He didn't want to do it, yet the leader in him knew it to be a smart move. They needed to destroy the mecha, now, without delay and save countless innocent lives. Only with Jason in the torpedo bay, it left Mark to pilot G1. He couldn't leave the team without a leader. Or could he?
Could the Commander of G-force choose the unconventional and place Senior Captain Grant Hanson in charge of the mission temporarily? Something inside rebelled at the idea of giving up control. While Grant might have the ability he didn't have experience with his team or the Phoenix. Tiny could guide him but if a critical moment occurred it might cost the success of the mission. In the end Mark carried all the responsibility for success or failure.
Which left only one other alternative. Captain Dylan Beyda. Mark knew the man to be more than capable of handling his supersonic jet. Could he give his vehicle up to this interloper? A man who's intelligence and reaction time equalled his without cerabonics? Undoubtedly qualified, this decision stuck in Mark's gut, wrenching it into a twisted knot.
'Listen up team,' Mark stood, turned and faced nine sets of enquiring eyes. 'Jason, take Princess and one of the Thunderbird team to the TBX bay.'
'Jesse,' Grant indicated his choice.
'I want those torpedos reprogramed in thirty seconds,' before he finished the three individuals made their way to the elevator. 'Tiny keep us on the tail of that monster but low enough not to be detected. Use the mountainous terrain to hide our presence. We need to give Jason time to arm and deploy those missiles. Dylan,' sighing, Mark allowed his glacial blue eyes to boar into Captain Beyda, 'you have thirty seconds. Take G1 to check out the coordinates and report any Spectran activity.'
'I'll take good care of your plane, Commander,' Dylan's serious look ensured he understood the price he'd pay if so much as a scratch occurred to the Commanders personnel vehicle.
'The cockpit is based on Super Stream Jet from your time,' he added, Mark's tone laced with warning. 'We'll be waiting for your report before attacking the Mecha. Time is the critical factor, Captain.'
Nodding, Dylan treated the assignment with characteristic seriousness. The solemn expression never left his face as he hurried through the pre-flight check list. Only a few of the instruments needed a second's contemplation. In some respects not much had changed in one hundred years. Allowing a slight smile to display his enjoyment at being back behind the yoke, Dylan pulled the jet out of the Phoenix and into a clear blue sky.
Pulling two and a half G's, it took fifteen seconds to reach the co-ordinates. A high level sight inspection didn't show any evidence of a midden pile or other human disturbance. Sweeping around to the right in a tight turn, Dylan spied a clearing. Cleverly disguised, it didn't stand up to closer inspection. Coming in for a low pass, he discovered a well concealed entry. Continuing on, Captain Beyda flew past in a straight line pretending he hadn't seen the obvious evidence of habitation.
'Commander,' Dylan opened a channel on his wrist communicator.
'Ears on,' Mark returned.
'I have conformation,' Dylan reported.
'Return,' came the terse response.
'Rodger,' Dylan tried to stop the disappointment colouring his voice. He'd enjoyed flying the supersonic jet. It reminded him of his days at flight school.
'Jason,' Mark changed channels, hailing his second, 'how long until those torpedos are ready.'
'Princess is closing up the last one now,' Jason reported.
'Get up here and finish this Mecha off,' the Commander demanded, 'we need to infiltrate the base and put Spectra's operation out of commission.'
Kallan sat nervously. Her eyes hadn't left the secondary screen monitoring Dylan's progress. She noticed the fast moving object turn in a wide sweep and start back towards their position. Letting out the breath she'd been holding, her gaze caught Grant's.
'You,' Keyop shook his head. He'd been watching the pair. The quiet Swallow sometimes noticed more than he let on. 'Worry too much.'
'If,' Kallan managed a smile at the youngster, 'you'd pulled Dylan out of some of the scrapes he gets himself into, you'd be worried too.'
'Trouble maker?' Keyop questioned.
'Adventurous, methodical, ethical,' Kallan allowed her grin to widen, 'and liable to follow his instincts before thinking his actions through. My husband's need to race off and rescue anyone in distress is well known among the team.'
'Jason,' Keyop stated joining in the humour at someone else's expense, 'same. Rescued puppy. Team in big trouble.'
'That's enough out of you, Squirt,' Jason declared as he re-entered the bridge. 'Let's blow that Mecha out of the sky.'
'What about Dylan?' Kallan questioned.
'We need to take the tactical advantage, Kallan,' Grant consoled, 'while we still have the chance. Captain Beyda has a habit to making it back in one piece no matter what the odds against him.'
'G1 has a homing device installed,' Mark offered. The look of acceptance clouded with concern over her significant other affected him. Instantaneously The Commander's gaze diverted to Princess for the briefest moment. He knew how Kallan felt. He'd felt the same way multiple times before. Yet he sensed her ability to get on with the job at hand because that's what she'd been train to do. More alike in matters of the heart than he cared to admit, Mark ensured he wore his stoic face. 'No matter what happens,' he offered a small amount of reassurance, 'the Phoenix will be able to locate him.'
'Understood,' Kallan nodded, a grim line of determination set on her lips. Internally she prayed for Dylan to return to her.
'Fire when you have the target in range,' Mark ordered Jason. 'Tiny bring the Phoenix into position. Let's give our gunner the best possible angle to achieve his goal.'
'Almost,' Jason whispered standing between his commander and the pilot. Unspoken, Tiny read his teammates anxiety. Wanting, needing to make this shot count, the Condor waited for the exact moment to let the torpedos loose. 'A little to the left, that's it, fire.'
The button pushed, the nine people on board collectively held their breath. With agonising slowness, the rockets launched. Directed at their target, Jason drummed his fingers on the console, counting down the three seconds to impact.
Boom! The explosion initially decapitated the monster. Head falling in a fiery ball, it bounced off the mountain side far below. Tumbling end over end it disappeared into a deep ravine. A plume of smoke the only evidence of the destruction rose into an otherwise clear sky. The dragon's body continued on its course, seemingly unhindered by the explosion.
'Wait for it,' JJ commented. His mouth continued a private countdown as his eyes smiled knowingly. The grin erupting on his face stated his calculations had been on the money.
Attempting to glide with the control centre missing, the beast extended its massive wings. That seemed to be the catalyst for the body's destruction. One moment it continued in a straight line, the next it imploded. The mecha seemed to fold in on its self, becoming smaller. Finally unable decrease in size any further, the energy stored in the twisted metal needed to be released. An amazing ball of fire expanded in every direction, momentarily blinding the watching individuals on the Phoenix.
'Quite a show,' Dylan's voice echoed from the main speakers with a hint of humour.
'Glad to see you didn't miss it, Captain,' Kallan teased in return. 'For a moment there, we though we've have to rescue you, again.'
'Not a chance,' the laughter could be heard in his voice. 'I'm trying to turn over a new leaf this century.' Suddenly turning serious, Dylan added, 'I'm docking G1 now.'
'As soon as Dylan's on board,' Mark ordered in Tiny's direction, 'head for the Spectran base. Jason, Princess, Keyop, get ready to go in. Captain Hanson, you and you're team will stay on the Phoenix with Tiny.'
'I suggest,' Grant offered with a quirk of his eyebrow, 'you take Dylan and Kallan with you. Both are consummate professionals and won't hamper the effectiveness of your team. I usually send them in on recognisance due to their efficient and resourceful skill mix.'
'Grant,' Kallan reminded, 'this is a hostile situation. We're not appropriately trained or equipped.'
'Fighting the Kadzilla plant wasn't a hostile situation?' JJ asked, astounded.
'You managed to come out with a sample of the plant, Kallan,' Jesse reminded, 'even when it tried to capture you.'
'Don't forget the time Lt McBeth attacked both of us,' Dylan added while walking over to Kallan's chair, 'under the influence of that crystal. We escaped because of your sharp shooting.'
Standing Captain James gave her husband a quick hug in greeting. Keeping an arm around his waist, she faced the mission Commander. 'We're here to observe, Sir,' she acknowledged Mark's authority.
Nodding agreement, the Commander once again found himself in a quandary. Captain Beyda proved himself capable in locating the Spectran base and not arousing suspicion. The General in charge would soon become aware of the dragon mecha's demise at the hands of G-force. Logically an attack on the instillation must follow immediately with the largest force he could muster. The extra manpower would help. Yet Mark had only records to guide his decision. He'd have liked to see both captain's in action before being forced to make this decision.
'Commander,' Jason gained his leaders attention, 'I'd let them come with us.'
Remembering the limited conversation about the Thunderbird team as they spared in the Dojo last night, he easily caught the Condor's message. 'Kallan, you're to stay with Princess. Find the central computer. I want the data on how they managed to build that mecha without our knowledge.'
'Big ten,' Princess agreed. 'I'll see if I can't plant a little diversion along the way.'
'Set it for fifteen minutes,' Mark decided. 'Jason you have Dylan. Find out what other weapons capability this base has. Disable what you can.'
'I'll get a supply of micro explosives,' he took off for the arms storage locker one level down.
'Keyop,' Mark finished, 'you're with me. We're the diversion so the others can get in and out in the allotted time.'
'I'm going to touch down half a click from the entry,' Tiny pointed to a manmade outcropping.
'That,' JJ offered, 'is garbage. Man you're going to stink, wading through that.'
Grinning as he handed the mini-bombs to Keyop and Mark, Jason stated, 'watch and learn. Ever hand glided, Dylan,' he challenged with a wicked expression.
'Once or twice,' he looked towards Kallan. A shrewd smile covered both faces.
'Let's go team,' Mark stopped further taunting between the teams.
Stepping onto the platform, Tiny engaged the hydraulics, lifting the six individuals to the top surface of the Phoenix. Three hundred metres above the ground, Dylan grabbed hold of Kallan hand. Firing his jet pack, the pair shot off the surface the moment the plexiglass canopy opened.
Jason grinned at Mark's surprised expression as they leapt after the pair. He'd remembered the conversation between Jesse and JJ yesterday, understanding this team had more technologically enhanced tricks than their files displayed. Over the initial shock, his commander's eyes berated the Condor.
Hitting the ground running, Mark didn't make the same mistake twice. Dylan and Kallan managed to keep pace with his team. Easily infiltrating the base, Princess indicated her chosen direction with a quick hand signal. Most of the Spectran instillations followed a similar pattern making their jobs easier.
Jason, choosing the opposite way, gestured for Dylan to follow him. A few hundred metres down the corridor they met their first challenge. Sending a feather shrunken into the goon, he dropped silently to the floor. A round house kick from Dylan's left boot took care of the second. The Condor's tight grin displayed his satisfaction. He'd been testing the Captain's ability and skill.
Making a cut the crap signal, Dylan's expression displayed his displeasure at the impromptu test. Handing over several mini-bombs, Jason showed his partner how to arm and place them. Every few metres they rigged the corridor to blow.
Princess stole along the well-used hallway. Kallan used her stun gun affectively at every corner, shocking the Swan with her speed and accuracy. The real fight came after they blew the control room door off its hinges. Allowing her attention to become devoted to the computer console, Captain James picked off the goons attempting to enter the room. Even with the smoke, twisted metal and klaxon blaring in the background, Kallan's rapid and accurate fire gave Princess enough time to start the down load.
'Watch for a green light,' the Swan indicated the data cube gathering every speck of electronic information. 'When it comes on, pull it out and place this one in the slot. We'll have about five minutes to get clear before this whole place blows.'
Not waiting for Kallan acknowledgement, Princess went to work. Amazed Kallan kept up her rapid fire taking out almost as many goons as the Swan's arms and legs without coming close to her swiftly moving limbs. It felt good to have someone at her back, someone she could trust proving her initial reaction to the Thunderbird team had been correct.
'Done,' Kallan didn't come close enough to be a victim to the pink tornado.
'Let's move,' Princess smirked.
At the next intersection they met up with Mark and Keyop. A silent nod and the Eagle signalled the Swallow to move out. Fighting three abreast, Kallan took up the rear, picking off anyone coming from the opposite direction.
'I'm almost out of charge,' she stated as they approached yet another intersection. Re holstering her second weapon, she prepared to join the fight once her hand gun expired.
Aiming, she saw the blue streak enter her cross hairs. A bright smile covered her lips as she observed Dylan's striking from beside the Condor. His movements as smooth and deadly, they'd have to cope with the death and destruction later. It went against every bone in their bodies to kill and maim, yet this planet, now at war, changed the rules. It changed them.
Throwing his side arm in Kallan's direction, Dylan continued to use this fists and feet to defend himself. Now trapped in the middle of five individuals, Captain James continued to pick off goons using her weapons stopping their escape route. Incredibly the Thunderbirds melded seamlessly into the combined fighting force.
'Glad you could join us,' Mark spoke above the noise to greet his second.
'We need to get out of here,' Jason's calm tone announced they'd had a world of trouble about to descend on them. 'This place is packed with fostforite.'
'Fire breathing dragon,' Keyop made the connection.
'It has to be all Spectra mined in the last ten years,' Jason hazard a guess.
'Getting desperate,' Keyop added.
'That stuffs unstable,' Mark commented. 'When it hits an oxygen supply it explodes like fireworks.'
'I can see the entry,' Princess offered.
'I'm signalling Tiny,' Mark saw an opening.
Directing his team across the floor space, they made a run for the open exit. Both Kallan and Dylan laid down a rapid cover fire, enough to make it out into the bright sunshine. It didn't last long as the Phoenix descended on their position. G-force naturally opened their wings and glided up to the Phoenix. A second behind, Kallan and Dylan fired their jet packs. Scooping them up and making for the horizon, Tiny directed his bird away from the fall out zone.
Thirty seconds later the base erupted in a magnificent fireworks display. At first small plumbs of flame exited from the three entrances. As the fostforite ignited, metal heated and the ground melted. White hot magma formed, boiling in a created cauldron. Unable to maintain the pressure, it shot into the atmosphere like a geyser under enormous force.
'How many men,' Kallan found her hands covering her eyes at the sight, 'were on that base?'
'Fifteen hundred,' Jason reported, perplexed.
'And on the mecha?' Dylan questioned, taking his wife into his arms.
'Another two hundred,' Mark offered.
Grant understood the reaction. He'd studied military law and tactics. No stranger to the psychological damage this mission would cost his youngest Captain's, he rose from his seat. Offering the space so Dylan could sit next to his wife as they digested the loss of human life, he shook his head. Forcing Kallan onto his knee, the stunned silence on the bridge broken only by Captain James soft weeping.
'We,' Grant offered, 'are a rescue team. We save lives, not extinguish them. The only time one of my team attempted to take one, they failed dismally. In fact it led to both Kallan and Dylan being placed on the injured list for several weeks.'