Jason didn't need fifteen minutes to pack to go to Centre Neptune, not for practical reasons. For a start they'd all long since made a point of leaving the basics there: a change of clothes, nightwear, toiletries. For a second the go bag had lived in the bottom of his closet since the war had started, with a duplicate in the trailer. He'd figured that sooner or later he'd be replaced by someone better than him - someone with no PTSD, no motion sickness, actual piloting skills, and less of a tendency to argue - and that he might have to leave in a serious hurry. It had been a while since that had been a concern, but the bags were still there. Everything he could need for survival for a week or so. Nothing that he considered his, though. Nothing he cared about.

The go bag went into a larger holdall, together with a couple of books (one autographed by Jack Brabham, he wasn't leaving that in a room open to the elements). He was adding comfortable clothing and making a deliberate effort to ignore the smell of smoke in the air and the distinctive orange flicker over the buildings beyond his window when there was a tap at the door. It opened before he could reply.

"Jason?" That was Keyop, and he wasn't happy.

"What's up, kid?"

"I can't transmute."

That got his head out of the closet in a hurry. "What? You having implant problems?" Is that why you came to me and not Mark?

"Don't know. It's there, it just says no."

Which means what? Jason glanced at the clock. Seven minutes until they had to be on the Phoenix. Looked back at the miserable Swallow, shoulders drooping but still much taller than he had been even a couple of weeks ago, and had a moment of realisation.

"No as in 'adjustments needed, I've grown significantly'?" That had been the bane of his life when he'd first been implanted, especially since everyone else on G-Force at the time had already finished growing so it was just him who kept having to go get the wretched thing tweaked.

Keyop's jaw dropped and he nodded, a flicker of hope growing in his eyes as he accessed the implant again. "Maybe. I think so." He flushed and looked at the floor. "Haven't grown before, not since I've been in birdstyle."

"Then that's an easy fix." As he said it, he had doubts. It was an easy fix for the birdstyle technicians here, with all the systems up and running. Could they do it at Centre Neptune? Could they even still do it here? How critical was whatever it was that was still on fire over at the front of the complex? It had to be bad or they wouldn't be relocating, not now, not with one exhausted team and one at half strength if that.

"Chief?" he said into the bracelet, despite Keyop's look of betrayal. "G-4 needs a birdstyle size adjustment. Does he come with us or stay here?"

"He comes with us. Thank you, G-2."

"You've got five minutes," he said, but Keyop was already sprinting down the hall towards his own quarters. Jason rather suspected he'd spent the last ten minutes panicking rather than packing, and what he'd left at Centre Neptune probably wouldn't fit any more. It was a long time since they'd overnighted there, in fact it was before... he yanked open the desk drawer, grabbed the TENS net he still used if a particularly vile migraine hit, and shoved it into the holdall, tucking the trailing leads out of the way of the zip. He had a nasty suspicion that he'd be needing it as soon as the drugs he'd taken earlier wore off. They'd been the emergency, back on his feet right now and deal with the consequences later variety.

He wouldn't have said he was sentimental, but he still took a last look around his quarters, open to the elements with shattered glass half way across the carpet to the door, before he headed out. This had been his room since before he'd commanded G-Force first time round. It wasn't home - that was the trailer - but it was his, and it was the first place he'd ever felt that way about. It might not be here the next time he was back.

.

Mark stood at the top of the stairwell next to the blank elevator panels, talking on the bracelet, holdall on the floor at his feet. Jason dumped his own holdall alongside and eavesdropped unashamedly, knowing his commander would wave him off if it was personal rather than business. They'd be taking passengers, apparently. Anderson hadn't been joking about moving black section to Centre Neptune. Multiple passengers - the technicians were turning the Phoenix's cargo hold into a passenger cabin right now, Garuda's too. Supplies. Ivanov was staying and Grant was coming. Princess was still in hospital and they wouldn't be waiting for her.

The speed of their departure and the continuing signs of fire worried him. Nothing massive, no flames shooting from the roof, but how much damage could a building take before it wasn't repairable? He didn't know, but suspected that with an explosion like the one they'd had here, and then a fire somewhere that it was difficult or unsafe to get at to put out, maybe add in ruptured gas lines, leaking fuel, rain or wind before they could make the buildings weathertight... this could still get worse.

Always before they'd had their safe base to come back to, their sanctuary, somewhere that Spectra couldn't touch them. Time spent at Centre Neptune had been a strategic pre-planned decision, not a necessity ordered without so much as a meeting beforehand. Not any more.

"We're on our way," Mark said finally. Jason picked up both holdalls and swung one over each shoulder without giving Mark a chance to protest; his commander might be walking unaided without too much problem these days, but Jason was surprised he'd managed to carry his kit this far and there was no way he'd be carrying it down three flights of stairs. As they set off down, Keyop joined them at a run, wearing a standard Academy jumpsuit. Just the three of them crewing the Phoenix for tonight's flight, and nobody had even suggested that taking the Phoenix out with a team of three was far outside their standard operating procedures even if Mark had been fit, he himself hadn't been full of anti-migraine drugs, and Keyop had been in birdstyle.

The rules have changed.

He didn't like it one bit.


And... that's it. For now. Many thanks to everyone who's helped, reviewed, encouraged, and here are a couple of review answers and author's notes I couldn't give at the time without spoilers! (Or just plain forgot to add to the relevant chapters, to be honest.)

There's no generator on the other focus. This is kinda-sorta along the lines that the Sun's at one focus of the elliptical orbit of the planets, with nothing at the other one. I have absolutely no idea how it would work for giant Spectran forcefields. Though I do like the idea that at some point the scientists are going to have hysterics at the concept that there might be one...

Mark's tapping "G 1" on the inside of the elevator door. Everyone Knows Morse :)

Armstrong-Tracy is named after the actual first man on the moon (Neil Armstrong) and "one of the first men on the moon" from my other fandom of Thunderbirds (Jeff Tracy). Since a minor plot point in one of my TB stories is Jeff Tracy not having an airbase named after him because they picked the other guy, I thought I'd put it right.

The black and white striped cylinder explosives in long tubes are from the episode of Blake's Seven which also partly inspired the plot - "Star One", in which Our Heroes spend a while frantically running round the base trying to disarm a bunch of explosive charges which they suddenly realise they really don't want to go off. That episode also contains one of my favourite "oh crap" TV moments of ever, which doesn't appear to have made it into any quotes list. It's the one where Vila says "It's a shower of meteors. Very large meteors. And they're slowing down." Nope, not meteors, that's the alien invasion fleet...

And in a moment of coincidence, I'm writing this note while watching Michael Keating and Paul Darrow win Pointless Celebrities.