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Mind Games by Alara Rogers
Mind Games by Alara Rogers
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Mind Games

Riding back to the base on his motorcycle, with Princess right behind him, Mark could not stop mulling over the problem of the disappearances. G-Force had been investigating for a week, but no clues had turned up. All they knew was that teenagers and young adults from American population centers, people between the ages of 14 and 24, were vanishing tracelessly. There were only three patterns to the disappearances: the victims' ages, the fact that they were disappearing from large cities, and the fact that victims were never in the company of someone outside the target group when they disappeared. The disappearances cut across boundaries of race, sex, and social class, leaving everyone of the proper age vulnerable.

Spectra had to be involved, Mark was certain. But what were they doing? The scale was too big to be hostages, and at any rate, a large percent of the victims were drifters or runaways or orphans, people without anyone to ransom them. No, it had to be some more sinister plot at work-- but what?

"Penny for your thoughts!" Princess shouted over the roar of the wind and their engines.

"I'd be overcharging you!" Mark shouted back.

"The disappearances again?"

I should never have asked, Princess thought. She'd been trying to temporarily put the problem to the side, to relax on the ride home. It was a beautiful autumn day, on a peaceful rural route outside Stargate's outskirts-- there was nothing but acres of ripe farmland on one side and gloriously colored trees on the other, no other people around for miles. But the beauty had just turned sour as Princess was forced back to thinking about the problem.

Statistically, more people had been disappearing from the city of Stargate, on the East Coast of the United States, than anywhere else-- which was why G-Force had come here. But that didn't mean Bayside was safe. It hadn't escaped Princess' notice that her friends back home-- Jill, Aimee, Teddy-- were all members of the target group. If she could go home to California right now, what would she find? Would her friends at home still be safe, or...

"Princess! Over there!"

A shaded lane angled off through the forest, and parked by the edge was a white sedan. Standing next to the sedan was a pretty blonde girl, a member of the target group, waving her arms frantically. Both Princess and Mark crossed lanes and slewed to a stop.

"Oh, I'm so glad you're here!" The girl said. "My car broke down just a mile from home, and I've got groceries to get home and everything! I've been out here for half an hour, and my ice cream's getting all melted..."

"Calm down, miss," Mark said. "We'll fix your car."

"I would have walked back-- you know, it's just a mile down the lane-- but, you know, the woods can be dangerous! A girl was knifed just around here." She shuddered prettily. "Anything could happen, you know!"

Mark had little patience with airheads. "Where exactly do you live?"

"Oh, it's just down the road." She pointed down the shady lane. "You can't miss it-- it's the only house around. There's like a driveway up a hill, and there it is! Will you drive me home?"

"Well, somebody's got to fix your car--"

"Oh, but it could take hours! And my milk will go all bad, and the ice cream-- and my poor old dad, there'll be nothing in the house for him to eat--"

"If it's so easy to find her house, Mark," Princess said, "I can drive the groceries to her home. It is a warm day."

Mark nodded. "Right." He turned to the young woman. "I might need your help in fixing your car, miss. Would you mind terribly if my friend took your groceries home, and--"

"Oh, that's fine! That's fine!"

Immediately Mark had second thoughts-- it wasn't that he didn't like women, but he was acutely uncomfortable around women who sized him up like he was a slab of meat, and this one looked as if she was doing just that. On the other hand, he was no automobile prodigy like Jason, and if he ran into problems he wanted to be able to question her, and the groceries would go bad, so... "Okay, you may as well, Princess."

Princess smiled. "Don't sound so mournful, Mark. I'll only be gone a few minutes."

She loaded the groceries on and drove off, waving. Mark was slightly irritated. He hadn't sounded mournful-- Princess had said that to stake her "claim" To him in front of the other girl, and she didn't really have the right to. But women would be women. Mark walked over to the airhead's car and lifted the hood. He leaned inside, studying it, as the girl came over to stand next to him.

Odd. Nothing seems to be wrong with this car. "You know, miss--" He began--

And then the girl slammed the hood down on his back, trapping him. A quick pull of the stylized wolf's head that served as a hood ornament released a gas inside, and Mark's struggles ceased. The girl smiled.

Princess found the place without much difficulty-- a large white house, set back from the road on a twisty driveway, brooding over a ragged lawn. It looked forboding and unkempt, hardly the sort of house a bubblehead like the girl out there would live in. Princess carried the groceries up to the door and knocked. A quavering old voice called, "Come in."

The door swung open on a dark, dusty hallway. Princess started down the hall, clutching the groceries, spooked for no reason she could name. She could make out a staircase ahead in the light that came through the open door, but the walls of the hall were lost in shadow-- and then the door slammed shut...

Princess spun, and hands gripped her. She caught a whiff of sickly sweetness-- chloroform!-- and felt abruptly dizzy. Her elbows smashed backwards as her knees caught a man in front of her, and she was free. More dim shapes came for her-- she leapt, crying, "Transmute!"

Energy surged through her suddenly, a familiar switch thrown in her mind flooding her body with strength as brilliant light masked her transformation. The light illuminated five or six men beneath her, who were already crying out, "It's G- Force!"

Damn! They'd seen her in her ordinary form-- now she had to kill them, and she didn't have time! Her yo-yo garroted one as her leg tripped another, adn swift white fists and feet ensured that no one would be getting up again. Throwing her arms in front of her face and tilting her visored head down, she charged through the door, which was wooden and splintered nicely. No time, no time... She had to get to Mark!

Why, why had they taken the bait? It was so damned obvious! Neither of them had stopped to think that they were members of the target group as well. No, they were G-Force, tough and unstoppable-- and one girl had just nearly gotten them captured. Oh, when she got her hands on that Spectran vixen she would strangle her! Mark had to be all right. He had to be! He was Mark, nothing could happen to him... Her cycle went from 0 to 90 in ten seconds, leaving livid burn marks on the driveway, and she screeched out onto the lane and toward the road with no concern for safety. He had to be all right...

But when she reached the road, the scene exploded in her mind, crystallizing and dragging her spirit into despair. No girl, no sedan, no Mark. His motorcycle still sat by the side of the road, but he was gone.

"This is G-3 calling G-1! Mark, respond! Please!" But there was no answer-- and, in truth, she hadn't expected one. If Mark was capable of answering, then he was capable of calling-- and, since she hadn't even received a Bird Scramble signal, obviously he couldn't call. His bracelet had been removed, or he was unconscious, or paralyzed, or... no! She wouldn't think about that. There was no reason to believe anything permanent had happened to him.

Keeping a tight rein on her emotions, she called the others. Perhaps this was for the best. From the way the Spectrans she'd killed had behaved, they had no idea they'd gotten a member of G-Force. They wouldn't try to neutralize Mark's abilities, and so he'd escape, and report to them what he'd learned. They'd done it exactly that way so many times...

She had to believe that. She had to keep her mind on the positive, or she would break down at the thought that she might never see the man she loved again...

The first thing that Jason suggested was that they inspect the house. The only problem was that the house was gone.

Princess stared at the burned-out shell. "It didn't used to look like that," She said.

"Shit," Jason muttered. "Either one of those Spectrans you said you killed survived, or they had relief coming, or a monitor... doesn't mean a damn thing now. They must have figured we were onto them and blown it up."

"Then this can't be their base," Keyl said. "They must have another one someplace, right?" He looked at Princess for confirmation.

"What the hell does it matter if there's another base when we don't know where it is?" Jason exploded.

"Will you calm down?" Tiny laid a friendly hand on Jason's shoulder. "Mark'll be all right. He always is."

"That's what I love about you people, you believe in magic formulas," Jason said bitterly. "There's no guarantee Mark'll be all right. There's no guarantee he's even alive! They might be harvesting for body parts or something and we'd never know!"

"Jason, we can't think that," Princess said sharply. "We have to go on the assumption that Mark's all right, or--"

"Or what? We might get hit square in the face with reality? I keep telling you people, this isn't a game. This is real life. People get hurt." He took a deep breath and turned away from them, trying to control his rage and pain.

Jason knew better than any of them how easy it was to get hurt in this business. He'd once been the cockiest member of the team, ready to fly in where angels feared to tread on the slightest provocation. And then the accident had happened... As if six months in hell, regrowing his broken body, hadn't been enough, there were the aftereffects. There were still aftereffects. Jason had never told anyone about his dizzy spells, or his paralysis reaction to blinding light. Mark had figured some of it out-- they were best friends, after all, and this stuff got noticed-- but not all. Jason had made one screw-up back then, and it affected everything he would ever do for the rest of his life.

And these guys were living in a Peter Pan dreamworld. It was partially Mark's fault-- Mark was always telling them to go easy on the Spectrans, maybe they thought the Spectrans would go easy on them. It didn't work that way. Zoltar and the rest of the Spectran military weren't out for fun and games, they were intent on conquering or destroying Earth. All of them knew that. All of them had lost friends to Spectra, all of them had heard the horror stories about Black Friday, or Zeta Prime... Yet they still had this attitude that it "couldn't happen to them." Why not? They'd been good at beating the odds so far, but that didn't mean squat to the wheel of fate...

"Or we might turn ourselves into emotional wrecks, like you're doing, and be useless," Princess answered, a sharp angry tone in her voice. "Jason, what earthly good does it do to assume that Mark's dead? We have to assume he's alive and work from there--"

"I didn't say I was assuming he was dead. But we don't need these 'oh, Mark's okay, he's just peachy, he gets captured by Spectra all the time' platitudes. This is a serious situation. We can't relax for a second, got it? We can't leave a single stone unturned, until we find Mark!"

"Oh, and I was thinking I could go to the amusement park now that Mark's been captured," Keyl said.

"And we don't need your smart mouth."

"Well, someone needs to be smart around here..."

Princess whacked him. "This is no time for jokes, Keyl!"

"Okay," Tiny said, trying to make peace. "Why don't we try to track down that girl?"

"She'll have changed her description," Jason said. "How about the car? What exactly did the car look like?"

"Uh--" Princess thought back. She hadn't looked carefully enough at the car at the time to remember it very well now. "It was a white sedan--"

"You said that already."

"I know, I know... I think the interior was... blue. It had four doors-- it was just a groundcar.... a kind of silvery roof."

"What make was it?"

"I didn't look."

"You didn't look? Couldn't you just tell?"

Tiny put his hand back on Jason's shoulder. "This may sound strange to you, Jase, but there are people who don't know anything about cars. Some people wouldn't even know a Chrysota from a Touran." He addressed the sky. "What's the world coming to?"

"Shut up, Tiny. Did you get a good look at the license plate, even?"

"No, I didn't. Jason, I had no reason to suspect--"

"Of course you had reason to suspect! We're all members of the goddamn target group! We should suspect everything!"

"So I'm a gullible fool and Mark's going to die for it?" Princess cried, her eyes bright with tears. "Go ahead and blame me, it's all my fault anyway!" She started toward her motorcycle.

"Where do you think you're going?" Jason shouted.

"Anywhere that's not around you! I'll find him myself if I have to--"

"What kind of an idiot are you? You'll get captured, just like Mark!"

"Maybe that's the best idea! I can at least relay where I am before they cut me up for body parts!"

"Ho boy," Tiny said. "Jason, if anyone ever told you you had tact, they were lying through their teeth. Princess, ignore this idiot! He doesn't mean it."

Princess came back, fighting not to show her grief and hurt and guilt to Jason. "So what's the plan, Commander G-2?" She asked bitterly.

Jason took a deep breath. "I'm sorry," He said, forcing the words out. "I... didn't mean to act like it's your fault or something, Princess. It's just..." He didn't want to say what came next, so he changed the subject. "We can have forensics go over the tire treads, at least. Also, if you can remember any more about the car, or what the girl looked like-- though she's probably in a disguise by now. And we can try long-distance ranging on his cyn."

"Long-distance ranging never works," Keyl commented.

"Well, we can try it, idiot."

"We can try calling him again, too," Princess said. "If he was unconscious, then maybe when he wakes up..."

"Yeah. Do that."

For menial tasks like this, Spectra usually hired local help, planetbound submorons who had nothing better to do than try Supply Lieutenant Dakar's patience, or at least so it seemed to him. The people who frisked the incoming prisoners were damn good at their job, but they never paid much attention to the stuff they removed, and the people who took the stuff and put in on shelves or sorted it into boxes-- many of whom actually were submorons-- didn't know what they were dealing with. A laser gun, a belt with a grapple, a sharp-edged boomerang, a set of feather shuriken, and a bunch of mini-explosives had all been stashed away without comment. Danny, who qualified for submoron by any definition, was playing with the pretty-light bracelet when Dakar stalked over.

"What you think you do?" He asked, in heavily accented English. "You here to play with toys or for money?"

"Look," Danny said eagerly, displaying the piece of blue plastic. "This little light's flashing."

"Isn't flash no more."

"Oh," Danny said disappointedly, as it saw that it was so. "But look!" He pressed on it, and a faint, tinny "beep" Sounded as the light flashed again. "Isn't it nice?"

"You idiot," Dakar snarled, slipping back into his native tongue, "that's a communications device!" He snatched it away from Danny, who pouted.

Dakar studied the device. There had been a memo circulated about devices like this-- why couldn't he remember? "I'd better bring this to Zoltar," He muttered. "Teenage kids don't carry miniaturized communicators..."

Zoltar dropped the device back onto the desk and smiled coldly up at Dakar. "Did you inspect the rest of the supply area, Lieutenant?"

"For what, sir?"

"I see I'm dealing with a moron. Don't you recognize this bracelet?"

"I'm afraid not, sir."

"Why are memos sent out, when fools like you don't read them? Ah well, at least you had the sense to bring it to me. Come, Lieutenant Dakar-- let's inspect your demenses."

The two of them headed down to the supply area. "Where is the weaponry kept?"

"Over here, sir." Dakar motioned his leader to a set of shelves. Virtually everything on them were guns, some pocket knives... and one boomerang. Zoltar lifted it, smiling.

"So. Not only a member of G-Force, but their commander, if I don't mistake this. Dakar!"

"Yes, sir?"

"I want holos of all the young men we've brought in transmitted to my office computer."

"Sir, I'm not in charge of that department."

"You are now. Get me Nydak and Varsok!"

The two scientists arrived with little delay. "Yes, Kanos?" Nydak asked obsequiously.

"Step up the timetable. We have the commander of G-Force on the premises. As soon as I locate him, the Converter must be ready to run. Do your test runs and such now."

"Should we have the department stop procuring more teenagers?"

"No. The more we have, the better. But the Converter must be ready by the time I find the Eagle. It won't take me longer than three days, so be prepared."

Nydak bowed. "We'll be ready, Kanos." His wife Kayla Varsok looked at him confusedly, then remembered to bow also. Zoltar smiled, and dismissed them both.

The commander of G-Force... It was almost too good to be true. Zoltar returned to the office and began the arduous task of scanning through the young men's faces, searching for one in particular...

"What do you think they're keeping us here for?" The boy next to Mark asked a companion on another cot. Mark wished he knew.

He was bitterly angry about having been taken in so easily. Keyl would have had more sense than to split up like that. No doubt the "house" The girl had sent Princess to had been a trap, too-- Mark hoped desperately she'd done better with hers than he had with his. His back was still killing him, and shards of light and pain drove into the back of his head every so often when he tried to move the wrong way. Damn, I hope that thing didn't stress my old injury, or I could be in serious trouble... serious trouble, right, what do I call this?

He had no idea how long, precisely, he'd been captured, but since he'd slept twice since then, he reckoned it at 2 or 3 days. Since then, he'd learned practically nothing of value about this operation. He'd been brought to a large concrete dorm with 20 or so other young men and boys from the target group. The humidity and water stains on the wall made Mark think they were underground, but there was no sure way to tell. Other doors they'd passed on the way in indicated the presence of numerous other dorm cells. None of the young men knew what was going on. They'd all been brought in here, stripped of belts, shoes and valuables--

--and that really bothered Mark. While he had been unconscious, someone had taken his bracelet, his shoes, his belt, and all his weaponry. The shoes and the belt contained all his transmutation circuitry-- theoretically, someone could study them and the bracelet and figure out how the uniform worked. He had to get them back-- not only were they irreplaceable, unless he was willing to have his entire CIN replaced, but they were far too potentially dangerous in Spectra's hands. Without his weaponry and cyn equipment, he was practically as helpless as these normal youths-- and if Spectra realized that they had his boomerang, they could easily figure out that he was a captive here, and then they could find him and single him out for "special" Treatment...

Then the door opened. The young men surged forward, thinking it was dinner, and were waved back by guns. "Get back, get back," An English-speaking thug in a green outfit said-- he was probably one of Spectra's local help, from a prison or the slums, as they rarely wasted money transporting goons from their homeworld. "Get back, you sons of bitches, you don't get fed yet. 572!"

It took Mark several seconds to remember that that was the number they'd pinned to him. Coming so soon after his morose speculations, this singling out of him struck him with sheer terror for moments-- They know who I am! They're going to.... But whatever fate was in store for him, it was useless to resist them right here, and he wasn't going to show these traitorous bastards his fear. "You want me?" He asked as he stepped forward.

One of the men backhanded him. "Don't you mouth off to me!"

They hustled him out into a dimly lit concrete corridor with a low ceiling. Several goons were guarding a pack of young men, maybe 8 or 9 of them. As they proceeded to an area with better lighting, Mark realized for the first time what was special about this group of young men, and his heart nearly stopped.

All of them looked amazingly like him.

The resemblance was a bit stronger with some than others, and of course none of them looked exactly like him-- but if a Spectran who knew basically what Mark looked like went sorting through the pictures of all the men captured, he might come up with this group. This confirmed it. They knew they had Mark-- it was only a matter of time before they picked him out.

He determined to fake it as long as he possibly could, to keep his eyes down and pretend to be just another innocent victim, while watching for a chance at escape. If no chance presented itself, then his path was painfully clear-- he had to get himself killed. Shouldn't be too difficult-- the Spectrans were trigger-happy-- and he would be spared whatever tortures Zoltar had reserved for the G-Force commander. The only problem was that he desperately did not want to die...

The dim corridor opened out onto a huge room, tiled with blue plastic. Forming a grid across the room were a lot of coffin-sized dull black metal booths, standing on their ends and just tall and wide enough to admit a person. Electrical wires crisscrossed the floor and the air at about the 12-foot level, and a balcony at the 15-foot level ran around the circular room. Perfect, if he were transmuted, or even had his boomerang... But the servomotors in his legs that would permit him to leap 15 feet were quiet, dormant without his bracelet to activate the system. Without the network, he was nothing but an ordinary human with excellent fighting skills-- he could take out the guards, but there'd be no place for him to escape to. On the far end of the room, a bubble-like structure of one-way reflective plastic bulged out of the wall at the balcony level. There was an elevator door set into the wall underneath it. That was where they were being herded.

"Move it, move it," Their captors shouted, shoving them in through the elevator doors. They crowded in, and the elevator rose a flight, dumping them into the control center dome.

It was a rather small, circular room with a view of the entire chamber outside, through the walls of the bubble. The floor was carpeted in blue, and men in Spectran uniforms worked at consoles set alongside the stone wall. Dominating the bubble area, to the side, was one of the black booths. Zoltar stood in the center of the room, smiling maliciously.

"Good afternoon, gentlemen. One of you, I trust, has guessed why I have brought you here." Zoltar's voice was a silken tenor, polite but full of menace. There was a strong hint of the sharp consonants and clipped vowels of a Spectran accent, but the English was flawless, if very formal. "I shall enlighten the rest of you, in order to speed matters-- among you is a man who is my particular enemy. He knows who he is-- and if he does not choose to reveal himself, all of you will suffer. All of you look at me!"

Mark forced himself to glance up. The Spectran leader's eyes were raking across the line, and all of Mark's choices became suddenly untenable. Zoltar's comment indicated that if Mark wasn't found, all of them would be hurt, and if Zoltar did find Mark... No. While Zoltar was still scrutinizing a man near Mark, Mark suddenly and savagely elbowed the gunman behind him. The man "oofed" And went down. Guns converged on Mark, and he threw himself backwards, so the gunfire would spray toward the Spectran computers and not the other men--

"Don't fire! I want him alive at all costs! Cover the other men!"

Shit! Why did Zoltar have to think of that? Mark stood still and put his hands up, responding to the guns waved toward his fellow captives. He couldn't let them be killed for him...

"How wonderfully altruistic, Commander. Your soft heart may be the death of you yet." Zoltar smiled.

"No doubt that's exactly what you have in mind," Mark said tightly.

"Actually, no." Zoltar waved at two men, both large, burly types. "Hold him. What I have to say isn't for their ears," Motioning at the other captives. They were herded out. With a mixture of terror and dawning hope, Mark realized that he still might be able to get himself killed. If he could break free and get to one of those men's guns... But he had to keep Zoltar distracted.

"Kidnapping is low even for you, Zoltar," He said, painfully conscious of his arms being twisted up behind his back by his captors. "What do you hope to gain with this? Earth isn't going to surrender for a bunch of teenagers' sakes..."

"Oh, I intend to release every one of you."

"That's funny, Zoltar. You're a very funny man. What do you plan to release us in, little pieces?"

"No. You have not grasped the scope of my true plan, Eagle. Everything hinges on this." Zoltar rested a hand on the black machine. "You still think you face torture, don't you... Mark?" The familiarity carried with it insolence, and hints of something darker, more sinister. "Did you think we had planned some special fate for you? I regret to disappoint you, but the fate in store for you is just the same as for all those other captives. You look confused. You truly cannot imagine what it could be, can you?"

"Why should I bother? You'll tell me anyway."

"That's true. I will. What you see before you is a triumph of Spectran science, undreamed of by you or any on your petty little planet. I will use this device to make you and the others into weapons. Armies of murderous children, intent on chaos and destruction, serving Spectra any way they can. Earth will be helpless to stop them, their own children-- your world's softness will be Spectra's victory. And you-- you will be at the forefront, bringing the chaos down on Earth. You see... this device has the power to transform the mind. To rewrite a person's loyalties, so that they fall where I wish them..."

"No. Nothing can do that. You're lying!"

"Oh, no. It has been tested extensively, you know." Zoltar dangled a piece of blue plastic. "Does this pretty little bauble look familiar? I will send you back to your teammates, Eagle, but matters will be a trifle different..."

Mark had been silently gathering strength as Zoltar spoke. Now he lunged forward, slipping out of his captors' grasps, and had the Spectran commander by the neck before the other could dodge. He pulled Zoltar around and stood with his back to the bubble wall, holding Zoltar in a head lock in front of him. "Nobody move!" The Spectrans froze, and Mark tightened his grip. "The bracelet, Zoltar, I haven't got all day."

Zoltar tossed the bracelet at one of the Spectrans, while desperately trying to yank Mark's arm down. "Do you think-- I-- aaah!"

Mark was now holding Zoltar's head at an angle, dangerously close to the snapping point. "Yes, I do think. Shapechanger or no, I could break your neck in a second, and then where would you be? Tell them to give me the bracelet, or else?"

"All-- all right," Zoltar gasped. "His bracelet-- give it-- now!"

One of the men came forward. Mark very cautiously took it, careful not to release the pressure on Zoltar's neck. He brought it to his lips. "This is G-1--"

A pair of hands suddenly locked around his hips and lifted, sending him flying forward. Reflexively, Mark pulled his arm up. Zoltar's scream was cut short by an audible snap, but by that time Mark was already flying at the Converter. He twisted in midair, and managed not to hit too hard. The goons converged on him. There were a lot of them, and he was slightly dazed, but he took heart from the fact that, even if they did manage to take him down, his murder of Zoltar would probably cripple Spectra for months.

He dropped the last goon, barely bruised himself, and hope swelled within him. Maybe he wouldn't have to die. Maybe he could actually escape! For the first time in what seemed like forever, but was more like fifteen minutes, he allowed himself to think he could beat this. He scooped up his bracelet-- from the static in his aborted call, it was obvious to him that there was something jamming it here, but maybe it would work elsewhere-- and ran for the elevator, carrying one of the goons' guns. As the door closed behind him, he sighed in relief. It wouldn't be too hard to escape, when everyone who knew he was fleeing was unconscious or dead...

At that point he realized the elevator wasn't moving, and the air was beginning to smell sickly sweet. His head spun, as he heard Zoltar's laughter over a loudspeaker.

"Yes, Eagle, you could break my neck, and this is where I'd be-- alive and well at the control center, arranging your recapture. Did you really think I could be killed so easily?" More laughter. "You have much to learn, Eagle!"

Mark could not allow himself to be taken alive. He could not. The cyn network had a built-in self-destruct mode, activated by the bracelet. He tried to snap it on, but his fingers wouldn't operate right. Dammit! I won't let... Instead of trying to snap it to his wrist, he lifted it to his temple. Through the drug-induced haze in his head, he tried desperately to think how to operate it. Team, I'm sorry... Princess.... Jason...

"Code... 8... destruct sequence... act... "

The light on the bracelet was still blinking when Zoltar had the door opened and Mark removed. As soon as Zoltar moved it to a sufficent distance from Mark's head, however, it went out. Zoltar was relieved.

There was nothing, absolutely nothing.

They had never received a signal of any sort from Mark. The white sedan was never found. Neither was the girl. And no hints had been uncovered as to exactly what was going on.

Most of the team had sunk into apathy. Tiny had stopped his daily weight-training and spent his time in front of the TV, with vast quantities of food. Keyl joined him, and took his food, or curled up in his beanbag chair with fantasy novels. And Princess had stopped eating, and spent all her time staring into space, or going through old photo albums of Mark. Everyone secretly believed Mark was dead, and no one wanted to admit to it, so they did nothing at all.

But Jason couldn't just sit. Apathy was alien to his nature-- he had to do something, but there was nothing he could do, and the tension and frustration were about ready to make him explode. As he stalked into the Ready Room for the fortieth time that day, he heard Tiny saying, " to be some clue. Some little thing we missed..."

"There's nothing!" Jason screamed. Everyone spun to look at him. "No clues, no leads, no Mark! Dammit, Tiny, if there were any little thing, don't you think we'd have noticed it by now?" He slumped against the wall, took a deep breath. The red haze across his vision was making him dizzy. "He's just gone, Tin. And we're not going to find him. Not now, not ever. Not unless Zoltar wants us to."

Keyl stared at him. "You don't even care! Doesn't have to matter to you that Mark's gone, does it, Jason? Now you can be commander!"

"Why, you--" Jason lunged across the room at Keyl, to be held back by Tiny. "I'm gonna kill him! I'm gonna kill--"

"Jason. Calm it, before I have to break an arm or two. Keyl's just upset, he didn't mean it. And you--" He glared pure daggeres at Keyl-- "knock off this shit! Jason doesn't need to hear it, and you damn well know it's not true, so what are you saying things like that for?"

"I'm going to kill him..." But the words had less force. Keyl had begun to cry.

"I'm sorry," Keyl said, sobbing. "I'm sorry, Jason. I just miss Mark!"

Princess said sternly, "We all do, but that was a very uncalled-for remark. It would have served you right if we let Jason kill you." But she let him hold onto her and cry into her comforting embrace, as she spoke to Jason. "We can't be fighting among ourselves because of this! We have to act like a team, now more than ever. You know that's what Mark would want..."

Jason leaned his head and arm against the wall, facing away from them. "I can't command," He said brokenly. "I can't ever fill his place."

"You... really think he's dead, don't you?"

"You've got to be more optimistic, Jase," Tiny said. "Why would Spectra be going around kidnapping people just to kill them?"

"You don't understand." Jason's voice was bleak. "Mark could escape from anything in four days, if he had his G-Force equipment. If he didn't... then Spectra has it. And if they figured out who he is..."

"We can't think like that!" Princess said.

"What the hell else am I supposed to think? I can't throw logic out the window so I can just believe what I want to!"

Beep... beep... beep...

Keyl tore free from Princess' embrace. "Bird Scramble!" He said excitedly. "It's Mark! It's gotta be!"

"Mark..." Princess breathed.

"Let's go!" Jason shouted. "Transmute!"

The shimmering light caught the four of them, the rush of energy lifting them as the cybernetic networks in their bodies flared to life. Energy sheaths rearranged their clothing, moved weaponry to more useful locations, and when it was done the G-Force team stood there, in the resplendent alternate identities they fought Spectra with. They didn't stand there for long, though-- the floor sank under them, and four colorful blurs zipped down a corridor, heading for the Phoenix.

The signal came from Tanner's Point, on the coast. It was rather far from Stargate, which was surprising-- they'd all been assuming that Spectra's latest headquarters was somewhere near Stargate. Right now, though, it didn't matter much, as they disembarked and saw a familiar white form lying against a rock, cradling one arm against his chest.

"G-Force," He said, and smiled weakly. "I knew... you'd come..."

"Mark! What have they done to you?" Princess ran to him and inspected the arm. It didn't look broken.

"It's just wrenched... so dizzy..."

"What's wrong with him, Princess?" Jason asked.

"I don't know. You and Tiny can carry him in to the sickbay, so I can do a medical inspection."

"Poor Mark," Keyl muttered. "When he wakes up, he can tell us where the Spectrans are, and then we can go kill them."

For a second, a smile flickered on Mark's face, but faded.

Princess felt miserably depressed.

They'd gotten Mark home to Center Neptune, where Dr. Pandora examined him more thoroughly. There was a drug in his system that seemed to be causing his dizziness-- and it had also, apparently, caused traumatic amnesia. Mark remembered nothing of his captivity-- his memory jumped from the girl slamming the hood down on him to wandering around Tanner's Point, transmuted. He was banged-up some, but the drug appeared to be causing most of his vagueness and dizziness-- when it wore off, presumably he would be all right. That wasn't the problem.

What was the problem was that Mark's captivity had been pointless. All the anguish they'd gone through, all the hard work-- the only good thing that could possibly have come of it all was that Mark could tell them where the base was, or what was really going on. Now there wasn't even that.

Princess felt she ought to be happy-- Mark was alive, he was safe, he was all right, and they did have some bit of a lead, albeit small-- the base had to be somewhere near Tanner's Point-- but she couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong. Something was horribly, subliminally wrong...

After they had assured themselves that Mark knew nothing more, the team went back to Tanner's Point, to investigate. Perhaps they could learn something there...

Anderson stood at the window, watching the crowds go past. Significantly, there were far fewer teenagers out now, and those that were out were traveling in large groups, or with adults. Stargate had been hit harder by the disappearances than anywhere else, and it showed.

He didn't like operating here. Stargate had been DSA's headquarters until Black Friday, and held too many memories for him. But an investigation of this nature required Anderson's presence, and so he had come with G-Force and set up temporary headquarters here. Anderson did what he had to do, no matter what the circumstances.

Back at his desk, he pored over the reports. It made no sense that the Spectran base was near Tanner's Point, a good 200 miles from here-- Stargate was the major focus of the disappearances. Unless the Spectrans had more than one base, or children were being funneled through Stargate toward the Point... Perhaps they'd made their base so far away in order to throw everyone off? It was also possible that they'd been transporting Mark to another location when he escaped, and the Point was of no more significance than anywhere else...

There was a knock at the door. "Come in." Without looking up, Anderson caught a flash of white and blue. "Mark, you're not well enough to be up, much less in transmute."

"Oh, I'm as well as I want to be," Mark said. There was a truly nasty undercurrent in his voice. Anderson looked up in surprise, and saw with shock that Mark was holding a gun.

"What are you doing with that thing?"

"Threatening you. Get up. I haven't got all day."

"Mark. Explain yourself, and what you're 'threatening' me for, right now."

Mark sighed. "You don't get it, do you, Chief? You still think I'm your good little slave, and that I'm on your side and everything is peachy-keen. Here are the facts of life: This is a gun. It's not my customary weapon, but you know how to handle my boomerang. So instead I am threatening you with a gun. I could kill you or cause bodily harm to you with it. If you don't want to get hurt, you'll do as I say."

Spectra! The realization exploded into Anderson's mind-- what Spectra had to be doing. He stalled for time. "Mark, I don't understand," He said, even though he suspected he did, all too well. "Why are you doing this?"

"You've been had. I work for Zoltar now. And in a day or two, you will, too-- that's what I'm here for."

Anderson ducked swiftly as he lifted his desk chair and hurled it at Mark. Mark dodged, but was forced to move the gun as he did so-- and Anderson grabbed his own boomerang from the desk and hurled it at Mark. Mark didn't expect it; the thing knocked the gun from his hand. For a split second, Anderson considered using his gun, but decided against it; the uniforms the G-Force team wore were practically bulletproof, and although Anderson knew where all the weak points were, he didn't want to actually hurt Mark. So he pulled a latch on the desk, releasing the wheels underneath it, and kicked it over at Mark. He shoved his filing cabinets aside with speed born of desperation as Mark attempted to extricate himself from the desk. Anderson threw himself into the secret elevator, stabbed the button for the next floor and took a deep breath. A staricase would have made a much better escape route, and as a matter of fact there were staircases fom his offices in Center Neptune and Bayside, but this was a different base-- and, to be frank, very few Spectrans were capable of breaking and entering an elevator.

G-Force, of course, was an entirely different matter...

The elevator ground to a halt between floors, and the blue flame of a laser cutter began to etch its way through the ceiling. Anderson didn't plan on staying around for it; there had to be an emergency route out...

There was. He hit the switch and grabbed wildly for the cables as the bottom dropped out of the elevator. If Mark wanted him dead, it would be a simple matter, now, to kill him-- but if Mark had wanted him dead, he would already be so. Anderson had no illusions as to how long he could hold off his brainwashed foster son. He himself had had Mark trained to be unstoppable. But Anderson knew also of Mark's tremendous strength of will. If he had been turned against his homeworld so easily, then Anderson did not dare get captured, under any circumstances. His own hatred of Spectra was both personal and on principle, a deep current governing his life as it had for 30 years. He could probably hold out against any sort of ordinary coercion for as long as it took. But Mark would never have been swayed by anything that permitted personal choice, never so quickly. It would not be a matter of strength of will, then-- it would be something that gave no choice at all.

Anderson did not dare be taken alive. If he could not escape, then...

He reached the next floor and leapt, pulling himself onto the narrow ledge that formed the door sill. With one hand clutching onto the corner awkwardly, he tried to force the door open with one hand. It wasn't working...

There was a brush of wind behind him, a tug-- and he found himself pitching backwards into emptiness. Then strong arms closed around him, and there was a jarring thud as they landed at the bottom of the elevator shaft. Anderson struggled, in vain; Mark jabbed at a nerve in his back, and fire shot through his limbs, followed by numbness. Try as he might he could not get them to move.

"That was good, Chief," Mark said approvingly. "I didn't know you had it in you. But you must have known you couldn't stop me."

I did know. But I couldn't give up...

Mark slung him over his shoulder and carried him out the bottom of the elevator shaft. As sensation slowly came back, Anderson lay quietly-- it was obvious what his route had to be. He could not possibly escape Mark, and he could not permit himself to be taken alive. There was far too much damage he could do, if he were brainwashed the way Mark had been. That left only one alternative. He had to commit suicide, and he would likely only get one chance. His only hope was the fact that Mark perceived him as an intellectual, not a fighter. Mark would not realize that Anderson "had it in him", that he could possibly escape Mark's grasp. What Mark was forgetting was that Anderson helped devise the G-Force fighting style, oversaw their training-- Anderson knew what Mark was capable of, and what he would overlook.

So if he stayed still, and waited for his chance, he was likely to be able to do it. All he had to do was grab Mark's boomerang and slit his own throat with it. Such a simple thing.

Such a terrifying thing... but Anderson always did what he had to do...

As they approached Mark's car, Anderson carefully gauged his angle. Mark reached to open the door--


There could be no hesitation, no time for regrets or fears. Anderson slid down, yanked the boomerang out of its holster, and brought it swiftly toward his throat.

A backhanded fist caught him across the face, and he sprawled to the pavement, the boomerang flying from his hands. Mark caught it and hauled him up, pressing the nerves to paralyze him again.

"Chief Anderson, how stupid do you think I am? I tried to commit suicide before I got Converted, too-- don't you think I knew you'd try something like this?" Mark yanked open the door behind him and threw Anderson into the car. He slammed the door, went around and climbed in on the driver's side.

"Mark," Anderson whispered weakly. "What has that monster done to you?"

Another fist caught him across the face, and he crashed against the passenger door. "Don't you dare talk about Zoltar like that. He hasn't done anything to me!"

"You work for him out of free choice, then?" Anderson asked bitterly.

"I had to get Converted first. But all Zoltar's done is opened my eyes to reality. Yes, I'm doing this out of free choice-- and soon enough, you will, too." Mark started the car.

Anderson turned his head toward the window, as a hideous dark despair welled out of his soul and began to wrap his mind in fog.

The car stopped, and Mark pulled Anderson out. They were on an abandoned, potholed street, with a manhole cover in the center. Mark half-dragged Anderson to the manhole, flipped it off with his foot, and forced him to climb down.

"Where is this?" Anderson asked.

"The old aqueduct system."

Mark switched on his beltlamp, illuminating the dark tunnel. The stone walls were damp and covered with moss, and water dripped out of cracks, forming puddles. There was a stone ring welded to the wall near the floor. Mark pulled Anderson over, bound his hands behind his back, and forced him to sit down near the ring. Knowing it was useless to resist, Anderson didn't struggle as Mark bound his hands to the ring.

"Why here?"

Mark smiled again-- a malicious, nasty smile. "We sent G-Force out to Tanner's Point to keep them out of our hair," He said. "The real base is just outside Stargate, so it won't be any trouble for a car to come pick you up here. But if something goes wrong-- and Zoltar tells me that stuff usually does go wrong-- well, it wouldn't do to have you going someplace, would it?" The bright light of the beltlamp, level with Anderson's eyes, blinded him and prevented him from seeing Mark's expression, but he could hear the nasty smile without having to look. "The city's water system goes under construction at 10 AM tomorrow, and they'll be shunting Stargate's water supply through here. If our men haven't picked you up by tomorrow morning.. well, you won't be going anywhere." He turned, the lamp's brilliance shaded by his body, and headed up the ladder. In the light haloed around him, he looked like an angel, pure and white, and when he left he carried all the brilliance away with him, leaving Anderson to darkness within and without.

Pandora was studying a dossier on Spectra when Mark came in. "Mark! You feel better now?"

"Yeah." He grinned weakly. "I was going stir-crazy in that bed. The Chief said to tell you he found a lead-- he wants you to mind the store until he gets back, which shouldn't be until 10 tomorrow."

Pandora frowned. "That's not like him-- not to tell me more. Did he say anything else about it?"

Mark shrugged. "He said it was an old friend, but the Chief has lots of old friends." He sat down on the arm of one of her chairs. "I feel awful about this. G-Force is out investigating my disappearance without me-- I actually got captured by the Spectrans, and I don't remember a thing about it-- do you know how galling that is?"

"I can easily imagine."

"The thing of it is I feel fine, Dr. Pandora. I don't feel dizzy anymore, or anything. So why can't I remember?"

Pandora stood. "You want me to examine you again? See if there's some physical cause for the amnesia?"

"Yeah. At least, if you can't find anything wrong with me, I can return to active duty and help my team."

"Okay. Take off your shirt and shoes and come in here." She pulled aside the curtain separating the office from the examination room. "Let's get a blood sample."

Mark put out his arm. Pandora topped off the test tube and placed it in the machine that dominated the room. "Maryann, I want you to run a battery of tests on this."

"Duracell or Everlasting?" The computer asked.

Pandora scowled. Jennifer Maxwell's computer programs might have sophisticated judgment circuitry that enabled them to make "guesses" And devise their own correlations, making them helpful and valuable, but the nuisance value of their personalities almost made it no longer worth it. "Don't get funny, Maryann. This is important."

The computer made an electronic sigh. "Fine, fine. Work, work, work, all I ever do is work and what thanks do I get?" But it began running the tests even as it complained.

"She do that often?" Mark asked.

Pandora sighed. "Too often. Sometimes I could just strangle Jenny. It's convenient to be able to program a computer by telling it what to do in real language, but I'm not convinced the benefits are worth it."

"A cybernetics expert who doesn't like talking computers? Shame."

"I prefer people with circuitry in them, not circuitry that thinks it's a person."

"I am a person," Maryann said.

"Did you ever hear the Chief's secretary program, Susan?"

"Oh, please," Pandora said. "Don't remind me."

"I'm done now," Maryann said. "No applause, please. Just throw money."

Pandora ignored that, as she watched the results scrolling across the screen. "No trace of foreign drugs... good, good... high epinephrine, neurotransmitter-- you've been transmuted!"

"I was working out in the training room," Mark said, somewhat defensively. "I told you I was going stir-crazy in that bed..."

"Odd... some minor neurotransmitter imbalances. Mark, are you having emotional problems?"

"Other than being stuck here, unable to help my team find the base I must have been held at and can't remember? Oh, no, nothing at all."

"It doesn't look like frustration, but... Well, it doesn't really matter-- we don't know enough about neurotransmitters and emotions for me to guess. Maybe it is frustration." She turned back to Mark. "Okay, step up here."

He stood on something that looked like a scale, and in the mirrored glass in front of him, a semi-holographic image in multicolored lights appeared, in his shape. Pandora sucked in her breath. "That's bad. That's very bad."

"What is?"

She examined the multicolored image. "There's a nasty strain on your back. Someone must have kicked you there, or something-- no, not even a kick. It looks like--"

"Like someone slammed the hood of a car on my back? I remember that much-- that was how the girl caught me."

"That's exactly it. And it's put a strain on your old injury. Remember when the Nagoruk woman broke your neck, and you had to have it reknit?"

"Of course I remember-- that's not the kind of thing I'd forget."

"Right. Well, this latest injury's pulled on the nerves. If someone kicks you in the back or you put too much torque on it, it could snap."

Mark slumped. "I have to stay in bed, then?"

"You really should have it regrown."

"No, I have too much to do! I can't take time out for a month or two now--"

"Then staying in bed isn't going to help you any." She sighed. "Let me look at the rest of these injuries. It doesn't look like there's anything bad there, but best to be sure. Turn." Mark turned, slowly, and Pandora examined the pattern of injuries. "Well, it looks like most of your bruises have healed. Funny, though..."


"That pattern of bruises. I noticed it before, and it's even more obvious now. You didn't get them in a fight-- they were deliberate."

"So? We all know about Spectrans and torture..."

"But they aren't bad enough to have been torture. They don't even look like a thug beating up on the prisoner. It looks like they were going easy on you-- but why? Why beat you at all, if they were going to go easy? It doesn't make sense."

Her back was turned, so she missed the look of anger and fear that flitted across Mark's face for a moment. When he spoke, the anger wasn't kept fully out of his voice. "Who knows? Maybe I did it to myself, to avoid something worse. I told you, I don't remember!"

"Wait, wait!" Pandora turned back to him. "I didn't accuse you of holding out on me, Mark. But if you're that upset about not being able to remember, why don't you let me hypnotize you? Under hypnotic recall--"

The color drained from Mark's face. "I don't-- no. No."

"What's wrong?" She walked over, put an arm around his shoulders and looked into his eyes. "Mark, you were never afraid of hypnotism before..."

"I--I don't know why-- No. I can't-- I can't..."

She drew away. "Now I know what those odd neurotransmitters were." Pandora glanced back at the screen, where the blood test results were still displayed, then back to Mark. "I recognize them now-- they indicate, in a word, that someone's been playing with your mind. The amnesia must be a hypnotic block-- and after being hypnotized by Spectra, your mind subconsciously rebels against the idea of having it done again. Either that, or they planted a suggestion that you would fear hypnotism."

Mark had begun to look normal again. He smiled weakly. "That must be it. I'm sorry, but... I just can't face it. Maybe if I try meditating..."

"Try that," Pandora said, nodding. "I really do have to authorize your return to active duty-- you're not hurt that badly. Just no Whirlwind Pyramids, and as soon as this crisis is over I want you in Regrowth. If you let this go too long, it could seriously affect your performance in G-Force."

"I won't let it," Mark said seriously. "Thanks, Dr. Pandora." He went out the door, then swung his head back in. "Since I have to wait 'til the team comes back, anyway, I'll go in the computer room and see if I can dredge up any clues."

"Okay," Pandora said. "Go ahead and do that. When the Chief comes in, I'll notify him that you're well."

As Mark departed, he murmured under his breath, "Oh, I think he already knows that, doctor..."

They had searched Tanner's Point. They had searched a 10-mile radius around Tanner's Point. They had left no stone unturned anywhere near Tanner's Point. And they had found absolutely nothing, nothing at all.

The other three members of the team were beat. Frustration, a long day, and the usual lowering of spirits and energy after detransmutation caused them all to head directly for bed. But not Jason. Frustration didn't tire Jason; it angered him, brought all his stubbornness out in full force and kept him going when another man might have given up. So as his teammates headed for bed, he headed for the computer room.

Mark was in there, working. Jason's first impulse was to talk to him, ask him if he felt better, bitch about the long day spent getting nowhere-- but before he even stepped in, something stopped him. Perhapos it was a subliminal look at the programs Mark was accessing; perhaps it was the expression on Mark's face. Jason didn't analyze his hunches, he merely acted on them. He slipped in, with the catlike quiet that was his specialty, and stood a few feet behind Mark, watching.

Mark was methodically dumping all the files on Stargate Base's Net onto cassette tapes, then neatly stacking the tapes in his satchel. Jason was puzzled, and angry. Mark knew perfectly well you weren't supposed to copy Net files. "Mark, what the hell are you doing?"

Mark spun in his chair, guilt and anger written all over his face. "None of your business, Jason," He said coldly.

What the hell--? "Mark, as far as I know there's no possible legitimate reason for you to be copying confidential files. So it is my business, and you've got no right to tell me it's not. What're they for?"

The last thing Jason expected Mark to do was to slug him in the stomach. He dropped, fighting for breath, and rolled, automatically trying to avoid another punch. More quickly than he probably should have, he got up, and looked around him. Where'd Mark gotten to?

One of the benefits the activated cyn network bestowed was superhuman reflexes. Jason detransmuted, however, was so inhumanly fast that the cyn network had never given him any appreciable increase there. Now, as a blue boot came sailing at his head, Jason's speed saved his life. He ducked, and a transmuted Mark came flying over his head, landed, and threw himself at Jason.

He's transmuted! What the hell is going on here?

Jason leapt out of the way, not quite fast enough-- Mark's blow caught him on the side, sent him slightly off-balance so that he fell into a desktable. Mark leapt, feet coming down at Jason's chest, and Jason rolled, dodging behind some boxes.

He's trying to kill me. He's really trying to kill me! Why??

The solution became obvious to Jason quite swiftly. That can't be Mark!

They had dealt with Zoltar's daughters in their various guises before, but neither of the shapechangers had had the gall to come after them disguised as a team member. Jason felt sick, at what that implied had happened to Mark. The impostor was probably Lyla, the less intelligent but better fighter of the two. Swiftly Jason transmuted and leapt from his hiding place as the Mark impostor's boomerang sliced the area where he'd been. He landed on a desktable, kicking the terminal off it.

"The jig's up, Lyla," He said. "Or Amalai, or whoever the hell you are. Take off Mark's face and fight me in your true form!"

His opponent laughed. "Jason, you moron. You think Lyla fights as well as me? No, I'm Mark."

"Yeah? Then what're you attacking me for?" It probably was Lyla. Lyla never broke character.

"Because I feel like it, Jason!" Mark leapt, his boomerang slicing through the air at Jason, who hurled himself directly at him. Jason slammed into Mark mid-air and carried them both into the wall, where Jason slugged him twice, convinced it wasn't Mark he was hitting. Mark pulled up his knees and kicked, sending Jason flying backwards-- and as Jason corrected his flightpath and landed on another desk, it occurred to him that neither of the shapechangers were that strong. That kick almost had to come from leg servos--

No! He refused to believe it. It couldn't be Mark. He drew his gun and pointed it at the impostor. "Make one move, and I'll drill a hole in your head."

"Oh, would you really do that?" Mark smiled. "Remember the day we stole the plane, Jason, and we landed in France, and we couldn't speak the language and we got picked up by the police? Or the day we declared war on the observers from DSA, and we pushed the fat man in the ocean? Do you remember the beer blast you dragged me to when we were 13, and Tiny and I had to drag you home? Or the times you used to smear jelly all over my bed, so I put peanut butter in your shoes?"

Jason stared. "How-- you bastard! What did you people do to Mark?"

"Read my lips. I-- Am-- Mark. Just--" He grinned-- "a trifle different than the man you're used to..."

Mark flung the boomerang again. Jason leapt, and flung feather shuriken with one hand as he fired his gun with the other. MArk threw himself out of the path of the gunfire. Two of the shuriken caught his arms, but he was moving too quickly for them to penetrate the polymer fabric of the uniform, and so they were ripped out by the centrifugal force of his motion. Jason dove at him, and Mark rolled out of the way, bringing a chop arm up into Jason's stomach. Jason grabbed the arm as he collapsed, pulling Mark down and yanking so that Mark fell under him. He pressed the gun against his oppponent's exposed cheeks. "What have you done to Mark?"

"Still don't believe me, Jason? Try this-- Spectra's developed a device that rewrites people's loyalties. That's what we're kidnapping those kids for-- Zoltar's going to make an army of teenagers, all loyal to Spectra, who'll go out and start raising hell. He got lucky-- I can raise a lot more hell than most."

"Rewrite loyalties?" Jason's tongue felt numb.

"Three guesses as to what that means, Jason."

Jason could guess, all too easily. They've brainwashed him! Horrified, he said, "Mark! Can't you fight it?"

"You don't understand." Mark's grin was smugly nasty. "I don't want to fight it. I'm completely loyal to Spectra now."

Suddenly, his hand-- which had been slowly creeping toward Jason's wrist as they spoke-- grabbed Jason's bracelet and yanked it off. The sudden shocking detransmutation went like a stunwave through Jason's body, paralyzing him, and Mark threw him off swiftly before his own transmute stage was triggered by Jason's energies. Jason fell hard, but scrambled to the side quickly, dodging Mark's kick. Shit! I've got to get his bracelet off him, or he'll cremate me! He rolled forward as Mark leapt, coming down where he'd been, and he dodged backwards as Mark spun and launched a kick at him. Then he charged forward, aiming a fist into Mark's stomach. Mark oofed, but grabbed his arm and hurled him. Jason twisted in midair, trying to fall properly-- and then Mark's boomerang caught him in the back, paralyzing him. He collapsed forward and fell directly on his head.

Brilliant pain, like the bright light of the explosion that had nearly killed him, shot through his head. Jason cried out, forced himself to get to his knees, open his eyes. The world was too bright, and it swirled around him, blurred and double, triple, quadruple. He shrank away, tried to force himself to strike out as Mark approached him, but his blows didn't come anywhere near to connecting. Mark kicked him in the groin, unprotected now that he was out of transmute, and he screamed and curled into a fetal ball, trying to protect himself. I can't... I have to fight back, have to...

Jason tried. But he was disoriented, dizzy and in agony, and Mark was transmuted. He never had a chance.

After Jason was unconscious, Mark looked down at him, confused emotions warring in his broken mind. I should kill him. He's an enemy of Zoltar's, I don't have time to get him to Conversion, and if he wakes up before tomorrow he'll wreck my plans for the rest of G-Force. I really should kill him.

He aimed the laser, and hesitated. The memories he'd used to prove to Jason who he was were still there...

...Jason, dragging him home after the snake bit him...

...Jason and him, wandering through France without the foggiest notion of where they were going...

...leaping out of his plane as Jason went flying, his body broken by the explosion, and hoping desperately against hope that he could reach Jason before it was too late...

No. He couldn't do it. Instead, he removed Jason's shoes, gagged him with his socks, found a length of cable in the back and bound his arms and legs with it, and then hid him in the closet. Jason would escape eventually-- the only way to stop Jason was to kill him-- but that "eventually" Shouldn't be before noon tomorrow, and that was plenty of time. As long as Mark kept Jason's bracelet and shoes, he couldn't contct the team, and then after Anderson and the rest of G-Force were all Converted, Jason would be as helpless as Pandora would be. There was no need to kill him.

Mark detransmuted and left, shutting the computer room door behind him. The rest of G-Force were sleeping, and Mark decided he ought to be, too. He had another long day ahead of him tomorrow.

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