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Masquerades by Grumpy Ghost Owl
Masquerades by Grumpy Ghost Owl
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Story Notes:
My thanks to Terri-Anne and WyldKat for beta reading and helping to knock the rough edges off this thing. Thanks also to Sal for input which had quite an influence on the finished product. The episode transcripts for The Sky is Falling parts I and II were provided courtesy of Naa-Dei Nikoi, to whom goes much kudos for sitting through Zark's scenes without hitting the "fast forward" button. Additional material provided by WyldKat.

The challenge (from March 2000): rewrite the landmark BotP episodes, "The Sky is Falling" parts I and II in the first person from the point of view of one or more of the characters appearing in the show.


DISCLAIMER
Battle of the Planets is the property of Sandy Frank Productions and Tatsunoko. No profit, commercial gain, monetary or otherwise, hire or reward is generated by the author of this work.




MASQUERADES
Part I of a Battle of the Planets fan fiction

Zoltar

It was a deliciously ironic concept: transform Earth into Spectra's shadow-sister. Give the arrogant Terrans a taste of what it is to inhabit a doomed planet. Oh, some of our scientists protested, the weaklings, going on about destruction of unique ecosystems that could be of potential use to us after the war, alternative strategies, and so on.

I had a couple of them shot and the rest went rather quiet, after that.

Crude, I grant you, but effective, nonetheless.

I can't abide division in the ranks, you know. And one can't let subversion -- no matter how innocuous or altruistic or purely scientific it may claim to be -- go unpunished. It's bad for morale.

Riga is supposedly a civilised planet, these days: a full member of the Inter-Galactic Federation of Peaceful Planets. (Inter-Galactic -- the arrogance of these people!)

Riga is not so civilised that certain members of its government aren't susceptible to being bribed, or, if that fails, blackmailed. Oh, no. Not so civilised as all that. Not by any means.

So we were able to build the X-3, right on Earth's doorstep. The Luminous One was actually pleased! As was I, of course.

To top it all off, one of our moles on Riga got wind of a rumour concerning that detestable urchin, the Commander of G-Force: it seems that the Rigan campus of the illustrious Space Academy lays claim to having trained the unpleasant creature.

One of our espionage cells is working on trying to find him through the Academy's records. I'd handle it myself, but I have a planet to conquer, so I've entrusted the job to my Chief of Secret Forces on Riga. I have no doubt at all that very soon, my people will be coming back with some very pleasing results.

Oh, this is all going so well. This time, I have them!



Tom

It wasn't my fault. It was a combination of circumstance and coercion. In my own defence, the first thing I asked was what were they going to do with Mark once I brought him to them.

And the guy just smiled and patted me on the shoulder and said it was none of my concern.

And he showed me the money again and I figured that Mark could take care of himself, he'd always been able to take care of himself and he could probably take this guy in two seconds flat and by the time he did I'd be out of there and on my way off world. Mark wouldn't even have to know if I played my cards right. It wasn't my fault, I needed the money.

I'd had a trick shoulder ever since the car accident that led to me dropping out of the Academy. The accident wasn't my fault, I was tired and I didn't see the other car. If the sun hadn't been in my eyes and if Sam had maintained the car properly I would never have lost control and crashed. And then Sam had the gall to say I never had permission to take the car! How was I supposed to ask? He'd gone out to some stupid movie with Mark and the others, so I borrowed his car. I couldn't ask him, because he wasn't there! The faculty staff at Space Academy made it clear that I wasn't welcome there, any more: they went on and on about "conduct unbecoming and officer and a gentleman," and sent me to counsellors and psychologists and kept trying to get me to take the blame for all the crap that life dealt up to me. Like I'd asked for it or something.

So I left and tried to find work. Nobody wanted to employ an Academy dropout, though. Somebody must have put the word out and spread some kind of lies about me because I went to interview after interview and no-one would take me on, so I wound up in a series of dead-end jobs that took me nowhere, kept me in the daily grind of no money, no future, no life. I got passed over for promotion, passed over for raises, passed over for just about everything there was. What did I ever do to deserve it? It shouldn't have been that way, but it wasn't my fault. Someone must have had it in for me from the day I set foot on campus.

Mark used to say he was my friend, but he only ever hung around with me to make himself look good, like he was looking out for me and people would say how kind he was to "take young Tom under his wing." Oh, he never said anything overt, but he was always there, being Mister Hero, Mister Cool, Mister I-Kick-Ass. Girls never wanted to talk to me when he was around. Colonel Cronus used to look straight through me, even the library staff went out of their way to assist Mark when he flashed those baby blues and smiled, and I'd just stand there, ignored.

And I figure that maybe Mark kind of has it coming, after all those years of being Mister Perfect.

So that night in the bar, I wasn't really drunk, not all that much. It wasn't my fault, the weather was hot and I hadn't eaten. I was tired, and the guy sat next to me and we got to talking. He must have known who I was, because he kept asking me questions, and pretty soon I'd told him about how unfair it was, me having been at the Space Academy with my so-called friend who abandoned me as soon as times got tough and went off to be a big shot test pilot with the ISO.

And so the guy talked me into going along with his plan. He was a professional, and he knew how to manipulate me, knew I was desperate for money, so he made the most of it. I didn't even realise he was a Spook until after I'd agreed to the plan.

I was left with no choice. I needed the money. They sent me to Earth, on a lousy tramp freighter, and the operative who met me actually assaulted me and put my trick shoulder out and left me bruised and bleeding in the street.

From there, all I had to do was follow my orders. I told the police officers who picked me up that I had no next of kin on Earth but that Mark was a close friend and would vouch for me. Mark must be doing okay, because someone sent an ISO car for me. I was taken to a medical centre for treatment and then shipped out to a shack on an airfield just out of town: Mark's place, apparently.



Keyop

Call me Ishmael.

It's not my name, so I'll probably ignore you, but it's a great opening line and we're studying Moby Dick in English Literature class, so I thought I'd throw it in.

I've been called a lot of things, but Ishmael isn't one of them. Call me Keyop if you're a friend, call me G-4, call me Sir, but don't ever call me "kid."

I'm grown up enough to fight Spectra, and I could whip your sorry ass, so don't call me a kid unless you'd like to take it outside.

I'm nine years old and I'm a warrior. I'm no kid.

I'm legally classified as an orphan, with the Chief as my guardian. I don't know about that first bit because to be an orphan, you have to lose your parents, and I never had any to begin with, so I like to think of myself as more of a "free agent."

I was about five when they told me that the reason I couldn't remember my Mom and Dad was that I never had any. I was created by scientists in a laboratory, especially for the G-Force project. That's pretty much out there but I don't remember any of that stuff.

The weirdest thing is when people ask if I'm some kind of robot, or a clone, or a cyborg. That's so off! I'm a human being. So, I was gestated a little differently to other people. I think, I feel, I am. And with an IQ that's off the scale and a body designed to perform at optimum levels, maybe Princess is right, and that people who know about my background are just a little jealous.

Yeah, I'm smart. I'm just not very good at letting people know it. It's like the real me is hiding behind a mask that my stutter creates.

Chief Anderson also says that I'll grow out of my stutter once I hit puberty. To be precise, he says I should grow out of my stutter once I hit puberty, and that if I don't, there are "other options." Since he won't tell me much more than that, I assume that the "other options" involve something risky like neurosurgery or a few months in a tank having my engrams re-written. Maybe I could get the gene techs to make sure I'll never go bald or gain weight while they're at it.!

I live with my foster-sister, Princess. She's way cool, except that she makes me do my homework and she has this really dumb crush on Mark. She goes all gooey at the very mention of his name. I tease her a little about it, but not much, because she gets upset. I want to grow up and be tall and lose my stutter, but sometimes, watching the two of them, I wonder if it's worth it. Princess is G-3, the Swan. She kicks ass. She's pretty, too, with long black hair and green eyes. If the falling in love and getting married when you grow up thing turns out to be mandatory, then I'd like to find someone just like Princess, only not quite so... you know, romantic and gooey, and so uptight about bugs. Maybe she'll be a marine biologist. That would be cool. We could raise seals.

Mark is my big brother, commander, Our Glorious Leader, the Eagle. Mark is also extremely cool (especially as far as Princess is concerned -- 'scuse me while I gag) and he has a great car. (Jason disagrees about that because as far as he's concerned, nothing measures up to the G-2.) Mark gets uptight about being the leader, some times. I can never figure him out. He's smart, he's good looking (the girls all swoon over him) and he's a great fighter and a pilot. Mark is also legally an orphan, except he still thinks maybe his Dad is alive somewhere. I don't know what's worse: never having had a parent, or having one who might or might not come back some day. Maybe I'm better off than Mark.

Jason. What can I say about Jason? Princess says that if I can't say something nice, I shouldn't say anything at all. Oh, screw it. Jason is second in command of G-Force, the Condor, G-2. Where the young girls go for Mark, the older ones sigh and drool when Jason goes by. Women! I'm not even going to waste my energy wondering why. Jason is an excellent fighter, and I'd love to find his car under the Christmas Tree one year with my name on it. Jason and Mark are really good friends most of the time, except sometimes Jason says something that seems okay to me, but it sends Mark off the deep end and they start fighting. Jason teases me about being short and about being a kid... as soon as I'm big enough to whip his ass, he'll be sorry.

Tiny is my best friend in the whole world. He's our pilot, G-5, the Owl. He's a big guy, and I guess you could call him fat if you were in a real crappy mood, but that would be mean. He's the strongest guy I've ever seen, and also one of the gentlest. Tiny doesn't squash bugs or go "Ugh!" when I find really neat cockroaches or big snails or anything, he just looks and asks about them and he always reminds me that I ought to put the bugs back because they have lives just like ours, only with more legs. Tiny is a most excellent way cool dude. We do stuff together, like going to movies, and the zoo, and getting ice-cream and soda and just hanging out. Tiny's only drawback is that he likes girls because he's older than me, so sometimes he wants to hang out with Alice instead of doing guy stuff. I guess that's okay. There's always PlayStation.

Chief Anderson is the closest thing I have to a Dad. He's real strict with all of us, like some old-time patriarch ruling with the proverbial rod of iron. He certainly isn't like the Dads on TV, sitting and hanging out and watching TV or drinking beer or taking us to baseball games. Princess says it's because he has a lot of responsibility.

So, I'm independent. Except for when Princess is chasing me to wash behind my ears or brush my teeth or do my homework or go to bed... well, mostly independent.

The down side is that being independent sometimes gets me into trouble.

Like now. I'm washing dishes at the Snack J, and I'm in the dog house with Princess.

The day started off okay. I woke up and had breakfast, then we headed to Center Neptune to hang out in the Ready Room when Zark called and told us we'd been placed on stand-by alert, so we weren't allowed far from home or from Headquarters. The Snack J isn't too far from the high-speed shuttle terminus, so I thought I'd treat Princess to lunch there. I was hoping to butter her up so she'd let me have one of Skippy Harrison's puppies -- Skippy has this really cool dog and she'd just had pups. He's offered me one and all I have to do is convince Princess that I can take care of it. Well, it's sure backfired. I forgot that I already spent the twenty I had in my wallet on a downpayment for a new game cartridge for the PlayStation, and Princess is flat broke because she'd just lent Jason a hundred bucks to help him out with a nitro job on a car he wanted to race that weekend.

Jill's being pretty good about it, she said we could have the lunch if we washed up. Princess is really embarrassed and kinda mad at me. I can't blame her. I feel really bad -- and there's no way in the world she's going to agree to let me have that puppy, now!

Princesss still in full voice, addressing her comments mostly to the sink, and me still apologising when I see Mark outside the diner through the corner of my eye. He pushes the door open slightly and gives me a hand signal that means "approach silently," so I check that Princess has her back to me (she's still grumbling into the dish rack) and sneak across. He's looking a little pale, and has another guy with him, a shifty-looking character. Furtive is the word that springs to mind, though I'm never going to be able to pronounce it clearly in time for it to matter.

"Why hush-hush?" I whisper, and he drops the bombshell.

"I'm going to Planet Riga," he announces.

Riga! Is my Commanding Officer out of his ever-lovin' mind? We're on alert for Chrissake and he wants to go to Riga! Whatever it is that's going through his mind, I suspect it doesn't have a whole lot to do with rational thought. For a second, I wonder if he's met some girl, and I figure if that's what it is, and he's going to break Princesss heart, then Commander or no, I'll wrap my bolas around his throat and then I'll geld him with his own Sonic Boomerang.

"Tom saw my father there," Mark explains, keeping his voice low. (Okay, so I was off base about the girl thing.) "I'm going to find him."

Man, that's heavy stuff. His father! But there's something about Tom... I remember Tom, now. He's the guy Zark was talking about this morning. Surely he's okay, if he was at Space Academy with Mark, so why do I get the feeling that if I turn my back on this dude, he might put a knife between my shoulder blades?

"Can he be trusted?" I ask, and get smacked lightly upside the head for my trouble. Maybe I'll wrap my bolas around his throat anyways.

"Easy, Keyop," Mark chides me. "That's no way to talk about my friend!"

A hundred thousand thoughts race through my head and I'm cursing my messed-up speech centre for making me so damned inarticulate. Things like, "insubordination," and "breach of trust," and "you're our Commander, how about setting an example?" hover on the tip of my tongue, but, as usual, by the time they leave my mouth, they come out only as a bunch of trills and burbles, and all I can spit out is, "Got to tell big Chief!"

Great, great. I'm engineered to be the perfect warrior and I can't even complete a sentence! Gaaaaack!

"No way," he says. "I'll be up and back before anyone knows."

I take a deep breath in order to point out that we happen to be on an alert and under orders to remain available, (only not in so many words) but he's out of here already, doing that vanishing act that always gets right up the Spectrans' noses, and Princess is calling to me, no doubt thinking that I'm goofing off.

But it's worse than that. My wristband is flashing an alert signal!

It's Zark, with orders from the Chief for us to report in to Base.

Shit. Wish I could say that out loud, but even if I could, Princess would box my ears, so maybe it's just as well. Shit, all the same, though.

I'm real mad at Mark: he's gone and put me right on the spot. On the one hand, he's my friend and my big brother and he trusts me -- ME -- enough to tell me where he's going. Me and nobody else. I can't betray that trust.

On the other hand, I'm G-Force, and my responsibility is to obey orders and always put The Greater Good before all else. Now Mark -- my commanding officer -- is in breach of those orders, putting us all at risk, and I can't betray that trust, either.

On the one hand, Mark has chosen me as his confidant. He trusts me. Not Jason, not Princess, not Tiny, but me.

On the other hand, why the hell does he have to lay this on me? Why not Jason, or Princess, or Tiny? Why me?

I've made up my mind.

When Mark gets back, I'm gonna wrap my bolas around his neck.



Tom

The long flight from Earth to Riga is never easy -- and this time it isn't in a tramp freighter, either, but something that looks just like the G-1 Sonic Jet, right down to the decals! It must be some new prototype that Mark's testing. Man, he must be doing okay -- it beats the hell out of your usual company car!

The surroundings don't smell as bad as the freighter, but I would gladly go back to my cramped little shelf on that dreadful hulk because this kite is a single-pilot fighter aircraft, and its normal passenger payload is none.

So Mark -- Mister Resourceful -- has me jammed in behind the seat, up against the goddamned armour plating.

And there we are, him crunched up with the seat in its full forward position and me squashed up behind. At least he has some leg room, unlike me: I'm curled in the foetal position trying not to think about the cramps tying knots in my calves and back.

I just bet he knows exactly how uncomfortable I am, and he's enjoying every minute of it.

We're preparing for warp: Mark by going through his checklist, and me by cringing and trying to brace myself for the jump. I hate warp jumps. I can't remember all the crud they tried to teach us at the Academy about the effects of jumping to warp on the human body. I only know I hate it.

And right now, I hate Mark for bringing me here.



Keyop

Everyone's looking at me.

And I can't help it: I squirm.

I glance up at the Chief and I see his expression change: at first he looks like a stunned mullet, then a rare flicker of pain crosses his face, quickly replaced by familiar and righteous anger.

"What?" he demands, recovering himself, and I wonder if anyone else noticed that fraction of a second's grief, but I don't have time for any more speculation than that. "Mark went to Planet Riga alone?"

"Yes," I stutter, "looking for father."

"He should have checked with me before going off," Anderson says, and there's something in his voice that bothers me.

I notice things like timbre and pitch and odd little wavers and catches. I suppose it's because my own voice is such a mess, and I'm so aware of what I sound like, that I unconsciously listen to what others sound like, too. Right now, the Chief wants to sound angry, but there's something else, there. Something's really bothering him, but I have no idea what it could be.

Did I do the right thing by ratting on Mark? Hell, I'd have to say yes. I did. The Chief's reaction makes that pretty clear. I just hope Mark understands. I hope he can forgive me. Only time will tell, but right now, I'm sure I did the right thing. I hope I'm not mistaken.

"A space shot alone could be dangerous," Princess says, directing her comments at me.

As though I could have stopped Mark. But her voice is full of concern, not anger.

"Can't we reach him by radio?" Jason wants to know.

"Tried," I manage to get out, "but signal jammed."

Yes, I tried. For the entire trip to Center Neptune, I tried. Called and called until Zark came on line and wanted to know was I having a problem? It's probably what tipped the Chief off.

The Chief is really pissed. "Jason's usually the impulsive one," he says, ignoring the fact that Jason's right here in the room, but Jason ignores him right back, "this time it's Mark. Well, I don't like it, but I have to send you on this mission without him."

I look past him to the viewscreen, where images of Riga are projected.

"And it happens," the Chief continues, "that Planet Riga is your objective."

"That's a mighty mean bird sticking its ugly beak outa there," Tiny comments on the shot of a missile warhead jutting out of a mountainside. I couldn't have put it better, myself.

"That," the Chief enlarges, "is the X-3 missile launching site that Spectra built on Riga without our knowledge or consent. Your mission: demolish it!"

Can do, I figure. It looks pretty much accessible, but then it hits me again, like a slap in the face: we're without Mark. Something cold and heavy materialises in the pit of my stomach.

"Exactly what is the X-3 plan?" Jason asks.

The Chief goes on to explain that the X-3 is designed to lower the Van Allen radiation belt and bring Earth to its knees.

I make some smart remark -- I can't remember exactly what I said. I can't get past the thought of what would happen if Spectra is successful. Our environment would be utterly devastated in ways I can only begin to imagine. Entire ecosystems would disappear: animals, plants -- things that have no part in this war. Innocent people, children, even Jill's potted flowers out the back of the 'J' would wither and die.

And there would be no place to hide, not on the whole planet.

A global eviction notice, courtesy of Zoltar. How do you like them apples?

"This is a tough mission," Jason says. "We'll just have to make it without Mark, which won't be easy."

"That's right," Princess agrees, "Without our commander, our team effort will be weakened."

Like, state the obvious, sis.

"This calls for action, not alibis," the Chief says. "Good luck, team."

We salute as one. Minus one.


I feel numb as we go through our pre-flights. It's an oddly disjointed process, without Mark. Jason and Princess are taking turns at Mark's checks and it feels really weird. I don't like this.

Finally, Tiny initiates the launch sequence and I stare ahead at the command seat where I ought to be able to see the top of Mark's helmet above the headrest, but all I can see is the console and the main viewscreen.

The water fills the docking bay and there's that odd little "descending elevator" tummy flutter as the grapples release and the Phoenix floats free for a split second before the thrusters kick in and we glide out into open water.


The jump to Time Warp is the thing most people hate about space travel.

Most people don't have a clue.

The discomfort experienced by travellers on most commercial liners and military transport vessels is nothing compared to what we go through aboard the Phoenix. We're the fastest ship in the Federation's fleet, and we hold the record for the fastest, longest Time Warps undertaken by ships with live -- let alone conscious -- crew.

It's something Tiny is proud of, since he has to retain enough presence of mind and focus while the rest of us just hang on and endure.

"Discomfort" they call it.

It's like being burned alive.

Oh, it's not as bad as the Fiery Phoenix effect, not by half, but it has its own particular charm.

The theory is simple enough -- they teach it in all basic six-dimensional physics classes.

They teach us in Biology that all humanoid races evolved planetside, where Newtonian Laws reign supreme and the equations are pretty much grade school stuff. We can be pretty much certain that when our species adapted to planetary conditions, our DNA wasn't paying a whole lot of attention to such egg-heads as Einstein, Rosen or Hawking, and as such, didn't make allowances for what we would encounter when we traversed the boundaries of normal space and hit things like Einstein-Rosen bridges, otherwise known colloquially as "Time Warp." So when we push through those boundaries and make the transition from one set of Laws to another, space, matter and time are twisted and warped and more than a little confused, and for that subjective eternity between normal space and hyperspace, reality gets turned on its ear.

We human beings are not neurophysiologically equipped to cope with this.

And as such, we interpret the incomprehensible input between realities as pain.

The Fiery Phoenix burns from the outside in.

Time Warp burns from the inside out.

The longer and faster the hop, the longer the subjective translation time, and the greater the algetic perception. Which means that when G-Force makes a high-speed long-distance run, it hurts like hell.

Once you're through and in hyperspace proper, you perceive the hyperspatial continuum the same way you perceive normal space, and the only pain involved is the headache you get from trying to work out the time skip. In theory, despite the fact that time appears to run normally in hyperspace, the temporal anomaly which gives "Time Warp" its name can result in your getting to your destination before you leave.

In theory.

Nobody, not even us, has ever managed it, and there's a school of thought that says if you did manage, it, the fact of your coexistence in two places in the one objective time in normal space would lead to total annihilation.

I don't know whether or not that's true, and I don't particularly care to find out.

The hop to Riga is long, but not a marathon, and the translation takes about forty five seconds.

I grit my teeth, despite the fact that I know it won't help, if anything, it'll make my jaw ache, so it's pointless, but I do it anyway.

Then Tiny firewalls the levers, the warp drive kicks in and the stars dissolve to liquid fire.



Tom

It took a good half hour for the aches and pains to subside, but I hide my anger and I lead Mark to our destination. He follows, like a lamb to the slaughter.

I pause, falter a moment.

Does that make me the Judas goat? Making him trust me and leading him to his doom?

What nonsense! All those warp jumps are affecting my brain. Mark isn't going to be hurt, he's a GalSec operative -- he has to be. I mean, how else did he get away with taking that prototype jet? Hell, if he's doing test work for G-Force, he must be close to them. That's probably why the Spooks want him so bad. He can handle himself, he always could. I'll get my payoff, and he'll make mincemeat out of these Spectrans. I'll make a quick getaway, so he'll never know I double-crossed him.

I collect myself, and continue. Mark, the great test pilot and class valedictorian, doesn't even notice my lapse. He's so focussed on himself and his own precious little issues. He doesn't even see me.

You know something? I don't think he ever really did.

I wouldn't mind if the Spooks got in a few punches before he took them out.


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