Castle Roland


by Kyle Aarons


Chapter 9

Posted: N/A

Valda pulled into the emergency drop off of the North Valley Hospital. As a pair of attendants braved the snow to come grab the man she and Skye had pulled out of his wrecked SUV, she glanced down at the fuel gauge of the hover she was piloting. "This hover is drinking more gas than a camel does water. We are down to less than an eighth of a tank."

Skye shrugged. "Well, there ain't going to be a station open, so we either park it here and call it a night, go steal some, or head to the meeting hall and raid the bunker next door. I don't think we have enough to head all the way back to the eastern bunker."

Valda nodded. "I'm going to check in with Eldora and see if they can run by this guy's house." She glanced into the back noting the two attendants were struggling with the snow and stretcher. "You should probably help those two with the bed so they don't drop the poor guy. While I'm at it, I'll make sure they find a number so they can call his house. It sure sounded like his kids are home alone by the way he was muttering."

Skye shoved open the side door and jumped out into the snow. "What should they tell the kids?"

"What would you think is best? I'd freak out if I got a call telling me my dad was in the hospital and I was home alone in a blizzard."

Skye shook her head. "Me too. I'll just tell them to call and say their dad was stranded in the storm and help is coming."

"Sound good." Valda waited until she saw Skye move to the back and single handedly pick up the stretcher and walk it through the snow with the two hospital attendants struggling to keep up with her because of the wind and snow. She snickered at the expressions of exasperation on the two men for a second before she keyed her radio. "Eldora, you out there?"

Gwen responded, sounding a bit panicky, as always. "Um, she is ripping a car door off so she can get to someone who rolled their car down into a ditch. We almost missed it, even with the IR thingy. It is really bad here."

"It's just a blizzard, Gwyn, relax." Valda took a deep breath to prevent her voice form getting too stern and hurting the other girl's feelings. "We know what you are going through, though. I had to rip off a hood of an SUV and Skye pulled the whole engine block out not too long ago so we could get to the driver. Let Eldora know he was in such bad shape we broke off our search. We are dropping him off at North Valley now, but our tanks are almost dry so we are going to the meeting hall to get a refill."

"Um… sure…" they nervous girl in the other hover responded, "I think we'll have to head to a shelter or hospital after this, cause we are getting kind of full in back and then we'll have to find a place to refill too."

"When Eldora gets back tell her…"

Eldora's voice interrupted, "What's up?"

"We had to drop a guy at Valley and are heading to the meeting hall for gas. I don't think we have enough to make it anywhere else."

"No problem," Eldora responded. "You take over the west side of the county we'll take the east, since I am currently closer to the eastern bunker and need a pit stop as well. We broke off just before we got to Lupfur, so north of there still needs to be searched."

"Awesome. We got to Hungry Horse. You'll see the SUV of the guy we are dropping off partially wrapped around a big lodge pole pine. He must have been really pushing it cause it was like four foot up and hit with enough force to where it stuck there. We had to tear it apart to get him out, so what was left of it before we got there, is now even worse."

"Better than the poor guy dying out in this," Eldora chuckled, "but with our luck he'll try to blame us for all the extra damage in an attempt to get USDT to buy him a new one."

Valda said nothing, but she did burst out into laughter.

Eldora snickered at the sounds coming over the radio. "I'm sure we'll find it and continue on from there..."

"Hey," Valda managed cut in. "While you're at it, we need to see if you can swing by a house just outside of Coram for us."

"Sure, we have to go right by there to get to the bunker. What's up?"

"Kids of the guy we are dropping off are home alone, at least we think so. He was saying he had to get home even as he was bleeding all over us. He was really out of it, but it sounds like his wife is out of the country and his kids are home alone. We couldn't find a wallet, but his car registration has his address."

Eldora whistled softly, "Yeah, give it to us and we'll swing by and take them to a shelter. Are they going to be notified we are coming?"

Valda responded with the address, then added, "If the hospital can find a number and the lines are still up, they'll let them know you're on the way. Skye's going to tell the front desk to say their dad is stranded and help is coming so we don't scare the crap out of them."

"Sounds good. Have them use cell phone so the hospital caller ID doesn't show up then."

Valda jumped up shoving open the door as she did so, "Oh, shit, never thought about caller ID! Got to go!"

She raced to the front desk, catching Skye as she was talking to the very weary looking lady behind the desk. The woman had the telephone up to her ear and was already punching numbers. "Skye, let her use your cell phone! We don't want them knowing their dad is at a hospital."

The woman looked up and stopped dialing, "You got here just in time." She dropped the phone back in the cradle and spun her computer monitor around so both girls could see it. "His number is listed. I pulled it off the net. Why don't you make the call so it comes from a kid instead of me."

Valda pulled out her own cell and dialed the number. After only a pair of rings a young girl answered, "Daddy?"

Valda cringed, "No, sorry, I'm not your daddy. Is your mom home?"

"No," the little girl responded with a giggle, "my big brother is though."

"Can you get him, please?"

Valda quickly pulled the phone away from her ear as the youngster on the other end didn't bother to even turn her head away from the mouthpiece as she screamed at the top of her lungs "Ricky, There's someone on the phone! It sounds like one of your girly friends!"

Even as exhausted as she was, the woman at the nurse's station couldn't help but grin, "I had a younger sister just like that!"

Skye grinned and lightly shoved Valda, "Oh, a new boyfriend! Do tell!"

Valda's head dropped into her hand and her face turned red. Fortunately for her the good natured ribbing of her squadron mate came to a quick end as a boy's voice came over the phone. "Hello?"

Valda swallowed hard, not really knowing what to say. "Um, hi, my name is Valda. I am working for civil defense as a volunteer, and um, well I have a message to pass on from a Mr. Pierson."

"He's my dad." The voice became instantly worried, "Is everything all right?"

Valda clenched her fists and forced her voice to remain calm. "I don't have all the information, since I am just volunteering, but almost all the lines are down here, so we are using personal cell phones and messengers to call. I have a message, but I thought it was going to be to a Mrs. Pierson."

"Mom's out of the country," The boy spoke, clearly nervous. "Why isn't dad calling me instead of you?"

Valda closed her eyes, hating the fact she was lying to the kid on the other end. "I don't have much in the way of information. I can tell you power and phone lines are down in many areas and we are on generator power here. We have a radio dispatch center and I am just relaying messages handed to me since cell phones are still working and mine is fully charged."

The boy was clearly not convinced, but after taking a deep breath he responded, "What's it say?"

"Um, hold on a second." Valda stated as she grabbed a piece of paper off the nurse's station and crinkled it close to her phone so she was certain the kid could hear, "All it says is, radio message received this station, please send word a Mr. Arnold Pierson could not continue due to weather conditions and has sought prolonged shelter. Please contact family to let them know not to expect him for the next few days. It then has this telephone number down at the bottom."

She paused for a moment, "Do you want me to let someone here know you don't have either parent home?"

The boy remained silent for a few seconds. When he spoke his voice sounded very unsure of himself. "I, ah, well, I should be OK; we got food and stuff."

"From what we are hearing, this could last a couple more days and the message says the same thing." Valda warned, trying to suck the kid into asking for help. "We do have a few FEMA hover craft making rounds and bringing people to shelters where there is food, emergency power, and adults to help take care of the younger ones."

The boy paused again. When he finally responded, he sounded a bit less frightened. "Um, sure. The lights have already flickered here a few times, so I don't know how much longer they'll stay on, and Dad never let me learn how to use the generator. How long till they get here and what should we take?"

"We should be able to have someone there in less than an hour. How many do I need to tell them they are picking up and how old?"

"Me, my brother and my twin sisters. I'm twelve, my brother is nine and my sisters are six."

"You should all grab a couple of days worth of clothing, a few toys or games and whatever else you want to stick into an overnight bag. Do any of you need medications or any other special care?"

"No…not like… well…" The boy paused kind of nervously.

Valda frowned, "Look, we can't help you if we don't have all the information. Trust me when I say we can get you whatever you need, but only if we know about it. One thing we don't want to do, is pick you all up and take you someplace only to find we need to have something available for you."

"Um, well, dad will get really mad…"

"Hey, kid, how mad do you think your dad will get if something goes wrong when there was an offer to take you somewhere safe? It could be several days before the roads are clear enough for him to get home to you."

"If he needs his truck to get to us, then there is a big problem and you aren't telling me everything," The boy fired back with sudden anger in his voice.

"Really?" Valda held up her finger to her lips and motioned Skye over so she could listen. "How else would your dad get home? The snow here is way over two feet and getting deeper by the minute!"

"He'd be here or still on his way unless he was hurt or something."

"I don't know what his condition is. All I can do is pass on the information, but it clearly says he cannot continue and sought shelter."

"Then he is hurt!"

Frustrated, Valda shook her head. "It's possible. We are really busy at the shelter here and messages we are returning are short and give no details. I don't even know where your dad is at. The guy at the radio types in information into a computer and it spits out these notes to call. Now I have others to call as well, so if you have some special needs then you need to tell me."

The boy took a couple of deep breaths, and let out a nervous sigh. Valda could tell he held his hand over the mouth piece and turned his head, but she could still hear him as he told his bother to get the girls, grab flashlights, and go pack overnight bags. He then paused as if waiting for them to get out of earshot before he spoke. "My dad is going to be really pissed, but the lights just went out, so we can't stay here. I have no idea how to cook over a fire and the grill is like buried out on the back deck."

"I know my dad would be more angry if I didn't get help, then if I broke some kind of secret."

"Me too," The boy stated with an air of defeat about him. "So here it goes; I don't know if it matters, but me and Kenny are both Augments, but aren't in the program."

Valda's eye brows shot up. "Has BEST ever tested you?"

"No," the boy stated, once again showing a great deal of fear. "Dad never told them and we are home schooled. Dad didn't want our names to be on government databases like his is. But Kenney still has some accidents, especially at night. He kind of sleepwalks."

Valda scribbled down the information and circled a note that simply said 'find out more and let Eldora know', handed it to Skye, then nodded in the direction of the hover. "OK, well, how do you feel about the kids in BEST?"

"I'm scared of BEST, and dad would kick my butt if he knew I told anyone about us, especially them."

"I understand, but my question is how do you feel about BEST kids?"

"I have no problem with them. On the couple of occasions I have met one, they seemed nice enough. One kid even got rid of some squirrels chewing into our roof this last spring. He was really pretty cool. Why?"

Valda grinned knowing instantly it had been Rex. "Because one of the FEMA hovers in your area is being run by kids in BEARS 97. I bet I could have them pick you up, so you are around others who are not afraid of you or your brother."

"They aren't going to make us go see some BEST guy or get us into the Augment database?"

"Only if you want them to."

"You sure?"

"Yeah. I am good friends with both of them."

"I didn't think known Augments had any friends."

Valda snickered. "We don't have many, but there are a few out there who still see us as human."

"You're an Augment?"

"Sure am. So do I send my friends or not?"

There was a long exhale out of the boy, but after a few seconds of thought he spoke softly into the phone, "OK, but I'd sure like to know why Dad can't get to us. He'd never leave us alone in a storm like this and he has the augmentations to get here."

"I'll see what I can find out and pass on the information to those I am sending to pick you up."

"We'll be ready."

Valda snapped her phone shut and shook her head in disgust to find an Augment who very well might qualify for squadron level who was too afraid to join. She debated with herself for a moment before turning back to the nurse. "You may want to let the doctors know, according to his kids the guy we just brought in is an Augment."

The woman shot a surprised look over at Valda before pushing a button on an intercom. "Dr. Buddy to the ER room two for a code Alpha." She then turned her attention back to Valda knowing an explanation would be needed. "Dr. Buddy is a class one. She takes care of almost all Augment emergencies."

"She has taken care of almost all of us in BEARS 97 at one point or another and took care of everyone in the squadron who got Augmentation Sickness." Valda glanced down the hall as the woman briefly came into view only to make a hard right into the emergency treatment area. "I never knew she's one of us!"

"Very few do. She doesn't want it widely known either, since many non-augments would not want to get treated by her if it became general knowledge. At the same time, most of the other doctors get nervous when an Augment comes in, so it is great we have her on staff. We keep it quiet and hope you will refrain from letting others know."

"She's awesome, I ain't saying a word!"

"Good to hear." The exhausted woman managed a brief smile. "Do you need any supplies for your thing out there?" She pointed to the hovercraft, which, even though it was parked within a few yards of the door, was only an outline through the falling snow.

"We changed out the rolling bed what-a-ma-call-it with a fresh one, so, unless you have some spare diesel gas I don't think so. Unless, by chance, you have a change of clothes for both of us." Valda glanced down at the blood smears on her coat and pants."

"Sorry, can't help you on the gas." The woman paused then cocked her hear in the direction of a side closet. "We do have fresh clothing in there, but no coats or cold weather stuff."

Valda quickly moved over to the door and spotted several stacks of scrubs. "Mind if I take a couple for me and a couple more for Skye?"

"You girls are doing the hard work. Take more if you want." She paused and smiled, "You know, when word starts to get out it was you squadron kids out in this saving regular folks, I bet there'll be more being a bit nicer to you all."

Valda shook her head, "As much as I'd love to see it happen, I doubt it. It would take an act of God for kids to look past the BEARS patches and radios and see us as kids who would love to have a few more friends."

The woman gave a sad looking frown, "Young lady, look out the door. This is an act of God and you and your friends are all we regular folk have standing between us and disaster. The only things moving in this whole county is you! I'm sure many will never come around, but some will, and I'm going to make it a point to tell everyone just how brave you girls are!"

Valda tucked the spare clothing under her arm and gave a sharp nod of gratitude. "I sure wish more in this county could see us like you do, ma'am. All any of us in BEARS 97 want to do is use our gifts to help."

"I can see the truth of your words in your eyes young lady. I am sure others will as well. Now you take care out there and get some sleep; you look almost as tired as I feel."

"We'll grab some sleep once we are sure all of the main roads in the county have been swept." Valda assured the woman before stepping out into the storm once again.

Eldora contacted Jade Witch with the information given to her by Skye. Once she had passed on the information on the man and the fact he had two Augment children not enrolled in the program, she added, "So we are planning on grabbing them, then heading back to the bunker for some fuel."

The BEARS unit XO responded quickly. "Solid plan, but remember it sounds like their dad does not trust BEST, so those kids are probably going to be scared of you two. Be nice, but watch your backs. Also try to find out what their augmentations and empowerments are without prying. Even if we don't put them into the BEST database, it would be nice to have an idea of what other Augments are in our area."

Eldora let out a long breath. "I don't understand why a parent wouldn't want their kids in BEST. There is no penalty and lots of advantages!"

"Many people believe the government only has the BEST program to keep track of Augments. Others are worried the lists will one day go public and their families will be hunted down. We cannot hope to convince anyone who does not believe the BEST program is designed to help Augments. All we can do is try to use our actions to prove them wrong."

"It's not fair to those kids…" Eldora started to argue only to get cut off by a whistle from Jade Witch. "Did you find something already?"

"Yeah." Jade Witch paused and took a deep breath, "Girls, I just managed to pull this from USDT command and it is considered top secret information. Mr. Arnold Gram Pierson is an alias given by USDT to Louis Darrel Tyme, AKA Day Storm."

Eldora felt her jaw drop. "As in the USDT 22 XO who retired after saving an airliner full of passengers from hijackers like five years ago?"

"One and the same. The whole reason he threw in the towel is his wife was then taken by one of their sleeper agents who didn't react until Day Storm took out all the others. No one knows how they got her out of the Tokyo Airport, but they did. He kind of blames all of us in USDT for it, since someone screwed up and didn't send him help from the Japanese Government when he first requested it. He was supposed to be on vacation with his wife and kids at the time and wasn't even supposed to be active. She is still listed as missing.

"Once he retired, he started a private security company, protecting shipments of valuable goods during transport back and forth between Japan and the U.S. He uses Augments, mostly former Special Forces troops, and makes a fortune doing so. No one ever told us who he was or where he lived. I can't believe he is really hurt!"

"Valda said it looks like he was really pushing it. From what Skye told me, his truck flew several yards off the road and hit a tree, and it never even hit the ground. The impact was enough to leave it suspended in the air, wrapped around the tree. What'er his abilities?"

"I only worked with him once, so I don't know for sure."Jade Witch answered, "I know he is a heck of a shape shifter and has some toughness and incredible endurance. He also has sun flight and can absorb sunlight and do all sorts of stuff with it. Overall he is a Class four, but most of his records were sealed after he dropped out of USDT 22 and I can't access without turning too many heads. He sounds like he spends most of his spare time using those he employs to protect shipments trying to find his wife when they are over in Japan."

"So when the kid says his mom is out of the country…"

Jade Witch let out a long breath, "Then Day Storm must be telling them to say it or they actually believe it. You'll have to find out which one it is, and don't let it slip what the truth is."

"And we have nothing on the kids?"

"Nope, but since we have been keeping records, every kid born from a class four or five has been an Augment, so those two girls will be getting something in the next couple of years and since he was USDT, his oldest probably has gotten all the training needed to control his abilities."

"Sounds like his bother does too, when awake."

"Sounds like someone else we know." Jade witch stated with some disgust.

"Tanner will get there, ma'am."

"I am sure he will, but he is right toward the top of overall damage done and is costing USDT 19 a fortune!"

"He's caught up to Colt?"

"Not even close!" Jade Witch burst into laughter, "Do you have any idea how much it costs to replace high tension lines and three power substations with high voltage dampeners?"

"I don't think I want to know."

"Smart girl," Jade Witch stated while still chuckling, "Now stay safe and take good care of those kids. You do not want Day Storm angry with you."

"Understood ma'am."

Rex pulled back onto highway 93 with a sigh of relief. The fact he was out of the woods and on a main road, even though there was currently no sign of it, allowed some of the stress of the prior few hours to fade slightly. He glanced into the back. "Ajax, how are you holding up?"

"I am now warm and Colt helped brace my leg with…" he grumbled with frustration, "Um, oreillers."

"The word you want is pillows." Rex stated as he pushed a bit more power into the back fans to increase speed. "My French isn't great but it is good enough to where I can translate most common words. Actually you'll probably make me better in French than I will make you better in English."

"I can only hope I get a chance for us to get to know each other, so your words can hold truth."

"Give Arctic Trooper a chance, Ajax," Colt responded. "As long as you are straight with us, our squadron leader will slap around enough heads to make sure it is easier for those above him to let you stay with us than argue with him."

Ajax managed a grin. "I look forward to meeting this man." He paused, "You can go even faster if you want, Rex; my leg is properly braced to handle a few bumps."

Rex nodded and pushed even more power to the rear fans, "OK. Make sure you let me know if it gets too rough, though. I don't want to cause your leg any extra pain and I certainly don't want to do more damage to it."

"I will be fine. Do what you need to do."

Once again Rex pushed the power throttle forward. "Fine by me. It would be nice to get a bit further away from the turnoff to Stillwater Lakes."

Garret quickly concurred. "I'll feel better once we are completely clear of the area."

"Me too," Colt added. He then gazed out the window seeing only white. "Can you see anything without radar up there?"

"A little, but without my heightened senses, I'd be going on nothing but radar. It is so cold and the snow is so thick, there isn't much in the way of IR signatures beyond twenty-five yards or so. I'm sure glad A.T. made us get our instrument control certification for these things, or we'd be going at like two miles an hour right now."

"I can't wait until I can get pilot and instrument certified."

"Don't take out the county power grid a week before USDT camp sign-ups and you probably will be by the middle of next summer." Rex snickered.

Colt noticed Garret looking at him, "Yeah, learn from my mistakes rookie. Don't do any major damage leading up to USDT camp sign-ups or you'll get black listed form all the really fun stuff!"

Rex shook his head and chuckled once again. "Jade Witch told you they wouldn't let you take any classes or certifications in anything you could fry until you'd proven you had control for a full year."

Garret frowned. "What camp are you talking about?"

"USDT 19 holds a camp for all squadron level kids in their area every July," Colt grumbled, showing he still held onto some disappointment over the prior year's camp. "It's how Josh, Rex, Eldora, Logan and Valda got certified to pilot one of these. They have a huge number of classes and you get to be around Augments from scores of squadrons for two or four weeks. The first two weeks are free other than transportation to and from, but the second two cost quite a bit, but those are the two weeks where you can get the cool stuff like get Instrument Certification for one of these.

"Anyway, almost all of us go for the full four weeks, cause A.T. and Jade Witch foot the bills for those who can't afford it. Gwyn wasn't in the squadron last summer, but all the rest of us went for the first two weeks and only Tanner didn't stay for the second two."

"Why not?" Garret asked.

"His family isn't much better off than me and my uncle, but his dad hates charity. They guy seriously gets mad if Tanner so much as gets a pencil at school for free, even though there have been times he couldn't afford one," Rex responded from up front. "So this year Tanner is spending every other weekend working for either Jade Witch or A.T. so he can earn the $3,000 needed to go for the full four weeks."

Garret whistled. "Ouch, I'm not sure my parents can foot the bill for so much!"

Colt shrugged, "No issues. Sometime over winter break A.T. will show your parents a flyer for the camp and explain the fees. He will then work out an arrangement with them to either pay for part or all of your second two weeks. Transportation is always done at Squadron expense.

"Almost all of us do odd jobs over the summer based on our augments and we give a quarter of what we earn to the squadron." Colt paused and kind of glared forward. "Rex kicks the crap out of us every year since he has the ability to talk to animals and gets them to stop doing things to property, so even though we are not exactly liked or trusted, Rex has a bit of a rep and gets paid well for it. From what A.T. said last week, Rex will even have to pay taxes this year!"

Ajax cocked his head to the side to get a look up front so he could see Rex. Astonishment was written across the injured boy's face. "Normal people pay for you to use your… oh, come on… um…"

Colt smiled, "Augmentations."

"Grrr… yes, augmentations."

Rex nodded and spoke without taking his eye off the radar display, "Yeah, I can get fifty bucks a pop to get rid of a squirrel problem, seventy five for raccoons, a hundred for skunks and up to two hundred for a bear. The real money comes from the Forest Service and ranchers though. I got $1000 and a year camping pass for all national parks for getting a family of bears to vacate a campground, and all told I made over $2000 from ranchers for convincing a pack of wolves to leave cattle alone down by Yellowstone. I'll continue to get a hundred a month for every month they stay away too, since I only guaranteed them five months and it has been six since the last attack. Unfortunately, after this storm, I probably won't get the December payment, cause they are going to need to find food where ever they can, and cattle are easy prey."

"But we are hated!" Ajax shouted.

"No, distrusted and feared, but for the most part we aren't hated…" Colt's words faded for a second then resumed at a much lower volume. "Unless you are talking about my dad, then, yeah, him and his mob do hate us."

"This is not at all what I have been told…"

Colt let out a long sigh. "Dude, you have been living with those who hate Normals every bit as much as my dad and his Church of Purity hates Augments. Most of the world lives somewhere between those two, but the problem is those two groups and others like them are the biggest reason there is such mistrust between Augments and Normals."

"I hate the word 'normals'." Garrett stated in disgust. "It makes us sound like we are aliens or something."

"Before the Woodsman lost the southern camp to the newcomer, he would always say we are going to be the new normals and that is why we are hated. He never allowed us to call ourselves… um…Augments?"

Garret nodded, "Yup, you got the word down."

Ajax smiled, "I was told I have knack for languages. Maybe it is some kind of special power I have or something."

Colt rubbed his chin, "Very well could be. How many languages do you speak?"

"Seven real well, and if you include American, Russian, and Korean, it would make ten, but I need more work on your language and much more on the other two."

Garret felt his jaw drop, "Ten? And I thought, since I knew pretty good Spanish, I was doing good!"

Ajax's eyes lit up. "Maybe, if I get to stay, you can teach me Spanish too!"

"If you teach me one or two of the other ones you know." Garret grinned. "It'd be cool to know a European language."

Ajax shrugged, "Which one, French, Italian, German…"

Colt groaned, "Oh, man. A.T is going to love you!"

"Why?" Garret and Ajax asked at the same time.

"Because," Rex responded from up front, "he was an army special forces guy who spent time all over Europe and the Middle East and speaks like all of those and a couple others. He keeps telling us how nice it would be if we learned a few too, so he could keep sharp in them."

"Sounds fun," Ajax stated seriously.

Before more could be said, a very worried voice came over the radio. "Hey, guys. Is there anyone close to the meeting hall?"

Rex grabbed the radio, "We'll be there in about ten minutes out or so Valda. What's wrong?"

"Well," the girl gulped, "We are coming in the back way, but the ranger station is on fire and with the IR and radar, I can see five parked snow mobiles and some figures trying to break into the FEMA bunker next to it!"

"For God sakes, pull back and get out of there!" Rex yelled.

"We are too low on gas and we have a guy and his son we just pulled from a ditch with us, so we can't just abandon the hover and walk out, Rex!"

"Shit." Rex snarled, then glanced back with a worried look.

"Go!" Colt demanded as he jumped forward into the co-pilot's seat.

Garret said nothing, but the sudden blue glow from around his arms and hands followed a few seconds later by the beginning glimmer of his sorcery shield said far more than any words could.

Ajax's eyes also hardened, "Do what you must. I can handle the pain. If they are caught by the newcomer's people, they will be killed."

"Valda," Rex snarled, as he slammed the throttle all the way forward, "pull back and hide. We'll be there in less than three!"

Colt felt himself get pushed back into the captain style chair as the back fans on the hovercraft accelerated the vehicle forward at a dangerous velocity. At the same time, he grabbed the radio, "USDT Command, this is BEARS 97 cadet 7. We need emergency lockdown of the FEMA bunker and our meeting hall!"

Sandstorm's voice responded. "Initiating lockdown now. What is the situation, Colt?"

Colt's eyebrows shot up in some astonishment at being called by name over the radio, but responded, "Sir, according to Valda, the ranger station is in flames, and there are hostiles trying to break in."

"Tell them to get out of there!"

"They can't sir. They have civilians and are almost out of gas."

"Who is with her?"

"Skye is, sir. Rex, me and Garret will be in the next couple of minutes."

"Son-of-a- bitch!" Sandstorm roared, "Where is the senator's son?"

"With Josh, Logan, Tanner, and the Air Force guy. We didn't take them back to the station because of information we got from…" Colt glanced back and shot a bit of a grin toward Ajax, "A, ah, captive we rescued from the other group."

"We'll be sure to thank whoever gave you the intel, but you should have passed it on to us before making the decision."

"We talked to A.T. about it, sir."

"So he knows where the Senator's kid is?"

"Yes sir."

"Good enough. He's been so busy up to the northwest of you he hasn't had time to do anything with it, but now I understand the request from him to get you some serious help sooner rather than later. Are you all prepared to engage again?"

Rex grabbed the radio out of Colt's hands, "Those are our squadron mates out there, sir; you'd have to physically stop us to prevent us from going in hot!"

Battlement's voice came over the radio, "OK, I didn't catch everything, but I can tell by the voices I am hearing you are about to get into another head knocker. Who is highest ranking on site?"

"I am, sir, cadet 4." Rex growled.

"And you are going in with or without our OK?"

"Kick me out of the program if you have to, but we are going to help our squadron mates!"

"Well now, we can't be kicking those who just saved a senator's son out of BEST can we?" Battlement snickered for a moment, then his hardened, "Go kick some separatist butt and stay safe, not necessarily in said order."

There was a several second pause before the radios at their sides came to life. "BEARS 97, I am giving you priority Alpha clearance from USDT 19 command to defend all civilians in and around the BEARS 97 meeting hall by all means necessary. Rex Mitchell Kluger is now the onsite field commander with full USDT authority."

Rex's fangs dropped from his upper gum line and his hair stood up as Colt readied himself for electrically generated flight. In the back, Garret stood, shield at the ready, and even Ajax showed his own willingness to help, as the lights in the back dimmed as he started absorbing as much as he could.

Rex grabbed the vehicle radio again. "Valda, the second you see us, come out throwing thorns and swinging. We're going to hit them with everything we got right out the gate."

Next to Valda, Skye's normally blemish-free pale skin took on a pitted texture and turned dark grey with darker, almost black cracks around all her joints as her incredibly thick and tough geode skin covered her. A few seconds later jagged pink crystals emerged from her fists looking something like brass knuckles, only made of rock crystals. She grabbed the radio. "We'll be ready!"

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