"So the Chief filled you guys in?"
"Yeah. It doesn't make sense. What interest would Zoltar have in him?"
"We don't know. But we're on orders to keep our eyes open. Anything could happen, and we're to make sure it doesn't."
Tommy paused outside the kitchen doorway, frowning to himself as the voices of Mark and his friends floated out to him. Who were they talking about...? The voices continued.
"One other thing Kerig told us," Tommy heard Mark say in a fairly grim tone. "There was mention about an adoption, thirteen years ago. He said even Zoltar wasn't certain about any details, but he didn't get any more than that, so we're no wiser."
"Adoption, huh?" That was Princess.... "It still is confusing."
"Let's just keep our eyes open. We don't want anything to happen."
Tommy fell back from the door, his heart beating hard. He had been adopted out at the age of five. Nausea filled him as he assumed it was in him that Zoltar had apparently taken an interest. He hadn't heard much of the conversation, but nor was he a fool. First Rita, then Zedd, then Mondo, and then Divatox and now Zoltar. Would he ever stop being a target for evil?
He started at the sound of Kat's voice. She spared him a puzzled look.
"Are you all right? You look like someone just walked over your grave."
He managed a weak smile. "I'm fine. C'mon, let's go see if the others are up."
* * *
Tommy and Kat were the first two up. Tanya and Adam soon followed, then Rocky, and finally Jason. The teens were ushered into a large dining room, complete with a fairly enormous table, the likes of which they'd seen only in movies with mansions.
"If nothing else," Mark told them as they sat down to a breakfast of pancakes and waffles, "we try to have breakfast together. It's almost the only time we're all in the same room."
The Rangers all looked around them in surprise. As well as G-Force and themselves, the room was occupied by a young boy of approximately seven years, two girls that looked to be twelve or so, a young woman in her early twenties and another boy of around eighteen years. Mark made quick introductions.
"That's Sam, those two over there are Penny and Jennifer, that's Therese and that's Michael. You saw Therese last night on the monitor when we were coming in."
Therese offered the six teens a reassuring smile as she set a plate of toast on the table. "Nice to meet you all. Oh, I'll give you some free advice about staying here. Don't be shy at meal times. If you let this lot get their claws in, you won't get anything to eat at all."
"You cook for everyone?" Tanya asked, awed. Therese grinned, then.
"Actually, no. I used to, when there were considerably less of us, but the Chief finally caved and hired cooks. But I am in charge of the kitchen."
"Among other things," Jason added cheekily. Therese clipped him over the ear.
"Don't start, Jason."
Rocky spoke up, then, eyeing the huge room curiously. "Just how big is this place, anyway? I mean, you could fit half my house into this one room!"
A brief silence fell as the residents of the house looked at one another. "It's not really as big as it looks," Tiny said finally. "But if you do get lost, just use the intercoms on the walls. Someone will be around to direct you."
The Rangers exchanged startled looks. Get lost....?
"Don't worry," Mark told them. "We'll show you around the place after breakfast. Better eat now, though, before it gets cold."
"Or before Tiny eats it all," Jason added, then yelped when Tiny kicked him under the table.
"Serves you right," Keop snickered.
Jason spared the younger boy a threatening look. "Watch it, or you'll be next."
"Both of you, knock it off," Mark warned them. "Just eat, okay?"
Both boys grumbled and affirmative, and began to eat.
* * *
"So let me get this straight," Tommy said as they were led outside to the paddocks. "Therese and Jennifer are both your sisters?"
Jason nodded. "Yeah. I didn't actually know about them until three years ago. I mean, I didn't remember them, anyway. We were all sent to the orphanage together when our parents died, but Chief Anderson only took me out, when I was five. I forgot I even had two sisters. Zoltar found out about them, though, and kidnapped them both a couple of years ago. He thought he could use them against us, but it backfired because I didn't even know who they were. At the time, they were just two ordinary hostages, so I never acted any different. I guess if I'd known I might have treated the situation differently, but I didn't. So now they live here, with us."
"And what about Penny and Sam?" Kat asked.
"Penny ended up with us almost by accident," Mark explained. "She used to live with her grandfather, but he was killed when Spectra attacked the city where they lived. Penny is actually a pretty smart kid. She managed to get into the Spectran mother-ship and she sabotaged all their files. They caught her, but they were too late, and they had to retreat back to Spectra, because of the damage she'd done. Zoltar was planning to execute her publicly on Spectra, but we came across her in the dungeons when we were sent to Spectra on reconnaissance. We got her out and brought her back with us."
"Not before some high drama, though," Princess said. "We were just entering the Earth's atmosphere when something went wrong. Tiny lost control of the Phoenix and we spun out of our re-entry path. None of us knew what was wrong, or what to do, but Penny somehow managed to break the virus and regain control before we totally burned up. After that, we couldn't stand to see her go into an orphanage, so the Chief made the arrangements and she's been here ever since."
"Seems like there's a story behind every person living here," Adam commented. Mark smiled and shrugged.
"I guess there is. Sam ended up here with us about two years ago. That time that we were spilt up by welfare? That wasn't the first time that had happened. But the first time we were all in Washington D.C., in close proximity to each other. Anyway, it was Lucy who brought Sam into the fold. She was placed with a couple that had been physically abusing their son. When we finally got everything sorted out, the Chief stepped in and Sam came back with us. His parents both got maximum jail sentences."
"Lucy?" Kat echoed. "Who is Lucy? Have we met her?"
For just a fleeting instant, raw pain shone in Mark's eyes. Then, finally, he shook his head.
"No. She's not here anymore. She was killed by Zoltar about a year and a half ago."
"Sorry," Kat murmured, sensing she'd inadvertently put her foot in it. Mark forced a smile onto his face.
"It's okay. You couldn't have known. Wait here, all of you. I'll call the horses."
They watched as Mark jogged away, disappearing into a large barn.
"Did I say something wrong?" Kat asked worriedly.
Jason shook his head. "No, it wasn't your fault. Mark probably slipped up in mentioning Lucy. Besides, I don't think he talks about her enough anyway."
"But who was she?" Tommy asked. Princess spoke quietly.
"Lucy was Mark's twin sister."
Shocked silence fell as the full implication of the statement hit the Rangers. Finally, Tanya spoke, sounding sick.
"You... You mean...?"
Tiny nodded. "That's right. Zoltar murdered his own daughter."
"Oh my god," Kat whispered. Jason went on quietly.
"It was no accident. He knew who she was. He killed her specifically because he wanted to break Mark. It nearly worked. For a little while, he went totally ape on us. He got past it, though, eventually."
"That sounds terrible," Tanya murmured.
"We try not to dwell on the past," Princess said. "Our jobs are too important. We can't let ourselves get dragged down when things like that happen. It's the risk we live. Not just the five of us, either. Everyone living here is at risk. They all know it. I suppose it makes it easier to bear, because even though most of us aren't related by blood, we're still a family."
The conversation was interrupted when a low rumbling caught their attention, and they looked around to see nearly a full herd of horses coming around the corner of the stables. Mark rejoined them, and leant against the fence.
"So... Who wants to go on a trail ride?"
* * *
Ten minutes later, all the former Rangers were sitting on saddled horses, waiting to go. None had much experience with horses, except Kat, who'd attended a horse-riding school in Australia. Princess had just finished helping Tanya into the saddle and was about to go to her own horse when she realised that Jase was standing off to the side, watching with a gloomy look on his face. Puzzled, she went to see what was wrong.
"Aren't you coming?"
Jason glanced down at the plaster covering his arm. "I doubt I could keep my balance, let alone control a horse. I think I'd better stay here."
As much as she wanted to reassure him, she knew he was right. None of the trails were smooth, and he was bound to get jolted around a bit. The heavy plaster would most likely cause him to take a bad fall.
It was Mark. He was sitting on Thunder, his own jet-black horse, without the comfort of a saddle, reigns or blanket. He'd long given up trying to saddle the horse. The animal had a mean temper and had taken a piece out of the boy's arm the last time he'd tried. Princess smiled up at him reassuringly.
"You guys go ahead. Jason and I are going to stay behind."
Mark raised an eyebrow slightly in amusement. "What? By yourselves?"
Both teens reddened at the supposition, and Princess glowered at Mark.
"Mind your own business. We might go for a walk into the town."
Mark's smiled faded. "I'm sorry. Okay. Just let the Chief know, all right? Omoidasu. Chui-bukai de arimasu."
Princess nodded seriously. "Hai. Wakarimasu."
"What was that about?" Jason asked wonderingly as Princess led him back towards the house. She smiled calmly, not quite able to look him directly in the eye.
"Oh, it was just Japanese. Mark just told us to have fun."
"And he couldn't say it in English?"
Princess laughed, then. "Don't worry about that. We all learnt different languages years ago so we'd be okay in foreign countries. We occasionally bounce things off each other to make sure we don't forget."
Jason conceded to her explanation with a nod. "Fair enough. So what are we going to do? I mean, you didn't have to stay behind, you know..."
He trailed off as she slipped her arm through his.
"There's a really nice walking path that goes through the park and along the cliffs. Feel like a walk?"
Jason smiled, then. "If it's just you and me? Definitely."
* * *
Security Chief Anderson stood by the window in his bedroom, watching in grim silence as Princess and Jason exited through the front gate of the property and headed for the park, hand in hand. It was not seeing them together that made him uncomfortable, though. He'd just received word from Cronus that a Spectran transport ship had passed the Galilee system, skirting past Boridia's tracking devices, travelling on a trajectory set for Earth. Zoltar was on his way.
Anderson turned away from the window, wondering how long it would be before Zoltar tracked Jason to Woodeforde. No doubt he would first go to Angel Grove, California, then to Washington D.C., and finally to Woodeforde. Previously, the town had remained a neutral zone; it had never come under attack by Spectran forces. That could change, though, if Zoltar was as desparate to get hold of Jason as Anderson believed.
Of course, he still didn't understand why Zoltar was so interested in Jason. The boy was no different from his friends and, as far as Anderson knew, he certainly wasn't an adopted child. The information about an adoption had only confused the issue further.
Pulling his jacket on, Anderson went to make a phone call.
The six former Rangers gathered in Tommy's allocated room, all tired but pleased with their first day in Woodeforde.
"I don't know about anyone else," Rocky said, "but I'm glad we came."
"Yeah," Adam agreed enthusiastically. "We get a whole two weeks extra vacation, and we don't have to pay for it."
Tommy smiled distantly from where he lay on his bed. "Well, Jason did say it was their turn to play host to us. After the last two times."
Tanya leaned back against the wall, tired but content. "I'd never been on a horse before today. I was so scared, at first. I can't believe how patient Mark was. He stayed back with me for nearly the entire ride, making sure I was doing okay."
"He's got a really good heart," Kat agreed softly. "They all do. It's pretty incredible, for what they've been through."
Rocky looked around, then, at Tommy. "Hey, Tommy, what's up with you, anyway? You've hardly said anything tonight."
Tommy bit his lower lip for a moment, then spoke quietly.
"If I tell you guys something that I heard this morning, I want you to promise not to panic, or anything."
Any and all amusement fell away in an instant. Kat got up, and sat on the edge of the bed beside him.
"What's the matter, Tommy?"
"When I went downstairs this morning," he told them, "I heard Mark and the rest of G-Force talking in the kitchen. Mark asked them if they'd been filled in by Chief Anderson, and they said yes Apparently, Zoltar has his eye on one of us. They're on orders not to let him get to us."
"Do you know who he's after?" Adam asked, a touch of disbelief in his voice.
Tommy looked sick. "I think it's me. I'm pretty sure that it's me. They said something about getting information about an adoption thirteen years ago. That's about the time I was adopted."
A frown touched Jason's face. "Adoption, huh? Why would Zoltar want you? You aren't even a Ranger anymore."
Tommy shrugged. "I don't know. I'm probably the easiest to control. Look at how many times I've been put under spells! First Rita, then Zedd, then Gasket...."
"The brain-drain wasn't a spell," Jason pointed out. "That was pure electronics. And just because you've been put under more spells than the rest of us, doesn't make you easier to control. If anything, I think it'd make it harder to control you."
"Jason's right," Tanya said. "Don't worry about it, Tommy. It isn't worth the stress. Besides, we're on G-Force's turf, now. They won't let anything happen to you, or any of us."
"That's right," Rocky joked. "If they did, our folks would kill them."
Laughter rippled across the group, and they happily changed topics, pushing the grim subject to the backs of their minds.
"So what did you and Princess do all day, anyway?" Tommy asked, turning the tide of attention to Jason. The former Gold Ranger turned red as everyone looked at him.
"We just walked and talked....."
"And the rest," Rocky cut in. Everyone laughed, and Jason went beet red. "Knock it off," he grumbled. "At least I have a girlfriend."
Amusement turned to delight, and Tommy hit Jason lightly on the right shoulder.
"That's great, bro! Man, Emily is gonna be mad when she hears."
Jason shrugged. "I don't really care. It's her problem that she thought she could do better with an older guy."
Rocky smirked. "Now she can't even get a date, 'cause all the guys from school think she's too stuck up. I'll never forget the day after G-Force left. You really gave her the brush-off, and right in front of everyone."
Jason pulled a face as he remembered the day. He'd arrived at school, still aching from his healing wounds, and not in a terribly good mood for knowing he wouldn't see Princess again for some time. Emily had come up to him, gushing sympathy for his ordeal. She may as well have had a flashing neon sign declaring her availability, Jason had thought at the time. To her shock, and the amusement of many others, he'd literally pushed her aside, muttering he wasn't in the mood, and gone on into the building. She'd not had the courage to confront him again.
"I didn't mean to be so callous. Not like that. I wasn't in a good mood."
"She deserved it," Kat said dismissively. "I'd heard her talking in the bathroom the day before to Kristin Jarvis and Delia Bell. She was so sure that you'd take her back without question. She was gushing about how she had you on a hook, and could do anything she liked with you. I wanted to deck her so badly, but what you did the next day was ten times better. She was so humiliated that it was worth the wait."
Jason had to smile, then. "I have to admit, for a while there, I might have taken her back, no questions asked."
"So what happened?" Tommy wanted to know. Jason smirked.
"I met Princess." He grimaced as he got to his feet. "I'm going to bed. I know it's early, but it takes twice as long to get to sleep with a cast on. 'Night."
The others murmured replies, and Jason slipped out of the room. Once he'd gone, Rocky spoke quietly, a devious grin on his face.
"You think anything happened between him and Princess today?"
"Not a chance," Tommy answered decisively. "She's too sensible to let anything happen, and he'd never take advantage of her. And they've both got way too much honour to do something stupid. Drop the thought, Rocky. They won't do anything, and you know it."
Rocky shrugged as he got up. "Hey, you can't blame me for asking. I don't believe none of you didn't wonder, even for a second. Anyway, I'm gonna follow the Gold One's example. I'm going to bed. 'Night, all."
Adam and Tanya also excused themselves, and left with Rocky, leaving Tommy and Kat alone.
"Don't worry about what you told us, Tommy. Zoltar won't get to you. Not while Mark and the others have a say in it."
She leaned over and kissed him lightly on the mouth, then slipped out of the room, leaving Tommy alone in the darkness.
* * *
_He was in a room. It was brightly lit, warm and cheerful. His mother was there, playing with him, laughing with him.... But something wasn't right... Something about his mother... Something strange...._
The scene changed.
_His mother... who was not his mother... was putting a coat on him. She was in a hurry. The bad people were coming, and they had to hurry. She was scared, so he was scared. They took a taxi, and drove a long way, to a big building. She took him into the building. A strange woman was waiting. His mother hugged him, said she loved him, and told him to be good for his new mummy and daddy. He didn't understand, and began to cry.
Then, his mother was gone, and the strange lady was telling him it was okay. He never saw his mother again..._
* * *
Mark awoke with a violent start, sweat stinging his eyes. His heart was pounding in his chest, and he was breathing hard. He groaned softly. It had been a long time since he'd had a nightmare of that magnitude, and as usual, he didn't understand what it was about. Just a jumble of images that made little sense.
He frowned. There had been a child involved, a little boy of no more than five years, and a young woman, no older than twenty-four or twenty-five. A very frightened young woman, Mark recalled. He sighed faintly and lay back down. If he concentrated on erasing the images from his mind, then perhaps he would be able to get back to sleep again...
The sound of footsteps outside his door snapped him back to attention, and he sat up quickly. Who, he wondered, would be up at such a late hour? A glance at his alarm clock revealed it was after two o'clock in the morning. Curiosity reigning, he went to see.
* * *
Jason jumped a little as a door opened behind him, and he spun around in fright, nearly losing his balance.
"Take it easy," Mark said anxiously. "I didn't mean to startle you. What are you doing up?"
Jason grimaced. "I needed some water. Couldn't get back to sleep, and when you have a plaster cast..."
Mark smiled his understanding. "Every craving gets amplified about ten times over. I know what you mean. C'mon downstairs. I could do with a drink myself."
* * *
Minutes later, the two sat at the kitchen table, two glasses and a jug of iced water between them.
"I'm sorry for waking you up," Jason murmured as he sipped the water. Mark shook his head.
"Don't be. You didn't even wake me up, actually. I had a pretty bad nightmare, and that's what really woke me up. I wouldn't have heard you, otherwise."
Curiosity flickered across Jason's face.
"You had a nightmare, too?"
Mark looked up at Jason in surprise. "What do you mean?"
"Well," Jason murmured, "That's sort of what woke me up in the first place. I had a bad nightmare. I..."
"What is it?" Mark asked, encouraging him to go on. Jason looked embarrassed.
"I actually woke up crying. I don't know why."
Mark smiled, then. "Don't worry. That happens to me a lot. It's nothing to be embarrassed about."
Jason sat back a little. "I didn't even really understand the night- mare. I think I was dreaming about myself when I was little but the woman I was with wasn't my mum. I mean, I called her Mum, but she wasn't my mother... It's hard to explain."
"You mean, it wasn't Sarah?" Mark asked, and Jason nodded.
"That's a little odd," Mark agreed. "You don't know who she was?"
"No, not from memory. The only explanation I have is that she was supposed to be my natural mother."
Mark momentarily froze. "Your natural mother?"
Jason nodded. "Yeah. I can't think of any other explanation."
A moment of silence followed, then Mark forced himself to ask the question.
"Yeah," Jason admitted quietly. "Not many people know about it. I never told Tommy, or any of the others. Actually, I never told anyone. It was never important to me. I never wanted to know who my real parents were. As far as I was concerned, Donavon and Sarah Scott were my real parents. I still believe that. So I've never talked about it to anyone."
Mark shut his eyes for a long moment as Kerig's words in the Pentagon came back to him.
_'I didn't hear all the conversation. Kaa was trying to explain it to someone. He said, 'a boy was adopted out thirteen years ago, and Zoltar is interested in finding the boy.' That's all I heard....'_
"Do you remember anything about being adopted?" Mark asked, trying to maintain some semblance of calm. Jason shrugged.
"Not really. Sometimes I think I do, but it's never clear."
"You don't remember your parents either?"
"A little. I don't remember my real father at all, but I remember my mother a little bit...."
Jason's voice faded into the background as Mark's mind began to work overtime to formulate a possible answer to the puzzle they'd been presented with. Jason was adopted, and Mark presumed it met the time-frame set by Kerig. So thirteen years ago, Zoltar set his sights on a child that he believed would be useful to him. The parents recognised the danger their son was in, and decided the only way to save him was to put him up for adoption, which they obviously did....
It didn't quite fill the gaps, but right then it was the most plausible explanation that Mark could come up with. Perhaps Zoltar had found out about Jason being adopted, and believed Jason was the child he had tried to snatch so many years ago. But why? Why did Zoltar want him at all?
There were still many questions left unanswered, and it was frustrating as hell.
Mark looked up, blinking as Jason's voice cut through into his consciousness.
"Are you okay? You look a little spaced out."
Mark smiled wryly. "I'm fine. I was just thinking You're lucky that you do remember your mother a little. I wish I could remember mine."
"How old were you when Chief Anderson took you?"
"About five years old. My mother was killed when we were attacked in our home by Spectran soldiers. The Chief had to grab me and Keop really quickly to get us out. He wasn't fast enough to save our mother. I know he tried, though. He still has some scars on his arms from where he got burnt trying to save her as well. I might have remembered if I'd had the chance to remember. We were put through such intensive, extensive training that I never had the chance to sit back and think about her. That's where I forgot."
"Look on the bright side," Jason said as he tried to stifle a yawn, "you have Chief Anderson at least. He's sort of like a surrogate father, isn't he?"
Mark had to grin. "Yeah. Except he can't ground us if we screw up. Can you imagine what would happen if there was a major emergency on the other side of the world? The Chief would have to send a message saying sorry, G-Force can't come. They've been grounded."
Jason laughed, but it ended in a wide-mouthed yawn as sleep started to catch up with him.
"Sorry. I think I'd better get back to bed."
Mark nodded. "Good idea. Before you get your second wind. I'll see you in the morning."
He sat back, watching in silence as Jason disappeared through the doorway. Then, finally, he got up and followed, but detoured at the stairs and headed down the hall. Predictably, the light was still on in Chief Anderson's study. Mark knocked once, then went in.
Anderson looked up from his paper work in surprise.
"Mark? What on earth are you doing up?"
Mark looked grim as he carefully shut the door behind him. "We have to talk. Now. Something's just happened. I was just in the kitchen with Jason Scott. We were talking, and he let something slip that he said he's never told anyone else."
"And what's that?"
Anderson nearly choked. "What!?"
"That's what he told me. Donavon and Sarah Scott aren't his natural parents. They adopted him when he was just five or so. At least, I assume that was when it happened."
Anderson sat back slowly in his chair. "Well that dismisses that theory."
"Nothing major," Anderson said. "Only that, for a while, I was wondering whether Kerig had got his wires crossed and that Zoltar was actually aiming for Tommy Oliver instead. Tommy is adopted as well, isn't he?"
"Yes. About thirteen years ago. Same time frame."
Anderson frowned darkly at the desktop. "Well, it confirms one fact, but it doesn't answer any of our questions. We still don't know what Zoltar could possibly want with Jason."
"That wasn't all," Mark said softly. Anderson looked back to him.
"I had a nightmare, Chief. It's what woke me up in the first place."
Concern flickered across Anderson's face. "Was it severe?"
"Well, I didn't wake up screaming, but it was pretty disconcerting. The thing is, Jason admitted he'd woken up after having a nightmare as well. He told me about it Chief, we pretty much had exactly the same nightmare."
Anderson stared at Mark incredulously. "Excuse me?"
"The same nightmare," Mark repeated. "A young woman rushing her son out of the house in the middle of the night, and leaving him with strangers to save him. It was pretty intense. I was thinking about explanations. Maybe Zoltar set his sights on Jason when he was little, but Jason's parents found out about it and decided to put him up for adoption to save him. Maybe it wasn't even Jason, but Zoltar somehow found out that Jason was adopted and thinks he's the same boy."
Anderson drummed his fingers lightly on the table. "Perhaps. It would explain your dream But if that's the scenario, then I'd say Jason is the same boy. After all, he had that dream as well, didn't he?"
"Yes..." Mark conceded.
"It's a plausible explanation, but it still does not say why! Damn... I'm going to have to contact the Welfare and National Adoption Board tomorrow. See if they can give me any information on Jason's natural parents."
"It may not have been an official agency," Mark pointed out. "If the parents wanted to keep it anonymous to protect Jason, they might have gone as far as to sell him. I know it sounds far-fetched..."
"On the contrary," Anderson mused, "it's a logical suggestion. Does Jason remember any of this?"
"He said he didn't. Maybe he doesn't, on the surface. I've got a feeling that if I probed him, the memories might be closer to the surface than he thinks."
"Don't," Anderson warned. "It could have some very unpleasant effects. We don't want to cause problems for him. Why don't you go to bed, Mark? Stop worrying about this for now. Besides, you don't want to be a zombie tomorrow."
Mark conceded with a faint smile.
"Okay. Good night, Chief."
Anderson watched the teen go, then reached over and picked up the phone, dialing a memorized number. It was answered almost immediately.
"Brian?" Anderson asked quietly. "It's Anderson here. I need a favour from you. I want all the information you can get me on the adoption of a child by Donavon and Sarah Scott, thirteen years ago. The boy's name is Jason. I want information on his real parents, and all the details you can get. It may not have gone through formal adoption procedures. It could possibly be a black market deal. Yes, as soon as you can. Thankyou."
He hung up and sat for a long moment before rising up and heading silently out of his study.
The next morning
"It's gonna be a warm day," Tiny commented as they finished up a large breakfast. He was right, they all realised. Already they could feel the warmth of the morning sun through the windows.
"Do you think we could go down the beach?" Tanya asked hopefully. Mark nodded slowly.
"I don't see why not. Just be prepared for a cold change, and watch the tide. It can be sort of unpredictable."
A murmur of excitement swept through the group that was soon dampened when Chief Anderson came into the dining room looking grim.
"Mark, I want you and the team in my study now. You have work to do."
"Aw, man," Keop grumbled. "It's not fair. We hardly ever get time off!"
Jason clapped the younger boy on the shoulder as they headed out of the room.
"Zoltar is just damned inconsiderate of our schedules, that's all."
Mark paused in the doorway, looking back at the Rangers. "You guys go on down to the beach today. Therese will get the cooks to make lunch for you if you want to eat down there. We'll join you later on, if we don't get back too late."
Then, G-Force were gone. Only minutes later, as they were helping to clear the table, they were nearly deafened by the roar of jet engines as the Phoenix launched into the air.
"Does this happen often?" Rocky asked Michael Anderson. Michael grinned.
"What? You mean them having to run off in the middle of something?"
"Oh, all the time. Providing it's not too serious, they'll be back by evening. Maybe even mid-afternoon. Do what Mark said and go down to the beach. It should be pretty quiet. Not too many people will be down there. Enjoy yourselves."
Tommy nodded his approval. "We will."
* * *
J'boath and Kaa watched silently from the shelter of the grassy dunes as the teens made their way across the sand, finally deciding on a spot midway between the water and the sand dunes.
"There's six of them. Which one do we grab?"
"All of them," Kaa answered. "We don't want G-Force alerted too soon. This is a delicate operation, J'boath. Caution is a necessity."
"But which one is the important one?"
"The boy that Carlton tried to kill, the one in the black top."
A sneer touched J'boath's lips. "With that cast on his arm? You have to be kidding. What would Zoltar want with him?"
"It is not our place to question his judgment," Kaa snapped. "We do as we're told. And we take all of them. But remember. Beat the others if they fight, but if you harm that boy in any way, it will be both our funerals. Understand?"
J'boath grumbled an affirmative, and the two settled down to wait for an opportune moment to attack.
* * *
"The water is freezing!" Kat gasped as she dipped one foot in. Tommy laughed.
"So you wouldn't appreciate it if I threw you in?"
"Don't you dare!" Kat growled, then shrieked and bolted up the sand, with Tommy in hot pursuit.
"Too bad it's not warm enough to go swimming," Rocky lamented. Adam smirked at his friend.
"What would you swim in? Your boxers? We didn't bring bathers because of the cold weather, remember?"
An evil grin lit up Rocky's face. "There's always skinny dipping."
Tanya grimaced. "Oh, don't be gross."
"Are you trying to tell me you don't want to see me naked?" Rocky asked her, giving her his wounded puppy look. Tanya pulled a face at him in response.
"Not in this lifetime. Sorry, Rocky. I just don't think I'm ready."
Adam laughed, then looked around to see Jason staring away from them, up the beach. He leaned over and hit Jason lightly on the arm.
"What's up? You're going all spacy on us again."
Jason tried to smile. "I'm okay. I guess I'm just a little worried about Princess."
Tanya gently squeezed his shoulder. "She'll be fine. She can take care of herself."
Any further condolences were lost, though, when Kat and Tommy came barreling back to the group, sending a spray of sand over Jason, Tanya, Rocky and Adam.
"Hey!" Rocky protested. "What are you trying to do, ruin lunch?"
"Sorry," Tommy apologized, struggling to catch his breath between fits of laughter. "Oh, man... This is what we need. Relaxation and fun, and not be worried about getting called away in the middle of it. You know, I think that every time we tried to organise some event, we got interrupted? Always some emergency. I hated that so much. I'm not sorry to pass that on to someone else, I can tell you."
Jason smiled ruefully. "Yeah. Like Zack's birthday a year ago. We were planning a surprise birthday party for him, and it nearly got ruined when Rita sent a monster to attack him. Or when we were at the carnival, and putties took over the place...."
Tommy nodded. "Not even just the fun things, either. Remember when Rita tried to stop us from working together to win that tournament? Or when we had that spell put on us?"
"What spell was that?" Kat asked curiously. Jason grimaced.
"Another of those anti-team work spells. Except that one was so potent that Tommy and I nearly had it out in the school hall. Bulk and Skull tried to cash in on it by arranging a fight between us in the Youth Centre. We came so close to taking each other's heads off, it wasn't funny."
"Not good," Tanya agreed. "You guys don't have any reason to fight. You're both as good as the other."
Tommy grinned across as his best friend. "Except when one of us is under a spell. Such as Muranthias."
"Or as the Green Ranger," Jason shot back. "At least you had the protection of powers when Divatox set me and Kim onto you guys in the volcano. I didn't have any protection against you in the Dimension of Darkness."
Tommy held up his hands defensively. "Touche. I surrender. Man... It's good to be able to talk like this, knowing it's really over."
"But don't you miss it?" Tanya asked. "Even a little?"
Tommy shrugged. "Yeah, I guess. I was a Ranger for so long, though, and it took up so much of my life I'm just happy to have my life to myself again. You get past the rush of morphing after a while. You're lucky you weren't a Ranger for so long that you got to feel that way."
Kat nodded and was about to reply when she caught Rocky lifting the lid on the hamper basket. Reaching over, she slapped him lightly on the wrist.
"Get out of that, Rocky! It's not even eleven o'clock yet! We are not opening that hamper until twelve!"
Rocky pouted in response. "Aw, c'mon, I'm hungry!"
"Hungry?" Adam choked out incredulously. "You had two helpings at breakfast! And that was only an hour ago!"
"Ease up, Rocko," Tommy said with an amused grin. "Let's set up the net we brought and play some beach volleyball. It'll be lunch time then before you know it."
Rocky conceded with obvious reluctance, and the teens set about putting up the volleyball net that Michael gotten out of the storeroom for them.
Minutes later, they'd divided into teams of three and were engrossed in their game.
* * *
"Well?" J'boath asked softly, watching the teens keenly. Kaa nodded slowly.
"They're distracted. It's early in the day. G-Force won't return for hours, and their absence, with luck, will not be discovered for as long. Now. Let's go."
* * *
Jason was the first one to realise they were surrounded. He took a flying leap at the ball to keep it inside the boundaries of the imaginary court, but the cast set him off-balance and he landed face-first in the sand. The game continued on behind him, and he pushed himself up to rejoin it, only to freeze when he found himself staring into the barrel of a gun.
"What's the matter?" Rocky yelled, oblivious to the trouble. "Can't get up?"
"Guys, we've got a problem," Jason called out, his voice taking on a sharp edge. Tommy recognised that tone all too well, and finally looked around.
The volleyball match came to an abrupt halt. Surrounding the teens were at least twenty Spectran soldiers, all armed with lasers or rifles. All ready to use them.
Kaa edged his way through the line of soldiers, and looked around at each of them appraisingly. His gaze fell briefly on Jason.
"Get up, boy."
Jason swallowed hard and got quickly to his feet, rejoining Tommy and Kat on their side of the net. Kaa looked back to the others.
"So nice to see you all again. I believe our last meeting took place in your home town, did it not?"
"What do you want?" Tommy demanded, unconsciously stepping in front of Kat.
"I want each of you to come quietly. Without protest. I suggest you concede. It is the only way to avoid injury."
Tommy hesitated, then stepped forward as he remembered the conversation he'd overheard just the previous morning.
"Look, you don't want all of them. Just take me, okay? Leave the others..."
"Tommy, no!" Kat cried out. Kaa ignored her, and stared at Tommy in amusement.
"Take you? Please, don't tempt me to shoot you. Now get back, before my men turn you into a human sprinkler."
Tommy moved back, confused and very frightened. Kaa then motioned with his gun and the soldiers moved in, quickly tying the hands of each teen behind their backs.
"Excuse me, Lieutenant Kaa?"
Kaa looked around, and saw one of the soldiers was unable to tie up Jason's hands because of the cast. He paused, then walked up to look the boy in the eye.
"Will you attempt to run?"
Jason hesitated, staring into Kaa's eyes. There was a definite threat there, and he dared not risk himself, or the lives of his friends.
"No," he whispered, his voice cracking from the strain of fear. Kaa nodded.
"Good. Then we don't need to tie you up. But if you do run, I will shoot dead one of your friends, and then send my men after you. Understand?"
Jason nodded, struggling to maintain his calm. Kaa smiled faintly, then motioned with his weapon.
"All right. Let's go."
Chief Anderson was almost falling asleep at his desk when a sharp beeping snapped him back to awareness. He looked around for the cause of the beeping, and was startled to discover it was his fax. Exhausted from lack of sleep, he took the first page from the machine, intending to put it aside until he was less tired. One glance at the sender's address abruptly cured him of fatigue. His heart beating in his throat, Anderson waited until the fax had finished printing, then gathered together all the sheets of paper and began to read.
* * *
Nearly an hour later, Anderson found himself with even more questions than he had started with. According to the information his informant had sent him, Jason's natural mother was a woman called Natasha Whyte. She had handed Jason over for adoption when the boy was six, for no other reason than claiming she could no longer look after him. Anderson frowned deeply.
Mark had to be right. For Jason to have been adopted out to new parents at such a late age, he had to have some memories, even if they were buried just beneath the surface.
He looked back to the papers. The last known location of Natasha Whyte was a small house located in the less prestigious areas of Los Angeles. That was just over thirteen years ago. According to what had been sent, an attempt had been made on Natasha's life. She had apparently escaped, but it was unknown whether she was still alive.
Anderson's frown deepened as he sifted through the papers. There was no information at all on Jason's natural father. The boy's birth certificate was never handed over in the adoption, and even his date of birth- January 6th- had a question mark over it.
The security chief sighed faintly and slumped back in his chair. He had been fervently hoping that some of their answers may have been provided in the details of Jason's parentage, but it was looking as though, to get the answers they wanted and needed, it would be necessary to go deeper, and try to locate Jason's natural mother, if not his father as well.
He started to reach for the phone when the transceiver on his desk crackled to life.
"Come in, Home Base. This is Eagle One."
Anderson reached over and pressed a single button. "This is Home Base. Go ahead, Mark."
"Chief, the call was phony!"
"What do you mean?"
"We're at the designated area now. It's totally clear. We've done a thorough search, both of the nearby coast and underwater. There is nothing in sight!"
Confusion filled Anderson's face. "Who would send a false SOS?" He froze, then leapt to his feet. "Michael!"
Michael Anderson appeared in the doorway seconds later, knowing that tone only too well.
"What is it?"
"Get to the beach, now. Take your radio, and call back when you know those kids from Angel Grove are all right. Go!"
Michael bolted from the room, and Anderson turned his attention back to the transceiver.
"Eagle One, hold your position. I repeat, hold your position. Wait for instructions."
Silence fell over the next five minutes as both parties waited for a reply. Finally, a second radio receiver on the desk burst to life.
"Dad, they're gone! All of them! Their stuff's still on the beach, but they're all gone!"
"They aren't in the water?"
"No. And there's a lot more footprints around here than six people would make. Even playing volleyball."
Anderson cursed under his breath. "All right. Get yourself back to the house now, Michael. Eagle One, attention."
"We're listening, Chief."
"Set a trajectory for Spectra. Our guests have been taken captive."
Imperial Castle, Spectra
"Oh, G-Force will take care of us," Rocky muttered sarcastically. "They won't let anything happen to us. Who was it who said that? Tanya?"
Tanya glared at Rocky threateningly. "Don't start with me."
"Knock it off," Tommy snapped. "We don't need to be biting each others' heads off."
"That's right," Kat agreed. "And at least none of us are hurt. That's the most important thing."
Tommy sighed, then joined Kat on the dirt floor. "I don't get it. They could have just taken me then. I wouldn't have put up a fight. Why'd they have to take all of us?"
"To stop us from raising the alarm, probably," Adam suggested. "As soon as Mark and the others know what's happened, they'll come straight here after us."
"Wherever here is," Rocky muttered. He glanced around, and saw Jason sitting in the corner of the cell by himself. "Hey, gold boy, what's the matter?"
Jason looked up angrily at Rocky. "Will you lay off the insults for five minutes? Please?"
A sneer touched the corner of Rocky's mouth. "Oh, forgive me, Exalted One."
"Shut up, Rocky," Tommy growled threateningly. "Jase, are you okay?"
"I feel sort of weird," Jason admitted softly. "I don't know what it is.... I think I feel sick."
Kat moved over to kneel beside him. "Is your arm hurting?"
"No. It's deeper than that." He tentatively touched his chest. "Deeper.... I can't explain it." He looked up at his friends. "I'm scared."
Kat put her arms around him and hugged him gently. "It'll be okay. G-Force will get us out of here. We'll be okay."
* * *
'G-Force will get us out of here. We'll be okay...'
Zoltar frowned a little, then switched the monitor off. "After so long, the connection is still there. Even if he doesn't know what he's sensing."
Kaa watched Zoltar intently. "What do you plan to do? Tell him the truth?"
"Eventually, yes. I want the boy to join me. He could be more powerful than Mark, given the opportunity. The problem is his upbringing. Abhorrently similar to Mark and Keop. He has too many values to expect him to simply switch sides."
"If he refuses you?" Kaa asked tentatively. A cold smile touched Zoltar's lips.
"Then we'll give the boy a dose of true Spectran hospitality."
* * *
"We should have known it was a diversion," Princess growled as the Phoenix raced along its trajectory towards Spectra. "Damn it..."
"We couldn't have known," Mark argued. "We have certain jobs to do, but picking which calls are true and which aren't honest isn't one of them. Not even the chief could have known. Stop thinking about it. Our priority is to get them back, unharmed."
Tiny looked grim. "It's been at least two hours since they were taken. Probably longer. Look at what Zoltar did to Joshua in that time."
Mark turned a light shade of green at the memory. "That isn't going to happen again."
"He only wanted Jason," Keop said quietly. "He might just order Kaa and J'boath to kill the rest. They might already be..."
"Stop it!" Mark exploded. "Damn it, they aren't dead until we find each and every one of their bodies! So knock it off!"
Jason whistled softly. "Touchy, aren't we?"
Mark sat hunched over his control panel, glowering at the multiple buttons. "They aren't dead. So just stop thinking that. Okay?"
Silence reigned for a long moment, then Tiny nodded.
* * *
A heavy silence had fallen over the teens as they sat in the cell. None had spoken a word for some time until Adam finally spoke up, if only to break the silence.
"What do you think they're waiting for?"
"Who knows?" Tommy muttered. Getting up, he went to the bars and tried to look out. No one was in sight, as he'd expected. "Hey! Can anyone hear me? We want to see someone now!"
"Stop it, Tommy," Jason said softly from where he sat. "It won't do any good. They won't come down here before they're ready."
Tommy fell back from the bars, frowning darkly.
"I'm not sure I want to know what they have planned for me."
"Maybe they're just trying to scare us," Tanya suggested hopefully. "You know, because we're friends with G-Force."
"We travelled through space," Rocky said. "I don't think they'd go to that much trouble just to give us a scare."
Tommy moved away from the bars, and slid to the ground next to Jason.
"I'm sick of this. I'm sick of being used by every damned villain as a weapon against my friends. When they come for me, they'll have to damn well carry me out, because I'm not going anywhere."
"Well, that's going to make rescuing you bloody awkward."
All six teens looked up in surprise to see a young man in his late- twenties standing there watching them intently, with a younger woman at his side. Tommy stood up quickly.
"Who are you?"
"My name is Joseph. This is my sister Megan." Joseph paused as he broke open the lock on the cell doors with the blade of a knife. "We are part of a gypsy band. I suggest that if you lot care to see daylight again, then you come with us right now."
The teens exchanged wondering looks, then quickly filed out of the cell. Megan motioned down the dank corridor, which led into darkness.
"This way. Quickly."
* * *
"How did you know we were there?" Tommy asked as they hurried along.
"We didn't," Joseph replied bluntly. "It was luck, nothing more. My sister and I occasionally slip into the castle to salvage what food we can. We overheard guards talking about prisoners in the dungeons, and we decided to do something about it."
"We don't want to cause trouble for your camp," Tommy said. "They might send soldiers, or something after us. Zoltar was specifically after me."
Joseph spared Tommy a curious look. "You? Look, stop talking and just move. All right?"
Tommy fell silent, taken aback by Joseph's lack of compassion and interest, and hurried his pace.
* * *
Once outside, the teens finally got their first look at the main base of the Spectran army. The castle sat atop a rocky hill, black and frightening with towers that reached up towards a dim, orange sky. They could vaguely make out windows and parapets, even blacker against the forbidding walls.
"Oh god," Kat whispered, staring out at the fortress from the copse where they'd paused to rest. "It's worse than Zedd's dimensions."
Adam looked to Joseph incredulously. "You actually go in there deliberately?"
Joseph regarded the teen with a cool stare. "Don't complain, boy. If we didn't, you would all still be in that cell."
"We appreciate your help," Tanya said quickly. "But what happens when G-Force come after us?"
Joseph paused, then, glancing at his sister in surprise. Megan took a hesitant step forward.
"G-Force? They're coming here?"
"Probably," Tommy said, "once they know we're missing. We were staying with them when we were taken by those two lieutenants."
"Kaa and J'boath," Joseph murmured. "All right, then. Don't concern yourselves about it. We have means to contact G-Force from our camp. Just come with us."
"How do you know G-Force?" Kat asked as they started moving again. Megan smiled.
"Who on Spectra doesn't know G-Force? They're either loved or hated here. I personally owe them my life. They rescued me from the castle when I was thirteen and returned me to my family. I'd been kidnapped by soldiers to work in the castle as a slave."
"We've known G-Force for around ten Earth years," Joseph explained. "They and their friends are always welcome at our campfire. Here we are..."
They stepped through a wall of bushes and trees into a large clearing a quarter the size of a football field. There were three or four caravans and a number of hand-made tents forming a rough circle around a large campfire. It was a scene not unlike what they would have expected to see on Earth, they all thought silently.
"Joseph! What's this?"
"Earth children," Joseph called back to a burly man who was coming towards them. "We freed them from the dungeons in the castle. They say G-Force will be coming to rescue them."
The older man grinned. "Well then, bring them through. I'll get on the radio, and make sure the kids don't go to the castle."
"Who's that?" Tanya whispered, watching the giant of a man in awe as he departed.
"That's my father," Megan said with a smile. "His name's Louis. He's the head of our camp."
"This way," Joseph urged them on. "We'll get you kids something to eat."
"Kids?" Rocky grumbled. "We aren't kids. We're nearly adults."
"Just mind your manners," Tommy warned him. "They didn't have to rescue us."
Rocky only frowned and followed the group in silence.
* * *
"All right," Louis said as he finally joined them by the campfire. "G-Force are on their way here now. They should be here within twenty minutes. Hopefully, you'll be off the planet before Zoltar either realises you're gone, or before he realises where you've gone."
"Thank God," Jason muttered. "This place is starting to make me sick."
Tommy elbowed Jason in the side, but Louis shook his head.
"Now don't do that. I understand that sentiment entirely. Spectra is not the most pleasant planet in the universe to on. But I have to admit that I am curious. Zoltar has taken one or two people in the past friends of G-Force but he's never taken more than that at one time. Not without a specific reason. Do you kids have any idea what he wants with you?"
Silence fell as the teens looked cautiously at one another. Finally, Tommy spoke quietly.
"He wanted me. I guess he took the others to keep it quiet for as long as possible."
"No offence, lad," Louis said, "but what would Zoltar want with you?"
Tommy shrugged. "I don't know, and I don't want to find out. I over- heard Mark talking to the others a couple of days ago. He said Zoltar was after one of us, and there was mention about an adoption thirteen years ago, and since I was adopted thirteen years ago..."
He trailed off, shrugging again. Louis eyed the teen curiously.
"Adoption, hmm? Doesn't make much sense. Well, you'll be away from here soon enough and you won't have to worry about it anymore. Beth?"
A woman in her forties left the horse she was tending and walked over.
"What is it, Louis?"
Louis stood up, holding out his bowl to her. "Could you please get me some more soup?"
She smiled lovingly at him, taking the bowl happily.
She started to turn away, then froze, her eyes widening with shock. "Oh lord..."
"What is it?" Louis growled, drawing his knife from his belt. Beth shook her head, and managed a weak smile.
"It... It's nothing. I thought I saw a snake, but I was wrong. Louis, could I speak to you please? Alone?"
Louis nodded, puzzled, and followed her away from the circle around the fire.
Beth swallowed hard. "That boy over there. The one with that brace thing on his arm. Did you take a good look at him, Louis?"
Louis frowned as he glanced back at the group of teens.
"What about him?"
"Louis, he's the spitting image of Tashi!"
Louis continued to frown for a long moment before recognition dawned in his eyes. "My god, you're right. That's uncanny Lord, how long has it been now?"
"Sixteen years," Beth whispered. "Oh, Louis... Do you think it's possible?"
"Don't jump to conclusions," Louis warned her. "We did everything we could, but Zoltar had a hell of a lot more resources than us. There was no G-Force back then." He paused, then shook his head. "We'll wait for G-Force to get here. Then, perhaps we'll be able to get a few answers. Or perhaps we'll even be able to give them a few."
He lightly touched the bowl she held. "Get the soup, Beth. G-Force will be here soon enough."
* * *
G-Force arrived within twenty minutes, as Louis had predicted, and finally met up with the former Rangers again in the gypsy camp as the teens were helping themselves to a second lot of soup.
"If you didn't want to meet us on the beach, you should have just said so," Jason joked. "You didn't have to go get yourselves captured."
"Very funny," Kat retorted dryly. "Like we did this for a laugh."
Mark grinned. "Just as long as you're all safe. We all panicked when we got word that you'd disappeared."
"We're safe," Tommy confirmed. "Thanks to Joseph and Megan."
Mark looked around, and his grin widened at the sight of his old friends.
"Now there's a sight for sore eyes," he said with a chuckle. Joseph grinned and clapped Mark on the shoulder, while Megan took the liberty of hugging Mark tightly.
"It's been too long since you were last here," she murmured. Mark hugged her back, then gently disengaged himself from her grasp.
"Maybe. Please don't take offence, but we make it a habit to stay as far away from here as we can, for as long as we can."
Louis smirked. "Now I wonder why that is. Don't go running off straight away. We haven't been ambushed yet, so I assume that they either don't know these kids are gone, or they haven't figured out where they've disappeared to yet. Stay for supper, will you?"
Mark looked around at the eager expressions on both his team's and their friends' faces, then nodded.
"I guess it's unanimous. We'll stay, just for supper."
Louis thumped Mark on the shoulder enthusiastically, nearly sending the teen over.
"Great. Supper will be ready very soon. You kids, feel free to have a look around. Just don't wander away from the camp boundaries." He waited until they'd broken up from their group before turning and speaking in a low voice to the young commander.
"Mark, I think we need to talk."
Mark looked surprised, but didn't argue and followed Louis into the nearest caravan.
"Well, I asked them why Zoltar wanted them, and the lad with the long hair..."
"Yes. Tommy claimed it was him that Zoltar was after."
Mark blinked in astonishment. "Where did he get an idea like that?"
"He said he'd overheard you talking to the rest of your team, and that something was mentioned about Zoltar being after one of them that was adopted."
Mark frowned for a moment, then groaned. "Oh Damn. That's true, Louis, but it isn't Tommy that's the target. It's Jason."
Louis faltered for a moment, caught by surprise. "Jason?" He shook himself back to reality. "Which one is Jason?"
"The one with the plaster cast on his arm. Jason Scott. He's adopted as well, but he never told his friends."
Louis was silent for a long moment as he contemplated that. "When was the boy adopted?"
"About thirteen years ago. He would have been five years old. Nearly six."
A deep frown creased Louis's face. "Thirteen years. That would be three years after... Surely she wouldn't have..."
"Louis?" Mark asked tentatively. "What are you thinking?"
Louis turned around and went to the other side of the caravan, bringing a box out from beneath the bed.
"I have something here somewhere.... Do you have any idea of the identity of his real parents?"
"Jason, you mean? The Chief found out a few things. He told us on our way here. There's no information at all about Jason's real father, but his mother's name is Natasha Whyte. There wasn't much information on her, either. No birth certificate was handed over when Jason was adopted, and a lot of the information she gave the agency about him was questionable. According to what the Chief found out, someone tried to kill her soon after she gave Jason up for adoption, and then she disappeared without a trace. No one knows if she's even still alive."
Louis turned back to Mark, several papers clutched in his hands.
"Mark, I think you had better sit down. I have something to tell you, and it may not be entirely pleasant."
Mark didn't move. "What's going on, Louis?"
Louis handed Mark the first sheet of paper. It was an aging drawing of a young woman, done with some version of charcoal.
"That is Tashi," Louis said quietly. "She is the daughter of my second in charge. She would be nearly forty by now. Tashi was taken from us when she was eighteen. She was taken to the castle to work, the same as my Megan. Except that Zoltar took a personal shine to Tashi. First he insisted on having her as his personal servant. That progressed to less savoury activities. Tashi was returned to us a year after she was taken. She was pregnant, with Zoltar's child."
Mark stood frozen for a long moment before sitting down quickly on the bed behind him. Louis regarded Mark grimly.
"This was when Zoltar was still dividing his time between your people and Spectra. He left the planet to return to Aareth, but he warned us that he'd be back for the child. Tashi had wanted to abort the pregnancy to begin with, but she was too terrified of what Zoltar would do to her if she did. She saw the pregnancy through, and gave birth to a baby boy. Whatever misgivings Tashi had were totally erased when she laid eyes on that child for the first time. After that, there was no way in hell she would have given him up."
Mark stared at the picture on the sheet of paper he clutched in his hands.
"Louis, if that's true... Then I have an older brother somewhere."
"Yes, I know. Not on this planet, though. We kept the child with us, within our camp, for nearly two years. We weren't interferred with and the child grew up healthy. Just before the boy's second birthday, we received word that Zoltar was coming back to Spectra. Tashi became hysterical, screaming that her son would be taken away from her and used for god knows what. We were inclined to agree. We all knew by then that Zoltar had strange talents, and no doubt it had been passed on to the child. We held an emergency meeting, and decided to try and get both Tashi and the child off the planet. At that time Colonel Cronus was still able to get small transports on and off the planet to transport refugees from Spectra to Boridia. We sent her to him and he placed her on a transport..."
"Colonel Cronus knows about this?" Mark interrupted. Louis shook his head.
"No. He didn't know the significance of the boy. We kept that secret, for both Tashi's and the child's sakes. All he knew was that a young mother was desperate to get her child off a planet that recruited boys for military training as soon as they could walk five steps without falling over. She went to Boridia, and from there escaped to Earth. That was the last we heard of her. That was sixteen years ago."
Mark was silent for a long moment as he digested all that Louis had told him. "You think Tashi might have changed her name?"
"It's most likely. It's quite possible that the Natasha Whyte that your Chief Anderson received information about is actually Tashi."
Mark's breath froze in his throat. "But then that would mean..."
"She named her son Jason," Louis said softly. "That boy out there looks so much like Tashi that I can't pass it off as a coincidence."
A long silence followed.
"It would explain why Zoltar is after Jason," Mark conceded finally. "Oh man.... This is too much."
Louis sat down carefully on the bed next to Mark. "Zoltar ravaged our camp and had our people hunted down like wild prey after he discovered Tashi had taken Jason and fled the planet. It took us five years to bring everything together again. I know for a fact that he never gave up on finding that child again. I doubt it would be for affectionate reasons, either."
Mark handed the picture back to Louis, aware that his hands were trembling badly.
"It'd explain the dreams as well. Hell, I knew there was more to this than what was obvious. I didn't realise it went so deep."
Louis watched Mark intently. "If that boy out there is Tashi's son, then he is in a great deal of danger. And I believe it is him, Mark."
Mark shut his eyes for a long moment. "This isn't the answer I wanted, Louis."
"We rarely get what we want, lad. But if it is him, you've just gained a brother."
A faint sigh escaped the teen. "I guess we'd better go out and..."
The door swung violently open, and Joseph nearly fell into the caravan.
"Father! Mark! Soldiers!"
The two ran out of the caravan to find the grounds overrun with Spectran soldiers. Leading them, was Kaa, J'boath and Zoltar himself. The gypsies were unarmed, so were Tommy and the other teenagers, and G-Force dared not fight. The soldiers were numerous, and soon had the entire camp at gun point.
Zoltar moved forward, into the middle of the chaos, looking around with more than a touch of amusement. Angry and fearful, Mark moved to confront him.
"I won't even bother asking what you want."
Zoltar regarded the teen with disdain. "I'd like to think you aren't that stupid." He glanced at Joseph. "I've no doubt as to who rescued the brats. You have so little respect for the freedom I've allowed your sister that you'd risk it so flagrantly?"
"Go to hell," Joseph spat. "I'll happily release anyone you lock up in those dungeons."
"Easy," Mark warned him softly. "Don't lose it, Joseph."
Zoltar sighed faintly. "I should have everyone here killed. I'm tempted." He turned a cold glare on Louis. "You got away with this once before. What makes you believe I would let you escape retribution twice?"
Louis returned the stare defiantly. "Whatever you're planning, you'll do your plans no favours by killing us all. That would cause you to lose more ground than you could possibly recover."
Anger flickered in Zoltar's eyes as he realised the truth in Louis's words.
"You may be right," he conceded grudgingly. He looked around slowly, taking in the situation before him. "Leave the gypsies," he ordered finally. "We will deal with them at a more convenient time. We will take G-Force..."
"What about the brats?" J'boath hissed. Zoltar looked to the former Rangers.
"We leave them. Let them stay with the gypsies. For now."
Kaa stared at Zoltar in confusion. "What about....?"
A small smile touched Zoltar's lips. "Of course. All but one." He walked over to where the six teens were huddled close together. Tommy glanced anxiously at his friends, then stepped away from the group, head held high.
"You can take me. I... I won't put up a fight."
To Tommy's embarrassment and astonishment, Zoltar laughed.
"What would I want with you? Get back to your friends, you pathetic waste."
Tommy fell back, stunned. Zoltar moved in and reached out, clamping a hand down on Jason's shoulder. He pulled the boy out, away from the protective huddle of his friends, and pushed him across to Kaa.
"I have what I came for. Back to the castle!"
"No..." Tanya whispered in horror as Jason was led away from the camp and out of their sight. Adam had to struggle to hold her back.
"Tanya, don't. We can't help them. Not on our own."
"You're right about that, lad," Louis said in a grim voice as he joined them. "Zoltar lost that boy once. He won't lose him again. We need extra help now if we're going to get them all out alive."
Louis tramped away, leaving the teens in confused silence.
* * *
The trek back to the castle was frightening. Jason found himself in the middle of the line. Mark and Princess were just ahead of him, and the other three members of G-Force were somewhere behind him. He'd barely had a chance to wonder what was going on before Zoltar grabbed him and dragged him away from his friends.
Part of him had already acknowledged that it was him that Zoltar wanted, but that part had still been buried deep. Now, he was very frightened and very confused.
The line came to an abrupt halt as two of the soldiers up ahead suddenly began to assault Mark, bashing him with the butts of their guns. The teen, with his hands tied behind his back, went down hard, helpless to defend himself.
"What are you doing?" Zoltar exploded, striding past Jason and up to the front of the line. "Stop it! Did I give the order to incapacitate any of them?"
One soldier looked uncomfortable. "We We thought he was about to try and escape, sire."
Zoltar glared at the soldier. "With his hands tied up, and his friends prime targets? He wouldn't have dared. Get him up."
The two soldiers leaned down and pulled Mark to his feet. Zoltar eyed the teen critically.
"Can you walk?"
Mark nodded, coughing painfully and struggling to breathe evenly.
"I... I think so."
"Good. I'd hate to have to shoot you here and now. Get moving."
Mark spared Zoltar a baleful look before trudging onwards. Zoltar hung back, watching the parade of prisoners, only to falter when Jase was pushed past him. The look of hatred and fury in the boy's eyes was disturbing. Then, he was past, and heading on towards the castle. Zoltar stood still for a long moment, aware that his plan was becoming ever shakier, before continuing on behind the line.
* * *
"What do you want done with them?" Kaa asked upon arrival back in the castle. Zoltar motioned with a flick of his hand.
"Place G-Force in their regular accommodation. I'll see to them eventually. Right now, I have another matter to deal with. Bring the boy to the main hall."
Kaa replied with a bow, then went to carry out his orders.
* * *
Jason had little chance to take in his surroundings as he was propelled down a long corridor by Kaa. Not that he particularly cared to see the sights, he thought grimly. What he did catch a glimpse of was more than enough to make his stomach churn.
"Like our decorations?" J'boath sneered at the boy as he brought up the rear, behind his brother.
"Shut up, J'boath," Kaa snapped. "Our orders are to take him to the hall. Not make him physically ill."
Jason swallowed hard, getting an eyeful of a semi-rotted corpse that was nailed to the wall. Most of the flesh was gone, making the inner organs all too visible. He looked away, but not before the image was burned into his memory.
J'boath snickered at Jason's discomfort. "I guess that means you won't be becoming a doctor?"
Kaa shot his brother a threatening glare. "I told you to shut up. Zoltar will not take kindly to poor treatment of him."
Another sneer tugged at J'boath's lips. "Well, not yet, anyway."
Jason had no time to wonder what they meant. A door swung open in front of them, and Jason found himself being pushed into a huge hall. It looked like something out of the pages of a medieval book, he thought dimly, except this was the castle of the villain and not the good king. He was ushered down to the other end of the hall, to the bottom of a dais. At the top of the steps, sat a rough wooden throne. In the throne sat Zoltar.
"Welcome to my domain," Zoltar said quietly once he had Jason's attention. "I would have taken the time to greet you earlier, but you and your friends ran out on me. That wasn't very polite."
Jason could barely believe the audacity of the figure on the throne.
"Where are Mark and Princess and the others?" he demanded to know. A small smile etched itself across Zoltar's face.
"They're secure. They aren't going anywhere. So you can relax. The gypsies won't allow your friends to come back here, so no one will be coming to rescue you. Not that you need to be rescued."
Jason shut his eyes for a moment to regain his wits. "What do you mean by that?"
Zoltar stood up slowly, and began to walk down the dais steps. "Is it being rescued to be taken from your home? I'd be more inclined to call it kidnapping."
"I don't understand what you're talking about," Jason whispered, confused. "My home is in Angel Grove On Earth. Not here."
Zoltar reached the bottom of the dais and came to a halt in front of Jason.
"I don't doubt you believe that. I have something to tell you, though, and I want you to promise me you will listen."
"I don't trust you," Jason growled.
"You don't have a choice. Either listen, or go back to the dungeons."
Jason's shoulders slumped in defeat.
"All right," he conceded reluctantly. Zoltar nodded.
"Good. Tell me, now. You know you are adopted, don't you?"
"Yes," Jason said tentatively, wondering if he should lie. A dark frown flashed across Zoltar's face.
"Don't even try lying to me, Jason. I promise I will know."
"Yes!" the teen burst out, a touch of panic in his voice. "I know I'm adopted. I said I knew!"
"All right. Calm down. What about your mother? Do you remember much of her?"
"Some," Jason admitted grudgingly. "It's sort of hazy. I remember she cared a lot for me."
Zoltar stared at Jason for a long moment, then turned away slowly. "I knew your mother, Jason. I knew her well. And she was not the caring type."
Jason's jaw tightened a little with tension. "What do you mean?"
"I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this, but your mother was an evil, vindictive woman. She stole you from your father and took you to Earth with her, then abandoned you to a welfare centre when she no longer had need for you."
"That's not true," Jason whispered hoarsely, stung badly by what he was being told. Zoltar continued to stand with his back to the teen.
"It is true. I have no reason to lie to you. I don't need to lie to you. The truth is painful enough without me trying to add to it. Your mother would have terminated her pregnancy had I not threatened to kill her should she do so. You have me to thank, Jason, simply for being born."
"How do you know all this?" Jason choked out, pain of tension and panic clutching at his chest.
"I know for one specific reason. You don't remember your father at all, do you? That's because you never met him, not as a baby, and not as a child. But you are not an ordinary boy, Jason. You have a very special birthright, passed onto you from your father. Passed to you from me."
Zoltar looked up towards the dank windows as he spoke, still not looking back at Jason. "I am your father, Jason. I have been searching for you for sixteen years, ever since that traitorous little wretch took you off the planet." A smile twisted itself onto Zoltar's face. "I suppose in that way, I should have been grateful to Carlton. If he hadn't tried to kill you, I would not have realised who you were. I...."
Zoltar trailed off as Kaa moved into his line of sight, motioning tentatively with his hand. Frowning, Zoltar looked around to see what was wrong, then sighed tiredly. Jason had collapsed to the floor in a dead faint.
* * *
Colonel Cronus arrived on Spectra with a small squad of his own men, and reached the gypsy camp to find the place in a shambles.
"What in the gods happened here?" he asked, astounded by the destruction. Louis quickly went to meet him.
"The blasted castle soldiers happened. Thankyou for coming so quickly, Colonel."
Cronus nodded. "That's all right. You've helped my men escape death enough times. This is a meager repayment. But what's going on?"
"G-Force have been taken. They came here to rescue those kids over there..."
Cronus looked past Louis to where five teens sat huddled together on a log, talking amongst themselves.
"I know those children," he said suddenly. "They aided G-Force five months ago. What are they doing here?"
"They were taken by Spectran soldiers on Earth, and brought here by Kaa and J'boath. My Joseph and Megan rescued them. We were able to divert G-Force here, but soldiers raided the camp, and took them prisoner. It was all my men could do to stop those five running off to the castle to try and rescue them."
A deep frown formed on Cronus' face. "So the whole thing was a plan to trap G-Force. Damn Zoltar..."
Louis looked grim. "Actually, that wasn't the plan at all. There's a sixth youth that was taken along with G-Force. A lad by the name of Jason."
Cronus stiffened. "Jason? Jason Scott?"
"That's right. It was him that Zoltar wanted. No one else. G-Force was merely a bonus to him this time."
"Hell," Cronus whispered. "I should have known he'd try to snatch the boy. We warned G-Force about it."
"I know. Mark told me. But now we know why Zoltar wants him. Colonel, do you remember back sixteen years ago? I sent a girl to you from my camp. She had her two year old son with her."
Cronus nodded slowly. "Yes, I think so. Tashi, wasn't it?"
"Yes. Tashi, and her son, Jason."
Cronus froze, staring blankly at Louis. "Jason?"
"That's right, Colonel. The boy that Zoltar has now is the boy that we sent to Boridia with Tashi. That boy is Zoltar's son."
For nearly a minute, Cronus didn't say a word. Then, finally, he focused a hard stare on Louis.
"Why didn't you tell me the truth?"
"We were anxious to do anything we could to protect both Tashi and the child. We'd decided amongst our elders that we would never tell anyone. What would you have done had you known? Tell me that."
Cronus sighed, then. "I see your point. But if what you say is the truth, then Zoltar has his son back. And I've heard enough from Mark about his people to know that the firstborn of each generation is endowed with a great deal of power. If Zoltar is able to unlock that power, and manipulate Jason to his own purposes, he may very well have a weapon on his side that we can't stop."
"What are you planning to do?"
"I don't want to kill the boy," Cronus said softly. "Nor do I want to see him killed at Zoltar's hand. I'm taking my men and we'll get G-Force out first of all, and then see about rescuing Jason."
"Do you think Zoltar would be able to turn him?" Louis asked softly. Cronus looked grim.
"I honestly don't know. The lad has a strong character. I just hope it's strong enough to resist Zoltar."
* * *
Jason awoke what could have been minutes or hours later to find himself lying on a soft bed in a large chamber room. For a long moment, he lay still, not quite sure what was going on. Then, he remembered. Panic hit, and he rolled quickly off the bed. It was then he realised his left arm was free of the plaster cast. He stood frozen, staring down at his arm in confusion.
They'd removed the cast while he'd been unconscious, he supposed. But why? Frowning, he slowly flexed his arm and hand to discover there was no pain or stiffness. He stretched his arm out, turning around, quickly finding he had full mobility in the limb.
His arm fell to his side. He didn't have time to wonder how his arm had been healed of the break so fast. Walking over to the door, he tried to open it only to discover it was locked from the outside. Frustrated, he turned and headed across to the window and looked out. Nausea hit as he found himself staring at the ground so far below that to jump would surely be fatal. He pulled back, feeling decidedly sick. He couldn't get out, so his only option left was to wait.
Feeling more helpless than he had for a long time, he walked over to the far corner of the room and sank to the floor to wait.
* * *
Mark had been in the containment cell for nearly five hours when the door finally slid open and Kaa appeared.
The young commander got slowly to his feet, wincing with pain. "What now?"
"Zoltar wants to speak with you."
Mark stepped out of the cell, and Kaa quickly released the safety on his weapon and pressed the muzzle into the small of Mark's back.
"No foolish tricks. I guarantee I could pull the trigger before you take me down."
"I don't doubt that," Mark grumbled. "Don't worry. I won't try anything."
Kaa smirked. "Good. Let's go."
* * *
Rather than going to the main hall, Mark found himself being ushered to Zoltar's private chamber. The chamber was empty when they got there. Kaa motioned with his gun to an empty chair.
"Sit there and don't move. He'll be here soon."
Mark sat, and Kaa took up guard position in the doorway. Minutes later, Zoltar arrived and ushered Kaa from the room. He then shut the door and turned to look at Mark.
"Comfortable?" he asked dryly.
"Very," Mark replied abruptly. Zoltar walked over and sat down in the other chair.
"How much do you know?"
Mark grimaced. "You never did go in for light chats."
"Don't be smart," Zoltar snapped. "I asked how much you know. Answer me."
A faint sigh escaped the teen. "The Chief found out a few things, Louis told me some other things, and I filled in the gaps. Jason is my brother, isn't he?"
"Half-brother, yes. He was born not quite two years before you and Lucy. His mother left the planet with him sixteen years ago. I have spent as long searching for him. Now I have him back, and nothing you and your friends do will cause me to lose him again."
"He isn't your son anymore," Mark said softly. "No more than I am, or than Keop is. He'll never acknowledge you as his father. Why can't you leave him alone? He wasn't raised to fight you like I was."
Zoltar laughed softly. "All the time you spent with Samuel, and you don't understand? The boy has power, Mark. Substantial power. I intend to use that to my full advantage."
Mark sat stiffly in the chair. "And if he refuses to let you use him like that What are you going to do? Just kill him?"
"If needs be," Zoltar admitted. "You don't think I can simply let him walk away, do you?"
"You heartless bastard," Mark snarled, only to suffer a backhand across the face.
"Insolent wretch," Zoltar hissed. "You can deny me all you want, but you are still my son. As is Jason. My children are mine to do with as I please. Jason will be given a choice. If he refuses me, the two of you will die, side by side. Kaa!"
The door opened and Kaa stepped in. Zoltar motioned dismissively with his hand.
"Take Mark back to his quarters. And let your brother know I've given him permission to do whatever is necessary must to restrain him."
An odd look flickered across Kaa's face. "Yes, my lord. Let's go, Mark."
* * *
Mark walked into the containment cell, then looked back at Kaa.
"Should I expect your brother?"
Kaa frowned. "Don't tempt me."
A touch of surprise showed in Mark's eyes. "You mean you aren't going to?"
Kaa glanced back over his shoulder, then spoke softly. "I don't see the point in beating you to incapacitation. It would be foolish." He paused, then added coldly, "In any case, I doubt you'll be a problem for us much longer. I suggest you start praying for a miracle, Commander."
The door slid shut, and Mark sat down with a thud on the cold floor.
"So what else is new?"
* * *
Cronus had divided his force into five teams of two, and was about to enter the west tunnel into the castle when his lieutenant spoke to him softly.
"We're being followed."
Cronus paused. "Spectran?"
"No. It's one of the kids from the gypsy camp."
"Damn. Where is he?"
"About twenty metres behind us."
After a moment of indecision, Cronus finally shifted around and looked back to the bushes a short distance behind them.
"All right. Come out of there. We know you're there."
Silence followed, and then the bushes rustled a little and Tommy pushed his way out of the scrub. Cronus regarded the teen with open annoyance.
"What do you think you're doing?"
"I'm going to help my friend," Tommy growled stubbornly.
"The hell you are. I don't care if you were a Power Ranger. You aren't now, and this is a dangerous place."
"I didn't reach a fourth degree black belt for nothing," Tommy shot back. "I can look after myself. And you either let me come with you, or I go in by myself."
"You do that and you'll get yourself killed," Cronus hissed. "I can't guarantee that you won't anyway! Do yourself and your friend a favour by going back to the gypsy camp. You'll help no one if you're injured."
Tommy's gaze narrowed considerably. "Take me with you, or I swear to God that I'll go in alone. I heard what you said to Louis. I'm not gonna leave Jason to die in there."
Cronus knew then that he couldn't dissuade the boy. He sighed softly, then nodded.
"All right. Come with us. But stay between us and keep your head down. And you do what I tell you without question. Understand?"
Tommy nodded. "I understand."
"Good. Because if you cause trouble, I'll shoot you myself. Now, let's go."
* * *
The door slid open and Mark looked up wearily, expecting to see J'boath or Kaa. His eyes widened a little at the sight of an old friend.
Cronus strode in and pulled Mark to his feet. "Louis contacted me. Said you kids were in trouble. I came as fast as I could. Are you all right?"
"I am now. What about the others?"
"They should all be out by now. Let's go, we have to get out of here."
"No," Mark said softly. Cronus hesitated.
"I know about Jason, Mark. Louis explained it to me. We have to get out of here and reorganize ourselves. It isn't worth risking our lives."
Still Mark didn't move. "He's my brother. That's worth the risk. I don't know whether Zoltar's tried anything with him yet. But I have to get to him now."
"I'm with Mark," Tommy said defiantly. "Jason's my best friend. I'm not leaving him behind."
Cronus stood still for a long moment, then spoke into his transmitter.
"Teams 2 to 5, report."
"We're out, Colonel," came the immediate reply. "They're all safe."
"All right. Get them back to the gypsies, and get ready to leave in a hurry. We're going after the other boy."
Cronus switched off the radio, then looked back to Mark. "Let's go get your brother."
* * *
Jason was back in the main hall, facing Zoltar again. The evil leader regarded the teen stonily.
"I hope the fainting spell was a one-off. Was it?"
The former Gold Ranger felt his hands involuntarily curling into fists.
"Shock tends to have that sort of effect."
Zoltar nodded. "Fair enough," he conceded. "And have you recovered from the shock?"
"No," Jason replied bluntly. "Even if it's true, I'll never call you father. I have a father, and he loves me a hell of a lot more than you ever could."
A sneer crossed Zoltar's lips. "I'm not asking for your affection, Jason. I want your compliance. Your obedience. You have a great deal of power that is untapped. I can help you to realise that potential. You could have more power than you ever dreamed of. All you need do is swear allegiance to me, and we can rule this universe together. Father and son...."
Jason groaned, bringing one hand up to cover his eyes. "Oh god, I feel like I'm in the middle of The Empire Strikes Back." He looked back to Zoltar. "Do you honestly believe I could give up on everything I believe in to join you? Because if you do, then you're dumber than Zedd. If what you've told me is true, and if I do have some sort of power, then I'll use it to do good. And to fight against people like you."
Zoltar stared coldly at the teen. "I wouldn't hesitate in killing you. Perhaps you should consider that before deciding to reject my offer. Understand that I can't possibly allow you to leave here as my enemy.... alive."
Jason swallowed hard. "My father would never threaten to kill me. I don't believe you. And I'll never join you."
Zoltar paused, then shrugged. "So be it. Such a waste. J'boath?"
Jason didn't even have the chance to turn around before something hard struck him across the back of the head, sending him to the floor with a crash. A moment later, he felt something pressing into the back of his neck, just below the base of his skull. A shadow fell across him, and he heard Zoltar speak to him.
_You have one last chance, and that is more than I have ever given anyone else. Join me, and you will live here, where you belong, as my prince and heir. Refuse, and you will die as slow and painful a death as my men can cause you._
Jason drew in a sharp breath as he realised the words had not been spoke out loud, but rather in his head. Telepathy, he realised in shock. He shut his eyes and, not quite sure what he was doing, he sent out a firm reply.
_Go to hell. I'd rather be dead than cause people pain._
Zoltar blinked, taken by surprise. Already, the boy's talents were starting to surface.... Glowering angrily, he nodded to J'boath. The lieutenant sneered and started to pull back on the trigger.... A high-pitched whistle broke the silence, and J'boath howled in pain as the gun was knocked from his grip. Looking around, Jason nearly sobbed with relief as his gaze fell on Mark, Tommy and Colonel Cronus. Even as he watched, Mark reached up and snatched his boomerang out of the air as it swung back to him.
Zoltar moved back slowly, glaring at the intruders.
"You have impeccable timing, Mark. It's really starting to get on my nerves."
Mark smiled coldly. "Well, that is what I seem to do best. Tell J'boath to move away from Jason, or the next time it'll be his head, not his hand."
Zoltar glanced to the lieutenant, and J'boath backed away, clutching his wounded hand to his chest. Mark moved fast, and was at Jason's side seconds later.
"Are you okay?"
Jason slowly pushed himself up. "I think so."
Zoltar glared at the two boys. "I won't let you walk away!"
"You don't have a choice," Mark snapped. "We're leaving right now. C'mon, Jason."
They started towards the doors, only to be brought up short when Zoltar clapped his hands together loudly and a squad of soldiers ran into the hall.
"Great," Mark growled. "I hope you're up to a fight."
A grim smile twisted across Jason's face. "I've been waiting for a fair fight. Tommy?"
"I'm with you, bro," Tommy called back. A moment later, the soldiers converged on them and the fight was on.
* * *
Zoltar moved back from the fight, watching with sinking hopes. His men didn't have a chance of winning the fight, and he knew it. If it had only been Mark and Jason, then there might have been a chance, but Mark, Colonel Cronus and two ex-Power Rangers....?
His hand slipped downwards and closed over the hilt of a knife in his belt. He had one chance, and that was all. If he allowed the boy to escape now, the consequences wold be disastrous. Drawing the knife from his belt, he moved forward, into the fight.
* * *
Jason was in his element, relishing the physical activity without the concern of a broken arm. He'd taken on two soldiers at once, roundhouse kicking one in the gut, and putting his fist squarely into the face of another. He found himself back-to-back with Tommy, and the two boys linked arms and swung each other around with lethal force, sending over five more soldiers.
"I think you're enjoying this too much," Tommy gasped as he ducked a punch, then replied with a spin kick that put the offending soldier out of commission.
A grin lit up Jason's face as he taunted the soldiers forward.
"I haven't done anything physical for four weeks. Of course I'm enjoying this!"
Tommy smirked as he sent another soldier reeling back into the rock wall. He glanced back at Jason, and his smirk faded fast.
"Jase! Look out! Behind you!"
Jason spun around and found himself face to face with Zoltar. The evil ruler glared at the boy with unrelenting hate.
"You were a mistake," he hissed, "just like Mark. I should have killed your mother before you were born. It is time to rectify that mistake."
Before Jason to put up any protest, he felt something sharp press into his ribs. Looking down, he was surprised to see the hilt of a knife protruding from his chest. A moment later, his legs buckled and he went down hard, landing flat on his back.
"Jason!" Tommy screamed, shoving his way through the soldiers and falling to his knees by Jason's side.
Zoltar spared the scene a cold, emotionless look before calling a retreat and turning to flee down a side passage.
Within seconds, they were alone in the hall, and Mark, Cronus and Cronus' lieutenant quickly gathered around Jason with Tommy.
"Is it bad?" Mark asked tensely. Cronus examined the wound carefully before shaking his head.
"No. Zoltar may be an evil, powerful man, but he has terrible aim. Better get that knife out of there before he loses too much blood, though."
Mark leaned in and closed his hand around the hilt of the blade. "Hold him down, Tommy. This is gonna hurt."
Tommy closed his hands over Jason's shoulders, holding his friend down. Mark drew in a deep breath, then gave a single, hard yank and pulled the knife out of the boy's chest. Jason screamed in pain, jerking violently despite Tommy's strong grip.
"All right," Cronus murmured as he tore a strip of material from his cloak and pressed it to the wound. "Just another minute, and we can get out of this hell hole."
As they waited for the bleeding to stop, Tommy looked across to Mark.
"Is it true? About Jase, I mean..."
Mark nodded once. "It's true."
Tommy let his breath out in a rush. "Man...."
"Don't hold that against him, Tommy," Mark said softly. "We don't choose our parents."
"I won't," Tommy murmured. "It's just sort of hard to comprehend. You know what I mean?"
Mark nodded again. "Yes, I know."
Cronus looked up at the boys. "Let's get out of here. We can pack the wound properly back at the gypsy camp."
Mark nodded, and he and Cronus lifted Jason up carefully between them.