You should be warned that this is set after the end of the TV series. Canon is over. The universe may not finish the story in the same state it started out in. In any case, this is set in my AU, which contains several recurring original characters. This is an introduction to a new original character and while G-Force members do appear, they are not the main focus of the fic. If you're not familiar with my fic, I don't recommend starting here.

Bonus points to anyone who recognises the other dubbed anime series which a couple of the characters here pay homage to :)

This fic follows on from "All Good Things" and "Coming to an End" and certain comments will make very little sense if you haven't read them first. If you'd like to, they're in the archives here.

Warnings: some mild swearing.

Thanks to my husband for beta-reading.

As always: Battle of the Planets belongs to Sandy Frank, Gatchaman belongs to Tatsunoko, and all comments are very welcome.

(The double title is because this was originally posted over on Gatchfanfic as two separate stories several years apart.)

Dylan's Tale

"Sixty-three," the instructor intoned, handing out the first scoresheet. "Thirty-seven - see me for an extra practise schedule. Fifty-two - that's an improvement, keep it up. Seventy-eight. Seventy-six. Eighty-one. Ninety-four - congratulations, Mr North. Forty-two..."

"Gee, Dylan, you missed six," a voice muttered from behind him.

"Aw, leave the kid alone."

Dylan recognised both the voices, and the friendly humour behind it. Even if he did suspect there was more than a hint of jealousy deep down."

"...Sixty-three. That's all, folks. Mid-year interviews are tomorrow. Times are posted in the usual place. I'll see you again in the new year."

Whatever else he might have had to say was lost in the upwelling of slightly nervous, pretending to be excited, student babble. Dylan didn't join in. Ninety-four percent on this term's weapons course was, he was fairly sure, a high enough mark to pass the whole year. He could always improve, though. Tim might have teased him about missing six, but he was fully aware of where those six points had gone, and what he thought he'd done wrong each time.

"Interviews? Brrr. Who'll they give us this time?" said a voice behind him.

Dylan started to pay attention. "Won't they tell us beforehand?"

"Hell, no, not in senior year. Not even in junior. Last time it was Anderson himself, can you believe it? I nearly died!"

"You nearly died? I walked in there, and Phillips turned to him and said 'Mr Zimmerman has a fairly good grasp of the basic principles.' Man, I wanted the floor to open up."

"Made you work though, hasn't it?" Callen teased him

"Yeah." Tim thumped Dylan cheerfully between the shoulderblades. "Much good it's done me, though, since Wonder Boy joined us."

"All he needs to do now is grow!" another cadet chimed in.

"He's too busy achieving to grow!"

"Enough, already!" Callen James, general class peacemaker and organiser, raised her voice, and as usual everyone fell into line. "He said interview times are up. Doesn't anyone else want to know how long they have to be nervous for tomorrow?"

Tim groaned. "No."

"I do." Dylan followed the crowd of older students which was drifting really quite determinedly towards the door. He'd been double-promoted at the start of the year, right from sophomore to senior. He'd been more than ready for it - but this put him in his final year at the ISO Academy at barely sixteen, still with no real idea what he was going to do when he graduated. Even if one of the active security teams would have taken a sixteen-year-old, he didn't fulfil the height requirements for an active security officer - not a male one, anyway. Barely five foot six, Dylan hadn't been considered particularly short for a child growing up in rural North Wales. Here in the USA, most of his male classmates overtopped him by six inches or more. Tim, eighteen and six foot three, was well into the 'more' end of the spectrum.

"Dunno why I bother checking," Tim grumbled as they finally made their way to the front of the group. "I'm always the last interview of the day regardless."

"Deed-poll?" joked Dylan, scanning the central sheet for 'North'. "You could change your name. I recommend Aardvark."

"Yech. 'Tim Aardvark'. I think I'll stick with Zimmerman. Say, Dylan, they seem to have redefined the alphabet. You're down this end."

Dylan grinned. "Someone forgot to add the new kid to the class list?" It didn't matter to him. He noted the time, the room, and a complete lack of any information as to who the interview was actually with, and headed back to abandon his class notes in his room.

He felt very differently by the end of the following afternoon. Nobody would tell him who the interviewer was - apparently this was a final-year tradition, giving the late-alphabet folks the same shock as the As. It was all too clear that none of them had considered it a fun experience, though. Callen had still been a bizarre mixture of pale and flushed when he'd seen her earlier, and there wasn't much - he'd have said nothing - that flustered her. That was the point at which he'd gone back and polished his shoes again. The clock had crawled ever since. He'd shown five minutes earlier than the advised 'ten minutes in advance' for his interview time, and those fifteen minutes had lasted about a week.

Tim came out, as white as Dylan had ever seen him, and with barely enough composure to give him an encouraging thumbs-up, and the time for waiting was over. Dylan steeled himself, tugged the jacket of his uniform down to remove imaginary wrinkles, put his shoulders back, made a valiant effort to grow two inches, and marched into the interview room. He stopped at the desk and threw his most immaculate salute.

"Cadet North reporting as instructed."

"Very good, Cadet," the large, exceptionally blond man in the commander's uniform sitting on the left said. "Now, if you wouldn't mind closing the door..."

Dylan tried and failed to remember the parade ground version of how to do it correctly. The penultimate year at the Academy, the one they'd promoted him straight past, was the one where such things were learnt and drilled until they were second nature. He knew them, but those months of practice just weren't there. The correct form deserted him. So much for making a good impression. If they'd had 'ceremonial guard' on the list of things he might be suited for - most unlikely, given his lack of inches - he could see it fading by the second as he returned to the door, shut it with more of a bang than he'd intended, came back to the desk and returned to standing at attention, hoping it wasn't visible that his knees were trembling.

The other man behind the desk was Major Grant. Dylan had never met him, but his reputation preceded him. 'Only' a major, but this man was Anderson's deputy, was rumoured to run the security within black section itself. Even G-Force had to jump when he told them to. Grant was doing mid-year interviews? And who was the blond man? He didn't command any of the leading security teams, Dylan was sure of it.

"Sit down, please," the blond man said after what seemed like a ridiculously long wait. "I am Commander Nykinnen, and this is Major Grant."

"Thank you, sir." Dylan determinedly didn't glance at either of them as he pulled the chair out from where Tim must have left it, millimetre-perfect against the desk. He sat, back ramrod-straight, eyes forward, and waited.

"At ease, cadet." There was humour in Nykinnen's tone, and Dylan finally relaxed somewhat and allowed himself to make eye contact with his interviewers. What now? Was he supposed to say something? If he was, he had no idea what. He had introduced himself, hadn't he? Yes, he was sure of it.

"Have you ever seen a black section clearance form?" Grant asked him.

"No, sir."

"Do you want to?"

Dylan tried and failed to parse the question. Did he want to see a form? Would he sign a form? Did he think he was black section material? He didn't know what answer they expected - but they clearly did expect one. No rhetorical questions here. He settled on something non-specific.

"Sir. Everyone wants to work in black section, sir."

"You didn't answer the question."

Damn. "I hope to be good enough some day to be offered the chance." No, idiot. 'To some day be offered the chance'. Even his grammar was deserting him.

Nykinnen smiled. "And what do you think of Team Seven?"

Team Seven? Nykinnen was Team Seven? Well, that explained why he'd never heard of him. Team Seven was the dumping-ground, the place people went who couldn't get a real posting. Not somewhere you looked to be going if you hoped to graduate top of your class, or at the very least in the top five. Dylan contemplated flattery, and decided that with Grant there honesty was his only option.

"I'd not considered it, sir. I'm hoping for a more active posting." Team Three was what he wanted, the ISO fighter pilot wing - but that was still a far-off dream and was based on him having time to put in hours of simulator practise next semester to turn talent into skill. He wasn't ready to tell anyone about that one yet.

Grant simply recovered a document from his briefcase, reached across the desk, and slapped it down in front of him. Dylan was two sentences in before realisation hit.

"Sir - I thought all official ISO USA documents were in English."

"This one is required to be in your native tongue," Grant said in a tone which could have cut glass. "Your declaration of Welsh as your first language was really rather inconvenient."

Dylan gulped, and applied himself to reading it. Truth be told, and as Grant had doubtless guessed, he was bilingual - but stubbornness, and loyalty to the wild North Wales coastline where he had grown up (English great-grandfather and surname notwithstanding) kept the Welsh first. He'd have said as much to Nykinnen. Grant's English accent guaranteed that Dylan didn't explain it to him, even without his reputation.

He had to presume this was the real thing. Certainly the penalty clauses were impressive. Violating this was not something you'd do lightly. Or, indeed, ever. So was this what had so unnerved his fellow students? Clause seventeen said he couldn't even ask. You didn't even have to sign this document to be subject to some of its provisions, apparently. You might not discuss having been asked to sign it, regardless of whether you actually did. Dylan wondered briefly whether such a condition was even legal, then decided he simply didn't want to know. Or, that there were other things he wanted to know more.

"Sirs - can I ask a question?"

"Of course," Nykinnen told him.

"Why are you asking me to sign this?"

Grant's eyebrows went up to the point where they were in danger of merging with his somewhat receding hairline. "Do you always ask your superior officers to explain their decisions?"

"No, sir."

"Then why are you asking now?"

Dylan took a deep breath and hoped his grammar would behave better this time. "Sir - because the only consequence would appear to be to me personally."

"Good answer, Cadet." Grant sat forward, piercing pale eyes threatening to bore right through Dylan's skull. "This discussion would be covered by Clause Seventeen."

"I understand, sir."

"Your initial test results, on entry to the Academy, were interesting in a number of respects. This is not unusual. They have stayed interesting. This is more unusual. In such cases, we take candidates who have successfully graduated and carry out some additional tests inside black section."

Dylan stared. "I haven't graduated yet, sir."

"Yes, you have," Nykinnen told him. "Barely. If you choose to take your credits now, rather than stay on for your final half-year. I believe you would be the youngest person to do so, by some way."

"Now, my time is short," Grant put in. "You can sign the document and come with me now, or you can make a decision later."

"If I sign now, is that it? I'm graduated?"

Nykinnen's smile was reassuring - Dylan was starting to wonder if he was here solely to keep Grant from reducing the entire class to gibbering wrecks. "No, Cadet. You have a very good chance of graduating head of your class in June, if you stay on. We won't ask you to make that decision in five minutes."

That said, there was no option. If he wasn't capable of keeping his mouth shut about security matters, he'd make a lousy security officer of any type. And - asking him what he thought of Team Seven? That wasn't what he had in mind at all. No, if they were prepared to give him black section clearance, what harm could it do? And maybe it would open some doors for him. Dylan turned back to the first page of the document and scrawled his signature and the date before handing it back to Grant.

"Sir, I'm very flattered. I have been hoping to graduate top of the class. But if there's something more important I can do, then I would do it."

"Very good, Cadet." Grant put the document back into his briefcase, clicked the locks shut one after the other, and stood up. "Follow me."