An Exercise in Futility by TransmuteJun
Summary:

Jason & Princess take an unexpected detour: to Spectra!

Excerpt

Swinging the paddle in the air, he made contact, hitting it across the ping pong table. The ball bounced into the wall and chipped the paint.

“Whatcha doin’ Mark?” asked Keyop, drumming in wild, random patterns.

“Force of habit.” Mark replied in frustration. “I keep forgetting that Jason’s not here. I’m so used to his being on the other side of the table that I make shots before I can stop myself.”

“Miss Princess too!” answered Keyop. “Music not same, without her.”

“You’re telling me!” said Tiny. He had been covering his ears between Spaceburgers all afternoon.

“I just wish Jason and Princess would come home already!” Mark snapped in frustration, shooting another ball. This one bounced off of the overhead light.

“Where are they?” he continued, as if the white ball weren’t continuing to ricochet between the floor and ceiling.

 


Categories: Battle of the Planets Characters: Jason, Keyop, Mala/S-9, Mark, Princess, Tiny Harper, Zoltar
Genre: Action/Adventure, Humor/Comedy
Story Warnings: Mild Adult Situations, Mild Language, Mild Sexual References, Mild Violence, Sexual Dialogue, Sexual Situations, Torture, Violence
Timeframe: Mid-Series
Universe: Mostly Canon
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 18 Completed: Yes Word count: 17045 Read: 79779 Published: 05/15/2007 Updated: 05/15/2007
Story Notes:

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1. Introduction by TransmuteJun

2. Chapter 1 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

16. Chapter 15 by TransmuteJun

17. Chapter 16 by TransmuteJun

18. Epilogue by TransmuteJun

Introduction by TransmuteJun

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No profit is being made. No copyright infringement is intended.

***** 

 

He waited among the trees, using their shadows as a place of concealment. This was a public area, albeit not a path that was well-traveled. But he knew his targets would be using it this evening, to return to their hotel. He would wait for them, even if it took all night. His mission was to intercept them, and failure was not taken lightly by his superiors.

He pulled up the collar on his black trenchcoat to hide his face a little more. Fortunately, his green pants were well camouflaged within the surrounding bushes. As he waited, his thoughts drifted back to a few days ago, when he had been given this assignment.

Lady Mala had been watching the inter-planetary transmissions, and had been especially interested in the broadcast of the Rigan Annual Galactic Race. While watching the competing teams, she had suddenly focused on one vehicle that was making its way through the course. The drivers of this vehicle had taken great risks to save time and get ahead, often seeming almost out of control, but at the last second they had always fallen back into place. Whenever there was a choice between a shorter, yet more difficult path, and a longer, easier path the team had invariably choosen the more difficult one. Yet, they had never lost their control. The man recognized that it took both teammates to control a car with that degree of precision, even though the primary driver was of more consequence. Perfection demanded that everyone involved be without error.

Lady Mala had immediately known that this was the team she wanted, even if they didn’t win the race. But they did win… as Lady Mala had known they would.

Pulling himself from his reverie, he spotted his targets coming slowly along the path. The male seemed to be staggering somewhat, as if he were slightly inebriated. The female was supporting him. The man quietly pressed a small device in his coat pocket and listened in on the couple.

“I can’t believe how many beers you drank!” the female exclaimed, “I thought you would have been dead on the floor, long before now!”

“A real man can hold his liquor, honey.” the male replied, his speech ever so slightly slurred, “Besides, we just won the race. The freakin’ Inter-Galactic Rigan Race! The best of the best! I’ve been dying to drive this one, since I was a kid, and now…. I’ve won… thanks to you being such a great partner…” He looked at the female with a drunken smile.

She gave an exasperated sigh. “I don’t know how we’re all going to live with such a swelled head! Why the others…”

She never got to finish the thought, as the agent took this moment to step out of the trees onto the path, surprising her into momentary silence.

“Your driving in the race today was incredible. I especially enjoyed your performance in the last few miles.” he said by way of greeting.

The male grinned wolfishly, but the female seemed wary of his sudden appearance.

“Uh…. thanks…” she said as she attempted to step around him. The agent stopped her by placing an arm in front of her body.

“Do you have any plans for the immediate future?” he asked her.

She never got a chance to respond. His companions stepped up behind the pair and quickly injected them with a strong sedative. They slumped to the ground, their numbered shirts gleaming softly in the moonlight.

 

Chapter 1 by TransmuteJun

Princess stirred slightly. What had happened? Her eyes were gritty and her limbs felt like bags of wet sand. Slowly she came to and remembered that strange man on the path back to the hotel. She had been grabbed and… where was she now?

She sat up and was surprised to realize that she was in a chair in some sort of conference room. In the chair next to her Jason lay slumped across the table in an unconscious state.

“Jason! Wake up!” she hissed as she poked him in the ribs. His head lolled over to the side and she thought she saw him drooling slightly. Lovely.

“Jason!” she said more loudly, this time right into his ear. She grabbed his arm and twisted lightly.

“Ow!” he said, coming to. “Whadya do that for?”

“I had to get your attention somehow!” she replied, “We need to figure out where we are and how to get out of here!”

“Oh my achin’ head…..” moaned Jason. “It feels like I got walloped with a cement brick.”

“I told you not to drink so much!” Princess said self-righteously. “Now where do you think we are?”

Before Jason could answer a door opened and a woman with long, blonde hair entered the room. Princess sucked in her breath. Lady Mala!

“I see that you are awake. Excellent! You have a very fast response time. You were given enough sedatives to bring down a rhino.” She glared at the Spectran guard who accompanied her. He looked ashamedly at the floor.

“I can see that your bodies are used to producing adrenaline.” she continued, “Very good.”

“Why are we here?” demanded Princess. She felt a cold finger of fear run down her spine. Had Spectra figured out their secret identities? Had she and Jason been targeted as members of G-Force? The Race had been a very public forum… a calculated risk… but one that Chief Anderson had okayed.

“Forgive my manners.” Mala said, “I am Mala. I had intended on merely inviting you here to join me in conversation, but my messenger lacked… finesse.” She glared at the Spectra guard again. He continued to find his boots the most interesting thing in the room.

“Where is here?” Jason asked in a cracked voice. It was obvious that the sedative hadn’t mixed well with the alcohol in his system.

“You are aboard a Spectran transport ship heading home.” Mala replied.

“To Spectra?” Princess exclaimed, nearly jumping out of her seat.

“Yes.” said Mala. “I need your services. I will certainly pay you handsomely.”

“Your money doesn’t interest us.” snapped Jason.

“Of course not.” replied Mala, unruffled. “I’ve seen the way you drive. You’re interested in a challenge.”

Jason looked quizzically at Mala. She went on.

“I know your type.” she said in a slightly condescending tone, “You never take the easy way, but take pride in your work.”

Princess had to give a slight smile. Mala certainly had Jason pegged!

“But why do you need us?” she asked, “You certainly seem to have plenty of… help.” She rolled her eyes towards the Spectran goon who was still carefully inspecting the carpet.

Mala sighed. “We have a special vehicle we would like you two to operate. While we regularly build such vehicles, usually they are of massive proportions… large enough to dwarf a skyscraper.”

Princess shuddered inwardly. She had more than a passing familiarity with Spectran mechas.

“However this vehicle is different…” Mala said, an excited gleam in her eyes.

Jason sat straight up. Mala had obviously piqued his interest. If only she knew why he was so eager to hear about this… project of Spectra’s.

“It is very small… built only for two people: a driver,” Mala looked pointedly at Jason, “and a navigator.” she looked over at Princess. “Our people don’t have the talent, the precision, the care, the… finesse…” Mala glared again at the guard, “to operate such a vehicle. But you do.”

She looked directly at Jason and Princess, trying to determine the impact of her words.

“And suppose we don’t want to work for you?” Jason asked wryly, “We’re not Spectran: you can’t make us do your bidding.”

Mala sighed, “I wish you had been more receptive.” She snapped her fingers and immediately two goons stepped forth from hidden alcoves in the wall and pointed large rifles at Jason and Princess’ heads.

“I guess we’re in.” said Princess grimly.

“Excellent.” replied Mala with a smile. “Now…if I may ask… what exactly is the nature of your relationship?”

“What?” asked Jason, surprised.

“Your relationship.” Mala repeated, as if she were speaking to a small child. “Are you lovers?

Princess nearly choked. “No…” she said, “He’s my… brother.”

“Very good.” Mala responded. “Effectively immediately, you,” she pointed a long finger at Jason, “will be given the rank of sergeant, first class. You,” she pointed at Princess, “will be given the rank of Galaxy Girl, third class.”

“Why won’t I be a soldier too?” Princess asked in spite of herself.

Mala laughed. “Women are too valuable a resource, to be common soldiers.” she replied. “We cannot afford to waste them as battlefield fodder.”

She looked icily at the goons. “Get them in uniform!”

Rifles prodded Jason and Princess to rise. They were escorted from the room.

Chapter 2 by TransmuteJun

Mark threw the small, white ball into the air. Swinging the paddle, he made contact and hit it across the ping pong table. The ball bounced and smacked into the wall hard enough to chip the paint.

“Brrrp, doot… whatcha doin’, Mark?” asked Keyop. He was drumming away in wild, random patterns.

Tiny paused from taking another bite of Space Burger, waiting for the Commander’s answer.

Mark ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. “It’s force of habit.” he replied. “I keep forgetting that Jason’s not here. I’m so used to his being on the other side of the ping pong table that I make shots before I can stop myself.”

“Boop doot…. know what you mean!” answered Keyop. “Miss Princess too. Brrrrt…. music not same…. doot… without her.”

“You’re telling me!” quipped Tiny. He had been covering his ears between burgers all afternoon.

“I just wish that Jason and Princess would get themselves home already!” Mark snapped in frustration. Reflexively he shot another ping pong ball, this one bouncing off of the overhead light.

“The race ended two days ago. Where are they?” he continued, as if the white ball weren’t continuing to ricochet between the floor and ceiling.

“Man, that was some race!” Tiny said for the hundredth time. “What a broadcast! Jason is some driver. And Princess is no slouch either! No wonder they won!”

“Brrrt…. proud of them!” put in Keyop happily.

Mark tossed another ball angrily. He hadn’t been very excited when Jason had requested that he and Princess compete in this race. But Chief Anderson had approved it, and Princess had been so excited. Mark had known that their participation was inevitable. He smashed a ball into Keyop’s drums.

“Hey!” Keyop shouted.

“Sorry.” Mark mumbled. It wasn’t just Jason’s absence that was putting him off. He had never admitted it to anyone, but part of the reason he was so good at ping pong was Princess. He moved in time to her guitar music, and was relaxed by her rhythmic swaying to the beat. Heck, there was practically a dent in the table where he always bounced the ball when he served to Jason, yet today he couldn’t hit it for a million Space Burgers. He tried again, hitting the ball harder than he had intended.

The ball smashed into the Space Burger warmer next to Tiny’s chair. The device almost seemed to emit a soft grunt in protest.

“Watch it!” yelled Tiny. Mark reluctantly put down the paddle.

“I guess that’s enough for today.” he said wearily. Then he turned back to look at Tiny.

“Hey, Tiny, haven’t you eaten three Space Burgers in the last few minutes?”

“Yeah….” answered Tiny defensively, “What about it?”

“So, why are there still three Space Burgers in the pile next to you?” asked Mark. “There were three burgers in the pile when you started, and there are still three there. You didn’t go and get more…”

Tiny scratched his head in confusion. “I don’t know. But hey, why look a gift horse in the mouth?” He happily returned to his burgers.

Mark shook his head to clear it. He really wanted Jason and Princess to return home. Automatically he picked up the paddle and smashed another ball.

“Ow!” he yelled.

88888

“What is that on your forehead, Mark?” asked Chief Anderson, “Is it some kind of bruise?”

“It’s nothing.” Mark mumbled. He could hear Tiny and Keyop sniggering behind him. “Why did you call us here? Do you have any information on Spectra activity? Or is it that Jason and Princess are coming home?” Mark really hoped it was the latter reason. He didn’t know how much more solitary ping pong he could take.

“Jason and Princess requested leave, immediately after the Race.” Anderson said. “I guess they wanted to take a couple of days off and celebrate their win. They’ve earned a bit of fun. I approved their time off, as long as they are able to return immediately if there is any sign of an attack against the Federation.”

Mark grimaced. A couple of days? It was going to be pretty miserable at Center Neptune with Tiny and Keyop laughing at him all the time.

“Spectran activity has been quite low recently.” continued the Chief. “It would seem that Zoltar is hiding out after his last defeat.”

“We did humiliate him pretty badly.” Tiny laughed, “His mecha didn’t even get within one thousand light years of Earth!”

“Brrt, doop…. we showed him!” cried Keyop.

“Unless, he’s planning something.” mused Mark. He was back in full Commander mode. “He could be working on something really big. The more we humiliate him the more he seems to want to get back at us.”

“You could be right, Mark.” said Anderson. “You should all be on your guard.”

“Could I check those reports on Spectran activity myself?” asked Mark. At least it would give him something to take his mind off of his two absent teammates. “I’d like to see if there’s some kind of pattern we’re missing.”

“It certainly couldn’t hurt.” responded the Chief. He punched a button on his telephone.

“Yes?” came a breathy voice.

“Susan?” asked Anderson in a surprised tone.

“Yes, Chief.” Susan replied. “I am in your telephone device.”

Anderson spoke with thinly veiled annoyance. “What are you doing in my phone Susan? You’re supposed to be monitoring the Early Warning System on Pluto!”

“The programmers on the Federation Military Commission have given me a new assignment.” Susan said huskily. “I am to stay with the remaining members of G-Force and assist them in any way I can, while Jason and Princess are on leave.”

Tiny looked confused. “How is a phone going to follow us around?” He scratched his head.

“The telephone will not follow you around, Tiny.” breathed Susan, “I will. I have been programmed to transfer my programming to any computerized device within a specific range. I can… inhabit… any machine close by. Although some are more limited in nature than others.”

“Brrt… Tiny’s Space Burger Warmer!” cried Keyop.

“Yes, Keyop.” confirmed Susan. “I hope you liked your burgers, Tiny.” she added. “I tried to provide you with enough, in case you were still hungry.”

Mark remembered the near-grunt when he had hit his ball into the warmer and the magically appearing burgers. At least someone was able to do their job around here. But could Susan really replace Jason and Princess?

He was afraid that he was about to find out. He frowned.

“We don’t need a babysitter!” he said, more forcefully than he had intended.

“Think of me as an assistant.” replied Susan. “I’m part of the team. Speaking of which, I could transfer to the ready room fridge and prepare an ice pack for that bruise.”

Mark scowled as Tiny and Keyop howled with laughter.

Chapter 3 by TransmuteJun

Jason and Princess were led to a small changing room.

One of the goons leered at Princess. “You’ll have to take off all of your clothes.” he sneered.

Another guard snacked the first on the back of his head. “They’re going to be your superiors, you dolt! Show some respect!” He turned towards Princess. “I apologize, Ma’am.”

“Uh, no problem.” Princess replied, somewhat flustered. She was more comfortable with rude comments than with politeness when coming from a Spectran guard.

“You can change over there.” The guard indicated a small screen in the corner of the room. “When you are finished, bring all of your clothes and jewelry back here.” He eyed her communicator bracelet.

“We’d really like to keep our bracelets.” said Princess. “They were given to us by our father.” Jason nodded in agreement, trying to hold back his panic at the thought that they might lose their communicators.

“Sorry, Ma’am. It’s policy.” the guard replied. “All personal possessions are to be removed and destroyed. It helps make a clean break.”

“I see.” nodded Princess in a resigned voice. She took the proffered uniform and went behind the changing screen. She noted with amusement that Jason wasn’t offered this privacy. He was ordered to change in front of the guards. She couldn’t help giggling slightly as she observed him. Jason winked back at her and she quickly turned away, her cheeks aflame.

Quietly, Princess set her communicator to send out a constant homing signal. It wasn’t as powerful as a Birdscramble, but that that could be noticed by the guards, and it would only be active for a few minutes. The homing signal would last until it was turned off. Or until it got destroyed. Princess didn’t want to think about that possibility.

The uniform was complete. There were even undergarments to go with it. When the guards had told he to get rid of everything they had meant everything. After she got dressed Princess came back out with her civilian uniform in her arms. Although she had come to resent the lack of style the clothes gave her, she found that she was going to miss her number 3 shirt and striped pants.

 ‘I’ll get them back soon!’ she vowed to herself.

“Where are your bracelets?” asked the guard. Princess and Jason pulled them out and laid them on top of their clothes. The guard then took the two piles of clothing and dropped them into a nearby garbage chute.

Jason’s face flickered with a brief moment of uncertainty, and then returned to its usual mask of mocking arrogance.

The guards escorted them to a doorway.

“You will spend the night here.” they said respectfully. Their new uniforms seemed to be having an effect. Even the guard who had leered at Princess now seemed to appreciate their rank.

Jason sauntered into the room and Princess followed. The door closed and she heard it lock. It was obvious from muffled noises outside that the guards were going to be standing at the door for quite awhile.

“I guess these uniforms only get us so far.” she muttered to herself.

88888

Back in the Ready Room Mark unconsciously reached for the ping pong paddle before Tiny stopped him. Mark sighed and sat down at a computer terminal, intending to review the Spectran activity reports.

But he found that he couldn’t concentrate. The thought of Jason and Princess vacationing together bothered him more than he liked to admit. He pushed himself away from the terminal and stood up.

“Tiny, Keyop… I need your help.” Mark said.

Tiny and Keyop were startled, but immediately stood at attention.

“Yes, Commander.” they replied as one.

Mark shook his head. “No… not like that. It’s not a mission. At least, not an official mission. How would you like to go to Riga, to see Jason and Princess?” Mark’s eyes took on a strange look. Tiny couldn’t quite place it.

Tiny’s eyes widened. “You mean, leave Center Neptune while we’re on duty? And not on a mission?”

“We’d stay in contact.” justified Mark. “We deserve some fun too, right? I’d like to see them and congratulate them on their big win.”

Tiny’s face took on a speculative look. “Did you clear this with the Chief?”

Mark gave the slightest shake of his head.

Keyop looked back and forth between the Eagle and Owl. He wasn’t quite sure what was going on, except that…. Mark had just suggested that they shirk their duties?

“And how do you propose to get to Riga?” asked Tiny.

“You could fly the Phoenix.” suggested Mark.

“Whaaaat?” Tiny exclaimed. “Why are you dragging me into this?”

“The G-1 isn’t equipped for deep space travel.” Mark shrugged. “And a commercial flight would take too long to get there and back. I’m just talking about a quick visit.” He looked surreptitiously at Tiny and Keyop, wondering if they were buying this.

“I don’t know…” hedged Tiny.

“Come on!” urged Mark, “We could have fun! Just us guys… hanging out…” This was a low blow. Mark knew that Tiny had always wanted to be a part of Mark and Jason’s ‘private’ friendship. But Mark was grasping at straws.

“Brrt! I’m in!” exclaimed Keyop happily.

“Sorry, Keyop!” said Mark affectionately, ruffling the boy’s hair. “I need you to stay here and hold down the fort!”

Keyop’s face fell. “Brrrt… wanted to see… Princess!” He looked accusingly up at his Commander. “How come… doot… you get to go?”

Mark thought fast. This was all going to fall apart if he didn’t convince Keyop to cover for him.

“I know you miss Princess, Keyop,” Mark said, “But I really need you here. You’re the most reliable member of the team for this kind of thing.”

Keyop gave him a skeptical look. “Brrrt… not buying it!” he exclaimed.

Tiny sighed. He wasn’t sure he was buying it either, but for whatever reason, he knew this was important to Mark.

Mark rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I’ll tell you what, Keyop…” he offered, “If you do this for me, when I get back, I’ll let you take a test flight in the G-1.”

“G-1?” Keyop cried. He was practically jumping up and down with excitement. “Brrrt… got a deal!” He stuck out his hand.

Mark shook the proffered hand. It was a spectacular bribe, but he needed to make sure this would work.

Tiny was amazed. Mark had always turned down Keyop’s requests to even sit in the G-1. He knew something was up.

Keyop puffed out his chest. “I can do it, Commander!” he replied with a smart salute.

“And if the Chief should happen to ask where we are….”

“Boot! Doop! Didn’t hear it from me!” finished Keyop.

Mark looked over at Tiny.

“I guess, I’m in too.” he replied. Despite his misgivings about Mark’s motives, Tiny felt that this could be fun. He was grinning from ear to ear.

Mark grinned too. He absentmindedly slapped a ping pong ball with his nearby paddle. It bounced off of Tiny’s chair and into Princess’ guitar.

A questioning musical riff sounded from the electric instrument.

“Huh?” asked a startled Keyop. A few more bars came out of the guitar.

Susan?” asked Mark.

The beginning of Princess’ favorite Dirty Name 5 song was the answer.

Keyop was delighted. “All right! Brrt… let’s jam!” He immediately picked up his drumsticks and began to play with the animated guitar.

Mark sighed. At least Keyop was occupied. “Tiny, can you be ready in a few minutes?” he asked.

Tiny nodded. “What ever you say, Commander.” he smiled.

Chapter 4 by TransmuteJun

The room they had been given was actually a small, two bedroom apartment. With the limited computer access she had been allowed at the room’s terminal, Princess had discovered that these were standard Officers, quarters on the ship. Checking the navigational data she had also learned that it would take them three days to get to the planet Spectra. Apparently this wasn’t one of the fastest ships around.

Princess waited patiently while Jason finished checking the rooms for bugs and cameras.

“I think we’re clean.” he said to Princess. “I’m not sure why they wouldn’t be monitoring us though.”

“We’re still thinking like G-Force.” said Princess, “But they’re expecting us to start thinking like members of the Spectran Military. They don’t entirely trust us yet, but they also don’t have any reason to mistrust us either.” Although she wasn’t whispering, she did make an effort to keep her voice soft and low.

“I can’t believe we’ve lost our uniforms and our bracelets!” muttered Jason. “This is going to be a lot harder if we can’t use Birdstyle in an emergency!”

“I did manage to set off a homing signal on my communicator, before giving it to the guards.” Princess informed him.

“Great.” Jason’s sarcasm was legendary. “The range on that thing is what…. 6 inches?”

“A couple of light years, actually.” responded Princess, “And it’s better than nothing!”

“The Phoenix would have to fly awfully close by, to detect it.” said Jason, “But you’re right, it’s something. It’s certainly more than I was able to do.”

Princess knew that was as close to an apology as she’d get.

“Thanks.” she grinned. “The team will certainly know that something’s up when we don’t return from Riga.”

“But if they go to Riga there’s nothing for them to find.” replied Jason. “Certainly, nothing to point them here. And somehow I suspect that the Spectran Army is the last place they would look to find us.”

“Oh, I don’t know…” winked Princess, “Remember when Tiny almost joined up?” The two laughed at the shared memory. It broke the tension and relieved a little of the stress they had been feeling since they had awoken from sedation.

“So we’re on our own, then.” said Princess quietly.

Jason nodded solemnly.

“So what do we do?”

“I think we have an opportunity, here.” said Jason thoughtfully. “They obviously have no idea that we’re G-Force or we’d be dead already.”

“Or being waved around as bait, to get to the others.” Princess added. “That’s one of Zoltar’s favorite tricks.”

“It seems that they’ve bought into our Race cover story of being Rigan twins. Let’s play along with that.” Princess nodded at Jason’s suggestion.

“About that…” she said, “Why did Mala want to know if we…. if we….” She could barely bring herself to think the words, much less say them.

“Were lovers?” Jason finished for her. “I don’t know. Should we try it and find out what kind of difference it makes?” He grinned wolfishly at her.

Princess slapped his face with a pillow.

“All right, I guess I have my answer.” he said teasingly, “But if you change your mind the offer still stands.”

“In any case,” he continued, “I think we should do what they want. At least, for awhile…”

“We will have access to a lot of sensitive information.” Princess mused, “And we’d have a chance to destroy this new mecha Mala’s so excited about. We might even be able to scope out their whole military installation. It seems like we should try to get as much information as we can.” Her face fell with another thought. “But everyone will be so worried about us. And there’s no way to contact them.”

Jason’s face took on a determined look. “If we have an opportunity to communicate with the Federation, or escape, we’ll do so.” he resolved. “But until then, we’ll do as they ask.”

“Agreed.” replied Princess.

88888

“We are now in Rigan standard orbit.” stated Tiny professionally. Although he wasn’t used to flying the Phoenix in his civilian clothes, it hadn’t lessened his abilities.

It hadn’t been a complete cakewalk getting there. Around the time they had reached the Crab Nebula, 7-Zark-7 had contacted them on their communicators, asking what they were doing.

“Just some training, Zark.” Mark had replied. “Tell you what: since we’re out here anyway, why don’t we keep an eye on things for you? You can go take a twenty second oil break.”

Twenty seconds?” Zark had responded eagerly. Mark could almost picture his antennae popping straight up. “Thank you, Sir!”

Mark couldn’t believe that he’d had to lie to a naïve robot, in order to make it here. But they were at Riga now.

“Okay,” he instructed Tiny, “I’m going to go down to the planet. You stay here and watch the Phoenix.”

“What?” Tiny exclaimed, “Why do I have to stay?”

“Because, we can’t just leave the Phoenix unattended.” said Mark reasonably.

“So much for ‘the guys hanging out’!” said Tiny grumpily. But before he could continue another voice broke through the tension.

I can watch the Phoenix, Commander.” came Susan’s husky voice.

Mark and Tiny looked at each other, surprised.

“I have control of the piloting mechanisms that can keep the Phoenix in orbit. I’ll contact you if there’s any trouble.”

“Works for me!” shouted Tiny as he leaped to his feet.

“Uh… okay.” said Mark. He didn’t really see any choice but to agree.

“Whoo hoo!” whooped Tiny, “I get to go down to the planet!”

Chapter 5 by TransmuteJun

The next morning, Princess and Jason were awoken by the polite beeping of their computer terminal. Sleepily, Princess went over to the terminal and pressed a flashing key.

Mala’s image came over the screen. “You are to begin your training immediately. Report to the guards outside of your quarters. They will escort you.” Without waiting for acknowledgement the image disappeared.

Princess walked over to Jason and gave him a soft kick in the side. “Wake up, Jase!”

Jason groaned. “Damn Spectra! Sure knows how to make our lives miserable! I can’t even get more than a few hours of sleep around here.”

“It was your idea to play along. Remember?” Princess goaded him.

Jason glared at her, but in two minutes they were both standing at the door.

“Good morning.” said the guards deferentially. They had been changed sometime during the night. “You are to be escorted to Training Room B.”

Training Room B turned out to be a slightly different conference room with a large viewscreen at one end.

“Awesome!” exclaimed Jason, elbowing Princess out of the way. “Breakfast!” He quickly made his way over to a small table with pastries and juice. “Too bad, there’s no coffee!” he mused.

“The caffeine would only interfere with your training.” stated a Spectran officer who had just entered the room. “Your minds need to be clear, to comprehend the information you are about to be given.”

Princess sighed as she grabbed the last donut from under Jason’s greedy hands. This didn’t sound like it was going to be fun.

88888

It certainly wasn’t fun. They had been injected with something they couldn’t identify and Princess was pretty sure that the food had been drugged too. Her mind had been hazy and open. It had taken all of her control, not to mention her implant, not to just start babbling randomly in front of the officer.

After a brief lecture about the glories of Spectra, they had been shown some films on the viewscreen. While most of it had been along the nature of a travelogue, extolling the virtues of the planet and its people, there had been scenes of children and animals interspersed throughout. Everything looked cuddly, warm, and charming.

“I’m going to throw up!” groaned Jason when they had returned to their quarters at the end of the day. “I don’t think I can stand to see another picture of puppies, playing with those green-suited goons!”

“The worst for me was that shot of Zoltar, kissing babies.” muttered Princess. “I nearly lost it right then and there. I don’t think I could ever find a better form of birth control!”

They looked at each other and burst out laughing.

After their laughter had subsided Jason grew serious.

“I’m pretty sure they’re trying to brainwash us.” he said quietly.

“I agree.” said Princess. “The combination of the drugs, and the talks, and those films… talk about subliminal messaging! If it weren’t for my implant, I think I’d be one seriously confused Swan right now.”

“I had my cerebonics on overdrive too.” admitted Jason. “It was pretty hard to resist what they were saying.”

“I guess we’ll just have to pretend that it worked.” said Princess, “So that we can avoid any more ‘training’ like this.”

Jason agreed wholeheartedly.

But they weren’t done. For the following two days they were subjected to more of the mind-controlling films and drugs. At the end of the third day, they were addressed by their Training Officer.

“You have completed your initial course of training.” he stated. “You no longer require guards at your quarters.”

Princess sighed gratefully.

“We are approaching Spectra, now. You will wait here, until we are ready to disembark.” With that the officer turned on his heel and left.

“I hope this means that those injections are over.” growled Jason. “I’m ready to snap the neck of any goon who approaches me with another syringe.”

“I can’t believe how tired I feel.” groaned Princess. “This is taking a lot out of me physically.”

“It should all be worth it in the end.” promised Jason.

“I hope so!” muttered Princess.

When the transport ship landed, they were brought outside. Jason could see that they were in the middle of Spectra’s foremost military installation: their primary planetary headquarters. He gave a low whistle.

“It is well that you should be impressed.” came Mala’s voice from behind them. “Only our best personnel are brought here.” They turned to look at her.

“Now that your initial training is complete,” Mala said, “You will begin individual training on general mecha operational techniques. Your schedules will be transmitted to your new quarters.”

With that she walked down the gangway, leaving them gaping after her.

“Well, at least that sounds promising.” grinned Jason.

Chapter 6 by TransmuteJun

Once they were at the Rigan Racing Club, Mark turned to Tiny.

“I’m going to go look for Jason and Princess at the Clubhouse.” he said.

Tiny rubbed his stomach thoughtfully. “I think I’ll take a sampling of the local cuisine.” he said, looking at a nearby restaurant.

“Okay.” said Mark, “I’ll meet you back here, soon.”

88888

It seemed that racing competitions weren’t the only contests the planet hosted. There were close to twenty girls inside the restaurant.

“I can’t believe I’m actually making my secret Chocolate Upside Down Cake, for the Bake-Off!” exclaimed a blonde girl excitedly. “My Grandma’s recipe will finally be appreciated by people, across the Galaxy!”

“Get over yourself!” snapped a pretty brunette. “If anything is going to win, it’s my to-die-for orange crème torte!”

“There are only four judges, honey.” interrupted another girl with a swing of her ponytail. “I don’t think all of them are going to like orange crème.”

“Actually...” said the blonde, “I heard a rumor that there’s a fifth judge. A secret judge.”

The entire room went suddenly silent, as everyone heard the girl’s words.

“A secret judge?” laughed the brunette mockingly, “Who’s going to buy that?”

“It’s true!” exclaimed the blonde, “And it makes perfect sense! Someone no one knows about! An everyday guy! Someone who can give an unbiased evaluation.”

The other girls nodded. It did make sense. And such a thing wasn’t unheard of.

At that moment, the door to the restaurant opened. Someone entered.

“Hey, are you guys open today?” asked Tiny.

“Look!” whispered the ponytail girl, “An everyday guy!”

“And he’s got a number 5 on his shirt!” cried the blonde excitedly.

There was a sudden rush of high heels and cookies across the room.

88888

Chief Anderson entered the Ready Room where Keyop was playing video games.

“Keyop, I’m looking for Mark. Have you seen him anywhere?”

Keyop stared, entranced, at the computer screen.

“Keyop!” barked Anderson. The boy jumped and looked guiltily at the Chief.

“Where is Mark?” repeated Anderson.

“BrrrrtdootboopbrrrrrrrrrrrrrtbeepdoppbrrrringRigabrrrrtdoopdeepbopbrrrrrtrrrrrrtt.” replied Keyop.

Chief Anderson shook his head. He couldn’t make head or tails of what Keyop was saying. “You’d better go get that implant checked.” he told the boy as he left the room.

The Swallow laughed softly to himself. The Eagle could count on him! He could imagine himself flying the G-1 right now…

88888

Mark walked into the Racing Club. Technically, only members were allowed but a quick flash of his Federation ID had gotten him by the security guards. He wandered into the bar and found a young woman cleaning up inside.

“Excuse me, Miss.” Mark said, “I’m looking for a couple of friends of mine. Perhaps you could help me?”

The woman turned around. “Sure!” she said, “Whom are you looking for?”

“A guy and a girl. They’re wearing numbered shirts like mine. The won the Galactic Race a couple of days ago.”

“Oh yeah!” The woman’s eyes lit up with recognition. “They were in here that night celebrating. Wow, can that guy hold his beer! He must have had an entire keg all by himself!”

Mark rolled his eyes. That sounded like Jason.

“They make such a cute couple.” the woman sighed.

“What?” asked Mark.

“Anyhow, they left at closing, and haven’t been in since. That was a couple of days ago.” finished the woman. “Sorry I can’t be of more assistance.”

“Thanks.” said Mark, “You’ve been a big help.”

He left the Club and walked over to Jason and Princess’ hotel. It had only taken a few minutes of hacking, to obtain access to their travel records at Center Neptune.

At the hotel’s front desk the clerk was filing some papers.

“Can I help you?” he asked.

“I’m looking for some friends of mine.” Mark said, “Jason and Princess Smith? They checked in about a week ago.” He groaned inwardly at the pathetic cover name they had used. He would bet anything that Zark had come up with that little gem.

The clerk checked his computer records. “They are no longer guests here, Sir.” he answered.

“They’re not?” asked Mark, surprised, “When did they check out?”

“They didn’t.” said the clerk, “They just left the hotel without giving notice. I would have sold their things to pay the bill, except that their inter-galactic credit charge went through.”

“They left their things behind?” asked Mark.

“Yes.” said the clerk. “We’ve been holding onto them for a couple of days, but no one has come to claim them. Say…” he continued, “Could you take them? We could really use the space in the storage room.”

“Sure…” said Mark. “I’ll give them their bags, when I find them.”

Mark didn’t know what to make of this turn of events. Where could Jason and Princess be? He was beginning to get worried.

The clerk interrupted his thoughts by placing two small duffel bags on the desk.

“There you go, Sir.” He seemed relieved to have found someone to take the bags.

Mark went outside to a nearby park and sat down on a bench. Reluctantly, he opened the bags, searching for any kind of clue as to where Jason and Princess had gone.

The duffels didn’t contain much. Since they didn’t really need a change of clothes, all that was in there were toiletries. And… Mark pulled his hand out as if it were on fire when he realized that he had gotten ahold of one of Princess’ bras.

Quickly, he zipped up her duffel and looked through Jason’s. Razor, toothpaste, brush… pretty typical stuff. The he spotted two condoms… and one empty wrapper. His cheeks flamed.

He was willing his mind not to think about what that might mean, when he suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder.

“What are you doing here, Mark?”

Mark knew that voice. He gritted his teeth and hoped to God that he was wrong. Looking up, he realized with a sinking feeling that he was not.

“What’s it to you?” he asked coolly.

“Just curious.” said Colonel Cronus in a quiet voice. His grip on Mark’s shoulder tightened. “Answer my question, boy!”

“I’m not at the Space Academy any more.” Mark shot back, “You have no right to order me around!” He threw the Colonel’s hand from his body and stood up.

“Perhaps not…” replied Cronus with a superior laugh, “but I wonder if Chief Anderson knows that you’re here, on Riga.”

Mark gulped nervously. He had forgotten for a moment that the Chief and the Colonel were friends.

“I thought so.” said Cronus smugly. God, how he loved to watch his son squirm! It somehow made him feel more… manly. Not that he would ever have admitted it.

“Let’s go!” ordered the Colonel. He pushed Mark roughly away from the bench. Mark grabbed the duffels and kicked at the grass as he was forced to walk with the man he hated most in the universe… after Zoltar. He fumed in silence. Talking back to Cronus was only bound to get him in more trouble.

But Cronus wouldn’t let him play that game. “I know why you’re here, Mark.” he taunted. “You’re chasing after your subordinates.” Mark looked up at him, his eyes like ice.

He was such an easy target. Enjoying himself, the Colonel continued, “Let them have their fun. If their little romance gets in the way of their work, you’ll have to discipline them, but until then…”

He saw Mark’s shoulders noticeably stiffen. The Commander’s fists clenched and Cronus knew that he had hit his mark.

“Oh… so that’s the way it is, then?” Cronus laughed. “You want a piece of that little Swan for yourself…”

Before he could even think about what he was doing, Mark turned around and slugged Cronus. He felt a grim satisfaction as he saw the Colonel reel back and rub his jaw.

But it lasted only a moment. Before Mark could take another breath, Cronus’ knee had struck him in the groin and he found himself on the grass. The Eagle got up and charged at the older man with a snarl, grappling him around the waist and sending both of them tumbling to the ground. With expert moves, Cronus rolled over and punched Mark a few times in the face.

Mark seethed with anger, but he was pinned.

Cronus’ voice took on a mocking, lecturing tone. “You can’t get involved with subordinates, Mark. Rule Number One of Command: If you have to make hard decisions on a mission, you can’t let personal feelings get in the way. Besides…” he couldn’t resist getting in one more verbal jab, “You wouldn’t want her anyway. She’s just a cheap piece of trash, sneaking off with your second-in-command that way.”

Mark spoke in a cold, quiet rage. “No one… no one… talks about Princess like that. Or anyone else under my command, for that matter.” He pulled back his fist, ready for another punch, but stopped himself before completing the move.

Cronus laughed heartily. “It’s good to see you with some spunk, Mark. Now let’s go collect your pilot, and get you back to Anderson.”

Mark knew who was in control here, and he resented it. He forced himself to tune out, as Cronus lectured him on professional behavior for his team, all the way back to the restaurant.

They walked in the door, their jaws falling to the floor.

Tiny was sitting at a table, surrounded by a dozen or more gorgeous girls, who were all feeding him baked goods, and flirting outrageously. It was obvious that he was having the time of his life.

“Harper!” barked the Colonel.

Tiny fell off of his chair in his attempt to stand up. “Sir!” he saluted. A shower of crumbs fell from his lap to the floor.

Cronus held his head in his hand, as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “Let’s go, Harper!” he ordered.

He grabbed both Mark and Tiny by their ears, and dragged them out into the parking lot.

“Hey!” yelled Tiny, “What’s that?”

Chapter 7 by TransmuteJun

“Hi, Sweetheart!” came a voice from behind her. Princess whirled around, ready to strike at the goon when she realized that it was Jason.

“Stop doing that!” she snapped. “It freaks me out every time I see you in that mask.”

“But that’s the fun of doing it!” replied Jason smugly. He dropped down on the couch. “There aren’t too many kicks wearing this uniform, so I’ve got to take what I can get!”

“Just remember, I outrank you.” grinned Princess mischievously. “I have an Officer’s status and you’re just a sergeant.”

“Thank goodness!” Jason exclaimed. “If I had any higher rank, I’d be an officer too, and then I’d have to wear one of those really goofy outfits! At least this way, I can blend in somewhat.”

“Speaking of blending in, I have another training session to attend.” said Princess. “I’ll be back in a few hours.”

“Sure thing, Honey.” said Jason. “I’ll keep your bed warm for you.” He winked at her.

Princess rolled her eyes as she waved goodbye to him. Jason’s sense of humor was really beginning to get on her nerves.

She saw another Galaxy Girl trainee down the hallway. She ran to catch up with her.

“Hi Xati!” she said. “Off to the Training Facility? That’s where I’m headed.”

“Yes. Me too.” Xati replied. She glanced back at Princess’ apartment door as they waited for the elevator. “Your brother sure is cute.” she murmured.

Great. It looked as if Jason’s tendency to attract Spectran women hadn’t diminished for living on the planet.

Distracted by this uncomfortable thought, Princess asked, “How did you know he was my brother?”

“Well they wouldn’t allow you to live together if you weren’t.” replied Xati.

“What are you talking about?” asked Princess curiously.

“I keep forgetting that you’re not Spectran!” Xati exclaimed. “You really don’t know, do you?”

Princess shook her head.

“There is a scarcity of women on Spectra.” Xati explained. “Decades ago our atmosphere was polluted, and radiation from a nearby sun caused genetic mutations in our people.” She shook her head sadly. “Only one in twenty births are female babies. And not all of them are capable of carrying a pregnancy to term.”

Princess digested this bit of information.

“The population of Spectra is decreasing each year.” Xati continued, “Most women are put on a breeding schedule. Only a select few are excused from these duties.”

“Like Galaxy Girls?” Princess deduced.

“Yes.” confirmed Xati. “It’s one of the reasons I joined up, actually. I’m not ready to be a mother yet.” She hung her head at this confession. “I hope you don’t think badly of me, Princess.”

“No, not at all.” Princess said reassuringly. “In fact I know what you mean. I’ve always put my career before thoughts of a family as well. I know I want children someday, but not anytime in the near future. It’s too dangerous what with this war and all.”

Xati sighed. “Hopefully, it will be over soon.” she said wistfully. “Zoltar will conquer the Earth for us, and we’ll have a new place to live and grow, and restore our people to their rightful status.”

Princess sighed too. It seemed that the reasons for Spectra’s constant invasions of Earth weren’t as black and white as she had always thought. Still, it didn’t mean that she was going to roll over and hand her home planet over to Zoltar.

“Military women are quite rare, since generally females are not considered to be expendable.” Xati went back to their original conversation. “In fact, the only reason men are expendable, is because of the cloning process.”

Princess’ eyes widened in surprise.

“You didn’t know that either?” Xati asked. “You really have been kept in the dark! The average Spectran soldier is cloned from the same one hundred male patterns.”

‘So that’s why it always feels like we are fighting the same soldiers!’ thought Princess.

“Naturally birthed men do join the army of course,” continued Xati, “Men like that brother of yours…” she sighed dreamily, “but unfortunately, they’re almost never allowed to participate in the breeding program. Of course, maybe they’d make an exception for Jason… I might even be convinced to breed, if he were my partner.”

Princess found it hard to keep her dinner down. There was no way in hell she was going to pass that bit of information on to the egotistical Condor.

“I thought Galaxy Girls weren’t in the breeding program?” asked Princess.

“Not officially, no.” replied Xati. “But there are always exceptions. Girls can request to participate. And of course, Zoltar is a rule unto himself.” Xati shuddered.

“Zoltar?” Princess felt a cold chill creeping up her spine.

“Stay away from him, Princess!” warned Xati. “There’s a reason Mala is in charge of the Galaxy Girls. Zoltar is one of the breeding program’s most eager participants and… he isn’t gentle. He can breed with any female he wants. Any of us. And we can’t refuse. He’s a great leader and all, but I’ve seen the condition of some of the Galaxy Girls who come back from his bed…” her voice trailed off.

She swallowed slowly. “It’s against the law to kill a female, for any reason.” continued Xati, “but the way some of these girls look…. they might as well be dead. He’s vicious with them.”

“Don’t ever catch his eye Princess!” she warned again.

Princess nodded. It certainly sounded like sage advice.

They had arrived at the Training Facility. Having mastered general mecha navigational techniques, Princess was now being coached in the specific mecha she was to operate. She went off to the appropriate simulator while Xati headed to her specific assignment.

Princess didn’t know what it was Xati was doing behind closed doors. They weren’t supposed to talk about their assignments with other personnel. But she did know that Xati’s training was close to being completed. She just wished she could find out what it was, before the Federation was attacked unprepared.

Chapter 8 by TransmuteJun

Chief Anderson slammed both hands down on his desk, papers fluttering from the impact. Mark thought he looked like an enraged chimpanzee, with his angry, hunched-over posture.

“I can’t believe you two!” Anderson yelled. It was of great significance that he had raised his voice. The Chief almost never lost his cool.

“Tiny! You know how important and delicate the Phoenix is!” he lectured. “And Mark, you are the Commander! You, of all people, should know better than the take the Phoenix on a joyride! What were you doing; picking up girls and going parking?” Anderson’s face took on a purplish hue.

“Well, actually…” responded Tiny.

Anderson stopped him mid-sentence. “I don’t want to know.” he interrupted. “But I am also very angry, that you convinced Keyop to cover for you. He’s still a child! He’s still easily influenced by his Commander. Mark, you abused the trust he has in you!”

Mark looked at the floor. Everything Chief Anderson was saying was true. But he had been so desperate to find Jason and Princess. And now, it looked like it was a good thing he had tried.

“But, Chief…” he tried to explain. Anderson chose not to hear him. He continued his tirade.

“And just who was watching the Phoenix, while you were gallivanting around on Riga?” demanded Anderson.

“Well… uh… Susan offered…” mumbled Tiny.

“Susan????” sputtered Anderson, “How is she qualified to fly the Phoenix?”

A muffled voice came from the Chief’s jacket. Anderson pulled it open and pulled out his PDA. Susan spoke.

“Actually, Chief, I have been programmed in a variety of functions…”

Chief Anderson proceeded to let loose a stream of invectives at his PDA. Tiny flinched. Mark blanched. He had never heard the Chief use some of those words before.

When the angry tirade had subsided, Tiny spoke again. “But, we did help the team, Sir! We found the G-2! It was there in that parking lot…”

“It looked like it had been there for quite awhile.” added Mark. “It’s not like Jason to do that, Sir. He loves that car.”

“Yes.” replied Anderson grimly. “Amazing as it may be, Jason seems to have more of a sense of responsibility toward his machines, than you do right now.” He glared at Mark.

“All the same, Sir,” Mark continued stoically, “I think he and Princess may be in trouble.”

“You may well be right.” the Chief sighed. “I have been unable to contact them on their communicators. But for the moment, we will have to set that aside.”

Mark and Tiny gasped.

“We have a Level 1 alert.” Anderson continued. “Zoltar seems to be on the move again. A Spectran ship has been spotted moving towards the Earth. Zark!” he said, turning towards his viewscreen, “Can you give us some more information?”

Zark appeared on the screen. Though he looked the same as usual, his tone of voice was almost… snarky.

“Well if you must have me repeat myself, please listen this time!” he huffed. “The Spectran ship appears to be unlike any other we have encountered. It will arrive at Earth in about 6 hours. At this distance we have been unable to determine the nature of their primary weapons.”

“And what about its other capabilities?” queried Anderson. “And its intentions?”

“Weren’t you paying attention?” snapped Zark, “We cannot determine anything about it at this distance! It’s not like we’ve gotten any new data in the last 10 seconds!”

“Oh wait…” Zark paused. “Nope, just a system check.”

The Chief was livid. “What has gotten into you, Zark?” he demanded.

“Me?” asked Zark innocently. “Oh nothing… but I do think that you could have been nicer to poor Susan. All she was trying to do was to help G-Force, which is what she was programmed to do.”

Anderson sighed. The last thing he needed right now was an indignant robot.

“Mark! Tiny! Get Keyop! Prepare to launch the Phoenix and defend the Earth!”

Chapter 9 by TransmuteJun

The Phoenix waited quietly in orbit, hiding behind the Earth’s Moon. They tracked the Spectran ship quietly on their radar.

Although they were capable of using all of the equipment on the Phoenix, navigation and radar were Princess’ specialty, and weaponry was Jason’s. Mark, Keyop and Tiny all knew that they were poor substitutes in those areas. They all would have felt better to be a complete team of five, but that wasn’t possible now.

The ship appeared on their viewscreen. Even as it approached, Zark had been unable to give them any information about it. It appeared that Spectra had developed some new cloaking and stealth technology, that made scans of the incoming ship impossible. Only its hyperdrive signature marked it as a Spectran ship.

‘Well that,’ thought Mark, ‘and the big Spectran devil logo on its side.’

As soon as the ship was in range, Tiny performed a slingshot maneuver around the Moon and ended up directly behind it, practically breathing down its neck. If it had had a neck. Unlike the usual Spectran mechas, this one was actually shaped like a spaceship, instead of a creature.

“Lock TBX Missiles!” shouted Mark. Keyop readied the missile launchers, while Mark targeted the ship. “Jason usually makes this look so easy!” he muttered.

Finally, the ship was within the targeting scanners. Strangely, it had ignored the Phoenix, and had continued its path towards the Earth, without attacking G-Force.

Mark waited until he had the ship directly in his crosshairs. Quickly, he depressed the red firing button.

He was too late. The ship swung away, just as the missile sped by. Moving into hyperspeed, the Spectran vessel raced away.

“Full pursuit!” commanded Mark.

“You got it!” cried Tiny as he kicked the Phoenix into high gear.

None of them noticed the small pod that the ship had ejected, immediately before its sharp turn. The pod entered the Earth’s atmosphere, descending to the surface of the planet.

It seemed that the Spectran ship had suddenly taken on new capabilities. It zoomed at hyperspeed, back toward its home base. It was all Tiny could do to keep up.

“Why is it so fast, now?” asked Mark. “When it came here, it was moving like a turtle, and now it’s a match for the Phoenix!”

“Brrrrrt, doop… scared of us!” suggested Keyop.

“No. We’ve shot BTBX Missiles at Spectran ships before. And they didn’t even try to return fire.” pondered Mark. “And they’re leaving so quickly. That must mean…”

“They’ve already accomplished their mission.” suggested Tiny.

“I think you’re right, big guy.” said Mark. “But, what was their mission?”

As the ship fled Federation space, the Phoenix flashed by Riga and various other planetary systems. Suddenly Keyop let out an excited yell.

“Brrrt! Princess!” he shouted.

“What?” exclaimed Mark.

“Brrrt! Getting signal! Princess!” Keyop explained. “Doot… oh no! Gone!”

Mark rushed over to the navigational computer. He couldn’t find any sign of whatever Keyop had detected. It was obviously behind them.

They could go back to check on this signal. Or they could continue to purse the Spectran ship.

“Commander, the Spectran vessel has left Federation space.” reported Tiny.

Mark made his decision. “Then, let’s go back, and find that signal Keyop detected.”

“Roger!” shouted Tiny.

Tiny executed a perfectly timed turning maneuver, and sped back the way they had come. Mark and Keyop kept their eyes focused on the radar screen.

“There!” shouted Keyop excitedly.

Mark analyzed the signal. It was definitely coming from Princess’ communicator. But where was it? She was apparently using a homing signal instead of a Birdscramble. Homing signals were meant for close range, and were difficult to locate further away.

“Triangulate its position, Keyop!” ordered Mark.

Tiny flew around the area to help Keyop get a lock on the signal.

“Doop… got it!” Keyop reported. “Coming from…. brrrt… garbage capsule?”

Mark adjusted the viewscreen to show the source of the signal. It was definitely a garbage capsule. The kind of thing that the team would never notice under normal circumstances.

Except, that this one was emitting a G-Force homing signal.

“Retrieve that capsule!” ordered Mark.

Chapter 10 by TransmuteJun

“I think that’s the twentieth hour I’ve logged in that simulator.” Princess moaned. “And I still don’t have any idea of what this new mecha is capable of!”

“You’re telling me!” replied Jason. “I feel like I’ve driven that simulator all over the galaxy, but that’s all I’ve done… drive. I have no idea where we’re actually going to drive the thing, or what we’re supposed to do when we get there.”

“And we have yet to lay eyes on the real thing.” complained Princess. “This sure is taking a lot longer than I expected.”

“Well, who knew that the Spectrans put so much time and effort into mecha design and planning?” asked Jason. “The way we destroy them, you’d think they wouldn’t bother.”

“Well, presumably they’re hoping that we won’t destroy them, this time.” answered Princess. “I know that they sent another ship to Earth today. Xati was on it.”

“What was it going to do?” asked Jason, concerned.

“I’m not sure.” answered Princess. “All I could get out of Xati, was that she was supposed to deliver something. But I’m not sure what. I just wish I could have informed Chief Anderson about this.”

“Well, hopefully our illustrious Commander was able to intercept the delivery.” said Jason.

“If anyone could, it would be Mark, Keyop and Tiny.” said Princess. But inside she wasn’t convinced. They all knew that G-Force never functioned as well when the five of them weren’t together.

Jason apparently had the same misgivings. “See what you can find out from Xati, when she returns.” said Jason. “If she returns…” he added hopefully.

88888

Xati did return. Princess saw her the next day, in the apartment building. She rushed to greet her fellow Galaxy Girl.

“Xati, hello!” called Princess. “I’m glad to see you safely back!”

“Princess!” grinned Xati, “My mission was a complete success! I’m getting promoted!”

“Congratulations!” said Princess. “You must be very proud!”

“Well," said Xati, her eyes shining, “everything went perfectly. We even managed to evade the Phoenix!”

“You saw the Phoenix?” asked Princess, surprised. “What happened?”

“Oh, it went even better than the simulations…” crowed Xati. “They barely got off a shot at us! And a lousy one at that. It’s like they couldn’t even use their targeting scanners…”

‘Not without Jason manning them.’ thought Princess. She knew that the others weren’t used to dealing with the Phoenix’s weapon systems.

“I guess G-Force wasn’t up to snuff them.” remarked Princess.

“No.” grinned Xati. “They don’t seem all that invincible, after all. I…” she paused. “Oh, I guess I can talk to you about it, now that the mission’s over. I’m dying to tell someone!”

She dragged Princess back to her apartment and shared her excitement.

“Our mission was to drop a secret weapon onto the Earth.” stated Xati.

Princess sucked in her breath. “What kind of weapon?” she whispered.

“I don’t know.” said Xati. “That was confidential. All I know, is that we weren’t allowed to exceed double impulse speed, while the payload was onboard. It must have been something delicate.”

“Our ship incorporated the new stealth technologies.” Xati revealed. “I think the vehicle you’re training on has them too.”

Princess nodded. She had just learned about this feature of the mecha yesterday.

“G-Force barely had time to meet us. They waited until we approached the Earth, but they were too late. By the time they tried to attack us, we had already made the drop, and were able to return home.”

Princess blanched. Perhaps, if she had been at the navigational scanners, she could have detected the Spectran ship earlier. Jason could have targeted the weapons more efficiently. It sounded like the team was in trouble without them.

“Having delivered the payload, we were able to return at hyperspeed.” continued Xati. “They could barely keep up with us, and they turned back when we left Federation Space. So, as I said: a complete success! Mission accomplished, with no casualties, and no damage to the vessel.”

“It sounds like you did a wonderful job, Xati.” said Princess. “I only hope the tasks ahead of me go as smoothly.”

“Oh I know they will, Princess.” assured Xati, “I know they will.”.

Chapter 11 by TransmuteJun

“Let’s go to the Cargo Bay, and see what’s in that capsule, Keyop!” said Mark. He put a hand on Keyop’s shoulder, to lead him to the exit. But just as they turned to leave the Bridge, Chief Anderson’s image came across the viewscreen.

“G-Force! Come in G-Force!” he called.

Mark and Keyop spun around just as the door opened.

“G-1 here!” Mark responded. “What is it, Chief?”

“Depart for Earth, immediately!” Anderson ordered. “We have a problem!”

“What kind of problem?” asked Mark as he stepped back to the front of the Bridge. But the Chief’s image had already faded.

“Tiny, return to Earth as quickly as possible!” instructed Mark. “Keyop and I will be in the Cargo Bay.”

“Roger!” replied the Owl.

88888

“Brrrt… doop… messy!” exclaimed Keyop.

Mark agreed. Maybe it hadn’t been such a bright idea to open the garbage container inside the Phoenix. Mounds of foul-smelling trash had splattered across the Cargo Bay (not to mention their bird wings) when the lock had been broken, due to the capsule’s pressurization process.

“Stand still, Commander.” came Susan’s voice from the communicator wall panel. A fine mist blanketed the room, freshening the air and cleaning the muck from Mark and Keyop’s uniforms.

“Susan, can you locate the source of the homing signal?” asked Mark. “It would help, if we didn’t have to search through this by hand.”

It was obvious that neither Princess nor Jason were inside the capsule. Or at least, Mark hoped they weren’t, because nothing inside was of the size or consistency of a human body.

“I have located the signal, Commander.” reported Susan. A small spotlight lit up on the ceiling of the Cargo Bay and shone on one of the many piles of filth.

“Let’s start digging, Keyop.” sighed Mark.

After rummaging around in the muck for about thirty seconds, Mark grasped something solid. He pulled it out.

“Aaah!” Keyop’s cry of distress echoed what Mark was feeling in his heart.

It was a pair of striped pants. Mark knew them almost as well as his own. Keyop began to frantically search the area, and yanked on something. A t-shirt popped out of the mess. Even with the filth covering it, Mark could still make out the giant number 2 on its front.

“Brrrt... Princess… Jason… not… in there?” asked Keyop hopefully.

Mark was afraid of the same thing himself. Had Princess and Jason met an untimely end, only to have their bodies thrown out with the trash? Not trusting himself to look at Keyop, he continued to dig through the pile. He ignored the tear that rolled down his cheek, and splashed onto his wings.

A few minutes later they had managed to find all the pieces of both the G-2 and G-3 civilian uniforms… including their communicator bracelets. Princess’ bracelet was emitting the homing signal.

Keyop was crying openly now. Mark was unable to comfort him, as he was struggling to keep his own emotions in check. He gasped for breath as he felt a choking feeling around his throat.

“Commander.” Susan’s voice came out of the silence and startled the two grieving young men.

“Not now, Susan!” barked Mark.

“But, Commander,” persisted Susan, “I have some information for you.”

“What… is… it?” Mark growled through clenched teeth. Keyop’s sobs continued to rent the air.

“I have analyzed the materials from the capsule.” reported Susan, “Other than minute amounts from their clothing, there are no significant amounts of human DNA, much less that matching Jason and Princess’ medical records.”

It took Mark a couple of seconds to process what Susan was saying. “You mean… Jason and Princess aren’t in there?”

“No, Commander.” confirmed Susan. “Just their clothing.”

“Brrrt… love you Susan!” cried Keyop. He began to kiss the wall panel from which her voice was emitting. It wasn’t easy with his Bird Helmet getting in the way.

“Now, Keyop…” protested Susan, “You know I’m already involved with Zark!”

An oblivious Keyop continued to express his affection for the Cargo Bay wall.

Mark’s mind was already leaping ahead to the next implication of their discovery. What were Jason and Princess doing, somewhere out in the universe, without their uniforms?

Just as he was starting to develop this train of thought Tiny’s voice came over his bracelet.

“Approaching Earth, Commander.” he reported.

Mark and Keyop ran back to the Bridge of the Phoenix.

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Less than half an hour later, they were participating in a conference with Chief Anderson, President Kane and various military advisors. 7-Zark-7 was monitoring the conference from his post at Center Neptune. And Susan… well who knew where Susan was?

“This problem is rapidly getting out of control.” grumbled the President.

“What exactly is this problem?” asked Mark, “We never received a full briefing.”

“Bunnies.” said Chief Anderson.

“Bunnies?” repeated the three G-Force members.

“Yes.” confirmed Anderson. “Killer bunnies.”

Mark shook his head. Now he knew he was having a bad dream. The kind that usually occurred after he had eaten one too many Planetary Pudding Cakes.

“Doot… Where?” asked Keyop. “Where did they… brrrt… come from?”

“Shortly after the Spectra vessel departed Earth, we detected a small pod entering the lower atmosphere.” explained President Kane. “The landing site of the pod matches exactly with the first sightings of bunny activity.”

“Uh…. how can bunnies kill?” interrupted Tiny. “I thought they didn’t have any natural weapons?”

“Normally they don’t.” responded the Chief, “But these bunnies have razor sharp fangs. anyone who is so much as scratched by their teeth dies within minutes.”

“Brrrt… poison?” asked Keyop.

Anderson nodded. “From what we can tell, an extremely virulent kind. We do not have an antidote or vaccine for it.”

“How many people have fallen victim to these… bunnies… so far?” Mark asked.

Zark’s voice came out of a viewscreen on the wall. “None, Commander.”

“None?! I thought this poison was extremely virulent!” cried Mark.

“No, Commander.” replied Zark. “No one has died. No one. Absolutely no deaths.”

“Brrrt… what about… doot… bodies?” asked Keyop. The G-Force team had all seen the bodies littering the streets as they had approached the Center City.

“Robots.” answered Zark. “All robots.”

“You mean the thousands of dead bodies, out there on the streets, are just robots?” asked Mark incredulously. “What happened to all of the people?”

“Our citizens are all safe in shelters, Commander.” Zark explained. “We used Robot Decoys to lure the bunnies away from them.”

Mark shook his head. None of this sounded right. He turned to Anderson. Maybe he could get some straight answers out of the Chief.

“So, why can’t we just shoot them from afar?” asked Mark. “We don’t have to get close to them to dispatch them.”

“That’s what we’ve been doing!” interrupted a UN general, “But the darn things breed incredibly fast! Like…”

“They’re breeding like rabbits?” asked Tiny.

“Yes.” replied the general, a sheepish look on his face. “We can’t keep up, and the killer bunny population is increasing by the hour.”

“So, we need to find some way to massacre them all at once.” mused Mark. “Something that gets them all, before they have a chance to breed again.”

“Yes, but what could attract them all at once?” wondered Anderson aloud.

“Carrots!” exclaimed Tiny, jumping out of his seat.

Everyone in the room turned to look at the Owl.

“Forget it…” mumbled Tiny. He tried to sink as far into his seat as his bulk would allow.

“Not at all, Tiny.” replied Anderson. “The bunnies seem to be eating at an incredible rate, likely because of their rapid breeding process.”

Tiny was encouraged by the Chief’s positive response. Usually his ideas were dismissed out of hand.

“Well, maybe we could play with poisons too. Or explosives. Something to destroy every bunny on the planet!” Tiny exclaimed.

Keyop grinned. Trust Tiny to come up with a solution that involved food.

Chapter 12 by TransmuteJun

“Excellent!” complimented Mala. “You’re getting the hang of it. I am impressed with how quickly you are picking up these complicated functions of the vehicle mecha.”

Despite herself, Princess blushed at the compliment. It was so rare to hear any praise from the Spectran leader.

She was sitting in the simulator with Mala. Ever since Xati had returned from her mission, Mala had taken to training Princess personally. Princess knew that her mission was next on the Spectran attack plan, which explained Mala’s personal interest in her progress.

The mood was broken by the harsh slamming of the simulator door, against the wall. Princess looked up to see a tall man, dressed in purple and red, enter the room. Zoltar!

Princess and Jason had managed to avoid Zoltar since their arrival on Spectra, only seeing him from far away, and on general communication broadcasts. After Xati’s warning, Princess had been even more eager to keep her distance. Besides which, there was no guarantee that he wouldn’t recognize her or Jason if they got too close. It wasn’t like he’d never seen them before.

“Carrots!” he screamed. “What idiot came up with that idea?”

“What are you talking about, brother?” asked Mala. She was obviously annoyed at the interruption.

“The bunnies! They’ve been destroyed!” Zoltar fumed.

“What?” asked Mala, shocked, “Already?”

“Yes! That damned G-Force! They laced millions of carrots with liquid explosives. The bunnies ate them, and were destroyed, before they could breed again!”

Princess had no idea what Zoltar was talking about, but if G-Force had been involved, and Zoltar was angry, that sounded like good news.

“Well, I guess it’s a good thing that my project was already in the works then.” smirked Mala. “My vehicle mecha is nearly ready. With it, we will be able to bore through the Earth’s cities and destroy them! My driving team is top notch. Even the Phoenix won’t be able to catch them!”

Princess gasped. They were going to use this mecha to evade the Phoenix? Of course! It made sense. Spectran mechas had always been huge machines that could never outrun the Phoenix. This mecha was designed to evade G-Force, not attack them.

Zoltar heard her soft sound and whirled to look at Princess. Belatedly, she realized that she wasn’t wearing her mask. She found that she performed better without it, so it rarely accompanied her during training sessions.

Her skin crawled as she felt his eyes on her, sizing her up like a piece of meat. She looked down.

“You will launch the vehicle mecha tomorrow!” ordered Zoltar, turning back to Mala.

“Tomorrow?” screeched Mala, “I need at least another week!”

“Tomorrow. The Luminous One insists.” intoned Zoltar in a cold voice. He turned to look at Princess again. “And as for this one…”

“You can’t have her.” Mala interrupted.

Zoltar whirled to face her. “Why not?” he growled.

“I need her for the mecha. She’s been training to navigate it for weeks. There’s no one who can replace her!” Mala glared at her brother. “If you want the mecha ready tomorrow, I can’t do it without her.”

“Very well, then.” Zoltar said. “But when she returns from the mission…”

Mala bowed her head. “As you wish, my brother.”

Zoltar lifted Princess’ chin with a gloved finger. “Those eyes…” he murmured. “There’s something about those eyes…” He leered at Princess, chilling her soul.

She knew that no matter what happened, she would never return to Spectra after this mission.

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With the killer bunny threat neutralized, Mark explained their discovery in the garbage capsule to Chief Anderson. He agreed that the Phoenix should return to the region of space where the capsule had been found, and execute a thorough search for Jason and Princess.

Mark didn’t need an engraved invitation. Within minutes he, Tiny and Keyop were rushing at full speed back to the original location of the capsule.

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Jason had been shocked when he had been summoned to train in the actual vehicle mecha. Once he met up with Princess, she explained the situation to him. She decided it would be wiser to gloss over any mention of Zoltar’s interest in her. No need to worry Jason about it, when all it would do was cloud his thinking with anger.

Mala gave them some last minute instructions and ordered them to enter the vehicle mecha for their first test run.

As they entered the hangar, Jason gasped. The mecha was a thing of beauty. Usually Spectran machines were large and cumbersome. But this vehicle was the epitome of form and function. It had obviously been inspired by racecars, and Jason even saw some resemblances to his own transmuted G-2. Despite himself, he was eager to take the wheel and see what it could do.

“The mecha is equipped for space flight and underwater travel.” explained Mala as the entrance hatch opened. “But it operates best on hard surfaces. Take it out to the track and push it to the limit. You need to know exactly what it is capable of!”

Jason and Princess entered the vehicle. Inside, it looked exactly like the simulator. Except that they had never been alone together inside the simulator.

Their eyes met in agreement. This was their chance. The one they had been waiting for, since they had arrived on Spectra.

“We need to destroy this thing now.” Jason said, regretfully. “We can crash it into something. I can make it look like an accident.”

Princess spied something she hadn’t seen in the simulator. “Look!” she exclaimed, “A transmitter!”

They both stared at the device with longing. To send a message… to communicate with home… it was something they had wished for since they had arrived.

“All right.” said Jason. “Here’s the plan. I’ll drive around the track, testing the vehicle. You work on that transmitter and send a message back to Center Neptune. Once you’ve done that, I’ll stage our ‘accident’.”

Princess nodded. It was the best strategy they could execute, for the moment.

Jason took off at close to light speed. It was a shame to destroy such a masterpiece, but he knew that he could not allow it to be used to attack the Earth. There was no way the Phoenix would be able to keep up with it, even if he weren’t driving the mecha.

Princess knew she had to hurry. While she would have liked to run a full analysis of the transmitter, she didn’t have the time. Once she figured out the codes to send a transmission, she crossed her fingers and hoped for the best.

“I’ll have to send it on a Spectran frequency.” she explained to Jason, “But hopefully Zark will be able to intercept it. I’m initiating a general distress call with our G number sequences.”

Jason nodded. He knew it was the best they could do, under the circumstances.

“Now!” he ordered. Princess pressed the button to send the transmission.

“Hold on!” yelled Jason. He began to careen around the track, acting as if there were some kind of inertial dampener failure. It was a pretty good impression, and they were receiving the bumps and bruises to prove it.

“This is it!” Jason cried. He began a seemingly random pattern towards the Military Command Center on the base. He could at least attempt to take out a number of high level Spectran officers with this thing.

Suddenly the vehicle lost power. Caught off guard, Jason went into survival mode and managed to swing the vehicle around, bringing it to a stop.

“What did you do?” he asked Princess angrily.

“Nothing!” she cried. “It wasn’t me!”

Suddenly the hatch opened and they found themselves at the wrong end of a laser rifle.

“Step out of the vehicle.” ordered Mala.

Chapter 13 by TransmuteJun

“What’s wrong?” asked Princess innocently.

“I’ll tell you, what’s wrong!” yelled Jason angrily, “That damn mecha isn’t ready! We were nearly killed when the dampeners failed!”

“There was no equipment failure.” Mala stated quietly. She stared at the pair. Even with gun barrels pointed at their foreheads, they declared their innocence. But she knew better.

“An unauthorized transmission was sent from the mecha.” she said. “A distress call.” With a deft maneuver she ripped off their masks so she could stare at them full in the face.

“I was… just testing…” said Princess.

“Silence!” cried Mala, as she slapped Princess across the face. “I won’t listen to any more of your lies!”

A cold, hard look stole across Mala’s face. “Bring them in for questioning.” she ordered the guards. They were quickly shackled at both hands and feet.

They were shoved down a long hallway toward a part of the base that they had never entered before. Jason realized that it was the detention area for prisoners of the state.

As they were thrown into a chamber they stumbled and fell flat on their faces. Princess was yanked up by her collar. She found herself face to face with a furious Xati.

“I thought you were my friend!” she hissed. “And here, I find that you are just a traitor!” She spat into Princess’ face.

Princess stared back blankly. There wasn’t much else she could do at this point. Anything she might say would only serve to dig her and Jason into a deeper hole.

Mala entered. “We have confirmed that there was no equipment failure on the vehicle,” she stated coldly. “Restrain them!”

The goons forced Jason and Princess into alcoves in the wall. Their hand and foot restraints attached automatically and then moved in opposite directions. It took only moments for the two to find themselves spread-eagled against the wall, unable to move. The goons departed, leaving Jason and Princess alone with Mala and Xati.

“I’ll begin with, you.” Mala pointed a blood-red fingernail at Jason. She picked up a long, metallic whip.

“Who were you trying to contact?” she demanded. Jason stared arrogantly at her.

Mala flicked the whip at him. It sliced through his goon uniform and left an angry red cut on his arm. Just as the whip flashed away, Princess saw Jason’s body jerk spasmodically. It was obvious that he had been given an electric shock. He gasped in pain.

Princess knew that Jason wouldn’t show any weakness, if he could possibly help it. The fact that he had only made her worry all the more.

“I’ll ask you again. Who were you trying to contact?” Mala asked icily. When there was no response, she lashed his other arm. This time Princess was sure she saw a flash of bone as it cut deep. Again the electric current shocked Jason’s body.

Princess bit her lip to keep from screaming on his behalf. If he could deal with this kind of torture, then so could she.

‘He must be using his implant to dull the pain.’ she thought. She actually didn’t know if he was coherent enough at that moment to access his cerebonics, but it was something to hold on to.

“We managed to distort your signal as it left our atmosphere.” declared Mala gleefully. “Its strength is diminished, and it will never reach Riga.” She lifted Jason’s head and looked into his eyes. Seeing no sign of defeat in them she was enraged.

She lashed her whip at him again. And again. Princess lost count of how many times he had been hit and shocked. His uniform was in shreds, and dozens of wounds had manifested themselves all over his body. She tried to use her implant to will him to go on: to not give in to the torture and the pain.

Eventually, Mala understood that Jason was not going to talk to her. No matter how many times she hurt him, he still managed to glare at her with those defiant blue eyes.

Suddenly, she realized that she had another weapon to use against him. Turning to Princess she said, “Let’s see how your sister likes my little toy!”

Jason’s head whipped up and a look of pure hatred shot towards Mala. She laughed, reveling in his reaction. She had finally managed to find a weakness.

The whip lashed out at Princess, catching her across the thigh. Compared to the cuts Mala had given Jason, it was light, but it stung like fire and Princess gasped in pain. Then the electric shock coursed through her body and she wished that she could die. The pain was so intense that death was the only way she could think of to gain release. When it was over, she hung limply from the restraints.

“Who are you working for?” demanded Mala of her prisoners. “What is your mission?” When they both declined to answer she raised her whip again.

Just then, the door to the torture chamber opened. Jason raised his head to see Zoltar enter the room. It appeared that their troubles were just beginning. Jason seethed, knowing that Zoltar had him at his mercy, even if the Spectran leader didn’t actually realize whom he held captive.

Zoltar glanced over at Jason, but eyed Princess with more interest. “This is the girl from the simulator this afternoon.” he declared gleefully. “You would have done better to let me have her, Mala. I can see that she has only caused you trouble.”

A terrible look came into Mala’s eyes. “Take her now then, brother.” she whispered. “Do with her what you will…” she glanced over to see Jason’s reaction.

At first, Jason didn’t comprehend what Mala was referring to. Then Zoltar reached down and ran a finger along Princess’ thigh, where it had been exposed by the whip lash.

A cold rage choked his heart. No… not…

“You can’t!” he gasped without thinking, “She’s a…”

Despite the bizarre circumstances Princess blushed to the roots of her hair. How did Jason know she was a virgin? She had never talked to anyone about it…

She suddenly realized that this lack of experience was about to be wiped away. Desperately, she looked up at Xati. Her former companion had been watching the entire proceedings impassively. Princess silently pleaded for help.

“I told you not to catch his eye.” Xati whispered with a gleeful smile.

“Release her to me!” Zoltar commanded. “Bring her to my quarters!”

The Spectran leader turned with a flourish, and left the room. Princess felt her arms and legs moving, as her shackles re-connected and detached from the wall. She fell to her knees. Xati grabbed her by the hair and half-dragged her out the door.

Jason’s vision went red. At that moment, if he could have incinerated himself and the entire planet, he would have gladly done so.

But he didn’t have that option.

Chapter 14 by TransmuteJun

Princess was dragged to a bedroom, garishly decorated in dark purple and blood red. Xati practically threw her into the corner.

“You don’t deserve to wear this uniform!” she screamed. Angrily she tore at Princess’ body, ripping off her clothes and leaving deep scratches behind. When the Swan was finally naked, she fell to the floor in shame and exhaustion.

“Since you were my friend, I’ll do you one final favor.” Xati spat. “I’ll give you something else to wear.”

Xati grabbed something from a shelf behind her and jammed it over Princess’ head, then knotted it at the shoulders. Princess looked down to see herself dressed in a red satin slip. While it didn’t leave much to the imagination, at least it was better than nothing.

“Thank you…” she whispered.

Her words seemed to enrage Xati more. Angrily she tossed Princess onto the giant bed. She walked over to a control panel, and pressed a series of keys. Princess felt her wrist and ankle restraints moving again, and found herself spread-eagled on the bed, with no place to move.

“I’ll leave you to your fun, with Zoltar.” Xati laughed as she exited.

Princess was alone in the room. She forced herself to take deep breaths and assess the situation. She was about to lose her virginity. Not to Mark, as she had always fantasized, but to the man she had spent most of her life trying to defeat.

Well, if she had to sell herself, she would demand a high price, she resolved. This could be her chance to unmask Zoltar. She could finally have a chance to see his face.

It was a small comfort, but one she hoped she could live with.

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Xati re-entered the torture chamber. Mala looked up at her.

“How are things with the little Princess?” she laughed.

“She’s waiting for our glorious leader, as we speak.” Xati replied. She turned to look at Jason. “He is well known for his gentle demeanor with women.” She gave Jason a vicious smile.

Jason couldn’t deal with the images flashing through his mind. He had heard rumors from the other soldiers, about Zoltar’s treatment of the women he brought to his bed. The mere idea of Princess being subject to that maniac’s whims…

Jason burned with rage. He delved deep into his mind, accessing his implant. He located the function that would instantly release adrenaline and endorphins. It was dangerous, but now was a time for desperate measures. In his weakened state, this could potentially kill him, but it was the only chance he and Princess had.

The next time the electric shock coursed through his body, Jason triggered his implant. As he had hoped, the electricity enhanced its function, and his body surged with power. Viciously, he ripped his right hand from the wall and smacked Mala across the face. Surprised by his unexpected response, her arm flew back, and the whip hit a control panel on the wall.

Jason’s bonds released and he crashed to the floor. Scrambling up, he reached for a tray of razor-sharp torture knives nearby. They were heavier than his feather shuriken, but he still threw them with deadly accuracy. Xati’s hand was stuck to the wall, even as she reached for her ring bombs. His next throw sent a knife into her throat. With grim satisfaction, he realized she was dead, even as he whirled around to meet his next target.

But Mala was gone.

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Zoltar entered the room. Princess raised her head to look at him. She couldn’t hide the disgust in her eyes.

“So, this little girl has some fight left in her.” Zoltar laughed. “Don’t worry, we’ll soon rid you of that!” He casually removed his gloves, and rolled up his sleeves. His arms were slender and hairless, but well muscled. Next he untied his cape and let it fall to the floor.

“Let’s see how you like my games.” he sneered.

Zoltar reached into a drawer next to the bed and withdrew a strange weapon-like device. It looked like a stick with strings of barbed wire attached. Princess felt her mouth go dry. Where, exactly, was he going to use that? She gulped nervously.

Zoltar was pleased by her obvious distress. This woman would bring him more pleasure than he had had in a long time. He wouldn’t rush… he would take his time, stretching his enjoyment to the fullest measure.

He began to bait Princess, lashing her with the device. Every time the barbs cut her flesh, they tore away a small piece of the slip, leaving welts on her porcelain skin.

Zoltar felt himself turning rock hard. What a succulent morsel! He couldn’t help himself. He ran his fingers along her breasts, gasping in satisfaction when she flinched in terror.

He nearly unmanned himself, but kept his control. It wouldn’t do to waste his seed, when such a fiery woman could be used to sire magnificent sons.

But he couldn’t resist. He slowly ran his finger up her leg, intending to probe her body.

Princess screamed out in her mind. The thought of Zoltar touching her there was too much to bear. If she hadn’t been cerebonically enhanced, she would have blacked out in terror.

It was at that moment, that the door crashed open.

Zoltar spun around with rage, only to see Jason standing in his room, armed with a handful of razor-sharp knives.

Slamming the restraint control panel with his hand, Jason deftly avoided Zoltar’s kick and turned for a knife throw.

As her restraints were released, Princess scrambled up. She had never been so glad to see anyone in her life, as she was to see Jason at that moment.

Zoltar dodged Jason’s attack, and turned around to face Princess. He snarled when he realized that she had escaped her bondage.

Princess didn’t hesitate. Standing on the bed gave her the advantage of height. With years of training and instinct, backed by a woman’s wrath, she placed a well-aimed drop kick at his head. Bashing his nose with her heel, she knew she had hit her target. The blood drained from Zoltar’s face, and he slumped to the floor.

She looked at Jason, who was staring at her open-mouthed. She had never seen him so dumbfounded.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, just as she realized that she wasn’t wearing anything under the short slip. She also discovered that the red garment was hanging by a thread on one shoulder, and the right side of her chest was fully exposed.

Jason’s lips opened and closed, but no sound emerged. Wordlessly he picked up Zoltar’s discarded cape and handed it to her. Gratefully, Princess wrapped it around herself.

“So how do we get out of here?” she asked.

Chapter 15 by TransmuteJun

They had found no sign of Jason and Princess. Mark slammed a computer console in frustration.

“Please, Commander!” exclaimed Susan. “That is quite uncomfortable you know!”

Mark sighed. Susan was beginning to get on his nerves.

It wasn’t entirely her fault. They had been carefully combing the area of space where they had found the garbage capsule, for hours. And yet, they were still unable to locate anything.

Tiny groaned in frustration. There wasn’t anything here to find. But could he convince Mark and Keyop of that? They both seemed determined to stay here until they found something. Tiny was afraid that would never happen.

He was wrong.

“Brrrt… signal!” exclaimed Keyop.

“Is it Jason and Princess?” asked Mark.

“Doot… don’t think so!” answered Keyop. “Coming from… Spectra!”

A signal from Spectra? Tiny sat up in his chair.

“What kind of signal is it Keyop?” questioned Mark.

“Boop… can’t tell… garbled… brrrt… looks like… distress call?”

Mark looked over the data. It did seem like a Spectran distress call, but the signal was so degraded it was hard to tell.

Still… it was emanating from the region around the planet Spectra itself. It might be worth investigating.

Mark knew in his heart, that there was nothing to find here. And besides, they could always come back later, to look again.

“Find the source of that signal, Keyop.” he commanded. “Tiny, when you get co-ordinates, lock them in and take us there.”

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Jason and Princess ran through the halls back to the Hangar. They easily dispatched the few goons they met on the way, but they knew they had to hurry, before it was discovered that they had escaped.

“There she is!” exclaimed Jason. He pointed at the vehicle mecha. It was parked back in the same spot it had been when they had first entered it a few hours ago. Quickly, he opened the hatch and the two of them clambered in.

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Mala stirred. She had lost consciousness shortly after she had left the torture chamber. That Rigan was more than she had bargained for. The blow from his restraint cuff had obviously caused some bleeding in her brain.

With a feeling of dread, she knew what his next objective would be, once he managed to free himself.

She forced herself to her feet, lurching and stumbling down the corridor toward Zoltar’s quarters.

When she arrived the door was ajar. It was not a good sign.

Breathing heavily and trying to clear the fog from her mind, Mala looked into the room.

“Brother!” she screamed as she saw Zoltar lying face down on the floor.

They would pay. Those Rigan bastards would pay. With her last bit of strength, Mala hit the alarm panel, as her mind sunk into blackness again.

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Just as they sat down, a loud alarm began to ring throughout the hangar.

“Quickly Princess!” urged Jason, “You need to disconnect whatever mechanism cut our power last time!”

Princess’ fingers flew over the control panel. “I’ve got it!” she declared. “Disabling…. now!” She pressed a hidden button, and the mecha hummed to life.

“That’s my girl!” crowed Jason as he engaged the vehicle’s engines. Only moments ago, he had seen just how much girl she was. He shook his head to clear to clear the image from his mind. Now was not the time for distractions.

“Buckle your seatbelt, this is going to be one wild ride!” screamed Jason.

They zoomed from the Hangar at light speed. Not bothering with niceties such as doors (they were all locked down anyway, what with the alarms going off) Jason activated the weapons systems, blowing a large hole in the wall, just before certain impact. Debris crashed around them as Jason executed a sharp ninety degree turn and headed for the runway.

They had to launch themselves into orbit. It was their only chance. With luck, they could use the stealth capabilities of the mecha to make their way back to Federation Space.

Guards charged out of nearby buildings, shooting at the mecha and trying to run in front of it. Jason pressed the accelerator and ran them down indiscriminately. He wasn’t going to let a few hundred cloned goons get in the way of their escape!

Screeching through the base, Jason soon found that he had to dodge fire from rocket launchers. Jason turned the wheel violently, nearly causing the vehicle to roll over, but he managed to right her at the last second. Jason practically purred at the machine. God, he loved this car!

Approaching the runway, he used his laser cannons to melt away the fence surrounding the launch area and zoomed onto the runway. A large missile was approaching fast from behind. Jason coaxed the tiniest bit more power from the accelerator, avoiding incineration by a hair’s breadth.

But the force of the impact threw the vehicle forward at an even faster velocity. It was just enough to launch.

Jason wiped rivers of sweat from his forehead. Driving was easy, but flight was another matter altogether. He had never been very good at piloting.

As his nerves calmed down, he heard a strange noise. It was Princess. She was… laughing?

It wasn’t a pleasant sound. Her throat sounded harsh, almost maniacal. Jason turned to look at her and immediately recognized the signs of shock on her face. Her body was rigid, and she was pointing at the control panel and emitting that terrible laughter.

He looked at the panel. Princess was pointing at the transmitter she had used before. He noticed that it was operating.

Why, those idiot goons! He knew he should be grateful for the stupidity of the Spectran Guards, but he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Their distress signal had been somewhat scrambled, and weakened.

But it was still transmitting. The soldiers hadn’t turned it off. It was pretty obvious that there was some replicative fading going on in that cloning process.

Still, that didn’t solve his problem with Princess. He needed her to operate the stealth technology or they would never escape Spectran Space alive.

“Princess!” Jason shouted.

She didn’t move.

Jason slapped her across the face. Her eyes maintained a glazed look.

Desperate for anything to bring her out of it, Jason gripped her face with his hands and spoke, his eyes only inches from hers.

“You have to snap out of it Princess.” he said quietly, but firmly, “Mark is out there, waiting for us. But he can’t find us, unless you help us escape.”

At the mention of Mark’s name Princess’ eyes filled with tears.

“Mark?” she sobbed, “He’s here?”

“Not yet, but he will be if we can get our asses in gear!” replied Jason.

Princess smiled grimly. “Then let’s do it, Condor!” she exclaimed.

Jason grinned. He turned back to his control panel, just in time to see a dozen Spectran space fighters closing in on their position. He could use the weapons, but not while he was flying at the same time.

They were doomed.

Chapter 16 by TransmuteJun

“Have you gotten any more information on that signal?” Mark asked Keyop. The co-ordinates Tiny had locked in were right at the planet Spectra. It wasn’t a good position for them to be in. Even as a full team of five, they couldn’t take on an entire planet by themselves.

Just as Mark was beginning to doubt his decision to follow the signal to its source, Keyop revealed the results of his latest analysis.

“Brrrtt… Zoltar!” he exclaimed.

“Zoltar?” asked Mark, turning to face the Swallow, “That can’t be right. Why would he be sending out a distress signal?”

“Doot… looks like… beep… Zoltar to me!” insisted Keyop. He showed his analysis to Mark.

It was clumsy compared to what Princess would have prepared, but Keyop had tried to make sense out of the garbled message. It might be a distress call from Zoltar. But based on what he saw, Mark wasn’t sure.

“What do you think, Susan?” he asked, looking around the room.

A gurgle came from the coffee dispenser in the back of the Bridge. Mark guessed Susan wasn’t going to be of much help, unless the transmission was regarding mountain-grown Columbian beans.

“Commander, I have something onscreen!” reported Tiny.

Mark turned towards the main viewscreen. He saw an incredible, sleek ship. It almost looked like… a racecar? It was very small… tiny in comparison to the usual Spectran vessel.

“It has to be an escape pod!” Tiny shouted, “Nothing else would be so small!”

“Brrt… Zoltar… distress signal… escape pod!” Keyop was so excited he could barely string the words together.

It made sense. If Zoltar were coming back from some disastrous mission, he would be sending a distress signal, so that the Spectran military could pick him up. And speaking of the Spectran military…

“A dozen fighter ships, closing in!” cried Tiny.

Mark didn’t hesitate. He rapidly depressed the TBX Missile Launcher, firing with almost Condor-like speed and accuracy. He finally had a chance to capture Zoltar defenseless!

One by one, the fighters exploded until all that was left was the car-like pod.

“Tow that thing into the Cargo Bay.” Mark smirked, as he gave the order.

88888

A faint odor of trash still clung to the Cargo Bay, despite having been cleaned repeatedly. Mark and Keyop raced through the doorway, ready for anything. Zoltar had escaped their grasp by inches, too many times before.

A hatch on the side of the mecha opened. Mark held his Sonic Boomerang at the ready.

“Show yourself, you rotten scum!” he shouted.

A guard exited the vehicle. Mark couldn’t see his face, but by the looks of his Spectran uniform, he was obviously the worse for wear. He reached inside, giving his hand to someone else.

Nearly hyperventilating with excitement, Mark saw a flash of purple cape enveloping the second figure. Now he had him!

He was in full Eagle mode now. Motioning Keyop to circle around behind the vehicle, he approached the two Spectrans.

He focused on the figure in the purple cape. Long, shapely legs… torn red satin… dark, ebony hair… Princess?

“Long time, no see!” greeted Jason, as the Eagle slumped to the floor.

88888

Princess still couldn’t believe that she was on the Bridge of the Phoenix. For a few hours this afternoon, she had wondered if she would ever see it again. Not to mention her friends…

She ran her hands across Mark’s forehead. “He just fainted.” she reported. “That’s all.”

“Fainted?” asked Jason incredulously, “The great Eagle, fainted?” He knew he was going to get mileage out of this one for a long time.

A gurgle came from the coffee machine. Princess looked up to see a steaming cup of brew in a mug with the words, ‘World’s Greatest Commander’ imprinted on it.

Princess gave the machine a quizzical look, but took the cup and held it to Mark’s lips. The aroma reached his nostrils and he began to stir.

Mark awoke to the smell of coffee and the sight of large emerald eyes staring at him.

“What… how…?” Nothing made sense to him.

“You rescued us, Commander.” replied Princess with a small smile. “Nice work.”

“Yeah, all we had to do was steal Spectra’s newest mecha, destroy the Hangar, crash through a military base, and launch ourselves into orbit, to get here!” Jason said sarcastically.

Now Mark knew it was Jason speaking. He sat up and looked at him.

“I can’t wait to read your report G-2.” he smiled.

Epilogue by TransmuteJun

Back in the Ready Room, it was almost as if Jason and Princess had never been gone. Susan had even returned to her monitoring duties on Pluto. Mark smiled. Everything was back as it should be.

Almost.

“Want to play some ping pong?” challenged Jason.

“Nah…” Mark replied, “I think I’ve had enough ping pong to last me for a long time.”

“Suit yourself!” Jason huffed. He reached into his pants and pulled out his little black book. Fortunately, his Commander hadn’t seen it tucked away in a hidden pocket of his duffel bag. Maybe he would call that girl… Mindy… the one he had spent the night with on Riga, during the Race. His thoughts drifted to Mindy’s special charms.

“Where’s Keyop?” asked Mark, looking around the room.

“Well, he went to check out the G-1, Commander.” answered Tiny. “After all, you promised him that he could test it out.”

“You what?” exclaimed Jason, “Whatever possessed you to do that?”

Mark sighed. “It’s a long story…”

“Don’t worry, Mark, I gave him some flying tips!” offered Tiny. Mark just groaned.

A nearby monitor beeped with an incoming communication. Princess glanced at the screen.

“It’s for you, Tiny!” she declared. Tiny walked over to the terminal, sat down and responded to the transmission.

A pretty blonde girl appeared on the screen. “Oh there you are, Tiny!” she giggled. “I had to go through three operators and a strange robot in a number 7 sweater just to get through to you!”

Tiny blushed, “Well, you got me!” he grinned. “What can I do for you, Mindy?”

“Well, Tiny, I was wondering if you were going to come back to Riga anytime soon… so you could try out my latest cookie recipe.” Mindy flirted.

Jason’s head shot up. Mindy? From Riga? No… it couldn’t be…

“Mindy!” he said, looking over Tiny’s shoulder.

“Jason! Hi! I didn’t know you knew Tiny!” Mindy exclaimed, “He’s such a great guy. Isn’t he awesome?”

Tiny blushed.

“Yeah. A great guy.” Jason kicked the ping pong table as he turned away from the screen. A loud crash and a sharp yell announced that it had collapsed onto his foot.

“Ow!” he yelped. Mark just grinned.

“Tell you what, Mindy, I may have some time tomorrow.” said Tiny, “Let me check into it, and get back to you.”

“I’ll be waiting!” giggled Mindy. She blew him a kiss as the transmission faded out.

Tiny was lost in his thoughts, as Jason angrily nursed his sore foot.

Princess sat down next to Mark on the couch.

“You know, Mark,” she began, “I’ve been thinking a lot about something that happened to me, while I was on Spectra.”

“What is it, Princess?” Mark asked. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“As a matter of fact, there is.” she responded coyly. “When Zoltar had me prisoner I was at a… certain disadvantage.” She continued in a more serious vein. “Fortunately, Jason arrived in time, but, I’ve been thinking about it a lot… I never want to be in that position again.”

Mark shifted nervously in his seat. He had read Princess’ official report, but had felt that something was missing.

“What is it you’d like me to do?” he asked.

Princess smiled at him. “Just come with me, Commander.” she whispered into his ear.

A slow thrill crept through his body. “Anything you say, Princess.” he said softly.

Jason watched the couple leave with a smirk. “About time, if you ask me!” he remarked.

“Huh?” asked Tiny, still lost in his reverie. Absentmindedly he reached for a Space Burger and began to chew.

The door to the Ready Room opened again. Keyop entered, looking the worse for wear.

Tiny sat straight up. “What happened????” he asked.

“Brrrt… doot… crash…. G-1…” Keyop replied with an anxious face.

“Awwww, man!” Tiny exclaimed, “Mark’s gonna be furious!”

Keyop hung his head. “Beep… doot… tell him now…” and he reached for his communicator bracelet.

Jason put a hand on his arm.

“Not now.” was all the Condor said. Then he winked at Keyop.

Life was back to normal at Center Neptune.

This story archived at http://www.gatchfanfic.com/viewstory.php?sid=67