Security Chief Matt Anderson stood facing the window, trying to rein in his anger and fear. The water was dark, as dark as his fear had been hours before. Now it was a dull ache in his chest. It had been replaced with the anger.
He could hear them fidgeting behind him. He took several deep, calming breaths. As much as he wanted to yell at them, he knew it would do no good. Tomak had already yelled enough for an army. The fact that they had nearly gotten themselves killed was now irrelevant. What was relevant was their reason for disobeying orders. It couldn’t happen again.
Anderson slowly turned around. All five members of G-Force were seated on one of the two cream colored leather couches that faced his desk. Even Jason, who normally stood against the far wall as if being near the rest of them would contaminate him in some way, was sitting. They all still looked tired and worn out, heads down. Except for Jason, who was watching him with defiant steel blue eyes.
Of all of them, he was the only one who had figured out why Anderson had ordered them to his office following the meeting with General Tomak. At least he had kept quiet while Tomak ranted and raved. The Chief hadn’t been looking forward to trying to physically separate them if Jason flew off the handle at Tomak’s questions and criticism.
Tomak had thought his sheer size and deep voice had intimidated the team. He hadn’t realized they had mostly blown him off. The only one who had been listening was Princess and now she sat with her head down, her hands clasped in her lap. She was nervous, expecting the second axe to fall on her.
Anderson had no intention of addressing the loss of the data from the Terrapin. That had had nothing to do with disobeying orders.
He raked his brown eyes over each of them, noting the way they slumped, seemingly defeated even though they’d won the battle. Maybe they’d been listening to Tomak after all.
“We won this battle,” he finally said, breaking the silence. He settled his eyes on Mark. “Barely.” The Commander of G-Force raised his own eyes and met Anderson’s gaze, his lips thin. There was no defiance, only the sudden look of determination. He looked so much older than his eighteen years.
“G-Force was ordered to follow the Terrapin and collect data. I said, under no circumstances, were you to engage the enemy. So please explain to me what the hell you were thinking when you boarded that ship?!” He hadn’t meant for the anger to come out, but it did. He rarely raised his voice at them and they weren’t used to it.
All but Jason flinched as if they had been struck. Mark’s eyes lowered to look at the floor. Tiny was looking at the ceiling. Princess was now wringing her hands and Keyop had his mouth hanging open. Jason reached over and gently pushed the boy’s jaw up to close his mouth. He had a slightly amused smirk on his face the Chief didn’t like.
“We tried everything we could think of to get the data we needed,” Mark told him in a quiet but firm voice. “Their jamming system was too effective. I decided the only way we could get what we needed was to board.”
Anderson nodded. He could accept that explanation, even if he didn’t like it. Mark had been trained since childhood to lead the team. Could he criticize him for doing what he’d been trained to do?
“What in God’s name possessed you to order the Phoenix into the Terrapin?” Anderson demanded.
“It was the only way I saw to get the data,“ Mark repeated.
“Was sending the others into the ship also necessary to gather the data?“ The Chief saw the slight twitch of Mark’s gaze to the other couch. Anderson followed the gaze to Jason, whose eyes were now fixed on him.
“Mark didn’t order us to leave the Phoenix. I did.” The Chief’s eyebrows rose in complete surprise. “We waited for word from Mark and Princess and didn’t get any. We couldn’t reach them on the bracelets, so we left the ship to try and find them.”
“For what? You had no confirmation they were in any kind of trouble! Did the thought even cross your mind they didn’t know you were there and had they succeeded, the Phoenix would have been caught up in the explosion?” All animation left Jason’s features to be replaced by a cold mask.
“They could have been in trouble.”
“Again, you had no confirmation anything was amiss!” Anderson moved closer, standing overtop Jason. “You damn near got the ship destroyed!”
“The ship’s fine.” Jason’s eyes tightened as he looked up at their mentor. “So are we, in case you care.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Anderson stepped back as Jason rose to his feet, his hands fisted at his sides. Jason was the tallest of the boys and was now slightly taller than the Chief. They stared at each other nearly nose to nose.
“It would have been nice to hear ‘Thank God you’re all okay,’ but instead we get ‘You almost destroyed the ship’.” Jason tilted his head a little as he continued. “You figure it out.” He turned on his heel and stalked from the office, ignoring the shocked looks he was getting from his teammates. He slammed the door closed after him.
Anderson watched him go, all of the anger suddenly disappearing. He turned to look at the others and saw shock, but then understanding.
Had he placed his concern for the ship over that of his adopted children? Were Jason’s angry words true?
“Dismissed,” he whispered as he turned back to his desk. He waited until they had left his office to turn around and stare at the door. Was Jason right?