"This is the stupidest mission ever," Jason muttered as he fitted the drill attachment to his cablegun. "He's having a laugh. I don't believe he's lost the keys. I don't even believe there's anything important in here."
"Just drill the darn safe, G-2." Mark agreed with everything his second had said, but he had his orders. Very explicit orders. Someone extremely close to Zoltar wanted to defect, and he was to be humoured in every detail.
Mark was starting to wonder whether Anderson knew something he wasn't telling. And Cronus. This planet was far closer to Riga than to Earth. He'd thought it slightly odd at the time that G-Force had been given this mission, not the Red Rangers. Within three minutes of meeting the man they were here to extract, he'd needed every ounce of his self-control not to ignore his orders, sling the annoying little man over his shoulder, and just leave.
Danquana was a sufficiently famous style guru that even Mark had vaguely heard of him. Princess had gasped and held her hands to her face on learning who they were to rescue, apparently unable to decide whether to be overawed at meeting him or horrified that he'd been working for Spectra. She was with him now, helping him to pack up 'crucial' designs and 'priceless' prototype costumes to be worn by Zoltar and his mecha captains. Mark was only still here at all because, given that the captains generally wore something associated with the mecha design they flew, it might conceivably give them some insight into the type of craft they'd be facing in the future.
Still, he'd expected the man to do his packing before they had arrived. His opinion of fashion designers had never been high, and this little twerp wasn't improving it. 'Textile engineer' indeed. Keyop, who took his position as the team's engineer extremely seriously, had been sufficiently apoplectic at hearing that one that Mark had sent him back to the Phoenix before Danquana decided working for Zoltar wasn't so bad after all.
Jason's drill whined as it cut into the hardened steel. The safe might be painted baby pink, but it appeared to be just as secure as a standard grey one. Mark had always hated the sound, and was concentrating so hard on ignoring it he almost missed the bleeping of his bracelet.
It was Tiny. "Is there a problem? You've been ages!"
"Patience, G-5," Mark snapped, and promptly felt guilty. It wasn't Tiny he wanted to yell at. "Small delay. Nothing to worry about."
He sighed to himself, willing the drill to hurry. Intelligence were sure there was nobody else here, wouldn't be for hours yet, but even so he'd be happier when they were back on the Phoenix.
Finally the grating whine of the drill stopped, leaving Mark with the urge to scrub his teeth. Jason holstered his gun and pulled the door open. "I don't believe it!"
It was, indeed, empty.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," the most annoying voice in the world said from the bedroom doorway. "I guess I did put my papers somewhere else after all. Yes, I had them after I lost the keys. I remember. Now let me think --"
Mark shut his eyes and counted to five, reminding himself how much paperwork there would be if he throttled the man. He sincerely hoped Jason was doing the same.
"Oh," Jason said blandly. "That's unfortunate. I set the timed charges to go off in ten minutes. I'm sorry, it looks like we'll have to leave without --"
"I've just remembered I put them under the mattress." Danquana didn't sound at all perturbed, but he did scurry away in some haste back into the bedroom, trailing an assortment of pastel multicoloured scarves from his left arm. The right one was bare except for an assortment of glittery jewelry. The visual effect was quite astonishing.
Princess emerged from the bedroom with two of the largest suitcases Mark had ever seen, and actually rolled her eyes. So it wasn't just his prejudices, he noted. Princess liked fashion design. Princess had volunteered to look after Danquana during the rescue mission. Princess was, he suspected, regretting it.
Thank you, he signed to his second. Timed charges?
Jason grinned and shrugged. As Mark had thought. They'd blow this place up with a single missile once they were away. No need to leave signs that they'd actually gone in and extracted anyone.
"Are we ready to go?" he asked out loud. "Mr Danquana, it's unsafe for us to stay any longer."
There was no reply, but a figure emerged from the bedroom clutching a sheaf of papers, and Mark had to call on all his self-control not to laugh. Danquana's coat was purple and iridescent, with random slits through which a furry orange fabric peeped. Not only that, but it had clearly been intended for a much taller man. The sleeves almost completely covered his hands, and the back of the coat trailed on the floor.
Remember, he may have important information. Mark steeled himself and called upon years of training to keep his voice steady. "Let's go." He headed for the door, relieving Princess of one of the suitcases on the way.
"Must we really leave already? I haven't said goodbye, and it's almost time for tea --"
"You heard the Condor. The charges blow in a few minutes. We need to be well clear before that happens. It's for your own safety."
Danquana hesitated, looked round, found Jason directly behind him and advancing, and started walking.
"Thank heavens for fiery Phoenix," Jason sighed as they waited on the flight deck for Princess to get back from making their guest comfortable in the shielded safety of sickbay. "It's been a long time since I've been that tempted to hit someone and not done it. I was afraid you were going to tell him he could come in here until we went to jump."
"Not likely," Mark said. His jaw hurt from trying not to laugh - and besides, he didn't want anyone who had ever worked for Spectra in here, even if he was unlikely to know the difference between a radar screen and a fuel gauge. "Princess! How's our friend?"
"Talkative," she said shortly, heading to her seat. "Can you believe, he asked me if we had tea? On here? He was quite put out when I told him no. What does he think this is, a pleasure cruise? I came this close to hitting him."
"See, it's not just me," Jason said.
"He likes birdstyle, though," she continued, a glint of humour in her eye. "But not our colour schemes. White is too stark for you, apparently, Commander. He thinks you should have a touch of pink. Or was it orange? And a touch more, what did he say, flippancy to the wings. To add character."
Jason spluttered helplessly. Tiny appeared to be beyond even that, waving his arms and completely failing to make any coherent sound.
"But he thinks Jason has a better body shape. If you ever want to be a male model, you should give him a call. I have the details for you right here." She displayed a card to the near-hysterical team. Pink and orange featured predominantly.
"And then --"
"Please can we just go home?" Jason begged. "I want to forget today ever happened as soon as possible."
"Next male supermodel!" Keyop choked between sobs of laughter. Jason just dropped his head into his hands.
"Home," Mark said. "Is he secure?" He didn't trust his voice for more than that.
"Then sound off." He considered his self-control, and decided it was good enough. "The fate of the galaxy may depend on knowing what Zoltar's favourite fabric is, you know."
Tiny groaned, holding his ribs. "I have this image --"
The rest of the team howled in protest, and it was a good ten minutes before the Phoenix lifted off and headed for orbit.