Copyright © 2012 - 2014 by Kyle Aarons and the Revolutions Universe Partnership.
All Rights Reserved
Ricky woke and glanced around the darkened room. The only light was coming from under the door to the central room of the suite he was staying in. He rubbed some crusty stuff out of his eyes and shivered slightly at how low Keith had set the air conditioning in the room. Not wanting to get out of bed, but badly needing to go to the bathroom, he fought the desire to get out of bed, but a whisper of voices coming from the other side of the door to the main room caught his attention.
He frowned as he got up and pulled on the door just enough to see though the opening. At the same time this let in a bit more sound. It was Keith's voice, but it was not English he was hearing. He listened for a few more seconds before backing off and going to the bathroom. At the same time he looked over at the clock, "Who is he talking to at three-oh-five in the morning?" Ricky muttered as he moved back to the door so he could adjust the thermostat up a few degrees, shivering again as the light from the bathroom showed Keith had set the room temperature to sixty three degrees.
He pushed the up button until it read seventy and started to go back to bed, but this time he heard another voice, again not speaking English, and not one he recognized. Frowning, he moved back over to the door and opened it a bit further and peeked in. In the center of the room he saw Keith, sitting cross-legged, talking into a walkie-talkie like device, only it was hooked to a small box that had a large antenna that had obviously came out of the flipped up lid.
Realizing he was looking at Keith's invention, he glanced over at the clock again then the bed. The idea of sleep almost outweighed his curiosity, but after only a couple of seconds of debate, interest in the bed took second place. He stepped into the room and gave a nervous wave to get Keith's attention.
Keith quickly grinned and motioned for Ricky to come over. At the same time he switched to English, "Hey, Sergei, one of the new friends I was telling you about just woke up. I know your English is not as good as my Russian, but would you like to say hi?"
"Why, yes, Comrade Keith," came a reply with a very thick accent. "To who do I say to?"
Keith motioned Ricky to come over while he spoke. "Sergei, this is Ricky."
"Good to speak you Ricky," the thick accented voice spoke slowly, "Are you us age?"
Keith motioned for Ricky to answer as he slid back so as to give Ricky easier access to the microphone. "Sergei, if you are asking how old I am, I am eleven."
"Ah, same as Keith," came the response. "I am three-teen. Keith is first America I speak. He help me with English and me sometime help he with Russian, but he very good speaker of my speak. Me have much bigger to go on your speak. So, sorry if hard to understand."
"No, you are doing great, Sergei. I am the one who should be sorry; I only know English, nothing else."
"Not to be sorry for Comrade Ricky. Do you learn radio? If you do, we can talk and we can learn each other."
"I would love to learn how to have a HAM radio set and would like to get to know you better." Ricky grinned widely at the idea. "Um… Where in Russia are you?"
The voice on the other end spoke in Russian, but the tone clearly told Ricky the kid was asking a question to which Keith quickly answered in Russian. Sergei's voice then came back in English. "So bad of me, Ricky, but not understand question. My семья, um… Keith tell you. Um, live in Bratsk. Make it more far than um… три тысячи восемьсот километров прямой к востоку от Москвы."
Keith glanced over, "The first Russian word he used was family; he was saying his family live in Bratsk. The second part was telling you it is over thirty-eight hundred miles straight east of Moscow."
Ricky's left eyebrow shot up as he did a quick computation while Keith turned his attention back to the radio.
"Yes, thank you once more Keith. Your Russian be быстрый, um…"
"The word you want is 'fluent' Sergei." Keith snickered.
"Much bad of me, yes, fluent."
Ricky finally spoke again after running into the bedroom and racing back to the radio, "So you live like two thousand, four hundred miles east of Moscow, I am trying to look it up on my phone with Google Maps. It looks like you live close to a big lake."
"Keith, I still have problem with word, may you, please?"
Keith glanced over to Ricky. "It sits on the Angara River right on the Bratsk Reservoir."
"It looks beautiful." Ricky stated as he continued to play with his phone.
"Yes, Comrade, very much so," Sergei sighed, "But very bad poison."
"Poison?" Ricky cocked his head to the side, "I don't understand?"
"Toxic pollution," Keith responded. "Sergei and I talk about it a lot."
"Yes, very sad," Sergei spoke in a softer voice. "Much mercury in water and other bad things. Post Great War government build many factory, sent prisoner here as um… We talk about before, Keith, your words are force labor?"
"Very good Sergei!" Keith stated with enthusiasm, "Your English is getting better all the time!"
"This is good with much thanks to you, comrade." The youngster on the other end snickered briefly, "I now have station in Australia to talk with some time because you work with me."
"Awesome Sergei!" Keith earnestly praised his long distance friend. "You will have to get me the call letters so I can try to make contact some time, but I think Ricky is still confused about what you have to deal with there."
"Ah, bad to be rude, so bad of me," Sergei answered. "Comrade, Ricky, the poison is all over here. We not fish here, poor do, but very bad. Papa, he no let us camp close here even. We drive many kilometer up river to fish and camp, but papa still no let us eat much fish. Worry brother and sister may get sick like me."
"You are sick?" Ricky asked with a great deal of sadness.
"Um, sick not right word again, Keith?"
"He was born with some birth defects and can't walk without the help of poles on his arms. He also gets sick easily, especially since the weather is like super cold during the winter and it rains quite a bit during the summer. He has never seen a temperature above eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit. Average summer temperatures are in the seventies there."
"Once again, very much thanks, Keith. To say such in English would take me hours."
Keith chuckled, "You do not give yourself much credit Sergei, but happy to help."
"Me know this and hope you country smart and put Mr. Bryce back in. Your President Ashwood be so bad. It like we no longer friend with America."
The surprise in Ricky's voice was evident, "You follow the elections there?"
"Oh, yes. Much interest here. We think America be good friend, President Bryce even sent Science team here and help drill well with filter to take out poison, make drink water good for all. But now it be so sad. Russia no longer let America adopt Russia childs. Worry government take them. News here say it already happen in some place and we no know where Russia adopted be."
"Wow…" Ricky shook his head in bewilderment, "I follow the news but never heard anything like this."
"America news no good no more. Listen to us, to Australia, to many Europe country, then you hear real words. Go look on internet, do search of what Mr. Bryce say, not what news clips say and put out."
"So you don't believe Jackson Bryce is a terrorist?"
This got laughter out of Sergei, a lot or laughter. After several seconds the boy was finally able to speak again. "Comrade Ricky, no chance. Need to ask you, what terror is he blamed for?"
Ricky chewed on his lip for several seconds, "Um, domestic… um, I really don't know. The Government says his continued support of gays having children is a crime, as is many of his other stances, but I don't think I have heard what terrorism he has actually done. Everything is what he supports that is illegal now."
"He do nothing comrade, just speak mind, and mind is million times more than President Ashwood mind. Me, I prefer to drink water right out of river here then have Ashwood run Russia."
Before more could be said, a male voice spoke from behind Sergei that the microphone only partially picked up. There was a two way conversation in Russian before Sergei spoke in English again. "So sorry Ricky, papa need me to help to finish dinner."
Keith glanced at his watch, "Oh, it is after eighteen-thirty there. Tell your papa this was my fault."
A man's voice came on and spoke in Russian, which Keith responded to for a couple of minutes. Finally Keith signed off and clicked the power button. He smiled as he glanced over to Ricky, "Sergei's dad said when Ashwood loses, and relations between our countries gets good again, he wants me and my new friend to come see Sergei. He also made me to promise to get you licensed so you can talk to Sergei."
Rick yawned, "That'd be great, but what does having President Ashwood in power or not have to do with any of it?"
Keith let out a long breath as he continued to shut down his mini base station. "Back when President Bryce was in office, he made us good friends with Russia. I really don't get all of it, but one thing Sergei and his dad have talked to me about is that there were many orphans and bad orphanages in Russia. President Bryce arranged for lots of help for them and arranged for many to be adopted in the US. But some were placed with gay couples, and now President Ashwood has made such adoptions null, and rumor has it some of those kids have disappeared. At the same time, Ashwood cut off tax deductions to those sending money to help Russian orphanages, so money has gone away.
"Also, as you heard, President Brice sent many scientists over to Russia to help clean up some of the horrible pollution over there, and now most of Sergei's city has clean water because of it. Problem is, the scientists were brought back to the U.S. by President Ashwood, saying Russia made the problem and the U.S. shouldn't have its people helping fix a problem caused by a bunch of communists that hated us. It doesn't seem to matter to Ashwood how bad this has turned relations between us and Russia. All he seems to care about is money, as in making lots of it."
Keith stretched as he headed back to the suite's bedroom he and Ricky had picked to share. "Sergei's dad, Dmitry, is working with people here to show what all is left out of many news broadcasts. He keeps saying the Vice President is helping control the news here since he used to be a news man, but servers are blocking him from trying to find proof. Problem is, he says he needs it before Election Day."
"Whole thing seems kind of dumb to me," Ricky shrugged, "but if you can get me some kind of starting point I can find what he is looking for. I may be the biggest looser wimp in history but computers are something I can make smoke."
"He is normally available before he goes to work in the morning. He leaves at five in the morning, but is usually on around four. If you want to help him, we could catch him at one in the afternoon our time."
"Sure, why not?" Ricky yawned again, "It's way better than talking to him at three in the freakin' morning!"
"I know, but the best time for me to catch Sergei is between one and three thirty which is after school and before dinner for him. But you're right. Having friends all the way over there does make me have a rather weird sleep schedule. Fortunately, my mom doesn't really care about super good grades, or I'd never be able to keep up the radio schedule I do, especially during baseball season."
Ricky flopped down on his bead with a bit of a snarl, "Don't talk to me about baseball!"
"Hey, I bet I could help you learn to play better."
"Just getting me away from…" Ricky shook his head and clammed up. "Let's just get some sleep so we don't pass out during the tour of EEL tomorrow… I mean THIS morning!"
"Good idea." Keith yawned again before rolling on his side and pulling the blanket over his head.
Across the suite from the two boys who were getting back into bed, Alexander and Scott were busy working on a power interrupt for their cell phones. Both boys had the backs off their phones and the batteries out.
Alexander pointed to the metal contacts on the battery. "A thin piece of plastic, kind of like what you say your mom uses would be the easiest. If we could make a slide outside the phone it could sit under the battery and then with a simple click we push it up and it cuts the contact to the battery."
"I tired that," Scott stated with a note of disgust. I thought the same thing and it worked great for a while, but then the prongs sticking up on the back of phone stated to wear down and the battery didn't make good contact anymore."
Alexander scratched his head for a minute, "then we are going to have to pull the phones all the way apart and make a push switch that retracts the prongs from the battery. It'd be easy at my garage lab, but I don't have those kinds of tools, magnifying glasses, or much of anything else here. Maybe Mr. Triumph will let us use one of his labs."
"His lowest level security lab is rated Controlled by the US government. I can get in because I got a confidential clearance since I attend parties with some very powerful people and mom uses me to get information, but we'd have to get you cleared and the way the government works it would take weeks; even if I managed to get my mom's and aunts help it would still take at least a week, probably two."
Alexander snorted, "If it is only controlled, then we won't even have an issue. I have a clearance since I help around my parents' labs sometimes."
"Really?" Scott's voice showed his astonishment. "So are you above controlled access?"
"One could say so, yes." Alexander grinned, "But I am not allowed to."
This got a burst of laughter out of Scott, which was extremely rare. "I'm going to have to remember that line!"
Alexander snickered, "Just remember I didn't say it!"
Scott continued to giggle some, "Oh, I am good at never saying anything! The cool thing is, we can get in to his labs. We just need to get with Mr. Triumph and see if he will run a check on us and get us access. Between the two of us and a good lab to work in, this should only take an hour or so."
"I'll let you ask." Alexander managed a snicker, "I'm going to be a quiet little angle for the next couple of days."
Scott glanced over and saw the grin on Alexander's face, which only caused him to burst into another round of laughter. "Quiet maybe, angle… I just don't see it."
This only caused Alexander's smile to widen. "Yeah, probably going to fail on the angel part… But it sounded good!" He then pushed his phone back and cocked his head to the side, "So, Scott, how good at sound technology are you?"
The question caught Scott off guard, which meant he answered with way more information than he normally would have. "I pretty much know everything known about sound technology. When I was six my mom took me, Grant and my older brother to this weapons test range in New Mexico. At the time she was looking at buying advanced weaponry for the National Guard, since she was worried about Hispanics siding with Mexico and stuff. At the time I was too young to fully get it, but one thing I did understand was the demonstrations on sonic weaponry.
"They held a series of test firings on hand held rifles that emitted a condensed burst of sound that knocked people loopy all the way to a setting that killed a test coyote. They moved up the ladder, showing increasing sizes and powers of sound wave weapons until they got to a large dish array mounted on a truck. They then aimed it at a group of like fifty people who I guess had volunteered, but I have no idea why, cause once they activated the weapon all fifty dropped to their knees, held their hands up to their heads, and you could tell they were screaming in pain. It took only about half a minute before many started puking while some tried to stumble away, but only a couple of them made it. Close ups of their faces showed some blood had leaked out of their eyes, ears and noses and interviews with some indicated they had been blinded.
"Mom was told by the man in charge of the demo, that the eyesight would return after a couple of weeks once the burst blood vessels in the eyes healed and the same thing applied for those who were either deaf or had partial hearing loss. The last thing he said as he smiled was, what we had seen was only at eighty percent power. He didn't say more, but it pretty much told even my six year old brain, the weapon could have killed all of those people.
"The other part is this weapon system was being privately financed by some beyond wealthy backers and not even the President was fully aware of its potential. So, if this was true, President Bryce didn't know. "
Scott looked up and took a deep breath, "Mom said as soon as the government had Okayed the weapon she would fund some purchase for our state's National Guard. Right after Ashwood took office, mom arranged a purchase from the company, but I don't know what. Only that it amounted to about one hundred and ninety three million. The weird part is, I don't think it went to the National Guard, 'cause it was transferred to our yacht which then sailed without any of us on board.
"About six months later the National Guard did get a shipment of the rifles, though, so maybe that was part of it, but I don't really think it was." Scott shrugged, "Grant and I both think something really strange was going on with the whole thing, but we knew better than to ask or poke around too much."
Scott stopped suddenly and gulped, "Um, probably more than I should have said, so anyway, after the test I started learning everything about sound I could. My basement is all about sound technology. Why?"
Alexander let out a long breath, "Well, you saw the robot fight GE sponsored four months ago, and the e-mail Mr. Triumph sent was from last month's annual big blow-out. I won both, although poor Hack-N-Saw took some really nasty damage at the end and is now retired. In fact it is sitting in a case in corporate headquarters in Colorado Springs with a screen showing some of its kills. At least they paid me for it in addition to me getting the check for first place, and a big bonus on the side."
Alexander grinned. "The way the inter-corporation robot war circuit works is, the winner gets to host the next round and it is very prestigious to be able to do so. Because I won, it means we host the next quarterly tournament and next year's annual big blow-out. That really puts us up with the big boys so the board of directors decided to give me a pat on the back by sending me a check with several zeros at the end."
"Nice!" Scott smiled, feeling good for his new friend, while also feeling a twinge of jealousy. It would sure be nice to have his own money, and not family money. Above all else, he just wanted to not be looked at as the super rich spoiled kid all the time. "So, this big blow-out is a yearly thing?"
"Oh, yeah, sorry. The annual one is called the blow-out. There are hundreds of robots, many from first timers or people who only build out for the blow-out. That makes it the premiere event of the year, which is also why Hack-N-Saw got so beat up. There are more rounds with more robots in each round. Normally for each round I put on a brand new outer shell, but the one last month I ran out of them, since they run me almost three grand each, so I had to spend all night before the final repairing the least damaged one I had the best I could. It almost cost me the tournament, but that dumbass Kent Luthor has it out for me and got careless…again."
This caused Alexander to grin, "You know I have five of his robots in my garage now?"
Scott looked totally shocked, "You keep the ones you kill?"
"Only in the inter-corporation circuit," Alexander stated with a big smile, "It is a way to keep the morons from tossing out crap bots every time. Instead, whoever kills them keeps the kill. With the money we spend on our bots, losing one early hurts most pocket books and keeps them from coming back. The Blow-out is where most people put their money, but well over half will never make a kill. There are some who have entered six to seven times and have yet to take home any salvage.
"The nice thing is, as our reputations and kill totals grow we move up on the boards. I am now in the top fifteen. If I can get seven more kills than Kent I'll move above him next time… Anyway, the top fifty don't see each other in the first round unless there are too few entries, and the top twenty do not have to see each other until round three or four so if we get killed by each other, which almost always happens, we come out with enough salvage to sell and make a new bot with little to no expense. I usually make my local circuit bots out of salvage so no one can see what I have planned for the next inter-corporation event."
"Wicked cool!" Scott responded becoming entranced by the idea of robot wars more and more. "But what does any of this have to do with sonic technology?"
"Well, my parents' company has never been able to host until now, which is expensive, since they have to hand out the prize checks and put together the arena. The problem is, they only have one decent arena to use. Because of this, and the fact we have to host next quarter's games and the big blow-out next year, the CEO has decided to do something all but unheard of. The big blow-out next year is going to be held on our outdoor test range and we get to use fully ranged weapons while we control our bots from inside the test bunker viewing areas."
"Why is this unusual?"
"Oh, man…" Alexander shook his head while grinning ear to ear and shaking with excitement, "Ranged weapons can't be used in an arena with people watching. Everything has to be attached or dropped. There are just too many chances for people to get hurt or killed. There are some competitions with dropped weapons like mines and you saw my exploding charge, but they have to be limited to a blast area of about fifteen feet with no shrapnel beyond twenty five. The actual range and power is up to the host company and set in the published rules, so they do change, but those rules, whatever rules they set, are extremely strict. You screw up on either the blast radius or shrapnel, you are disqualified and your robot put in a car crusher along with any salvage you may have earned. I have seen it happen. No corporation wants the liability so they make it crystal clear what is and isn't allowed.
"Even with the rules, things still fly off into the crowd and people get hurt, but those who come to watch sign an inherent danger clause and the final few rounds are always packed to standing room. I have never been to a competition where some spectator does not get taken in a ambulance after a spinning chain breaks off and flies into them, a chuck of armor gets hit just right and slashes into the crowd or some other things goes wrong.
"The cool thing is, next year's blow out is fully ranged with a blast limitation of large mortar or air to air missile." Alexander's eyes sparkled and he spoke faster with each breath. "I know what I will be dealing with. Everyone will put guns, rockets, missals, mortars and all sorts of rapid fire high explosives out there. A few, like Kent, will certainly add a laser or two, plus an EMP device, as will I; but I want something different, something no one has seen before and hopefully no one has thought of. I already have some preliminary designs of a sonic cannon, but I just don't know enough about the tech to make it work."
"So you want to create a sonic weapon capable of doing damage to metal and circuits?"
"Yeah!" Alexander nodded eagerly then snickered, "Actually, I want to use plasma technology, but it is too classified to be allowed."
Scott once again couldn't help but laugh. "Well, by the time I am done working with you on a sonic weapon capable of defeating armored robots, it may have the same problem."
"Not until I use it to shoot whatever Kent comes up with." Alexander's whole face took on an evilness as he smiled. He then powered up his note pad and pulled up a picture of his garage lab with five badly damaged robots along one wall, "Until he admits I belong on the circuit with him, my whole existence is to make his life miserable while turning his robots into my scrap trophies."
"What did he ever do to you?"
Alexander snarled, "He's a total asshole! He has tried all sorts of ways to get me tossed. He even tried to get me disqualified because I was not an employee. Once the company showed I was on the payroll and had even paid taxes before he lodged his complaint, he has done everything he can think of to get me kicked off the circuit. The other day he filed paperwork saying I couldn't be considered a scientist because I didn't have a college education.
"He is such a giant dick head," Alexander continued. "It's all just a waste since the only rules are we have to build our own robots, which I have proven I have been able to do since I was eight. We also can't do anything to jam anyone else's remote controlled frequency, and we have to be affiliated with a scientific development company. The base line rules don't even say I have to be an employee, but I am. They don't say I have to be a scientist, but I am. And they certainly don't say I have to be college educated. But just because I could I responded to his latest attempt to make me look bad, I did.
"I sent back my community college class schedule along with my transcripts, pointing out I have a higher GPA in math than he did when he was a sophomore in the same level of mathematics as he took. I also pointed out that while he did graduate from MIT, his first two years were also in a community college." Alexander snickered, "Which I noted he started when he was thirteen, and didn't get as good of grades as I am getting at age ten and eleven. As a final note, I added, my scientific invention made me one of eight nationwide winners of a science contest, which is something he can't boast either. I tossed out the fact four scientific publications noted me in articles, two of them saying all eight of us were up and coming scientists with amazing potential. Since a scientific publication says I am a scientist, and I have fourteen patents to my name, his supposition is flatly wrong and he should be censored by the scientific community for defaming a fellow scientist. He has not responded as of yet."
Scott shook his head while smiling, "Man, you are mean, awesome, but really mean!"
"He's a prick! He deserves it!"
"Hey, no argument from me, but you may want to cut him some slack. It sounds to me like he is really just jealous of you!"
Alexander's eyebrows shot up, "Huh, never really thought of him being jealous of me."
Scott glanced over with some surprise, but as soon as he saw the look in Alexander's eyes, he realized the boy was not joking. Quite simply, the idea the man might simply be jealous had never occurred to him. "It seems to me like he is fighting you because you are slightly better than him and it shows everywhere he looks, including you continuing to smash and blast his bots."
A smirk slowly spread across Alexander's face, "I bet you're right! Now I know exactly how to poke at him from now on! All I have to do is prove he is less than me on every front, the more publicly the better!"
Scott's jaw dropped some as he eyed Alexander, "You are so freakin' vicious!"
Another sinister look spread over Alexander's face and a devious glint come into his eyes, "Hey, you said it yourself, Scott."
"It came right out of your own mouth," Alexander snickered. "You didn't see me being an angel."
Scott lowered his head into his right hand while he burst out in laughter, "Yes…Yes I did!"
Alexander stood and patted Scott on the back. "Something tells me you have the same streak in you. All I have to do is help you find it. Now let's get some sleep so we can actually work on the phone thing in one of EEL's labs later today."
Still laughing, Scott nodded and shoved his backpack off his bed so he could climb in. What neither boy noticed was the fact the shove caused the majority of the contents to spill out between the two beds including a low end four megapixel camera with the name Grant Race neatly etched on the battery cover.
While the lights finally went out in the one suite, the lights in the other were still on.
In the room with Craig and Glenn, the two boys were once again down on the floor. Craig was busy hooking up his water extractor to the front of the chair while Glenn used some of the solar panels Craig had in his checked luggage to hook up power to a Hydrogen converter so the chair could break water down into hydrogen and oxygen. Since the scientists at EEL had already installed a draining tube, he tied in the water reservoir to the drain which meant he would actually be recycling much of the water his machine produced while Craig's invention would make up for what was lost.
It was just before four in the morning before Craig slid out from under the hover chair. "I'm set, now all we have to do is get a pump and couple more solar cells so we can have a power source to pump the hydrogen back into your fuel tanks. Unfortunately, I'm out of cells."
Glen let out a long aggravated breath. "We still need to design the pump and make sure it is safely refilling the tanks, but you're right. There is no reason this shouldn't work. Now, all we have to do is find out how we can get into the robot war thing and use our new way of powering my chair to power the robot. We would have nearly unlimited power to use all sorts of electrical weaponry!"
Craig nodded, "Yeah, unlike when Alexander's robot lost speed when it was spinning the axe, we would just use more fuel and make more. The real problem is designing armor capable of withstanding strikes likes his robot did. I have no clue how it absorbed some of those hits!"
Glenn's lips twisted up as he thought it over. "We'll have to experiment, but I would love to armor this chair up some and put a couple of defensive items in it."
"Because I can… OK, I am a bit of a dreamer and like comic books too much, but it would still be cool."
Craig's eyebrows arched as he studied the smaller boy. "What would?"
Glenn's face flushed as he looked down, "As stupid as it is, it would be nice to be a hero, a real one. I want to be able to be more than a crippled kid. Maybe I could help others if I ever got the chance."
"Kind of like Iron man, huh?"
"Yeah…" The word droned on as his eyes took on a bit of a far-away look. "I mean, why not? At least I wouldn't just be the puny cripple in a chair anymore." A sneer descended on Glenn's face as he added, "Plus, there is the jack-off by the name of Monte who I would love to put in his place. Once he goes down, his band of followers would scatter to the winds and all the kids at my school would be way safer and happier."
Craig rubbed his chin for a few seconds. "We'd have to make it really well hidden and not traceable back to your chair."
Astonishment could clearly be heard in Glenn's voice as he turned to stare at Craig. "You're really willing to help figure something out?"
"Hell yeah!" Craig nodded vigorously. "It will give you some protection, which it sounds like you need and it will also allow me to put a moron in his place. There is no down side." The left side of Craig's lips twisted upwards in a half grin. "The worst thing would be for my dad to find out, and I suspect he would publicly beat my ass then pat me on the back as soon as we were behind closed doors." Craig paused as he considered what he would want if it was his. "But if we are going to do this, let's give you a bit of offensive fire power, just in case you ever need it. Besides it will be a good way to experiment with some robotic weaponry."
Glenn's eyes gleamed as he nodded eagerly. "What do you have in mind?"
"What do you want that you think we can hide?"
"Not sure, but it would be nice to have several options. Maybe a taser, tranq darts, some rubber bullets, and maybe even a laser."
"A laser?" Craig nearly choked. "What do you need a laser for?"
"So I could take out the cars of a couple of parents who don't care they have total jerks for kids… Or maybe take out a few of President Ashwood's goons should he ever come and try to take my step cousins from my uncle and his boyfriend." Glenn lightly snarled. "His people tried once, but they failed. They live in California now, so they should be safe, but if Ashwood wins…"
Craig cringed as he saw himself getting dragged into a political conversation. "Dad told me to keep out of political talk on this one since he thinks both of them are bad. As a matter of fact, he told me he wasn't going to vote for the first time since he was old enough to so, since he doesn't want either of them in. He is pretty sure nothing good would, or could, come out of either one of them getting back in the White House."
Glenn sighed, clearly not realizing this was Craig's way of trying to kill the conversation. "Maybe, but my step cousins lived on the streets with a drugged out mom before my Uncle adopted them. I think it is sick to think Ashwood would prefer to have them back with their mom over my Uncle. It makes no sense!"
"OK, I'll give you that one." Craig shrugged as he resigned himself to talking about the upcoming election, "But there are lots of Hispanics who are afraid of what Bryce will do if he gets back in. He may say he doesn't have anything against Hispanics, but he did start a war with Mexico and damned near wiped out its army. Where I live with my mom-whore and her man-thing, there are lots of kids who are afraid the news may be right and Bryce will try to send them all back to Mexico.
"Besides, I know some extra stuff because my dad is in the navy and saw hard combat. We blasted suspected drug cartel compounds, military barracks and government buildings from one end of the country to the other and lots of innocent people were killed. Dad said it was all part of the war, but he thinks we had them beat well before we called it."
Craig let out a long breath, "The problem is, dad says Ashwood is going to destroy the country's freedoms, is already doing so, and the whole gay issue is just insane. To say all gays are bad for kids and all the morals of a true society goes against the way gays think is nuts. He doesn't even talk about how straight people abuse kids; it is just the gay people's fault, all of it. The whole argument is stupid. Dad actually says the guy is so unbalanced over the issue he must be a closet gay who hates himself because of it.
"One thing is for certain, this campaign is deeply dividing the military. Dad says whoever wins is going to cause some problems and he really wants to stay out of it all and be there for the men and women on whatever ship he happens to be on, which looks like it will be the USS Charles W Read. I just hope he is right when he says it will all calm down after a few weeks, cause I have heard some of the sailors on both sides and they are ready to throw fists over this stupid election. I just don't want it to come to shooting bullets and my dad getting caught in the crossfire while he tries to keep the peace."
Clearly uneasy over the idea Craig quickly turned the subject slightly. "I still think the bigger issue is Mexico, though. We still have to share a boarder with them and I'd hate to see part of our country live in a constant state of war. There is bad blood down there after the way we pummeled them.
"Which means they can't hurt us for a long time," Glenn shrugged clearly seeing things in a different light, much of it drilled into his head by his parents. "It sucks to know we killed civilians, but they hit several of our cities on the boarder early on and took out quite a few American non-combatants. At least my dad says they did. I was kind of young and it didn't really matter to me much. Connecticut is a long ways from the Mexico-American border after all.
"All I know is Ashwood is hated by most of my family and the whole taking guns away thing really pissed off my dad. He served in the military right out of high school and says he served this country to protect those kind of rights and Ashwood didn't even get congressional approval. Dad calls him a dictator want-a-be who needs to fall flat on his… well the word he used would get my mouth smacked, so I will just say fall on his butt."
Craig nodded at this, "Some of our Junior Marine instructors have the same view on the guns thing, and I own guns so I get it. I just wish I really knew more about the terrorism charges Ashwood keeps saying Bryce is involved with. Bryce says no and Ashwood says yes, but there are no details and no proof from either side. At least none I have seen or heard."
"Kind of hard to prove you didn't do something," Glenn countered, "which is why Ashwood needs to show some proof. At least my mom and dad say he should and it kind of makes sense when I think about it."
Feeling he was getting backed into a corner, yet not wanting to get mad at Glenn for continuing to push, Craig decided to try a different tactic. "OK, so one of them is lying, even you have to admit that, right?"
Glenn nodded while wondering where this was leading.
"So, what if, once we get your chair fully self powered, we go digging for the answer. We'll use the others to help. It could be a team building thing. We have all day tomorrow before the election, so if we can find who is lying we could show the world and really piss one of them off."
"OK, I'm game." Glenn nodded.
"Even it means you may be wrong about Bryce?"
"Sure." Glenn stated slowly as he really thought over what this could lead to with his only family. After a couple of seconds he finally nodded with more conviction. "Yeah, let's do it. At least if we find out something solid I can show my dad and I will have made up my own mind, which is something he always tells me to do anyway." Glenn yawned, "Um, any chance I can, like, get your help to get in bed again so I can get a few more hours of sleep?"
"I'd be kind of hurt if you didn't ask." Craig admitted then gulped wondering if he was pushing this friendship thing too fast.
His fears were quickly put to rest as Glenn smiled, "Man, I wish you and Justin lived closer to me. I've never felt so… I'm not even sure what the word is… I guess comfortable is as good a word as any…" He let out a long breath. "When mom finds out I let a couple of you undress me and help me take a shower…"
Glenn's eyes suddenly went wide, "Oh, no!"
"What?" Craig asked with a great deal of concern.
"I didn't call her since I left the airport!" Glenn reached for his cell phone, "She is going to freak out on me!"
"Dude, relax and call her after we get up in the morning. If she calls first, let me answer and I'll tell her you are in the bathroom or something and let her know how awesome you are and how much fun we are having. This way it will give you an excuse of being caught up in all the fun and she can blame me."
Glenn looked at the display on his phone, noting his mom had tried to call twice when he had been sleeping and watching the robot war. "It's almost five back home. She'll be calling again real soon. Maybe we should just plan on you answering, but you should just tell her how you helped put me to bed early and stuff. She'll buy that way more than me actually making good friends on the first day."
This got a snicker out of Craig as he moved around and lifted Glenn up. "This is such a trip, cause I was kind of thinking the same thing if my dad calls. He'll never believe I am making real friends."
"Yeah, well, if you tell my mom you actually got me to let you help me like you have since I met you, she will try to get your address to send you money or something!"
"You, me and Justin need to find a way to spend lots of time together once this week is done." Craig smiled widely as he helped to tuck a pillow under Glenn's hip and clicked off the light.
In the room across the suite from Glenn and Craig, Steven woke up and frowned as he noticed the light was on at the desk on the far side of the room. He rubbed his eyes and blinked a few times, wondering what had caused him to wake up. A moment later he heard a light sob and sat up.
This time he realized Justin was sitting at the desk with his head on his hands and seemed to be lightly crying. A glance at the clock told him it was just after four in the morning. Another quick look around the room told him Justin had not been to bed yet, as the suitcase still sat on the end and the bedspread was still tucked neatly into the bed.
He stood, moved over to the distraught boy, and put his hand gently on Justin's shoulder. "Hey, you homesick or something?"
Justin banged his head lightly on the table, "No, I'm fine."
Steven eyed the back of Justin's head for a few moments while his mouth crunched up some. "Come on; give me little credit here, Justin. I may be a poor junk heap scrounger, but I'm smart enough to be one of the winners here."
Justin forced his head to left up, "I'm fine, really."
"As my dad would say, BULLSHIT!" Steven spun the wheeled chair and looked into Justin's eyes, "Come on. Talk to me."
Justin's lips pressed tightly together for a second as he stared into Steven's green eyes. Seeing the other boy not so much as flinch sent a shiver of fear down Justin's back. "You'll just make fun of me like everyone else!"
Steven's shoulders dropped some, "You tell me who, and maybe we can find a way to kick the crap out of them. Hell, if I get some kind of pay off from my metal detector, I'll fly out and do it face to face."
Justin turned away and wiped at his eyes. "No one else cares, so why would you?"
"Because I'm poor, not a no one." Steven stated while moving around to sit on the desk, not really caring he was only wearing boxes which showed a bit of wear and tear and were a bit too small for him. "I happen to like being liked so I am not a jerk to kids who are kind of loners."
"So why don't you get made fun of?"
"I have no clue. I've never really figured out why some kids are picked on and others aren't. It doesn't make much sense to me. But for whatever the reason, I just kind of fit in." Steven shrugged. "I don't really know why I have friends, but I do. On the other hand, I see kids who are real popular and don't really see why. I guess it would be kind of a boring world if everyone was the same, though, so I'm not too sure it would be a good idea for there to suddenly be a book on how to all be super popular."
"I'd buy it in a heartbeat!" Justin stated while clutching his cell phone so hard his knuckles were white. "I hate kids my age and they hate me…" Justin glanced up, "So why don't you?"
"First off, I like you; you're smart, funny and really cool with your photography stuff. Second, even if I didn't like you, I'd never be mean to you. Mom would kick my butt."
"You're mom would really get mad at you for being mean to another kid?"
"Not just yes, but HELL YES!" Steven managed a bit of a gin, "I guess you need to know a bit more about me before I can tell you this so it kind of all fits into place. You sure you're OK to listen? It's not like it isn't four in the morning and you have gotten zero sleep."
"I'll be fine…" Justin's hand once again closed around his cell phone. "I slept some here at the desk… If anything, hearing you talk and be kind is helping more than anything else could."
Steven shrugged and glanced over at the phone then at the menu. "Then how about we order some early room service for breakfast then? Mr. Triumph told us to if we wanted anything between nine PM and seven AM."
Justin took a deep breath and picked up the menu, "Looks like he had them take all the prices out."
"I noticed the same thing after he told us to order what we want when we want."Steven admitted. "I'm kind of freaked out by how much he is spending on all of us as it is. He dropped like three or four hundreds to get us into the German restaurant yesterday evening and then paid like four fifty plus tips for all of us to eat there. It seemed kind of creepy to me, but Scott and Alexander didn't seemed fazed by it, so maybe I am just being too suspicious. One thing is for sure, I could sure get used to that cordon bleu dish. Man, was that awesome! Problem is, I'll probably never be able to afford it again."
"From what I heard, Scott's family is filthy rich. A thousand dollar meal is probably cheap to him."
"Must be nice," Steven grumbled. "So I know they have a four egg ham and cheese omelet. I could sure go for one of those with a side of hash browns along with some O J."
This temporally caused Justin to focus on something other than his own misery, "I couldn't eat even half of what you are talking about!"
"Oh, I can eat when I get the chance, Justin. If I can go a whole week without feeling a little hungry the entire time, this trip will be the most awesome thing ever!"
Justin shrugged as he looked down at the menu, totally missing the implied message about his roommate going hungry some times. "I'll go with the eggs and sausage platter and I bet I still don't eat it all. I'll also go for a glass of apple juice."
A bit of a smirk crossed Steven's face as he picked up the phone and dialed room service, "Dude, if you don't finish yours, I will."
With the order placed, Steven finally moved over to his suitcase and pulled out a pair of baggy cargo shorts with one ripped belt loop and a small rip in the right side outer pocket. He then pulled on a 'Budweiser Rules' tee-shit before pulling up a chair to sit close to Justin. "So, you are looking a little better already."
"Some." Justin admitted while he glanced down at his phone again with a nasty look. He quickly turned back to Steven, "but back home, none of the parents seem to care if some kids get tormented like I do. Your mom really cares?"
"I'm sure she always did, but a few years back she got cancer. It was bad." Steven shuddered noticeable at the memory. "She lost almost forty pounds and had to get three masses cut out of her which totaled another six pounds. She was sick all the time and her hair was gone after the first few chemo treatments. But she did what she could and tried so hard to be there when she was even just well enough to walk.
"One of the days she was there, Mom decided to pick us up from school. When she pulled up to get me, Mom saw some kids picking on a kid. She was in bad shape, but still wanted to just be there with us…" Steven sighed, "It was back when her cancer was going crazy and we all thought she was going to die."
Looking out the window Steven took a couple of breaths to fight back the tears he knew wanted to come out as he thought about those awful days. He felt Justin' hand suddenly rest on his shoulder which was a huge comfort. But he really didn't want the tables turned; he wanted to help his new friends. Fortunately his thoughts were distracted by a knock on the door. He quickly took the food trays, closed the door with the back of his foot, and brought the food back into the bedroom, never realizing he left the server in the hall expecting a tip.
The two boys eat in silence for a couple of minutes before Justin spoke, "So your mom… is she OK?"
"It's in remission, full remission." Steven stated while inhaling the food as if someone might take it from him. "But each day, when she comes home from work, she is wiped out. We all pitch in and make sure there is nothing around the trailer for her to worry about. Dad isn't much help either, since he is trying to get his next novel out in the hopes he can get enough money to cut into the medical bills."
"Your dad is a writer?"
Steven's shoulders dropped clearly stung by the question. "My last name is Hoagland…" He waited for a response, when all he got was a blank look he sighed with clear disappointment. "Sam Hoagland…"
Before more could be said Justin's eyes lit up as it suddenly clicked, "Oh, my god! The Sam Hoagland… as in the 'Dog Days of Armageddon', Sam Hoagland?"
This got a huge smile out Steven, "Yeah, of all my dad's stories that one really gave me some nightmares."
"You?" Justin shook his head wildly, "My dog sleeps on my bed with me!"
Steven burst out laughing as he instantly put words together with a scene from his father's book, "So the part when the aliens take over the radios and start broadcasting the hidden signal to drive dogs mad… and the kid who woke up to the radio alarm going off only to have his German Sheppard go crazy and rip into his stomach…"
Justin noticeably shivered, "Holy crap, that whole thing screwed me up for days after I read it. I even had to switch off the radio part of my alarm and went with the beeping signal for like a month! I even stopped listing to the radio for like two weeks altogether. My mom wouldn't let me read another horror book for almost six months after she found out why I was waking up with nightmares. Whatever you do, don't tell her who your dad is, or she'll call him and chew him out!"
Steven couldn't help but fall off the chair in laughter. "Oh, man, would he ever love to get a call like that! Knowing my dad, he'd ask what other things you are afraid of, offer to write a book about it, and even ask if he could send her a signed copy."
Justin watched Steven rolling around on the ground holding his ribs from laughing too hard. Once his new friend had calmed some, he glanced down with a big smile, "If you're serious, your dad is a bit twisted, really funny, but twisted."
"Of course he is! He's a horror novelist!" Steven busted up again. After nearly a minute and a half, Steven pulled himself up to the chair, finished his orange juice and took a few deep breaths while struggling not to start laughing again. "Dad is… he has a flatly demented sense of humor. I think you would really like him."
"I'm sure I would, but Mom hasn't let me buy another one of your dad's books yet. After this, I will push to do so as soon as I get home."
"The more that sells the better." Steven returned to being fairly serious quickly, "So where was I before I found out my dad gave you the hebe-gebees?"
"Understatement of the year, there, Steven," Justin shook at the memory of waking up to see his dog's eyes staring at him the morning after he read the scene with the ten year old getting his intestines ripped out by his pet dog. It was so real and so gruesome Justin could almost recall the exact words. Wanting to get the whole thing out of his mind, he glanced over. "Um, your mom managed to pick you up from school even though she was sick."
"Oh, yeah… boy, were those couple of years horrible. Anyway, just as we were pulling out mom saw a couple of kids picking on this other kid. Mom pulled to a stop and pointed. She told me to put a stop to what we were seeing and if I got suspended so be it."
Steven shook his head, "I was a bit freaked out, but I got out, went over and helped the kid up. One of the kids picking on him started to came at me, but I saw my mom staring at me… her eyes were all sunken in and she was so pale, but I could see it. She was pissed off. It was almost like the kid was one of her own and the look she gave me just ripped at my heart. I gave her a slight nod then turned. The kid kicked at the other boy's backpack, which I somehow knew hurt my mom even more, so I didn't back off like I wanted to. I punched him with everything I had. Man, did it hurt." Steven rubbed his knuckles as the memory caused him to feel a phantom pain. "I caught him right in the open mouth, spit my middle two knuckles wide open."
Steven couldn't help but snicker slightly. "Robert dropped like a rock, screaming at the top of his lungs, while the other two kids went all wide eyed and took off. Still holding my bleeding knuckles I turned to help up the other kid but he had already bolted too. He even left his backpack. I was taken to the office with Robert and we both got a three day suspension for fighting. We then both got stitches; I got five in my hand and he got six in his lower lip.
"I thought it was only going to cause me to have to watch my back the rest of the school year, but the exact opposite happened. I ended up making friends with lots of the loners and several of the kids who were just too afraid to do something about it even though a few kind of wanted to. Mom made sure dad didn't punish me either, which was probably the most important part, since a suspension would have normally meant a belt, and those beatings are no fun at all!"
Justin glanced at his phone, flipped it around to where Steven couldn't see, then looked down at the ground. "So, are you still the protector?"
"Not really. I don't think I ever was one." Steven shrugged, "I did stand up to a few punks at my new school this fall, but once everyone knew where I stood they pretty much knew not to pick on kids when I'm around. If I get my butt kicked, and it has happened a few times, dad told me to just go after the kid again as soon as I got a chance. After a couple of those, the kids figured it just isn't worth the pain and effort and backed off. Mom and dad are totally cool with the suspensions if they happen, but I have only had one full out of school suspension and one day of in school over the last two years. The in-school one was kind of funny, since even the teachers had to admit the last kid I fought on school grounds was a punk who badly needed what I ended up giving him. I wound up looking worse off than he did, but he wasn't exactly a pretty site either and he is terrified of me now."
Steven smiled, "It gave me a bit of a reputation and while a few kids see me as a trouble maker and steer clear, most just accept I hate bullies and are cool with me."
"What about the dweebs like me?"
"Come on Justin, you are wicked smart and what you showed me with cameras earlier tonight was like beyond amazing. You taught me more about taking pictures in two hours than most people could teach me in a decade! Now all I have to do is make enough money to buy myself a camera so I can practice some of what you showed me. I figured you'd see we are already friends!"
"I don't make them too easy, unless they are adults. Kids my age hate me."
"We're both twelve and I don't."
Justin kept spinning his phone around with his right hand while he closed his eyes. "I bet I could change your mind."
Steven's eyes hardened, "Short of being an axe murderer, I don't think you could. And with my dad a horror writer, I might even be able to accept that."
Even though Justin snickered at the comment he glanced back at his phone then over to Steven. "You say it now, but you need to know I am the school dweeb, actually the town dweeb. Even the kids who get picked on mark me as someone to make fun of."
Steven reached over and gripped Justin's shoulders. "Look, I'm the poor kid here. I scraped together my project out of stuff I found in junk piles sitting out in the desert and from the local junk yards where I live now. If there is anyone people should be making fun of, it's me. There have been days where I came to school in the same clothing as the day before, because dad wanted to save money and not run the washing machine to make sure mom's cancer treatments would be paid for. I have had lice… twice… which made the school send me home. There have even been days where teachers have slid me lunch money so I could eat.
"Just look at me." Steven waved his arm at his threadbare suitcase. "The nicest clothing I own are with me and I only have most of them because the ex-navy guy took me to good will on a shopping trip since he said I had to have some decent stuff to go to Texas with. The only reason I have any cash is I managed to rebuild an old refrigerator and sold it for twenty bucks and I fixed the dishwasher of the creepy guy across the trailer park from me for thirty more. Mom then managed to find a way to slide me ten bucks for this trip, and I have no idea where it came from, since we have over four hundred thousand dollars in medical bills to pay and even with mom working now, it is a struggle to keep power on in our trailer."
This information took Justin totally off guard, "You live in a trailer?" As soon as he said it he smacked his forehead. "Oh, damn-it! I didn't mean it like that!
"Relax, no insult taken." Steven once again gripped Justin's shoulders. "But to answer your question, yeah, I live in an old trailer and I sleep in an attachment I built with the ex-navy guy's help so I could have a workshop of sorts and a room of my own. It has a fan in the summer and a portable heater we can't afford to run all the time in the winter, so I tend to turn it off and chatter my teeth in the middle of the night. So if someone is going to be made fun of, it should be me. Trust me, I have heard a few of the trailer trash jokes since we moved, but for some reason it doesn't stick on me like some of the other kids. I guess I am just lucky or something. Still, I'm not like most of the others here. I'm a bit tougher and, believe it or not, I have lots of friends back home." He paused and smiled, "But I am nowhere near as tough as Craig and Alexander. Those two… holy crap, I want to learn a few things from them!
"Yeah, me too." Justin shook his head, "but even if I did learn enough to knock a couple of others around I'll never be able to… I'll still be just the walking snuggy waiting to happen."
Steven eyed the phone, hopped off the desk and grabbed his, "Dude, this alone ought to be enough to make fun of me over." He dropped it on the desk, "A stupid flip phone that doesn't even have a camera! I pay Wal-Mart monthly just to keep it on, and have to build and repair stuff just to get the cash to do so."
Justin glanced at the phone and found himself feeling sorry for someone else for the first time in memory. "Steven, you… you are like incredible! You pay for your own phone, and have to deal with things I have only read about. No one has the right to make fun of you!"
"Everyone has the right to make fun of anyone else as long as this is a free country, but I have the right to toss a fist at those who do, and if I get into trouble for it, I'm still pretty happy." Steven stopped and glanced down at Justin's phone, "So are you going to show me what you have been hiding for the last forty-five minutes or so?"
Justin fought an internal debate with himself for several seconds before he let go of his phone and lowered his head back into his trembling hands.
Steven snatched the phone and flipped it around. On the screen was a picture which had been sent to the phone. On it, it showed Justin, stripped to his underwear, the back of them pulled so far up they were around the top of his head and his face shoved into a toilet. The next several pictures showed more shots as he was pulled out then shoved back in while a hand flushed the toilet. The last shot showed the words 'Wedgie Boy, Scientist Supreme' written on his exposed but cheeks with a permanent marker.
A text message, only added injury to the horrible set of pictures. It simply read, 'we own you wedgie boy. You do what we want or these and the other sets go viral, now have fun this week: it'll be your last for a while. The Untouchables'.
Pure rage flashed Steven's eyes as he put the phone down, wrapped his arms around Justin and whispered, "Who did this?"
"Justin, who?" Steven spoke with more force while a couple of tears tricked down his own cheeks. "Tell me!"
"One of President Ashwood's nephews… We can't do anything to him."
"The hell we can't!" Steven snarled, "If you let me round up the others, this son-of-a-bitch will find eight of the biggest geeks the U.S. has ripping into him, his family, and his very soul."
"But then everyone will know!"
"Justin," Steven took several deep breaths to control his building fury, "There is no way in hell anyone here is going to make fun of you over this! There are like seven or eight kids on you. There was nothing you could have done! You have to let us fight back and show what happens when us geeks unite!"
"But…" Justin started sobbing again, "They have videos and lots more pictures… the others will see what a dweeb I am!"
"Dude, the only ones who have a chance of kicking my ass are Alexander and Craig, which they both easily could, but I got to know Alexander pretty well. He'll side with you! Plus, Craig is protective as all hell when it comes to Glenn, which means he will be the same way for you. Just give me the go ahead, and we'll go to war on this bastard! By the time next week hits he won't be able to say or do shit."
Even though he was crying hard Justin managed to glance up. "If you're sure, but it's an Ashwood and his family has mountains of money…"
"Like I give a shit about some super rich piece of shit," Steven glared at the text message again, "We'll see who does what for who… President support or no, this shit needs to end, and if we have to give the President of the U.S. a black eye over this, so be it."