"In what is considered to be the largest offensive operation planned by the Cornerian Military, the Reclamation of Macbeth was the third bloodiest battle of the One Month War. The Venomian strategy over Macbeth is argued to be one of the deciding factors of the War, costing them an enormous resource base due to the efforts of Team StarFox, and literally after three days of further combat, the planet. Around the world were the staggered defensive lines that were similar to 'Area 6', recently declassified records stated that over two hundred Umbra-Class defense satellites were deployed around Macbeth, in addition to the Fifth Vangaurd. The Venomian ground presence had been outnumbered by Cornerian forces three to one in manpower, nowhere near the same level of combat power that was being displayed in the vacuum. The real battle occurred in space, the ground forces surrendering within hours of initial fighting when the Fifth Vangaurd finally disengaged the Cornerian Macbeth Expeditionary Fleet after three days of fighting. The indiscriminate use of nuclear and nova weaponry decimating entire carrier groups on both sides destroyed a series a space habitats in Macbeth's First Lagrange point, which to this day Venom's government demands reparations for, citing the civilians lost on board the colonies. Corneria's Central Authority labels the claim as misinformation, claiming the space habitats had been converted to anti-ship weaponry, and had been used as such to great effect. In the end, the operation was successful in drawing forces away from both Zoness and Titania, forcing Venomian admirals to pull back the bulk of their remaining military strength to the Sector X region in a series of phased withdrawals towards Venom."

-Officer Candidate Battle Analysis Textbook, 43rd Edition, Chapter 10 'Planetary Seige Warfare: Tactics, Weapons, and Evolutions Throughout Military History'

KATINA ORBIT, CSC Southern Cross

GST 03122216, 1900 HOURS

She would have been a model, if life hadn't been what it had been for Major Fay 'Lady' Caniche. She walked the corridors with the unconscious dignity and grace of what she had aspired to be as a little pup, oftentimes catching the eyes of fresh arrivals to the CSC Southern Cross. Her rank insignia was more than enough to convince most would be Casanovas to back off with all due haste. Her manner of speech would convince the more persistent types that she, in fact, Ran Shit for the 15thAerospace Wing, and no, she would never have the time for you. She'd earned another callsign from those she rubbed the wrong way, something would probably not call a Lady. The thought of that particular name cracked a smile in her otherwise cool expression. She walked briskly down an access corridor in silence, hurrying to meet the men who were earning a reputation among the Cornerian Aerospace Forces as living legends, if the reports from Katina were to be believed. Fay had said she would need to see the gun camera footage herself to swallow the scuttlebutt without protest, and of course, it had been provided. She, like many others of this generation of Cornerian defenders, had fought the occasional pirate ship here and there, did the weekly, sometimes yearly scramble contests that promoted readiness and competition among squadrons. Like so many others, the last week's series of debacles had been her first taste of actual, honest to goodness all out warfare. She was tired, sore from daily eighteen hour up times, over half of which spent spent in the cockpit of a Kukri, and maybe sore because at age thirty two, she wasn't quite as young as she had been when she'd first gotten her commission.

Legends did not have the luxury of existing in her world, as far as she was concerned.

The Major's wing had been lucky, having retained a good eighty percent of their original roster by the end of the first week, more than many wings could say. The 15th had just come from a three day op in the asteroid belt, hunting down sapper units that might have been using the larger rocks as forward strike bases. The media was all over Star Fox being the first Cornerian force to punch through the field, allowing a Cornerian battlegroup to astronavigate 'over' the field relatively unmolested to Fichina, but the 15th had been doing the dirty work in clean up duty. While not exactly as impressive as a mere four craft element that Star Fox fielded, the 15th could claim over three hundred fighters and at least seven of the 'Rock Crusher' stealth corvette's that Venom had snuck into the field.

Three hundred. By the maker. It struck Fay right then just how bad the odds were for a Venomian pilot. To the people back home, it certainly looked unfair for the Cornerian forces, it was just too obvious how many ships the Lizards sent into each fight. Corneria City residents would be picking up the pieces of Venomian fighters and armor and bodies for a much longer time after they finished the clean up of Cornerian material and manpower. But Fay was more than convinced after being on the line herself, after ordering her people into the thick of it, she was convinced that they were going to win. The big factor would be for how long and how many bodies Venom was willing to expend to drag this thing out in hopes of keeping some of the territory they had rapidly gained. With luck, not many more, and for not much longer.

She thought, for a moment, about the families of the enemy, and felt a little worse still. Fay didn't hate Lizards in general. In fact, before this mess started, some of the best technicians she knew were actual immigrants from Venom. Even now, a very small number of Venomians served on Cornerian ships, against their own people, while viewed with heavy suspicion. There had been no recorded instances of them being double agents, but in secret briefings and messages passed to 'warm-blood' commanders throughout the Cornerian forces, if you had a scaly in your crew, you were to be cautious, but make use of their 'services' as much as you were willing to trust them.

Three hundred kills for a wing of one hundred and twenty pilots, three squadrons of forty thanks to the current reshuffle. Still, a ridiculous number of kills for so few losses comparatively. By the book, there were over thirty 'Aces' in her whole wing, a number of those making Ace many times over; five kills on hostile targets, usually pirates, made an Ace during peace time. Three hundred kills for her wing alone, something closer to a thousand for the combined fighter compliment from this single space carrier alone, a mere three hundred and sixty pilots.

Just how many paper thin hulls would get filled with some poor cold bloods with nothing to lose and everything to gain? How many experimental weapons could Venom throw at the numerically disadvantaged Cornerian military? Where was their breaking point? They couldn't keep this up for too long. They just couldn't.

Could they?

She found herself in front the briefing room where her new arrivals, her 'legends' awaited. Two days from today, they all had Macbeth and the massive Venomian occupational fleet waiting. It'd get answered then.

-

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen." Fay spoke with measured, clipped tones, taking in the new arrivals from Katina. Her eyes darted about, looking for a certain four. "Are we all present and accounted for?"

"Yes Major." This was their Captain. Apparently the former CAG of the New Prospect ADG. "If you're looking for the Miracle Workers, they're not joining us. Contractual obligations, you understand." Grey, W. read his name patch. He, like everyone else in the room, did not smile one bit at his dig on Star Fox. About as bad as I expected Fay thought to herself. She'd been given the short version before coming up to the BR. She found that each man and woman there had nearly the same expression, others more...blank then the rest. The worst of them was Grey himself. He looked as though he'd not slept at all after his fight over New P, not looking at her so much as through her. Really, he'd earned the right. Who the hell was she, some pretty looking mutt that out ranked him, addressing him like he was already one of hers.

Damn. She felt a sudden chill. These people shouldn't even have been sent here, not so soon after what they had gone through. They should be taking some form of R and R, anything to get away from the front.

"Ma'am. Our orders." Bill spoke. His voice was even, betraying nothing, but she could see his eyes narrowed. She coughed.

"Of course. First of all, welcome aboard the Southern Cross, and welcome to the 15th Aerospace Wing. You are all going to be under my direct command in the 131st Aerospace Superiority Squadron, Wolfpack, and I will also be your new CAG. William Grey, you will be replacing my XO for the duration."

"Ma'am." He saluted before taking his seat. She made eye contact with him, but he didn't seem to notice.

"I'm sure you've all been given the initial info dumps from GHQ regarding the upcoming operations we're moving in for over and on Macbeth. The reality is, we think the Venomians are actually abandoning a number of major territorial gains in response to their defeats throughout the Lylat system. It's no secret that losses for both sides have been well beyond what we predicted in such a scenario, but Cornerian Aerospace pilots have more than proven their mettle this last week. The average kill ratio is six to one, scary as that may sound." She pressed a button, and an overhead view of the Lylat System hummed to life. "With Corneria, Sector Y, and the asteroid field now considered under Cornerian control, and Fichina soon to follow, our efforts are to focus on the reclamation of Macbeth. This operation will be a multi-pronged offensive into Venomian territory in an effort to weaken the newly constructed orbital defense network they have around the immediate vicinity of the planet. As we are all aware, Macbeth is the heart of Cornerian military and civilian industry, with a nearly abnormal amount of material resources that Corneria and now Venom use to supply their fighting strength. They've only had the place for a week, and have already managed to get mass production facilities up and running. Macbeth is possibly the best defended target we could be facing down at this time, short of bypassing it and going through the Sector Z corridor through Venom's Area 6. In order to improve our chances around the the Macbeth sphere of influence, the Cornerian First Fleet will split into three elements, designed to pull reinforcements from both Area 6 and Macbeth into battles away from Macbeth to other key military locations. There is a ship construction array that gated into the Sector X nebula under heavy escort of the Venom Second Vangaurd before it was split into a larger and smaller force. The larger force is now over Macbeth, while the much smaller element remains around the array. The 15th Aerospace Wing will be a part of the operation to eliminate the array, as well as any Venomian vessels and storage facilities around the array. This operation will commence in concert with the second element of the First Fleet, who will engage the Venomian forces around Titania in an extended battle. The third element will a engage battlegroup attached to the Venomian First Vanguard at Zoness."

"Just one Fleet is going to be hitting three targets?" someone asked.

"Intelligence has evidence to indicate that the bulk of Venom's strength is centered on holding down Macbeth and the Venom sphere of influence. Thats what I was briefed on." Fay sighed. "I refuse to blow sunshine up your asses, I also have my doubts about what Intelligence has to say on anything after this last week. But the evidence is tactically and strategically sound. Remember, the goal is to engage the enemy in battles that will force them to abandon our real targets to reinforce other important locations. Venom has had, in my estimation, twenty years to build this up. We are beating twenty years of preparation, manpower, and materials. They cannot be everywhere at once, but they also cannot afford to give us direct corridors to Venom. They will move to defend these targets. They don't have a choice." Fay shut down the holoprojection, staring out at the survivors of the 104th and knowing that what they were seeing and hearing weren't rationalizations, numbers, diagrams. When the arrows pointing at different targets were running across the air minutes before, they didn't see simple icons, they saw themselves, they saw friends, wingmen, actual people. "Dismissed. Get some rest for the evening, and get settled in to your new quarters. Tomorrow we'll start running simulations on our part in the op. Captain Gray, I would like to speak with you in my office."

"Aye, ma'am." He stood, almost mechanically, and followed his people, his remaining people, out without so much as a nod of acknowledgment.

That was going to have to change.

-

Fay sat at her desk, looking across it directly into William Gray's eyes the moment he walked in.

"As ordered, Major." Sharp salute.

"Sit." She gestured to the seat across from hers. "I suppose this...act of yours is over your current status, Captain?"

"Ma'am, I was led to understand that the 104th would remain as a unit on board the Southern Cross."

"With the current administrative reshuffle throughout the Fleet, that simply is not a possibility." She leaned forward over the desk, allowing an edge to slip into her voice. "You don't have to like it, Captain. You only have to accept it."

"You're going to break up a good team throughout a whole wing, ma'am. Splitting up pilots that have flown and fought together not just this last week, but for years." Bill said quietly. "New Prospect ADG consisted of a hundred and twenty good men and women. Of them, eighteen are still combat capable. We're now here."

"Is there a point to this, Captain?" Fay asked, brushing away dust that had gathered on her desk. "Is this some sort of elaborate plea to get your command back?"

William Gray fought the urge to strike his new commanding officer.

"Captain, I read the report. Thoroughly. I watched more gun-cam footage of a bad situation last night than I care to witness. You have had a rough go at it." She stood up suddenly, slamming both fists into her desk. "You no longer have a command. You no longer are a part of New Prospect Air Defense Group. You are the Executive Officer of the 131st Wolfpack. This means, to put it in a language you might be receptive to, I am your CO and I am also the CAG. I rule you. Do you understand?"

"Yes."

"Yes ma'am. You do not pull this shit with me. You do not fuck with me in front of your little social club." Fay was shouting now. "You will not continue, and I will not accept, your petulant Academy student bullshit." They exchanged a leer. "Your 'last stand' in the sunset of Katina has made the rounds already, Captain Gray, and while it might be impressive, I assure you, you do not carry yourself with the dignity I expected of a man who commanded a team that refused to roll over and die. A family!"

"Ma'am. With all do respect, you can go straight to hell!" Bill snarled. "You don't know a goddamn thing about what happened down there!"

"Of course not. I was not there." With that, Fay was already around the desk, picking up the surprised captain by his flight suit collar out of the chair, knocking it aside violently, and slammed him against the door to her office. "I will never know what it was like. Nor do I wish to know, if I have my way, I will never be cut off from any support beyond four mercenaries in fighters WE should have, but you had better not kid yourself into thinking I will allow you to take your 'family' and disrupt mine. Do. You. Get me? Do you understand? Between us and the big black is this bulkhead. You get that? There isn't a thing out there. It's not like Katina. It will never be like New Prospect. You left that place behind, and you damn well better leave your baggage there too. Are you hearing this?" For a long moment, they were nose to nose, smelling, tasting one another's breath.

"Yes ma'am." Bill said quietly, his eyes shutting tight.

"Captain." Fay whispered. "Tell me what you did down there. Talk about it." She let him go, walking back to her desk.

He hadn't moved.

"You may take a seat, Captain." She said. She turned back to face him, and saw the man had sunk down to his knees, his eyes tightly shut, trying, but failing to prevent the tears from falling. He sobbed bitterly, reaching up and pounding a fist into the deck.

-

"In retrospect, my transfer to the Southern Cross was the least dignified and professional moment of my career. Fay could bring that out of anyone, so despite this having been so many years ago, I still blame her for making me lose my cool." The aging Gray laughed at the interviewer.

"Was the command stripped of you for disciplinary purposes?"

"If you asked Major Caniche that question back then, she'd have told you that I had been made a CAG far too early, far too young. In a lot of ways, she was right. It was, more than anything, a criticism of the Cornerian people, rather than the people who had promoted, and given me my rank and duty station. More than ever, that year, recruitment for the armed forces was at an all time low. Retention rates of veteran enlisted or officer personnel was at a twenty year low. The only reason people like me could have been where I was in the first place was simply that we were all buying into the idea that perhaps we didn't need a military. Perhaps we could survive with the fewer and fewer dedicating themselves to war. I remember all of those protests. All of the reductions to the military budget. Nobody back home really understood why there was a military base on Katina, or stations on Fichina, or why Macbeth's ample resources were used to bolster a fleet we didn't have the people to properly staff. It all seemed like a colossal joke at our expense."

"Would New Prospect had gone down differently if the civilian voter population hadn't turned down the budget requests for the Arwing?"

"It's hard to say. At the time, everyone in the Aerospace Force was saying that line, again and again. It wasn't quite a mantra, but Star Fox continually reminded us of what we didn't have. Not out of malice, we all knew. But you couldn't help but look and feel some jealousy."

"Do you blame civilians for their own inaction that lead to the War, the casualty figures that defied all planning and preparation?"

"Too many factors, kiddo. What if we did have the Arwing program up and running, replacing those Kukri's just in time for the War to begin? What if? The same could be said from any Venomian pilot who survived the war. What if they had the Wolfen II's Andross's development teams had loaned to Star Wolf over the course of the War? What if people stayed in the military beyond the four years of required service rather than use it as a free ride into an expensive college level education? What if people back then had more faith in what the military stood for? I could ask you more questions right now than you will for this whole interview." The aging pilot's head lowered, eyes locked onto a spot somewhere on the floor. "No...you can't pin it all on one thing or another. It's easy, far too easy, to sit down in a chair at home, and tell people how you would have handled everything. We all like to play armchair general or president at one point or another. We all have such a limited view. So limited. Noone can probably fathom the entire chain of events that lead even to the simplest things. Because of that...I have let go of those days when I did sit bitterly in an office, thinking about what those sons of bitches back home did to us, their boys and girls, sent off to die with aging equipment and a prayer to the maker. And I was a terribly bitter man, then. But even at my worst days, especially after the fighting, I believed that there had been a reason for it all." Blinking and looking back up at the cameras, Bill's voice wavered. "Every death, every single one of them, in the end meant that we could sit here today. The harshest lesson to be learned about vigilance, but look how far we have come. We've come so damned far."

-

They were both well into their fifth glass of wine. Fay questioned the wisdom of her decision to get the man a drink, but she'd never seen a man, a Captain in the Cornerian, act in the way William Gray had just done. He'd not allowed himself this moment that he had needed. She could tell that much. They had talked for almost three hours. Gray had been more than willing to talk, the words had been a torrent of rage and hurt and jealousy and helplessness. He had talked about his men and women. He talked about his now deceased XO. He told her how he had played the old man, how it hurt him to play that part while his people died all around him. How quickly things had changed from playing space police in the Katina system to near martyrdom. To his credit, he was not as ruined or broken as he believed he was. He was hurt, and vengeful, but he hadn't given up on life, or his duty. Inwardly, Fay was relieved.

"It's stupid, Fay." He mumbled into his glass. "We should have those planes." He'd said that at least six times.

"Very. For what it's worth, Gray, I think you did alright."

"Major. I am sorry. About the whole act." He sat back up in his chair, looking regretful.

"Trying to act tough when life gives a swift kick to the rear is a male thing." Fay offered a half smile. "Don't get any ideas, mister. You needed that, and I let it happen."

"Yeah yeah." He sighed. "It's surreal, ma'am."

"You're telling me, I get to have honest to goodness heroes in my Wing."

"Major. You really think I did alright?" He looked exhausted.

"You were absolutely right that I don't know how it was down there. It's different circumstances. We train, we train, and we train, but there are things you can't prepare for. You did what you could, from what I can tell." She yawned loudly. "I can't judge you, that isn't why I brought you in here. I just wanted to know if my new XO had his head screwed on straight."

"I'm not so sure anymore, Major."

"Honesty is always appreciated." She raised her glass towards his. "To those we leave behind, to those who we stay beside, and to the 15th." They clinked the glasses together, and finished what they had left.

"You a poet, Major?"

"My college degree was Language." They shared a laugh. "I hear any rumors about what we did in here that I don't like, I will end you. Clear?"

"Crystal, Major." William stood, somewhat awkwardly from his seat, and made his way to the exit. "See you at 0730."

"You mean today, right? It's ten past midnight."

"...Shit. G'night, Major."

"Get the hell out of my office, Captain, and welcome once again to my Wing." The Major waved at the man as he staggered out. Waiting a moment, she took a deep breath, and reached for a photo of her squadron, standing at attention in dress uniform. She ran a finger gently across one of the men, who had stood at her left the day the photo was taken. "He's no replacement. Younger than me. Stupider, definitely. He can't replace you. He'll have to do." She ran her fingers across others on the picture, her mouth opening as if to say something more to each one. She resigned herself to putting the photo back onto her desk, and pouring another glass. "One more for the lot of you. You left us too soon, you insufferable idiots."

Damnit...I shouldn't be doing this. Another look at the photo, and she stared at it for a long while before finally falling asleep.

Author's Note: Well. That certainly took a while. My apologies, I swear!

I don't play WoW anymore! Always a good thing! Life has been interesting, I will leave it at that.

So ah, go ahead and feel free to read and review. Let me know if you have any questions.