Logan pulled right alongside Josh's hovercraft. The motor controlling the opening of the side door whined for a few seconds before it managed to break the icy coating encasing most of the vehicle and finally opening the door, allowing everyone to pile out.
Colt was first to stick his head into Josh's hover. "Hey, boss, do you want me to do an aerial scan with IR goggles?"
"Not yet," Josh responded, not bothering to look up from the electronics he was working on. "You probably wouldn't be able to see much, and if there are hostiles in the area, being out there alone could get you killed."
"Oh, come on, I'm a class five!"
Josh rolled his eyes, "Yeah, we all know, and you remind us of it way too often. The answer is still no. The 96th had a cadet take a bullet and I don't want the same to happen to you. And, before you ask, one of the reasons Rex is out there alone is he can take a bullet without too much, if any, real damage. You can't. Besides, your mother would kill me if you get shot."
Colt frowned and muttered something lightly under his breath but didn't outright argue. Instead he looked down at the large BEARS pack with Garret's name stenciled on it and grabbed it. "Fine, while you continue to play, I'll get Garret set up with his stuff and show him how to use the goggles and extreme cold weather stuff."
Josh's eyebrows shot up in surprise as he had fully expected an argument from Colt. "Thanks. That'll save me some time cause I want Logan to take you to Rex in this one, then break off and go a different direction. The wider apart the three hovers are, the better chance we will have of getting a signal."
Colt almost fired off a snide comment, but held his tongue as he made his way back to the craft Logan had piloted. The last thing he wanted was to go against USDT command, and at the moment, like it or not, Josh was his direct commander. Since the first day he had accidentally shorted out all the lights in his 4th grade classroom, his full devotion had gone to BEST and Arctic Trooper in particular. For without BEST's help and Arctic Trooper's direct interference, there was no doubt in Colt's heart or mind his father would have either killed him or at the very least dropped him off in the middle of the Montana wilderness to fend for himself. As it was, his father had disowned him the moment the man found out Colt was "one of those", the man's way of putting down all augmented people.
Colt let out a sigh as he started digging though the pack Jade Witch had assembled for Garret. As he did so, Colt fought off the desire to undermine or even outright challenge Josh by focusing on the day Arctic Trooper had stood unwavering in his defense.
His teacher and the assistant principal were clearly angry over the destruction Colt's first mishap had caused to the small elementary school. First they tried to figure out what had happened and tried to see if Colt had done something to the lights, computer, and aquarium on purpose. Once they realized it was a budding of an undiscovered augmented person, the anger changed to fear. There was a flurry of activity as they contacted the government BEST agent, the fire marshal, and an electrician. At the same time they quickly found a small side room, pulled all electrical stuff out, and sat Colt in the darkened room with only a tiny window for light. Within moments of the door being shut and locked, Colt had burst out into tears.
Arctic Trooper, on the other hand, had been there for him. Within half an hour of the first mishap, the man had shown up at the elementary school, pulled him out of the tiny locked room, and came very close to threatening physical harm on everyone involved with locking Colt up. Once he had everyone cowering and had fully taken control, he turned all his attention to Colt, first calming him down, then taking the time to really listen. Before the county BEST agent had even gotten to the school, Arctic Trooper knew what had happened, had Colt's school books and coat, and had the school staff apologizing to Colt for locking him up.
At the same time, Arctic Trooper found out a bit about Colt and his family, including the fact Colt's father was an anti-augment bigot of the highest caliber. Mr. Lugrall, Colts father, was also one of the biggest financial supporters for politicians wanting to segregate augmented people and in particular, keeping them out of schools and elected government offices. Making matters worse, Colt knew it and was terrified of what would happen when he got home.
Once the BEST guy finally showed up and started a government claim, Arctic Trooper patted the boy on the shoulder and explained there was no harm to anyone, so it would all quickly and easily be handled. He then took Colt out for lunch before taking him to meet Mr. Lugrall at his office.
Colt had pleaded with Arctic Trooper and then broke down and cried, trying to convince the man not to take him to see his father.
The Commander of BEARS 97 shook his head, "No, son, this is something that has to be done and done now. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to confront the man you know as dad. I will be right there and he will not harm you."
The ride to his father's office had been awful, but getting there only made his fear increase, as a pair of armed guards informed Arctic Trooper 'his kind' were not allowed on the grounds. They then went on to say Colt's use of Satanist powers were known by Mr. Lugrall already, as was the fact BEST had been contacted.
Before more could be said, however, Arctic Trooper responded. He first clenched his fist. A moment later a thick icy coat covered the man from head to toe. He moved forward, forcing both guards to step back, then stuck out his hands and rolled his right over his left. Within a few seconds the calm air dropped in temperature and a bit of a breeze picked up.
Arctic Trooper then glared at the lead guard. "If you want me to make a scene, I'll play your game and you will lose. Now get your boss before I start freezing things around here. I better not have to wait more than a couple of minutes either." He then sent a bolt of ice into a tree just outside the electrified security fence surrounding the building, snapping several large branches and all but destroying it. He raised an eyebrow, making a bit of an ice crunching sound as he did so. "I can start targeting cars in the parking lot if you prefer."
Both guards glanced at the tree and the icy coating covering what was left of it before the senior guard pushed the younger one. "Damn it, get the boss and call the police!"
Arctic Trooper pulled his handheld radio, "USDT 19, I have a class one situation; please advise all authorities to stay clear of this area until I authorize entry. Suggest a two-mile cordon zone centered on my location."
"Contacting authorities now; do you need assistance?" A female voice answered almost instantly.
"Negative, but you may want to put Jade Witch on notice, just in case."
"Confirmed, Arctic Trooper." The voice replied, "Moving all authority of the area over to you now. I will also put out a low level standby for all cadets under you in case you want to use this as a training mission."
Arctic Trooper cocked his head to the side and smiled. "With another push of this button, I can have my XO bring a dozen more augmented kids here. Oh, and feel free to call the police to your heart's content. They are not allowed to enter this area without my permission. I'm not really asking anymore; get the boy's father now!"
The younger guard turned and sprinted toward the building while Arctic Trooper guided Colt over to the fence. "Now, son, what exactly were you doing when you knocked out the lights?"
Colt glanced at the ice coated figure now, totally ignoring the armed guard, with a degree of awe. He shrugged. "I don't know. Billy was shocking a bunch of us by rubbing his feet on the carpet then touching us. He did it to me just as the teacher told me to turn out the lights for a movie, and everything lit up real bright, then boom."
Arctic Trooper frowned for a second and rubbed his chin. He then grabbed Colt and picked him up so he could reach the electrified wires running across the top. "Do me a favor, touch the fence."
Colt shook his head, "I'll get hurt!"
"Oh, come on." Arctic Trooper prodded, "If you do it, I'll give you a hundred bucks."
"Yeah, kid," the remaining guard snarled. "Touch the fence! Maybe it'll kill you and there will be one less of your type in the world!"
Colt glared at the guard, then shivered lightly as the icy armor surrounding Arctic Trooper started to seep in even through his thick winter coat. "A hundred dollars?"
"Yup. Just for a single touch; at worst you'll get burned a bit, but I doubt it."
"Come on, kid!" the guard taunted again, "I wanna see you fry!"
Colt gulped, but his anger at the guard overrode his fear. Closing his eyes tightly shut, he reached out and touched the fence, expecting to get zapped. Quite the opposite happened. The electricity jumped into him and through him, but didn't hurt at all. Instead he felt a great deal more powerful. He opened his eyes and grinned, securing the wire in a firm grasp, then took hold of it with his other hand.
Arctic Trooper's eyes arched up, not surprised at the fact Colt hadn't been harmed, but at the fact the power to the gate house leading to the building was losing power as were the electrically powered security arms that prevented cars from driving in and out. "Um, Colt, why don't you just put your feet on the fence and hold on for a couple of minutes if you can."
Colt eagerly attached himself to the fence while continuing to grip the top wires, happy to get away from the very cold man holding him up. "This tickles!" He giggled.
Arctic Trooper glanced at the very nervous guard and let out a huge breath of air, "Quite impressive young'an. Now do me a favor and try to hold in as much of that energy as you can."
The BEARS 97 Commander's mouth twisted up in a bit of a befuddled frown for a few seconds before responding. "Think of the tickling as sand slipping though your fingers and try to not let a single bit slide though you."
Within seconds Colt concentrated on the tingling in his fingers and tried to hold it in. Less than a minute later, the flickering guardhouse lights went totally out and the arm bar stopped shaking, as if all power to it had been cut off. At the same time Colt glanced down with a huge smile as sparks literally danced over his teeth. "I feel so strong!"
Rather stunned by what he was witnessing, Arctic Trooper dropped his icy armor coating and glanced down at his watch, "Colt, I'll give you an extra ten bucks for every minute you hold it all in up to ten minutes."
Colt thought back to his multiplication tables as he nodded. "I'll hold it for the whole ten for another hundred dollars!"
"We shall see. Time starts now." Arctic Trooper pushed the start button on his stopwatch function and glanced back toward the guard with a nasty smirk. "Maybe this will get your boss' attention, seeing how no one can come or go at the moment."
It took only a couple of minutes for Mr. Lugrall to make his way out of the front of the building. He stormed down the front steps, "What the hell is going on!"
Arctic Trooper waited for the man to get close then shrugged while glancing back to Colt, "If you want that second hundred dollars ignore your father while I talk to him."
Fear caused a brief flicker of light inside the guardhouse, but it quickly went out again as Colt closed his eyes and focused on the tingles, not letting a single one escape his grasp. "I let some go!"
"Minor slip, we'll start over as long as you think you can hold it for ten more minutes."
"I can! I really can!"
"OK, then we start over." Arctic Trooper cleared his stopwatch and restarted it noting the boy had held back all the power to the perimeter for over three minutes with no sign of being harmed. Impressed, he turned to Colt's dad, cutting off another nasty shout. "Let me make this nice and simple, sir; your son up there has incredible gifts, and those of us in the United States Defender Team 19 think it would be in your best interest to let him become a BEST trainee."
"That thing on my fence is not my son!" The man bellowed furiously.
"Really?" Arctic Trooper asked in mocking surprised voice. "I bet his birth certificate and a blood sample will show otherwise. If not, then why did you spend so much money to have your ex-wife declared unfit as a mother, so you could gain sole custody of him?"
"That bitch can have the little bastard back."
"Great, so all I need you to do is sign over custody to her and give her enough money to get a fresh start in life, say an even million?"
"What! Who do you take me for?"
Arctic Trooper cut him off. "I take you for a soon to be bankrupt business owner unless you do as I ask, because you are responsible for all the damage your son has done."
"So he blew out a few lights, I'll pay for that out of petty cash."
Arctic Trooper glanced at his watch, "I am sure you can easily handle the $20,000 or so in damage, plus the extra $500,000 or so it will take to upgrade the whole building plus the middle school he will have to attend to prevent further damage. I did some poking around after all, so I am sure you could just write a check." He let the numbers sink in for well over a minute before he smiled and added, "I think the real problem comes in when you think about all the damage he is about to do."
"Maybe we should just start with the damage around here."
"What damage?" Colt's dad asked as he looked around, trying to figure out what the man in front of him was talking about.
Arctic Trooper let the man stew for another minute while he rubbed his chin, then held up his finger as an idea struck him. "Maybe a demonstration would be helpful here." He then glanced up at Colt, "Young'n, I'll go ahead and call it good if you could just point out your dad's car and let go of some of what you are holding in. Think of it as throwing some of the sand as you point."
"And I get the hundred?"
"You sure do. It's been almost eight minutes anyway if I combine what you did before your dad came out and what you have done now."
Colt shrugged and pointed at his dad's BMW, letting some of the tingling go as he did so. "It's the dark blue one over there." Instantly huge crackles of electrical current leapt out of his extended hand and arced over to the $80,000 vehicle. The car alarm went off first, but quickly shorted out, then the headlights and tail lights exploded, followed by the airbags, the electronic dashboard, and finally the engine itself started smoking. Just as the first few licks of flame could be seen from under the hood, all four tires burst outward as the air in them was electrically heated past the point where the tires could hold.
Colt's eyes went wide as he realized he was basically tossing around lightning, "Wow!"
Arctic Trooper shook his head and whistled, "OK, young'an, hold on to the wires again and hold it all inside again. I'm not sure he is convinced quite yet."
"My car!" Mr. Lugrall screamed as one of the security guards scrambled out of the front door with a fire extinguisher and put out the flames. After making sure the fire was indeed out and inspecting the remnants of his car, he balled his fists and moved in a straight path toward his son, who was still holding the top wires and absorbing all the electricity to the perimeter of the complex.
"And here I thought you had a doctorate in engineering," Arctic Trooper stated as he cut off the man's advance. "You may want to glance back at the smoldering ruins of your sports car one more time before you go trying to grab your son. I seriously doubt you could take even half of what the Beemer did." He then glanced back, "Um, kiddo, can you point out your dad's office?"
"Sure, it's the corner of the top floor..."
"NO!" the man screamed as his boy's hand let go of the wires and pointed.
It was already too late. Electrical energies erupted out of Colt's hand again and hit the building. Windows then internal lights exploded outwards, followed moments later by computer monitors, a plasma television and many thousands of dollars worth of other electronics.
Arctic Trooper's knees bent and he arched back as he held up his hands to cover his face from a bit of glass and other debris. At the same time he noticeably cringed, clearly not expecting such devastation. At the same time, he could see people inside the building scrambling for cover. "Grab the wire again and let's not hold on to all the sand this time!" He called out to Colt. "I don't think you want to hurt anyone."
Arctic Trooper shuddered as the boy quickly did as he was told, cutting off the massive discharge as he did so. He looked up at the extensive damage and shook his head as he noticed the arcs of electrical energies had set off sprinkler systems throughout the building. "Whew," he pointed at the corner office with no windows left and a few fires flickering inside, "That was a bit more than I expected, but… um… yeah. How much more of this can you afford?"
Colt's dad stared at his building with shock in his eyes. "Damn you! Fine, take the son of a bitch. I'll give him to you freaks and cut my ex a check. She can deal with his devil shit! Just get him the hell away from me!"
"As soon as everything is nice and legal, I'll arrange for BEST to reimburse you the damages…" Arctic Trooper paused for a second, "And since your building is so heavily mangled, I think it would be in your better interests to find a new location, like out of this state. I'd sure hate to have one of my cadets have any more accidents in or around your property..."
Colt's memories were interrupted as Garret poked him. "Josh says you have my stuff?"
Colt glanced up from the gear he had been pulling out and organizing while lost in his own world. "It's all right here, rookie." He paused as he saw Garret starring at the array of things scattered across the floor of the hovercraft's back compartment. "How much of this stuff do you not know how to use?"
Garret gulped slightly, "Ah, well the coat, gloves, flares, compass, matches, first aid kit, canteen, and backpack are pretty much common stuff. The survival knife and axe are kind of cool, but I never used either of them before, and I know how to fish, but this rod is really weird looking." He played with the collapsible rod for a few seconds before he looked at the rest of the stuff and shook his head, "But…"
Colt cocked his head to the side and gave the newest squadron member a quizzical look, "But what?"
"Um…" Garret knelt and poked at a few items like the snowshoes, gaiters, nose and face covering for extreme cold weather, hand warmers, and IR goggles. He went on to pick up the 'space blankets' then compared the poncho with the inner lining before he poked at the zippered pouches in the gloves meant to hold the chemically activated hand warmers. Finally he kicked at the parka liner, then looked back at the shell as if trying to figure out why he had two coats. "I've never seen nothing like this stuff."
Colt's whole face dropped into a frown. "You've never warn snowshoes?"
"What are snowshoes?"
Colt let out a long breath as he knelt and picked up the ultra-light and strong titanium-framed devices. "These are snowshoes. It prevents you from sinking into the snow too deeply. They are going to be real important out here since the snow is already waist deep." He then picked up the gaiters, "And these fit around your legs and boots so snow doesn't get into your boots."
Garret looked back at Colt blankly for a few seconds. "If they keep me on top of the snow, how is snow going to get into my boots?"
Logan, who was staging his own gear, burst out laughing. "No, dude, it ain't like you are going to walk on water or something! You still sink in some, and the lead person blazes the trail to make a path." Still chuckling, he slid on his own gaiters and snowshoes to show his skeptical squadron mate what it all looked like when worn properly. He then stood. "Each time I make a step in fresh snow, I will sink in till the snow can support me. Without these, you would basically sink in all the way, but with the wide feet you will only go in a little bit, but it will still be over your boots in many places, so the gaiters protect your boots from the snow going in over the top and getting your feet wet."
Watching Logan take a few steps, even inside the hovercraft, gave Garret just enough understanding to have it all make some sort of sense. "OK, but why is there two coats and two ponchos?"
Colt looked up at the roof of the hover and let out a long breath. "The thicker one is a liner for the outer one."
Logan got the case of the giggles really badly as he showed Garret his coat and how the inside liner was part of what he was wearing only to get an, "Oh!" from the smaller boy.
Tanner finally came back to see what was going on, wanting to know why Logan was rolling around laughing hysterically. Seeing the disgusted look on Colt's face and the still somewhat confused yet clearly embarrassed look on Garret's caused him to burst out in laughter too. "Serious rookie syndrome going on here!"
Colt tried very hard not to laugh. "Way worse."
"Ah come on, guys!" Garret complained, "I never saw snow stick to the ground until a couple of months ago and only saw it fall once before I moved here. I'm from Florida!"
The other three stopped long enough to look at Garret with wide eyes. The second it became clear he was telling the truth, the others totally lost it, flopping around chortling and holding their sides from the pains of laughing too hard.
At first their reactions kind of hurt his feelings, but as he started angrily stuffing some of the items back into the pack with his name stenciled on it, he started to see some of the humor in the situation. At the same time, he wondered how he would react if he could ever get the three of them out on the ocean in a sailboat. He bet they would be every bit as lost as he was feeling now.
Things calmed considerably as the radio in the front of the hovercraft came to life with Rex's very excited sounding voice, "Guys, I got something!"
Before any of the four in the hovercraft could gain enough control to grab the radio, Josh responded from the other hover. "Did you get a signal lock?"
"Nope, not even a tone."
"So what did you find?"
There was a bit of a pause, then Josh's voice came back very slowly. "A moose?"
"Yeah!" Rex almost shouted with excitement. "They are stubborn as all hell, and pretty high on themselves considering how goofy they act and think, but this one heard a loud boom a while ago, and then some engine sounds and the loud pops that came from the end of sticks!"
"I think so! It sounds like people were shooting at each other. It also let me know it all came from between the steep hills down from where the water comes out of the rocks. It happens to be where this particular moose like to drink out of, so it was able to give me a good idea where this all went down."
"So you have like directions or something?"
"No, Josh, it doesn't really work like that, especially with a moose cause they are a serious pain in the butt to deal with. They are scatterbrained too, so it's not like a bear that can let me know it is three hills over and up a valley, oh no. A moose is kind of like talking to that sub for our home economics teacher last month."
"Oh, great," Josh moaned. "The ditzy blonde trying to teach us how to make a cake from scratch routine?"
"Exactly… So let me give you a moose's view on how to get there from where I am at…" Rex took a deep breath, then started speaking very fast. "It's not real far, but not short, and hard on the legs in some places, but the food is good along the way. You wander toward the big dead burned trees, then you munch on the nice grass, but not the bad grass, the grass right under the biggest burned tree tastes funny, you know. Then you chase off the bobcat. It makes a weird sound and hurts the ears, so no good to listen to, then you head down but angle away from jagged rocks hill. Rocks hurts feet and no fun to walk on rocks, so you go down the big softer slope at an angle so you don't wobble too much. Once you get all the way down you got to look out for the mountain lion cause she's always looking for food and eats all sorts of things with blood, so she may want you and you would have to hurt her and her young kitties are cute and might starve if you hurts her. So stay clear, but still keep where it is flat so it doesn't hurt knees to walk on the steep ground, then follow the water, eat some more of the kind of good grass by the pond and look at the fish. They have lots of pretty spots on them and make water splash so it is fun to watch, but not stay long, water not good just OK, so go back to running water, then go up by the water where the hills are really tall on both sides and get to where the water comes out of the rocks where water tastes real good." Rex took a deep breath, "I think that about covers it."
Hearing Rex's directions from the perspective of a moose made everyone in the hovercraft Logan had piloted completely lose it. All four boys had tears of laughter rolling down their cheeks well before Rex finished.
"OK then…" Josh kind of snickered. "Hey, Logan, you go out with A.T. way more than the rest of us. Any ideas?
Logan crawled up to the radio and pulled himself into the pilot's chair desperately trying to stop laughing. "There is…" he burst out with another laughter fit, "Only one place…" He smacked his head on the dash and held his ribs as he fought back more laughter. Finally he was able to gasp out, "Le Beau Creek."
Josh shook his head at the sounds coming over the radio from the other hovercraft. "OK, I need just a couple more minutes over here. Get calmed down and let Tanner and Colt finish getting Garret geared up. I'll follow you since it sounds like you know where to go."
Rex came back over, "I am going to try to follow the directions the moose gave me since it sounds like I may be able to take the hover from where I am at, and I am certainly closer than you guys are. I recommend cutting all lights and going with IR and radar only, though, since it sounds like there are hostiles pretty close."
"Agreed," Josh stated. "And Rex, no matter what, do not engage until at least one of us can back you up, preferably all of us."
"You got it, boss. I'll hang back and monitor till you all catch up. Rex out."