Refugees from Riga
This story takes place shortly after "Raid of the Red Scorpion". None of the BotP characters belong to me, they belong to whoever owns the rights. This story was written by a rabid fan from her 20-year-old memories of the show and any mistakes in characterization or continuity are totally mine.
* * *
"They're right on our tail!" Terrence sounded close to panic as he watched the viewscreen from his pilot's chair.
"Evasive action," Melody ordered tersely, keeping a firm rein on her redhead's temper. She had nearly a thousand lives in a dozen ships to try and save...the lone survivors of a ravaged world. "What's our status, Su?"
Su Ling bit her lip as she surveyed the readouts on her outdated monitor. "We're okay for power, but there are a couple of ships low on fuel. We'll be lucky if we even make it to the Sol system, never mind all the way to Earth."
"We'll make it. All of us." Melody hoped she sounded more positive than she felt.
"Spectran fighters, six o'clock and closing fast!" Dyana pounded a fist on her console.
"It doesn't look like they're interested in negotiating terms of surrender," Kieran remarked wryly, his dark eyes glittering with grim amusement.
"Well, that's okay, we're not contemplating surrender. Brendan, can you fire a Class XC-7 turret gun?"
"I suppose I could manage it in a clinch," the tall, rakish youth replied. "Any particular reason?"
"That's the only kind of gun this space-crate's got, and we're one of only three ships carrying any onboard weaponry at all." Melody sprinted for the rear of the flight deck. "You take starboard, Bren, and I'll get port. I'm left-handed anyway. These goons have already taken too much away from us."
The fighters were closing in a standard Y-formation, trying to corral the fleeing ships before they managed to escape the system; once the ships left normal space they'd be impossible to track and it could take days to find them. The large scoutship and the two armed freighters slowed and came about, letting the smaller, unarmed vessels pull ahead, before opening fire on the pursuing Spectran space-jets.
"Don't waste power firing blind," Melody's voice ordered over the ship-to-ship comlinks. "We've got to have enough space-juice to jump into hyperspace."
"That's assuming we make it that far," Dyana warned.
"Thanks for the encouragement, Dy."
Brendan didn't waste time arguing or agreeing; the white beam lashed out from his turret gun, each blast finding a Spectran target.
"There's too many of them," Terrence warned. "No matter how many we shoot, there are more waiting to come at us."
"We've got to hold them back till the noncombatants are clear," Melody advised. "When they're in position, be ready to make the jump as a unit."
"Laying in coordinates," Terrence advised. "I hope this works."
"She got us this far," Su Ling assured him. "If anybody can pull this off, Mel can."
Melody was glad that Brendan was such a good shot--he made her gunnery skill look pathetic in comparison. Still, she was the only one besides Brendan on the big freighter who had any experience with ship weaponry at all, thanks to her Galactic Security training. (I can't shoot a handgun, but I'm halfway decent with a cannon. Barely. Come on, guys, move your butts, let's get this show on the road...)
"What's happening?" Saralin emerged from the cargo area, her normally pale face gone almost chalky white. "The people back there are ready to panic."
"A little going-away party, courtesy of Spectra," Kieran told her, putting an arm around her. "They're being given a suitable reception."
"Our fleet's in position!" Su Ling announced excitedly. "Ready to make the jump."
"Okay, people, let's blow this pop stand!" Melody fired a final volley at the scattered fighters. "Prepare for hyperspace! Everybody grab something welded down and hang on, it's going to be a bumpy ride!"
"Oh, God," Saralin quavered. Kieran latched onto a nearby guard-rail with his free hand to anchor them both.
Everything was fine until a sudden explosion amidships rocked the freighter just before it jumped out of normal space. There was a blinding flash, then nothing.
* * *
Anderson's desk intercom beeped insistently. He walked away from the large window and keyed the voice button. "Chief Anderson."
"Sir, I'm receiving a distress signal from just outside the solar system." The modulated voice of Center Neptune's coordinator, 7-Zark-7, sounded mildly agitated. The mobile AI often managed a fair approximation of human response, though most of the base's personnel found him too artificially chipper to tolerate for long. "They claim to be a group of Rigan refugees seeking assistance from Earth forces."
"Estimated time of arrival?"
"Sir, I'm afraid they expended most of their power jumping from the Rigan system. Susan's done some preliminary scans and says they're barely maintaining life support."
7-Zark-7 wasn't programmed to detect a ruse; still, Anderson knew that Susan had far more advanced judgmental capabilities, and if she hadn't warned of a trap..."Notify the G-Force team to be on standby alert."
"At once, Chief."
Anderson picked up the phone to dial the President and request authorization for a rescue detail to be sent to the fringe sector.
* * *
"Standby alert." Jason pulled the tight cluster of feather darts out of the dart-board mounted on the ready room wall and stepped back another meter or so. "Which means we get to sit around on our butts till the Chief decides if we're needed."
"You need to cut down on your caffeine intake," Princess observed mildly, "We haven't been here that long." She was methodically tuning her guitar with the concentration of a virtuoso and the placid expression of a future saint.
"Four and a half hours."
Princess checked the wall clock. "Four hours, thirty-seven minutes, to be exact."
"So you're just as bored as I am." Jason fired off the feather darts one after another in quick succession, the motion of his arm little more than a blur. The darts once more formed a neat circular arrangement in the heart of the quarter-sized red bullseye on the board.
"They also serve who only stand and wait," Mark quoted, hoping nobody would ask him where the quote was from. Currently the commander of G-Force was standing on his head against one wall, legs crossed and held straight above his inverted torso.
"Fine example of that you are. Not to mention him," Jason jerked a thumb over his shoulder in the general direction of the team's jet pilot, Tiny Harper, who was sprawled on an overstuffed and rather worn-looking sofa, snoring softly.
"You should follow his example," Mark said. "At least he's not whining about having to wait for orders. He's taking advantage of the opportunity to get some much-needed rest."
"I don't whine," Jason grumbled. "And Tiny could sleep through a typhoon. Outdoors. Naked."
"Thanks * for * visual," Keyop chirped. The rest of the team were long used to the odd sounds that punctuated their youngest member's speech patterns, but Keyop still felt self-conscious about it, and none of them, not even Jason in his most sarcastic mood, would dream of teasing him about it.
"Just speaking hypothetically, kid," Jason said, going to retrieve his darts yet again.
The sudden insistent beeping of Mark's activator caught his attention at once. Jason paused in mid-step and looked around as the commander unfolded his legs and righted himself before answering. "Mark here."
"Report to my office immediately."
Mark frowned slightly. Anderson's voice was terse, and he wasn't providing any details. Something was wrong. "Right away, sir." He headed for the door, trusting his team to follow. "Jason, it looks like you got your wish. Tiny, wake up. Let's move."
"Be careful what you wish for," Princess sighed. Jason smirked at her.
* * *
Chief Anderson was standing at the large viewing window again, watching schools of brightly-colored tropical fish swimming through the artificially-grown reef that surrounded and camouflaged the Center Neptune undersea base. He didn't turn around as the team filed in, but watched their reflections in the glass. Mark and Princess sat on the closest chairs, while Tiny and Keyop commandeered the sofa. Jason leaned against the wall beside the door, folded his arms, and waited.
Anderson took a moment to collect his thoughts, then took a deep, steadying breath and turned to face the team. "The Earth Command forces have rescued a group of refugees from the planet Riga," he announced.
That got Mark's attention immediately, and he sat forward. "Riga? So there were survivors!"
"Not many, I fear. Nine hundred and fifty-seven, according to the preliminary count of those who were taken to the medical facility on Europa. Out of a population of almost four hundred million."
Princess sighed audibly. "If Spectra did as thorough a job as we've heard, they're lucky to be alive."
"What's our mission, Chief?" Mark prodded, impatient. Anderson had said nothing about Cronus, which meant that either there was no news confirming the Rigan hero's death, or the news was very bad indeed.
In fact, it was worse than Mark had begun to imagine, which was why Anderson was being uncharacteristically circumspect. "One of the ships sustained damage during the escape. A large freighter was holding off Spectran fighters so the other ships could achieve jump proximity away from the Rigan planetary system. When the Rigan ships came out of hyperspace, there was no sign of the freighter."
"Was it destroyed?" Jason asked.
"That's a possibility, but it's equally possible that the ship was thrown off the jump-path somewhere between here and Riga."
"Sounds like a heck of a long shot," said Tiny.
"Not necessarily. 7-Zark-7 has relayed a report from Susan on Pluto Base. She's picking up a coded distress signal from the Arcturus system. It could be the missing Rigan freighter, but the signal's weak, and fading progressively. If they're still alive--nearly two hundred people are estimated to have been on board--they're running out of time."
"Or it could be a trap," Jason countered.
"You think everything's a trap," Princess chided.
"How often am I wrong?"
She glared at him.
"Two hundred lives are at stake," Mark said. "That makes it worth the risk."
Anderson nodded. There was more, information that Mark would have found even more powerfully motivating, but perhaps it was information best discovered once they located the freighter. "Scramble at once. The Phoenix is fueled and ready for launch."
"Let's go!" Mark ordered, and led the way out, the others following at a brisk trot.
Once their footsteps had faded, Anderson turned and faced the underwater panorama outside once more.
"I just hope the Phoenix arrives in time," he said to his reflection. "We don't even know if Melody's still alive."
* * *
"Keep a track on that signal, Princess," Mark ordered, watching the viewscreen as the Phoenix dropped out of warp near Arcturus. "They should be close by."
"It's hard to get a fix," Princess said, frowning delicately at her monitor screen. "The signal's gotten so weak it's almost nonexistent. We might have to do a sector sweep for a visual lock."
"That might take hours, even days. I don't think our friends from Riga have that much time left."
Keyop trilled excitedly and stabbed a gloved finger at his own screen. "Got 'em!"
Princess patched into Keyop's system, coordinating her readings with his. "Yes, he's right, Mark! They're at two o'clock, seventeen degrees from our present position, about five thousand miles from the fringe of the system."
"Set course for that location, Tiny," Mark said.
"Big Ten, Commander."
"Jason, keep an eye out for any unwelcome company. If we followed their distress signal, it's possible somebody else might've picked it up too."
"Don't worry, if Spectra comes calling, we're ready to rock and roll."
"Princess, try to raise them on a secure channel. Let 'em know that help's on the way."
"Big Ten, Mark." Princess keyed in the appropriate frequency and leaned towards her console pickup. "This is the Phoenix, hailing the Rigan freighter. If you can respond, please do so. This is G-Force, we've come to get you out of here."
"Thank God!" a young man's voice sounded. "We've got some people hurt pretty badly over here, and less than an hour of life-support left. Our power's almost totally depleted and our engines are useless. We thought we were going to die out here."
"Don't worry, we've got you covered," Princess said, smiling. "Get your wounded ready for transport, we'll be there in no time."
"Are you going to have room? There are two hundred and six of us, and from what I've seen on the reports, the Phoenix isn't that big a ship."
She laughed gently. "It's bigger than it looks, trust me. We might be at standing-room-only, but we'll be able to handle the extra load."
"Roger, Phoenix. We'll leave a light on for you."
* * *
"Great, Terrence. Don't let your guard down; we're not out of the woods yet, and I'm still worried about that Number Three power center--it could blow at any time and then we'd be up the creek for sure." Melody closed the comlink and looked over at Brendan. "Can you get the rest of the injured ready to move? I'm going up to the flight deck to meet with the G-Force team."
"A bit of a hazardous setting for a meet-and-greet, isn't it?" Kieran observed mildly.
"Maybe, Kier...but there's a couple of people wearing those bird suits that I need to talk to."
* * *
"Tiny, you stay on board and keep watch. And I mean WATCH, don't take a nap. While the Phoenix is docked with the freighter we're at a tactical disadvantage, so if you see so much as a blip on the radar, give us a shout."
"I gotcha, Mark. Don't worry, I'll pinch myself if I get sleepy."
"Good man. Everyone else, let's move."
The Phoenix was docked against the belly of the freighter, ready to disengage at a moment's notice if necessary. The overhead portway was positioned flush against the access hatch in the freighter's underside. The four members of G-Force emerged into a large, dimly-lit bay, empty of its customary contents of mining machinery and precious ore but crammed from bulkhead to bulkhead with living cargo waiting to be transferred to the Phoenix.
"We should be able to move a dozen at a time," Mark announced. "The most seriously hurt first, then women and children."
"Even if I didn't recognize the voice, I'd know the cavalier attitude," a woman remarked from the crowd which parted as she stepped forward.
Mark's jaw dropped. "Me-Melody?!"
"Hi, little brother."
"Bro-ther?!" Keyop echoed, knowing he sounded lame and hating it but not being able to help it.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Jason demanded.
"Getting the hell off Riga. The other ships, did they make it okay?"
"Fine," Mark said. "So what were you doing on Riga to begin with?"
"Can we go into this later, Mark? These people have suffered enough, we need to get them to safety."
"Of course." But Mark kept casting Melody odd glances as those unable to walk on their own were laid gently on the platform.
* * *
The freighter's power gave out just as the last of the family groups had boarded the Phoenix. With no air recycling and the temperature dropping by the minute, the rest of the refugees were transferred in groups of twenty, crowded like sardines onto the small platform that rose and descended into the Phoenix and rose up empty again.
Melody insisted on staying on the freighter until everyone else had been evacuated, making sure that no one would be left behind. Her teeth chattered as Mark herded her onto the platform with the last seven survivors, and Jason put an arm around her as they were lowered into the Phoenix.
"Tiny, disengage and let's get moving!" Mark said as soon as he'd set foot on the Phoenix's flight deck.
"We're gettin' the heck out of Dodge even as we speak," Tiny confirmed as the Phoenix's engines sang to life.
Once the ship was underway, Mark turned to face his sister, who still stood beside Jason, his arm secure around her shoulders. "Okay, Sis," he said. "Spill."
"Huh?" Tiny glanced over his shoulder. "Oh, hi, Mel! I didn't know you were out here."
"Neither did I," Mark intoned, his voice dangerously calm. "I'm waiting."
Melody shrugged. "I was on assignment, helping the resistance. Fat lot of help I turned out to be."
"You've been on Riga all this time and you didn't even bother letting me know?"
"So you could have done what? Worry yourself sick about me? I'm a big girl, Mark, in fact I'm older than you by a good twenty-seven months in case you've forgotten. I was doing the job I've been trained to do, just as you are."
"Hey, ease up, beautiful," Jason told her, squeezing her shoulders and flashing her his trademark devil-may-care grin. "He's just glad you're okay, we all are. Right, Mark?"
Mark sighed. "Of course. I just wish you'd have given me some idea."
"I was a little busy to send postcards."
"What happened?" Princess ventured. "On Riga, I mean."
"Spectra wiped us out." Melody hung her head, her voice a colorless, defeated monotone. "They knew just where to hit us, and just how hard. We never saw them coming. We didn't stand a chance."
Jason's brows knit. "You said...they knew?"
Slowly she looked up, her wide blue eyes--so much like Mark's it was scary--snapping electric fire. "They knew. Somebody ratted us out."
"Garts?" Mark's fists clenched. "He killed our father."
"I know. I'm the one who found him, but Garts got away before I could stop him."
"We stopped him," Mark said. "Garts won't be murdering anybody, or reporting to his Spectran masters, ever again."
Melody shook her head. "But it wasn't him. He wasn't the one who informed on us. He was just a two-bit Spectran assassin, hired to sneak in and do his job. Only somebody let him in. One of our own."
"You're saying that a member of the Rigan resistance was a traitor?"
"There's no other possibility. The all-out attack came right after Garts escaped; it's a miracle we managed to scramble the escape ships in time. We rescued as many as we could...not enough."
She buried her face in her hands, and Jason pulled her close. "You're completely wiped," he said. "You'd better get some rest. Everybody's safe now."
"Nobody's safe." Melody looked up at him, then over at her brother.
Mark met her gaze intently. "You think the traitor escaped with the refugees."
"They couldn't have gotten off Riga alive any other way. And what better way to infiltrate Earth's security?"
"Have you any idea who?"
"If I did, they wouldn't be a problem any longer." Melody waved a hand towards the rear of the Phoenix. "For all I know, they could be on board this ship even as we speak."
* * *
"MAKE YOUR REPORT, ZOLTAR," the eerie voice echoed through the audience chamber. "I GROW WEARY WITH YOUR DELAYS."
Zoltar bowed respectfully to the shimmering image before him. "We have received a message from our Rigan informant, O Luminous One. The Phoenix has taken the bait and is currently enroute to Earth with the last of the refugees. Very soon, G-Force will no longer be of any concern to us."
* * *
"According to the schematics, there's no logical explanation for an explosion in that area of the freighter," Mark stated, looking at the overhead screen thoughtfully. "Which leaves one obvious answer."
"Sabotage," Jason said.
"Apparently. Somebody on board set the spare power center up to explode--either with a smart-bomb or possibly through some kind of cross-connection of the fuel link system."
"Brendan could have done it," Melody said slowly. "I'd never have fingered him as a traitor; the man doesn't have a devious bone in his body."
"That's an odd thing to say about a rebel," Jason smirked.
"He doesn't consider himself a rebel. His loyalty has always been to the Rigan government, not the Spectran occupation."
"Or so it seemed," Mark reminded her.
"Kieran would be just as likely a suspect."
"Brendan's partner. Tall, cold, and anti-social. Keeps to himself, mostly, doesn't make small talk, and delighted in telling me almost daily that we were fighting a losing battle."
"Sounds like a right rat bastard."
"That's kinder than some of the things I've called him."
"What about that woman you mentioned?" Princess asked. "Sue somebody."
"That's the one. You said she wasn't even a Rigan."
"No, she was actually working as a hired gun. Kieran's the one who contacted her, in fact. She was hired to lead a sabotage run against a Spectran communications tower, and was paid for her work--but afterwards she elected to stay on and help us. She even returned her fee to the treasury."
"Strange behavior for a mercenary."
"I thought so too, but she seemed sincere enough at the time."
"So that's three suspects right here on board," Mark mused. "Three too many."
"So the question is," Melody asked, "how do we start narrowing the field? I've been trying to ferret out the mole since we left Riga, but once the ship was damaged, I was a little busy trying to keep everybody alive."
Mark rubbed at his chin, and Princess recognized the look in his eyes at once. "You've got a plan, Commander," she said. "Mind clueing the rest of us?"
"It's not that hard to figure out, Princess. Think about it: If you were a Spectran and found yourself on board G-Force's famous ship, what would your most obvious course of action be?"
"Try to take control and fly it back to Spectra?" Tiny said.
"Good guess, but impractical. They'd have the five of us and two hundred pissed-off Rigans to contend with once they blew their cover."
"Blow * sky * high * and * run," Keyop struggled to get out. Melody gave the boy a curious look, but Jason whispered in her ear, and she nodded without saying anything.
"Exactly, Keyop. It would be a lot easier to take the ship out and escape in one of our vehicles right before it blew."
"That's downright unfriendly," Jason said. "I don't think we should go along with that, Commander."
Mark flashed Jason a broad, bright and completely sinister grin.
* * *
Black-gloved fingers worked feverishly but with assurance, hooking leads to the Phoenix's power core. The only light was cast by the telltales on the emergency control panel set in the wall of the crawlspace, but this was an operation so well-practiced no light was truly necessary.
Now only the timer need be set, and if all calculations were correct, the mighty Phoenix would explode into a ball of orange flame as soon as it docked, taking Center Neptune with it--
A halogen light flashed on, flooding the service compartment, and the saboteur froze.
"It must be awfully cramped in there," Mark commented in a conversational tone. "Why don't you come out, very slowly, and stretch your legs?"
The saboteur considered rigging the device to explode immediately--but no, it would take too long and somehow the commander of G-Force didn't seem inclined to wait. Slowly the figure clad in a form-fitting black bodysuit that covered every inch of skin from head to toe--even the face and hair--crept out of the crawlspace.
"No sudden moves," Mark advised. "There's nowhere to go from here, my friend. Princess, why don't you hop in and check out the lovely parting gift we've been given?"
"Sure thing." Princess slipped into the crawlspace until only the white heels of her boots were showing. "Neat job. If we'd let him set the timer we would've been blown sky-high once the engines were disengaged."
"So we'd have blown up when we docked." Mark smiled, the picture of congeniality. "Very neat. Now why don't you take that mask off so we can have a nice long talk?"
The saboteur stood motionless, except for the fingers of one hand which had been carefully working a small capsule out of a close-fitting sleeve. The capsule dropped and there was a sudden, intense flash. Mark squinted; the flash was startling, and if his eyes hadn't been shielded by his helmet visor he might have been temporarily blinded.
"Mark?" Princess scrabbled backwards out of the accessway. "are you all right?"
"Fine." He blinked, clearing the stars from his vision. Of course, the saboteur was gone.
"He couldn't have gone far. Princess, finish up so we don't have that bomb to worry about. The boys and I will find our would-be mad bomber." Mark already had a fair idea of the saboteur's destination.
* * *
The destruction of the Phoenix would have been a glorious victory for Spectra, but the traitor knew that the G-Force commander's magnificent jet would make, if nothing else, a fine trophy, a reminder of the glorious victory on Riga, to say nothing of a handy escape vehicle.
There was just one problem--the cockpit of the G-1 was already occupied.
Melody held a pulse-gun steadily in one hand, centered at the traitor's masked face. "At this range," she intoned, her blue eyes glittering, "I doubt I'm going to miss, and that body armor of yours won't be much help. Now back down, slowly, keep your hands where I can see them, and I won't have to relieve you of the top of your skull."
The traitor did as Melody said, but as the redhead emerged from the cockpit a black hand shot out and knocked the gun from her grasp. Before the black-clad figure could bolt, Melody sprang from the cockpit of the G-1 and tackled the traitor to the ground. In the ensuing struggle she managed to pull off the concealing full-head mask.
Saralin's wide black eyes glared up at her.
"Somehow I'm not surprised," Melody said, fighting for leverage. "I always thought that damsel-in-perpetual-distress act was a little over the top."
"You've always thought you were so smart," Saralin snarled, struggling to throw the redhead off.
"Smart? That's funny. I wasn't smart enough to keep you from letting that bastard in to kill my father." Melody grabbed Saralin's wrists and pinned them to the deck. "Why, Sara? Even with all the histrionics, you had as much reason to hate Spectra as any of us. Unless the story about your mother being killed in one of their early attacks was a lie."
"Oh, it was true, all right." Saralin sneered. "My mother was a street whore who made me carry on the family business to keep her in recreational pharmaceuticals. Her dying was my liberation. You and your kind are so bloody noble--even if you'd succeeded, what world was there left to save, really? Spectra made me a better offer and I jumped at the chance."
With that Saralin bucked Melody off and drew a thin, flexible blade from her belt. She charged Melody, intending to lodge the monomolecular dagger in the redhead's ribcage, but Melody caught her wrist and forced her to the wall.
"My father's dead because of you," Melody hissed through her clenched teeth. "He was a good, honest man and he didn't deserve to be murdered in his bed. He trusted you, and you betrayed him." She began to force the hand holding the dagger to Saralin's own throat. "Look on the bright side--you won't have to go to prison."
"Melody, no!" a voice sounded from the doorway.
"Help me!" Saralin quavered. "She's going to kill me!"
"It's a little late for the Perils of Pauline act," Melody said with a terrible smile. "Mark, stay out of this."
"I can't let you do that, Melody. She's not going anywhere now--she's out of options. Let the justice system punish her."
"You mean send her to a holding cell so she can escape back to her lord and master Zoltar? Mark, she killed our father as surely as if it was by her own hand! She never gave him a chance, why does she deserve one?"
"Because we're different than she is."
"You are, maybe. Not me. I don't care anymore."
The dagger's tip quivered at Saralin's throat. White-faced, she moaned, a thin pitiful sound.
Mark stepped forward, but didn't dare get too close--any sudden movement would cause Melody to drive the dagger home, or give Saralin a chance to turn the tables and kill his sister as well. "I know you're angry, so was I. I wanted revenge on Garts for our father's death, but it was wrong. It won't bring him back, Melody. And if we resort to cold-blooded murder, for our own selfish reasons, how can we fault Saralin for doing the same thing?"
With a cry of anguish Melody drew back and hit Saralin across the throat, hard. The traitor collapsed, and the dagger fell point-first to the deck, instantly embedding itself up to the hilt.
Melody stood over the crumpled woman, fists clenched, trembling with emotion. Mark came up behind her, knelt and snapped wrist and ankle restraints on Saralin. Then he stood and put an arm around his sister's taut shoulders. "You did the right thing," he assured her. "I'm proud of you...and Dad would be, too."
She turned, her eyes filling with tears. "Mark..."
He put both arms around her and let her cry into his shoulder.
* * *
The snack bar was quiet, as it usually was on a weekday, particularly Monday mornings. There were only six people present--the owner, her younger brother, their three best friends, and a redhead who sat at the bar between two of the men, her brother and her on-again off-again boyfriend.
"Saralin's been arraigned for conspiracy, murder and treason," Mark explained. "She's not going to see the outside of a prison for at least a few hundred years."
"All the refugees have been cleared and relocated to other colonies," Melody said, leaning on the counter. She looked less physically worn-out than she had a week before, but there was a lingering weariness in her eyes. "I wish them well."
"So what are your plans for the future?" Princess asked, setting a bottle of AriZona Green Tea in front of the redhead.
"Chief Anderson's got me on therapeutic leave for the next three months." Melody shook the bottle and twisted off the foil-wrapped cap. "I thought I'd hang around here on Earth, maybe see the sights, pester my baby brother, that sort of thing, until the boss finds me another assignment."
"I've got time-trials at the track tomorrow," Jason said. "You could always come be my cheering section."
Melody managed a smile for him. "You always did know how to show a girl a good time, hotshot."
"Hey, don't knock it, it's a start." Jason grinned. "We've got some catching up to do."
"Hey!" Mark protested. "If you think you're carrying my sister off and keeping her all to yourself--"
"Boys, boys," Princess admonished. "You'll both have to wait your turn. I'm taking Mel to the mall this afternoon."
"Don't I get any say in these plans?" Melody wailed, only half-seriously.
Princess looked from Mark to Jason, and then the three of them answered in unison. "Naaaah."
* * *
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