One year ago…
“What the hell is this one?” Mark sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose in a vain attempt to relieve some of the tension he was feeling. Judging by the deep frown lines etched into the Commander’s forehead, it didn’t work.
“Breep… broop… Pterodactyl…” Keyop offered, staring at the still image that Chief Anderson had sent to them.
“Pterodactyl? Didn’t Spectra already do a flying dinosaur a few months ago?” Jason grunted.
“Perhaps they’re running out of ideas?” Princess offered. But her weak attempt at humor fizzled. They were all exhausted, having just destroyed two other Spectran mecha: one over North America and one over South America.
This third attack craft, over Europe, wasn’t the last one they had to deal with, either. Chief Anderson had already informed them that there were at least two more: one over Southern Africa, and one in the Middle East. There were rumors of a sixth in the South Pacific, heading for Australia, but that had yet to be confirmed.
Of course, normally Zark would have been giving them that kind of information, but Zark was gone. Tiny had never imagined that he would actually find himself missing Zark, the annoying robot who had attempted to insinuate himself into every aspect of their daily lives, both on and off duty. But now, Zark had become a symbol; representing everything they had lost.
That very morning, the first target of the first Spectran mecha had been what was left of the Research Center. Less than forty-eight hours ago, Galaxy Security had thought that they had dodged a bullet when all of their personnel had escaped the destruction of the Space Center. But now, the last part of Center Neptune was gone, and with it, the remainder of the technological support that G-Force so desperately needed.
The mecha had clearly been surprised to see the Phoenix approaching them. Shaped something like a chimera, it had been smashing urban centers when they had arrived in their red and blue warship. Tiny had guessed that the Spectrans had assumed that the Phoenix had been destroyed, since it hadn’t shown up to defend what was left of its home base. This had simply been because at the time of the attack, the Phoenix had been undergoing repairs at the Moffett Field Aerospace Center, due to the extensive damage that had been incurred as they had attempted to escape the wreckage of the Space Center. The sad truth was that no one had expected another Spectran offensive so soon, and it had simply taken the team far too long to assemble and launch their warship.
It had not been possible to re-stock the Phoenix with TBX Missiles, since their backup supply at the Space Center was gone, and they had had to launch to face the Chimera mecha with only three TBXs aboard. Jason had needed all three to destroy the Chimera, as each head had had to be individually destroyed. The Condor’s aim had been true, but he had been unable to take out more than one appendage at a time.
The team had sighed with relief at the Chimera’s destruction, but less than a minute later, they had been called to Brazil, where some kind of floating butterfly had been attacking Rio de Janeiro.
It had been enroute to Rio that they had discovered the full, horrifying scope of the Spectran attack. Zoltar had invaded the Earth with not one mecha, but six. The Chief had speculated that the Spectran Leader had wanted to ensure that even if the G-Force Team split up, that they wouldn’t be able to engage all of his attack craft at once.
In addition to the six mecha, each of the attack craft was accompanied by thousands of ground troops, storming through the major cities of Earth on a destructive rampage. Chief Anderson had estimated that there were over one million Spectran soldiers involved in this operation. Hell, Tiny hadn’t even realized that there were that many men in the entire Spectran Army. But then, perhaps this was their entire army. Certainly it was an all-out offensive. Spectra was throwing everything but the kitchen sink at them, and Galaxy Security and the UN were scrambling to keep up.
Regardless, it was up to the G-Force Team to fight this invasion, and the odds definitely weren’t in their favor at five versus one million.
Still, there had been no question in any of their minds that they would do what they had been trained to do; what they had sworn a solemn oath to do: protect the Earth, and the Federation; with their own lives, if necessary.
The Butterfly mecha had proven vulnerable to the Fiery Phoenix, but they had been forced to prolong the maneuver well past the normal safety time limitations, as each of the mecha’s four wings had required puncturing, in order to send it crashing to the ground. Tiny was amazed that they had come out of that particular encounter intact. As it was, everyone on the G-Force Team was feeling exhausted, battered, and bruised from the physical and mental stress of the encounter.
And now, they had to defeat mecha number three.
To make matters worse, as they were on their way to intercept this third attack craft, Zoltar’s sneering image suddenly appeared on their viewscreen.
“Greetings, Terran Citizens!” the Spectran Leader laughed cruelly. Zoltar appeared to be standing on the steps of the Presidential Palace in Cape Town, South Africa. Behind the ornate building stood a massive metallic giraffe.
“It gives me great pleasure to announce that your puny planet is now a part of the glorious Spectran Empire!” Zoltar announced.
“Can you get rid of that, Keyop?” Mark growled. Tiny winced. It was clear that the Commander was not in the mood for Zoltar’s boastful attitude.
“Breep… no…” Keyop moaned. “Droot… jamming… doot… all frequencies.”
“We would have to shut down the entire Communications System.” Princess clarified.
“Damn it!” Jason shouted, slamming his fist into his control panel. Tiny didn’t say anything, but he agreed with the Condor. Their morale had been worn down enough; they didn’t need this on top of everything else.
But wishing wasn’t going to make their most hated enemy disappear.
“I greet you from the former Presidential Palace of the Federation Alliance.” Zoltar smirked. “And it is my distinct pleasure to be standing next to the former President Kane.”
The image pulled back to show President Kane standing next to the Spectran Leader. Three green-uniformed soldiers were holding rifles at the man’s head, but Hiram Kane had never looked more proud, or distinguished.
“You may hold me prisoner, but I am still the duly elected President of the Federation Alliance.” Kane declared staunchly.
“No, I don’t think so.” Zoltar smirked. Before the G-Force Team could blink, the Spectran Leader had pulled out a gun from beneath his purple cape, pointed it at Kane’s temple, and pulled the trigger, casually executing the Federation President live on the planet-wide broadcast. The body of Hiram Kane slumped to the ground, even as the image zoomed in on Zoltar’s mocking grin.
“Earth belongs to Spectra.” the Spectran Leader hissed, before the image disappeared from their viewscreen.
No one spoke for a long moment, but then Mark turned to address his team. His voice was strangely calm.
“We will get Zoltar.” he vowed with quiet assurance. “We will drive him from this planet. But in order to do that, we need to destroy his mecha first. We need to focus on the task at hand.”
Tiny could sense the Commander’s desperation. The G-Force Team was being slowly stripped by the Spectrans of everything it knew, piece by piece.
The Space Center…
The Research Center….
And now, President Kane.
It was too much.
The Owl gritted his teeth, doing his best to follow his Commander’s orders, forcing all of his concentration to the task at hand. But the horror of the Federation President’s brutal execution remained fresh in his mind.
They intercepted the third Spectran mecha over Southern France, where it was clearly on its way to Paris. But now, spotting its adversary, the massive dinosaur ceased its journey, choosing instead to shoot hundreds of laser canons at the G-Force warship. Tiny only listened to the other four members of the team with half an ear, as the rest of his attention was focused on dodging the Pterodactyl’s attacks.
“We need to go Fiery again!” Jason was shouting. “There are no more missiles, Mark! What else is there?”
“We could board it and blow it up from the inside.” Mark declared. “Princess, you’re with me.” The Commander moved toward the elevation platform, an exhausted Swan following dutifully behind.
But just as the pair was about to ascend, the Pterodactyl’s mouth opened, spewing a strange cloud of gas that enveloped the Phoenix. Almost immediately, warning alarms began going off on every console.
“What’s happening?” Mark demanded.
“It’s eating away at our hull!” Tiny ran back to her console.
“It’s destroying our protective shell!” the Swan reported. “This is…. oh shit!”
“What?” Mark’s voice cracked as he asked the question. Everyone knew that Princess never used foul language.
“It’s Don’s formula!” Princess told the Commander. “From the Ooze Bomb he created for Zoltar. The anti-pollution compound…”
“I thought the formula for that compound got destroyed when Zoltar blew up the base!” Jason protested.
“Well, apparently the Spectrans had a backup copy!” Princess retorted angrily. “Don’t tell me they couldn’t have done that, Jason!”
“Broop… doot…. Phoenix… dissolving!” Keyop shrieked, grabbing everyone’s attention. Mark rushed over to look at the Swallow’s display.
“Keyop’s right.” Mark announced. “Don’s compound is going to corrode through the hull in the next few minutes.”
“The next few minutes?” Tiny exclaimed. “I didn’t think the Ooze Bomb worked that fast!”
“Apparently the Spectrans have increased the acidity of the compound.” the Commander replied grimly. “Once the corrosive gas reaches the Bridge, we’ll have to land, or die from lack of oxygen and rapid decompression.”
“Not to mention what will happen if that stuff touches us!” Tiny yelled, his primary focus still on avoiding the Pterodactyl’s laser fire.
“Tiny’s right! If it can eat through our hull, I don’t want to know what it’s going to do to our Birdstyle!” Jason pointed out.
“Tiny, withdraw.” Mark ordered the Pilot. “Go behind one of those hillsides, if you can. Everyone else, get to your individual vehicles.”
Princess gasped, covering her mouth with her hand.
“Mark, are we…?” she clearly had a difficult time saying the words, “ …abandoning ship?”
“We can’t stay here.” their Commander replied quietly.
Everyone sat in stunned silence for a moment, and then Jason nodded curtly, standing up in a fluid motion.
“I agree.” he said grimly. “Let’s go.”
“Tiny, once we reach position, set the Phoenix to hover and engage the auto-release.” Mark instructed him. “Then join Keyop in the Space Buggy.”
“Breep… broop…” Keyop burbled. “Won’t go… doot… without Tiny…”
“Thanks, Keyop.” Mark said, clapping the boy on the shoulder. “Now, everyone, let’s go!”
Tiny gritted his teeth, doing his best to pull away from the Pterodactyl in a manner that would make it difficult for the massive mecha to maneuver and follow. It would only give them a few minutes, but hopefully, it would be enough for what Mark intended.
The moment he had arrived at his chosen location, Tiny set the G-Machines on auto-release, then ran to the G-4 Bay.
Keyop was already in the Space Buggy, and its mouth was open. Tiny pushed into it as fast as his bulk would allow, and the moment he was inside, Keyop connected with the auto-release.
The Space Buggy descended out of the Bay, and their communicators lit up, even as the grappling arms were released. Their Commander’s voice emerged from their wrists.
“This is the last message I am going to send.” Mark began. “After this communication ends, we will have radio silence to prevent the Spectrans from tracking us. There will be no exceptions.”
Keyop turned to look at Tiny, his eyes wide with fear. Tiny placed a comforting hand on the Swallow’s back.
“Jason and Princess, use your weapons to take out as many of the ground troops and vehicles as you can. Keyop and Tiny, I need you to cover me by distracting the mecha, so I can make a direct assault.”
The Swallow nodded, as if the Eagle were there to see his response. It was clear that the boy was too emotional at that moment to make a verbal acknowledgement of his orders.
“When our task has been completed, we will continue to maintain radio silence.” Mark told them. “There are still three more mecha to be destroyed. We will regroup and meet in Geneva, at the United Nations Headquarters there.”
There was a long pause, as if the Commander was carefully deciding on the phrasing of his next few words.
“If… if we do not succeed in this endeavor, make your way to a deserted area, de-transmute, and execute Command Code 3210 in your implants; with a duration of twelve months. You’ll know what to do, after that.”
Keyop looked at Tiny, his face a mask of confusion. The Owl knew that the Swallow’s expression was mirrored in his own eyes. Tiny had never heard of Command Code 3210. That had to mean that this was some sort of secret code known only to Mark and Chief Anderson. And if the rest of them hadn’t been told what it was… that meant that it was something the Chief had never expected they would ever actually have to use. And if Mark was telling them to use it now…
That meant that the Commander thought there was no better alternative.
Tiny had known things were grim. Zoltar’s callous, live broadcast execution of President Kane had told him that. Abandoning the Phoenix, something he loved more than any woman he had ever known (except, perhaps, Princess) had driven the tenuous nature of their situation home to the Owl.
But this… their Commander ordering them to use some unknown top secret implant Command Code… that spoke of an entirely different level of desperation.
Mark’s voice came through their communicators once again.
“We must survive this. No matter what happens, we must survive, if we are to endure. Only if we are alive, can we defend the Earth, and fight for the Federation. Even when this battle is over, we still have work to do. At all costs, I order you to survive.”
They could hear Mark taking a deep breath before going on.
“If anyone can win this fight, can do this with me, you can. Have faith, G-Force.” he said quietly. “It has been my honor to work with you all. You are my family, and my team.”
Tiny sat in stunned silence for a moment, then opened his mouth to respond. But before he could, the Commander spoke again.
“G-1, over and out.”
Their communicators fell silent, and Tiny slowly reached over, tuning his bracelet to radio silence, as Keyop solemnly did the same. The Swallow moved the Space Buggy away from the Phoenix, just as the Pterodactyl appeared over the hill.
The metallic creature opened its mouth, sending forth at least a dozen missiles at the Phoenix’s position.
One was enough. When the first missile hit the badly damaged vessel, the G-Force warship exploded, the flaming bursts a sordid mockery of the fiery transformation the G-Force Team had used on numerous occasions to defeat Spectran mecha. The remaining missiles only added to the conflagration, sending dancing flames into the sky, and flickering orange-yellow light flashing across the clouds.
But even as Tiny mourned, Keyop was circling the alien mecha, harassing it with his Swallow Bombs and Space Missiles. The Owl scanned the area, searching for any sign of the others, but all he could see was a sea of Spectran tanks and ground troops below.
“Dreet… droot… going for… beep… soft underbelly!” Keyop grinned toothily, maneuvering his Buggy underneath the Pterodactyl, closer to the ground. But as he did so, the Swallow cried out.
Tiny saw it too. The yellow Galacticycle was cutting a wide swath through the ground troops, using its Swan Rockets to destroy tanks, while its rider used her Yo-Yo Bombs to take down groups of foot soldiers. The Swan was clearly outnumbered and outmatched, but was exacting a terrifyingly high price for the Spectran Army’s victory.
“Breep… have to… doot… help!” Keyop exclaimed, turning the Space Buggy around and moving it toward the ground.
“Keyop, those were not our orders!” Tiny lectured the boy. “Jason and Princess are taking care of the ground forces. We are supposed to…”
“Screw the orders!” shouted Keyop, his speech impediment suddenly gone as a frenzied panic overtook the boy. “Got to help Princess!”
But it was already too late.
A barrage of missiles fired from the Spectran mecha, heedless of the green-uniformed troops in its target zone. The missiles detonated on the ground at the Galacticyle’s location, the force of the massive explosion rocking the Space Buggy and sending it flying out of control. Everything spun in dizzying circles, but even as the Swallow struggled to regain their position, Tiny saw the twisted remains of the yellow Galacticycle shooting up from the ground and then crashing back down between two Spectran tanks, causing a massive detonation that gave birth to a wave of destruction across the battlefield.
“Princess!” screeched Keyop, tears streaming down his cheeks. The Swallow moved the Space Buggy down to the ground, rolling across the charred and blackened remains of enemy soldiers.
“Where… broop… are you?” Keyop cried out plaintively. “Princess…?”
Tiny’s heart went out to the small boy. He viewed Princess as a mother, and his distress at seeing… Tiny hated to admit it, even to himself, but it was clear that the Swan had to be dead. There was no way she could have survived such a violent attack. It was up to him to make Keyop see reason.
“Keyop, we have to get back in the air!” he told the Swallow. “Mark needs us to…”
“But… Princess!” Keyop interrupted with a fervent protest, his expression accusatory. “Don’t you… doot… care?”
“Of course I care!” Tiny shouted. “But there’s nothing we can do for her now! But we can still help Mark and Jason!”
Keyop wrenched the drive sticks of his vehicle, moving the Space Buggy toward the ground. Tiny found himself unable to stop the Swallow, short of wresting the controls from the boy’s hands, which would jeopardize their safety in the middle of the battle with the Spectrans.
Since he couldn’t prevent the Swallow from embarking on this course of action, the Owl decided to help him by scanning the area for any sign of Spectran troops who had survived the deadly series of blasts that had taken the Swan’s life.
But it wasn’t the troops who turned out to be the problem. Above them, the Space Buggy’s sensors told Tiny that the giant Pterodactyl was moving in their direction.
“Incoming!” he cried out, and Keyop reacted instinctively by immediately executing a standard evasive response pattern. However, while the G-4 mecha was more maneuverable than the Spectran vessel, it was not fast enough to dodge the missiles targeting its position. Tiny was reduced to throwing his bulk against the inside of the Space Buggy to help move it out of the way of the approaching projectiles.
Ultimately, it wasn’t enough.
Keyop was able to avoid most of the missiles, but the mecha’s final shot proved to be their undoing. A high-powered rocket plowed into the rear of the Space Buggy, sending it tumbling through the air; spinning so fast that all Tiny saw was a blur of color passing before his eyes. The few seconds before they crashed into the ground were an agonizing eternity, especially as the Owl couldn’t even correctly anticipate the exact moment of impact, due to his impeded vision.
A sharp pain ripped through Tiny’s left arm, and the Owl bounced around the G-4’s interior, finally coming to rest in a slump over the control panels, his face mashed against the viewscreen. Tiny moaned, fire shooting up his arm as he rolled onto his side. The Owl’s vision cleared, and his eyes rested upon a set of black wings sprawled in front of him. The Swallow’s neck was bent at an unnatural angle, and his sightless eyes stared at the broken remnants of his vehicle.
Tiny allowed himself a moment to grieve, but the sound of laser fire hitting the outside of the Buggy’s hull told him that it was time to go. Princess and Keyop were both beyond help, and Tiny realized that he could all too easily join them, if he didn’t act now. Giving the Swallow a final salute, the Owl crawled out of the twisted remnants of the Space Buggy, staying low to the ground and grateful for the green color of his wings that allowed him to blend in with the surrounding trees and bushes, making him more difficult to spot from above. Morbidly, he also realized that the green-uniformed bodies of the Spectran troops who had fallen victim to the Swan’s final attack were also acting as an effective camouflage.
He had left just in time. Behind him, a sickening crunch announced that the Pterodactyl mecha had just stomped on what was left of the G-4. The Owl only allowed himself a glimpse of the sight, before forcing himself to move on.
Tiny commando-crawled up a hillside slippery with the gory remains of enemy soldiers, cresting the peak just in time to witness a sight that caused his heart to drop into his stomach.
In front of him, a once pristine valley was now blanketed with Spectran tanks and ground troops. Into the middle of this nightmare came the Spacemobile, barreling down another hill, drawing the fire and attention of every enemy soldier in the area. Before Tiny’s horrified eyes, the G-2 suffered a hail of bullets, laser fire, rockets and missiles, everything converging into a deadly conflagration centered upon the Condor’s vehicle.
Just as this lethal display of warfare came to a head, the unexpected happened.
The Spacemobile exploded.
Tiny’s bottom lip bled profusely as the Owl’s teeth dug into it. Not Jason too…
But he couldn’t deny what he was seeing. Mark’s last words ran through his mind.
At all costs, I order you to survive…
At that moment, it seemed that only Tiny was capable of following that order. So he did the only thing he could do.
He fled, without any idea in which direction he was heading; the only thought on his mind to put as much distance between himself and the scene of the Condor’s demise as he possibly could, desperately hoping that the massive mecha in the sky above would fail to notice his departure.
Some primal instinct deep inside of him made the Owl turn back for one last look, to where the Pterodactyl was leading the Spectran Army toward Paris.
He gazed upon the terrifying mecha, just in time to see a streak of white shooting through the sky, piercing through the head of the metallic creature, resulting in a massive explosion lighting up the countryside with its fiery blast. And yet, this had been no ordinary attack.
The ‘missile’ that had hit the mecha had been the G-1.
The G-Force Commander had ignored his own orders, in order to enact a kamikaze vengeance upon the Spectran craft that had ended the lives of his teammates.
A wave of shame washed over Tiny. He wasn’t worthy of such loyalty from his Commander.
And yet, he found that he was unable to fight his instincts: his primitive desire to survive. And so, he did the only thing of which he was capable.