"We believe Spectra is in the process of reoccupying its old bases on Mars."
It was a bland comment towards the end of a standard Monday morning briefing. Even so, Princess couldn't resist a glance toward Jason, and, out of the corner of her eye, she saw Tiny doing exactly the same.
Jason sat up marginally straighter from his slouched position in the chair at the head of the table. "Which ones?"
"A couple of smaller ones near the south pole, and the big one southeast of Olympus Mons." Anderson had the slide up on the screen, pointing to each in turn.
Jason's stare was uncompromising. "That's the one that was close to the Mars dome."
"I'm afraid so."
"Then we go trash it." Tiny's voice was as harsh as she'd ever heard it. "Right now. Mars is ours."
"Let's go kick some Spectran butt!" Keyop exclaimed, and she hushed him reflexively.
"Indications are that they have a fair sized force based there, and a mecha construction facility in the big cavern. And yes, Tiny, Mars has to be ours. It's way too close to Earth for us to allow them a foothold there. We are going to have to take it out."
"When?" was all Jason asked.
"We need more information. We're hoping Wade can come up with some details on the internal layout."
"Wade?" asked Rick, as Jason blanched.
"He was held captive there," Princess explained, trying her hardest to convey to G-Force's newest member that this was so not something he wanted to be ask about. Not here. Not now. Preferably not ever.
"What - recently?" Rick asked, oblivious. Her hinting had worked well, then. Not.
"Leave it, Rick," Tiny warned quietly.
There was mutinous anger in the blond man's eyes, though he kept his voice calm. "I can't contribute if I don't know what's going on."
"Then this is one time you can't contribute." Jason's glare was an unmistakeable order to back off, and Rick did just that, leaning back in his chair in silence. Jason turned to the older man at the head of the table. "Chief, you're not going to interrogate him again."
"He has information we need."
"He was locked in a damn cell there, years back! What use will it be, even if he knows anything? And he's a wreck! An unreliable wreck, who will tell Grant absolutely anything he wants to hear."
Anderson dropped the pitch of his voice almost to a growl - something Princess was sure must be infuriating to Jason, who couldn't do it. "We will discuss this in private, Commander. Team, you are dismissed."
"So do I get an explanation now?" Rick demanded as soon as they were in the corridor. "Why can't we talk to this guy Wade? Why does Jason even care? It's not like he's Mr Sensitivity on the interrogation front."
Princess contemplated how she could possibly explain this in two lines. Don was a former member of G-Force who was captured by Spectra and tortured for three years, and Jason thinks it's his fault. No. It needed a lot more than that, and in the corridor wasn't the place for it. They should all go to the ready room where they could discuss it in private, but before she could suggest it, Tiny cut in.
"He cares, and that's all you need to know." Tiny's tone was far from sympathetic, and she stared at him in confusion as he continued. "Rick, there's a hell of a lot of background to do with this team, and you're never going to learn it all. You have to take these things on trust."
"I do take them on trust. But I don't see why you can't explain it to me now."
"Because there's only so much time available, and yours is better spent on combat skills." That was a low blow from Tiny, and Rick flushed scarlet. He was still, despite what Princess knew had been an awful lot of work, way behind where he needed to be. Slower and less accurate than the rest of the team. Prone to mistakes which would be fatal in the field. Jason had said to her he had no plans to allow Rick off the Phoenix for the foreseeable future, and she wholeheartedly agreed.
Rick's face was set and unhappy, though, and she thought she might find time to give him a brief explanation later. Not now, though, not undermining Tiny's point.
"Where are you going now?" she asked in her friendliest tone.
"Gym," he said curtly.
"Yes. Sensei's no happier with me than the rest of you are."
Princess forced a smile. "Sensei's never happy with anyone. He was dressing me down this morning for lack of precision. You just need more work. You'll get there."
"I have to, don't I?" She saw the shoulders go back, the determination put on like a mask. "You're right, of course, G-2. I'll put in all the work that's required."
"Well, he's dedicated," Tiny said as the tall figure of the Kite headed away from them towards the gym.
"Keyop!" Princess forced herself to respond. "That's mean. He's doing his best."
"Best not good enough."
"We need to be able to replace people if they're hurt."
"No. Need a second team. Put Rick on that. Not G-Force."
He'd said this before, at every opportunity, and to a certain extent Princess agreed with him. This was no fun for any of them. Combat training with Rick was a waste of their time unless it was far too advanced for him. He didn't have the speed to keep up with Jason or Keyop, her accuracy or agility, or Tiny's strength. Skilled though he was, Tiny's agility, Keyop's accuracy, and her speed simply weren't a good enough combination - Rick was three years short of any of them on this sort of training, and it showed. Even though she made an effort to include him as part of the team away from training, it was always a struggle. Keyop wouldn't even try, and she was sure Rick knew it.
Now, though, with a space mission beckoning, she was deeply worried. Spectra had been quiet for the past month, and the only times they'd been out it was for things which normally would have been handled by other ISO squads. Not real missions at all, though she'd managed - just about - to keep Keyop from saying so in Rick's hearing. So, was Spectra building up to something big? Was this Mars intelligence the first hint of what they'd been doing all this time, or was it a trap? The thought of being deep underground with Rick as their backup on the Phoenix instead of Tiny, without Mark's calm logic in control, scared her more than she'd ever have admitted openly.