Mark threw the small, white ball into the air. Swinging the paddle, he made contact and hit it across the ping pong table. The ball bounced and smacked into the wall hard enough to chip the paint.
“Brrrp, doot… whatcha doin’, Mark?” asked Keyop. He was drumming away in wild, random patterns.
Tiny paused from taking another bite of Space Burger, waiting for the Commander’s answer.
Mark ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. “It’s force of habit.” he replied. “I keep forgetting that Jason’s not here. I’m so used to his being on the other side of the ping pong table that I make shots before I can stop myself.”
“Boop doot…. know what you mean!” answered Keyop. “Miss Princess too. Brrrrt…. music not same…. doot… without her.”
“You’re telling me!” quipped Tiny. He had been covering his ears between burgers all afternoon.
“I just wish that Jason and Princess would get themselves home already!” Mark snapped in frustration. Reflexively he shot another ping pong ball, this one bouncing off of the overhead light.
“The race ended two days ago. Where are they?” he continued, as if the white ball weren’t continuing to ricochet between the floor and ceiling.
“Man, that was some race!” Tiny said for the hundredth time. “What a broadcast! Jason is some driver. And Princess is no slouch either! No wonder they won!”
“Brrrt…. proud of them!” put in Keyop happily.
Mark tossed another ball angrily. He hadn’t been very excited when Jason had requested that he and Princess compete in this race. But Chief Anderson had approved it, and Princess had been so excited. Mark had known that their participation was inevitable. He smashed a ball into Keyop’s drums.
“Hey!” Keyop shouted.
“Sorry.” Mark mumbled. It wasn’t just Jason’s absence that was putting him off. He had never admitted it to anyone, but part of the reason he was so good at ping pong was Princess. He moved in time to her guitar music, and was relaxed by her rhythmic swaying to the beat. Heck, there was practically a dent in the table where he always bounced the ball when he served to Jason, yet today he couldn’t hit it for a million Space Burgers. He tried again, hitting the ball harder than he had intended.
The ball smashed into the Space Burger warmer next to Tiny’s chair. The device almost seemed to emit a soft grunt in protest.
“Watch it!” yelled Tiny. Mark reluctantly put down the paddle.
“I guess that’s enough for today.” he said wearily. Then he turned back to look at Tiny.
“Hey, Tiny, haven’t you eaten three Space Burgers in the last few minutes?”
“Yeah….” answered Tiny defensively, “What about it?”
“So, why are there still three Space Burgers in the pile next to you?” asked Mark. “There were three burgers in the pile when you started, and there are still three there. You didn’t go and get more…”
Tiny scratched his head in confusion. “I don’t know. But hey, why look a gift horse in the mouth?” He happily returned to his burgers.
Mark shook his head to clear it. He really wanted Jason and Princess to return home. Automatically he picked up the paddle and smashed another ball.
“Ow!” he yelled.
“What is that on your forehead, Mark?” asked Chief Anderson, “Is it some kind of bruise?”
“It’s nothing.” Mark mumbled. He could hear Tiny and Keyop sniggering behind him. “Why did you call us here? Do you have any information on Spectra activity? Or is it that Jason and Princess are coming home?” Mark really hoped it was the latter reason. He didn’t know how much more solitary ping pong he could take.
“Jason and Princess requested leave, immediately after the Race.” Anderson said. “I guess they wanted to take a couple of days off and celebrate their win. They’ve earned a bit of fun. I approved their time off, as long as they are able to return immediately if there is any sign of an attack against the Federation.”
Mark grimaced. A couple of days? It was going to be pretty miserable at Center Neptune with Tiny and Keyop laughing at him all the time.
“Spectran activity has been quite low recently.” continued the Chief. “It would seem that Zoltar is hiding out after his last defeat.”
“We did humiliate him pretty badly.” Tiny laughed, “His mecha didn’t even get within one thousand light years of Earth!”
“Brrt, doop…. we showed him!” cried Keyop.
“Unless, he’s planning something.” mused Mark. He was back in full Commander mode. “He could be working on something really big. The more we humiliate him the more he seems to want to get back at us.”
“You could be right, Mark.” said Anderson. “You should all be on your guard.”
“Could I check those reports on Spectran activity myself?” asked Mark. At least it would give him something to take his mind off of his two absent teammates. “I’d like to see if there’s some kind of pattern we’re missing.”
“It certainly couldn’t hurt.” responded the Chief. He punched a button on his telephone.
“Yes?” came a breathy voice.
“Susan?” asked Anderson in a surprised tone.
“Yes, Chief.” Susan replied. “I am in your telephone device.”
Anderson spoke with thinly veiled annoyance. “What are you doing in my phone Susan? You’re supposed to be monitoring the Early Warning System on Pluto!”
“The programmers on the Federation Military Commission have given me a new assignment.” Susan said huskily. “I am to stay with the remaining members of G-Force and assist them in any way I can, while Jason and Princess are on leave.”
Tiny looked confused. “How is a phone going to follow us around?” He scratched his head.
“The telephone will not follow you around, Tiny.” breathed Susan, “I will. I have been programmed to transfer my programming to any computerized device within a specific range. I can… inhabit… any machine close by. Although some are more limited in nature than others.”
“Brrt… Tiny’s Space Burger Warmer!” cried Keyop.
“Yes, Keyop.” confirmed Susan. “I hope you liked your burgers, Tiny.” she added. “I tried to provide you with enough, in case you were still hungry.”
Mark remembered the near-grunt when he had hit his ball into the warmer and the magically appearing burgers. At least someone was able to do their job around here. But could Susan really replace Jason and Princess?
He was afraid that he was about to find out. He frowned.
“We don’t need a babysitter!” he said, more forcefully than he had intended.
“Think of me as an assistant.” replied Susan. “I’m part of the team. Speaking of which, I could transfer to the ready room fridge and prepare an ice pack for that bruise.”
Mark scowled as Tiny and Keyop howled with laughter.