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Eavesdropping by JaneLebak
Eavesdropping by JaneLebak
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Story Notes:
I know she's a Mary Sue, but I tried to keep things toned down enough that no one will need to break out the antinausea medication.
Eavesdropping
by Jane Lebak (11/99)
 

The chirp of Jason's wristband got swallowed by the general chaos in the garage, but he felt the vibration against his skin. Lying across the front seat of the team Monte Carlo with its dashboard disemboweled before him, he raised the bracelet to his mouth and tried to be loud enough to be heard over the tools without being overheard by the other folks at the track. "Roger." He misjudged, apparently, as one of the mechanics passing by said "There goes Jason again, talking to himself so someone will listen."

A minute later, Jason shot out of the car. "Cassie!" he shouted, and she turned, her eyes suddenly wide. "I've got to get out of here!"

"Go!" Cassie shooed him. "I'll finish up for you."

Jason raced across the parking lot to his car, stopping only for a moment by a pay phone. He dialed a number printed in engineer scrawl on the back of a gasoline receipt. "Susan," he said, "you've got to get out of work. I'll pick you up. We need you. It's Mark."

 

Susan Sparlett nearly dropped the phone. "Yeah, I can get out. Ten minutes. Is he all right?" She could feel her office-mates staring at her, and she closed her eyes. Their curiosity and Jason's distress swirled like funnel clouds. For an instant, the fluorescent and tile office seemed in motion. Jason hung up without waiting for a good-bye, and Susan staggered into a chair.

"What's the matter?" A hand rested on her shoulder; it was her supervisor's. Susan met the woman's worried eyes, and she trembled. "Do you need to go home?"

"One of my friends is in trouble," Susan said. "If it's all right--"

A minute later, she packed her bag and shut down her computer. Of course a law firm could afford to let a temp out early. At the entrance, Susan paced from railing to railing. She pulled her blond hair out of the business-like barrette and twisted it into a pony-tail, then shivered as the unfriendly winds of early April whipped past her legs. Shorter than anyone else in the crowd, she stood on the steps so Jason could see her when he arrived She needn't have worried. His old blue car screeched to a stop in front of the building, the door popping open just long enough for her to climb into the back. The ad council could have take a photo of Jason's face for a public service announcement on road rage.

He accelerated her into the seat, and Susan struggled into the middle of the car, belting herself in from terror even before he told her to. He transmuted around her, the car sparking as it lengthened, lowered, darkened, and then blasted forward like a rocket. The helmet distorted his eyes enough that she couldn't read his expression. She knew better than to try probing his thoughts.

Susan gripped the seat, her nails sinking into the leather. "What's going on?"

"I told you, Spectra captured Mark. I still don't know more than that." Jason grimaced. "Can you find him?"

The fury of their drive left Susan huddled in the back seat. Closing her eyes, she tried to avoid thinking about miles per hour and right of way. Mark. Commander. Eagle. G-1. Airplane. In ever expanding mental circles like water rippling from a tossed pebble, she probed the city, the coastline, the whole country--but no matter how long she probed, she felt no sudden flush of recognition.

"Nothing," she said at last. Jason slammed a fist into the dashboard. "That doesn't mean what you think!" Was he angry at her or at her failure to reach Mark? "Maybe he's asleep. He might be off planet. He might just be far enough away that--"

"And he might be dead." Susan's seat-belt sliced around her waist as Jason slammed on the brakes at ISO Headquarters. "Damn him. Come on."

Susan had no hope of keeping pace with Jason in birdstyle, but he waited for her at the elevators. Security stepped out to ask for her identification, but Jason yanked her forward and made a daring motionwith his eyes, and the man returned to his post.

"He was just doing his job," Susan said in the elevator.

"And I'm doing mine. Frankly, mine's more important." Jason pressed the 19th floor repeatedly. "Come on."

They arrived in Chief Anderson's office after Princess and Tiny, but before Keyop. Anderson looked at Susan, then at Jason. "I didn't tell you to bring her."

"I'm in charge if Mark isn't around, and I'm not taking us out at less than full strength." Jason folded his arms. "She's nearly ready to go."

"I'm willing," Susan said.

"I'm not risking having two members killed." Anderson shook his head. "This situation is unfortunate enough as it is."

"You're the one who said we needed the damned telepath in the first place!" Jason's eyes widened. "At this point, with all the leads you have to go on, a telepath's the only one who's going to find him. And just in case you haven't figured it out already, I don't give a rat's ass if she's perfectly trained or not."

Princess said, "I think she should come too, Chief." Tiny looked at Susan, but when the Chief relented, added nothing.

Keyop charged into the office, already transmuted. Princess and Tiny transformed. The only one in civilian clothes, Susan took a place beside Princess before the Chief's desk, her hands knit, her throat tight. Chief Anderson stared at the papers stacked before him. "We lost contact with Mark two hours ago during a routine patrol over Mexico City. We have reason to believe the Spectrans located him by tracking his wrist communicator. We detected no interplanetary activity since then, so unless they've covered their tracks extraordinarily well, he's still on Earth."

"What was his last communication?" Princess said.

"Standard location and status reports," the Chief said.

Tiny said, "Is there any chance this is a regular crash?"

"We had a search party out within the hour." Anderson ran a hand through his hair. "When we didn't find any wreckage, we summoned you."

Susan saw the motion as Jason's breath caught. She didn't need to look into his thoughts to know he felt the delay might have cost Mark his life; he'd have been out there already hunting for any detail he could find that might send him to the rescue. The Chief fixed a look on him. "We had to be sure what we were dealing with before we called the team. I'm sorry."

Jason turned to Susan. "Suit up."

Running the hall to her assigned room, Susan concentrated on the new fluidity in her limbs, the depth in her breathing. The workouts with the team had rapidly increased her lung capacity, strengthened her body for anything she might ask of it, and she still didn't think that would suffice in a combat situation. She had miles to go before she was on a par with Keyop or Princess.

Hers was the minuscule room between Mark's and Tiny's, a glorified closet that barely fit a bed, a dresser and a desk. Still, she adored that room for its closeness. She'd treated it first by hammering telepathy- dampening shields into the corners, just like her room at her apartment.

She changed into the uniform clothes and transmuted, then looked at herself in the mirror. She hardly recognized herself wearing the green cape lined with heather grey, green boots and gloves, yellow body-suit and pleated skirt, and red bird emblem. The yellow and green helmet with a curved beak like Mark's changed her. It took a moment to find the familiar freckled cheeks, the hazel eyes, pert nose, and the mouth that was definitely too wide. She had a face the cosmetics ads described as "rectangular," but the bulk of her helmet masked that too. She adjusted a few runaway hairs under the helmet, then tried a smile. World, she thought, meet the Falcon, the G-6.

Susan slipped from her room and moved into Mark's, then sat on his bed. She drew up her knees, letting her fingers slide over the slick material of the boots. Surrounded by Mark's things, by Mark's memory and smell and territory, she searched again for him. Mexico City, the Chief had said. She imagined heat, Mexicans, the equator, a clear sky, and a jet plane. His uniform: again, she imagined the wristband, the visor, and the boomerang.

She shut her eyes, waited, gently tugged on the link she had to his mind. It was this link which enabled her to make contact with each member of the team, since telepaths could only access distant minds through pre-formed channels. Breathe deeply, she told herself. I can find him if he's awake, if he's not in a shielded room, if he's not concentrating really hard on something, or if he's not wearing headphones. All I need to know for starters is if he's responsive. After that, I need to figure out what condition he's in and then where they've taken him. Maybe I can even get him a message.

She stretched, feeling her way across the link to the other side. The distance bothered her only a little as she explored. A really powerful telepath, she knew, wouldn't notice distance at all. Links formed inside, not outside. They couldn't be stretched or snapped, only blocked. After initiating her connections to the team through sight-contact, she'd worked make those links as strong as possible with frequent exercise; still, how briefly she knew them limited her access. To locate even Mark or Princess, she needed to rely on conditions external to the link: things like where she expected to find them and how she expected them to be feeling. Jason she might not be able to find at all without knowing exactly where he was and what he was doing.

That was when she gasped. There it was: darkness, heaviness, and a dull pain at the back of the head. Her lips tingled.

The sensation faded, and Susan trembled. He was alive, but fading from consciousness. Otherwise, she'd gotten no real clue of what had happened to him, except that it felt as if she'd reached him where she'd searched.

Back at the office, the Chief was asking Jason where he intended to take the Phoenix if he left immediately the way he planned.

"Sir," Susan said, slipping into the office, "I reached him."

Jason turned. Princess had her hands joined at her chest. "How is he?"

"I contacted him for a few seconds." Susan's head dropped. "He's not really awake, so I couldn't ask where he was. But it felt as if he's in Mexico after all."

"That's all you need," the Chief said. "This is the base." He jabbed at one paper with his finger. "Go, and do your best."

 

 

On board the Phoenix, Susan found herself placed in what Jason called the "idiot seat," the station at which an inexperienced crew member could do the least damage. He'd said it referring to Keyop, who normally had that spot, but Keyop had gotten bumped to another location. Jason sat up front with Tiny.

Princess touched Susan's arm. "Can you try again?"

"He's not awake," Susan said. "He's just not there when I try."

Jason got out of his seat and leaned against the back. "All right, I've made a few decisions. Tiny, do you object to having Susan ride in your mind?"

Tiny didn't take his attention off the controls. "You mean have her listen in on my thoughts? Unlike some of us, I don't think things I'm ashamed of."

Susan turned scarlet. "Jason, I--"

He waved her off even as he rapped Tiny on the helmet. His eyes had mellowed a little from the fury in the Chief's office. "Tiny, you're our pilot, and your place is at the helm--"

"Yeah, yeah..."

"--but I want you to go groundside this time." Tiny's head jerked up. Jason added, "You're combat trained. Susan isn't. Not as fully as you are. So let her ride you to get a sense of how we operate in the field."

The Owl's head turned toward Jason, but from her seat Susan couldn't see the expression in his eyes.

"Princess, Keyop," Jason looked them in the eyes, "you'll be on the ground too. That leaves Susan alone in the Phoenix. That's why it's important she stays with Tiny. He can direct her when she needs help piloting the ship. Keyop, I'm going to give you the detonator and as many explosives as you can carry. Place them wherever you see fit, and when the time comes, blow the place to Hell."

Keyop's mouth dropped. "Princess usually does that!"

Jason opened his hands as if soliciting further protest, but none came. "All four of us need to hunt through the whole base in order to find Mark. That's top priority. I'll assign each of us specific areas to search, but we may get a better sense of where he is once we're moving. The trouble is, if they tracked Mark using his communicator, they can do the same with us." He looked at Susan. "That's where you come in. You keep the Phoenix circling, the farther away the better. Nothing fancy unless they attack you, which means the auto-pilot will be able to do the bulk of the work. That's important because at the same time, I want you to relay communications among the four of us while using Tiny as your 'home-base,' however that works."

Susan shivered. "I think I can do it."

"You damned well better do it." Jason turned to Princess and Keyop. "We'll be using the wrist communicators anyhow--but we'll lie through our teeth. Tell them anything you want about where you are, what you intend to do, whom you've spoken to, only make it as confusing as possible. You're in what looks like a library, you rigged the weight room to detonate, you put cyanide in the soup... I don't care, so long as you keep them wondering what's going on. Susan, you maintain radio silence. They don't know we've got you yet, and I'd like to surprise them at a time of our choosing, not theirs." He folded his arms and scanned all four. "Is everyone clear?"

Tiny set Susan up at the helm, and she skimmed the top of the base, a fortress surrounded by waves of sand, armaments on all the rooftops, and barbed wire for a welcome mat. The other four moved into the bubble for their jump, and with her mind firmly linked to Tiny's, she wished them luck.

 

 

A year ago on the planet Cassanega, Susan Sparlett had returned from a gymnastic meet to find her city on fire. A grey-green malevolence like a thunderstorm hovered over the city, with violent explosions rocketing from one side to the other several times a second. Susan instantly reached out for her family, but the electricity in the air blocked her from reaching them. She could sense nearly nothing as she raced through the streets from the train station, too stupefied to drop her gym bag. She couldn't find her parents or her brother; no doubt, they couldn't reach her. Her house had been leveled, but her parents' car hadn't been in front, so she'd hoped maybe they'd escaped. A neighbor had grabbed her by the shoulder and pulled her into a run, the information flowing the short distance from himself into Susan as they moved: Spectra--attacking. Get to the shelters. Your parents went too. Someone saw your brother. Even that contact felt strained, incomplete. The lightning overhead boomed.

Susan and her neighbor had run right into a road block. The Spectrans had thrown her against a car, forced her to watch as they spread-eagled her companion on the ground and put one bullet in the back of his head. "We don't want the man," their commander had said. They'd laughed as they tied her hands in front of her, secure because of the man-made storm overhead. The Spectrans herded her to a corral, an electrified security fence behind which she found dozens, scores, of her people. All women. Bullet reports continued all evening and all night. One at a time, Spectra hunted the women and murdered the men. Telepathy is passed through the women, spread the word. They want to breed telepathic Spectrans.

Nearly sick, Susan kept straining and straining to find her mother, but the electrical surges dampened her power, and she never did find out when exactly her mother and father died. She'd never been able to reach her brother Michael at all.

Herded onto a space ship, the women defied their captors as much as possible, but one of the commanding Spectrans had installed telepathic shields around the holding tank. They were trapped. Susan did her best to remain unnoticed; others of the women tried penetrating the shielding. She tucked up her knees and huddled by the wall. One of the Spectrans looked at her with disgust and desire, and she felt her skin prickle.

Matrilineal telepathy. Telepathic Spectrans. And the end of our race. No more Suarans. That's what Spectra wanted. Theirs had always been tiny population on a planet not even their own, a race set apart not by choice. The Cassanega government had resisted Spectra's demands to expel all the Suarans, but when the attack had come, they hadn't rallied to their defense, either.

The trip dragged on. To Spectra. Who had detected their destination, who had spread the knowledge, Susan never did find out. Her thrumming pain (Mom...Dad....Michael...) mingled with that of the other women and all they had lost: names, faces, locations, possessions, dreams. Their collective consciousness swelled around them like a sea, filled the shield boundaries, and cushioned their hearts against the buffeting of the ship.

Susan couldn't sleep, even though the captives locked either side of her did. One was a girl younger than herself, head on Susan's shoulder. Susan stroked the little one's hair while probing the network. The woman closest to the corner near the door had found a weak spot in the shielding, and she'd begun forcing it. Susan fed strength to her and got a gratified look in return. More women contributed. Although it felt like a conversation, in reality it was as if the women thought with one mind. Find the commanding officer. Find out what he wants. Learn if we can change his mind. It's like looking through a keyhole. We can't do anything.

The woman by the door looked up in surprise just before the ship rocked and the lights dimmed. We're under attack! By whom? They're frightened. G- Force. Who? The Federation's top defensive team.

They tracked the trail of excitement and fear as the team, five members, split up through the ship. One of the women had managed to get a telepathic lock on one member, and she summoned her. She's coming. She'll tell the others. The door to the holding pen shuddered as it ground open bit by bit.

Two white-winged forms entered the room and stared briefly before asking if everyone was all right. The network enfolded the pair. We're unhurt. We're prisoners. Let us loose. Control the locks from that box. Let us go. Both their rescuers stared wide-eyed at the voices invading their minds, and the man stepped backward involuntarily. Don't be frightened. We're not going to hurt you. Let us out. Spectra wanted us. Please.

The woman started fiddling with the lock box, and the man went into the hall, then returned dragging a Spectran soldier. "Open this," he said, a blade pressed against the man's neck. When the man refused, the closest Suaran woman squinted. Instantly the man straightened, removed a card from his belt, and slid it through the scanner. One by one, the locks opened.

Susan rubbed her wrists, closed her eyes and trembled. She'd never before witnessed telepathic coercion. The network shimmered with disapproval and determination. Necessary. Unfortunate. Unavoidable. But we're free.

Another team member arrived, stopping dead at the door. He wore indigo and brown, and he carried a gun. Susan stared at the three bird-suited rescuers, watched the fluttering of their capes, their angular carriage and graceful motion. The dark one didn't want to enter the room. She could feel the disgust rolling off him, but beneath that she could feel the fear. It's all right. The network had brushed by him for a moment, then withdrawn like a wave. We won't touch you.

The man stepped inside, at first hesitant, then more assured. "Listen, everyone! We've got the Phoenix linked up with this ship. There's room for all of you, but you've got to move fast. We subdued a lot of the Spectrans, but a few slipped past."

The community of women seemed to vibrate with determination. We can stop them.

The dark rescuer shivered. The white-winged male said, "Follow me. If you find anyone, warn G-2 or G-3."

Those two worked their way through the inside of the room, waking the sleeping and checking the injured. G-2 lifted a wounded girl and carried her piggy-back. G-3 helped Susan to a stand, then went to the next prisoner. The women filed out in good order, the world suddenly larger than their own little room as they left behind the shields. One of the women had patched the white- winged male into their network. Susan felt his admiration as they located the Spectrans one at a time and distracted them, sent them looking for left-handed skyhooks or forgetting their jobs, or just convincing them to let the prisoners go. Still carrying the little girl, the blue-winged male ran to the front, just ahead of Susan. The white-winged male turned to the dark one. "Where'd you get the gun, Jason?"

"Some guy who doesn't need it any longer." The dark one flashed a fast smile. "G-5 found the commanding officer. He's got him tied up. We're going to bring him home as well."

"Better not," the leader said. "You want to put him with these women?"

The dark one laughed. "Not as if he wouldn't deserve it."

The women filed onto the Phoenix and settled wherever they could find room in the belly of the ship. Susan felt the network go brilliant with excitement, grief at bay for the moment. The G-Force woman stayed with them, answering whatever questions she could. After another half hour, the Phoenix disconnected from the Spectran ship with a grinding jolt. Then they streaked toward Earth. The women weren't going to go back to their home. One at a time, the Suaran women sought out their families, sometimes meeting with success. When Susan tried for her mother, for her father, for Michael, she found nothing at all. But one more woman in tears didn't make the universe fold in on itself and explode, no matter how much she'd want it to.

 

 

In freefall toward the Spectran base, Tiny felt the static in his mind that happened whenever Susan contacted him. Most Suarans didn't create any kind of noise, but she seemed to. The presence comforted him. It meant he knew when she eavesdropped. Her thrill suffused him as he glided to the base. She sent, Flying must make the fighting worthwhile.

It does, he thought. As he landed and bolted for a nearby entrance, though, all thoughts of flight and worth got banished from his mind. The static receded a little. As he fought, he became aware of Susan's basic discomfort. She'd never killed anyone. He had to dispatch five men just getting into the base.

The bracelet chirped. "I've found something that looks like a library," said Keyop.

Keyop's found the kitchen, Susan relayed.

"I'm in their garage."

Princess is on the roof.

Tiny laughed as he moved through the hallway. This would be interesting.

 

 

Jason kept his gun drawn at all times, but so far he hadn't needed to use it. Tiny's very visible entrance had enabled him to slip inside without any pursuers. While he had nothing against killing Spectrans by hand, the Chief told him over and over again that a true martial artist never needed to kill because he never let himself get caught. So I'm not a true martial artist by any means. But the Chief had a point, and specifically in this case, the fewer people who saw him, the better. Princess would be using the same tactics. Tiny and Keyop would be distracting everyone with enough visible destruction for four Ninja while he and Princess hunted for both Mark and his plane.

Jason steeled himself. Susan? Shortly he felt the static in his mind. Can you find where Mark is? Interrogate one of the commanders?

I'm not God. And Mark's still not awake, or at least not conscious enough for me to get a foothold.

Jason sighed, then checked his location against the map he'd memorized. If Spectra hadn't moved Mark off-world, it had to be that Zoltar would come to him. That also meant the security measures would be strictest. Jason had chosen the four most defensible locations, the places most likely to hold an important prisoner, and assigned them to himself. Princess had the locations most likely to house the plane. Tiny and Keyop took the spaces he'd guessed were living quarters and public areas, easily trafficked and not very easily defended. He headed for the closest of his four locations, a sub-basement.

"I'm looking at an art gallery," Princess said over the wrist communicator.

"Quit indulging your pre-Raphaelite fantasies and get back to work," Jason snapped into the radio. "I'll buy you a season pass to the Smithsonian when we get out of here." Then he flinched. Susan- ?

Don't worry. She'd be laughing her head off if she weren't trying to be stealthy. So are they supposed to think we're all frayed nerves?

That's the idea.

Jason continued moving toward the basements, idly keeping track of Keyop's and Tiny's reports, smirking when they got a little too obviously faked, but he didn't rein them in. He only hoped Mark didn't awaken now and think they'd lost their minds. "I'm playing pool." "G-2, you're the worst commander I've ever seen--I'm in charge now." "I found a liquor cabinet. Want some?" "Horrors! This man owns the entire musicography of Supertramp! I'm setting a bomb." And Princess's frantic response, "G-4! Don't! Grab me a copy of 'Breakfast in America'!" Susan relayed their real locations, their real messages and questions. Finally Jason determined Mark hadn't been stashed in the basement. On to the next places, then: the control room, and then the tower, and then the far corner of the fortress, nearest the landing strip.

The Federation had made provisions for war refugees, and after their rescue by G-Force, all the Suaran women shuffled through a system smoothed over by experience. The women were taught to speak as opposed to relying on telepathy, and they attended classes to cultivate job skills. One of the hardest changes for the women was bridling their telepathy. As a culture, the Suarans had mingled in their network with an easy intimacy, no question unaskable, no fear too shameful. They understood human nature. Now they had to learn to restrain their power. Among non-telepaths, they had to learn that with some people it was appropriate to sample their surface emotions, with others to quickly check their thoughts, and still others to go very deeply; they had to learn to do the reverse for themselves, and only share as much as the recipient was ready to receive.

The refugee bureau offered them name changes, created copies of important personal documents, then dispersed the women to wherever they could find places. Although this effectively ended their identity as a race, they found it preferable to Spectra's tactics. Since Suarans had been targeted as a group, they were split up, sent to different cities, and kept ignorant of each others' whereabouts. (About one Suaran per one million people was the limit, a caseworker told Susan.) Susan ended up in New York City, in Queens, and acquired a job through a temporary agency. Along with a name change, she got a birthday change. Although fifteen in Cassanega years, when the ISO plugged her birthday into the computer, she promptly became seventeen in Earth years, with her next birthday in just one month. A high school equivalency diploma shortly became hers, and Susan was dispatched to make a new life to match her new identity.

After combing the newspapers, Susan located a room in a two-bedroom apartment in Forest Hills. The young woman she roomed with had some sort of trouble in her past, but Susan didn't mind. She hammered shields into the walls and let the coziness and anonymity of her apartment defend her. She went to her job every day, deposited her paycheck once a week, and never let anyone know she was a telepath. Keep yourself protected, the caseworkers had told her. Stay under cover.

The roommate's past had visited one afternoon in the form of three rather large men who looked as if they might be carrying weapons, and Susan had exercised her talents. She convinced the men the roommate had moved out for good, convinced them not to hurt her, convinced them the frightened woman in the corner was a man as tall as themselves who could bench press a grand piano. The roommate knew about her telepathy after that, but Susan told no one else. Whenever she used her talent, Spectra might detect her. Some captured Suarans had chosen life over death, over loyalty, and these would be scanning for survivors even now. Susan remained in her room as often as she could. She changed jobs as her temp assignments ended, and she made enough money to survive. She looked through the listings of courses at Queens College. She signed up with a health club and worked out every night. She considered joining another gymnastics team.

On a Wednesday afternoon eight months after her life had ended and re- begun, Susan found herself in a pizza shop conveniently near UN Plaza. She'd had to see her caseworker to pick up the last of her documentation. Her roommate had been in Manhattan as well, and they'd met for lunch; while they ate, Susan noticed her roommate studying two guys in a group of five teens. She reached out to her roommate as they had their lunch, joking that no doubt both guys were too interested in the girl with them to want to go double- dating, and what if her scheme backfired and she got the little kid and the overweight one? The roommate laughed, replying that even if they succeeded, they'd have to fight for which one got the cute black-haired one, and which got the nasty-looking brown-haired guy. They sat in seeming silence while talking rapidly, a solitude Susan found refreshing in an overcrowded city. She'd never lived in a city boasting more than ten thousand souls, and her entire race hadn't exceeded half a million even before Spectra targeted them.

When the other Suaran walked into the shop, Susan looked up in surprise, then in fear. The two of them crackled against one another, a pair of Suarans effectively creating a mini-network. Her eyes widened, and she told her roommate to leave as fast as she could, to call 911 and say a man with a gun had threatened her--anything to get the police to respond as fast as they could. The roommate fled. The man sat in the seat she'd vacated. Found!

Susan knew the man could feel her terror and could read her mind as easily as she could read his. He radiated determination, pleasure, unerring concentration. He had the single-minded hunger of the hunter. Come with me. Beneath his order lay a threat.

Susan tightened up on her chair. "I'm not letting you take me to Spectra. I won't."

The man snickered. Not your choice. Susan opened her mind to scan the rest of the store, and suddenly she felt more attention on her than just this one man.

"I won't go to Spectra," Susan repeated. Her mind had gone numb. She tried not to wonder where her roommate had gone, if this man's accomplices had snared her by the phone until they made sure Susan had been taken, or if they'd even harmed her. Some of the watchers had the level feel of those who do what they must, even when what they must do is murder.

The man grabbed her wrist. Come. He didn't use words so much as sheer determination, an overpowering of her will with his. Susan felt herself trying to get to her feet, and she fought the suggestion. Now!

"No!" Susan yanked at her wrist, trapped in the vise of his fist. "Leave me alone! I'm not going to Spectra!"

Four men in green uniforms rushed into the pizza store just as Susan got her hand free. One blocked the exits, but one of the customers body-slammed him and started shouting for everyone to get out of the shop. Susan had backed into the far wall. As the Suaran advanced, backed by three Spectran machine guns, she radiated terror.

A black shadow streaked from a corridor to her right, between two video games, and the three Spectrans with guns turned on him. Susan bolted for the door, then turned and stared aghast at the indigo-winged defender. Everyone else had escaped the shop by now. Three teen-agers stood like soldiers by the door behind her while a fourth was immobilizing the Spectran he'd slammed away from the exit. The store owner had drawn a shotgun from beneath the counter. Susan reached out to her winged defender and let him know what she could see: the moves of the three Spectrans he fought, the moves of the Suaran who'd accosted her. He felt it as inspiration rather than mental intrusion, not even realizing her presence. With her as his muse, he took the men down like green blades before a lawnmower. One, two, three, and the fourth Spectran had gone down at the door. That left--

The Suaran! she urged.

The Suaran leveled his pistol at the dark-winged one. With one motion, the winged figure spun and hurled a dart like a feather, leaping out of the way of the shot the man fired, a shot that shattered the window behind him and left Susan unable to hear anything. She felt a sudden emptiness as the man lost consciousness The network of two went down. For a moment, it was just her in the pizza shop, and she trembled. Tears came slowly. One of the four teens who'd remained, the only girl among them, came to Susan and hugged her.

"He'd have taken me," Susan gasped, crying onto a stranger's shoulder. "He'd have killed me...he'd have brought me to Spectra..."

The winged figure came over to her. "Who are you? Why did they want you?"

Susan was crying too hard to answer. The girl looked up at him. "Leave her alone for a few minutes. Even you should see she's upset."

"We've got to know if any more are coming! We've got to get her out of here."

One of the guys approached. "I called in. Chief Anderson's coming with a car. You return with them. You'd better not detransmute now. Someone's bound to be watching."

The dark-winged one nodded. The girl seated Susan at a table and brought her a soda. The dark winged one went to the door and spoke to the police who had just now arrived, and shortly the four Spectrans wore handcuffs. Ten minutes later, Susan got ushered into a black-windowed limousine by the dark- winged one, and inside she found a man wearing glasses and a lab coat. She didn't pay attention to where they went.

The young man in the bird costume laughed easily. Susan couldn't get a good look at his face because of the visor, but she could feel he was trying to get her to relax. "Apparently I picked a good time to hit the men's room," he said with a laugh. "I came out in time to hear her shouting she didn't want to be carted off to Spectra."

The older man turned his attention to Susan. He had a crisp method of questioning her, but she found it easy to answer in just as much detail as he wanted. By the time they'd reached their destination, Susan had related the whole incident. They ushered her into the building she'd been in earlier this morning, the ISO building, and once inside, the older man seated her in one of the chairs before a tremendous yet cluttered desk in an office on the 19th floor. "So who cursed you to have an interesting life?" said the guy in the bird suit, leaning against the wall.

Susan studied him. "Your name is Jason?"

He started. She added, "I just remembered. You were carrying a little girl, and you had a Spectran machine gun, and the commander said 'Where'd you get the gun, Jason?'" Susan mustered a smile. "'From some guy who doesn't need it anymore.'"

The other man had been typing one of the two computers at his desk. "You were rescued after the attack on Cassanega, Miss Sparlett?"

Susan nodded, noticing as she did how Jason took a step backward. His whole body visibly tensed as he said, "You were one of the telepath women?"

"I'm not reading your mind," Susan said. "I'm only here because the refugee office relocated me to Queens."

The other man hadn't looked up since he'd found her records on his computer. "35-12 #2B, 72nd Street in Forest Hills, to be precise. You're working thirty hours a week as a temporary secretary in a brokerage office on Smith Street for $13.75 an hour, rooming with one other woman in a furnished apartment, and you came here at eleven-fifteen today to pick up the remainder of your documentation."

Susan looked at Jason. "See? Telepathy has nothing on the computer for potential invasion of privacy."

He regarded her uneasily, but he smirked as if to hide it. "I suppose not." In a flash, the bird suit vanished, and he stood before her as a young man with brown hair and granite-blue eyes. "Well, you're right about my name, and you'd have figured out what I look like if you're trying to sell us to the wolves. You've met Chief Anderson. He finds out everything."

Anderson chuckled. "I haven't found out where you went last weekend."

Jason ignored him. "So Spectra's still searching for Cassanegans?"

"Suarans," Susan said. "We're a subset of Cassanegans, like your gypsies."

The door to the office opened, and in walked the other four from the pizza shop. Chief Anderson had a few questions for them, mostly regarding aspects of the attack Susan didn't follow, and then he returned his attention to her. "One of our doctors can check you over in case you got hurt in the attack."

"He only grabbed my wrist." Susan massaged the joint. "I'll be all right."

"We'll get you x-rayed, just to be sure." Chief Anderson hit a few keys, then met her eyes. "The man detected you because you used your telepathy?"

"I think so. You'd have to ask him to be sure."

"That's not possible," Anderson said. Susan chilled, then glanced at Jason with a gulp. Like a mask, Jason's face revealed nothing. Her hands started trembling in her lap, and she wrapped the strap of her purse around her wrist, then unwrapped it. Chief Anderson seemed not to notice her movement as he continued, "I'd recommend your not using telepathy if you can avoid it. It might have been accidental that he was in the same area you were, since I'd expect the area just outside ISO headquarters to be crawling with spies, but by the same token, you may have been targeted. Do you have telepathy shields around your apartment?"

"Only my bedroom." Susan's heart thrummed like a motor. "They're expensive."

Anderson nodded. "Stay quiet for a little while. It's possible none of them reported to their commanding officer, but they may search for you. If you can get out of the city, maybe for a week or two, that would help."

Susan's vision blurred. "I don't know anyone. Just the people at work and my roommate."

The black-haired young man said, "Can Mary Wade take her for a few days?"

The Chief looked up. "She probably wouldn't mind. Miss Sparlett, if you can get time off from your job for a couple of weeks, I'll call Mary and see if she's willing. She's got a house about two hours north of here, in Poughkeepsie, and she's lost her son. We can let you stay at ISO for the night in one of the shielded rooms where you lived just after your rescue. In the meantime, you only need contact your roommate and tell her you're all right."

Susan had nodded, hardly able to breathe, and someone had escorted her to another floor.

 

 

In the Spectran base, the control room had proven an abysmal failure, although Jason had availed himself of the chance to stuff three or four bodies into a closet. No, definitely not the true martial artist the Chief extolled. He'd listened long enough to hear G-Force communications picked up by the commanding officers and orders relayed in response to the illusory threats. After setting a couple of explosives around the door frame and a couple more further down the hall, he radioed that he still couldn't find the control room. When Keyop's charges detonated, these would as well.

Next he found a library and climbed the shelves, then propped himself above the door. When he heard someone passing in the hall, he shoved half a dozen books off the top. They landed with a bang, and presently the library door creaked open. Jason let the group of three men enter the room before picking which might be the smartest and proving twice again his not being the perfect martial artist. The third man struggled with Jason's arm locked around his throat.

"I may allow you to live," Jason said, "but only if you tell me where they've stashed my commander."

The man stayed silent except to gag. Susan! he thought.

The static flared in his mind, followed by a momentary understanding. I can't, she sent. I'd have done that already, but I'm having a hard enough time maintaining contact with you four. I've got no link to him. This isn't--

I don't care. You're going to find out you can do a lot of things you never thought you could when it comes to the team. Find a way.

For a moment, Jason felt her frustration like a tightness in his throat. Then, with an abruptness, he knew what to do. He held the man tightly, concentrating as hard as possible on every aspect of the man, about what he was doing to his prisoner and how his prisoner was reacting. Susan was dropping contact with Princess and Keyop, and now she had her attention diverted to the man he'd grasped inflexibly against his chest. Only as he felt her probing him did he wonder at the sheer depth of the communication that had passed between them. She hadn't given any actual instructions. But her probing took longer than he liked, and he couldn't sense her doing anything. Eventually she showed up again in his mind. Okay, now ask him again, she thought. I can't find out about Mark if he's not thinking about it.

Force him.

Just ask again.

Jason tightened his grip. "Where's my commander?"

He's thinking about being in pain. Let him breathe, then ask "The G- Force prisoner--where is he?"

Jason fumed, then allowed the man one choking breath before cutting it off again. "I could let you go that easily. Where's the prisoner?"

You don't follow directions really well, do you? Susan's mind chuckled in his own. She'd relaxed a bit. Abruptly, Jason felt as if he knew the entire base, as though he'd walked its corridors a half dozen times a day for the past three months. The wing of the building nearest the airfield was where the commander of G-Force had been locked down tight until Zoltar could arrive.

While Susan groped to regain contact with Princess and Keyop, Jason tightened his grip until the man passed out, then dropped him. The body started breathing again without fanfare, but the man stayed unconscious. He knew Susan would feel how hard his own heart raced as he realized how easily she'd learned so much. He didn't bother to ask if she was sure: the man she'd questioned was sure. On the other hand... He thought that's where Mark was, but he hadn't been there. That's not good enough.

What more do you want? I still haven't been able to find Mark for myself.

Jason went through the man's pockets until he found identification. "Guys, I've got a live lead here," he said into the bracelet. "Collared a Spectran, name of Socas, who told me our commander's in the tower."

A gasp from Princess. "What are your orders?"

Jason said, "Slag the East wing, the one near the airfield, so they can't land any reinforcements, but be careful not to get the tower. The rest of us will converge on the tower."

Susan? Tell them to stay the hell away from both areas and concentrate on finding that damned plane. Can you tell if the Spectrans picked up this transmission?

She couldn't do that. He knew it as soon as he asked. She added, I could try to scan the complex for the terror of people abandoning friends, God, and country to save their own skins, but I'd have to drop contact with you four. I'd be able to regain it with the others, but you I'm not sure I'd get back.

Jason clenched his teeth. He'd been warned, of course, about the drawbacks of not letting her get a firm foothold in his mind. Privacy came at a cost.

Princess' voice crackled at him as he set off for the East wing. "I'd rather check the area first and be sure before we blow it up, G-2."

"I didn't ask what you'd rather do. This isn't a democracy."

"No, it's obviously a dictatorship." Princess had put unnecessary emphasis on the first syllable of the last word. "You better watch I don't rig a car bomb when we get out of this."

Tiny added, "And we all move up in rank."

Jason ignored the Star Trek reference. He no longer tried to outwit any Spectrans who came upon him, just attacked and moved through them like a martial cyclone. At some point, he ended up with a machine gun, and that added spice to the chase. He was close. Mark was alive. Susan would have picked up if that officer had thought him dead. Susan?

It took nearly a minute for Susan to respond. Sorry. What is it?

You all right?

Princess needed some help. She may have located the plane.

Good. Do you have any idea where in the East wing?

As Susan replied, Jason felt a tremor of weariness that definitely originated outside himself. Let me ride in your mind for a while. I might recognize something.

Taking the corridors slowly, Jason found them nearly empty. The soldiers must have heard his order to slag the wing and with typical Spectran valor fled for their lives. Probably he'd find a few guards near Mark's cell, but beyond that he would bet the area had gotten evacuated and the bulk of the soldiers ordered to the tower. Hold on, Mark--hold on. I'm here. I'm so near. Where the hell are you?

Susan hesitated as he scanned the corridors. You know, you have a better sense of direction than I do. You got everything I got from the man.

Then what good are you? There was a moment after he thought it that Jason wondered if she'd get offended, but instead he felt her smiling. That was close--luckily, telepaths heard intent behind the words. Jason continued moving through the corridors, sometimes ending up back where he'd been before, borrowed gun always at the ready. There was a moment when he recognized a passage, and abruptly Susan behind his eyes recognized it too, swelling with triumph. He followed this course until he heard voices. Bingo. He advanced in silence.

"They wouldn't blow it up without searching first," one guard was saying.

"Socas lied to them, and that idiot believed him--"

Jason steadied himself. Breathe deeply. Wait a moment. The static cut back as Susan retreated to Tiny's mind, and he made sure to get the weight of his gun balanced in his hands .

 

 

Susan and Mary Wade, who'd insisted she call her Aunt Mary, had spent a quiet and friendly two weeks together. After the overcrowded conditions in New York City, Susan found Poughkeepsie almost rural, and she took advantage of the chances for long walks, scenic tours, days of reading and routine housework. Aunt Mary didn't speak much, but she did mention that her son Don had been sent on a dangerous and nebulous mission for G-Force and therefore couldn't make contact with her. He wouldn't return home for years, possibly, if he even survived. She had moved to New York City sometime last year, now that both her husband and son were gone, and she appreciated the opportunity to return to her longtime home with a companion. She felt safer that way, even knowing Susan was also hunted. Together they opened up the stale, dusty house, and together they set it back in order before they had to close it up again and return to the city. Either because Aunt Mary didn't care to discuss it or because she assumed that the telepath would discover for herself, Susan never did learn what had happened to Uncle Scott.

Once she returned to the city and to her roommate, Susan got a new temp job and resumed her ordinary life for three months. It was then that Tiny showed up at her apartment asking to bring her to ISO headquarters. Security Chief Anderson invited her to join G-Force on the grounds that they needed a telepath to protect them from psionic attacks. She was one of the few of whom they were aware, as well as the only one in the right age range and with anything approaching the necessary physical skills. Susan had taken a few days to consider the offer, finally agreeing. She had nothing in her life worth being selfish for: a temporary job, a few friends from church, a lonely apartment and a hunted roommate. She could keep most of that if she joined, the Chief had assured her, although he disliked her working temp jobs. Her experience as a gymnast would help tremendously during her early training, and he was of the opinion she could eventually earn a birdstyle, a bracelet, and her own set of weapons.

The Chief had sent the team on a community-building weekend in southern New Hampshire. They'd driven in Tiny's van and Jason's car, a dark blue Nissan as old as himself which he patted on the roof and called Sweetheart in a low voice, coaxing a laugh from Susan. During the drive to New Hampshire, they'd talked over the wrist radios from one car to the other.

That morning, at a minuscule Spectran outpost in Saratoga Springs, three officers were recalibrating a satellite dish they used for monitoring news transmissions along the seaboard, and they'd tuned to a frequency no one used in order to get readings with no interference. They'd worked most of the morning, through lunch, and a good portion of the afternoon before being startled by picking up five very familiar voices. They double checked. They triple-checked. They recorded everything. Then they sent a signal to their homeworld, *code one*, *code one*, *code one*. They scrambled even that. This was news too important to risk encoding in a signal that might get intercepted. What they meant was, send the highest ranking officer immediately, even if it's Zoltar himself.

Meanwhile, the team spoke from car to car: which radio stations they'd found, where they made their next turnoff, what they planned to do over the weekend.

 

 

Jason studied Mark's cell door for a moment before deciding not to use any of the explosives in his belt. He considered the drill, but first he searched the guards for a key. Nothing. Spectra had gotten a little smarter, apparently. The drill made short work of the lock, and Jason pushed on the door.

Mark lay in a heap in the center of the floor, just where they'd dropped him--a pace away from the entrance, flat on his stomach as if they'd stood him on the threshold long enough to kick him inside. Bastards! Jason shut the door behind himself, crouched beside Mark and tried checking his vital signs.

Susan, I've got him!

Triumph surged through him, along with wonder about Mark's condition.

It wasn't the best. It took about five minutes to undo the restraints the Spectrans had thought necessary to slap onto an unconscious man. Beneath the strait jacket, Jason found Mark's hands had been chained to a belly-band, all of which parted easily before his drill.

Mark had a couple of injuries, a few warm spots beneath the constricting fabric of the birdstyle where he might be bleeding without any seepage, but there were no obviously broken bones. He didn't seem to have any spinal injuries, which meant Jason could move him without fear. His helmet and birdstyle had stayed on, not the first time the apparently seamless garment had saved one of their lives. On the other hand, the high collar and gloves made it hard to find a pulse. "Mark," he whispered, "you've got to wake up. Help me out here."

Nothing. Susan's static returned along with a general sense of where everyone else was in the building. Princess had apparently secured the plane.

Jason moved Mark so he sat propped beside him, and then he worked one of Mark's limp arms over his shoulder. We get out of here. Who's closest to me?

Nobody was, he realized. The plane was on the west side, and Tiny and Keyop were doing damage in the central halls.

Jason tried to get Mark to a stand, then eased him back to the ground. I have to carry him. He's still out cold. Can you land in the courtyard by the East wing?

I'll do my best. She paused. Tiny says that's a pretty obvious place to land, Jason. There'll be guns everywhere. Tiny says the better place to land would be on the West side, near the hangar.

I can't get that far. Land near me. Tell Princess to get that plane airborne so she can cover us.

Over the radio, Keyop said, "I'm in the tower, Condor. Got past all those guards, and I'm looking, but I haven't found our commander yet."

"Keep looking," Jason said. "Don't we have a warship, folks? Where is it?"

"Landing in the Western courtyard," Tiny said. "It's a lot less obvious and less easily defended than the Eastern one."

Princess added, "And you said we'd be blowing that one, anyhow, unless you botch it like always."

Jason lifted Mark with a bit of a struggle, got him over one shoulder in a fireman's carry, then went to the hall. "If you're faking this, Skipper, I'm going to beat the hell out of you when you get home."

The halls remained silent as they went. Jason had his bearings again and remembered which way was east. Once he heard footsteps and took cover in a barracks, a welcome respite from carrying someone more than his own weight, but the voices in the hall passed without stopping. Jason turned to lift Mark again and found him staring at the room with a puzzled look.

"We're taking you away," Jason said. "We're almost out."

Mark put a hand up to his eyes. Jason crouched beside him. "Are you all right to walk on your own?"

"I can try."

Princess' voice on the wristband. "G-2, I don't think we should slag that wing until we're absolutely sure--"

"Just do what I said," Jason said. "We'll all get along a lot better once you learn what orders are."

Keyop said, "But I'm still in the tower and haven't had any luck!"

"Then you obviously aren't working hard enough," Jason snapped. "This place is completely wired to blow. You should have done your jobs half as well."

Mark stared at him. "What are you doing? That's no way--"

Jason lowered his communicator. "Not now. We have to get you out of here before they catch on."

They took to the halls again. He felt as if he were dreaming, just because he was knowing things he had no right to know from his limited human perspective: Princess had the G-1 out of the hangar and was trying to take off. Tiny and Keyop were close by, but Susan had missed some of Jason's turns and might not be able to direct them well. Tiny was going to help her land the Phoenix as soon as he got Mark outside.

Shaking his head, Jason managed to get Mark walking, but Mark kept starting sentences like, "You can't just insult them..." and allowing the words to fade to an end. He slowed and stopped, then slumped onto Jason, who struggled him up into a fireman's carry again.

"We found you!" Keyop ran up from behind, and a moment later Tiny followed. "We're almost out!"

Tiny moved under Mark's other arm to offer support, and Jason sighed as he straightened a little, then shifted the gun on his shoulder. Tiny gave him the inevitable, "Where'd you get the machine gun?" and he replied with the standard, "From some guy who doesn't need it anymore." Keyop lifted the gun and slung it over his own shoulder. They were together again. They'd make it.

"We need a few more minutes to land the Phoenix." Jason startled as he heard the words in his head and from Tiny's mouth simultaneously. Susan was landing the Phoenix; Tiny was in her mind, and for the moment, they'd merged to the point where they couldn't distinguish between each other. He felt all that information come in a burst of apology from Susan, and then her withdrawal as she/Tiny paid closer attention to the business of landing the ship.

"We need a distraction," Jason said, turning to Keyop.

Keyop lifted his bracelet. "G-2, I found the water supply. Give me two minutes to pour in some e coli!"

Jason raised his. "G-5, do we have the time?"

He could hear the Phoenix landing in the courtyard, the whine of its engines as it plunked ungracefully to the pavement.

"Enough of the brain candy," Tiny said on his bracelet, and again, Susan's voice echoed in Jason's mind. "It's time to leave."

Tiny froze in his steps as he finished talking Susan through her first solo landing, then looked around with clear eyes. "She's down."

Jason hefted Mark over his shoulder and ran into the courtyard. Keyop and Tiny ran out from either side, Keyop firing the borrowed gun on the two turrets, distracting the gunners enough for Jason to leap to the top of the Phoenix. Above, Mark's plane circled, firing on the gun turrets to give Tiny and Keyop a chance at escaping. Jason shouted, "Keyop, the detonator!" Presently explosions rocked the base, and the gunfire stopped.

In the cockpit, Jason dumped Mark into a corner and took the co-pilot's station. Tiny and Keyop entered shortly, and Susan cleared her seat so Tiny could take over. The crushing pressure of their acceleration caught Keyop and Susan before they had quite gotten to their stations, but none of them complained. They'd gotten out. Alive and entire, they were a full team again.

Tiny radioed Princess to dock in the rear while Jason picked Susan off the floor, shaking his head. Keyop looked a little sore.

Susan and Jason lifted Mark and carried him to the medical station behind the cockpit. Princess joined Jason and Susan after making sure they weren't being pursued by any Spectra mechs.

Mark had been detransmuted, and he focused on Jason. "Princess deserves an apology. They all do. I can't believe how obnoxious you were to them."

Princess giggled. "He didn't even hear the really obnoxious things you said, did he?"

Jason said, "About your pre-Raphaelite fantasies? At least he didn't hear you calling me a dick tator." Princess had gone to work stopping the bleeding on one injury. Overall, Mark's birdstyle had protected him from some nasty blows and cuts. Jason said, "The Spectrans had a net out to listen in on us. We gave them what they wanted. That's all."

Mark said, "How did you coordinate?"

Susan said, "That'd be me. Your alternative communication system."

He turned to her. "Who made you active duty?"

"I did." Jason shrugged. "Now seemed as good a time as any. You can't argue with success, Commander. We got you back."

 

 

In his office, Chief Anderson had several things to say about how Jason had managed the team, most of them critical. Susan realized Jason wasn't listening. He wore the proper intent expression and nodded in the appropriate spots; inside he churned with success. She sent probing fingers through the room and proved what he must suspect. Tiny felt gratified to have seen some real action outside the cockpit and felt honored by Jason's belief in his ability to teach Susan about actual combat. Princess had thrilled to work alone and fly that plane. Keyop burned with the excitement of being allowed to set the charges where he saw fit. Susan realized Jason had even made use of her newness. Anderson might rage about role confusions, but that more than anything else had earned the loyalty of the rest of the team.

Anderson turned to her with an unreadable expression, and she chose not to probe him. Let him say whatever he wanted. "I appreciate all your work today, but I'd like to return you to inactive duty until you're better trained. Today was an emergency."

Jason looked at Susan, and she nodded. "I'll keep training. I'm really glad I got a chance to work with you in the field. I learned a lot today."

Jason actually smiled at her as she handed in her wrist band.

 

 

Zoltar sat with transcripts before him. He had three computers churning simultaneously. Each monitor had a timing code zipping along the bottom: they processed the transcript of every recorded G-Force transmission, any of their movement that had been captured on camera, and the locations Spectra knew the team had hit while in the base. Zoltar's arrival on Earth had followed the G- Force strike by only six hours, during which time enough information had been compiled for him to understand how drastically wrong their plan had gone. He had no Eagle to question, no base commander to revile, only a second in command who had received a bloody promotion and had an awful lot of problems to solve. In the officer's defense, he had mobilized quickly, gotten gas leaks and fires under control, then excavated the command center and retrieved all the relevant data.

In orbit, Zoltar studied the transcripts, listened to the voices, and looked for the key to the code. Their radio transmissions had to have been encoded. How could they have coordinated otherwise? And obviously they had. Someone had planned the strike and manipulated it while in motion like pottery on the wheel. After his latest promise to the Great Spirit, he wouldn't return home without having cracked the code.

The third time the images cycled, Zoltar counted to five. As the images flashed over the screens, he caught glimpses of the Condor, the Swallow, the Swan and the Owl. He knew where the Eagle had been. Who had flown the Phoenix? Good question. Second question: why did they now banter on the radios when in three months of Spectra's monitoring the transmissions, they'd maintained a fairly strict silence, sending only terse information?

The second answer had to be that they'd realized the eavesdropping, hence the idiocy of some of the exchanges, hence his assumption of a code. Zoltar played the recorded transmissions again, closed his eyes, and put his feet on the console as he listened.

Then, close to the end, he stopped. People always went one step too far, and here it was. The last sentence of all: "Enough of the brain candy--it's time to leave."

Brain candy?

Zoltar set his computer to scan any online libraries, Spectra's resource center, and even the World Wide Web for any incidences of that term. The responses came slowly, but the results gratified him.

Every time, the term had been used by a Suaran.

So, G-Force had a telepath, did they?

Life would get interesting in a hurry, because now he'd reversed positions. G-Force had played on Spectra's not knowing they'd learned about the radio net; now it was G-Force's turn not to know what Spectra had learned.

Zoltar opened a channel and called one of his Suaran operatives on Earth. There was no response at the moment. That was all right. He could wait.

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