The Phoenix was flying lower over the Damruk Mountain now, just above the bands of thick fog that shrouded the valleys and reached even to the peaks.
"We're over the origin point now," announced Princess, looking over to Mark, "Coordinates K-61."
"Take us down, Tiny," said Mark, his face alive with grim anticipation.
"Not so easy in this fog," replied Tiny, frowning slightly.
"I know," said Mark, looking more apprehensive now, "Do the best you can, but every minute counts now.
"I like a challenge!" declared Tiny, spitting on his glove before giving the throttle a hard shove forward.
The Phoenix descended smoothly despite the dense fog. Soon they were low enough that a strange and ancient-looking outline became visible on the broad valley floor beneath them.
"What kind of strange place is this?" demanded Tiny, his eyes widening as he took in the unexpected sight.
"Creepy," agreed Keyop, staring at his monitor's screen, "Looks like… evil chicken."
"Just the place for Zoltar then," said Mark, staring himself now at the images of the bizarre stone statues that covered much of the valley's floor within the strange outline.
"The fun's about to begin," he added, his own face becoming stony.
Jason had slumped his head forward again, and the two soldiers still held him upright with their guns as his trembling legs were still too weak from the paralytic tranquilizer for him to be able to stand on his own.
"And now it's your turn, my nephew," announced Zoltar, "To do some truth-telling –about G-Force."
"Zoltar," said Jason wearily but firmly, lifting his head, "There's no way I'm talking –and if you hurt Cronus, you'll pay."
But then he winced and lowered his head, momentarily overcome with nausea.
"Has the truth serum yet to take full effect?" remarked Zoltar, "Soon you'll be blabbing secrets, not empty threats." He turned, sweeping his cape behind him dramatically, and walked away.
In his wake, Jason's eyes quivered with rage. Katse had walked over towards the procedure room's consoles, where soldiers were still intently studying incoming seismic and mantle data.
"It's still unstable, Sire," said one soldier anxiously, as Zoltar stared at the mantlemeter's countdown.
Glaring like a madman, Jason drew on every vestige of strength he still possessed; reaching behind his back suddenly, he grabbed the ends of both guns that were being used to prop him up, and flipped himself over backwards.
Even as he flipped, he knocked one soldier over with his leg.
"What are you doing?" yelled Zoltar, but Jason had grabbed the other soldier between his legs and flung him towards Zoltar.
Zoltar was knocked over backwards as the unfortunate soldier collided with him. Sitting on the floor now and wasting not a second, Jason reached for the side compartment of his jeans, hoping desperately that somehow he might yet still have some feather stunners.
He pulled one out and hurled it at Zoltar, who had just risen to his feet again.
But Jason was far, far from being at his best –though he never missed, this time he missed.
The feather stunner instead struck the mantlemeter display on the console.
Jason slumped to the floor, awash with disappointment and drained from his efforts..
"Idiot!" yelled Zoltar, reaching up to snatch the feather stunner away from the mantlemeter. "If you've damaged any of this equipment, in any way!" he ranted.
But the feather stunner slid through his grasp and was sucked into the machinery behind the console's panel.
"What have you done?" snarled Zoltar, whipping around to glare savagely at Jason and wave a fist at him, "You treacherous little rat!"
Jason slid himself over to have the wall at his back, hoping to use it to get up on his feet. All the soldiers in the room had their guns trained on him now.
"Sire," asked one soldier eagerly –one of the soldiers who had propped him up before. "Shall we drag him off to one of the prison cells?"
"No," said Zoltar, still sounding furious, "Any minute now the truth serum will start working."
Jason was overcome with weakness and nausea, and still hunched against the wall, he slowly fell over sideways.
"Zoltar!" cried a soldier, as Jason vainly sought to rally his fading strength, "Another earthquake, near the equator and- Is that the Phoenix?"
Jason's eyes flew open.
"The Phoenix is here?" yelled Zoltar, "Why, why is everything going wrong?"
Zoltar dashed over to the console to stare at the view screen as Jason, gasping with the effort, rallied and tried to use the wall behind him for support in order to stand up.
But it was no good –he fell over again and ended up on the floor, flat on his back.
But the very sight on the screen that infuriated Zoltar, was the most wonderful sight in the world, at that moment, for Jason –even upside down.
"Sire, we need the next pod sequence," implored an anxious soldier's voice but Zoltar ignored him, yelling "Ready all missiles! Shoot them down at once!"
Even though he was lying on the floor, weak, sick and unable to stand, Jason found himself smiling.
G-Force was here. Mark was here.
As Tiny brought the Phoenix closer to the ground, a multitude of small missiles began firing from the mouths of all the statues on the ground, targeting the ship's underbelly. One struck the landing gear on one side of the Phoenix, blowing off the tires and sending them to bounce and roll across the valley floor in flames and causing the ship to land unevenly, with a crunch as it lurched to one side and a wing pod banged into a rocky outcropping. On the bridge, everyone gasped at the impact and struggled to remain in their chairs (though Keyop did not succeed.)
"There's got to be a base here," called Mark, already running for the exit, "Let's go find it!"
"G-Force!" responded the others, dashing after him.
Outside, missiles from the statues were still bombarding the area around the badly skewed Phoenix, creating multiple explosions, but the four G-Force members crouched only briefly on the dome before soaring swiftly to the ground as one, evading the explosions to refuge behind the base of a large pillar (though Tiny's landing was less graceful than the others').
But the missile bombardment ceased, and in the sudden silence, Mark and the others peered across the eerie terrain, obscured by bands of fog through which peered the sinister faces of the many statues, only faintly visible.
"We need to find the way in," said Mark, standing quickly and dashing off, "Everyone, follow me!"
They all began to run, sticking close together so as to not lose each other in the fog, but their movements were not obscured quite enough. The soldiers inside the statues now began firing bullets them, though none found their fast-moving targets. And suddenly, the stone-paved ground beneath Mark's feet fell away as a trap door opened beneath him. With a cry, he began to fall and, close on his heels, his teammates fell with him as the door snapped closed again and they were enveloped in darkness.
Not total darkness, however. One bright beam of light suddenly flared up and revealed that they were in a tunnel that was clearly of modern construction –surely some part of the Spectran base they sought. Two figures were speeding towards them, their feet clattering on the smooth hard floor, but they were obscured by the near blindingly bright beam of light that they shone before them as they ran.
Mark pulled out his boomerang, glaring tensely as he and the others stayed crouched where they were, waiting as the figures got closer…
As their unknown welcoming party loomed near, they all quickly stood and moved back against the narrow tunnel's walls, Mark and Tiny on one side, Princess and Keyop on the other.
But when the two figures suddenly stopped running, they were still obscured by the light they held but one spoke with a voice that Mark recognized instantly but could hardly believe he was hearing –his father's voice.
"So the long range beacon worked."
Mark stared in surprise, still brandishing his boomerang as the others remained tensed, waiting.
"I'm glad to see you, son," continued Colonel Cronus, shifting the light in his hand to reveal himself and his companion, now both clothed in the uniforms of Rigan Red Rangers.
Mark relaxed his arm and lowered his boomerang, stepping closer to his father.
"What are you doing here?" he asked in amazement, adding quickly "Is Jason with you?"
"Why I'm here –that's… a long story," replied Cronus cryptically as the others moved in behind Mark.
"Do you know the mantle's unstable, that the whole planet could be destroyed?"
"Jason's here," said Cronus tersely, "Now listen -rebels will take over this base as soon as I free their leader, Mala, from her cell."
"Mala is the leader of the rebel movement?" said Mark and Princess together, both thoroughly confused. Mark put his boomerang back in its holster.
"But what about the mantle?" asked Tiny anxiously, as Keyop chimed in with him, "This whole planet could blow up –soon."
"I have a confession, Mark," said Cronus, but he gestured impatiently with his arm and turned away to start running back up the tunnel, "But there's just no time now –follow us!"
As puzzled and concerned as they all were, there was nothing for it but to follow after the two Red Rangers.
"I'll explain, Mark, as soon as I can…" intoned Cronus, his voice heavy with unknown meaning, as Mark and the others ran as fast as they could in his wake.
But they didn't know that, even as they ran, they were being watched by Zoltar, via another of the base's many spy cameras.
"Curse that Cronus! He's brought G-Force inside the base!" snarled Zoltar as he watched them all on a screen in the mantle procedure room, "I gave orders for him and the other one to be apprehended!"
He seized a microphone, barking into it "Security team –how did Cronus escape capture?" as his eyes quivered in rage.
"Run while you can, Cronus and G-Force," muttered Zoltar to himself, "Soon, I'll finish you all."
A small door opened, one of many along the perimeter of a large, circular room that served as a central hub for the base's myriad of underground tunnels. Cronus and his fellow Ranger ran inside the room, brandishing their guns. Mark and his teammates were close on their heels.
"Here we part ways," said Cronus, now still and surveying the room to confirm it was secure, "First, find Jason –then we'll all deal with Spectra's mantle."
Cronus and the other Red Ranger had left, the door closing after them. But before the G-Force members could do likewise, the ceiling of the room suddenly retracted to reveal, high above, dozens of armed Spectran soldiers.
"Take cover!" yelled Mark.
A second, higher tier in the ceiling retracted to reveal Zoltar. He laughed as he looked down on them. "I had hoped all six of you were here," he called down, "But capturing the four of you is a very good start, and Cronus will not be able to evade us for much longer!" Zoltar raised his arm in triumph, "Now surrender!"
The soldiers all had their guns trained on them. But G-Force had no intention of surrendering –not when they could all throw hand grenades up to where Zoltar was standing!
The four of them turned suddenly and dashed from the room, evading the hail of bullets now coming from the soldiers' guns.
"How did we get back out here?" gasped Princess as they all ran as fast as they could from the room where they'd thrown their grenades.
"Don't know," said Mark, but it was plain from the ground beneath their feet and the stone statues around them that they'd somehow exited the base in their mad dash.
But an explosion was erupting behind them, so none of them had any desire to turn back whence they'd came –they would have to find another way to infiltrate the base again.
But they stopped running, and turned to stare back at the flames for a moment. Not surprisingly, no one had pursued them.
"Well," said Mark, looking to the others, "The next part of the plan is clear –we get back inside the base and we find Jason."
"Big ten!" cried Princess, Keyop and Tiny as they all scattered to begin searching for another hidden entrance, certain there had to be one, somewhere.
But as they dispersed to search individually amid the statues, Zoltar was watching them slip off into the fog from the vantage of yet another spy camera. His clothes were dirty –even singed- and he clenched both fists in fury as he glared at the screen.
"Why is everything going so badly?" he hissed, "My pod sequences are all wrong, and now Cronus and G-Force have escaped!"
Far away at Center Neptune, Zark was talking even as Chief Anderson was staring out the window of President Kane's office at Federation headquarter as both men waited anxiously for news from G-Force.
"I usually know more than anyone else about what's going on," said the robot fretfully, "But now I might as well be in a fog!"
Zark didn't know that at that moment, Jason was pulling himself along a floor with his arms, in the Damruk Mountain base, still unable to walk but with intense determination on his face, no longer looking so sick…
"I don't know if Jason is okay or if Mark and the others have even found him yet –or why he went to Spectra."
Zark didn't know that the mantlemeter on the console in Zoltar's mantle procedure room was showing time was quickly running out, even as yet another pod was sent down the deep shaft, heading for some region of Spectra's mantle, even as yet another terrible volcanic eruption blasted torrents of lava over its surface.
"And I don't know what is going to become of planet Spectra. If stability isn't somehow restored to its mantle…"
"I know that Spectra –and Zoltar- have given Earth nothing but trouble, but no planet should ever be destroyed."
All that Zark could see on his monitors was a view of Spectra from space, with thick, sooty clouds now covering its northern pole, where the Damruk Mountains were.
At Center Neptune, Zark turned away from his monitors.
"I've got a feeling, deep in my central processor, that no matter what happens, nothing is ever going to be the same again."
He began pacing.
"There's a terrible volcanic eruption taking place on Spectra's southern continent –my scanners can pick up that much- and all the latest readings I've gathered indicate the Spectran mantle isn't any closer to being stabilized –in fact, if anything, it's worse!
But then came the unmistakable chime of an incoming audio communication.
"Oh?" said Zark, eager and apprehensive, "Center Neptune, 7-Zark-7 here!"
"Hello Zark." Susan's sultry voice came wafting from the small dangling speaker.
"Susan!" said Zark, his antennae standing on end, quivering, "Has something happened? Is there some new development?"
"Not that I know of, Zark."
"Oh," replied the robot, crestfallen, "Why are you calling then?"
"I knew that you must be worried, Zark, about G-Force and even about planet Spectra."
"Well yes," admitted Zark, "I'm very worried."
"I'm worried too, Zark," replied Susan, as 1-Rover-1 came into the room and walked over to sit beside his fellow robot, "But when you're worried, the best thing to do is be with your friends."
"You know, Susan," said Zark, after a pause, "You're right! And what's more, Mark, Jason, Princess and Tiny have never yet failed to find a way to save the day, no matter how bad things might look."
"That's true," said Susan.
"I'm going to put my trust…" Zark said intensely, "In G-Force!"
To be continued…