Categories > Games > StarFox > Tumbleweed

Tumbleweed

by Wythe 0 Reviews

Success fades as life's pedometer keeps ticking away. For Falco Lombardi, it means discovering the door when the light burns out.

Category: StarFox - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama - Characters: Falco - Published: 2008/08/02 - Updated: 2008/08/02 - 5210 words

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Blue skies were masked with the clouds of a heavy storm. The roar of the supersonic engines sounded distant and each breath echoed in his helmet. Darkening skies heralded jagged lightning as the clouds snuffed out the sunlight. Raindrops tapped a broken rhythm. His breathing grew heavier. He lifted a blue feathered hand to the canopy, wiping away the dense condensation. He paused. The sun had caught his eye. Barely visible beneath its stormy blanket, its dim light ebbed for a moment before disappearing behind thickening clouds. He shut his eyes. The feeling came again, beginning just below his heart and gradually working to his throat. Nervous tension. The sounds of combustion grew dimmer and dimmer and the cockpit seemed to fall out of reality.

"Firebird, Eagle 7 over."

The voice came like a transient ghost.

"Firebird, Eagle 7, respond."

His mind snapped back into place.

"This is Firebird."

"Sir, That storm looks nasty; requesting a change in altitude, sir."

"That's a negative, Eagle 7; we will fly into their radar."

"Sir," A squeak voiced rodent came over the radio, "we won't have to climb more than a thousand feet..."

"Aardvark, is that you?" The blue falcon inquired.

"Yes sir." it squeaked again.

Firebird shook his head unconsciously, "Read your strategics before you take-off, anything above a thousand feet and we will light up on their radar like a Christmas tree. You know that and so should everyone else."

"Yes sir, Firebird, remaining straight and level."

Firebird grinned slyly, Good kid, but a little too shit brained sometimes, he thought to himself. It's funny, I never thought I would be commanding a kid like that.

The whole situation would have stunned him years ago. Strapped in the cockpit of his Wolfen IV, he was flanked by seven cadets straight out of Basic Aeronautics Training. Most of them have only flown in training missions and none of them have flown in combat. His Wolfen IV, once state of the art, was now just a solid production fighter, as good as you could you get while the Arwing Mark III was still in pre-production.

He jerked his dog tags from the chain and they clanged out in the open. He lifted one up gingerly. "Major Falco Lombardi. 201st Fighter Squadron." He once told Fox that he would never wear the colors of the Cornerian flag; those shit-brained hypocrites couldn't tie him down with their bureaucratic agenda. Well, 20 years later and there he was.

"Firebird, Heron. I just picked up 5 bogeys on radar. 'Bout a 175 miles out."

Shit, how did they find us, He thought. "Heron, bearing?"

"South 53 degrees west. Heading for us like camels on a summer storm."

Radar blips sounded on HUD. Falco glanced down at the green dots flashing on the grid. 5 bogeys in the textbook V attack formation.

"Firebird, these guys aren't looking for a flapjack grill out here. They're no cohorts of ours."

Falco sighed, placing a hand on his forehead, What's he saying? Ah, to hell with it.

Quickly, Falco brought up the satellite map of the primary target, a little supply base nestled in the Ingara Mountains. He zoomed out to outlying environs.

"Okay Wolverines, engage above the hard deck." Falco frantically screened the map. Mountains, lakes, rivers, all streaming by in rapid succession. He stopped on one area, a deep canyon cut by the Lossian River. He had a plan.

"Alright. Aardvark, you lead the attack..."

An unnerved squeak responded, "Sir?"

"You have your orders. Eagle-7 you come with me. We follow the Lossian Canyon, Bearing North 35 Degrees 05 Minutes, East 01 Degrees...26 minutes. If Aardvark can't destroy the target then we attack from the West. Flank'em and shank'em. Your flying better be polished because I brake for nobody."

"Yes sir, I got your wing," The rough canine acknowledged.

"Good to finally do some air superiority. I was just getting tired of bombing shit." The raspy voice of a nameless pilot announced.

"Hawkeye, you couldn't piss on the broadside of Solar. What makes you think you can tag a hostile?" Another voice mocked.

"Settle down kiddies and don't shit your diapers, the enemies are comin' in hot and so will we." Falco ordered. He punched the engines. The force pinned him to the seat and the fighter rocked under the power of the screaming thrusters. He climbed above the clouds.

"Firebird, we got some Threats." Eagle-7 clamored over the radio.

Falco noticed. The radar picked up two bandits that broke formation and pursued them. Nothing unexpected, but they were gaining ground too fast.

"Shit, Eagle-7 warning color yellow. Engage at will. I don't know what the hell we got on us but it's coming in hell for leather."

"Copy Firebird, attaining combat speed and altitude." Falco hit the brakes. The green blips closed in.

Aardvark's high pitched voice squealed in his ear, "I got visual. Holy shit, I've never seen that before."

In response a black spot screamed across Falco's nose. Falco jerked instinctively and focused on an attack.

"Aardvark, Firebird, Tally 1. Warning Red. Combat formations!" He yelled. He could see the bandit in front of him. It looked vaguely like an Arwing, but the body was too flat, the wings too narrow, and the twin engines were completely foreign. Could it be?

"Firebird, Eagle 7. Is that a Mark III?" the canine said in disbelief. Falco understood his concern. The new Arwing model is currently in pre-production stages, the maiden flight merely two months ago. How in the hell...?

The blare of an incoming fighter broke his thought. Tally 2.

Falco broke away. The corner of his eye caught the bandit blowing through before banking to reengage.

"Eagle 7, engage Tally 1. I'll get the one in front on of me."

"Roger that Firebird, weapons free," the husky barked.

"Go get him, you son of a bitch." Falco called.

"Affirmative." Damn dog doesn't know what joke is. Falco braked right, straining against the G-forces as the Arwing broke into defensive maneuvers. Blue Tip missiles, mounted on the Wolfen's wing, awaited deployment. The missile, dubbed "The Arwing Killer" was the first and only shield-piercing missile of its kind. The odd fluorescent material that coated its surface refracted energy shielding, letting the missile pass through and hit the fighter directly. One shot, one kill. If Falco could get a radar lock. Up, down, left, right, the guy zipped around like a gnat.

Jeez this little shit is good, Falco thought. He hadn't seen piloting this good since...

"Falco, if you'd shut your mouth for a second I'd might mistake you for decent pilot." Fox's voice echoed from the past. Falco paused. Years past by, the memories had not dulled in the slightest and the pang of nostalgia hit his heart. A frantic voice broke the remembrance.

"Firebird, Eagle 7. No joy on Tally 1. He's just...gone...." The radio chatter of the other pilots garbled the remainder of the sentence.

"He's on my tail, can anyone..."

"I got your hostile on the starboard side..."

"Fox 1...that's a miss."

Falco had no time. "Eagle-7, buddy spike and give it fast,"

Eagle-7 gave his location, "Grid Square Echo Charlie 12, Bearing South 82 degrees East, Angels 5."

Echo Charlie 12? How in the hell did he get so far away?

"Eagle 7, break away. Merge on my position."

"Roger Firebird... Oh shit he's behind me."

"Who is behind you?" Falco's bandit nosedived in front of him. The falcon pushed down to follow and his wingman screamed in his ear.

"He's got missile lock I can't shake him."

"Eagle-7, get the hell out of there!"

"Firebird, I can't get away. Oh F..." the radio went silent. Falco checked the HUD, his ally vanished from the screen.

"Firebird, Hawkeye. We just saw Eagle-7 go down and out. You need some assistance?"

"Negative, Hawkeye, stay on target." He had the bandit in his sights. He couldn't think, couldn't feel, he had work to do. Action was the only course.

G-forces racked his body. The reticule danced around his target and his kill was imminent. He got tone.

You're dead, buddy.

The Arwing shook violently. Stunned for a moment, it took a few seconds to realize the bandit hit the brakes and was flying straight at him. Falco banked right and nearly had his canopy ripped off. The Arwing settled directly behind him.

This guy is crazy, he thought, or wanted to have thought. A voice in his subconscious saw a method to the madness. This guy knew what he was doing. He pulled back on throttle, straining as he came out of the dive. His bandit followed suit. Falco felt a tinge on the back of his neck and he obeyed the command. His instincts told him something important.

He quickly punched up the map on HUD. With one hand on the throttle and the other dancing on the touch screen, he found the Lossian Canyon. A glance over its exterior revealed twisting ravines, jagged rocks, and ludicrously sharp turns. It was perfect.

"Alright kid, let's see if you can pilot this," Falco banked to left and hit the accelerator. The thrust pinned him to the seat and his muscles forced the blood back to his brain. He glanced behind him as saw the Arwing lose distance. Falco laughed. The new model's thrust to weight ratio is still lagging behind; and the Wolfen VI is a 5 year old design..

"Firebird, this Heron, are you sure you're okay out there?"

"Roger Heron, I've got sunshine comin' out my ass." he chuckled. A deep, snake-like ravine opened into view and Falco hit the brakes. It would be a tight fit but the bandit would be glass-chewing nuts to tail him. He flipped on his side and eased his way below the canyon edge. Falco navigated gingerly through winding passages of the canyon and the Lossian River slithered across his vision. Relaxing for a moment, he listened in on the rest of the team.

"I got him, I got him," the voice of Heron echoed over the air waves.

"Then fucking shoot him," Responded Hawkeye.

"I can't, I don't have tone,"

"Then you don't have him, do you?"

"Just a second for god's sake, you're like a barking terrier."

"Would you two keep it together out there! Hawkeye, divert and engage the primary target, Heron can take care of himself." Aardvark ordered. Falco bowed his head. God help us if these kids survive.

A warning light flashed on the display and Falco snuck a glimpse. Just as he feared, the bandit was fucking crazy. Falco jerked the throttle, speeding through the canyon as fast as possible. He shoke around the cockpit as each turn threw forces from the dynamic turns. He zoomed over a ridge, then another, and then he nearly creamed the side of a boulder. "Damn, I may be getting to old for this," He thought. The warning siren beeped again. Missile lock. He swiveled his head and saw the Arwing bob back and forth like hyperactive fly. "He's still back there? That guy's stubborn as hell."

"How can I lose him. How can I lose him." the thought ran through his mind. "Maybe a S-curve. Out of the question. Okay, If I moved....Wait, wait." The Arwing came in for the kill. "I got it."

Falco hit the brakes and dived to the river. The Arwing, surprised, tried to emulate but nearly clipped canyon floor. Falco hit the boost and went ballistic. His plane protested with a metallic rattle and Falco damn near lost control. He jerked the stick back and somersaulted over the valley walls. The sky went blue, then brown, then blue again. The fighter wouldn't stabilize. In a last ditch effort he shoved the stick forward, leveling the craft mere yards from the ground. He sighed with a mix of relief and exasperation.

"My heart's going to explode if I keep this up,"

Luckily, it hadn't. He moved in. He can't get away now.

The Tone was ebbing softly in his ear. Just a few more seconds. The monotone bleep of radar lock was hitting a crescendo. A grand symphony to the ears. His focus narrowed on the target. He could see the pilot in a vague silhouette, waving his arms and glancing behind him. Oddly, he didn't glance at Falco. He looked upward and then waved again. "Wait a minute," Falco thought to himself. The warning light flashed again.

Falco craned his neck. To his left, an Arwing dropped from the sky and moved in for the attack. His heart jumped to his neck. In a panic, he flipped a U-turn and got the hell out of there. He soared above the canyon walls, reaching well above the Hard Deck. The Arwings followed suit.

"No, stupid, that's what they wanted you to do." Falco said to himself, "Fucking Falco you're so damn stupid," He gunned it. Maneuvering at this speed was difficult, but Falco held it steady. "If can get above Mach VI they can't use their missiles, I might have a chance. Go, go, go you damn machine!"

"Firebird, Aardvark, can you repeat?" He must have said that out loud.

"Ignore that transmission, stay on target,"

"Firebird, sir, are you sure you don't need help out there?"

"Aardvark, I said stay on target,"

A determined pilot interjected, "Aardvark, Hawkeye, I'm going out there,"

"Hawkeye, if you come out here I'll shoot you down myself. Now blow through and take out that damn target!" He commanded. Falco weaved in and out. He tried every stunt, every sequence, every pattern. Nothing could shake them. They homed in like a bloodhound.

Falco's muscles ached. Fighting against the G-Forces was just too much. He felt tired. Slowly, his mind slipped away from tension and the cockpit was cold. Deathly cold. The horizon shimmered with orange glow of the sunset. The display spilled a green swash that illuminated the falcon's face. The throttle was soaked with sweat and felt slippery to his hands.

"I'm breaking away, target in sight,"

He breathed in.

"Pop. My angels are good,"

He breathed out.

"I got lock."

He closed his eyes.

"Fox 3. It's away!"

His eyes snapped open. The sound of missile lock punished his ears. They had him. A plum of lavender smoke erupted from his wings. He couldn't believe it. He was out of the fight. The Red Flag exercise was over.

The HUD flipped on, revealing two ecstatic faces grinning wildly in celebration. One pilot, a baby faced eagle with a brown mane of feathers, pointed a finger in Falco's direction, "You're dead Firebird, bug out and head to base."

His big eyed reptilian companion added, "You're outta here, sir." He smiled with an air of condescension. Same as ever.

"Hey dipshits." Falco responded. "Take a gander at your screen there. Oh, let's say about 200 miles to the west. I guess that would be the Grid Square Echo Charlie 10." Of course, he was referring to the primary target. The one these guys were supposed to be defending.

"Oh, see there it is." He motioned towards his own display. The yellow triangle representing the base stood clearly on the black canvas of the radar grid.
The yellow blip faded into nothingness.

"Uh oh, there it goes. That means 'Mission Failure' on your side, boys." The once jubilant faces of the young pilots lost some of their luster. Not too much, however. Falco knew that the smug self satisfaction of eliminating their flight instructor would keep bar-stool commentary for months. Given Falco's status, probably ten-fold of that. The two pilots had something else to worry about, though.

A furious female screamed in their headsets, loud enough even for Falco to hear, "Gryphon, Everest, you get your asses back to the LZ on the double!" The eagle pulled his headset away from ears, saving his earing, "We'll discuss why the hell you can't follow my orders. Bug out."

Falco chuckled, "You heard her kids."

Both fighters broke off and sped out. Falco turned back to his team's channel.

"Alright Wolverines, good work. We'll meet at 18:00 for debriefing. Over and out."

Aardvark sighed, "Yes sir Firebird, I've had it."

You and me both, Aardvark. Falco thought.

Heron spoke up, "So much for a training mission, that combat zone was hot. It's like the Flight of the Valkries out there,"

"Heron, Hawkeye, what the hell are you talking about,"

"Hawkeye, you remember the song. It's from that movie, you know," an unconformable pause saturated the channel.

"Heron, you're an idiot,"

The whole team laughed. Except its leader. Falco Lombardi switched off the channel. He heard enough for that evening. He leaned back against the seat. Sore from the floor up, he felt like he taken a good beating. The LED lights above him cast a grim shadow across his face. He stared up to the sky.

"You're dead Firebird." He heard again, the phrase cycling in his mind. He narrowed his eyes and slammed his fist against the cockpit. A metallic ping emanated from the hull..

"Dammit,"

------------------------------------------

"Falco strode down the galley*. Around him the joyous congratulations of his pilots set the tempo for future festivities. Mostly of the alcoholic and feminine kind. In times past Falco would have gladly joined them, but too many responsibilities constrained him and deep down, he began to feel above that sort of thing. What a crazy world.

A loud cry caught his attention.

To his left, Gryphon ran to his wingman in excitement. The iguana, surprised by the outburst, could only stand motionlessly while his partner charged him. Despite his size, the Iguana collapsed effortlessly as the bird tackled him to the ground.

"We got'em, dude, we got'em." He yelled in his partner' ear. The hot-blooded eagle smacked his helmet and the poor reptile flushed in embarrassment.

"I know, I know, now get off me." the big lizard screamed. He picked up his companion like a down pillow and tossed him to the side.

Unphased, the wiry eagle continued, "Nobody's ever done that before, man, not anybody, except you and me."

"Well," Falco responded to himself, "Not in the military, anyway," His words carried a kind of mental poison. The event was still replaying in his mind and he felt a little chill in his spine.

The reptile grinned, "I know," He grabbed Gryphon by the shoulder and pulled him to his side, "But, you don't need to molest me on the landing pad over it."

Gryphon just laughed, "Come on, buddy, I saved your ass out there. I think I deserve a little something out of appreciation."

"You'll get something alright..."

"Gryphon, Everest!" came the sharp lash of a female flight instructor. Practically running towards them, the instructor tore at her flight helmet in a feverish attempt to remove it. The pilots immediately stood at attention., their faces magically stoic and respectful.

"What in the hell are doing out there. I told you regroup, not go flying on your little tirade from the goddamn..." she pulled on her helmet again, finally yanking it free. The now visible face of the lynx was cinched with contempt. Enraged, she slammed the helmet on the ground, the impact sending a reverberating crack on the pavement. The two young pilots would have laughed if not on the knife's edge of verbal assault.

Everest was the first to speak up, "Ma'am, we had visual of the bandit. The enemy posed a significant threat to the base* and we had permission to engage,"

"I receded that order." She said through clenched teeth. She lifted a finger and thrust it violently at him. "Or did you suffer from a little, selective hearing again?"

A deep-chested chuckle emanated at Falco's back, "Look's like the Major's blowing her top again," Falco looked behind him to see Eagle-7 smiling his sharp toothed Husky grin. He showed no visible signs of displeasure from his elimination during the exercise. Maybe he was just satisfied watching the two get chewed out. "They fly like demons, but they'll never make it to graduation at this rate." Falco fixed him with piercing stare.

"Don't you have a report to file?"

The Husky's eyes widened and he momentarily lost composure. "Yes sir, right away sir," He said. The canine fumbled a salute and gathered his things. He ran off the landing pad posthaste. Falco watched with a bemused interest. "Too serious. Well, maybe that's to his benefit." He muttered to himself.

"...and what the hell is your excuse?"

Gryphon's eyes remained straight ahead of him, focused as if his life depended on it " Ma'am, Everest was in trouble. I thought it would be best if."

"You thought it would be best?" The lynx broke in, "Well I think its best if I kick your balls into your throat, but does that make it a good idea?"

"Ma'am No ma'am,"

"You're right, it wouldn't be, no matter how much I want to. And you want to know why?" She didn't wait for a response, "Because you two clowns are some of the best pilots I've seen in years and if you had something other than shit between your ears, we wouldn't have lost today." The two pilots just stood in silence.

"Next time, when I tell you to divert to my location, you do it no matter what shit you get yourselves into, am I clear?"

"Yes Ma'am!" they called in unison.

"Dismissed." They both turned about face and marched from the landing pad with forced sternness. Falco walked over and snatched the helmet from the floor. "You might not want to break this, Miyu. The government might bill you for it." Miyu ripped it from his hands. "Well, screw you very much, Falco." She replied.

"You're welcome."

-------------------

The dim light of the desk lamp shone weakly, giving Falco barely enough light to write his reports. Hours of this kind of thing made his hands hurt and his brain go numb. He lifted his hands from the keyboard. The clock on the wall read 20:12 and he officially had enough. His body demanded caffeine. Forcing his way up of the desk, he sauntered over to the coffee maker and grabbed a bag of grinds. He stopped when he spotted a dully colored photograph peering at him through an oaken frame.

Picking up the picture, he was welcomed with the 20 year old smiles of the former Star Fox team. Peppy stood to the right, grinning with the comic jowls and graying fur. As old as he looked, he was virile compared to today. Today, Peppy's only method of existence is through a jungle of tubing, oxygen tanks, and dialysis machines. Slippy, well, he was doing alright for himself; became a full time engineer at his father's company. Then founded one of his own. Makes him over eight figures. Good for him.

Then Falco landed his eyes upon himself. He looked so young. He smiled that cocky ass little smile, his feathers all nice and full. The Falco then was so alive, not a hint of anxiety etched on his visage.

"Wow," he marveled.

In the glossy exterior of the photograph, Falco could see the reflection of his current self. The feathers around his body had begun to thin and look rustled. The red ones around his eyes had faded like a bleached cloth. The skin around his face begun to drift to the floor and his beak developed white spots of discoloration. Crows feet snaked around eyes. When had I grown so old?

"Could you keep this room any darker? What are you, a bat?" The overhead lights flicked on, temporarily blinding the poor bird. A few blinks later he saw Miyu leaning against the door way, her hands in her pockets and an ambiguous smile on her face. Her fur remained tussled from her helmet and she never removed her flight suit. "You okay over here. I thought it was getting kinda late for you." She said inquisitively.

"Naw, I just wanted to finish these damn things today so I didn't have to do them tomorrow." He pointed to the monitor on his desk.

She chuckled, "I've been done with that for over an hour, Falco, you having troubles in the writing department again?"

"Hey, back when I was a merc I never did this stuff." Falco responded with a tinge of bitterness, "You've had way more experience with this bureaucratic garbage."

"Sure, sure." She strolled towards him with exaggerated steps, "Well, Falco, You put on a hell of a show out there today."

"I am not so sure about that."

She cocked her head to the side, "You really think so? I heard those boys screaming my ear the whole time. They were pretty impressed with some of the stuff you did out there."

Falco gave a sigh and folded his arms, "I don't know. I just don't know."

"Oh, I see how this is. The big tough legendary Falco get taken out by his students and now he's developing some shattered ego syndrome." she said with a pretend frown on her face.

Falco looked up to the ceiling, "Well, maybe."

Miyu flinched. "Now I wasn't expecting that." She sat down in Falco's chair. "Okay, seriously what's wrong?"

He looked to the floor, "Today I saw two pilots do things that were absolutely insane."

"Well, that's true." She said with a laugh.

"No, I mean." He paused for a moment. "I mean the kind of crazy that people used to call me."

Miyu blinked a few times, "What do you mean?"

"The maneuvers they do are things that nobody else would even try, and it always works." He threw his hands up. "It's kind of thing that me and Fox did and everyone Oohh and Ahhed about."

"I'm just not sure what I can teach these kids."

Miyu rested her head on her hands, "Falco, these kids still have a lot to learn. For instance, they need to learn things like, 'divert to my position' or 'skip it' or 'get your ass back here'" She stood up from her chair with a sigh, "You see, they don't know what any of that means."

"Miyu, I'm being serious."

"So am I." She said flatly. Rising from her seat, the lynx wore an icy expression. "Those two have serious conduct issues. It's only by the good graces of their skills that they have survived this long."

"They'll figure it out eventually. Hell it took me until I was in my mid-thirties."

Miyu shook her head, "You were still a merc then. This the army and no commander will put up with that shit for long. It's a bitch because I actually want to see them succeed. You can't make it a "for-hire" now." She focused her eyes on Falco, "You know that as much as anyone."

Rolling his eyes, Falco lifted his dogtags and jingled them in the air. "Tell me about it. After the damn Tribunal passed the Katina Resolution not a single military gig in the system would contract out." He let the tags drop to his chest, "Ran me right out of business."

Miyu just looked at him, "You know, if you don't like it here you really shouldn't force yourself to stay."

Exhaling, Falco looked somberly to the floor, "I don't know, I don't necessarily hate it here. It's just." he paused. "I'm not sure I would be happy anywhere."

He waved his hand up, "It's like, I'm out in space. There is nothing around me, no anchor, no umbilical cord, no mother ship. I'm just floating away. Just floating away." He said, his last words nearly inaudible. Unconsciously, he wringed his arm and stared at the wall.

For a moment Miyu watched his nervous reaction with reluctance. Finally, she walked up to him and, with an irritated look, grabbed the offending appendage.

"Stop that. You'll end up rubbing all the feathers off your hand."

Falco squinted in annoyance, "What I do with my hands is none of your business."

She shook her head, "I don't care. It gets on my nerves and it makes you look neurotic."

He reached to her hand, making to pull it off of him. When he touched her, the flash of a gold band reflected in his eyes. He peeked at the ring; its luster was fresh, no more than a few years old, but still bared the dings and scrapes of a punished life. The price of belonging to Falco Lombardi. Miyu was close and her breath blasted his feathers. His eyes flicked up and met Miyu's. She smiled. Falco stared at her for a moment before smiling himself. He leaned a little closer. He opened his mouth a crack and squinted his eyes. Miyu didn't breath. Falco was almost there when he stopped. He took in a breath, then bellowed a hearty laugh

Miyu stood perplexed, "What are you laughing about?"

"You girly," He peeled her hand off of his, "I'm laughing at you."

Miyu pushed him away playfully, "Typical." She stepped toward the door, "I'll see you later."

He took a few backwards steps into the office. "And by the way!" He called.

She turned to face him, "What?"

"When was anybody going to tell me about the Arwings?"

The feline smiled, "I'll give you the full details later, but let's just say an old friend suggested it."

"An old friend?". He mused for a moment before it came to him. "Dammit! I should have known!"

He heard Miyu laugh down the hallway. She had already left.

Frustrated, Falco settled back down into his chair and picked up his coffee cup. His empty coffee cup. "Damn, I never made the damn coffee." He muttered glaring into the empty recesses of the mug. He stood back up and headed over to the coffee maker. "Frickin' Miyu, how they hell do I ever complete anything when she's around. Jeez." He ripped open the package, sending coffee grounds shooting outward across the table, "DAMMIT!"

The phone rang behind him. Curiously, Falco furrowed his brow. "Who the hell?" He checked the clock. 20:40. He never got calls this late. Okay, he did, but usually by insurance salesman and never at his office, Tired and angry, Falco was tempted to just let the damn thing ring off the hook, but its beckoning call got the better of him. He lifted the receiver. "Major Lombardi's office,"

A soothing feminine voice returned his greeting, "Yes, is this Mr. Lombardi?" Not anybody Falco recognized, it was quiet and nonthreatening, like a mother speaking to her child. "This is him."

The woman continued, "Sir, this Williams Medical Center, calling in regards to a..." He heard a paper rustle, "Fox McCloud."
What did he get himself into this time. He thought to himself. "Yes, he is a friend of mine."

She continued, "Mr. Lombardi. We were instructed to contact you in regards to Mr. McCloud's current health.'

Falco gripped the phone tighter with impatience, "Yes, and?"

"It seems Mr. McCloud has suffered an injury."

Falco sat expressionless, "Fox usually gets those."

"Well, Mr. Lombardi, he is very sick." The woman paused a moment.

"Sick? Sick isn't in Fox's vocabulary. What's going on."

"We are not entirely sure; Mr. Lombardi, but we can guess that..." Falco heard enough.

"I'll be right down." he slammed the phone down on the receiver.
>>
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