Zoltar cackled with glee. “I have them now! G-Force will finally be destroyed and the Earth will be mine!”
The Phoenix was dead in the water, so to speak. Plumes of smoke and flame billowed from the fuselage. The starboard wing pod had been blown off and the rudder was hanging by a thin piece of metal, thumping loudly against the side of the ship.
“This is it, Mark. We’re going to crash! I can’t control our descent,” Tiny shouted over the roar of the engines.
“If we’re going down, I’m taking a few Spectrans with us,” Jason said. He pushed the missile launch button. “Nothing’s happening! Something must be jammed. We still have missiles left.”
“There has to be something we can do,” Princess said.
“Pray,” Keyop replied.
“Everybody hang on. Jason, sit down!” Mark ordered.
The Phoenix tilted sharply and Jason hit the front console before sliding unconscious to the floor.
* * * * * * * *
Zoltar danced around the bridge of his ship. “I want this moment recorded so I can watch it over and over!”
The Phoenix was just moments from slamming into the mountain when it vanished!
Zoltar stopped dancing, much to the relief of the bridge crew. “What?” he shouted. “How can this be happening? The Phoenix couldn’t have just disappeared into thin air!”
The bridge crew sat in stunned silence when Zoltar suddenly vanished as well.
* * * * * * * *
Chief Anderson stood watching the battle unfold on his video screen. “This can’t be the end,” he said. “G-Force can’t go out this way.” He was shocked to see the Phoenix disappear from the monitor. Before he could figure out what happened to the ship, he was gone too.
* * * * * * * *
Mark opened his eyes slowly. Is this what it’s like to be dead? he wondered. He turned his head to the left. Tiny lay on the floor. Keyop lay not too far away on Tiny’s other side. Mark turned his head slowly to the right. Princess lay on the floor in that direction. Where was Jason? Almost as if in response to his unspoken question, two large male humanoids carried the last member of G-Force into the room and placed him carefully on the floor. They stepped back and one of the men touched a switch on his armband. An energy barrier surrounded Jason’s still form. Mark then noticed that a similar quietly humming barrier surrounded each member of the team.
Mark sat up gingerly. That was when he noticed Zoltar sitting in the corner of the room. An energy barrier surrounded him as well. The two humanoids observed that Mark was awake, but didn’t say or do anything. They merely bowed and then walked from the room.
“What is this place?” Tiny asked as he sat up.
“I wish I knew,” Mark replied.
The other members of G-Force started to stir. Jason remained unconscious. Keyop let out a yelp when he touched the energy barrier. He stood rubbing his hand.
A different male humanoid dressed in a dark robe entered the room. Chief Anderson walked slightly behind him.
“Chief!” Mark said in surprise. “What’s going on?”
“Members of G-Force, you are being tried for reckless endangerment of the universe and lack of respect for the lives of sentient beings everywhere. Zoltar, you will be tried for being a megalomaniac,” the robed humanoid said.
“What?” the conscious members of G-Force said in unison.
“Chief? What’s happening? How did we get here?” Mark asked. “Is Jason all right?
Chief Anderson had walked through the energy barrier of Jason’s cell unharmed. He knelt next to Jason, searching for a pulse. “I’m not sure how we got here, Mark.” The Chief finished checking Jason over to make sure nothing serious was wrong. “Jason will be fine.”
“I demand to be released!” Zoltar shouted.
“That will be enough from you,” the humanoid replied.
“How dare you speak to me this way!”
“I will speak to you in the manner you deserve.”
Jason sat up slowly. He clutched at his head. “Will you people stop shouting?” he mumbled.
“Jason, are you all right?” Princess asked.
He thought about it for a moment. “I guess.”
“The tribunal will commence in one of your hours,” the humanoid said. He bowed slightly before he left the room.
Chief Anderson watched him go. “At least they’re polite.”
“Chief, what’s going on?” Mark asked again.
“Apparently, this race has decided to end the war between Spectra and Earth by putting all of you on trial.”
“I really don’t know, Mark. I’ve talked with the judges. Things don’t look good. Unless someone can come up with a good defense, all of you will be executed. These people mean business. They’ve even managed to capture the Luminous One.”
“How did they handle that?”
“I don’t know. They seem to be a very powerful race. From what I’ve been able to figure out, they usually don’t bother with the lesser races. They’ve made an exception in our case.”
Jason let out a yelp and swore under his breath. “Why can the Chief walk in and out of these barriers, but not us?”
“The energy is keyed to match your genetic makeup and it matches the energy frequencies of your birdstyles,” Anderson said.
Six armed guards arrived to take the prisoners to the courtroom. Zoltar and the members of G-Force were bound with energy bands to keep them from fighting their way out.
The group was escorted down a long dark corridor. Only the small section they were in was lit and the light moved along with them. They arrived in a large domed arena. The six judges sat behind a high bench, looking down on the defendants and the court observers. The spectators were from dozens of different races, many of which Mark and the others had never encountered.
The guards forced the prisoners to sit down in floating seats. “Hey, these are pretty comfortable,” Tiny said. One guard stood behind each seat, ready to handle any problems with their cooperation.
“Now isn’t the time, Tiny,” Mark told him.
Chief Anderson sat immediately behind G-Force in the spectators’ area.
G-Force and Zoltar were forced to sit through hours of witness testimony. Tiny had fallen asleep. The guard behind his seat would nudge him awake occasionally.
Jason leaned toward Mark. “We’ve never been anywhere near most of these planets. They haven’t even questioned anybody from Earth or Riga.”
“I know. Something is definitely wrong with this picture,” Mark replied.
The center judge stood up. “We will take a short recess to determine our ruling. Please remain in your seats.”
Mark stood up. “Wait! We haven’t been allowed to defend ourselves.”
“We have heard all of the necessary testimony. Please sit down.”
“We were found to be guilty before the trial started,” Jason muttered. “They’re just trying to make it look good.”
The judges left the courtroom. They returned a few minutes later. “Order in the court,” the head judge bellowed. After the crowd quieted, he continued, “We have found the defendants guilty. Their sentence is death.”
The crowd oohed and aahed and nodded in agreement.
“What? I demand an appeal!” Zoltar shouted.
“Appeal denied. You will sit down and be quiet,” the judge said.
Mark stood up again. “We should be allowed to question our accusers. We weren’t given a lawyer.”
“Lawyers only cause problems,” one of the judges said.
The head judge stood up. “Sentence will be carried out immediately.”
The guards moved around in front of the prisoners. They aimed their weapons at the heads of G-Force and Zoltar.
“Stop!” A woman’s voice rang out from the top of the arena.
Boos and hisses emerged from the crowd. Everyone turned to look at the person that put a stop to the day’s entertainment.
A young woman with long blue-black hair glided down the steps. She was dressed in a dark blue flowing robe with tiny pinpoints of light covering it. The robe resembled the night sky. When she reached the bottom of the steps, she turned and nodded at Chief Anderson. “Chief Anderson, it is good to see you again.”
“Your ladyship,” Anderson said, bowing slightly.
The woman continued to walk toward the bench. “You will stop this nonsense immediately,” she told the judges.
“Bu--but, your ladyship, the criminals have been found guilty,” the lead judge stammered.
“Guilty by your standards, not mine.” She turned away from the bench and walked toward G-Force. “You will release them immediately and return them from whence they came.”
“Your ladyship, please. We can’t send them back. They will only renew the war.”
“That really isn’t any of your concern, is it?” The woman waved a hand in G-Force’s general direction and their energy bonds disappeared.
The lead judge stood up behind the bench. “Your ladyship, I must insist you leave this matter in our capable hands.”
The woman turned back toward the bench. She disappeared from where she had been standing in front of G-Force and reappeared before the bench, floating in midair before the astounded judges. “Insist? You will not ‘insist’ on anything.” Her tone was venomous. “If you do not send these people back, I will. And it will be much easier on you if you send them back.” She smiled darkly at the lead judge. “Is my meaning clear?”
“Y--ye--yes, your ladyship,” the lead judge stammered again.
One of the other judges stood up. “You do not have any authority over this court.”
“Don’t I?” the woman asked. She waved her hand and the judge disappeared. The spectators started murmuring amongst themselves. The woman disappeared from her position in front of the bench and reappeared in the middle of the courtroom floor. “You will all return to your homes,” she told them. With a wave of her hand the spectators disappeared. Only Chief Anderson remained.
The judges were outraged. The lead judge left his place behind the bench and walked to where the woman was standing. He stopped several paces from her and dropped to his knees. “Your ladyship, they are young and don’t understand. Please be lenient. We will return the offworlders to their rightful places.”
“You said that before, but they are still here.” She shook her head sadly. “I suppose I will have to do things myself.” She waved her hand toward the judges and they all disappeared.
Chief Anderson stood and walked from his place in the spectator area. “Your ladyship, was that necessary?” he asked.
“Do not worry, Chief Anderson. I only sent them home where they belong. I suppose I should send all of you back to the place and time you left.” She thought for a moment. “In G-Force’s case, that might not be the best idea, considering what was happening.”
Zoltar had been quiet during most of the discussion. “What of me and the Luminous One?” he demanded.
The woman regarded Zoltar. “What of you?”
“I demand that you release us!”
“You, my friend, are in no position to make demands of any kind.”
“Your ladyship?” Chief Anderson said hesitantly.
“Would it be possible to send us back to Earth?”
“Of course.” The woman, appearing lost in thought, walked back and forth in front of G-Force for a moment.
Mark got his first good look at her. She had a timeless quality about her, neither young nor old. Mark thought he could see the entire cosmos in her eyes.
Zoltar was struggling against his energy bonds. “I demand you release me, witch.”
The woman spun around. “You will be silent! I am not someone to be trifled with. If I hear one more sound from you, I promise, the remainder of your pitiful existence will be a living hell.”
“You will not speak to me in such a manner!”
The woman waved her hand angrily toward Zoltar. He let out a high-pitched scream and crumpled to the floor.
“Wh--what did you do to him?” Princess asked.
“I did what I said I would do.” She turned back to Chief Anderson and G-Force. “Now. Where were we?” she asked as if nothing had happened. “Oh, yes. I was going to send you back to where you started.”
“But, your ladyship --,” the Chief started to say. He found himself sitting at his desk in his office at Center Neptune. G-Force stood around the desk looking slightly dazed.
“What just happened?” Jason asked.
“I thought she was going to send us back where we started?” Tiny said.
“I’m glad she didn’t,” Mark replied. “I don’t think we would have liked the outcome.”
“Chief? Who was that woman? How did you know her?” Princess asked.
“She is the physical embodiment of the power of the universe. An avatar, so to speak,” he told her. “I met her about 20 years ago. At that time, she was working as a researcher for Galaxy Security.”
The team looked confused. “If she has that much power, why was she working for the Galaxy Security?” Mark asked.
“She likes to mingle with the various races. She was on hand during the formative phase for G-Force. She might have even planted the seed for the idea.”
“How did you find out who or what she was, Chief?” Jason asked.
The Chief leaned back in his chair and regarded the team thoughtfully. “She and I have talked at length over the years. In fact, she led me to Jason and Princess.”
“Really?” Princess asked.
Chief Anderson nodded. “She wasn’t pleased with the idea of creating Keyop for the team, but she kept her thoughts to herself on the matter. She did think he was rather cute though.”
Keyop blushed and Jason gave him a gentle shove. “Don’t let it go to your head, shorty.”
“Chief, what about the Phoenix?” Mark asked. “She took some pretty heavy damage.”
“I suppose we’ll have to build a new Phoenix. That will take some time though.” He pondered the idea for a moment. “Why don’t all of you get some rest? It’s been a long day.”
The Chief watched as G-Force filed out of the room. The woman from the courtroom appeared suddenly on the edge of his desk. She sat with her left leg swinging casually. “They turned out quite well, didn’t they?” she asked.
“Yes, they did.” Chief Anderson sat back in his chair. “You couldn’t have timed your arrival at the tribunal any better.”
“I had been watching the proceedings closely. You needn’t have worried. I wouldn’t let anything happen to your precious G-Force.”
“Since you’re here, might I ask a favor?”
“A favor? I’m feeling solicitous today, you may ask one favor.”
“The Phoenix --”
“-- is in the landing bay in -- how do you Earthers say? -- Oh yes, in showroom condition.”
Chief Anderson smiled in return. “Thank you, your ladyship. For everything.”
“It was my pleasure, Chief Anderson.” She stood up. “Before I leave I think I should tell you something.”
“And what would that be?”
“You really should rethink the Phoenix’s bridge design. Jason wastes a lot of energy running from his station to the front console to fire those missiles.”
“The missile launch button is on the front console for a reason. Jason would be blowing everything out of the sky if the button was on his console.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
The Chief smiled at her. “Can I ask one more question?”
“All right, but just one.”
“What did you do to Zoltar and the Luminous One?”
The woman laughed. “I gave Zoltar an inferiority complex and the Luminous One claustrophobia.” She laughed again and disappeared like the Cheshire cat.