As Jason circled down to the parking lot and the single lonely car in it, he wasn't surprised to see the Phoenix hovering over the opening in Lulo's domed roof. Mark had been wearing that 'no good choices' expression of his ever since he'd ordered them back to the Phoenix. Civilians and goons still in Lulo, urgent information too sensitive to trust to the radio waves. Not that telling his commander would have helped, but he'd have made the same call. Broken goons with their leaders gone were no threat at all. A standard ISO security team would be here inside an hour, and a set of detailed scans showing the exact location of every lifesign in the city would make their job a whole lot easier.

Considerably less than an hour. At the edge of his hearing, those were ISO transport copters, two of them, coming this way at high speed. Time to not give them a show. He remote-transmuted the G-2 from forty feet up, dropped straight into the cockpit, and headed out onto the highway, accelerating hard.

"G-5, I'm ready for pickup," he said into the bracelet. "Not often we get this much clear road. Let's make it a fast one."


He strolled back onto the flight deck without trying to hide the broad grin. 300kph was twice as fast as they'd ever tried pickup for real before, and it had gone without a hitch.

"That was fun," Tiny said without turning round.

"Sure was. How about a thousand next time?"

"You're joking, right?"

"Yup." The G-2's theoretical top speed was a thousand kilometres an hour, flat out, all safeties off. He wasn't at all sure it would stay on the road at that speed, whatever the simulations said.

I'll probably never drive it again. Realisation hit like a sledgehammer, and he physically staggered into the arm of his seat. Maybe his compartmentalisation wasn't so bad after all.

"Jase?" Mark was on his feet, half way across the flight deck towards him. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah." He seriously considered leaving it at that. But his commander was about to have to deal with the fallout of what he'd done, and deserved to know exactly how badly this was all about to blow up in his face. "Can I talk to you?"

Mark's eyebrows went up, visible even behind the visor. "Sure. G-5, take us home." He indicated the door at the back of the flight deck, and Jason followed him out.

"If it's about you not pulling out of the race, we'll discuss that later," Mark said as the door shut behind them. "We're done playing the... what do you call it, 'I say jump and you can only ask how high' game. I gave you all the information Anderson gave me and he's the one who needs to stop doing it. But we are going to talk about you not following my orders. Does that help?"

If only. Jason shook his head. "Ten second version? Spectra jumped me with that ray on the back road to ISO. When I made it home, Anderson didn't believe me. He grounded me and locked me in to wait for you to get back. I kicked the door down and walked out. You're not going to need to worry about me not following orders any more."

"He..." Mark stopped. Rubbed his chin. "He locked you in? He didn't send you to help us?"

"Guess he figured a liar who can't follow orders is worthless anyway."

Mark said nothing, just looked at him for a long moment. Then, "Where you grew up, they thought that about you, didn't they? They made sure you knew they thought it."

He had to swallow. He'd known Mark was taught to read people and was damn good at it, but man.

"Believe me, I don't think that. I will sort this out, but you have got to trust me. That means that you leave it to me and you keep your temper. What do you say?"

He found his voice from somewhere. "Uh... thank you?"

"You can thank me later. For now, hold tight to that 'acting as one' spiel and let me take the lead."

The engine note changed along with the angle of the floor, preparation for landing, and Jason followed his commander back onto the flight deck, unsure what he thought, or even what he wanted to think.


"Mark tells me you were hit with a Spectran weapon that forced detransmutation," was the first thing Chris Johnson said as Jason closed the doctor's office door behind him.

He froze. Mark had, commander's privilege, gone through the medical checks first. Had flashed Jason an encouraging grin and signed "you go last" as he headed for the door. Jason had assumed this was to give him an extra couple of minutes to talk to Anderson about the Rigans before formal debrief started.

Only now did it occur to him that Mark could have wanted those extra couple of minutes to discuss something entirely different.

Mark wouldn't.

Mark wouldn't have to, that little nagging voice in his head said. Anderson could have set this up and Mark's real good at following orders.

But Chris Johnson was very possibly the worst liar in the known universe. Nobody in their right mind would use him as part of a setup.

Two choices. Trust Mark, or turn round, transmute, leave through the nearest window, and never come back.

"Jason?" Real concern, and the doctor was peering into his eyes. "Talk to me. Did you hit your head?"

"No. Well, probably." He let the doctor guide him to a chair, abruptly aware that something wasn't right. "I'm not concussed. I hit the ground hard, but it's only bruises."

"Hit the ground with what?"

"I don't remember."

Chris raised his eyebrows, and Jason snorted. "I was unconscious before I hit the ground, not because of it. I know what concussion feels like."

"Yes, you do. So, if you're not concussed, there's something else wrong, isn't there? Tell me about your implant."

He felt mentally for the controls, and... "It's not right," he admitted. "Could a weapon do that? A ray?"

"If we understood Spectran weaponry well enough to know that, we'd make sure it couldn't." Chris typed something. "I've called Mike Bennett to come retune it. They'll have to debrief without you for once."


Given the choice between sitting through a debrief and having his implant retuned, Jason wasn't sure which he'd choose normally. Right now, with the debrief consisting of every choice he'd made being dissected and the implant retune being actually necessary? No contest.

So he lay face down on the table, head and shoulders strapped immobile just in case the man sticking probes in the electronics on his spine managed to trigger a reflex, and focused on relaxing. It made it easier, a bit.

Ten minutes, this time, and as he sat up and rubbed the back of his neck, Chris came back in.


"Yeah." He meant it, too. Often after an implant retune he struggled to feel the difference, even when the before and after were visibly different on the scope. This one felt better.

"Any chance anyone else got clipped by it?"

Any chance? Jason almost laughed out loud. Mark, everything by the book Eagle Scout Mark, had flat out lied in his post-mission medical.

Now, what had his commander done with the fifteen minutes of Condor-free debrief he'd bought himself?

"I'll check," he said.


The 'occupied' light was still on over the door of briefing room one. Jason wasn't sure whether this was good or bad, and decided he didn't care. It would be over with quickly, at least. He tapped once and went in without waiting for an answer.

No additional debrief personnel, which was good. Nobody in his chair, which was also good. Everyone sitting down, which meant the reports were finished. Nobody was yelling. If there was tension in the air, he couldn't feel it. He dared to hope that things had gone well.

"Thank you for joining us, Jason," Anderson said. "Take a seat. We were just discussing your racing schedule."

Adrenaline spiked so hard that he barely stifled a gasp. That was going to be the price? No more racing?

Leave it to me, Mark had said, and his commander was relaxed. Not gloating, not disappointed, just normal. He held to that thought, taking his seat in silence.

"As Mark has reminded me, racing is probably the best driving training you could have, and at the moment you are doing it in your free time. That will stop."

He heard stop. He heard best driving training. His brain refused to make any sense of the two statements combined, and Anderson continued.

"Racing will be part of your official training timetable from now on. Draw up a list covering the next three months and we will discuss the practicalities tomorrow. Dismissed."

He was only vaguely aware of the door shutting behind Anderson, and it took Keyop's whoop of glee to bring him back to reality.

"You get to race as part of your training? That's so cool. That's so unfair!"

"Live with it, short stuff," he said automatically. "Mark... how?"

"I had Princess play the tape from the G-2's dashcam, since you weren't here to give your report in person. It wasn't the clearest, but beyond question there were Spectrans and a ray weapon. If he'd listened to you, we'd have known what we were up against before we left the Phoenix. We nearly had a disaster today and it would have been on him, not you. He knows that now. It won't happen again."

"Mark's not just saying that, Jase," Tiny said. "Anderson was well shaken up."

"Good." He leant on his newly retuned implant to calm the adrenaline - maybe it was set a bit too sensitive, if he was honest - and remembered why he was here. "Oh, and do we think anyone else on the team might have been clipped by that ray, just possibly? Medical staff asked me to check, since nobody mentioned it. They'll need a proper retune."

Tiny glanced at him, glanced at Mark, and burst out laughing. "No!"

"I needed to be here for the debrief. I needed for Jason to not be here. It worked, didn't it?"

It worked. The relief wasn't implant-provided, this time. He'd messed up, he'd defied his commander... and Mark had still defended him, argued in his favour, wanted him rather than tolerated him.

They'd need to deal with the fallout from this one, figure out exactly where the line lay between insubordination and giving a second opinion, but the knot of fear that his position relied on never ever getting it wrong - that was gone.

So, the next three months? The track season had five weekends left. Then ISO Racing switched their focus to rallying, and there were some big races coming up, things he hadn't dared even consider entering. The Interstellar 500 was at the end of next month. If he did well there, maybe even the Africa 9000.

He'd have a list of races on Anderson's desk within the hour.

Author's note: the one thing I did look up was the name of the city, since I remembered changing it and I'd called it Metropolis. Cool science fiction name when I was fourteen, deeply confusing on a fanfic site which includes fandoms that also have cities called Metropolis, especially from someone who writes crossovers. I still think Lulo is a silly name for a city but I've learned to live with canon having silly names sometimes.

The first half's surprisingly close to the episode, though Anderson's a lot less mean to Jason in canon than I had him - Jason says he's not expecting to be believed, but after the first snarl about him having been late because he stayed to win a race. Anderson believes him. The lock-in is all mine - we don't see Anderson send him out in the episode, but there's no suggestion that he didn't.

The second half, not so much accuracy. There's a whole lot of retconning of how come nobody in this episode ever thinks to get on the radio and tell someone else what's going on, the order of who gets captured when and where is all over the place, and in canon it's Anderson who figures out how the ray can be destroyed (though it has a much fancier technobabble name than "overheating"), at which point and without comment suddenly the radio works just fine.

Mind controlled Rigans was all my own work, apparently - an attempted retcon for why and how the Rigans are there at all, which is itself a hangover from the original Gatchaman where the Red Rangers aren't from another planet so are rather more likely to show up for a routine evacuation. This time round I simply ignored that in the BotP episode Mark shows up to the final showdown in a Riga fighter disguised as Cronus (it is in my first version) because no matter how I try to retcon it, it makes no sense at all for him to go from one bit of an underground city to another bit of it in a plane, and once I'd lost the mind control plot device I invented (Mark had Amazing Telepathic Superpowers in that version of my AU and freed them all with the power of his mind) then the retcon that he was disguised as Cronus because Zoltar thought Cronus was under his control didn't work either. So that whole aspect of the story is a retcon of a retcon. Actually it's a retcon of a retcon of a retcon, because in the original Gatchaman the Cronus character had died several episodes earlier and it's one of his lieutenants who rescues G-1. I guess the BotP writers figured eight year olds wouldn't notice that it was a different character since the uniforms are the same. In my case at least, they were right.

Jason's punishment being to drive races as part of his job? Canon. Yes, really.