Categories: Battle of the Planets Characters:
Chief Anderson, Don Wade, Goon, Great Spirit, Jason, Keyop, Mala/S-9, Mark, Original Character, Other Canon Character, Princess, Zoltar
Angst, Drama, Hurt/ComfortStory Warnings:
Adult Situations, Death, Mature Content, Mild Adult Situations, Mild Language, Mild Sexual References, Mild Violence, Sexual Dialogue, Sexual Situations, Strong Language, Torture, ViolenceTimeframe:
This story was literally years in the making. Thanks to the Cluibhouse readers who were so patient during all of that time!
1. Introduction by TransmuteJun
2. Beloved by TransmuteJun
3. Chapter 2 by TransmuteJun
4. Chapter 3 by TransmuteJun
5. Chapter 4 by TransmuteJun
6. Chapter 5 by TransmuteJun
7. Chapter 6 by TransmuteJun
8. Chapter 7 by TransmuteJun
9. Chapter 8 by TransmuteJun
10. Chapter 9 by TransmuteJun
11. Chapter 10 by TransmuteJun
12. Chapter 11 by TransmuteJun
13. Chapter 12 by TransmuteJun
14. Chapter 13 by TransmuteJun
15. Chapter 14 by TransmuteJun
Introduction by TransmuteJun
He was never seen without them. Since shortly after Spectra had defeated the Federation, Zoltar was always accompanied by these particular bodyguards.
The stories about them were legion. Some were rumors. Some were out and out lies. All was speculation. The questions came from all sides, but nobody could identify them for certain, although some had their suspicions.
They had appeared suddenly, clad in the black and lavender of the Elite Blackbird squadrons; clothing similar yet different. Their wings were fuller, falling in graceful folds around lithe bodies; their faces unmasked.
No Blackbird could place an identity to these three. One was female. Females were never Blackbirds, yet none of the Galaxy Girls knew her either.
One was clearly Spectran, the other two, well; they could have been from anywhere.
All three were beautiful, in face as well as form. Tall, lithe and graceful in the way that a predator moves. Those who had seen them in action said that none could stand against them. Their movements were silent, and they left foes dead before most even realised they had moved.
Two men and a woman. She seemed fragile standing between the men, yet those who had fought against her could attest to her skill. She was taller than most females, her seeming fragility the result of the superior height and broader builds of her companions.
They were the elite of the elite. Accorded all the privileges of Spectran Elite, yet seeming also to be prisoners of Zoltar.
They guarded their Master, yet there were those who whispered… who would guard Zoltar against his guards? What would happen if they turned on him?
Oh yes, there were stories.
It was said that they were genetic constructs, experiments.
It was said that they were cyborgs.
It was said that they shared their Master's bed. Singly and as a group. Certainly this last could be stated with some certainty, as many had seen him passionately kiss all three. Many had seen the joy with which they greeted him. Many had seen them retire to the same bedchamber, and emerge the following morning.
Those who had seen them close; who had more or less daily contact, had said that at times, they seemed to hate their Master. At times, they all wore a look of indescribable longing.
One, who seemed to be the leader of the three, often looked to the sky, his blue eyes yearning.
Other than their great ruler, Zoltar and his sister Mala, only one man would be able to confirm the truth if he was to see them, and he was kept locked away, too dangerous to be free.
He spent his days locked in a prison of guilt, wondering where he made the mistake that sent his children to oblivion.
Thus it continued until five years after Spectra's victory.
Thanks to Thunderbird for the wonderful illustration!
The first thing he had done, after ascertaining that certain portions of their memories had been wiped, had been to give them names. Names that he felt suited their new lives, names which, nevertheless, he made sure that reflected in some way their past existence.
It would never do to use their real names or publicly known identities. They must be thought to be dead, and he could never let them remember their own past.
There was Shadow, the leader. Blue eyed, auburn haired and charismatic yet, like the name he had been given, invisible to both eye and ear when he chose. He had always, Zoltar reflected, had that aura of leadership about him. Yet, that wide eyed steady blue gaze always seemed so innocent.
Then there was his alter-ego Blade – the Spectran one. It perplexed Zoltar how they had all missed his heritage before. When you looked at him it was obvious.
He was taller than the others, his hair the color of burnt caramel with exotically slanted blue-grey eyes. In a room of Spectrans, he was undistinguished, but amongst the other humanoid races, he stood out. Where and how, Zoltar often wondered, had they gotten hold of him?
Then there was Nox. Beloved by all three, although she and Shadow were bound together in a way that nobody but they understood. Zoltar had no idea about her heritage. What genetics, he wondered, had given her that unusual combination of pale, pearlescent skin, vivid green eyes and hair that was sometimes black, sometimes green? Sometimes he thought that he could see in her traces of the Old Clans of Spectra – those clans long extinct, wiped out generations ago by their opposition to the Great Spirit.
They belonged to him, now. Bound to him body and soul, bonds renewed by their regular joinings.
Not that any of them considered that a hardship.
At first, Zoltar had been astonished that all had little or no experience in the Pleasures, but then he began to revel in it, taking the time to teach them the joys the flesh could give, encouraging them to experiment with him and with others.
They kept coming back to him, until they eschewed the others completely. He had worried that he would lose Shadow and Nox when he saw their own bond growing day by day. Once, he had voiced this concern to them, knowing that his own hold over them would be weakened if they ceased their mutual sexual encounters.
They had been perplexed at the thought that they would not share with Zoltar or Blade, and he had rejoiced in their subsequent union.
They could not seem to grasp that their own bond should be put before that of the unit. In his joy, Zoltar made sure, though, that they did get time to spend together. It pained him and Blade to be separate from them, but it made the reunions all the sweeter.
Yet, he knew they had only the illusion of freedom. He could see in their eyes sometimes that they knew it too. He watched Shadow yearn for the freedom of the sky and knew that he could not give it.
The risk would be too great.
He dressed them in a manner to which he knew they were accustomed. At first, they had worn full Blackbird garb, but when Zoltar saw them try to fly using the stiff, unwieldy wings; to fight using talons, he relented. Besides, since first seeing their faces, he had been loath to hide them, so had made adjustments.
The fuller wings, the lack of talons, the bare faces. Thus, he could gaze on them and enjoy their beauty; could see the joy in their faces when they spoke to him.
He could also rejoice in the knowledge that members of the ex-Federation who suspected, also now knew they were his.
Thus it continued until five years after the Spectran victory.
Zoltar watched them sleeping. It had long been one of his pleasures, to watch them at rest, bodies relaxed, and expressions unguarded.
At first it had amused him to see their true natures revealed in this unconscious state, watching the way they slept.
Shadow and Nox inevitably curled up in each other's arms. Blade restless beside them, close yet apart; until an arm or leg from one of the others drew him into their embrace and his restless sleep settled.
Sometimes, Zoltar felt jealousy at the trio's closeness, a jealousy that pricked until he was once again within that embrace himself.
It had, he reflected, happened gradually. At first there was pride of ownership. Pride that these enemies had been bonded until they were now his closest allies. Those who had once hunted him now extended a fierce protection.
It had amused him, at first, to bond them to him in this way. It took him time to realize that he needed them as much as they needed him. He realized why the bond had been forbidden, for it bound the bonder as much as it did those who were bonded. Now, five years later, only death could part them.
He had tried, in those first couple of years, to unearth the secrets of their skills. He had performed scans until he found their implants. Tried to remove them, tried to see how they worked. But he had stopped when he had discovered that any physical attempts at tampering rendered them useless as fighters, and could kill them.
He had continued trying through electronic means, until the night he had come to discover them sobbing heartbreakingly. He had gathered them to him and they had told how the electronic experiments hurt, both physically and mentally.
He had vowed then never to let anybody touch them. He had made the decision to forget about obtaining the technology, rather than lose them.
When Mala had accused him of loving them, he had not been able to deny it. It had shown in his face, and she had poured scorn on him.
"And what will you do, Brother dear, when your captive birds turn on you? When they decide that a cage, however gilded, is still a cage?"
"They are mine, Mala. We are bound together heart and soul now. To be apart from each other is not possible."
She had been horrified. "What have you done, Zoltar? That is forbidden!"
"I am the ruler of the Spectran Empire, Mala. Nothing is forbidden to me."
"Remember that, brother. Remember that when the Great Spirit finds out what you have done. Remember that when he breaks that bond, and shatters your souls."
"It is no different to what he did to me, Sister. Our Great Spirit forbade the ritual to ensure that only he could forge that bond."
"And yet you defied him. You undertook it yourself. How many others, Zoltar?"
"You know I am the only one. When the Spirit forbade the joining, he put to death all those who could forge it. Only the Ruler of Spectra; the High Priest of the Great Spirit, knows how."
She shook her head. "They are still your enemies, Zoltar. Deep down, they are still your enemies."
"That is gone, Mala. What has been forged between us cannot be broken."
"Again, remember that. And pray that it is true. Because if they ever remember, then their vengeance will be swift."
"There is only one who can make them remember, and he is kept locked away. The others of their unit are dead. They have no bond to their former team."
He turned away from her to contemplate the sleeping forms in front of him, and she left the room, disturbed at the revelation.
Now, three years after that conversation, five years after their Victory, he worried.
Of late, it seemed, they had started to dream. Worse, their dreams had started to take form. In their sleep, he could hear them muttering, whispering names, places.
Once, he had heard Nox whisper Shadow's true name as they shared Pleasures. Worse, he had acknowledged it, and the two had shut out both Zoltar and Blade, lost in their dream world, only re-emerging after climax.
Zoltar was getting worried. He could see the times when they were confused were becoming more and more frequent. The yearning look was back in their eyes.
They were seeing their gilded cage for what it was, and he could not see what had occurred to strain the links he had forged.
He couldn't lose them. To be alone again, to return to those empty days and nights without his beloved companions, would be torture.
Somehow, he knew that he had to find out what had happened to change their bond.
He knew the answer lay in those implants. And that meant one thing.
He would have to see Anderson. Have to let Anderson see them.
It was a risk, but he was willing to risk everything to ensure he did not lose them.
Shadow, Blade and Nox. The Eagle, Condor and Swan. What would he do without them?
Chapter 2 by TransmuteJun
The reception room was crowded with people, both the Elite of Spectran society, as well as representatives from the former Federation – now part of the Spectran Empire.
Faces were schooled into expressions of pleasure at the announcement that Divine Zoltar was to make his appearance. One young man, who appeared to be attached to a minor planetary ruler, tried to slip behind a potted palm as Mala stalked through the room. His companion, a blonde woman, looked at him.
"She won't recognize you. Five years, Keyop. It's a long time, and you've grown up a lot since then."
"I can't take the chance, Julie. I don't know why I'm even here."
"I need to make you understand, Keyop. You need to see for yourself that they've betrayed us." The girl's voice was bitter. "They left you and Tiny to die, and sold out the Federation."
"No." His voice was louder than he had intended and people nearby turned to look. He grasped her arm and drew her towards him, his eyes blazing. "They did not. I won't believe it. Not Princess. Not Mark. Not even Jason. Never."
"Then look for yourself, Keyop. Zoltar's Beloved. He calls them that, did you know? Refers to them as his Beloved."
"No," and Keyop shook his head in distress, "No. It must be something else. You don't know them like I do. No."
"Look!" hissed Julie, pulling him forward as Zoltar entered. "Look for yourself, Keyop, and learn. Gaze upon the faces of the traitors."
Keyop forced himself to watch as Zoltar and his Beloved moved down the center of the room. On his arm was a beautiful black-haired woman, her hair piled on top of her head, locks falling onto her bare shoulders. Her violet gown was slit to the thigh and her green eyes darted around the room restlessly, stilling only when they rested on the blue-eyed man on the other side of Zoltar.
Shadow was troubled. He knew that this type of gathering was just what the Resistance would use to try to kill their Master. His eyes flicked to Blade, who nodded briefly, before scanning his own side of the room.
Blade's eyes passed over the young man and paused. He flicked his hand briefly, gaining the attention of his companions who followed his gaze. Keyop saw them looking and raised his head, gazing directly into the faces of three people he had loved most in the world.
He couldn't deny it any longer, not with them barely ten feet from him. It was Mark, Princess and Jason – the three of them now known as the Beloved. The elite of the Blackbirds, fierce protectors of Zoltar.
Did they recognize him? He forced himself to meet their gaze, waiting for the shout, the denouncement. But they had moved on, and he slipped out onto the balcony, shoulders heaving with emotion.
It was them. He felt Julie's arm around his shoulder and he turned and allowed himself the comfort of her loving embrace.
He still didn't believe that they had betrayed the Federation. Not after looking into their eyes.
The eyes of three people that had once sparked with life, with emotion.
Not now. Their eyes were dead, vacant of memory.
This was not the Eagle, Swan and Condor except in body.
"I'll free them, Julie," he said. "They're captives, somehow. Zoltar has brainwashed them."
"No, Keyop. They couldn't be brainwashed. Not G-Force."
Keyop laughed bitterly. "You people have no idea," he said. "We're human too, Julie. Zoltar's studied G-Force more closely than anybody outside the Federation. He can brainwash us. He's tried it before. And if they were badly injured when we fell, then it's quite likely that it would have succeeded."
He raised his head and stood tall. "But now I know that they're alive, I've got a chance. I'll not leave them here. We're G-Force. We never leave each other behind."
"What if they don't want to come?"
"They will. Once I can break through to them, they'll come."
"I don't know, Julie." He shook his head with frustration. "But it's now even more imperative that we free Anderson. He'll know. Our mission to free Anderson is more vital than you could ever know. That will be the catalyst to defeating Spectra." He looked around.
"Time to go, Julie. Let's see what we can find here." And he was off, vanishing into the night.
Julie shook her head. She didn't care what Keyop said. Nox, Blade and Shadow were traitors. And if Keyop didn't kill them, she would.
Nox saw the young man exiting the reception hall, and flicked her gaze in Blade's direction. His grey-blue eyes narrowed, and he nodded. Quietly, Nox slipped out of the room, following the strange youth.
But that was just it. He wasn't strange… not exactly. For a split second, when Nox had looked at his face, he had seemed… familiar. She knew that Blade and Shadow had seen it too, and knew as well that none of them had chosen to mention this to the Master.
Was it possible? Could he be someone from Before?
Even now, a wave of fear washed over Nox, as the possibility crossed her mind. She didn't want to know. She didn't want to find out about her past. She knew there were terrible secrets buried there, and she couldn't imagine that learning of them would do anything but wreak havoc with this fragile existence that she and her companions had built for themselves.
Although there were occasional feelings of despair, the sight of the Master always brought such happiness. Nox was filled with joy at the very thought of him. He was the center around which her universe revolved, and she would never want to disturb that delicate balance.
Or had she already done so? Without even realizing it, Nox knew that her emotions now had another focus in Shadow. But he was also devoted to the Master, and that did not threaten their idyllic world with him, and with Blade.
But for now, there was the matter of this man. Familiar or not, his sudden departure from the Hall was suspicious, and Nox's primary duty was to protect the Master.
She caught sight of him in the hallway, trying to blend in, but standing out like a sore thumb. It was obvious that he was from a backward planet, and not used to mixing with the Spectran Elite. Nox observed him for a moment, suddenly picturing him looking much more awkward: a gangly mess of arms and legs. The image was gone as quickly as it had come.
The moment he attempted to open a doorway into a restricted section, Nox accosted him.
"That is a forbidden area." she intoned coldly, pulling his hand away from the door handle. "What business do you have there?"
"I…" the young man appeared flustered. "I was looking for the bathroom." he muttered, lowering his eyes so that he wouldn't have to look at her.
His voice startled Nox. There was something about it… it sounded wrong, as if it didn't really belong to him. The odd feeling of familiarity vanished.
"The personal facilities are in this direction." she corrected him. "I will escort you there." Her tone made it sound like she would be escorting him to his execution.
"Thanks." he replied quietly, sneaking a glance at her from underneath his messy brown hair. Nox couldn't help feeling that he should really be much younger, but she shook off the random thought.
They walked in silence down the corridor for a moment, until they reached their destination. Nox briefly debated following the youth inside, but decided that she had already embarrassed him enough. Perhaps his fleeting familiarity had caused her to be too harsh in her judgment of him. But then, she couldn't be too careful. Not when the Master's personal safety was at stake.
The man began to enter the facilities, and then turned as she was walking away.
"Princess…" he whispered sorrowfully. It was very quiet, and most people probably wouldn't have heard near-silent rush of breath between his lips. But Nox wasn't like most people.
"What did you call me?" she asked, turning to stare at the man, her emerald eyes full of cold fire.
"I… I called you 'Princess'." the youth appeared distressed that she had heard him. "Isn't that what you are? I saw you entering the reception on the arm of Lord Zoltar."
"It would appear that you have a lot to learn about Spectran Society." Nox laughed harshly. "See that you do so, before you really offend someone."
She turned to leave, and the young man entered the facilities. On the spur of the moment, Nox re-thought her earlier analysis and decided to remain, to ensure that he did not cause any further trouble. The name that he had called her… Princess… evoked some disturbing images. Nox didn't want to think about them, but they continued to whirl through her mind, until the boy emerged back into the hallway.
Boy? He wasn't a boy. Not really. Just young. But he was old enough to cause problems. Nox had the instinctive feeling that he was a troublesome youth, and so she continued to shadow him until he had re-entered to the reception hall.
When she returned, Shadow looked at her, raising a questioning eyebrow. Nox shook her head curtly, indicating that there had been no difficulties. But she continued to keep an eye on the young man, just in case. There was just something about him…
Keyop walked quietly back over to Julie.
"Where have you been?" she hissed. "People were starting to ask about you."
"I ran into Princess." he replied.
"What?" Julie asked, pulling Keyop over to the corner where they could be more protected from the scrutiny of other reception attendees. "What did you do, Keyop?"
"Nothing." he muttered. "She found me in the hallway."
"Is that all?" Julie looked skeptical.
"I…" Keyop looked at the floor. "I called her Princess."
"You did what?" Julie whispered furiously. "How could you? You've blown your cover!" She looked around frantically. "We have to get out of here… now."
"No." Keyop stopped her by placing a hand on her arm. "I don't think so. She didn't recognize me, Julie."
"Are you sure?" she questioned.
"Pretty sure." he nodded. "I don't think she remembers anything."
"Yeah, right. How convenient. She doesn't remember being a traitor." Julie shook her head disbelievingly.
"No, really." Keyop insisted. "She didn't recognize her name at all. I don't think she knows who she is."
"If you say so." Julie replied, but her tone made it clear that she remained unconvinced.
Keyop looked up, and saw a pair of emerald eyes observing them from across the room. She wore an inscrutable expression, but Keyop was certain that Nox was not looking kindly upon him.
"I think we need to get out of here." he gulped.
Julie saw where Keyop's gaze fell, and her face blanched.
"I agree." she whispered, gripping his arm tightly.
They began to move, only to realize that Nox was moving as well. Keyop's throat tightened. How could he have been so careless?
Without warning, a thin, metallic object flew across the reception hall, toward a man on the opposite side of the room from Keyop and Julie. The object struck the man's hands, and a deadly looking weapon dropped from his fingers, clattering to the floor. Keyop turned to see Shadow, his blue eyes narrowing, holding his hand out to catch the returning object. It was some kind of circular device, which its owner quickly pocketed, even as he was running toward the target of his attack.
But before Shadow's catch was complete, another flash of silver had crossed the room. Blade stood tall and silent, grimly holding a set of throwing knives, minus the one that was already embedded in the would-be-assassin's throat.
The guests gasped, moving away from the now-dead attacker. Shadow knelt down next to him, checking his identity.
"The Rigan Representative." he hissed at Blade. "Where is his companion?"
Even as the words were spoken, Nox gasped in surprise. Keyop gaped, witnessing the event almost as if it were in slow motion: Nox, throwing herself in front of a surprised Zoltar and taking the full brunt of a disruptor blast on her shoulder, before crumpling to the ground at his feet.
"Beloved!" cried Zoltar, bending down, even as Nox's uninjured arm shot out, some sort of energy ribbon unwinding itself from her hand and snaking its way through the frightened guests, toward its target. The ribbon struck the second assassin in the chest, an electrical charge enveloping his body as he fell to the ground, writhing in his death throes.
"Are you injured, Master?" Nox asked, oblivious to her own wound. Keyop was repulsed by the mask of concern and adoration she wore on her face, but found that he could not tear his eyes away.
"No, I am fine, Beloved." Zoltar replied, a tear in his eye. He kissed Nox gently on the lips, even as Shadow approached. Blade followed, his eyes scanning the room for any further signs of trouble.
Without a word, Shadow picked up the injured Nox in his arms, and walked purposefully out of the Reception Hall. Blade escorted Zoltar directly behind them. A squadron of green-suited guards entered the room, herding the guests into corners and dealing with the bodies of the Rigan Representatives.
Keyop stood in silent shock, his face ashen and his legs shaking. In the space of mere seconds, he had seen that none of his former teammates had lost their fighting skills. Even worse, he had watched as his older sister had thrown herself in the way of danger, to protect their most hated enemy.
There was only one comfort in the disturbing scene that had just been played out before his eyes. Keyop had seen the look on Shadow's face as he had picked up the injured Nox.
It had been a look of anguish. Keyop knew that whatever their situation, Mark would protect his sister.
At the moment, that was the only shred of hope he could hold on to.
Chapter 3 by TransmuteJun
Zoltar was completely unruffled by the attempt on his life: he had survived many such attacks over the past five years, and he had complete faith in his bodyguards. But Nox's injury distressed him. The sight of that ugly disruptor burn on her creamy skin had unnerved him, despite having seen such wounds before. He knew then that he cared deeply for her, even more than he liked to admit to himself.
He cared for all of them: Shadow, Blade, and Nox. They had become his life, and his reason for living. When he had first bonded them to him, he had expected their complete and utter adoration.
What he had not expected was to find himself feeling the same.
Their love, their happiness, was what mattered most to him, now. Spectra's conquest of Earth, and the Federation, had been glorious. But he had come to realize that his true prize that day had been the recovery of his three greatest enemies.
His three greatest enemies, who were now the three people he loved more than anyone else. Zoltar had thought that he had known what love was, when the Great Spirit had first bonded with him, but he now knew that it was a pale shadow of what he felt for his Beloved.
Shadow brought Nox directly to Zoltar's chambers. His Beloved had no specific rooms of their own: they were at their Master's side every possible moment of the day and night. Laying his companion gently on the bed, Shadow's blue eyes were glazed with concern.
"She requires medical attention." he stated, his voice ringing with authority, as if he were used to giving orders, and having them obeyed.
"At once." Zoltar nodded, gesturing to two guards standing at the doorway. It took him a moment to realize that he had responded to Shadow's command, instead of the other way around. In his concern for Nox, he hadn't noticed, at first.
Blade examined the wound with a knowledgeable eye.
"She will be fine." he said confidently. "She has been through much worse, before."
Had she? Zoltar couldn't recall Nox ever receiving significant injuries. At least, not since his Beloved had first been brought to him, their bodies battered and burned.
Zoltar shivered involuntarily. Blade's casual comment implied that he remembered things… things that had been wiped from his memory.
Things that had been wiped from all of their memories. Or so Zoltar had thought.
The medical technicians entered, setting about their business. Zoltar was so occupied in observing them, that he didn't notice his sister behind him.
"What are you doing, Brother?" she asked pointedly.
"I..." Zoltar whirled around, surprised to see Mala there. "I'm making sure that Nox is all right." he answered. "She saved my life, after all. It's the least I can do."
"She appears to be fine." Mala snapped. "But you are not. You are neglecting your duties. The Representatives are still in the reception hall, awaiting your return."
"Send them home!" Zoltar waved his hand dismissively. "There is no further need to continue this event."
"There is need." Mala hissed quietly, so that the Beloved could not hear. "There are already rumors going around, that you were injured in the assassination attempt. You must make an appearance to put these lies to rest, while there is still time."
"I was not injured!" Zoltar declared, "The entire room witnessed Nox take the disruptor fire in my stead."
"Whatever they saw doesn't confirm that you were not injured, as well." Mala retorted. "And if the people of the Spectran Empire suspect that an assassination attempt was even partially successful, such attempts will continue, and be more vicious. It will make the rebels think that you are not untouchable."
"I am untouchable." Zoltar replied, turning his attention back to Nox. "As long as I have my Beloved to protect me."
"Protect you?" Mala sneered, "Why should they protect you, when…"
She was interrupted by Zoltar's red-gloved hand being raised toward her mouth. The last thing he needed was for his Beloved to overhear something they shouldn't.
"That is enough, Sister." he growled. "We are done, here."
"So, you are returning to the reception, then?" Mala smirked.
"I cannot, when my Beloved are unable to accompany me."
"Two of them are still perfectly fine." Mala insisted. "Have them accompany you!"
Zoltar knew that his sister was correct. If there were rumors already beginning to surface, then he had to return, to quell them, and do it quickly. But it pained him to leave Nox behind.
"Fine." he muttered ungraciously. "I will return."
"I will be expecting you." Mala replied smugly, departing the chamber.
"Shadow, Blade," Zoltar ordered, "You will accompany me back to the reception."
"I cannot leave Nox behind." Shadow declared, turning to stare at his master. "She needs me."
His words were like a cold fist clenching Zoltar's heart. Shadow was not asking, he was demanding. Such a thing had never happened before. It was not his place to demand, but only to request favors, based on his master's benevolence.
Under normal circumstances, Zoltar would have rebuked Shadow right then and there. But given the troubling memories that appeared to be surfacing, he decided to give in. Something had to be done, and quickly, but now was not the time for taking sides. Not with the medical technicians as witnesses, and not without further knowledge of his Beloved's implant technology.
"Very well, just this once." Zoltar waved his hand, as if bestowing the ultimate favor upon Shadow. "Blade, you will accompany me."
Blade acknowledged the order with a respectful nod, then turned and gave Shadow a plaintive look.
"Take care of her." he whispered, before following his Master out of the room.
With a sense of dread, Zoltar knew that these changes in his Beloved were quickly spiraling out of control. They had to be dealt with, as soon as possible.
And there was only one course of action left available to him.
Shadow knelt silently next to the bed, holding Nox's hand, and staring at her with a fierce intensity. He paid no attention to the medical technicians, even when they finished their work and departed the room. He only had eyes for Nox. His Nox.
This sense of possessiveness was relatively new. Shadow loved Blade. He adored the Master. But his feelings for Nox were something entirely different altogether. He had always felt that she was special. He even sensed that she had meant something to him Before… before the Master had taken them in and shown them his Light. He didn't like to think about that time, but if Nox had been with him, it couldn't have been so terrible. Still, he knew it was dangerous, thinking about Before. But sometimes, when he was with Nox, the depth of his feelings for her overwhelmed him, and these thoughts came, unbidden.
The Master had taught them the way of the Pleasures, and Shadow knew that it was important to share Pleasures with those he loved: to show his affection for them, and to strengthen their emotional bond. He and Nox had always shared Pleasures with Blade and the Master, even after they had both acknowledged the special feelings they had for each other.
Of late, however, Shadow had found himself bothered when he witnessed Nox sharing Pleasures with the others. Hearing her cry out in passion from the attentions of Blade, or the Master, fueled an anger in him that he hadn't even realized existed, until recently. It should be his hands that touched her porcelain skin, his body that brought her to the ultimate heights of ecstasy. Try as he might, Shadow couldn't push these instinctive, almost primal, emotions away, even though he knew they were wrong. The Master had taught them that the ultimate Pleasures were gained from sharing with others.
Yet, Shadow found that his interest in Pleasures with others was waning. It was only with Nox that he achieved ultimate fulfillment, and he knew that she felt the same. Yet Nox did not seem to share this possessiveness that he did. Shadow was perplexed by these new emotions, especially since they only kept growing in intensity.
Nox beckoned to him, her lips curving into a soft smile.
"I am fine, Beloved." she whispered. "Come to me."
Shadow found his heart soaring at her term of affection. It was only of late that they had begun calling each other 'Beloved', as the Master did. They only did so when they were alone together, unwilling to let the others know of the special connection they had. They were afraid: afraid that if the Master knew, that he would separate them. They were supposed to share their Pleasures, and their love. Shadow felt that at some level, the Master was aware of their feelings, but not enough to be concerned. Shadow intended to keep it that way. He would not be able to bear it if he were separated from his precious Nox.
He readily accepted Nox's invitation, lying down next to her; brushing his hands over her soft skin. Slowly, gently, he removed her clothing, one garment at a time, until she lay before him wearing nothing but her glorious beauty. He closed his eyes as she returned the favor, and soon his own nakedness was revealed.
Shadow held her in his arms, tenderly kissing and caressing his Nox. He loved the way her body melted into his; the way they seemed to fit perfectly, as if they were made for each other. Shadow gave Nox a lingering kiss, and then pulled back slightly, gently brushing back a few strands of hair from her face. As he gazed into her emerald eyes, he saw his own affection and wonder reflected there.
"I love you… Princess…" he whispered, before crushing her mouth under his, and moving atop her.
Somehow, their Pleasures were different this time. They were filled with the passion and ecstasy that always overwhelmed him, but now there was an additional element that set his blood racing. It was Nox herself. Her very essence was intoxicating, and just being with her was its own excitement.
Shadow saw Nox's own passions rising to their ultimate pinnacle, and watched her face, momentarily transfixed by the entrancing sight. The mixture of pleasure, wonder, and serenity he saw there left him breathless. She gazed upon the face of her lover, and at that moment, they were the only two beings that existed in this world, or any other.
"Mark…" she cried aloud, clutching at his body as her crisis overtook her.
"I'm here, sweetheart." he murmured, burying his face in her hair. "I will never leave you."
Neither of them noticed Blade standing in the doorway.
Blade had accompanied his Master to the reception hall, but then the Master had been summoned to an audience with the Great Spirit, and Blade had been sent back to the Master's chambers.
Now he stared at his companions. The sight was nothing new. Blade had seen them engaging in Pleasures many times before, and had engaged in Pleasures with both of them himself, as well as with the Master.
Yet, there was something different about this.
There was an emotion between the two of them; something so intense, it was almost tangible. Blade could see it in the way they touched each other, caressed each other.
He felt like he was intruding on a private moment.
That was ridiculous. Pleasures were meant to be shared. There was no privacy between him, and his companions. Although, this was not the first time Blade had felt… excluded… from whatever it was Shadow and Nox shared.
They were the two people he loved most in the world, and yet he knew instinctively that they held each other first in their hearts. It had even crossed his mind that they might love each other more than they loved the Master. But that could not be right.
Or could it? There were times when he felt more for his two companions than for the Master. It was not something he liked to admit to himself, but it was true. The Master was a benevolent presence, but he was also somehow unreachable: as if he were holding a part of himself back, while expecting his Beloved to give entirely of themselves.
At times, Blade felt alone. He was only truly complete in the presence of his companions, but they were so wrapped up in each other, they often forgot he was even there. It was only when they would turn to see him, welcoming him in, that he could find peace, if only for a moment.
He did not resent their closeness, only envied it. Somehow, he knew that they had had some kind of connection for a long time, even longer than they had known the Master. Blade could not remember his life Before, but of this he was certain.
He continued to watch, envious and fascinated, as Nox achieved heights Blade had never been able to elicit from her. And then he heard her cry out.
Shadow acknowledged her love, calling her 'sweetheart', and Blade's heart wept for the intimacy in which he could not share. Nox's cry echoed in his head.
Mark… he had not heard the name before. Certainly, it was not a Spectran word, and it sounded foreign to his ears. And yet, somehow, it seemed right. When Blade pictured Shadow in his mind, the appellation 'Mark' seemed entirely appropriate.
Was it possible? Could this be something from Before?
Blade did not often think about what his life had been like before the Master had found them. He somehow sensed that this would be frowned upon, and he wished to please the Master in all things. But at the same time, the unknown teased at him. It was there, behind some secret door, if only he could have the courage to unlock it.
Blade had been tempted to look behind that hidden curtain, but his adoration for the Master had always held him back. Something told him that he had not always been so obsequious; that he had ignored inconvenient rules in the past, but that wasn't who Blade was anymore.
As Blade contemplated these thoughts, Shadow turned slightly, and saw him standing there. Usually, Shadow's eyes looked upon Blade with love, and understanding, but not at this moment.
Right now, Shadow's gaze burned with anger, telling him louder than words that the owner of those intense blue eyes did not want him there.
Blade had been dismissed.
Shadow's unexpected reaction to his presence cut Blade to the quick, and he stumbled backward, out of the bedroom and into the Master's sitting chamber. Lowering himself awkwardly to sit on the divan, he could not push the look in Shadow's eyes from his mind.
Blade had never seen Shadow look at him that way before, and yet, it was a familiar expression. Not one that Shadow reserved for Blade, but for someone else…
Blade sat bolt upright as he realized why Shadow's expression had been so familiar. That was the look he wore when he faced the Master.
That couldn't be right. Shadow adored the Master, as they all did. He would never approach him in such a manner. But then, he had never approached Blade in such a manner either.
Again, that locked door in his mind taunted him, laughing that all would be revealed, if only he were brave enough to open it. Blade clutched at his head, desperately trying to banish that voice from his brain.
He looked up, frustrated at the interruption, his entire demeanor one of vicious rage.
"Master…" Blade whispered, his anger draining away almost instantly, as he beheld his savior.
Blade did not miss the expression of fear that crossed the Master's face, before he smiled benevolently at him.
"How is Nox?" the Master questioned him.
"She… she is fine." Blade answered, hanging his head. He was ashamed of his previous thoughts, and hoped that the Master did not realize what he had done.
"Nox only requires rest." Shadow added, entering the room. He was fully dressed, and gave no indication of his previous anger toward Blade.
"I am glad that she will recover." the Master smiled. "She is very precious to me, as are you all."
Blade nodded his head in acknowledgement, but even as he did so, the mocking voice in his head returned.
With grim determination, Blade bade the voice cease, and it was quiet.
Chapter 4 by TransmuteJun
Nox dreamed. Her dreams were rarely peaceful, and she usually woke disturbed from them. Usually, they were a jumble of sights, sounds, and people that she felt she knew, but could never, in her waking hours, work out how.
Now, another level had been added to that jumble. She tossed restlessly as she dreamed this time. Dreams of the young man she had encountered, except younger in her dreams. She saw him playing drums, and identified herself playing a guitar. She saw them both washing up in some sort of restaurant. She saw herself comforting him after some disaster. She felt herself overwhelmed with love for him, needing to protect him and keep him safe.
Most disturbing, however, was the flash she caught of herself with Shadow and Blade, as well as the boy and another man, fighting Spectran soldiers.
Nox woke and sat up in bed, drawing her knees towards herself and hugging them. She frowned as she reflected on the young man. He was up to something - of that she was sure. She snorted softly at his using the 'looking for a bathroom' ploy.
"Oldest trick in the book," she murmured. "I taught him better than that." She stopped, startled.
She didn't know him. How could she have taught him that? Should she tell the Master of her dreams? Of her certainty that she knew the young man? Could he have been...? She paused and reached one slender white hand up to her bare shoulder, lightly touching the burn.
No. She felt strongly that he wouldn't attack that way. Something, deep inside, told her that when that young man made his move, it would be in the open.
No, it was time for her to concentrate on the assassin. They had been lax. That weapon should not have been allowed to get within the palace at all. Nox decided that she would personally lead the investigation into which of the guards had been so lax.
And she would personally ensure that the guard was made to see the error of his ways.
She settled back against the pillows, remembering the other, far more pleasant, outcome of her injury.
His name filled her heart with joy, and just seeing him made her day better. When they shared Pleasures, she felt more filled, her own pleasure heightened, than with either the Master or with Blade. She would allow Shadow to touch her in ways she would not allow the others. Her eyes narrowed. And she didn't care if Mala was the Master's sister. She was not getting her claws into him.
She stretched, catlike, and reflected. How could she compare sharing Pleasure with Shadow with anybody else? And who would have thought that it could be so enjoyable - especially after the first time with the Master?
The door opened and her eyes lit up, and she smiled at the man who entered.
"Master," she breathed joyously.
"Little Nox," he said. "Are you well?" He came to the bed and slipped behind her, nestling her against him. She sighed and rested her head on his shoulder.
"I will heal, Master." Abruptly she moved, kneeling on the ground beside the bed. "Forgive me, Master. I was lax. That assassin...," She took a deep breath. "I will personally look into the matter, Master. I shall not fail you again."
"You did not fail, Nox. Mala was responsible for that side of security. You did not fail. You have never failed me, Beloved."
"I have, Master. Too often in the past, I have failed you. From the beginning, I doubted you."
Zoltar looked at the naked woman on the floor, marveling once again at her beauty, but also seeing her distress. He stood, bent down and raised her up, arms holding her close as he stroked and caressed her.
"Never, Nox. You have never failed me. Tell me, Beloved. Tell me how you doubted and let me judge your failure."
"When you first came to me, Master. You tried to teach me of the Pleasures, and I resisted. I did something wrong, Master. I must have, it hurt so much."
Zoltar laughed, but then stilled and drew her back onto the bed, encircled by his arms, sheltered in his love. He remembered. He remembered his shock that she had been a virgin, how he had been unable to stop himself, and how he had cursed himself, knowing he had hurt her.
He had no idea that she had considered it her fault!
"Nox, it was not your fault. It is the way of things that all females, when they first are introduced to Pleasures, feel pain. If anything, the fault was mine. I assumed that you had experienced it before. Not that you were untouched."
"I should have said..."
"Enough, Nox." He cut her off with a kiss. "I have never seen you fail me in any way. Release these thoughts of failure, Nox."
"Release them, Beloved." He kissed her deeply, letting his hand stroke down her body gently, lips and hand caressing.
He stood and went to the door. He knew it had to be done tonight. He had waited, putting off the next bonding. Preferring their loving to be done out of love, not with the added layer of having to bond.
But Nox's state of mind showed that the tie needed to be stronger.
"Come, Beloved," he said to Shadow and Blade who were outside. "Come to me, my Beloved."
Nox rose from the bed and joined them, embracing, exchanging kisses and caresses. All thoughts of failure, all of the troubled dreams vanishing from her mind as she allowed the love of her companions to fill her.
And they were bound, Zoltar and his Beloved.
But the dreams were still there, waiting.
Zoltar was disturbed. He sat in the chair watching his Beloved sleeping – something that normally he loved doing.
Now, however, he was aware of a feeling of wrongness. The Bonding had worked – and yet, it hadn't.
He crossed one leg over the other, steepling his fingers and resting his chin on them as he thought. Nothing had gone as he would have planned. What was it, he mused, about G-Force? Even now they were still managing to upset his careful planning.
And why was he so obsessed with them? Right from his first encounter with them, he had felt the pull – felt a need deep inside him that whispered that they could make him complete.
He thought back five years – to the day of his victory. To win, Zoltar had always known that he had to destroy G-Force. It had been difficult – the start had been when he had managed to get his hands on Anderson. They had been driven nearly insane trying to rescue their mentor, only to meet with failure. It was only then that he registered the team as five people, rather than the three who had constantly been the thorns in his side.
Oh yes – the boy had usually been with them, but he had discounted him as a child, refusing to believe that some of the havoc caused had been done by the Swallow. The Owl he had known of – as the pilot of the Phoenix (and how Zoltar had wanted that ship!) one of the most gifted pilots he had ever encountered – better even than Cronus or the Eagle – but take him away from his craft, and he was negligible.
That was until that final battle.
Then he had discovered that the damage that three could do was nothing compared to the damage all five could perpetrate. One of his Commanders referred to them as a "natural disaster" and Zoltar was inclined to believe it.
In the end, it had been sheer dumb luck that had given him victory. A gantry weakened by a blast, a miscalculation by G-Force, and a very lucky strike from a missile had brought them down. With G-Force down, his victory had been a given.
His sorrow, however, at the loss of his foes had surprised even him. It had led him to demand their bodies be found – and nobody had been more surprised than he to discover that three had survived. Mala had reported that the Owl was definitely dead, as was the Swallow – both crushed by the falling gantry and unable to be retrieved. The other three, however, had been very seriously wounded, but had been alive – if only just.
It was then Zoltar had decided to turn them into a symbol of his victory; to turn G-Force, his ultimate enemies, into his bodyguards. And more. By bonding them with him, it had given him the ability to completely control them. His surprise at how well they had responded to the Bonding had been great – almost as though they were looking for something similar – needing it to be whole.
For five years, it had been perfection. Of course, he hadn't intended to fall in love with them – that had been gradual.
In fact, his intention had been to only share Pleasures with the three of them during Bonding. He had intended she who became Nox to be his bride, as well as his bodyguard. Nox, known once as Princess, and whom he had desired with all his heart since the first time he saw her. She had shown, time and again, why she had been the heart of G-Force and she had been unable to conceive of his not including the other two. For their part, they had refused to let her go anywhere without them – their urge to protect her overriding all other instincts.
Zoltar wondered if he had bungled that initial Bonding. If, by bringing all three to his bed at once, he had made an error. After all, it was not something he was particularly experienced at and most bonds were usually only between two people – he had not been able to find such a group bond recorded.
His own desire had gotten the better of him. All three were beautiful – clothed and unclothed. It had been when he had first seen them unclothed that his plans for the three included them being permanently in his bed, as well as by his side.
It was another thing about Earthers he could never understand. They seemed to think that Pleasures should be confined to only those of the opposite sex. Yet another way in which Spectran society was superior. How could a whole race not understand that Pleasures were about sharing? Oh yes, there were taboos, and those who broke them paid the ultimate price. But then, who would want an unwilling partner?
His seduction had been painstaking, but they had been willing, accepting his kisses and caresses, and the Bonding had been completed faster than he had expected. What he had not expected was the extent to which it had bound him to them, had intensified his desire and merged it into an all-consuming love.
And that was the problem now.
Something had gone wrong.
Their Bond had been renewed, the Pleasures shared had left all four panting, their sexual desire somehow enhanced. Zoltar had been astonished to find himself begging for their attentions. Usually he was the dominant partner, but somehow, during this bonding and Pleasures that were part of it, Shadow had taken that role. He knew it was of prime importance that during a bonding that the 'Master' should be the one doing the penetration.
Somehow, Shadow had taken that from him, and Zoltar had been the one begging Shadow to enter him, to love him. He had watched enviously as Shadow had taken the other two, and then, both Nox and Blade had taken the upper hand with him as well.
Somehow, the Bonding had gotten out of his control. Shadow had reached into his mind, and taken the dominant role. Somehow, Zoltar was bonded to his Beloved, with Shadow as the Master, rather than the other way around.
A slight sound interrupted his reverie, and he saw all three awake and looking at him. Not only awake, but clearly aroused.
"Master," he heard Shadow whisper, holding out his arms towards him.
"Master," breathed Nox, sliding down the bed until she was perched on the very end, opening her legs and inviting entry.
"Master," said Blade, somehow appearing beside him, guiding him towards the bed.
Zoltar felt his breath quicken as he responded. He felt Blade's hand caressing him, bringing him to hardness. Felt Shadow's mouth on his and he drowned in the kiss.
Almost in a trance, he felt them guide him into Nox, who moaned and thrust up towards him. He felt Shadow bend him over, felt him enter and Zoltar shuddered at the caress: the pleasure/pain of his entry. He saw Blade before him, and Zoltar greedily took him in his mouth, his body shuddering and moving frantically as he gave Pleasure to his Beloved.
And then he felt the whiplash of Shadow's mind reaching his. He felt Shadow take control, felt the others join in the bonding. And somehow, at the centre of it all, pulling them all together, linking them inextricably, the heart that was Nox. Somehow, she was binding them together in a way that meant death if she chose.
He could sense that she was subservient to Shadow, but that even Shadow would have to follow her command when it came to the heart of the group.
Once again he had to re-evaluate the Swan of G-Force. And once again, he remembered that no matter the species, it was the female who was always the more dangerous when protecting those she loved.
Zoltar collapsed onto the bed hours later, physically sore but his heart filled with love. At some level he was shamed at the way he had begged. For the first time he understood the Earther's use of the word sex.
It had been sex; none of the soft, almost spiritual, loving of Pleasures, but more earthy. He had enjoyed the experience and would never turn away from the chance to experience it again.
But it wasn't the same loving as the sharing of Pleasures.
For the first time, it wasn't his Beloved curled up against him, being in his embrace, but him being held by them. No. Not held. Imprisoned. He felt imprisoned by them.
Zoltar felt his body shake with laughter. Mala had cautioned him about what might happen when his Beloved tried to get free from their gilded cage. Neither of them had ever worried about what would happen if they didn't want that freedom – if, instead, they trapped him with them inside.
And yet, he still loved them overwhelmingly, and knew that they felt the same way. He knew that they would still protect him with their lives from any outside threat.
He had to speak to Anderson and get some understanding of those damn cerebonic implants. He was sure that they were behind this. Somehow, they had triggered some insatiable lust in his Beloved – triggered when he had tried to renew his bond with them, that same trigger allowing them to dominate the bonding as they had dominated him sexually.
He moaned and saw Nox crouched over him. Saw Shadow position himself behind her, heard them both cry out as he entered her and felt the sharp pain as Blade entered himself. He cried out in passion, begging for more, but inside screaming for the control he had lost. He was willingly drowning in their passion.
He had to get them to Earth, and he had to see Anderson. Zoltar saw that unless he could get the secret of the Cerebonic implants out of Anderson, disaster was coming, not only for himself personally, but also for Spectra.
Chapter 5 by TransmuteJun
Shadow stood in the shower, letting the force of the hot water soothe away the aches in his body – good aches, but he needed them gone to be able to do his job properly. He had no objections to the night-long sexual marathon, but his intuition told him that there was danger, and that he and his team would need to be ready for anything today.
He frowned. His team. There should be more than three of them. He didn't know how he knew this, but deep inside he knew that there should be more than three of them. Even if the other two who made up his team now were so dearly beloved by him, there should be more.
He winced as he washed himself, but smiled at the wince. God, Nox was gorgeous. To think, that after all the years of loving, wanting, Princess was finally his. He acknowledged that he had to share her, but she and he were together, together in a way that they could not be with the others. That all their lives, no matter what happened, they would be putting each other before anybody else.
The fact that she was as sexy as all hell didn't hurt one little bit.
The hot water beat down on him, washing away his groggy state with the soap until his pleasant reverie was interrupted by Blade barging in.
"Will you get a move on, Mark? You're not the only one wanting a shower." The gruff words were tempered by the light touch on his shoulder and the slightly naughty grin of his best friend.
"I haven't been that long." Shadow complained.
"You have. And there are others who want hot showers too."
"Yeah, yeah. Coffee in?"
"Yup. Hot, strong and fresh." Blade sighed as he relaxed into the hot water. "Mark?"
"Don't be in too much of a hurry to go back into the bedroom."
Shadow froze, his eyes darkening.
"Why, Jason? Is she all right? Her injury…"
"Is fine. Wouldn't know she was hit unless you looked real close. Just…. Well, take your time drinking your coffee is all."
Shadow stalked out and Blade breathed deeply.
Something was so badly wrong, but Blade couldn't put his finger on it. He was close to Nox, but never as close as they seemed to be. Or were they?
He remembered the previous night, remembered seeing Nox and Shadow together, and the anger Shadow had directed at him.
Blade didn't begrudge Shadow the love that Nox obviously had for him. He envied it, wished it was his, but still there was something wrong. He was so grateful that the beautiful woman shared her sexuality with them both, but there was still something wrong. He couldn't remember desiring Shadow like he did.
And then there was the man in the bedroom with Nox. Deep inside, it was wrong. They shouldn't be there. That man was wrong. No. Not wrong. In the wrong place.
Blade knew him – he was sure. But the knowledge was hiding. Behind that door, again. The one he didn't dare open.
And yet, he couldn't help but feel that last night it had opened. Not fully. Not enough to realize anything, but enough. A crack.
He finished showering and dried off; joining Shadow in the sitting area, but Shadow wasn't eating breakfast. He was sitting close to the closed door, watching it with narrowed eyes. He was a man on the edge, moving closer and closer to breaking point with every cry of pleasure that came from the other side of the door.
Blade hoped it would open soon, that Nox would join them and bring Shadow out of this mood. Blade knew this mood of his, and knew that if Shadow was pushed too far, then the consequences would be messy.
A scream reached them – but it was not a scream of pain, but of extreme pleasure. A scream that came from two throats. Both Blade and Shadow tensed, waiting for what would come next.
Nox wrapped her legs around her lover, pulling him as close to her as possible, her nails digging into his back as she used it to lever herself up.
For some reason, she just couldn't get enough of him today. For some reason, she had woken up feeling more sexually charged than she had ever in her life. She had reached for Shadow, needing him to fill her, to assuage her need, but he had already left their shared bed.
She had turned instead to the man on her other side – the one she recognized as a constant lover, whom she had enjoyed many times in the past. He had responded just as eagerly. She knew that this blonde man could be a gentle and very considerate lover, but this morning, her mood was wild, and she needed him so badly.
Their loving eventually woke Blade, who, after grumpily giving and receiving kisses, said that he would leave them to play and would go and annoy Shadow.
Nox then seemed to find herself free to give herself to this other lover without constraint, and had delighted in his response. As he had delighted in hers.
And now, as they reached a final climax, both sensing that the urgent need that had filled them both had stilled, they collapsed together on the bed. He winced a little and she kissed the marks on his back that her nails had made. He kissed the bite marks on her breasts and she stroked back his sweaty hair. He rose on one arm and looked down at her, smiling and stroking her body.
"I would have expected the others to come barging in here by now," he said with amusement in his voice.
"No," she said softly. "They knew I needed you." She drew his head down and kissed him. "I don't know what came over me, Zoltar."
He frowned. Why did she call him by name? It wasn't that he minded – in fact he had dreamed of his Beloved calling his name when they were alone. But they never had. Why now? She looked concerned and he kissed her gently.
"I don't mind," he said. "I always need you, my beautiful one." He bent and suckled her breast. "But the concerns of the day call, and after last night's incident, I am sure that Mala will want to inform me of her progress." He rose and held his hand out to her.
"Shall we see if there is any hot water or breakfast left?"
Nox smiled as she placed her hand in his. It was like she was in a dream. She knew that she loved Mark, was bound to him, but also knew that she adored this man who seemed to be the centre of her existence.
"We can hope," she said as he opened the door, laughing.
"Good morning, my Beloved," said Zoltar, his eyes resting lovingly on the two young men in the sitting room.
He held out his arm, and Shadow and Blade came willingly to his embrace, Shadow fiercely holding Nox and whispering his private good mornings to her, Nox stroking his freshly shaved cheek.
The Beloved were confused. They couldn't understand what had happened the previous night and this morning. Who were these other people who seemed to be trying to take over them?
All they knew was that the Master was there to be adored by them. He was the centre of their universe.
These other people inside doubted him. Said he was the enemy. Said he must be killed.
Zoltar shuddered as he picked up their confusion, shuddered as he saw the change in their demeanor as soon as he spoke, calling them Beloved. Saw their eyes change until they were the eyes he had known for five years.
He felt safe now – especially since they no longer looked at him with the eyes of G-Force.
"Earth's resource output has declined substantially over the past three months." Zoltar said, tossing his handheld display pad containing the relevant data onto Mala's desk. "The Luminous One requires more uranium and cadmium for his current project, and there are precious few other planets in the Spectran Empire that have any appreciable amount of these metals left. We need to determine why Earth's production has declined, and rectify the matter immediately."
"Is that so?" Mala asked slyly, leaning back in her chair and gazing at her brother through narrowed eyes.
"It is." Zoltar hissed, bringing his face closer to his sister in an intimidating manner. "You haven't had to deal with the Luminous One's anger over lack of resources. I need to procure these metals, and I need to do it now."
"If you say so, Brother."
Zoltar had a difficult time preventing a flush from rising to his face at Mala's tone. She knew. But he couldn't let her get away with that. He had to convince her that she was wrong.
"The production declines seem to have a strong correlation with recent rebel activity on the planet." Zoltar went on. "We need to make a show of strength, remind these Earthers just who is in charge. If we crush these rebels, then production should increase again. All we have to do is make a few examples of the workers."
"And of course, you're the best person to do this." Mala said, her face expressionless.
"If you think so, then I suppose I'll have to take on that task." Zoltar sighed. "My schedule is demanding, but nothing is more important than the needs of the Luminous One."
"Not even your Beloved?"
A cold tension filled the air, and inwardly Zoltar cursed his sister's insight and cunning. He should have known that he wouldn't be able to deceive her. After all, hadn't she been the one who had predicted exactly this kind of situation?
"You're going to see him, aren't you?"
"You know whom I mean."
Zoltar sighed, bowing his head in acknowledgement. Yes, of course he knew. And Mala wasn't going to leave the matter alone until he admitted it.
"Yes, I'm going to speak with Anderson."
Briefly, Zoltar wondered when his sister had become so superior. Always before, he had been the sibling in control. Officially they ruled Spectra together, but he was the one who made the final decisions, the one who never had to seek approval. Yet now, she was the one questioning him.
Had he lost his dominance over Mala, just as he was losing his dominance over his Beloved? The sudden insight hit him like a slap in the face. Was this weakness in his private matters now contaminating his position as Leader of the Spectran Empire? If so, then it was even more urgent that he speak with Anderson immediately, and stem this sway in control his Beloved were now exerting.
"You could just have them executed, you know."
Mala's words had torn through his inner thoughts, leaving his innermost fears exposed to her view.
"It would be the easiest way." she shrugged. "Once they are gone, their influence will be as well. It's the fastest and easiest way to terminate the Bonding. Unless…" Mala eyed him thoughtfully, her expression transforming into one of grave concern.
"It's already too late for that, isn't it?"
Zoltar's silence was his answer.
"Then I agree. You need to do this." Mala sighed. "I had hoped that it wouldn't come to this, but I can see that it has. Speak with Anderson, Brother, and do what you need to do. Because if you cannot…"
She did not need to say any more. Zoltar knew what would happen if he could not regain control of his Beloved.
"While I'm gone, see that they are confined to my quarters." Zoltar instructed.
"They aren't going with you?" Mala appeared surprised. "The attachment isn't so strong, then, if you can leave them for a few days."
Zoltar wasn't about to admit to his sister that the idea of leaving his Beloved behind was tearing him apart. But he couldn't risk having them travel to Earth. What if the familiar surroundings brought more of their former selves to the fore? He couldn't take that risk.
"They will be working here, performing tasks I have assigned to them." he said shortly.
"While they are assigned to your quarters?" Mala probed, smiling coldly when he fumbled for an answer.
"It's a private matter."
"I'm sure it is." she nodded. "But won't it appear odd if you travel so far away from Spectra, for days, without your personal bodyguards?"
"They are injured, having thrown themselves in the line of fire when I was attacked last week."
"Then you admit that they're fallible? To do so would also be admitting that assassins can get to you… that you're vulnerable."
Damn it, how had she twisted his words around like this? Zoltar's mind felt rusty, as if it was rotting from disuse. This wasn't like him. This crisis with his Beloved was completely taking him over.
"They're not coming with me, and that's final." he snapped, stalking out of the room.
"Oh, but you're wrong, dear Brother." Mala whispered, her eyes still staring at the portal through which Zoltar had just departed. "These 'Beloved' of yours are too much of a threat to remain here. You must take them to Earth… and leave them there. Only then will you be able to cut these obscene ties and become the great ruler you were born to be."
Mala frowned, her mind working quickly to come up with a solution to this problem.
"Spectra needs you, Zoltar."
Chapter 6 by TransmuteJun
Zoltar boarded the transport ship, his three Beloved surrounding him as he moved. He was glad for their presence, yet at the same time cursing his weakness. The Great Spirit himself had ordered that Zoltar travel to Earth with all of his 'usual protection' and Zoltar had not been able to disobey. The Luminous One was not aware of his Bonding, and the consequences would be dire, if the alien entity were to discover Zoltar's transgression.
But how had the Great Spirit learned that he was planning on leaving his usual Beloved behind? Mala must have gone over his head, outmaneuvering him once again. This was unacceptable. He would deal with the matter when he returned, and he would not be merciful. His sister could not get away with manipulating him in this manner. After all, it had been her lapse that had enabled the assassins to gain entry to the reception the previous week.
But for now, he was forced to take his Beloved to their home planet. He could only hope that he would be able to protect them from their former selves.
Already, he could see Shadow's eyes staring longingly at the piloting stations, his fingers unconsciously twitching to take control of the vessel. But Zoltar wasn't about to allow that. No, Shadow would simply be a passenger, like the rest of them.
Although he did not voice his request, Shadow knew it had been denied. He could see that the Master was irritated with his distraction, and Shadow resolved to be more attentive for the duration of the journey.
And yet… there was something about those controls that made him long to touch them. Instinctively, he knew that if he were given the chance, he could pilot this vessel all by himself. The men in green uniforms who were going through the pre-flight checks were doing so too slowly, too inefficiently, for Shadow's liking. He grimaced in frustration, his desire to focus on his Master long forgotten as he was riveted to the pilots' every move.
Nox spoke softly with Blade, but smiled to herself as she witnessed Shadow's expression. She knew that he longed to join the men in control of the vessel, and wished she could soothe his distress. But the Master had made it clear by his actions that such a thing wouldn't be permitted. Instead, Nox refocused on her conversation with Blade, discussing the security arrangements for the Master's Earth visit.
The first three hours of their journey were endless torture for Blade. He longed to be moving, practicing his weaponry, or walking around. The Master was performing administrative tasks at his workstation, and there was nothing for the Beloved to do but sit and watch. Blade detested this inaction. His eyes fell on a bright red button and targeting scanners off to the side of the main controls. Instinctively, he knew that these devices controlled the vessel's weapons, and mentally he began assessing them, playing out mock battles in his mind with varying opponents, planning strategies and determining the weak spots of his enemies.
But there were no enemies here. This was all just a game, to pass the time. Blade hissed in anger.
The Master flinched slightly, but remained focused on his work.
Nox laid her hand on Shadow's arm. Usually her touch relaxed him, but at this moment he did not appear to notice her presence. His eyes were narrowed, his posture rigid, his muscles tense.
"We're off course." Shadow announced sharply.
"What?" Zoltar looked up from his work, vaguely disturbed by the interruption. "What are you talking about?"
But Shadow ignored his Master. Instead he stood up, stalking over to pilots, his penetrating gaze pinning them in their seats.
"Why have you led us toward the Rigan Sector?" Shadow demanded. "Earth is on the other side of the Galaxy!"
"Shows what you know." one of the pilots snorted. "We're nowhere near Riga."
"Then why do our navigation sensors show us at the Rigan Moon co-ordinates of 687.542.38 Beta?" Shadow demanded, hauling the man out of his seat by his collar. "Earth is located in the Gamma Quadrant!"
The man's face paled beneath his green mask. It was clear that he had not expected Shadow to call his bluff. His eyes moved nervously toward the other pilot, and his hands twitched at his waist.
But even as he was pulling out his pistol, a silver knife appeared in the hollow of his throat. The unfired weapon dropped from his now-lifeless fingers. The second pilot's disruptor was knocked out of his hand by an electric arc that surrounded it with a crackle of lightning. Shadow contemptuously tossed the first pilot's body aside and rounded on the second, his fist landing on the man's jaw. He flew across the transport's interior, coming to rest in a slump next to Zoltar's chair. His head lolled from his neck at an unnatural angle.
Shadow glanced at his team, nodding his approval at them and the way they held their weapons ready for another strike. Blade returned the gesture, and then yanked off the pilot's green mask.
"I recognize him. One of the Rigan Representative's assistants." Blade snapped. "He left Spectra just before the conference, three days ago."
"The attack in the reception hall!" Nox hissed. "These Rigans had a backup plan! We need to make an example of them."
"We will." Shadow said coldly. "But for now, we need to turn around and go back to Spectra. It is likely that these Rigans were leading us into a trap."
"I'd say that's confirmed." Blade grunted. He gestured sharply to the main viewscreen.
Two red spacejets were clearly visible on the readout, and they were heading toward the now-drifting Spectran transport ship. A large Rigan warship loomed ominously behind them.
"Jason! Princess! To your stations!" Shadow barked his orders. But they turned out to be unnecessary, as the other two were already moving toward the front of the ship. Shadow sat down in the pilot's seat, and Nox slipped into the chair next to him, taking over the controls of the navigation station. Blade was already in place at the weapons station, which had previously been unmanned.
Zoltar remained frozen in his own seat. Over the past thirty seconds he had been frozen in fear, only able to mutely witness the scene unfolding around him. He was, of course, incredibly grateful that Shadow had spotted the danger that surrounded them in time to deal with the consequences. But the manner in which his three Beloved had slipped so easily into these roles… roles they had not assumed for five years… chilled his heart.
Part of him longed to call out to them, to break them out of this dangerous mindset and return them to the beings they had become. Yet if he did that, there was a much smaller chance that they would survive this encounter. If the Rigans had been able to masquerade as his pilots, they had well-placed agents indeed. It was clear that this trap into which they had been led had been elaborately planned, and was one which had allowed for many different contingencies.
Zoltar only hoped that one of them was not the possibility that his Beloved might take control of the transport vessel.
"Commander, they're surrounding us in standard Rigan fighter formation." Nox reported. "Their armaments consist of two laser cannons and three T4-12 missiles."
"We've only got one laser cannon, Commander." Blade added. Before Shadow could answer, Nox interrupted.
"They're hailing us, Commander." she said.
"Put it through, audio only." Shadow ordered. "They probably think that their pilots are still in control of this ship, so let's not dissuade them of that notion if we possibly can."
"Spectran vessel, you are now under the authority of the Free Rigan Planetary Patrol." The voice was cold and sterile, and it sent a shiver down Zoltar's spine. But as he looked at his Beloved, the fear dissipated. The aura they radiated was one of invincibility: of soldiers who had seen the worst that could be thrown at them, and had still come out alive. Dedicated… inseparable… invincible…
His breath caught in his throat, but the Spectran Leader's fear was not for his own safety.
"Lower your shields and prepare to be boarded." the voice instructed them. "A ship will be docking at your rear port."
"The warship is moving in, Commander." Nox informed them.
"Princess, lower the shields. Jason, prepare to receive our visitors." Shadow ordered grimly.
"Already on it, Mark." Blade flashed him a smile. Zoltar recoiled from the expression on his Beloved's face. It was as if… as if he was actually enjoying this!
The hum of the shield generators wound down, and Nox stood up, moving to join her comrades who were positioned around the entry portal. Shadow waved her away, and she nodded in response, retreating and taking up a protective position in front of her Master.
The door opened with a soft hiss.
Even before Zoltar saw the Rigans boarding their ship, Shadow already had one in a chokehold. Blade had used one of his knives to slit one assassin's throat, and was thrusting out his leg to fell another. Shadow twisted his prisoner's neck with a sickening snap, then threw out his throwing disc at another Rigan. A fifth man came from out of nowhere, spraying laser bullets from a Rigan rifle. Nox whirled, physically pushing Zoltar to the ground and shielding him with her black wings. She threw out her foot to impact the man's leg, sending him tumbling to the floor.
Zoltar could hear shouts from beyond the entry portal, and then the soft hiss of the door closing. But the moment it began moving, Nox reached into a small pouch at her belt, tossing something through the opening just before it disappeared.
And in the blink of an eye, Shadow and Nox were back at the transport's controls again.
"Docking port disengaged!" Nox cried.
Shadow pulled at a lever in front of him, and the ship shot forward. The Spectran Leader rolled across the floor, and Blade rushed to assist him.
"Fasten your seatbelt, Zoltar." Blade told him. "Mark's going to be making some tight maneuvers to get us out of this."
Blade was back at the weapons station before Zoltar had a chance to respond, much less process exactly what his Beloved had said. But the Spectran Leader did as he was told, buckling in his already-queasy stomach. Just as he had latched the belt, the transport lurched forward, as if it had been hit from behind. Looking at the viewscreen, Zoltar realized that the Rigan warship that had been docked behind them had just exploded.
"What was that?" Shadow asked Nox, his eyebrow raised in amusement.
"Those Spectran mini-grenades I've been working on." she shrugged. "I'd been hoping to save them for something special…"
"It was special for me, Princess." Shadow winked at Nox. She giggled behind her hand.
Zoltar's jaw fell to the floor. Was Nox blushing? Not to mention giggling! That couldn't be right! But the Spectran Leader was unable to confirm his brief impression, because his Beloved had turned to her control panels once more, leaving him only with a view of her back. And when had she 'worked on' mini-grenades? Zoltar didn't recall giving his Beloved any of those weapons – weapons that were highly restricted and only available by direct order from himself or Mala. How had they obtained them? More to the point when had they obtained them?
But now was not the time for such questions.
"Those spacejets are coming around." Nox announced. "They're attempting to flank us."
"They don't know us very well, do they?" Shadow grinned. Zoltar couldn't ever recall seeing his face expressing this kind of joy and excitement before, nor hearing the kind of banter in which they were indulging. The Spectran Leader shuddered, instinctively sensing the danger inherent in his Beloved's emotions.
Before Zoltar could grasp what was happening, he was pinned back in his chair as the transport ship steeply climbed up and away from the spacejets. He could barely lift his head from his seatback as the g-forces held him in place.
"Pretty slow." Blade drawled casually. "Losing your touch, Mark?"
"This ship isn't exactly built for speed." Shadow retorted. "Not like my jet."
"Tell me about it." Blade grumbled. "I'm wishing for a couple of TBX missiles about now. But the laser cannon's enough." As if to prove his statement, Blade fired the transports vessel's only weapon, targeting the engines of one of the spacejets. After a brief moment, the jet's engine overheated, and the Rigan ship exploded.
"Just one left." Blade smirked.
"It's firing at us!" Nox warned. Sure enough, a pair of silvery missiles shot through the space between the two ships, headed straight toward them. Zoltar tensed, instinctively undoing his seatbelt and leaping to his feet. It was time to run for his escape pod.
He only remembered that this ship had no escape pod when he hit the floor. Shadow had spun the transport ship in another direction, too fast for the artificial gravity to compensate. Zoltar groaned in pain as he struggled to rise.
"Damn it, Zoltar! I told you to put on your fucking seatbelt!" Blade growled. "We don't need any distractions right now!"
Zoltar instinctively quailed under this fierce assault and found himself already buckling his body into his chair before he realized what he had done. His fingers gripped the edge of his seat, his knuckles whitening with strain underneath the red gloves he wore.
"Just get me a little closer, Mark." Blade urged. "There isn't much of a range on these targeting scanners."
Shadow obligingly turned toward the red spacejet, moving on an intercept course. But the jet refused to turn away, and for a brief instant, it looked like the two vessels would crash into each other.
At the last second, the Rigan ship pulled away, barely clearing the roof of the transport vessel, its underside clearly visible on the viewscreen. The enemy vessel was so close that Zoltar could see the scratches on its crimson paint.
Blade moved to shoot the laser cannon, but suddenly Shadow was grasping his arm, pulling it away from the firing button.
"No!" Shadow cried, tears streaming down his anguished face. "Not my father!"
"Mark, your father is dead!" Nox's voice rang out. "This isn't Colonel Cronus." The expression on her visage was stern and unforgiving, and it hit Shadow like a slap in the face. His grip on Blade's arm loosened.
But his words were lost as Blade depressed the firing button, and the transport ship hurtled away with the force of a nearby explosion. The last Rigan spacejet had been destroyed.
Zoltar, Blade and Nox were strapped into their seats, but Shadow went stumbling across the tiny interior of the ship, his head landing in Nox's lap. As the vessel re-stabilized, Zoltar could see the pain written across his Beloved's face.
"My father…" Shadow whispered.
"He loved you." Nox said softly, her hands gently brushing the hair from Shadow's forehead. "He knew you loved him."
"I never got to tell him…"
"He knew." Nox said these words so confidently that even Zoltar was convinced of their truth. "He always knew."
"I never got to…" Shadow looked up at Nox, then pulled himself into a kneeling position, so that his face was level with hers.
"I never got to tell my father that I loved him." Shadow said, his eyes a strange mixture of anger and regret. "And it almost happened with you, too… when we thought you had been killed with the flowers…"
"I'm right here, Mark." Nox smiled gently, her hand cupping Shadow's face.
"I love you, Princess." Shadow said, pulling Nox into his arms and crushing her mouth with his.
Zoltar suddenly felt uncomfortable, as if he were intruding on something private. It was ridiculous. He had seen Shadow and Nox in far more physically intimate situations before…
But he had never seen them this emotionally intimate.
His eyes widened as he realized the true depths of feeling Shadow and Nox had for each other. He had never himself experienced that level of devotion from either of them. These emotions clearly went far beyond those induced by the Bonding.
Unconsciously, Zoltar glanced over at Blade. His blue-grey eyes were hard, seemingly unaffected. Yet the Spectran Leader knew his Beloved well enough to see behind the emotional wall the man had thrown up, past it to the hurt and loneliness inside. Tentatively, Zoltar reached out to Blade, but he pulled back when his Beloved turned toward him, fire blazing in his angry gaze.
A war raged behind Blade's eyes for an instant, and then just as suddenly it was over. Blade slumped into his chair in exhaustion.
"Master…" he whispered. "I am tired."
"Then rest, Beloved." Zoltar said softly, finally placing his hand on Blade's arm. "Sleep."
And to Zoltar's astonishment, he did. Blade closed his eyes, his body drooping in his chair. The Spectran Leader rose, walking over to Shadow and Nox.
"You should rest also." he said to Shadow and Nox, who had now drawn apart, although their eyes remained locked in a fierce embrace.
"Yes, Master." they said as one, turning their faces to him. Slowly, he lowered his head, kissing them tenderly on their mouths.
"Sleep." he insisted, and as with Blade, they too closed their eyes, resting in their chairs, their hands joined as they slumbered.
Zoltar turned to the navigation controls, setting the autopilot on course for Earth. He dreaded taking his Beloved to this planet even more now, after what he had just witnessed. Yet he knew of no other way to stem the tide of their memories returning, other than learning more about their cerebonic implants. And there was only one man alive who could help him in this matter.
The stress and danger of the past half hour suddenly overwhelmed him, and the Spectran Leader stumbled back to his own chair. Their encounter with the Rigan rebels had been terrifying, but even more terrifying was the price his Beloved had had to pay, in order to get through the ordeal alive.
He had to see Anderson, before it was too late.
If it wasn't already too late.
Chapter 7 by TransmuteJun
Using Time Warp, it only took another three quarters of an hour before Earth came into visual range. Regretfully, Zoltar knew it was time to awaken his Beloved. Whilst he had some comprehension of their exhaustion, the Leader of the Spectran Empire could not be seen arriving on Earth without a proper escort, lest he appear alone and vulnerable to the masses. Additionally, the cockpit of the small transport vessel was covered in blood, and the bodies of the two traitorous pilots and five dead Rigan rebels still littered the floor. No, it wouldn't do to arrive as the solely conscious occupant of the transport in this kind of situation.
"Beloved," he said, gently shaking Shadow by his shoulder. The soft movement instantly awoke him, and his icy blue gaze stared piercingly at Zoltar before shifting, and gazing over the Spectran Leader's shoulder. Shadow's eyes widened and he sat up, as if transfixed.
He was still holding Nox's hand, and Zoltar noticed Shadow squeezing her fingers gently. The subtle pressure was enough to cause her to awaken, and her emerald eyes joined his cerulean ones in mute astonishment.
Zoltar turned, and instantly realized what fascinated his Beloved. The blue-green visage of Earth, so different from the orange-yellow appearance of Spectra, held them in its thrall. The Spectran Leader cursed himself for a fool for not anticipating this development. To be fair, he had many other concerns on his mind, but this only made his desire to visit with Anderson more urgent.
He looked up to see Blade also awake and staring at the viewscreen. Quickly, Zoltar re-programmed the main viewscreen to show the view to the rear view from the transport vessel, instead of what lay ahead.
Shadow blinked rapidly, as if only waking up just now, and then turned toward Zoltar.
"Master," he said slowly, as if struggling to recall the word, "are we landing?"
"Yes, Beloved." Zoltar replied. "We will be at our destination shortly."
Shadow nodded sharply, pulling himself together as the spacecraft jolted its way through the atmosphere. Zoltar returned his attention to the autopilot, instructing it to take them to the Main Docking Port for Center City, which was the largest metropolis on the planet, and the seat of the Spectran Governor, a man by the name of Gantor.
Zoltar did not know where his Beloved had lived on Earth Before. He did not wish to remind them of their pasts, and yet, he had to land somewhere. Center City was the obvious choice, being the base of Spectran rule and also the location of William Anderson's holding cell. The seat of the former Federation government had been nearly halfway around the world, in Brussels, and Zoltar hoped that it was this area of the planet with which his Beloved would be most familiar.
But until they arrived and he saw how his Beloved reacted, he wouldn't know.
The ship landed and the rear hatch opened, sending two Rigan corpses tumbling to the ground below. Zoltar heard gasps of astonishment from outside and nodded to Shadow. His Beloved put on their usual serious visage and strode forth, clearly unaffected by the carnage through which they had to pass. Shadow departed first, and then Zoltar exited the craft, flanked by Nox and Blade, the four of them marching down the small ramp to the ground below, where Gantor stood waiting to greet them.
Gantor's normally sly face was unusually anxious, and his eyes were fearful as he beheld his Leader.
"Lord Zoltar," he said, bending low in a sweeping bow, "I hope your journey was…" his eyes wandered over to the bodies at the foot of the ramp, "pleasant."
"Hardly." Zoltar fixed his underling with an icy stare. "We were attacked by Rigan rebels, two of whom were masquerading as my pilots. Fortunately, my Beloved are well-trained to handle the unexpected."
"I see." Gantor replied. "Then, would you care to be escorted to your accommodations?"
"No." Zoltar snapped. "I have other business to attend to. We will seek our accommodations later, when we retire."
"Sire…" Gantor swallowed nervously and his voice lowered. "I must speak with you… in private. It is an urgent matter, that must be attended to immediately."
Zoltar wanted to scream with rage. He needed to see Anderson now! He could not afford to delay! But if Gantor thought the matter was urgent, it likely was. No matter how pressing Zoltar's personal concerns, the welfare of the Empire had to come first.
"What is it?" he hissed through his teeth, his displeasure clearly evident.
"A matter best not discussed where there are ears to hear, Sire." Gantor whispered imperceptibly, his eyes darting about to indicate the civilians and military personnel stationed around the landing site.
Zoltar allowed himself the small pleasure of letting the man squirm in uncertainty for a moment, yet he knew that he would have to agree. Clearly this was an issue of the utmost urgency.
If it were not, he would have Gantor's heart on a platter.
"Fine." Zoltar smiled brightly, speaking loudly for the benefit of the surrounding crowds. "Take us to our accommodations, Gantor. It has been a long journey. I will deal with the people of Earth on the morrow."
"Very good, Sire." Gantor nodded, his relief quickly replaced by a demeanor of quiet, yet vicious, efficiency. Zoltar and his Beloved were whisked into a waiting armored limousine, and within moments they were stepping out onto the steps of the famed Castle Hyatt-Fairmont, Earth's most luxurious and prestigious hotel. The Spectran Leader and his bodyguards were rapidly escorted up to the penthouse: a lavish three-bedroom suite with a sweeping one hundred and eighty degree view of Center City.
Outwardly, his Beloved appeared strong and vigilant, but knowing them intimately, Zoltar could see the minute signs of stress and exhaustion that plagued his loved ones. Still, they did not shirk their duties, nor ask for respite, but simply stationed themselves around the sumptuous living room that was the center of their suite.
Zoltar did not sit down, but instead rounded on Gantor the moment the door closed behind them.
"Is this 'secure' enough for you?" he snarled, his arms spreading wide. "I have urgent matters of my own. This had better be as important as you say!"
"It is, Sire!" Gantor bowed low, his body trembling nervously. "I would never have insisted otherwise. You know my loyalties are entirely to you, and the Luminous One!"
"What is it, then?" the Spectran Leader demanded.
"It's President Xander." Gantor explained rapidly. "Just this morning, I discovered evidence that contrary to her insistence that she is cooperating fully with the Spectran Empire, she is in fact behind the recent drops in resource production. It seems that she has been funneling supplies and resources to the rebels; goods that rightfully belong to the Empire."
"You are certain?" Zoltar asked, his eyes gleaming. If this was true, and the President was indeed the source of his troubles, making an example of her would bring a quick end to his problems, leaving him free to concentrate on getting necessary information from Anderson.
"Yes." Gantor nodded. "However, the evidence I have obtained, while valid, is unlikely to be believed by the Earthers. We need Xander to make a public admission of guilt, to strike fear into the hearts of all who would oppose us. Then we can make an example of her." Now that he had delivered his message to the Spectran Leader, his confidence had returned, and his manner was crisp and businesslike.
"And why did this matter have to be dealt with immediately?" Zoltar asked, his eyebrow rising in amused suspicion.
"The moment I obtained my information, I 'invited' the President to a 'private meeting'." Gantor smiled thinly. "She has not been 'missed' as of yet, but if we linger much longer, the lengthy duration of our 'meeting' is certain to be remarked upon."
"I understand." Zoltar nodded. "I will attend to this matter myself, with your assistance, of course." The Spectran Leader's eyes swept over his bodyguards. This kind of coercion required those who were talented at administering pain in just the right degree. But if there were too many people involved in this, it might backfire. The President might feel backed into a corner and refuse to cooperate, assuming that her fate was already sealed.
"Blade." Zoltar snapped his fingers, and the Blackbird immediately stepped over to join his Master. "You will accompany us."
"Yes, Master." Blade nodded. Zoltar knew he had made the right choice. Shadow and Nox were too wrapped up in each other to be separated at this moment, and they both appeared to be even more exhausted than Blade. Nox's fingers were trembling slightly, and Zoltar knew that she would not last much longer.
"Rest." he ordered the pair, more sharply than he would have liked, but he was aware of the Governor witnessing the exchange. "Do not leave this room."
"Yes, Master." Shadow acknowledged, his face expressionless.
Zoltar departed, Blade and Gantor following behind. Once he had secured the President's cooperation, he would be able to find answers to the problems that plagued his Beloved.
Blade sat in the rear of the vehicle, which was being operated by Governor Gantor's driver. The moment he had seen the control wheel at the front of the car, Blade had wanted to touch it… to feel it beneath his palms; feel its smoothness and the vibration of the engine through its round shape. He had nearly asked for permission to do so, until he had remembered himself.
Still, even now, sitting in the vehicle with the driver in plain sight was torture, and so he closed his eyes, doing his best to think about other things. Outwardly, his expression was rigid and stern, but inside, his head whirled with images of the past few hours.
Foremost of all in his mind was the image of this planet, as it had appeared from space. Blade knew that he had never been here before, and yet… it had seemed familiar to him, in an intimate way. Its blue-green color had been cool and welcoming, and he had almost felt as if he had been coming home. Now, on the surface of the planet, the feeling had diminished somewhat, but only because he sensed that something wasn't right. The windows in their accommodations should not have looked out upon the city. They should have been looking out at… he wasn't certain. He concentrated very hard, his mind wrestling with the vague image as it should be… Fish! There should have been fish outside the window! But that was ridiculous. Fish only lived underwater, and there were no underwater buildings. Clearly he was hallucinating in some fashion.
Blade briefly wondered if he should tell the Master that his mind was playing tricks on him. He might not be performing to the full extent of his abilities, and Zoltar needed to know that.
Zoltar… Blade had never called the Master by his true name before today, and yet he had addressed him in that manner only a couple of hours ago. The Master had been in danger of being seriously hurt, and Blade had told him to fasten his seatbelt, and had used his name, rather than his appellation. The Master had never explicitly forbidden his Beloved to call him by his first name, and yet, none of them ever did. Why Blade had chosen to break that unwritten rule today was unknown.
And it wasn't just the Master. Blade, Shadow and Nox had used alternate names for each other… Jason, Mark, and Princess. And he and Nox had addressed Shadow as 'Commander'.
Placing the names side by side, he wasn't certain which one was right. He was Blade. He had always been Blade. But perhaps that wasn't true. Before, he might have had a different name.
Could that name have been 'Jason'?
It sounded right to him, the more he thought about it. In a way, it seemed more comfortable and familiar than the name he had used for the past five years. When he thought about Shadow and Nox, and placed those other names with them, they seemed right as well.
So who were they? Were they Shadow, Blade and Nox, or were they Mark, Jason and Princess?
At this moment, he didn't know.
The car stopped, and he was jolted back to reality. The Master called to him, and he exited the vehicle, following as he was told. They entered a stately building that was apparently the Governor's place of residence, the front entrance lined with Spectran guards in their green uniforms. Gantor took them all inside and into his office, where he shut the door.
"Your man… can he be trusted?" Gantor asked Zoltar, his eyes darting toward Blade, who seemed wrapped in shadows.
"Of course." Zoltar snapped. "I wouldn't have brought him otherwise."
"Fine." Gantor nodded, reaching underneath his desk. Then he turned, moving toward a shelving unit on the wall, which was filled with antiquated paper documentation.
"It's amazing how the Earthers cling to these books of theirs." Gantor commented. "No matter how technologically advanced they become, they still desire the presence of their words on paper."
"Clearly a weakness of intellect." Zoltar sighed impatiently. "Can we get on with it?"
"The elevator takes a few moments." Gantor explained. "For security purposes, when it is not in use, it is held at a repair station off the main shaft. Additionally, it operates quite slowly, to minimize noise. I can't risk having anyone discover its existence."
The elevator finally arrived, and Blade was only mildly surprised to see one of the shelving units split in half to allow access. He followed his Master inside, then placed himself directly in front of the doors, so that if there were any threat upon exiting, he would be the one to face the danger.
The metal doors dully reflected his face back to him, and in this cloudy appearance he thought he saw something surrounding his head: something dark, hard and round. A helmet? He had no idea why such a thing would be on his head. Imagine how it must impede his hearing and vision! Yet suddenly, he could picture himself in this mysterious helmet, and his wings were blue instead of black, and he was fighting…
He was fighting men in green uniforms.
The lurch in his stomach did not come from the movement of the elevator. If he had fought Spectran soldiers, then they must have been spies: enemy agents like the men who had masqueraded as pilots of the transport vessel. They must have been.
But suddenly he wasn't so sure.
When they reached the bottom of the shaft, the elevator doors opened, revealing a sterile metal corridor. Blade checked in all directions and found their path to be clear. He stepped out and aside, allowing his Master and the Governor to pass.
There were four identical doors along the corridor, each with a handprint access control mechanism. The Governor stopped at the third door, then used his palm to open the portal.
The room beyond was small and bare. It looked like the inside of a metal cube: its floor, ceiling and walls all made of the same smooth dull-grey material. In the center of the room was the only piece of furniture: a chair.
A woman was tied to the chair.
The woman looked to be in her late fifties, her brown hair streaked with silvery-grey. It had been pulled back from her face, but now messy tendrils hung down, the perfect complement to the smudges of dirt on her pale skin and rumpled clothes. She was both blindfolded and gagged.
"Her ears were plugged and her eyes blindfolded to prevent her from knowing where she was, or how to access this place." Gantor explained. "But I will remove the plugs if you so desire, Lord Zoltar."
The Spectran Leader waved his hand dismissively, and the Governor leaned over, reaching into the woman's ears and pulling out two devices too tiny to be seen. Zoltar looked at Blade and jerked his head, indicating that Blade should stand behind him.
"So pleasant to see you, President Xander."
"What?" The woman swung her head around, trying to locate the source of the voice. "Zoltar, is that you?"
"My, haven't you become careless?" Zoltar taunted her, delivering a stinging slap across her cheek. "You should at least remember how to properly address the Leader of the Empire."
"L… Lord Zoltar…" the woman said haltingly. "I don't understand… what is going on? Did I displease you?"
"President Xander, I'm a busy man." Zoltar hissed, leaning down so that his mouth was next to her ear. "I resent being taken away from my own affairs to attend to yours."
"S…Sire… I never requested your presence here…"
"Of course you didn't." Zoltar smirked. "You wanted to keep me away as long as possible, so that you could aid those rebels of yours."
Blade did not miss the way the President's fingers twitched nervously, all but admitting her guilt. Neither did the movement go unnoticed by Gantor or Zoltar.
"You do recall what happened to your predecessor, don't you?" Zoltar asked her. "That old fool was too staunch an opponent of the Spectran Empire to be allowed to remain in his position. Tragically, he met with a fatal accident enroute to Spectra, where he was to be tried for his crimes." Zoltar sighed dramatically.
"Hiram Kane was a good man." the President cried. Her face paled even more as she realized what she had just admitted.
"You humans are weak, and not to be trusted!" Zoltar raged, reaching out in his anger and ripping off the woman's blindfold. "We generously let you govern yourselves, and this is how you repay us? By supporting those who would oppose our legitimate rule?"
"Of course there are factions here on Earth who oppose Spectran rule!" Xander replied, her eyes darting about nervously. "Spectra takes all of our resources, and we barely have enough to feed ourselves! In many countries, people are dying for lack of food and medical care, and we are not allowed to make use of the crops we grow or the medicines we produce! Those who cannot survive under Spectran rule have to find another way! If you would only increase the rations given to each Federation citizen…"
"The Federation no longer exists!" Zoltar reminded her furiously. "That abomination was stamped out by the forces of Spectra! And now, you and your rebels seek to take what is rightfully ours!"
"No, no…" the President shook her head. She was attempting to remain calm, but Blade could see the fear gathering in her eyes.
"Your food, your medicines, they belong to Spectra! We do not give them to the weak! Your resources belong to Spectra! They are not to be wasted on your puny planet! Everything that belonged to the Federation now belongs to Spectra!" Zoltar declared, stepping aside. His movement gave the President a full view of Blade's face.
"Is that…?" she whispered, her voice trembling in terror. Despite himself, Blade found that her expression struck a chord within him. He had never met this woman before, and yet she knew him. How was that possible?
"He is my personal bodyguard." Zoltar smirked. "He has saved my life more times than I can count. He obeys my every command. I am his Master."
"I heard stories…" The woman's eyes widened in disbelief. "No, it can't be true! Not him!"
"Break her arm." Zoltar snapped at Blade.
Without thinking twice, Blade stepped forward, his hand shooting out, cutting down across the woman's bicep. There was an audible crack. She howled in pain, her restraints rendering her unable to cradle her injured limb.
"That was simply a demonstration, to prove to you that what I say is true." Zoltar smiled viciously. "Those who defy me have reason to fear my wrath, and the wrath of the Great Spirit."
"I understand…" the woman whispered weakly, her head lolling.
"Then you understand that if I order him to find your family… your grandchildren… and exact punishment on them for your crimes, he will obey." Zoltar said quietly. "Of course, I do not have to give such an order."
The woman's face grew hard for a moment, then drained of its feeble show of defiance. Her eyes rose, meeting Blade's, clearly pleading with him to help her.
He could not help her. He had to do what the Master ordered. And yet… he felt pity for this woman.
Pity. It was a strange emotion, and one he couldn't recall ever feeling before. Why was she pleading with him? Hadn't he just broken her arm? Didn't she understand that he had to do what the Master ordered?
"Tell me the name of your contact with the rebels." Zoltar demanded.
"I don't know."
Zoltar gestured to Blade, and he stepped forward again, twisting the woman's broken arm.
"Aaaah…!" she cried, overcome with the pain, and yet her gaze held Blade's, begging him… for what?
"I'm not going to accept that answer." Zoltar insisted. "You're the President of this pitiful planet. Surely you know something…"
The interrogation continued, and Blade continued to torment the woman, increasing her pain each time she delivered an answer that Zoltar found unacceptable. This was nothing new to Blade. He had assisted in interrogations of rebels before, as had Shadow and Nox.
Yet this time was different. No matter how much pain he caused her, the woman did not look upon him with hatred, or revulsion, or fear, but with some kind of desperate hope.
And a part of Blade wanted to answer that hope. No, not a part of Blade… a part of Jason. Jason wanted to help this woman: to protect her. But why? Why would Jason want to disobey the Master?
Another thought suddenly occurred to him. This woman was pleading with him… pleading with Jason… to help her. She knew Jason.
Had she known him Before?
He couldn't do this. He couldn't fight two sides of himself, who both wanted to please, but whose motives were in conflict.
"Blade!" Zoltar said sharply.
He looked up at his Master, his internal struggle telling him one thing, and then another. He tried to respond, but found that he could not.
"Blade…" The voice had softened now, and the Master's expression was anxious.
"That's enough for today." Zoltar told Gantor sharply. "She's not in any condition to return to her 'duties'. Bring in her entire family and hold them here. Let it be known that President Xander has gone on a 'vacation."
"I understand, Sire." Gantor nodded.
"Come, Blade." the Master ordered, leaving the room.
And Blade followed.
But it was Jason who could not forget the President's silent plea.
Chapter 8 by TransmuteJun
At Jill's they were glued to the television screen which was showing the arrival of Emperor Zoltar.
The cameras panned in and Keyop leaned forward as he watched Mark stride out of the transport, followed by Zoltar with Jason and Princess on either side.
The announcer started to comment on the Beloved, and the cameras closed in onto Mark's face. Keyop grinned as he realized that some things never changed. Mark still hated fronting the media – even if it was only an appearance.
Then he noticed something else as the camera showed the four faces. Their eyes were different. He stood up and moved as close to the television as he could, climbing on a chair to get a close look. "Jill, are you recording this?"
"Yeah. Any recon we can do on the purple creep is good."
"Make a copy for me. I want to look at some things closely."
Jill put her hand on his leg. "Keyop, face it. They're not on our side any more. The Princess you and I loved is gone forever, and in her place is that bitch Nox."
He jumped down. "I know what I saw on Spectra. Her eyes were completely blank. She had no memories of me. But I've just seen something. Their eyes look different now. Almost as if something is reaching out from inside them."
He turned to Julie. "We need to get Anderson out. Now."
"We were hoping to spring him in a few nights – with the big gala all the Spectrans will be off guard."
Keyop shook his head. "No. Something happened to bring Zoltar here suddenly. The only thing I can think of is Anderson. And seeing their eyes on that telecast…." His heart lifted.
"Julie, your team needs to get Anderson out tonight. And I need to get to where they," he pointed at the figures on the screen, "are staying. If Mark is beginning to remember, then I want to give them some things that will help him."
"Keyop, you can't keep obsessing about them like this. Zoltar has been parading them about for years – and anybody who knows who they are knows what they are now. We don't know what he did to them, but his hold seems to be complete."
"They first appeared barely twelve months after Zoltar won. This means that they must have been pretty badly injured. It's quite likely that those injuries included brain damage, which caused some sort of amnesia. I have to believe that, Julie. I can't believe that they would willingly and knowingly become what they are. I have to hope that they're finally starting to remember. And I need to help them do that."
Julie and Jill exchanged sad glances. "We'll break Anderson tonight, Keyop. But I can't let you go into that hotel and try to see them."
Keyop looked at her and rounded his arm, transmuting into the Swallow. "Can you stop me, Julie?"
"I have some pictures of the three of them." Jill offered.
Keyop shook his head. "No. I want something that is far more personal. Before Anderson was taken prisoner, he left a box with you Jill. Go get it."
"Not far to go," said Jill. "I keep it here – in plain sight as it were." She reached up and took down a box from a shelf and handed it to Keyop.
It wasn't a big box – slightly larger than a shoebox, but surprisingly heavy.
Keyop smiled as he opened it and the two women crowded around him, gasping at what it revealed.
"But surely they were carrying these when they were taken?"
"Have some sense," said Keyop testily. "We always had backups." He reached down and touched the contents reverently. There was a set of bolas, two cable guns, a yoyo and a strange shaped object that gleamed as the light struck it. All of these were nestling on a bed of feathers. Feathers with sharp, pointed ends.
"You know, I have to wonder how hard it was for Zoltar to get Jason out of the habit of nibbling on sharp objects." Keyop's voice was amused. "The Chief used to live in fear that he'd do himself a serious injury."
"And you think that this will help them remember?"
"I know it will. I saw the weapons they were using on Spectra, and they all handle similarly to these. I think that was deliberate on Zoltar's part. To make sure that he could build on their previous training."
"Once they have these, we need to stage something where they will use them."
"If they keep them." Julie added skeptically.
"Oh they will." said Keyop. "They may not know why, but they won't be able to resist. These things are tuned to our implants. Once they put their hands on them, they won't be able to just toss them away."
"Provided the implants are still working."
"I've seen them move and fight. The implants are working."
"So," said Jill, "tonight's the night."
"These people must really think we're stupid," said Shadow dropping the last of the bugs that they had destroyed in the suite on the low table. Nox turned from the window where she had been gazing out, one palm pressed against the glass.
"Especially since nothing was really hidden well. Then again, this is a last minute visit. They would not have had a lot of time." She looked thoughtful. "What do you think is the real reason that the Master wanted to come here?"
Shadow came behind her, encircling her with his arms and loving how she relaxed back against him.
"I wish I could believe it was for the scenery," he said. "But I'm afraid…" He broke off and bowed his head.
"Have we failed him some way Nox? Have we displeased him? Is that why he has taken Blade and not us?"
She turned, with one last lingering glance out over the city, bathed with light from the setting sun.
"I asked him that before we left Spectra. He promised me that we had not displeased him. I asked…" her own voice broke and she clung to Shadow. "I asked if he required us to part."
"No Nox. I will not allow it." Shadow felt his heart break. He couldn't be parted from Nox. Not now. Not when, after all these years, had allowed himself to follow his heart.
"Be still, Beloved. The Master said that he would not ask that of us. He has been generous, Shadow. He allows us to spend time together. He does not ask that we not share a bed when he is not here. He allows us to share Pleasures alone. But I fear for him. He and Blade. They are heartsore. I can feel it."
"Because of us?" Shadow knew better than to question her feelings. Always, she had been their emotional centre, the person they had all turned to for healing, her loving touch lifting spirits and mending broken feelings.
"The Master? No. Something else troubles him. Something that has him fearful unto death. And I fear that it is for that reason he has come here. But Blade… he is fearful of being alone. He is fearful that he will be rejected. Shadow, we cannot let Blade be fearful. He is bonded with us. I…." Nox wondered at her hesitation. Never before had she worried what Shadow would feel if she shared Pleasures with another. Especially when it had been with the Master or Blade. But now… Inside she felt a burning. Her body was demanding coupling – with Blade. The same way a few mornings ago, it had demanded the Master. And yet, it was somehow different from the constant longing she felt for Shadow. That, she felt, came from somewhere much deeper. The desire for the Master and Blade was purely physical.
"I can sense a danger for the Master." said Shadow. "Darkness seems to be coming for him. I'm not sure we can stop it, Nox. It comes from the past." He caressed her and felt her shudder at his touch. "I cannot stop you sharing Pleasures with Blade or the Master. But whenever you do, I feel ill. I don't want anybody to touch you but me." His voice was possessive and his hold tightened. He bent and kissed her.
"I love you Princess. It's not fair that after all this time, I have to share you."
His voice had changed. The measured timbre of Shadow had gone, and the voice which emerged was the same and yet different – younger and not as sure of himself. The change was echoed in his eyes, which had become softer. A similar change had come over Nox, and she returned his kisses and clung to him tightly.
"Mark, I know. All I want is to be with you. But we can't. And even if it was possible, we couldn't leave Jason."
"I know. But it's hard seeing... knowing..."
"Mark, your touch is unlike either Zoltar's or Jason's. It lifts me higher than they possibly can, and when you stop, it leaves me feeling sad that you have gone. I love you so much, Mark. I always have. And making love with you is even better than I would have ever believed possible."
The held each other, eyes closed, trying to make sense of their own words, to make sense of this other person that they seemed to be.
They had no idea how long they had remained like that, locked in each other's embrace. The opening of the door alerted them and they separated reluctantly, but both of their hearts sang as they saw their Master return.
Nox danced across the floor to his embrace. "Master! We were concerned for you."
He kissed her. "Why, little Nox? I was with Blade. My safety was assured." He saw the pile of components on the table. "Ahhh. So they have tried again to learn our secrets."
"Pretty poor job," said Blade turning them over. "Did you get them all?"
"I did." Shadow was grim. "But I fear that we shall be plagued by these for our whole visit. Nox, you will ensure that these quarters are fully secure whenever we leave them. If we are not here, nobody is to get in."
"I have a couple of gadgets that will do that," she said.
"Good girl. Blade, you and I must ensure that every transport used is secure."
"Master, I sense danger here. Darkness approaches and I fear you are its target." He raised his hand and ran it through his hair in a gesture of frustration. "I cannot guarantee we can stop it, Master. I fear we will fail you. That I will fail you."
"I trust you Shadow. You have never failed me in the past, and I cannot believe that you will fail me now." Zoltar welcomed his Beloved to his embrace, kissing and caressing, giving reassurance of his love and trust. "I cannot do without you Beloved." His heart was breaking knowing that if he could not get Anderson to cooperate, he may have to.
"Master," said Nox softly, "they do not seem to wish us to sleep in the same bed."
"Why do you say this Nox?"
"Have you seen the beds? They are barely big enough for two." Her voice was disgusted.
Zoltar was surprised – this was the best suite in the hotel. He had stayed here before and found the beds more than adequate. Then he looked around and smiled. Of course. Before, he had not had these magnificent creatures sharing his bed.
A hotel bed – even a king sized one – would not contain their physical selves – especially when they were sharing Pleasures.
"Then make contact with the Manager, my Nox. Tell him we require two of the beds to be put together to make one."
"Yes Master. Master?"
"Again, Nox?" Zoltar was amused. Nox could be very funny when she was 'fixing' their domestic arrangements.
But when she spoke again, he knew that this was a more serious matter. "Blade is heartsore, Master."
"Why do you say that, Nox?"
"I can feel it. He is afraid of being alone. That he will not be loved."
"Damn it, Princess!" said Blade breaking away and striding to the window. "Leave me alone."
She followed him, putting her hand and head on his shoulder. "But it's true, Blade. And it hurts Shadow and I when you are like this. All I want to do is to heal you."
"And how do you propose to do this?" Blade's voice was bitter. He didn't want her to share Pleasures with him only from pity.
"By opening my heart to you, Blade. By giving myself completely to you and taking away your pain. By replacing that pain with the lightness of our pleasure. By giving you the knowledge that no matter what, Mark and I will always be there for you. That we will always love you."
Some part of Blade was cynical, and he identified this part as Jason. However, the part of Blade who was Spectran knew that she told the truth. Somehow, he knew that Shadow and Nox could heal his hurting heart. And that they could help Jason. Somehow.
He looked over at Shadow and was struck at the sacrifice that he was making to allow Nox to do this. hat blue gaze also told Blade that if he did not accept that sacrifice, then he would regret it in other ways.
"Thank you," he said roughly. "I hope that it works."
Nox kissed him lovingly. "Trust me, Blade. I can take away the hurt."
"Mine or Jason's?" asked Blade softly, remembering the pain he had caused President Xander.
Zoltar pulled away from Shadow, frustrated. His Beloved was only submitting to his caresses because he felt he must. Zoltar could feel that every one of Shadow's senses was located in the other room with Blade and Nox.
And it was what was happening there which had precipitated this. With every cry of pleasure, Zoltar had gotten more and more aroused, until he had taken Shadow to him, expecting his usual joyous response.
He knew what the problem was. This was the first time in several years where they had not been in the same room. Where, even if it was two separate couplings, they had not been together physically.
And he didn't like it either, but it seemed that Nox had needed that privacy, to allow Blade to be healed.
"She does love you, you know," he said to Shadow conversationally, gratified to see the look of surprise on Shadow's face as he spun around. "She doesn't do this lightly. But it is one of the miracles of Nox that she is willing to put her own needs, her own feelings, behind what is needed by others."
"She's always been like that:" said Shadow softly, "always caring. I remember when Keyop came. She mothered him. She's always been there for us all. Breaking her own heart to heal ours."
Zoltar was fascinated. He wasn't sure who this was – Shadow or Mark. But he was sure that it was a subconscious thought. "And yet you are questioning the level of her love for you. Do you question mine in the same way?"
"No Master! I don't question either of you. But I feel…. Jealous." He looked directly at Zoltar for the first time in hours. "I am jealous of you and Blade. I am jealous when Nox shares Pleasures with anybody other than me. And without Nox, I cannot..."
The young man before him was no longer Shadow. No longer Mark. He was just a young man in love, who was having to deal with a situation he did not like and that was not of his making.
"She knows of your feelings, Shadow," said Zoltar, again taking him in his arms, but this time for comfort rather than sexual need, "but you need to put aside these black feelings. They can only poison your soul. You must trust in Nox and know her own soul well enough to realize that what you have together is special and will never be broken. And yet, there is no dishonour in sharing Pleasures with others when consent is given. You know that."
"Nox would not want you to withhold of yourself to Blade or I because of your bond with her." Zoltar continued. "In fact, she would be confused. She gives so freely of herself with Pleasures, can you not see her enjoyment? Would you deny her, or yourself, that same enjoyment?"
"No, Master. I want to share Pleasures. I could hear her, and Blade and was glad when you indicated your desires. But then… Master, I am confused."
Zoltar kissed him and held him close. "It is the nature of love to be confused," he said. "Indeed, I often feel such feelings when I see you and Nox. But then I remember the joy we all share in Pleasures and cannot deny you your own joy with her, as it does not lessen the joy that we all share."
"Are you sure, Master?" Shadow looked at him, his face full of hope.
"Yes. I know each of you, Shadow. All that you are I helped to shape. And each day, my heart is filled with joy when I think of my Beloved." They embraced, and this time Zoltar was pleased that his affections were reciprocated.
"Now, my Beloved," he said, "let us join in the sharing of Pleasures. For like you, I am lost without them."
Chapter 9 by TransmuteJun
"Are you absolutely certain?" Zoltar tried to keep the frustration he felt out of his voice, and failed miserably. He had been happy to share Pleasures with Shadow, strengthening their bond even as Nox and Blade had deepened their own. It had been a necessary delay. But now that he had showered and dressed once more, he was eager to visit with William Anderson.
A visit that was to be postponed yet again.
"Yes." Gantor replied, his image on the communications screen frowning at Zoltar's reaction to his words. "Apparently the President's two grandchildren are on a skiing holiday in the Swiss Alps. We've sent men up there to take them in, but it has been difficult to locate them amongst the mountain trails. We're afraid that their escorts were actually Federation rebels, and that they somehow heard what was happening and took the children underground."
"This is unacceptable!" Zoltar raged. "We cannot convince President Xander to talk unless we threaten her family. Her entire family! Those children are the key!" He sighed heavily, knowing what he had to do.
"I'll go out there and take charge of the search myself." Zoltar sighed.
"I think that would motivate our men, Sire." Gantor approved.
Zoltar grimaced as he ended the communication. He would have to take his Beloved halfway around the planet, which would only give them more opportunity to see the world they had once considered their home.
"Shadow, we're leaving." he snapped irritably. "Get the others. It's time to go."
Icy eyes filled with a burning hatred glared at him, and involuntarily Zoltar took a step back. He cursed himself for this unconscious display of weakness, yet when he attempted to move forward again, a primal fear from deep within prevented him from doing so.
Shadow rose from where he had been sitting, closing the gap between them with two quick strides. He reached out, as if to grab Zoltar by the collar, then suddenly thought the better of his actions. His face sagged, and the rage seemed to drain out of his body. Shadow practically collapsed to the floor, his body giving way beneath him.
"You are angry with me, Master." he said quietly. "I have failed you. I am not worthy to serve you."
"I am not angry with you." Zoltar said, suddenly finding himself once again in the role of comforter rather than target. He was used to dealing with his own mercurial temper, but seeing such rapid changes of temperament in Shadow was of great concern. Of all three Beloved, Shadow was the most self-controlled: the one who could always be counted upon to be in command of his emotions.
Yet now, Shadow looked at him in despair, clearly fighting back a wave of tears.
"I didn't mean to speak so sharply with you." Zoltar attempted to explain. "I was frustrated that we have to travel to another part of this world, to take care of a problem we should never have had. You are my Beloved: I am never angry with you."
"But I have failed you." Shadow repeated, bowing his head in shame. "That is why Nox has chosen Blade for her Pleasures. She knows I am no longer worthy of her love."
"Of course you are worthy!" Zoltar insisted, pulling him close. "And you have never failed me, Shadow. Never."
"But in the transport vessel… I didn't notice that we were off course until it was almost too late." Shadow whispered. "I should have noticed. I should have been on guard. But I was preoccupied…"
"I was fascinated by the ship's controls, Master." Shadow admitted. "I was thinking about flying the vessel myself, and wishing that we didn't have to use pilots at all. It distracted me, and I took too long to notice what they were doing."
"Shadow, this is not your fault. They were well trained. It was because you were looking at the controls that you noticed the discrepancy in our position. I do not fault you. I credit you with saving my life. And that was only one time of many that you have placed your life before mine."
"But Nox… she must think I failed. Why else would she choose Blade over…?" His expression suddenly became fearful, as if he had said too much. But Zoltar could read what was clearly written on his face. Shadow did not want to share Nox with anyone. Not with Blade, and not with his Master.
Zoltar sighed heavily, rubbing his forehead with his fingers. He had to deal with this situation… but it would take time. And time was one thing he didn't have right now. The best he could do would be to stave off this emotional breakdown Shadow seemed to be experiencing, and hope that he would be able to get the information he needed from Anderson before Shadow's mental state deteriorated any further.
"You don't have to come with me, if you don't want to." Zoltar said slowly. "If you prefer, you can stay with Nox, and discuss this matter with her. I am certain she does not think that you have failed."
"You have faith in me, Master." Shadow said, his voice tinged with amazement.
"Yes, Beloved." Zoltar smiled, kissing Shadow gently on the forehead. "I have faith in you, just as you must have faith in me. Do not presume that I have judged you and found you lacking, for indeed, the opposite is true."
"Thank you, Master." Shadow smiled. "I will remain with Nox."
The door to the bedroom opened, and Blade came striding out, followed by Nox.
"Blade, I need you to accompany me again." Zoltar stated. "We must direct a search party to locate the President's grandchildren. We will leave immediately."
"Yes, Master." Blade acknowledged, but there was a strange flicker of… something… that crossed his face. Zoltar was afraid to draw attention to this aberration, and so chose to ignore it.
"Nox, you and Shadow will remain behind." Zoltar instructed. "Ensure that you both rest, and eat. Blade and I will return tonight."
"Yes, Master." Nox replied, casting a questioning glance toward Shadow. The moment Zoltar and Blade had departed, she turned to face him.
"What has happened?" she asked.
"Nothing has happened." Shadow replied. "The Master has been generous. He is allowing us some time together while he deals with this matter."
"Oh." Nox nodded, smiling at him. "I would like that very much, Beloved."
"I would too, Princess." he said, reaching toward her. He threaded his fingers through the hair at the back of her neck, gently pulling her forward, and silently exulting when she did so of her own accord, tenderly brushing her lips across his. His other hand reached out, tracing the soft curve of her cheek. His blood boiled, and he felt a strong urge to pull her against him, and roughly bury himself within her body: to claim her for him own.
But… she had just shared Pleasures with Blade. As wonderful as it was between him and Nox, he would only be following the path another had just trod. How was he to bind her to him by simply repeating another's actions? And then it came to him.
He had to woo her.
"Let's take a walk." he said suddenly, smiling at her.
"A walk?" she asked, confused.
"Yes." he nodded. "We'll call down to the shop and have them send us some Earther attire. Then we can go outside, and no one will know who we are."
Her eyes sparkled, and he could see that she had instantly understood the appeal of what he had suggested.
"I'll call and arrange the clothing." she grinned. "You wouldn't know what colors to order."
Shadow sat, bemused, as Nox contacted the shop in the lobby of the hotel, instructing them to send various items to their suite. He was amazed by the way she quickly perused images on the screen and made her selections within seconds. She had been right: Shadow wouldn't have had any idea what to order.
Less than thirty minutes later, they were wearing their new Earther garments. Nox had chosen a soft pink shirt for herself, accompanied by a mid-thigh-length blue skirt. Both were formfitting enough that Shadow felt himself growing hard in his new pants… some kind of stiff, pale blue garment that was apparently called 'jeans'. They were unfamiliar to him, and yet they weren't. Even their stiffness felt comfortable, and he was instinctively certain that the material would soften as he moved.
He caught a glimpse of himself in the full length mirror that covered the bedroom's closet door. With the red shirt and blue pants, he almost looked like a different person… yet someone who was also familiar. Shadow frowned, ruining the image.
Yet the familiarity remained.
He turned to look at Nox, admiring her appearance. Yet there was something familiar about her as well. Her pink shirt… shouldn't she have a pink skirt to match? And one that was even shorter?
Heat flushed through him. He could even picture it in his mind. A short pink skirt, her white underwear peeping out from beneath…
"Are you ready?"
His eyes popped open and the image was gone. In its place was Nox, happier and more relaxed than he had ever seen her.
What more could he possibly need?
It didn't take them long to exit the hotel and walk out onto the street, mixing in with the local population. Even the doorman at the Castle Hyatt-Fairmont simply smiled, bidding them good day and tipping his hat.
Shadow had been right. In these clothes, no one knew who they were.
In fact, he almost didn't recognize himself. He had always known that he and Nox were not Spectran, yet it was much more obvious here, surrounded by other people who looked as they did. Unconsciously, he relaxed further, immersing himself into this world which somehow did not seem quite as foreign as it appeared.
His companion smiled at him, and blushed shyly as he took her hand, lacing his fingers through hers. They strolled casually, warmed not only by the heat of Earth's single sun, but also by the thrill rushing through them where their palms connected and the intensity of their emotions when their eyes met.
Almost unconsciously, they wandered into a large park, and for a moment they were distracted by the display of plant life around them. Everywhere they looked, the world was green, from the grass beneath their feet, to the trees climbing into the sky, to the plants lining the edges of the walking paths. The landscape was somewhat ragged, as if it was irregularly maintained, yet to the eyes of the Beloved, used to the harsh, dry conditions on the Planet Spectra, such lush greenery was an untold luxury. No wonder Earth was the Crown Jewel of Spectra's conquests! There was so much the planet had to offer the Empire!
And yet… when Shadow looked around, he saw signs of misery among Earth's people. Few of the people in the park were smiling. Most were dressed in worn clothing, and were painfully thin, their faces gaunt and their expressions haunted. Beggars sat at designated locations around the park, their ragged hands reaching out for charity. Nox reached into her bag, freely distributing the few Spectran coins she had with a smile. Yet when the destitute Earthers saw what she had given them, they threw the currency away in disgust. An astounded Nox picked the coins back up out of the dirt, and Shadow hurriedly escorted her from the area.
A few children played in the sun, but their mothers kept them close, casting a sharp, wary eye around them.
"Mama!" called a young boy, running up to a tired-looking woman slumped on a bench. "I'm hungry!"
"I'm sorry, Alex, there is no more food for the week." the woman shook her head. "We have eaten all of our rations, and we have no money to buy more."
"Make the Spectrans give us more rations, then!" the boy declared, with all the self-righteousness and self-importance of a toddler used to getting what he wants. He pouted, crossing his arms in a childish imitation of adult impatience.
"We cannot." his mother shook her head sadly. "Since your father was injured in the mines, he cannot work. Since he cannot work, the Spectrans do not include him in our rations."
"But Papa needs to eat too!" the boy insisted.
"I know, Alex." the woman agreed. "That is why we share with him. But it means that we must spend two days each week without food."
"That is not enough!" Nox cried, running over and interrupting the woman. "A young child like this needs food every day, to grow!"
"And how do you propose we get more food?" the woman rounded on Nox, her eyes flashing. "The Spectrans take it all, and we have nothing to sell to buy anything on the black market, or to bribe officials for more. You are young and healthy; I'm sure they feed you. Don't presume to judge me until the Spectrans withhold food from you and yours!"
Nox was too stunned to respond, and the woman stood up, pulling the little boy away from the area.
"Come, Alex!" she said. "Playtime is over. We must return home."
A tear slid down Nox's face as she watched the two depart.
"How?" she whispered, her body shivering uncontrollably. "How can it be that in a place as green as this, the people have no food?"
"The woman said that there were rations." Shadow replied, coming up behind Nox and wrapping his arms around her. "Perhaps the Governor here has miscalculated, and is not giving the people the right amount. We can speak with the Master, and he will put it right."
"Yes!" Nox declared, turning around to face Shadow, her expression one of relief. "We will tell the Master what we have seen, and he will increase the rations for these poor people."
"They are citizens of the Spectran Empire." Shadow agreed. "All citizens of the Empire should have basic necessities."
Nox seemed satisfied now, having faith that once they brought this issue to the notice of their Master, that he would do whatever was necessary to solve it. Shadow put his arm around her shoulders and she snuggled next to him, the warmth and softness of her filling his soul. He wanted her, but it was more than just a desire to share Pleasures. Her very presence filled him with hope and joy, and the comforting warmth that surrounded his heart had nothing to do with the fiery heat that her nearness inspired in his loins.
They continued their slow pace, reveling in their solitude. For even though they were in a public park, in the presence of so many others, they were all strangers, and no one remarked upon a young couple so clearly enamored of each other.
Nox smiled to herself. She would never have imagined that the Pleasures she shared with Shadow could compare to an experience like this. But the freedom she was feeling at this moment combined with her utter contentment of being with the one she loved most above all others.
Yes, she could admit it to herself: she loved Shadow. Not in the same way that she loved Blade and the Master, although she was devoted to them. It was as if she and Shadow had a connection that went beyond what they felt for the other two: something deeper and more intimate. And it was on this sunny day, in the middle of a green park on a foreign world, that she recognized what that connection was: love.
The Master called them his Beloved, but to her, the meaning behind that word only rang true for Shadow. She loved them all, but her heart was hers to give, and she had given it to the man whom she had adored ever since she could remember.
Nox had long understood that she had loved Shadow Before, yet she also knew that Before, something had been preventing their union, and that now that unknown impediment was gone. She was grateful to the Master for his kindness in shattering that barrier, and now she and Shadow would be together always. Deep inside, she had faith that no matter what happened, the feelings the two of them had for each other were something so strong that it would endure forever, long after Shadow and Nox had ceased to exist.
In this uncomplicated setting, her cares dropped away, and she found herself able to focus fully on the feeling of Shadow's arm around her, the warmth of his body mingling with hers, and the scent of him filling her every breath.
She didn't know how long she and Shadow spent strolling around the park. All she was aware of was the man next to her, and the simple joy she felt in being with him. It was only when the sky began to darken that she realized how long it had been.
"I'm starting to get hungry." she admitted wryly.
"Me too." he grinned. "Should we get something to eat?"
"Yes." she nodded eagerly.
He laughed, taking her hand and pulling her along with him as they exited the park. They turned down a side street, and then a couple more. Their path was random, but somehow it also seemed the right way to go.
Before long, they had arrived at a small restaurant. A large Earther letter stood outside, which they recognized as a 'J'. They smiled at each other, instantly realizing that they had found the perfect place for dinner.
"After you." Shadow said, holding open the door and giving a gallant half-bow.
Nox giggled behind her hand as she walked inside the restaurant.
The interior was small and cozy: a few tables and a couple of booths filling the dining area. One wall was taken up by a large bar, and there was a middle-aged woman standing behind it, washing dishes.
"What can I get for…"
The woman's voice faded out as her eyes widened. She stared in disbelief at Shadow and Nox, her face a mask of shock. She frowned, her demeanor angry.
"How dare you come here?" she snarled. "Traitorous scum! I can't believe you have the nerve!"
"I'm sorry?" Nox asked her eyes suddenly stinging with tears. She didn't know why, but this woman's vituperation cut her to the core. She turned to Shadow, hoping that he would have an answer.
"There's no need to be rude." Shadow said sternly, pulling Nox into his arms and gently stroking her hair. His embrace comforted her, but did not prevent her tears from falling.
"We only wanted something to eat." Shadow explained.
"You can go eat somewhere else." the woman hissed. "We don't serve your kind around here."
"You misunderstand." Shadow attempted to explain. "We can pay. We're not beggars." Nox recognized that he was being incredibly patient with this woman. On Spectra neither of them would have stood for this kind of insult. But this was not Spectra.
"I don't care how much money you've got." growled the woman. "You're not welcome here. Ever. You have ten seconds to get the hell out of my restaurant. And trust me, if you refuse, I have a lot of friends who would love the chance to throw you out on your asses."
Shadow moved to turn toward the door, but Nox pulled away from his arms, turning to face the woman head on.
"But why?" she asked plaintively, not caring that tears were falling down her face. The sense of hurt she felt at this woman's rebuke was beyond her comprehension. Yet the need to understand drove her to push the issue.
"What have we done?" Nox questioned the woman. "Do we really deserve to be treated in this manner? Perhaps you are right. If this is the way Earthers treat others, we don't belong here."
Nox stalked toward the exit, Shadow right behind her. But the moment the door had closed behind them, she collapsed into his arms.
"Shhh… it's okay." he whispered into her ear. "We'll find somewhere else to eat."
But their pleasant excursion had been ruined. With heavy hearts, they headed out into the darkness.
Chapter 10 by TransmuteJun
A quarter of an hour later, Jill was still shaking from her encounter with Mark and Princess. When they had entered her restaurant she had been stunned, unable to believe that they were truly there, after all of these years. For an instant she had wanted to welcome them, but then the memory of their betrayal of the Federation and all it stood for came flooding back to her, unleashing a tide of righteous anger.
Except… they hadn't reacted as she had expected they would. Instead of being defensive, or self-righteous, they had been… hurt?
It had nearly torn Jill apart to see the look of pain on Princess' face. But that couldn't have been real. It must have been part of a façade. Perhaps the traitors wanted to infiltrate Jill's rebel group?
Yet, after they had gone, Jill had rushed to the front window, to turn her status sign from 'Open' to 'Closed'. And she had inadvertently glanced out the window, only to see Princess sobbing in Mark's arms.
Something wasn't right. Perhaps… perhaps Keyop knew what he was talking about when he insisted that they weren't in their right minds. Certainly neither of the pair had seemed to recognize her, and their reaction to her anger had been almost innocently childlike, as if they couldn't fathom why anyone would ever express such an emotion.
She needed to speak with Keyop about this incident.
Jill heard a soft noise coming from the kitchen area. Quickly, she ran back, closing the door behind her. Double-checking to ensure that she wasn't being observed, Jill pulled a storage cabinet away from the wall, revealing a ragged hole beyond, approximately one meter in diameter.
"We have a visitor." Julie smiled, her blackened face peeping out from the darkness.
"I'm glad you're safe." Jill said in a rush of relief. "Did everyone make it?"
"Yes." Julie grinned. "Although Orion received a power burn from one of the force fields, before Don managed to bring it down."
"Oh, poor boy!" Jill said, nearly falling down as the massive St. Bernard rushed into her waiting arms. She ruffled his fur, looking over the nasty wound on his side. Fortunately, it didn't appear as if the burn was too bad. All the same, Orion was a valuable member of the resistance. As she administered first aid to the canine, Jill shook her head. She would never have imagined that a dog would end up being so important to their cause, cerebonics or not.
"Keyop was right: the guard rotations were smaller and less frequent tonight." Julie reported. "They're all busy providing street security during the purple freak's visit. We were able to slip in and out of the prison without being noticed."
Julie was now helping someone else out of the hole and into the kitchen, and Jill nearly fainted when she saw the condition her latest guest was in.
"William!" she cried, temporarily abandoning Orion to rush over to the former Galaxy Security Chief. "You can't know how wonderful it is to see you, after all of this time!"
"No more wonderful than it is to be here." Anderson sighed heavily, stumbling slightly as she released him from her grasp.
"You're skin and bones!" Jill declared, her all-seeing gaze taking in his emaciated form. "Let me get you something to eat!" She moved over to the counter, where her crock pot was bubbling. She opened the lid and ladled out beef stew, serving it to everyone present as Julie finished bandaging Orion's wound.
"Thanks, Jill." Don said, accepting a bowl from her, although Jill didn't know how he expected to eat it with his other arm firmly attached to Amanda's waist. The pair had met through the resistance, and become romantically involved more than two years before. Jill couldn't begrudge them the small happiness they had found in each other, given the misery in which the entire planet was now shrouded.
"And thank you, Don." William Anderson said quietly, a bowl of stew on his lap. "I know that I made mistakes by you in the past, but I'm grateful…"
"That was the past." Don said, his head held high. "I know, more than anyone, how Spectra can screw a man over ten ways from Sunday. All I want is for them to get the hell off my planet and leave me alone."
"We're lucky to have you working with us." the former Security Chief acknowledged.
"You recall Julie and Amanda, of course." Jill finished the belated introductions, gathering that there hadn't been time for this kind of thing earlier.
"Yes." Anderson nodded. "Julie, I was sorry to hear of your father's death. And Amanda, your father…"
"My father is cooperating with the Spectrans." Amanda finished bitterly. "After all of the trouble G-Force went through to rescue me when I was kidnapped by Zoltar, my father truly was a traitor after all. When I discovered what he was doing, I left. He never even bothered to ask where I was going."
"Don't mistake weakness of character for weakness of heart." Anderson replied gently. "I'm sure, given a choice, he would rather not work for Spectra, but he is fearful of the consequences should he refuse. He's probably grateful that he doesn't know where you are, knowing that the Spectrans can't find you either."
"Funny, my father said something similar…" Amanda mused, her eyes staring off into space.
"And where's Keyop?" Jill asked, noting that there was no sign of the former G-Force member.
"As soon as Chief Anderson was rescued, he took off." Julie explained, rolling her eyes. "He said there was something he had to do." By the tone of her voice and the way she jerked her head, Jill immediately understood that William didn't know where his youngest son had gone.
"He's going to talk to them?" Jill asked nervously.
"Yes." Julie replied curtly. It was clear that she wasn't pleased with her boyfriend's course of action, but had been unable to prevent him from taking it.
"Talk to whom?" Anderson asked, his knowing eyes moving between Julie and Jill.
"You've been incarcerated for five years, William." Jill sighed. "So much has happened. We've got a lot to tell you."
Keyop waited in the empty hotel suite, growing more and more nervous with each passing second. It was one thing to read hacked Spectran data lines that stated that Zoltar had traveled to Switzerland with one of his bodyguards on top-secret business. It was another to wait around in the Spectran Leader's Center City hotel room, desperately hoping that he wouldn't be discovered by the purple freak.
Zoltar had taken only one of his bodyguards… that meant that two of the Beloved had remained behind. It didn't matter which two they were. Keyop had to get through to them. He had to make them remember who they had been.
He had watched and re-watched the footage of Zoltar's arrival on Earth all afternoon, and more than ever, Keyop was convinced that something had changed. Something of Mark, Jason and Princess remained… and he would do whatever he had to in order to bring them back.
He shifted uneasily on the bed, checking the box next to him for perhaps the hundredth time. The G-Force weapons were in there. All he had to do now was get the Beloved to accept them.
He heard the sound of the suite door opening, and held his breath. It had to be two of his former teammates. If not, his chance for escape was nearly gone.
"Come on out."
The voice was stern and cold, but Keyop instantly recognized the familiar note of command. Unconsciously he wanted to obey: his every instinct screamed for him to do so.
Slowly, he stood up, leaving the box behind on the bed.
"We know you're in here."
This second voice was familiar as well, but in his memories, it was reading stories to him, tucking him in at night, and patching up his wounds when he got into scrapes with the local bullies.
Now he knew which two had been left behind.
He stepped out into the doorway of the bedroom, coming face to face with his foster brother and sister.
"Hello, Mark." he said quietly. "Hello, Princess."
They had already been facing the doorway before he came out, and they did not move now that he appeared. Their weapons were in their hands, and they scrutinized him carefully. If they recognized their former names, they gave no sign of doing so.
"You're the scum who has been planting listening devices in our room." Mark accused. No, not Mark. This was Shadow. Keyop could see it in his eyes.
"I don't know anything about listening devices." Keyop admitted truthfully. "I came here to see the two of you."
"What would an Earther want with us?" Princess demanded. She sounded like Nox, but her eyes flickered. Unlike the previous time they had met, there was something there of the girl who had raised Keyop like a mother.
"I know you…" she said, her eyes widening. "You were at the reception, on Spectra…"
"Yes." Keyop nodded. "But there's something else…"
"Why are you here?" Shadow's words lashed out, preventing Keyop from finishing his sentence. "If your intentions are honest, then declare them!"
"I wanted to give you something." Keyop said. "Something for each of you, and for Jason, too, when he returns."
"What is it?" Princess asked. Her voice had softened, and there was a light in her eyes that Keyop hadn't seen for five years.
"I left it in the bedroom." Keyop replied. "I'm just going to get it." He turned and took two steps back to where he had left the box on the bed. But before he could reach it, he found himself yanked up by his collar.
"You must think we're stupid." Shadow snarled, his cold blue eyes boring into Keyop with a red-hot rage. "That's a bomb!"
"No." Keyop shook his head. "It's not a bomb. Not really…"
"Then why does my scanner detect an incendiary device within?" Princess asked. Keyop could see that she was torn. Nox was accusing, but Princess recognized him.
Did that mean that she innately trusted him as well?
"It's not going to explode." Keyop insisted. How could he explain that Princess' own yo-yo was giving out the readings that had her so concerned? He just had to show them.
"I'll open it myself…"
"Like hell you will!" Shadow raged, shaking him back and forth until Keyop thought his eyeballs were going to roll out of his head. He made no move in his own defense, because that would do nothing to aid him in his mission.
"You Earthers have hurt us enough for one day!" Shadow hissed, tightening his grip on Keyop's collar and bringing up his weapon with his other hand. "I won't stand for it any longer!"
He raised his hand, and Keyop knew that his former Commander was about to strike. His every instinct screamed at him to move, to break out of the hold, to defend himself. But he was unable to. He could only stand there helplessly, frozen by fear.
"No!" Princess screamed, grabbing at Shadow's arm, pulling his weapon away from Keyop's body. "You can't! Please!"
"Princess! What's wrong?" Suddenly it was Mark, his face full of love and compassion as he stared at the woman before him.
"You can't hurt him, Mark!" Princess begged, tears streaming down her face. "Please don't hurt him! I'll do anything… please…"
"Princess…" Mark let go of Keyop perfunctorily, then pulled Princess into the protective cradle of his arms, gently stroking her hair and kissing her forehead. "Please tell me what's wrong. I want to help you."
"I don't know what's wrong." Princess sobbed. "I just know that you can't hurt him, Mark. You can't!"
Mark lifted his head toward Keyop, but it was Shadow who glared at him.
"You owe your life to her." he growled. "Take your incendiary device and go!"
Keyop nodded blankly, stunned by the change he had just witnessed. He was convinced, now more than ever, that the man who had been his Commander still lived… but this wasn't the time to push him further.
"Thank you, Princess." Keyop whispered, picking up the box.
She refused to look at him, keeping her face buried in Shadow's chest. Keyop backed away under Shadow's intense scrutiny, clutching the box to his body. He moved out into the main living room, and toward the suite's door.
"Goodbye…" he said, his heart full of regret.
Chapter 11 by TransmuteJun
For the tenth time, Shadow wondered what they were doing in the café. Once the man had left their suite, Shadow had wanted to order room service for Nox. After they had been run out of the restaurant near the park, the two of them had wandered the city for perhaps half an hour before returning to their suite, and there Nox had been emotionally distressed further by the intruder. Shadow hadn't wanted to let the man go, but he had found himself unable to resist Nox's plea.
And they still hadn't eaten or rested.
When he had picked up the phone to order room service for them both, Nox had insisted that she wanted to go downstairs, to the café just off the hotel lobby. Shadow did not understand what she was thinking, but he found himself unable to deny her, and so there they were.
Nox ate mechanically, chewing without noticing her food. She stared at all of the passersby with an intense scrutiny.
Nox was looking for something… but Shadow had no idea what it was.
After perhaps three quarters of an hour, the Master returned. He did not notice Shadow and Nox, sitting in the café in their Earther clothes, but Blade did. Shadow saw Blade speak quietly to the Master, and the Master waved his hand, before moving off to the elevators. The moment he was gone, Blade approached Shadow and Nox.
"What has happened?" Blade asked simply.
"There's a lot to explain..." Shadow began.
"Not here." Nox said sharply. "We can't talk here. We have to go."
"But the Master is expecting me… expecting us…" Blade protested.
"This is more important." Shadow insisted, his expression daring Blade to challenge the validity of his statement.
Blade nodded curtly, and Nox stood up.
"We have to go." she repeated.
"Go where?" asked Blade. "And where can I get something that comfortable to wear?"
"We have to go," said Nox again, but now her hands were shaking uncontrollably. "We need to go." Her voice was almost monotone and Blade could see how pale she was.
"What have you two been doing?" he hissed. "You were supposed to be getting some rest. Now I find Princess nearly hysterical and both of you nearly dropping on your feet." He was furious. "You should have been getting some fucking sleep so that I could rest and you could guard the Master."
"Something happened. Several somethings. Something related to Before."
"Before?" Blade was sharp. He saw Nox sway and moved forward quickly, but Shadow was had already scooped her into his arms. "Mark, she's not up to anything. She needs to sleep. We all need to sleep."
"This is too important," Mark insisted stubbornly.
"Sir! Lord Blade!" A green clad soldier came running up and then started as he saw Shadow holding Nox in his arms. "Lord Shadow! Is there something wrong with Lady Nox?"
"She is fatigued. Why do you approach us?"
"Lord Zoltar. He requires your presence immediately. A matter vital to the security of the Empire."
Blade looked at his companions. "They know where we are. We can't just walk out."
"Shadow!" hissed Blade. "We can't disappear now – you know that. And Nox needs sleep, not talk."
Shadow looked at the woman in his arms. He could hear her low-voiced words, but couldn't make out what she was saying. Blade was right. They needed sleep. None of them was operating correctly at the moment.
"We shall come immediately," said Shadow. He strode towards the private elevator to the penthouse, Blade close behind.
"You know," said Blade as the doors closed. "I'd love that one day there is some Empire crisis that the Master doesn't expect us to solve. Know what else I'd love?"
"You're going to tell me anyway."
"Food. I want some food. Some of Jill's beef hot pot would go down well. Or one of Romero's pizzas with everything. But you know what I'm gonna get?"
"You're going to tell me anyway." Shadow's mouth, however, twitched with amusement.
"I'm gonna get the contents of the mini-bar instead. Or at least those contents that marginally classify as food. The Master will eat something from the menu, but you and I are going to be out saving the universe. Again. And yet again, we'll be doing it on junk food and no sleep. And frankly, Mark, I'm too fucking old. I need real food. And sleep. I really need some sleep."
"You're not even 30, Jason."
"Right now, I feel about a million."
"You were awake enough to share Pleasures with my Nox." Shadow couldn't help himself – he couldn't keep the bitterness out of his voice.
"And you heard me trying to get out of that, Shadow. But you know Nox. Once she decides something it'd take a Bird Missile to get her to stop. If I didn't do like she wanted, she would have probably jumped me – fuck, she did jump me! But she would have been upset, and I'm not going to be the one making her upset."
The doors opened and the guard outside the penthouse door sprang to attention. "My Lords! Is there something wrong with…?"
"Nox requires rest. Nothing more. Open the doors."
The room was empty save for three occupants. Zoltar was ranting at each of the other two in turn.
"Tell me again how you let him escape? I gave strict instructions that for no reason was the guard to be reduced. Why did you let them walk out without even questioning what they were doing? Am I cursed, to be surrounded by fools and incompetents?" He spun around and saw the Beloved, taking in Nox cradled in Shadow's arms.
"Nox! What has happened to her? Just where have you been, and why are you wearing those clothes?"
Shadow ignored the questions, moving to the next room, where he placed Nox on the bed before swiftly undressing her, ignoring his on body's response to her beauty. Even more swiftly he re-dressed in his customary uniform. He could dimly hear Zoltar in the other room screaming at Blade.
That would have to stop. Blade was not at fault in this.
"Master." he said as he re-entered the room. There was, however, no subservience, none of his usual joy in the word. Shadow used the word as if he was addressing an equal.
Zoltar's fury rose to new heights. For once, he was truly annoyed with his Beloved. He turned on the two Spectran Commanders.
"Get out!" he shrieked. "Get out, and if you don't find Anderson by tomorrow morning, I will want to know the reason why! Get out! Get out! Get out!"
Blade and Shadow exchanged looks. This was not the Master they knew. They had seen him in a rage before, but never like this. This was not their strong, competent Master. This was a frightened man, covering his weakness with bluster.
Shadow dropped his head. It must be his fault. He and Nox had been absent when the Master had returned. They had not rested as he ordered. Blade was right. They had caused the Master to show weakness. He had failed.
Inside Shadow, however, Mark noted that this was the Zoltar he knew. The other Zoltar had been the result of the Beloved. This Zoltar did not deserve his adoration.
"Shadow, I am seriously displeased with you and Nox." Zoltar didn't bother to make small talk. He had been annoyed when Blade had indicated that the other two were in the café. And then to get back, only to find out that they had not rested, but had been gone all afternoon… that had not only infuriated him, but frightened him as well.
Normally, they would not have done this.
His displeasure had been tripled when he had received the information that Anderson had escaped. And his Beloved were too exhausted to immediately start a search for him.
Zoltar didn't want this. He didn't want the Beloved to be the ones to re-take Anderson. But he knew that they were the best people for the job.
And now he would have to stay on this stupid, backward planet with its stupid people until Anderson was found.
And it was all the fault of Shadow and Nox.
"I have been generous with you and Nox, Shadow. I allowed you your feelings. I have generously allowed you to love apart from myself. I have allowed you time together."
"Master, you have been generous. Nox and I know this and appreciate your generosity."
Zoltar looked at Shadow and Blade before him. Shadow's words were right, but his attitude was arrogant.
"Why are you both standing before me? You are my creations. You belong to me! Kneel and show your appreciation for what I have given you."
They knelt, but those two pairs of eyes didn't leave his face.
"I gave my instructions for a reason. This planet is dangerous to me, and I require my bodyguard to be available at all times. Now, all three of you require rest before you can be of further use to me. This means I am left unguarded, at a time when I must be visible to these people. Your devotion is to be to me!"
"I erred in judgment, Master. Nox and I wanted to see some of this place. We truly did not feel fatigued."
"And yet Nox has now collapsed from fatigue and I see the same signs in your face, Shadow. When will you learn that I only mean the best for you?"
"I ask for forgiveness Master. Once again I have failed you."
"Yes, Shadow. In this you have failed me. However, I will be generous and allow you to remain in my service." Inside, Zoltar cringed. It was a useless threat. There was no way he would, or could, allow one of his Beloved to leave.
"However there must be punishment for you and Nox. No longer will I tolerate this attachment you have for each other. I have plans for Nox. She is to be the mother of my Heir. From now on, neither of you will share Pleasures with her unless I give consent. And even if I do give consent, neither of you will enter her nor spill your seed within her. And Shadow… rest assured that my consent to you will be a long time in coming."
He ignored the stricken look on Shadow's face. Until they got back to Spectra, he had to control them somehow. Back on Spectra, he could re-bond with them within the Great Spirit's chamber. He had to re-bond with the Spirit, and knew that the Spirit would enjoy witnessing him sharing Pleasures with the Beloved. Until now he had mostly resisted the Spirit's demands to see this, allowing Mala to enjoy herself in that Chamber.
But now…. Yes. The bonding would be stronger if he slipped it in when the Spirit re-bound with him. He ignored the other consequence. Sharing of Pleasures was involved, and therefore even at a third party distance, his own bond with the Great Spirit would be dangerously strengthened.
He felt himself becoming aroused and frowned. This was unusual. Then he realized that his arousal was not because of the people before him. It was the ukase he had placed on them: indicating that he alone could share Pleasures with Nox. And the thought of possessing Nox had him hard instantly. Until he said otherwise, she was his and his alone.
"You will not join me in bed," he told them. "Until I give consent, only Nox may share my bed. "
He swept towards the bedroom. He would wake Nox. Then he would give her such pleasure that she would forget Shadow.
Shadow had slumped further to the ground.
"I've been a fool," he said softly. "I need to get out of here."
"And leave Nox alone?" Blade stood wearily, while Shadow struggled up.
"No. You're right. I cannot leave Nox. But we must get out of here soon. The three of us have much to discuss." He paused and looked Blade full in the eyes, holding his gaze. "Jason." Blade nodded slowly.
"Do you think that these names are from Before?"
Shadow ran his hand through the back of his hair.
"I don't know! All I know is that there are times when I don't know who I am. Or when I think that I'm somebody else." He looked hopeful. "Do you think perhaps that we are over-fatigued? That this is a result of that?" He looked towards the main bedroom, where Zoltar and Nox were, and his face darkened at the thought of what was likely happening in there.
Blade followed his gaze and then drew him to the second bedroom, where he and Nox had been earlier. His arms were loving and his body supportive. "Don't fear for her," he said, holding Shadow, trying to convey some of his own confidence and love.
"Sometimes I think that the Master loves her far more than he does us. He will not hurt her. Besides, if she's as deeply asleep as I think she is, nothing short of a Bird Missile will rouse her." Blade grinned suddenly. "And if he does wake her up, well you know what Prin's like when you disturb her sleep."
"I still fear. I can't lose her. I can't go back to the longing and not being allowed to have her. I love her so much. It hurts to not be with her."
"If anybody can bring Zoltar around, she will. And you know she loves you more than anybody else. I can't see her standing for his ban."
"Forget it, Shadow. Come and rest with me. When we wake, we can talk."
Zoltar had tried everything to wake her, but her sleep was too deep. His need for her was still strong though, and he contented himself with touching her body whilst rubbing himself against her and obtaining some relief that way.
He put his arms around her and drew her close, loving how she turned and snuggled against him. He kissed her forehead and settled himself to sleep.
He didn't hear the soft murmur as, in her sleep, she rested one hand against his heart. "I love you Mark."
She was still desperately tired. From where he stood, watching her working at the computer, he could see the dark shadows under her eyes, the droop to her shoulders.
Damn it. She was supposed to be sleeping. She should have been sleeping. She had been sleeping.
He had awoken to find her gone, and had left in search of her, only to find her here. He had no idea what she was looking for.
"Nox? Beloved, what are you doing?"
"Master! I had hoped to speak with you." She looked up and smiled.
"What can I do for you, my Nox?" He sat down on the couch and held his arms out, drawing her close when she came to him.
"Master, Shadow and I went walking this afternoon. We wanted to see this world."
"Yes, Nox. I have already spoken to Shadow regarding this. I am greatly displeased. I gave you orders to rest. You needed to rest and sleep so that Blade could rest when we returned, and I could remain guarded. You betrayed my trust, Nox. I have told Shadow and will tell you now. These feelings you have for Shadow must cease. I will no longer allow you to have time alone together. Until I give consent, Blade and Shadow will not share a bed with us."
"But why, Master? We did nothing but want to see this world! It is a magnificent place, Master. Truly the jewel of the Empire."
"Nox, you have no idea the trouble that this world causes me. We are here because their tithing has not been maintained at the level it should. And since I have been here, there has been problem after problem. You must see that I need you, my Beloved, to be available at all times and in peak condition. You and Shadow disobeyed, and so must be punished."
Nox hung her head. She knew her punishment. The Master had forbidden her to be with Shadow. She felt her heart was breaking.
"I cannot like this Master. I love Shadow. This afternoon we were so grateful. We feel that we had these feelings before you gave us our lives, but that something had stopped us from being together. You removed that barrier, and it gave us such joy."
"I erred Nox. I should never have allowed it. You know my plans for you, and those plans are risked by these feelings you have for Shadow."
"Master! I am grateful for the honor you do me, and my feelings for Shadow will not affect that. I cannot stop loving him. I will abide by your wishes, but I cannot like it and would beg you to change your mind."
"I am angered, Nox. I needed you and Shadow to be rested when I returned. Especially since there is an important matter in which I require your assistance. By having to wait until you have slept, the Empire is running a great security risk. Remember, my Beloved," Zoltar looked up to see Blade and Shadow entering the room. "Your duty is to the Empire, not to yourselves. And now I find you here Nox, not sleeping."
"I am troubled, Master."
"This planet is so beautiful. And yet the people are in such distress. They do not have enough food. Why is this? Surely such a green world can provide enough to cover the needs for its people and still tithe to the Empire? These people are citizens of the Empire. Surely they have the same needs for basic necessities as those on Spectra."
"You ask deep questions, my Nox. What brought this on?"
"We encountered a woman and child, Master. They do not have enough food to last the week for their family. She said that her husband had been injured in a mining accident, and because he could not work, he was not given rations. She and her child – and Master, the child is barely out of infancy! – must share their rations with him."
"It is good that they do this. It shows generosity of spirit."
"Yes, Master. The Great Spirit would look kindly on such generosity. But, Master, it means that for two days a week, they cannot eat at all. How can such generosity of spirit be punished in such a way?"
"My compassionate Nox, I would love to be able to allow Earth to retain more of its resources. However all members of the Spectran Empire must acknowledge the superiority of Spectrans. This planet refuses to do so, and they have been deliberately withholding their tithe. Therefore, I cannot allow them to benefit from this. It is vital that the superior Spectran race is preserved."
"Superior?" Blade's voice cut through the room.
Zoltar looked up at Blade and Shadow. Shadow's entire being seemed concentrated on Nox, however it did not fool Zoltar. He knew that Shadow was following everything that was being said.
"Beloved, all civilized people know that of all humanoids, only the Spectran race is a pure strain. All others are inferior and must serve us."
"Master, I am confused," said Nox. "Shadow and I are not Spectran, and yet you yourself have raised us to the ranks of Spectran Elite. Does this mean that we are inferior?"
"You are my Beloved. No others in the Spectran Empire can approach your rank."
"And yet, as Nox and I are not Spectran we are supposedly inferior." Shadow echoed Nox's sentiment.
"Master, I do not understand why you punish Earth for the actions of a few." Nox returned to the original subject at hand.
"All Earthers are rebels at heart. It cost me many years to conquer the Federation – most of them concentrating on this planet."
"Could, perhaps, the fault lie with the Governor? Master, I feel that these Earthers need somebody who will listen to them. Someone who will work with them, to produce what is needed. You have said yourself that Gantor is a brute who only got his Governorship through political influence. Could, perhaps, an Earther be put in place?"
"Nox, there was an Earth woman working with Gantor. It was she who diverted resources and deprived Spectra. We must have a Spectran in place on all subject planets. The people must be constantly reminded of the superiority of Spectra."
"They hate us here." Shadow said sadly. "We tried to give to those in need, and they threw our coins back at us."
"And there, my dear Shadow is the heart of Earthers." Zoltar nodded his head sadly. "They do not have the sense to know that only when they acknowledge that they are inferior, and allow themselves to be guided by Spectra, will their lot improve. Beloved, I want to give these people more, but their own actions prevent it. Earthers are arrogant, rebellious and refuse to acknowledge the benevolence of the Great Spirit. There is nothing I can do with them."
"And yet," said Shadow, "they held out for many years."
Nox was troubled. She was not Spectran. The Master said that those who were not Spectran were inferior. She had been honored that the Master wished her to bear his Heir when the time came. Yet how could this happen if she was inferior?
And why must she not have feelings for Shadow? Why could the Master not see that her love for Shadow wasn't something that could be stopped?
And this beautiful world… why could something not be done?
But most importantly - who was the young man whom she had encountered twice now? This second time, he had seemed desperate to see her, and Shadow. To give them something important.
Why had she stopped Shadow from killing him like the intruder he was? He had called her Princess. Shadow and Blade had both called her that. Could she know this other man? Was he from Before?
She couldn't think here. They needed to get away. They needed to compare what they knew. But not here. The Master seemed to cloud their thinking. She knew that somewhere close was a place they could go. A place that she equated with safety. With Mark.
Yes. If they went to the Mark place, they would be safe. She could be with Mark. She could think.
Chapter 12 by TransmuteJun
Jill picked up Orion's bowl from the floor, petting the big head that butted against her. "Good boy, Orion. You rescued the Chief." His tail thumped against the floor and he started to sniff around the room.
All of a sudden, he started to whimper and follow trail from the door to the centre of the main dining room and back again. His tail started to wag wildly and he began to circle, wuffing softly.
"What's wrong with Orion?" asked Julie. "What's happened here this afternoon? It's almost as if he recognizes something."
Jill sat down next to Anderson. "They were here." she whispered. "They had the absolute gall to come here!"
"I kicked them out." Jill stood and paced around the small room. "They tried to pretend that they had no idea who I am…" her voice faltered. "That bitch even tried tears."
Don shook his head. "And they called me a traitor! At least I only worked for Zoltar. I didn't sleep with him as well."
"Whom are you talking about?" Anderson's voice cut through the babble.
Jill sat next to him again and he put his arm around her. "They're not dead, William. Mark, Jason and Princess. They didn't die. It would have been better if they had. They're now called the Beloved. They're Zoltar's personal bodyguard… and lovers."
Keyop was sitting on a bench. He still felt sick to his stomach after his encounter with Mark and Princess. He could see that they had no idea, most of the time, who they were. And even when they had some inkling, it wasn't connecting.
He had seen Zoltar return with Jason, and had nearly vomited when he had seen Zoltar's casual caress of him, and Jason's response. The Jason he knew would have had Zoltar's balls. He smirked a little. Blade did, but in a way that Jason would never have imagined. Or tolerated.
Keyop was more certain than ever that Mark, Jason, and Princess were deep within the Beloved and were now trying to get out. Obviously they had been badly injured. He would ask Anderson. He remembered his own recovery: the months of disorientation as his implant had tried to heal his body and his mind.
Tiny had saved his life. And he had seen how the three senior team members had deliberately put themselves in harm's way to save members of the Rangers. As he had been spirited away by the Rangers, Keyop had seen his teammates' lifeless bodies lying twisted amongst the debris. The Rangers had taken him and intended to return with proper equipment to move the debris and recover the rest of G-Force.
By the time they did send a crew back, the bodies had gone.
Along with the base.
They had all assumed that the destruction of the base had consumed the bodies of four G-Force members.
And then… Zoltar had won. Anderson had been arrested, taken from his bed late one night.
About a year later, Zoltar had paraded his Beloved before the Empire for the first time. Since then, Keyop had refused to believe that they were traitors. They may have had the same bodies, but their minds were not those of his former teammates.
"Keyop?" The voice was surprised, and it was a familiar, yet unfamiliar, voice. Keyop looked up at the woman in front of him. She was gaunt, and her eyes were haunted. Yet he knew her.
"Tyna? What are you doing here?"
She looked back at the hotel and Keyop felt his heart sink.
"I saw them arrive, Keyop. I had to come. To be sure if it was him. I couldn't believe that after everything, he would willingly defect." Tears rolled down her face. "He looked right through me, Keyop. He didn't even see me, let alone recognize me. I thought… I thought I meant more to him than that."
She sank down on the bench next to him crying piteously. "I'm sorry, Tyna." he said. "I tried to see them too. At least they didn't kill me."
"You got in?"
"It was hard, but yeah. I got in. How did you get in?"
"I still have some connections." she explained. "All hell is breaking loose up there apparently. Zoltar's in one of his rages."
"I know you're not working for Spectra again." Keyop said firmly.
"No. Not since that time they had my parents. I've got a death warrant on me from Spectra. It's why I never left Earth. At least here, they ignore Spectran warrants." She looked at the box in his hands. "Why did you try to see them?"
"I wanted to give something to Mark and Princess. I needed to work out if they were still there, or if there was only Shadow and Nox."
"I think that they've got amnesia. Mark and Princess are there, but they can't get out. They're trying… only Shadow and Nox are still in control. Does that make sense?"
"Actually, it does. Remember, I studied forensic psychology at university. Lots of amnesia patients, especially long term ones, create a new person to let them live their lives. When their memories start to return, they often do so in flashes, and then the two personalities try to come to terms with both lives. There are cases of people living lives for ten years or longer before their memories return, only to discover families, spouses and the like in their old lives. They say it's like they are two different people… and that there were times when they couldn't differentiate between who they were."
Keyop nodded. "That's exactly what they were like! Their eyes seemed to change. They became less empty when Mark or Princess spoke."
"Now if only we could do something about it."
"We can. Even if you disappeared for awhile, I'm still part of the rebels."
"Surprise, surprise." she murmured and he laughed. He had forgotten her dry sense of humor.
"Tonight, we rescued Chief Anderson."
"He's alive? The telecasts always said he was dead."
"That's what Zoltar wanted everybody to think. I couldn't understand it at first, but then I realized: if Mark, Jason, and Princess are still alive, then Zoltar would need Anderson. Only Anderson fully understands how our implants work."
"And he needed that specialist knowledge on tap in case something ever went wrong."
"Depends on your point of view." Keyop grinned evilly. "This visit now has a meaning. Something has gone wrong… from Zoltar's point of view. From ours… something has gone extremely right! You've got to come with me Tyna. Between you and Anderson, I think that we may be able to help them."
The woman cast another yearning look at the hotel, raising her eyes to the lights of the penthouse at the top of the building. "Yes. We have to. I'd do anything to have Jason back safe and sound."
Tyna 's reception wasn't as warm as Keyop would have liked, but Anderson and Jill were genuinely glad to see her. Julie had known her only as Jason's steady girlfriend.
When they arrived, the former Galaxy Security Chief was watching some of the telecasts from the past five years, and Keyop could see his shoulders heaving as he sobbed at the plight of his Team. Jill's arms supported him, heedless of the tears also running down her face. In spite of his sobs, however, nothing was getting past him, and he showed genuine pride in his children's fighting abilities. Keyop had to admit to himself that he was also impressed at that.
Finally, he saw their recent arrival on Earth, and when Keyop showed the close up, Anderson could also see the slight difference in their body language.
Keyop relayed what had happened in the hotel room, and Tyna explained her theory.
"Tyna is correct," Anderson agreed. "It's obvious that they were incredibly badly injured, and we should be thankful for whatever impulse made Zoltar want to save their lives. What appears to have happened is that there was some blow to their heads, and that damaged part of their brains."
"During these five years," Anderson continued, "their implants will have been trying to fully heal them, but brain injuries take time. During that time, as Tyna said, they had to adapt to everything around them: an entirely new environment. As far as they knew, they were Shadow, Blade and Nox. They may have been dimly aware that they had other lives before that, but that's it."
"Until now." Keyop interrupted. Anderson nodded.
"Something has happened that made them start to remember. It may have been nothing… perhaps just that their implants had healed their brains to a certain point that allowed memories to be recovered. I think it may progress rapidly. They will most of the time be Shadow, Blade and Nox, but in times of stress they may revert subconsciously to their base existence: Mark, Jason and Princess. They probably aren't even aware of doing it, and may not even remember such events, at first."
"I don't think they are." Keyop said, recalling his experience with Shadow and Nox in the hotel suite.
"That's likely why Princess was so upset, Jill." Anderson explained. "Nox didn't know you, but Princess did, and it was Princess who was hurt. And it was the same when she tried to get Shadow not to kill you, Keyop. Princess and Mark were involved then. Mark appeared to protect Princess." Anderson paused and laughed heartily. "One thing I don't envy Zoltar was Jason. And yet, Blade is everything I would have hoped Jason would become. If Zoltar managed to make Jason obey orders, then he did better than I ever could!"
"It's hard to think of them as traitors." Amanda laughed bitterly. "Especially when they still look the same. Mark is still as gorgeous as ever."
Don's face darkened and Keyop moved in hastily to cover the discord. Damn Amanda and her obsession with Mark. Perhaps, thought Keyop with an evil thought, he should give her to Nox…
"It's the blue eyes Amanda." Keyop said smoothly, not allowing his annoyance to show. "We always said that Mark's cover was assured because nobody would believe he was the Eagle. He looks too sweet and innocent."
"Sweet and innocent my left foot." Anderson snorted. "That trio gave me so much trouble when they were growing up. Don't let Mark, or for that matter, Princess, and their innocent looks fool you. Jason may have done foolish things, but Mark and Princess were the masterminds behind them."
"And," put in Jill, "Keyop will tell you that Mark's just as big a hellraiser as Jason. He just gets away with it better."
"He took me to a strip club," said Keyop sadly. "Princess nearly brained him with her yo-yo. Until he opened his eyes wide and she just fell in."
"He did what?"
"Just before…" Keyop looked down. "It was the last happy memory I had of him."
"But that doesn't solve the problem of helping them to remember." Julie hugged him close. "And getting them out of Zoltar's clutches."
"We have a bigger problem there." said Anderson. "They have a very strong sense of duty. Especially Mark. Even when they do remember, Spectra is the legitimate government… however much we deplore it. It's possible that he may put his duty to the legitimate government before us."
"That's your fault, William." Jill punched his arm. "You and that stupid father of his. Poor Mark. His sense of duty meant that he and Princess were pining for each other most of the time. It's the one thing that I'm glad about in this whole debacle. From the earliest telecasts, Mark and Princess were obviously lovers. It shows in the way they react to each other."
"But," said Amanda, "if the rumours are correct, they're all lovers. There's some sort of dirty group thing going on there."
"None of you really understand Spectran society." Tyna shook her head.
"And you do?" Amanda was scornful.
"Yes. I lived on Spectra when I was being trained. You only see the military side. But Spectra is a remarkably complex society. Any anthropologist would be fascinated by it."
Anderson looked interested.
"I always thought we didn't know enough about Spectra. What part would it play in this situation?"
"Mostly? Sex. Spectrans don't think of sex like we do. It's a much more integral part of day-to-day life for them. They call it 'Pleasures' and it's almost spiritual to them. They have some pretty strict taboos regarding family and children, but otherwise, it's almost considered a religious obligation to enjoy sex with others, regardless of gender. As long as all the parties consent, there are really no limits. Part of their old religion, before the Great Spirit, took it further. When two Spectrans wanted to make a commitment to each other, they performed a bonding. This was a form that bound their minds and bodies. Sex is an integral part of….." She trailed off and suddenly grinned, her eyes brightening with sudden discovery.
"That's why Zoltar took them as lovers! Well, apart from the physical bit. He's bound them. But… it's illegal on Spectra now." She narrowed her eyes. "And yet, if anybody would know how to perform it, he would. On Spectra the supreme ruler is also their High Priest."
"There's one other thing that you don't realize about Zoltar." Tyna continued to her fascinated audience. "He's always been obsessed with Princess. One of the first rants I ever heard from him was about how she was destined for him. It used to drive Mala insane; she kept throwing high-born Spectran girls at him. They would indulge in Pleasures, then Zoltar would send them back to their families. Sexual happiness is a strong plus in any relationship, and the rumours are that Zoltar is a very skilled lover. However, there's something more in this. The telecasts show it, and I witnessed it this evening."
"Zoltar loves them." Anderson broke in. "It shows in everything he does with them. And they love him. That's going to be a problem. How do you make them stop loving him?"
"Tyna said all hell is breaking loose there tonight. Probably because you escaped." Keyop offered.
"And if Mark and Princess went AWOL this afternoon, Zoltar's not going to take it well," said Jill.
"He may just push them away by being too possessive… especially if their memories are returning." Anderson looked at Keyop. "I need to do some work, Keyop. I think that if they can transmute, the implant will help reset their memories."
"But they don't have their uniforms."
"Before all this happened, I was working on a new trigger. One that transmitted directly through the bracelets to your implants."
"Princess finally wore you down about wardrobe and lack of choice?"
"She had Mark's help." Anderson grinned like a boy. "I was getting triplicate memos about it. Every day. And requisitions."
"And people still thought they are such a nice young couple!" Jill shook her head, giggling softly. "So innocent and helpful. Nobody except us knew the truth about the evil they could get up to."
"I did." Keyop said proudly.
"They used you as a distraction. As I was saying… I had started to develop something like a dog tag that you would all wear. I had prototypes ready for testing in my lab."
"The lab was destroyed. The building is still there though."
"Zoltar was probably trying to find out about the cerebonic technology. He interrogated me pretty intensely about it when I was first taken. Now I know why. But those tags will still be there. They were in a safe that I put in under the floor of the desk. More like a bunker than a safe… I had to make sure that technology was secure."
Keyop jumped up. "So what are we waiting for?"
Chapter 13 by TransmuteJun
Thanks to Springie for the wonderful illustration!
She woke at his touch, but his finger on her lips silenced her and he drew her out of bed, indicating that she should put on her Earther clothing. Once she had dressed, Nox followed Shadow into the main room.
"We're getting out of here for a while Nox." Shadow explained softly. "We need to talk and find some answers."
"Yes," Nox agreed, "but where?"
"Not here. Wait."
Silently, they slipped out of the room and left the hotel. It was still early, and quite dark. The streets were empty of people.
"The air on this planet is so beautiful." Nox breathed deeply. "It's not dry, like on Spectra."
"It's a beautiful world," said Blade. "You should have seen the mountains we went to yesterday."
"Did you find the President's grandchildren?" Shadow asked Blade.
"No. Wherever they have been taken, they're well hidden. But where are we going?"
Nox looked around.
"This is the park we were in yesterday," she said.
"Yes," said Shadow. "I thought we'd go to that restaurant. That woman seemed to think she knew who Nox and I were. I thought we'd talk to her, and then compare what we all remember."
He smiled down at her, putting his arm around her and tucking her into his side.
"I told Zoltar that I wasn't happy when he told you that we weren't allowed to love each other. Or to share Pleasures."
Mark stopped and kissed her.
"Every day you do something that reminds me of just how brave you are, Princess. And why I love you more and more. What did he say?"
"He wasn't happy, but he didn't get angry or anything. He seems more concerned about this missing person."
Blade was looking around.
"I know this place. I'm sure of it. But I don't know how."
"It's a beautiful park," said Nox. "I wish that we had places like this on Spectra."
They exited the park and Shadow looked around.
"Not far now," he said and they swiftly went down an adjacent street.
"How did you find this place?" asked Blade.
"I'm not sure." replied Shadow. "We just seemed to know where to go."
"It's down here," said Nox walking swiftly. "Look!" she pointed to the 'J' outside one of the buildings.
"Are you sure?" asked Blade looking at the boarded over windows and door. "It looks pretty shut to me."
"No! It was open! There were other people there! These boards on the windows weren't here…" Nox stopped, her voice rising with her distress. "I don't understand! We were here, Mark!" She turned to Shadow and he drew her close.
"I don't know, Princess. Something has made them do this. Look, those boards are new."
"So," said Blade laconically. "What do we do now? And your answer had better involve food. I'm starving."
"Food… I…" Nox appeared to be confused. Blade sighed heavily. Clearly Nox wasn't thinking about something this basic, her mind occupied with more complicated thoughts.
"I'll take care of it." he muttered, leading them back to the park and over toward the administrative offices of the Spectran Empire, which were on the other side of the lush green space. Nox followed blindly, and Shadow appeared to be more concerned with taking care of her than where Blade was taking them. Within a few minutes, they had reached their destination.
"This doesn't look like a restaurant." Shadow frowned.
"It's not." Blade shrugged. "But we need transportation. These are Spectran vehicles, so we have the right to commandeer them if we deem it necessary. I figure… that one over there." He gestured to a sporty blue surface transport in the corner of the site. A number of vehicles were parked in this location, and the area was surrounded by a high security fence.
"How do you suggest we get in there?" Shadow asked, annoyed. "If we use our handprints on the access panel, it will record that we were here. And then the Master…"
"I'll just be a little more subtle than that." Blade grinned. He leapt into the air, jumped off the side of a nearby building and dove over the fence, landing in a roll and coming up silently on his feet. He stayed within the darkest corners of the lot, yet Shadow and Nox could see him easily with their enhanced vision.
Slowly but steadily, Blade crept over to his selected vehicle, and fiddled with the door for a moment. It opened easily under his careful touch, and less than a minute later it was heading toward the exit. The gate opened automatically, and Shadow and Nox could see Blade gesturing at them to enter.
"Nox, we have about thirty seconds before the galactic positioning sensor activates." Blade mentioned this casually, as if it wasn't actually a problem.
"Hardly worth my time." Nox grinned, reaching underneath the rear seat and accessing the small device. A series of soft beeps announced that she had been successful at reprogramming it.
"So now we're off for some food?" Shadow questioned, his eyebrow rising in amusement. He leaned back against the rear seat, putting his arm around Nox and pulling her body next to his.
"As quickly as possible." Blade replied. He glanced back at his passengers.
"I suggest you fasten your seatbelts." Jason smirked.
Shadow and Nox had barely had time to do as their driver had suggested before the vehicle took off, shooting down the street and off into the early morning darkness. Nox gasped with pleasure as the vehicle passed through the city and onto the freeway at high speed, each turn and burst of acceleration only causing her smile to widen. A flash of green briefly marred Shadow's eyes, as he realized that it was Blade exciting her in this manner. Yet at the same time, he couldn't help but appreciate the way Blade's control of the vehicle threw Nox's body against Shadow's own, setting his desire and possessiveness aflame once more.
Blade wasn't thinking of Nox at all. His mind was completely focused on the thrill of the ride, and the addicting high of power. Being in control of this vehicle, even as it screeched around corners and blazed down the expressway at breathtaking speeds, was a phenomenal rush, and one he didn't ever want to end.
Except that he was too damn hungry to continue.
Regretfully, he flew down an exit ramp, practically spinning in place to execute a 180 degree turn, and decelerating rapidly to bring them to a stop next to a small metal box. Nox and Shadow bounced against the rear seat with the sudden loss of momentum, and it took their eyes a moment to clear.
"Where are we?" Nox asked in a breathy rush.
"Galaxy Burger. How can I help you?" came a bored voice from the box.
"Two bacon and cheese Spaceburgers, large Astrofries, and a Black Hole cola." Jason ordered quickly. He looked back at his passengers, and saw Princess nodding eagerly. "Make that two Black Hole colas, and add two Comet dogs and a Milky Way shake."
"Two bacon and cheese Spaceburgers, two Comet dogs, one Astrofries, two Black Hole colas and a Milky Way shake." the bored voice repeated.
"You got it." Jason grinned. His stomach rumbled in anticipation. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had a proper Spaceburger.
"That'll be $37.65." the voice replied. "Come around to the window."
Shadow stared at Blade. He was so comfortable placing this order, and yet Shadow himself was still grappling with where they were. There was a vague familiarity to the place, but it didn't have the same pull for him as the other restaurant had had.
Still, when the Comet dog was thrust into his hands, Shadow couldn't help taking a bite. It was delicious, and something about it tugged at his memory.
"It's too bad he's not here." Mark said, taking a big slurp of cola. "I've never seen anyone except him who can do a dangerous job, finish it, and start eating!"
"Who?" Nox asked, her mouth full of Milky Way Shake.
"It's…" Shadow shook his head, wondering where the thought had gone. "He loves Spaceburgers…" If only he could remember whom he was talking about. There had been a brief glimpse in his mind, and Shadow had almost been able to see the man in question… but now he was gone.
Blade didn't pay attention to Shadow's ramblings. He was too enthralled with the taste of his food. Spectran food was mostly vegetable-based, animals being scare, thanks to insufficient agricultural resources to feed them. Wild animals had long since been hunted to extinction. Spectran culture understood what it had lost, and now animals were revered to the point of near-godhood, to the extent that many machines or vehicles were made in the images of various animals. Needless to say, a sandwich based on a near-divine creature's flesh wasn't exactly a popular meal on Spectra.
It only encouraged Jason to enjoy his Spaceburgers all the more. Each bite of bacon, cheese and beef revived him, making his body sing with delight. He used to eat these all the time…
Blade paused momentarily, his jaw frozen in the act of chewing as the revelation came to him. He… Jason… had eaten Spaceburgers all the time, Before. And that meant…
Jason hadn't been living on Spectra.
It should have been obvious, but to Blade this information was eye-opening. Jason was Spectran, yet Jason hadn't lived on Spectra.
He had lived on Earth.
The information suddenly snapped into place, and it fit so perfectly with the little he knew, that Blade wondered why he hadn't realized it before. He opened his mouth to say something to Shadow about this discovery, when Nox spoke up instead.
"We need to get to Mark's place." she said. Her voice was quiet, but her tone was insistent.
"Do you know where it is?" Blade looked over to Shadow.
"I… I think so." Shadow's brow furrowed in concentration. "I know it's that way." He pointed to the southeast, down the stretch of road that passed by the Galaxy Burger location.
"Then let's go." Blade decided, tossing aside the remains of his meal and starting up the engine. The tires squealed as he backed out of his parking spot and then turned out onto the street.
The road headed out of Center City, and the area became more rural. There were fewer buildings, and more empty land. A few minutes after they had officially left the city limits, Shadow tapped Blade on the shoulder.
"That way." he said simply, pointing to a barely-noticeable turnoff from the main road.
Blade grunted, easing carefully onto the side road, which was covered in potholes and somewhat overgrown. It appeared that no one had been down this way for years, and their vehicle left a trail of flattened grass in its wake. Part of Blade resented having to slow down for this portion of their journey, yet another part of him reveled in the familiarity of this place. It wasn't the same, and yet it was somehow right.
Another minute or so later, they arrived at a locked gate. A small access pad was chained to its latching mechanism.
"We'll have to break it." Nox decided, but Shadow was already opening the rear door of the vehicle. He stepped out onto the grass, making his way over to the gate as the dawn began to stretch across the sky.
"I can do this." he said quietly, more to himself than to the others. He reached for the access pad, and laid his fingers across the keys. He closed his eyes, feeling the pad beneath his hand, unconsciously pressing the numbers as he concentrated.
The pad beeped, and the lock opened.
"I guess this is your place." Blade noted, his eyebrow rising in a questioning manner.
"I guess so." Shadow shrugged, moving back to the vehicle.
It was another minute or so of driving before they came up to a small shack, badly weather-beaten but standing in the midst of weeds so high they nearly covered the entire building. In the early-morning light, they could see another small structure behind it.
"I looks like it's about to fall apart." Blade noted wryly. "Don't you keep up the place anymore?"
"I've been away a long time." Shadow said quietly, his eyes drifting off, looking at something his companions could not see. "And there was no money…" He shook his head, confused. What did he mean, about having no money? They were Spectran Elite. They had everything they wanted.
But clearly that hadn't always been the case.
It was Mark who strode purposefully around to the back of the building, to the one behind it, the other two following helplessly in the pull of his wake. He approached the second building, one side of which was almost completely occupied by a large door. A garage, of some sort?
No. It was a hangar, for an airplane. His airplane.
Mark pressed his palm against a well-hidden handprint access panel, and the hangar door opened.
It was empty.
There was nothing there, but in his mind, he saw it: a single engine Cessna, propeller on its nose, low wing, painted white, with red and blue stripes.
The moment he saw it in his memory, it became fixed there, and his fingers itched to take control of it once more. His plane…
He turned, and saw his companions staring at him in confusion. Reluctantly, he shrugged off the past and focused instead on the present. He walked over to a nearby worktable and pressed on the lower side of its rear corner. A small, previously hidden compartment sprung open, and he reached inside to pull out a single key.
Without speaking, he turned around, striding out of the hangar without bothering to lock the door behind him, moving back to the entrance of the main building.
The key fit perfectly in the lock; not that he had had any doubt about that. With a tug and a rusty squeak, the portal opened.
His eyes opened wide as he beheld what lay within. It was just as he had left it…
"This place is a mess!" Blade declared, following him inside.
"It is a little dusty." Nox admitted. "But I can fix that." She stepped into the small kitchenette, opening the cabinet under the sink in a search for cleaning supplies.
Shadow was standing in the center of the room, a strange expression on his face. Absently he bent down, picking up a book that had been left open and facedown on the low table in front of the seating bench. He glanced at its title: Tigercat Supersonic Jet Flight Manual. He looked at the books scattered around the room. There were other flight manuals as well. And the volumes that weren't flight manuals were about planes. One entire shelf of the nearby storage cabinet was taken up with maps.
"I'm a pilot." he said, his eyes glowing with wonder.
"You're the best damn pilot I know." Blade agreed. "Except for…" He could feel Jason in his head, urging him to remember. "Except for Tiny."
"Tiny loved Spaceburgers…" Shadow said, his eyes locking with Blade in their shared revelation.
"You remember him?" Blade asked quietly.
"About my height, darker hair, stuck out all over the place…."
"And heavy for his size?" Blade finished.
"We both knew him." Shadow nodded. His eyes strayed over to Nox, who was ignoring the conversation as she concentrated on ridding the kitchen counter of five years of dirt and grime.
"Princess, do you know Tiny?" he asked casually.
"Sure, he lives at the Marina." Princess answered, her attention still fixed on her domestic task. "And he's at Jill's all the time. He pays his tab, unlike some people I know…" Her eyes widened and she looked up, staring at Shadow in astonishment.
"We all knew him." Blade was the one who voiced what they were all thinking. "The question is; is there anyone else we all knew?"
"I… I'm pretty sure we all knew each other." Nox offered. Now it was the others' turn to stare at her.
"I know that my feelings for Shadow existed long before we met the Master." Nox said slowly. "And somehow, having you there also feels right, Blade. It's as if I've known you for so long that I instinctively know what you're thinking."
"I feel that too." Blade admitted, but then he turned to Shadow. "Especially with you. When you give me an order, it's like I was half-expecting it already."
"When I give you an order in battle, I usually feel like it's redundant." Shadow confirmed. "But when we're not in battle, you often disagree… and… I expect that." His eyes widened in amazement.
"We knew each other." Nox repeated, but her tone was now full of confidence. "We knew each other, and we fought together."
"We had other names." Blade reminded them.
"I know." Shadow acknowledged. "I was… Mark."
"And I was Princess." Nox agreed.
"And I was Jason." Blade finished. "But who are we now?"
And that was one question for which none of them had an answer.
They spent the remainder of that day, and the following night, alternately talking and resting, comparing what they each recalled of the past. Blade told them how he had expected to see fish outside of the hotel window. Shadow talked about how he had found the restaurant next the park, and his visions of Nox in a pink dress. Nox discussed her emotional attachments to the woman at the restaurant, and the man in their hotel suite.
It was familiar to all of them.
They analyzed the way they had come together on the transport ship to deal with the rebel threat, and their mutual feelings of 'coming home' upon viewing this planet from space. And after all of this, there was one thing of which they were certain: their past was shared.
They had not simply known each other, but they had lived and worked together, similar to the way they lived and worked now, as the Beloved. Not exactly the same…. they had the Master to thank for their initiation into the Pleasures… but they had been a team in more ways than one.
Of course, after some time, hunger had overtaken them again, and they had gone through the cabinets and drawers of the small building, searching for food. What they had found instead had been the ultimate confirmation of everything they had suspected.
It was a picture of them.
They were all wearing shirts, similar to the Earther clothes Nox had purchased for them. And there were two others as well. The boy had been instantly recognized as the man from their hotel room, and the other had been identified as the mysterious 'Tiny'.
In the picture, they were relaxed, and they looked incredibly young… yet at the same time there was a confidence, a maturity in their eyes that would not normally be expected with children. They had been fighters, even then.
That night they slept in each other's arms, sprawled across the seating bench and the floor. The comfort they obtained from physical closeness to each other only strengthened their bond, and together, they absorbed the reality of their shared past.
And the following morning, when they awoke, they were Mark, Jason, and Princess.
These three people were not the same Beloved they had been less than forty-eight hours before. Yet still they found themselves bound to their Master.
They wanted to stay where they were, to unravel the mystery that still shrouded their shared past. But they were unable to make much progress without assistance.
And there was only one person who could help them.
Chapter 14 by TransmuteJun
When they entered the suite, Zoltar jerked himself out of a fitful doze. He had been awake for most of the time that his Beloved had been gone, and had spent those hours frantically worrying both for their safety, and his own. He had no idea where they had gone. All he knew was that he thanked the Great Spirit that they had returned.
The rush of relief that overcame him was not lost on the Beloved. They stared at him, their eyes wide, as if seeing him for the first time.
"You… you have returned." He was stating the obvious, but his befuddled mind was unable to grasp anything more complex. He opened his arms, expecting them to eagerly come to his embrace. His heart sank when they did not, and his arms dropped.
"Yes, Zoltar." Shadow replied, stepping forward. "We had much to discuss. And…" His fingers flickered, and Blade and Nox stepped up to his side, hemming in their Master.
"We need answers." Shadow said, his voice sharp with quiet forcefulness.
"We need to know." Blade added.
"Everything, Zoltar." Nox insisted.
"And you're going to tell us." Shadow finished.
"I… I will." Zoltar fumbled for an answer. "But… not now. Now, I need you to guard me."
"We're not doing anything until we have our answers!" Blade sneered. "You know about our pasts! And there's no way in hell I'm going to let you distract us from our purpose!"
Zoltar's eyes darted back and forth, moving between the three people he loved more than even himself… more than even the Great Spirit. Yet at the same time that he loved them, he was also terrified by them, and by the potential they possessed.
He had kept that potential in check for five years, encouraging their amnesia and allowing them to channel their necessary aggressions in other ways. Yet in the back of his mind, he had always known that this day would come. Still, when he had thought about it, he had anticipated that on this day he would know what to do… that he would have unlocked the secrets of their implants, and know how to address their questions and their fears.
Instead, he had… nothing.
Since the moment he had awoken to discover that his Beloved had gone, Zoltar had barely slept. He had barely eaten. He had refused all requests for his presence, except to hear reports on the efforts to locate William Anderson. There had been one piece of good news: President Xander's grandchildren had been located, along with a rebel stronghold, in the Swiss Alps. Zoltar had been holding out a desperate hope that the former Galaxy Security Chief would also be there, but he had not.
So President Xander's grandchildren were now in custody, but William Anderson, the man who had all of the answers, roamed free. Zoltar would gladly have made a trade, if such a thing had been possible.
He had to think. He had to come up with something to tell them. Some grain of the truth… not the entire truth, certainly, but something that would satisfy their curiosity, yet give them no reason to distrust him.
But he didn't know what that was.
He needed to buy some time. He needed to think. And so he had seized on the first idea that had come to him. He was scheduled to speak to the people of Earth this afternoon. He had planned to cancel the engagement, putting it off until he could get his personal affairs in order. But now it provided the opportunity he sought.
"I must speak to the populace." Zoltar announced, drawing the tattered shreds of his dignity around him. "You are aware that this event has been scheduled since before we left Spectra. I am required to address the people when I visit planets of the Spectran Empire. You also know that this puts me in a vulnerable position: one which assassins could easily take advantage of. As my Beloved, it is your duty to guard me."
Zoltar stressed the word 'duty'. He knew that the concept of duty was important to Shadow, and raw honesty forced him to admit that it was the strongest hold he had over his Beloved at the moment.
But he would change that. They would love him again. They had to. He was the Ruler of the Spectran Empire, and Nox was to be his bride! He had legitimately defeated these enemies in battle. They had no right to judge him!
Filled with righteous indignation, he stood tall and firm, using his slight advantage of height to stare down at the three people in front of him.
"Mark, we can't…" Blade began.
"No. He's right." Shadow interrupted. "We have a sworn duty to protect him. We pledged our lives in his defense."
"You're not going to let that…"
"He hasn't given us any reason to cause us to break that pledge." Shadow growled, his eyes flashing. Blade scowled, but nodded curtly, acknowledging the order. Despite himself, Zoltar was impressed with the way Shadow enforced his command. Spectran Captains could learn much from this man about handling insubordination.
"Mark, are you sure…?" Nox asked quietly. "He's just delaying…"
"I know he's only putting us off." Shadow said, his eyes locked on Zoltar's. "But his argument is valid, just the same. We have a sworn duty to protect him, and he is required to speak to the people of this planet this afternoon."
"Just so you know, Zoltar," he continued, his eyes burning with an icy chill, "we won't be denied. As soon as this speech is over, you're going to answer our questions."
"Yes, of course." Zoltar said, smiling gently at his Beloved, pulling them to him and stroking their hair. How he wished there was time to renew their Bond through the Pleasures at this moment! But then, if there were time, they would insist on using it to ask their questions.
"I want to help you, Beloved." he said smoothly. "If the time has come to reveal your pasts to you, then I will do so. But be warned, it will be painful. Your lives Before were harsh, and held none of the peace you enjoy now. I have held back information only because I knew how it would torment you." There, let them think about that! Let them remember that he had their best interests at heart!
"All the same, we need to know." Nox said, but her emerald eyes flickered with doubt.
"Beloved, the last thing I want is to deny you anything." Zoltar whispered, kissing her gently. "Now, get dressed in your uniforms. I must depart within the next few minutes."
They filed into the bedroom: Blade reluctantly, Nox sorrowfully, and Shadow grimly.
Zoltar watched them desperately. He could do this. He could keep them with him. He had to.
They were all he had left.
Keyop stood at the edge of the crowd that had gathered inside the former baseball stadium. Briefly, he recalled when Zoltar had built a base underneath this very stadium, and G-Force had been barely able to prevent a bomb from going off inside, which would have destroyed the entire city. The home run fountain, which had been the trigger for that bomb, was now dry, having been unused for nearly half a decade.
This stadium had been the scene of one of G-Force's greatest triumphs… and perhaps it could be again.
If only he could get through to his former teammates.
Surreptitiously, Keyop placed his hands in his pockets, feeling the items contained within the worn cloth, letting them reassure him.
This had to work. It simply had to.
It was all he had left.
Mark surveyed the crowd from the center of the dais that had been set up at the end of the stadium. He recognized that this place had not been constructed for speeches of this nature, but rather for sporting events. He wondered if Earthers still enjoyed such relaxing pastimes.
The area directly in front of the dais was reserved for Spectran citizens only: those families from Spectra who had accepted positions of leadership on Earth, as a way to exert the influence of the ruling power amongst the planet's natives. Behind then stood Spectran soldiers, their green uniforms clearly visible in the crowd. Behind them were Earther dignitaries, and in the rear were the other inhabitants of this planet: everyday citizens who desired to come and hear the words of the ruler of the Empire. This was by far the largest group in attendance.
It was from this portion of his audience that Zoltar had the most to fear. Yet as his eyes skimmed over the crowd, it was this group with which Mark felt the strongest connection. He couldn't put his finger on it, but his instincts were telling him that these people were… the thought slipped through his mental grasp, and Mark's forehead furrowed in frustration as it eluded him.
From the left of the dais, Jason stared grimly at Zoltar's back. He didn't want to be here, but he respected Mark's authority. If Mark felt that they had to do this, then they had to do this. But Jason was damn well going to get his answers the moment this 'duty' was over.
Princess stood at the far right edge of the dais, searching for… well, she didn't know what she was searching for. But there was someone there. Someone she had to locate. And she knew that she wouldn't rest until she had.
"People of Earth!" Zoltar cried, calling everyone's attention to him. "I am here today to thank you for your efforts on behalf of our glorious Empire. Truly, you should all be grateful for the wonders we Spectrans bring to your planet, and your people, thanks to the numerous and varied resources you have so generously bestowed upon us." His speech was familiar to Princess' ears, and her conscious mind tuned out, while her active mind continued searching.
A flash of silver and blue appeared above the crowd, and before Princess could blink, she saw Mark leap up from the dais, snatch the flash from out of the air with his hand, and then drop back gracefully onto the stage. He landed in a crouch, his head bowed and his right arm raised, a metallic object in his hand.
There was deathly silence for a moment, as Mark slowly stood, revealing the object to the crowd. It was a silver and blue weapon in the shape of a…bird?
Princess' eyes grew wide. She had seen that weapon before. It belonged to Mark. It was…
A murmur started in the back of the crowd, and the soft sound grew louder, picking up strength. With her enhanced hearing, Princess could just make out the words of a burgeoning chant.
"G-Force! G-Force! G-Force!"
G-Force? Why did that sound so familiar to her? It was important, something she had to remember…
The sound grew louder, until it had taken over the stadium. Zoltar was no longer speaking, but looking around in confusion.
And then Princess saw the person she had been looking for. It was the man from their hotel room. He had approached the side of the dais closest to where she stood, doing his best to mix in with the Spectran citizens. She stared at him, desperately willing her mind to remember.
"Princess!" he called to her.
"Keyop!" she cried back, a smile blossoming on her face.
Instead of answering her, he threw something. Princess leapt up and caught the small bundle, just as Mark had caught the metallic bird. When she looked down at it, she saw a red circle, with a yellow arrow on it. Her hand clasped the circle, and she knew at once that this belonged to her. It was her weapon.
But there was something wrapped around it. Something that shouldn't be there. Time seemed to stand still as she stared at it curiously, removing the two items from her weapon. There was a pendant on a silver chain, and some kind of bluish-white bracelet with a golden faceplate.
Instinctively, Princess snapped the bracelet around her left wrist, instantly soothed by the familiar feel of the cool material on her skin. But the pendant was unfamiliar to her. She stared at it, turning it over to examine the other side. Engraved in the center was a number 3.
Her number. Princess' number.
Slowly, Princess placed the chain around her neck, noting that Keyop grinned widely as she did so.
"For Mark and Jason!" he called, tossing her a larger bundle.
This bundle contained two more pendants and bracelets, and a black gun with a vicious-looking crescent-shaped blade attached to one end. Princess nodded, turning and tossing the items to the people to whom they belonged.
Mark was holding his weapon, staring at it in amazement. He seemed to retrieve the pendant and bracelet from the air almost unconsciously. Jason's grasp was eager, as if he were impatiently waiting for his own weapon to arrive. Both men instantly put on their bracelets, but Princess had to show them that they should also wear the pendants.
The crowd was restless now, the Earthers at the rear of the stadium pushing forward against the Spectran guards. So far, the soldiers had refrained from firing, but tensions were mounting. The Spectran citizens appeared nervous, and Zoltar was attempting to calm the spectators. His eyes darted around nervously toward his Beloved, but they paid little attention to him.
"Princess! Mark! Jason!" Keyop called, and all three turned their eyes to the young man. He swung his left arm around in a circle, passing it in front of his face.
Instinctively, Princess copied his movements, and she sensed Mark and Jason doing so as well. As the bracelet passed in front of her eyes she cried out, Mark's and Jason's voices blending with hers.
A searing white light passed over her, her skin tingling and crackling with energy, as if a lightning bolt was shooting through her entire body. Yet it wasn't in the least painful. Instead, it was refreshing, as if all of her cares and worries and hurts were washing away. The cobwebs in her mind dissolved, and suddenly she was inundated with a rush of thoughts and images. Princess gasped, and in that instant, a complete recognition of self flooded her being.
She was Princess, G3, member of G-Force, Defender of the Federation.
She turned to look at Mark and Jason, not surprised at all to see them standing their in their uniforms, Mark's white wings matching hers, Jason's blue wings setting off the perfect contrast between them. In front of her, Keyop jumped into the air, grinning from ear to ear, his black wings flaring slightly as he rose and landed beside her.
"Welcome back, Princess." he whispered, rising to take his place at her side.
"It's good to be back, Keyop." she returned his smile.
The roar of the crowd finally broke its way through to her consciousness, and Princess became aware of the screaming and shouting of the crowd. They were crying out… not in fear, but in hope. The Earthers were joyful, crying out the names of those they thought they had lost.
In the front, the Spectrans were cowering in fear, the green-uniformed soldiers surrounding them defensively, reluctant to fire into the angry mob that vastly outnumbered them. Zoltar's back was to the crowd, his face etched in a mask of horror as his eyes bulged and his mouth fell open.
Looking at her former Master, a wave of fury washed over Princess. He had used her! He had used all of them! He had taken something that was precious, and used it for his own vile ends!
But as her initial rage passed, she realized what lay behind Zoltar's actions. Yes, he had used and abused the three G-Force members horribly, but he had become as much of a victim as they. He too was bound and controlled by their Bonding: the Master had become the servant.
And then Princess realized: they had the power. She, Mark, and Jason were the ones in control.
Zoltar stumbled as the three approached him. He saw the power and loathing in their eyes, and knew that there was nothing that he could do to bring them back to him.
But the Bonding was still there, so he tried. "Beloved…" he whispered imploringly, holding out his hand. The whisper echoed around the stadium. He had forgotten he was still wired to the sound system.
Even through their tinted visors, he could see their confusion as the Bonding warred with who they now were.
"No." whispered she who had been Nox. "No." Her voice was stronger now. "How can you call us that? After what you've done! How can we be Beloved when you tried to hide who we were from ourselves? When you raped us? How can we be Beloved when you caused us to betray everything that we believe in?"
"Please, my Nox…."
"Don't call me that, Zoltar. Never ever call me that."
He tried the Bonding again, but all three stood straight.
"It won't work Zoltar," said Mark. "I guess we've managed to take control of your Bonding. And now we're going to end it." Zoltar blanched and stepped back.
"No! Shadow, you don't know what that will do to us!"
"Whatever happens, you deserve it." Jason snarled. "When I think of how many people you turned us loose on. What you made us do to them…." His face contorted. "I get sick to my stomach when I think of how willingly I did what you wanted. When I think of how I craved your approval." Jason's voice dropped. "That I craved your love, your touch." Princess put her hand on Jason's shoulder, offering her support.
"We can't go on, Zoltar. We can't live like this." she declared.
All three raised their heads, and Mark and Jason put their arms around Princess. They stepped forward and Princess reached out and ripped away the mask Zoltar wore in public.
She faltered. The face before them was not Zoltar, but the Master who had loved them, and whom they had adored.
Yet it was also the face of the one who had betrayed them. Her resolve firmed and she put her hands on either side of his face.
"This ends it Zoltar," she said softly. "We hate you and all you stand for. But we can't forget either…"
Zoltar felt a faint hope as sorrow crossed those beautiful features.
But then he felt the pain. He felt Blade and Shadow rip away their Bonds, followed by the gentler touch of Nox, as she plucked the final cord that would take away his life.
The screams came from four throats, as the Beloved realized too late that in their breaking of the Bond, they had also caused injury to themselves.
But Zoltar heard a fifth scream, and felt a sense of secret gladness at the hurt that would be done to the Great Spirit, whose demands had been the cause of all the tragedy that was the Spectran Empire.
He felt a great weariness, but he was somehow gratified to find his Beloved with him, easing his fall. A premonition came upon him, and with the last of his strength, he reached out toward Princess, his fingertips brushing at her abdomen.
"The future of Spectra…" Zoltar moaned.
As he took his last breath, he could hear the thunderous cries throughout the stadium, and as his eyesight faded he saw his Beloved stand to acknowledge those cries.
"G-Force! G-Force! G-Force!"
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.