The tiny white projectile came rushing toward him. Instinctively, he moved his arm, blocking the sphere’s progress and sending it flying back to where his opponent stood. Over and over again, back and forth, the little ball shot between the two determined men.
Finally, the challenger put a spin on his paddle’s contact with the ball, and it bounced irregularly, shooting past his opponent and hitting the wall behind.
He had won the game.
“Not bad, Commander.” Jason grinned, tossing his paddle onto the table. “It appears that you remember this game after all.”
“No.” Mark shook his head slowly. “I don’t. But I seem to have good instincts.”
It had been like this for the past four months: ever since Mark had arrived on Riga with Jason and Princess. He still couldn’t recall anything of his life before the Spectran Invasion of Earth, but he had learned to rely upon the instinctive reactions he had to various people, objects, and situations. These instincts had so far always proven correct, and by tapping into them he had been able to regain his combat, weapon, piloting, and Birdstyle flying skills.
And now, it would seem, his ping pong skills as well.
“My champion!” Princess sighed dramatically, throwing her arms around Mark’s neck and pressing her lips against his cheek.
“I just hope that you don’t forget me when all of those ping pong groupies start throwing themselves at your feet, in awe of your superior skill.” she joked.
“There are ping pong groupies?” Jason exclaimed with a smirk. “Let them in!”
Andie, sitting in the corner of the room with a book, groaned loudly, while Tiny rolled his eyes as he reached for a Spaceburger.
“I could never forget you.” Mark told Princess seriously, his eyes connecting with hers in a way that told the Swan that he meant every word.
And he did.
There were so many things that he had forgotten about his past life, but the memories he missed the most were those of Princess. And yet, in a way, he hadn’t forgotten her. When he had been nameless, wandering through Paris in search of anyone who could help him, he had come across Princess.
She had looked different then. Her red hair and brown eyes had changed her appearance dramatically, but somehow, deep down, he had recognized her, and had been drawn to her; subconsciously seeing their connection long before either of them had known who they truly were.
And she had recognized him as well.
It had come as a complete surprise to Mark when, shortly after their arrival on Riga, Chief Anderson had drawn him aside, inquiring about the exact nature of his relationship with Princess.
“We’re together.” Mark had shrugged, confused as to why the question was even being asked. It had taken a conversation with Jason to understand.
Apparently, in this past that Mark was so desperate to remember, the Chief had strongly advised against the Commander’s having a relationship with his subordinate, and the Eagle had acted accordingly. It had only been in France, with his memories gone, that Mark had been able to ignore those admonitions from the Galaxy Security Chief and act on his true feelings; his true instincts.
And there was no way in hell he was going to back off now.
Anderson had seemed to understand that, and had made no further comment, but Mark had noticed that it made the Chief uncomfortable if he and Princess showed any signs of affection, physical or emotional, in front of their foster father.
Of course, that didn’t stop them.
“I could never forget you either, Mark.” Princess said softly, pressing a lingering kiss onto his mouth as he wrapped his arms around her waist. As always, the taste of her was intoxicating, leaving him breathless and eager for more.
And there might have been more, if he hadn’t heard the sounds of clapping and whistling from the other side of the room.
Mark and Princess reluctantly pulled apart from each other, Mark grinning from ear to ear and Princess blushing quietly. Jason, Tiny, and Andie were smiling, and for just a moment, it was easy to pretend that life was perfect.
But in fact, their existence was far from perfect.
They were standing in the new G-Force Ready Room, or at least, what had been hastily put together for them. A few empty rooms had been found in an older, unused building, and this structure had become their new living quarters, with this last chamber being converted into a lounge for their use. Somewhere, Chief Anderson had managed to scrounge up a ping pong table, and had acquired a guitar-like instrument for Princess. A few computer terminals, stacks of books and magazines, and a couple of couches completed the room.
“You Terrans certainly have some interesting games.” Andie commented dryly.
“As a matter of fact, I’m Spectran.” Jason pointed out. “And Mark is as Rigan as you are. Tiny and Princess are the only Terrans here.”
“Really?” Andie was as surprised as Mark was to learn these details. “I didn’t know that!”
“My parents were Spectran defectors.” Jason told her. “They were killed trying to pass important information on to Chief Anderson.”
Mark felt an involuntary flash of jealousy pass through him. He wished that he could remember these kinds of details about his own past. But then he realized the implications of what Jason had said about him.
“I’m Rigan?” he asked curiously.
“Yeah.” Jason replied carefully. “Princess didn’t tell you?”
“I… I never thought about it, until just now,” Princess chewed absentmindedly on a fingernail as she recalled the details. “Mark, your father was Colonel Cronus.”
“You mean, as in Cronus Memorial Field?” The Commander goggled at this news. “All of this time, we’ve been flying out of…” His voice drifted off as he recognized what this meant for him.
“My father is dead.” Mark stated, coming to grips with the realization that the parent he had just discovered was gone. He looked hopefully at Princess. “What about my mother?”
“She died when you were seven.” Princess revealed. “It was some kind of cancer. I’m sorry, Mark. That’s all I know about it.” The Swan wrapped her arms around the Eagle, comforting him as best she could. It was exactly the right thing to do. Even as Mark mourned the family he couldn’t recall, the warmth of the woman beside him filled that void, overflowing to envelop him completely.
“We were all chosen to be on the G-Force Team, because we were orphans.” Tiny explained. “The Chief didn’t want anyone coming after our families in an attempt to get to us. None of us, including you, Mark, even knew that Colonel Cronus was your father, until years later.”
“If it helps,” Andie said quietly, “I think that makes us family.”
“What?” Mark turned to regard the Harrier. “How’s that?”
“My mother was Thom Cronus’ cousin.” Andie explained. “In fact, it was my ‘famous relative’ who convinced me to make a career out of the Red Rangers. I guess that makes us… second cousins?”
“Pretty distant, if you ask me.” Jason observed.
“But still a family relationship.” Mark replied. “Thanks, Andie. It makes me feel better, knowing that.”
“Me too.” Andie smiled briefly, before looking back down at her book, her cheeks reddening. Mark was surprised to see her so flustered. Usually the Harrier was calm and collected: the picture of an unflappable officer. With sudden insight, Mark understood what was different about this situation. The Harrier was the ‘new’ member of the Team, and it was likely that she was still feeling like an outsider. Discovering that she was related to the Commander made her feel more like part of their group… their ‘family’.
Or it could be something else entirely.
Mark noticed that Jason had gone over to Andie’s seat, surreptitiously peering over her shoulder at the book she was perusing. The Harrier appeared to be completely engrossed in her reading material, but somehow her body positioning was such that it was extremely difficult for the Condor to accomplish his objective. Mark smirked to himself. If there was one thing he was certain of, it was that Jason would not find Andie to be a pushover in any situation. The Commander glanced at the woman by his side, noting that Princess was watching the scene with a soft smile on her face.
The Eagle was just about to say something to her when his communicator began to beep. Four other bracelets in the room echoed the sound, and everyone turned to look at their Commander. Mark nodded curtly, raising his left wrist to his mouth and answering for the entire Team.
“Team, assemble and launch the P2. I will brief you onboard.” came Chief Anderson’s voice.
“Acknowledged. Over and out.”
The Eagle looked at his Team. No one needed to be told that this was not a drill. The nature of the message was enough to put them all on alert.
“Let’s go.” Mark ordered, and in an instant they were all running to the P2 Docking Bay.