Anderson slammed the phone down, and barely resisted the temptation to throw it across the room. Only the fact that Sarah was there, and could find herself in its path, stopped him.
"Well, that's that, Jack," she said mildly. "Nothing you can do now. Cronus has taken off for Riga again, and you cannot stop him. You know how he's like a dog with a bone when he's got his mind set on something."
"And the X-3 is something he's got his mind set on for many years," she added, her voice a whisper. She knew how much Cronus meant to his friend, and how worried Anderson was about the fact that Cronus had gone undercover again, to Riga, at such a dangerous time.
Anderson picked up the phone and ordered a transport to Riga.
"So am I. A dog with a bone, I mean. I'm going to find him."
"Would it help at all if I asked you to be careful?"
He nodded "no".
"Then all I can do is wish you luck," she said, giving him a kiss. It was going to be another long wait at Centre Neptune.
Unknown to Anderson, someone else was also going furtively to Riga to meet Cronus...
Anderson had not told anyone except Sarah that he was going to Riga, and the only trace was his request to take a shuttle out there. He had asked Sarah not to tell the team either, unless a major emergency broke out. Sarah had noted drily that if a major emergency broke out with him on Riga, telling the team should be the least of their worries. But as she walked outside the team's ready room, she took an executive decision to let Mark know what the Chief was up to. Except that Mark wasn't there.
"Hello Princess, Jason," she said, popping her head in the room. "Where's Mark?"
"No idea. Off somewhere. What's up?"
"I need to tell him something..."she looked at the two teenagers. "Tell him to call me when he gets back, okay?"
Jason and Princess nodded, a bit bemused. As Sarah turned to go, the alarm sounded through Centre Neptune, bringing Tiny and Keyop to the ready room.
Zark's face came on the screen, and he addressed himself to Jason.
"I cannot find the Chief or the Commander, Jason. You are to report to President Kane immediately and Mark should join you when he gets in."
"Right, Zark. On my way."
Still bemused, Jason turned to go, but then Keyop, who had seemed ready to burst, couldn't hold himself any longer.
"Jason, Mark has gone to Riga! He's after Cronus!"
Sarah did a double-take: what was the matter with the men in Centre Neptune, heading off to Riga and without telling anyone?
"Kids, that's where Anderson has gone also,"she said, getting increasingly worried. "We heard that Cronus had gone off to Riga, undercover, chasing after a Spectran weapon called the X-3."
She knew she was probably breaking twenty secrecy rules, but then, if you couldn't tell G-Force, who could you tell?
"So you know how he is..."
"Pigheaded, stubborn, won't take no for an answer..."muttered Jason under his breath. Sarah gave him a small smile. Sometimes she felt that Jason was more like Anderson than any of them would like to think.
"He took a transport to Riga, to go after his friend. I don't know why Mark went there, but I can't imagine what a meeting of the three of them there will be like..."
"Mark is looking for his father!" piped up Keyop, drawing blank looks from the others.
"Anderson?" asked Tiny.
"No, you idiot! Cronus!" wailed the boy.
"Okay, that's it. I'm going to see President Kane. Then we're all going to Riga!"
And Jason strode out of the room, leaving Sarah shaking her head.
President Kane had a number of choice words, for both Anderson and Mark. The only reason he refrained from using them was that he thought that Jason was conceited enough as it was, and shouldn't be a witness to the dressing down of his superiors. But he made up his mind that both of them were heading straight towards a court-martialled when they came back.
"We received some intel from Cronus," he told Jason heavily. "The X-3 is real and it's almost operational. Unless it's stopped, the Earth will be in a very vulnerable position. Cronus has found where this secret weapon is constructed. I want you to go and bomb the place."
Jason was thrilled -- they would go to Riga with the hierarchy's permission! But a small thought was nagging him.
"Sure, Mr. President. But why can't the Rigan airforce do this? I mean, I don't have a problem, I'm just curious..."
"Because, Jason, there is no more Rigan airforce. The planet was taken over by Spectra this morning."
While a shocked G-Force -- minus Mark -- was making its way to Riga, trying to digest how a whole planet had been invaded and its forces overcome in just a few hours, Anderson was finding out that maybe he was not as clever as he liked to think. The transport he was on was one of the last to land on Riga before the hostile takeover. He had escaped being captured as soon as he stepped his foot on the planet, but, following the short battle and the surrender order issued by the planet's government, he found himself a lone fugitive in enemy territory. He wasn't very familiar with Riga, and any contacts he might have had in the Rigan military were, presumably, either dead or captured. Cronus had probably gone deep undercover. Spectra had thrown an electro-magnetic field over the planet that prevented him from contacting Centre Neptune on the radio. He was worried that, instead of him rescuing Cronus, he would be a good candidate for needing a rescue himself. Suddently he wished he hadn't told Sarah not to tell anyone about his crazy mission and hoped that Sarah would have more sense than him...
"That's it, Jason, we're coming up to Spectra," announced Tiny over the excited voices of Jason and Princess, who had been arguing about whether to contact the local military, which Jason was adamant had already started a war of attrition against the invaders, and Princess was equally adamant that they did not have a shred of proof of that.
"Shall I take up position for targeting the location of the X-3?" continued Tiny.
Jason looked at him in surprise.
"Are you nuts? Of course not! We are not going to bomb that thing while Mark, or Anderson, or Cronus are anywhere near it! We're going in!"
"But, Jason, that's not our mission order!" said Tiny.
"Why, is anyone else here following orders? Why should I be the one to do so?" he inquired, raising an eyebrow mockingly.
"Jason...right! We all...go to jail together!" added Keyop, nodding appreciatively.
Jason looked at Princess.
"Let's get our men home", was all she said.
Mark had also realised that Cronus was an elusive target. He had been with some of his friends in the Rigan military when the attack had begun, and he had fought with them during the short battle. Following the surrender order, which some of his friends refused point-blank to obey, he found himself in a makeshift barricade set up in the middle of Riga's capital city to stop the land advance of the Spectran forces. The Rigan fighters were heartened to discover that G-Force -- at least one member of G-Force -- was with them, and Mark's sonic boomerang had help the barricaded soldiers repel the invaders. Although they were curious why the rest of G-Force wasn't there, and when they would come. Mark was also curious aboout the latter. He was wondering about his next move, when a familiar figure stood over the lip of the barricade and peeked in.
"Hello my young friend. Fancy meeting you here," said Cronus, grinning broadly at Mark.
"Cronus! I came looking for you! And I got caught up in all this...excitement."
"Yes, your timing is not the best," he said, slipping in behind the barricade and giving short salutes to the Rigan soldiers -- even a quick kiss on the cheek of a female lieutenant, who, instead of frowning, kissed him back.
"Riga has been living with the threat of a Spectran attack for years," he continued, making himself comfortable and prepping his laser gun. "The problem this time, my friend, is that they have a weapon that could literally blow the sky off us. And we have to stop them."
"I'm here to help you, Cronus," said Mark determinedly. "But first...I need to know...I need to ask you..."
Cronus grabbed Mark's hand and looked him straight in the eyes.
"Later, my boy. Not now. Now we have a job to do!"
Reluctantly, Mark could only nod.
Anderson had been wondering around Riga for hours, heading towards the sound of battle in the middle of the city, hoping -- if that was the right word -- that he could meet up with the remaining Rigan military there. He crept wall to wall, hid behind gutted buildings, stopping on occasion to exchange a few words with the scared, dejected Rigan citizens peeking behdind their window curtains. He had received training on surviving on enemy territory, but it was so long ago, he wasn't sure any of the techniques he had been taught would still apply, even assuming he could remember them. Which he didn't. And on occasion, as he crept towards the centre of the city, he gave a thought to Sarah, and promised himself that if he made it back to Earth, he would try to make it up to her for all the times when he had been reserved, introverted and an idiot.
The Spectran armoured mecha appeared in front of him as he turned a corner. Hastily, he slid back. Luckily, the mecha was so big that whoever was in control was not looking out for solitary figures on the ground, but was preparing to repel a desperate attack by the Rigan artillery -- the men and women who would still not obey the surrender order -- which was taking up position about a mile up the street. Anderson felt like an insect creeping around elephants, but at least he was not visible. As long as they didn't train their scanners on the ground and kept them looking straight ahead. The smoke-filled barricade was a welcome sight. He had to crawl the last few metres, and hold up a hankie, to avoid being hit by friendly fire. It wasn't white, but beige should do the trick as well...
"Hold your fire!" he screamed, taking a leap over the barricade. A laser shot passed next to his arm. He landed heavily on his bottom and thought that the stress must have gotten to his head, as the first thing he saw as he picked himself up from the floor was Mark.
"Well well well..." mused Cronus, looking at his friend. "Anyone else of your team going to show up?"
Mark wanted to know the same thing, he had a million questions for Anderson, about his father, about the X-3 weapon, about what Anderson was doing there. But as the Chief dusted himself and grabbed a gun to take his place among the shooters on the barricade, he only said "later" to Mark. And Mark nodded.
"What are you doing here, Jack?" asked Cronus conversationally as they faced an approaching mecha.
"I came to find you, you idiot," said Anderson through gritted teeth.
"I thought you might need some help," he muttered.
"Yeah. Sure I do."
"What about the X-3?" continued Anderson, to avoid any further teasing.
"I know where it's being built. But the invasion threw off my plans. The priority is to stop the advance of the Spectrans. Then we can send a team to destroy the X-3. Although this needs to be done fast, as the X-3 is almost operational. I'm not sure how long it will take them to finish it."
Mark slid down on the ground next to them.
"The captain over there managed to contact the Earth, on an old machine that is not affected by the electro-magnetic net" he said, nodding towards one of the Rigan officers. "President Kane has sent the Phoenix to bomb the location where the X-3 is being mde," he said.
"Then why do you look so glum?" demanded Cronus, noticing the look on Mark's face.
"Because I don't think Jason will do that, while he thinks that we might be in the vicinity. He will try to find us first."
The electro-magnetic net that Spectra had thrown over the planet was preventing the Phoenix from contacting either Centre Neptune or Mark or Anderson. Jason's only solution was to order Tiny to fly as low as possible, dodging the Spectran anti-aircraft guns and hoping that someone in the Rigan forces would see the Phoenix and notify whoever they should notify that G-Force was there.
As the Phoenix screamed over the barricade, Mark looked up.
"See?" he said resignedly. "One time! If only he followed orders one time!"he muttered. "Why couldn't he go bomb the X-3?"
"You're not one to talk," said Cronus reasonably. "Neither you," he said turning to Anderson, who was starting to open his mouth. "Okay, we need to let them know we are here."
He turned to the Rigan officer.
"Ned, you still got that ancient machine of yours? Get President Kane and tell him to find a way to let the Phoenix know that we are here. Maybe they will be back in range with the Earth if they fly a bit further away. I'm sure Jason will have thought of it," he added, sounding more confident than he felt.
Jason was realising that they had to find a way to communicate with the Earth. The net was closing in on them, but Princess came up with data to show that they only needed to fly for a few seconds outside the planet's orbit to be back in reach again.
"Tiny, take us out. We get our messages, and get back."
"Big ten," responded Tiny, heading out towards space. Keyop was hunched over the comms console.
"That's it!" he shouted. "Got...Neptune!"
It took them less than five minutes to scoop back in over the capital of Riga and head towards the main area where the last remaining Rigan soldiers were resisting Spectra. The Phoenix hovered over the barricade and Princess flew down gracefully, to the cheers of the soldiers. Mark and Anderson scampered to their feet. Cronus remained crouched down.
"Cronus?" asked Anderson timidly, but with a sinking feeling in his stomach.
Cronus shook his head.
"I'm staying, Jack. This is my home."
"Cronus, we need to talk!" said Mark urgently, barely stopping to greet Princess.
"Later, my boy," said Cronus tenderly.
"Come on, Mark! We've got work to do!" Anderson half-dragged him to the edge of the barricade.
"Chief, how are we going to get you up?" asked Princess.
"We carry him," said Mark determinedly. "Grab one arm. Chief, hold on!"
Swaying under the weight of the Chief, who had closed his eyes, they dragged him up to the Phoenix. He opened his eyes as they landed on the "bubble" and tried to move his shoulders.
"Nope. Definitely out of their sockets," he said, shaking his head.
"No they're not," laughed Princess. "Come on, Chief, you'll be fine. And if you're not, you deserve a long leave for rest and recuperation. Sarah would like that, wouldn't she?"
She winked at the Chief, who blushed.
"Back to work, Princess!" he said as they entered the cockpit. Mark slid into his seat, stopping to pat Jason on the back.
"Don't mention it," shrugged Jason. "Now where's this super-weapon we have to destroy? Keyop, give me the location."
His finger hovering over the weapons' button, Jason concentrated on his task. The explosion that followed told them that he had been successful.
Crouching down in the barricade, the Rigan fighters, including Cronus, cheered wildly when the saw the explosion that marked the end of the X-3. As the Phoenix flew past, and took up position against the mecha, Cronus smiled.
"We will talk, my boy. We will talk."