Battle of the Planets belongs to Sandy Frank Productions. I've borrowed it for fun, not profit.
Thanks to my husband for beta-reading.
After twenty minutes of waiting, it became obvious that Jason had blown off the training session yet again.
Anderson's frustration was palpable. "Does either of you know where he is?"
Tiny and I looked at each other and shook our heads.
"I want him here this afternoon. G-3, I'm making this your responsibility. If he wants this job, he comes to practise. Clear?"
"How the hell am I going to get him to come?" I grumbled as we abandoned the session. "Half the time he won't even speak to me. No way can I make him show up if he doesn't want to."
"Tell him it's a weapons test," Tiny suggested. "He'll come."
In fact I'd not been entirely honest with Anderson. I was reasonably sure I could guess where Jason was. Since our return from Mars, he'd spent increasingly long periods of time alone, on the clifftop overlooking the Phoenix launch bay. He wouldn't talk about what had happened, wouldn't use my name or Tony's. He'd only call us by Don's nicknames for us, and we'd pretty much given up using anything else. At least this way he'd talk to us occasionally.
It was three months since we'd returned from Mars without our second-in-command. We'd left Don dead under the rubble of Mars base, buried along with its twenty-five staff and jump-pilot Adam Tring. They'd been killed in an unprovoked attack by an alien ship, which we'd barely managed to destroy.
Not bad for a rookie crew in an unarmed exploration ship, you might think. That wasn't what the investigation had said. Senior ISO and military officials had torn apart our mission tapes, spent hours analysing every word, every action, and apportioned blame.
It was all Jason's fault, apparently. He'd failed to realise that the damage to the Mars base dome could only have come from an externally fired missile. He'd not put together the clues that a third party was involved. And he'd failed to prevent the alien vessel from firing again, turning the whole area into a smoking crater. Quite how he should have recognised the first, or accomplished the third, were unspecified. The second had destroyed him. He'd made a mistake, and his best friend was dead.
I was sure that if they'd let him walk out at that point, he would have done so. However, we were now facing intelligent, hostile alien life, and Jason was the man who against all odds had destroyed the attacking ship. Anderson's desk now sported a new red telephone, and I'd watched enough films to know what that meant. They expected attack at any time, and we were the only ones with any chance of defeating it. Three of us and one ship, against an enemy who spoke our language, but whose name we didn't even know.
Next time, at least we'd be armed. They'd analysed the trick Jason had pulled with the jump-drive and come up with some truly terrifying statistics. One chance in five of the jump-field failing every chance we ejected something through it. Certain annihilation if the other ship had cycled their own jump-engine. The engineers were working on a variant, less prone to instant disaster, but we wouldn't be flying straight through another jump-ship again. We were getting other, more conventional, weapons, too. The only time Jason was anything like his old self now was in weapons practice. Either simulated ship-on-ship combat, or hand-to-hand. Standard martial arts hadn't saved Don - what we were being taught now was a whole lot nastier, and Jason had taken to it with a glint in his eyes that frankly scared me. Those sessions he didn't skip, ever.
Before I was half way out to the top of the cliff I knew I'd been right. A solitary figure stood silhouetted against the sky, one hand on the newly erected stone pillar. ISO's memorial to those who had died on Mars: the base's staff, Adam Tring, Donald Wade. And Kate Harmon.
I'd known from the moment they'd told us that G-Force was now a combat unit that the two halves of my life had become incompatible. At sixteen I was too young to enter the military without parental permission. And G-Force needed me - they had nobody else capable of operating the jump-comm.
I'd slept on it. Sought desperately for an alternative, anything which would allow me to stay where I was needed without having to tell my father exactly what I was doing. The forms were unequivocal, and Dad wasn't stupid. He'd have known he was signing me to a front-line combat team, and he would never, ever have done it.
The following morning I'd gone to Anderson in tears and laid out my solution. It was a mark of how desperate they were that he'd accepted. The records were altered. Adam Tring had taken a passenger to Mars, and there Kate Harmon had died with all the rest. Officially the dome had exploded in a terrible accident. There had been a memorial service. My parents had come - so much for their long-anticipated first trip to the States - as had Don's father. His mother, already unwell, hadn't even been told the truth. Tiny had been there. Jason had refused to go. I'd shut myself in my room and howled. It had been the hardest struggle of my life not to run out to the black-clad group on the headland, throw my arms around my father and pour out the whole story. I'd stayed where I was, and once they'd all gone I'd paid my own respects at the stone. To a certain extent, Kate really had died on Mars. I was Princess now.
"Go away." Jason was in a communicative mood, then.
"I can't. Anderson sent me."
"So? Run back to him like a good little girl and tell him I was mean to you."
I gritted my teeth. Jason might not have talked to the psychiatrists, but I had. Lashing out in anger was common, apparently. Someone doing it needed help, support, and friendship. I was doing my best, no matter how hard Jason was making it for me.
"We have a weapons session this afternoon. Jason - you have to start coming to the flight training. He will cut you. Really he will. You don't want that any more than I do."
"Maybe I don't give a damn." He hadn't looked at me yet. "Maybe I'm looking for a way out."
"If you are, it's working." Arguing with him in this mood was pointless. "If you really do want out, don't show up later."
He showed. I hadn't had any doubts about it. I was trying not to think about what he would do if this turned out to have nothing to do with weapons. Recently Jason had shown himself the owner of a blazing temper I'd only guessed at before Mars.
It was indeed a weapons practise, for about ten minutes. Abruptly, Anderson came into the simulator, and all the screens went blank.
"Condor, with me, please. You two, to the gym."
Jason turned a single furious glare at me as he allowed Anderson to shepherd him out. And I had a horrible suspicion I knew where Anderson was taking him. There was a pattern to the sessions he'd been missing, a pattern I didn't like at all.
I did need the practise Anderson had reallocated me to, desperately. Whoever had assessed my physical potential had assigned me the most unlikely-looking personal weapon I'd ever seen.
It looked like a yo-yo. To all intents and purposes, it was. I wanted a gun like they'd given Jason, dammit, not a natty explosive charge on the end of a piece of garrotte wire.
They'd pulled up the statistics from my physical assessment and rapidly disabused me of my ability to handle a projectile weapon. If a sniper was required, that would be different, but in hand-to-hand a rifle would be useless and they assured me I was ideally suited to the yo-yo. Always assuming I could learn to wield it without tying the cord in a knot round one or both of my own wrists. I was improving, but I needed every minute of practise I could get.
If you practise seriously, with all your concentration, you lose track of time. Everything vanishes except you, your technique, and your goal. I was well into that stage when my bracelet pinged.
"G-3, do you know where Security Chief Anderson is?"
"He's with G-1."
"G-1's not answering either. We have someone Anderson needs to see at reception."
I sighed. "Give me five minutes. I have an idea where they are."
I wanted to be wrong. I wanted for Anderson to be in his office with the phone off the hook giving Jason hell for his attitude. I didn't believe it enough to even check there first. I headed straight for the simulator room. Three walls of consoles for fast jets, trainers, larger craft and the Phoenix itself. On the fourth, the jump-drive console, and the potential-tester we'd encountered at the initial training camp but hadn't touched in the eighteen months since we'd been implanted.
"Do not disturb" on the door. I thought about it, and walked in anyway. Both men jumped to their feet.
"G-3, there's a very clear sign outside. This had better be important." Anderson sounded as angry as he'd ever been with me.
"I'm sorry, Chief. Apparently there's someone you need to see at reception. They asked me to find you."
Anderson growled with annoyance and stalked to the room's communicator. "Anderson. Can't anyone else handle this? Oh…Oh, I see. On my way." He barely glanced at Jason as he headed for the door. "Take a break, Condor. We'll come back to this."
I was following Anderson out, hoping to escape Jason's fury, but what he actually said was so unexpected it stopped me in my tracks.
"When did you figure it out?"
No anger. No ice. Just raw unhappiness. The closest to an emotion other than rage I'd heard from him in three months.
"It's the training involving jump you've been skipping. I knew something was wrong when you had me jump us back from Mars, but this lunchtime was the first time I realised you haven't made even a simulated jump since. Not on an official session."
"Not at all." He sat back down in the jump-simulator chair, the picture of misery. "It's like the implant isn't there. The old potential-tester works the same it ever did. This one - nothing. They did a million tests, and the implant's fine. It's all in my head. Which in Anderson's book means I just need to try harder."
He clearly expected a response. I had no idea what to say, but I had to keep him talking. "Anderson thinks you're doing it deliberately?"
He shrugged. "Who knows? All I know is that Anderson hasn't called me G-1 in a month. I'm effectively not a jump-pilot any more. Goodness knows they don't think much of me as a commander. We came out of jump over Mars and I thought, this is it, I've got everything I wanted, we're going to the stars. Three hours later I had nothing."
"Did you talk to the psych guys?"
"I did. They were useless. The drugs they'd give me would rule me out for jump, and they're not the sort you take for a while and then stop when you get better. They're calling it post-traumatic stress disorder now it's been three months. That means it won't just go away. I'm completely screwed. Anderson wants me to just go back to how I was before. I want it - hell, I can see you do too. I can't do it, Princess. It's over. I had my miracle when we didn't blow up over Mars."
I gulped, feeling hopelessly out of my depth. "Jason - this is what you need to tell the psychs. Not the practical stuff about implants and jump. They can help you."
"They have no idea. They've never been there." He dismissed them with a sneer.
I could feel the walls coming back between us, and had no idea how to keep them at bay. I made one last attempt to get back in. "We were there - Tiny and me. You can talk to us."
I might as well not have spoken. The icy detachment was back in force. "Yeah. Whatever."
Things hadn't improved three days later. We hadn't so much as seen Anderson, which meant no flight training, and endless repetitions in the gym were, well, repetitive. Hour on hour of training was doubtless very good for our fitness levels, but frankly it was boring. Boring enough that by common consent we'd taken an unscheduled break and were sitting in a row on the bench throwing shuriken into the noticeboard. Tiny and I were attempting to hit one another's previous attempts, while Jason was amusing himself laying out an evenly spaced grid, each shuriken perfectly spaced and rotated ten degrees more than its predecessor. We all jumped a mile when our bracelets sounded simultaneously, and Jason's final shuriken landed a good half an inch from where it should have been.
"Condor," he said into the bracelet, and I was forced to wonder how long it had been since he'd even called himself G-1.
"I want all of you in briefing room 3 immediately," Anderson said, and the transmission cut off.
"If he chews us out for quitting on those damned strength and flexibility exercises, I'll scream," Tiny observed as we headed off.
"Didn't sound like that to me," Jason offered. "He'd have come up and yelled at us for that."
"I don't think he's even been assigning our training this week," I added. "With Anderson you never know what you'll get. The only thing you can predict is that it's unpredictable. Last three days; gym, gym, gym."
"Well, you could say that being predictable would be unpredictable for someone who's unpredictable…" Tiny stopped, then tried again. "If you're unpredictable, it's predictable that you'll be unpredictable…"
"I'd quit while you're behind, big guy," Jason told him. "We know what you mean."
Not much of a joke, but he was trying. He was involved. It wasn't all lost.