Lots of angst as expected and some mild language.
All BOTP characters are not mine, all the others are.
Special thanks go to Catherine and Tiylaya for beta reading.
“Mark,” Princess begged quietly.
He didn’t respond. In fact he didn’t even look at her, or anyone else. His face was completely blank. He silently made his way to the Phoenix and the others followed him in kind. Aboard the ship Mark stood in front of the view screen while the team silently took their respective seats. Mark flipped a few switches at his console. The imaged flickered, switching to a live feed from INN (Intergalactic News Network). A reporter stood in the garden outside of the ISO building making her report. The trees and plantings had taken on a strange hue of grey; the sky was a colorful but ominous gradient of yellow to blood red. The image shook and panned upward away from the reporter. The team watched the sky brighten in a flash of light as the atmospheric fires were extinguished, along with Colonel Cronus’ life.
“Tiny, take us back to Center Neptune,” Mark whispered as he grasped his chair and sat down. Tiny responded immediately without a word, afraid to say anything, watching as the storm brewed in his friend's eyes.
Chief Anderson signaled twice during the trip home, but Mark ignored the hail as he intently stared out the front view screen at nothing in particular. In an effort to reduce the conflict she was sure to come, Princess wrote the Chief a brief encoded message describing the events to prepare him.
They reached Center Neptune in about two hours. Tiny docked the great ship as smoothly as ever even if his nerves were a bit rattled. As he did so, Mark stood in preparation to disembark, silently watching the water exit the docking bay. Then he saw Anderson standing in the airlock and stiffened immediately. He is the last person I want to see right now. I hope he knows what he is doing. He squared his shoulders and prepared for the confrontation.
“Brrrrp! Welcome wagon!” Keyop stammered.
“Keyop!” Princess scolded pulling his arm hard to keep him out of Mark’s reach.
Mark acted as if he didn’t even notice. His eyes were fixed on the target of his anger. He turned, paused and said, “Good work today team,” and continued through the corridor leaving his colleagues behind.
Jason and Princess looked at each other with worry in their eyes.
Anderson, with his back straight, approached slowly and purposefully with his usual air of authority and then stopped abruptly as he saw Mark emerge from the ship alone, fists clenched at his sides. The young man's eyes that were usually a calm brilliant blue had become dark and turbulent with rage, and were boring a hole into his mentor from 30 yards away.
“Mark, I am sorry,” Anderson ventured, knowing that nothing he could say would be even remotely adequate. He caught a glimpse of the other members of the team inside the Phoenix waiting for the storm to clear.
Mark did not flinch. His thoughts were raging. Is that all you have to say?! I have very little to say to you – so if you have something to say to me, get it out, Chief, because you are not going to get another chance! He could not find his voice, instead his glare deepened.
The lack of response surprised Anderson. The silent fury was uncharacteristic and unnerving. Mark was never one to hold back, at least not in private consultations. Even in group meetings Mark had been known to lash out now and again. The team started to emerge from the Phoenix and Anderson knew his time was limited. He did not want to have this conversation in front of the others. There was too much to explain and he would inevitably reveal something that might cause the rest of the team to start asking questions he was not yet prepared to answer. “Let’s go back to my office and talk.”
“No.” Mark said firmly. “Whatever you have to say, say it here so we can all hear," he insisted loudly, aware that his colleagues were approaching behind him. "You certainly had no issues communicating with them earlier today.”
“I told them in case something happened,” Anderson soothed, hoping to keep this discussion to a minor roar as the techs began to mill about the docking bay to begin their diagnostics and preparations to the Phoenix.
“Well something did happen.” Mark bit out. His fists clenched even tighter. Control yourself, he thought.
“Mark, it may be possible that he survived. We have a rescue team in route as we speak.“ Anderson was as much trying to convince Mark as he was himself, that his long time friend was still alive.
“Is that all you have to say?” Mark probed.
The team was standing directly behind their commander in a clear show of support. No one said a word.
It felt like hours went by before Mark finally said, “Fine. You will have my report within the hour.” Mark started to walk out of the docking bay just barely brushing by the Chief. With surprising strength Anderson grabbed his arm. The Chief tried a different tactic to get Mark to talk with him, “You and I need to discuss your behavior the last few days, Commander.”
My behavior! Mark thought. Scowling, he said harshly, “Let go of me.” He tore his arm away and stormed out.
The rest of team then began to approach Anderson. You could tell by the looks on their faces that they were not sure what do next, except one.
“Way to go, Chief. You are lucky he didn’t punch you out right here. He was ready to do it, I could tell. I would have. I hope you have a good explanation for him eventually! What kind of person are you?!” Jason was nearly yelling.
“Jason, enough. When Mark is ready to talk he will. In the meantime, you will all mind your own business." Anderson glanced at his watch. It had been a long, hard couple of days and he was exhausted. The days to come were not likely to be a picnic either. The immediate threat was gone, but there would be plenty of fallout. Knowing that the team had not had an easy time of it either, he said "It’s late. We will debrief tomorrow."
“Oh yeah right, mind our own business. That’s rich coming from you. You sort of made this our business by telling us and NOT him. So don’t go telling us what to do!” Jason growled.
The rest of the team was nodding in agreement, unified in their displeasure with the Chief’s behavior. They left the docking bay together, leaving Chief Anderson standing there alone.
Mark headed for the showers. He wasn’t running, but he wasn’t exactly walking either. In fact, he felt like he might be floating. He could not wait to get out of his uniform. In addition, he wanted to get in and out of the locker room as quickly as possible. Mark knew that his team mates would want to talk, and well, he just didn’t feel like it.
Jason will probably be pissed at me for not knocking the Chief on his ass when I really wanted to and probably wouldn’t be sent to the brig for doing it. Princess will want to know if I am mad at her, which I am not. I just couldn’t muster up the energy to say anything. Keyop and Tiny, well, they will be concerned but hungry. So nothing to worry about there. Just Jason and Princess. They will want to talk, and talk, and talk, and talk.
He reached the locker room de-transmuted, stripped off his civvies, and took a hot shower almost scalding his skin. The pain took some of the edge away. He was still in the shower when the boys reached the locker room. Fortunately, they quietly took their showers. Mark was drying off and putting on a pair of jeans when Jason stepped out of the shower. Jason, please. Not now, Mark implored with his eyes.
“I'm not going to pressure you, man. Just know this. We all support you 100%. Anderson is an asshole. When you are ready to talk to us about it, we’ll be here. In the meantime, we will stay out of your way…unless you give us some indication that you want us to do otherwise. “
Mark sort of smiled back and nodded his head, appreciative that his team was behind him. Given the circumstances, it was more than he expected or to his thinking, deserved. He quickly finished getting dressed and was out of the locker room before Keyop and Tiny could catch up with him.
Mark arrived at his office down the hall and locked the door behind him. “Ah, sanctuary” he said with a heavy sigh. He sat down at his terminal and started his report. Just the facts and nothing extra. This report will not be a memoir or something the media will eat up when all of these files are released publicly. This is none of their damn business. This will be the shortest report the Chief has ever received from me. I can just see him sending it back for more details! Well forget it, ‘cause you aren’t getting any more! He was practically pounding on the keyboard.
Done. Attach. Send - to SC.Michael.Anderson@fed.iso.gov
He sat there with his face in his hands. Why? Why didn’t either of you tell me! No wonder the Colonel treated me like a child all the time. To him I was his child. Bastard! Yet we were friends and I enjoyed his company. It is so confusing. I am torn between anger and remorse. Now he is gone and I never once got a chance to tell him anything important. All I ever did was complain about my father to Cronus or try to convince him that my father was still alive. Yeah, that is kind of funny now, in a sick kinda way. Convince him, huh?
He left mom and me at the worst possible time. She needed him. I needed him. I bet Anderson forced him to come back for the funeral. “I knew your father, Mark…”. What a load of crap!
Who is going to tell his wife and kids on Riga? I have a close relationship with them, but I sure as hell don’t want to tell them. Timothy and Sandra – they have had Cronus as a father their whole life. Why could he be a father to them and not to me? I mean Sandra is what, 10 years old? I am almost 21. I can just hear it now. His explanation. I did it to protect you and your mother. How’s that work? Why did he need to protect my mother and I? Why would we be in danger and not them? Did he actually leave my mother for Tiffany? Ok, this line of thought is not going anywhere good. So drop it.
And Anderson, how many times could he have told me. Thousands! I have the highest security clearance (or do I?), but I can't be trusted with information about my father? It makes no sense. Ok maybe when I was a kid, but I haven’t been a kid in a long time. What else is Anderson holding back from me, from all of us? I am so pissed at him and can’t even think straight.
I have got to get out of here. I need some time to think and re-evaluate things, re-evaluate my life, what life I have anyway. I have just barely processed practically killing Princess along those damn flowers.
I don’t blame her at all. If she hadn’t said it, one of the others would have, I am sure. She knows how I feel; I mean did feel, about this whole father thing. Now I have to deal with finding my father and losing him all in the same day. And losing a friend.
He just sat staring at the walls, thoughts swirling in his head.
They want me to be strong, but as this war continues I feel I am losing myself more and more each day. So much death and anger. I need vacation, a leave of absence, I …need… to be… alone.
He went back to the terminal and found the forms link. He downloaded the “Leave of Absence” form and began to fill it in. The top part was easy – name, rank, mailstop, extension. The bottom was a bit harder – reason for request. Ok, how to phrase this so that the Security Council will approve it? Blah Blah blah, I do my duty unendingly. Type type type. I have neither requested nor received a vacation in two and half years. Damn, has it been that long? Type type type. I would like to request a one week leave of absence. Not too long to cause alarm, but long enough for some peace and quiet.
Attach. Send – to Security.Council.Admin@fed.iso.gov
Mark sat there a while longer and eventually dozed off with his head on the desk.
The next morning a knock on the door startled Mark to alertness. He rubbed his eyes and tried to adjust to the early morning artificial light coming through the artificial window. Shit, what time is it? He got up, unlocked the door, opened it and came face to face with Anderson. Great way to start your morning.
Chief Anderson handed him a piece of paper. “The Council received your request. Request denied.” He continued calmly, “I also received your report. It is a bit on the short side, but acceptable. There is still no sign of Cronus in the wreckage, but we are still looking. We have not given up hope.” Anderson just stood there waiting for a response.
“Denied, huh? I have never asked for anything. I make one request and it is denied.” He was looking right through Anderson with blood boiling behind those sky-blue eyes as he crumpled up the piece of paper and shoved it in his pocket.
“Actually, I told them to deny it. They wanted to let you go. I had the deciding vote.”
“Why am I not surprised?” Mark asked rhetorically as he leaned against the door frame, hands in his pockets.
This is not going the way I hoped. Tugging at his glasses, Anderson said, “Mark, you and I need to sit down and have a serious discussion about this. We can not afford to have you going off somewhere alone, again. It is a security risk. Things are in a fragile state right now and your identity may have been compromised. You said so yourself in your report. The Federation needs G-force at full strength.”
“And under control,” Mark said coldly.
There was a long pause as the two men just stared at each other. Anderson continued, carefully, “We will debrief at 11:00 AM. The Security Council will likely debrief later in the afternoon. As soon as I know, I will contact you.” Mark just nodded ever so slightly and pushed himself away from the door frame he was leaning on.
Mark went to the shuttle bay and took the first shuttle to the mainland. He arrived on the mainland, found his motorcycle and took off without looking back. At his airfield Mark went straight to the hanger, ignoring the broken window and chair on the front stoop of his shack. He walked to the corner of the hanger and tugged at the large tarp to uncover an old one seater plane, fully restored.
“Well baby, it's just you and me today.” Mark said, admiring his handiwork. She had been a wreck when he bought her three years ago with his first real paycheck from the ISO, but now she was an airworthy sparkling, sleek silver beauty with a black stripe down the side. Good thing I have been using all my spare money to put you in good shape. If Princess only knew…
“I know what you are thinking. Where is that other fancy plane? She’s not here, and I am not sure when she is coming back…” he said as he gently rubbed his hand down the side of the aircraft.
He made a few adjustments, completed the pre-flight checklist, and rolled her out of the hanger. It wasn’t long before he was up among the clouds. There were still some residual smoke in the atmosphere, but it was thinning as the morning wore on. He had been up for about two hours when his communicator beeped.
“Mark, this is Princess. Please respond.”
“Mark, where are you? I know you are not at Center Neptune and you aren’t at home either, what’s left of it. Somebody really tore the place apart.” She paused. She continued to press, “Mark, are you listening?”
“I'm here, Princess. What do you want?” he said, a little more harshly than he intended.
“Uhm…. I just wanted to be sure you are OK. Keyop is planning a big brunch at the Snack J before the debrief. We would love it if you would come by.”
“No thanks Princess. I don’t feel like eating or company. … And I am sorry if I was a little harsh before, I didn’t mean to ….” He said on the verge of tears.
“Are you OK?”
Getting himself back under control, Mark managed, “Yes…Well, no. The truth is I am not sure what I am feeling right now. I just need some time to sort it out. Look, I will be in touch, OK. Don’t worry about me…” he said with his voice trailing off.
“Mark, where are you? Where are you going?” Princess said desperately. He could tell she was trying not to panic.
“Mark wait!! Ma--”
He turned off his communicator after that. He looked down at the strap on his arm and then took it off. It has been there so long, it feels strange without it. He considered putting it back on for a moment. Instead he opened the glove box and set it inside.
The gang was all at the Snack J. Jason and Tiny were seated at the counter. Keyop was pouring OJ into a pitcher behind the counter, getting ready for his big brunch he had stayed up all night planning. It was just the thing the team needed, in Keyop’s mind. Princess came out from the back with a plate full of pancakes and set them on the counter. She had a slight frown on her face.
“Is Mark coming?” Tiny asked.
“No, he is not,” she said not wanting to meet anyone’s eyes. She was trying to hold back the tears.
“Where is he?” Jason demanded.
“I don’t know. He wouldn’t tell me. He said to tell you all not to worry and that he would be back. He wouldn’t tell me where he was going either.”
“So can I start eating now?” Tiny asked as he put a pile of pancakes on his plate.
“Brrrp…wait for Mark!”
“No, Keyop. It is OK. Everyone go ahead.” Princess sighed and sat down, completely dejected.
Jason had walked around the counter and put his hands on her shoulders. “Don’t take it so hard." Princess was crying in earnest now.
“I know, but I can’t help but feel responsible for his pain, you know. And you didn’t hear him. It sounded like he wasn’t coming back. He turned off his communicator, did I tell you that? Now why would he do that if he was planning on coming back soon?”
“We need to give him some space. He was a pain in the ass this mission and I intend to make sure he knows it, but I don’t think he meant to deliberately to hurt you or any of us. He doesn't blame you, either." Princess looked Jason in the eyes, desperately wanting to believe him.
"I know you need to hear that from him not me, but it will have to do for now." Jason gave her a gentle squeeze. She had almost stopped crying now. “Let’s plan to go out to the airfield later to check on him, OK,” he offered.
“I would like that,” she stammered. “Can we spend some time cleaning his place up? I was out there this morning looking for him and the place is a disaster. Someone broke in and really tore up the place. God knows what they were looking for.”
“We’ll all come and help, Princess”, Tiny mumbled with a mouthful of pancakes.
Mark had been flying for hours. As usual flying had its calming effect on him. At first he was just flying without a course. After his second pass within sight of the airfield he headed north. He hadn’t been this way in a number of months. There had not been the time. Today, however, he was going to make time. He landed at the small airstrip outside of Crown Point, Oregon. He spoke briefly to the airstrip manager to get a key to unlock one of the hangers. Inside he retrieved an old motorcycle and headed for town.
The town had not changed much in the last several months, but why would it? It hadn’t really changed much since he was a kid. He continued through the town and out onto the quiet road up the hill. There was a very good view of the ocean here. He brought the bike to stop, climbed to the highest point on the hill and sat down in the grass. He placed a small bouquet of pink gerbera daisies that he had picked up in town in the vase.
“Hi Mom. Sorry I haven’t been to see you in a while,” Mark whispered as he gently touched the grave stone.
“Well, after years of telling you and everyone else that my father was alive I can now tell you that I was not crazy. He was alive, until yesterday.”
“I guess dad wasn’t really a commercial airline pilot, huh? Did you know this? Did you and dad discuss this? Did you know he was leaving? I remember the day he left for that flight. You seemed so upset. Then the next day Anderson came to deliver the bad news. At the time it seemed perfectly natural for Anderson to be coming to our house. Now, of course, I would have expected a representative from the airline, but at age four how was I to know? You cried some more. Then you tried to explain it to me.”
“I remember my reaction clearly. I had the temper tantrum of all temper tantrums. You eventually quit trying to calm me down. I had screamed and cried so much that my throat hurt for days. When the day of the memorial came I was silent.”
“I stayed silent for a long time after the memorial service, days melted into weeks. I remember you having a conversation with Anderson about it. He took me to one of his special ISO docs to be poked and prodded. That was fun. If I had only known that was the beginning of something else….but I digress. Reality was that I had nothing to say.”
“Then I denied the whole thing. No way was my father dead. I kept right on denying it, for another 17 years. Well, reality slapped me pretty hard in the face the last few days. “
“I remember the first time I met Cronus…at your funeral. Ok, I am not gonna go there. It’s too painful. “Mark paused from his ramblings and took a deep breath. He started to pull out the weeds from in front of her grave stone.
“I met him the second time at the Academy. He was an instructor there. I learned a lot from him. We became friends. I thought good friends. Maybe I was wrong about that…” Mark said with a twinge of anger in his voice.
“I guess I should have figured it out by myself long ago. I mean, he gave me all the clues. I just didn’t put them together. Ask me to solve a complex mathematical calculation or find a Spectran base with limited info, piece of cake. Ask me to figure out that Colonel Cronus is my father? Yeah right. I am such an idiot! I should just have that printed on my forehead to warn everybody.”
“You might want to know that he gave his life to save the planet. You might also want to know that I tried to stop him. I tried to take his place. He wouldn’t have it. I probably would have done the same, now that I have had some time to think about it. Still, that doesn’t make it any easier to take.”
“I bet they will have a big memorial built for him. Probably one on Riga too. He deserves it. Without him where would we all be? I would be dead for sure and long ago too. I have made some really stupid mistakes and he saved my ass, more than once. It’s hard to be mad at him when I think about all the things he did do for me, even if he didn’t do them as my father. “
“So here’s the thing. The lying part really bothers me. The Chief taught us not to lie, ever. " Mark closed his eyes as his fists were starting to curl in his lap. “As children we were punished anytime we were caught telling a lie. Jason and I were always getting into trouble and lying to get out of it, and that only made it worse. I finally learned my lesson when I was 13 after Jason and I practically burned the cabin down that summer. I never lied again and like the Chief I expect others not to lie to me, ever. Both Cronus and Anderson lied to me! Two people I trusted. Two people I had shared my hopes, dreams, and feelings with. How could they?!” His whole body was shaking by this point. He took a deep breath and lay down in the grass as the thoughts continued to swirl in his head.
Chief Anderson sat at his desk uncharacteristically drumming his fingers. He was not amused. He was worried. Where was Mark? The team sat silently in their usual places and positions, trying not to make eye contact with each other, all silently asking the same exact question. Uncharacteristically, Anderson waited ten minutes hoping that Mark would show up.
“Ok, then.” Anderson started while exhaling loudly, trying not to let his concern for Mark show, “Let’s go over a few mission details.” Each in turn starting with Jason discussed the previous few days. Finally, the Chief said with some hesitation, “The Security Council debrief is scheduled for 3 PM this afternoon. If Mark doesn’t show up by then, Jason, you will have to present at the Council meeting.”
The look of panic on Jason’s face was precious. “What!?” he exclaimed. “No way! I can’t do that. Mark always handles that stuff. You know I am terrible with public presentations. You do it.”
“You have no choice Jason. As second in command this duty falls to you. If Mark doesn’t return soon that may not be the last of the responsibilities that will fall to you. I will place the files you need in your personal folder on the server.”
Princess, Tiny, Keyop and Jason exchanged panicked glances as the implications of the Chief's statements were digested.
Jason groaned as he started to leave the room. As he did so Anderson said flatly, “You may want to rehearse.”
“Can this day get any worse?” Jason ranted once they were all in the hallway. Princess and Tiny snickered. “Laugh it up you two. Just remember, I can always delegate!” They laughed even harder at that.
“Look on the bright side,” Tiny put forth, “think of this as an opportunity, not a punishment. That would be a change from why you would normally have to go and present yourself to the Council!” Tiny was clinching his sides he was laughing so hard.
Jason caught up with him and smacked him over the head. “Shut up!”
Princess giggled some more. “Oh come on, it’s funny.”
“To you maybe.” Jason huffed as he headed for his office.
Mark felt his stomach give a loud rumble which woke him up. He got up and dusted himself off, then gently laid his hand on the grave stone. “Go to go, Mom. Thanks for listening, as usual. I love you. I promise I will be a better son and visit more often.” He wiped a tear from his cheek as he turned back the way he came.
When he arrived back at the airfield it was about one o’clock. Should I stay and clean up the place? Or head to the Snack J and beg for lunch? He didn’t notice the vehicle in the drive as he walked into the shack. As soon as he crossed the threshold he stopped dead in his tracks.
“What you doing here?” Mark asked.
“You missed the debrief.” Anderson replied dryly, sitting in the ragged armchair.
“Yeah I did. First time for everything.” Mark folded his arms across his chest in a manner that made the Chief think of Jason briefly. “Is that all you came here for?”
The Chief sighed. “No." Anderson found himself awkwardly at a lack for words. "In fact, that is not what I intended to say. I don’t know why I said it. I suppose I have forgotten how to really talk to you. Remember when we used to do that?”
“No, not really.“ Actually he did remember and fondly, but circumstances had changed. Mark had changed.
“You're not going to make this easy for me, are you?”
“Why should I?” Mark countered. He walked to the kitchen to see if there was anything to eat. There wasn’t anything, so he grabbed a glass of water instead. He didn’t offer the Chief one as he sat on the arm of the couch.
Anderson tugged at his glasses and stared at the floor. “Things were different then, Mark. We didn’t really know who we were dealing with. We knew that they cared little for humanity and were willing to kill to achieve their objectives. We did what we thought was prudent at the time. We lost a number of operatives that year.“ Anderson paused and cleared his throat. “Anytime an operative’s identity was compromised the family was found dead the next day. It was terrible. …. They killed my fiancée….”
Mark was shocked. Anderson was going to get married? Anderson was an intelligence operative? Anderson looked up and continued, “Don’t look so surprised. Where do you think I learned all of those lock picking skills I taught you when you were six? I was the infiltrate-and-steal-the-science-guy. I gave up the field work then and stayed in the lab. Then we heard rumors about the X3 plan and we needed to send someone to investigate. I couldn’t go. I was busy working on what was the beginning of the Phoenix project, though I didn’t know it at the time. So Kane, then Security Chief Kane, sent Dale. There was one stipulation. All field operatives had to cut ties to home as a precaution. No one liked it, but it had to be done.”
“This is supposed to make me feel better how?” Mark asked.
“I am trying to explain. We…”
Mark cut him off mid-sentence, “I am sure you had a good reason for doing it at the time. What I want to know is why you lied to me? Why you both lied to me? Repeatedly. Were you ever going to tell me?” He was clutching the glass so hard that it cracked.
“To protect you. To…” Anderson faltered.
“What a load of crap and you know it! I can protect myself. You made sure of that. So why continue the deception?”
Anderson was not sure what to say. “Because Dale asked me to.” Please don’t make me say anymore.
Mark rolled his eyes. “You have got to be kidding! Because he asked you to? This is where I pretend I’m the parent and say, if little Dale Turner asked you to jump off bridge would you do it?”
He got up off the couch and hovered over the Chief in his chair. “You just don’t get it, do you? I want the truth. Not some lame excuse. I am not a child anymore. I don’t need your protection. I don’t want your protection.”
Anderson was a little nervous with Mark hovering over him. Mark was right. He did not need protecting. I might though, Anderson thought.
With a heavy sigh, Anderson gave in, “There are a three reasons I didn’t tell you. You are not going to like any of them. The first is what I already said. He and I were like family. I gave your father my word, and even that I broke by telling the team. I know that was wrong, but what is done is done.”
“The second reason is a selfish one on my part. You had become a son to me, especially when your mother was ill. If I told you the truth I was certain that I would lose that bond to you. Of all my charges I felt the closest to you. You are the son I would never have. I raised you as best I could and I am proud of the man you have become. I knew that telling you would drive you away.” Anderson lowered his head as the last sentence faded away.
Mr. Stoic has emotions after all, Mark thought. “You still could have told me.” Mark said, a bit of the fire subsiding as he recalled some of the good times he shared with his guardian when he was a child.
“I thought about it many times, but as the years went by it got harder and harder. I started to be less concerned about my feelings and more concerned about your reaction. Not your reaction to me, but your reaction to the team and your duty. It got to the point where I knew that I could never be the one to tell you. You were trained for a specific job and you are needed to complete it.”
“Mark, I know we should have told you, “ Anderson continued. “I tried on numerous occasions to get Dale to tell you. A couple of times I think I was almost successful in convincing him, almost. He could be so stubborn.”
“Stubborn doesn’t even begin to describe him, Chief,” Mark quipped. He shifted his position slightly giving Anderson a bit more space. “You said there was a third reason?” Mark inquired.
Anderson looked up to Mark and held his gaze, choosing his words very carefully he explained, “The third, and this will be harder for you to understand…the third reason is your mother asked me not to. She never really explained why. It was the one concession I made to her in this whole affair. I owed her that much.” Let that be enough. She’s gone. He doesn’t need to know any more.
Mark blinked twice and swallowed hard at that. It was a lot to take in. “She knew?” he whispered. Mark felt as if his legs were about to crumble beneath him. His mother was the one constant in his life. He backed away from the Chief and sat down on the couch. My whole life is a lie, he thought.
After a while the Chief asked, “Mark, are you okay?” Mark had gotten very pale.
“Yeah,” he stammered. His world had been turned upside down and then flipped once more for good measure. It was going to take some time to come to terms with all of it, but there was one thing he knew for certain.
“So, I have one request if you expect to continue to have any kind of relationship with me and expect me to trust you,” Mark said regaining his composure and locking his sky-blue eyes on Anderson. “No, it is more like a demand. Never lie to me again. Ever. Not in personal matters or professional ones. Especially not professionally. I will not be responsible for my actions if someone on my team is killed because you lied to me.”
Anderson thought about this for a moment. “Mark, no one can live up to that.”
“Not acceptable, Chief. I mean it. If I have to go over your head I will. We take enough risks.” Mark was not going to back down.
Anderson hesitated and considered his limited options. It is not only the team that has been kept in the dark. There are things that even the Security Council was unaware of. What would be more of a risk, telling Mark and the team or telling the Council? Maybe Mark is ready to know more. But are the others ready? Not likely. “Agreed, under a one condition.”
Mark raised an eyebrow at that and listened carefully.
“There are things related to this war that you do not know. As you learn them, there will be times that I ask you not to share what you know with the team.”
“No way! They have a right to know everything I know.”
“Really? It seems to me that you already do this, Mark. Do you recall the mission to the Garanolas Islands? You knew what you would find there. You purposely kept Keyop on the Phoenix. You knew it would be too much for him to handle.”
“That is not the same thing.” Mark said. As soon as he said it though, he knew he was wrong. It was the same thing. Mark lowered his head and let out a slight sigh. I’m trapped, with no way out.
Anderson studied his adopted son. He could see the turmoil there. “I know this is difficult. It is part of the job, a part that I have sheltered you from to some extent. Good leaders know what information to share and when to share it. It is part of the game. It is time you learned it. Hopefully you will not make the same mistakes I have.”
Mark considered his choices and realized there were none. He was too dedicated to the job to quit over this. In fact, losing his father only cemented his feelings about bringing down Spectra and soon. Mark looked at his supervisor and guardian, a small tear escaped from his right eye as he nodded in agreement to the Chief's request. Mark's heroes had fallen from grace, and he was about to do the same.