‘Commander,’ the Security Chief's deep voice demanded attention a few seconds later.
‘Ears on,’ Mark waited until the words exited before letting out a yawn.
‘I need to scramble your team,’ Anderson demanded.
Moving to his computer console, Mark sent the signal. The action instinctive, his teammates would be greeted with the same annoying tone, bringing them out of their slumber. It brought a smile to his face as the Commander shimmied into his white jeans.
‘I’ve reworked the Thunderbird's communicators,’ The Chief continued, ‘so they should be getting the call at the same time as G-force. Please escort our visitors and meet me in the briefing room in three minutes. Anderson out.’
‘All right team,’ Mark broadcast on an open channel, ‘you all heard The Chief, time to rise and shine.’
The five teenagers exited their sleeping quarters within seconds of each other. Dressed in their civilian uniform, Keyop rubbed his eyes. Princess smiled at the smallest member, placing a consoling arm around his shoulders.
‘Who gets to wake up the sleeping beauties?’ Jason inquired sarcastically, pointing a thumb to the end of the now occupied corridor.
Glancing down the hall, Mark noticed three doors open within seconds of each other. Grant, Jesse and JJ appeared, shared a glance and gathered outside the final room. The Senior Captain's grey eyes surveyed G-force and shook his head at the unwarranted comment.
‘We’re trained to react to emergencies,’ Jesse drawled from behind Jason in a broad Texan accent, ‘on and off this planet at a moment’s notice.’
‘That’s the public relations people for you,’ JJ rolled his eyes in exasperation.
‘All accounted for Grant,’ Kallan stated as she finished buttoning the opening on her jacket. Beside her Dylan pulled on a boot as they scrambled out of their room.
‘Good,’ the massive man nodded. ‘My team will follow
your lead, Commander,’ Hanson deferred to Mark, ensuring he wore a blank expression.
‘Let’s go,’ Mark said, his signal telling Tiny and Jason to bring up the rear. He didn’t want to lose any of the Thunderbird pilots.
Eyeing the clock, Anderson said nothing. The teams exceeded his expectations. Indicating the couches, the room contained an arrangement so all ten individuals could be seated during their briefing. Deciding to stay in formation, the two sets of five took to opposite sides of the space.
‘I’ve had your team cleared for restricted missions, Captain Hanson,’ Anderson reported. ‘You may consider yourselves employed by the ISO for the time being. I’m sure the administration types will want to discuss the terms of your contracts shorty. I've had technicians install five couches at the back of the Phoenix's main cabin for your use.’
‘Eventually, you are to form an adjunct to the G-force. However at the moment I must insist you act as observes only. TB4 is being retrofitted with the latest technology after being on display at the Smithsonian Museum for the last ninety years. The rest of your vehicles have been overhauled and will be complete by the end of the week. You’ll start training with the new equipment as soon as the upgrades are complete.’
‘Spectra have launched a new threat,’ Anderson shook his head. Using air gestures, he brought up fuzzy a picture of something metallic looking in a blue sky. ‘We’re not sure how it got past our long range scanners at the Pluto Early Warning Station. Intelligence suspects several smaller vessels with a new cloaking technology over a period of time, perhaps the last three to six weeks. We believe each carried parts of the mecha. If this is the case, it would need to be constructed on Terra. This picture might have come from the initial testing phase.’
‘Which means Spectra has a base on Terra,’ Jason fumed, his grey eyes turning stormy.
'Need experts to build,' Keyop added.
‘Your mission is to follow it,’ Anderson eyed his team, ‘and locate that base.’
‘Are we to infiltrate or destroy?’ Mark asked.
‘At this point,’ the Chief rubbed his chin, ‘we want you to gather intelligence. Size of the incursion, troop numbers, battle readiness, anything that will give us a tactical advantage.’
‘What,’ Grant asked, ‘is the capability of the vehicle?’
‘Mecha,’ Jason corrected. ‘Spectra always send huge mechanical monsters known as mecha.’
‘We don’t know,’ Anderson answered, ‘anything about this latest threat.’
‘Don’t,’ Keyop added, ‘want to find out!’
‘You’re to observe,’ Anderson turned his attention to the Thunderbird team, ‘and offer suggestions. Until we find a plausible way to explain your existence to the population of Terra, I don’t want the media knowing about you. Commander, you have your orders. All the available data we have has been loaded into the Phoenix's on board computers.’
‘Let’s go team,’ Mark stood suddenly. The rest of G-force followed his lead.
‘I guess that means us, too,’ Dylan commented under his breath.
‘We need more information,’ Jesse complained, following the rest of the team out of the room.
‘I’ll get you hooked up to the computers in the Phoenix,’ Princess offered. ‘We have pictures from previous missions. It will give you some idea of the Mecha Spectra sends to destroy Terra.’
‘That’ll be a start,’ Kallan smiled at the younger woman as the Thunderbirds followed G-force into the great unknown.
‘It’s been what,’ Dylan muttered in irritation, catching
Kallan’s eye and accompanying frown, he couldn't hold back the complaint, ‘an hour and we’ve found exactly nothing.’
‘We’d have separated by now,’ JJ offered softly, glancing towards the G-force team. ‘Three vehicles can search faster, cover more ground.’
Launching an hour ago, Princess used the first twenty minutes to bring the Thunderbirds up to speed. They’d sat through a history lesson on the Spectran invasion of the Milky Way Galaxy, the development of the Phoenix and finally a series of Mecha sent to ravage Terra.
After forty minutes, the three young males on the team started to fidget at the inactivity. Their rescues entailed adrenalin fuelled situations and constant action. Sitting in the back of the cabin, watching but unable to do anything exasperated the Thunderbirds. Finally Dylan couldn’t hold back the comment. Kallan, siting as she often did on the other side of Grant couldn’t lay a calming hand on his shoulder.
‘That’s recognisance for you,’ Tiny stated in an easy going tone with a wide grin.
‘Like needle in haystack,’ Keyop offered.
‘Mostly we’re sent in when the action’s happening,’ Tiny laughed, ‘so this makes a nice change.’
‘That’s sector four finished,’ Princess reported in an attempt to defuse the suddenly thick atmosphere. ‘We should move on to the north eastern quadrant, Mark. Long range scanners aren’t picking up any signs of activity. Terrain is rocky so it could easily hide a base.’
‘Copy that Tiny?’ Mark questioned, turning to look at the pilot. The Owl nodded, his hands moving over this station to change their course.
‘This would go much faster,’ Jesse tried to keep the disdain out of his tone, ‘if you used the jet. You’d cover twice as much ground.’
‘The Commander stays with the Phoenix,’ Jason growled.
Unable to stop the comment, the Condor felt the situation spiralling out of control. He’d spoken to Mark about this last night while they spared in the training room. Afraid two leaders, in charge of their teams, might fail to integrate, Jason could only back up his Commander.
‘Dylan is more than capable of piloting G1,’ Kallan offered sweetly, hoping to capture Mark’s interest with the suggestion.
Icy blue eyes board into the woman. Standing, Mark approached the back of the Phoenix’s cabin. Coming to a stop before Kallan, he offered in a tightly controlled tone, ‘thank you for your suggestion, Captain. As you are observers on this mission,’ now he turned to Grant, ‘I suggest you keep control of your team, Captain Hanson. I’ve read the bio on all of you. I know your strengths and abilities. Should I feel we need to break ISO protocol and utilise your specialist training, I’ll ask. Are we clear?’
‘I believe so,’ Grant allowed one eyebrow to rise. Crossing his massive arms over his chest, the senior captain didn’t display an iota of worry. ‘However my team are as skilled as yours, Commander. Not to mention determined and cohesive.’
‘All of us,’ Grant’s gaze sweep the people around him, ‘have at least two undergraduate degrees with post graduate qualifications in one area of speciality backed up by ten years’ experience in space and atmospheric conditions. We may have the advantage of a different point of view. I suggest you take it under consideration because all of us want to see the war at an end as soon as possible.’
‘Further, Commander,’ Grant returned his cool grey glare on the Eagle, ‘we’ve here only because we’ve been ordered to be aboard. My team are making valid observations under the circumstance. Whether you decide to act on them is out of our control.’
Feeling like a child told of by his parent, Mark continued to stand and glare. Use to being in charge, he’d only had his orders questioned by Jason. Even then the Condor usually followed them begrudgingly, along with the rest of the team. Grant’s controlled, logical argument threw the Eagle. It also made him realise the older man had once carried as much authority and responsibility on his shoulders.
‘Son,’ Grant offered, seeing the confusion behind the posturing, ‘I don’t envy you your position. We’ll work with you, respect your decisions but you need to give us the same courtesy. Trust will come with time. It can’t be earned on a single mission.’
Nodding, Mark pivoted on his heal and walked regally back to his seat. Aware he’d won the round only because Grant capitulated. Understanding it took a better man to walk away from a fight, the confrontation demonstrated the older leaders common sense and impeccable judgement. One day Mark hoped to obtain the same level of wisdom.
‘Nothing,’ Jason cursed under his breath, beginning to feel the Thunderbird team had a point. If they’d been able to separate this would have gone a lot quicker. Better still if the Thunderbird team had their vehicle, they’d be done by now.
‘Head for the final sector, Tiny,’ Mark stated, as peeved as his second.
Two and a half hours passed since leaving Centre Neptune, almost a thousand kilometres and they hadn’t seen sight nor sound of Spectra or its latest Mecha. Princess invited Kallan to share her station and work load. Hours looking at a monitor, trying to decipher signals that might mean occupation became easier with a second pair of trained eyes. Both women looked ready to drop from fatigue.
‘I hope we have more luck there,’ Tiny commented, changing direction.
‘How long can this bird stay in the air?’ Jesse asked.
‘At this speed and altitude,’ Tiny waved a hand to the board individual, inviting him to stand and observe, ‘ten days.’
Letting out a long, low whistle, Jesse immediately accepted the offer. ‘I’d be mighty interested in the engineering, especially if your Chief’s installing something similar in TB2.’
Tiny began to explain this equipment calling Dylan to join them. As the main pilots for the Thunderbird machines, they’d both need to know about the changes in propulsion systems. The three voices echoed through the cabin helping to dispel some of the tension.
Catching Jason’s eye, Mark “spoke” to his second in signals. The Condor made a nod of agreement. They’d talk after this mission about the way the teams interacted. For now, they needed to step back and observe.
Neither caught the smile on Grant’s face. It disappeared quickly as he read the silent communication. Each member of the G-force team preformed their duties well. There were obviously seasoned, yet Senior Captain Hanson felt they lacked a certain level of prudence due entirely to their young age and lack of life experience.
He’d managed his own research on the five individuals. This team had been trained to do this job from earliest childhood without a choice. Given all the schooling they required, Grant wondered if they’d ever been allowed to be kids. They lacked only maturity, something his team could supply.
‘There,’ JJ shouted.
‘Locking on,’ Princess took control of the main visual
panel. Zooming in on the object she placed the magnified picture on the secondary screen.
‘That’s what we’re after,’ Jason sounded relieved to finally have something to do. ‘From the design, it has to be Spectra.’
‘Dragon,’ Keyop grinned. ‘Wonder if it breaths fire.’
‘Don’t invite trouble,’ Mark commented tersely. ‘Jason, scan the area for it's base.’
‘Nothing,’ he reported.
‘No indicators of a base within a one hundred kilometre range,’ Princess supplied.
‘Test flight,’ Keyop suggested.
‘Maybe,’ Mark considered his options with the strict guidelines Chief Anderson assigned him. About to turn and order their guest into their seats, he found the Thunderbirds already achieved the action. They watched with a mixture of intrigue and excitement, awaiting his next move.
His mind working overtime, JJ pointed to a position on the dragon like mecha’s neck. ‘Mathematically,’ he stated suddenly, ‘that must be the weakest point.’
‘Structurally,’ Dylan broke in with a shake of his head, ‘it’s very close but on the other side and slightly higher. The stress factors, having the propulsion system under the wings would set up a vibration which would twist the internal structure if we hit it here.’
‘Only,’ Jesse added, ‘if it’s made of a metal we’re familiar with.’
‘Bring up the composition on the monitor above Mark’s station,’ Princess offered. Dylan and Jesse locked gazes for a moment, both smiling.
‘So where do we strike,’ Jason growled out, looking between the two men.
‘We don’t,’ Mark’s commanding voice echoed through the Phoenix’s bridge. ‘Our mission is intelligence. Stay low Tiny. Use these mountains to hide our presence. We’ll follow it back to base.’
‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ Grant used his own version of an authoritative voice. He remained quiet, wondering what the young Commander would do. While Captain Hanson understood the chain of command, he also realised in a situation like this, you had to react to a changing dynamics.
Decreasing the timber of his voice, he offered. ‘We have a chance to take that thing down, now, before it can do any harm to an innocent population.’
‘We need to know how it got here without detection,’ Mark argued. ‘If Spectra have devised a way past the Early Warning System, we have to uncover how they are doing it.’
‘Then take your team in and find out,’ Grant offered reasonably. ‘Before you do, destroy that thing. We still have the element of surprise. If you delay any longer you won’t be able to use the advantage.’
‘If we use the TBX missiles from the bottom launch bay,’ Jason offered, ‘I could aim one at each point.’
‘Then,’ Mark growled at his second. Used to Jason questioning his orders, Grant and his team adding their voices infuriated the Commander. ‘How will we locate the base?’
‘I know you’ve been looking for unusual power emanations and using visual inspection,’ Kallan suggested, ‘but what about waste disposal sites. A base able to support something like that would make tones of rubbish every day. They’d have to get rid of it somehow. Look for methane emissions or areas of newly exposed soil.’
‘On it,’ Princess’s hands flew over her console. ‘Mark, I have something. I don’t know how we missed it back in sector six. I’m sending the coordinates to Tiny’s station.’