1. Chapter 1 by Madilayn
It’s been two months since Mark left without a word. Four weeks since he disappeared, and even Anderson’s worried.
And I’ve got more problems of my own now, problems that are going to tax the team further. This particular problem is another that I can directly relate to my missing husband.
To make matters worse, today is my first wedding anniversary. A day I should be spending with my husband. I could, for instance, be using today to tell him my secret, newly confirmed yesterday. On a day like this, if he were here, that same secret wouldn’t be a problem – or at least not as much as it is now.
Instead, I’m trying to shake my far-too-solicitous team-mates, including one who is just too damn observant for his own good. I need some time on my own, but I can’t make them see that. It’s not as if I’m going to kill myself, or go haring off by myself to find him.
G-Force has been doing that for the last month, scouring both Riga and Spectra to see if we can find any trace of Mark.
All we’ve managed to do is unearth a lot of bases, and blow up a lot of mecha-in-progress. Not bad, I suppose. No – at any other time, it would be a triumph for G-Force. It still is, to those outside the team. It means that Spectra haven’t been able to attack, but it also means that I’ve had no time to myself to come to terms with what’s happened.
I turn around and sigh. It’s Keyop (or rather Kye as he’s insisting we call him now), and I can’t bring myself to snap at him. If anything, he’s the person on the team who’s taking all this as badly as I am. He idolises Mark, and the idea that he would desert us has shaken him to his very soul.
“Looking for you,” he says. “You OK?” He then looks stricken – he knows I’m not OK. But then, tact has never been his strong point. I try to smile at him, and, though it’s rather watery, it’s a smile. I’m also rather startled to realise that I’m having to look up at him these days. He’s going to give both Mark and Jason a run for their money in height.
“Bearing up, Kye. What’s up?”
“Anderson wants to see us. Important.”
“Mark?” I ask, hope rising in a bubble. To get news that he’s on his way home would be the best anniversary gift I could get.
Kye, however, shakes his head. “Not Mark,” he says sadly.
My hope dies, as it has every day now. I rub my hand over my belly and stop myself abruptly. I’m not ready to tell this news to the team yet – and if I keep making gestures like that, somebody will notice and probably guess. Most likely Tiny’s wife Ann, but definitely Jason.
Like I said – he’s too observant for his own good – or in this case, my own good.
When we re-enter the room, he’s there in his usual place against the door. As we enter, his eyes flick over us. To anybody who doesn’t know him well, it’s a casual glance.
I know him very well. Since I was eight years old, to be precise. Jason doesn’t do casual glances. In fact, Jase doesn’t do casual anything. Which is why Ann and I have long since given up trying to find him a steady girlfriend. Or any girlfriend. Or boyfriend for that matter. Jason, being Jason, will do things in his own way in his own time.
And probably surprise us all when he does.
I look at the other occupants of the room, and am surprised that Ann Harper is there with Tiny. Although she’s the Chief’s PA, she usually doesn’t sit in on these briefings, which means that he’s called us in here for “family” business, rather than strictly G-Force.
I stop myself putting my hand on my belly again and perch in one of the armchairs. Not the couch. It’s where Mark and I always sat, and I can’t bear to sit there without his comforting presence by my side.
Adjusting, it’s all about adjusting. Adjusting to him not being in my bed, and, more importantly, to his not being in my daily life as he has been for the last fourteen years since I joined this little family.
I glance at Jason again, and know that he’s missing that presence just as much as me – possibly more because he and Mark had been together as brothers before I arrived on the scene.
Neither of them ever speak of it, but I know just how deeply they do love each other. I bet they’ve never even admitted it to each other. I only found out when for sure Jason was so ill and Mark was killing himself trying to find out what was wrong. It had come to a head on the way back from Spectra when Jason had pulled Mark and I out of trouble there. He’d collapsed, and Mark had been beside himself with worry when he was on the telecom to the medics trying to figure out what was wrong. Neither Mark nor Jason has ever told me what was wrong, and I never asked. If they wanted me to know, they would have said something.
I look at Jason again, and find him looking steadily at me, eyes narrowed. He can’t possibly tell. Even I can’t tell just by looking. He suspects something, though. Damn him. Damn those same observation skills that we bless on a mission. Damn, damn, damn.
The Chief clears his throat, commanding all our attention.
“We’ve no further news about Mark,” he begins, looking directly at me. “I’m sorry, Princess. I wish I had better news for you.”
“For us all,” I say. Right now, all I want to do is go home, hide in bed and howl, as I’ve done every night since Mark left. It’s my wedding anniversary! I know that I’ve got tears running down my face, and more waiting to spill over. I gratefully take the handkerchief that is dropped over my shoulder, taking comfort from the weight of the hand briefly on my shoulder.
Anderson nods before continuing. “I know you’ve been out looking for him, and so have the Rigans. It’s to help that search that I’m now going to tell you exactly what Mark’s mission was.”
“A little late, isn’t it.” It’s not a question from Jason, but a statement. His voice is flat in the way it gets when he’s really angry. I don’t blame him. Every time that one of us has gone out on their own, without the rest of the team involved, it’s been a disaster. This time included.
“We had to be sure that nobody would be compromised by me telling you this,” Anderson says firmly.
“What a load of crap.” We’re all surprised at the outburst from Kye. It’s times like this when it’s forcibly brought home to us that he’s not a kid any more.
At seventeen, he’s the age Mark, Jason and I were when the team first put on birdstyle and Mark officially became the Commander of G-Force. “G-Force is supposed to be the most senior of all the Federation Security forces. If we’re not cleared, then who the hell is?” he asks.
Score one for him. It’s also the longest sentence I’ve ever heard him say without a hitch. He realises it too, and looks sheepishly proud. I manage a smile at him and he grins back.
Anderson looks troubled. “The information I’m about to give you has been known only to three people – myself, Mark and Colonel Cronus.”
“Cronus! I should have known.” I blurt. I’ve never liked Cronus – none of us except Mark ever have. Mark was surprised when he found that out. He thought I did – in fact he thought I had a crush on him at one point.
Cronus has always been too suave for my liking – always on the lookout for his own escape. He reminds me a lot of Zoltar – except Cronus is on our side. Sometimes, I’d prefer Zoltar. At least you know where you stand with Zoltar.
Looking at Cronus and Mark, it’s hard to believe that they’re father and son – not only do they not look similar, but their personalities and motivations are completely different.
All the blocks fall into place now that I know that Cronus has been involved in this all along. He’s always wanted Mark out of G-Force to work with him, and he’s never approved my relationship with Mark – in fact all of Mark’s prattle about duty, chain of command and non-fraternisation with subordinates came from him. I always thank god that one day a combination of alcohol, heat, skimpy lingerie and hormones managed to prevail. Otherwise, I may have been forced to rely on bricks and planks (or my favourite Condor) in order to land my Eagle.
“Princess, I know you don’t get on with Cronus, but..”
“Chief, Mark’s the only one that gets on with Cronus. The rest of us he barely acknowledges, except as irritating children that should be under his command.” Tiny’s angry now, more angry than I’ve seen him in a while, but his comment shows once again that there’s a lot more to Tiny Harper than meets the eye.
The only person in the room who hasn’t done a double take at his outburst is Ann – but then she and Tiny have much the same sort of connection Mark and I have. Had. No. Have. We still have the connection. I know he’s alive. I’d feel it if he were dead.
Wouldn’t I? I wish I could feel him at all.
Not many people understand the total connection that G-Force has to each other – not even Anderson. Those cerebonics have hardwired us to each other. Anderson explained it all to us before we agreed to have them implanted, how that would affect our interactions forever.
But he didn’t take into account Mark’s own latent empathic and precognitive skills – and that was the first thing that changed how they worked.
We’ve all been hardwired to Mark as our Commander – even Tiny and Kye who were implanted before the rest of us. It’s not hard to change the programming – but it is intrusive and they do it as little as possible.
When you add Mark’s own talents to that, it means that we’ve always been able to feel when the others are around. The thing we miss most is Mark’s touch first thing in the morning, and the last thing at night, when he’s always checked to see if his team is OK. I’m not even sure he realises he does it (especially in the mornings; my husband is definitely not a morning person unless there’s sex or a Spectran attack involved) – it’s on such an instinctive level.
It gets hard when we’re not all connected in some way – like when we’re on the ground, and one of us is off-planet or on a mecha. Then, we start to panic because of our missing pieces.
We’ve been in a state of suppressed panic now for two months.
Always five, acting as one. That’s what the PR department says about us. Nobody outside the team knows exactly how true that is. Nobody knows exactly how we’re connected. That when we’re acting as G-Force it really is only one mind involved.
As we were the first people – the only people - to have had these implants, nobody could have forseen what would happen when Mark and I entered into a sexual relationship. It surprised the hell out of us! When you added Mark’s abilities into that little equation, I found myself being able to do things I’d never even thought of. In that moment, when you’re caught up in your lover so much that there’s only the two of you in the universe, Mark and I are able to enter each other’s minds – fully and completely, so that there is only one being.
At other times, when we’re near, we can literally feel the other one in our blood, a singing through our veins.
I miss that. And I wish that we’d been able to connect our minds at times other than during sex – it wasn’t for lack of trying. We both knew the advantage that would give us on a mission. If we had been able to pull it off, then we wouldn’t be in this mess. I know now why he refused me entry on our last night together.
He had a secret to keep, and he was going to keep it no matter what the cost.
Even if the cost was me. Us. I can’t blame him – it’s his nature. I love him all the more because of it.
But I want him back. Now – if not sooner.
But definitely before our baby is born.