Josh hopped out of the snow cat he was in before it even came to a full stop. He made a straight line over to Rex, doing his best to ignore the wind and snow slashing at him as a particularly heavy band of snow moved across the town of Whitefish. "Looks like you got here first."
Rex nodded and gestured back toward the tennis courts just south of the post office. The problem was, they were all but obscured in the near whiteout conditions even though the pair stood only twenty feet from them. "Yeah, and we had to take out some more trash on the way to the second pick-up point."
Josh could tell by the way his best friend spoke, Rex saw it more of a nuisance than a real fight. "So I gather no one was hurt?"
"Only the Bronze Age lackeys, and hurt isn't really the right word. What we did to them was several levels above hurt, especially what Garret did. You know, at this rate, Polaris may have to offer him some kind sponsorship, cause he is a snowmobile wrecking machine!" Rex snorted with a roll of his eyes. "You know, the funny thing is, we didn't even need Colt and he didn't seem to care. It's almost like he wants Garret to be a Colt style Class Five or something. It's kind of weird to not have him demanding to be the gloating glory hound."
Josh managed a grin, "I think Colt finally found something he is afraid of."
"Yeah, well, Garret totally wiped out a class three by the name of Sphinx, who had both Ajax and Gustav a bit worried. When he got back on the snow cat, everyone moved to give him a seat. I think some of the COBRAS are pretty leery of him."
"Me too!" Josh stated without any hesitation, then quickly changed the subject. "We ended up packing nine more into our snow cat and Reed is heading over to the last hotel to pick up a few more with Valda Rachel, Logan, and Kurt. So where do we stand otherwise?"
"We are clearing the courts for a landing pad, per the plan, but the wind and snow is making it a losing battle. Colt is in the post office plugged directily into their big civil defense generator, and Shannon showed up with one of our hovers. He took a couple of the COBRAs, a WOLVES 13 kid by the name of Corbin, Garret, Gustav, and Ajax to the bridge to keep watch and give us advance notice.
"We picked up a total of eleven kids and one adult who was a Navy Seal. Six others, including three kids with the last name of Lonschok were already here. One of the Lonschok's is Gwen and Garret's age, but from what I hear, he is the strongest of the three. The girl is a senior COBRA cadet and their older brother is West Point cadet home for the holidays. We also have the former Navy Seal and he is a class two, so we have some adult help.
A sigh of relief escaped Josh's lips, "Good, I really didn't want to be in charge."
Mr. Hammond appeared from out of the blowing snow and spoke up, "Son, you are USDT's onsite commander. I will do what I can and I am sure the other older kids will as well, but you are still in command. The radio says an RLD woman by the name of Quill also has command authority, but RLD has not, as of yet, given the activation order so she can't be onsite commander yet. Besides the Elder Lonschok and I are not in USDT, although I am sure the US Army and the Academy has no problem with him going active at this point. As a Special Reservist to COBRAS 75, I have been allowed to activate as well, but not with any kind of command authority."
Seeing Josh's shoulders drop some, Mr. Hammond moved up and put his arm over the boy's shoulders and gave him a hard squeeze, "Nothing says the person in command has to make all the decisions; he just has to decide the overall strategy and let those best capable of leading carry out those orders."
Josh looked up into the man's steel grey eyes and found some extra comfort and strength in them. "When they hit us I want to push them back, even if it is only for a little while and a block or so. I want them to think we have the kid they are after, so everything they have stays focused on us and not the town. If we have to fall back, then we do so by protecting the snow cat I came in. It will make it look like we have who they are after inside it."
As Josh was talking, Quill pulled up in one of the damaged hovercraft. She jumped out into the snow and eyed Josh and Mr. Hammond for a few seconds before speaking, "I grabbed all the Bears marked stuff you had in the Squadron hut, but it isn't enough for everyone. If you have others with easy to identify COBRAS stuff, we will have to just keep our eyes open for their stuff too."
"It'll have to do." Josh shrugged. "I just don't want us to accidentally end up fighting each other."
"Agreed." Quill nodded. "Your idea is a good one. At least we have some way to identify friendlies."
She paused and let out a long breath, "For the record, RLD-COUGAR Command is pissed about us sticking this out with you all, but every cadet in my squadron refused stand down orders and I concur, so as the onsite commander, I authorized a full activation. They can fire me when I get back on Canadian soil."
Rex growled in anger and he grabbed a handful of the shirts and coats out of the back of the hovercraft and handed them to one of the COBRA kids standing next to him. "I don't get your RLD sometimes; we have first hand information that Kent Lentel is out here somewhere and he is a COUGAR. I bet there are others too! Doesn't anyone in RLD command care about them?"
Quill nodded to the girl, "Hand them out to anyone who we can't ID as one of us and make it fast. We had to take out a couple of stragglers at the squadron hut and at least one got away, so there is a chance they followed at a distance.
Quill then glanced over to Rex with frustration all but etched on her spine coated face. "I know it is hard to understand, Rex, but RLD is more worried about what the Canadian press is going to say about COUGARS being involved in a full activation and possible killing Normals. There is already a great deal of political pressure to scrub parts of the COUGAR program. Deaths of American Normals by RLD cadets, even accidental ones, could destroy the whole thing."
Cassie moved up and exhaled loudly, "But letting Bronze Age wipe out a whole U.S. town is OK? Someone needs their head examined."
Quill shot Cassie a nasty glance, but quickly decided the girl had a valid point. "You're right, but saying stuff along those lines could get you kicked out of the program, Cass."
"Then let them kick me out. If I live through this I bet BEARS 97 will take me in and I'm sure my parents would let me."
"Darn straight we will!" Rex declared without hesitation. "Anyone with the guts to help us stand up to the likes of Bronze Age is already one of us!"
Quill eyed Rex for a moment, but felt the truth behind Rex's words and noticed Josh's head moving up and down as well. With the fierce loyalty the two boys were showing Cassie, she forced a smile. "I may need a job after this too."
"At the rate we are finding and rescuing Augments we may get large enough to need a third adult officer." Josh grinned, "We'd love to have you."
Once again Quill's truth detection ability told her the words were totally sincere. With a bit of warmth in her heart she snickered. "It's good to know I have options. But right now, we have other problems to worry about. One of the reasons I am not throwing a total fit about the kids in my squadron refusing RLD stand down orders is Bronze Age. He is a Canadian by birth, which makes him our problem regardless of what RLD wants to admit."
"He is everyone's problem." Josh responded. "He can't be allowed to kill any more people, Normal or Augment. If he wins here, then there is nothing to stop him from appearing somewhere else and doing the exact same thing. Sooner or later he will cause an all-out Normal Augment war which will kill millions and push hatred between the sides to a place where they can't be repaired."
Rex nodded and stared up and into Quill's eyes, "This has to end here. Another slaughter is exactly what Senator Jackson and his Church of Purity moron supporters are counting on."
"If we can hold the line and stop Bronze Age, we can show Senator Jackson was behind it." Josh added, "And even if the Church of Purity doesn't know about this, they spent millions on him, so they will look like they know. If we do this right, we can blame them for at least part of this. It will destroy all anti-Augment legislation they are pushing in the US for several years and strengthen USDT backed bills."
Mr. Hammond glanced down at Josh with some shock, "Damn, boy, you really think big!"
"He has a huge brain." Rex chuckled. "Intelligence is one of his Empowerments and he has lots of it."
Before more could be said, Garret's voice came over the radio, "Guys, I hope you are ready cause according to Shannon, our radar has over two dozen incoming on the ground and at least six flyers! Most are going down to the river to go around us but at least four, probably more, are coming straight toward the bridge!"
Quill yanked her radio up to her mouth, "Keep your eyes on them and get ready to pull back to us!"
Shannon's voice came over the radio, "I think the ones coming straight at us are chasing the other snow cat!"
"They are." Reed cut in. "Kurt already tossed a car on one of them so they are keeping their distance, but they want to know where we are going and if we stop, we will be overwhelmed. There are at least twenty five snowmobiles out here with two separatists each. They also have several fliers up. I don't think they realize we have radar and can see them in the storm, so they are hanging back for now as well. What do you want us to do, Josh?"
"Bring ‘em straight to us!" Rex growled. "We'll hit them hard and force bronze boy to show his ugly mug."
"I still haven't gotten the kids from the Columbia Falls Super 8 though."
"We'll try to link up with them later, Reed." Josh ordered. "Don't even go near it so they don't think it was one of the pickup points. If they figure it out the COBRAS there are as good as toast."
"Understood." Reed sighed. "But I am going to have to blow right past it to get to the bridge."
"Do it," Josh ordered. "Don't even slow down. With any luck, they will think we already went there or there are no Augments there. I will warn the four of them and tell them we will get to them as soon as possible."
Rex grabbed his radio, "COBRAS at the Columbia Falls pick up point, come in." He let go and only got static in reply. He tried again to no avail. "Reed, it may be too late for them. I ain't getting a response. Be careful and get your butt back here."
Kurt responded, "If they were hit they may need our help!"
"And it may be a trap." Josh responded. "We'll go after them as soon as we can, but we can't risk loosing more of us. Now bypass the hotel and get back to the post office!"
Reed let out a string of curse words as he pushed up the speed to as fast as he could safely navigate the snow clogged streets. As he drew closer to the Super 8 and the turnoff over the bridge he felt his heart sink. Radar picked up a pair of snowmobiles already at the intersection. As he grew closer his fears were confirmed. Standing between the two machines was a large female wrapped in sheets of flame. "Guys, I'm cut off…"
"We've got your back Reed!" Shannon radioed back. Head right for them, we will hit them from the back side."
"No!" Reed shouted as he slowed across the street from the Super 8. "I'll take the chance of going to the hotel and grabbing the last four COBRAS and pull back into the trees. We'll try to find a way to get to you all, but Josh needs as many of us as possible. Besides, there are others on foot coming down the hill so we are going to be in for a heck of a fight just to get clear. Just get…."
Before he could say more, gunfire erupted from the north side of the intersection. The woman wrapped in flames went down in a large volley of high powered rifle rounds. Moments later, the others at the makeshift blockade dove for cover behind their snow mobiles and sent a trio of rays at those suddenly attacking them. Two more snowmobiles suddenly roared to life on the south side of the intersection and sprayed the three remaining rouge Augments with rifle and shotgun fire.
A couple of seconds later, later two armed men popped up out of the snow close to where Reed had come to a stop and pounded on the door. At the same time two other men escorted the four COBRA kids out of the Super 8 and over to the snow cat.
Not knowing what else to do, Reed motioned for the back door to be opened. Much to his astonishment, the two armed men turned and dropped to their knees with guns up to their shoulders protecting the four new arrivals and those inside the snow cat.
The bigger of the two men shouted loudly, "Fall back to the bridge and hook up with your buddies. We got your back! You all team up and take care of the main force and keep them distracted while we go after those they took from the ski resort."
Logan looked out and felt his jaw drop as he recognized the voice of his history teacher. "Mr. Kyger?"
The man glanced over his shoulder confirming his identity, "Logan, get your friends out of here!"
"But, sir… there is more coming you can't hold out against Augments!" Logan shouted.
The other man spoke up. "You gather your forces and defend the town. We know the area and practice this sort of thing all the time. They won't catch us. Now get moving!"
Reed glanced down at the radar, "We got company closing fast."
"Go, then so will we." The second armed man responded.
Logan finally nodded and slammed the side door while looking up front to Reed, "Get us out of here while we have an opening!"
As Reed slammed his foot on the gas he looked out through the badly cracked mirror. All he saw was snow. The men who had just helped them had vanished back into the storm. "What just happened?"
One of the four COBRAS to jump into the snow cat moved forward, "A group of Augments busted in and tried to grab us, but suddenly eight men and one woman burst in and started shooting them. We took the chance and teamed up with them. I think there are five or six dead Augments in the lobby and four others got away, but were cut down in the street as others opened up on them. It's like half this small town suddenly started fighting for us or something!"
Reed let out a long breath as he used the GPS to line up on the bridge. "Guys, you best pull back to the tennis courts. Some Normals just helped us and we have the kids from the Super 8, but we have an army coming right up our tail pipe!"
Garret glanced at the radar for several tense seconds as Shannon continued to relay information back to Josh and Rex. As his brain finally began to understand what he was seeing on the screen and combined it with what Reed was saying, he knew in his heart there were too many coming and too few defending for Josh's plan to work.
He pushed on the door and looked out into the snow, seeing nothing, but hearing the distant clanking of the treads of the oncoming snow cat. He moved up to the bridge and looked down. Below the frozen river could just barely be seen between wind gusts. He chewed on his lip for a few seconds as he glanced at the center support then back to the far side of the bridge.
Garret started the move back to the hover craft only to run into Gustav. The boy eyed Garret then the bridge support. "Maybe together, but not alone."
"You know what I am thinking?"
"Sometimes I can feel what others want to do, especially when it is not such a good thing. This be one of those not a good thing, but it's a very good idea."
Garret shrugged and stared into Gustav's eyes, "It's the only thing I can come up with. You need to get out of here and let me try."
Gustav shook his head and patted Garret on the shoulder. "You all saved me, and I am not going to go back to them… ever. You stay, so do I. I will not let you do this alone."
Garret mumbled something under his breath as the clanking of the snow cat became louder. "We don't have time to argue, and I'm not going to fight you. So stay if you want, but you know this is a long shot at best, right?"
"Real long," Gustav forced a smile, "but much better chance with two of us and if nothing else I get some payback for all they did to me and my family."
Garret once again grumbled, "OK, fine, but then get back to me, cause I will have to do this real quick like.
Before Gustav could respond with more than a nod, Garret pulled his BEARS radio up to his mouth. "Hey, Josh, how much damage am I allowed to cause?"
Josh glanced over to the others as he brought the radio up to his mouth, "Um, Battlement said USDT would pick up the pieces and the tab after this was over… As long as you don't hurt any Normals…"
Before Josh could say more Quill keyed her radio, "Boy, what do you have in mind?"
Garret's voice told everyone he was about to do something he knew he shouldn't. "Ah… well Gustav and I are going to stay here. The others are heading back."
Rex used his radio to respond, "Rookie, I know you're a Class Five, but you can't hold the line by yourself!"
"I know, but I can stop most of them right where we are if we do this right and all our families will be way safer."
Quill spoke into the radio with a great deal of authority, "Boy get in that hovercraft and get your butt back here. If you don't I'll make sure someone at USDT beats your backside raw!"
Garret once again shrugged, "I think having Battlement beat me may hurt less than what I'm going to do, but good try ma'am. I can't let them get to my mom and dad."
Rex glanced over at Josh with some desperation in his eyes, "Dude, come on! Think this over!"
"I have, Rex." Garret answered as he tried to figure out a way to talk the other boy out of staying, but the look in Gustav's eyes told him it wasn't going to happen so he moved back to the hover craft. "Guys, as soon as the snow cat goes past get out of here!"
At the same time Josh's voice came over the radio, "Garret, get back here…"
"Not going to happen." Garret interrupted as the snow cat came into view. Even with the sound of the blowing wind and the tracks of the snow cat, he could hear several snow mobiles closing in. He glanced over to Shannon, "Unless you think you can take me, get out of here. This is going to get messy."
Shannon's eyes went wide, "Garret, have you lost it? Radar shows at least twenty five snow mobiles and six fliers. They must have stolen every snow mobile they could get their hands on and they are all coming straight for us!"
Gustav moved up to Garret's side. "Many will not get to you if this works…" He paused as the snow cat piloted by Reed sped past and the sounds of the snowmobiles grew louder. "Now go!"
Garret moved around to the back slapped the hover craft hard enough to push it several feet. He then paused as he used his shield to deflect a ray aimed at the hovercraft. Over the radio the others heard him shout over his shoulder to Shannon and the others on the hover craft, "Get going before I shove you off the bridge!"
A second later Garret's voice came back over the radio. "Gustav and I will try to run away and work back to you all. If not, we will stop a whole mess of them and give the rest of you a much better chance."
Josh frowned deeply, but decided whatever Garret had in mind was worth a quick change of plans. "Garret hold, we are all on the way!"
"No time Josh." Garret sighed. "Hope to see you soon. If not, tell my mom and dad I love them." A moment later, the radio picked up a massive crashing sound then went dead.
"Garret!" Josh shouted into the radio.
Shannon's voice came over the radio, but was shaking badly and it was clear the boy was crying. "He just slammed his fists into the middle support of the bridge and Gustav did the same on the opposite side with his staff. They dropped the whole bridge with them on it!"
Shannon's crying voice was replaced by Ajax's who sounded just as badly shook up but could at least talk. "Josh, the whole span just fell and smashed all ice below. Me sees at least seven snow-machines went down on bridge with Garret and a whole jumble of other machines fall in the icy water as the ice broke up when the bridge came down on and around them! The bridge is gone all way to other side, but so is most of the boss' people! Only three snow-machines make it across river. Me thinks some other now stuck other side, and some trying to swim and claw way out of broke ice but not much make it. There is too many snow and dust and… we no can see Garret or Gustav no more. I is going to ghost walk and see if me can find them."
Josh felt tears well up in his eyes as Ajax relayed what Garret and Gustav had done. Part of him was deeply sickened. Yet at the same time, he realized the sacrifice had changed the whole dynamic of the developing fight. Even as shocked and sickened as he felt, he knew he had to act and act fast, but what he needed to do was being over ridden by an even larger concern. He glanced over his shoulder at Mr. Hammond. "Oh my God… what am I going to tell his mom and dad?"
Quill gulped but forced her voice to remain steady and calm. "Josh, we will have to deal with Garret later. Now, you had a plan and the action before your fellow squadron mate just bought this town a chance, while giving us some time and breathing room. We can't let it be in vain. All of USDT and RLD will help with the aftermath, but we have to live to see the aftermath!"
Josh took a knee in the deep snow and took a few breaths. When he finally spoke, his voice was far from calm but it was at least steady. "We need a defense put around the one snow cat so it looks like we have the target. What he did… the flyers are still coming… The rest of us have to get to the bridge and stop the rest while they are still trying to figure out what to do… but I… Garret…"
Mr. Hammond reached down and gripped Josh's shoulders tightly. "Son, as hard as this will be to do, you need to put Garret out of your mind. Focus in on what he just did for all of us and use it to our advantage. There will be time to deal with feeling later.
"What Garret did has left those we face totally disorganized and probably decimated their morale. We need to use this and use it fast. If I was in command, I'd focus on continuing to pound them while they are trying to figure out what hit them."
Rex looked over with a frown, "How can we do more than what Garret did?"
The former Navy Seal pointed to the east. "Stop them right where they are, out there, before they even get to this town. We continue to apply pressure. We hold the upper hand, but if they get reorganized we are right back where we started, only on a more level playing field. We need to keep the table tilted to our liking. Again, if this was me in command, I'd push hard right now. We can take out the three on our side and totally secure this side of the river. Then we move and wipe out the others as they find spots they can cross the river. If we can take out the rest of Bronze Age's support all at once, then we will be able to team up and focus on him."
Josh used his sleeves to get some tears out of his eyes before looking up. "Mr. Hammond, I want you to take Colt and whoever else you want and defend the snow cat. If you have fliers, take as many as you want. Let their fliers have time to tell others we are guarding it, then take them out. With their fliers gone and with what Garret just did, we will keep the upper hand. Unless he runs, this will force Bronze Age to come after all of us."
Josh then grabbed his radio, "Reed, Shannon, turn and take those three snowmobiles out and hold. We are coming to you. We'll hold at the river! Ajax, I don't care how you do it, or what it takes, find Garret!"
Mr. Hammond nodded as he saw determination and even some anger flow into Josh. He quickly yelled as loud as he could, "All Lonschoks and my kids to me and prepare for air attacks! Talon, grab Colt; you two are also with me! Everyone else form on Josh here and if you are not in easily identified gear, get a BEARS shirt or coat on over what you are wearing. The tables have turned and we are going to finish what Garret started!"