Exit Strategy by TransmuteJun
Summary:

This is the third story in the On the Run Series.

Mark and his companions search for a way to escape from the Spectran Occupation of Earth.


Categories: Battle of the Planets Characters: Goon, Jason, Mark, Original Character, Princess
Genre: Action/Adventure, Character Study, Drama
Story Warnings: Adult Situations, Death, Graphic Violence, Mature Content, Mild Adult Situations, Mild Language, Mild Sexual References, Mild Violence, Strong Language, Violence
Timeframe: Sequel
Universe: Canon
Challenges: None
Series: On the Run
Chapters: 6 Completed: Yes Word count: 14122 Read: 24532 Published: 10/05/2008 Updated: 10/10/2008

1. Chapter 1 by TransmuteJun

2. Chapter 2 by TransmuteJun

3. Chapter 3 by TransmuteJun

4. Chapter 4 by TransmuteJun

5. Chapter 5 by TransmuteJun

6. Epilogue by TransmuteJun

Chapter 1 by TransmuteJun
Author's Notes:
This is the third story in the On the Run series, and continues on directly from Memories.

Chapter 1

“Did you see anything?”

The question was rhetorical, and Jason knew it. Clearly, if he had seen anything, he would have told Princess immediately. But he understood that she was just grasping at straws. Having no one else arrive at the Palais des Nations implied that there was no one else left to come. Princess, more than any of them, was having the most difficult time accepting that.

Jason had only met Princess twenty-four hours ago… except that he had actually known her before that moment. He had arrived at the Palais des Nations days ago, not having any idea whom he was looking for, but instinctively understanding that someone would be there to meet him. He had been both surprised and pleased to discover that there were two someones who had arrived at the rendezvous point.

The previous night, Princess and Jason had spoken of everything they could recall about their shared past, dredging up every fragmented memory they could. Jason still didn’t know why Mark couldn’t remember anything, but then, neither did Mark himself understand why his situation was different from theirs.

Jason and Princess had quickly realized that there had been two other members of the G-Force Team. After a few hours of concentration, Princess had finally remembered the name of her younger brother: Keyop. It hadn’t been until this morning that Jason had recalled that the G-Force Pilot had been named Tiny.

“No.” he told Princess curtly. “It’s been almost twenty-four hours. They’re not coming.”

“Do… do you think they’re dead?” she whispered, tears in her eyes. She glanced over at a sleeping Mark, then back to Jason, her expression distraught.

Jason sighed. It was difficult for him too. He had only discovered this other side of himself about three days ago. The realization that there might be others like him had been astounding. And now, to contemplate the worst for two of those others… even a man as fatalistic as he was had trouble dealing with that.

“It’s possible that they simply can’t come.” he pointed out. “Maybe they’re in a Snakehead Penal Complex, like Mark and I were.”

“Can you imagine…? Realizing that you have to be here, in Geneva, and not being able to come…” Princess was clearly horrified by this notion.

“What do you think they will do?” she asked him.

Jason noted Princess’ subtle choice of words. While he didn’t want to distress her further, neither did he want to coddle her with false hope. He thought about his response for a moment.

“There’s no guarantee that they’re alive, Princess.” he told her bluntly, wincing at the pain in her eyes. “But if it were me… I… next year. I’d come back here again. Same date, next year.”

“Yes…” Princess said slowly, nodding her head as she thought through the situation. “That’s what I’d do too.”

“We can’t wait around here any longer.” Jason pointed out. “The more time we remain in Geneva, the more likely we’ll be to get caught. And you and Mark are Number One on the Snakeheads’ Most Wanted list.”

Jason couldn’t believe the amount of manpower the Snakeheads were devoting to finding Mark and Princess. He still didn’t understand how the Spectrans even knew who Mark was. But then, Mark’s memories weren’t returning the way Jason’s and Princess’ were. Jason didn’t understand that either.

What he did understand was that having Mark and Princess back in his life somehow completed him in a way he hadn’t even known was possible. They were his two oldest and dearest friends, even if he couldn’t remember everything about them; yet Mark didn’t remember Jason at all.

Another reality Jason was finding difficult to grasp was that clearly Mark and Princess were more than just ‘friends’ to each other. Jason was fairly certain that they hadn’t been like this ‘before’; not nearly so open and comfortable with each other. Even months ago, when Jason had met them as Luc and Kristin, he had sensed the strong chemistry between them. He guessed that being with each other, alone in this dangerous world, had brought them closer together.

In a way, Jason envied them that. He had spent the past year in a kind of self-imposed isolation, save for the two months he had been in that Snakehead prison, when he had found himself drawn into an unexpected friendship with his cellmate Frederic. And it was lucky for him that he had. Luc and Kristin had been sent to rescue Frederic, and Scott Sheridan had just been along for the ride…

But he wasn’t Scott Sheridan anymore.

He was G-2: the Condor, known to a select few as Jason. Except… most of those select few were likely dead, now. The only ones left were right here, in this room with him.

Mark stirred, and Princess returned to his side, bringing him a cup of strong, hot coffee. Mark smiled, reaching up to stroke her cheek tenderly, and Jason turned away. He felt as if he were intruding on something private, despite the fact that neither Mark nor Princess seemed in the least uncomfortable demonstrating their affections in front of him.

“I don’t think we can stay here much longer.” Jason repeated the opinion he had voiced earlier.

“Neither do I.” Mark agreed. “We need to get ourselves to Riga.”

“Riga?” Jason thought it over, and realized that it made sense. The Federation government was based there now, and they could regroup on Riga.

“I guess, now that we know who we are, that’s the logical place for us to be.” he concluded.

“Not only that,” Princess added, “but we have important research data that the Federation scientists there can use to develop new weapons and attack craft.”

“What’s this about?” Jason asked, surprised.

Briefly, Princess explained how before coming to Geneva, she and Mark had destroyed an underground Federation research laboratory beneath Mont Blanc. They had managed to copy the research data files before setting the self-destruct sequence.

“Oh!” Princess exclaimed, startled. “Now that I think about it, I have something for you, Jason.”

Jason looked on curiously as Princess carefully opened up the left thigh pocket on her cargo pants, putting her hand inside and slowly drawing out something long and white. She paused, then passed the object over to him.

Jason reached out, accepting her gift. He looked down, only to realize that it was not just one object, but a group of them. A cluster of long, white feathers lay in his hand. Each had a shiny, razor-sharp tip.

Reverently, Jason stroked the weapons, feeling their softness and remembering… In an instant, he knew what it felt like to hold them in his fingers, carefully balancing them before preparing for a strike. He knew how they flew, and how to slip them in and out of sight, so that the enemy never knew what was coming. He even recalled chewing on them, letting their poison course through his body, building up an immunity to their otherwise deadly venom…

“My shuriken…” he whispered.

“Oh, these are yours?” Mark asked in surprise, holding out another handful. Jason accepted them gratefully. In a way, it felt as if he were being reunited with a group of old friends.

“Thank you.” he said simply, using the tone of his voice to express the gratitude he was feeling. He let his pleasure in the gift wash over him for a moment.

“Where did you get these?” he asked finally.

“There was a room in the Federation laboratory where they were working on the G-Force weapons… our weapons.” Princess explained. “I took the ones I recognized. I wasn’t entirely certain about taking the shuriken, but I recalled using them occasionally, and so I did. Now I’m glad that we had them for you.”

“So, you have your… yo-yo?” Jason recalled.

“Yes.” Princess smiled happily. “And Mark has his boomerang. But… I had to tell him which one was his.” Her expression had sobered somewhat with this last revelation.

“You didn’t know?” he turned to face his Commander, surprised. Jason was experiencing a strong emotional reaction to being reunited with his shuriken, and couldn’t fathom Mark reacting any differently to his own weapon.

“No.” Mark shook his head sadly. “In fact, I still don’t remember. I can use the boomerang instinctively, but I can’t recall anything before the Snakehead Occupation… including my weapon.” He sighed in frustration, slamming his fist onto his thigh. “I don’t know why you and Princess can remember, and I can’t.” The Eagle’s other hand tightened on the coffee mug, and Jason could see Mark’s knuckles turning white. There was an audible crack.

“Darn it!” Mark spat, as he realized that he had broken the handle off of the mug. He set the cup down on the floor, his face a mask of self-loathing.

“You’ll remember, Mark.” Princess reassured him, rubbing his shoulders. Jason could see Mark’s body beginning to relax from her simple touch. “Perhaps it hasn’t been as long for you. You don’t recall the beginning of the Occupation like we do, either.”

“It will come back to you.” Jason did his best to sound convincing. “As Princess says, maybe you just need a little more time.”

“Maybe.” Mark grimaced, but his tone of voice strongly implied that he didn’t place a great deal of faith in that particular possibility.

“Jason’s right!” Princess rushed to add. “After all, we don’t remember everything, yet. It’s all coming back to us slowly.”

“Yeah.” Jason agreed. “For instance, I don’t have any idea how we ended up separated and without our memories in the first place. Every time I think about it, my head starts to hurt.”

“And I’m still ‘remembering’ things that I’m pretty certain can’t be true.” Princess added. “Things about my life as ‘Kristin’, before the Invasion. At least you don’t have any false memories to sort through.”

Mark nodded, now appearing slightly more convinced by what his teammates were saying.

“So, how do you propose that we get to Riga?” he asked, changing the subject.

“Spacecraft?” Princess replied.

“I kind of figured that.” Jason rolled his eyes. “The real question is, where do we get one and how do we avoid being attacked by the Snakeheads the moment we attempt to leave Earth’s atmosphere?”

“Those are two questions, Jason.” Princess joked.

“All right, Miss Smarty-Swan. If you’re so brilliant, then answer my two questions for me.” Jason retorted.

There was silence for a moment while Princess thought this over.

“Well,” she offered, “we’ve all disguised ourselves as Snakehead soldiers before. Perhaps we should do that again, and use a Spectran spacecraft to escape.”

“That’s an interesting exit strategy.” Mark commented. “But where would we get our hands on a Spectran spacecraft?” The Commander frowned. A light came on in Jason’s head.

“Ramstein.” he blurted.

“What’s that?” Princess asked curiously.

“For the past few months, ever since you two helped release me from Penal Complex 624-Alpha, I’ve been working as an underground mechanic in Brussels.” Jason revealed. “People who didn’t want the Snakeheads to know what they were doing would bring these beat up old vehicles to me, and I would fix them up as best I could. Of course, I often needed new parts, and there were a few guys who were able to get them for me, provided no questions were asked.”

“Sounds like you were doing a lot to undermine the Snakeheads in your own way.” Mark remarked wryly.

“That was the general idea, yes.” Jason smirked. “Once they had stuck me in prison for no good reason, I was really out to get them.”

“I thought last night you told us that the Snakeheads sent you to prison because you were ‘working’ for them and sabotaging their vehicles in your off hours.” Princess observed, a sparkle in her eyes.

“Semantics.” Jason grinned. “Can I finish my story now?”

Both Mark and Princess nodded.

“Well, one day, one of my regular suppliers came in with a giant load of cutting edge parts that were clearly Spectran in origin.” Jason continued. “I didn’t say anything, but my eyes must have been bugging out or something, because he laughed and told me that his team had managed to hijack a shipment of parts headed for Ramstein.”

“So what is Ramstein?” Princess asked again.

“I’m getting to that!” Jason laughed, enjoying her impatience. “I asked him what was in Ramstein, and he told me that it was the major Snakehead Spaceport for Earth’s Northern Hemisphere. Apparently, it’s an old Federation Aerospace Base, and they adapted it for all of their mecha.”

“Then it sounds like that’s the place to go.” Mark agreed. “We should head out today.”

“We’re not going to wait…?” Princess asked in a hushed whisper tinged with regret.

“We have to face up to the fact that they’re not coming.” Jason said firmly.

“I know.” Princess sighed. “I just…”

“None of us wants to accept it.” Mark said kindly, putting his arms around her. “But the longer we drag this out, the harder it will be.”

“You’re right, Mark.” Princess replied, wiping tearfully at her eyes with the back of her hand. “We’ll go today.”

Now.” Mark clarified. “As soon as we’ve dressed and packed. We’ll put on our Snakehead uniforms and try the train, again.”

“Train?” Jason was aghast. “I’m not leaving Sweetheart behind!”

“Who’s Sweetheart?” Mark asked, confused.

“His car…” Princess replied. “But… you still have Sweetheart? How?”

“It’s not the original.” Jason admitted. “The first Sweetheart was…” his voice drifted off for a moment. What had happened to the first Sweetheart? He closed his eyes and let the memories come to him…

Chapter 2 by TransmuteJun

Chapter 2

He was driving his car.

It was Sweetheart, and yet, it wasn’t. Sweetheart was old and worn-looking, but this car was sleek and stylish; on the cutting edge of technology, power and performance.

And it had guns.

Jason smiled to himself, but his expression was grim. This wasn’t some Sunday drive where he could just lose himself in the sheer pleasure of being behind the wheel.

He was driving for his life.

He was garbed in some kind of body armor that molded itself perfectly to his skin, but rather than being uncomfortable, it almost felt as if he was wearing nothing at all. Even the helmet on his head was light, only enhancing his vision and hearing, rather than impeding these senses.

Jason needed every advantage he could get.

Above him, too high in the sky for his vehicle’s Gatling guns to reach, was a massive creature-shaped mecha, blanketing the ground with laser fire, causing havoc and destruction with every shot. Even as he glanced up, Jason saw a missile emerge from its mouth, shooting forth to target something on the ground. As it impacted, Jason observed something slim and yellow fly up out of the corner of his eye, spinning through the air in an erratic pattern, only to come crashing down to the ground and exploding in a spectacular fashion. In the back of his mind, Jason realized that it had been a motorcycle…

Princess’ motorcycle.

Jason grimly pushed the apparent death of his teammate from his mind. It was his job to distract the ground forces, and take them out. Someone else was dealing with the flying mecha, but who that was, Jason couldn’t recall.

A convoy of Spectran tanks appeared in front of him, and Jason employed his guns, leaving a fiery swath of destruction in his wake as most of the attack vehicles exploded and he literally drove over the few that remained. He would make them pay. They would pay for all of it; everything they had destroyed that day, every Terran they had killed…

Including Princess.

With a menacing roar, the Condor stomped on the accelerator, shooting forward, his wheels tearing up the rolling hills of the French countryside as he charged toward his prey. They would all die, even if he had to go down with them.

But as he crested the hill in front of him, even the vicious Condor experienced a brief instant of doubt wash over him. Spread below his position was a sea of Spectran attack vehicles, too many to count, ravaging everything in their path.

They had spotted him.

Already they were coming up the hill to meet him, pushing over the once pristine landscape and targeting their weapons on his position. They advanced toward him, secure in the knowledge that even the legendary Condor could not overcome such vast numbers as they represented.

The Condor looked down at his dash, the data he saw displayed there making him scream in frustration.

He was nearly out of ammunition.

What the fuck was this? His car never ran out of ammo! How many missions had he experienced where he had gone on shooting rampages, blasting anything that moved to pieces, and still returned back to base with his ammunition reserves fully intact?

Of course, this day had been like no other. It had been a living hell, like nothing he had ever dreamed of, even in his worst nightmares, and he had been on the front lines, shooting hour after hour at the seemingly endless flood of Spectran attack vehicles storming the Earth.

And the day wasn’t over yet.

Quickly, Jason assessed his options. There weren’t many.

Without hesitation, he chose his best one. He had to take down as many of these alien bastards as he could.

He punched a few buttons on his control panel, even while backing up over the top of the hill, so that he was momentarily out of sight of the attacking force.

“Goodbye, Sweetheart.” he sighed, regretfully caressing the steering wheel one final time. “It’s an end worthy of you.”

Gracefully, the Condor flew through the window, rolling as he hit the ground and concealing himself behind some nearby bushes. He watched in mournful silence as his car accelerated forward, plowing into the middle of the attacking alien vehicles and submerging itself in the waves of tanks approaching its position.

When the car was in the exact center of the Spectran forces, being torn to shreds under the continual, deadly hail of laser fire, Sweetheart exploded.

Jason grinned for a moment, taking in the waves of chaos and utter annihilation the Spacemobile’s self-destruct sequence had generated. As far as he could see, explosion after explosion blanketed the area, each blast catching another enemy vehicle in its wake, spreading the flaming death like a fatal disease across the Spectran Army.

But even as the Condor watched this fiery dance of death play out, the massive mecha in the sky opened up, and dozens of fighter jets spewed forth, searching for any remaining signs of resistance.

Shit!

Grimly, Jason recalled his Commander’s final orders. If he had failed… the Condor had to reluctantly concede that he had failed. He couldn’t deal with all of this by himself, particularly without a vehicle of his own. Princess was dead, and it was likely that the others were as well.

Even as he contemplated this, another wave of tanks appeared on the horizon, and with a dreadful certainty, Jason knew that the time had come.

He had to live to fight another day.

Swearing a blue streak, the Condor melted away into the French countryside, following the last order his Commander had given.

To survive, at all costs.

88888

Jason looked up at Mark and Princess, both waiting expectantly for an answer. But these memories were a bitter pill to swallow, and Jason turned his head away as he spoke.

“The real Sweetheart was destroyed in the Snakehead Invasion.”

There was a moment of silence, as his teammates clearly struggled with the reality that Jason hadn’t told them everything he had remembered. Finally, Mark spoke.

“So, where did this new Sweetheart come from, then?” he asked cautiously.

“I built her.” Jason replied, relieved to be back on a more comfortable subject, and silently thanking his Commander for his understanding. “I had all of these extra parts hanging around, so when I wasn’t working on other people’s vehicles, I created one of my own.”

“I’m sure she’s beautiful.” Princess offered.

“Naw, she’s ugly as shit.” Jason grinned. “No one would ever think twice about her. But under the hood… she’s sweet as honey.”

“Sounds like Sweetheart is exactly what we need.” Mark grinned.

88888

Less than an hour later, they were all riding inside of Sweetheart. Jason had left her parked on the outskirts of Geneva, and he had used his ill-gotten Spectran patrol vehicle to take them there. Gratefully, they had all removed their ‘borrowed’ green uniforms and slid inside Sweetheart’s welcoming embrace.

“It looks like the Sweetheart I remember.” Princess commented. “Inside and out. You did a great job, Jason.”

“Thanks.” Jason grinned. During the months it had taken to build Sweetheart, he hadn’t been certain of what ‘look’ he had been working towards; he had only had a gut feeling as to whether or not something appeared ‘right’ to his eye. But now, looking back, it comforted him to know that even during the time he had been living as Scott Sheridan, he had still maintained some memories, however vague, of his past.

Mark called ‘shotgun’, causing Princess to pout at him as she climbed into the backseat.

“I guess I’ll have to stretch out back here, all by myself.” she sighed in seeming disappointment, but her eyes were sparkling at Mark.

Again, Jason felt a brief stab of regret. There was obviously a strong emotional bond between Princess and Mark, of which he was not a part. Clearly that was as it should be, of course, but he envied them. They had somehow found each other in this godforsaken world, even with their lost memories, and they had had each other to help them get through those terrible months, while Jason had only had himself to rely on. He thought back to the night when ‘Luc’ and ‘Kristin’ had rescued him and Frederic from Penal Complex 624-Alpha. At the time, Jason had assumed that they were together, but now, their relationship had evidently deepened and evolved well beyond even where they had been six months ago.

Once on the road, they made good time, passing through Bern and Basel before stopping to answer Nature’s call and stretch their legs.

“How are we doing for fuel?” Mark asked anxiously.

“We can go for another couple of hours.” Jason replied. “Why do you look so worried? I’m not going to let Sweetheart run dry in the middle of nowhere!”

“It’s not that…” Mark said awkwardly. “It’s just that a few days ago, we had a bad experience at a fueling station.”

“What happened?” Jason asked curiously.

Mark and Princess related how the station’s Snakehead guards had seen them on the security monitors and confronted them, shooting Mark before Princess had helped him make a narrow escape. Jason could easily understand why they didn’t want to repeat that particular incident.

“I’ll stop just up ahead,” he told them. “I know a spot about fifty kilometers before we get to Strasbourg. This place is reasonably remote and I don’t think they’ll be monitoring security cameras every second.”

“And we’re well away from the Mont Blanc area, now.” Princess pointed out.

“We need to get petrol somewhere.” Mark sighed, clearly unhappy, but unable to come up with a better alternative.

“Do you want to hide in the trunk?” Jason asked him. “I designed it so that I could do that, if I ever needed to. Never did, though.”

“Hide?” Mark was intrigued. “What if they open the trunk?”

“There’s a false bottom, where the spare tire would normally be.” Jason shrugged. “If they’re doing a casual inspection, they won’t find you.”

“It sounds good to me, Mark.” Princess added.

“It only fits one person, though.” Jason told them. “And even that is kind of a tight squeeze. Also, it’s soundproofed, so you won’t be able to hear much, if anything.”

“I can stay in the car.” Princess noted. “My hair and eye coloring has changed, and I don’t think they ever got that close a look at me on those security cameras, or they would have used a much more clear image of me on those broadcasts.”

“All right.” Mark agreed. “I’ll hide in the trunk.”

“Goody!” Princess grinned. “That means I can move up to the front seat!”

Chapter 3 by TransmuteJun

Chapter 3

The fueling stop went well. Jason didn’t see any cameras, but Mark stayed in the trunk and Princess remained in the car with her head down, just in case. The petrol tank was filled quickly, and all three of them were just beginning to relax again when Jason pulled back onto the highway. A few minutes after they had begun moving, Mark pushed down the backseat and his head emerged out into the main passenger area of the car.

“All clear?” he asked.

Jason nodded in affirmation, but even as he did, he saw something out of the corner of his eye up the road.

“Get back in the trunk!” Jason barked at Mark, who had been in the process of climbing through the backseat and into the car.

“What is it?” the Commander asked, freezing in place.

“Snakeheads!” hissed Princess, motioning with her hands for Mark to retreat and hide himself. Once the Commander had returned to the trunk, she leaned into the rear of the car and snapped the backseat into place.

They were approaching a Snakehead roadblock. Already they had joined a long line of cars waiting to be inspected. Jason noted that many of the vehicles at the front of the line were being pulled over by the soldiers there.

“Damn it!” he banged the steering wheel with the heel of his palm. “What now?”

Jason seethed at the situation they found themselves in. He could not turn around on the highway, lest they arouse the suspicion of the soldiers ahead, and yet they were far enough back in line that it would take some time to get to the front.

They were in for a long, excruciatingly nerve-wracking wait. And in Mark’s case, it would be hot and uncomfortable as well, being confined inside the small hidey-hole Jason had built into Sweetheart’s trunk.

Princess shifted nervously in her seat, not saying a word, but clearly communicating her unease with her expressive emerald eyes as she regarded Jason with a mixture of apprehension and desperate hope.

“Just keep your head down, and let me do the talking.” Jason told her. “We’re just a young couple going to visit my Grandmother in Frankfurt.” Princess nodded nervously, clearly grateful that Jason was there to take charge.

It took them nearly two hours to reach the front of the line. The reason for the extended wait appeared to be that almost every car was being pulled aside, presumably to be searched. Jason only hoped that the delay was due to negotiation of bribes, rather than the Snakeheads’ diligence while inspecting the stopped vehicles. He, Mark, and Princess could fight their way out of there, if they had to, but getting to Ramstein intact was going to be a lot more difficult if the entire Spectran Army was on their tail.

“What’s your name and where are you going?” a Snakehead asked them as they finally reached the front of the line. The green-uniformed soldier leaned down to peer into the car. His eyes narrowed, casually assessing Jason and leering at Princess.

“I’m Greg Tyler.” Jason replied. “My wife and I are going to visit my grandmother in Frankfurt.”

“I see.” the Snakehead replied, his beady yellow eyes raking over Princess. “I think we’re going to need you to pull over here.”

Jason bit his lip, to keep himself from sighing in frustration. He had expected as much, but this was still stretching his patience to the limit. Carefully, he drove over to the spot indicated by the green-uniformed guard, then turned off the ignition. Almost immediately, Sweetheart was surrounded by soldiers.

“Step out of the vehicle.” a Snakehead ordered, shoving a rifle into Jason’s face through the open car window. Slowly, Jason complied.

“Her too.” the Snakehead grinned, now waving his gun at Princess. Three more soldiers appeared at her door, and she cautiously emerged from the vehicle, only to meet the business end of a trio of rifles.

“This way.” the Snakeheads ordered her, pushing Princess in the center of her back with the ends of their guns. Jason moved to follow, but the Snakehead in front of him jabbed him in the throat with his rifle.

“Not you.” he smirked. Then he called over to the other three who were departing with Princess.

“Come and relieve me when it’s my turn!” he shouted.

“Sure thing, Ranto!” they called, jeering at Princess and prodding her up a path and over a nearby hillside.

“Where are they taking her?” Jason asked.

“Somewhere private.” Ranto leered. “Your wife needs a thorough ‘examination’.” He laughed in the manner of bullies who are confident that no one is capable of standing up to them. Jason seethed inwardly, itching to prove this Snakehead wrong; nearly bursting with the desire to slam the soldier’s rifle into the part of his body where it would hurt the most. Physically, he would have no problem doing so. But they were in plain sight of at least a hundred other soldiers, and any altercation would result in the entire outpost being instantly alerted.

Jason looked around, noting at least half a dozen other men being held at gunpoint next to their cars. Without exception, they were all staring plaintively at the same hillside over which Princess had disappeared.

The seconds ticked by, and Jason’s anger surged to the boiling point as he could only imagine what Princess was being forced to endure, in order to maintain their cover.

It wasn’t worth it.

But it was too late to make such a decision now.

Without warning, Ranto’s eyes rolled into the back of his head, and he collapsed to the ground as Jason watched in shock, revealing the form of a furious Princess behind him.

“Pig!” she hissed, looking around quickly. Amazingly, none of the other soldiers seemed to be looking in their direction.

“Let’s go, Jason, before anyone notices this guy lying down on the job.”

“What did you do?” Jason asked, as they got back into their car. It was a struggle to move in an unhurried manner, but he did his best to project a casual air, while surreptitiously kicking a few dried leaves over the body of the fallen Snakehead.

“These idiot Snakeheads took me into an isolated clump of bushes.” Princess smirked as the got into the car. “They never knew what hit them. Once we were out of sight of everyone else, I let them have it.”

“I’m glad.” Jason sighed with relief as he slowly pulled Sweetheart away.

“It’s good to know you care.” Princess smiled.

“Yeah, I care about my own hide.” Jason winked at her. “Mark would have killed me if I had let you get hurt.”

“Just for the record, you don’t ‘let’ me do anything.” Princess clarified. “I decide for myself.” She sighed regretfully.

“I just wish I could have said the same for the other women…”

Other women?” Jason asked, a surge of anger overtaking him. He recalled the men he had seen being held at gunpoint, as he had been.

“There were sounds…” Princess whispered, “of other women, behind that hill. Some were out in the open, others behind trees or bushes… I wanted to help them…” She buried her face in her hands, and when she looked up, silent tears were sliding down her cheeks.

“We can.” Jason replied grimly. “We have to.”

“But… if we do anything to help them, the Snakeheads will be after us.” Princess pointed out.

“Not necessarily. If we can cause enough confusion, then they won’t know what’s going on.” Jason replied. “We have to try.”

Princess looked gravely at Jason, and then nodded slowly.

“I take it back.” she said suddenly. “You’re letting me do this, Jason. Thank you.”

Instead of answering, Jason pulled Sweetheart around, carefully circling back behind the rise that hid the area where Princess had been taken. He moved slowly, so as not to arouse the suspicion of the soldiers there, doing his best to move with the traffic that was already in the area.

“Open up that panel.” he instructed her, pointing at a spot next to Princess’ feet. She looked at him curiously, but then bent down to do as he had asked. Jason heard the panel pop open, and then Princess’ delighted exclamation.

“You’re well prepared.” she noted gleefully, pulling two semi-automatic rifles from the secret compartment.

“Just call me ‘the boy scout’.” Jason grinned, pulling around the end of the rise.

Once they were behind the long hill, Jason saw them: groups of Snakeheads littering the area. Clumps of soldiers dotted the landscape: behind trees, in bushes, and even right out in the open. What they were doing to the dozen or so women with them was clearly something of which Jason did not approve.

The Condor decided that he was long overdue for some target practice. He pulled out his rifle, sticking it out of the driver’s side window and resting it on the car door. Carefully aiming, he squeezed the trigger with his left hand while driving with his right, firing again and again. Many of the Terran women were surrounded by Snakeheads, but Jason had no problem whatsoever, physically or morally, with sending bullets into the masked heads of the green-uniformed guards, while leaving the women uninjured. However, the victims of the Snakehead attacks did appear to be somewhat shell-shocked, freezing in fear and disbelief.

“Run!” Princess shouted at the stunned women as Sweetheart tore through the area. “Get out of here!”

The Terran women, in various states of undress, began running back to the hillside, scrambling to leave the area. They climbed over the rise, fleeing toward their waiting vehicles and menfolk. Other Snakeheads, who had not yet been subjected to the Condor’s infallible accuracy with a firearm, began running and shouting. They were soon joined by new soldiers who were coming over the hillside with another round of female victims. Princess picked up her rifle, aiming at the groups of Snakeheads running by themselves.

Jason noticed Princess’ reluctance to shoot near the women, and concentrated his efforts instead on the men still surrounding their frightened victims. Forty seconds and three ammunition clips later, the area was littered with dead green-uniformed bodies, and the last of the women were clearing the top of the rise.

Jason pulled Sweetheart around, clumps of dirt and grass spraying up from underneath his spinning wheels, before taking off in the direction from which they had come. When they reached the other side of the long hill, Jason somehow managed to merge smoothly with the other fleeing civilian vehicles, breaking through the other end of the roadblock and fleeing with the other Terran travelers down the highway. At first, a few Snakehead patrol vehicles chased after the fleet of passenger cars, but Princess leaned out of her window, shooting out the tires of the Snakehead vehicles and preventing further pursuit.

“Nice work.” grinned Jason, as Princess pulled herself back inside of Sweetheart. He casually tossed his rifle into her lap. “Just in case you want to go both barrels.” he laughed.

“There were only three patrol vehicles following us.” Princess shrugged, but her eyes shone with her pleasure in the compliment. “And aiming a semi-automatic isn’t very difficult, particularly if you’re not too worried about collateral damage.” She winked at Jason.

“I wasn’t worried.” she grinned.

“Don’t sell yourself short.” Jason told her. “You did great back there. You helped those women escape, and took out a lot of those Snakehead bastards.”

“Thanks.” Princess blushed, looking down at her hands in her lap. “But you were incredible, Jason! The way you shot those Snakeheads with a single shot, left-handed, from a moving vehicle… you never cease to amaze me!”

“It helps when I’m the one driving the vehicle.” Jason grinned, more pleased than he let on with her praise. He had been working alone for so long that it felt good to finally be with someone who was appreciative of what he could do.

Suddenly, Jason realized that this was what he had been missing. He was envious of Mark and Princess’ closeness, not just because of their companionship, but because they were a team. He had been a part of that team too, a year ago… but since that time, he had been on his own.

Strange… his scattered recollections of his past suggested that he had been the ‘loner’ of G-Force. Perhaps he had had the freedom to be that way, because unconsciously he had known that when push came to shove, the others would be there for him.

Over the last twelve months, he truly had been a loner. There had been no one else upon whom to rely, and Jason had found that out the hard way early on, when someone he had thought he could trust had betrayed him.

Jason had been working for the Snakeheads. During these first few months after the Invasion, the Spectran Forces had not had enough support personnel. They had recruited willing… and not so willing… volunteers. Jason had seen the opportunity that had been presenting itself. He had made certain that he had been in the right place at the right time, and so he had been drafted into service. He had been assigned to vehicle repair and had purposely performed a barely adequate job, which had been enough to allow him to stick around.

It had only taken him two weeks to find his first chance to strike out against the invaders. The Snakeheads had been planning to quell an insurgency in Amsterdam, and Jason had been assigned to repair a number of tanks that would be used in the operation. Quietly and efficiently, he had weakened various cables, loosened crucial fastenings, and re-programmed important systems, ensuring that each vehicle would fail while out on this mission. He had specifically arranged things so that each tank would have a different problem, some mechanical, some computer-based, that could easily be attributed to operator error. Given the low average intelligence of the Snakehead soldiers, Jason felt reasonably confident that his sabotage would not be detected.

And he had been right.

The offensive had failed miserably, and the Amsterdam Rebels had been able to escape the city without being exterminated. Jason had been gleeful, but there had been no one with whom to share his success. He had had to keep his mouth shut and wipe the smirk from his face, and somehow, having to exhibit that level of self-restraint had given his small victory a bitter taste.

But it hadn’t stopped him from continuing his subtle sabotage. He hadn’t hindered every mission, but he had thrown a monkey wrench into as many as he had been able, without arousing suspicion.

He had been living in a small apartment not far from the main Snakehead base outside of Rouen. One day he had stopped by the local café on his way home from work, and he had met Ryan. There had been something he had instinctively liked about the man, and he had found himself talking animatedly with his new acquaintance, before he had finally made his way home that night.

After that, Jason had gotten into the habit of dropping into the café each night, and had found himself looking forward to his conversations with Ryan. After a couple of weeks, Ryan had introduced Jason to his associate, Adam. Jason had accepted Adam, based solely on Ryan’s word.

It had been Adam who had first brought up the topic of Terran Rebels, and before Jason had been able to blink, he had found himself feeding inside Snakehead information to the local Resistance Group, allowing them to thwart the efforts of the Occupying Force to consolidate their hold over the city of Rouen. For twelve glorious days, Jason had been a part of a team, working with others and sharing in their successes.

Until Adam had turned them all in.

Apparently, the lure of Spectran currency had been too much for the one-time Terran Rebel to resist. He had turned informant and had set them all up, causing everyone in his former Resistance Group, including Jason, to be arrested. Jason had been sent to Penal Complex 624-Alpha, where he had been placed under lockdown. His new companion had been Frederic, a Terran Rebel from Paris who had been his cellmate. Wary after his experiences in Rouen, it had taken Jason over a month to feel that he could trust Frederic.

As it turned out, developing a friendship with Frederic had been a good thing, as Luc and Kristin had been sent to rescue Frederic, and Jason had been able to tag along for the ride. But once they had reached Paris again, Jason and Frederic had parted ways.

Against Frederic’s advice, Jason had returned to Rouen. Under cover of darkness, he had broken into Adam’s apartment, venting his rage through careful application of pain at the most sensitive spots on the man’s body. Somehow, Jason had known exactly where he could inflict the most damage without killing the man, and he had managed to prolong Adam’s life until the dawn.

That same morning, he had slipped out of Rouen and had made his way to Brussels, where he had run his underground repair shop, until a few days ago, when he had felt a sudden urge to travel to Geneva.

Jason had come to understand that the vicious nature of his revenge on Adam had stemmed from the incredible sense of betrayal he had felt when the man had turned informant. He and Adam had been working together, trusting each other, and Adam had broken that trust by literally selling his soul to the enemy for his proverbial thirty pieces of silver.

Now, Jason was uncovering further insights into those feelings of betrayal. In the back of his mind, he had been used to being on a team; to having companions whom he could trust implicitly with his life, just as they trusted him with the same degree of confidence, no matter the circumstances.

He had been used to being on the G-Force Team.

Jason had taken Adam’s betrayal as he would the betrayal of one of his former teammates.

But now, two of those former teammates had returned, and they were working together again, toward a common goal.

Damn, it felt good.

“Do you think it’s safe to let Mark out, now?” Princess asked him. “He’s probably pretty uncomfortable in there.”

“Yes. Let him out.” Jason nodded. For being so excited to be back with his teammates again, it was amazing how he had momentarily forgotten about his Commander.

Princess leaned into the rear of the car, releasing the hidden catch that allowed the backseat to flip over, giving access to the trunk. She took one of the rifles and tapped on the hidden compartment using Morse Code for ‘all clear’. As soon as she had done so, the secret panel opened, revealing a red-faced Commander.

“What the hell was going on?” he asked angrily. “You were turning and bouncing so fast that I’m going to have bruises for a week!” He scowled at Jason in the rear-view mirror.

“They’ll be healed in twenty-four hours, and you know it.” Jason reminded him with a cocky smile. He found that he enjoyed teasing his Commander.

“That’s irrelevant.” Mark spat. “What was going on?”

Princess quickly explained everything that had been occurring since Mark had hidden himself away in the secret compartment of Jason’s car for the second time. The Commander’s eyes grew wide and he rounded on Jason.

“What were you doing, jeopardizing our mission like that?” he demanded. “The most important thing we have to do is get this data to Riga!”

“Don’t you even care about what they almost did to Princess, back there?” Jason shot back.

“Of course I care.” Mark replied in a hard voice. “But I would care even more if she were killed, or sent to one of those Snakehead Penal Complexes.”

“That’s enough, Mark!” Princess interrupted him. “We couldn’t leave those women behind. I agreed with Jason’s decision to go back.”

Princess’ retort deflated Mark somewhat, and his anger appeared to dissipate.

“I’m sorry, Jason.” he said quietly. “The way the Snakeheads treat Terran women makes me angry as well. I guess I can understand how you felt.”

“I appreciate that, Mark.” Jason replied.

“It’s amazing how brazen they are.” Princess noted. “They’ve always been disrespectful, but to see this on such a large scale… it makes you wonder…”

“What is it, Princess?” Mark asked.

“Well, there were so many Snakeheads involved, back there.” she recalled. “And no one was stopping them. It was almost… orderly. They were taking turns, and the Captains and Sergeants didn’t seem to be worried about the lack of efficiency of the vehicle search process, or the lines on the roads… it’s as if their superiors wanted them to be doing this.”

“It’s an interesting theory.” Mark replied. “It’s certainly a good way for them to degrade us, and keep us in fear of them as well.”

“I think there might be something more to it.” Princess told him.

“Yeah, Snakeheads are pigs.” Jason snorted. “They get their kicks this way.”

“Do you think they do this on every planet they conquer?” Princess asked thoughtfully.

“I don’t know.” Mark answered. “I suppose they probably do.”

“There’s got to be a reason…” Princess muttered to herself.

“I still vote for the ‘pigs’ theory.” Jason laughed harshly.

But Princess’ words bothered him. Suppose there was some deeper meaning behind these organized gang rapes? He couldn’t think of what it might be, but the mere idea frightened him, all the same.

“How much further to Ramstein?” Mark asked.

“It’s about four hours to Kaiserslautern, the town just outside of the base.” Jason replied. “We have to add another two hours to the trip, since we’re taking back roads now. I’ll stop off in an isolated area and change the identification plates as well.”

Mark nodded, and the subject of what had happened at the roadblock was not mentioned again for the remainder of their journey.

Jason purposely took a roundabout route to get to Kaiserslautern, in an attempt to avoid the Snakeheads. It seemed to have worked, as they arrived at the Snakehead base without further incident.

The three teammates stared at the Ramstein base from a lookout point on top of a nearby hill, assessing its strengths and weaknesses. The exterior was surrounded by a standard lethal voltage electric fence, while inside that boundary their sharp eyes spotted cleverly hidden force field generators. Beyond that barrier, numerous squadrons of Snakeheads patrolled the area.

Certainly security was significantly tighter at Ramstein than it had been at Penal Complex 624-Alpha.

How much more valuable were the items being safeguarded inside?

The Base itself was a complex consisting of several large buildings and a scattering of massive hangars. It was these hangars that were of the most interest to the three, as they were likely the locations where various spacecraft were housed.

“So what do you think is our best option?” Princess asked Mark and Jason.

“I’d hate to have to bust in there.” Jason remarked. “Sweetheart has a lot of tricks up her sleeve, but not that many. “

“We’ve had a lot of success with subterfuge in the past,” Mark pointed out, “ and we have all managed to acquire Snakehead uniforms. I think we should just head on in and scope it out.”

“Not a bad idea,” Princess agreed, “but are we just going to walk up to the main gates and say ‘Hello’? All of these soldiers are driving vehicles.”

“I think I can help out in that area.” offered Jason.

Chapter 4 by TransmuteJun

Chapter 4

Thirty minutes later, as the sun was setting, Sweetheart pulled into the driveway of a non-descript house at the end of a long row of homes in a residential area on the outskirts of Kaiserslautern.

Jason got out of the car.

“I’ll see if he’s at home.” Jason told Mark and Princess. “Stay here.”

Slowly, hands out in the open, Jason walked toward the front door. Even before he had lifted his hand to press the doorbell, a quiet voice came out of the communications panel to the left of the entrance.

“Scott? Is it really you?”

“Yeah.” Jason grinned. “It’s good to hear your voice, Frederic.”

“You disappeared from Brussels! I thought you went into hiding!”

“Not exactly.” Jason grinned. “But could we discuss this elsewhere?”

“Of course.” Frederic replied. “I’ll let you in.”

“One more thing, though.” Jason said casually. “I have two friends with me. Is it okay if they come in too?”

“I don’t suppose they’re in trouble with the Snakeheads?” Frederic laughed.

“You could say that, yeah.” Jason replied, in a perfectly deadpan voice.

“Thought so.” Frederic groaned in mock distress. “It’s okay. Bring them in.”

“Thanks.” grinned Jason, pointing his face in the direction he suspected the imaging device was located. Of course, knowing Frederic, it was likely that there were several cameras monitoring the entrance.

Quickly, Jason walked back to the car, instructing Mark and Princess to follow him. They did so, and within thirty seconds they were all at the front doorstep.

“Knock, knock.” Jason said sardonically, and the door swung open.

“What, not ‘Open Sesame’?” Princess joked, as they moved inside and the door shut behind them.

“That’s a good one.” Frederic remarked as he came out of the shadows to greet them. “I like this girl.” But as he approached, his eyes grew wide.

“Kristin?” he exclaimed in shock. “And Luc?” Is it really you two? I saw your images all over the broadcasts a few days ago. I thought the Snakeheads would have picked you up by now, for sure!”

“We’re a little more difficult to catch than that.” Luc grinned. “It’s good to see you again, Frederic.”

“I’m glad I can finally repay the debt I owe you, for helping me and Scott escape from 624-Alpha.” Frederic replied. “How did you meet up with Scott again, anyhow?”

“I’ll tell you.” Jason said, as they all sat down on couches spread about what had clearly once been the living room of the house. Now, it held a wide array of computer parts, weapons, and emergency supplies.

Frederic offered them some bread, cheese, and bottles of the local beer as they got settled, then looked expectantly at Jason.

Well?” he asked impatiently.

“About a week ago, I began to get hints that the Snakeheads had been alerted to my operation in Brussels.” Jason began. It was essentially the truth, although at that point Jason hadn’t yet been overly concerned. “So I packed up and headed somewhere new. I ended up making my way to Geneva, which is where I ran into Luc and Kristin. They were in something of a bind, as you noted on the broadcasts. They were heading in this direction, so Sweetheart and I gave them a lift. And here we are.”

“You always leave out the details, Scott!” Frederic laughed. “Right to the point!” He turned to regard ‘Luc’ and ‘Kristin’ appraisingly.

“So, what did the two of you do to get the Snakeheads so riled up?” their host asked curiously. “I can’t believe the size of the manhunt they’ve got going for you!”

“We managed to destroy one of their bases.” Kristin admitted, shyly looking up at Frederic through her lowered lashes. Jason grinned to himself. He hadn’t actually heard exactly what Mark and Princess had done to get the Snakeheads so riled. At some level, he had presumed that they were the subject of a massive search because the Snakeheads knew who they were, as members of G-Force. But he appreciated Princess’ strategy to draw attention away from the primary reason they were on the run.

“It must have been some base.” Frederic remarked casually.

“Oh, about two hundred Snakeheads, a dozen small mecha and a huge uranium storage area.” Mark smiled. “Just your average, everyday base.”

“You destroyed a base that size?” Frederic was clearly impressed.

“Actually, Kristin was technically the one who destroyed it.” Luc admitted. “I was too busy driving us the hell out of there. She pressed the button that fired the missile.”

“What else have you two been up to since you broke us out of 624-Alpha?” Frederic asked, amazed.

“You wouldn’t believe us if we told you.” Princess smiled prettily.

“I don’t know if I would, at that.” Frederic returned her smile. “Well, you are all welcome to stay here as long as you’d like.”

“Actually, we have other plans.” Mark revealed. “But a place to lay our heads for tonight would be much appreciated.”

“There’s something else.” Jason added. “I need to leave Sweetheart with you, for awhile. You can drive her as you need to, and I trust you to take care of her.”

“Sweetheart?” Frederic was clearly shocked. “What’s going on? Scott, you would never leave that car behind voluntarily.”

“I have to go away for awhile.” Jason replied carefully. “And I need something in exchange.”

“Anything.” Frederic replied generously.

“We need a Snakehead vehicle.” Jason told him. “Patrol vehicle, transport, freighter… whatever you’ve got.”

“Well, you don’t ask for the easy stuff, do you?” Frederic laughed. “But I’ll do my best, my friend. When do you need it?”

“Tomorrow morning.”

Frederic sighed.

“I should have known.”

88888

Frederic was as good as his word. In the morning he led Mark, Jason and Princess to his bedroom closet, which turned out to be a cleverly disguised front for an elevator. As they descended three stories underground, Frederic smirked at them, clearly pleased with himself. When the elevator doors opened again, they were able to see why.

In front of them sat a Snakehead patrol vehicle that could seat up to four people.

“Some associates of mine just happened to ‘commandeer’ this vehicle last night.” Frederic revealed. “There were three Snakeheads in it, but they have since made their way to a ‘better’ place… better for us anyhow.”

“So, the Snakeheads don’t know it’s missing?” Mark asked, excited.

“No.” replied Frederic smugly. “And the data on the soldiers operating it is right here.” He handed a Snakehead display pad to Princess.

“Frederic, this is perfect!” Princess said, her eyes sparkling.

“I’m glad you like it.” Frederic replied, pleased. “I’m always happy to help out a pretty girl, particularly one I owe a favor to.”

“Thank you.” Princess said, leaning over to kiss his cheek. Frederic’s smile spread from ear to ear, and his cheeks reddened.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you smile so much, Frederic.” Jason told him. “If I’d known that you were such a sucker for feminine wiles…”

“Not any feminine wiles.” Frederic retorted, his cheeks reddening even further, especially as Princess giggled and winked at him.

But the Swan was all business a few moments later when she donned her Snakehead uniform, as were the Eagle and the Condor. They had somehow slipped right into their G-Force personas, just as they had slipped into their disguises. At least, Jason and Princess had. Mark still appeared to be holding back somewhat, likely due to his lack of returning memories. Still, when push came to shove, Mark was intelligent, strategic, and an excellent fighter. Jason was glad to have his skills to rely on.

But Mark’s unconscious reluctance to take the lead was brought to the fore when Jason looked down to see a small gold chevron insignia on the floor of the vehicle. With lightning reflexes, he picked it up before the others could see, and within moments, he had it pinned to his uniform.

“Looks like I’m in charge here.” he smirked. “I’m a Sergeant. I outrank you two.”

“Trust you to come up with something like that, Jason.” Princess rolled her eyes. “Besides, you already outrank me.”

“But now I outrank Mark too.” Jason grinned gleefully.

“Like hell you do!” Mark retorted, before a red flush came to his face. “Uh… sorry, Jason. I guess I wasn’t thinking… I know you were just kidding…”

“That’s okay, Mark.” Jason said seriously. “You acted instinctively. That means the Mark I know is in there. There’s no way my Commander would ever have let me take over without his permission.”

“That ‘Mark you know’ may be back sooner than you think.” Mark replied. “Once we get to Riga and hand over this data, the first thing I’m going to do is look into restoring my own memories.”

“I’ll be glad to have you back.” Jason said honestly. “Not that you’re so terrible right now.”

“I may remind you of that little admission later.” Mark teased him.

“I’ll deny every word.” Jason laughed.

“I’ll back Mark up, if you’re not nice to me, Jason.” Princess threatened.

“Guess I know where your loyalties lie.” Jason smirked.

“They lie with the team, Jason.” Princess told him.

“That’s where they should be.” Jason agreed.

Frederic returned, and the trio thanked him once again, climbing into the patrol vehicle. They drove through a half a kilometer of underground passageway, to exit Frederic’s secret Vehicle Bay.

They had cut their possessions to the bare minimum, carrying or wearing everything they needed on their persons, either in their belt pouches, pockets, or underneath their uniforms. Since Princess had to pad her uniform to hide her feminine shape, she had been able to secrete a few of the bulkier items within her disguise.

Once they had reached the outside surface, they drove directly to the main gate of the base, showing their base passes on the Spectran display pad that Frederic had given to them. They were lazily waved inside by the security guard, only to be met by an angry-looking Corporal just as they were about to park the vehicle.

“Team Six, report!” the Corporal shouted at the trio of Snakehead imposters in the Spectran language. “Why are you late? You were supposed to check in last night!” He glared at the imposter Sergeant.

“We got ‘distracted’.” Jason replied in the same tongue. “These Terrans…”

“I don’t care about your ‘distractions’!” the Corporal shouted. “Captain Sohot himself noticed that you were absent and called me out for it in front of the other officers!”

“Sorry.” Mark mumbled, as if her were ashamed.

“Sorry isn’t going to cut it!” the Corporal replied nastily. “I have a ‘special’ assignment for the three of you…” He paused, to give them time to wallow in fearful anticipation of the punishment he was about to dole out.

“The three of you are going to ‘assist’ Captain Sohot today.” the Corporal finally announced.

“Oh, no!” Jason groaned, more because he felt that it was expected, rather than because this sounded like a terrible fate.

“Do we have to?” Mark asked in a whiny voice, while Princess simply groaned in as deep a tone as she could manage.

“Yes, you have to.” smirked the Corporal. “You will report to the Captain’s office immediately. And just in case you find any more ‘distractions’ along the way, I will escort you there myself!”

Jason dutifully followed the Corporal, hanging his head for effect. This didn’t seem like such a terrible turn of events to him. If they were with the Captain of the Ramstein Base, then they might be able to access useful information, such as the specs and locations of all spacecraft on the compound.

The Corporal led them into one of the many buildings and down a long hallway to an elaborate door bearing the Spectran devil logo. They were ushered inside, to see a man in a bumblebee costume working at a desk.

“Captain Sohot, these are the three latecomers.” the Corporal announced. “They are at your disposal, today.”

“Excellent.” the Captain turned to regard the trio. “I have plenty of work for the three of you.” He directed his gaze at Princess.

“You can dust my office, Private.” he ordered her. “Damn Terran dust gets into everything!”

“You can clean my waste elimination device.” he chortled, pointing at Mark and then indicating the nearby doorway to his toilet facilities.

“And you can examine my refuse disposal unit, Sergeant. It seems to be clogged.” Captain Sohot laughed as he assigned this task to Jason, who seethed inwardly. He was supposed to clean out a garbage chute?

He grumbled under his breath as he approached the disposal unit, noticing that Mark and Princess weren’t too happy with their assigned tasks either. The Corporal pressed a bucket of worn tools into Jason’s hands, before departing the room.

“Do hurry with your assignments.” the Captain smirked. “I have a long list of things that I need to have done.” He grinned nastily.

Jason sighed reluctantly, opening the lid of the disposal unit to look inside. All he saw was a soggy, disgusting mess. What the hell did Sohot have to dispose of anyhow? The Snakeheads didn’t use paper. What else…?

As Jason peered further into the bin, shining a light inside for a better view, he found that he regretted asking himself that question. Assorted rotting foodstuffs, scraps of cloth, and even a few decomposing body parts (mostly fingers) met his astonished gaze.

Deciding it would be better not to ask questions, Jason gritted his teeth, reaching around the goo inside of the refuse disposal unit so that he could examine the grinding mechanism. He tried to force himself to think of anything else but what he was doing, but it was a difficult endeavor, what with the stench that was rising up to his nostrils and insinuating itself into his brain. He fought off a wave of nausea.

A soft clatter broke him out of his disgusted state, and he turned to see Princess picking up her duster from the floor. Captain Sohot was behind her.

“You’re done already!” he exclaimed, his tone mildly impressed. “Good! I have another task for you. I need you to organize my files. Everything is a mess!” He pointed to one of the consoles mounted on the wall of the room, and Princess hurriedly made her way toward it, not saying a word. Jason knew how much more difficult this was for Princess than it was for him and for Mark, because Princess could not speak for fear of giving away the fact that she was a female.

Thinking about Princess’ situation worked. Jason’s fingers discovered a hard object blocking the mechanism of the grinder. He grabbed at the object and pulled it out, yanking his arm out of the refuse disposal unit. He looked down at his hand to see a bone in his fingers. Jason didn’t care to contemplate what… or whom… the bone had originally belonged to. Quickly, he sprayed down the inside of the device with a lubricating cleanser, then turned it on, relieved to see that it was now operational. He was attempting to clean the sleeve of his Snakehead uniform as best he could when the Captain approached his position.

“And you’re done as well!” he remarked. “Excellent! Now you can begin washing the floor.” Sohot pointed to a mop and a bucket in the corner.

“Yes, Sir!” Jason replied, moving to do as he had been ordered.

The Captain moved to observe Mark, taunting him with the fact that he was the last of his group to complete his assigned task. Deep down, Jason knew that Mark wasn’t truly bothered by anything Sohot was saying, but it still amused Jason to hear the Commander being berated in this fashion.

An urgent-sounding beep from the communications system stopped the Captain mid-sentence, and he hurried back to his desk, admonishing the three imposter soldiers to keep working.

“Lord Zoltar!” Sohot said, pressing a button on his desk. “How wonderful to hear from you!”

“Let us dispense with the false pleasantries, Captain.” Zoltar’s disembodied voice came through the air. “I want you to report, now!”

Jason maneuvered himself into a position where he could catch a glimpse of the screen by looking sideways. The Spectran Leader’s image was clearly visible on the communications monitor. Once Jason had confirmed this fact, he moved away, his ears pricked to catch every word of the conversation between Sohot and Zoltar.

Princess did not outwardly appear to have noticed anything amiss, but Jason was certain that she was paying close attention. Mark remained out of sight in the toilet chamber.

“Everything is proceeding perfectly, Sire!” the Captain reported. “The mecha is ready, and our troops are even now preparing for departure this evening. You can rest assured, Mars will belong to the Spectran Empire before the next rotation of the Earth is complete!”

“For your sake, I hope that nothing ruins that plan, Sohot!” Zoltar threatened his subordinate. “Spectra must conquer Mars! That planet’s tritonium deposits alone make it capable of producing ten times what the Earth is yielding for us! It’s bad enough that the first Buzzragon was destroyed in the attack on Moffett Field before it was even completed! I will have your hide if even the slightest thing goes wrong, today!”

“Nothing will go wrong, Lord Zoltar!” Sohot assured his superior. To his credit, the Captain had not flinched under the harsh remonstration, nor was his voice trembling as he continued to assure the Spectran Leader that everything was moving along as expected.

“And what about Plan Rantu?” Zoltar asked finally. “Do you have a progress report for me on that operation?”

“I can only speak for the European continent,” Sohot qualified his response, “but so far, we have confirmed that over three thousand women have been impregnated by Spectran soldiers.”

“Three thousand?” Zoltar raged. “Three thousand? It should be more like three million, you dolt! What’s going on? Don’t tell me that the troops aren’t participating eagerly in this task!”

“Well, we can only get ahold of so many Terran women.” the Captain attempted to explain. “It’s not like we can just break into every home and assault them in front of their families…”

“And why the hell not?” Zoltar demanded angrily. “These Terrans are weak! They cannot stand against us!”

“Well, Sire, there are the Terran Rebels.” Sohot admitted. “If we anger the local population too much they may join with these Resistance Cells…”

“Are you trying to tell me that you haven’t eradicated those wretched Rebels yet?” Zoltar was clearly disgusted by this piece of news. “What kind of Captain are you? This is almost as pathetic as Kerta letting the G-Force Commander slip from his grasp…”

“Speaking of the Commander, we have a lead, Sire!” Sohot was quick to offer. “One of our informants reported seeing someone of his description in Geneva…”

“Then why haven’t you arrested him, yet?” Zoltar seethed. “Incompetence!”

“We sent troops, but by the time they had arrived, the Commander had disappeared.” Sohot admitted.

“I cannot believe that you have handled this matter so poorly!” Zoltar berated the Captain.

“I admit, I should not have left the Commander’s capture to local personnel.” Sohot bowed his head. “I am taking charge of this manhunt personally, as soon as I return from Mars.”

“See that you do, Sohot.” Zoltar growled, ending the transmission abruptly.

“Never in a good mood, is he?” the Captain groaned, looking up at the ceiling. When his eyes came down, they rested upon Jason, who was industriously cleaning the floor.

“Don’t take all day with that!” Sohot snapped. “I will need all three of you to help prepare for the Mars Operation! Finish up and report to the Buzzragon hangar in fifteen minutes!”

“Yes, Sir!” Jason shouted, snapping a salute as the Captain stormed from the room. The moment he was gone, Mark exited the toilet chamber, grabbing a mop and helping Jason do a third rate job on the floor. Jason nodded slightly, understanding the Commander’s concern that they might be under surveillance from hidden security cameras.

Mark worked his way over to where Princess was standing, his lips moving almost imperceptibly. Jason only heard the Commander’s words thanks to the exceptional hearing given to him by his implant.

“Almost done?” Mark asked Princess. “Need any help?”

“I’ve got what we need.” Princess replied. “Don’t worry.”

“I knew you could do it.” Mark grinned briefly before moving closer to Jason.

“What do you make of this apparent attempt to conquer Mars?” the Commander asked him in a bare whisper.

“I figured that eventually Spectra would want to control the entire solar system.” Jason responded. “But I didn’t think it would be this soon.”

“Neither did I.” Mark admitted.

“We have to stop it.” Princess stated, moving away from the computer terminal and toward Mark and Jason. “We can’t let those Federation citizens suffer the same fate that the Earth has.”

“Could we send a warning to Mars?” Jason asked. “Allow them to prepare and amass Federation Forces in defense of the planet?”

“I already tried.” Princess sighed, gesturing to the wall terminal she had been using. “And all attempts at communication off-planet are monitored, even from the Captain’s terminal. We’d barely have time to say ‘Hello’ before we were discovered and cut off.”

“Then we have to stop them ourselves.” Mark stated. “We can’t just let this happen.”

“Agreed.” Jason replied. “Speaking of which, we’re supposed to report to this Buzz… something… Hangar in five minutes.”

“Then, let’s go.” Mark grinned.

Chapter 5 by TransmuteJun

Chapter 5

Upon locating the correct hangar and reporting in for duty, the three Snakehead imposters were assigned to loading tricolic missiles into the belly of what appeared to be a giant African bee. Jason blanched when he realized how much firepower the spacecraft had, but Princess’ expression resembled that of a kid in a candy store.

“Just one of these would have to overload…” she murmured thoughtfully to herself, then turned to Mark. “I could do it, Commander.”

“Then we’ll have to give you the opportunity.” Mark grinned. Jason nodded in agreement. The real problem was going to be giving Princess that chance. The Weapons Bay on the mecha was swarming with Snakehead troops.

Of course, there was another obvious question that needed to be answered.

“If we do this, how do we get out?” Mark asked.

“Escape pod.” Jason shrugged.

“Escape pod?” Mark was confused. “I thought Snakehead mecha generally didn’t have escape pods?”

“Unless Zoltar is expected to be on them.” Princess clarified. “It’s standard policy to have one escape pod for him. He values his own hide too much to let it go down with any of his ships.”

“But he’s not here!” Mark protested. “On the communication with Sohot, he made it clear that he wasn’t going to be participating in this offensive!”

“Yes, but this thing is huge.” Jason pointed out. “And clearly, they expect the Mars attack to be successful, and that they’ll get to use this Buzz-a-whatsits again. I’ll bet they built an escape pod for Zoltar on this mecha. And if he’s not onboard, then we won’t have any competition using it when the alarms start going off.” Princess nodded her agreement with Jason’s assessment.

“It’s certainly worth checking out.” Mark conceded. From the expression on his face, it was clear that the Commander was wishing that he recalled these kinds of details for himself.

They continued doing as they were directed, loading weapons, missiles and supplies onto the massive attack craft, working alongside dozens of green-uniformed personnel.

Once they had completed this task, they were ordered onto Buzzragon and assigned to line duty in the Meal Distribution Center. They quickly found themselves wearing stained aprons, doling out unidentifiable grey goop to a never-ending queue of soldiers.

“How is it that we always end up with this slop the Snakeheads call food?” Princess complained.

“Just don’t gag this time, Princess!” Mark kidded her. “Just watch, Jason, her face is going to match her uniform!”

“I’d like to see that!” Jason joked, but he forgot about Princess’ aversion to Spectran food as his eyes fell on a familiar-looking door. From his spot on the food line, Jason had a perfect view out through the entrance to the Meal Distribution Center, and the door was directly across the hall from the cafeteria.

“There.” he hissed quietly, attempting to appear as if he were truly interested in serving the ‘slop of the day’. “That’s it! I know it is!”

“What?” Mark asked, surreptitiously glancing around, but Princess’ eyes widened as she saw what Jason had been referring to.

“I agree, Jason.” she whispered. “It looks like the door to Zoltar’s escape pod.”

“You’re certain?” Mark asked, now eyeing the unmarked panel suspiciously.

“I’ve seen enough of them to know.” Princess said simply. The Commander’s face fell, and it was clear that Mark did not share those memories.

“I’d stake my life on it.” Jason voiced his agreement. “And I guess that’s what we’re about to do.”

“Then the plan is set.” Mark nodded.

88888

The three would-be Snakeheads spent the next hour in the Meal Distribution Center, serving plates of unidentifiable green and brown goop to hungry Snakeheads. None of them were tempted in the least to sample the Spectran culinary creations.

A few minutes after they had spotted the door to the escape pod, they all felt the distinctive subtle vibration through the floor that indicated that the mecha was now moving. About a quarter of an hour later, the entire vessel surged slightly, as the alien spacecraft shifted to Hyperspeed.

“A mecha this size has reduced velocity.” Princess mused. “Even if we’ve gone to Hyperspeed, it’ll take just over an hour to get to Mars, won’t it?” she asked. Mark nodded.

“Then we need to finish up here.” Jason stated. They worked for a short while longer before taking off for a ‘break’.

The three sighed gratefully as they exited the cafeteria and slipped their way back down to the Weapons Bay.

Unfortunately, the area was occupied not only by missiles and hand weapons, but also by at least four dozen Snakeheads.

“We don’t have time to wait for all of them to disperse!” Princess said nervously. “In another thirty minutes or so we’ll be at Mars!”

“We’ll just have to be discrete, then.” Mark told her. “You find an appropriately located missile to overload, and Jason and I will stand guard, to prevent anyone from noticing what you are doing.”

Princess nodded, her eyes already scanning the rows of missiles and weapons. She selected her target and began moving toward it, Mark and Jason following close behind. Roughly in the middle of the large chamber, Princess stopped, casually bending down as if to examine her shoe, and then disappeared underneath one of the munitions racks.

Jason heard the soft click of an exterior panel being opened.

As Princess worked on re-programming her chosen missile, Jason scanned the room with his eyes, leaning casually on one of the stored missiles as if taking a break. Mark did the same, ostensibly looking at Jason, but in reality scanning the opposite side of the large chamber. The other Snakeheads appeared to be uninterested in what they were doing, and did not pay them any attention. Jason watched the soldiers moving back and forth. Some had obviously been assigned to specific tasks, while others were apparently ‘on break’ just as he and Mark were pretending to be.

“Done.” Princess reported, wriggling out from underneath the munitions rack. “We have ten minutes to get off of Buzz-ma-jig.”

“Then, let’s go.” Mark said, giving her a hand to help pull her up, and then moving toward the exit. Princess followed, with Jason bringing up the rear.

“Hey, you three!”

They turned around, only to see a Snakehead Corporal approaching their position. Jason swore softly under his breath. They didn’t have time for this.

“I need you men!” the Corporal called. “We have to move this piece of equipment…”

The Snakehead fell to the floor gurgling as a white feather embedded itself in his throat. Immediately, the other men in the Weapons Bay began shouting and running toward their position.

Mark and Princess stared at Jason, astonished. They appeared to be incapable of speech.

“What are you waiting for?” Jason hissed at them. “Go! I’ll take care of these guys!”

Mark’s eyes met Jason’s for an instant, but the Commander shook his head.

“I can’t do that, Jason.” he said softly. “We’re a team, remember?”

Mark pulled something out of his pocket, and as it glinted in the harsh glare of the fluorescent lights, Jason realized that it was the Commander’s Sonic Boomerang. Mark closed his eyes, hesitating for only an instant as he held the weapon in his hands. Then his eyes snapped open and he threw the metallic bird out in front of him. The boomerang made a perfect arc, leaving a trail of dead Snakeheads in its wake, before returning to its owner’s outstretched hand.

Jason didn’t need an engraved invitation. He pulled out a handful of the feather darts Mark and Princess had given him, throwing them with deadly accuracy at the few remaining soldiers. Princess took out the rest with a couple of electrifying hits from her yo-yo.

“Clock is ticking, guys!” she reminded them both, before running out of the Weapons Bay. Mark and Jason were hot on her heels.

Jason thought for a brief moment that perhaps their sabotage had not been detected, but that vain hope was dashed as an alarm began to sound throughout the ship. Suddenly, the corridors were full of confused Snakeheads, charging this way and that, searching for their unknown enemy.

It was the perfect cover.

Three more Snakeheads running through the crowd were completely unremarkable. Amazingly, the alarm was having the opposite of its intended effect.

But it was a different story altogether once they reached the door to the escape pod. Now they seemed out of place beside an empty Meal Distribution Center, because they no longer appeared to have a purpose.

“Get to your emergency stations!” a passing Corporal hollered at them.

“This is our emergency station, Sir!” Mark replied, saluting smartly. “Captain Sohot himself assigned us to this position!”

“Very good, Private!” the Corporal told him, moving back to supervising the other troops in the area.

Jason looked back to see Princess fiddling with the access pad.

“It’s locked down!” she hissed, so quietly that only Mark and Jason could hear her words. “I think the emergency alarm set off a precautionary subroutine!”

“Can you bypass it?” Mark asked.

“Already working on it!” Princess acknowledged her Commander’s request, even as the last of the other Snakehead troops disappeared down the corridor.

They were now alone.

“The moment we get inside, take us out.” Mark instructed Jason. “Go to Hyperspeed as quickly as possible, or barring that…”

“Wait a minute!” Jason protested. “Me? You want me to fly this thing? I’m only good with land-based vehicles! I might be able to build that kind of pod, but you’re the pilot!”

Me?” Mark was surprised. “You think I can fly a spaceship?”

“Commander, you’re the best damn pilot I know, especially in a small craft like this.” Jason told him. “Of course you can fly it!”

Mark’s response to Jason’s assurances was cut off by a gleeful cry from Princess.

“Got it!”

It was excellent timing, as Buzzragon was scheduled to blow in four minutes. The door slid open, and the three teammates ran inside to the escape pod…

Only to find the floor littered with tools and spare parts.

“They didn’t finish it?” Princess was astounded. Mark turned to Jason.

“Well, Jason, you said you could build these things…” he smirked.

“Didn’t think I’d have to prove it so quickly!” Jason groaned. “Okay, activate the Command Systems and tell me what’s missing!” Princess immediately sat down and followed Jason’s orders, as Mark visually inspected the craft.

“The thrusters aren’t operational.” Princess reported. “And there’s no Hyperspeed.”

“We don’t have time to connect the Hyperdrive,” Jason told them, “but the thrusters are essential.” He immediately got to work, opening up the appropriate panel and assessing the situation. Mark acted as his assistant, handing Jason the parts and tools he asked for, while Princess did a quick analysis of the remaining systems.

“Good to go!” shouted Jason, less than two minutes later.

“Confirmed!” Princess reported.

Mark vaulted into the pilot’s seat, while Jason and Princess sat huddled together on the floor. Since the craft had been built for Zoltar, it only had a single chair for the intended sole occupant.

The escape pod was long and slim, like a rocket, or a missile. Mark detached the docking clamps before entering a series of commands, sending them shooting down a long tube and finally out into space. Jason grinned to himself as he beheld the expression of wondrous awe on Mark’s face as the Commander found himself controlling the craft instinctively. Jason was glad, for multiple reasons, that he had been right about Mark’s ability to pilot a spacecraft.

Once they had exited the mecha, Jason looked at the viewscreen that showed the view from behind their spacecraft, only to realize that their escape pod had been Buzzragon’s stinger. No wonder it had been shaped like a rocket!

“Oh, no!” Princess’ cry of distress shifted Jason’s attention to the nearby planet of Mars, looming large in front of them. A fleet of Federation Space Fighters was coming out to meet the attacking Spectran mecha.

“They’ll get caught in the blast!” Princess cried.

But at that exact moment, Buzzragon exploded in a series of white-hot bursts, while the Federation craft were still far enough away to avoid the resulting flames and shockwave. The escape pod bounced, but other than some bumps and bruises, there was no damage to the craft, or its occupants.

Buzzragon literally crumpled before their eyes, cracking open from the bottom, where the Weapons Bay had been located, and literally exploding down its middle, only to reveal further detonations and blasts from within. It took only moments for the alien attack mecha to be completely obliterated.

“Let’s get out of here!” Jason suggested. “We’re in a Snakehead ship, after all, and I don’t want to see those Federation Space Fighters getting trigger happy!”

“Good idea, Jason!” Mark concurred, pulling away as fast as he could make the small craft move on thrusters alone. After a few minutes, they had left the Planet Mars, as well as its Federation Defense Forces, behind.

“We don’t have Hyperspeed, but we can move at nearly light speed.” Mark reported. “We should be at Riga in a few hours.”

“You mean, we made it?” Princess asked, an incredulous expression on her face. Mark turned to look at her, smiling from ear to ear.

“We made it.” he confirmed, shifting to address Jason as well. “All of us.”

“We make a good team.” Jason grinned.

Epilogue by TransmuteJun

Epilogue

It was with a heightened sense of anticipation that they all watched the small green dot that was the Planet Riga grow larger and larger on the viewscreen as they approached.

“It looks so beautiful…” murmured Princess.

“I think it’s freedom that looks beautiful.” Jason replied, smiling.

“For me, it’s answers.” Mark added. “On Riga there are Federation personnel who might be able to help me recover my memories.”

“I hope they can, Mark.” Princess said quietly, laying her head on his shoulder in a gesture of support. Mark smiled, putting his arm around her. The pair were so wrapped up in each other that Jason was the only one who noticed that they were no longer alone.

“They’ve sent out the welcoming committee.” he noted dryly, pointing at the squadron of Federation Space Fighters approaching their position. A dozen ships were now clearly visible on the viewscreen.

“Incoming transmission!” Princess announced, even as she patched it through.

“Spectran Vessel, you are in Federation Space.” a grim voice greeted them. “Stand down and prepare to be boarded.”

“Damn!” Jason swore, even as Princess rushed to respond.

“Federation Forces, we are not Spectrans.” she announced. “We are Terran refugees seeking asylum. We need…” Princess’ communication was cut off by a surprised response.

“Wait a minute… did you say Terran refugees?” The tone of the question was somewhat suspicious. “How long have you been out here?”

“We left Earth this morning.” Princess replied. “Approximately seven hours ago. We need to…”

“Seven hours?” the voice cut her off again, but this time it sounded more gleeful than suspicious. “You escaped Earth today?”

“Yes.” Princess confirmed.

Jason looked at Mark, and saw his own concerns mirrored there. What was wrong? Had the Spectrans used some form of unknown clout to demand their return? Was there some sort of treaty that prevented them from landing on Riga?

“No one has left Earth without the Spectrans’ permission in almost a year.” the voice told them in an awed hush.

“That’s why our choice of spacecraft was somewhat unorthodox.” Mark replied dryly. But the moment the Commander spoke, the Comm link was taken over by a babble of chattering voices.

“Escaped!”

“From Earth!”

“Today!”

“I can’t believe it…”

“Weakness in the surveillance grid…”

“Potential for extraction…”

“Who are these people?”

“Enough!” the first voice shouted, and the others ceased immediately. Jason realized that they had belonged to the other Federation pilots in their ‘welcoming party’.

“How many of you are there?” the voice asked them.

“Three.” Princess replied. “Myself, and…”

“We have to escort you to a secure area.” the voice cut her off. “But if you truly are Terrans… this is incredible…”

“That’s fine.” Princess said. “We need to speak with someone from Galaxy Security. We have important information to give to them.”

“Trust me, Galaxy Security will definitely be wanting to talk to you.” the voice responded. “We’re going to take you down to the surface. Stay within our formation. Do not break away, or we will be forced to fire upon you.”

“Trust me, the last thing we want to do is break away, after all of the trouble we went through to get here.” Jason muttered.

“Say again? I didn’t catch that.”

“It was nothing.” Princess replied hurriedly, shooting Jason a disgusted look. “We understand. We will stay in formation.”

Jason grinned, uncaring that Princess was upset by his flippant remark.

They were free.

The twelve Federation Space Fighters surrounded them, escorting the Spectran escape pod down to the surface of the Planet Riga at a snail’s pace that clearly irritated the impatient Commander.

“Relax, Mark.” Jason laughed. “They need time to break out the champagne for us.”

“More likely, the hand restraints.” Princess pointed out.

“So?” Jason smirked. “Once they confirm our identities, that won’t be a problem. We’re back in the Federation, now.”

As they broke through the Rigan atmosphere, they began descending more rapidly, and soon the landing platform of a Federation Aerospace Base was clearly visible below them. Emergency vehicles lined both sides of the runway, and a series of Galaxy Security transport cars could be seen at one end. AT the other end lay a massive hangar, far bigger than anything they had seen at Ramstein.

“They did it… Galaxy Security…” Mark breathed. “They’re actually going to listen to us…”

“Of course they’re going to listen to us!” Jason laughed. “I already told you, we’re back in the Federation, now!” His heart felt lighter, knowing that their escape from the Snakeheads had been accomplished.

Their exit strategy from Earth had been a success.

Now, all they had to do was plan their return.

The End

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