Jason Scott watched the land race by beneath them, marveling at how fast they were travelling. None of the zords he had ever piloted had been able to move this fast; they were going so fast that he was sure they were about to break the sound barrier.
"You okay back there?" Mark asked over his shoulder, and Jason grinned.
"Yeah, I'm fine. I just can't believe how fast this plane is."
A rueful smile touched Mark's lips as he turned his attention back to the controls in front of him.
"It comes in handy when I'm trying to get away from Spectran planes. But you sound like you've never been up in a plane before."
"It's not that," Jason answered. "I'm just happy to have the time to spend with my little brother."
Mark's smile broadened considerably, and he nodded in wordless agreement. It had been six months since the events that had led to them discovering a fourth child of Zoltar, and of learning that Jason was that child. It had been a severe shock to everyone, but no more than it had been to Mark and Jason themselves. Keop, the youngest of the three brothers, had been much more flippant about it, not particularly caring that there had been another addition to the family. Jason and Mark taken it very seriously, though, and the bond they'd developed was obvious.
The plane hit an air pocket and lurched violently, only to settle again as Mark manipulated the controls with expert care.
"Lucky I don't get air sick," Jason commented, and Mark glanced back at him questioningly, not quite able to hear over the roar of the engines.
"What was that?"
I said, Jason sent telepathically, it's lucky I don't get air sick.
Mark couldn't resist a smirk. You do, and you'd be cleaning it up.
Has it ever happened before? Jason asked in amusement at the light threat. Mark hesitated a moment before answering.
Once. Jason and I had sort of a competition going. We were trying to see who could last the longest; me with his driving or him with my flying. He took me for thirty laps around the hairiest track he could find, and then I took him on the wildest flight I could manage. I won, but it took me a week to get rid of the smell.
Jason laughed out loud. Served you right. Don't even think about trying any of that now!
Oh, don't worry. I have no wish to be scrubbing out the interior again.
Jason laughed again, then turned his attention to the scenery as it rushed by. So how long till we reach Witch Mountain?
Not long. Another ten or fifteen minutes. It's pretty well secluded. They needed to have it that way, to make sure people didn't get too nosy.
The smile faded from Jason's face a little as uncertainties knotted up his throat and gut. You think they'll be pleased to see me, Mark?
Up the front, Mark's own smile faded. Well, it is a bit touchy. I think they'll be pleased once they realise whose side you're on.
I'm not actually related to anyone there, am I?
No. Zoltar had no relations other than his father. My uncle is my mother's brother. But they'll accept you as family regardless. You won't know the difference.
It just feels a bit weird. I hope they'll just accept me for who I am. Not who my father is.
If I didn't think they would, Mark reassured him,_I wouldn't take you there in the first place. You were never under his influence, Jason. Hell, you'd never even seen Zoltar face-to-face until that little adventure to Spectra. It was different for me. I was nearly five when my mother took me and Lucy away from Zoltar. That was five years that he'd had influence over us, and it didn't make any difference to who I was, and how I turned out. They'll accept you, Jason. I guarantee it.
A sharp beeping interrupted their conversation.
"What's that?" Jason asked out loud, frowning as he caught sight of the red flashing light over Mark's shoulder.
"Not good news," Mark admitted grimly. "That's the emergency alert."
"You mean you're needed back in Woodeforde?"
"No. I mean, we're about to get some unwelcome company."
Jason hesitated, and was about to ask what company Mark was talking about when his gaze was drawn to a black spot in the sky ahead of them that was rapidly getting bigger.
"Uh... Mark.... Is that what I think it is?"
Mark glanced up, and momentarily froze. An instant later, the plane rocked violently as it was hit by laser fire from behind.
"Oh, shit," Mark swore as his radar revealed the true extent of their trouble.
"Do I start praying now?" Jason asked hoarsely as the Spectran craft spread around and beneath them, cutting off all avenues of escape.
"Yeah," Mark answered. "And while you're at it, buckle up. This is gonna be a rough ride."
Mark had barely finished speaking when the radio crackled to life, and Lieutenant Kaa's voice sounded out at them.
"We have you surrounded, Commander. If you wish to avoid injury, both you and the young prince will surrender immediately."
"Prince?" Jason echoed, a touch of disgust in his voice.
Mark shrugged. "Hey, you're the oldest." He pressed the button next to the radio speaker. "Go to hell, Kaa. You know we won't surrender."
"You have nowhere to go, Mark. Don't be foolish, and think it over carefully. We will give you precisely one minute to answer."
"What are we going to do?" Jason pressed, anxiety in his voice that he couldn't hide. Mark was starting to look as desperate as he felt when the young commander's gaze swept up.
Jason nearly gagged as Mark dragged the control stick back and took the plane straight up at a ninety degree angle, into the outer atmosphere.
What are you doing? Jason sent, unable to get out a vocal protest.
Just shut your eyes and try not to throw up, came the grim response.
Jason had already done so, for his own sake rather than because Mark had suggested it. The pressure on his body was incredible, the likes of which he had never experienced before. He tried to breathe, only to discover his chest was literally being crushed and he couldn't even gasp for air.
_He's taking us into space!_ The thought ran fleetingly through his mind, mixed with an all-too-familiar feeling of panic.
There was no other way! Mark sent back to him, having caught his brother's panicked thoughts. They had every other direction blocked off!
Did it occur to you that that's what they wanted you to do?
Yes, Mark admitted. But that doesn't mean they're going to get us. Just sit back, and hold on.
Jason finally managed to draw in a ragged gasp for breath as the pressure began to ease a little, then did exactly as Mark ordered.
Planet Aurus, Castle of Lions
Keith strode into the control room inside the Castle of Lions, joining Coran and Princess Allura at the control panel.
"What is it, Coran?"
"An unidentified craft moving slowly towards the atmosphere of Aurus," Coran answered, not taking his eyes of the monitor. "I've asked for them to identify themselves and they haven't answered. I'm preparing the castle's weapons to fire if the craft comes into our atmosphere."
"Wait," Keith protested. "Allura and I could take our Lions and go up to meet it. For all we know, it could be someone in trouble. Who knows, maybe their communications system shorted out."
"Keith's right," Allura agreed. "And we'd be well-protected in the Lions. If there's anything wrong, we can be back here in the blink of an eye."
Coran looked uncertain, until Keith leaned in close and spoke in a firm voice.
"What if I'm right, Coran? Do you really want to be responsible for shooting down an innocent person?"
That argument won, and Coran's hand fell away from the fire button.
"All right. But be careful!"
Keith nodded, smiling faintly as he and Allura turned for the elevators that would take them to their Lions.
"We always are."
"There it is," Keith announced unnecessarily as the craft came into view. "Let's move in slowly, Princess."
The Black and Blue Lions maneuvered slowly towards the craft, taking their time and displaying natural caution.
"Keith?" Allura's voice crackled over the intercom as they floated closer. "Shouldn't we try contact again? Maybe it was just the long-range communications that shorted out."
Keith agreed, and switched channels on his radio. "Attention, in the white plane. Please respond. We have you covered, and if you do not identify yourself, you will be shot down. I repeat, please respond."
The only reply was static. Keith bit back a sigh of frustration and was about to try again when his Lion passed close enough for him to see inside the cockpit of the plane.
In her Lion, Allura blinked in surprise. Though she'd heard Lance and Hunk uttering expletives on a regular basis, Keith generally kept his language pretty clean. Coran expected it of him, and so did she.
"Keith? What's wrong?"
"I know this plane, Allura. It's Mark's plane!"
"Mark...? You mean...."
"Yes, Mark, as in the Commander of G-Force! I just saw inside the cockpit. He's in there, and it looks like he's unconscious. C'mon, we have to tow this bird in."
Allura swallowed hard, barely taking the time to wonder what Mark was doing so far away from Earth before she complied. "All right. Towing cable away."
Two heavy cables were released, one from the Black Lion and one from the Blue Lion, each one attaching itself firmly to the battered white plane. Then, as they began to tow it in, Keith switched his radio channels again to speak to Coran.
"Coran, this is Keith. We're bringing the plane in. It's Mark's."
"Mark?" Coran echoed. "The Commander of G-Force? What is he doing all the way out here?"
"Don't know," Keith answered. "He's unconscious in there, and it looks like the plane's just been drifting. Looks as though he's come through a pretty heavy fight."
"All right, Keith," Coran replied. "Bring him in. I'll have the medical team on standby."
"Affirmative," Keith confirmed. "We'll be home in five kliks." He turned his attention to the Lion on his left. "All right, Princess. Let's bring him in."
Lance, Pidge and Hunk were waiting with Coran and the medics when Keith and Allura brought the plane in safely.
"You sure it's Mark in there?" Lance asked sceptically as Keith and Allura joined them on the ground.
"I'm sure," Keith answered. "He could be hurt. I couldn't get a close enough look to tell. One thing's certain, he's definitely not answering the radio."
One technician alighted a ladder and lifted the lid of the cockpit to reveal not one unconscious boy, but two. Coran frowned at the sight of the unfamiliar boy, but signalled to the men to do their job.
"All right. Get them out of there."
"Oh man, look at that," Hunk whispered as Mark was lifted out of the cockpit and borne carefully down to the flat ground. Keith moved forward slowly, and dropped to his knee beside his old friend's bruised, battered body.
"Mark.... It's going to be okay," he said softly, at the same time fighting off a vicious rush of anger. "You're going to be okay."
A second body was laid carefully on the ground, and his face was one that none of them recognised.
"Who the hell is that?" Lance muttered. Coran walked over and looked down at the boy with a deep frown.
"Whoever he is, he's injured." Coran nodded to the medicos. "Take them to the infirmary and treat them immediately. Keith?"
Keith stood up stiffly and moved back, letting the medicos take the two injured boys into the castle.
"We have to contact Security Chief Anderson. He might think they were taken by whoever attacked them."
Coran nodded his agreement as he watched the medics disappear through the doors into the castle. "Yes," he murmured softly. "We'll do that now."
"He could be a prisoner," Pidge said softly as the Voltron Force waited for Coran to contact Earth. "Maybe the Spectrans were trying to rescue him."
"Don't be stupid," Lance muttered irritably. "We don't even know that it was the Spectrans that attacked them."
"And even if it was them," Hunk added, "do you really think Mark would be dumb enough to be transporting an unrestrained prisoner?"
Keith, who had been standing just behind Coran and had overheard the conversation, walked over to join his friends and teammates.
"How about waiting to hear from Chief Anderson before we jump to conclusions?" he suggested lightly. "For all we know, that other boy could be someone that Mark rescued from the Spectrans."
Lance couldn't resist a smirk. "If that's true, then he didn't do a very good job."
"Will you lot shut up?" Allura hissed back at them. "Coran's through!"
Immediately, silence fell over the group, and they moved forward to listen to the conversation. Coran was talking through the radio; the vid-com link never worked properly over such a long distance through space.
"Good to hear your voice, Anderson," Coran was saying as the Voltron Force gathered around behind him. "It's been a while."
"It has," came the crackling reply. "What can I do for you, Coran?"
"Actually," Coran answered, "we may be able to assist you. Keith and Allura just brought in a drifting craft, and it's turned out to Mark's plane."
The silence on the other end was palpable, and when Anderson managed to speak again, it was in a hoarse voice.
"You have Mark there, on Aurus? Is he all right? He hasn't been hurt?"
"We do have him with us," Coran confirmed. "I'm afraid he has been injured, and his plane has taken something of a battering, but I think he'll be fine."
"Thank God," Anderson said, and the relief in his voice was evident. "What about Jason? Is he there as well?"
"Jason?" Coran echoed uncertainly. "There was another young man in the craft with him..."
"Yes," Anderson said quickly. "That's Jason. He's Mark's older brother. Please, don't ask. It's a fairly long and painful story. Is he all right?"
"More than likely," Coran told him. "They've both sustained injuries, but it's nothing that won't heal. Can you tell me what happened to them?"
"Well," Anderson replied, "I have no idea how they got all the way to Aurus, but according to computer report, they were attacked en route to their destination and forced to turn space-ward. After that, we lost track of the plane completely. I've already sent the rest of G-Force out to search the surrounding territory in the Phoenix in case they went down, and that was five hours ago."
Behind Coran, Lance whistled softly. The members of the Voltron Force knew from experience the lengthy period of time it took to travel from the earth to Aurus, and vice-versa. That Mark had apparently made the trip in just five hours or so was proof of the extraordinary speed that his plane possessed. It was speed that not even the Phoenix, or the Voltron Lions themselves, were capable of.
"I'll contact the team," Anderson went on, "and send them to Aurus to get Mark and Jason. Thankyou, Coran. You've given me more relief than you could imagine."
Coran had to smile at that.
"Oh, I think I could imagine," he murmured. "Very well. We'll be expecting G-Force in the next ten hours. Aurus, out."
Anderson signed off similarly, and Coran switched off the radio and turned to look at the Voltron Force.
"The other young man is called Jason. Apparently he's Mark's brother."
"But Mark's only brother is Keop," Allura protested in confusion. Coran shook his head.
"Don't ask me to explain. Anderson wouldn't give me an explanation himself. I expect we'll probably learn more when our guests recover. And the assumption is that they were attacked by Spectrans. G-Force will be here as soon as possible to get them, so until then we are responsible for the Commander and his companion. Understand?"
A murmur of consent swept through the group and they were about to turn to leave when Coran added in a grim voice: "And stay on the alert. We can't dismiss the chance that they may be followed here by whoever attacked them."
The Voltron Force exchanged rueful looks, and headed out of the control room in silence.
"Ever notice how Coran always manages to lighten the mood?" Lance asked sarcastically as the five of them walked down the corridor together. Keith shook his head.
"Don't go there, Lance. He has a job to do in protecting this planet. Don't knock him for it."
"Well, I for one will be interested to hear the story behind this so-called brother," Allura said. "Particularly if he and Mark have the same father."
The team fell silent at that. It was a sombering thought.
"Even if they do," Hunk said finally, "that's not the kid's fault. After all, we don't have any say who our parents are."
"Would you all stop it?" Keith demanded, starting to lose his patience. "We'll probably find out soon enough, and even if they don't tell us.... Well, it's none of our business anyway."
"You're right," Allura murmured. "Excuse me. I think I'll go and see how Mark is."
Keith watched her go, then turned a threatening look on the others.
"Anyone else care to make any further remarks?"
Lance held up his hands defensively. "No way, not while you're in this mood. I'm gonna go clean my Lion. Sheesh...."
Then he was gone, and Keith looked to Hunk and Pidge.
"What about you two?"
Hunk shrugged. "Don't look at me like that. I'm just hoping they're both all right. I meant what I said before. And we don't hold Mark's parentage against him. Why should we do that to the other kid? Besides, there's probably a perfectly reasonable explanation for this."
Pidge nodded his agreement. "Hunk's right. Why don't we go see, uh... Jason and check that he's okay? He didn't look like he was too badly hurt. He might be awake by now. And if nothing else, he could tell us exactly who attacked them."
That was logic that Keith couldn't argue with.
"Okay," he conceded. "Let's go see him."
Hunk and Pidge exchanged grins, and the three hurried off down the corridor together.
Jason awoke slowly, to discover himself lying in a warm bed, with only what he assumed to be pyjama bottoms on. He had no idea where he was, or how he had gotten there. Vaguely, he remembered the attack.... He sat bolt-upright, panic hitting as he remembered his brother. A quick look around revealed that Mark was nowhere in sight.
_Did we reach the mountain?_ He wondered dazedly. No, they couldn't have, he realised, as he recalled Mark taking them into space. He didn't remember much beyond that, and assumed the pressure simply knocked him out. He swallowed hard. He hoped that was all it was.
A door slid open, and three people that he didn't recognise walked into the room. The first young man offered him a reassuring smile.
"Glad to see you're awake."
Jason hesitated, then pushed himself up into a sitting position. "Where am I?"
"You're on Planet Aurus," the man explained. "Don't worry. You're safe. No one's gonna hurt you here."
Jason looked unconvinced. "What about Mark? Where is he?"
Keith pointed to the wall. "Right in the next room. He had a few injuries. You were luckier." He paused, then went on. "My name's Keith. This is Pidge, and Hunk. We're part of the Voltron Force."
The suspicion on Jason's face faded to make way for surprise and a touch of confusion. "Voltron? I thought that was only a story."
"So did we," Hunk said with a smile, "until we found the Lions."
Jason shook off the confusion. "I'm Jason," he introduced himself quietly. Keith nodded.
"We know. Coran... our adviser.... He's already spoken to Chief Anderson. G-Force are on their way to pick up you and Mark."
Keith watched closely for any sign of unease on Jason's face as he spoke, but the teen only looked relieved.
"Good. I hope they hurry."
Keith glanced back at his two friends, then walked over to the bedside. "Can you tell us who it was who attacked you?"
Anger touched Jason's features, then. "Spectran craft," he told them. "Bastards probably thought they'd hit the jackpot, getting both me and Mark together."
"Chief Anderson said you were brothers," Keith ventured as he sat down on a chair next to the bed. "We thought Keop was Mark's only brother."
Jason hesitated, then, watching Keith warily. "How much do you know about Mark? Personally?"
Keith understood instantly what Jason meant, and answered accordingly. "We know that Zoltar is his father. We found out about four years ago. We've known G-Force for a long time, though. Hunk, Lance and myself trained with them briefly in Center Neptune before we joined with the Galaxy Alliance and were sent here to Aurus to find out whether Voltron really did exist."
Jason nodded, satisfied. "I'm older than Mark, by about eighteen months. Zoltar is my father, but we have different mothers. My mother was a gypsy from Spectra. After she had me, she took me to Earth to escape Zoltar. She adopted me out to a couple to protect me, though. I didn't find any of this out until about six months ago."
Keith smiled, then. "Well, at least you're on the right side. How are you feeling, anyway?"
"Aside from a headache," Jason murmured, "not too bad. Is Mark badly hurt?"
"No," a new voice answered, and they looked to see Allura in the doorway. She swept past Hunk and Pidge, to join Keith at the bedside. "Mark will be fine. He just needs a good rest." She smiled down at him. "I'm Princess Allura."
Jason murmured a greeting, not quite sure how to react. For just an instant, Kaa's words floated back to him: 'both you and the young prince will surrender....' young prince.... He shuddered inwardly. That was nothing he planned to brag about any time soon.
"What is it?" Keith asked softly.
Jason shook his head. "It's nothing. I just hope G-Force gets here soon. I wouldn't put it past Lieutenant Kaa to follow us here."
"Kaa, did you say?" Hunk asked. "Trust that snake to be in charge."
Keith glanced at Hunk, then looked back to Jason. "Don't worry. You're safe here. You'll be back on Earth soon enough."
Jason sighed and lay back. "I hope so. I hate to think what Zoltar has in mind for us. It wouldn't be anything pleasant, that's for sure."
An alarm cut in before any of the other four could speak. Keith sighed and stood up. "Excuse us. Sounds like we have work to do."
Jason nodded wordlessly, and watched them go. Once silence had fallen, he threw back the covers and eased himself up. The headache wasn't severe, thankfully, and he found he could stand without fear of falling. Snagging a robe that hung on the door of the nearby cupboard, he pulled it on as he walked out and headed just down the corridor to the next door. It slid open automatically as he approached it, and he walked into a dimly lit room to reveal Mark lying in the bed. He looked asleep, but Jason soon realised he wasn't.
The young commander's eyes half-opened, saw Jason, and he then sat up a little. "Jason, are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Jason murmured as he walked over and sat down on the edge of the bed. "Just a headache, is all. What about you?"
Mark sighed and shifted his position a little, maneuvering his bandaged left arm above the blankets. "Nothing a week's sleep couldn't cure. It's nothing major. I'm just glad we made it here alive."
"You and me both. But why here?" Jason queried. "Wasn't there anywhere closer?"
"Probably," Mark conceded, "but Aurus was all I could think of. It all happened so fast, I just couldn't afford the time to think it through. I was probably also hoping they wouldn't risk following us here, what with Aurus being so far away from Earth. Do you remember anything of the fight?"
"No. I guess I passed out early on."
"Be grateful that you did," Mark muttered. "If you'd been awake, I might have had to clean up the cockpit after all. They really came at us hard. We were lucky to get away."
"They wouldn't have killed us, though, would they?" Jason asked tentatively. "I mean, Kaa wanted us to surrender"
"They could have killed us," Mark admitted. "But Zoltar probably would have had them all killed as a result. No, they want us alive, for some reason. I don't particularly want to know why, either."
"Whatever it is," Jason said, "I bet Zoltar won't bother asking this time." He paused, then laughed softly. "Would you believe that because of my broken arm, I nearly didn't go with the others to Washington? I hate to think what would have happened if I'd been alone when Zoltar came looking for me."
"Don't think about it," Mark advised him. "It's not worth the stress. Besides, we're in bad enough a situation now that you don't need to worry about it."
"Oh, thank you," Jason muttered. "Now I feel a lot better."
Mark sighed, then, and reached out to briefly grasp Jason's hand in his own. "Whatever happens, we're in it together. I won't desert you, not for any reason."
"Same," Jason promised. "If we are ever captured, I won't go anywhere without you. We'll stick together, no matter what."
Mark smiled faintly, and Jason returned the smile, feeling marginally better. Before either had a chance to speak again, though, they were interrupted when the door slid open.
"Keith?" Mark asked questioningly. Keith approached the bed, looking pale and shaken.
"Do you think you can get up, Mark?"
"I think so," Mark murmured. "Why? What's wrong?"
"You'd better come. Both of you. We've got a really big problem."
Mark and Jason exchanged worried looks, and followed Keith from the room as fast as they could.
"Over there," Keith said as they entered the control room. Coran looked around, and motioned to them.
"Over here, please."
Mark walked over, with Jason close behind.
"What is it?" Mark asked as he came to stand beside Coran. The older man pointed to the radar.
"Those are Spectran warships."
Mark swore softly as he peered at the luminous screen. "Oh, shit."
Jason leaned in for a closer look, but the blips meant little to him.
"What's going on?"
"What's going on," Pidge said tensely, "is that there is an entire armada of Spectran warships in orbit around Aurus."
Jason stiffened considerably. "They want us."
"Correct," Coran confirmed grimly. "We received a communique just five minutes ago demanding that the two of you surrender immediately. Otherwise, the attack squadrons will destroy an entire town every hour on the hour until you do."
"How long have they given us to comply?" Mark asked.
"One hour, exactly," Coran replied. "After that, they will start destroying towns."
Jason stepped back, feeling sick but certain. "I guess that doesn't leave us much of a choice."
"No," Keith growled. "You aren't surrendering, so don't even think about it."
"Do you have a better suggestion?" Lance demanded, and Keith turned on him angrily.
"Knock it off, Lance! No one's surrendering. That's final!"
Jason glance sideways at his brother. Mark?
I don't know, Mark admitted unhappily. It could be hours before the rest of the team gets here.
I don't want the destruction of any towns on my conscience, Jason sent firmly.
Neither do I, came the grim reply. I just don't know what to do.
"Can't we use the Lions?" Allura asked, frowning thoughtfully at the radar screen. "Perhaps we could use Pidge's illusion trick and make it look as though there are three Voltrons again."
"Firstly," Coran said grimly, "they have threatened to start a wave of destruction should even one Lion move against them. Secondly, the Spectrans are not as superstitious and ignorant as Zarkon's followers. There is no chance that they would fall for that simple trick. We have one hour to get our guests safely off the planet without alerting the Spectrans too soon."
Mark's eyes suddenly lit up. "That's it! Coran, you're a genius! We have to make them think we've left the planet!"
"And how do we do that?" Lance asked sceptically. "Like Coran said, the Spectrans aren't stupid."
Keith, however, immediately understood what Mark was saying. "We'll use one of the Lions. The condition was that we didn't attack. But if they think we've used them to get Mark and Jason away, then they'll come after us. By the time they realise what's happened, G-Force should have gotten here."
Coran nodded. "And why waste time with destruction when your target is escaping?"
"Except we won't be escaping," Jason ventured, and Mark nodded.
"Exactly. We'll keep a low profile here until the rest of the team arrives. The Spectrans may not be stupid, but they're not all that bright either. Our only problem will be Kaa. He is smart."
"In that case," Lance ventured, "a couple of us can pretend to be Mark and Jason, to fool them. They might be able to tell how many people are in one Lion but there's no way they can figure out exactly who it is."
Coran nodded. "Allura and Hunk will pilot their Lions, and Keith and Lance will ride shotgun with them."
A scowl worked it's way across Pidge's young face. "That's great. Why do I always get left behind?"
Keith clapped him lightly on the shoulder. "Because you're the smartest, and we need you here to figure out an emergency plan if something goes wrong."
Pidge shrugged the comment off. "Sure, whatever." He looked to Mark and Jason. "Well, I can at least take you two to a safe place."
Coran agreed. "You'd best go with Pidge," he told the brothers. "I'm sure he knows plenty of spots that even the mice haven't found."
Mark smiled faintly and, wishing them good luck, he and Jason followed Pidge from the control room. The Voltron Force watched them go, then Keith spoke grimly.
"Okay. Let's get this show on the road."
Unbeknownst to anyone, Kaa was on the ground with a squad of soldiers when the Yellow and Blue Lions burst into the atmosphere from their hiding places on Aurus, and disappeared into the dark sky. Immediately, Kaa's radio crackled to life.
"Lieutenant, they're escaping! Our sensors detect two people in each vehicle!"
Kaa frowned. It was logical, but something didn't seem quite right. He couldn't ignore it, though. If the boys were in the Lions, and he let them go, his head would end up on a pole next to General Carlton's in the Great Hall.
"Reroute all forces and pursue them. But send a squadron to the dark side of the planet and have them wait there. I'm taking a unit into the castle now."
"Yes, sir," came the prompt reply. Kaa switched his radio off, then looked back to the other men.
"Switch off all electronic gear. We are going in completely silent."
"Sir," one soldier ventured tentatively, "why are we bothering? Our targets are escaping right now!"
Kaa smiled, then, and that smile quite literally frightened all his soldiers into silence.
"A good question," he purred. "Now, watch and learn."
They stopped in at the medical suites so Mark and Jason could get dressed, and then Pidge led them down a tangle of corridors, deep into the castle.
"I've never seen these tunnels before," Mark commented as they walked. Jason glanced sideways at him.
"You've been here before?"
"Sure," Mark confirmed. "Not that often, of course. But a couple of times that we've had a proper vacation, we've spent it here. It's a nice place, when Zarkon isn't attacking."
Pidge snorted. "Just like Earth can be a nice place, when Earthlings aren't all trying to kill each other."
Jason fought back a smile at Pidge's voice.
"I take it you aren't from Earth?"
"No," Pidge replied. "I'm from Balto. My brother Chip and I left to join the Galaxy Alliance. Balto was destroyed, though, so Princess Allura made me an honorary citizen of Aurus."
"And your brother?" Jason asked.
"He's travelling the universe, that sort of thing. With the other Voltron Force."
Jason looked to Mark in astonishment. "The other Voltron Force?"
Mark chuckled at Jason's reaction. "Yes, the other one. There are two. One is made up of the Lions here on Aurus. The other was created out of different vehicles. Needs a hell of a lot more people to operate." He grinned at Jason. "And you thought the Zords were complicated."
Jason sighed and shook his head. "I'm not going there."
Pidge looked back over his shoulder at them curiously. "Zords? What are Zords?"
For just an instant, Jason hesitated. Then, he decided it couldn't hurt. After all, he didn't have to give anything away.
"They're the vehicles that the Power Rangers use on Earth. It's not that they use a whole lot of them all at once. It's just that they always seem to be changing. That's where it gets confusing."
Pidge sighed, then. "Sometimes I wish we could change the Lions. I think Zarkon is starting to get wise about what they can and can't do. One of these days he's gonna figure out exactly where all the weak spots are, and take advantage of it."
He pointed to the darker end of the corridor. "Down there, there's a room that I use when I'm hiding from Lance." He paused, then added sheepishly: "He likes to pound on me a lot. But you'll be safe in there. No one knows about it...."
The sentence ended in a yelp of fright as a tall, threatening figure stepped out in front of them, catching hold of Pidge and jerking him around into an unbreakable grip. Mark skidded to a halt, automatically grabbing hold of Jason's arm to bring him up short.
Lieutenant Kaa smiled cruelly at the two boys as his arm snaked around Pidge's throat, effectively cutting off the younger boy's air supply.
"Mark. Jason. What a pleasant surprise. You know, that wasn't terribly courteous of you, sending my men off on a wild goose chase like that."
"We were hoping you might have gone, too," Mark muttered. Kaa laughed softly.
"I suppose you were. My apologies. Now, as you can see, you're surrounded."
A quick glance revealed Kaa was right; soldiers had emerged into the corridor both behind them and in front of them, cutting off any possible avenues of escape. Kaa glanced down at Pidge, whose face had turned a dark purple as he struggled uselessly against Kaa's greater strength.
"I suggest you surrender immediately," Kaa advised them. "Unless you're willing to sacrifice others for your own safety, of course. You have probably guessed by now that we are not to harm either of you. That does not go for anyone else who stands in our way. Either give yourselves up, or this boy will be the first to die."
Mark looked to Jason, who simply nodded.
"All right," Mark said softly. "You win. Now let him go."
Kaa nodded and released Pidge. The boy collapsed to the stone floor, struggling for breath. Immediately, the soldiers closed in, and Mark and Jason soon found themselves bound and helpless.
Kaa regarded them with perverted pleasure.
"And to think that all this trouble could have avoided if you had just given yourselves up to begin with."
"You're stupid if you think we'd give ourselves up without a fight," Jason snarled angrily. Kaa laughed, then.
"I didn't think that at all, young prince. I'm just astounded at your lack of foresight. Both of you. Now, I believe we have a transport to catch."
He looked to the soldiers. "Take them out of here and contact the remaining squad. Tell them to come for us immediately."
"What about the rest of the armada?" one soldier asked. "Should we instruct them to return to Spectra?"
"No," Kaa decided. "Tell them we have the princes, but they are to continue pursuing the Voltron Force. We don't want them to know immediately that we have what we came for. They thought they'd take us on a wild goose chase. Little do they know it's now the other way around."
He then crouched down beside Pidge as Mark and Jason were taken off down the corridor.
"And as for you... I should kill you, boy, but luckily for you I am not completely unmerciful. If it were my brother, you would be dead. Be thankful for small favours."
He stood up and struck the butt of his gun across Pidge's head, knocking him out cold. Then, sparing the corridor one last glance, he hurried after his unit.
"Are we in trouble?" Jason asked breathlessly as they were herded away from the castle.
"We are in trouble," Mark answered. "Big trouble." Have you been practising?
Are you kidding? I could take these guys out with my hands tied behind my back.
Very funny. That's exactly how we're going to have to do it. Get ready.
What are you planning?
We'll knock their weapons away, and give them all a dirt makeover. Get ready to run. One, two...
Mark gasped in pain as something sharp pierced him in the side of the throat. Then, Kaa was there, whispering into the teen's ear.
"You don't honestly think I would give you the chance to escape me, do you? Please, Mark, credit me with more intelligence than that. Both you and your brother are going to have a nice, long nap now, all the way home to Spectra."
A second gasp reached Mark's ears, and he glanced around to see Jason being similarly injected in the throat. It was the last thing he saw before his world faded away into darkness.
Planet Aurus, Castle of Lions
Coran watched in concerned silence as the Blue and Yellow Lions led the Spectran ships on a wild chase around the planet. In actual fact, they were really going nowhere; just trying to use up the time until G-Force arrived. He frowned a little to himself, and switched on one of the com-link buttons.
"Pidge, you'd better come back. You may be needed to back up the others after all."
There was no reply; only static. Not for the first time that day, Coran felt his blood pressure start to rise.
"Pidge, this is no time for games. Answer me!"
Again, there was no answer.
"Damn it," Coran muttered. He hit the button linking communication from the castle to the Lions.
"Hunk, Allura, how are you coping?"
"We've got no problems so far," Allura replied. "They're chasing, but they don't seem to be able to catch up."
"The Princess is right," Hunk agreed. "It's almost like they're not even trying to catch us."
Coran's breath froze in his throat. "Turn around and come back to the castle, now!"
"But Coran...." Allura protested. He cut her off sharply.
"I said, come back to the castle! Something is wrong. We've been trying to fool the Spectrans, but it seems that we may have been the ones who have been fooled. Now, hurry!"
There was a long pause, and then Keith answered.
"All right, Coran. We're coming home now."
"What do you mean, we're the ones who've been fooled?" Lance growled as the four strode back into the control room. Coran didn't even spare them a glance as he spoke.
"I've lost contact with Pidge. He isn't answering his radio."
"I'll get the mice," Allura suggested. "Maybe they know where he is."
"The stupid little twit is probably just screwing around," Lance snapped. "Forget him! We have to think something else up fast or they're going to start leveling the planet!"
Keith had paled considerably as he watched the radar screen.
"Not if they already have what they want. Look, the armada's leaving."
They all looked, and even as they watched, the mass began to vanish from the radar screen. A moment later, Hunk pressed the button on his com-link, and began to yell into it.
"Pidge! Damn it, kid, where the hell are you? Answer me!"
Keith spun around and looked to Allura. "We have to find Pidge. You know this castle best. Where would he have taken Mark and Jason?"
For several seconds, Allura didn't answer as she racked her brains. Finally, though, it struck her.
"I think I know! Pidge has a secret room where he hides from Lance. He showed it to me once, and it's the same room where I used to hide when I was a little girl. C'mon, this way."
Allura led the way, down into the dark depths of the castle. They turned into a long corridor, only to be brought up short when Allura shrieked and fell, tripping over something in the darkness.
"What is it?" Hunk asked breathlessly as Keith crouched down to see what had tripped the princess up. Keith looked grim.
"It's Pidge. He's out cold. Lance, have you got a light?"
"Yeah, just a sec...."
A moment later, light shone into the darkness as Lance switched on a small but powerful torch. Keith took it and shone it down on the youngest member of the Voltron Force.
"Looks like someone cracked him over the head," Hunk muttered as the light revealed drying blood caked in Pidge's brown hair. Keith handed the torch back to Lance, and carefully lifted Pidge up in his arms.
"We'd better get him back up to medical."
"What about Mark and Jason?" Allura asked softly, looking down the corridor to the door at the other end. Keith shrugged.
"You can check, but I seriously doubt they're in there. C'mon, Allura. Let's not waste time here. We need to wake Pidge up so we can find out exactly what happened."
Allura hesitated for just a moment before conceding and following the others back up the long corridor.
"Coming up on Aurus now," Tiny announced automatically. "We should have visual in a minute."
"Good," Jason grumbled. "Then we can collect Mark and Jase and bug out back home."
"Take it easy," Princess chided him lightly. "It wasn't their fault they got ambushed. It happened to all of us not so long ago, remember?"
"You're just going soft 'cause you're sweet on Jase," Keop teased, only to suffer a smack over the head. Jason chuckled.
"You deserved that one, Keop. Should've seen it coming. Now stop acting juvenile and try to get a radio link with the Castle of Lions."
Keop pulled a face, but did as he was told. A moment later, he achieved a successful link, and the screen above their heads flickered to life.
"Coran, good to see you again," Jason said as the older man's face finally came into focus. Coran, however, didn't smile.
"I suggest that you don't bother entering our atmosphere. It would only waste time."
Jason's smile faded quickly. "What's wrong?"
"We had a visit from a Spectran armada," Coran explained. "They were demanding that Mark and the other lad surrender. We thought we'd managed to outwit them by pretending to take them off the planet in the Lions, but unfortunately Lieutenant Kaa was not fooled. He made it into the castle, and ambushed Pidge and your two companions. Pidge has only just now woken to tell us what happened."
"They've been captured, right?" Jason asked, feeling sick to his stomach. Coran nodded.
"Yes, I'm afraid so. We would have contacted you sooner, but there's been a block on long distance communications. No doubt caused by the Spectrans. It has been over two hours now since we found Pidge, so they have a rather large head-start on us."
"Us?" Jason echoed. There was a murmur of voices behind Coran, and then the adviser stepped out of the way, and Keith came into view.
"We're going to join you. They will have been taken back to Spectra. Hopefully we can catch up and intercept them."
"We appreciate the offer," Jason said, "but you don't have to."
"Yes, we do. We were responsible for them, and we let them be captured. Don't wait for us, though. Get going to Spectra. We'll catch up with you."
Jason nodded grimly. "All right. We're out." The monitor went blank, and Jason looked around at his friends. "You all heard that. Tiny?"
"Buckle up," Tiny said grimly. "We're gonna break the sound barrier here."
The Phoenix slowed, and turned from her trajectory. With a new course set, they shot off into the sky, chasing after their captured companions.
Mark awoke slowly, dazedly, and the first thing he became aware of was the metal table that he was strapped to. He shuddered a little and looked around. There was Jason, strapped down to a table right next to him. Jason was still unconscious; Mark supposed they'd used an extra heavy dose to knock him out.
Grimacing, he tried to pull free of the straps, but they only tightened as he struggled against them. He was about to resort to using his psychic power when a familiar voice spoke close by.
"Don't bother. Those straps were designed specifically to hold you."
Mark looked around in shock, and his stomach lurched at the sight in front of him. It was Joseph, from the gypsy camp, and he wore the uniform of a Spectran soldier.
"Joseph? What.... How....?"
He trailed off, too shocked to even speak properly. Joseph smiled calmly.
"I've been freed, Mark. It's wonderful. All that time I spent fighting against Zoltar, when I should have been fighting for him Don't worry. I know you're confused, but once the doctor gives you and Jason the treatment, you won't be confused anymore."
Panic began to stab at Mark's gut. "Joseph, what about your parents? Megan...."
Joseph chuckled softly. "They're still in the forest for now, but not for long. As soon as we can spare the men, I'll lead a force in and we'll wipe the camp out for good."
Mark slumped back down on the table, his mind in a whirl. Joseph had been one of the most determined fighters against Zoltar; what could possibly have been done to him that had changed him so much?
"Very good. I see at least one of you is awake."
Mark looked around quickly, then grimaced as Zoltar came into his line of sight.
"Great. Like I wasn't already having a bad day."
Zoltar smiled coldly. "Don't worry, my son. It will get better very soon."
"Don't call me that," Mark whispered, hatred burning in his eyes. Zoltar merely sneered at him.
"That's rich, coming from you that once called me 'Father' in order to save your worthless friends. Well, by the end of today, you'll be calling me Father again, and it won't merely be for blackmail."
"Like hell I will!" Mark exploded. Zoltar leaned down close to the teen.
"You see Joseph? You yourself know how much he hated me. Possibly even more than yourself. Now, he would die for me, if I commanded it. You will give me that same loyalty, Mark. You and Jason and Keop will all show me that same loyalty. Admittedly, I don't have Keop yet, but it is only a matter of time. Then, once you've all received the treatment, we'll be a family, the way it was meant to be from the beginning. The most feared family in the universe!"
"I'd rather die," Mark whispered, but there was fear in his voice, after seeing Joseph. Zoltar smiled.
"We'll see, my dear son. We'll see." He turned away abruptly. "Joseph, come with me. We have work to do."
Then, they were gone. Fighting the panic, Mark looked across to his brother. He wasn't strong enough to break their bonds, but perhaps Jason was....
"Jason! Wake up!" The older boy didn't stir. Desperate with fear, Mark tried harder.
Jason, damn it, WAKE UP!
Jason's eyes snapped open, jerked violently back into the conscious world. "Wha....?"
"You have to get us out of here," Mark told him urgently. "Otherwise we are going to be in some serious trouble."
Jason frowned, looking around at their surroundings, then down at the straps that bound his wrists and ankles. He tried tugging at them, but Mark spoke up anxiously.
"That won't work. "It's going to need a pretty big boost of power to break them open. I can't do it, but you should be able to. Hurry!"
A grimace flickered across Jason's face as he focused on one strap.
"Okay, but if I burn my wrists, then I'm gonna do the same to you. Just a sec...."
Mark watched, hardly daring to breathe as Jason focused his attention and power on the wrist restraint. For several long seconds, nothing happened. Then, slowly, the strap began to smoke. Gradually, the strap reddened in one spot, and a moment later it snapped open. Jason yelped in pain as he inadvertently scorched his wrist, and brought it up to his mouth to soothe the burnt patch of skin.
"Jason, I don't mean to be pushy...." Mark growled. Jason nodded.
"Okay, okay. Don't have a cow."
He soon discovered the straps were marginally easier to undo with one hand free, and he quickly freed himself and Mark.
"That was my contribution," Jason retorted as Mark slid off the table. "You'd better be able to get us out of here."
"Oh, ye of little faith," Mark muttered. "C'mon, let's get the hell out of this death trap."
"You do know the way out of here, don't you?" Jason asked, this time there was no scoffing in his voice. Mark nodded.
"Yeah, I know a few ways out of here. The trick is avoiding pretty much everyone, not just in the castle but on the rest of the planet."
"You mean the people wouldn't help us?"
Mark shook his head as he peered carefully around the corner, into the corridor. There were no guards in sight.
"No, they wouldn't. The folks at the gypsy camp are an exception. This is Spectra, Jason. Most people here think Zoltar is some sort of god. They practically worship him. They wouldn't hesitate in turning us over. C'mon."
They ventured out into the dank corridor, and Mark led the way down a gentle slope.
"Are we going underground?" Jason asked as he noticed the air growing rancid.
"We already are underground," Mark replied. "If we can get to the dungeons, we should be able to get out without much problem."
Jason nodded as he recalled himself and his friends being rescued from the dungeons by Joseph and Megan six months ago.
"There's a tunnel, isn't there?"
"Uh huh. There's three, actually. We alternate. This way."
The brothers fell silent as they made their way into the depths of the castle. As before, Jason had to pointedly avoid looking at the repulsive ornamentation that adorned the stone walls. The smell was bad enough without having to look at the rotting corpses that hung on hooks.
"One of Zoltar's crueler pleasures," Mark whispered, and there was both disgust and bitterness in his voice. "He likes to hang traitors alive on hooks. No ropes, they get impaled on the hooks and left to die. Sometimes it takes days."
Jason swallowed hard, fighting back the rising bile in his throat.
"You haven't ever.... have you?"
"Not me," Mark murmured. "Jason was captured on Earth, and we tailed the ship to here. When we found him, he was hanging on one of these hooks. It'd pierced a lung, he nearly didn't make it back alive."
"God almighty," Jason whispered, horrified. Mark nodded.
"Exactly. Zoltar loves his sadistic little tortures."
"So what did he have in mind for us?"
Mark slowed to a halt, then. "Compared to what Zoltar was planning for us, I'd rather get hung on one of those hooks. Let's just get out of here. I'll tell you when we're safe."
"There they are!"
Both boys looked around, startled, and spotted a squadron of soldiers running down the corridor towards them.
"Damn, busted," Mark growled. "Run!"
Jason didn't have to be told twice. He broke into a run, forgetting the soldiers behind them and focusing solely on the dark rock corridor ahead. Not unlike Zedd and Rita's Dimensions of Darkness, he reflected dimly as they ran deeper into the castle. They turned sharply at a fork in the tunnel, only to be brought up short by another squad of soldiers coming at them from the other end.
"This way," Mark gasped, and led the way into the other fork. It soon became obvious, though, that they had been diverted away from the tunnels they'd been aiming for, and were being shepherded back up into the castle. Finally, Mark grabbed his arm and pulled him up.
"We aren't going to get away like this. I'm going to go a different way, and try to divert them. Keep going along here, and take the first left. There's a narrow alcove just a little further along on your right, with a hidden wall. Just lean against it, and you'll find yourself in a tunnel. Follow the tunnel and it'll take you directly into the forest. Then, just use your instincts to find the gypsy camp."
"But what about you?" Jason protested, grabbing Mark's arm before the younger boy could go. "We promised we'd stick together! Damn it, Mark, I'm not leaving you!"
"You won't be," Mark insisted. "I know a dozen different ways out of this place that Zoltar himself doesn't know about. I'll be okay. I'll meet you in the gypsy camp."
Mark turned and bolted back down the corridor, leaving Jason to stand there in momentary confusion before finally deciding to do as he'd been told.
Heart pounding in his chest, Jason followed Mark's directions. He ran up the corridor, taking the left turn at so a fast pace that he very nearly skidded straight past. Finding the alcove, as Mark had said, and pushed through the hidden wall into the passage behind it. Then, praying Mark would make it out safely, he followed the passage all the way out of the castle.
Mark reached an intersection in passages just as the squad rounded a corridor further back. He paused just long enough to make sure he'd been seen, then took off as fast as he could. He was so intent on escaping the soldiers, though, that he didn't see Joseph emerge from a side tunnel in front of him until it was too late.
The iron bar swung around, slamming into his gut and effectively winding him. Mark went down with a crash, barely able to breathe. Joseph crouched down over the top of him and, using knowledge taught to him by his father, reached around to pinch a particularly sensitive nerve in the teen's neck, rendering him completely helpless.
"Where's your brother, Mark?"
Mark shut his eyes. He couldn't move so much as an inch, the pinched nerve temporarily paralysing him. However, he'd rather die than give away Jason's location.
"Where is Jason?" Joseph asked again. Another voice spoke.
"He won't say, Joseph. But no matter. I know where Jason has gone. No doubt he's heading for your father's camp."
Joseph straightened up as Zoltar walked over.
"Shall I follow him, sire?"
"No," Zoltar murmured. He looked down as his defenceless son, and a cold smile formed on his lips. "I have a much better idea. Bring Mark back to the chamber. I want him given the treatment immediately."
Mark could only groan helplessly as Joseph strapped him back down to the metal table. The young man favoured him with a reassuring smile.
"Don't fight it, Mark. Trust me. Everything will be better once it's over."
"No," Mark whispered. "Joseph, no...."
Joseph stepped back. "He's ready, my lord."
Zoltar nodded, then moved over to look over the teen.
"Joseph is right, Mark. Once it's over, everything will be much better. We're going to be a family again, son. The way it was meant to be. I will reign over this universe, and you and Jason will be my princes, my heirs. The way it should be."
He smiled at the boy's distress, then nodded to the scientist who was waiting with a lethal-looking hypodermic.
Mark began to struggle in panic as the man approached, but his weakened state would not allow him the strength to put up a proper fight. His last, panicked thoughts as the hypodermic slid into his throat, were to pray that Jason had made it to safety.
Jason broke out into daylight, if it could have been called that. The pale sun provided the forest with only the barest possible light, just enough to see. The forest itself looked less than inviting, being far too dark and shadowy for his liking.
He paused, wondering whether he should go back, regardless of Mark's order. An echo of sound from somewhere in the passage him against it, though. As much as he wanted, he couldn't spare the time to make sure that Mark had escaped, or was escaping. He had to assume that he was being followed, and he had to trust that Mark had known what he was doing. Angry at himself for allowing himself to be separated from his brother but knowing he'd had no choice, he turned back to the forest, and went off in search of the gypsy camp.
Beth was at the stream, gathering water in a jug, when she saw him. At first, she could barely believe her eyes. But it was definitely him, no mistake. He hadn't seen her, and was almost staggering through the brush, pushing low-hanging branches aside almost blindly as he walked. Concerned, Beth left the jug and went to meet him.
He blinked and looked over at her, dazed. For a second, he didn't even recognise her. Then, he remembered.
She smiled with relief, reaching out to grasp his shoulders and steady him as he swayed dangerously.
"Jason, what are you doing here? How did you get here?"
"Me and Mark," he told her breathlessly. "We were caught.... Managed to get away again.... But we had to split up. Mark told me to find the camp, and he'd meet me there. But there were so many soldiers...."
Beth slipped an arm around the exhausted boy's shoulders.
"If Mark said he'd meet you at the camp, then he will. Don't worry about him, he can take very good care of himself. Now, come on. I think we'd better get you to the camp. You're completely exhausted! How long have you been wandering around the forest?"
Jason shook his head. "Don't know. An hour, maybe...."
Beth regarded him critically as she guided him back towards the camp. Judging by the scratches on his face and arms, he'd been wandering around for longer than that.
"C'mon, sweetheart. Don't worry, you're safe now."
Jason said nothing, but the look in his eyes suggested he didn't really believe that.
"Louis?" Beth called out as she led Jason into the camp boundaries. "Louis, look who I found."
Louis turned from the horse that he was tending to, and surprise lit up his face at the sight of the teen that he had not see for six months.
"Jason! What in the name of the gods are you doing here, boy?"
"He said that he and Mark were captured and brought to the castle," Beth explained. "They escaped but they had to separate. Mark told Jason to come here, and that he'd meet him here as soon as possible. Louis, he's completely exhausted."
Louis nodded and gently took Jason's arm, leading him into the nearest caravan.
"Sit down, my boy."
Jason sat down on the soft bed numbly, and Louis looked him over carefully. "You aren't hurt, are you?"
"No," Jason mumbled. "Just really tired. Mark...."
"Can take care of himself. Just relax, now. You're safe here."
Jason sighed faintly, glancing around, and his gaze fell on the pillow. All of a sudden, that pillow looked terribly soft and inviting
"I'll get you something to eat," Louis told him, "and then you can sleep. All right?"
Jason nodded, and Louis hurried from the caravan to find some food. It was pointless; by the time he came back, Jason was already asleep on the bed.
"How is he?" Beth asked as she ventured into the caravan behind her husband.
"Out like a light," Louis replied ruefully. "How long was he in the forest?"
"He said an hour or so. I don't think he knows for sure, it could have been longer. Louis, what if Mark isn't able to escape from the castle?"
Louis shook his head. "Don't start thinking like that, woman. He'll be fine. He always is. Now, come out here. We'll let the boy sleep. He obviously needs it."
Beth nodded and, pausing to favour Jason with a tender, affectionate smile, she allowed herself to be ushered out of the caravan.
Jason awoke hours later to a low rumble, and distinct trembling through the caravan. For several seconds, he couldn't remember where he was or what he was doing there. Then, he remembered the capture and the escape, and he sat up quickly, on the verge of panic.
"Relax, Jason. We're safe."
Jason looked around in surprise, then relief flooded his face at the sight of his brother.
"Mark You got out!"
Mark smiled wryly. "I told you I'd be okay. How are you feeling?"
"A little stiff," Jason admitted, "but better. What's going on?"
"The gypsies are moving camp," Mark explained. "A message came through from the team. They tried to get to Spectra with the Voltron Force, but the armada was waiting for them. They sustained so much damage that they had to retreat to Boridia for repairs before they can try again. The gypsies are moving to an area unknown by the Spectran army until they get here. It's to keep us safe from Zoltar. They'll be looking for us, after all."
Jason grimaced. "Shit.... What a mess. I guess we'll be safe here at any rate. How'd you get out, anyway?"
Mark shook his head. "It wasn't easy. They nearly had me at one point, but I managed to give them the slip. I'm sorry we had to split up like that, but it worked out okay."
"Sure," Jason muttered. "Just don't do it again."
A smile touched Mark's lips. "Whatever you say." He stood up, and peered out the window at the passing foliage. "I've never seen this part of the forest before. They really are moving well off their usual path."
Jason didn't speak for a moment, watching the back of his brother's head as he looked out at the scenery.
"How long do you think it will be before G-Force get here?"
Mark hesitated, then turned back to face Jason.
"I don't know. They didn't say how much damage they'd sustained. It could be hours or maybe longer."
"Days?" Jason asked uneasily. Mark shrugged.
"Could be. Then there's the armada. They're going to be waiting to cut them off each time, until Zoltar has what he wants."
"You mean us," Jason muttered. "Just what does he want with us, anyway? You said you'd tell me when we reached the camp."
"I did, didn't I," Mark conceded. "It's not pleasant. He's basically hoping to turn us to his side."
Jason gaped at Mark. "You mean turn us to evil? Like putting a spell on us? You've gotta be kidding"
"I wish I were," Mark muttered. "I didn't tell Louis, because it would make him go completely off his rocker if he knew, but Zoltar's already done it to Joseph."
"Joseph.... You mean, Louis's son? The guy that rescued me and the others that first time?"
"Uh huh. I saw him when I woke up the first time, you know, when we were in that chamber. Joseph was there, then. It was scary, Jason. It was like he had no loyalty to anyone other than Zoltar. It was him that nearly caught me again after we split up. If Zoltar can do that to Joseph, then we're in trouble if he gets his hands on us."
Jason fell silent, feeling decidedly ill. The terrible consequences of that didn't escape him. He knew that between himself and Mark, they were capable of causing a hell of a lot of destruction. If Zoltar managed to get that power on his side Well, then the Earth was in for some serious trouble.
"So, we just hang out here until G-Force can get to us?"
Mark nodded. "That's the plan. We don't have any other choice."
Jason sighed and flopped back down on the bed. "And I thought I was feeling better."
"At least we're among friends," Mark pointed out. "These people will keep us safe. And don't forget, you're among family."
The thought struck Jason hard, and he sat up again slowly. "My grandfather.... My mother's father...."
"Why don't you go ask Louis?" Mark suggested gently. Jason hesitated for just a moment before getting up eagerly and going outside, jumping down from the moving contraption to find the leader of the gypsies.
In turning away from his brother, he never saw the young commander's expression turn cold and calculating, and never caught the evil smile that spread slowly over the younger boy's face.
Louis was at the end of the caravan train, bringing up the rear with a lethal-looking crossbow. He grinned broadly at the sight of the teen.
"Jason, how are you feeling?"
"A lot better, thanks," Jason answered. "Louis, I was wondering about something...."
Louis faltered, unease filtering onto his features. "You mean your mother's father?"
"Yeah. Mark told me that he's your second in command. I was wondering....."
"You'd like to meet him?" Louis asked, and Jason nodded.
The older man sighed heavily, then. "I'm sorry, Jason. I wish I could help, but I'm afraid Nicholas died two months ago."
The teen's face fell. "Oh."
"I'm sorry," Louis murmured. "I know you must be disappointed."
Jason stared intently at the ground, fighting an inexplicable urge to cry.
"Why is it that nearly everyone who can tell me about my mother dies right before I get to meet them?"
Louis slung and arm across the boy's shoulder. "Not everyone, lad. There is someone else here who can tell you about your mother, from a personal view point."
"Who?" Jason asked softly. Louis smiled.
"Tashi's older brother, Dalbon. Your uncle, to be precise. Come, we'll go and find him."
Dalbon led the progression of caravans, watching the forest carefully all the while. He was an older man, approximately 50 or so, with a craggy, lined face and kind, warm eyes. His attention was solely on the path ahead of them, and the surrounding area, until Louis appeared beside the caravan with Jason.
"Dalbon? Care to tell young Jason here about his mother?"
A smile touched the other man's face, and he nodded.
"Climb on up here, Jason."
Jason got up with some aid from Louis, and took a seat next to Dalbon.
"My father was sad that he never had the chance to speak to you when you last visited this grand planet of ours," Dalbon said, and Jason smiled faintly, recognising the sarcasm for what it was.
"So am I," he admitted. "I wished I'd gotten to talk to him."
"Do you remember anything at all of your mother?"
"Not much," Jason murmured. "If I do remember anything, it's usually in dreams. It's just images, really. And senses...."
Dalbon nodded. "I understand that. And I hope you aren't still worrying yourself over whether Tashi really wanted you."
"No. She gave a letter to my parents to give to me when I asked about her. That told me all I needed to know about that."
"Good," Dalbon said. "Because she loved you a great deal. She risked her life to keep you out of Zoltar's clutches." The older man smiled distantly. "But those two years after you were born were grand. I expect Zoltar ordered us to be left alone because of you. He wouldn't have wanted you injured in a raid. But Tashi absolutely adored you. So did Father, and I."
Jason regarded Dalbon with surprise and growing embarrassment, as he realised he could suddenly be in for a dose of 'bouncing baby' stories.
"Uh.... How much do you remember?"
Dalbon chuckled. "Well, for starters, I remember the morning that you were born. Crystal clear day, it was. Louis ordered us go hunting, mainly because Father was tying himself in knots. I swear, Tashi was trying to scream the whole camp down. Of course, it was all over when we came back, and Mother announced it was a boy. Father was a little worried I remember that. So was I, I suppose. We all were worried with how Tashi would react. But as soon as Father and I went to see her in the caravan We needn't have worried. One look at you and she had no intention of ever giving you up. We all felt the same."
He paused, glancing down and taking in the mixed emotions on the teen's face. "You are nothing like your father, Jason. You never were. Even in those first two years, you displayed all the characteristics that Zoltar had never shown. Love, happiness, affection.... We were worried that the older children who knew the truth might have shunned you, but it didn't happen. They were as protective of you as your mother was. It broke a lot of hearts when the decision was made for Tashi to take you off the planet."
"I guess that's been my biggest fear," Jason admitted softly. "Ever since I found out, I've been scared that anyone who knows would hate me because of who my father really is. Mark and I were on our way to visit his people in Witch Mountain when we were attacked. I was really worried that they wouldn't want anything to do with me."
Dalbon laughed softly. "No need to fear that, Jason. Mark would never take you there if he thought there was a danger of that happening."
"That's what Mark said. But I'm still a little concerned."
"Well," Dalbon said softly, "if nothing else, you at least know that you are always welcome here among us. After all, we are your family as well."
Jason smiled faintly. "I know, and I appreciate it. It's sort of weird. First it was just me and Mum and Dad. Then I found out who my real father was, and now I have family all over the place." He paused, then looked up at Dalbon with a grin. "You've got a neice, as well. My mother got married on Earth and had a girl."
The surprise on Dalbon's face was palpable. "Really?"
"Yeah. I didn't find out about her until six months ago, but Mum and Dad adopted her, and now she's living with us. Nicki, her name is."
Dalbon's smile faded a little. "Then Tashi...."
Jason swallowed, realising abruptly that Dalbon didn't even know that his sister was dead. Wishing he didn't have to be the one to tell him, he spoke softly.
"She and her husband died about a year and a half ago, in a car accident. Nicki was in an orphanage for about a year before Chief Anderson found out about her. I.... I'm sorry."
"It's all right," Dalbon reassured him. "Tashi got what she wanted; a life away from here, and your safety."
"Better hold that second thought until G-Force get here," Jason said ruefully, and Dalbon chuckled.
"True. Now, do me a favour and hop down and go and find Louis. Tell him we're coming to the place where we'll make camp."
Jason nodded, jumping down from the moving caravan, went to do as he'd been told.
Jason lay wrapped up in a warm blanket on the soft grass, staring at the dwindling fire through sleep-heavy eyes. Upon arriving in a large clearing, he had found himself caught up in the bustle of setting up camp, and had soon been running around, helping out as though he belonged there.
A weary smile touched his lips. He supposed that, in a way, he did belong there. After all, he had been born among these people, and had spent the first two years of his life with them.
Later on, some youths that were just a little older than him had approached him, introducing themselves as having known him from those two years so long ago. He didn't remember, of course, but accepted their word and had found himself welcomed into their smaller circle without question. As far as they were concerned, he had been born there, therefore he was one of them.
The only concern that had even fleetingly entered his mind was the strange aloofness that Mark had displayed all afternoon and into the evening. He put it down to worry about their situation, though, and had soon forgotten about it.
Now, he lay on the grass next to his brother, half-asleep and quite content. He was surprised and a little annoyed when someone prodded him in the side, urging him up.
"What...." he grumbled, rolling over. A hand clamped down over his mouth, silencing him, and for an instant he panicked, until he saw Mark's face, hovering over his own. The hand came away, and Jason sat up.
"What are you trying to do, give me a heart attack?"
"Sorry," Mark apologized. "I didn't want to wake anyone else. I just got a message from the team a minute ago. They managed to slip around the aramada and land on the dark side of the planet. They're waiting to meet us now."
Relief flooded Jason's face at the news, and he scrambled to his feet.
"Thank God. I just want to say goodbye to Dalbon."
Mark's hand closed over his forearm, vice-like in its grip. "No. Don't wake anyone. It'll be safer for them if we just go."
"But they'll think we've been captured, or something," Jason protested. Mark shook his head.
"No, I left a note for Louis. It'll be okay. Trust me, Jason. It's better this way."
Jason conceded reluctantly, none too happy at slipping away without the chance for a last word with his uncle.
"Okay I suppose."
Mark smiled faintly. "Good. Now, c'mon, the sooner we get away from here, the better."
Gathering up his jacket, Jason followed Mark silently out of the camp boundaries, and into the forest.
"How far away are they?" Jason asked as they ploughed their way through the heavy undergrowth.
"Not too far," Mark answered. "In fact, we should reach them any second."
They broke through into a small clearing, and Jason froze, his eyes widening with shock as they found themselves confronted by a small army of Spectran soldiers, led by Lieutenants Kaa and J'Boath. Immediately, he fell back into a ready stance, prepared for a fight.
Jason's breath froze in his throat as Mark walked over to stand in front of Kaa and J'Boath, then turned to face him, a cold smile etched onto his features.
"Don't look so surprised, Jason. You really should have figured it out, you know. After all, you yourself told Beth that you were wandering around in the forest for over an hour, looking for the camp. And you know it wouldn't have taken me a quarter of that time to find it, or even get out of the castle, unless I'd been caught."
For a long, painful second, Jason couldn't breathe. Then, he managed to speak in a hoarse voice.
"You... They've done something to you.... What you said they did to Joseph...."
Mark nodded slowly. "Yes, they did. They set me free, Jason. And they'll do the same for you. Don't worry, big brother. Everything will be okay. Trust me."
Jason clenched his jaw and tightened his fists. "If they want me, they'll have to take me. I'm not going down without a fight."
J'Boath started forward, but Mark waved him back.
"No, Lieutenant. Allow me, please."
Jason fought back the panic as Mark approached him, a small, calm smile on his face.
"You wouldn't fight me, Jason, would you? You wouldn't hit your own brother."
"Stay back," Jason warned, his voice cracking with fear. "Mark, please....."
Mark quickly closed the distance between them, and reached out to grasp Jason's shoulders.
"We're going to be a family, Jason. The way it should have been from the very beginning. You, me, Keop and Father. We're going to rule this universe, and no one will be able to stop us. We have the power to do it, Jason. We have the power to do anything we want. And we're going to do it. We'll be unstoppable. All of us, together."
Jason was so frozen with fear, and so mesmerized by his brother's soothing tone, that he didn't notice Mark's left hand drop from his shoulder, and draw a needle from his belt pouch. The next thing he knew, something sharp jabbed into the side of his throat, and his vision instantly began to cloud over. His knees buckled a moment later, and he went down, guided to the ground by Mark's strong arms.
"It's going to be all right," Jason heard Mark tell him in a voice that sounded distant, and faint. "You don't have to be afraid of anything anymore. It's everyone else who will be afraid of us. We're going to be a family, Jason. And no one will ever be able to touch us again. Ever..."
Jason shuddered once, and then his world faded to nothing. Mark watched him in silence for a long moment, before carefully laying him down flat on the grass.
"All right. Let's get back to the castle. Father wants the treatment given to Jason immediately."
"What about the gypsy camp?" Kaa asked. Mark replied as he got to his feet.
"Leave them. I destroyed all their radio equipment, so they have no way of contacting Boridia to warn them." He turned to face J'Boath. "Get a message to General Dagar. The next time G-Force and the Voltron Force attempt to break through, tell him to let them succeed, but only after a heavy fight. We don't want them becoming supsicious if it seems too easy. Once they land and join the gypsies, we'll grab Keop and give him the treatment as well." A cruel smile touched his lips. "And once we have Keop, you can do what you like with the gypsies."
J'Boath smiled, then, pleased with his orders.
"Yes, my prince."
Mark looked around, saw that Jason's body had been lifted onto a makeshift stretcher, and nodded.
Louis awoke to a black night, deathly silence, and the unshakable feeling that something was terribly wrong. Confused and worried, he sat up and looked around the camp slowly, his hand closed instinctively over his crossbow. All around him, his men slept, quiet now but they would be ready for battle in an instant if it were needed.
He shook his head, and was about to lie back down when he saw it. Two blankets on the other side of the campfire, both unoccupied. Mark and Jason were gone....
"Dalbon! Dalbon, wake up!"
Dalbon stirred and woke, soon followed by the rest of the men.
"What's wrong?" Dalbon asked, a little annoyed at being awoken.
"The boys are gone," Louis growled as he got up. That news knocked out any sleep that Dalbon still had in him, and he was on his feet in an instant.
"If they've been taken...."
"Just a moment," Louis told him as he discovered a folded noted on the ground next to his blanket. He unfolded it and read it aloud.
"Louis, be smart and don't come after us. We are where we belong now, with our father. If you try and interfere, your entire camp will be obliterated. I've destroyed your radio so you will be unable to warn G-Force. Just stay where you are and make no move against us. Mark." Louis looked up, his face pale with shock. "They've done something to him. That's the only explanation."
"I thought Zoltar had given up on mind control," someone muttered. Louis looked grim.
"Apparently not. And he seems so sure of this that he believes he can control both Mark and Jason. Damn it! I never even noticed the boy was acting strangely."
"He seemes distracted," another man admitted. "Nothing more."
Louis started to speak, then a deep frown crossed his face when he saw Dalbon loading his crossbow.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Dalbon looked over at Louis angrily. "Whatever has been done to Mark, Jason is still unaffected. We have to rescue him."
"Have you got a death wish?" Louis snapped. "If this letter is all that I read into it, Mark will kill you before you can even get close to Jason. Put your weapon down and start thinking productively."
"I think we have to assume the worst," Louis' second in command, Brynn, said quietly. "If Zoltar has a new form of mind control that has given him control over Mark, and will give him control over Jason, then it will mean the worst for us."
"Well, regardless of anything else," Louis muttered, "I think we know why Zoltar wants Mark and Jason. It would give him power the likes of which no one has a chance against."
"It's likely they want young Keop as well," Aldron said. "He's nowhere near as powerful as Mark, but it would only be detrimental to leave him with G-Force."
"True," Louis agreed. "We have to find a way to warn them not to come here."
"Why don't we move camp again?" someone suggested.
"Because they will most likely have scouts watching now," Dalbon growled. "I've no doubt that they plan to attack us at some point. After all, they're obviously expecting us to be G-Force's first point of contact. If they do want Keop, a fight will be the perfect cover to grab him."
Louis got up. "It will be better if they don't come here at all. Their best defence will be to retreat to Earth. Brynn, the radio outpost we set up two years ago.... How far away from it are we?"
"About five kaylons west, I think."
"And would it still be operational?"
"Should be. There's no reason why it wouldn't be. But above all else, G-Force don't know about it."
Louis nodded in grim understanding. "So Mark won't know about it to destroy it." He sighed softly, feeling a touch of despair at the situation ahead of them. "I never thought I'd find myself speaking of Mark as an enemy. Damn Zoltar for this. Dalbon, I want you to stay here to protect the women and children and the camp. Brynn, Yanni, Joran, Ambro and Aldron, saddle your horses and get your weapons ready. You're coming with me to that outpost. We have to warn G-Force."
"And what about Mark and Jason?" Dalbon asked quietly as the other men went off to prepare. "Do we just leave them to Zoltar?"
"We don't have a choice," Louis answered. He could only shake his head at Dalbon's accusatory glare. "I don't like it any more than you do, but that is the bottom line. How many times have we talked about how dangerous Mark would have been had he been raised under Zoltar? This is our worst nightmare coming to pass. And now, not only Mark, but Jason as well. We don't even know how long they'd been gone by the time we woke up. It could have been hours. It's nearly dawn already. And if it has been that long, then it is probably already too late for Jason."
"So we sit back and do nothing," Dalbon spat bitterly. "And what about the Earth, Louis? And all the other planets that Zoltar wants to conquer? What will happen to the people of those planets when Zoltar turns Mark and Jason loose?"
Louis looked pale, and grim. "May the gods help them all."
Boridia, some hours later
Colonel Cronus was sitting in his chamber, staring silently up at the dark sky when there was a light knock on his door.
The door swung open, and Cronus managed to smile tiredly at Keith and Jason as they walked in.
"How are the repairs going, boys?"
"The Lions are ready to go," Keith answered. "There are still a couple of things to fix on the Phoenix before we can try again."
"I've made a decision," Cronus told them. "I'm coming with you, and I'm bringing a large chunk of the Boridian Army with me. We have to break through those defences, and rescue Mark and Jason before Zoltar gets hold of them. You're going to need all the help you can get."
"Thanks, Colonel," Jason said softly. "You've always come through for us when we needed help the most."
"And you kids have done the same for me," Cronus reminded the seventeen year-old. He stood up. "I think we had best go and start working out some battle plans. Don't you think?"
Keith and Jason nodded their silent agreement, and followed Cronus from the chamber. They'd barely gotten halfway along the corridor, though, when a soldier came running at them from the other direction.
The older man turned quickly, concern on his lined face. "What is it?"
"We need you urgently, sir. We're getting a radio message from Spectra. It's from the leader of the gypsies."
Cronus threw Keith and Jason a worried glance, and then they took off at a run for the communications room.
"Branik?" Cronus asked of the radio technician as they entered the room. "What's going on?"
Branik looked grim. "We're receiving a message from Spectra, from Louis. He's warning G-Force to stay away.... Mark and Jason are with the Spectrans."
"Well, then we can't stay away!" Jason protested. "We have to rescue them!"
"No, you don't understand," Branik said. "According to this message, they aren't prisoners." He paused, listening for another long moment before turning to speak. "Jason showed up at the camp first. He'd been wandering around the forest for at least an hour. Mark showed up approximately half an hour after Jason arrived at the camp. They stayed with the camp for the full day, but when Louis woke up this morning, both Mark and Jason were gone. There was a note from Mark saying they were with their father, where they belonged, and warning the gypsies not to interfere."
"Mind control" Jason whispered in shock. "It has to be mind control."
"If Mark's brother is as powerful as you say," Keith said, "then it must be a damned strong control."
"Whatever it is," Branik said, "they're warning you not to come anywhere near Spectra. They believe that Keop may be the next target, and that if you go there, you'll be ambushed, and Keop will be taken."
"That makes sense," Cronus said grimly. "Zoltar wants all his sons. With them on his side, he could do untold damage."
Jason stood stiffly, his hands curling into tight fists. "We can't just leave them there. Even if it is some sort of mind control, Zoltar's tried it before. It never lasts." He looked determinedly to Cronus. "We're going there as soon as the Phoenix is ready to fly. I don't care what Louis says. I won't leave Mark and Jason to Zoltar. Not for any reason."
Turning sharply on his heel, he stalked out of the room, leaving Cronus and Keith to contemplate their situation in grim silence.
"...lucky if they're not beaten to a pulp by the time we get to them."
Allura and Princess exchanged glances as they walked back into the launching bay to overhear Lance's words. Laying a hand gently on Princess's shoulder, Allura spoke out firmly to her invisible comrade.
"Lance, if you can't be more positive, then shut up."
Lance's head appeared at the top of the Phoenix, his face smudged with dirt and grease.
"I'm just being realistic," he argued. "Look at what Kaa did to Pidge!"
"Mark and Jason are a little more able to deal with Kaa than Pidge," Princess pointed out firmly. "The fact that they escaped the castle proves that. They'll be all right. If nothing else, we can trust that Louis and the other gypsies will keep them safe until we get there."
"Sure," Tiny retorted as he appeared next to Lance, wiping his hands on a rag. "If Zoltar wants Mark and Jason as badly as we think, then their chances of steering clear of him get less with every hour we're kept away. Even the gypsies are no match for a squadron of trained soldiers. They'd be cut down in a second. Lance is right. We will be lucky if we get there and they haven't been taken again. And you know what Zoltar is like. I'm half willing to bet we'll find Mark and Jase hanging next to each other on those damned hooks."
"I'd shut up if I were you," Keop warned from where he stood beneath the Phoenix, watching Princess turn ashen. "She thumped me just for teasing her about Jase. She'll kill you for that."
Tiny sighed, then leapt down from the top of the craft, with Lance close behind.
"Princess, I'm sorry, but you know it's a possibility. You can't let your emotions get in the way of clear thinking. You know the scenario. Zoltar will demand that they join him, and when they say no, he'll do some god-awful thing to them. You can't pretend that he won't."
The girl looked away, struggling against the threat of tears. "I know. I'm sorry, I just want to get to them as soon as possible, and just get back home."
Tiny nodded, but before he had a chance to reply, the door slid open and they were treated to Keith's voice as he trailed behind Jason.
"Damn it, Jason, will you stop and look at this logically?"
Jason shook his head as he strode towards the Phoenix. "We're going to Spectra now, and the only thing that I'm looking at right now is getting through that barricade. Tiny, is the Phoenix ready to fly?"
"She's ready to go," Tiny answered, a touch uncertainly. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Jason snapped, but Keith spoke angrily.
"We just got a message from the gypsies telling us to stay away from Spectra at all cost. Zoltar has Mark and Jason, and from what we could figure out from the message, he's got them under some sort of mind control. They think that Keop is the next target, and that we'll get ambushed if we go there."
"Oh god," Princess whispered in horror. Allura gently squeezed her hand, then spoke quietly.
"If that's the case, shouldn't we try to rescue them? Before it becomes too late?"
"Exactly," Jason growled. "Zoltar has tried this before. We can break it, but we have to go now. We can't waste anymore time."
"We could be walking into a trap!" Keith argued. "This is stupid!"
"What's stupid," Jason growled, "is hanging around here fighting this out with each other. Keith, we're the ones with the experience with Zoltar and his tactics." He motioned to Princess, Tiny and Keop. "Ask them. It isn't just me."
Keith looked to the other three members of G-Force, who nodded reluctantly.
"Jason's right, Keith," Tiny said quietly. "Zoltar has tried mind control before. It's always been easy to break. But even if it isn't this time around, it's best to get them away from him before he has them under his influence for too long. Even if we have to take them by force." He paused, then added, "Especially if we have to take them by force."
"We can sneak onto Spectra easily enough," Princess said, "if we have some sort of distraction. Then, between us, we should be able to get to Mark and Jason."
Keith looked around at the members of G-Force and his own team in frustration, then looked back to Cronus, who had come up beside him.
"What's the best thing to do, Colonel?" he asked. Cronus looked grim.
"Normally, I'd agree with you, Keith. Unfortunately, my own judgment is not the best with Mark being directly involved. I'm afraid that in this case I have to go against my instincts and say we go to Spectra. But I think Princess's idea would be the best course of action. I've already committed my own army to helping you. We will provide the distraction, and give you all the chance to land on Spectra." He paused, his gaze falling on Keop. "But caution would be wise. I think it would be best if Keop stayed with me. If what Louis has told us is true, then there is no point putting him at risk. Fair enough?"
They conceded, Keop grudgingly so.
"All right," Cronus said quietly. "Let's go."
"Some of us probably should have stayed behind," Lance muttered as they approached the moss-covered tunnel that would take them into the castle. Jason glanced back at him.
"Are you volunteering to stay here and guard the tunnel entrance?"
Lance scowled. "No thanks."
"Then put a lid on it."
The pilot of the Red Lion watched Jason's diminishing form in the dim light of the tunnel incredulously.
"You know," he muttered as he followed the others into the tunnel, "I think I like you better when Mark's around to do the arrogant leader bit."
"Shut up, Lance," Allura hissed from behind him. Lance only grimaced, and hurried his pace.
Within the safety of the main hall, Zoltar watched a video monitor with both amusement and irritation as the two teams advanced along the tunnel.
"Keop is not with them," he said finally, his expression darkening. Kaa looked grimly at his ruler.
"Mark claims he disabled the radio equipment in the camp, but our scouts were unable to keep up with the group that left the camp on horses. It's possible that they have another set of equipment somewhere that we don't know about."
Zoltar sighed, and switched off the monitor. "No matter. We simply resort to plan B. Is everything ready?"
"Yes. Everything is in place. The transport is ready. The armada is already on the move. No doubt Colonel Cronus's forces are extremely confused right at this moment."
A sneer touched Zoltar's lips. "We have the upper hand now, Kaa. Even minor setbacks mean nothing. By the time G-Force understand what has happened, it will be too late. Now, what of the gypsy camp?"
Kaa smiled, then, a sight that disturbed even Zoltar.
"In Mark's own words, sire, obliterated. What few managed to flee are being hunted down even now. The children have been brought back to the castle, to be dealt with as you see fit."
Zoltar shook his head. "Having gypsy slaves caused too much trouble before. See to it that they're all killed."
"And what of Louis?"
"We don't have him yet, sire, but we will. He can't hide forever."
"Tell Krayak to kill him on sight. It's time to rid ourselves of all these thorns in our sides, Kaa. The fight is on, Kaa. And this time, we're going to win." He paused, glancing at the monitor even though it was switched off. "They're in the castle. Send your men to work. Don't make it easy for them to get out again. You understand?"
Kaa smiled again, then turned and strode from the hall. Zoltar watched him go, then turned his attention to the boy that stood next to his throne.
"We are going to win, Mark."
Mark nodded, a half-smile touching his lips. "Yes, father. People everywhere will bow to us, and those that don't will die."
Zoltar laughed softly. "Good boy. Now, go and wait by the tunnel entrance. You know what to do."
"So, where do we start looking?" Keith asked softly as they paused in a side tunnel. Jason chewed his lower lip for a moment before deciding.
"We'll start with checking the holding rooms. Maybe Zoltar's got Mark under his control, but Louis's message didn't say that he had Jason in his control. We'll split up. Uh Keith and Pidge come with me, Allura and Lance go with Princess, and Hunk will go with Tiny. Keep in contact, and meet back here in fifteen minutes. I'll take rooms C and D, Tiny, you check rooms A and B, and Princess, you check room E. Now, let's move."
"Mark would be proud of the way you're taking command," Keith commented quietly as they hurried along the corridor. Jason grimaced.
"Don't get sentimental on me, please."
Keith smiled faintly. "Sorry. So, are you going to tell us what the deal is with this other Jason? No one's explained it to us properly yet."
"You picked a fine time to want an explanation," Jason grumbled. When Keith didn't answer, the teen sighed and conceded. "Okay. Mark met Jason a while ago. Over a year, now, I think. You remember we told you about getting sent off to foster homes?"
"Well, Mark ended up staying with a friend of Jason's. Jason's father was the psychiatrist that helped me and Mark that time and things just snowballed, I guess. Kaa and J'boath showed up for Mark, and a few other kids got caught in the middle. The rest of us didn't know anything about this, though. Mark didn't tell us until about six months later, when General Carlton tried to set us up to be killed."
"Coran told us about that," Pidge said. "If we'd been able to get to Earth..."
"It probably wouldn't have made much difference," Jason interrupted quietly. "Our only chance was proving that Carlton was responsible, not us. But we were all hurt too badly to do anything about it. Anyway, it was then that Princess started to latch onto Jason. I don't know if it was the situation at the time or what, but she really liked him, and we could all tell. I suppose I was just jealous, in the end, but I sent Jason off after the recorder we had installed in the Phoenix. I mean, I didn't tell him to go look for it, I just mentioned it off-hand to him and let nature take its course. It got screwed up, though. Jason got caught by Carlton's men, and nearly got killed. If it hadn't been for Colonel Cronus showing up when he did, Jason really would have been killed. There was no way Carlton would have let him live to testify. But it worked out okay, and Jase managed to keep the recorder safe until help showed up. So Carlton ended up in prison, and we were free."
Keith frowned as Jason related the story to him and Pidge. "Let me get this straight. All this time, you didn't know that Jason and Mark are brothers?"
"Right. Jason was adopted, but no one knew. He'd never told anyone. We didn't start to find out the truth until five months later when they came to Washington for a holiday, and ended up staying with us for a couple of weeks. One of Colonel Cronus's spies got wind that Zoltar was up to something, and it involved a guy called Jason Scott. We got that message, and that was all, so we were confused as hell. It wasn't until Kaa and J'boath snatched Jase and his friends off the beach and took them to Spectra that we found out. Louis was able to tell us. Jason's mother his real mother was gypsy from Louis's camp. She'd been taken to the castle to work as a slave, but she caught Zoltar's eye... Let's just say that Jason was the result. They kept Jason on Spectra for two years, and then his mother brought him to Earth to keep him away from Zoltar. She ended up adopting him out to stop Zoltar from finding him. So Jason himself didn't know the truth, until Zoltar told him."
"And Jason is older than Mark?" Keith queried.
"Yeah. Which makes him the more powerful, by birthright."
"Mark's pretty powerful, too, though," Pidge said. Jason nodded.
"We'd wondered about that. Mark figured it out, though, after talking with his uncle about Jason. Because Mark was Marie's first child, he still inherited a lot of power. Just not quite as much as Jase. If Zoltar gets those two under his control, we are in for some serious trouble." He paused just outside a metal door. "Here we are. Back me up."
Keith and Pidge both stood ready with their lasers, as Jason opened the door. None were quite prepared for the sight that met them.
Jason darted forward, crouching down beside the semi-conscious teen. "C'mon, Jase, wake up buddy...."
Jase's eyes flickered open, and he stared up at Jason in a daze.
"It's me," Jason growled. "C'mon, snap out of it!"
"Jason," Jase whispered. "Oh man.... Am I glad to see you."
"What happened?" Jason asked as he looked over the older boy's bruised face. "We got a message that you were taken, and for us to stay away from the planet."
"Zoltar's got this machine," Jase told him weakly. "Some sort of mind control, I think. He used it on Mark."
"We were led to believe that he used it on you, too," Keith said, not quite relaxing his grip on his laser. Jase nodded slowly.
"He tried. They sedated me to get me back to the castle from the gypsy camp, but I woke up just before that that doctor tried using the treatment on me. I torched their equipment before they could do it."
"And Zoltar beat you up?" Jason asked, feeling a touch of suspicion. Zoltar would not have beaten Jase up in such a circumstance, or allowed him to be beaten...
"No, J'boath did," Jason whispered. "I think he got caught in the middle when the stuff exploded. He was furious But Zoltar pulled him off me before he could do too much damage. Said something about it being detrimental to beat me up." Jase swallowed weakly, looking up at Jason with anxiety in his dark eyes. "We have to get to Mark. We have to get him out of here, so we can find a way to reverse whatever it is that Zoltar's done to him."
Jason nodded grimly as he and Keith hauled Jase to his feet.
"We will, but first we're going to get you to safety. Can you walk all right?"
"I think so," Jase mumbled. "I'm just a little dizzy."
"Okay," Jason murmured. "Just lean on us."
As they walked, Jason spoke into his transmitter. "Everyone, listen up. Meet back at the tunnel, now."
"We haven't check all the rooms yet, Jason," Tiny's voice came over, crackling slightly.
"Forget that," Jason ordered. "Just get back to the tunnel. I'll explain shortly."
Lowering his wrist, he glanced across to Keith. "If you guys can get Jase to your Lions, we'll go after Mark."
"Are you insane?" Keith hissed. "If it's true, he'll tear you apart!"
"It's true," Jase said hoarsely. He looked sideways at Jason. "He'll attack you without thinking twice. He ordered the destruction of the gypsy camp."
Jason stiffened. "No way. That's impossible. Mark wouldn't...."
"He would if he's not thinking for himself," Keith argued. "Jason, you yourself agreed that Mark is powerful. If he's under Zoltar's control, he's not going to have any qualms about using that power against you. Going up against him would be suicide."
"Okay, maybe you're right," Jason conceded grudgingly. "We'll just have to track him down and tranquilize him." He glanced around as they slipped into the side tunnel just around the corner from their escape route. Tiny and Hunk were already there, and Tiny quickly moved forward to take Jase from the other two.
"You okay?" Tiny asked in concern as he helped Jase to lean against the rock wall for support.
"I've had better days," Jase mumbled. "I'll be glad to get off this planet, though."
"As soon as the others get here," Jason agreed. "Then you'll be home before you know it."
"What about Mark?" Tiny asked, but Jason waved him to silence. The bigger boy fell reluctantly silent, waiting impatiently for their other three companions to arrive. Princess, Allura and Lance arrived shortly after, all three breathing heavily.
"Get sidetracked?" Jason asked, and Princess glowered at him.
"If you call two squads of soldiers a sidetrack, then yes. We lost them, but not for long if we don't get out now."
"Okay, we're going. Jase seems to know best what's going on, so he can explain to everyone when we're clear of this place."
"Thankyou very much," Jase muttered sarcastically. Jason shook his head, in no mood for playing around.
"Let's go," he growled, stepping out of the side tunnel and striding around the corner, gun drawn. The others followed close behind, only to be brought to an abrupt halt when Jason suddenly froze.
"What the hell is the problem now?" Lance growled. Jason didn't answer, but stared intently ahead, at the figure that blocked their path.
Mark smiled calmly. "Hello, Jason. Everyone. Nice to see you all together. We don't get together often enough."
The teen's demeanor was relaxed enough as he leaned against the outer wall of the narrow tunnel; however, the look in his eyes was unmistakable.
"We just want to get past, Mark," Jason said softly. "That's all."
"Yes, I'm sure you do. With my brother. Going somewhere, Jase?"
"Yes, home," Jase growled. "The same place where you should be going."
"We are home, Jason. You should realise that by now."
"This place is not home!" Jase exploded. "And I'll never call him father! I swear to god, I'll die first!"
Mark's smile faded, and he straightened up. "I can't let you walk out of here, brother. Father would be furious. He has plans for us. We can't disappoint him."
Jase started to argue, only to be silenced by Princess, who then moved forward to confront her commander.
"Mark, listen to yourself. You aren't talking sense. This isn't you. Don't you remember? You're the Commander of G-Force!"
"I know who I am, Princess," Mark said softly. "And I know where I belong. I haven't been brainwashed. My memories are completely intact." He looked to Jason. "I remember when we were eleven, when we took my plane and went AWOL. Chief Anderson grounded us for a month, not that it mattered. We couldn't go anywhere beyond Centre Neptune anyway, then." His gaze flickered to Tiny. "And the food-fight you started in the rec room when we were thirteen." His gaze swept over all of them. "And destroying the Spectran mother-ship in our first battle. I remember everything. But the difference is, I'm free now to make my own choices, and I choose to be here. I belong here, with my father." His harsh gaze came to rest on Jase. "And so do you."
Jase stiffened considerably, but stood his ground. "He's not going to control me the way he's controlling you, Mark. I won't let him."
Mark began to advance, very slowly. "Don't make me hurt you, Jason. I really don't want to do that."
"If you really have free choice," Jase argued, "then you'll let us go! Please, Mark.... You wouldn't hurt your own brother, would you?"
Mark came to a halt. For several seconds, he said and did nothing. Then, finally, he turned away from the group.
Jason nodded to the others, and they were about to move forward when Jase was suddenly lifted clean off his feet by an invisible force, and slammed into the nearby wall. The rest of them scattered, not willingly, but pushed violently aside by that same invisible force. Mark turned back around slowly, his stare locking onto Jase as the teen tried to push himself up from where he'd collapsed.
"You said you didn't want to hurt me!" Jase cried out, cringing more out of fear than pain. Mark shook his head.
"I still don't. Consider that gentle persuasion."
Jase shuddered, then got to his feet. None of the others had gotten up; it seemed Mark had them all pinned helplessly to the ground.
"I'd hate to know what you think is violent persuasion."
Mark sighed, then. "Don't fight me, Jason. We shouldn't be fighting each other. Let me help you!"
"I don't need that kind of help," Jase whispered. "Mark, this isn't right!"
"Who cares about what's right or wrong?" Mark countered. "This is about family, Jason. You do belong here, even if you don't want to admit it. And as soon as you're given the treatment, you'll understand that. Keop too, when we get him."
"Zoltar isn't getting me," Jase hissed, "and he's not getting Keop. So just back off!"
Mark raised a single eyebrow slightly. "You wouldn't hurt me, Jason. I know it isn't in you."
"Oh yeah?" Jase growled. "Well, think again."
The surprise on Mark's face was all-too-clear as Jason spun around and delivered a tornado kick to his brother's abdomen, causing him to double up in pain. Then, Jason took a step back and his eyes narrowed as he focused his power. An instant later, Mark was thrown several yards down the corridor, away from the rest of them. Jase's gaze flickered upwards, and the ceiling crumbled and caved in, effectively sealing off the passage. Jason looked around as the others slowly regained their wits and dragged themselves to their feet.
"C'mon. Let's get the hell out of here."
Silence reigned all the way back to the Phoenix and the Lions, and from there back to Boridia. Colonel Cronus met them upon landing, initially unaware of the heavy gloom that surrounded them.
"If we are going to go to Earth, we must leave immediately. The armada is on the move." He paused, taking in their expressions, then realised that one was missing. "You didn't bring Mark with you."
"We didn't have a choice," Jason said softly. "He attacked us. If it wasn't for Jase, we wouldn't have made it out of the castle at all."
Cronus looked over to where Jase stood. The nineteen year-old was avoiding his gaze, and a moment later, Cronus saw tears trickling down the boy's cheeks. He sighed.
"All right. We'll regather on Earth and sort out what to do and how we're going to rescue Mark. Now, chin up, all of you. We're going to get through this. Trust me."
"I hope you're right," Keith said quietly as they began to file back to their own transports. "I really do."
Cronus spared the young man a grim look, but said nothing.
Immediately on landing, the entire company was herded into the large rec room by Chief Anderson. His gaze fell on Jase, and he eyed the young man's bruised face with deep concern.
"Are you badly hurt?"
Jase shook his head. "No," he said, in an unusually quiet voice. "Nothing I can't take care of, anyway."
Anderson nodded. "All right, then. Listen to me, Jason. We need you to tell us exactly what happened, right from when you were intercepted by Kaa on Planet Aurus."
Jase nodded, then spoke softly. "We... Mark and I... were going to break away from the soldiers outside the castle on Aurus. But Kaa was prepared for it, and he used some drug to knock us out. When I woke up again, we were in this room in Zoltar's castle. We were strapped down to tables, and we couldn't break free. I had to burn the straps to get us out." He paused, eyeing his wrist which he had already healed. "Burnt myself into the bargain. I still owe Mark for that one. We left the room, and Mark took us further down into the castle. He said there were three escape tunnels down past the dungeons, and that we'd be okay if we got to them."
"Do you know what Zoltar wanted with you?" Princess asked anxiously. Jason shook his head.
"Not at that point. I think Mark knew, but he didn't want to tell me. I don't think he was under Zoltar's control at that point, though. I mean, if he was, he wouldn't have let me go. I think he just didn't want me panicking on him, or anything like that. I don't really know. Anyway, we had to split up because a couple of squads of soldiers came after us. Mark sent me in another direction. I didn't want to split up with him, but he didn't give me any choice. He told me where to find a tunnel that would get me out, and said for me to find the gypsies. Then he took off in another direction." Jason shook his head, angry at himself. "I should never have left him. It's my fault..."
"No," Cronus said gently. "It wasn't your fault. It's Zoltar's fault."
Jase conceded that point reluctantly, then went on with his story.
"I don't know exactly when I got to the gypsy camp. It was at least an hour later. Could've been longer I came across Beth, and she took me to the camp. I was so damn tired by then that I wasn't thinking straight. Louis took me into a caravan... Asked me what had happened.... Then he said he was going to get some soup, or something. The next thing I remember after that is waking up in the caravan, and Mark was beside me."
"Mark was there then?" Anderson asked in concern. Jase nodded.
"Uh huh. He said he'd gotten away, just barely. I didn't have any reason not to believe him. We talked a bit, and he told me then what Zoltar is planning. Apparently he's got this machine, and it I don't know sort of brainwashes you, I guess. Mark said Zoltar had already used it on Joseph."
"Joseph?" Tiny interrupted in shock. "From the gypsies?"
"Yeah," Jase confirmed. "And apparently all he cared about was doing what Zoltar told him to do. Zoltar wants to use that machine on me and Keop. He's already turned Mark with it."
"When did you find out that Mark had been turned?" Cronus pressed.
"That night. Last night, I guess. Everyone was asleep around the campfire. Mark woke me up, and said that G-Force had gotten through the Spectran blockade around the planet, and that they were waiting for us. He said it'd be best if we just went quietly, and didn't tell anyone, but that he'd left a note so that Louis would know what was going on. It never occurred to me that anything was wrong, so I went with him. Kaa and J'boath were waiting with a full squad of soldiers pretty close by. They must have followed us when the gypsies moved camp. Anyway, Mark spouted some crap about being a family, the way it was supposed to have been from the beginning, and ruling the universe. Then he injected me with something to sedate me."
"And then what happened?" Jason asked softly. The suspicion in his eyes was obvious; it was clear he didn't completely believe Jase's story yet.
"I woke up back in that room," Jase told them. "There was this man... I don't know who he was hanging over me saying something. Zoltar was there, along with J'boath, but Kaa and Mark were nowhere in sight. One thing I noticed, though, and I didn't notice this before, there was this huge machine on the far side of the room. I guess that it was what had been used to change Mark and Joseph. Zoltar told the man to go ahead and start, and he tried to inject me with something. I guess I panicked, and the whole machine just went up in flames. The next thing I know, J'boath was standing over me, punching me.... He didn't even bother to let me up. Probably figured I'd beat the crap out of him if he did. Then Zoltar pulled him off me, and told him that it was pointless to beat me up, that it would only make it harder to turn me."
"And then?" Anderson pressed. Jase shrugged, then winced a little and gingerly rubbed his right shoulder.
"They took me and locked me in one of those rooms. I guess I trashed their machine pretty good, 'cause I heard that other guy mention something about taking hours to repair it as J'boath took me out. But there's one other thing... Mark came and talked to me. It was about fifteen minutes before Jason, Keith and Pidge showed up. I don't know if he was trying to scare me or what, but he told me that he'd personally overseen the destruction of the gypsy camp.... And he looked really pleased with himself as he said it!" Jase paused, biting momentarily on his lower lip to get a hold on his emotions. "He told me not to fight, that it was all for the best in the end. And then he said that we were going to be a family. Him, me, Keop, Zoltar and Mordock."
Jason, Princess, Keop, Tiny and Chief Anderson all went ashen on the spot.
"Oh god no," Princess moaned.
Jase looked a little confused and a lot worried. "Who is he, exactly? I asked Mark, but he just smiled and said I'd see."
"He's our grandfather," Keop explained in a strangled voice. "He's about three times more powerful than Zoltar. He used to be the chief Elder of our people before he was banished along with Zoltar. If he's in the picture, we are in some serious shit."
For once, Anderson didn't check Keop on his expletive. Rather, he confirmed Keop's description of the situation in a voice that was laced with obvious fear.
"Keop is right. Mordock is to be feared far more than Zoltar. If Zoltar and Mordock have teamed up again, then this planet is in very real danger."
"Like it wasn't before?" Lance retorted sarcastically.
"You don't get it," Tiny growled. "The last time we went up against Mordock, Mark was left comatose for two months! Jason damn near lost his legs... It's really bad, that's all. It's just bad."
"Hang on," Hunk interrupted, frowning deeply. "If this guy is as bad as you say, how come he's never tried anything himself?"
Anderson sat back slowly as he spoke. "Mordock is an unusual man. Essentially, he's evil, but he doesn't care for the domination of planets like Zoltar does. However, given a choice between aiding Zoltar in the destruction of a planet or race of people, and aiding in something constructive, he'd most certainly choose the former. Mordock is by far more favourable now to his son than his grandchildren. He left his mark on me many years ago when he learned of what I'd done with Mark and Keop." He shook his head. "I don't have the time now to go into complexities. All you need to know is that Mordock is an extremely dangerous man. Even if we are able to keep Jason and Keop safe, between Mark, Zoltar and Mordock, those three are capable of laying waste to this entire planet. And above all else, this news has just made the likelihood of rescuing Mark that much slimmer."
Silence met Anderson's words. Finally, Keith stood up.
"We're all tired. There's nothing we can do now. I think we all need a good night's rest."
"Keith is right," Cronus agreed. "We can't possibly plan anything halfway decent when we're exhausted. Tomorrow, we'll begin serious talking of what our next steps will be."
A murmur of reluctant agreement swept across the group, and they got slowly to their feet and filed out of the rec. room. Anderson waited patiently until all were gone, bar Cronus and Coran.
"We have an increasingly desperate situation on our hands, gentlemen," Anderson said softly. Cronus stared intently at the floor, unwilling to look his long-time friend in the eye.
"I hate to even consider the thought, but I think we all know what actions might be needed to stop this."
Coran frowned, understanding instantly what Cronus was talking about.
"None of the Voltron Force will kill Mark. I wouldn't even bother asking them."
"And neither will G-Force," Cronus agreed. "They'd die themselves before they deliberately harmed him. And I know for certain that Jason wouldn't agree to killing his own brother."
"I wouldn't ask him to do it," Anderson retorted. "I wouldn't ask any of them to do it."
"And yet we know it might be the only avenue left open to us in the end," Coran muttered unhappily. "Anderson, the only ones potentially capable of doing the task are the very ones that we know would refuse."
Anderson nodded. "I'm aware of that. But none of them will be required to try. I have connections with a man overseas, living in Japan. His name is Nambu. I won't say anymore now, but I'm going to contact him. If the situation does become impossible, and it looks as though we don't have a choice but to...." He hesitated, then went on softly. "If it comes to that, then it will be dealt with by someone who is detached from this entire dilemma. We won't know about it until it's done."
"Trained assassins?" Cronus asked tensely. Anderson nodded once, and the old rebel sighed softly and looked away. He didn't like it, but at the same time he understood the possibility that it would become necessary. Coran looked equally tired and upset.
"You had better not tell the teams about this. They'd quite possibly mutiny on us."
"I'm aware of that," Anderson murmured. "And I have no intention of telling them. But I want you two to know. For obvious reasons."
"I hate the idea," Cronus said abruptly. "It makes me sick to my stomach to think it might be necessary to kill Mark. You know how I feel about that boy, Anderson. I love him as if he were my own son. But I understand. You have my support."
"And mine," Coran conceded. "Will you make the call now?"
Anderson nodded. "Yes. And then we'd best go to bed ourselves. It's going to be a long day tomorrow."
Just outside the door, Jase stood in silence, tears of anger and grief welling in his brown eyes as he listened to the conversation inside.
"Yes," he whispered as he finally turned away and headed for the stairs. "It will."
Princess was waiting for him at the top of the stairs. She looked uncertain of whether to even speak to him, but her fears were soon allayed when Jason walked over and pulled her to him in a tight hug. Relieved, she slid her arms around his broad shoulders, returning the hug with a fierce one of her own.
"It's going to be all right," she whispered as she felt a slight trembling pass through his body. "We're going to get through this. We always do."
Jason pulled back, regarding her with tear-filled eyes.
"Can we talk?"
She nodded. "Sure. Come into my room."
He followed her down the hall a short way, and into her bedroom, where the two sat down side by side on the bed.
"I overheard Chief Anderson talking to Colonel Cronus and Coran. They said if Mark couldn't be rescued then he'd have to be killed."
Princess stiffened considerably. "Kill him? They can't be serious. We can't kill Mark!" She looked at him sharply. "Who did they say would have to do it?"
"None of us," Jase murmured. "They agreed that they couldn't even ask any of us. The Chief said something about having connections overseas, and trained assassins. Princess, I can't let Mark be killed! I mean, there has to be a way to reverse whatever has been done to him."
"Zoltar has tried mind control a lot of times before," Princess said softly. "We've always found a way to break his control. We just have to have faith that we'll be able to break it this time."
Jason was silent for several seconds before speaking again.
"I've seen my friends being controlled by evil. Mostly it was Tommy. I mean, he started out as the Green Ranger under Rita's control. Then Zedd used him against us. After that, there was Prince Gasket.... Every time it happened, it got harder to pull Tommy back from the edge. I don't want to see Mark in that position, where he practically hates himself because of something that isn't his fault!" He looked around at Princess, tears trickling slowly down his cheeks. "I've been there myself. When Divatox showed up, she kidnapped me and Kimberly, and used us to free Maligore from the lava pit on Muranthias. I nearly killed Tommy, then. After we were freed from the spell and when we got back home I had nightmares for a fortnight solid. I couldn't even look Tommy and the others in the eye. I don't want to go through that again!"
Princess leaned in and hugged him tightly, kissing him gently on the cheek. "You won't, Jason. I promise. We won't let that happen to you. Trust us, okay? Everything's gonna be okay. We'll make sure you and Keop are safe from Zoltar, and then we'll get Mark back and figure out how to break Zoltar's control over him. It's going to be okay. It will."
Jason shut his eyes, and leaned in against her, taking comfort in her embrace. "I hope so. God, I'm scared, Princess."
She held him close, fighting the tears that threatened in her own eyes.
"As long as we stick together, we'll come through this. Have some faith, Jason. You have to have some faith."
He hesitated, then drew back from her a little. "I love you, Princess. Whatever happens from now on, remember that I love you, more than anything."
Princess's breath chilled in her throat for just a second, and she felt a touch of inexplicable panic. Then, it was gone, and the couple embraced again, holding each other close for a long while.
The next morning
"How'd you get the Chief to let us out of the house?" Keop asked as he and Jase wandered along the path towards the sand dunes, and the beach. Jason smiled ruefully.
"I just explained to him that if anyone did try anything, I was ready to deal with it." He shook his head. "For once, I actually wished I could coerce. It took nearly an hour to convince him!"
Keop glanced around nervously. "I guess between us we could take on Mark... Man, I hate having to say that!"
"It'll be okay," Jason reassured him quietly. "We're gonna be together again real soon. I'm sure of it."
"I hope so," Keop muttered dismally. "Mark... He's more than a brother to me. He's always looked after me, even before we knew the truth."
Jason scanned the area carefully for any sign that they weren't alone, then led Keop over to a bench, where they sat down.
"When did you find out about Zoltar? And about yourselves?"
"I think I was ten. Mark was fourteen or so. We don't really know how old we are. Anyway, it was a couple of years after our first fight. We already knew there was something different about Mark. I mean, he could do stuff that was just too weird. But we found out the truth when we met up with Lucy again."
Curiosity flickered in Jason's eyes. "Lucy? Our sister?"
"Yeah. Mark's twin sister. They were separated when the Chief came for us years ago. She wasn't around, and he could only take me and Mark. There would have been a sixth member of G-Force, otherwise. Lucy was taken in by a retired priest. We were called there years later when Zoltar sent some men to abduct her. We found out the truth then. First we found out that Lucy was his daughter, then that it wasn't just a coincidence that she and Mark looked alike. After that, the Chief told us everything. It freaked me out totally."
Jason had to smile faintly. "I can relate to that."
"Do you really think everything'll be okay?" Keop asked tentatively. Jason smiled, then stood up. Keop joined him and they began walking again.
"I think so." He paused at a narrow spot in the pathway. "After you, little brother."
Keop couldn't resist a grin at that. Then, he stepped through the trees, into the clearing just beyond, and came to an abrupt halt, his eyes going wide with shock and fear.
Mark regarded the two sombrely as he leaned against a tree trunk, steadily turning his boomerang over in his hands. Keop instantly fell into a defensive stance, ready for a fight.
"You're late," Mark said abruptly. Jason shrugged.
"You try convincing Chief Anderson to let us go for a walk when he knows Zoltar is after us. I don't have the power to coerce, you know."
Keop's heart rate picked up as Jason walked around to join Mark.
"You... You tricked us!" he stammered, panicked. Jason smiled calmly.
"Did a good job, didn't I? Look, Keop, don't put up a fight. Trust me, it's better off if you don't."
"Jason's right, Keop," Mark said quietly as he began to advance on his younger brother. "Everything is going to be just fine. Don't fight us. We're just putting things back to the way they should have been from the start. We're going to be a family, kid. A real family."
"No," Keop whimpered, retreating slowly back down the path. "No, stay away from me, please..."
Mark looked sideways at Jason, amused. "You know, that's almost exactly the same thing you said to me on Spectra."
Jason only smiled, and looked back to Keop.
"Don't fight us, Keop. Just let things happen as they should."
"Yeah," Mark agreed. "C'mon, Keop. Father is waiting."
That did it. With a shriek of terror and panic, Keop wheeled around and bolted, heading back towards the house as fast as he could go. Mark and Jason watched him flee for a long moment, and then the brothers exchanged glances.
"Shall we?" Mark asked wryly. Jason chuckled.
Then they gave chase.
Keop ran hard, not bothering to look behind him. He knew they were following; he could sense them as clearly as he was sure they could sense him. If he could just make it back to the house....
"Jason, Princess, Tiny, help!" Keop yelled into his transmitter as he ran. "Somebody, help!"
"Keop?" Tiny's voice crackled over the transmitter. "Keop, what's wrong?"
"It's a trick!" Keop shouted. "Jase fooled us, he's been turned the same as Mark! They're chasing me now! Somebody help me...."
His shout turned into a scream of panic as someone grabbed hold of him, lifting him clean off the ground and clamping a hand over his mouth. The young boy began to kick furiously, fighting with all his strength.
"Keop, will you quit kicking me? Damn it..."
Keop immediately ceased his struggles at the familiar voice. "Jason?"
G-Force's Jason nodded and finally set the little boy down. "Yes, it's me. I followed you and Jase when you left the house. I didn't know why, but I didn't totally trust him. Now I know why. Are you okay?"
"Yeah," Keop whispered. "Just scared out of my wits, is all. We gotta get back to the house..."
Jason had drawn his laser, and was setting it for stun.
"What we have to do is get them back. All I need is a couple of seconds clear, to get off a couple of shots. Once they're out, we can get them back to the house and figure out what to do from there.... Hey!"
Jason yelped in surprise as the gun was ripped out of his hand, and flew through the air and deposited itself squarely in Mark's hand as he stepped through the trees.
"You weren't really thinking about shooting us, were you, Jason?" he asked coolly. Jason didn't answer, and Mark looked back to his brother. "You know, I think he would have."
Jase shook his head in mock disappointment. "That's very bad, Jason. I thought you would know better."
Jason moved, finally, and placed himself carefully in front of Keop.
"Just stay where you are, both of you. We don't want a fight."
Mark laughed softly. "I'll bet you don't. Keop, come here."
Jason's hand locked firmly onto the younger boy's shoulder. "Forget it, Mark. You aren't getting him." His gaze flickered briefly to Keop. "Go, run back to the house as fast as you can...."
His words ended in a gasp, then a groan of pain as Mark's boomerang struck him from behind. He collapsed to the ground unconscious a moment later. Keop was staring at his fallen teammate in wide-eyed shock, and didn't notice Jase moving around behind him until it was too late. The child yelped in fright, but could do nothing as Jase held him in a vice-like grip. Mark paused, looking down at Jason's unconscious form, then shook his head.
"Never turn your back, Jason. You should know that by now." He gaze then went to Keop, and he walked up to the boy, drawing a tranquilizer gun out from within his cape. "I know you're scared now, Keop, but when you wake up everything is going to be better. You'll see. It'll all be clearer when you wake up."
Keop whimpered, then winced as Mark fired a dart into his throat, and a moment later his world faded to black. Jase held onto him for a moment longer, then scooped the child up in his arms.
"We'd better move. It won't be long before the others get here."
"We already have," an angry voice said, and Mark and Jase looked to see Tiny, Princess and the five members of the Voltron Force emerging through the trees. While Allura and Princess saw to Jason, the others stood in a face-off with Mark and Jase.
"Put Keop down," Keith told them quietly, "and step back." He waved his gun when neither boy moved. "Now, please."
Mark smiled, then. "So polite, Keith. Tell me, what will you do if we refuse?"
Keith glanced uneasily at his friends. None of them wanted to take any action that would result in Mark or Jason being injured, but unless they complied He swiftly drew his own laser from it's holster.
"You can't take all of us on at once. Now, put him down!"
"Now that is where you're wrong," Mark replied. He looked to Jase. "Would you like to, or will I?"
Jase laughed softly. "You remember what Father said. We need to work together. None of that individual stuff." He looked back over his shoulder. "Kaa!"
The lieutenant appeared out of nowhere, from where he had been hidden. Jase handed Keop's limp body over to the other man, and then the brothers turned back to face the Voltron Force and the two remaining, conscious members of G-Force.
"Ready, little brother?" Jase asked, a genuinely evil smile filtering onto his face. Mark matched that wicked smile with one of his own.
"I'm ready, big brother."
Keith took a tentative step back, suddenly afraid of what was to come.
"You look scared, Keith," Mark said softly. "And you should be. Because you know what I'm capable of. Your little mind could never cope with what Jason and I can do together."
Keith bit back his fear and panic. They had one chance, it was now or never. Shouting the signal, the five members of the Voltron Force, and Princess and Tiny, surged forward, intent on taking Mark and Jason down before any real harm could be done. It was a mistake.
A cry of pain escaped Keith's lips as he found himself slammed back- wards into a tree, and he slid to the ground, momentarily stunned. Through blurred eyes, he watched as Mark literally plowed through Lance, Hunk and Pidge, while Jason easily dealt with Tiny and the girls. There was a sickening thud beside him, and he looked around to see Princess on the ground, stunned and in pain.
Forcing himself up, Keith shifted across to see that she wasn't badly hurt.
She nodded weakly. "I think so...." Her gaze went up, and she froze. Keith looked to see what had frightened her, and felt the blood in his veins freeze at the sight of Jason coming towards them. His gaze was focused solely on Princess, filled with mixed emotions. Keith pushed himself up and tried to move in front of Princess.
Jason's gaze flickered just briefly to Keith, and a moment later the young captain went rigid on the ground as fresh pain swept through his body. A moment later, he collapsed, writhing in agony.
"Jason, no!" Princess screamed, almost hysterical. "Stop it!"
Jason reached her, and crouched down in front of her. Behind him, Mark was making certain none of the others got up before time.
"You're scared of me now, aren't you?" he asked softly. "I'm sorry, Princess. I hate to frighten you like this, but this is the way it has to be."
"No," Princess cried, tears flooding her eyes. "It doesn't have to be like this! Jason, fight it, I know you're strong enough. Please.... You can't let Zoltar win!"
He reached up to touch her cheek, and she flinched away from him. Jason nodded his understanding.
"It's okay. Princess, I told you last night how much I love you. I meant that."
"Then prove it," Princess begged him. "Don't do this! Let us help you!"
Sadness flickered in his eyes. "I'm where I belong, Princess. With my father."
"No! Your father is in Angel Grove. Zoltar is not your father!"
He ignored her. "I don't want you to get hurt. I'm going to make sure you don't get hurt."
Fear lit up her eyes, and she cringed away from him even as he reached for her. "What are you going to do....?"
"Trust me," he whispered. "And when it's over, then we can be together. But until then I'm sorry, Princess. I just can't risk you getting killed."
Panic registered on her face as Jason's hands began to glow with a soft, threatening red light. He caught hold of her, pressing one hand to her forehead while he pulled her to him with the other, suppressing her struggles.
Across the way, Tiny started up, only to be forced back to the ground by Mark's booted foot on the back of his neck.
"Damn it...." Tiny snarled in fury.
"Relax," Mark told him dryly. "He isn't hurting her."
A sob of pain escaped Princess's lips, and she jerked violently in Jason's grasp. Tiny glared up at his commander.
"Then what the hell do you call that?"
"Just shut up," Mark snapped, "and we might not kill you right now."
"Easy," Jason whispered, cradling her in his arms as she slowly succumbed to his power. "Stop fighting me, Princess...."
Eventually, her will to resist faltered and crumbled. Her body went limp in his arms, and her eyes finally closed. Jason hesitated a moment, then lowered her gently to the grass. He paused, watching her still form for a long moment, then stood up.
Mark nodded. He paused for just a minute to look around at the stunned group, and then he and Jason disappeared into the trees, vanishing like shadows.