Garret entered the non-damaged FEMA hovercraft, and plopped down on one of the cots in the back while devouring a full box of chocolate chip granola bars. As the last wrapper fell to the floor, he glanced over at Colt, who was all but inhaling his second MRE. "I am really tired."
"Go ahead and crash. You did great tonight."
Garret rolled over on his side and propped his head up with his elbow on the bed and his head in his hand. "Serious? No more rookie duties..."
Colt snickered. "We'll find more of those for you later." His smile faded. "Besides, you need to take some down time so you are ready for the next round. Josh thinks all us Class Fives should grab some rest while we can."
Garret put his head back on the pillow took a deep breath. "Do you really think I am a Class Five?"
Colt finished sucking the peanut butter out of the squeeze package before responding. "Pretty sure; at the very least you are a high Class Four. I think Rex is more sure than I am though. One thing I am certain of, is the fact you didn't have some virus, you had A.S. and it sounds like you had it bad."
"It was awful." Garret shuttered at the memory. "Everyone thought I was going to die and a few times I wished I was. No one knew what was wrong with me, and the doctors kept poking me with needles and drawing blood. Mom and dad even had a priest come in and talk to me. You're a Class Five; was Augmentation Sickness as bad for you?"
"It was real rough," Colt stated as he lay back on the cot next to the one Garret was resting on. "But I had a huge advantage."
"Yeah, I had AT with me."
"How did he help? He doesn't have healing powers, does he?"
Colt smiled and shook his head, "No, and as far as I know, A.S. cannot be helped by augmented healing. If it was, then USDT would send healers out to those they think have Augmentation Sickness."
"So how did AT help you?" Garret asked as he put his head back on the pillow while grabbing a large chocolate bar out of his stuff.
Colt tossed over an MRE to Garret. "Candy is a quick fix. Eat some real food."
Garret let out a sigh. "I hate MRE's."
"You'll get used to them. AT doesn't give you much of a choice."
Garret pulled the pack open and glanced at the packet of 'Chicken Stew' and cringed, "Fine, if I have to eat this junk, then tell me how AT helped you with your A.S."
Colt snickered. "OK, but you'll get lots of teasing about being the rookie until you can eat MRE's without the nasty look."
"I'll be the rookie for a while then!" Garret fired back.
Colt burst out laughing, "Wow, you really do hate them!"
Colt calmed after a few seconds as his mind went back to the day he all but blew up his dad's car and fried a large section of his father's office. "The day I got my first augmentation, I was at school. AT showed up, took me out of the small room they had locked me in, and threatened just about everyone in the office with serious harm if they ever locked up a new Augment again.
"He then took me to see my SOB dad."
Garret frowned as he heard Colt's whole voice shift to one of anger. "I'm sorry, Colt. I don't know what I would have done if one of my parents disowned me because of my augmentations."
"Water under the bridge," Colt responded, a bit too quickly and with too much force for his words to hold truth. "But you're really lucky from what I have seen. I don't know your folks very well, but the few times I have dealt with them, they have been very nice. They don't even act afraid of me like Valda's or Logan's parents get whenever I come over."
"They aren't. As a matter of fact, they want me to have you guys over, but no one really has wanted to when I ask."
"It's not your fault. It is ours. None of us wanted you in the squadron; we were afraid we would end up with another Gwen and squadrons who have eleven year olds have to spend some time protecting them from teasing at the USDT19 summer camp. Besides, you are younger than she is by almost three months. We were really afraid you would need to be...."
"I already heard." Garret sighed, "You all thought I was going to need babysitting."
"Kind of," Colt admitted, "but as a rookie member, we expect to need to help you and watch over you some. With Gwen, it is far worse, cause she is afraid of everything and when she does join in, she ends up getting her feelings all hurt over the stupidest of stuff. Hell, if we would have laughed at her the way we did when you were looking at the BEARS gear, she would have run off crying. You took it in stride and never looked back."
Garret shrugged, "My dad warned me about having a bit of a thick skin when we moved up here. He figured with as small as your squadron is, it would be harder to really become one of you."
"He was right." Colt glanced over to look at Garret. "Those days are over: you are one of us."
"Good," Garret stated seriously, "cause being an Augment up here really sucks. No one wants anything to do with me."
"Blame my dad, and his damned Church of Purity."
"They are big up here, huh?"
"I don't think they are 'big' anywhere. But, since my dad is one of the biggest supporters, there is a decent sized congregation down in Big Fork. The building they are in was paid for and built by my dad's company. Plus, I am pretty sure he still bankrolls the one in Libby, partially because my mom is from there and he fully blames her for me being an Augment. Dad paid her, under a threat from AT, but Dad made both her and me total outcasts from there. As a matter of fact, my mom's parents moved from there because they kept on getting hateful junk sprayed on their house and even their cars.
"After AT took me to see my dad, and he refused to admit I was his son, I realized all the Sundays of going to services in Big Fork were nothing more than hate-mongering sessions. I went from one of them to being hated just because I could suddenly play with electricity. I bawled my eyes out on AT's side as he drove me away from my dad's still-burning office building. I'm so glad AT had me scare my dad into moving to Michigan. He is such as ass.
"Anyway, A.S. hadn't even set in me yet, but AT knew it would. He told me I was very special and probably one of the most powerful Augments he had ever seen. He also told me the new powers needed time to settle inside me. He took me to get some food, cause I was really hungry, and explained I was about to get real sick, and would need to be in a hospital for several days. He also promised me something else: I would never be alone in the hospital room.
"I don't think I was in the hospital bed with an IV for more than half an hour before I started getting the shakes real bad. I think I accidentally shocked a couple of doctors and nurses too. They even had to cut power to the room I was in because I kept blowing out monitors and stuff. But no matter what I did, no matter how sick I was, or how bad I felt, AT, Jade Witch, or at the very least at least one BEARS 97 cadet was always there. Even when my mom was in the room, there was always someone from the squadron right there. I kind of think AT was afraid my dad would try to do something, so he wanted a guard on me at all times, but I'm not real sure.
"There was a couple of times I even peed the bed, but not once did whoever was in the room let the orderlies make fun of me. As a matter of fact, Paul, one of the kids killed in the joint BEARS-COUGARS training a year and a half ago, nearly choked to unconsciousness an orderly with his tail and then threw him out of the room after the jerk made fun of me for messing my underwear. Paul then cleaned me up, redressed me, and called for a couple of other cadets to skip school for a couple of days to give me extra coverage. They never let the guy even come in the room again while I was in the hospital.
Garret whistled softly. "Wow, I wish someone who knew what was going on with me had been around like you had. All I knew was the constant parade of doctors, needle pokes, horrible body aches, and feeling like I was some kind of pin cushion. There was a couple of times I couldn't stop screaming because of the pain. It really felt like whole areas of my body were having nails driven into them. I remember, just before the sparks shot out of me, both my hands had cramped up so bad my fingernails were drawing blood from my hands. Mom told me both my dad and the woman I burned were trying to get my fingers to unclench. But they couldn't pry my fingers up, no matter how hard they tried."
Colt kind of nodded, "Probably your first use of augmented strength. AT told me one time, during Augmentation Sickness almost all but our most powerful abilities show up, but many then go into hiding until something kicks them off again. Did you damage anything while you were sick?"
Garret's mouth twisted for a moment, "Maybe."
"Well, once the bed support broke. I was trying to get the head of the bed to go up, but it wouldn't, so I punched it and the whole thing collapsed. I remember the doctors scrambling around worrying about a lawsuit, but I wasn't hurt, which really surprised them...." A light seemed to come on as Garret's eyes went wide, "My first sign of toughness too?"
"Huh, I'll have to let mom and dad know. But I think I may have broken the bed, because when I think back I remember I just had some really bad pains shoot across my shoulders. It was so bad I couldn't reach the help button and I got mad cause I couldn't make it stop and the stupid bed wouldn't go up...."
"Any chance your arms and fists were blue?"
Garret held up his left arm and without much thought made the glow around it re-appear. "I don't know."
"Man, you are really quick with your fist augment!"
"Weird, huh? It takes me way more to make things with my sorcery powers than to do this, and this thing is way more powerful!"
"I know we told you already, but you really need to be careful. If you get mad and hit someone...."
"I know, I saw what I did to the snowmobile." Garret paused, "You know the weird thing is, somehow I just suddenly knew what to do. I saw it coming at me and was really scared, then something inside took over. Everything came together all at once."
Colt snickered, "The worst thing those morons ever did was to shoot you!"
"You know, just before it happened Josh told me it hurt when he gets shot. How does he know? Did someone shoot him before?"
Colt nodded and added in a humor filled snort. "Yeah, Rex, him, Logan and Skye all volunteered to go through a toughness test during the last USDT 19 encampment. They were all trying to brag about who was tougher, but from what Tanner told me, Mystic Knight overheard them."
"Somehow I don't think bragging around a USDT 19 member is the greatest of ideas."
"Not good, not good at all," Colt giggled. "Mystic Knight spoke up so everyone near them could hear, then told them he could find out who was the toughest, but they were too young and would just end up crying before it was over."
"So everyone watching on helped egg them on?"
"Big time. None of those four like to be made fun of, so they all took the offer along with about a dozen other kids with either armor or toughness ratings. From what Rex told me, it was brutal. Everyone who wanted to get tested had to get either their squadron commander's approval or their parents'. For good reason too; several of the kids got hurt bad enough to need North Star to heal them and one was even taken to the hospital."
"Uh huh, I guess they keep hitting you with things until they do some damage beyond a bruise. Logan's gloom armor and Skye's geode skin can take up to high powered rifle shot without damage. Josh and Rex are a bit tougher; neither of them really bled bad until they were shot with Teflon coated .44 magnum rounds. Josh needed healing from North Star, not because of the bullet, but because it knocked him back into a concrete wall. From what we were told, Rex cracked the wall and stood back up, but was bleeding a bit more from where the bullet hit him than Josh was. Both of them were covered with welts from all the testing though.
"Logan's armor prevented actual damage, but shattered under a high powered rifle shot. Fortunately he was not hurt, because the bullet didn't make it through, so he walked away without a scratch, but it took almost an hour before he could gather enough strength to bring up his armor again.
"Skye was a weird one; her stone geode skin didn't even chip until she started getting hit with higher caliber rifles, but when she dropped her skin, she was covered with tiny welts where some of the smaller bullets had hit her. The large chunk taken off by the sniper rifle was nothing more than a large welt. She was able to bring her geode skin right back up again though, and it didn't' show any sign of damage, but USDT didn't want to go any further. I guess they just weren't sure how to tell what was serious enough without possibly doing major damage. She also refused healing from North Star even though it was offered, because she was mad at the testers for not allowing her to go through a grenade explosion."
Garret violently shook his head, "Ain't no way I am going to purposefully let anyone shoot me, let alone explode a grenade next to me!"
"I don't think there is any need. We saw what the 7.62 bullet did to you. From what I heard from Rex, you are right on par with him. The 7.62 round he was shot with barely oozed, and you were shot with a real sniper rifle!"
"Yeah." Colt nodded vigorously, "Logan found it in the snow right by where you destroyed the snowmobile. I think Tanner put it in the other hover. He is kind of a gun nut and says it is some kind of Russian-made sniper rifle. He is trying to figure out a way to convince AT to let him keep it."
"Oh, give me a break!"
Colt burst out laughing again. "The more you get to know Tanner, the more you will realize he is about the biggest screwball in the squadron. He's a good friend, but unless USDT finds him a good job when he grows up, it'll be hard for him to do much with his life. Personally, I think Rex should have the cadet number above him, but AT wants to give Tanner a shot at being lead dog for the boys for a year in hopes it will help him learn some responsibility or something."
Colt cringed, "Um, can you forget I ever said...."
"Already forgotten." Garret shot Colt a brief smile.
"What's forgotten?" Rex suddenly asked as he pulled open the driver's door of the hover and power up the lift fans.
"Nothing important," Garret stated while flashing Colt a bit of a grin.
Rex glanced into the back with a frown on his face. "Why don't I believe you?"
"I was just telling Garret to be prepared for Tanner's scatter-brained side and then warned him to forget I was the one who told him."
It was clear by the look on Rex's face he didn't totally believe Colt, but still nodded in agreement. "If any of us need to check to make sure our heads are attached at the neck, it would be Tanner. But don't worry none, he readily admits he has the concentration skills of a dog who suddenly sees a chipmunk most of the time. Everything else is suddenly forgotten. You really want to take a conversation away from where it is going with him, all you have to do is mention the word 'gun'. It's a sure fire way to get two hours or more about the history of everything capable of shooting a bullet!
"Speaking of which, all he really wants to do is keep the rifle we think you got shot with."
Garret rolled his eyes. "Colt told me. Somehow, I don't think my parents would be too thrilled with the idea of someone keeping what shot me though."
Rex snickered. "You may want to just forget to tell your folks about getting shot."
"I had the same idea, but there is a nice round hole in my lower coat, upper pants, and even my long underwear where the bullet hit me. I don't think I can come up with a good enough story. Besides, my mom knows when I lie!"
"Eldora's mom!" Both Rex and Colt said at almost the same time.
Colt glanced over, "None of us can get by with anything around Eldora's mom. I swear she is a secret Augment with the ability to detect lies or something. If she asks you a question, just tell the truth; it's easier."
"Same with my mom, at least for me." Garret sighed, "I've found it's easier to just tell the truth and deal with it. So where are we going?"
"Well, Josh is with Tanner right now talking to Gustav...."
"Who?" Garret interrupted.
"The kid you wouldn't let us take to the holding room below the base."
"Yeah," Rex snickered, "Josh is kind of pissed at you, but after talking to Ajax, he is going to take a shot your gut is right about him."
Colt sent Garret a sideways glance. "The very fact Josh hasn't screamed at you yet, should tell you, you are now one of us fully!"
"Agreed." Rex stated, "But if he checks out, we are going to take him and go back to my place while he takes Tanner and Ajax to go talk to a couple of other Augments we just found out about. Also, Josh wants all cell phones off. He already teleported back to my place and rounded up all the phones and pulled the batteries out so they can't be remotely turned on cause we have all seen how USDT can do it if they really want to. He doesn't want anyone being able to track us. AT has already sent USDT a command to kill our handhelds' GPS function for the next twenty-four hours." Rex reached down into an access panel in the side of the hover as he was speaking and pulled out a box, tossing it into the snow. "And now they can't track us in this beast either."
Colt's eyebrows arched. "What if we need GPS?"
"Too bad. We will have to deal without for now." Rex stated. "Our top priority is keeping the senator's brat alive. The second is to defend Flathead County against any Augment attacks. AT and Azure Wave both said the separatist forces trying to grab the kid are almost certainly going to try attacking civilians to draw us out. They are trying to set up a reverse ambush, where USDT 19, BEARS 98, BEARS 96, and a sizable RLD force all converge on the same area where we will be making it look like we are trying to evacuate the kid from. The problem is, it is going to take time to set it all up, so we will probably have to defend civilians before they can pull the kid out."
"Come on!" Colt demanded. "If the plan was to pull him out at some other area while we set up a fake place, then we would leave the GPS's in and let Logan and Tanner take the kid to the drop-off point on Logan's Snowmobile with Tanner keeping them all warm. What aren't you telling us, Rex?"
Rex took a deep breath, "All right, fine, but what I says goes no further until all this is over, got it?"
Once both Garret and Colt nodded, Rex climbed into the back and took a seat on the gurney Garret was resting on. "Guys, the problem is, we now think the kid's father, good ole Senator Jackson, may be behind the whole thing. If he is, then the real pickup point may be the hot zone. Because of this, the two spots will not be terrible far from each other, but far enough to where if we are wrong about the senator, then we will be able to safely get the kid out while USDT 19 and the others beat the tar out of who is really behind it all. If USDT 19 gets hit, then we can move in and support.
"But if we are right about the senator, we will have to hold out while USDT forces move from the fake spot to support us. Right now, the plan is to make it look like the pick-up point is the Whitefish Lake Golf Club parking lot while we will be at the post office on the other side of the river. We are going to use our augmentations to clear the tennis courts off just to the south of the post office so a military bird can come in, grab the boy, and get him out of the area."
Garret's forehead scrunched up, "Why would the senator set up his own...?"
Rex cut him off. "For the same reason Colt's dad disowned him."
"He's an Augment?" Colt gasped in astonishment.
"Yeah. Josh was able to get enough out of him to verify he was tested as a class three about three years ago, but may be a class four because the tester knew his dad didn't want to hear the truth. The kid faded back out of consciousness before Josh could find out any abilities, or what exactly happened when he was snowboarding. All Josh was able to get was it happened at some place called Forty-Nine North, and..." Rex stopped as he saw Colt's eyes light up. "What?"
"My Grandparents took me there just before I became an Augment to learn to ski as my big Christmas present. I remember my Grandpa saying it was cheap enough for us to stay a few days. The reason he wanted to go there was it has a couple of steeper slopes he could enjoy while I was in the ski school, but Grandma didn't like it cause there was nothing there for her to do after she took a couple of runs. She didn't want to go back the next year either, because she said the bar got too rowdy at night, so they started taking me to Whitefish Resort. Grandpa keeps telling me he wants to go somewhere else cause Whitefish is boring, but Grandma won't let him."
Rex kind of shrugged, "The only reason I know how to Ski and Snowboard is because of the squadron trips to Whitefish. After this snow, the boarding is going to be great too!"
"Do I get to learn? I've never been skiing."
"We'll get you up there once all this is over, rookie." Rex winked at Colt, "No matter how good the rookie has done tonight, there ain't no way we can let him graduate to calling him by his name all the time until he can board!"
Garret rolled his eyes and grunted in some annoyance, but still stayed smiling, "One of these days I'm going to get you out on the ocean in a sailboat, then we can see who is the rookie!"
"I'm game!" Rex snickered.
"Me too!" Colt eagerly announced. "Maybe we can get AT and Jade Witch to set up the annual squadron big trip to see the ocean. I've always wanted to see it."
"Good idea," Rex quickly agreed. "Other than Josh and Skye, I don't think any of us have been to the coast before."
Garret found himself totally astonished. "You guys have never seen an ocean before?"
Both Rex and Colt shook their heads.
A bit of a devilish grin crossed Garret's features. "So you guys don't know how to surf either?"
"Oh, man..." Rex's eyes lit up, "You can surf board?"
"Of course; I grew up less than two miles from the Atlantic."
"Awesome!" Colt stated with total sincerity. "We have got to get AT to take us somewhere so we can learn too!"
"It'd be nice to see the Pacific; I have only been in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic," Garret added in. "Besides, dad told me the coast of Oregon is a great place to look for some kind of rock, but I forget what he called them."
"You have a rock collection?"
"Uh huh; mom calls me a rock hound."
"Then you should talk to AT. He knows a lot about rocks and even has a gold claim somewhere around Virginia City where he goes for a couple of weeks a year. It is one of the reasons he is so rich. He is really good at finding gold."
Garret eagerly nodded. "I've always wanted to learn to pan for gold!"
"Talk to AT," Rex stated seriously. "We have all tried it a few times, but not even Logan, who goes on almost every trip AT takes into the wilderness, likes it. AT would love to have a squadron member join him on his gold panning trips."
Before more could be said, Josh opened the side door and helped Gustav in. Josh quickly glanced over to Garret. "Good call. He is not one of them."
Rex let out a sigh of relief, "Does he know English?"
The very pale and lightly shaking boy nodded. "My mum is English. I speak English fluently."
As Colt stood and helped Gustav over to a seat, Josh looked over to Rex. "After talking to him, I think there may be a way to give him a recharge of the energy he needs. The heavy snow and clouds are cutting him off from almost all natural light, but if I am right, he draws power from UV light."
Josh couldn't help but snicker. "I want you guys to take him to Glow Tanning in Whitefish. I don't care if you have to break into the place; just get him into one of their beds and turn it on."
Rex's jaw fell open while Colt's whole face took on the appearance of someone who had just eaten a very nasty tasting substance.
"The tanning salon?" Garret asked with a bit of distaste in his voice.
"Yup," Josh confirmed. "You know where it is?"
"Unfortunately," Garret muttered. "Mom loves the place, cuase she hates not being able to take a real sunbath all the time; she hates it when she is not tan. It is the only thing she admits to missing about Florida so far, so she goes there all the time. At first I had to wait for her there, but now I usually manage to get some money from her and go over to Loula's to eat while she does her thing."
"Best breakfasts in Whitefish!" Rex stated while licking his lips. "I wish I could afford to go more often."
"Yeah, I am glad I found the place. I am now a regular there on Sunday mornings."
"Anything has got to be better than sitting in a tanning salon!" Colt chuckled. "It's also pretty close to the post office, so we will only be a few blocks from where we are taking the senator's kid."
"Which is why I want you guys to go there," Josh admitted. "It is the best shot we have of getting Gustav strong enough to help us."
Josh turned to Rex, "AT says Sandstorm agrees with you about Senator Jackson, but we have to be sure. You guys need to make it look like his kid is in this hover once you get to the tennis courts."
"So he isn't going to be there?" Garret asked
"No." Josh stated, "We are going to keep him hidden until we are sure who is behind all of this."
"Unless they know right where to look, my cabin is about as hidden as it gets."
"The problem is, Rex, others know where you live. Because this could have local support from the Church of Purity, we can't chance it. Besides, if someone who know you or your uncle even accidentally says the wrong thing, or your school records gets accessed, then we are screwed. We think we have a better place. It has a generator, a hardened bunker, and is all but off the gird."
"Where?" Rex asked.
"Have you ever heard of Day Storm?"
Rex shook his head and glanced over to Colt and Garret. Each had equally blank looks.
Josh shrugged, "He hasn't been in the news for over five years. He used to be the XO for USDT 22, but got mad at USDT command for not getting him back-up when he was on vacation in Japan. It had something to do with a hijacking attempt."
Rex did a half shrug. "So what does he have to do with us?"
"He now lives in Flathead County. As a matter of fact you did a job for him."
"Yeah. Something about a squirrel problem; they were eating into his roof and you got rid of them."
"Mr. Pierson! He sent me a huge tip after they stayed gone for a couple of months." Rex's eyebrow's arched up, "He actually paid extra to get me out to his place and his kids were really friendly too, but the younger boy kept acting like he was hiding something behind his back the whole time."
"He was," Josh confirmed, "He has wings."
"They are Augments?"
"They both say they their dad says they are Class Twos, but Eldora thinks they are probably closer to threes. They have not been formally tested so we don't know for sure."
"So where is their dad?" Colt asked. "Is he going to help?"
"No. He wrapped his truck around a tree trying to get home. The kids will help, though. Plus the older one, Ricky, has some sort of healing augmentation, so Eldora is taking him back to the hospital to see if he can help his dad. I am going there too, to see what I can do, but am going to do it by hover. I am all but wasted at this point and need some sleep and time to recharge. I don't think I could heal him now if my life depended on it.
"The important thing is, Sun Storm's house is fully loaded with a generator, fuel, food, weapons, and most importantly, a hardened bunker. The airman is taking the senator's kid there with Logan and Sun Storm's younger boy as backup. He'll be safe there until this is over and as of right now only those of us here, Sun Storm's kids, the airman, Logan and Jade Witch know exactly where we are stashing him, and of the unknowns, I have scanned the others and they are with us on this.
"In Battlement's own words: 'It is time to draw these bastards out and give them a pounding they will not soon forget.' If the Senator is really behind this like we think, then we will get hit first. If not, the main battle will be at the golf course. One way or another, this is going to be over in the next twenty-four hours.
"You guys need to get Gustav to the salon and see if my idea will work."
"If it does, I'll know in just a few minutes." Gustav added. "In direct sunlight I would recover in minutes from where I am now. Besides, I don't have to worry about the death touch draining me no more, so maybe I can get a full charge. My eyes can be way more dangerous, but Dark Raven always drained me some so he could steal some of my eye ray augmentation; by draining me, he also prevented me from trying to hurt him with them again too."
"This isn't sunlight, so it may take longer." Josh warned while showing his ager at how badly Gustav had been treated. "But I'd tend to agree with you. It shouldn't take long before we know if it is going to work."
"Great." Garret muttered, "I really hate going there, so the less time we have to spend there the better."
A bit of a grin flashed on Josh's face and he poked lightly at Garret. "Oh, come on, you'd look nice with a tan too."
Garret flashed a bright red as both Rex and Colt burst out laughing.
Josh quickly jumped back out the side door as a pillow whizzed by him at almost a hundred miles an hour and disappeared into the storm.
Chapter edited by D&B
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