Battle of the Planets belongs to Sandy Frank Productions. I've borrowed it for fun, not profit.
Thanks to my husband for beta-reading.
And there are a couple of things you might like to know:
Rumours of Death is, of course, a reference to that well-used quote about them being greatly exaggerated. What you may not know is that it's also the title of a Blake's 7 episode. (And if you've never seen Blake's 7, I heartily recommend it, 70s special effects and all). Suffice it to say that in the episode in question, our "hero" discovers that his lady friend, far from being captured and killed by the bad guys, was in fact working for them, set him up, and is very much alive. But the rumours of death aren't just about her. They're also about him, and as he says, they were only slightly exaggerated. Psychologically he's never the same again.
There are two bits of BotP canon which I have trampled horribly in making my AU:
1) I must have misheard this one when I first saw it, but I was only about 10. Bear with me. For this to work, you have to reassign one line of dialog in "G-Force Defector". Imagine it's not Mark who says that he couldn't get close to Don and he and Jason really didn't get along, it's Anderson. I was horrified when I finally got the DVDs and discovered this huge spanner in the workings of my backplot, but it's at least 20 years too late to fix it.
2) Cronus didn't give Mark to Anderson to bring up, but to Anderson's equivalent in my universe's ISO Russia - Colonel Ivanov. The whole "trained from birth" thing always seemed more Russian than American to me.
This is the story of G-Force's first space mission, back before they knew Spectra even existed, and is set approx. one year before the start of the TV series.
"What, again? What was wrong with the last one?" I certainly didn't want to do yet another simulator dry run, but Jason was the only one prepared to say so.
Anderson's voice, even over the communication system, was as implacable as usual. "You can take ten seconds off that time. One day, you might need to. Re-initialise and do it again."
"Okay, guys. Can we please get it right this time? I'm sick and tired of this drill." Jason shifted in his seat in the cockpit simulator, waiting for the screens to come up with the new set of launch data.
I stared at my screens in disbelief, mentally running through my pre-flight checks. I had no idea how I was going to cut anything off the time I'd been taking. I was concentrating so hard, in fact, that I almost missed the screens lighting up for the start of the next run. Fortunately my reflexes took over. We'd done this so many times in the past few months that my hands were initialising the requisite tests without the need for conscious thought.
Those were impossibly fast. I'd barely initialised all my tests, and they took time to run. I sat there feeling useless and slow for the apparent eternity until they completed. I knew the timing down to a fraction by now, and had taken the breath to call "G-3" when I stopped dead at the results the tests had produced. Console working normally, all interfaces to the Phoenix's systems fine, radio fine. Red lights all over the place on the jump-comm.
I swore inwardly and called the dreaded "pass" as I reinitialised the test and every additional check I could think of. Not that I really believed it would work second time round. There would be a problem in there somewhere which I was supposed to be able to fix. And as I heard "G-4" I knew they were all waiting on me.
Nothing I could do would make the last red light go away. Had it been for real, I'd have been under the console looking for shorts or failed connections. In the simulator we were explicitly banned from doing this, as under there the systems weren't the same as on the real thing. The simulator was far too expensive to really do physical damage to for training purposes, the controllers simulated it in software. I was out of options.
"Commander, I have a failure on the jump-comm transmitter."
Jason didn't even hesitate. "Abort."
"Oh, what? Come off it!" Don sounded completely disgusted - he probably didn't fancy yet another test run either. "Abort with a fault on the radio?"
"Damn straight. No point launching if we can't communicate. And she said jump-comm, not radio."
"She'd be able to fix it. Wouldn't you, Princess?"
I glared at Don. This sort of championing I could do without. "I don't know. I couldn't with the initial checks. For all I know right now, they simulated someone stealing the transmitter. It could be something I can't fix in flight."
"Precisely." Anderson had come into the simulator, signifying the end of the session. "Had G-1 called anything else, I'd be cancelling the launch slot I've arranged for tomorrow morning." He handed Jason the brown envelope we'd come to recognise as containing a flight plan - a real one, not the endless simulations - and walked out.
"Bets?" asked Don as usual, thankfully no longer on my case.
"Sub-orbital," groaned Tony. "Probably taking in that crutty weather in northern Canada."
Jason winced. "Better hadn't be. I reckon it'll be a full launch. We're due it. Orbital."
"I think it'll be separation and pickup," Don said. "We haven't had a live run at that in ages. Princess?"
"You want an excuse to launch that jet of yours. Some sort of precision run? And my name is Kate."
Don just grinned, and prodded his commander. "Well, open it, then!"
Jason laughed as he opened the envelope. "What is it with you pilots...?" His voice died away as he stared at the contents in disbelief. Turned the envelope over and checked it did indeed have Condor on the front. Checked the front page again, the one with the personnel list. And finally punched the air in delight. "Yes!"
"What - what?" Don was fairly dancing with frustration by now. "We get to go orbital?"
Jason couldn't contain himself any longer. Eyes shining, he held the flight plan out to his second-in-command. "We get to go to Mars."
We were all still bubbling with excitement as we waited outside Anderson's office for an initial briefing. We were ready for this; had been for months, in our opinion. We'd made precisely this run in the simulator, based on real data from the regular supply jumps made to the Mars base, on multiple occasions.
Anderson let us in, smiling broadly at the sight of our faces. "I can see you're looking forward to your little trip. Have you had a chance to look over the flight plan yet?"
A chance? Jason and Don had done nothing but talk jump-points and trajectories ever since we'd got the nod. Tony had disappeared to practise on the Phoenix flight-simulator. I'd managed to acquire the back pages of the plan and acquainted myself with exactly what our manifest was, communication details, and all those little trivialities like the name of the Mars base commanding officer, their callsign, and all the alternative radio frequencies they used. Don might tease me about just being there to chat on the radio, but there were a whole bunch of details which if I didn't know, nobody would, and we might need them in a hurry. There was always a lot of talk about how young we were, me especially. I needed to sound completely professional on this one. Let Don laugh; I knew exactly how much food, fuel and oxygen we were taking to Mars base, and who to report to when we got there.
"We've looked at it." Jason hadn't stopped smiling since he'd opened the envelope. "Hell, we've memorised it. Can't we go now?"
Anderson laughed and clapped his star student on the shoulder. "You've waited this long, you can hold on another eighteen hours. Now sit down, all of you, let's run through this from the top."
We went through every phase in nauseating detail. Launch, transit, jump, transit, landing. Tony was utterly confident in his piloting skills, Jason equally so about making the jump. Don was ready to back either of them up if required. Technically I was next on the depth chart in both disciplines, but it was never going to come to that.
As we came to the end, Anderson cleared his throat, stood up, and indicated to Tony that he should do the same. In some confusion, he complied, shaking the hand that Anderson held out to him.
"G-4. This is hardly going to be a challenge for you. Keep it simple. You'll have plenty of chances to show off your piloting skills. This time, stick to basics."
He indicated me, and I jumped to my feet rather faster than was dignified.
"G-3. You're much more skilled than you think you are, and you have a talent for making up for others' weaknesses. Have faith in yourself. Believe that you're ready for this."
He turned to Don, who'd figured out the sequence and was already standing with his hand held out. "G-2. There's no shame in being the backup on a team like this. You may not like it, but you make a great second-in-command. You're a wonderful pilot, and a gifted jump-pilot. There's not much call for a scientist on a test flight, but once you're exploring, your other skills will be crucial. But your job tomorrow is to be there for your commander. Help him when he needs it, tell him if he makes a mistake, back him up. Your time will come."
Finally, Jason. "G-1. What can I say? You're a natural leader. The maths guys have no idea how you solve the jump-equations that fast. They closed the book on you breaking Tring's record months ago. Get this one under your belt, and we can start looking to the future. Just keep it steady."
Jason glowed under Anderson's approval. "You can count on us, Chief. We're G-Force."
Tony had barely shut the door behind us before Don was mimicking Anderson's speech. "Tiny, the skills we hope you'll never need: the ability to out-eat the rest of the crew, bang their heads together effortlessly, and mend them afterwards. Princess, to charm every man between here and Mars, and…and…"
"Don, as someone whose major talent is dissolving stuff you're on seriously thin ice here," retorted Tony. "We need you to light the Bunsen up, we're in deep trouble."
"Oh, there's a much worse scenario than that," Don retaliated.
"What, than 'Don, get your test-tubes out'?" queried Jason.
"Sure thing, Commander. 'Jason, fly us out of here.'"
"So I've not had time for all the flying practice I could use. That's old news." Jason grinned at his second, refusing to rise to him. "You need to work off some adrenaline. Me, too. Coming?"
"Tell you what," Don lengthened his stride to fall into step with Jason. "If I can get you this time, how about you let me jump her home? Best of five falls."
Jason rolled his eyes. "You never give up, do you? I like it, though. Let's go for it. I'll beat Tring's record on the way out, you can have a crack at it on the way back. I like the idea of us one and two on the list after one jump apiece. And it'll annoy the hell out of Tring to be number three."
Don grinned in delight. "Adam Tring, former child genius, darling of the world's media, and now...the world's third best jump pilot. Serves the arrogant bastard right. So, what are you going to wear in that press conference, Jason?"
"You surely don't think they won't be showing us off in public after this? What time do you think you can do? Two minutes?"
"You can go for two minutes. I'm going for less than one."
"Two minutes..." Don thought about it, his eyes widening. "You mean it? I can jump us home? Do I still have to out-fight you first?"
Jason looked down his nose at the considerably shorter pilot. "In your dreams, G-2."
I sighed and turned to Tony. "I guess we'd best leave the testosterone brigade to go and beat hell out of one another."
Tony nodded. "Just don't damage each other. If this launch gets pulled because one of you's broken something, I might cry."
"No decent martial artist would ever…"
"You call yourself a decent martial artist?"
"If you weren't my commanding officer, I'd flatten you right now for that!"
"You can try if you like."
Tony and I left them to it, as they bickered off towards the gym.
I ended up going back to the rec room on my own, Tony having taken himself down to the Phoenix hangar to check something unspecified. That suited me fine - I had a phonecall to make, quickly, before it got too late on the other side of the Atlantic.
"Hey, Katie! How's things?"
I didn't ring home half as often as I should have done, and when I did there were always things I wasn't allowed to talk about. Such as now, when all that I really wanted to say was 'hey Dad, I'm going to Mars tomorrow.' All my family knew was that my ISO scholarship was associated with the jump-program, and they'd given permission for me to be implanted as a potential jump-team member. They had no idea I was on G-Force, or even that it existed. In the very near future, they should. Don was right. This had to be press-conference material - and I was reasonably sure that none of us would need to worry about what to wear. They were going to show us off in birdstyle, I was sure of it. I only half listened as my father told me about the article on global warming he'd sold to New Scientist, and how my little sister had come top of her school maths test.
Eventually he asked if I wanted to talk to Alison. No matter that I'd called her Mum for years, he never could bring himself to use it.
"Sure. Just - I may not be able to phone for a few days. There's something important happening here. Keep your eye on the news - you'll be glad you let me come."
I talked briefly to my stepmother, again we didn't have much to say. We discussed the rest of the family, people I hadn't seen in ages asking about me, and my parents' visit to the States later that year. I told her I loved her and was on the verge of hanging up.
"Katie, I can hear you're excited. Whatever it is, take care, and good luck."
"Oh, I will, Mum. Speak to you soon."
I'd barely put the phone down when it rang again.
"Hi Kate, is Don there?"
"Oh, hi Mrs Wade. He's in the gym right now - can I get him to call you back?"
"No, we're leaving right away. Can you just tell him that his father and I will be out of town for a few days? We'll be back Friday morning. And you're all invited to lunch Sunday."
"That sounds great!" I said enthusiastically, reaching over and scribbling it on the calendar. I had no idea whether we'd actually be allowed to go, or whether we'd be hiding from the press, but all our parents would know the truth well before then. "I'll tell him. Have a nice time."
I would have liked to go to bed that night feeling calm, relaxed and secure in the knowledge that I was fully prepared for the next day's flight. No such luck. I was terrified, shaking and so nervous I felt sick. I was quite incapable of rest, let alone sleep, and after half an hour of tossing and turning I sat up, turned the light on, and attempted to read. That didn't work either. Even my guitar failed me. I couldn't relax enough to let the reflexes take over. Five minutes of fluffed chords and out-of-tune exercises and I slammed the wretched instrument back into its case in frustration. The rec room kitchen beckoned; a hot drink might help, and at this point I might as well get up properly for an hour before trying to sleep again.
My first thought on opening the door was that we were due another lecture on leaving the light on. It took some seconds of blinking in the unexpected brightness to realise that, far from me being alone in my insomnia, the rest of the team was all here. I couldn't decide whether this made me feel better or worse.
Tony looked at the clock as I shut the door behind me. "I win!"
I groaned. "Is there anything you guys won't bet on?"
"Nope," said Jason cheerfully. "We even saved some milk for you. Tony insisted you'd be here before one. Chocolate or coffee?"
"You know what I think of decaf coffee. Chocolate, please."
"I could make tea?" suggested Don.
I shuddered, not entirely for show. "No, you couldn't. In any case, not even I could drink tea at one a.m. It may be decaf, but my brain knows tea's supposed to be a stimulant."
"Chocolate all round then," said Jason, stirring at four mugs. He suddenly smiled. "I'm commanding a jump-flight to Mars in nine hours, and what am I doing? Playing waiter."
"You volunteered." Don took two mugs, gave one to Tony, and sagged into one of the sofas. "God, I'm so tired. I'm just not sleepy."
"Does self-defence count as volunteering?" Jason sat down alongside me and stretched luxuriously. "Now I know why they didn't tell us a week ago. I never saw myself doing this on zero sleep."
"There'll be a reason for all those all-night training sessions followed by sim flights," Tony pointed out. "They know we can do it with or without sleep." He sipped at his chocolate. "Rest and relaxation's nearly as good in the short term anyway."
"For you, maybe." Jason drained his mug and put it down. "I need some real sleep. Psych 101 time. Kate, what's worrying you?"
He was right, of course. We were a team, we needed to know all each other's weaknesses so we could compensate for them. Even if they were only imagined weaknesses, as at this point in our training they surely were. I just wished he hadn't asked me to go first.
"That I'm not up to this physically." I looked around at the others, all older, taller and stronger than me. "I'm only here because they couldn't find a male jump-communicator. What if I can't handle an orbital launch?"
"Then you pass out and come round ten minutes later," Tony said. "You'd be embarrassed. It wouldn't be a disaster. Anyway, you know you can pull eight g in the centrifuge. We won't be going much above six."
He smiled reassuringly at me. Nobody had looked horrified. I managed a smile in return. I was still concerned, but he was right - apart from my pride, nothing would be hurt even if I did black out.
"I guess it's my turn," Tony continued. He gulped. "I just don't want to screw up. If I do…"
"Then I take over." Don put his hand out to the big pilot. "I'm your co-pilot, Tiny. That would be my job. Which, for the record, makes me completely redundant."
Tony's turn to look relieved. "So, Don. You're the last person I'd expect to have worries - but you're here. So spill."
I saw Don swallow hard. I guessed he'd never done this before. Don didn't admit weakness. "I really don't fancy that jump. There's no details, but Tring says it's awful. And he ought to know." Like me, he met one set of eyes after another. "Even with the implants. Assuming they work right."
There wasn't an easy answer to that one. None of us knew first-hand what jump was like. I did know how gullible Don could be, though. "I trust Dr Johnson when he says the implants are tuned right," I told him. "I also trust Adam Tring to have wound you up as far as he thought he could. You're too easy a target. He's said nothing about it to me."
"No. He got you good, Don. Sorry." Not quite true - Tring had tried his 'it's so awful, I'm so heroic' act on me precisely once, I'd shown complete disinterest, and he'd given up.
"The guy's a moron." Don slammed his hand on the arm of the sofa in furious embarrassment. "I'll kill him."
"He's not worth it," Jason said dismissively. "Let's just out-jump him. This time tomorrow he'll be the third best jump-pilot in ISO. He won't like it one bit."
He was clearly reluctant to go on. "I guess you'd better hear mine. One Don knows already. Tony answered it just fine. If I embarrass myself, so be it. The other - something completely unexpected happening. Something nobody's thought of. And since Tring's already done this run twenty-odd times, that's pretty unlikely. We're going to be alright."
I trusted him. I did wonder what his first worry was, but it didn't matter. Jason said we'd be fine, and I trusted him absolutely. He'd keep us safe. I knew I'd sleep now - just five minutes sitting here to finish my drink and I'd go back to bed.