Defender 31 - McGuire Air Force Base, NJ
'Please come in.' FireBird heard in his mind as he approached a large wooden door. He was tired from thinking too much all night and couldn't get a restful sleep. He hesitated as he reached for the door knob, yawned, and almost collapsed, but quickly recovered and braced himself as he had a full day with his squadron for today and the rest of the weekend. As he opened the door, he was greeted by a large office stacked with books that covered almost the entire 20'x30' office, minus a few windows. The gentleman looked up from his desk with a concerned expression on his face.
"Are you OK, Fire?"
FireBird yawned again, "Well, Professor, I had a restless night; hopefully I'll be getting a better night's sleep tonight."
Professor let it drop as he sensed something else was troubling his former XO. He felt he was rather young to be his second in command, even if his leadership abilities were good. He felt FireBird needed the experience before he would consider earning it back, but it was FireBird who decided to transfer over to TIGERS 28.
"I see something is troubling you. What can I do to help?"
FireBird always wondered how he did that. 'Am I really that easy to read?' he thought, bringing a slight smirk to Professor's face. "Well, I don't have solid evidence on a few theories of mine, but I do have a puzzling thought." Professor waited till FireBird continued as he was thinking it over. "It seems I have twins in my squadron whose augments listed don't seem complete. Their initial testing shows Class Two for each boy, but I have a feeling something is being withheld somewhere."
"Am I to assume you want me to give them a look over to feel them out and see if what you claim is true?" Professor looked up from his desk as he was writing something on a piece of paper. His long white hair was slightly draped over his face, and he brushed it away so he could look at FireBird.
"Actually, yes… if you don't mind. It wouldn't take up too much of your time, honest."
Professor smiled, "I'll be there, but out of sight."
FireBird saluted, "Thank you, sir." Then smiled at the light scowl Professor was giving him. Professor hated being saluted, even if it was required, but they were in an informal meeting.
"Oh! Before you leave…" Professor started as FireBird turned to leave, "I've just got a report about a massive snowstorm hitting Montana. I'm not sure if we will be called in to help, but I've listed most TIGERS as standby just in case, if the area needs additional help. I also believe that this storm will hit here as well, so it's best we are well prepared for it."
FireBird yawns as he is nodding his head.
"Oh and for god's sakes, get some rest! Your yawning is becoming contagious!" Professor tried fighting off the impending yawn, but failed, causing FireBird to giggle.
"I will." FireBird called back, exiting the room and closing the door, then teleporting out.
Sunline Residence –
John stretched the kinks out of his body as he woke from the alarm going off in his ear. He hated early mornings, but such was life as he had tried getting used to them. Yawning while making his way to the boys' room, he lightly knocked on their half-open door.
"Boys! Time to wake up."
"Down here, dad!" came the reply from the kitchen, causing John to jump and yell as the voices startled him.
John wasn't expecting his boys to be up and about till his wife surprised him with a kiss before heading to the bathroom. "One of these days, the boys won't surprise us anymore."
John smiled and made his way downstairs to the kitchen to find the boys had already started the coffee and helped themselves to breakfast.
"Thanks, boys." John made his way to the coffee pot to fill his cup and add cream to it before having a sip. "Ya ready to start your day?"
The grin on the boys' faces was unmistakable as they were nodding vigorously, causing John to chuckle at their eagerness.
"Dad…" Jimmy started, "We need to leave soon."
"We don't wanna be late, ya know," Justin finished.
John chuckled, "Plenty of time, boys." He turned around to look at the clock and it was 6:35am already. His eyes went wide, leaving a pair of giggling boys behind.
Justin was about to comment on their dad till their radio went off.
"Hey, guys! Where ya'll at?"
Justin ran into the living room and dug through his backpack looking for the radio, only to find Jimmy holding it in his hand. He shook his head and walked towards his twin.
"Hey, Aaron, dad's runnin' late. We'll be there in time, I hope," Jimmy replied as Justin eyeballed his brother, but quickly dropped it.
"Do ya'll need me to send someone to bring you here sooner? I can have Sean bring everyone over."
Jimmy was about to respond, but Justin quietly asked for the remote. "Not needed. Thanks, Aaron. We'll be there shortly. Dad and mom just walked in the kitchen. We'll be on our way in less than five, hopefully."
"Ok, Justin, see ya'll soon."
"Uhh, see ya." Justin had a surprised look on his face, but he should have known Aaron had Superior hearing and would easily know who he was talking to.
Jimmy picked up on his brother's confusion and added, "Well, bro, Aaron is one of the people who know how to tell us apart. We'd better get going or mom and dad will leave us here."
"Huh?" Justin perked up and looked around the kitchen and found it empty, except for the two of them. Suddenly, the horn honked, prompting both boys to dash towards the door, only to find their stuff not there. They looked at each other, shrugged then headed outside. Jimmy almost forgot to close the door after seeing the look on his mom's face. Once the boys were in the family car and buckled up, John pulled out of the driveway and headed to their destination.
The ride to their drop point was uneventful and it took them only fifteen minutes to arrive, but as usual, they were the last to arrive.
Once the boys exited their car, they froze at the sight before them. What looked like a massive tour bus, was actually a huge camper, about fifty feet long. They spent some time marveling at it, as did their parents. FireBird saw the gawking and drooling, and grinned as he made his way over through the crowd.
"Beautiful, isn't she? It's mine, but also the squadrons'. I kinda figured with a group as big as us, it might have been time to get one for long trips. Before I forget, everyone else got the same warning: try not to destroy it." FireBird added with a nervous chuckle after hearing how Arctic Trooper's RV was accidentally destroyed. He wanted the boys to feel comfortable being around his toys.
"Well…I could always fix it if that happened," Jimmy added with a grin, causing FireBird to shake his head.
"Okay, boys, throw your gear inside and we'll sort everything once we're underway. It'll just be us guys, while the gals are with Stealth."
This caused John and Susan to exchange knowing glances, and this didn't go unnoticed by FireBird.
Both boys smiled, then proceeded to grab their gear and headed to the massive RV.
FireBird leaned in to a near above whisper, "Don't worry about the RV, it is state funded and I'm borrowing it from a friend to test something for him. Maybe they will grant us something like this, if by the time we're done, it's still fully intact." He quickly looked around then added, "Don't worry about Stealth. I can handle her, but this must not be repeated."
FireBird leaned back and received nods from both in return. He then smiled and informed them if their destination, and this quickly put the parents at ease. Susan hugged FireBird and John shook his hand before leaving.
"Oh yes, before I forget, this won't be a weekend thing, I've already obtained their school's approval and they were more than happy to allow them to miss a full week. Something has come up and it's nothing for you to worry about." FireBird added quickly, putting their worried looks to ease. Just then, the boys rushed back out to give their parents their goodbyes, then rushed back into the RV. FireBird waved as John and Susan had left, then shot a glance over to where Professor was watching from and nodded in his direction, getting a nod back in return. He immediately returned to the RV and closed the door.
Just as FireBird jumped into the RV and sat in the driver's seat, he looked back at the carnage and shook his head. The boys were getting comfortable as rowdy boys could only get.
"Boys!" FireBird almost boomed. The chatter and horseplay finally died down somewhat as all eyes were staring at him. "Jeez, guys, try and at least keep this in one piece at least, OK? That is, till we get there."
"So, where we goin', boss?" the blond haired Jesse asked as his tail began to tickle Sean's ear.
FireBird hadn't seen the tail, so he simply replied as he was starting to go over the controls for the RV and adjust the mirror. "Well, that part is a surprise, but what I can tell you is this: each one of you will be spending a complete week honing your augments with myself in an isolated spot where we haven't been before. I already cleared this with your parents and school; this will not be a weekend event." FireBird looked into the rear view mirror to gauge their response and immediately noticed the tail. He was about to say something before the boys broke out in cheers, till Sean shrieked like a girl. This brought a round of laughter from everyone at Sean's expense as he was glaring daggers at Jesse.
"Dude! Could ya like not do that again? That thing creeps me out like it has a mind of its own!" Sean pouted, causing a round of giggles.
"Sorry bud, but my tail has a mind of it's own!" Jesse said as his tail wrapped itself around his waist and peered out around the other side as if it were looking at Sean, all while Jesse was wearing a puppy dog expression on his face. Jesse's expression was priceless, causing a round of laughter from everyone.
FireBird spoke up, "Before we head out, I must make one thing clear. We are somewhat on standby as Defender 19 and the BEARS squadrons have their hands full at the moment with the weather and the Woodsman." At this, the boys' happy faces were replaced with serious ones and did not go unnoticed by FireBird. "Second, there is a good chance that we could be targeted as well, but from a different group. I would seriously hope none of us lets our guard down during this trip. Once we are there, I'll explain what you need to know when you need to know it, and not a moment before."
"Yes Sir!" The boys chorused.
"Ugh, I'm only 20! Old enough to be your big brother!"
"We know, but it's da rules!" came another chorused reply.
FireBird groaned at the rules being mentioned for the umpteenth time since he became the squadron XO. He shook his head, giggled, and then returned to his driving duties.
Bryan spoke up as FireBird began to start the RV, "Hey, Fire, why can't ya simply teleport all of us there? It would be easier, wouldn't it?"
"I could, but some of ya would be able to see where we are going beforehand, and I would not want to give that away," FireBird said as he looked into the rear view mirror with a smile. His thoughts then drifted off to the time he tried teleporting his RV, only to be met with extreme exhaustion. He mentally told himself to not try it again, but didn't want to explain that incident to the boys.
This caused a round of grumbles from the boys and FireBird finally managed to get underway, a tad behind schedule.
Thirty minutes later heading east on I-70, Aaron finally broke the silence, "So Justin, did ya'll finally gain another ability?"
Justin had been watching the scenery out the window when he heard the question and glanced over. "How did you…" He quickly shook it off and continued, "Well, I'm not sure. I think so."
Jimmy quickly added, "We know so, but we aren't sure what it was."
Brock moved in and sat next to Jimmy, "Don't worry, we'll help ya figure it out. No need to do this alone." He looked at Justin, "You too."
Jimmy and Justin smiled and replied at the same time, "Thanks!"
Jamie spoke up, "Don'cha hate it when they do that?" This caused the twins' grin to grow and the rest erupted in laughter.
When the laughter died down, Bryan spoke up, "How can a tail have a mind of its own? I mean, when I first saw it, I wasn't sure if it was real, till it hugged me!"
This caused more laughter among the boys till Jesse finally managed to reply, "Well dude, dad really freaked out when it first made an appearance. I mean I was minding my own business one morning and all of a sudden a tail had appeared overnight. At first I thought I was dreaming, that is till dad walked in the room and noticed the tail. He kicked me out because he claimed he didn't have a son anymore. My mom died giving birth to me, but my uncle, mom's brother, quickly took me in and took care of me. Still is."
"Dude, that sucks." Jimmy suddenly spoke. "I wish…"
"…all parents..." Justin added.
"…were like ours." Jimmy finished with a smile on his face as he watched his friends' heads swivel between him and his brother.
Everyone stared wide-eyed at the twins at their usual banter. You would think they would have been used to this by now, but it still catches them off guard from time to time, especially when the twins each have telepathy.
"What?" Justin chirped, "It's not like we have to read each other's minds to plan out what we want to say. It's a twin thing!"
This caused the rest of the boys to simply shake their heads.
After a while, there was nothing else good to say, as all of them were classmates in the same school. FireBird felt it was a better idea keeping TIGERS 28 in the same school, as that school had a good reputation for dealing with augmented children. It's not that every child at the entire school has an augment, it was their zero tolerance policy towards bullying and the like. Everyone was treated with equal respect, with the occasional bullying here and there, but not as bad.
FireBird had smiled at the thought of talking to all parents into sending their children to the same school, but one thing had been nagging him in the back of his mind: sleep. He had been enjoying the banter between the boys as he was driving. He was thankful they kept him awake but now, he wondered what they were up to as the RV was completely silent. Looking into the rear view mirror, he had found some boys drifting off to sleep, while the others were beginning to just join them.
FireBird groaned inwards at the sight. He had been desperately trying to avoid falling asleep while driving, but that was proving to be extremely difficult. He still had quite a bit of driving left to do. Feeling sleep catching up to him, he had been desperately hoping a rest area sign would bless him and give him a slight break.
After ten more minutes of driving, a rest area sign came up and FireBird gladly pulled into the rest area and parked the van, causing the boys to suddenly wake up.
"Are we there yet?" Every boy spoke at the same time, causing FireBird to slowly look back at them.
"Uhh… I need coffee and a break, then we'll begin making our way to the site," FireBird said as he slowly stood to stretch.
This caused several groans from the boys as they were beginning to feel cooped up in the RV, but they were also a bit happy to be taking a break.
"Okay boys, let's take a 15 minute break, then we'll hit the road again." FireBird said as he opened the door. The boys soon followed.
Once the boys made it to the bathroom, they found the door locked. There was no sign or anything posted informing the general public of the place being locked.
The boys looked at one another and shrugged their shoulders. Aaron, on the other hand, had heard some whimpering coming from inside the men's bathroom. It was extremely faint and the lights were on, but it was suspicious and FireBird was nowhere in sight. Aaron didn't waste time; he quickly shifted to a liquid form, fell to the floor and seeped through the small opening at the bottom of the door. His clothes immediately fell in a pile as he shifted.
Once inside the bathroom, Aaron reverted to his solid state and crept quietly to the whimpering sounds. Once he got closer, the sounds stopped suddenly. He took a look through the cracks of the toilet stall to check if anyone was there, but found nothing in the first stall. He repeated the process with the remainder of the stalls till he arrived at the last one. The bathroom seemed to be completely empty, except for the one person in the last stall. When he looked into the crack, he found what looked like a small child curled up into a ball on the floor next to the toilet. He was surprised the door was open as he gently pushed it open. The small child winced as he looked up at the naked form standing before him. The child was beginning to wonder why he was naked, but shook it off as the naked form began to reach out to him.
Aaron spoke softly as to not spook the child, "Hi there, everything'll be ok. No one will hurt you and you are safe with me."
The child stared at Aaron with a tear-streaked face. Not trusting his own voice, he whispered, "O-okay. Y-you w-won't h-hurt me?"
Aaron stretched his arm out and shook his head no.
The boy decided to be brave after a few minutes of hesitating, reached out to Aaron, and helped himself to stand on shaky legs. Aaron broke into a grin as he helped the boy up on his feet. Just as Aaron noticed his bare arm, he immediately looked down and flushed red all over, while hopelessly trying to cover himself, but he quickly realized the boy had seen everything. This had caused the boy to break in light giggles at Aaron's expense.
A tingling feeling could be felt in Aaron's head as Jesse spoke in his mind, 'Everything ok in there, Aaron?'
'Yea, found a kid, about nine or ten by himself in a stall. Oh uhh…I uhh…' Aaron thought back fumbling the words as his embarrassment grew, 'I kinda lost my clothes back out there.'
'We know.' came the giggled thought. 'Can you at least unlock the door and we can send them in?'
'Uhh… okay.' Aaron thought sheepishly as he used telekinesis to unlock the door, causing the door to swing open on its own, freezing Aaron to seven pairs of wide eyes. Aaron felt like he could die from sheer embarrassment.
If Aaron's full body blush was bad earlier, this time he was completely red from head to toe as his squadron was staring at him. Jesse had a silly grin on his face as he tossed Aaron his clothes. Just as he was searching through the pile for his boxers, FireBird's voice filled the air, causing Aaron to freeze and slowly look up at his Squadron XO suddenly stopping at mid step on his way into the restroom.
It only lasted a second, but it felt like an eternity as their eyes locked. Aaron's embarrassment had been pushed to a whole new level and he immediately shifted into an almost invisible vapor form, causing the boy to flinch and start to panic. FireBird saw the panic attack starting and was quick to calm the boy while he was telepathing Jesse to bring Aaron's clothes into one of the stalls. Jesse giggled madly as he made his way to one of the stalls, dropped the clothes in and left. Aaron drifted over to the stall with his clothes and reverted to his solid form to get dressed. Once fully clothed, he exited the stall to seven grinning faces, causing his face to flush red again.
Still dying of embarrassment, Aaron spoke quickly, "Guys, please…"
Brock spoke up, "Not this time, dude. You've had other chances, but we respected them since we were in school when it happened. But it's just us here, so all is fair game!"
Aaron groaned as Brock began giggling, causing the others to follow suit along with several wolf whistles. FireBird had to chuckle, but he quickly put an end to the silent teasing and stood. Aaron made his way to FireBird and the boy.
"So… now what? We can't just leave him here." Aaron said as he tried to cool his embarrassment.
"Well…" FireBird started, "We would need to contact CPS and find out just what is happening here. We are in no shape or form to bring him with us. I really don't think…"
Just then, a shrill scream filled the air, causing everyone in the room to wince and cover their ears. A second later, everything in the bathroom began to shatter, causing glass to be thrown everywhere.