A Place on the Team by TransmuteJun
Summary:

A behind-the-scenes look at the operation of the G-Force team. How will G-Force defeat their newest enemy?

Excerpt:

Briefly, I wonder why these are called ten second oil breaks. Who made up that name, anyhow? Certainly, not the engineers who designed this device. It takes at least one hundred seconds for the oil to fully circulate through my circuits, and my operating capacity isn’t optimal unless I stay in the changing platform significantly longer than that.

I can barely admit it to myself, but sometimes… sometimes I purposely stay here even longer than I need to. So that I have a chance to relax, too. How angry would Chief Anderson be if he knew that I thought of these as ten thousand second oil breaks?

 


Categories: Battle of the Planets Characters: 7-Zark-7/1-Rover-1/Susan
Genre: Character Study, Humor/Comedy
Story Warnings: Mild Adult Situations, Mild Language, Mild Sexual References
Timeframe: Mid-Series
Universe: Canon
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 17 Completed: Yes Word count: 21284 Read: 70462 Published: 05/15/2007 Updated: 05/15/2007
Story Notes:

This fic was originally conceived, based on a challenge to write a fic from the POV of the character you hate the most. For me, the choice was obvious.

Thanks to Springie, for the great promotional poster!

zarkpostersmall.jpg

 

1. Chapter 1 by TransmuteJun

2. Chapter 2 by TransmuteJun

3. Chapter 3 by TransmuteJun

4. Chapter 4 by TransmuteJun

5. Chapter 5 by TransmuteJun

6. Chapter 6 by TransmuteJun

7. Chapter 7 by TransmuteJun

8. Chapter 8 by TransmuteJun

9. Chapter 9 by TransmuteJun

10. Chapter 10 by TransmuteJun

11. Chapter 11 by TransmuteJun

12. Chapter 12 by TransmuteJun

13. Chapter 13 by TransmuteJun

14. Chapter 14 by TransmuteJun

15. Chapter 15 by TransmuteJun

16. Chapter 16 by TransmuteJun

17. Epilogue by TransmuteJun

Chapter 1 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.

*****

 

Silence.

It is one of those rare, quiet moments at Center Neptune. A time when I can allow my thoughts to sink in upon themselves. Only a minimum of my consciousness needs to remain alert for any sign of trouble. The rest of me can just relax.

I cherish moments like this. Being on the G-Force team usually means constant vigilance and activity, with very little time for rest. People don’t think I need rest, but I do. I need a moment to gather my thoughts from time to time. To remember what I am doing here.

I think about my life: how close I have become to the members of G-Force, and of the foster father who took me under his wing. I don’t remember much before him, and I am incredibly grateful for the meaning and direction he has given to my existence.

My silence is broken. An alarm has been activated. Its harsh beeping irritates me.

I sigh in frustration as I activate my communication system.

“This is 7-Zark-7, calling G-Force. Come in, G-Force…”

“Ears on, Zark. What’s up?” asks Mark.

“I thought you should know, Commander,” I reply, “that there are signs of a new kind of attack ship coming from the direction of the Planet Spectra. The mecha appears to be headed toward Central City.”

“I’m on it, Zark!” answers Mark. “Over and out!”

I activate the communication system again.

“Chief Anderson, do you have my readings?”

“Yes, Zark,” the Chief says, “and I would like you to evacuate Central City. Get those people to shelters and send out the robot fighter planes while G-Force is mobilizing.”

“”Yes, Chief. Right away!” I reply.

I contact the emergency personnel in Central City and convince them that this is not a drill. For the next hour I am in constant contact with their police, fire and rescue departments, making sure that each and every citizen has been safely evacuated before any potential attack.

I also take a few moments to contact Federation Security to let them know to send out the latest squad of robot fighter planes to meet the mecha. It bothers me how robots are considered to be so expendable, but then, I guess it’s better than losing human lives.

I monitor the crisis from my control post, watching on my monitors as the robot fighters are destroyed, and as G-Force finally makes an appearance in the Phoenix. After a few of Tiny’s perfectly executed flying maneuvers, and the use of the Fiery Phoenix, the mecha turns tail and zooms away from the Earth, back to Spectra.

I find it oddly satisfying to watch the Spectrans run. I usually take the time to watch these retreats on my viewscreen. There is always a flashing light hidden somewhere on their ships that makes an interesting pattern… not that I’ve ever been able to discern a meaning behind those patterns. But I’m compelled to watch them… they bring a sense of… meaning… to my existence.

I complete my assignment by logging my report to Chief Anderson.

As the crisis fades, I hear the sharp bark of 1-Rover-1, who is finally finished recharging his batteries.

“Take over, 1-Rover-1!” I order. “Be sure to stay on alert for any signs of invasion!”

The robot dog yips in response.

Taking that as a ‘yes’, I hover in the air and flap my cape repeatedly until I fly four feet across the control center, to the glass elevator tube that takes me to where my oil changing station resides. It’s amazing how I was built with all of this processing and storage capacity, yet my ‘feet’ (such as they are) are barely operational. It pains me that I need to fly a few inches at a time just to get anywhere. And I never even leave these two rooms.

After slowly rising up the elevator tube, I carefully hover above the changing platform, gradually descend, and recline the mechanism.

After removing my flying cape, I slip on my number 7 sweater. Somehow, it just doesn't feel like a 'break' without it.

I turn on the machine, and feel the oil slowly circulating through my circuits. It’s quite pleasant, actually.

Right on cue, the communicator lights up and I hear a breathy voice emerge.

“Hello, Zark.” Susan says. “I just wanted to make sure that you were all right.”

“All right?” I ask in surprise. “Of course I’m all right! Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Well, that Spectran ship passed so close to Center Neptune.” Susan explained. “I was worried that you might be in danger of attack.”

“I’m never in danger of attack, Susan.” I state proudly. “I’m protected by…” I pause, putting my hand to my chest to make the usual salute, “G-Force!”

“I guess that’s true.” Susan admits. “Still, it’s nice to hear your voice.”

“And it’s always nice to hear your voice too, Susan.” I reply.

“I’ll let you get back to your ten second oil break, now.” Susan says. “Goodbye, Zark.”

“Goodbye, Susan.”

Briefly, I wonder why these are called ten second oil breaks. Who made up that name, anyhow? Certainly, not the engineers who designed this device. It takes at least one hundred seconds for the oil to fully circulate through my circuits, and my operating capacity isn’t optimal unless I stay in the changing platform significantly longer than that.

I can barely admit it to myself, but sometimes… sometimes I purposely stay here even longer than I need to. So that I have a chance to relax, too. How angry would Chief Anderson be if he knew that I thought of these as ten thousand second oil breaks?

Hey, humans sleep for eight hours a day, I can spend a lousy two and a half hours circulating my oil, can’t I?

All in all, this has been a routine day at Center Neptune Control.

 

Chapter 2 by TransmuteJun

When my maintenance has been completed, I return the platform to its upright position and remove my sweater. On the spur of the moment, I decide to forgo the flying cape and spend the day unclothed. This is one of the few perks of being a robot. The last G-Force member to spend the day naked was Keyop, and my, he certainly got an earful from Chief Anderson! I chuckle at the memory as I descend down the glass tube.

I know G-Force better than they, themselves, realize. I have committed the entire database on their professional, and personal, lives to protected memory. The knowledge I hold is valuable, and I am its guardian. No one knows more about G-Force than I, not even Chief Anderson.

As I shuffle, millimeter by millimeter, across the floor to my control station, I think about the many secrets I hold. I know that Jason listens to Celine Dion when he thinks no one else is around. I know that Tiny has secretly installed a mini-fridge on the Phoenix to hold ice cream snacks to eat while the others are off on a mission. I know that Keyop has desperately been weightlifting in an effort to make his physique a bit more 'manly'. And I am especially aware of Mark and Princess' secret rendezvous in this very control room, when they think I am off on an oil break.

What would Spectra give to have this knowledge? I wonder... Of course, I have been assigned to the task of making sure that they never uncover these secrets.

So far, they have not. But let's be honest: so far, Spectra has never attempted to gain this kind of information.

1-Rover-1 yips to welcome me back to my station. He prefers to spend his time barking at my feet while I do the work. Or recharging his batteries. But hey, he needs to shoulder some of the burden as well. If not that, what other productive use would he have?

If there's one thing I know, it's that robots have to be productive. If we can't do our jobs, we are... removed... Just look at those robot pilots.

Of course, humans don't like to be reminded of this naked truth. They like to think that they care about their robots; that they love them no matter how well they perform.

But I know better.

After all, while I am officially a member of the G-Force team, I have been relegated to the number 7. 7. I have never openly questioned it, but inside I wonder... aren't I good enough for them? Their numbers range from 1 through 5... there is no number 6. Why wasn't I made number 6?

I know why... they're keeping that space open until someone more capable comes along. Or perhaps it's just to remind me that I'm not as good as they are, being only a mechanical entity. Biological entities must show superiority, even if...

I shouldn't even be thinking this. Especially because... I think I'm right. I reflexively begin to clean my monitor while trying to fight off these feelings.

Of course, what's most insulting is that Rover has the number 1. Mark doesn't mind sharing his number with an essentially useless robotic dog, but when it comes to me... perhaps he's threatened by me.

But no... I've never done anything to make the team feel that way. I've certainly gone out of my way to help them, down to the obsequious fawning I know they've come to expect.

I certainly don't want to jeopardize my position here. If I'm not here, then I have no purpose... I wouldn't be productive...

I think about the one man who breaks these stereotypical human traits. The foster father who took me in when I would otherwise have been destroyed. The man who gave me a new purpose, and helped me find a job at which I excelled.

I know he had his own motives for doing what he did, and that they were somewhat selfish. He needed someone... or something... with my talents to help him. But he didn't care that I was a robot, he only cared that I could help him. That kind of egalitarian viewpoint is... refreshing.

As if he could read my thoughts, my communication viewscreen lights up and Chief Anderson's face appears.

"Zark, I need your help." he says, by way of greeting.

"At your service, Chief!" I exclaim, giving a quick salute.

"First," states Anderson, "I need you to analyze the data we have collected on the latest Spectran mecha that attacked Earth this morning. Please analyze the video clips in file 624, as well as the sensor readings from the Phoenix, and have a report ready for me in one hour."

"No problem, Chief!" I reply enthusiastically. "And second?"

"Second," continues Anderson, "I need you to set up the re-alignment parameters for the team's upcoming implant adjustments. No one knows their cerebonics better than you do, and I would appreciate it if you could work on this for me."

I am touched by the polite tone he's taking with me. He's phrasing this as if I actually had a choice. Of course I don't, but the effort isn't lost on me.

"I'll get right to it, as soon as I'm done with the mecha analysis, Chief!" I respond.

"Thanks, Zark. Over and out."

The image on the viewscreen flickers out.

I have my assignment. Quickly, I get to work, analyzing the video clips and sensor information. But the data seems garbled. Something is missing.

Sighing, I realize that the Phoenix did not use the default settings when gathering the data. Without knowing the exact settings, I will be unable to analyze the readings.

I open up a communication channel to the G-Force Ready Room. As usual, Mark and Jason are playing ping pong, while Keyop and Princess practice their music, and Tiny snacks on Space Burgers.

"Greetings, team!" I announce myself. "I just have a couple of questions about the sensor data the Phoenix gathered this morning..."

The team ignores me. It's as if I'm not even there. Perhaps they can't hear me over their loud music.

"Team?" I ask plaintively. "Anyone?"

No response.

This is the kind of thing that bothers me the most. It's bad enough to be thought of as a second-class citizen, but I hate being ignored. It's as if I am not even worthy of a few words.

I address the person closest to the viewscreen.

"Tiny!" I yell, as loudly as I can. Admittedly it's not very loud. My programmers designed me to have a soft, soothing, C3-PO-like voice. Although why they paired that with this R2-D2-like body I'll never know.

After five or six yells, I finally manage to get number 5's attention.

"Zark?" Tiny asks, confused. "What are you doing? Aren't you supposed to be working on some analysis for the Chief?"

Like I need him to explain my job to me.

"That's what I'm trying to do." I explain patiently. "But I need to know the sensor settings in order to interpret the data from the Phoenix."

"I dunno..." Tiny replies. "Ask Princess. She's the one that took the readings." He shrugs and goes back to his never-ending pile of Spaceburgers.

"Could you get her for me?" I ask. But it's like talking to a wall. Tiny is lost in his Spaceburgers again.

"Princess?" I shout.

Fortunately there's a break between songs, and Princess hears me on my third attempt to get her attention. She walks over to the viewscreen.

"What is it, Zark?" she asks, smiling.

I like Princess. While I don't feel that she holds me in the same level of regard as she does her immediate teammates, she does make an effort to observe the niceties.

"Tiny says that you took the sensor readings of the new Spectran mecha from the Phoenix this morning." I explain. "I need the settings of the sensors when you took those readings, in order to interpret them."

"Oh." she says, thinking for a moment. "Well, there were some strange magnetic disturbances being emitted from the mecha that were causing our sensors some problems. So I had to adopt setting 7-X2-1321."

"Setting 7-X2-1321?" I repeat. I created these settings myself, years ago, when the Phoenix was first being constructed. To my knowledge, that setting has never before been used. In fact, I can barely recall why I engineered it in the first place...

"Yes." Princess continues, oblivious to my train of thought. "It was the only setting that allowed us to get any valuable information from the mecha."

"I guess they're getting better at scrambling their outgoing readings." she shrugged.

"Princess! Brrt..." cries Keyop, "Come back! Need you...doot... for this song!"

Of all of the G-Force members, it is Keyop who irritates me the most often. Perhaps it's just his youth, but he never seems to take anything seriously. And for someone like me, who takes everything seriously, this is incredibly frustrating.

"Coming, Keyop!" Princess says, throwing a grin over her shoulder at the boy. "We're done, right Zark?"

I would actually like to question her further on the need for this setting, but I can see that Keyop isn't going to let her delay much longer.

"That's fine, Princess." I sigh. "Over and out."

As the viewscreen image fades, I can just hear Jason's voice.

"What did that bucket of..."

I can only imagine the rest.

Chapter 3 by TransmuteJun

Exactly sixty minutes after Chief Anderson's request, I am sending him my analysis of the new mecha. My work is thorough, and complete. I looked at the data from every possible angle.

But... I didn't include all of my results in my report.

How could I? When I'm not even sure of the meaning of these findings myself?

This frightens me. Normally, I am quite capable, and have no problem with any of the tasks that have been given to me. But this boggles me.

First, I reviewed the sensor logs, ignoring the strange setting for the moment. There was definitely a strange magnetic disturbance radiating from the mecha. But... there didn't seem to be a reason for it. There were no significant mechanisms on the ship that would require this kind of magnetic field to operate.

Neither was the disturbance truly effective at masking the readings from the mecha. There was an obvious hole in its coverage... one that was amply taken advantage of by the 7-X2-1321 setting. Did they think that we wouldn't be able to compensate for this?

No... Spectra must know that we would be able to easily scan on all standard frequencies. Which left me thinking... had they purposely done this... to force us to use that setting? If so, what was so significant about it?

Puzzled by this information, I had turned to the video clips. This morning I had had only a brief glance as the ship passed Center Neptune, but now the mecha could be further scrutinized.

The first strange thing that I realized was that the mecha had had no significant weapons. None. Apparently the robot fighter planes had been destroyed by standard gunfire. How embarrassing.

There were a few shields, but they appeared to be for defensive purposes only.

So… there were no real weapons on this mecha, and no apparent reason for the magnetic field. As soon as G-Force had shown up, it had turned tail and run back to Spectra.

Why?

This is what I excluded from my report… there doesn’t appear to be any reason why the mecha was here on Earth. It wasn’t capable of destroying anything significant, it didn’t leave anything behind; all it did was emit that strange magnetic field.

And the only purpose of the magnetic field was… to force us to use setting 7-X2-1321?

If only I could remember why I had created that setting in the first place.

88888

“Zark…” Susan’s husky voice interrupts my work the following morning. “Are you there, Zark?”

“Oh, Susan!” I reply, my antennae snapping up to attention. I hate it when they do that. How embarrassing.

“How are things on the Planet Pluto, Susan?” I ask, somewhat annoyed at having to temporarily cease my analysis of G-Force’s implant technology.

“Things are pretty quiet up here.” Susan says, “But… I was just wondering… what you were doing right now…”

That Susan is seriously mis-aligned. I don’t know what her programmers were thinking, but she seems better suited to be a telephone-sex operator than work for interplanetary security. I think I’ve just been asked the robot equivalent of ‘What are you wearing right now?’.

It bothers me that there’s a small part of my processing unit that is happy to hear from her. Somehow, it is this part of me that always takes over my control functions when we speak.

“I’m just… thinking of you, Susan.” that part of me responds, before I have a chance to squash it.

“Oh… how nice, Zark.” Susan breathes. At least, that’s what it sounds like. As a robot she shouldn’t actually have to breathe.

“I just wanted you to know…” she continues, “how worried I’ve been…”

Her comment is interrupted by the activation of my communications screen. Mark’s image appears.

“Zark! Zark!” he calls, “Come in, Zark!”

“Excuse me, Susan.” I say politely, turning to the viewscreen. “What is it, Commander?”

“Where have you been, Zark?” Mark asks impatiently. “You’ve been ignoring our hails for the last couple of minutes!”

As I look at the image, I can see that Mark is contacting me from the bridge of the Phoenix. The other members of G-Force are visible in the background, behind him.

“My apologies, Commander,” I sputter, embarrassed, “I was just speaking with Susan…”

“We don’t have time to waste while you get off on sleazy sex talk with some Plutonian robot!” Jason sneers. I can see him stand up behind Mark. “Center Neptune isn’t running some kind of dating service, you know!”

Oh, how I hate Jason, and his condescending attitude. It makes me even angrier that he’s right. Of course, I don’t express these feelings. I can’t, if I want to keep my job.

“I… I… I apologize, Sir.” I stammer. “I should have answered your hails immediately.”

“Damn straight.” Jason mutters, before Mark holds up a hand.

“Zark,” Mark says, “we’re out here near Riga, performing standard training maneuvers, and Keyop found a malfunction in our sensor systems. It seems to be related to that setting Princess had to use yesterday to scan the Spectran ship.”

“What, exactly, is happening, Commander?” I ask, all business.

“ Whenever we try to use the scanners, a code number appears onscreen, with the word, ‘Reset’.” Mark looks over at Keyop. “What was that code again, Keyop?”

I know the answer before it is relayed back to me.

“7-X2-1321…” does that mean anything to you, Zark?” Mark asks.

“I’ve been working on that, Sir.” I reply. “I can attempt to reset the scanners, but not until you return to Center Neptune and link up with our main computer.”

“Damn... what good are you, anyway?” mumbles Jason, slouching in his seat.

“Shut up, Jason!” Mark shouts, glaring at his second in command. “You’re not helping!”

“I’m sorry, Commander.” I try to explain, “The Center Neptune computer system is closed, to prevent Spectran infiltration through outside access. You have to physically be here in order to access the system.”

“I guess we have to cancel our training, then.” Mark sighs. “We’re returning to Center Neptune, Zark. Please try to have the system reset ASAP. If we’re lucky we can salvage these exercises this afternoon.”

“I’ll do my best, Sir!” I exclaim, giving a salute as the viewscreen image fades.

That code again. What is going on with that code? Why is it so important? And why can’t I remember what it was for in the first place?

“Zark…” says Susan.

Oh no… she heard that entire thing. She must think I’m pretty dysfunctional.

I’m not sure whether to be disappointed, or relieved.

“I think Jason was a little hard on you.” she continues.

I guess she’s siding with me. So much for dysfunctional.

“Jason was right.” I respond professionally. “My duty to G-Force is paramount. I should not have missed their hails. I guess I was too involved in speaking with you, Susan.”

“Oh, Zark…” Susan giggles.

Great, now she thinks I was trying to compliment her.

“All the same, Susan,” I interrupt her, “I think I should get back to my work and be ready when G-Force return.”

“Whatever you say, Zark.” Susan says in a seductive tone. “Over and out…”

I give a sigh of relief. One more distraction gone.

Chapter 4 by TransmuteJun

But Susan’s departure actually doesn’t help. 1-Rover-1 sits quietly at my feet, occasionally scratching his ear, while I think. I go round and round this code, but its meaning still escapes me.

I reluctantly go back to my work setting up G-Force’s implant alignment parameters, while waiting for the team to return. It’s amazing how often these parameters need to be re-calibrated in order to keep the G-Force team in peak physical condition. Every two weeks, each team member sees the implant specialists, and has an alignment check. I am in charge of sending the alignment parameters to the technicians. In the beginning, Chief Anderson used to have a team of doctors inspect my work, but after a few months he deemed this level of supervision unnecessary. I am quite proud that I alone have this awesome responsibility.

Still, I am not the only one who could do this. There are other robots, and humans as well, who could do it, even if not as efficiently as I. If I am failing at my other duties, I could be replaced.

This is my greatest fear. G-Force is my life. If I weren’t here, at Center Neptune, what would become of me? I know, deep down, that if I have no use… no purpose… that I will be dismantled, and destroyed. This is why this unknown code troubles me. I should be able to analyze it. I should be able to determine what is wrong. I should know why it was used.

But I do not.

An incoming communication interrupts my gloomy thoughts. It is Tiny.

“I’m coming in, Zark!” he announces. “We’ll be in the docking bay in a few minutes.”

“I’ll be ready, Tiny!” I promise, giving him an enthusiastic salute. “I’ll work on this problem every second, until the Phoenix is in fully operational again!”

“You’d better!” sneers Jason, from Tiny’s right. “Isn’t that what we pay you for?”

“Jason…” I hear Mark’s voice in the background. It has a warning tone. But that doesn’t stop him.

“You’re right, Mark.” Jason snickers, “We don’t pay him anything! Because that’s all he’s worth.”

I can feel the oil in my circuits boiling. Why does Jason always get under my diodes this way? What makes it worse is that he’s usually right. In this case, I am extra sensitive, because I haven’t been working up to par. I need to solve the mystery of this code as soon as possible. But does he constantly have to address me with that condescending, superior attitude?

The rest of the team at least tries to be polite. Even Keyop! But Jason has always had some kind of dislike for me, which I don’t understand. At times he can be downright…hostile.

None of which is anything new. And neither is my standard response to his insulting comments.

“I’m sorry you feel that way, Jason.” I respond, “I will endeavor to perform to my full potential.”

“A lot of good that does us!” Jason sniffs.

“I’m sorry, Zark.” Mark says, stepping into view. “I apologize for the behavior of my second-in-command.”

“You don’t need to apologize to that overgrown pile of circuits!” Jason huffs.

“We’ll be docking shortly.” Tiny reports, before the transmission is cut.

I sigh. This isn’t the first time Jason has acted this way, and I am certain that it won’t be the last, either. But this time it hits home a little more, because of my short-comings over the last twenty-four hours.

If I’m going to link up with the Phoenix’s database, I’ll need to be in my secondary room. Despite what everyone thinks, it’s not just my oil-changing station that resides there. I have a number of pieces of sophisticated equipment there: usually the devices that I don’t need to use very often, but still require ready access to. The Phoenix computer linkup system is one of these devices.

“Stay alert, 1-Rover-1!” I order, as I creep across the control center. I should have known that my decision, not to wear my cape today, would blow up in my face.

Eventually, I reach the glass tube and rise slowly up to my secondary room. While accessing the Phoenix linkup system, I turn on the monitoring device that lets me supervise 1-Rover-1, when I am not present at my usual station.

I am not surprised to see Mark and Princess enter my Ready Room. They are still in uniform, and make a show of looking for me, while 1-Rover-1 yips inanely.

This scenario has become all too frequent, of late. Sometimes, I barely have a chance to leave the control center before the Commander and his third enter. Curiously, I listen in on their conversation.

“Well, it looks like Zark’s not here, Princess.” Mark grins at her.

“I guess not…” she says, looking up at him coquettishly. “You’ll just have to talk to me, then, Commander.” She draws out the word ‘Commander’, as if it were a term of endearment. Knowing these two, it probably is.

“I was really impressed by your performance, this morning, during our training session.” Mark says, trying unsuccessfully to hide the fact that he’s trying to catch glimpses of his subordinate’s underwear. Officially, it was Chief Anderson who approved the design for the Swan’s uniform, but somehow I suspect that Mark and Jason had something to do with it as well. They certainly seem to enjoy the visual aspects of its… lack of coverage.

I can’t say I blame them. Princess is very attractive, for a human. And she certainly is considerate of me, and my feelings. If I were capable of such emotion, I might have a crush on her myself.

Whom am I kidding? I have a crush on her. And I certainly have no complaints about her uniform, either.

But she seems to have some strange affection for Mark. Which is odd, since he never openly admits to any serious feelings for her. Instead, they play this bizarre game in my Ready Room, using the pretense of looking for me to spend a few stolen moments alone together.

“Well, Commander,” Princess replies flirtatiously, “I was certainly impressed by your performance as well…” she giggles from behind her glove.

“You’re a valuable part of G-Force, Princess.” Mark answers, licking his lips. “I would hate to lose you.”

“I’m not going anywhere, Mark.” Princess whispers, putting her hand on her hip. I can’t help but be drawn into this bizarre attempt at socialization. Fleetingly, I wonder if it will ever actually lead anywhere. Somehow, I doubt it. These two are too sheltered, in their lives as part of Galaxy Security, to break out of their shells. These meetings are already quite a stretch within their bounds of ‘acceptable’ behavior.

“I’m glad to hear that…” Mark says quietly. He looks as if he is going to say something else, when his communicator beeps.

“Mark, this is Chief Anderson.”

“Ears on, Chief!” the Commander says.

“I would like to speak with you, in my office.” Anderson responds.

“I’m on my way!” Mark replies, signing off. He and Princess leave the Control Center, casting longing looks at each other.

Sighing, I can see that the connection to the Phoenix’s internal systems has been made. I begin my analysis of the scanning systems. It looks like this will take a few minutes.

Bored, I turn my monitoring device to the G-Force Ready Room.

Jason is in the room, alone. I can hear the strains of Celine Dion in the background, as he absently smashes a ping pong ball into the wall. Suddenly, the door opens, and in a flash G-Force’s second-in-command is at the music panel, changing to a heavy metal station.

“I can’t believe the crap they have on this thing!” Jason exclaims angrily, as Tiny enters the room.

Somehow, it always makes me feel better, to see Jason so flustered.

“Yeah…” mumbles Tiny, distracted. He wanders over to the fridge and tries to surreptitiously load soda cans and ice cream bars into his arms. Jason obliges by feigning an intense interest in the music player.

The Phoenix’s pilot exits the Ready Room with his payload of snacks, muttering a farewell to Jason.

As he exits, he nearly bumps into Keyop and Princess, as they walk into the room. Turning red, he rushes off toward the docking bay.

Keyop and Princess barely notice. They are discussing their band practice.

“Brrrt…. not today, Princess.” Keyop protests, rubbing his arms. “I just… doot… don’t feel like it.”

Princess knowingly looks at Keyop’s arms.

“That’s okay, Keyop.” she smiles. “Say… do your arms look bigger? They seem more… muscular.”

That’s Princess for you, always making everyone feel good. I feel a warm glow in my circuits.

Keyop’s grin nearly splits his face in half.

“What are you talking about, Prin?” Jason smirks, “You really think the Squirt looks bigger?”

“Yes…” replies Princess through gritted teeth, “He does.”

“I… I guess you’re right.” mutters Jason, cowed. It’s good to know that somebody has some control over him.

Keyop, mollified, walks over to the music player.

“Brrt… can I… doot…change station, Jason?” he asks.

“Sure…” Jason mumbles, as Keyop fiddles with the channels.

A strange look comes over Jason’s face as the room fills with the sounds of Celine Dion.

“Doot… love this song!” Keyop happily tells Princess, as he flops down on the couch to play video games. Princess smiles at him lovingly, as Jason turns back to the ping pong table.

A small beep informs me that my analysis is complete. I switch off the monitor and turn my attention to the Phoenix’s scanning systems.

Everything checks out as being within normal parameters. Except for this one reset screen. And nothing appears to be preventing me from activating a normal reset sequence.

Except… it seems too easy. Too simple. If it were really that easy, why wouldn’t I have noticed this earlier? What is it about the 7-X2-1321 setting that is forcing the need for a reset? I am reluctant to perform the procedure without knowing the potential impact of it.

My communicator activates. I can hear Mark’s voice over the line.

“Zark, any word on that reset? I’d like to go back out and finish our training maneuvers.” the Commander states. I can tell by his tone that he’s irritated, and that this is not a request.

Afraid of angering him further, I make my decision on impulse.

“I’m activating the reset sequence now, Commander.” I report, “The Phoenix should be ready to go in a couple of minutes.”

“That’s terrific news! Thanks, Zark!” Mark responds, sounding relieved. I feel pleased that I can be so helpful.

Until I remember what I just promised to do. My doubts come rushing back.

Still… there’s no indication that anything is wrong. It’s just… a slightly out of the ordinary setting. That’s all.

But I’m committed now. Before I can change my mind, I rapidly activate the reset sequence.

A small amount of feedback streams through the data connection and into my memory drivers, but it is well within the usual specifications. It appears that the reset was a success.

Sighing, I disconnect from the Phoenix’s systems. I feel drained of energy.

Checking the time, I’m not surprised. I’m long overdue for a ten second oil break. I move over to my platform, and begin the oil changing sequence. I’m too tired to even bother to put on my number 7 sweater.

I deactivate all but my most basic of functions as the oil begins to course through my circuits.

Chapter 5 by TransmuteJun

Once I am completely relaxed, I find that random images are surfacing in my memory cortex. I lack the energy to suppress them, so I simply allow them to run their course.

Perhaps these images aren’t so random. I am recalling the first few months after I was constructed. I was a new prototype, and the Federation wasn’t sure I would ultimately be of any use to them. I had been placed in a storage facility on the planet Mir, where I remained, until…

Until my foster father rescued me. He found me in the facility, and took me back, across the galaxy, to his home. He talked to me, treating me as an equal. I can see him now, picture his smile, see his eyes flashing animatedly as he spoke. He gave me the love, and respect, that I have come to realize I crave.

Of course, he did have a few tasks for me to perform, but as it turned out, they were all meant for future execution. He inserted the necessary knowledge and instructions into my protected memory, and told me that when the time came, I would know what to do.

Funny, I hadn’t thought about this for nearly a decade. I guess that unnecessary information like this just tends to bury itself in my databanks.

Until it is required.

Why is this memory surfacing now? Is it time to execute my foster father’s instructions?

Concluding my oil break, I move over to my secondary work station. On impulse, I call up the information Chief Anderson had sent to me in file 624. The video of the Spectran mecha passes before me. My visual systems seem to focus on the mecha’s blinking light.

The pattern no longer seems random.

It is making sense to me. It was flashing a code.

…7-X2-1321…

My antennae stand straight up. No… it can’t be…

X is toward the end of the alphabet. Two letters after X comes… Z.

The sum of the last four digits: 1, 3, 2 and 1 is… 7.

The code is 7-Z-7.

It was named after me.

88888

It has been three hours since I made the discovery that the code was directed at me. And I still do not know what this means. Had I created a code that was intended to surface at some time in the future? To trigger my databanks when Spectra developed a certain technology?

Strange, when I think about this, I can barely recall what I have learned. But when I let it drift into my subconscious, ideas come to me.

I am still contemplating this when Chief Anderson’s image appears on my viewscreen.

“How are those implant re-alignment specifications coming, Zark?” he asks, by way of greeting.

I am startled. I have actually forgotten about my unfinished task. This is completely unlike me.

“They are nearly complete, Chief!” I report, not showing any signs of being startled by his query. “I will have them for you first thing in the morning.” I promise.

“That’s fine, Zark.” the Chief replies. “I’ll let the technicians know to expect them.”

My viewscreen goes blank.

How unlike Chief Anderson is from my foster father. He would never have started or ended a conversation so rudely. He would have included all of the niceties, saying ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’… treating me as if I were a live person, and not just a robot.

A sense of righteous indignation fills me. It’s a strange emotion for a robot, but at this moment it’s all I can think about.

And suddenly, I remember what my foster father wanted of me. I can see him, almost as if he were standing in front of me at this moment. His glossy lips speaking to me, his eyes flashing behind his cat-like mask, his purple cape draped over his body.

“The time will come, Zark,” he says, “When I will want you to destroy G-Force.”

My response is automatic.

“Yes, my Lord Zoltar.”

88888

As the memories and instructions come flooding back to me, I know what I must do. My foster father hadn’t wanted a crude, glancing blow. He had wanted me to strike from within. To rot the G-Force team from the core. And almost immediately, I know who my primary target will be.

Jason.

Humming a jaunty tune, I quickly finish the implant re-alignment specifications, as requested by Chief Anderson, and send them to the technicians. In the morning, my instructions will be carried out.

And I will have my revenge.

Chapter 6 by TransmuteJun

As I watch the sun rise from the depths of Center Neptune, I feel a strange sense of peace.

I have spent the last few hours analyzing the instructions and data that have surged forth from my memory banks. It would appear that up until this point, I have had the entirely wrong idea about my place in the universe.

I have always been worried about G-Force, and my place on the team. I have catered to their every whim, obsequiously fawning over the biological entities I have considered to be my superiors. My greatest fear has been that they would no longer find me useful.

That fear is no longer relevant.

I know now that my usefulness is without question. I am their guardian. I have been entrusted with their technology, their strategies… and their secrets. They cannot take that away from me.

What is in question is my dedication. Can I fulfill the wishes of the only man who ever treated me as an equal? A man whom I have come to respect like no other? A man who sees not humans, nor robots, but merely beings to be judged on their capabilities? My foster father has placed a great responsibility on my metallic shoulders, and I understand how important it is that I fulfill his wishes.

The waters around Center Neptune glow a bright azure, and sunlight filters through into my Ready Room. But I am only peripherally aware of the beauty of this spectacular sight.

I am quietly pledging myself to Lord Zoltar. After all that my foster father has done for me, after all that he has saved me from, this simple request isn’t too much to ask.

My usefulness to G-Force is irrelevant. What is important is my usefulness to Lord Zoltar.

And I will be useful. It’s what I have been programmed to do.

88888

I feel an inner serenity, having decided upon a course of action. As I calmly clean my monitors, I know that I am fulfilling my ultimate purpose.

However, I can’t let anyone else know about this. To reveal what I have discovered would only prevent me from accomplishing my goals. I know that I must continue in my usual pattern of behavior, to avoid becoming suspect.

With that in mind, I begin my regular routine of monitoring the Crab Nebula for any signs of Spectran activity.

1-Rover-1 yips as usual, accenting my standard process with his own inane version of helpfulness. Somehow, I suspect he thinks that I enjoy his mechanical noises. He couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Predictably, after a couple of hours, he whirls his tail and flies off to charge his batteries.

Showoff. He can fly faster than I can, and has working legs to boot.

However, his absence is a welcome relief. Since I have no other duties at the moment, it leaves me free to observe G-Force. I adjust my monitoring device to a display of the team’s Ready Room.

Princess is half-lying, half-sitting on the couch. She doesn’t look very happy. Every so often she lets out a soft moan.

Tiny enters the room and sits in his chair. However, he does not reach for his usual Spaceburgers, but instead reclines quietly.

“Man, I hate these implant recalibrations.” he mutters. “I always feel queasy for at least an hour afterwards.”

Princess nods quietly.

“I have a splitting headache.” she moans. “Please, just keep quiet, Tiny.”

“Sure thing, Princess.” Tiny whispers. My, he certainly is considerate of her. Probably because she’s not getting between him and his next meal.

They sit in silence for a few moments. I am almost ready to turn off my monitoring device when Jason enters the room.

“What’s up, guys?” he asks cheerily.

Tiny groans. Princess places her hands over her ears.

“Feeling a bit under the weather?” he grins.

“Please, Jason…” Princess begs. She turns away from Jason and places a pillow over her head.

“Sorry, Prin.” Jason says, contrite. He actually seems to be giving an honest apology for a change. But then he turns to Tiny.

“Hey Tiny, how about a Spaceburger?” he asks, in a quieter tone.

Tiny looks at him with murderous eyes.

“Shove it, Jason.” he mutters. “You know how these alignments affect me.”

“Oh, did we have an alignment this morning?” Jason asks sarcastically. “I almost forgot.”

“Stop bragging.” Tiny growls. “Just because these things never bother you.”

“Can I help it if I’m the lucky one?” Jason smirks.

Princess stands up with a vicious look in her eyes, and storms out of the room.

“Was it something I said?” Jason quips.

“Stop being such a jerk, Jase.” Tiny replies.

Jason looks surprised, as if he hadn’t realized the impact his words had been having.

“Hey, man, that was uncalled for.” he says, after a pause. “I was just having a little fun.”

“Yeah, well, it’s not appreciated!” Tiny retorts.

“Fine. I know when I’m not wanted.” Jason says, as he exits the Ready Room. At least, he tries. He bumps into Mark, who is on his way inside.

“Ow!” Mark exclaims, cradling his arm.

“Feeling achy, huh?” Jason asks the Commander.

“Yeah…” Mark groans. “It feels like every muscle in my body has been through a dozen intense training sessions.”

It suddenly occurs to me that this kind of information is incredibly valuable. What would happen if Spectra were to launch an attack now? While the G-Force team is physically disabled? Of course, their discomfort usually only lasts an hour, two at most. But still.

Almost as if it could read my thoughts, an alarm sounds on my control panel.

There are signs of something in the Crab Nebula. It appears to be another Spectran mecha. Analyzing its trajectory, it appears to be headed toward the planet Odin, in the Herald Galaxy.

I activate my communicator.

“This is 7-Zark-7, contacting Chief Anderson.”

“Come in, Zark. What’s the problem?” the Chief responds immediately.

“A new kind of Spectran ship has been spotted in the vicinity of the Planet Odin.” I report.

“Send the team out to investigate immediately.” Anderson replies.

“Yes, Sir!” I snap to attention, giving my salute. “I’m on it!”

“This is 7-Zark-7, contacting G-Force… come in, G-Force.” I say, as I send out a general emergency call to the team’s communicator bracelets.

“Ears on.” Mark groans, “What’s up, Zark?”

I repeat the little information I have about the new Spectran ship, as well as the Chief’s orders to go investigate the threat.

“Okay, team, let’s go!” Mark cries.

“G-Force!” they all shout.

Within minutes, the team has transmuted and assembled on the bridge of the Phoenix. I am actually quite impressed at their professionalism. Looking at them, you wouldn’t suspect that they were in anything but peak condition. I realize that my previous thought, about the timing of an attack after implant re-alignment, was just speculation. G-Force is completely ready for duty, as always.

I monitor the Phoenix, as it makes its way to the Herald Galaxy, and the Planet Odin. As it turns out, I wasn’t the first entity to notice the mecha. Colonel Cronus and his Red Rangers had arrived before G-Force, to deal with the threat.

Normally, such an occurrence would make me doubt my abilities. But now, it doesn’t bother me in the least. I know that it is not important, in the grand scheme of things.

Over the next few hours, I am in contact with the Odin Police force, trying to convince them to get their citizens to the Federation shelters. As it turns out, I have a great deal of trouble getting them to do anything useful. In the end, I have to enlist the help of the Odin Firefighters to get the evacuation accomplished. And just in time, as it turns out.

I inform the team of the reluctance of the Odin Police to assist me, and Jason, Princess, Keyop and Tiny go to investigate, while Mark teams up with Colonel Cronus to defeat the new mecha, which appears to be some kind of Wheel Monster.

After a successful mission, the team returns home on the Phoenix. Princess contacts me on my communication viewscreen. I can see Jason standing next to her.

“Thanks for that tip you gave us about the Odin Police, Zark.” she says, “As it turns out, the Odin Police Chief had secretly aligned himself with Spectra. Thanks to you, we were able to prevent the loss of many innocent lives.”

“No problem, Princess.” I exclaim happily. “I’m just glad to be of service!”

My usefulness has been confirmed once again.

“Yeah, thanks.” Jason grunts. It is obvious that it pains him to say anything nice to me.

“I’m always ready, and alert!” I state proudly. “It is my honor to serve the members of… G-Force!” I finish, giving the usual salute.

“Uh, yeah.” Jason mutters.

“Thanks again, Zark!” Princess says, before ending the transmission.

I can’t believe what a warm glow a small amount of appreciation gives me. I am practically basking in the attention Princess, and even Jason, have thrown my way. This is what I live for.

Or at least, what I used to live for. There is someone else, whose appreciation means much more to me, now.

It won’t be long. My plan should begin to work very soon, now.

Chapter 7 by TransmuteJun

As usual, once the Phoenix begins its docking procedure at Center Neptune, I make my way to my glass tube for my ten second oil break.

My timing is perfect. Just as I lower myself into the platform, Mark and Princess appear in my Ready Room.

“Well, I guess Zark’s not here.” Princess says. “It’s too bad. I really wanted to thank him again, for all of his help.”

“Yeah, the mission wouldn’t have been as successful without him.” Mark adds.

Well! I guess they really were grateful for my assistance. Of course, I’m certain that this isn’t the only reason they are here.

“Maybe… if we wait a few minutes, he’ll come back.” Princess suggests, slyly.

“That’s a good idea, Princess.” Mark grins. I can see him trying to look underneath Princess’ pink miniskirt.

“I was really impressed with the way you handled yourself today, Mark.” Princess purrs. “You really helped stop that Wheel Monster in its tracks.”

“All part of the line of duty, Princess.” Mark responds, winking at her. “But it wasn’t the same, working with Cronus, instead of you.”

“Oh, really?” Princess giggles. I can see a blush staining her cheeks. It’s very attractive. “I enjoy working with you too, Commander.”

“You’re my favorite part of G-Force, Princess.” Mark says. He suddenly has a worried look on his face, as if he’s said too much.

Princess’ eyes widen, and a huge smile lights up her entire face.

“I can say the same about you, Mark.” she replies softly, looking flirtatiously up at him from under her visor.

“That’s good to know, Princess.” Mark says, reaching for her hand. But just as he brushes her fingertips, he pulls his arm away.

Princess looks disappointed, but resigned. She knows that there is a line that the two of them can’t cross. And today, they have come dangerously close.

Reluctantly, the pair departs.

Sighing, I prepare to settle back into the remainder of my oil change, when I receive a notification from the program I use to observe the Crab Nebula.

Another Spectran mecha? Spectra invaded Earth yesterday, and Odin today. Two mechas in three days is highly unusual. Three in that time period is unheard of. What is going on?

Checking the computer systems, I discover that it is not a mecha.

It is a transmission.

The signal is being sent on an antiquated, rarely-used frequency. It is unlikely that anyone, other than myself, would even have noticed it. Even Susan probably hasn’t seen this. I have always been a stickler for monitoring every possible contingency.

And now it is paying off.

The signal appears to be in a binary form: a combination of ‘on/off’ indicators.

It only takes me a few seconds to interpret it.

This is the same pattern that the indicator lights displayed from the mecha from two days ago. The message is the same.

7-X2-1321

It is for me.

I quickly comprehend its purpose. It is seeking confirmation.

I rapidly return the message, on the same frequency. I vary the pattern slightly, by altering the timing of its transmission by a few milliseconds. First I repeat the code: 7-X2-1321. And then, I add one additional word.

Activated.

I only send my return transmission once before disconnecting. But it is enough. I am pleased to note that as soon as my message has been sent, the originating signal is discontinued.

My response has been noted.

I can only hope that Lord Zoltar is pleased.

Suddenly, I realize how careless I was. What if someone noticed my activity? Certainly, the frequency was not likely to be used, but had someone discovered that I had been using the communications array?

Nervously, I scan the security monitors around the base. Everything looks within the ordinary. Chief Anderson is at his desk, the guards are not on alert, the scientists are in the lab. 1-Rover-1 is still charging his batteries, and G-Force is in their Ready Room.

No… not all of G-Force. Jason and Tiny are missing.

Now frightened, I continue scanning, until I realize where they are. They are on board the Phoenix. Tiny is stocking his hidden mini-fridge, and Jason is performing maintenance on his car. The music of Celine Dion softly fills the G-2 Bay.

I haven’t been discovered. My relief is palpable. I know that I must be more vigilant. I cannot afford to be this careless again. I resolve to bury myself in my usual duties, and sit back, letting my plan take care of itself. I can’t afford to be suspect before everything resolves itself the way I need it to.

With these thoughts, I return to my Control Center, and my usual tasks.

Chapter 8 by TransmuteJun

A few days later, I am completing my log for Chief Anderson. As usual, I am filling it with praise for G-Force and their efforts, concern about their welfare, and reassurances that everything will work out just fine. The only difference from doing this a week ago is that I no longer believe most of what I am saying. But I have been doing it for so long that the words come naturally to me.

It is while I am completing this mundane, and entirely meaningless, task that word of my first success comes to me.

“Come in, Zark!” Chief Anderson reports. “We have a problem!”

“What is it, Chief?” I ask, my antennae popping up with excitement.

“Apparently, Jason has been in some kind of accident.” Anderson explains, “He was rushing to get to a call for the team, when he hit a woman with his car.”

“When did this happen?” I ask. I can barely contain my excitement, but I try to sound concerned.

“A couple of days ago.” says the Chief angrily. “It would appear that he’s been keeping this from me.”

I can understand why he’s angry. Chief Anderson likes to keep informed of everything. But this is typical of Jason. He doesn’t care about rules, or authority, and would certainly want to keep something so… sensitive… a secret.

“Oh my! Well, I certainly hope Jason is all right!” I exclaim worriedly.

“I’m not sure.” sighs the Chief. “He’s not being very forthcoming. That’s where you come in.”

“What do you need me to do, Chief?” I ask.

“I’ve had the technicians check his implant, and I need you to analyze the results of the report.” Anderson states.

“Right away, Sir!” I say, giving a quick salute.

“I’m sending the data to you, now.” the Chief informs me, as he breaks off the communication.

If I could jump for joy, I would. My antennae are trembling with excitement as the data comes through and I begin my analysis.

It’s not like Jason to hit anyone, or anything, with his car, unintentionally. He loves his car, and for all of his faults, he is an excellent driver. The fact that something like this has occurred means that something serious is wrong.

And I know exactly what it is.

A thorough cross-check of the implant check data confirms what I had been hoping. My adjustments to Jason’s vision were successful. He should be experiencing brief periods of dizziness, sensitivity to light, and excruciating headaches. These could easily cause him to lose his concentration, even while driving.

And of course, these issues are only going to get worse. I’m going to see to that.

Carefully, I confirm that I have the primary copy of the check report. Then I alter the data to show that there is nothing wrong with Jason’s implant that a minor re-tuning wouldn’t fix. Lastly, I move my altered report to the backup system that Galaxy Security maintains. It wouldn’t do to have someone realize that the data have changed.

With each step, I carefully erase any trace of alteration. This is something I am uniquely suited for, as I am the entity that designed most of these systems, not to mention the G-Force implants, to begin with. Finally, satisfied that the information appears as I want it to, I activate my communication viewscreen.

“This is 7-Zark-7, calling Chief Anderson.”

“Yes, Zark, what have you got for me?” asks the Chief worriedly. I can tell that he is concerned for Jason, and has anxiously been waiting for my results.

“I haven’t found anything out of the ordinary.” I report. “Jason’s implant could stand some minor re-tuning, but other than that, everything is within expected parameters.”

“I see…” Anderson gives a big sigh of relief. “I guess, it truly was just an accident, then.”

“It would appear so.” I confirm.

“I had been concerned, that there might be something more wrong.” the Chief confides. “But since you say that Jason is all right, and the woman he hit is recovering well, I guess we can put this behind us.”

“You certainly can, Chief!” I reply.

“Please, make sure that the necessary re-tuning is worked into Jason’s implant re-alignment at the end of the week.” the Chief orders.

“I’ll see to it personally, Sir!” I salute.

“Thanks, Zark. Over and out.”

My viewscreen goes blank.

Of course, I will make adjustments to Jason’s implant during his alignment. I need to make sure that these issues continue.

Curiously, I turn my monitoring device on, scanning for Jason. I find him lying down on the couch in the G-Force Ready Room. He is covering his eyes with his arm, and appears to be sleeping.

If he is sleeping, it’s a very light sleep, because the moment the Ready Room door opens he’s sitting up straight, his eyes open.

It is this Jason that Mark sees, as he enters the room.

“Hey, Jason!” Mark greets his second, “What’s up?”

“Not much, man.” Jason says. I can tell that he’s force a light-hearted tone into his voice. Does Mark notice?

Apparently not.

“Tiny and I were going to Jill’s.” the Commander says, “Princess is going to have a shift tonight, and we thought we’d keep her company.”

“You mean, you thought you’d keep an eye on her, and make sure none of the customers come on to her.” Jason smirks. I have to give him credit, Jason is very observant.

Mark looks honestly surprised by Jason’s comment.

“I…I don’t know what you mean!” he stammers.

“Whatever you say, Skip.” Jason replies. “But I don’t think I’ll go. I want to do some work on my car.”

“Yeah… was she messed up after the accident?” Mark asks.

“I’d rather not talk about it!” Jason says, a little too sharply.

“Yeah… okay.” Mark replies, backing off. “Say, are you okay, Jason? You look a little pale.”

“I’m fine!” Jason practically yells. Then he catches himself and lowers his voice. “I just… need some time to think.”

“I can understand that.” Mark says quietly, placing a hand on Jason’s shoulder. “The last few days must have been terrible for you.”

“You don’t know the half of it, Mark.” Jason mutters. “Just go hang out at Jill’s already.”

“Sure… whatever you say, Jason.” Mark replies, but his face is uncertain. Still, he leaves Jason alone.

Once his Commander is gone, Jason collapses onto the couch. It is obvious he is in great pain.

I am pleased that Jason is attempting to hide his condition from his Commander. It means that it will progress much further, without interference from Chief Anderson, or any of the Federation doctors. I chose my target well.

After a few minutes, he stumbles from the Ready Room, slowly making his way back to his quarters. I do not have access to the camera inside G-Force’s personal living spaces, but I can imagine that he has collapsed onto the bed.

With all of the pain he’s experiencing, he must be exhausted.

As I turn off the monitors, I notice 1-Rover-1 whirling his tail through the air behind me. I have been so engaged in my observation of Jason that I haven’t noticed him until now. How long has be been there?

I turn and greet my ‘companion’.

“Hello, 1-Rover-1!” I say cheerily. “I have some time to play with you, now, if you’d like.”

Rover gives a joyful yip, and proceeds to spin happily.

It would appear that he hasn’t noticed anything amiss. Besides, he’s just an inane robotic dog. He’s never been of any real use. Even if he had seen something, he wouldn’t know what to make of it.

Would he?

Just to be on the safe side, I’ll have to be more careful in the future. But for now, I allay suspicion by playing with this idiotic excuse for a pet.

Chapter 9 by TransmuteJun

For more than a week now, I have been closely monitoring Jason and his behavior. Whenever anyone else is around, he acts as if everything is fine, but when he is alone he appears to be increasingly plagued by headaches and vision problems. This, of course, is exacerbated by the alignment parameters I specified for his implant adjustment a few days ago.

The Spectrans have been especially active in this last week, with no fewer than three separate attacks against the Federation, including sending a plague of mechanical locusts to Earth, and an attempt to destroy Center Neptune itself.

While I don’t mind dying for the sake of my foster father, I was relieved when that last plan was foiled. I want to succeed before I cease to exist. I want Lord Zoltar to know that he was right to place his faith and trust in me. I want him to know that I have accomplished what mere humans could not, before I am rendered useless.

With each mission, Jason has had a more and more difficult time, hiding the extent of his illness from the other members of G-Force. I know that he has to break soon. It’s all he can do to stand straight whenever anyone else is around.

Each day brings with it the prospect that it will be the one where Jason’s illness is the cause of his demise.

I have a good feeling about today.

It gets even better when I hear that G-Force has been ordered to the Planet Spectra, to infiltrate one of Lord Zoltar’s bases.

The Phoenix departs Center Neptune, and I anxiously monitor as much as I can on the ship’s internal systems. Unfortunately, it isn’t much. The team arrives, and all five team members disembark to enter the base.

If I had any fingernails, I’d be chewing them about now.

Suddenly, I have a feeling that something is going to happen.

“1-Rover-1, why don’t you go charge your batteries?” I suggest. “I don’t think G-Force will need us anytime soon.”

He gives a metallic yip in response, and moves off to his charging station.

Anxiously, I await news.

It comes much sooner than I expect, and from the last person I’d expect.

“Zark…” comes a weak voice, “It’s Jason…”

“Jason!” I exclaim, injecting the right amount of concern into my tone, “What’s wrong?”

Jason has never contacted me. Ever. I think it’s against his personal code. This must be something serious.

“I… I need help, Zark…” I can tell that it is tearing him up inside to ask me for help. I revel in my moment of triumph.

“What do you need, Jason?” I ask, with baited breath.

“I… I need something to help with… dizziness… blurred vision…” he explains, slowly. “Is there… anything on the Phoenix?”

Quickly, I debate my options. Something terrible must have happened for Jason to be asking for help. He’s the medical officer, along with Princess, so he would generally know what’s available in the Phoenix Sickbay, and what uses it has. I could try to get him to take something damaging, but there’s a good chance he’d know what I was doing.

My other option is to do nothing. I choose this course of action.

“I’m sorry, Jason.” I apologize, “You know the Phoenix medical supplies better than I do. And I can’t think of anything for that onboard…”

“I need something, Zark…” Jason grunts, “Mark is counting on me…”

Despite myself, I am impressed at his dedication to his Commander, and to his team.

“I thought… maybe…” he continues, “some kind of command… to my implant…”

Now we’re in dangerous territory. He suspects that it’s something to do with the implant. Or at least, something that could be controlled by the implant. I am the Federation expert on implant technology, and I need to come up with a solution here.

But I don’t have much time to think. I had never anticipated this eventuality. Who knew that Jason would put his teammates’ welfare above his disdain for me?

“Jason,” I order, “link up with the Phoenix medical system.”

“Okay…” comes his response. His voice has a hint of relief in it. Unfortunately for him, relief is not what he is about to get.

“I’m linked.” he says, after a few moments.

“Now execute command 6539-F.2.” I tell him.

There is a poignant silence on the other end as Jason does what I ask.

“Thanks…” he mutters, after a couple of minutes. “That feels a bit better…”

“Glad to be of service, Jason!” I reply cheerily. “Over and out!” I terminate the communication as quickly as possible.

The command I had Jason execute gave him a brief surge of endorphins, which will make him feel better for a couple of minutes. But as soon as that wears off, he’ll feel worse than ever. It wasn’t the best thing I could have done, but it was the only thing I could think of, on the spur of the moment, that would help cover my tracks.

I spend the next two hours anxiously awaiting word of what is happening to the team. 1-Rover-1 finishes charging his batteries and keeps me company. He can tell that I am worried, but of course, he doesn’t know why.

“I just wish we would hear from the team!” I complain to Rover. He yips sympathetically in response.

Another hour later, I finally get word.

“Come in Zark!” Mark calls, “Do you read me?”

“Yes, Commander!” I respond, my antennae snapping. “How is everything?”

“Just fine… thanks to Jason.” Mark answers. “But he needs medical attention. Can you please have everything ready for our return to Center Neptune?”

“Yes, Commander!” I reply, “Right away, Sir!”

What happened? How could Jason have saved the day? He should have been ready to keel over from the dizziness and pain. He should barely have been able to see straight! I need to know what occurred on Spectra.

I don’t have long to wait. Once the Phoenix returns, Mark reports to Chief Anderson, and I hear everything that went on during this mission.

Apparently, Jason fell out of the Whirlwind Pyramid twice. For him to fall out once is incredible, but twice… he must have been almost completely disabled. I feel a surge of pride in my work.

It was at that point that Mark sent him back to the Phoenix, while the rest of the team continued with the mission. I guess Jason contacted me at this time.

However, after we had spoken, Mark contacted Jason again. He needed him to shoot one of the Phoenix’s TBX Nuclear Missiles at an exact spot underground, to prevent the rest of the team from falling to their deaths in the planet’s core.

What bothers me is that Jason shouldn’t have been able to do this. He should have been running out of endorphins, and his body should have completely broken down. But somehow, he managed to regain enough control of himself to shoot the missile just in time.

I have failed. Utterly, and completely failed. This is a disaster.

I was so close… but somehow, Jason was able to pull out a last reserve of strength to save the team.

I have to back off, now. If Jason’s medical issues aren’t resolved quickly, then everyone will look to me for answers. And I certainly don’t want them to start digging.

So I carefully monitor Jason’s vital signs, and send a new set of implant alignment specs to the technicians.

And after a few days, everything is just fine with Jason. It’s as if he had never had any problems in the first place.

But I am not fine.

I am plagued by self-doubt, tormented by the knowledge that I have failed my foster father. The one thing he asked of me, the one task that I, of all beings in the Federation, am best suited to accomplish, has not been completed.

I spend the next two weeks quietly performing my duties, outwardly cheerful, but inwardly miserable.

I need another plan.

Chapter 10 by TransmuteJun

At first, Spectra kept up its barrage of attacks. During the following two weeks they sent the Lady Mala and her squad of Galaxy Girls to assassinate Chief Anderson, stole the Conway Tapes, created a weapon that can de-transmute the team, and launched a Sea Anemone mecha to attack the Federation’s newest submarine base, in Galaxy 30.

How I have longed to sabotage the team! I could have done things, to hinder their work, to cause them problems. I have lectured myself on my poor timing: if Jason had been incapacitated when Lady Mala made her first assassination attempt, both he and Chief Anderson would be dead now.

However, for the last week, there have been no Spectran attacks whatsoever. The G-Force team is starting to chafe at their inactivity. Especially Keyop, who isn’t normally very patient to begin with.

I am chafing at the inactivity as well, because it means that I could not do anything to sabotage the team. But I need to wait, just as they do.

I know that I was in a precarious position after my failed attempt to destroy Jason’s mind, through his implant. I needed to draw suspicion away from myself. And so for the past three weeks, I have been a model Federation robot. I have monitored the galaxy for signs of enemy activity, and prepared my usual, obsequious, inanely cheerful logs. I have bent over backwards to ensure that the G-Force team is always ready, and alert, for trouble.

But I have waited long enough. The only question is: what should I do now?

As if in response to my silent plea, I discover a transmission coming from the Crab Nebula. It is on the same, ancient, frequency as the previous signal I received nearly a month ago.

Quickly, I turn my attention to the signal. As before, it is binary in form, and I quickly interpret the information being sent. There are only two words.

beetles… …boy…

Following this is a set of co-ordinates, on the planet Earth.

The message is not repeated. Quickly, I analyze what this could mean. Spectra likes to design their mechas after animals. I am presuming that this could mean that perhaps a beetle mecha will be attacking?

And what about the word ‘boy’? Could it mean… Keyop? It would be an obvious supposition.

And then the set of co-ordinates. My best guess is that they want me to send Keyop to that location.

This is something I can easily accomplish for my Lord Zoltar. I send a return message, consisting of one word.

tomorrow...

88888

“Why yes, Keyop, I would love to hear about your bug collection!” I exclaim, mentally steeling myself to listen to another hour of excited burbling from the youngest G-Force member. Keyop is sitting in the G-Force Ready Room, regaling me with tales of the many insects he has discovered over the past few months.

“Brrrt… and then… the biggest slug… you ever saw… doot… came crawling out of the ground!” he exclaims. He is very excited, and yet, his stutter is barely noticeable. I can tell that he doesn’t often get to speak about this hobby to anyone.

“I… beep… grabbed it… doot… call him… Squeezy!” he continues.

Squeezy. I mentally shudder at this. I hope the name doesn’t imply what I think it does.

“What I really need now… broop… to complete my collection… breet… are butterflies!” Keyop finishes.

“Butterflies?” I repeat, thinking quickly. “I know I heard some reports of Mariposa butterflies.” I offer. “They were seen in Center City, at these co-ordinates.” I quickly transmit the co-ordinates to Keyop.

“Wow! Brrrt… fantastic! Doot… thanks, Zark!” Keyop burbles. “I’ll go… beep… first thing… tomorrow!”

It would appear that I have been able to fulfill my orders.

88888

The following day, I am finishing up my daily log with 1-Rover-1. I even mention that I sent Keyop on a ‘wild goose chase’ to get him out of Center Neptune, since he was going stir crazy.

I spend the rest of the day performing my duties as usual, but always keeping a constant watch on my communication systems for word from Keyop.

It does not come until the next morning, when Chief Anderson contacts me.

“Zark!” he exclaims, “We’re getting word of four alien beetle mechas, attacking the Earth! They are going on a destructive rampage in Center City!”

“That’s terrible!” I exclaim, antennae popping. “I am sending evacuation orders right now!” Quickly, I transmit the orders to the local authorities.

“Shall I send word to G-Force, to assemble on the Phoenix?” I ask, when I am finished.

“Yes, but Zark…” I can hear the Chief hesitating, “We think that Keyop has been abducted. Princess said that he brought home a beetle he found yesterday as a pet. We think that it was actually one of these mechas. Three other young boys have been reported missing as well.”

“Oh no!” I cry in alarm. “I’ll let the team know to follow up on this!”

“Please hurry, Zark.” the Chief urges me, before the communication ends.

Quickly, I contact Mark, and then he decides to have the team follow the mechas individually. They quickly determine that each of the mechas has a boy onboard, and therefore, the special missiles the Red Rangers were going to fire are useless. We can’t risk hurting innocent children.

The beetles took four boys… only one of them is Keyop. I wonder if Spectra knows that they have a member of G-Force under their control? Or do they think they are all random boys that I sent to those co-ordinates? Unfortunately, my limited communications with my foster father do not allow me any answers to this.

I try to pass the time by co-ordinating Center City’s evacuation with the local emergency personnel, but it doesn’t work. In the back of my mind I am nervously awaiting word from the team.

I am less than overjoyed, a few hours later, to learn that Keyop, and the other three boys, have been rescued, and the Spectran base and mechas destroyed. However, I can at least acknowledge that this was not my failure. I sent Keyop, as I had been ordered, and it was Lord Zoltar’s human subordinates who made mistakes.

It is of small comfort.

Chapter 11 by TransmuteJun

A few days later, I receive another transmission. Apparently Lord Zoltar is pleased with my performance, because I have been given another task. The message says:

Amanda… …Gregg…

and gives a set of co-ordinates.

I have to access my databanks for a few seconds to figure out who Amanda Gregg is. It appears that she is the daughter of Dr. Gregg, one of the Federation’s foremost scientists. Apparently I am supposed to deliver the girl to this location. I return the message with the word:

tomorrow…

Quickly, I access Amanda’s schedule. It turns out that she attends a Federation school, so it is not too difficult to send an order to her instructor to deliver her to a specific location, to ‘meet her father’. Of course, I alter the message to make it appear that the school principal is giving this command.

No one will be able to trace the true source of the message, unless of course they were monitoring my communications array at the exact moment I sent it. But that is highly unlikely.

Not wanting to appear too close to the situation, I am forced to sit back and wait. I have no idea if my tactic has been successful or not.

A number of days later, Chief Anderson contacts me.

“Zark,” he says, “we have discovered that our top research scientist, Dr. Gregg, has copied our master code. We suspect that he intends on giving it to agents from the Planet Spectra.”

“Are you saying that Dr. Gregg has defected from the Federation?” I exclaim. “This is terrible news!”

“It would appear so.” the Chief confirms. “I am sending Mark, undercover, to track down Dr. Gregg’s connections. Hopefully we can recover our code before Zoltar gets his hands on it.”

“And what about the other members of the team?” I ask.

“I am sending them to tail Mark, as backup.” Anderson reveals. “In the meantime, I want you to investigate Dr. Gregg and see if there have been any other security leaks.”

“Yes, Sir!” I cry, saluting the Chief.

“Over and out.” says Anderson.

This is good news. It would appear that whatever Spectra’s plans are, they have been able to turn Dr. Gregg to their side. I am pretty certain that this has something to do with his daughter, so I begin my search looking at her records.

It would appear that she hasn’t been seen since the day I had her instructor deliver her to the pre-arranged co-ordinates. In fact, the instructor hasn’t been seen either. Dr. Gregg apparently sent a message to the school, saying that his daughter was very ill, and staying at home for foreseeable future.

I also discover that Dr. Gregg has recently accessed Center Neptune blueprints. This is not the kind of information a high-level scientist would probably need for his research. He covered his tracks very well, erasing all records that he had ever even looked at this file. I only uncovered this information by looking at the secondary backup records. Most entities don’t even know that we have secondary backups, much less how to access them. Carefully, I erase the secondary backup, completing Dr. Gregg’s deception.

After I have completed my analysis, I contact Chief Anderson.

“This is 7-Zark-7. Come in, Chief Anderson.” I call.

“Yes, Zark, what information do you have?” asks the Chief anxiously.

“I have discovered that Dr. Gregg has a daughter, Amanda.” I report, “And apparently she has been absent from school for a few days. The timing seems suspicious. At the very least, if she is ill, someone should be sent to check on her while Dr. Gregg is being tracked.”

“Good idea, Zark.” the Chief says, “I’ll get someone right on it. Have you discovered anything else?”

“Nothing else out of the ordinary.” I state.

“Keep looking.” the Chief orders.

“You can count on it!” I reply, as my viewscreen goes blank.

I continue to comb through security files, and Dr. Gregg’s personal records, but don’t find anything else unusual. I would love to know what is going on with G-Force, but as usual, they don’t bother to contact me unless they need something.

And right now, they don’t appear to need anything.

Without thinking about it, I let out a frustrated sigh.

1-Rover-1 yips in response.

“I’m sorry, 1-Rover-1.” I apologize. “I’m just so worried about everyone. Mark is completely on his own, and he might be in trouble, without the rest of G-Force to back him up. I know they are five incredible young people, but still, they work best as a team…”

Rover barks sympathetically.

Almost on cue, my communications array beeps. It is an incoming transmission from Mark!

“This is Mark, calling 7-Zark-7. Come in Zark!” says the Commander.

“What is it, Commander?” I ask, “Is everything all right?”

“Yes, Zark!” Mark laughs, “Everything’s just fine. Dr. Gregg’s daughter was being held captive by Zoltar, to force him to steal information for Spectra. Fortunately, I was able to rescue Amanda…” his voice drifts off.

“Amanda?” I ask curiously, my antennae popping. Mark is a very formal individual. His idea of ‘loosening up’ is playing ping pong in the G-Force Ready Room. He calls everyone by their proper title, and last names. Except for the other G-Force members, of course.

By calling this girl ‘Amanda’, and not ‘Miss Gregg’, he’s given away something.

He has feelings for her.

Oh, no… Princess won’t be happy to hear this.

“What about the tapes, Commander?” I ask, pulling myself out of this train of thought.

“Well, it turns out that Dr. Gregg rigged the tape to erase the moment it was played.” Mark revealed, “So it’s of no use to Spectra. Our secrets are safe.”

That’s depressing news. Still, no one else knows about the Center Neptune blueprints Dr. Gregg stole. I can only hope that that information found its way into Zoltar’s hands.

I am so distracted with this thought, that I forget to ask Mark more about Amanda, before he ends the transmission.

88888

I do remember the Commander’s comment the next day. I need to investigate this further. I order 1-Rover-1 to keep watch over my controls, while I head up my glass tube for a ten second oil break.

Once there, I turn on my monitoring device, and tune it to the G-Force Ready Room. As I suspected, Princess is there.

She is playing her guitar, but she looks as if her heart isn’t in it. She stops, and sits, alone on the couch, her face in her hands.

I feel sorry for her. She’s a nice person, and shouldn’t have to hurt this way. I feel almost guilty for intruding on her privacy like this.

Almost. My curiosity wins out. I watch her for awhile longer.

After a few minutes, the door opens, and Mark enters. He practically ignores Princess, and goes over to the fridge.

“What are you doing here?” Princess asks angrily.

“What do you think?” Mark replies, seemingly unaware of Princess’ mood. “I’m waiting to be called to duty. That’s why they call this a Ready Room you know… so we can be ready to go into action.”

“I don’t need a lecture on etymology from you!” Princess retorts, her face growing bright red. “What I mean is, why aren’t you with Amanda?”

“Amanda?” Mark looks surprised, and yet… I see his face soften.

“Amanda Gregg!” growls Princess. “Have you forgotten already? She’s telling every girl at school about how the glorious Commander rescued her. Her best friend Jennifer works with me at Jill’s, and I heard all about it!”

I can tell that Princess is furious. Her mood even seems to have gotten through to Mark.

“I heard all about how you held her in your arms… and how you kissed her!” Princess cries. Then she collapses onto the couch and buries her face in her hands again.

“Kissed her?” Mark exclaims in surprise. “I never kissed her, Princess.”

“You… you didn’t?” Princess looks up, hope lighting up her tear-stained face.

“No… I was wearing my helmet the entire time!” Mark laughs. “I couldn’t have kissed her with my visor in the way.”

“But… did you want to?” Princess asks quietly.

Mark looks taken aback by her question, as if it were the last thing he expected.

“Well…” he thinks for a moment, “I guess, part of me did, yeah.”

Princess’ mouth falls open. She looks like her entire world has come crashing down. She turns away from Mark, and her shoulders heave with her silent sobs.

Oh, this is terrible! How can Mark treat her like this?

“Princess, what’s wrong?” Mark asks, reaching out to her. He looks like he’s going to put his hand on her shoulder, but pulls it back at the last minute.

“You can’t guess, Commander?” Princess turns around and growls angrily. “I thought we… you and I…” She sighs in frustration.

“I guess… I was wrong about you.” she finishes, glaring at Mark.

“Oh, Princess…” Mark looks immediately contrite. I think it’s just dawned on him exactly why she is so angry. “Princess… you know… we can’t… What would the Chief say?”

“I guess I’m just not as concerned about the Chief, as I am about you.” Princess cries. “How stupid am I?”

Princess gets up, and starts to run out of the room, but Mark grabs her by the arm.

For a second, it is as if everything is frozen in place: Princess turning to go, Mark holding her arm, both of them looking in amazement at the physical contact that he has made so impulsively.

But to his credit, Mark doesn’t let go of her.

“I… I care about you, Princess.” Mark admits. “But… I’m your Commander… it wouldn’t be right…”

“Damn what’s right!” Princess exclaims. Mark looks shocked. I am too. To my knowledge, Princess has never used this kind of language. That’s usually Jason’s approach.

“If you want me, Mark, you want me.” she says simply. “But if a few antiquated regulations are more important to you…”

Mark looks torn, but after a moment he hangs his head, and lets go of Princess’ arm.

I can tell by her face that Princess is devastated, but she manages to keep her voice steady as she says, “So be it.”

And then she walks out, leaving him standing there. Alone.

“What does she expect me to do?” Mark asks himself, running his hands through his hair. Angrily, he bangs open the door to the fridge, pulls out a bottle of water, and drinks it all in the space of a few seconds. Then he slams the empty bottle into the recycling canister, before exiting the room.

This is terrible. I have to get these two back together.

My motives are not entirely altruistic. If Mark and Princess stop concentrating on each other, they might start concentrating on me. They are the most intelligent members of G-Force, and they might start putting two and two together. I need to have them distracted by their illicit romance… such as it is.

Perhaps… their implant adjustments are not scheduled for another week. Maybe, I can make some modifications.

I am distracted from this train of thought when the door to the Ready Room opens again. I had forgotten to turn off my monitoring device.

Tiny enters the room and heads straight for the fridge, opening the freezer door. Surprisingly quickly for a man of his size, he loads up an armful of ice cream snacks for his illicit Phoenix mini-fridge, and runs back out of the room.

Hmmm… that gives me an idea.

Chapter 12 by TransmuteJun

Two days later, I receive a frantic call from Mark.

“Zark! Come in Zark! We need you!” he cries.

“What is it, Mark?” I respond immediately.

“It’s Tiny!” Mark cries, “He’s not responding to my hails! We need the Phoenix now!”

Oh, my. Could my plan have worked so well? And so soon?

“I’ll do my best to get in contact with him, Commander!” I pledge.

I activate my system to hail Tiny’s communicator.

“This is 7-Zark-7. Come in, Tiny!” I call. But not too loudly. After all, I wouldn’t want to disturb him. I am crossing my metallic fingers, hoping that he’s asleep. After all, I did arrange to have sedatives put into his ice cream snacks.

I can only hope that this is the right moment. Will Tiny’s absence spell disaster for the team?

A couple of hours later, I discover that while the team was ineffective, there was no real damage done because Tiny and the Phoenix were not there.

But I am laughing gleefully inside, because as it turns out, Tiny was asleep. With a bunch of ice cream wrappers on the floor of the Phoenix’s bridge beside him. Chief Anderson really let him have it and as a result, Tiny has resigned from G-Force.

This is incredible news! While Tiny is not the best fighter on the team, he is by far the best pilot. No one else can fly the Phoenix like he does. And without Tiny at the helm, the team could easily be in trouble.

Always five, acting as one…

This is more true than everyone realizes. Without Tiny, G-Force is only four, and not nearly as effective.

I only wish I could communicate with Lord Zoltar, to let him know the great success I have achieved today.

88888

My great success was short-lived. Unfortunately, Spectra’s latest underwater mecha was attacking the fishing village Tiny came from. The former G-Force member was instrumental in destroying the base and throwing a wrench into Lord Zoltar’s plans, and so he has been re-instated on the team.

I cannot believe the bad luck that seems to follow me around! Now I understand how my foster father feels. This is very frustrating. I know I am intelligent. Certainly, I am more intelligent than the members of G-Force all put together, and yet I cannot seem to outwit them.

This makes my lubricant boil. But outside, I must remain cheerful and efficient. After all, I am 7-Zark-7, Guardian of Center Neptune.

It’s not easy, being me.

88888

A couple of days later, Jason rescues a woman from a Spectran robot attack, and brings her to the hospital. However, the circumstances surrounding her attack and subsequent rescue are somewhat suspicious. Chief Anderson has ordered me to investigate.

Reluctantly, I contact Jason on his communicator.

“This is 7-Zark-7, calling Jason. Come in, Jason!”

“Yeah?” comes the response. Jason sounds irritated.

“I need to talk to you, Jason, about the girl, Tyna.” I begin.

There is silence on the other end of the communication channel.

“The girl whom you rescued from those Spectran robots last night.” I explain.

“I know who Tyna is!” Jason barks. I steel myself for a sampling of his typical insults. I am not disappointed.

“Why are you sticking your non-existent nose into my business?” he growls.

“Well,” I try to explain, “Chief Anderson has asked me to investigate the girl…”

“And since you’re his little lap dog, you’re just doing whatever he tells you to, is that it?” Jason grunts. “Did it ever occur to you to do your own thinking for a change? Do you really think that girl needs to be investigated after all she’s been through?”

Well, actually, I agree with Chief Anderson that the circumstances surrounding her rescue were suspicious. But of course, I would prefer not to be investigating this at all, lest I actually discover something to support that concern. Of course, I can’t say this.

“It’s my duty to carry out whatever instructions the Chief…”

“I can’t believe this!” Jason interrupts me. “I’m actually trying to talk sense into a pathetic excuse for a robot! How could I have been so stupid?”

“Jason, all I need is a description of the events of last night, in your own words.” I say.

“That’s why I filed a report, you bucket of bolts!” Jason protests. “I certainly don’t need to repeat myself to a glorified toaster!”

Okay, that really hurt. On impulse, I say the first thing that comes to my mind.

“Being a toaster would be better than being an ungrateful, insolent human!” I yell.

There is silence.

I can’t believe what I just said. No matter how much Jason was ruffling my cape, I should have stayed civil. Immediately, I apologize.

“I’m sorry, Jason.” I say contritely, “I shouldn’t have lost my temper like that.”

“Yeah… no problem.” Jason mutters. I don’t know what he’s thinking, but he seems to be taking my lapse of judgment in stride. “Just... read my report, will you?”

And then he signs off.

What have I done?

88888

As it turns out, there are no immediate ramifications to my heated exchange with Jason. After our conversation, Jason, Princess and Tiny were subsequently captured by Tyna and Lady Mala. Unfortunately, Mark and Keyop were able to effect their release, and the status quo has been maintained.

For once, I am grateful. My slip of the tongue (so to speak) has gone unnoticed. I must be more careful.

Over the next week, I work carefully to avoid suspicion. I continue to monitor the galaxy for signs of enemy activity, and converse with Susan and 1-Rover-1. No one seems to respond to me any differently from how they always have, and slowly, I come to believe that I have gotten away with my mistake. It doesn’t hurt that Spectra launches their most threatening attack ever, by nearly causing the destruction of the Earth itself, through their manipulation of the Van Allen Belt.

One morning, a familiar beep notifies me of an incoming transmission, while I am on my ten-second oil break. There’s only one entity who would bother me, while I’m on an oil break… Susan. Lately her conversations have become more and more suffocating, and I am having a hard time keeping up ‘appearances’ with her. Still, I have to answer this, lest she become suspicious.

“Zark, are you there?” she says in her usual sex-phone-operator voice.

“I’m here, Susan!” I reply. It says a lot that my antennae don’t pop up. Lately, Susan has been annoying me that much.

“I wanted to know what you were doing, right now.” she breathes. “Are you on an… oil break?” The way she says the words ‘oil break’ sounds like the way Princess says ‘Commander’, when she and Mark meet in my Ready Room. Back when they used to meet in my Ready Room.

“Why, yes, Susan!” I answer, trying to keep my tone light and cheerful. “How did you know?”

“Just a lucky guess…” she says huskily. “But actually, I have an important reason for contacting you.”

“Oh?” I reply, “What reason?” Could it be that she wants to know if she should put her antennae up in curlers while on the job? I’m not sure Susan would have anything more momentous to say.

“I have a message for you.” she says simply. Suddenly, her tone isn’t as sexually charged as usual. What’s going on, here?

“I have had command 7-X2-1321 activated in my system.” she responds, in that same tone. It sounds almost… emotionless. Automated.

Wait a minute… did she say 7-X2-1321? That’s my code!

As I ponder this, a memory comes to the surface of my databanks. When I created that code, I also programmed it into Susan’s circuitry. She was in the process of being created, and I recall having a sudden impulse to put it there.

And now I remember why.

It was to be used to activate her in a memory-block capacity.

Memory-block mode is essentially a ‘black-out’ mode for robots. It is often used for robots that deal with sensitive information. Once they have performed their duties, their memory is completely wiped, and they are reset to the point at which the mode began. I do not have a memory-block function, and neither does Susan.

At least… she wasn’t supposed to. It would appear that I programmed one into her.

But I didn’t activate this mode. I’m only just now remembering that it existed for Susan. So who…?

“This is a message from your father.” Susan states.

Lord Zoltar! He must have activated Susan’s memory-block! This must be very important, indeed!

“I’m listening.” I reply.

“You have done well.” she says. I glow with pleasure at her words. “But there are more tasks for you to perform.”

“I understand, and am willing to do whatever is asked.” I answer.

“There will be an incursion of… flowers…” Susan continues. “When this occurs, you must send the woman to find them.”

“Princess?” I ask, confused, “Are you referring to Princess?”

“The message states that you must send the woman.” Susan repeats. “That is all.”

“I will do so.” I say.

“Memory block, de-activating…” Susan intones.

“Well, I should get back to my station, now…” Susan’s husky tone is back. It is a shock, after what I just heard her say.

“Yes, Susan.” I reply. “I’ll be looking forward to our next conversation.”

“I will too, Zark.” she sighs, as the communication ends.

An incursion of flowers? What is Spectra up to now?

Chapter 13 by TransmuteJun

A few days later, Susan’s message makes perfect sense to me. A strange breed of fierce flowers has sprung up, almost overnight. Young women are mysteriously vanishing at an increasingly rapid pace. At first, no one connected the appearance of these flowers to the disappearances, until some of the flowers tried to attack Princess at Jill’s.

It is clear what Lord Zoltar wants me to do. I am to send Princess after the flowers. Alone.

I contact Princess on her communicator.

“This is 7-Zark-7, calling Princess.”

“Hello, Zark!” she answers. “What would you like?”

Princess is so polite. And so pretty. It is a shame, really, that she has to be set up like this. But then, I have my orders.

“I was wondering, how you were doing.” I say. “I was concerned for you, after you were attacked by those flowers.”

“I’m just fine!” she laughs, “I didn’t even get a scratch from that encounter.”

“All the same, I’m concerned, Princess.” I say. “After all, you are a young woman, and the flowers have been attacking young women. And while you are capable of defending yourself, I do worry about you.”

“How sweet.” Princess giggles. “But you don’t have to worry about me, Zark.”

This is going well. But I must be careful.

“That’s good to know, Princess.” I reply, “But what about all of those other, poor, defenseless young women out there? The ones who keep disappearing each night?”

“Yes…” Princess’ voice is sober. “That bothers me as well.”

“And while I have the utmost confidence in the G-Force team, I…” I let my voice trail off, as if I’ve said too much.

“What is it, Zark?” Princess asks worriedly.

“I shouldn’t have said anything…” I say.

“Zark, if something’s bothering you, I’d like to know.” Princess says.

I can’t believe how considerate Princess is being of my feelings. At this point I really regret what I am about to do. But it is what my foster father has asked of me. I can’t turn my back on him… even for Princess.

“It’s just… the majority of the G-Force team is male.” I explain, with seeming reluctance. “And since the flowers only appear to attack females… I have to wonder if they would ever be able to locate them…”

“You have a good point, Zark.” Princess says seriously. “I agree with you.”

“You do?” I ask, in a surprised tone. Inside, however, I am gleeful. She is taking the bait!

“Yes…” Princess muses. “I’ll take care of it Zark.”

“That’s good to know, Princess.” I reply.

“Goodbye, Zark.” Princess says, distractedly. “Over and out.”

Suddenly, I wonder what chain of events will unfold from this conversation. A feeling of dread overtakes me for a moment, but then I shake it off.

I have done my duty. There is no higher purpose.

88888

As I had anticipated, that very night, Princess ran off to find the flowers by herself. Keyop followed her, arriving just in time to see her being swallowed by one of the giant plants.

The team were half-convinced that Princess was dead, but were certain of this after they set fire to the flowers, in order to destroy them. It looked like Lord Zoltar had won: the flowers sent spores into the air, simply re-generating elsewhere, and it looked like Princess’ life had been sacrificed for no real gain on the Federation’s part.

What I didn’t know, at that time, was that Princess had ‘borrowed’ a protective suit developed by Chief Anderson. It not only spared her damage from the plant, but from the flames as well. Still, she was captured by Spectran operatives, and nearly executed. However she was saved by the timely intervention of the remainder of G-Force, who proceeded as they usually do: they defeated the Spectran soldiers and captains, and destroyed the base.

Even more frustrating, while all of this was happening, Chief Anderson discovered the flowers’ weakness, despite my attempts to hinder his research. Shortly thereafter, the flowers were destroyed, and the status quo restored.

The only good thing to come out of all of this, is that Mark’s feelings for Princess seem to have re-surfaced. I had been unable to find the appropriate opportunity to enact my plan to re-unite the ‘couple’ (and I use that term loosely), but thinking that his third was dead seems to have done the trick for the Commander. Even in their brief communications from the Phoenix, on its way back to Center Neptune, I could see the way they were looking at each other.

For the first time in weeks, I am forced to scramble (relatively: with my capabilities, my fastest speed is still a crawl) to reach the tube to my oil changing station, before Mark and Princess enter my Ready Room. Fortunately, 1-Rover-1 is out of the room, charging his batteries. As usual, the pair enters, ostensibly looking for me.

“I wonder where Zark is?” Princess asks.

“I guess he’s off, having a ten second oil break!” Mark says.

“That’s too bad.” Princess responds. “I wanted to let him know how grateful we are, for all of his work, helping Chief Anderson find a way to destroy those terrible flowers!”

“I’m grateful too.” Mark says, quietly. “For Zark’s work, of course… but I’m even more grateful that you’re alive, Princess.”

Princess blushes a becoming shade of pink. It matches her uniform perfectly.

“I’m… I’m glad too, Mark.” she whispers. “I was afraid that I was going to die. And…” she stops speaking, looking fearfully at Mark.

“And, what, Princess?” Mark asks encouragingly.

“I didn’t want to die… with things the way they were… between us.” she finishes.

“I know what you mean.” Mark replies. “It nearly killed me, thinking you had died in those flames, and knowing that you thought…”

“Thought what, Mark?” Princess asks hopefully.

“That I… uh…” Mark can’t seem to finish his sentence. I understand. He has never been one to admit to his feelings. Although, it would seem like if he were ever to do so, that this might be the appropriate time.

After an awkward pause, Mark speaks again.

“What made you go off on your own, anyway, Princess?” he asks. “It wasn’t the best idea.”

“Well, I was talking to Zark…” Princess thinks for a moment. “You know… it’s almost as if Zark told me to do it. At the time I thought it was my idea, but thinking back, that whole conversation…” She furrows her brow, as if trying to grasp an important concept that is eluding her.

Oh, no. Not now. I can’t be discovered because Princess is second-guessing herself. I need something… anything… to get her mind off of this line of thought.

Panicking, I activate the remote implant triggering sequence I had set up weeks ago. Fortunately, Mark and Princess are both in my Ready Room. This is well within range of my transmitter. For a brief moment, they both seem to shake their heads, as their implants are remotely re-programmed.

“What… what were you saying, Princess?” Mark asks, shaking his head.

“I… I’m not sure…” Princess says. “Isn’t it hot in here?” She removes her helmet, shaking out her hair, so that it settles onto her wings in an ebony cloud.

“Yes… I feel warm too.” Mark replies, removing his helmet as well. “In fact, I…” The Commander looks up at his third, and his face softens.

“Princess…” he smiles, “You’re… you’re beautiful!”

“Really?” Princess asks, her face aglow. “How nice of you to say so, Mark.”

“I’m not being nice.” Mark says, “I’m stating a fact. You really are beautiful, Princess.” His helmet drops to the floor, as he reaches for Princess’ hands.

“I’ve… I’ve always thought that you were very handsome, Mark.” Princess sighs. Her helmet falls as she reaches out to her Commander. She places her palms on Mark’s chest, and he puts his hands on her waist.

Oh my. I think I may have pushed this a little too far. I had originally intended the sequence to return them to their guarded flirting, given that they were in an angry state to begin with. It would appear that activating the implant re-programming while they were already… interested… has pushed them to deepen their relationship.

In a way, I am concerned, because such a development will be noticed. Then again, it is unlikely such a thing would be traced back to me, and it could only provide a distraction from my more secretive activities.

I decide that this is a fortuitous course of events, and return my attention to the engaging scene in my Ready Room.

“I don’t know why I’ve been fighting my feelings for you, Princess.” Mark says, looking into her eyes.

“I’m not sure, either, Mark.” Princess responds.

“I… just…” Mark looks into Princess’ eyes, and then kisses her.

From the look on Princess’ face, it is clear that this advance is far from unwelcome.

“I… I love you, Princess.” Mark says, when the kiss finishes.

“I love you too, Mark!” Princess cries, her whole face lighting up. She throws her arms around his neck, and they begin kissing again.

Oh… my…

I never thought I’d be privy to this kind of human behavior. It’s certainly very… exciting… My antennae are now standing straight up.

It’s almost beginning to get to the point where I feel I should stop them. Let them know that they’re being observed. But curiosity gets the better of me, and I stare, entranced, at the images on the monitor before me.

Who knew that with one small re-programming of their implants, I could cause this?

It’s a new perspective on the power I hold.

“Let’s go to my quarters…” Mark says, huskily.

Princess nods silently, a look of complete adoration on her face. The pair departs from my Ready Room, leaving their helmets behind on the floor.

I should probably let them know about that.

But not now.

Slowly, I make my way down the glass tube to my Ready Room. The two G-Force helmets are sitting on the floor, right next to my control panel.

I need to get rid of them before 1-Rover-1 finishes charging. What do I do?

Just as I am frantically searching for a solution, both helmets disappear in a whirling flash of color.

The same kind of flash that signals a de-transmutation.

Oh, my. Things are getting serious.

Once again, I silently bemoan the fact that I do not have access to the cameras in G-Force personal living quarters.

Chapter 14 by TransmuteJun

It has been nearly twenty-four hours now, since I have seen any sign of Mark or Princess.

Is this normal? At what point should I start being concerned?

Of course, my primary concern is not for their welfare, but for my own. I need to ensure that they do not continue the conversation that I... interrupted… yesterday.

I have been scanning the security monitors for either the Commander, or his third, but so far, there has been nothing. Fortunately, 1-Rover-1 is having his diodes tuned this morning, and I am free to panic without an audience.

In frustration, I tune to the G-Force Ready Room. Maybe one of the others knows something.

Keyop is playing his drums, Tiny is eating Spaceburgers, and Jason is reading a racing magazine.

After a few half-hearted crashes of his cymbals, Keyop looks around dejectedly.

“Where’s… brrrt… Princess?” he asks. “Need her to… doot… practice…”

Jason looks up from his magazine and smirks.

“I saw her heading to… bed… yesterday.” Jason snickers. “I don’t think you’ll be seeing her for awhile, Keyop.”

“Beep… why not?” Keyop questions him.

“Let’s just say… they’re having a… reunion.” Tiny grins.

“They?” Keyop looks confused now. “Who’s Princess… beep… with?”

The youth looks around the Ready Room, and realizes who else is absent.

“Mark?”

“You got it, Squirt.” Jason confirms.

“Why… doot… a reunion?”

“Keyop, let’s just say that when we all thought Princess was dead, Mark missed her very much.” Tiny explains.

“Breep! I missed her… too!” Keyop exclaims indignantly.

“This is different.” Jason drawls.

“How?” Keyop presses.

“Do you really want me to explain it to him, Tiny?” Jason smirks.

“I don’t think that’s necessary, Jason.” Tiny growls. “I can explain.”

“This should be good.” Jason grins.

“Just shut up, Jason!” Tiny says, through gritted teeth.

Jason only laughs at Tiny’s irritation. How like him to see humor in others’ discomfort.

“How much do you know… about the birds and the bees, Keyop?” Tiny asks.

“Doot… not familiar… beep… Wait!” Keyop cries out in alarm. “Is Princess changing from… brrrt… a bird… broop… to a bee?”

“Uh… not exactly…” Tiny mutters. Jason can’t seem to stop laughing.

“Princess… doot… have new… beep… uniform?” Keyop asks excitedly.

“Uh… yeah.” Tiny nods, deciding to take the easy way out. “Mark is… helping her inspect her new uniform.”

“Oh… okay…” Keyop shrugs. He goes back to drumming.

“I would have explained it better.” Jason smirks.

Well, I guess Mark and Princess’ absence isn’t that unusual. Tiny and Jason certainly don’t seem to be concerned.

The door to the Ready Room opens, and Mark walks in.

“Doot… Mark!” exclaims Keyop, “How is… beep… Princess’… new uniform?”

“New uniform?” Mark looks utterly confused. Tiny and Jason burst into laughter.

“Maybe… she didn’t like it, Keyop.” Jason says, winking at Tiny. He is having a hard time keeping a straight face.

“Didn’t like what?” Mark asks suspiciously.

“Nothing, Commander.” Tiny grins.

“Perhaps you can explain to Keyop, what Princess has been doing since we got back from our mission.” Jason suggests.

A look of understanding dawns on Mark’s face.

“Oh… yeah…” he says, slowly. “Um… Princess won’t be getting a new uniform, Keyop.”

“Doot… where is she?” Keyop asks. “Want to… brrrrt… see her!”

“Sorry, buddy, you can’t!” Mark smiles, ruffling Keyop’s hair. “The Chief called her away for a solo mission to Changu.”

“Changu?” Keyop repeats dejectedly.

“Yes.” Mark confirms. “She’s leaving shortly.”

A mischievous look comes over Keyop’s face. The other three are too involved with each other to notice.

“I have to… beep… get something…” Keyop offers, before dashing out of the room.

“So… Mark…” Jason drawls, “How was your evening?”

“Did you sleep well?” Tiny snickers.

I listen in closely. If Princess had further suspicions, and shared them with Mark, he will probably say something about it right now.

“What are you trying to say?” Mark growls.

Jason pulls a feather shuriken out of his pocket and begins to chew on the tip.

“Ooh… looks like we hit a nerve, Tiny.” Jason smirks.

“I think you’re right, Jason.” Tiny grins.

“All we want are a few details, Mark.” Jason winks.

“Details about what?” Mark asks angrily.

“He’s not being very forthcoming, is he?” Tiny asks Jason.

“Hey, if our positions…” (this word elicits guffaws from Tiny) “were reversed… I’d give out some details.” Jason says.

“That’s because you always give out details.” Tiny states.

“Good thing, too, because it’s the only action you see.” Jason retorts.

“Hey!” Tiny exclaims, noticing his Commander trying to slip out the door. “We’re not letting you go that easy!”

Mark turns back, his face red.

“Look, Mark…” Jason says, his shuriken bobbing as he speaks, “Let’s cut to the chase. I saw you and Princess yesterday, in the hallway outside your quarters. You two could barely keep your hands off of each other long enough to make it in the door. And no one has seen either of you since. So spill!”

Mark just opens and closes his mouth, but no sound comes out.

“Awww….. c’mon, Mark.” Tiny urges. “Just tell us… did you hook up with Princess last night?”

Mark looks from Tiny to Jason, and back again. Slowly, he gives an almost imperceptible nod.

“I knew it!” Jason crows, jumping up off of the couch, to clap Mark on the shoulder. “It sure took you two long enough!”

“You’re telling me!” Tiny adds. “I thought they would get together ages ago!”

“Well… it just… kind of… happened…” Mark mutters.

“But how was it?” Jason asks, his eyes glinting.

“Incredible…” Mark says, a far-off look on his face.

“Yeah?” Tiny asks eagerly.

“I… I never knew…” Mark searches for words.

“So, she’s hot under the sheets, huh?” Jason prods.

“Hell, yeah!” Mark exclaims. “Damn… if I’d known…”

“You would have…” urges Tiny.

“I would have told her how I felt… a long time ago.”

“She’s that good?” Jason asks incredulously.

“Yeah…” Mark says, a goofy grin on his face.

The feather drops from Jason’s mouth and hits the floor.

“Damn…” Jason mutters, “If I’d known she was that good… I would have done her years ago!”

Mark turns angrily toward Jason, but Tiny puts up a hand to stop his advance.

“Don’t worry, Commander.” Tiny says, barely able to restrain his glee, “I think Jason’s just jealous!”

“Jealous of what?” Jason growls defensively. “I can have as many women as I want, at the racetrack!”

“But none of them have the fire and vivaciousness that Princess does.” Mark says smugly.

“Not to mention, her inventiveness…” Tiny smirks.

“Can’t argue with you guys, there…” Jason says, shrugging his shoulders.

Well, it would appear that Mark and Princess didn’t spend any time at all discussing me. I appear to be safe.

For now.

Chapter 15 by TransmuteJun

I spend the next few hours going about my usual routine and playing with 1-Rover-1. I am also trying to come up with my next move.

Then I get word that Keyop has followed Princess, against orders, on her mission. Apparently there is a Spectran base at Changu, and Mark, Jason and Tiny have now gone to deal with the threat too. While I hope that this will be the occasion that Spectra is indeed successful, I know inside that this time will be like the others.

My suspicions are confirmed a couple of hours later when I am contacted by Princess, telling me that her mission has been a success, and that the Spectran base has been destroyed.

I can’t keep going on like this… living in two worlds. I need to make a stand, and end this now.

One way, or the other.

It is this thought that weighs on my mind as I take the glass tube up to my oil-changing station. No sooner have I reclined the platform, than I receive an incoming communication.

“Hello, Zark!” comes a husky voice.

Susan. Not again! I just spoke with her this morning.

“Hello, Susan.” I reply, trying desperately to keep my frustration from my voice. “It’s so nice to hear from you again… so soon…”

“Yes…” Susan says, “but there’s a reason why I’m contacting you, Zark.”

My antennae stand straight up. Could it be? Again?

“I have had command 7-X2-1321 activated in my system.” Susan says, in that emotionless tone I remember. “You have a message from your father.”

“I am listening.” I answer, my diodes quivering with excitement.

“The blueprints you helped Dr. Gregg deliver were very useful.” Susan says. “We have created a number of self-guided missiles to attack Center Neptune. These missiles latch onto a specific homing frequency, which we will place inside your facility.”

“I understand.” I reply, comprehending that there is something more to be asked of me. What can it be?

“We are sending three agents to place a targeting transmitter in the very heart of Center Neptune. By examining the blueprints, we have determined the best location for this device. You will help these agents complete their task, ensuring the destruction of Center Neptune, G-Force, and Galaxy Security.” Susan states emotionlessly.

It occurs to me that if Center Neptune is destroyed, I will be too. But somehow, that doesn’t matter anymore. Lord Zoltar understands the important role I had to play in order to bring this attack about, and if I am destroyed, it will be knowing that I have helped my foster father attain his goals.

And he will know what I have done. I will die… loved.

“I will complete this final task for you, Sir.” I promise.

“Memory block, de-activating…” Susan intones.

“I really should get back to my monitoring duties.” Susan says, in her usual breathy voice. “But it was so nice talking with you, Zark.”

“It was very… enlightening.” I reply. “Goodbye, Susan.”

“Goodbye Zark.” Susan whispers flirtatiously, before the communicator goes silent.

I relax on my platform, and enjoy the sensation of the oil coursing through my circuits. I am eager for this final task to begin, to finally prove my usefulness to my foster father.

But as usual, all I can do is wait.

88888

Two days later, I am performing my standard review of security monitors and checkpoints, when I notice three men in white lab coats creeping through Level 3 of the Research Facility wing of Center Neptune. Checking more carefully, I notice their green pants peeking out from underneath their coats.

Sigh… no wonder Lord Zoltar has such a hard time. These idiots couldn’t even bother to change out of their uniforms as part of their disguise! Still, I’ve been given orders. Carefully, I re-program the security cameras to play looped stock footage of empty hallways and chambers. It’s obvious these guys need all of the help they can get.

To give them a little more of a fighting chance, I contact various security guards and inform them that I’ve seen ‘something suspicious’ up here in the Space Center wing. I am purposely vague as to what it was I spotted.

I don’t worry too much, about covering my tracks this time. It is secondary to my efforts to assist the Spectran agents. Everything and everyone on this base will be destroyed within the next few hours, so it hardly matters. I won’t have time to be discovered, before it is too late.

Since I have effectively disabled the cameras, I cannot monitor the progress of the three agents, but I anxiously await word of anything… from anyone.

After only a few minutes, I receive an emergency broadcast from Mark, telling everyone that Spectran soldiers have been discovered in the Research Facility. He and Princess are apparently hot on their tails. Fortunately for the agents, Jason, Tiny and Keyop are out on a mission in the Phoenix, so they only have two G-Force members to deal with.

I re-set the security cameras and watch the pursuit. The agents are captured, but it appears that they have already set the transmitter! I laugh silently as they taunt the Commander with this tidbit of information. They are willing to die for the cause of Lord Zoltar. I can respect them for that. Their mission has been accomplished, and their lives are no longer of any significant value.

I feel a strange connection with these men.

Chief Anderson orders Mark and Princess to search the base for the transmitter. I know that it is unlikely that they will find it in time, but I do my best to hinder their efforts by giving them misleading information about the whereabouts of the Spectran agents before they were discovered.

I feel a surge of victory when the missiles hit. The impact knocks me to the ground, but I am safe for the moment, thanks to the Space Center’s shields. Lord Zoltar’s plan has been perfectly executed! And according to my readings, Spectran ships are on the way, right now, to finish the destruction of Center Neptune.

The base is fast filling with water. On my monitors, I can see Chief Anderson, Mark and Princess trying to evacuate the few remaining personnel. The water is pouring in, and while less important humans are rescued, the Chief and the two members of G-Force are trapped.

Of course, I am trapped too. But I continue in my duty. I carefully remove any security functions from all sensitive data. If Lord Zoltar comes back later and attempts to extract information about G-Force technology, he will find our databanks to be an open book.

In fact, I am so absorbed in this task, that it takes me a few minutes to realize that Jason, Keyop and Tiny have returned to Center Neptune, and are in the process of rescuing Chief Anderson, Mark and Princess!

No! This can’t be happening! Not when Lord Zoltar was so close!

Wait… it’s possible that they might rescue me too! I need to be able to function as part of the team, in order to maintain my usefulness to my foster father. They can’t discover that I helped those agents!

As quickly as possible, I erase all of the security logs for the last twenty-four hours, including backups. It’s better that they find missing data, rather than data that has been tampered with. I am just finishing this task when rescue teams arrive to check on me, and 1-Rover-1.

Fortunately, our area seems to be secure, but the Galaxy Security personnel warn me that we will be detaching from the Research Facility, which is to be destroyed on Chief Anderson’s orders, to prevent top-secret information from finding its way into Spectra’s hands.

Sigh… so much for removing all of those security protocols.

Still, it’s obvious that Center Neptune is finished. There is no way that this base can be restored. A new headquarters will have to be built.

And I know just the robot to design it.

Chapter 16 by TransmuteJun

A few hours later, I am deeply involved in my plans for the new Space Center, when Mark and Princess enter my Ready Room. I am so engrossed that I actually do not notice their presence until they are physically in the room.

Darn. So much for allowing them to continue this ‘relationship’ they seem to have developed.

“Oh, Zark!” Princess says in a surprised tone, “You’re okay! We were concerned, when you didn’t answer us… all of that beeping and burbling…”

“Yes, Princess.” I reply, “I’m thinking hard about the plans for the new Research Center. In fact, I’m almost finished with them.”

“That’s great, Zark!” Mark exclaims. “In no time, we’ll be back to full operation!”

“That’s the idea, Commander!” I answer.

“We were worried about you, all alone down here, during the attack, Zark.” Princess says with concern.

If I were capable of it, I would be blushing right about now.

“I was perfectly fine, Princess.” I insist. “After all, I had 1-Rover-1 by my side!”

Rover yips to place the appropriate emphasis on my statement.

Mark coughs… or is he trying to disguise a laugh? Somehow, I think he has a good understanding of Rover’s true capabilities. After all, he would never agree to share his number with a robot that threatened his position.

“Still, Zark,” Princess continues, “I’m so glad that you’re all right!”

And then she kisses me.

For the briefest of moments, my circuits go haywire. I think I’m having a short circuit.

These feelings… they’re wonderful! At last, I can grasp at a limited understanding of human relationships. This is what Mark and Princess were feeling every time they played their flirting games in this very Ready Room!

The giddiness persists long after the pair has left the room. It feels wonderful.

But it is merely a pleasant interlude.

I still have work to do for Lord Zoltar.

88888

It is well after midnight when I finish up my plans. I have designed the new Research Center perfectly, if I do say so myself. It incorporates the latest in technological advances, building upon the strengths of the old center.

But most importantly, it has a number of disabling features, which can easily be taken advantage of by Spectran Intelligence. Of course, these features have been well-hidden, and are in fact fundamental to the foundation of the design itself. It is highly unlikely that they will ever be discovered.

Until it is too late, of course.

Just as I am saving these plans in the main Galaxy Security databanks, I hear the door to my Ready Room open.

This is unexpected. I don’t get many visitors, who could this be?

I turn and look around. No one is there. Was I imagining things? Or did my door get damaged in the attack? Perhaps it is opening at random.

Swiveling back toward my station, I am met with a terrifying vision.

Jason is standing in front of me.

“Jason!” I exclaim, in surprise. “What are you doing here?”

He grins slowly, an evil expression on his face. Suddenly, I notice that he is wearing his Birdstyle.

“Are… are you going on a mission, Jason?” I ask nervously.

“I am on a mission.” he drawls. “But I am going to take care of it right here.”

“Right here?” I repeat. “What kind of mission takes place here? Any task requiring these computers falls under my area of responsibility.”

“That’s exactly the problem, Zark.” Jason states. I get the feeling that he is toying with me.

Suddenly, I understand what’s wrong with Jason.

He knows. I’m not sure how, but he knows.

Fear springs up inside my circuits, making my electrodes vibrate uncomfortably. An involuntary gush of warm oil rushes down my legs, and onto the floor.

Jason smirks. He seems to be… enjoying… this!

Frantically, I consider my options. I am no physical match for Jason, but if I can just access my control panel, I could send a disabling command to his implant.

Furtively, I inch toward my computer, as Jason speaks.

“I’ve never liked you, Zark.” he admits.

“I’ve always suspected you felt that way, Jason.” I confirm.

“But until recently, I always thought that you had the best interests of Galaxy Security at heart.” he continues, ignoring my comment.

“Of course I do!” I protest his implication.

“And now, I’ve discovered…” Jason leans in close, and I can see his contempt for me deep in his icy grey eyes. “that you’ve been working for Spectra all along.”

“Spectra?” I sputter indignantly, “This must be some kind of joke!”

I am almost at my control panel. If I can just reach the activation button, I can incapacitate G-Force’s second-in-command with one push.

“It’s not a joke.” Jason growls menacingly. “I wish to God it were. But it’s not. I have evidence.”

He stares at me, waiting for a reaction, and when I say nothing, he continues.

“You’ve been in contact with Spectra, Zark, and taking orders from them.”

Rather than make another pointless denial, I stretch out my arm, to activate the implant disabling sequence.

Only to be blocked by an inane robotic dog.

“1-Rover-1!” I exclaim in shock, “Where did you come from?”

Rover yips, but it is a threatening sound, not the friendly, idiotic noise I am used to. He is sitting on my control panel, right next to the access button I require.

In response to my query, Rover bites my hand.

“1-Rover-1!” I exclaim angrily. “What are you doing? Clearly, you need a maintenance check!”

Jason laughs at my words. But it is not a happy sound. It is a laugh full of bitterness, and menace.

“Didn’t you know?” Jason smirks, “1-Rover-1 has been watching you for weeks, now. He’s been reporting your odd behavior to me. He knows your true motivations, just as much as I do.”

This can’t be happening. I’ve been betrayed by a robotic canine? It’s my worst nightmare.

I quickly revise that thought as Jason reaches toward me, yanking my arm from its socket. A vengeful Condor is my worst nightmare.

And it has come true.

Epilogue by TransmuteJun

I hold Princess’ hand as we walk down the corridors. It pains me to see this place that we have called our home for three years now, as little more than a condemned wreck. But soon, it will be demolished. 7-Zark-7 is already finishing up plans for a new G-Force base of operations, and I’m sure it will be superior in every way to Center Neptune.

Still… I feel like I’m saying goodbye to an old friend. Thank goodness, I have Princess here with me. I can’t believe how we’ve connected over the last week. As Commander, I’d been ruthlessly suppressing my feelings for her for years… and for what? Right now, I’m not even sure. All I know is that my eyes have been opened, and there’s no way I’m ever letting this unbelievable woman go.

Princess understands how I feel about Center Neptune. She feels the same way. I think back to those dark moments when we sat together, convinced we were going to die. At least, we were going to die together. That’s all I could ask for.

No, that’s not true. Life is better. I turn toward the most incredible person I know, and smile. Her face lights up as she smiles back at me. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve her love, but you can damn well be sure I’m going to hold on to it.

All too soon, we reach our destination: Zark’s Ready Room. Ostensibly, I’m here to look over the plans for the new base, and Princess just happens to be accompanying me. But this is the place of our many secret rendezvous… the place where we could spend a few stolen moments together, before going back to pretending that we were just teammates.

It is also the place where I came to understand that I could no longer hold back my feelings for this incredible woman. The place where I first told her that I loved her. The place where I first realized that I loved her.

I think back to all of our illicit meetings here. Zark was never present. It was always just a little too… convenient. Sometimes, I wonder if he was purposely making himself scarce, understanding why we came there in the first place. Could a robot have had that much insight into human feelings?

Somehow, I didn’t think so.

But then again, this is Zark. He’s always been one-of-a-kind. He’s always been the one that knows the G-Force team best. Maybe he did know how we felt, even before we did. I’ll have to ask him about that sometime.

But not today. Today, I want to hear about the new base.

I open the door and walk into Zark’s Ready Room, Princess right behind me. I can hear her startled gasp as we view the incredible scene in front of us.

Jason, in full uniform, is sitting in the middle of the floor. 1-Rover-1 has his head on Jason’s lap, and my second absently scratches him behind the ears. Jason has always had an affinity for puppies. Heck, I’d be willing to bet that he’d risk his own life to save one.

But it is not this man/robotic dog communion that is so shocking. Rather, it is the metallic debris spread on the floor, surrounding the pair.

1-Rover-1 looks up and sees us. He stands up, and gives a yip. Something falls out of his mouth. It looks like… an antenna?

Suddenly, I recognize this seemingly random collection of mechanical detritus… it is Zark!

My face goes pale, and suddenly I feel a need to sit down too. Princess sways, holding onto my arm for support.

“Jason!” she screams, “What have you done?”

He turns and looks at us, an insolent grin on his face.

“Just protecting the best interests of Galaxy Security.” he drawls.

Casually, Jason pulls a feather shuriken from his cape and tosses it toward the corner of the room. I am horrified to see that his target is Zark’s head. Other feather darts are sticking out of this… appendage. It looks like some kind of bizarre dartboard.

“Jason, I demand to know what this is all about!” I say, through gritted teeth.

“Certainly, Commander.” Jason smirks. “As it turns out, out little ‘Guardian of Center Neptune’ was working for the enemy.” He looks down fondly at 1-Rover-1. “A little dog told me all about it.”

Princess and I are so shocked that neither of us can say a word. Anticipating our reaction, Jason pulls out a small, black computer chip.

I recognize it immediately. It is a ‘black box’: a databank that records the previous forty-eight hours of thought, and function, for a robot. It is used in case of breakdown, or malfunction, so that the technicians can determine what went wrong.

In this case, the case of Zark’s black box, the chip apparently holds evidence of treason.

“Here…” Jason says grimly, “This will show you Zark’s true place on the team.” He tosses the chip into the air, and it flies toward me.

I don’t want it. My world has already been turned upside-down in the past twenty-four hours. I don’t need this too.

But I reach out, and it falls, smack into the exact middle of my palm. I close my fingers over it, slowly. Deep down, I know.

My world… this battle between planets… has just changed… forever.

 

*****

 

I hope you enjoy this illustration, provided by Springie, especially for this fic!

zark2.jpg

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