Rebuilding by jublke
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Disclaimer:  This is a work of fan-fiction.  Battle of the Planets is the property of Sandy Frank by way of Tatsunoko.  No profit was gained by writing this story.   

I would like to tip my hat to those BotP fan-fiction writers who came before me, particularly Jane Lebak and Catherine Rees Lay, who showed me that saving Jason's life was possible.  Special thanks to Nancy Tang, Catherine Rees Lay, Becky Rock, and John Kelsey for beta-reading.  Any remaining errors are mine. 

This story is set not long after the end of the BotP series and is second in my Fall and Rise of the Condor series.  It's rated 13+ for mild swearing and one item sure to make Zark blush. 

Keyop lay with his head on the floral cushion and his feet on the arm of the white wicker sofa. A comic book was propped open on his lap, but Keyop was watching the clock.  It's almost time, he thought.

Maybe the others didn't find it strange that Jason headed off for points unknown at the same time every afternoon, but Keyop knew better. Sometimes Jason came back winded, sometimes angry, often sullen. Whatever he was doing, it didn't seem to be aiding his recovery.

The Chief would tell me to leave him alone, Keyop thought.  Tiny would just stare at me. And Mark would feed me some line about Jason needing time alone to work things out.  But time alone didn't help him before. I know something's wrong.

It wasn't that Jason was disagreeable. In fact, since his surgery, Jason's mood had largely improved. The deepened scowl, the one Keyop had thought was a fixture of Jason's personality, had softened into a determined stare. Whether this was the result of improved health or heavy doses of painkillers, Keyop wasn't sure, but two things he knew for certain: Jason had been sick for a long time and he was feeling much better now.

Keyop couldn't even think of Jason without growing angry. Before things became ugly, before it became obvious to everyone that Jason was ill, Keyop had nursed his suspicions. Maybe it was the way Jason would stand off to one side at practice, drawing his wings around himself protectively. Or perhaps it was that Jason had quit playing ping-pong with Mark during their off-hours. Maybe it hadn't been anything concrete, but Keyop had known something wasn't right.

He had tried talking to the others, but their answers were always the same.  Princess would calmly reassure him that Jason was just tired; Mark would agree with her and tousle his hair. Then Tiny would chime in with something like, "Jason's just being Jason," and all four would laugh. Keyop would always drop the subject quickly. He had wanted to believe them so badly.

I was stupid! Keyop thought bitterly.  Jason wasn't just being himself. He was really sick. I was right!  But I didn't do anything about it and Jason almost died. Well, it won't happen again.

Keyop heard Jason coming down the stairs and pressed his nose deeper into the book. He didn't look up when Jason said good-bye. But as soon as he thought he could follow without getting caught, Keyop slipped out the door and followed his teammate outside.

Keyop paused long enough to notice the gentle island breeze, faintly carrying the aroma of sea salt and fish. He admired a puffy white cloud drifting lazily in the brilliant azure sky. The view made Keyop wish he could draw landscapes as easily as he could sketch animals.

The villa was only a mile from the beach and Keyop suspected that was where Jason was headed. The Chief was convinced that the remote location was secure and would provide a healthier environment for Jason's recovery than the bowels of Center Neptune. Keyop wasn't so sure.

I want to believe there's no other reason for us being here, but I just don't know what to think any more.  Keyop sighed in frustration.  How can I believe anything the Chief says?

Back when Keyop was a toddler, scientists at Center Neptune had identified the problem with the implants that caused damage to Keyop's frontal lobe and impaired his ability to speak. After a series of tests (and a heated debate by the ethics board of Galaxy Security), the Chief had declared that the implants were safe. But the damage to his reputation was permanent. It was only in the last few years, after war with Spectra was imminent, that the Chief had been given permission to re-start the G-Force program and officially oversee the training of his young charges.  If Galaxy Security *really* knew what was going on with Jason ...  Keyop shook his head.

Most employees of Center Neptune, including many who knew the complete job descriptions of the station's premier physicist and his renegade son, believed the rumor that Jason was undergoing detox for drug and alcohol abuse.  Jason's going to have a fit when he hears that one, Keyop thought.  And who started the rumor, anyway?  Keyop winced just thinking about it.  Could the Chief have sunk so low?

The Anderson family was supposedly rallying around Jason at their seaside retreat now that his treatment program was over. According to Mark, even the high-ranking officials in Galaxy Security who knew Jason had recently undergone brain surgery didn't realize it was implant-related.

Constant reassurances from both 7-Zark-7 and the Chief had convinced everyone that the implants were functioning as designed. The Chief had gone to great lengths to keep Jason's current condition a secret. His reason, as he explained to the team, was that any flaw in the implants could be exploited by their enemy. It wasn't safe for Jason or the rest of G-Force for anyone else to know the truth, he argued.

But Keyop knew the real reason for the deception: to prevent any further delays to the G-Force recruit and training program. Chief Anderson, once shamed, was now enjoying his newfound status as the savior of mankind.

It's all built on lies! Keyop thought angrily.  The implants aren't safe.  First me, now Jason. Who's next?

Keyop struggled to push the thought aside. He hopped on his bike, but he had to pedal slowly to avoid overtaking Jason. The latter was walking along a sandy strip of road, head bowed, with a backpack slung across one shoulder. After a few minutes of riding, Keyop ducked behind a tree and leaned across the bicycle's handlebars to watch Jason from a distance.

Why won't he show up for practice? Keyop wondered.  The Chief gave him a clean bill of health over a week ago.

Officially, Keyop knew, Jason was following the Chief's orders: Take it easy for the next few weeks and build your strength gradually. Time for real training, the Chief had added, will come soon enough. We've been through so much recently. Let's enjoy our time together as a family.

But Keyop was uneasy about it. Was the Chief doing what was in Jason's best interest or his own?  Did he expect Jason to recover or not?  No one knew when Zoltar would strike next.  No one, not even the Chief, knew how Jason would perform with the repaired implant.  And Galaxy Security had made it abundantly clear that Jason could not go back on active duty until he passed the yearly exam.

The yearly exam was usually little more than a showcase of individual talents.  If asked, even Jason would admit that it was fun. Each team member was expected to present a short program for the review board that would highlight his or her specialized skills. Competition between the G-Force members for the most dramatic presentation was fierce. Last year, Jason had dived from the bubble of the Phoenix to land in the already moving G-2. Then he had put the car through its paces while he shot at targets (mostly photos of Zoltar, but Keyop remembered a few blow-ups of key Galaxy Security members) and threw shuriken that exploded into fireworks. It had been quite a display.

This year, the Chief had explained, things would be different. Since this was a special test given to examine the thoroughness of Jason's recovery, no theatrics would be tolerated. Jason would be expected to complete the standard exam given to all Galaxy Security personnel with a level G clearance, including but not limited to weaponry, agility, speed, hand-to-hand combat, and acrobatics. If Jason failed in any of these categories, he would be placed on suspension. Keyop remembered the stunned silence in the ready room when the Chief made the announcement. The Chief had been quick to point out that this wasn't a punishment, but rather an opportunity for Jason to continue training until he had regained his strength.  Then, the Chief had continued, looking grim, if Jason failed the test again after an additional month's time, he would lose his G clearance. No explanation was necessary; everyone understood that if this happened, Jason would be off the team permanently. Keyop remembered that Jason had exited the room quickly after the meeting and wasn't seen for the rest of the day.  He tried to forget the impromptu introduction that followed, when the remaining members of G-Force formally met their replacement G-2, on loan from the Rigan Red Rangers.

Dude.  Keyop could remember their new member barking commands like he was in charge. Even now, Keyop could hear Tiny's voice whispering, "Just who does that dude think he is?" For Keyop, Darien the Falcon would always be Dude.

Keyop loathed the idea of having to work with Dude again. Once had been enough.  Dude had demanded a detailed explanation of each procedure, making everything take twice as long.

No problem, Keyop thought, if he'd just keep his mouth shut.  Dude's boastful commentary, outlining his plans to improve G-Force standard operating procedures, still rang in Keyop's ears.

The memory added to Keyop's general uneasiness about Jason's readiness for the upcoming exam.  Jason might spar for a while or stay for target practice, but he never completes full combat or aerials, Keyop thought.  And I'm going to find out why.

Abruptly, Jason veered left and headed for the beach at a dead run. Keyop had to pedal furiously to catch up to him. The grassy knoll gave way to dark, jagged rock formations, remnants of ancient lava flows common to this part of the island. Keyop abandoned the bicycle behind a large rock and crept after Jason on foot.

His quarry paused at the edge of a cliff. The view was exquisite; the white sand below the jagged black rocks gave way to undulating aquamarine swells and ended in a deep blue sky. Jason appeared to be studying the scenery before him.  Keyop crouched behind the nearest rock to watch his teammate.

As Jason took in the surroundings, Keyop watched him with growing concern.  The cliffs on this part of the island are high enough ...  Keyop swallowed and forced himself to finish the thought.  High enough for Jason to try to kill himself.

Keyop was ready to leap from his hiding place when he noticed the open book at Jason's feet. Even at a distance, Keyop recognized the pages immediately.

Our aerials manual, Keyop thought.  So that's what he's doing out here.  He's practicing drills.

Keyop watched with fascination as Jason began his workout. After some gentle stretching, Jason worked though some basic maneuvers. The moves were so familiar that the team rarely practiced them any more. Keyop found it was like watching a movie, reliving a distant memory of Jason. His mind began to drift back in time.

* * *

Aerial maneuvers were hard for everyone, but somehow Jason always mastered them first. For that reason, the Chief usually let Jason lead training sessions, a decision that rankled Mark as much as it delighted Jason.

Keyop remembered one day in particular. Jason stood with his hand on his hip, impatiently tapping his foot as Keyop prepared to jump from the high dive. "Come on, Keyop, what's the hold up?"

Keyop gritted his teeth, shut his eyes and leapt from the diving board. The goal was to complete a back flip and land in a crouched position on the padded gymnasium floor. The rest of the team, Tiny included, had managed to land the maneuver. This was Keyop's third attempt.

After yet another belly flop, Princess ran over and offered Keyop a hand.  "Here, let me help you," she said.

"Urp ... um ... no," Keyop stuttered.  "I can ... do it ... myself."

Jason sighed and turned away. "The kid's never gonna get it. Let's pack it in for the day."

Mark stood up then and said something to put Jason in his place. Tiny intervened to prevent a fight, and an uneasy truce was reached before the Chief called them to lunch.

But after lunch, Jason took Keyop aside. "Come here," he commanded, pulling his younger teammate by the arm.

"But ... but I was ..." Keyop stammered. He tried not to hyperventilate. The look on Jason's face was severe.

Jason glared at him and Keyop followed in silence. The little boy's imagination ran wild. Jason seldom spoke to him during training. After the fiasco that morning, Keyop braced himself for the verbal tirade that was sure to follow.

It was no surprise that Keyop found himself back in the gymnasium. Jason pointed at the stairs to the high dive. Keyop stared at Jason with alarm. The bruises on his back and arms were already starting to swell.

"Don't look at me like that," Jason growled. "I'm going to help you."

Keyop was even more surprised when Jason followed him up the ladder.

"All right," Jason remarked when they reached the top. "I want you to climb on to my back and hold on." Jason knelt down. The older boy waited until Keyop was settled, with both arms wrapped tightly around Jason's shoulders, before continuing. "Use your knees to grab my chest, okay?"

Keyop nodded. But when Jason spread his arms out to prepare for the jump, Keyop began to tremble. Much to Keyop's surprise, Jason started to laugh.

"All right." Jason patted Keyop's arm reassuringly. "If you're that scared, we'll start like this."

Jason brought his arms back toward his body and tucked his elbows at his sides to pin Keyop's legs. Before Keyop realized what was happening, Jason leapt from the board.

"Okay, Keyop," Jason was talking in a soothing tone, as if this were merely a stroll through the halls of Center Neptune, "the first thing you need to remember is to keep your eyes open." Keyop cracked open one eye to a world spinning upside down. "That's important because you need to know where you are in the air."

Suddenly, Keyop found himself right side up. Jason set him down and grinned at him. "Congratulations on your first successful back flip."

* * *

The memory made Keyop smile. Many impromptu training sessions followed, so many that Keyop lost count. Jason wasn't much for giving detailed instruction, but he was great at identifying problems with Keyop's form. Over time, Keyop learned to mimic his style. Jason never mentioned the lessons to the rest of the team and Keyop didn't either. Long after Keyop gained enough confidence to master aerials alone, he and Jason continued to train together.

Until ...  Keyop found his cheeks burning again.  I knew, damn it, he thought bitterly.  I knew when he quit training with me.

Something about Jason's stance caught Keyop's eye and brought his attention back to the present. Jason was staring at him, arms folded.

"Well, what have we here?" Jason looked at Keyop with a sardonic grin.

"Urp ... uh ... um," Keyop stammered and started to back away.

Jason lunged to tackle him, but Keyop jumped quickly to the side. Laughing, the little boy ran past Jason to the rocky ledge and jumped easily to the soft sand below. Sticking out his tongue, Keyop yelled up to Jason, "Have to catch me!"Keyop fully expected to hear Jason in full pursuit. When his teammate didn't give chase, Keyop slowed his pace and turned back to look. Jason was standing at the top of the precipice, his face somber. When he noticed Keyop watching him, Jason jumped off the ledge.

Jason's posture in the air was so awkward that Keyop stopped running and stared.  He couldn't believe what he was seeing: the Condor rigid and uncomfortable in flight.

His timing is off, Keyop thought with a frown.

His timing is off!  The implication hit suddenly, like a fist.  Jason can't land his aerials. That's why he won't come to practice.  Keyop stood riveted, horrified as he realized what was about to happen.

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