding softly, ears stooped in comprehension. "...I see."

"Yes, well let's continue." Matthias wanted to get things moving. There was a lot to take care off and the sooner the better.

**********

The range was silent except for the occasional bark of a solitary rifle in its cavernous expanse. Its span was usually filled to the brim with soldiers seeking to keep their skills sharp and weapons sharper. But at the moment it was deserted with only one occupant. The ODST was furiously emptying the clip of an MA5B at an unfortunate targeting drone as it tried to unsuccessfully evade his fire. The drone was perforated by the high caliber rounds and crashed to the ground in a smoking heap of scrapped electronics, just one of the many of its kind that had met their end in the past hour.

Although deep in thought, the helljumper still managed to maintain his deadly accuracy, the thundering of the rifle soothing his troubled mind.

This was why he had stopped making friends.

Everyone he knew for the past two years of his life was dead, killed in an instant by the cruel hand of fate. No more talks with Gardner, no more poker nights with Tim and Martin, Doc Hardings would never patch up another soldier. Gone, all of them...

The ODST's rifle growled louder and his rate of fire increased.

As he had watched the cannon on that alien ship fire, he had already known what would happen. Whatever god or gods that controlled the universe must enjoy seeing him suffer because they had taken everything from him. First he lost his squad and brother on Sigmus IV then there had been the ambush on Kalinthar and now this. He had watched so many of his brothers in arms die and Liam was amazed that he was still alive after all he had been through. What was it that kept him alive?

Was it luck?

He sure as hell didn't feel lucky. It seemed more like fate itself was stacked against him. Of all the other ODSTs from his graduating class at the academy, he was the only survivor. Most had been killed on Sigmus IV, and the rest in the years afterwards. The battle on that world had crippled the Insurrection but also weakened the UNSC considerably. Many of the experienced soldiers in service were lost and the battlegroup that had been assembled had suffered similar fatalities. It had been the largest conflict since the rainforest wars and the planet was still scarred after years of reconstruction.

He would never forget what had happened in the span of fourteen hours, how their chain of command folded and the groundside forced were trapped and systematically slaughtered by the alarmingly organized insurrectionist forces. If not for the arrival of the spartan-II supersoldiers, Sigmus IV would have been a disastrous defeat. He would never forget how inadequate he felt fighting alongside them. They made all the efforts of him and his fellow soldiers, all of the sacrifices they had made, seem meaningless. It had galled him to no end.

Liam's rifle clacked empty and he dropped the expended clip and reached for a replacement on the bar in front of him, slamming it home with a satisfying thunk and racking the charging handle, his rate of fire dropping in response.

Why was he cursed so?

What had he done to deserve what had been wrought upon him? He had been a good son, he had given his future to the military, and he had endured great pain and hardship. Shouldn't that count for something? Had he not at least earned some respite?

The drone floating in the range weaved through his fire unscathed, his bullets seemingly choosing to not connect.

The soldier growled and ejected the half-spent mag, tossing the weapon to the bar with a sigh.

Enough.

He had spent too much time wallowing in self-pity. He was stronger than this. Now was not the hour for misery, especially with what lay ahead. Another war was brewing and there was no place for personal doubt on the battlefield. Whatever monsters were locked in his closet would have to remain chained.

The intercom in the range buzzed and Liam listened to the announcement.

His presence was required back on the bridge. It would appear, unsurprisingly, that the universe did not revolve around him.

With a wry and weary chuckle, he secured the rifle and cleaned up after himself before heading back to the bridge.

**********

He arrived within minutes of his summons and searched for the admiral, finding him near the front where the orange vulpine he knew to be Fox was speaking over an audio-only connection. It looked like he was just wrapping up and ended it as Liam entered.

The helljumper stopped just behind the assembled group and the admiral turned towards him with a nod.

"Good, you arrived just in time Lieutenant. An agreement has just been reached with the cornerian forces and we have established a meeting point between both our fleets. Since this is their territory, a select delegation will be assembled amongst our people and a pelican will fly them to a hospital ship that will be the location for our summit. It goes without saying that you will be leading this group."

All he did was nod in response. He had no desire to mince words as he knew he would be doing much of that in the imminent future. For now he wanted to settle in his own thoughts.

The admiral continued. "It will take an hour before the other members of this team will be ready. Until then, take our guests to Hanger-A, and wait there for the others. Once you are all assembled you will depart."

Liam saluted and Matthias turned away, he had a fleet's worth of troubles to sort.

The ODST looked to Fox and the others and tilted his head in a follow gesture. He did not wait to see if they would and made to leave the bridge.

As they followed him through the ship, the Starfox team was confused as to his change in disposition. They were unaware that the ship they had seen sacrifice itself was the one they had been aboard a short while ago. Only Krystal knew. She had easily pieced it together from what the admiral had told her.

"What's with him?" Miyu whispered aloud, pointing a padded thumb in the soldier's direction.

"He is in mourning." The vixen replied in a similar undertone. "The ship that had sacrificed itself had been the one he lived on. Everyone he knew was onboard."

"...Oh." The lynx mumbled lamely, looking to the grim soldier with sympathetic amber eyes.

"That blows." Falco muttered coarsely. It was the best response he could have come up with.

Slippy frowned sadly, recalling the nice soldier that had given him the model. That random act of kindness resonated with him and he vowed to never forget it.

Fay was a soft sort and was saddened that so many had perished. But she also knew that life could be cruel and kind in equal measures. That was not first tragedy to happen in the universe and it would not be the last.

Fox shared a look with Arden, both the mercenary and soldier were well versed in the misfortunes of war.

The rest of the journey was spent in silence none knowing what to say that would comfort the man.

They reached the hanger quickly and Liam showed them to a place they could sit and wait in relative comfort. The hanger was sparsely occupied with techs and off-duty pilots. All of them were interested by the aliens that had arrived in their zone but one glance at the imposing and brooding ODST and they kept their distance.

Liam stood off to the side of the party of cornerians and continued to ruminate.

If he was a more bitter man he might have blamed the cornerians for his woes. But he was no fool. If anyone was to blame it was his captain. Strelkov would have known full and well what the consequences for his actions would be. He had made a difficult decision that had to be made. The supercarrier was more important than a marathon cruiser, an empirical fact.

It was also true that they had willingly joined that battle. Any consequences of that action could only be placed on their own shoulders.

Liam just hoped that it would all be worth it in the end.

The helljumper felt a presence near him and turned to look to his left towards his temporary wards. He was unsurprised to see Krystal standing near him awkwardly. It looked like she had something to say but the poor girl didn't know how. He suspected that she wished to give her condolences.

"Yes...?

Seeing that he had acknowledged her presence, the vixen cleared her throat. She made to say something, confirming his hypothesis, but he preemptively cut her off. It was nice that she wanted to comfort him, but he had no desire to be pitied or sympathized with. What was done was done. There was no use looking to the past. Condolences would not bring his friends back to life.

"I appreciate the gesture, but any apologies or sympathies are unwanted and unwelcomed."

Hearing that, Krystal flinched slightly and nodded her muzzle, taking a small step backwards and speaking softly. "Okay."

It looked like she had taken his dismissal wrongly.

Liam sighed.

He did not want to come off as irritated. When you joined the military, you were signing your life away. There was no reason to feel sorry or apologies for it. They had died in service to the UNSC and her colonies. They were doing their job, and they happened to pay the ultimate price, just as countless others had before them.

Still, he supposed that she did not understand that. And looking down at her saddened muzzle, he relented.

"...Thank you, Krystal."

The vixen looked up and gave a faint smile.

With that issue addressed, he turned his attention away from her and towards the pelican gliding into the hanger. Judging from its markings it was from The Immortal. The dropship must be here to unload the rest of the people that would be coming to the meeting.

As he watched it set down, Liam wondered who the admiral would have picked for the mission.

*********

As he heard the engines of the pelican cool, Xander could barely keep his excitement in check. The quieter the hold became the louder hos thoughts grew. He had been waiting for this moment all his life. The xenobiologist had gladly signed up for the expedition as soon as he heard of its existence. He had hoped that they would find alien life out here and his hopes had come true!

Of course there had been the rather frightening battle, but he had been safe in his lab on retrofitted colony ship. Now however, he could really do his job, no more studying forerunner ruins. It was time to get first-hand experience with an actual living and breathing alien race!

The scientist's left knee bounced steadily as his excitement slipped through.

Xander graduated from the prestigious Scipio University on Arcadia with a comprehensive scholarship for linguistics. Not only that but he was one of the youngest students to ever graduate at the age of eighteen.

Two years later and he was finally living his dream. Ever since he managed to get a posting on Reach he had wanted to see an alien race, Months of digging through the old forerunner reliquary had only made him more eager. He still remembered when his project lead, Dr. Halsey, had told him of the position available for the expedition.

He had signed up the next day.

Xander chanced a glance up from the datapad in his lap to study the empty hold.

Since they had not really expected to encounter any alien races out here, he was the only person in the entire fleet with any sort of qualifications to handle this. No one else had volunteered for the task and so he made the trip alone. He was a little nervous about that, but the information package on his datapad informed him that he would have a security escort who was doubling as a representative and that calmed his nerved somewhat. He was no fighter. He barely even managed to pass the mandatory physical fitness test and his score at the marksman range left a lot to be desired. He could barely even hold the heavy rifles.

Information on the alien race was extremely limited; all he knew was that they spoke a different language and were loosely similar to humans. Due to the shortness of it all, he had not been able to receive any more knowledge.

Xander hoped they weren't too frightening. He had a weak heart.

He heard a pair of boots thud down the steps from the cockpit and Xander turned his head to see one of the pilots walk down, face concealed behind his helmet.

"We've touched down Dr. Xander. We'll wait here until you return." The pilot made his way to the controls next to the ramp and activated them.

"Right, right of course, thank you." Xander babbled nervously and fiddled with his datapad. The young man was anxious about his impending meeting with the alien race. _'Come on this is what you wanted isn't it!' _He scolded himself as he stood up, taking a slow breath to calm his nerves before walking down the exit ramp.

The scientist stepped away from the pelican and scanned the hanger quickly locating who he was to meet. 'Extraordinary!'

It was apparent that they were aliens. The large majority of them were covered in fur, the exception being the one avian looking fellow in their group. They indeed closely resembled humans, in the fact they were bipedal and had five digits on each hand, or rather paw he supposed.

Most of them appeared to be anthropomorphized domestic animals, dogs, foxes, cats and the like. Their clothing was reminiscent of a blend in modern and old fashioned apparel.

With their fascinating looks, he hardly noticed the grim looking man standing beside them. Xander gave the soldier a cursory look and noticed that he was a helljumper from the famed Blood Dragons battalion if the emblem on his uniform was to be believed. He had heard of them, not many were left after the battle on Sigmus IV. So it was a surprise to see one here. Last he knew the remaining Blood Dragons had been deployed in the Epsilon system in counter piracy operations.

Xander realized that he had been standing in place for quite some time and his cheeks burned in embarrassment. No doubt he had looked a fool!

The young scientist quickly made his way over and stopped in front of the large ODST.

"You're it?" The helljumper rumbled questioningly. He had most likely been expecting a group instead of just one person.

Xander nodded and slightly withered under the soldier's examination. The well-built warrior was no doubt unimpressed by what he saw.

Xander only stood at about 5'3, even in the standard issue thick soled combat boots and his uniform hung loose on his scrawny frame. The ODST was his complete opposite. The brawny soldier towered over him, and his uniform was tight across his muscular physique. Xander supposed that you would have to be that big to be an ODST. But it didn't stop him from feeling slightly unmanned.

"Name's Octavius Xander, Linguist and Xenobiologist..." He held out his hand for the ODST to shake. At the sound of his own title, he felt a little better about himself.

The ODST nodded and grabbed the scientist's hand in a crushing grip. "Lieutenant Liam Callahan, 15th Blood Dragons."

"Nice to meet you Lieutenant, we'll have quite some time to get to know each other."

The ODST offered no response.

Xander coughed awkwardly and shifted his attention to the aliens. He considered himself a rather sociable individual, but he had never introduced himself to aliens before. How did one do that? He supposed he would just do it like before. He stepped to the closest, one, an orange furred fox, and held his hand out. He said his name again, knowing that they would not understand.

He watched as the vulpine reached his paw out and grabbed his hand and shook it. The fox had a friendly grin on his muzzle as he spoke.

Xander watched as his chops moved to form a myriad of low and high tones, similar to that of a normal canids barking. And yet, he could detect a distinct fluctuation that set it apart. It sounded too regular and measured to be the mere yapping of an animal. It was quite obvious he was speaking some sort of language. Xander mentally jotted down some notes, intending to expand upon them as soon as he had the chance.

Xander made his way down the line until he stopped at the last person. She was a fox, much like the first one he had introduced himself to. Yet she was remarkably different. Her coat was a deep blue color and she had tribal markings near her shoulders and odd silver cuffs on her tail, perhaps of a different world?

He held his hand out and repeated his greeting.

"It is a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Xander. My name is Krystal." She spoke in fluent English and dipped her muzzle in greeting.

At that his jaw dropped and he was awestruck. No one had told him that one of them could speak English!

He recovered as quickly as he could and shook her paw eagerly,

"The pleasure is mine!" He smiled and chuckled ruefully. "I had not been told that any of you could speak English. If I may, how is that possible" Xander was keen on finding out. That information might be vital to understanding their language and being able to translate it.

The vixen looked slightly uncomfortable. "It is not quite a simple thing to explain I'm afraid."

Not wanting to pressure her, he nodded slowly. "That's understandable, maybe later..."

She nodded at that.

Xander would have continued to talk with her but he was interrupted when the ODST spoke. He had almost forgotten the soldier was there in all his excitement.

"Alright, funs over, let's get moving." The soldier placed a firm hand on the scientist's shoulder and guided him back to the dropship. Xander was a little disgruntled at that. Could the Lieutenant not see how amazing this was! If anything he looked rather apathetic, his expression was devoid of any interest and he seemed to be handling this with an indifferent air.

He wanted to voice his complaint, but one look at the other man's scarred visage and hard blue eyes rendered him mute, lamely following the soldier back to the dropship.

Once inside, he strapped back into a familiar seat and watched in fascination as the aliens did the same. Xander observed them, trying to find a pattern in their speech. He was determined to understand them. He could imagine the prestige he would achieve for being the human that deciphered an alien language. Maybe then his parents would be proud of him.

Xander felt a shift in the seat beside him and turned to see the ODST strapping in with his accustomed grim visage. The young scientists hoped that the soldier might eventually warm up to him. The lieutenant would be his only human connection for some time.

The scientist allowed his eyes to wander down to the ODST's hip and spotted the black SOCOM variant magnum holstered to his thigh. Did the soldier think he needed it? Xander hoped not. Not wanting to dwell on that, the young man looked upwards and returned to his examination of the alien race.

They were truly something else, reminding him of cartoons from his youth. His gaze accidently locked with the snowy furred spaniel sitting beside the Lynx and he smiled weakly.

The canine grinned back at him warmly and waved slightly with her pink padded palms. Not knowing what else to do he lamely waived back. Xander felt an odd jump in his heart and blood rush into his cheeks.

_'Odd...' _he thought to himself distractedly as he turned away back to his datapad in an effort to try and jot some notes down while they were still fresh in his mind.

**********

Liam turned to the doctor. It was strange that he was so young, and even stranger that they would send someone so young. Not only that but he had been expecting more people to be here. The ODST supposed that the fleet didn't really have that many people qualified for such a job. They were sending him after all, and he was a warrior not a diplomat. At least the kid was appropriately versed in what was required. Xenobiology and linguistics were sure to come in handy in the times ahead.

His hand traced the holster at his side and Liam settled into his seat.

It would be a long flight.

He had checked with the pilots and they told him that their destination was a good half hour at full speed. Pelicans were not exactly designed for their swiftness.

Liam's mind inevitably wandered back to the battle.

How in the hell had that ship managed to deflect a MAC attack? Sure the slugs were underpowered, but they should have at least shattered the enemy's shields. That concerned him. What was the strength of that ship's energy barriers? The smaller ones were capable of deflecting the smaller MAC's of the cruisers, frigates, and destroyers. But they had no hope against the supercarrier's trio of accelerator cannons. The generators in that venomian battleship must be extremely advanced. That would make sense considering the energy weapon it fired managed to complete obliterate a marathon cruiser. Such a ship would be dangerous when encountered again. His uncle better have a good plan when that happened. To lose another ship to that monster would be unacceptable. Whatever...he was too tired to think for long.

The ODST could feel the ache behind his eyes. His rest aboard the Midsummer's Solace was not sufficient enough to cleanse him of his exhaustion. He had done a lot in the span of twenty-four hours. His leg still pained him and the twinges in his body had not faded completely.

Sighing, he rested himself against the uncomfortable seat's headrest and closed his eyes, intending to catch some sleep before he was needed. As he rested, he tried to think of what he would have to say when he arrived. He had never tried to be diplomatic before. Usually his job was to go in after diplomacy was no longer an option. It would be interesting to be doing the opposite.

**********

A fennec vixen patted down the creases along the folds of her brand new uniform. The admiral wanted to give a good impression to their guests and so she had been forced to change out of her grimy old suit and into this new one.

As she waited in the hanger of the hospital ship, Fara Phoenix wondered for the thousandth time why she had been chosen as a representative.

She groaned.

It was probably because of her ties to her father's company. Adam Phoenix was the CEO of the largest military contractor in Lylat, and they probably wanted to get on his good side. Just another thing her dad seemed to complicate for her. She was just a regular soldier, and she doubted that she would be standing here at this moment if she belonged to some nameless family. It seemed she could never escape from her family's legacy.

At least this time it might be interesting.

She had seen the battle from her duty station. The viewport aboard the carrier had captured the arrival of this UNSC and their subsequent fight. That made it easier for her to understand why she was there. No doubt the government would want those powerful cannons. Fara had seen how they could gut a venomian cruiser in two shots.

And the size of their carrier....unbelievable!

That thing had to be at least three spacial kilometers long. Such a massive ship had never been seen before in the Lylat system. The closest would be the venomian carrier, which was little more than a kilometer long. When it had fired, every jaw in the ship had dropped. The level of destruction it housed was breathtaking.

And these were the aliens that had helped them.

Fara hoped they would prove to be good. So far the people of Lylat had not had good luck with aliens. The Aparoids had almost laid waste to their entire system. There was no telling what a race with such technology could do. It might be worse, and that frightened her.

Fara picked at her uniform once more and looked to her left, to the other sorry individual selected for the job.

Corporal Luke "Hazard" Laron. Why they selected the accident prone hyena, she would never know. She could personally attest to the validity of the wild dog's unsavory nickname. On their last mission, he had stumbled off a hill and into a squad of venomian commandos. The only think more unbelievable than his ineptness was his luck.

She would have to make sure he wouldn't fuck things up, which he would most likely end up doing anyways.

At least one of the aliens spoke their language. She would be able to apologize for future Luke mishaps.

Fara had learned that Fox and the rest of his merry little band were with the aliens. She supposed it would be nice to see him again. The fennec had not talked with him since they graduated at the academy on Corneria and she had only heard about his exploits during the Aparoid war. She had been busy at her station on Corneria at the time. She could still remember the fierce urban fighting after the Aparoids had attacked. It had been brutal and merciless. But they had at least emerged alive with the planet still standing.

Her radar-like ears picked up the sound of unfamiliar engines and she looked up to see a strange dark green dropship slip in through the hanger's energy barriers.

'Here we go.'

She cleared he throat and nudged the hyena beside her.

"Don't screw this up, Luke! Just stay quiet." She pointedly hissed between her teeth.

"I won't I won't, I promise okay." The hyena yapped, scratching at his itchy collar.

The duo watched as the dropship set down in the center of the hanger, shutting down its engines and resting its weight on the landing struts with a faint creak. The ship sat in silence for a minute before the rearward ramp hissed and began to descend.

Both Hyena and fennec watched attentively as it finished its descent and lightly tapped the deck. From the dark interior, a small group of individuals made their way down. There was Fox and his team, a squad of cornerian marines, and finally two strange beings both vastly different from each other.

Fara intently studied them with growing interest. One was a frail looking male, if she guessed correctly. He was wearing what looked like the outfit of a scientist and the oddest thing about him was his lack of fur. Instead he was covered in pale skin with long brown hair atop his head. He held some sort of electronic device in his furless paw and looked rather lost and excited all at the same time as he examined the hanger with wide green eyes.

The other one was quite obviously a soldier. He was a hulking fellow garbed in a dark grey almost black uniform with an unfamiliar rank symbol and insignia on his left pectoral in the image of a red dragon. He strode down the ramp with fluid grace and Fara could tell he was a veteran of many conflicts. There was a bulky handgun holstered to his right hip but beside that he had no other visible weapon. Instead of brown, he had a short crop of blonde hair and faint scars on his face, the kind you got from explosive shrapnel. He had cold blue eyes and an expression as unforgiving as stone.

Fara watched as they approached and gulped inaudibly. The warrior was quite a bit taller than her.

"Fara...is that you?!" Fox caught her attention and she looked to the grinning vulpine.

She couldn't help but smile. "The one and only, how've you been, Fox?"

"I could be better at the moment. But I could also be worse." He shrugged. "I made some new friends though." He thumbed behind him to the two aliens.

"That you did..."

"So...what are you doing here?"

"My friend and I are a part of the delegation the admiral made for the meeting. He is still occupied with the fleet and so tasked me with taking care of our guests until he arrived." She explained, turning to look at the two aliens. She had been made aware that one of them spoke their language. She held her paw out. "Sergeant Fara Phoenix, Cornerian Defense Force and this is my secondary, Corporal Luke Laron." She held a paw in the direction of the hyena.

She was surprised when the solider stepped up instead of the doctor. He gripped her paw firmly and gently in his large hand and spoke in a mild baritone. "Lieutenant Liam Callahan, United Nations Space Command."

"It is an honor to meet you, Lieutenant."

"Likewise, ma'am." He replied as he shook with the hyena.

She shook with the doctor in return and took note of the clamminess of his hand. She supposed he had a right to be a little nervous, especially since he did not speak their language.

"Now that we got that out of the way, if you would follow me we can get started."

The Lieutenant nodded and motioned for her to lead.

"Right, this way."

**********

The remnants of his battered fleet arrived back at Venom. Barely five broken down cruisers remained of his once glorious host. Admiral Claw snarled angrily as he made his way off the bridge of his carrier and to the hanger to take his personal ship down to the planet.

Plans for revenge would have to wait. For now he had to hold an emergency meeting with his Lord Oikonny. The venomian ruler must be informed of this new, potentially war altering development.

The flight back down to the polluted world was swift and he stepped off the shuttle in the underground hanger of Oikonny's fortress. He passed through countless halls filled with workers and soldiers alike as he headed for the fortress's inner most bowels were his Lord's personal chambers were.

With little ceremony he knocked on the doors of the simian's sovereign chamber and strode in, heading directly for the place before the throne. There his Lord sat, flanked by two members of his elite guard. The ape looked unsurprised to find one of his admirals kneeling before him instead of leading his forced abroad.

"Report..." The ape said simply, his silky tone hiding any emotion.

"My Lord Oikonny, there had been a...complication in your plans."

The simian seemed to muse for some time before he dained to speak again.

"Explain this...complication."

"My Lord, a new species has revealed itself, and intervened with my inevitable conquest of the cornerian world of Papetoon."

Oikonny's features may have been shrouded by the darkness surrounding his throne, but Perseus could see a faint curl of displeasure on the ape's lips and he was quick to explain.

"The news species arrived with a large fleet and seemingly outdated technology. But their ballistic missiles were able to do great damage to my fleet and they had massive cannons on their vessels capable of breaking a cruiser's shields in one shot. Despite this, I was able to inflict casualties among them, before I was forced to retreat. I am regretful to report that only five cruisers survived the battle." Perseus placed his scaled snout against the cold floor of the throne room and prostrated himself before his Liege. "I am prepared to accept whatever punishment you deem appropriate for my failure."

As he sat there with his eyes tightly closed, Perseus was startled to hear Lord Oikonny chuckle. "My Lord...?" He inquired questioningly.

The tyrannical simian rose from his throne, revealing his smirking visage. "This is good news. I was afraid that my war would end too soon. But fate seems to smile upon me." Oikonny looked down to the groveling reptilian. "Pull back the fleets and contact your fellow admirals and generals. I want them all back on Venom. We have much to discuss." With that, Oikonny turned away and disappeared behind his throne.

"Of course, my Lord..."

Slightly confused, the reptilian rose and hastily exited the throne room, curious as to what his emperor was planning.