Josh woke and winced badly as he tried to turn on his side. He tried to speak but no words came out. His throat was extremely dry and his jaw wouldn't move. Trying to make it do so caused a flash of pain to shoot around his entire face. Deciding trying to move or talk again was not something he wanted to feel any time soon, he opened his eyes and blinked. In the dim light he quickly made out a few things. First was the IV running into his arm, second was the fact he was hooked up to at least two different machines, and third, he was in a hospital room.
He swallowed, finding his throat was dry. It didn't help having on oxygen tube running into his nose further drying out his nose and throat. Moving his right arm enough to see it, he noticed it was in a cast and his fingers of his right hand were all held out straight by metal braces. He lowered his hand back down onto the bed and glanced around again. He knew, just by the look of the room he was not in the small Whitefish hospital and a glance out the window told him he was at least a few stories up and it was night. The lights of a much larger city than he was used to could be seen through the partially frosted over window. He closed his eyes as the light started to give him a headache.
It took a few seconds to recall what had happened. The last thing he clearly remembered was fighting on the edge of the river, dodging the flail-like hand of the monstrous Bronze Age... then nothing... Realizing he must have been hit, but not remembering it, he felt pure panic course through his entire body. Had they failed?
Forcing enough saliva to get a small swallow to go down his throat, he concentrated, sending out a mental message to those he was most used to talking to with his telepathy. 'Guys... can anyone hear me?'
An instant later Rex's familiar mental voice responded, 'Oh, man, stop the yelling, Josh!'
'Rex!' Josh responded with joy, yet concern, in his thoughts, 'Where are you and how is everyone else?'
'Most of the others from our squadron are in pretty good shape but are around. Gwen was still in intensive care and I think still is. They pulled me out last night and gave me a room, which is real close to yours, judging on how loud you are yelling in my brain, so back down a notch or five will ya?'
Josh let out a mental sigh and backed off his telepathy some, 'Sorry... what about the others... did we win?'
Skye walked into Josh's room and spoke, "Oh, yeah, we won. Last I heard they were still trying to figure out what to do with Bronze Age since he was alive but so badly damaged he couldn't change shape or shrink back down. But we took a pounding."
Josh tried to talk, only to have to grip the bed with his left hand, as another wave of pain rippled around his face. Moments later the bedrail snapped off in his hand.
Battlement walked in and snickered, "Boy, your grace period for damaging things is over, now stop it!"
Josh's eyes snapped open again and went wide at the sound of the USDT 19 Commander's voice. 'Sorry!' He all but shouted with his brain.
Battlement winced and shook his head back and forth. Behind him Mystic Knight grabbed onto the door frame and cringed. "Let's tone down the mental speak there, lad!"
"No doubt!" Valda piped up from behind Mystic Knight. "Everyone on this floor had to have heard you and it's two in the morning!"
'Yeah!' Rex thought back with a little annoyance, 'And since I am hearing everyone talking to you, you must be like one room over. Tell them they are all talking too loud!'
A mental snicker escaped Josh as he thought back so everyone could hear him. 'They aren't being loud, Rex, it's just your hearing.'
From across the hall Reed's voice responded, "No, Josh, Rex is right, you are all being too loud!"
From nearby rooms several voices of COUGARS and COBRAS chimed in concurring with Reed's assessment.
Battlement walked back out into the hall and let out a shout, "Back to sleep! All of you!"
Battlement then tapped his foot on the floor purposefully loud enough for everyone to hear, not caring in the least it had to be waking up all those on the floor directly below him. Once he was sure the multitude of cadets were done complaining he barked out, "Better! Now keep it this way!"
With a smirk on his face, he glanced over at Mystic Knight who only chuckled at the total silence.
Josh looked up at the man, really wanting to know what had happened, where he was, and how everyone was, but didn't try to think it. There was no earthly way he was going to argue with Battlement.
Much to Josh's astonishment, Battlement moved over and sat on the edge of the bed and gently ran his hand over Josh's shoulder before speaking. "First off, you are in Billings, Montana and safe. No one in their right mind, or even in their wrong mind, is going to cause you any grief here. All of USDT 19 and Cold Steel's RLD reserve team are here, as are all the healthy cadets who fought in and around Whitefish. Nothing is going to get in the way of any of you recovering.
"Secondly, Whitefish is equally secure. We have moved USDT 21 in and have deployed USDT Special Forces to keep everyone safe. Even as I am talking to you, we have another full unit coming in to sweep the area and they will stay in and around Whitefish for the foreseeable future. Your parents are safe, as are the parents and siblings of all your fellow cadets."
Seeing Josh breath a giant sigh of relief which clearly caused extra pain, Battlement leaned closer and gently stroked Josh's hair, "Son, your jaw is broken in five places. We will get you healed up, but priority has to be for those with life threatening injuries. Right now, North Star, along with other healers, is being pushed to her limits. You are the first priority after those injuries are all dealt with though. In the meantime, think to us, tell us what you want and we'll get it." He then gave Josh a smile, "Just lay off on tearing apart your bed, USDT's budget is a bit upside-down at the moment."
This caused a mental snicker to come out of Josh, which caused both Mystic Knight and Battlement to smile. Realizing it was OK, to think to the men, Josh focused in on Battlement, 'Rex says Gwen is in ICU, how is she?'
Mystic Knight moved forward, pulled up a chair on the opposite side of Josh and sat down, "She was airlifted out to Baltimore several hours ago. We will have the best Augment medical professionals in the world flying there as well to help her."
'What about me? Can't I heal her?'
Mystic Knight and Battlement exchanged glances. Finally Battlement nodded to Mystic Knight to tell the boy.
Mystic Knight laid his hand on Josh's right shoulder, "She got hit hard, Joshua, real hard. North Star was barely able to stabilize her, and without Ricky, she would not have lived long enough for North Star to get to her. The problem is, there is some damage we can't easily fix, but we are going to try."
'Like what?' Josh demanded to know. 'I have already passed all the pre-med stuff and I'm well into med school, so I know how to properly use my healing augmentations, so just tell me!'
Mystic Knight let out a long breath, "She took a hit to the face, fracturing her cheeks, jaw, nose and... It blinded her. She also has a massive brain injury with bleeding, but because of the damage to her skull and face, we can't relieve the pressure the way we normally would."
Seeing Josh trying to sit up, Battlement put a firm hand on his chest, "You stay put. There is nothing you can do that we can't. Besides, once we get you healed up to the point where you can move around, there are over a dozen badly injured you can help with right here. Trust me when I say, we are going to give Gwen the best treatment money and augmentations can provide!"
'What am I going to tell her mom and dad...?'
"Joshua," Mystic Knight stated firmly while squeezing Josh's shoulder, "we are taking care of them. This wasn't your fault, none of it. There is nothing you have to say to them other than how much you care, and I assure you, they know it. Still, it will help to hear you say it and you can when they get back. At the moment they are in flight to Baltimore and will be there until Gwen is well enough to go home."
Battement nodded in total agreement, "Get some rest, Joshua..."
Even as much as it hurt, Josh shook his head, 'What about everyone else?'
Battlement ran his hand through Josh's hair again before turning to Skye and Valda, "Is he always this stubborn?"
Valda nodded, but forced a grin as she spoke, "Yes sir, but nothing compared to Rex."
"I heard that!" Rex growled loud enough to be heard through the wall.
This caused both men to snicker. Mystic Knight shook his head as he responded, "Joshua, the important thing for now is you getting some rest. Hopefully, by tomorrow Ricky, Kurt, North Star and our other healers will be able to direct enough resources to you to get you up and moving enough to where you can join in the efforts to put everyone occupying this wing back together."
Realizing he was not going to get more information without doing a mind scan, Josh finally gave up. 'Fine, but don't waste anything on me until everyone is stable.'
Battlement stood and moved toward the door while motioning the two girls to leave the room, "Young ladies, you need to get some rest and food. The last thing we want is you two to go down from exhaustion and lack of food, too."
At the same time Mystic Knight glanced over at Josh and spoke firmly, "And you, no using your telepathy again until morning. You sustained a concussion and your brain is way too important for you to put extra stress on it."
A couple minutes later a nurse came in and added something to the IV. The sun was up before Josh woke again.
As Josh blinked at the sun coming though the window, he realized the IV was gone. He also found he didn't feel nearly the pain he had the night before. He cautiously moved, finding he could with only a slight discomfort to his side, but his jaw still hurt badly when he moved his left hand to touch it and his right arm was still in a cast and his fingers still splinted.
Off to the side of the bed was a pitcher of orange juice. As he reached for it with his good hand, Arctic Trooper jerked awake from where he was sleeping on a chair and let out a sigh of relief, "Hey, looking better! How are you feeling?"
Josh tried to talk but stopped almost instantly as pain cascaded across his entire jaw. He leaned forward in the bed as a wave of nausea washed over him then passed. 'Um, is there like an exemption to me being able to use my telepathy until my jaw heals?'
Arctic Trooper nodded, "Not an issue. We'll get you another round of healing tomorrow and I bet we can get some of those bones to mend a bit more." A.T. then moved over and stuck a straw in the pitcher, "In the meantime, you are on a high calorie liquid diet and North Star says she wants you to try to move around some, but not push it. Also, no trying to sneak around and heal anyone today. The docs want you to get one more full day of rest before you push any of your other abilities.
Josh took a long sip with a scowl on his face, 'What else is in this? It is nasty!'
A.T. shot Josh a harsh look, "Like I said, you are on a high calorie liquid diet. You finish this whole pitcher and I'll find you something to get the taste out. Just be glad Eldora managed to convince them to mix it in with some O.J."
Knowing better than to try to argue with A.T. he took another long sip and cringed, 'USDT needs to spend some money of flavoring whatever is in here!'
"If you had done what Jade Witch and I spent so many countless hours teaching you, you wouldn't be here, so stop complaining."
Jade Witch entered the room and nodded in full agreement, "My thoughts exactly, now drink up! How many times did we work with you on teleporting out of the way of an oncoming blow?"
Josh hung his head, 'A lot...'
"Way too often for you not to have avoided getting pummeled!" Jade Witch stated with a degree of annoyance. "The second we get you all back to Whitefish, you are going to get some extra training with both of us..."
"Come on, you two! Give the boy a break." Sandstorm stated with a snicker as he stepped into the room while shaking his head. "Without him and the others, we would still be picking up pieces of Whitefish and the surrounding area!"
Arctic Trooper glanced over his shoulder, "Oh, he'll get the credit, but both of us know darn good and well he should have never been hit to begin with. We both have spent way too many hours with him on teleportation avoidance to find him lying in the snow with half a dozen serious injuries!"
'I saw Rex get hit...' Josh thought to those in the room, 'I... I lost track of things... there were so many down... I saw Bronze Age's metal ball fist thing coming toward me and I panicked... I didn't even think about teleporting... I'm sorry...'
A.T. moved over, sat on the bed and put his arm around Josh, "We get it, son, we really do. You lost the big picture and with it the focus on what to do vanished as well. All the training in the world cannot compare to real combat and nothing we do can prepare you for seeing a friend fall."
Sandstorm let out a long breath. "Arctic Trooper is right. You didn't do anything wrong and there is nothing to be sorry for. Every one of us has lost track of what we can do and have paid the price for it."
"At the same time," Jade Witch interjected, "some of the most important things to cover after a fight are ways to do it better. Hopefully there will never be a next time, but if there is, we need you to be better prepared. To be honest, you are the last one we figured would be hurt, let alone hurt this badly!"
Josh gave a slight nod and ran his good hand over his face, being very careful to avoid his jaw. 'I didn't even think of teleporting out of the way.'
"If there is a next time, we will make sure you get the training so you do." Sandstorm stated as he moved over to stand in front of Josh, "Now, doctor's orders and more importantly, North Star's; let's get you up and walking around."
Josh took the offered hand up, but as soon as his feet hit the ground and he tried to stand, he was hit with vertigo. Arctic Trooper and Jade Witch were more than ready for this as they moved to support him until he recovered.
"Just stand here for a few seconds, Josh." Sandstorm commanded. "You have been in bed for four days and you still have some cracked ribs, a broken arm, three mangled fingers and a busted jaw."
It took everything Josh had not to puke, but after nearly a minute he finally stood up straight. 'When we get back home, I'll go through all the teleporting training you can toss at me. I never want to feel like this again!'
This got a serious chuckle out of Sandstorm, "You have the making of a USDT commander or XO oozing out of you."
'I'd prefer to keep it in me,' Josh managed to joke.
Getting some laughter out of all three of the adults, he held up both arms letting them know he wanted to try to walk on his own. He stumbled after his first couple of steps only to get caught by Jade Witch. After another round of vertigo, he straightened out and walked slowly around the room for a minute before nodding that he was OK. He made a pit stop in the bathroom, albeit with the door cracked open so Sandstorm or A.T. could come in just in case there was a problem. Finally he splashed some water on his face and came back out. 'Can I get some clothing so I can go see Rex and the others?'
Sandstorm held up a finger and smiled, "I think we have something in the closet here for you!"
Josh moved over to the tiny closet and opened it. Had his jaw not been wired, it would have fell wide open. For inside was a suit... it was not just any suit, instead it was a USDT Reserve officer suit with a USDT 19 combat patch on the right shoulder and a BEARS patch on the left shoulder. Over the right breast pocket was "USDT Reserve" and over the left breast pocket was a strip of Velcro.
As he studied it with a degree of shock he suddenly realized both Valda and Skye had been in similar outfits the night before. He had just been so out of it, it hadn't fully registered at the time. The only difference was theirs had not had the officer shoulder tabs. 'Is this really for me?'
Arctic Trooper moved up and pulled out the uniform, "You more than earned it, Josh, all of you did."
With a shaking hand he ran his had down the uniform fabric, realizing it even had the Kevlar reinforced plating over vital areas. This wasn't a cheap look-alike. It was the real thing.
Off to the side, Jade Witch pulled out some underclothing from the single dresser and laid it on the bed. "I'll be outside while Sandstorm and A.T. help you get dressed, Josh. Then we can get you down to Battlement and the rest of your squadron."
Josh started to argue about not needing help getting dressed, but after only a few moments of thought he realized there was no chance of him buttoning up the shirt, getting the belt on, and certainly not tying the boots with his hand and fingers all casted up. Still he did as much as he could, only getting help with getting the cast though the sleeve, weaving the belt through the loops, and trying the boots. As he stood, his casted arm bumped into the bed and made a metallic sound. Taking instant notice, he glanced down at the cast and tapped it lightly. 'What is this made out of?'
Sandstorm moved over and held up the casted arm, "Titanium, with layered special heat resistant material for the padding since we will have to use a cutting laser to take it off when the time comes. One problem about casting an Augment with high strength is; normal casts don't work at all. A sudden jerk of a muscle or twinge of pain shatters a normal cast and causes more damage to the break. The one we put on Rex's leg is actually layered titanium since he is even stronger. But even then, he managed to bend it the first night here, so we had to focus extra healing on his leg. If we hadn't, he very well might have screwed it up even worse. It's one of the reasons we have not been able to fully deal with your jaw. Rex was taking everything North Star and Kurt have to heal his bone before he did more damage to himself."
'So I get to blame not being able to eat and having to drink that nasty liquid on him?'
"Pretty much." Arctic Trooper verified. "Now let's get you downstairs. There is one more thing we need to take care of."
Sandstorm put his hand on Josh's back and guided him out of the room saying nothing more.
As he made his way down the hall, several COUGARS and COBRAS moved to the doors of their rooms and started clapping. A few even whistled. Most of the kids wore USDT Reserve or RLD Reserve uniforms while a few others were still in wheelchairs or hooked to IV's so they were in hospital gowns. The only other officer uniform was worn by Reed, who limped out into the hall to pat Josh on the back.
Josh took a moment to give Reed a hug before moving to the elevator, noting as he did so two USDT Special Forces men armed with assault rifles came to attention and pushed the call button for the elevator. Had it not been for his mental abilities, Josh would have never realized they were not just coming to attention for Sandstorm, Jade Witch and Arctic Trooper, but also for him.
As the elevator door closed and started to descend, Josh glanced over to A.T. 'Sir, do they really see me as an officer?'
Sandstorm responded, "You are an officer, Joshua."
Totally shocked, Joshua didn't know what to think, so he followed the trio without even trying to mentally respond to them. As they exited into the lower basement, which had been converted into a high tech command center, he stopped and glanced around. Several screens showed the deployment of USDT 19 resources while others scrolled information about possible threats to USDT 19 areas of operations. Another set of screens was devoted to the area in and around Whitefish, and showed what areas had been swept and what areas were still considered a threat along with reports of resistance in a small area right on the Canadian border.
A large splotch was marked in orange just to the north of the Canadian border. The notation simply stated it was "Restricted Access Territory". As Josh leaned closer, Battlement cleared his throat, "Joshua Stellman, you are still technically on bed rest, so get your nose out of our mobile command center and get over here!"
Josh's head jerked up causing a great deal of discomfort in his jaw. At the same time, the pain was tempered by the fact his parents were standing off to the side, watching him with a clearly relived look in their eyes. He instantly forgot all about the computer displays and rushed over to them all the while wishing he could talk. He was torn about thinking anything, knowing his dad really didn't like telepathic conversations.
He had to slow at the last second so he could contain his augmented strength as he all but plowed into them.
Before he had a chance to send a telepathic message, his dad's arms encircled him, "We are so proud of you, Son!"
'I can't talk, Dad, sorry.'
"Think to me all you want. We are just happy you are in one piece!" His father stated firmly.
Josh's mom nodded as tears spilled out of her eyes, "I want to be so mad at you but I just can't!"
Realizing his mom was truly shaken by the fact he had willingly risked his life and had even been prepared to die, Josh focused on her, letting her shower him with several kisses. Even as she did so, however, Josh couldn't help but feel her conflicted emotions since she was thinking it so strongly he couldn't help to 'hear' it in his mind. She was both appalled and proud, but above all else she couldn't help but think how close she came to losing him. 'I didn't have a choice. We had to hold, none of us wanted you or any of our parents hurt. We even talked about it...'
His dad held on tightly, not realizing he was putting his son in some extra discomfort because of broken ribs. If it hadn't been for Josh's toughness empowerment, the grip would have done serious damage. Yet, he ignored it, treasuring the long embrace.
Finally Mr. Stellman spoke, "Josh, Battlement and Mystic Knight let us listen to some of the recorded conversations between you all. We know what you were thinking and why you did what you did. You have nothing to apologize for, none of you do!"
"Damn straight!" Battlement stated with a hard nod. "You kids, all of you..." Battlement looked around the room at the assembled group of BEARS 97 cadets, "No, young men and young women, not kids." He corrected himself, "You have all done more for the BEST program than any of us thought possible and risked everything to save not only those you love but those who have directed hatred toward you. Yet you all did so without batting an eyelash. Faced with a threat you knew was going to harm and or possibly kill you, you all refused to back down. Above all odds and with amazing teamwork, you pulled out a victory, a victory not just for USDT or BEST but for the United States and Canada. Your incredible bravery and your concern for all humans, both Augment and Normal has done something none of us could have ever dreamed of. Your actions, all of your actions, have bridged a gap that will not easily be broken between Normals and Augments in your area and is expanding, even now."
Off to the side, Garret, who was in the arms of his own parents, mumbled softly, "Let's not talk about bridges."
Hearing both Rex and Night Tracker snicker, caused Battlement to pause, "Am I missing something?"
Night Tracker moved over to Garret and grinned, "Oh, he was just saying how he really didn't want to hear anything about a bridge anytime soon, especially a broken one."
Battlement tried to send a sharp glare at Garret but totally failed as he busted up laughing.
At the same time all the other members of USDT 19 couldn't help but laugh which, in turn, caused some uneasy chuckles from both the kids of BEARS 97 and most of the parents. At the same, time Garret turned bright red.
After nearly a minute, Battlement wiped some tears of laughter out of his eyes, "Don't worry about it, young man; it'll take a long time before you catch up to Colt on damage payout!"
This got another round of snickers out of the USDT 19 team while causing Colt to look down and shuffle his feet.
Finally putting the merriment aside, Battlement took a step back. "But all joking aside, I think every kid in this room needs to see and hear how much what you all did means to us!" He took a step back and started clapping. Moments later the rest of USDT 19 backed up to stand behind Battlement and joined in. After several seconds, they stopped and gave the kids a military salute.
Battlement was the first to drop the salute. As soon as he did this, so did the rest of his team. "Now, let's move on to something new and totally unprecedented. Sonic Strike, pull up the database of names, if you would, so we can make sure we are not duplicating any."
Sonic Strike sat at the central control chair and pulled up the official database of Augment names. "We have sole access, sir."
"Perfect." Battlement nodded then turned to look over at the kids from BEARS 97, "While this was my idea, it took approval of the President of the United States to make it happen. Before we go much further, once we enter a name, it cannot be changed, so your USDT code name is one you will live with the rest of your life, so choose wisely, guys."
All around the room, the kids from BEARS 97 looked stunned. Getting an approved Augment code name was beyond a dream to each and every one of them. It was a badge of honor and was something only five percent of Augments coming out of the BEST program ever got. While most adult Augments had a nick name, they weren't official and recognized. This wasn't just a U.S. database, either. It was a worldwide database of approved names and, once selected, they would be known across the globe. Newspapers, even the most anti-Augment ones, listed new officially approved names.
Josh glanced over to Rex and sent a thought over to him. In turn Rex spoke up, "Sir, um... I am speaking for Josh, but I totally agree with him."
Battlement nodded for Rex to continue.
Rex stepped away from his uncle and moved toward the center of the room. "What about the COUGARS, COBRAS, and those who turned and fought with us? We didn't do this alone."
Battlement couldn't help but be impressed as he saw all the other BEARS cadets nodding in full agreement to Rex's statement. "RLD, although reluctant, has given in and is doing the same for the COUGARS who moved down to help you."
"What about Ghost Shadow... Ajax, Gustav, that kid... um, Air Magus, Corbin and Ricky? What about all the COBRAS? All three VIPER squadrons lost members! They deserve this too!" Rex stated with some concern in his voice.
Upon hearing some COBRAS had been killed Josh's eyes went wide, 'We lost some?'
Josh's dad gripped his son's shoulders, "Four COBRAS were killed, son. One is still listed as missing."
Josh's good hand went up to his eyes to hide the tears, 'I didn't know...'
Battlement looked over, "Josh, look at me."
Josh looked up with anger in his eyes, 'I'm not taking any name unless they all can!'
Battlement held up and hand trying to calm the shaking youngster, "Give me a second, here." He glanced back over his shoulder to North Star, "Get me the President, now!"
He then turned to focus on Josh, "You did everything you could do. We lost cadets, damned fine young men and women who cannot be replaced. They will get a funeral with full honors and we will make sure you are all there for it..."
"Sir," North Star interrupted, "President McCain is coming on."
All eyes turned to the secondary screen as the face of the President appeared, "Battlement, are these the fine youngsters from the Whitefish area standing behind you?"
Battlement stepped to the side, so the monitor and camera wasn't blocked by him, "Indeed they are Mr. President!"
"So, I understand there is a problem?"
"Sir, I know this is not exactly protocol, but I would like to let one of them speak to you. Unfortunately, he has a broken jaw, but can telepathically speak through me or one of the others, if such a thing is permissible."
President McCain's left eyebrow went up, "Well, this is rather different. Why don't we do it this way; let him speak though one of his friends, who can introduce me to all of them."
Rex cringed knowing he would be the one selected by Josh. Before he could even try to think over to his friend to choose someone else, it was already too late.
Josh moved forward a bit while still staying in the grasp of his dad and pointed to Rex, while thinking to everyone in the room, 'Let Rex.'
Battlement also cringed slightly, having read some of the disciplinary actions the school had on Rex and his obnoxious mouth. However, before he could suggest someone else, President McCain spoke up, "Young man, move forward and introduce your Squadron mates. I believe I see Colt is there behind you, what about the others?"
Rex gulped as he moved forward to stand in front of the camera, "Um... I'm not the greatest speaker, um... sir."
The President laughed with a great deal of good nature, "You're doing fine in my book. What's your name?"
The easy going manner of the man helped Rex a great deal. He calmed considerably, "Sir... Mr. President..."
"Sir is just fine, young man."
Rex gulped again, "Sir, I am Rex, Rex Kluger, I am... um... Well over here is Joshua Stellman, my best friend and Squadron Leader. His jaw is busted so he can't talk, but he can talk with telepathy..."
"So I am really going to be talking to you, then, Joshua?"
Josh's dad pushed him forward so he could stand next to Rex. Glancing back over his shoulder at his parents, then back to the camera he nodded and thought back over to Rex.
"Sir," Rex spoke up again, "He wants me to introduce the others and let you know one of us is in Baltimore hurt real bad. He hates to ask, but if there is any way you could find a way to speak to her, too..."
"Consider it done," The President stated with no hesitation, even as Battlement cringed at someone asking the President to do something else. "As soon as I am off with you all I will make the call. So who else is part of your squadron, Joshua?"
Surprised at the ease at which the man was taking to one person through another, and not ever having thought of how a President must handle talking through interpreters, Josh paused for a moment. Seeing Battlement nod to him to continue, he pointed over his shoulder and motioned for the others in his squadron to move up.
One by one, Josh made the introductions through Rex, who quickly became more comfortable speaking for Josh, since the man on the other end was not showing any discomfort. Once all the kids were introduced, the President made a point of getting an introduction to parents and even siblings of the kids in the squadron and spending a few moments talking to each, strangely enough spending an extra few moments talking to Colt.
Finally, he focused back on Battlement, "So, I understand there is a problem with them selecting their names?"
"Only in so much as them not wanting to be the only ones, Mr. President." Battlement glanced over at Josh, "With all do respect, I think it is best to hear it from them, sir."
"Go ahead Rex." The President commanded.
"Sir, Josh isn't even thinking this to me. He doesn't need to. We all feel the same way. We didn't do this alone. There are COBRAS and a WOLVES cadet who helped, some who died... Sir, we don't think it is right to be the only ones to get to select names. Plus some of those we rescued turned and helped us! This kid Ajax... he... he's my friend and we don't even know if he can stay with us... He was one of them, but he was forced to be sir..."
The President held up his hand to stop Rex, even as tears started to trickle down Rex's cheeks.
"Battlement, what is the status on this Ajax?"
"Sir, the kid in question shot Rex..."
The President's head jerked, "What?"
At this Eldora moved up and put his hand on Rex's shoulder, "Sir, please, he was forced to. We have all gotten to know him. We'll find a home for him and for the others who switched sides and joined us... We all gave our word to Ajax and Rex..."
President McCain took a deep breath, "Battlement?"
"Sir, you are hearing this right out of the mouths of the kids who ended up trusting this youngster and a few others with their very lives and it is very possible we would have lost more kids if it hadn't been for them, maybe even the town itself."
President McCain turned to focus on Rex, "Let me get this straight, he shot you and you are the one sponsoring him?
"Absolutely, sir," Rex replied with total conviction in his shaking voice. "One of the reasons for you having and us belonging to BEST and being part of BEARS is to help fellow Augments and he needed and still needs our help! Plus, he is my friend, now."
The President's lips turned a bit white as he pressed them together in thought. Finally he took a long breath, "Battlement."
"This is the very last time anything is to be said about this Ajax ever having shot anyone. It didn't happen and all those who know it didn't happen, better remember it didn't happen."
"Totally understood, Mr. President."
"Good, so since it never happened, put his name on the same paperwork and let's get him a good home. What about the status of the other of these fine youngsters rescued?"
"Mr. President, they are all orphaned or abandoned. At least two had been taken captive by Bronze Age and Rex and Eldora are correct, they were pretty much forced to do what they did; but other than Ajax not shooting Rex, they have been scanned and have not hurt anyone else."
"Well, then. If you can find places for them to live, we'll give them citizenship and I'll even let them take names."
Josh looked over at his mom and dad. Before he could even think to them, his mom moved forward. "We'll happily adopt one."
"So will we." Skye's parents spoke up, quickly followed by Eldora's.
"What about the others, sir? The COBRAS and the WOLVES deserve no less than what we are getting!" Rex all but demanded
President McCain took another deep breath, "Battlement, get me a list of all kids who fought Bronze Age and I'll sign an Executive Order to allow them to take names as well. But they will have to wait. I only sent in approval for those in BEARS 97 for now." The President then turned his attention to the men and woman who had offered to take in the rescued Augments. "And these other men and women, are they parents of these kids?"
"Not all of them, sir." Night Tracker stared as he motioned to the other side of the room, where a small group of parents and kids were standing back out of the way. This didn't stop a few of them from openly offering to take in orphaned or abandoned Augments. "Some are Normal parents and kids of those who joined in to fight alongside our kids. Many of the adults and kids in this room were injured while fighting alongside kids of BEARS 97 and the other cadets who joined in. Several others have parents or children up on the BEST controlled floor of this hospital."
"I have seen some reports on this, and would be honored to get an introduction to them as well!" President McCain all but demanded.
North Star spoke up and introduced all the rest of those in the room to the President.
"I want you to know... need you to know, how pleased I am to get to see and talk to you," The President started, then took a deep breath and continued. "You parents are all the real heroes, you know. You came together, allowed your kids to fight shoulder to shoulder with fellow countrymen, regardless of race or status. You also jumped in at a time of great need and have done something I have been praying for since I first entered politics. I finally can point to, and build upon, your example of Normals and Augments working as a community, together, to strengthen it and make it better and safer for all.
"You are raising the future of this country and the world. On behalf of the entire country, I thank you." The President then paused and focused back in on the kids, "Once you are all fully healed up, I expect you all, including parents and siblings of all BEARS to come to the White House for an award ceremony. For those non-Augments who are in the room, I would like you all to join them. We could all use this chance to show the world it can work, if everyone would just put aside their hatred. The way you all stand up for each other is something the world needs more of and seeing you all together with me could be the start of something so much bigger, or at least plant the seed for it to become so.
"Now if you will excuse me, I have a young lady in Baltimore to call before I deal with the Ambassador to France, whom I walked out on to take this call. Off, the record, I am glad you interrupted me. It is far better talking to fine young men and women than dealing with him."
As the screen went dark, Battlement looked over at Josh and Rex, "So, you two happy now?"
Josh gulped as he realized they had all but demanded something from the President of the United States and had gotten exactly what they asked for. He nodded, 'Yes, sir!'
Rex also nodded, but managed a nervous grin, "Hey, how many chances does a person get to ask the President for something?"
Battlement's hand crashed into his forehead, "OK, you, Mr. Kluger, for that, you get to select your name last!"
This got some snickers out of the rest of USDT 19, parents and most of the kids.
Finally, Sonic Strike turned to look at Josh, "So as Squadron Leader and one of our newest officers, you should go first. Anything strike your fancy?"
Josh nodded, 'I always thought the name Telecon, for telekinesis, telepathy, and teleportation control would be kind of cool.'
Sonic Strike did a search and gave a thumbs up. "Available, and I agree with you, plus it has a nice ring to it. But once I lock it in, you are stuck with it."
'Do it!' Josh responded eagerly.
As soon as the name was input, a machine next to the computer went active. A few seconds later a tag with the name TELECON dropped out of the bottom. North Star took the tag and put it on the empty Velcro strip on Josh's uniform.
For several seconds nothing was said as Josh just stared at it, never really thinking he would see one of his biggest dreams fulfilled. Battlement broke up the silence by moving up and lightly shaking Josh's casted right hand. "Congratulations, Telecon."
Josh accepted the handshake and nodded, but didn't send any thoughts, since he really was overwhelmed with emotion.
Finally, his mom moved up and per her arm around him, while kissing him on the top of his head. She gave a nod to Battlement to move on, knowing it would take Josh a while to get over his emotions.
Battlement gave Mrs. Stellman a knowing nod, then looked over to Eldora, "As leader of the girls of BEARS 97 and the second newest officer to USDT, you are next up, young lady."
Eldora, much like Josh had a name she wanted to use. With a grin, and pretty sure it wasn't taken, she nodded, "Please tell me Wild Spirit is still available!"
Sonic Strike nodded as if he knew it was, even as he typed the name in while North Star smiled, "I assume you don't need to think this over?"
"Not at all, Ma'am!" Eldora stated while eyeing Sonic Strike. As soon as the man gave a thumbs up, a relieved sigh escaped her lips, "And, yes, I am sure!"
Sonic Strike quickly submitted the name and gave Battlement another nod.
Battlement shook Eldora's hand and turned back to the others as North Star once again grabbed the printed out name tag and affixed it to Eldora's uniform. "OK, now I think we should move on to our three Class Fives, and yes, Garret, I personally updated your classification and no one argued after seeing what your Chi Meteor did to Bronze Age and what your fists did to the bridge.
"As a matter of fact, when we get all of you fully healed up, we are taking you all to White Sands so we can find out just how nasty you can get. Also, and I already heard you are sick of hearing this, but those blue fists of yours are beyond deadly. Keep them puppies holstered until you get USDT approval to pull them out. Are we perfectly clear?"
Garret nodded and gulped, "Very clear, sir!"
"Good, now since I haven't seen them personally, yet, and I am USDT, let me see just how fast you can bring them up."
Garret shrugged. Even as he did so, both fists flashed bright blue.
"Holy crap!" Sandstorm gasped out. "No forcing them, no effort, no momentary drain, nothing?"
Garret held up his hands, "Not really."
"You better pick a really kick butt name, then!" Mystic Knight stated with a degree of awe.
"He delivered the final big blow to Bronze Age," Skye spoke up, "so I think he should go next."
'Aww!' Josh thought to everyone in the room, 'He used his big bang and I missed it?'
"If you had teleported, you wouldn't have," Jade Witch reminded the boy.
'Man, I really wanted to see it go off; was it as cool as I think it was?'
"Better, way better!" Tanner stated firmly.
Rex quickly agreed, "Even from a distance it was sick, wicked sick!"
"Way better than my Magma Ball with a much bigger bang at the end, too!" Skye added.
'Totally not fair. I really wanted to see it go off!' Josh broadcast with an underlying grumble to his thoughts.
"You will all be able to see it when we test him at White Sands, Telecon," Battlement reminded the boy. "Because I want to see it just as much as you do! But it sounds like the consensus is you should pick your name next, Garret, unless our other class five has a complaint."
"No, no argument from me." Colt added without hesitation, "Without him, we would never have won. Both Skye and me hit Bronze Age with everything we had and didn't do half of what Garret did!"
Battlement motioned for Garret to drop his blue fists and let out a light whistle as they disappeared as quickly as they appeared. "Yeah, we are going to be spending some time at White Sands with all of you, but I am going to get you alone so we can really see what you can do."
Not liking the sound of having Battlement training him, yet excited by it at the same time, Garret flashed a nervous smile and nodded, not really knowing what to say.
"So, what do we call the newest Lord to be entered into the database?" Sonic Strike finally asked.
Garret shrugged, "I... I don't have a clue... Josh?"
'Not my name, but it should have something to do with magic if you asked me. Everything you have is Sorcery and Chi related as best as I can tell.'
Garret looked over to Rex, "Any ideas."
"You seriously asking a kid who gets pretty much straight C's in school what you should be called? I don't think I can help you, Garret."
He glanced back at his parents, "Mom, Dad?"
"Son," his dad spoke up as he moved to up to his boy's side, "take a breath and get some ideas, maybe we should move on..."
"I can't." Sonic Strike stated. I have already pulled up his name and once I do so, it locks it in awaiting the codename. The system is set this way so a person can't go back in to his or her name."
"Great..." Garret sighed heavily.
Valda moved up, "Garret take your time, the whole world is locked out of the system and no one can gain control until you make a decision, so take your time think it over. Josh thinks a magic sounding name is right for you and I agree, but what about you?"
"I just want it to sound cool, like Sonic Strike's name."
"Having strike as part of your name would work real well after what you did to Bronze Age, the bridge and all those snowmobiles." Logan snickered.
"But Magic Strike sounds stupid." Garret complained.
"How about Arcane?" Eldora volunteered.
"Better," Garret nodded, "But there are lots of Arcane names, aren't there?"
"Yeah," Sonic Strike jumped in, "over two hundred with Arcane as part of their names, last time I took a peek."
Seeing several eyes turn toward the man, Sandstorm grinned, "He is USDT's name guy. He follows all the new names religiously and logs in daily to see who was allowed to take a name and what those names are."
"It's just a hobby..."
"Sure it is." North Star giggled, "We'll let you call it a hobby if you want. I'd call it an obsession."
Letting the others snicker about the back and forth, Garret leaned against his dad, "How about something else magic sounding... something I could still use with Strike?"
"Wizard, Mage, Adept, Sorcerer, Magi..." Sonic Strike started only to hear several people in the room start to snicker again. He stopped and turned a little red as he spun the chair back around to look at the monitor.
Josh suddenly turned, 'How about Rune?'
"Ruin?" Garret's eyes went wide, "Haven't I ruined enough?"
This got several snickers and some outright laughter out of some in the room, while others were thinking the same thing Garret was. Finally Sonic Strike spoke up, "Garret, it isn't ruin like you destroyed something, it is rune like in a magic symbol or glyph."
"Oh..." Garret looked over, "Um, can you bring up a definition so I can see it. I have never heard of it before."
As Garret studied the multitude of definitions for the word and got a better understanding of it, Night Tracker spoke to the youngster "There are lots of types of runes, Garret, magic being just one of them." He smiled as he saw Garret start to understand one of the meanings but felt he should add a little more information. "The thing is, magic writing is pretty much considered written in runes. If you take a look at Mystic Knight's blade, all the magical inscriptions on it are known as runes."
"You really have a magic blade?" Garret asked with a degree of awe.
Mystic Knight moved over to Garret while drawing his sword, "Once magic went active again, several things regained ancient powers. This is one of them. People now scour the world looking for things that were not destroyed. I found this in a crypt in upper Ohio. I think it drew me to itself, since I have some arcane abilities..."
Garret touched the blade and the runes along it lit up, "Wow! I can feel it, too. It lets you turn it into a serpent of some sort and it can twist and bite..."
Mystic Knight looked stunned but nodded, "Up to three times a day and the bite is poisonous. My necklace is also magical." The man held it out.
Once again Garret reached out and touched the strange symbols, only to see them flare up, "It lets you do what Corbin can do! You can like, partially slide into another plane or something, right."
"You are amazing." Mystic Night stated with astonishment. "It took me months to figure them out! We think those symbols are part of the magic behind these items and they are called runes."
Garret shrugged, "I can feel how the magic works when I touched them, like I could see it in my brain or something." He backed off and spoke the name, "Rune Strike..." he nodded but looked over at his Squadron mates, "What do you think?"
"Sounds really kick butt to me," Tanner grinned, "and even better, some people, like me before a few minutes ago, would think the other type of ruin, so it sounds vicious, too!"
"Mom, Dad?" Garret asked as he turned to look at his parents.
"Your choice, buddy, but I have to admit, it has some flair to it." His dad spoke after a momentary silence.
His mom fought not to cringe. Instead she simply nodded and managed to say, "Up to you, but your friend is right, it does kind of sound ferocious."
"Rune Strike," Garret spoke it out loud again. "Yeah, nice. I do like it a lot! Thanks, Josh!" He looked over to Sonic Strike, "As long as you don't mind me having strike in my name."
"After what you did, I would consider it an honor."
"Rune Strike." Garret said one more time just to hear it. "Yeah, if it is available..."
"It is. There is no other Rune out there right now at all." Sonic Strike stated with total confidence.
"Right on," Garret grinned, "then I get to be the first!"
"Lord Rune Strike input and saved!" Sonic Strike announced a moment later. "Congratulations!"
"So who is next, Skye or Colt?" North Star asked
Skye pointed to Colt, "Let Sparky go; I think I have what I want, but I want to tweak it a bit in my mind first."
Battlement nodded and pointed at Colt, "Somehow I don't see us calling you Sparky much longer..."
Colt shook his head, "No, I hate that nick name!"
"Well, the substation sure sparked..." Rex started to say, only to see Battlement give him an angry looking stare.
"Watch it, Rex," Wild Rapids warned the teen, "you have no idea how much we had to rework our budget over that whole thing. It is one of the few things we just want to never hear about again. We even needed an extra grant from FEMA to round out the replacement of the main power lines and the President had to sign off as the area being a disaster so we could do so."
Colt's mom and Arctic Trooper noticeably cringed as his mom spoke up, "Well, now I know why the President was able to identify Colt."
Battlement snorted, "Yeah, he wanted everything we knew about your boy before he agreed to sign off."
Colt felt a little blood drain from his face, "So, he really did know who I was..."
"Oh, yeah!" Wild Rapids verified, "As do most other senior government officials and all of USDT One.
"Rune Strike will be just as well known." Battlement added in with total certainty. "So, Colt, any ideas?"
A bit of a grin spread across his face, "Ultra-Volt."
"Not taken, nothing even close." Sonic Strike remarked with a light whistle.
"Very appropriate, very..." Battlement's words trailed off. "Lock it in then?"
Colt pumped his fist, "Oh yeah!"
Battlement turned and rolled his eyes, forcing both Sandstorm and North Star to hide snickers behind a fake cough and a clearing of a throat. He let North Star put on the name tag and shook the boy's hand before looking over at Skye, "You're next, then."
A devious smile and a glimmer in her eyes flashed across Skye's features as she spoke, "If this is taken, I will eat one of my Magma Balls."
"Oh, boy..." Tanner grumbled, "This means it's going to be something I won't understand and can't even say then."
"Only Josh will be able to." Eldora confirmed.
"OK, then..." North Star stated with a raised eyebrow, "So let's hear it, young Lady to be."
Skye looked over at Josh as she piped up, "Calescent Corundum!"
While almost everyone else in the room looked around with blank stares, Josh couldn't help but snicker no matter how much it hurt his jaw, 'Wow! Now there's one for the books!'
Battlement shot a look over to Night Tracker, "You are the smartest person in my team, any idea?"
"Corundum is aluminum oxide in crystal form. Both Sapphires and Rubies are corundum." Night Tracker stated, "No idea what the first word was, though."
'Calescent, to heat up or to make warm,' Josh thought to everyone, 'so heating up aluminum oxide crystals would be the full name. Totally awesome, Skye!'
Skye gave Josh a quick bow, "Now, is it taken?"
"No," Sonic Strike barked out. "Not a chance, no way in Hades, now would one of you two come over here and type it in, because I don't know how to spell either word with any degree of certainty."
Battlement shook his head as if he was clearing it, "I want to see both of those words up on a dictionary search, so I can see them..." he studied them as Josh input them so they appeared on the secondary monitor, then turned to Skye, "OK, impressive and whoa... are you sure?
"Definitely!" Skye stated with a degree of pride.
Sonic Strike input the name and glanced back over his shoulder to make darn sure he spelled both words correctly. Finally, he looked right at Skye, "The computer says it will make your name tag two lines since we have to add the word Lady to it since you are a Class Five. Are you really sure?"
North Star took the tag out of the printer and looked it over, "Well, this is... I like it, but geesh, the first person who you have to fight will see this name and give you a chance for a free shot as they try to process it!"
"Even better!" Skye smiled even wider.
Battement shook her hand with a loud exhale. He studied the name tag for a second and finally spoke, "Congratulations Lady Calescent Corundum. Just don't expect me to try to say it five times fast or anything."
This got some laughter from pretty much everyone in the room. At the same time, Josh shot Skye a look, 'I hope Kurt likes it.'
Skye turned bright red as her eyes went wide and thought back to Josh, 'Me too!'
Battlement glanced between the two, knowing he was missing something, but decided to ignore it. He looked over to Tanner, "So, what about you?"
Tanner's mouth scrunched up, "I bet everything I was thinking about is already taken, like Dragon Fire, Red Dragon, Inferno and Scorch, huh?"
"All taken, buddy, sorry." Sonic Strike answered without even looking. "So is Phoenix and Flaming Phoenix if you were thinking about other fire type animals.
"How about your shooting skills, Tanner?" Rex proposed as an idea. "Maybe something to join shooting and your fire power?"
Tanner's eyes went wide as he glanced over to Sonic Strike. "Crossfire?"
"I think it's actually open... Give me a sec." A moment later, he glanced back over his shoulder, "Surprising, but it's available."
"I'll take it!" Tanner glanced over to Rex, "Good thinking, dude!"
"Glad to help."
Sandstorm looked over to Valda, "Since we are saving Rex for last, how about you?"
"Can I do something like Forest Lore, but with a hyphen?"
It took only a few moments to get a thumb's up.
"Lock it in. I like the sound."
"Easy enough, and dignified. North Star remarked as she handed over the name tag to Battlement.
"OK, Logan, all eyes on you." Night Tracker noted.
Logan drummed his fingers over his thumbs as he spoke, "I want to be a Knight, but I am sure all the neat darkness kind of names are taken. I'm more than open to ideas."
Sonic Strike typed in an idea, "I have one here you might like."
Logan moved over to the computer and looked at the name and broke into a wide smile, "Gloom Knight... Yeah, thank you, sir!"
"No matter what the rest of my team says, knowing all the names is pretty handy sometimes."
Seeing every member of USDT 19 look to the ceiling and or groan he flashed Logan a quick grin. "I have been wanting to say something along those lines, for years."
"Well, I'm impressed, and thanks again. Lock it in for me please."
While Battlement turned to put on the name tag and shook Logan's hand all eyes went to Rex.
Rex didn't even wait to be asked, "Dire Wolf. I know it's not taken, cause I check on it every day!"
As soon as Battlement put the name tag on Rex, he looked back at all the kids, "OK, now on to the rest of your day, but first, Telecon, you need to go with North Star so she, Kurt, and a couple of our other healers can put your jaw back together. The rest of you, this is the first time you have had to see your parents since you were airlifted here, so feel free to take them up to your rooms and introduce them to the rest of the kids and their parents. In the mean time, Cold Steel needs to bring down the COUGARS so they can select names.
"Hopefully we will have Presidential approval to get all the rest names before nightfall. Now, I know several of you said you would take in some of those your kids rescued, but we can find...."
Garret's mom shook her head, "With all due respect, sir, we have seen what it is like for augmented children without homes, since we used to foster them in Florida. If my son wants to share a room with one of them until we can build an addition, we'll take him in, no questions asked."
Skye's dad totally agreed, "Skye has wanted a brother or sister she can really play and roughhouse with who will also understand, since the rest of us really don't and we all know it. We have a spare room which can be turned into a bedroom, which it will be the second we get back."
Battlement held up his hand, "Well, then I think there is a very good chance we will have to add a new adult to the squadron, because we now know of at least five other kids who have been hiding their abilities until now, who want to join BEARS 97 and I suspect others will as well.
"Just remember half of our newest reserve members are still classified as being on bed rest, so take it easy, all of you. And Colt... Ultra-Volt, doc's orders, EAT! You lost over eight pounds and have only gained three back. Don't make me force feed you!"
Colt's eyes went wide he moved back toward his mom with a terrified look causing most in the room to snicker.
Battlement put on a satisfied looking smirk for a second before he backed up and once again started clapping. "Well done, all of you. No USD Team could have done better, and most would have done much worse. As you heal up over the next few days and head home, keep your heads up. You did all of us real proud!"