This is a work of fan-fiction. Battle of the Planets is the property of Sandy Frank by way of Tatsunoko.
My thanks to Chris White, Becky Rock, and k2p2, for beta-reading various versions of this story and providing helpful insight. My thanks also to the members of Gatchamania, who inspired this one. Any remaining errors are mine.
This piece is set in my AU Fall and Rise of the Condor series and falls roughly between Recovery and Caldera Madre. It's about 18 months after Strike at Spectra.
We're talking about the Condor's love life here, so expect a rocky ride.
1. Chapter 1 by jublke
2. Chapter 2 by jublke
3. Chapter 3 by jublke
4. Chapter 4 by jublke
5. Chapter 5 by jublke
6. Chapter 6 by jublke
7. Chapter 7 by jublke
The couple stood on a wooden pathway, surrounded by lush vegetation. A profusion of pink and white flowers bloomed on one side of the path; on the other, English ivy wound up an old oak tree. But the couple ignored the spectacular scenery. Wearing a number 2 T-shirt, the young man stood with both hands wide in a placating gesture; the teenaged woman had her arms folded tight across her black leather jacket and white tank top.
"Please, Camille, I need to talk to you." Even as he reached out to take her hand, Jason could see her flinch back as if he'd slapped her. He hurriedly grabbed for her other hand. "Camille, it's not like that. It's not what you think." He watched as she bit her lip; he hoped that was a positive sign. At least she was still listening. He reached up to brush a few rogue curls from her eyes and startled as his fingers found a stray tear.
"I knew it," she whispered, the tears falling freely now. "I knew it was too good to last." She turned away from him.
He grabbed her quickly by the arm and pulled her back to him. "What're you talking about?"
She sniffed. "The other girl. I know you started seeing someone else. My friends saw you last week with her, that motocross racer ... and then you broke off our date ..." She threw a punch in his direction; he ducked it easily and laughed.
"Your friends are idiots," he said bluntly, earning a slight frown. He stroked Camille's cheek and added, "It's not like that at all. Princess is my sister. We work together." He paused and drew in a deep breath. His voice grew more serious. "That's what I wanted to talk to you about. But not here."
He reached for her hand again. This time, she let him guide her down the garden path. When they reached the artificial waterfall, both stopped. Camille turned toward the bubbling water and stood as close as possible to the guard rail. As she raised her hands expectantly toward the spray, her face suffused with delight.
He leaned against the railing and studied her expression. "What does it look like to you?" he asked softly.
She shook her head and laughed. "Come on, Jason, that's a stupid question."
He shrugged. "Okay, so it's a stupid question. But I still want to know."
She turned to face him, her expression earnest. "Tell me your secret first."
He drew her damp hand to his face and planted a kiss there. "I want to ... but ... I ... uh ..."
She pulled her hand away playfully and gave him a mock pout. "Then I'm not telling either."
He half-turned away from her then, looking out across the miles of beautifully landscaped gardens. "I never came here before I met you," he said, softly. "It's such a cliche, that you should stop and smell the roses, but it's true. You taught me that." His voice cracked. "I've never known anyone like you, Camille, it's like you see right through me."
She walked over to him and placed both palms on his chest. "You're beautiful, Jason." She turned, lips grazing his bicep.
"I'm not, Camille." He shook his head as a dark expression crossed his face. "I'm not the man you think I am."
She smiled. "I don't believe everything I read in the tabloids, Jason. Even race car drivers don't sleep around that much."
He blew out a deep breath, then leaned in close. "I could get in a lot of trouble for telling you this, Camille. I work undercover for the Federation. I've had to kill a lot of people."
She whispered back, sotto voce, "I know."
His brow crinkled. "You know what?"
Inquisitive fingers travelled down his left arm and came to rest on his wrist communicator. "This."
"What about it?" he growled.
Her voice dropped even lower, softer. "You're G-Force, Jason."
His mouth opened, shut, no words. Dumbfounded, he asked, "How can you possibly think that, Camille?"
She gave him a sad, wistful smile. "I wasn't always blind, Jason." Her fingers moved down from the communicator to entwine with his. "And the waterfall looks like poetry that hasn't been written yet."
"Something's bothering you." It was a statement instead of a question, and Jason found himself caught off-guard. He flicked a glance in her direction before responding.
"I'm fine," he said stiffly.
She laughed and reached out a tentative hand. When he didn't flinch away, she began to gently massage his shoulder.
"Jason, your posture is stiff, your voice is tense, and you're gripping the steering wheel so hard that I can hear it crack. Rain is pounding the windshield and I feel the car sliding the car back and forth in the wind." He turned toward her briefly, surprised at the extent of her accuracy, but she kept right on talking, massaging the stiffness out of his right shoulder. "Now, normally," she continued, "I would assume that this kind of weather would make a driver tense. But you race rallies so I know that's not it." She stopped rubbing his shoulder and turned to face him, her eyes hidden behind mirrored sunglasses. "Out with it."
He sighed. "I've got a devil of a headache, Camille. And driving in this weather isn't helping."
"Your eyes are bothering you, too," she said, in that same defiant, matter-of-fact tone.
Guiltily, he reached up beneath his glasses and attempted to rub away the blurriness. How could she possibly know that? The thought crossed his mind at the same time a low groan subconsciously escaped his lips. He swore inwardly. Have I been groaning for the last hour? What else have I been doing that I don't know about?
When he didn't respond, Camille added, "Why don't we stop at the next rest area? There should be one coming up about now."
The rain slowed and Jason smiled at the small blue sign now visible on the shoulder of the highway. He pulled off at the next exit ramp, parked in a slot near the rest rooms, turned off the ignition, and leaned his head back against the headrest with a sigh. "Now what, fearless leader?"
She smiled back. "I'll call my dad and tell him you're not feeling well and we're going to be late getting back. You walk around to clear your head. The fresh air will do you good."
The smile left his face as she began to dial the phone. He clamped a heavy hand on her arm. "No."
Camille pulled back, clearly startled by his reaction. "Jason, you're scaring me."
He wrestled the phone away from her. "You're not calling your father," he growled.
"Just try and stop me," she snapped back, jabbing at his groin. "Give me back my phone!"
Right then, Jason looked out the windshield to find two grandmotherly figures, huddled under an umbrella, glancing curiously into his car. He waved them along with a half smile, allowing Camille to get in a good whack at his nether regions.
"Hey!" he yelled, grabbing both her wrists, panting from the pain. "What in the hell is wrong with you? Knock it off!"
Camille was as close to hysterical as Jason had ever seen her. He continued to pin her wrists as she flailed in his arms. "Give me back my phone!" she demanded.
Realization dawned slowly for Jason. As independent as Camille was, she still relied heavily on certain things to maintain her bearings. Taking her phone away wasn't just restricting access to her father, it was as cruel as taking her cane.
"Not until you promise me something," he said, voice like flint, slapping the phone into her palm without letting her go.
"What?" she growled, twisting beneath his grip like a fish on the line.
He took a deep breath, trying to find the best way to phrase the sentence. "I ... can't ... Don't tell your dad I'm not feeling well, okay?" Despite his best efforts, Jason knew he came across as petulant and needy. He released his hold on her, embarrassed by his weakness.
But his words had the desired effect. Camille relaxed in his arms and reached a tentative hand back in his direction. "Jason?"
He gripped her hand firmly and pulled her fingers to his lips. "I'm sorry that I scared you, Camille. But you can't tell your dad about my headaches or anything like that."
"Why not?" she reasoned. "He might be able to help. And if there's something really wrong with you, he'll find out eventually anyway," she said, more confused than exasperated. "He's a consultant for the Ethics Board of Galaxy Security."
"Jason, you're scaring me again. Do you have a death wish or something? If there's a problem with your implant, maybe Dad could help. His template was used by the original design team."
"I know. I know." He racked his brain, trying to think of a way out of this conversation. He was in so deep now. Anderson would kill him if he knew about this little chat, unless Mark overheard it and killed him first. "Look, your dad already knows I'm Chief Anderson's son. If you tell him about my problems, he might put two and two together."
"And figure out what? That you're G-Force? He already suspects that."
She was too clever for her own good. Jason swore and placed a hand to his head. He loved her. If he didn't love her this would be so much easier. He could lie through his teeth and never see her again.
"Jason?" She was clearly waiting for an explanation.
"I had brain surgery about a year-and-a-half ago. Spectra figured out a way to scramble the circuitry of our implants using bursts of light." He heard her inhale, felt her stiffen. "I nearly died. The director of medical was a Spectran plant. He's in a Federation prison now but we still don't know who he collaborated with. It could be anybody. Chief Anderson doesn't trust anyone with our medical information." Jason sighed. "Word leaked out that both the Eagle and the Condor had brain surgery. So the Chief made sure that news of our full recovery spread far and wide, especially among Federation brass."
Her sunglasses slipped down, revealing eyes brimming with tears. "But you're not okay, are you?" When he didn't answer, she started to cry. "Oh, Jason."
He quickly added, "But I'm better, Camille, lots better than I was. I can do my job. I just get tired more easily now and that makes everything harder." He twisted the clasp of his G-Force bracelet and stared at his hands. "I could be court-martialed for telling you this." He took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. Camille stroked his arm.
He turned toward her, adding in an earnest tone, "No one can know about the extent of the weakness in the design, Camille. No one. Especially not the design team. What if someone put a backdoor in there on purpose? Who knows what else they might try? Chief Anderson has managed to convince everyone that we've recovered, that the rest of the team is fine, and the new implants are secure." He swallowed hard. "I know he's bluffing. I just don't know how much."
Camille sniffed and shook her head.
Jason closed his eyes and massaged his temples. "I don't get these headaches often any more, but when I do, it's brutal." He grimaced and she winced in sympathy.
"I'm sorry, Jason," she whispered. Then Camille snuggled close and wrapped her arms around his neck. "I'm glad you told me. We can sit here as long as you need to. I love you. No matter what."
He replaced his glasses and hugged her back, feeling the same delicious sense of unity that he had felt the first time their souls touched. He clung desperately to her. But nagging doubts still crept in.
Every girl I've ever loved has betrayed me. Will you be next?
They stood on the veranda of her father's mansion, toe to toe. A light rain fell; rivulets of water slid down the eaves and landed on the ground beside them with a delicate plunking. It was a frog's night: misty and damp under a sickle moon. Treefrogs trilled their calls; cicadas buzzed back, creating a rich and delightful cacophony.
Jason wrapped his long arms around Camille and whispered into her ear. "You give good back rubs," he said, caressing her shoulders.
She shivered at his touch. "I'm glad. You feeling better?"
He nodded. Then, remembering that she couldn't see him, added, "My headache's almost gone, thanks to you."
She snuggled into his arms. "I'm glad," she murmured again. He nuzzled her neck, drew his lips along her ...
A sudden burst of light snapped him to attention.
"What's wrong?" Camille asked, sensing his tension.
"Your dad put the outside light on." He took a step away from her.
Camille leaned toward him and stroked the muscles along his well-defined abdomen. "Jason, I'm 19 years old. I can date who I want." She kissed his cheek.
He didn't respond. His eyes were fixed on the ornate gold door knob, which rather abruptly turned. The door popped open to reveal a balding man in a tartan bathrobe.
"It's about time you two showed up," the man said. His gravelly voice held a slight air of reproach.
"Daddy ..." Camille started.
At the same time, Jason added, "Sorry, sir," and held out his hand. "We were caught up in the weather and pulled off of the road to let the storm pass. My name's Jason Anderson. You know my father?" Camille grinned at his sudden formality.
The man nodded with a frown and returned the handshake. "Sensible enough. Howard Johansen. But, if you're going to be late, have her call next time ..."
Camille interrupted her father. "I'm standing right here, thank you very much, and I am perfectly capable of conducting my own affairs."
"Yes, sweetheart," Howard said patiently, giving Jason a knowing wink as he withdrew into the massive home.
"I will, sir," Jason replied to his retreating back.
Camille followed her father inside, but paused in the foyer. "Men," she complained under her breath. Turning to Jason, she added, "Would you like to come in?"
He shook his head. When she didn't respond, he silently cursed himself and added aloud, "Thanks, but not tonight. I have to get back home." The streetlights were coming on; Jason squinted against the glare.
"Oh, okay." Disappointment was evident in her tone. "Next time, then. I want to show you my paintings."
Jason sputtered with laughter. "Sure you do." He folded his arms and grinned at her. "Perhaps I'd like to see your etchings, too," he joked, recalling an old pick-up line from a cheesy 1970's era movie.
Camille frowned at him. "I'm serious, Jason. What, you think blind people can't paint?" Her anger was palpable.
"Now hold on," Jason snapped back. "I never said that." He put a hand to his head and wondered how to extricate himself from this line of questioning.
Camille thrust an angry finger at him. The gesture was imbued with such hostility that he could feel his neck tense in response. "You just did! And winking at my father like this is some old boys' club or something." She shook her head, bouncy blond ringlets waving in an arc around her face. "I'm not just some trophy to be passed back and forth."
"I never said you were." Jason replied lowly, wondering if he had any painkillers left in the car. He took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. "And I never winked at your father, either. Can we pick up this little interrogation tomorrow?" he added, irritation rising with each word. "I need to get home."
"Fine," Camille replied crisply and slammed the door shut. Jason sat down hard on the front step, feeling nausea and annoyance in equal measures.
Now what? he wondered.
A knock on the door startled Mark, who had been resting in an easy chair, absently thumbing a piloting magazine while sipping a rooftop lemonade. He glanced across the small apartment to the wall clock over the stove. 8:47 p.m. Too late for door-to-door sales, too early for lost drunks. And then, a second knock, more insistent than the first, and Mark knew exactly who was standing on his front porch. He sighed and rose to his feet, weary even at this limited exertion. Back-to-back missions were always rough and this set had been particularly brutal. Why Jason would be standing on the porch instead of sound asleep in his trailer, Mark had no idea.
He briskly walked to the kitchen and dumped the lemonade and vodka mixture down the drain. Turning on the faucet, he palmed a sip of water before heading to the front door. The last thing he needed was the Condor questioning him about his drinking habits. It was just an occasional drink alone but he knew Jason would over-react.
Mark braced himself for whatever the Condor might throw at his way - literally or figuratively, you never knew with Jason - and opened the front door.
His second stood on the other side of the screen door, arms folded, posture tense and hard against the damp night. The earlier storms had passed, leaving clouds scudding in their wake. Moonlight glinted off of Jason's glasses as he tipped his head at Mark. "Hey."
Mark returned the nod, but didn't open the screen door. "What're you doing here?"
Jason shrugged. "Your light was on. Thought I'd stop by." His words had a practiced, artificial feel and Mark noticed that Jason wouldn't quite meet his gaze. His gunner appeared to be inspecting the dilapidated floorboards with great interest.
Crossing his arms, Mark snapped, "Jason, I don't have time for games. It's late and I'm tired. If you need something, spit it out."
A pained and vulnerable expression showed in Jason's eyes when he looked up. Surprise splashed across his gunner's face. As Jason chewed his lower lip, Mark regretted his choice of words. Jason really did need him. Whatever was on his mind, he had finally learned to reach out instead of running away and trying to handle everything by himself.
Mark swore inwardly. He only had a few minutes before Jason would snap shut again and wall him out. Palms up, he added contritely, "Sorry, Jason. I shouldn't have said that." He shook his head and opened the screen door. "Come on in. I'll get you a soda."
Jason glared at him. "Wouldn't want to be any trouble. Commander." He didn't enter.
But he didn't leave either and Mark took that as a good sign. Now, he just needed to talk him into the house. "Jason, I said I was sorry. You woke me up," he lied. Mark tried a smile. "Come on, the least I can do is get you some caffeine for the drive home."
Jason shuddered. In a very quiet voice, he said, "I was hoping to stay here tonight."
Eyebrows raised, Mark tried to think of an appropriate response, something other than what was actually running through his mind: Shit! I'll never get to finish that drink now! "O ... kay. Sure. But I'm heading to bed in a few. Is that all right with you?"
The minute that Jason crossed the threshold, Mark felt equal measures of annoyance and relief. Heading back to the tiny bedroom, he called over his shoulder, "Make yourself comfortable on the couch. I'll get you some sheets."
By the time Mark had returned with a pillow and a handful of bedding, Jason was curled up on the sofa, glasses off, both hands pressed hard against his forehead. Mark's stomach twisted in sympathy; he knew that posture well from his bouts with migraine. Dropping the bedding on his easy chair, he turned off the reading lamp before approaching Jason.
"You need anything?" he asked softly. "Ibuprofen? Ice pack?"
"If you get up for a minute, I'll make your bed."
Jason stood slowly and walked toward the bathroom. By the time he came back, Mark had efficiently turned the lumpy sofa into a small, if serviceable, bed. His second sank into it with an appreciative sigh.
Before Jason curled back into a ball, Mark asked gently, "Where did you go after we got back? I thought you were headed to the trailer."
Jason groaned. "Wish I had." When it became clear that Mark expected a more complete answer, he added, "Date with Camille. She already had tickets to McHenry's Garden. Planned for weeks." He rubbed his eyes. "Date went fine but we got in a fight after."
"How long have you had the headache?" Mark probed.
Jason glanced at him uneasily before responding. "Most of the day." He closed his eyes and leaned into the sofa cushions. "Thought I could deal with it, but ... it keeps coming back. The streetlights ..." Jason shuddered again. "Couldn't ... didn't ... want to drive any more. Airfield's closer than the trailer."
"You just need a good night's sleep," Mark said, hoping that he was right.
Jason slid into a reclining position. "Won't help with Camille," he mumbled.
"Flowers are always good," Mark whispered, drawing the sheet over his teammate's shoulders.
"Thanks." Jason's response was so soft that Mark almost missed it.
He laid a hand on Jason's shoulder. "Get some sleep," he commanded. Noticing the moonlight streaming in through the living room window, he took the time to close the blinds. As he started toward the bedroom, Mark turned back. In a regular tone, he added, "If you need anything else, let me know."
Jason's snoring was his only response. Mark smiled and yawned. Mission accomplished.
Jason opened an eye at the familiar, yet disconcerting, noise. Drip, drop, splash. Drip, drop, splash. As soon as he recognized the sounds of Mark's weathered coffeemaker, treasured memories of the previous night tumbled through his mind like jewels: Camille's curls bouncing in the wind, the crinkle of her nose when she laughed, the scent of her perfume, the feel of her hand in his. Then, reality intruded: harsh words, a screech of tires on wet pavement, blinding glare from the streetlights, the pounding in his head ...
He felt eyes boring into him and found Mark sitting at the battered kitchen table, coffee cup in hand. "How're you feeling?" his commander asked quietly.
Jason squinted across the room at the wall clock. "What time is it?" His voice was uneven and scratchy.
Mark appraised him with the same calm demeanor that unnerved most Spectran soldiers. "Two in the afternoon." He took a sip of coffee. A bit more pointedly, he asked again, "How are you feeling?"
Locating his glasses on the side table, Jason put them on and returned a glare of his own. "Fine. Why do you keep asking?" He stood up, stretched his body into an unbelievable feat of human contortion, and relaxed into a slouch before heading into the kitchen. "You got any more coffee?"
Using the handle of his cup, Mark gestured at the automatic coffee machine. "I'm out of cream."
"You usually are," Jason replied, helping himself to a cup. Standing before the refrigerator, he took out a gallon of milk, sniffed it, made a face, and poured a dollop into his coffee anyway before sitting down at the table.
Mark gave him a slight grin. "You really should learn to drink it black. It's easier that way." He took another sip.
Jason ignored the jab and leaned back in one of Mark's mismatched kitchen chairs. "What's on the agenda for the day? Surely you have better things to do than wait around for me to wake up."
The smile on Mark's face faded. "I needed to know you were okay."
Jason appreciated that Mark looked away as he said the words, pretending to study the clouds outside his kitchen window. Knowing Mark, he could probably recite the shapes he saw by their scientific names: cumulus humilis, altocumulus, cirrus ... He wondered if Camille thought about clouds. Could he describe them to her? And then, a more sobering thought: Would she listen? Was she still mad at him? He treasured those rare moments alone with her, the times they had spent listening to nature, hand-in-hand, enjoying each other's company ...
A look at Mark's face told Jason that his superior was waiting for an answer. Belatedly, Jason realized that he had no idea as to the question and he couldn't even begin to fake it. He shook his head. "Sorry. I was thinking about something else."
Mark raked a worried eye back over him. "You sure you're all right?"
Jason responded with a nod and an exasperated sigh. "Yes. Now what did you want to ask?"
Taking a quick breath, Mark said, "I was just curious as to what you and Camille were arguing about last night." He exhaled at the end of the sentence, as if he was glad to get the words out of his mouth. But this time, when Mark pretended to look out the window, Jason found it irritating. It was none of his business and Mark knew it. Jason's eyes narrowed; he didn't need to respond.
Mark chanced a glance at him. "I was concerned about you," he said, in a pinched voice that told Jason that Mark wasn't the only one concerned.
Crossing his arms, Jason glared at his teammate. "What else does the Chief want to know?"
At least he had the decency to flush scarlet, Jason observed. Mark responded slowly, a sure sign that he was measuring his words before he spoke. "I let the Chief know you were feeling rough," he admitted.
There was a time when Jason would have pounded Mark into the table for that, but things had changed. Since their implant surgeries, the Chief kept close tabs on the health of both young men, particularly Jason, who took this opportunity to roll his eyes at Mark. "That man has more data than he needs. He still has no idea how to treat implant fatigue. And you didn't answer my question."
"You didn't answer mine either," Mark countered.
"Fine," Jason snapped. "She got mad at me because I cracked a joke when she wanted to show me her paintings." He shrugged and took a large gulp of coffee. "How was I supposed to know that blind people can paint?"
Mark gave him a wry smile. "She is a fine arts major, Jase."
Jason's eyes narrowed further. "How do you know that?"
Mark looked away. "You told me."
"No. I didn't." Jason stood up. His voice was deadly cold. "So that's what this is about?" he asked, volume and pitch of his voice increasing exponentially. "The Chief asked you to SPY ON MY GIRLFRIEND?!"
Mark didn't deny it. He just sat at the table, staring at the coffee mug in his hands.
Jason hurled his own coffee cup against the nearest wall, intentionally missing Mark's head by half an inch. The mug shattered in a profusion of green ceramic shards, the remaining coffee spraying in an arc across the kitchen, leaving a dripping brown splotch on the wall. Mark didn't even flinch.
"You bastard. It's bad enough that he asked, but you went along with it." Jason snarled as he stalked out of the kitchen.
"Jase ..." Mark stood and spoke to his brother's retreating back. "Even you have to admit, you have a bad track record with women."
Jason tried to stop himself, but he rose to the bait anyway. Flipping around, he spat out, "Name one."
Mark folded his arms and regarded him. "Lana."
Frowning, Jason argued, "She only worked for Mala, she didn't ..."
"She never laid a hand on me even if ..."
"Tyna." Mark's tone implied that he could continue naming Jason's treacherous ex-girlfriends all day without a trace of difficulty.
"Fine. Whatever." Jason threw up his hands and walked to the door. "You're still an asshole."
As he turned the knob to exit the apartment, Mark spoke again. "She's clean, Jase. No trace of Spectran involvement."
Jason whipped around, menace in his eye. "You'd better not be waiting for a thank you."
Mark continued as if Jason hadn't spoken. "Her father has a bit of a checkered past but he's been loyal for years now." He raked his hands through his hair and stared at the ground. "But there's something else, Jase. Something you should know. The Chief doesn't know that I found out." He bit his lip and looked imploringly at his teammate.
Jason forced himself to take a deep, calming breath and crossed his arms so that he didn't follow through on his desire to punch Mark and his big blue eyes square in the jaw. He raised his eyebrows expectantly.
"I don't know an easy way to say this ..." Mark faltered over the words. "I wish I did ..."
"Just spit it out already!"
Mark took a deep breath. "Jason, Camille is Patient Alpha."
"Patient Alpha?" The term was vaguely familiar, and Jason flipped through pages of Galaxy Security manuals in his mind. When the proper information clicked into place, he flinched involuntary as if struck. In a wavering voice, he asked, "Are you sure?" He walked closer to Mark and gripped the back of the sofa.
Mark nodded. He looked as though he wanted to reach out a hand to offer support, but then thought better of it. "I'm sorry, Jason. That's how she went blind. She was five when she started losing her sight."
Jason dropped onto the nearest sofa cushion, still stunned. "But how ... why ... why would he operate on his own daughter?" He shook his head, disgust creeping into his voice. "I can't believe I shook hands with him!"
"The Chief worked on us," Mark replied calmly. He took a step towards Jason.
Shaking his head dismissively, Jason replied, "That's different, Mark. The stakes were higher, the Chief knew about Spectra, and, besides, the basic research had already been done." He gave Mark a horrified look. "Does Camille know? She told me she had brain surgery and later went blind. I thought she said she was a cancer survivor."
Mark shook his head. "I don't know." He sat down on the sofa next to Jason. "In her father's defense, that's why he quit the project and now his only involvement is in an advisory capacity for the Galaxy Security Ethics Board. That's why he's so against the implants."
Jason stared at the floor rug. "But Camille ..."
"... was sent to the best school for the blind that her father could afford," Mark said softly.
"... was one of the human guinea pigs that allowed us to become G-Force," Jason corrected, his voice barely a whisper, thinking of the woman he had come to treasure as his own. "How can I live with that?"
He had just taken out his gun cleaning kit when he heard the hum of Princess' motorcycle heading toward the trailer. So much for a quiet afternoon experimenting with solvents as he deconstructed his cable gun. As Jason checked the safety and tucked the gun back into its holster, he moved to the doorway and peered out. Transfixed, he watched as Princess dismounted and walked to his door. She wasn't alone.
The Condor trusted himself to make split-second decisions and he lived by those instincts. But today, Jason wasn't on duty. He hadn't trained for this situation. No course of action suggested itself, apart from glaring at Princess, who shrugged back unapologetically when he frowned at her. Framed in the doorway of his trailer, Jason simply stared as his sister guided Camille to his door.
"Hi," Camille said shyly, taking off her helmet and shaking out her blond curls. "I asked Princess to give me a lift." She was wearing a dark leather jacket with jeans and smelled of roses and engine exhaust, a heady combination for Jason.
He shook his head, still trying to process her presence on his porch. "What are you doing here?"
"She came to Jill's looking for you and found me instead," Princess answered with a coy wink. "We got to talking and I told her that you were at home moping around."
Jason's eyes widened. Glaring at Princess, he mouthed the words, "I - am - going - to - kill - you," with an exaggerated fake smile. Princess shrugged and gave him a genuine smile in return. He rolled his eyes.
"I hope I'm not intruding," Camille said, nervously. "Princess said it would be okay." She twirled one of her blond curls around her finger. Jason found his heart softening."It's fine, Cami," he said, quietly. Taking a deep breath, he reached out experimentally for her hand. He was surprised at how relieved he felt when she squeezed back.
"Then I guess my work here is done," said Princess, winking at Jason. "Camille, should I swing by here later to pick you up?" She looked earnestly at the shorter girl, waiting for a response, but Camille seemed uncertain.
Jason locked eyes with Princess. "I'll take her back," he said firmly, wrapping an arm around Camille's shoulder.
Camille smiled and snuggled into Jason's chest. "Thanks for the ride, Princess. And for loaning me a helmet."
"Anytime," Princess replied. Tossing her dark mane aside, she climbed aboard the bike. Before replacing her helmet and starting the motor, she added, "Jason, don't forget, we have a meeting with the Chief at five today. He said it was important."
Jason nodded and Princess was off, long hair trailing behind her, leaving the two of them alone on his doorstep.
Jason hadn't spoken to Camille in three days. Since Mark's revelation that she was Patient Alpha - the first child to receive a cerebonic implant during the experimental trial phase - he hadn't been able to set the knowledge aside. How much does Camille know about her history? About cerebonic implants in general? Coupled with her anger at him over his gaffe at her father's mansion, it had just been easier to avoid her. Why doesn't Spectra ever attack when I need them to?
But that was a thorny question as well. With Darien's six member R-Command team now operating full-strength from their outpost on Riga, G-Force was seeing less action these days. At first, the Chief and his counterpart, Professor Randor, had seemed to balance the workload between the two teams, but lately, R-Command handled first response.
Jason would have fought that decision, but he no longer had strength left to fight after most missions. He'd seen the Chief's eyes narrow each time they returned from battle, and the man continued to subject him to a battery of tests. Jason complied, largely because he knew that Mark was suffering through similar - albeit far less severe - symptoms, regardless of whether his Commander would admit it or not. If the Chief could fix Jason's implant recharge cycles, maybe he could help Mark as well. But nothing seemed to ease Jason's post-battle fatigue but long hours of uninterrupted sleep.
Well, I've had plenty of sleep these last few days. But he still had no idea how to deal with Camille's unexpected presence on his doorstep.
"Aren't you going to invite me in?" she teased playfully, tossing her curls and mock-shoving him in the solar plexus.
He loosened his grip on her hand. "Um, Camille," he said, surprised at how uncertain he sounded.
She took a deep breath. "I came over here to say I was sorry. You weren't taking my calls." Her voice was a mixture of petulance and uncertainty.
That's because I didn't want to talk to you, Jason thought. He opened the screen door and she stepped through, then stopped abruptly.
"You need to describe it to me," she said softly. At Jason's silence, she added, "It helps keep me oriented. That way, I won't whack over your priceless Ming vase with this." She unfolded her traveling cane and tapped it against his toe. "Although I suspect that, in your case, a model car collection might be more likely."
Jason was glad that she couldn't see him blush. "Right. Okay. Well, there's not much to see. Seven hundred and fifty square feet of bachelor pad." She frowned slightly, and he tried to remember how to describe things in the way that she had taught him. "At 9 o'clock is the bathroom, sofa-bed at noon, efficiency kitchen at 3 o'clock." He refrained from itemizing the dirty dishes in the sink, the overflowing garbage can, and the random article of unwashed clothing on the floor, hoping that his trailer didn't smell as bad as it looked. He concluded, "The whole place is a mess. There's nothing you could damage in here."
She smiled shyly. "Is there a place to sit, other than your bed?"
He laughed. "Here," he said, taking her by the arm as he kicked a pile of racing magazines out of the way. "There's two chairs by the kitchen table." She sank gratefully into one and he sat across from her in the other. "You want a Coke or something?"
Camille shook her head. "No, thanks. I just came to talk." But she fell silent.
Jason folded his arms and studied her. Her blond curls just touched the collar of her leather jacket. She wore mirrored sunglasses and, on her left wrist, a gold bracelet. She's beautiful, he thought, beautiful both inside and out. He had no idea how he'd been lucky enough to find a girl like Camille.
She turned her face in his direction. "Why are you staring at me?"
Because you're beautiful, he thought. "Because you said you wanted to talk but you haven't said a word."
She reached out in his direction and he placed his palm in hers. "I'm sorry about getting mad the other night. I knew you didn't mean anything by it, but ..." She sighed. "I get tired of being defined by my blindness. Tired of being told what I can't do instead of what I can."
"I'm sorry I made you feel that way."
She shook her head. "You didn't. It's just ..." She licked her lips nervously. "Maybe I'll take you up on that Coke." As he stood and moved about the small kitchen, she continued, "My dad never wanted me to be an artist. Even when I was little. I always loved art, even before the accident."
Jason nearly dropped the can of soda he was carrying. How much does she know about her father's involvement in her injury? He had to find out.
"I thought you said you had brain surgery. For cancer."
Camille made a face. "I had brain surgery because my father wanted to create a superhuman."
Jason startled. "Oh!" Despite Mark's earlier revelation, he didn't have to fake shock at the bluntness of her response.
Camille sighed. "It was a long time ago. I try not to think about it too much." She patted him on the arm as he handed her the soda.
"But why? Why would he do something like that?" As Jason sat back down, he reached for her hand again and she squeezed back.
"He and my mother were Intergalactic Olympic gymnasts. Her dying wish was to see me follow in her footsteps. I had some talent, I guess, but even by the age of five, my dad could see that I was falling behind my teammates. He was working on what eventually became the cerebonic implants then, only nobody knew it yet. He was just trying to create better, faster, stronger champions. No one knew about matter transformation at that time. I guess Galaxy Security was probably working on it."
Jason didn't confirm her suspicion. Surely her security clearance - if she even has one - isn't high enough for her to be privy to such information. What was her dad thinking, revealing so much to her?
Jason shook his head. "Why'd he have to experiment on you?" He stroked her arm.
"He thought he was doing the right thing. He thought implants were the way of the future for athletes and he wanted me to have every advantage. When the company he was working for secured funding from a super-competitive gymnastics program, he added me to the list of child athletes to receive the test batch of implants. The whole thing was cloaked in secrecy." She swallowed hard. "Two of the kids died. Five of us went blind within the first year."
He squeezed her hand reassuringly. She was blinking back tears.
"But three of the gymnasts did wonderfully, far exceeding even my dad's expectations. That's when Galaxy Security came knocking. I have no idea how they found out. Dad wanted nothing to do with the implants by then. He thought they were evil. But my mother had died and he needed money to take care of me. They offered him a lot of money to share what he knew. He agreed, but only on the condition that after he explained his findings, he never had to work with implants again."
"So he decided to help Gal Sec's Ethics Board instead," Jason concluded.
She nodded and took a deep breath. Swallowing hard, she said, "That's why I had to tell him, Jason."
He withdrew his hand, chills washing over him. "Tell him what, Camille?"
"I told him about your headaches. And the surgery. About how you almost died."
Jason's vision went white for a moment as the words sank in. The room seemed to tilt on its side. "You did WHAT?" He slammed both fists on the table, hitting it so hard that it bounced. Jason was on his feet before he realized it, pacing about the small trailer. "How could you possibly be that stupid!" He swore in several languages, including Spectran, to make his point. "You've just destroyed my life, do you realize that? Do you?" He towered over her, screaming down at her.
She stood up to his anger, arms folded, chin jutting out defiantly. "I had to, Jason!"
"Give me one good reason! Just one!"
"I lived through it, okay?" She was crying for real now, crying in earnest, but he couldn't feel anything. He stared at her like she was a foreign object. "I remember the headaches, the blurry vision, wondering every night if I was going to be able to see the next day. It went on for months. No one listened to me because I was just a kid. Everyone said it would be okay. Well, it wasn't okay!" She was screaming now.
He could feel himself losing control, shaking hard as reality set in. This is worse than destroying my life. Mark and Chief Anderson are wrapped up in it too. An Ethics Committee investigation deep into his medical care would grind the entire implant program to a halt, giving Zoltar the edge he needed to stake his claim on Earth. Jason shook his head in raw disbelief. I trusted her. What have I done?
Camille continued, her voice rising in pitch. "I'll be damned if I'm going to stand here and let you go blind, Jason! I don't care if you hate me or not!"
Balling his fists, he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Blindness was the least of his worries. He understood why it was foremost in her mind, but understanding why Camille had told her father didn't negate the devastating potential consequences of that choice.
When he didn't respond, she threw herself on him, sobbing. Calling upon his G-Force training, he rejected her advances and set her aside. He forced himself not to react openly, unsure of what he might do if he gave free reign to his feelings.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," she whispered over and over. He stood a foot away, arms crossed, silent as death.
When she had cried herself out, he responded in a low, artificially controlled voice. "I'll drive you home."
The ride was bleak and sparse; neither spoke until they were parked at the front gate of her father's mansion. He escorted her to the front door and she turned to face him before entering. "Jason, I'm really sorry, I truly -"
"Goodbye, Camille." He managed to speak the words without any vocal inflection at all.
Despite the reminder from Princess, Jason was late to the five o'clock meeting. Five pairs of eyes stared at him as he walked into the conference room. His teammates were seated around a large table; Chief Anderson stood at the front of the room.
"What?" Jason snapped. Mark, Princess, and Tiny immediately looked away. Only Keyop gawped openly.
Chief Anderson frowned. "This." He clicked on a television monitor. There stood Camille's father in a brown three-piece suit, with a television reporter, in front of the ISO building. A small group of protesters had gathered, waving signs. Jason read them, one by one. No more implants! Implants aren't safe! Save the Condor!
Jason's face went white. He fell into the nearest chair before he passed out in it. "Oh my God," he whispered.
"That's not all," the Chief remarked, his voice thick with tension. He rewound the recording and hit the play button.
A reporter sat behind a news desk wearing a serious expression. "A well-placed source close to Galaxy Security, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed today that the Condor is suffering ill-effects from failed implant surgery over a year ago. It is not clear whether he will be able to continue in his role as a member of G-Force. Howard Johansen, an advisory member of the Galaxy Security Ethics Board, has vowed to push the committee to thoroughly investigate this claim."
Jason put a hand to his head. This is not happening. This is not happening. Damn it, Camille. Why?
The view switched to the scene of Johansen with the protestors. Camille's dad spoke in a confident tone. "We will get to the bottom of this. The members of G-Force and R-Command are bravely serving our galaxy, but the implant program is risky and flawed. It must be stopped before any more children suffer permanent damage to their health. Someone has to look out for the lives of these poor innocent young people. Chief Anderson has been playing loose and fast with the rules for years, even going so far as to use orphaned children as his test subjects." Johansen spoke directly to the camera. "We will hold him accountable for his actions."
The Chief paused the recording. "I don't have to tell you how serious this situation is. An Ethics Committee inquiry of this magnitude could seriously impede any further implant research, potentially setting back the timetable for new team formation by years, if not decades. Thankfully, R-Command is already up and running."
He stared at the Condor. "Zoltar now knows you are the weakest link on this team, Jason. Your safety has been compromised. I will do what I can to offset the damage, but you will have to work twice as hard on missions to debunk these rumors." He folded his arms and spoke in a voice that was deadly calm. "Zark has confirmed that Johansen leaked this information to the press anonymously and then followed it up with a public protest. He and his daughter know who you really are, don't they?"
Jason swallowed painfully under the scrutiny before nodding. "Yes. Yes, sir. I'm ... It's my fault. I'm sorry." He covered his face with one hand. "I thought I could trust her," he whispered. Princess touched his shoulder and gave it a slight squeeze.
The Chief pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. "I can't punish you any more than the damage you've already set in motion by revealing your true identity." He stared around the table at his team. "Let this be a lesson for the rest of you. We have non-fraternization policies for a reason. You do realize what this means for Camille and her father, don't you, Jason?"
Jason raised leaden eyes to meet the Chief's. "Camille will be placed under heavy security and relocated," he said in a robotic whisper. "No contact."
"And her father will be detained at Center Neptune and tried under the Galactic Interplanetary Security Act," the Chief added in a grim voice. "Had he kept the inquiry internal, we wouldn't have to resort to such extreme measures. But intentionally revealing such sensitive classified intelligence to the general public has put your life at substantially greater risk." He shook his head and folded his arms, an uncharacteristic look of compassion crossing his face. "I wish it hadn't come to this, Jason."
The Condor's words were muffled, his hand covering his face again as he struggled to rein in his conflicting emotions. "Me too."
My thanks again to my beta readers, k2p2, Chris White & Becky Rock. I had a hard time writing this ending. I really wanted to give Jason a happily-ever-after, but it just didn't happen here. Camille is young and naive, and Jason knows too much. Besides, the Condor's ill-fated love life is legendary.
It's always interesting discussing the team and the implants with my husband, who thinks Anderson should be tried for War Crimes based on his experiments on orphaned children. He tells me that he'd be out protesting with Camille's dad.