The young, dark-haired man had already started to cross the road when something caught his attention, and he stopped and turned back so suddenly that the man behind almost ran right into him.
"Look where you're going, can't you, kid?"
It was an automatic response, and Mark headed to the electronics store behind the crossing without paying any attention to the man's affronted glare.
Every screen in the front window showed the same image. A press conference; long, white-clothed table on a raised dais, microphones on the surface, three people sitting behind it. In the middle, Chief Anderson , wearing his unflappable media face. To his right, the Condor, and to his left, the Kite, both with visors in full reflective mode. G-Force in front of the media was unusual to say the least, and he wasn't the only one who had stopped to watch. Three people followed him into the store and parked themselves in front of the largest screen. The salesman tried to continue his pitch for a couple of sentences, but the two men he was addressing so obviously had all their attention focused on the screen that he abandoned his spiel and switched the volume on.
"There you go, folks. Be sure to notice the quality of picture and sound from that baby, while we're finding out what G-Force have pulled off this time."
"-been a full member of the team?" asked an interviewer whose voice Mark remembered. One of the senior war reporters, from a major US channel, though he didn't remember which one. G-Force didn't do exclusives, and these events were always open to everyone.
"Three months now," Rick replied, and Mark inwardly nodded in approval. He had their bland, non-specific American accent down pat.
"So how do you feel you're fitting in? It must be tough, joining an existing military unit of this calibre."
Rick glanced at Jason and smiled confidently. "We're getting used to one another. These things take time, and work, and we've done that."
"And what do you say to the Spectran reports that they killed the Eagle on Mars yesterday?"
Jason laughed out loud. "Don't they just wish! The Eagle's been on a new assignment for a while now. And no, I'm not going to tell you what it is."
There was a clamour of voices as that particular questioner was forced to give way, among which Mark's enhanced hearing distinctly picked out a female voice saying, "So now they're not both in G-Force, are the Swan and the Eagle an item?" He only wished it were that simple. He was damaged goods now, and Princess deserved better. He hoped she'd find someone else. At least, he did when he wasn't desperately wishing that she hadn't.
A journalist from a woman's magazine stood no chance in that sort of fight for the microphone, though, and the next question was when they'd be seeing the Kite in action.
"When he's the right man for the job," Jason said.
Rick glanced across again. "Very soon, I'm sure. We make one hell of a good team, wouldn't you say, Commander?"
And Jason smiled and nodded, not a trace of hesitation. "If Spectra thinks we're a soft touch without the Eagle - boy are they in for a shock!"
Anderson had always known a good closing soundbite when he heard one. Amid groans of disappointment, he stood up, instantly followed by the other two. "That's enough for today. Good day, gentlemen."
"But -" "Just one more -" "You haven't -" were to no avail. The seats on the podium were empty, and the TV channel cut back to the announcer as the salesman remembered his job, turned the volume back down, and exhorted the audience, now grown to some twenty people, to remember what a great experience seeing it on his product had been, how superior the quality was to anything they might have at home...
Mark had heard more than enough. They'd replaced him with Rick. He bent over, rubbing at a right calf muscle which locked up on him with distressing regularity at the moment, and didn't stand up again until his face was fully under control.
"You okay, son?" the older half of the TV-buying couple asked.
He nodded, forcing a smile. "Sure. Just a cramp." Oh, and that was my former second-in-command making it quite clear they don't miss me.
It did, at least, clear up any remaining concerns he'd had about whether he should go back for their sake. They patently didn't need him for moral support. And if the team didn't need him, he had no reason or desire to be there. The screen was now showing a silent montage of bootleg footage of and from the Phoenix, At least one shot had to be faked - there was no earthly way to launch the G-1 with a camera plane that close behind. And the next one had him smiling - a head-on view of the G-2 firing? Someone had been having far too much fun with their image manipulation. Once, he'd have been furious. Now, he gave it one last regretful glance, then, hoping his misbehaving right leg would hold out that long, he headed for home.