Garret double checked the whole floor, flanked by Brock. Finding no one, the pair returned to the main room. As they got back, Killian's dad was clearly talking to his son about wanting to hold onto one of the pistols. The other was already secured in the man's front coat pocket.
"Look, son. You did great. I'm not saying you didn't or that I don't trust you, pistols are totally different than long arms..."
Brock went over to the corner of the room, rolled over the kid who had hit Ricky and pulled a rifle from over the kid's shoulder, "How about this instead?"
Killian turned and gazed at the rifle, "Whoa!"
Killian's dad gazed at the rifle with some trepidation. "Looks a bit big… what is it?"
Brock ran his hand down the barrel in some admiration. "It's pretty new. I've only seen pictures of them. It's a Ruger Gunsite, bolt action: shoots a .308, and has a ten round magazine. It's also called a Scout Rifle. The antenna kid had it camouflaged to his back, but I saw it flicker in and out when I was shooting him."
Brock knelt and searched the kid, noting the teen's breath was uneven and rough. Brock shrugged as he spoke. "The way he sounds, he won't need it anymore…" Changing the subject he glanced over to Killian. "He has three extra mags on his belt too."
Brock continued to rummage around, finally digging though the kid's small pack. After several seconds he pulled the pack off the downed separatist as well. "He's got two full boxes of ammo, a gun cleaning kit and a small survival kit in here; plus he has a baggie of trail rations. You may as well take it all."
Killian looked back and up, "Dad?"
His father's shoulders sagged some, but after a few seconds he finally nodded, then looked over to Garret, "What do you think?"
Garret's eyes went a bit wide at being asked his opinion, "Sir, I trust him."
"I'm glad, but this has to be your decision. You are leading our rescue. Without you, we would still be bound up on the floor."
Garret glanced over to Killian and Brock, only to see them looking back at him, with hope in their eyes, yet clearly deferring to him. He felt his gut kind of knot up as he glanced around to others, and their looks all matched Killian's father. It was not a decision he felt he should be allowed to make, let alone be expected to make. Finally, he settled on words where he didn't actually say yes, at least in his eyes. "As long as you and Killian are sure he can handle it, I'd say yes. We can use all the firepower we can get."
Killian's dad nodded slowly, "Okay then. Son, it's yours for now. The nice thing about it is it's a bolt action so you can't accidently fire multiple shots…" The man's jaw moved back and forth in some thought as he walked up to the two boys.
When he started speaking his voice had regained some certainty. "However, it is still a firearm and a .308 is a big caliber for you. Be ready for more of a kick than your .30 30 gives you; above all else, remember everything your uncle and I have taught you about gun safety. Also realize, if you point it at someone they will see you as a threat; as a matter of fact, just by being armed, you are putting yourself in extra danger. Normally, I'd say no, and you know it, but… Well there is nothing normal about this situation and like it or not I'm not in charge. Besides, we can see you are dead set on trying to help."
Killian finally surrendered the second pistol as he grabbed the rifle. Even the most unobservant could tell the youngster was much more comfortable and confident with a long arm then the pistol.
Brock stood, smiling, even pausing to give Garret a thumb up. "Everything I have seen and read says it is an awesome weapon."
Killian's grandmother eyed Brock as the boy quickly showed her grandson how to eject the magazine, check the chamber for a round and flip on and off the safety before he moved on to going over rifle in more detail. "Young man?"
Brock looked up, "Ma'am?"
"How do you know so much about guns?"
Brock glanced back toward the stairs as a bit of disgust crept into his voice. "My dad…"
Brock's mom also moved over to the two boys. "My husband is a member of one of the local militia groups. Brock was taught to shoot before most kids go fishing for the first time, and was able to field strip an assault rifle before he lost his front baby teeth. He owns a half dozen guns, but before you all start freaking out on me, they are locked up and he doesn't have a key. I do."
She waited until Brock handed the weapon back over to Killian. "So where is your father anyway?"
"Took off after Garret and his friends broke in, saved us, and cleared the lounge." Anger crept into Brock's tone, "Even knowing you were up here he wouldn't help because…"
His mom cut him off. "He doesn't hate Augments, you know…"
"Yes, he does! He talks about them like…" He cringed and looked over to Garret, "Sorry, but my dad talks about Augments like they are the worst thing in this world."
"Nothing I don't hear at school on a daily basis." Garret replied with some bitterness in his voice.
"Way too much," Killian stated, "and it's gunna stop, if I have anything to say about it, when we get back after Christmas break, even if I have to throw a punch or two."
Killian's father snickered, "If you end up getting suspended over it, so-be-it. You won't get into any trouble from me." He then offered the other pistol to Brock's mom. "Sounds like you know how to use this."
The slender, five foot three inch woman stuck out her hand to accept the weapon. "Better than most," She confirmed, then turned to Garret, "Assuming you are comfortable with me and Brock also being armed."
Garret felt as if every eye in the room was on him as he turned, "Ma'am, until everyone is safe I'd prefer everyone who is willing to help do so with whatever weapon they can find. If you all would be willing to search the others we dropped, maybe there are a few more guns we could find up here."
Killian's dad spoke up, "You heard him people, spread out and check for weapons. If you find something you can't use, ask around. I'm sure someone else up here will, we are in upper Montana, not San Francisco, after all. Besides, this young man has his hands full and is basically telling us we need to be prepared to help him to protect us."
A bit of a smirk crossed Brock's lips as his mom secured the weapon, pulled back the slide, popped out the barrel and gave the pistol a systematic once over. Finally he glanced back to his classmate, "Dad'll beat me silly for defending an Augment, but I'll be right there with you Killian!"
"Brock," the boy's mom stated forcefully, "You aren't in a position to give your dad a fair shake…"
"Really?" Brock turned with a glare, capable of giving a raging Kodiak a scare. "On the way up here he got angry about the news reports of a new Augment down in Ronan accidently causing the family car to go off the road. He even said it would have been better if they had all just died!"
"There is more history you need to hear…"
"Mom, just stop! I have heard him say a thousand times the main reason he is in the private militia, and not the military, is he would never serve with," Brock cringed and turned to Garret, "one of those…" Brock lowered his head, "And I have said the same thing to your face… I am so, so sorry…" A few tears dripped down his cheeks as he gulped in some air. "If you want to hurt me, go ahead."
Garret shook his head fiercely. "Hey, forget it. We're even. If you hadn't come up here, Ricky might have been killed. You risked your life for us!"
Ricky also spoke up, "You can call me whatever you want, dude. You earned it!"
Brock wiped away the tears and gulped in a couple of deep breaths to calm himself. "No, Garret, it'll take way more than this for me to make up for what I've done and said to you, and I swear, it will never happen again."
Before more could be said, Garret's radio came to life. Josh's voice followed the alert beep. "Hey rookie, the lower floor is totally clear. You can bring those you rescued down, but stay away from the back. We are still getting some light resistance from behind the lodge."
Garret responded, "Okay, but there are two kids from my class and a total of five adults with us who have guns, and some of the others have found knives and even swords. Don't hurt them. They are on our side!"
Garret then turned to look at those in the room. It was clear they had heard the orders, but were waiting on him to give them directions. He closed his eyes so he could think without seeing everyone looking at him… up to him… Finally he spoke with as much force as his jittery nerves would allow. "I'm going to go down first. Once you see me standing at the door move on through the hole in the wall and into the front area. This way, if someone shoots or throws something at us I'll be in a position to block it."
Killian's dad moved forward, as Ricky tried unsuccessfully to stand, "Let me carry you, son. Trying to walk on it will only make it worse and your buddy needs his hands free."
A look of mistrust and fear crossed Ricky's face as he looked into the man's eyes. All he saw was concern looking back at him, however, so he finally nodded.
The group moved down the steps quickly, but more than a few caught sight of Garret standing at the busted in door, shield out, blocking a few rouge gunshots and at least one fire blast.
Brock's voice finally called out, "We're good, Garret. I'm the last."
Garret glanced back though the hole in the wall, getting a small caliber bullet in the thigh for the effort. Before he could react, a glowing blue wall covered the door and he could clearly make out Kurt and Cassie on the other side, moving in the direction of whoever had shot him. He turned, rubbing his leg and looked around. He let out a sigh of relief as he saw no new injuries in the group he had helped to rescue. "It sounds like we control the front of the lodge so head out, but keep your eyes open just in case."
Josh jumped out of the back of the Snow cat piloted by Reed. The second he saw one of the adult hostages come out carrying Ricky, he stopped and stared. With a puzzled glance at Garret, Josh debated on what to say. His befuddlement only increased as Garret exited right behind the man, flanked by a pair of kids holding firearms.
Garret saw the look and held up his hand, "It's Okay Josh." He pointed first to Brock then to Killian. "They are in my class and without them, I don't think Ricky would be alive right now."
Josh raised a questioning eyebrow, but decided not to push the issue. Instead, he moved up to the man carrying Ricky. "I can take him, sir."
Killian's father looked over to Garret while tightening his grip on Ricky slightly, showing a desire to protect the boy in his arms.
Garret nodded and smiled; mostly at the fact Josh was basically stunned to see a Normal act protectively toward an Augment. He turned to face Killian's dad. "It's Okay, he's got heightened strength and even better, has very good healing abilities."
Garret waited while Ricky was gently transferred to Josh's arms before speaking, "Josh, this is Killian's dad. He insisted on carrying Ricky so I could keep my hands free in case of trouble. The upstairs is pretty trashed, but totally clear. I let them grab all the guns and knives they could find, figuring it couldn't hurt to have some extra firepower on our side."
"Not a bad idea, the area is certainly not safe yet," Josh stated as he easily transferred Ricky over to one hand and offered his other to Killian's dad. "Thank you, sir."
"Don't be thanking me. You boys…" spotting Skye glance up as she lifted a massive section of a broken tree off the snow cat, he paused and gulped, "um… and girls… deserve the credit. You all risked your lives…" he stopped and looked at his son then over at Brook, "Even though many, if not most, have done nothing to deserve it… As a matter of fact, from what I have been hearing many deserve quite the opposite."
Brock and Killian exchanged guilty glances, but moved closer to Garret and simultaneously patted him on the back.
Even without trying to use his mental abilities, Josh could feel the reaction from both boys was not for show. If anything, the two kids standing beside Garret were beyond not being afraid of him. Instead, they actually saw him as someone they wanted as a friend and were willing to defend with their lives if needed. The revelation was rather stunning to a boy who had felt nothing but fear, loathing, and hatred flowing out of most people who saw him and others in the squadron ever since his powers had developed.
To take his mind off such a strange emotion coming from a Normal, he glanced back at Garret. "Most of the others went with Eldora. They are taking the second group of hostages over to the Hellroaring, but we have to do it on foot, since both snow cats are badly damaged."
Another man poked his head out of a large hole in the lodge wall, "I'm a large truck and tractor mechanic, want me to give it a look?"
Once again Josh fired a rather astonished glance over at Garret before quickly scanning the man to make sure he was telling the truth. "Um, yeah, sure… We have power, but the engine won't turn over."
"If I can get to the tool box in my truck…"
Josh turned sharply, "Skye, get the tree off already! This guy needs escort so he can get his stuff! He's a mechanic and might be able to get the cats up and running!"
Skye rolled her eyes, "Okay, fine!" As she spoke her Geode skin encased her and her long pink crystal spikes came out of both fists. "Tanner, close the door as best you can, I'm about to make some serious splinters out of this twig!"
The second the side door of the snow cat closed, Skye reared back and punched the three foot diameter tree. It snapped as her hand went all the way through. She swung her other fist at the remaining section, pushing up against the front passenger side track, duplicating the feat, while also rocking the whole snow cat. "There, you two can lift those chunks now, but I don't want to hear about the extra dents caused by my fist impacting the tree and crushing the reinforced frame of the pilot area!"
"Great work…" Josh managed a grin and a wink at Skye as she moved up to get the guy safely to his tools, "Time to move some wood… Rookie."
Garret sighed, lowered his head, and kicked at the snow, "Geesh, no respect!"
Reed moved up snickering, "Don't worry about it, Garret, when you go to summer camp, you'll have enough patches to where you'll be asked what bunk you want!" He then stuck out his arms as he got up next to Josh, "Let me get him into the passenger section with Gwen."
Killian glanced over, "Gwen is here too?"
Josh pointed to the snow cat, "Yeah, but she got nailed pretty hard. Her ankle totally snapped." He focused on Ricky as he handed him over to Reed. "Kurt and I put it back together, but it is still swollen. I know you're hurt, but if you have enough left in you, maybe you can see what you can do."
Ricky winced as he was once again transferred over to someone else to carry him. Once the pain in his knee calmed he nodded, "I might as well; I've done about everything I can do for my own leg. It needs something my healing can't seem to fix."
Josh held up his finger stopping Reed. He closed his eyes and lightly touched the bloated looking leg joint for just a few seconds. "Ligaments and tendons are out of place. Between Kurt and me, we can put you back together again, but like Gwen, you're done. I want you two to stick with Reed, Tanner and Rachal at the saloon. There are still some enemy forces out here and the last thing we want is to have to do this all over again. It'll be up to you all to defend them while we start a search for those they took."
Josh finally turned back to Killian's dad, "Once the rest of my squadron gets back here, we'll escort your group over to the saloon only a few hundred yards from here.
"It's the best place we have found to keep a large group at this point. Plus, Hellroaring wasn't hit hard, has independent power, a full restaurant with plenty of food in the freezer, and is pretty defensible. The problem is, without either snow cat, you will have to walk. One of us melted a path so you won't have to trudge through four plus feet of snow with drifts over six feet, but it still is not going to be easy, especially for injured or elderly. If you could get everyone in heavy coats…"
Brock's mom stepped out though the hole in the wall, "We'll get them organized son. You all have enough to worry about. Brock, give me a hand."
Josh motioned for Logan and Reed to cover the building and the recently freed hostages while he made his way over to the snow cat. He started to move up to help Garret get the last huge section of the tree off the front track, but stopped and took a step back as he saw the younger boy's hands flash blue. He let out a light whistle as it took only two punches to splinter the tree to the point Garret could lift the remnants, then throw the massive logs into the trees on the far side of the crippled vehicle. The younger boy's whole posture and the viciousness of the throws told him something was wrong.
Finally, Josh moved up beside Garret, "You know I was only teasing don't you?"
Garret turned and grinned slightly, but it faded quickly. "Yeah, don't worry about it."
"I don't get it. You should be thrilled. You actually managed to get some Normal kids as friends and you even convinced a whole group of adults to trust us. You've done great! So what's wrong?"
Garret turned his face skyward, purposefully letting snow pummel his face for a few seconds before he spoke. "I don't know. This just feels so…um, crazy I guess."
"I wish I could tell you, but…" Garret let out a long sigh, "Something changed up there, and I can't figure out what. It's awesome to have some friends and even better to hear adults say I can come over to their houses, but… It's wrong somehow…"
"Does it have anything to do with the fact you have had to actually kill someone? There was a pretty heated discussion in our vehicle on the way up here about it."
"Maybe…" Garret shrugged. "I mean, I kind of thought about it after I tossed one woman out of the window when I could have just hit her with one of my glowing fists things… But I did it and I can't take it back… Besides, she was screaming about what she would do to everyone when she got her sight back, so she basically deserved what she got… I think it has more to do with the way they all started treating me up there."
"It looks like they started treating you pretty good…"
"Yeah, and it's weird. It's like… well it was nice and all, but still weird." Garret finally looked up into Josh's eyes, "It's like they were all looking to me as a boss, even Killian's parents and Brock's mom. I wanted friends, not… Oh, I don't know… Maybe I'm just being stupid or something."
Josh put his arm around the youngest squadron member and gave him a hug. "Garret, the one thing you aren't is stupid. I think part of the problem is you don't see yourself like they do. They see you the same way a person pulled out of a burning house see the firefighter who saved him. In their eyes, you are a warrior, a lifesaver, a protector and like it or not, a hero."
Garret pulled free and punched the side of the snow cat, causing the whole thing to rock rather violently while leaving a new dent. "But I'm not! I was scared out of my mind…"
Josh looked at the dent and noticed Garret had done damage to the armored vehicle without the aid of his blue fist augmentation. He almost pointed out, that other than a quartet of lightly bleeding knuckles that were already healing, Garret could do serious damage and easily kill with his bare hands, but this was clearly not the time, and to Josh's credit, he realized this.
Josh reached out, grabbed both of Garret's shoulders, and turned him so he could stare straight into the younger boy's eyes. "Being scared or not has nothing to do with being a hero. Being willing to risk your life to save others does, and you have done so more times over the past couple of days than most people, Augment or Normal, will do in a lifetime.
"The important thing is what you do from here, and it looks to me like you are doing everything perfectly."
A puzzled look flashed into Garret's as he frowned and his brow crinkled up, "I haven't done nothing…"
Josh broke into a big smile, "Exactly. Over the past two days you have gone from a Class Two rated rookie to, without a question, a top notch Class Five. You have been shot, been one of the leads on beating back three separate attacks, have stood up for someone who attacked you, and now, have almost singlehandedly, rescued over a score of people. Yet you don't feel comfortable with the praise, even when alone, getting it from me, your squadron leader.
"The day you start letting it go to your head or looking to be the center of attention instead of hating it, then and only then will you stop being a person worth the admiration you are deservedly getting now."
Garret lowered his head and kicked at the snow, "You make it sound like I'm on the same level with Battlement or Mystic Knight…"
"To those you saved you are, Garret." Josh reached down and patted the fresh hole in Garret's snow pants. "And you even have a bullet hole to prove you stood in harm's way to protect them."
Garret shrugged, "I can take getting shot..."
"Yes, but it still hurts like hell and anyone who saw you get hit knows it, yet I'm willing to bet, they also saw you stay put so they could get to safety. Then when you rejoined them you said nothing, or simply tried to shrug it off when asked. Their reaction toward you is based on your actions and the fact you don't flaunt your abilities."
A bit of frustration crept into Garret's voice as he responded, "I just want to be a kid and play and stuff. If I'm going to show off it is gunna be something I have learned, like how to sail or navigate by the stars, not something I was basically given. I don't see anything special about how I act."
Josh gripped Garret's shoulders a little tighter, "Which is awesome, but you're missing the point. I'll tell you what, instead of trying to argue this back and forth, I have a better idea. I want to think something over while I help get things organized…" Josh held up his hand to stop Garret, "No, just listen and think this over, we can talk about it later."
Garret finally nodded, "Okay, what?"
"Find an answer to this; do you really think they would see you the way they do now if you acted like Colt normally does?"
Garret paused in some confusion and chewed on his lower lip.
"Don't try to answer now, just give it some thought." Josh pulled him close and gave him another hug, "I bet you'll come to several very interesting thoughts and conclusions over the next several hours."
Josh finally released the smaller boy and gently shoved him in the direction of the lodge. "In the mean time, get warmed up and eat. This day isn't over and we still have to escort this group to a safe location and find those who were taken. Like it or not, want it or not, we all need you at your peak ability level."
Brock's mom glanced over as Garret walked past them back into the lodge, "Some of the others have scavenged a lot of food from the attached restaurant and have set up a serving line. Grab some grub and take some down time. We can keep watch and alert you all if we see anything."
"Thank you ma'am…" Garret stopped and turned to face her, "Can I ask you a question?"
The slender woman quickly nodded, "Sure you can." She paused and looked at the boy, noting the youngster was clearly troubled about something. "Grab a plate and bring it back out here so we can talk."
A few minutes later Garret returned with a massive plate of hotdogs mixed into a huge heap of mac and cheese. He handed the woman a cup of hot chocolate before taking a seat on the remnants of the front desk.
Brock's mom took a healthy sip of the warm liquid, scanned the area outside the hole in the wall, and moved to where she could still keep an eye out while basically facing Garret. "So, what's on your mind young one?"
Garret said nothing at first, choosing to eat a good portion of the food while it was still hot and trying to figure out exactly how to ask a very delicate question. Finally, he decided there was not good way, so he just asked it. "Upstairs, you told Brock his dad didn't hate us, but… Well, I mean I have seen him a few times picking up Brock and he always glares at us… me…"
The woman sighed, "He doesn't hate you; he doesn't even know you. If you ever managed to get him alone I am sure he would say the same thing. His problem isn't with Augments…" She paused and looked over with some concern, "I am sorry… if there is a better word you want me to use…"
"No, Augment is fine." Garret stated firmly, "I mean, I wish we were all just people, but we aren't…"
"Yes you are. You are a person who just happens to have abilities far beyond most. In my way of looking at it, you are like a pro football player compared to the average guy on the street who likes to throw the football around. Only you can probably throw the pro player like a football…"
Garret couldn't help but giggle
The woman smiled in return, "It is really nice to see you can laugh."
Garret, still smiling, kind of shrugged, "Normally there ain't much to laugh at, Ma'am."
"My name's Bev. My boy don't have a single friend who calls me ma'am, besides it make me feel old."
Garret snickered again, "Only problem is my dad would ground me for a week if I called an adult by a first name." He puffed out his chest and took his voice as deep as he could make it, "It isn't proper boy and you know it! A kid needs to show adults some respect. That's one of the things wrong with this country now-a-days!"
Bev couldn't help but chuckle. "You got a mighty fine dad, and to be honest, he's probably right. How about Mrs. Blair?"
Garret relaxed at the easy going nature of Bev, "I might get away with 'Mrs. B.'"
"I can live with Mrs. B," She shot a playful grin over at Garret as she continued, "but if you start calling me BB, for Beverly Blair, we might have some problems!"
Once again, Garret giggled, "Dad would break out the belt if I called you that!"
Bev nodded, "I'm liking your dad more by the second!" She paused, "Does a belt even hurt you? I mean I saw you take a bullet and barely flinch.
Garret shrugged, "I don't know. The toughness thing is brand new to me. It happened when I got shot the first time last night. But, to be honest, I don't want to find out if dad's trusty leather belt still hurts, so I'm going to try to avoid it. Getting shot isn't fun at all, toughness or not, so I bet taking a belt wouldn't be much fun either."
"Which makes your willingness to take one for us Normals even more impressive," Bev stated seriously. "But going back to your question about my husband, Brock's step dad…"
"Yes." Bev nodded with a heavy note of sadness in her voice, "Brock's dad was killed just over ten years ago during the attacks on September 11th…"
Garret's eyes went wide, "In the towers?"
"No, the plane in Pennsylvania."
"I'm very sorry."
"Thank you. Fortunately, Brock was too young to remember him. Besides, knowing the man, I am sure, in the very depths of my heart, he was one of the passengers who tried to take the plane back. Anyway, after I lost my husband, I moved out here to be with family. To make a long, boring story short, I ended up at hospital in Boise which is where I met Roger, Brock's step dad.
"Roger lost his first wife and had a boy…"
"Brock has a step brother?"
Bev took a long breath, "No, we married after the boy died." Before Garret could ask any questions she continued, "At the time, Roger was out of work and had no insurance so, he had to bring his boy into the emergency room of a public hospital which was packed with others like him who could not afford a regular doctor. While he was waiting with his very sick boy, he watched as a pair of boys were brought in and given priority over everyone else. One was a new Augment who had accidentally frozen the hand of his playmate to himself.
"While the BEST agent hovered over the doctors, basically forcing them to treat the iced over, stuck together kids, his own son threw up blood. Even though he was then brought in, it was too late. The boy died. If he had gotten treatment sooner, they would have… well the truth is they might have found out he had eaten a bunch of vitamins that he thought was candy and could have pumped his stomach in time, but they didn't."
Garret looked at Bev with his jaw hanging open. Finally he spoke, "He blames us…"
"In a way, yes. Like it or not, fair or not, every time he sees one of you, he remembers his son throwing up blood while doctors were only a few feet away trying to figure out how to get another boy's hand free of an icy coating caused by another little boy… He has used this to focus on how much you all get for free, paid lock stock and barrel, with taxes he pays. However, he really blames the government and in particular the BEST program."
Bev let out a long sigh, "The whole reason he is in a private militia group, and not the military, is his hatred of the government, or at least the USDT and BEST programs. He sees it as you all as having a favored status. On the other hand, he does not directly hate Augments simply because they are Augments."
"Being under BEST isn't…" Garret started to speak only to falter, realizing even at his young age, it wouldn't do any good to defend the program or even try to explain the hardships of being registered with BEST. There were all sorts of things to show nothing was given for free, and it certainly was not all fun and games. If fact, BEST only kept sponsorship for kids who were in their program; and the only way to stay in was to stick to a very strict set of guidelines. Harm to any person with an augmentation was fully investigated and damages done were only paid for as long as the kid causing the damage willingly went into intensive training to control whatever ability had caused the damage.
Yet to argue any of this would be useless. This was particularly true for someone who identified anyone in BEST as someone associated with an organization responsible for the death of his child. Finally, Garret rubbed his forehead with his hand to swipe some of the melted snow off and looked down, "I wish I could show him what BEST makes us go through and agree to… I mean, I'm sorry about his boy, but I don't see how I can show him…"
"You are incredibly intelligent to understand why it will be very hard to turn him around. It is something he has to do himself."
Garret managed a slight nod, however, he was still confused and it showed as he glanced up to look at Bev. "I still don't get how you can tell me and Brock his dad doesn't hate us… I mean me… Augments…"
Bev reached out and patted Garret on the shoulder. "I know it is difficult to really understand, especially at your age, and given the fact the anger is being directed in your general direction. However, Brock's dad, my husband, isn't stupid enough to blindly hate all Augments, even those in BEST. Trust me when I say his militia group is small, but also one of the best and most organized in this area, if not in the whole state.
"They train like they are in the military and many of them have served. Many, if not most, have even seen live combat. They all hold similar beliefs about how the government has stopped caring about its citizens. Instead, it now cares far more about itself and the money it controls. This does not mean they hate this country. The truth is, they see what they are doing as love for this country and part of loving this country is respecting everyone who legally lives here.
"I'm sure the differences between people like my husband and those in organizations like the Church of Purity are hard to see, but there are major differences. The Church of Purity has even tried to recruit him and his militia group dozens of times, but my husband, along with his militia buddies, realizes those group of nutcases are far worse than BEST. Their blind hate is not good for anyone nor is it good for this country.
"The problem is, Brock doesn't really know the background nor does he know how much his father hates the purity freaks. Believe it or not, my husband will not be against Brock having you as a friend; actually, quite the opposite is true. It'll take a bit of time, but part of him will be thrilled to see Brock standing firmly against the Church of Purity. The truth is, we know for a fact, a few kids at your school are actively trying to recruit kids belonging to my husband's militia group in hopes of gaining some influence, or even control, over them."
Garret cocked his head to the side showing his confusion, "How can someone hate BEST and not hate us though?"
Bev rubbed her chin as she thought over the question. After several seconds she spoke softly, "What subject in school do you hate the most?"
Garret shrugged slightly, "English, it sucks and spelling always hurts my grades."
"Okay, so you hate English, so you also hate all the teachers who teach it and everyone in the class right?"
Total confusion entered Garret's tone as he shook his head and spoke, "No, I just don't like English class…"
Bev held up a finger to stop the boy. "Well, Brock's dad hates BEST in the same way. He hates what it does and stands for, but he does not hate those in it."
Garret's forehead scrunched up as he gave Bev's words some thought. Finally he nodded and spoke with a hint of grin on his face, "So, is there any chance he will let Brock come over to my house to play or spend the night?"
Bev burst out laughing, "A lot better chance than him allowing you to come to our house, that's for sure. I'll have to work on him, but I think we can make both happen."
Before more could be said, Rex came up, flanked by Kurt, Cassie, and the boy who had changed sides after a single plea from Gustav. Rex paused for a few moments to look back and forth between Garret and Bev, clearly puzzled by the seemingly friendly exchange.
Cassie realized Rex was lost in thought so she took the lead, "Hey Garret, this is Air Magus. He's a friend of Gustav and helped save a whole group of hostages."
Garret nodded with a look of concern, "I heard Gustav went down. How is he?"
Air Magus answered, "Not great. He took a breath from one of the Boss' leaders. Her name was Seizure, because her breath forces muscles to go off uncontrollably, and he jumped in front of your lightning kid to take it all. Fortunately, he has been hit by her a few times before, so he has somehow leaned to prevent serious injury. He should have half a dozen broken bones, but he managed to get through this one with only some nasty bruises and a wicked bite on his tongue… I hear you stood up for him after you fought him?"
"Yeah, it was something in his eyes…"
"Thank you. If he hadn't spoken up, I don't know if I would have found the guts to turn on Seizer and Magno-Hover."
Garret, once again, shrugged off praise given to him, clearly not being comfortable with it. "So you all go by Augment names?"
Air Magus nodded, "Yeah, at least for those of us who are Class Twos and above. The boss and his people normally give us an Augment name because he says we are better than our birth names and we should not use them. Class Ones are given a new name, but not an Augment sounding name."
"So what's your real name?"
Air Magus gave a weak shrug, "I don't remember for sure, I remember being called Rab, but now it seems more like a nick name."
Bev's eyes went wide, "How long were you with them?"
"Since the summer after second grade, they took me, and a bunch of others being taken, to an RLD home in Mount Pearl. I don't remember a whole lot. One minute we were in the back of a RLD van, and the next minute the two RLD agents were shouting for us to get down while they radioed for help.
"An instant later the van crashed. I woke up in a log house with several of the others, most of us were hurt, but an Augment came in and repaired us. We were kept there until we were all fully fixed then the Boss came in and told us we were now part of his tribe and we all belonged to him."
"So you are an orphan…"
Rex cringed, already having guessed the answer, "Ma'am you probably ought to drop it…"
Air Magus shook his head, "No, Rex." The boy's voice took on an angry undertone. "Normals need to hear about why most of us end up in homes."
Garret looked over, "Hey, she's on our side."
"Yeah, I get it, Okay, but there's a reason many of those who are out there hate Normals, and she asked!"
Bev, much to her credit, took a hold of Garret's shoulder. "Let him tell me in his way. He has his reasons for being angry with me, just like my husband has his reasons for his anger."
All the others looked over at Bev with some degree of surprise, further helping to defuse the somewhat volatile situation.
Finally Air Magus slammed his right fist into his open left hand and started speaking. "I'm not really mad at you, I don't even know you. The whole reason I couldn't do what Magno-Hover wanted was because none of you have done nothing to us.
"Still you are just like the others Normals, you don't get it!"
Bev held up both hands, "You're right, I don't. But it's not because I don't want to, it's because I don't understand. I fully admit it might be because I have never tried or never thought about it, but now is a chance for you to let me see, to understand, why you are angry at all Normals."
Air Magus took a deep breath. "Okay, fine… To be honest, I have not spoken to a Normal since I was taken so maybe…" He shook his head, "You know, the hell with it. Here it is. I'm a piece of Normal trash, a throw-away; Normals' waste, as the boss call us! My first spell was at my sister shortly after my adult front teeth came in. She was teasing me about having bunny teeth and sticking her own teeth over her bottom lip and moving them up and down real fast. She just wouldn't stop and I got mad.
"I don't know exactly what happened, but I blasted her with a burst of air. She fell back in the chair she was on and she hurt her arm; while the burst of wind ripped off the table cloth and sent lunch all over the place. Mom and dad loaded us into a car and took us to the small firehouse in our hometown of Tors Cove. Dad handed me over to the guys at the fire station while mom watched on as they worked on my sister before taking her in an ambulance.
"I stayed there a few nights, but was picked up by a RLD agent when my parent's didn't come back for me and refused to get me when the fire station chief tried to convince them to do so."
Bev's jaw hung open for a few seconds. "Why?"
"Because he's an Augment," Rex stated. "It happens all the time, and almost no one fosters Augment kids. We are too dangerous, too freaky, too weird…"
"Like I said," Air Magus spoke up, "I'm a hunk of Normal trash."
"No, you can't think that way… I never realized…" Bev stammered out.
"You're a Normal, why would you?" Air Magus all but snarled.
"We'll find you a home, Air," Rex reassured the boy. "Either here with us or with one of the RLD families. Just stick with us, protect these people and help beat back those you were with and we'll find a way to get you a home!"
"I'd do this anyway, but I am placing a lot of hope with you all."
"You don't trust us, do you?" Garret asked
"Not really, but it is better than being around people who want me to help kill others just to make a point."
Rex spoke up, looking more in Garret's direction then Bev's, "He's with us; he even let Josh do a deep scan. We verified everything. He was taken just like Gustav was and he has not hurt a single Normal. Since you need a new partner, we figured he might be a good fit."
"Sounds good…" He glanced over to Air Magus, "As long as you're okay with it."
"Sure, but we need time to talk over what each of us can do. From what I've been hearing, you are a real powerhouse."
"I've made a few breakthroughs with new augmentations and empowerments over the last day and a half, but I don't know everything and don't have full control over everything yet." He then turned to Rex, "Hey, what about Colt? Who is with him? I'm tougher…"
"Relax Garret," Cassie commanded. "We picked up the kid from COBRAS 75, out of Scott's Bluff Nebraska. He was up here for winter break. He's already paired up with Colt."
Rex kind of pushed Air Magus over toward Garret as he took on a commanding tone. "You two get to know each other a little. The second group is over at the tavern and we have driven off the latest attack. We should get everyone together and move out. Garret, Josh thinks you should get your shield up and ready and take the center of the left side, since most of those we beat back fled to the north. This will put you in one the most dangerous spots, however, so it has to be your decision."
A smirk crossed Garret's face. "I'd be kind-a mad if I was put anywhere else." He then turned back to Bev as the outline of a shield started to appear on his arm. "You best get back with the others and hear whatever plan Josh has… And tell Brock and Killian to keep moving if we get hit. I'll do whatever I can to protect them, but they can't stop, no matter what happens to me."
Garret then looked over to Air Magus, "Same goes for you, unless you have some really thick skin or some kind of armor."
The young teen looked at Garret with some surprise. "You're really willing to fully trust me? I mean, I was on the other side of this less than an hour ago…"
"So was Gustav, if you're his friend and Josh trusts you, so do I. It also means I protect you just as I would any of those we freed… just like I would Gustav or any other member of my squadron."
"Wow, you guys are way more loyal than the Boss' people. Well, I have got some wind armor, but it won't stop a bullet… maybe a .22, but I'm betting it would still hurt me."
"Then get behind me when bullets start flying. Let me take the hits if needed, besides, normally I'm quick enough to deflect them with my shield."
Bev looked deep into Garret's eyes, "Young man, your concern for kids who have not been kind to you is truly inspiring. You have further proven to me, by what I have just heard, Brock will have to do a great deal to earn the hand of friendship you are offering him." She turned to the other there, "All of you should be incredibly proud of what you are doing today, and don't let anyone tell you differently."
Bev paused to focus in on Air Magus for a moment, "The same goes for you young man. It takes a lot of courage to do the right thing and even more to stand up and fight those you came with."
Kurt gave a hint of a smile while responding with a voice of determination, "There is nothing for any of us to be proud of until you are all safe and we have found those taken by these thugs." He then pointed to the pistol she was holding, "You may need to shoot. If you do, you need to understand most of those we are fighting will be seriously hurt by a nine millimeter round; if they aren't, don't hesitate to call for help. The faster we drop the toughest resistance, the easier it will be for us to protect you all."
Rex quickly agreed, "Also, with those who can take getting shot out of the way, you all will be able to defend yourselves much easier. However, unless someone has some sort of extreme toughness, bullets still hurt and do damage. One bee sting may not be much, but twenty to thirty sure is."