Copyright © 2012 - 2014 by Kyle Aarons and the Revolutions Universe Partnership.
All Rights Reserved
Four Texas Rangers formed up around the five boys and Mark as they moved out of the State Capitol building. Even as they did so the sounds of metal on metal and breaking glass could be heard coming from multiple directions as people who had heard the broadcast chose to ignore what Steven had said and made a break for it.
The senior Ranger saw the kids looking around and shook his head as he gently, yet firmly, pushed Keith to pick up the pace. "There is nothing you can do for anyone other than to see if you all are as smart as both the Governor and I hope you are. The shelter in the Museum dates back to World War II and was upgraded in the early 1960's, back when the possibility of nuclear war was a real possibility. Not much has been done with it since..."
Glenn couldn't help but notice two of the Rangers were looking up, scanning the rooflines for any possible snipers or other threats. Still he did his best to stay focused on the upcoming task. "Sir, we have a trailer on the back of the SUV we came in. We need what is in the cases in the back and the four extra fuel tanks for my chair."
The lead Ranger shook his head, "No time..."
"Sir," Keith quickly corrected the man, "Glenn's chair may be the only power source we will have and those cases have special stuff we will need and want once we get out of the shelter!"
The lead Ranger bit back a curse before pulling up his radio, "Taggert, it's Hunt, get someone to grab the vehicle and trailer the science kids came in and get it to the back of the museum. Shoot anyone who tries to stop you."
"Do we have a key?" came a quick reply.
"Your flashlight on the window and a law enforcement override on the security system." Ranger Hunt snarled back.
"On it boss!" The voice on the other end responded almost instantly.
"Now let's move," Ranger Hunt barked. "We got a couple of blocks to get there and we have no way of telling how many people Ashwood stuck inside security or the police over the last three and a half years!"
"What about the Ranger's..." Alexander started to ask only to get cut off with a truly annoyed stare by one of the other men currently guarding him and the others.
"The question's a good one and deserves an answer, Guthry." The Ranger Hunt spoke up then glanced over at Alexander. "Boy, you're about as safe as we can make you at the moment. Rangers are vetted different. We come from previous law enforcement and put through time with other Rangers before we can wear the badge of one. Ashwood's goons may have managed to sneak in a few, but very unlikely.
"Besides we are hedging our bets here. I only pulled in Rangers who have been one at least five years for this, so, while still not impossible, no one around here wearing a Ranger badge got it during Ashwood's time at the top. Plus, those of us I pulled in all know each other by sight, so someone we know would have to be willing to expose himself to us directly."
While this made all the kids a bit less edgy, none of them took their hands off of captured firearms they were carrying. Even as the sounds of chaos continued around them, Guthry pulled open the door and jerked his head for everyone to get in. Already there were two ambulances out front and a pair of Rangers directing them to get all their stuff out and into the building. At the same time other Rangers were evacuating the museum by way of a side emergency exit.
Keith looked over as people spilled out, "It doesn't seem fair... we are kicking them out so we can get others to safety..."
"There's nothing fair about this world, son." Ranger Hunt spoke with authority. "Like it or not, some lives are more valuable than others and right now you all are right near the top ‘cause my boss, Governor Hendrickson, says so. Now, in less than ten minutes every elected member of this state's government is going to be over here, expecting a safe place to conduct business from while the world goes to hell above them. I need you five to tell me if this place is safe for them or not!"
The Curator of the museum, a seventy nine year old man with the nametag of ‘Wade L Radford VIII' on his breast pocket moved over to the group, "So, young'ans just call me Wade. Now I know this is not exactly the tour I had hoped to give you but let me show you what we have down this way."
The old man moved remarkably well and quickly as he lead them through several doors and finally to a back door with a ‘Restricted Access' sign on it. The next half dozen turns had everyone but the elderly curator totally confused. Finally he came to a large iron door and started to pull it open. Although well oiled, the door was extremely heavy so Ranger Hunt moved up and helped.
Glenn maneuvered close then looked down at the corrugated metal steps. His heart sunk. "My chair can't get down these. The airflow would go right though the steps."
Wade frowned and scratched his head, "Well, there is a back way in, but it be through the sewers. It was meant to be the escape exit. The passage slopes up from the back door at slightly more than a twenty degree angle then slopes back down at an even steeper grade where it merges with the sewers. Can your flyin' chair handle it?"
"No problem, sir." Glenn responded without any hesitation. "I can go up slopes up grades up to thirty five degrees, more for short distances."
"We'll have to deal with some roaches the size of small cats and rats the size of small dogs, but it is sloped and solid ground. I can unlock the door in the sewers to get into the back passage, but I'm sure it will be a rusted mess so I may need some help to pry it open. Someone will then need to unlock the back door of the bunker from the inside, though. The place was built with the idea of only one entrance being available from the outside."
Ranger Hunt frowned deeply for a moment then nodded. "I'll go with them, you all get down there, open the back door for us and see what is usable. You all need to tell us if this place will even work or if you can get it to work in the next several minutes. We are down to twenty five minutes or so!"
Mark took the lead, noting some of the steps creaked as he stepped on them. Still they seemed sturdy enough so he made his way down almost seven flights of stairs before coming to a thick metal door with a radiation symbol on it. He tried to turn the old metal wheel, but the knife blade sticking out of his shoulder made it impossible.
Ranger Guthry moved up and put his back into it. After nearly ten seconds the wheel budged then moved rather easily giving them access to the room beyond. As the door came open, lights along the walls lit up revealing a massive room. While the whole room was lit some of the lights flickered, telling everyone the electrical system had some problems.
Alexander was the first boy to enter and take a closer look. The first thing he noted were metal bunks, minus mattresses, all along the outside walls. The next thing to catch his attention was a large upper level with ancient electronic equipment which he ignored knowing Keith and Ricky would take a look up there. Because of this, he adjusted his gaze and continued to scan the room. His eyes quickly spotted two side doors directly across from the ramp leading to what had to be the command and control for the bunker.
Alexander moved over to the twin doors and noted the rusty plaques made it clear there were bathrooms on the other side since one read ‘Men' the other ‘Women'. The strange thing was, both doors looked to be sealed off for some reason. A closer inspection revealed they had been welded shut a long ago and the weld kept up over the years. Alexander ran his hand all the way around the doors before he nodded in satisfaction: the welding bead went all the way around the doors with no breaks in them.
"We don't have bathrooms, but at the same time nothing is getting through these doors," Alexander spoke with confidence.
Keith was next in. He helped Mark over to one of the metal bunks since the young man was starting to lose some of his strength. Once he was sure the Russian was not going to pass out, he moved toward the center area. Over seven dozen metal storage cabinets stood open and empty all the way around the raised control area except where the ramp led up to the top. On top of some of the lockers were cases of something called ‘Meal, Combat, Individual', with a large ‘C' at the bottom of each box. Figuring they were some kind of new military ration he had not heard of he ignored the boxes and looked toward the far back of the massive room. From where he was, he could see there was a large stack of old metal footlockers piled up along the back wall.
The old, military style, dark green, metal footlockers were all but blocking off a ramp leading down on the far side which lead to another door. Even though the door was mostly blocked by the mass of footlockers, he could tell it was just like the one they had opened to get in.
Above, water pipes ran the length of the shelter and four pipes came down, two along each wall where water could be drawn. Even as the adults moved in, Joey's heart sunk as he looked back at the door they had come through to enter the bunker. "The gasket is shot! The gas will pour right through it!"
"We knew the door would be a problem, Joey, let's worry about the rest of this place." Alexander all but ordered from across the room. "We need to know what else we need to seal up and how long we can survive down here!"
Keith nodded in agreement. "We only have minutes to fix everything, so we need to know what needs fixing!"
Joey took a deep, uneasy breath while secretly being aggravated the others, who were younger than he was, were less afraid than he was, or at the very least hid it better. He bit back a response. Instead he moved deeper into the room and ran his hand down the walls of the bunker between the beds. When he spoke his voice was much more even and tinged with a bit of anger, more at himself than the others, but the anger was still there and obvious to those listening. "This is casted concrete, not sectioned, so even where it is old and chipped, there is nothing getting in through the walls. I'd kind of like to know how they did it all the way back then though."
"Probably dug it out and hoards of workers coated the place by hand with scaffolding and stuff." Ranger Guthry responded as he sent a concerned glance over to Joey.
Keith and Ricky both shot Joey a look as well, and angled away from him.
Ranger Guthry watched as both Keith and Ricky make a bee-line over to center area while keeping their distance from Joey. This caused the Ranger to look back over at the teen, "You OK over there?"
"Yeah," Joey barked back once again showing some underlying anger, "I am just sick and tired of being afraid all the time and this isn't helping at all! When I get out of here, I am going to kill me some Ashwoodians!"
"Just save some for the rest of us, Joey!" Alexander snickered as he tapped on the bathroom doors just to make sure they were indeed solid.
"I think there are plenty of them for all of us." Keith snorted in disgust. "Are any of you wondering what we would be doing right now if we were back home?"
Ricky wasted no time scrambling up the ramp to look at what he had available. One glance caused his heart to sink. Some of the stuff up on the command area used vacuum tubes! It wasn't antique; it was ancient! Still he managed to respond. "Well, with the blackout and how crazy protective my mom is, I would be over at someone else's house and would be worse off than I am here. So all things considered, dealing with sarin gas is better than what I would be dealing with back home." He quickly switched topics, "At the moment, however, I am really hoping we will have some laptops and stuff coming down here, because this stuff is beyond useless!"
Keith started to go up the ramp while wondering what could be worse than being in the middle of a chemical warfare attack. His mind quickly changed gears as he spotted a fairly new-looking wooden box. He stopped as his eyes caught sight of the old and very large fallout shelter sign with the words ‘Max Capacity 375' on the bottom. Below it the wooden box was cracked open and an air purifier unit could be seen still wrapped in plastic and a case of cartridges for it were on top of the small crate. "Joey or Alexander, get over here!"
Joey bolted over and did a quick inspection of the unit. "It's all here, but only rated for a room about two thirds the size of the one we are in and the vent holes, which should be right here, aren't. It looks like they have long ago been plugged up and cemented over."
Joey pulled at the small crate, surprising everyone including himself at the fact he single-handedly moved the whole thing rather easily. He leaned forward and ran his hands over where the holes used to be. "Yeah, totally plugged and cemented over. It really looks like someone takes care of this place a little, but I have no idea why such a new unit would be down here, nor why they would put one in here with a rating way less than the shelter.
Keith shook his head, "It looks like we will only have the air in the room even if we can seal the door."
Ranger Guthry glanced over at the boys, "Kids, this is our only shot to save the entire elected body of the State of Texas. Tell us what you need and we'll find it!"
Alexander moved back to the main door they had used to enter and knelt. He rubbed his hand over the gasket. "If we can get a few tubes of silicon then I can seal the door. We need everyone to come though the other one though!"
Ricky glanced over from his perch on the observation and command area, "But what about the back door, its seal must be OK for now since there are no bugs and junk in here, but the second we open it, it will probably be in the same shape!"
Joey glanced up at the water pipes and nodded as an idea came to him. "We'll flood it! From what we heard from Wade, the entire door is below the level of the shelter!"
Keith glanced over at the air purifier as a thought came to him, building on Joey's idea, "With some long tubes we could then pull air from the other side of the low spot, put it though the filters, and send the exhaust back out into the sewers too!"
Ricky nodded in agreement. "We need lots of rubber tubing, duct tape, and silicon! All the people will have to come through the sewers to get here though, because we have to seal the upper door and keep it closed!"
Two of the rangers bolted back up the stairs while Ranger Guthry looked around the room, "What about the walls where the pipes come in, will they let the gas in?"
Joey moved over to the walls again and patted them. He then looked up. "Can I use your mag-light?"
Ranger Guthry quickly handed Joey his large four ‘D' cell flashlight as he watched Ricky run down the ramp to help Keith move the air purifier over to the ramp.
At the same time Joey played the flashlight beam over the two long pipes going the entire length of the shelter then shook his head. "Like I said, this is all single-casted concrete. The way it looks is the pipes were put in before they did the concrete. There is no way any air or poison is getting in here, even around the water pipes. So unless any of the water pipes are dry and have leaks, the only holes are the doors and the air vents..."
"Joey, you're right; I don't see any other vents other than the air vents over here and they are totally concreted up." Keith responded cutting Joey off. "Maybe to cut off bugs from getting in here, but for whatever reason, they are solidly plugged."
"Since it was a patch, we should put silicon over them just to make sure," Alexander countered, "but you are probably right it is most likely secured. This means once we fill the lower end with water, then the only access point for the poison will be around the main door. All efforts will need to be put there."
Ricky put his back against the unit and his feet against the wall and pushed with his legs to move it some, "How'd you move this thing, Joey?"
Joey shrugged, "It isn't too heavy..."
"Bull!" Alexander managed to grunt out as both Ricky and he struggled to move the unit closer to the back door ramp.
Two of the paramedics, who had come down with the first loads of medical equipment, looked over at the sloped passage going down. "Will you be able to flood it up to the top of the door in time?"
Ricky held up his hands signaling he needed a break moving the air unit then glanced up at the pipes and spotted turnoffs between each of the five sections on each pipe. "As long as those valves work and we can get up to them, yeah."
Ranger Guthry glanced around with a confused look, "Son, unless you plan on shooting them, I don't see any way to break them and those pipes look pretty thick. We could end up with ricochets if we try to shoot them."
"I'll make them brittle in a spot above the door and then, with some expansion, they'll burst," Ricky responded without realizing how strange his comments must have sounded. "We just need to make sure water runs though them first."
Keith, who had moved back up to the command overlook, looked over the ancient radio equipment and followed a small bundle of wires, which told him how the radio equipment used to get a signal, and snickered as he realized what Ricky had in mind. "So much for not getting another headache, huh?"
"I have been forced to feel worse, way worse." Ricky sighed. "But I still need to get up to them and pray they have water in them."
Joey opened a value on one of the pipes coming down from the overhead pipes, and got water instantly. "Yeah, we have water in them and these pipes coming down have been kept up and drained on occasion because I didn't get much rust. The room slopes down toward the lower door too since the water is moving right for it."
"Good, so I can take out a section of pipes a bit further back from the door so I don't damage the main valve close to the back door. This way, even if one doesn't work, we can use one of the others," Ricky stated with some relief. "Now I just need to get up to them."
Keith pointed to the empty metal lockers and nodded toward the bunks, "Pile up a few of those and climb up on them, Ricky. But you'll have to be careful not to overdo it. Those pipes double for the antenna system for this shelter. If you totally burst them, then they will have no connection to the pipes leading up and we lose any and all signal as far down as we are! We also need to make sure those valves leading out work so we can shut off the water flow."
Ranger Guthry and the paramedics started moving lockers and metal bunks without saying much. The trio still occasionally glanced over to Ricky wondering what the boy had in mind, but with the clock ticking, they focused on making an easy to climb pyramid.
Alexander moved over to the door and knelt then turned back to the others, "Joey's right to be concerned, guys. We need to figure out a way to seal this door and I am not sure silicon alone will do it unless we have a whole bunch of it."
Before more could be said, the Governor appeared with Steven, Craig, Justin, and Scott, and two more paramedics, each of them carrying more stuff from the ambulances. The Governor looked around. "So how many can we hold down here? There are over three hundred kids on field trip tours of the capitol right now! I should have just cancelled everything when Ashwood declared martial law..."
"Then they would have been caught at school or home, sir." Scott countered. "With them at the capitol maybe we can save them..."
Keith shook his head, "Max capacity is above what the air system is rated for as is, and... We don't even know if we are going to get what we need to seal up the door. Even worse, we need some kind of pipe for the air filter so we can run it out to the sewer system and keep it above the water line once we fill this back passage!"
Steven's incredible intelligence showed, as he seemed to instantly see what the others had come up with for a basic plan. Still, it all hinged on the main door getting sealed and he knew it. He moved over to Alexander and looked at the cracked and rotted rubber gasket around the door with a shake of his head, "Not good."
Alexander nodded, "The Rangers went back up top and are looking for silicon, but it will take a lot to seal a door this size..."
Suddenly Steven's eyes lit up, as he eyed the medical equipment, "Keith, we already have what you need to get the air purifier working! Get the rubber tubing out of the stuff we carried down!"
Scott snapped his fingers as he caught onto what Steven was suggesting. "On it!" he pulled a couple of rolls of rubber tubing out of one of the large medical kits and moved over to the back door. "We have to keep one tube above the water on the other side of the door. The second one is easier. We just have the other above the door on the other side, but it doesn't matter if it is still under water since the exhaust will just bubble up to the surface. As long as its exhaust bubbles up above the door level on the other side, it doesn't matter if it is under water or not.
As Scott started pulling the hollow rubber tubing out of the medical boxes, a knock at the far door signaled someone was at the back escape route.
Ranger Guthry moved over and rotated the big securing wheel, but ended up having to get Joey's help in opening it. Even as Glenn piloted his chair in, followed by four ranges who where huffing and puffing from carrying down the foot lockers and extra fuel tanks out of the trailer, Guthry reached down and squeezed Joey's arms with some confusion. "Damn, boy, you got some hidden guns in there somewhere!"
Ranger Hunt glanced over as he brushed a rather large cockroach off his pants leg, "I thought the same thing when I saw how far the pen was stuck into the back of the neck of the guard back in the capitol. The lad may not look it, but he be a strong'un. Now give us a hand with these cases, they weigh a ton!"
The old curator moved into the bunker and looked around, "Me and a few other volunteers touch this place up a couple of times a year, but will it work for you all?"
Scott glanced around and got nods from the others, "Yeah, as long as we can secure the doors, and we have a plan for them. But we need to get everyone in through this way and we can hold only about two hundred and seventy five people and we are really pushing the air filtration system with two seventy five. We have one hundred and eight one lawmakers, the governor, lieutenant governor, us, the medics, the rangers... so we are only looking at fitting maybe fifty others down here."
"I'll go back and lead the others down this a way," the old man spoke. "But don't go savin' me no spot. I'm too old to be worried about it none."
The old man then disappeared back into the tunnel with another Ranger so they could show the lawmakers to the all but forgotten bunker.
"We'll need to move the pump over here," Steven jerked his head, "Um, and there are a few roaches already coming in since you opened this back door..."
Joey moved over and picked up the crate with the air filtration unit and moved it right next to the ramp going down and shrugged, "it's only a bug..."
"Speak for yourself!" Ricky stated as he saw one and noticeably shivered while eyeing Joey with amazement over the fact the boy had single-handedly picked up the whole crate. "I have seen praying mantises which would be afraid of one of those!"
The governor snorted and shot Ricky a smile, doing his best to relieve some stress, "One of our slogans is, ‘Everything is bigger in Texas', son. We just don't say on those commercials it includes bugs."
This got a snicker out of Craig as he eyed the door, "Yeah, well, some of you need to come down to Florida and see what we have down there!"
"No thanks." Scott cringed while punting one of the massive roaches back out into the sewer. "I'll stick with tiny bugs or none at all."
"I'm right there with you, Scott!" Keith agreed as he stepped on one large enough to make a crunching sound others could hear. "We still need to seal the upper door before we do too much more though."
Craig rubbed his chin as an idea came to him, "Hey, up in the ambulance you guys had tool kits. You don't happen to carry fix-a-flat in them do you?"
The paramedic glanced over, "We each have two. I think our rig might even have a third one. They are standard..."
"I got some in the trunk of my Ranger Blazer too..." Ranger Guthry started to say only to hear Craig's voice from somewhere up on the steps. "Guys close the door! I'll spray it from the outside and form a seal! If you get silicon do the inside just to make sure."
Steven glanced at his watch then shouted up the steps. "Craig, you only have about eighteen minutes...."
The governor then shouted up the steps, hoping the youngster would hear him, "Pick a bus of kids and get them down here! At least we can save some!"
"I'll make it and see what I can do!" Craig's voice came from way up the steps, "Just close the door!"
Steven cringed but did as he was told, then looked back at Keith as he cranked the wheel on the door closing it as tightly as it would go. "I need a way to activate Civil Defense sirens and to send an SOS over them just before those rockets blow up!"
"OK..." Keith looked at the antique radio setup, "Not sure..."
"Your sole job is to figure it out!" Steven ordered. "Otherwise, the slim chance and hope I gave people is gone!"
Ricky glanced over at the Governor, who had a laptop in his hand, "Sir, does your computer have access to the civil defense system?"
The governor glanced down at his laptop and nodded. "It does, but I need to be on a secure access point..."
Every kid in the bunker let out some kind of snort or chuckle. Scott, noticing all the looks they were getting, decided to break the inside joke, "Sir, secure access is one or two steps below a farce when it comes to our buddy Ricky, who we call Skynet for a reason. If we had more time, he wouldn't even need you access program..."
"I probably don't," Ricky stated without any haughtiness in his voice, "but having the controls on how to use it already in your computer will save me a few minutes and will give Keith, our radio guy who we call Strike-Comm, access to radio and other items he needs and I, in turn, will not have to spend a few minutes hacking to get into it for him."
Scott, seeing the looks on the faces of the adults, simply smiled, "While not necessary, your computer would really be helpful, sir."
The governor handed Scott his computer, "The password is LoneStarPrime#12291845."
Ricky simply rolled his eyes as he took it and pulled it up, "Mass-hack would have had it in less than a minute, Mr. Governor. Using everything associated with Texas including the date of joining the US, the only difficulty would have been the pound sign, and since it was right after the first part, it would have started guessing at that as soon as I told Mass-hack who the computer belonged to. You really need a better password."
The man eyed Ricky and started to say something only to see most of the kids nodding in agreement. He glanced over at Ranger Hunt, "Why am I both afraid and very comforted by all of this?"
"Probably because you should be, sir." The senior Ranger spoke while eyeing several of the kids who were all busy doing something other than Justin. The boy was staring at the door with tears in his eyes,
Ranger Hunt moved away from the Governor and glanced back toward the door. "Craig is good a friend, isn't he?"
Justin nodded and managed to speak, "The best one I ever had... I know he is right... the door being closed will let him give it a good seal while letting us try to seal it from this side and the tire goo will do a great job from the other side since he can fire it into the cracks and coat the bottom of the door, but..." Justin bit back a sob, "He doesn't even know how to get back in here... He knows it and he went anyway..."
Guthry heard this, saw the look in Ranger Hunt's eyes, and also saw the Governor nod, "I'm on it!" The man then bolted out the back door and into the sewers. At the same time Ricky and Keith penetrated a secure Texas server. Moments later the Civil Defense sirens started wailing seven stories above them causing even more confusion and absolute panic to break out on the streets of Austin.
Agent Paulson watched the broadcast from the Texas capitol with a sinking feeling in his gut as he saw Craig standing behind the Governor of Texas. There was no way this was a coincidence. The kid had to have been part of the whole attack on the communications hub up in Breckenridge. Making matters worse, he had put his hands on the little brat! The kid had played him for a sucker and he had taken it hook line and sinker. Of course it hadn't really been his fault, but the fact remained, he had failed. He was a highly trained government and Army operative and had been bitch-slapped by a mere boy.
While the Army would see this as a major failure on his part, it would still be partially excused given the circumstances and the fact he was told not to make too much of a public scene by the former senior agent. President Ashwood, on the other hand, would certainly be less forgiving. Should the man ever find out one of the hackers had been in the grasp of a Homeland Security agent and had been allowed to go, well, it would be a career ending mistake and quite possibly a life ending one as well.
With a racing heart, he watched the kid in the background, all but ignoring what was being said. At the same time he let his mind run over everything else which had gone wrong over the last few days, which was just about everything. The only thing he could see as mission accomplished was wiping out the vast majority of the kids in Breckenridge. On this he had succeeded and knew he would be rewarded by those above him in the Army, but only if no one found out about letting the kid standing behind the Governor of Texas slip though his fingers.
Before the broadcast even finished, the modified Osprey circled a small but neatly kept up ranch. Moments later the angle of the rotors changed and the aircraft gently came down on what would have been a large garden earlier in the year.
Before the ramp was all the way down a younger man and older-looking woman moved up with six kids in tow. Two were tied with their hands behind their backs and short pieces of rope around their ankles making walking at more than a shuffle impossible while two of the others had hands bound in front of them and feet likewise tied. The last two, both older girls, had no restraints.
Agent Paulson forced himself to make his way down the ramp. As he did so, he scanned the area. When nothing else moved and no one came out of any of the other buildings, he felt his heart rate speed up to the point where he could hear it in his ears. With the pain of his bullet wound all but forgotten, he moved toward the woman and shouted, "Where are the others?"
The woman shook her head, "Gone..."
"Gone?" Paulson roared, "What do you mean gone? Where is the first brat and the two Rancore wanted?"
The young man spoke up, sounding a bit miffed, "Dude, I don't know what other two you are talking about but from what I heard Lawrence booked it with some of the others a ways back in a big breakout. Now do your job and..."
The young man didn't get a chance to say anything more. Paulson pulled his pistol and put a bullet into the man's skull spraying two of the kids behind the guy with blood. He then spun and glared at the woman, pistol held only inches from the bridge of her nose, "First kid, where is he? Operations Director Burl O'Henry assured me he was here! Now where is the little fag?"
The woman went pale, shrugged, and shook her head as if to say she didn't know. The pistol in Paulson's hand belched out another round, putting even more blood on those behind the woman. Behind her, the two older girls turned and ran, while the boy and girl with their hands tied in front of them backed way with terror in their eyes. The last two found they couldn't get far; the boy peed his pants as evident by a wet spot on the front of his pants and fell on his butt as he tried to back way and the girl screamed and started crying when she fell face first on the body of the dead woman.
Agent Paulson jerked his head in the direction the older two ran. Before either kid managed to get a hundred yards they were tackled by members of the HRT and dragged back kicking and screaming, one by her hair.
Paulson glared down at the six kids as they were lined up and forced to their knees. He pulled up a picture of Lawrence on his note pad and turned it around for the kids to see, "I need this kid and I need him now! Where is he?"
The oldest girl tried to shake off the man holding her down on her knees with zero success. "He escaped a long time ago with the help of a few others. The little bastards didn't bother to help us get out of here. Now let me go!"
Paulson's pistol whipped the sixteen-year-old girl hard enough to crack her skull. He then moved over to the next girl, "So why weren't you two tied, and where is the kid in this photo?"
The girl glanced over where the older one was lying in a crumpled heap next to her with a flat spot on her skull, "We are senior followers! Only the Patriarch has the right to..."
Paulson's knee came up and caught the girl in her open mouth knocking out several teeth and rendering her instantly unconscious. He cringed badly as the pain radiated around his buttocks, but fought the desire to puke as he slid over and stared down at the next oldest, another girl who was shaking like a leaf. "Any idea where he went, cunt?"
The girl shook her heard fiercely while saying nothing.
Paulson backhanded her, getting a screech for his efforts while making his hand hurt a little worse. Another sidestep took him in front of a boy of about fifteen who managed to meet his stare. "Oh, a brave bastard, huh. So you have something to say before I poke those eyes out of your skull?
The boy quickly looked away, but managed to speak up, "We don't know! We are the only ones left, probably because the patriarch didn't like as much and kept us in the lower cellar while the others were more readily available to him. There was a kid, Eric, but he disappeared too. We can't tell you what we don't know!"
"Then tell me what you do know, you little creep, and do it fast!"
The kid took a couple of deep breaths, glanced up and quickly looked away as the return glare told him chances were good the guy would pluck out his eyes. Instead he managed to jerk his head, "You just knocked out Rhonda and Amanda. They kept us fed and junk. The young guy was a church guy who I never saw before a couple of days ago and didn't do anything to us. The woman was Gertrude, and she was a punisher. The one you slapped was Steph, but she's nothing but a plaything for any guy who wants her and she seems to have learned to like it. I'm Charles, but the men like to call me Charlie and the other two are Stan and Jen. Jen is a favorite of some of the women and I don't know much about Stan, other than he screams like a girl when they take him, OK?"
"What about the kid in the photo here, and any of the others? There were two others I need to find and find quickly!"
Charles let out a deep breath, "Look, I don't know how many ways to tell you the same thing. You don't look stupid, but you ain't listening! We don't know. They beat feet like two weeks ago, maybe more! Most of us don't even know what day it is, dude, but I heard Katy and a couple of the Bothers and Sisters telling some of the others to keep with the story he was still here. The other two, hell I only saw ‘em a few times, if that. I know they took a cell phone or something, but where they went, no one knows. All I know is, it sure got worse on us when they left!" Another nerve-rattling glare from Paulson forced Charlie to cringe and look away yet again. Realizing he needed to come up with something more, he blurted it out even as he saw Paulson's hand rear back to strike him. "I do know they started out going east, but the dogs lost scent. At least I heard they did!"
Paulson nodded to the HRT member holding the boy to yank the kid to his feet. As soon as the boy was standing, Paulson slammed the butt of his pistol into the boy's groin. "That was for calling me stupid. Don't let it happen again!"
As Charles leaned forward, unable to totally fall because he was being held up, Agent Paulson nodded to the back of the aircraft, "Get them inside. They are already used goods, so if any of you want to enjoy one of them, be my guest."
Hearing this, both Jenifer and Stan tried to jerk free.
Paulson moved over to the two youngsters and shook his head. He then called out, "Hey bring the brats you all took at the FOB out here. I want them to see something!"
As soon as the five kids captured when the HRT took the house which had become the Forward Operations' Base were dragged out of the back of the Osprey, Paulson looked over the still conscious kids. "Let me make something perfectly clear, here. The only escape is death, and death will not be swift. You all will do what you are told, when you are told. You do not ask for food or water. It will be given to you when I, or those with me, choose to hand it over, and you do not fight back or talk back. Should you wonder what will happen if you do, let me explain it to you this way."
He then moved over to the oldest girl, pulled up his pistol again and pulled the trigger, putting a bullet into her stomach. He moved over to the second unconscious girl and did the same. He then glanced back over at the nine remaining kids, "It will take them hours to bleed out. By then insects and animals will be attracted to their blood and will start feeding on them while they are still alive. Now, any volunteers to get gut shot and left? If not, then not another word, no escape attempts, not a flinch to pull away, nothing other than doing exactly what you are told when you are told."
Seeing all nine kids look at the two girls with bullet wounds in their stomachs and the two dead adults with nothing but terror in their eyes, he slid his pistol back in its shoulder rigging and gave a short snicker. "I thought so. You are now property of this HRT, nothing more, and will be treated as such until such time as we say otherwise!"
He then motioned to get all the kids back into the Osprey. A few seconds later one of the HRT members moved over to Paulson's side, "Sir, our perimeter reports the sounds of a motorcycle..."
"Time to get the hell out of here." Paulson sighed as he glanced over the property. "Those brats were too scared to lie and they all gave pretty much the same story, so our primaries aren't here. We have one more safe house to check, and then we need to get out of Texas before they start actively hunting feds."
Minutes later, back into the relative safety of the air, Paulson ordered the team's lead communications guy to put up a replay of the governor's announcement of succession.
As it was getting keyed up, Agent Paulson thought over what to do about the President's kid. The kid should have been killed, flat out, but that was now wishful thinking. The problem was he was certain Richard Ashwood would go nuts as soon as he found out Lawrence was missing.
With the radio blackout still in effect, there was no way to get this information to President Ashwood yet, but once he heard, Paulson was positive heads would roll in waves. Ashwood's reputation would be forever crippled if his son suddenly appeared and started talking. If the boy tied President Ashwood to the ‘temple' then the wheels would totally come off. As unstable as Richard Ashwood was acting, there was even the chance of a nuclear option. This was something the Army would not tolerate since it would change the dynamics of the political systems worldwide before they were ready to do something with such a massive change.
Agent Paulson forced himself to stand as he moved forward in the cabin to the small secure communication room behind the pilots and in front of the back on the modified Osprey. He let out a hiss of pain as he slowly and carefully settled his butt onto the hard chair and motioned for the radio man to go to the back.
The agent gave him a nod but still spoke, "Sir, we are under radio silence orders..."
"To command, yes, I know." Paulson noted. "But not to other operatives. Now give me a few. This is above your need to know."
"Understood, sir. Just let me know when you are done."
Paulson waited for the man to exit before he pulled up a frequency and plugged in his notepad into the console. He then started typing on the Bluetooth keyboard.
‘Paulson Code Priority Gamma Delta Omega Pi, Bishop of San Andreas: No contact with team sent to over watch events of Breckenridge as of yet. Currently heading to fallback station in Alabama as FOB was getting uncomfortable and sanctuary was at issue. Have information sent there. Probability high of major problems with Secondary - may want to consider letting those above him in the Army know of possible instability to come soon. Let all concerned know Secondary's offspring appears to no longer be controlled by anyone, as best as I can surmise. My take on this is it would be best for Secondary to hear from senior member of Army so he stays more ‘controlled' and focused on Starshine.
‘Request all blame be angled to fall on O'Henry. This may allow for advancement within Administration, but may mean this agent would have to regress in the ways of the Army to stay in higher station. Please provide guidance as to where lines need to remain for me to remain in the graces of the exalted ones.'
He then hit the instant encryption program which generated a fifteen page legal document, which looked and read like a new will. Satisfied, he hit send and then erased all the traces with a ten times overwrite program before opening the door and nodding to the radio man. "It's all yours and it looks like we are only an hour and fifteen minutes from crossing over the Comm-blackout line. There will be a delay as we check out one more installation, but as soon as we are out of Comm-blackout, get me a military SitRep on what Ashwood is doing about Texas dropping from the U.S."
The radio man nodded and moved back into the room even as Paulson limped back over to his cot and lowered himself as carefully as he could manage so he was once again on his stomach. He glanced over at one of the kids taken from the ranch house they had assaulted and used as their backup Forward Operation's Base. "Kid, stop your whining, or so help me I will have the back door opened and toss your crying ass out. Your little sister and brother are quieter than you are!"
The boy quaked as Paulson's eyes bored into him and he bit his trembling upper lip in an attempt to be quiet. The boy's arms, held up by handcuffs hung over the zip line attachment wire, coupled with his left foot being handcuffed to the bench made it impossible for him to even wipe the snot and tears off his face. Next to him his younger brother and sister were next to catatonic while his older brothers shook their head in warning. Both had badly bruised faces from their own attempts to talk earlier.
Paulson rolled his eyes, "One more loud sound out of the urchin and out he goes. I am sick of it and I am not about to spend the next several hours listening to his blubbering. Besides, he's not high in the looks department." He then glanced over at one of the other agents in the Osprey, which was skimming the treetops to stay out of most radars' ability to pick them up. "Do me a favor and get me solid ID's on the kids we saw on the broadcast with the Governor. If some of them have family in Ashwood-controlled territory we will need to round them up. Since they were part of some kind of science contest, pull everything we can find on it and see if there are others. We need the families of those kids to pay for their arrogance in helping Texas.
One of the younger HRT members glanced over at Paulson, "Sir, what is with the kids? Wouldn't it have been easier to kill them?"
Paulson snorted, "While you see kids to hassle with, keep fed, sanitary, and who have seen too much, for some these little shits are walking forms of cash. If there is a full fledge break, normal money will not be of much, if any, use, so we only have trade and precious metals. However, give someone a few hours with one of them and it is every bit as good as hard trade. Besides, even if the monetary system continues to work, we may need extra funds before this is all over with and there are people out there who will be only too happy to buy them outright."
Liam gunned his dirt bike as he heard the blades of the Osprey pick up in pitch. "Not again! I'm so close!" he muttered, "God is with me, he can't let me fail by minutes a second time!"
The last hill before he got to the spot marked by his GPS caused him to lose sight of the extremely nice ranch house and outbuildings. Before he could crest the hill, the Osprey took to the sky and angled sharply to the southwest. Liam slid to a stop and watched the aircraft bank hard again and fly right over the top of him flying almost straight east. He punched his right hand with his left.
"God, why? How could I have missed him by such a short time two times in a row? I should be on my way back to the island to finalize my training to be one of the elite, an Inquisitor in training!" The youngster grumbled as he shook his head. He dug into his pocket and slid in the XD card into the special GPS unit and typed in the code he had been given. A few seconds passed before the device simple said ‘location unavailable'.
Liam lowered his head and recited a couple of the more common calming prayers of the Army. He had been warned this might happen. The device didn't know where Clergyman Paulson was going yet. It would update as soon as the new location was input into the Army's communication's network. Such was the life of one in so deep a cover as the esteemed, yet questioned, Clergyman Paulson. At this Liam shook his head. Paulson was the best, there was no way the man had done anything wrong. He was sure the man would be cleared of all Army violations once all the facts came out.
Liam glanced to the east and watched the aircraft disappear. Was this a test, Liam wondered, a test given him directly by God or the Army, maybe both? Was it possible he hadn't failed? He had seen the Army and the Clergymen teachers do this sort of thing before, after all. They needed devoted yet thinking followers to be able to penetrate the world of the Non-believers. With renewed determination, the teen spun the bike back around and headed toward the nice home, figuring he would see if Clergyman Paulson or the Army had left him any clues. Maybe the unit wasn't really supposed to update. He was supposed to be a top prospect for infiltration and information gathering after all. He had been picked by the Bishop's men, pulled out of the field at age nine all because they saw something in him. The inner light, they called it.
Liam grinned as he thought back to the day when the enforcers came into the field holding up books found in one of the village huts, books he later found out were put in some of those buildings to find others, but at the time all he knew were the Clergymen and their guards were beyond angry about finding written words on anything inside the small village he had been born in.
They came out into the fields and gathered everyone. Those who tried to run or resisted where shot with tasers and put up in stocks. The rest of the villagers were pushed to the ground and forced to kneel on the rocky road. All the adults, the ones with more than eight adult teeth, were then questioned about the written works as cane blows came down on their backs. One after another the adults fell to the ground while the lead Clergyman walked down the line demanding to know who had hidden the items of Satan. It was at this point Liam's older brother, Cole, pointed over to Liam and shouted out how he had seen Liam with a book of his own, a talking book, and even knew what the scribbles on the paper sheets meant.
For this admission, Cole had been taken and put into the back of the truck while the Clergyman grabbed Liam and ordered him to show him this ‘talking book'. With no choice, Liam did as instructed and even proved he could read most of the words inside. The book was then lit on fire and tossed on the ground in front of the rest of the villagers while Liam was put in chains next to his brother.
The first few days, following his removal from the village, had been full of punishments, trials and tribulations of the devout, he had later learned. As he was beaten, left to sunburn, forced to bathe in icy water, the Clergyman and the enforcers of the Law of God's Army demanded he tell them who had taught him to read.
Liam lost track of the time as he remained steadfast, telling them no one had taught him. It may have been a few days, maybe a few weeks, but finally the enforcers believed him. He had taught himself with the talking picture book he had found in one of the bombed outbuildings he had been playing in. Word was passed to one of the Clergy who took him for testing in all sorts of things. Most of which Liam was baffled by.
However, one of the Clergy, a woman, came to him after several days, sat with him and taught him the basics of math, of spelling, of writing. After two exhaustive weeks the woman turned him over to the Clergyman who would become his ‘father'. He lived with the man at night, but from sunup to sundown he was in classes taught by other members of the Clergy. There were ten others in the classes, but Liam knew within a trio of days he was better than they were. He was able to pick up the teaching much faster, and when it came to building with the Legos he and he alone was able to duplicate the pictures shown time and time again. There were a couple of others who came close, and one other who often duplicated the work, but not as fast and not as accurately. This teaching and training went on for three glorious months. During this time, four of the others disappeared; where they went no one said, and Liam realized they were not his concern. His sole focus was to drink the knowledge given him by the Clergy. On the ninetieth day, a new member of the Clergy came in with seven enforcers, one assigned to each child and the tests were given again.
This time there was nothing nice about the tests. Wrong answers were met with a paddle across the knuckles for a first wrong answer, a strike with bamboo across bare legs for the second failed attempt, and a blow from a cane across the back for a third wrong answer. The wrong answers were then marked down and showed up on an electronic board in the front of the room while nothing was said or done with correct answers. For the few questions Liam simply had no clue about, he was allowed to say so, but the punishment for such a failure was a poke from a stick which delivered a hard shock. After only a couple of those, Liam quickly decided to do his best to guess, since the other three punishments combined were nothing compared to the shocking stick. The tests went on for hours. One by one the kids in the room broke down and gave up or simply dropped unconscious until, as night started to fall, it was only Liam and another boy by the name of Korbin.
By this time Liam was battered and bloodied. Korbin was actually worse, but like Liam refused to give up. As the last rays of the sun disappeared on the horizon, the Clergyman clapped his hands, actually applauding the efforts of the two boys. As he did so, the correct answers finally appeared for the boys to review. At the same time, all seven boys' scores were shown. The scores were not even close. Liam came in first with six hundred and forty two correct answers and thirty nine failures. Korbin was second with five hundred and fifty seven correct answers and fifty one failures. None of the others had over four hundred correct and most were well into the sixties on failures.
Liam remembered looking at the numbers, thankful he had gotten less punishments than any of the others, but even as food and water was brought in and medical people started to tend to him, the Clergyman spoke. "God has found us two more worthy to enter the ranks of the Army. Welcome boys. You will be given food and treatment then you will train as brothers. The failure of one is the failure of both. The triumphs of one will be the triumphs of both...
Liam let the memory fade as he pulled up to the large well kept up ranch. He noted four bodies out front. He moved over to them and glanced down. Two were dead, head shots from someone shooting close enough to leave powder burns in and around the entry wounds. The other two were unconscious, but not dead, not yet at least. They had been gut shot. This caused Liam to cringe and turn away. For a moment he thought about kneeling down and snapping their necks, but quickly decided against the mercy killings. This was certainly the work of Clergyman Paulson, and as such was done for a reason. While it made no sense to Liam, his teachings told him it didn't matter what he understood because those above him were right and his job was not to question the ways of those above him in the Army.
However, there was a twinge of guilt and sorrow. What crime did the two teenage girls commit? Why had they not been taken to be sold to other non-believers? Why didn't Clergyman Paulson clean up and remove evidence here? There were so many questions and without a GPS marker to tell him where to go Liam had time to think over what he was seeing here compared to what he saw at the house before.
As he looked down at the two gravely wounded older girls, his mind went back to the first house. Much like this house, he had just missed the man, and seen the Osprey take to the air. His mind and training let him replay what he had found in the first house...
Nothing moved and the lights were out. He parked the dirt bike next to the large shed, realizing as he did so, his home on the island had actually been smaller than the shed he was leaning his motorcycle against. "Gluttony shall be their downfall." He cited then moved into the shed to look it over. His nose detected urine and even feces while his eyes quickly fell on the ropes, stained with a little blood, still wrapped over the upper center beam. He moved forward and examined them. "Four were held here, long enough to where they could hold no longer. They were weak of flesh, just how I used to be."
Liam continued to use the extensive perception training drilled into him by the Army as he moved in and pulled a pen light out of his small backpack. He studied the ropes and how high off the ground they were. He once again spoke out loud, knowing by doing so he would force himself to listen to his deductions and then find any problems with what he was thinking compared with what he was seeing. "Kids, two a bit bigger, one a bit smaller and one considerably smaller than me. Maybe Clergyman Paulson was testing them to see if they would be useful to the Army. If so, they most certainly failed. I bet he took them to be sold to the unclean. It will bring good profit to the Army's coffers."
Finding a can of gas in the shed, he refilled his tank and moved down the hill to the main house. Evidence of many people having recently used the place was all over, but what really astonished him was how big the place was. Sure, he had been told and even shown pictures, but the kitchen area was... was... disgusting! It had two stoves, two sinks, a refrigerator, a liquor cooler, a bar, and a wine rack! This should have been a place meant to feed an entire unit of God's Army, not a single family, and certainly not a family of non-believers!
Liam shook his head as he carefully inspected the place, top to bottom. Each discovery only angered him more. There were seven bedrooms each the size of a small hut back on San Andres. The kids' rooms had heated waterbeds, toys, books, computers, and enough clothing to where new items could be worn for weeks without washing anything. The one boy's room was something he actually found himself jealous over, as he came across over two hundred toy cars. What person needed so much when most had none? No wonder the Army talked about the sins of the non-believes so often. At this, it was clear Agent Paulson had similar thoughts because the way the bed was messed up, a small child had been tied spread eagle for a long period of time. The child had even fouled himself. Yes, the sins of the child's greed had been dealt with. At this Liam nodded with a satisfied smirk.
He moved on and found the master bedroom. This was even more extreme in its decadence. There was a sliding glass door which lead to an upper deck complete with a hot tub, a grill, yet another bar and even a clay pigeon thrower so the owners didn't even have to leave their house to shoot targets! On the other hand their extreme lifestyle of sin had been paid back in full, since there was dried blood on the floor in two separate spots along with bullet holes in the wooden floorboards. The adults had been executed. He smiled as he looked closer. Clergyman Paulson had done a fine job. The bullets had been removed so no slugs could be recovered by investigators. With no bodies and no bullets all they had to work with was blood and bullet holes. Liam nodded to himself, impressed with the thoroughness of the job.
He then moved to explore the basement. Just like the floors above, it was full of creature comforts and more games. There was a pool table, ping pong table, and yet another bar along with a soda machine. The washer and dryer were big, and a tube led from the upstairs so people didn't even have to bring their fouled clothing down the stairs.
Finally, in the side yard, he found a large swimming pool complete with slide, barbeque grill, a meat smoker and a pair of golf carts. It was out between the golf carts he saw signs of a struggle. Here was another pool of blood and drag marks left by someone with smallish heals. Not far away were depressions and a couple of hand marks in the dirt. One was smaller than him the other almost the exact same size. He also found a single rubber bullet which had been missed. At this he snickered as he realized how some of the kids had been taken. Having been shot with rubber bullets as part of his training, he knew the kids had dropped and screamed, all fight taken out of them. It took practice and hardening of the flesh to be able to take a rubber bullet and do anything at all other than cry. He pocketed the rubber round, made a final pass through the house to gather a few extra items of clothing which fit him and finally decided to take the cash out of a trio of piggy banks he located in the kids' rooms. It was the only cash he was able to locate...
The memory of what he had found at the other ranch house faded as the thought of the eighty-three dollars he had found in the other house came to mind. The Army had only given him fifteen ten dollar bills, saying he would have to make do. Of course they expected him to already have gotten to Clergyman Paulson... Or had they? If they really expected him to get to the man quickly they would not have given him the updating GPS and he certainly didn't need money.
He shook his head and looked up at the sky, "This is all yet another test. I need to prove to them I can make it on my own without being seduced by the world of the non-believers! He glanced back at the two girls as this thought came to him. His mind fought an internal debate, but he came to a conclusion as he heard one of the girls moan. Non-believers or not, they didn't deserve to die like this. He moved up, knelt and snapped their necks, just like he had been taught in unarmed combat training with Clergyman Morales.
Feeling a little better, and once again guessing this had been part of his ultimate testing, probably to see if he really could take a life, he checked the GPS again. It didn't have a location yet, so he moved toward the main building to scavenge money, valuables, and other useful items including food. Liam smiled as he exited the house with a backpack full of things he could survive on for days, if not longer. The Army would be proud of his resourcefulness and would certainly see him as a worthy infiltrator after being on his own for however long it took to find Clergyman Paulson.
Fredric glanced up as Kermit came running into the meeting room on the top floor of EEL's headquarters. He started to say something but didn't get the chance. Instead Kermit snagged the remote control while shouting, "Sir, you need to shut up and listen!" and flipped on the television. The ninety-two inch plasma came on showing the news feed directly from the floor of the State of Texas' senate chamber.
It was just finishing up but a news reporter took over with a shaking voice and uneasy breath, "As you have heard, Governor Hendrickson has confirmed a poison gas attack is headed to Austin and Texas has officially seceded from the United States. With the blackout on the East Coast we have no idea if President Ashwood knows this or not, nor do we have any link to our affiliates on the East Coast for any kind of reaction. At this time, we are recommending all those in and around Austin Texas to do exactly what the young boy said to do. Our experts are trying to gather more information, but..."
Fredric's jaw fell as Levi rushed out of the room calling for a corporate helicopter.
Across the room, Mitch pulled out his cell and dialed Steven's phone. The boy picked up on the third ring. Mitch didn't give Steven a chance to say more than "Hello?"
Mitch hit the speakerphone as he spoke. "Hey, it's Mitch. We need you all to get to the courtyard! We'll pull you out by air!"
"No!" Steven shouted, "The attack is by missile and will be here in less than thirty minutes. Everyone with any way to get out is already doing so and airspace is going to be a mess. Get your people down to the clean rooms, but hopefully as far away as you are, it won't hit there!"
"What about you all?" Fredric managed to ask with total panic in his voice.
"Can't tell you, sir." Scott answered for Steven. "Otherwise Ashwood could send missiles with bombs to do what the sarin didn't, couldn't..."
"Sarin?" Fredric screamed. "Are you sure?"
"Positive." Craig responded telling those in the meeting room at EEL's headquarters Steven had put his phone on speaker. "I have a very direct source in the Navy who has confirmed it. I think you know who I am talking about so you know the information is one hundred percent reliable. It is an advanced formulation though. Geo-Force will send you the file."
Mitch held up his hand realizing Craig was worried about his dad, should the phone call be monitored, which at this point he was convinced it was. "OK, but we can still get you all out with the..."
"Sir, we are being protected by Texas Rangers," Scott jumped back in, "and they are looking for snipers even as we move to where we are going. Sending in a helicopter to try to pull us out would be putting a target on us. I have seen how government Secret Service guys work and you would be putting all of us in one nice neat box for them. Besides, we have a plan and will get back to you, but our phones probably won't work unless Strike-Comm can figure out a way to get a signal out. Knowing him, we'll be talking to you shortly."
"Sending the file now, Sir." Steven stated even as the sounds of a car crash very nearby all but drowned out his words.
Justin then jumped in, "We need to move. The streets are starting to go nuts. We'll get back to you as soon as we can..." Another nearby crash and explosion cut off the words. Before more could be said the sounds of gunshots could be heard. A second later the file of the formulation of the sarin finished sending and the phone clicked off.
Kermit looked over to Fredric with a totally pale face, "We've got to let them do their thing. Scott knows how federal agents work and if he says we would be gift-wrapping the kids..."
Fredric's left hand ran down his face as he nodded in reluctant agreement. "I still want you and Levi ready to go get them as soon as it is safe!"
Even as Kermit ran back out of the room, Fredric turned to Mitch, "Get the file Steven sent to our lab boys. Give them a clean room and whatever they need to find a neutralizing agent or whatever else they can come up with. Once we find our kids, we need to find a safe way to extract them!"
Fredric then took a step back and looked at the television replaying the events within the capitol. After hearing the whole thing, he glanced around at the others in the room. "Get all our people... no, scratch that. Get all our essential people down into the clean rooms and open up the server rooms as well. Replace all the filters. Put the non-essential workers and all family members in the wind tunnel testing lab and lock it down. I need two maintenance crews to put microfilm filters in three layers over the intake and dual filters over the outflow. Once everyone is inside, turn it on to five miles per hour and keep it there. If it starts to clog, we'll put a Haz-Mat team outside to replace the outer filter on the intake and a maintenance team on the inside to replace the inner one on the outflow. This will keep the entire building free of sarin for several hours.
"Mitch, get the kids from Breckenridge down to my yacht and if needed buy a second one. I also want Rum Cay to be stocked with everything we need to go to war with Ashwood. Send our best people from everywhere there. Their sole job is to find ways to screw Ashwood over at every turn."
By this point it was abundantly clear Fredric was beyond pissed off. It was something no one had ever seen in the man before and it left them all looking at him with wide eyes. The interesting thing was, the more angry he got, the more level-headed he became. He turned to his Director of Scientific Operations with a look capable of scaring a vampire. "If we don't get hit, then I want this entire complex to be turned into the largest anti-Ashwood laboratory in the world. If he thinks he is going to get away with trying to kill MY Joey or any of my other science winners he is beyond wrong. In fact, he is dead; he just doesn't know it yet. As of this moment, Ashwood and all of his cronies have put themselves in the crosshairs of everything EEL can throw at them!"
He glanced up to the television, picked up the water pitcher off the table and threw it into middle of the screen, destroying both. "What are you all waiting for? Get to work or go find a new job!"
With Glenn and Steven both in the old bunker, the pace of getting everything up and running seemed to increase fourfold. By the time the lawmakers started to file in, Steven had a makeshift bathroom set up, using the footlockers to make a side room and six of the lockers with the best lids half filled with water to go into.
Glenn went to work on the air purifier, tying the power outlets of his chair into the unit to get it up and running. In addition he tied two of the lights on the command platform in to the chair so the bunker would have some light even if the power failed since they had no clue where the power was coming from.
Justin, who was still very distraught over Craig's decision to seal the door from the outside, finally turned his attention to tracing power, and found it came from somewhere underneath. Much like the water pipes, the wires were buried in the concrete with no conduit, so wherever they went, no air could leak in around them. Still, the wire insulation, where it poked out of the walls, looked really brittle and several of the lights continued to flicker. A few even sparked when he poked at them. Because of this, he started marking where the wires came in so no one would brush up against them.
Keith continued to work on a way to get communications up and running. After some thought, he decided to cheat. He grabbed a few laptops from lawmakers and wired them into Glenn's chair. He then hooked them up to the antennas and used the link to the secure server to get Internet access. After a few attempts he finally smiled as he announced, "We can now make calls through the net!" A few seconds later, he hooked up a pair of speakers one of the lawmakers had in her laptop case and nodded to the governor. "You can talk in the open or through a headset, sir. I have a line open to EEL and a line open to your National Guard command.
By the time he was done, almost all the power Glenn's chair could generate was being turned into electrical power so he had to get help to prop his chair up since it didn't have the needed lift to keep the fan blades safely off the floor.
While he was doing this, Scott used epoxy to affix the tubing well up on the wall well above the back door so the filtration system could draw in, filter, and expel air outside the bunker while the unit itself stayed safely inside the bunker.
As soon as this was done, Ricky used a combination of beds and footlockers to climb up to the pipes and checked the shutoff valves. One of the pipe's main shutoffs leaked, as was proven by Alexander, who moved over to the smaller water pipes and checked to see if the flow had been shut off. The second one, however, did work.
Keith glanced over from his bank of borrowed laptop computers, "Alexander, let's move all the wiring for the antenna system over to the pipe Ricky isn't going to break. This way, I have a better chance of actually getting a cell phone signal out. We can't trust the server for very long. If Ashwood finds it, he will certainly hack it or blow it up. It'll be a lot harder to kill a cell signal run though the city's water pipe system."
While Alexander climbed up to rewire the antenna system, Glenn noticed some tire sealant coming under the main door. "Craig found the tire gunk! We need to totally stay clear of the door so it dries and forms a solid seal!"
Justin moved over to the door and shouted, "Craig, you are down to like ten minutes! Finish up and run! Ranger Guthry is waiting to show you how to get in the back way!"
A pair of clangs on the door seemed to indicate Justin's message had gotten through. A few seconds later tire sealant could be seen coming through a few other spots.
Joey, who was helping Scott, let out a long breath, "Give it a few minutes to dry, but let's use the silicon we got to put over it before the strike hits just to make sure."
Alexander nodded, "I'll take care of it as soon as I finish with the antenna wiring. Just make sure we have the air filtration system up or we are screwed. I'm still trying to figure out how we are going to get out of here, because with no air movement, the gas is going to settle in low spots and stay there for days, if not longer."
The old Curator appeared leading a group of fifty-three fifth-graders into the room. The looks on the vast majority of the ten and eleven-year-olds was absolute terror. Many were crying and a few were barely able to walk because they were so afraid. Behind the kids, a pair of paramedics and a group of firefighters helped to hurry the group in. A trio of firefighters carried kids who had totally broken down.
The old Curator looked over to Alexander, clearly having overheard the question. "Below this room is the old chamber with all the hardware to make this place work. It is totally sealed off, at least it is as long as this room is. The only remaining non-concreted up entrance is right over there."
He glanced over to the two sealed off bathroom doors, "What I really don't get why the gas won't just all settle to the ground and let you walk out, if it really won't and you need it to go lower, then there are several stories of hardware and stuff below you which could be unsealed, but I am not really sure how you would do it..."
Scott glanced over at the old man, "Sir, tell us how to get in, and we'll figure out something. It's what us geeks do."
The curator moved over to the closest bathroom door and smacked it with his bare hand. "You will have to break the weld around one of these bathrooms and take an access tube down to the lower room. Once down there, there is a working elevator to take you down to the next section of this place. Once there, you could break a hole in the main door, which is about eight stories below the entrance to this one. It was meant to be a back-up for the United States government and military back in the fifties, so it was built to hold a couple thousand folks for up to a year. It was all totally cut off and abandoned because of cost, but the Bryce Administration cleaned it up and mothballed it back in 2001 or so, when no one was really sure how the war of drugs was going to go. We then totally sealed it off in 2006 right after Bryce decided not to run and I was told all traces of it were pulled from government files. Nothing, nor no one, has been down there since."
Justin moved over to the bathroom door and looked at it for a moment, "So why is this welded?"
"Because," Wade sighed, "me and a couple of other old timers didn't want to lose the history of the place totally. We welded the doors before the inspectors got here and when they told us they needed to see the access tubes down to the old command center were indeed concreted and plugged, we told them we could break the welds, but they would be overrun with sewer gas stench, bugs, and rodents. They looked at each other then General Kerry, the guy in charge, shook his head and signed off on it being sealed off."
"If there are rats and bugs down there, then there is a way for the gas to get down there though." Glenn stated with disappointment.
"There ain't none, son," Wade snickered. "General Kerry was an idiot. Still is an idiot, matter of fact. Last I heard Ashwood gave him another star about three months ago. Like I said, the place is sealed off and other than a check by me and two others about a year ago, no one has been down there since 2006. Everything is in shrink-wrap and mothballed. There are locked vaults with who the hell knows what's in them and spare parts for the spare parts in the main storage area. Nothing living is down there and there is no water. The bathrooms are all chemical and go so far down I don't even want to know how many tax dollars were spent. Back in the day, the idea was this was going to be where the State of Texas was run out of and below would be the federal government or at least part of it. It had to be able to withstand people living here for a year or more before people would go back to the surface to see what was left after a nuclear war. The Government couldn't have sewer pipes and the like allowing radiation in!"
"Oh, yeah..." Glenn muttered as his face turned red, "I should have thought before I asked... So the general in charge of making sure it was totally shut down and sealed off didn't think about it either?"
Scott snickered, "Glenn, General Kerry is a brown nosing, pencil pushing weasel who comes from more money than I do. He has a degree in Environmental Geography from West Point, then got follow-up degrees in Humanities and another in Political Science after he flunked out of Law School. I have even heard rumors his family made sure he graduated West Point by greasing palms. All I know for sure is, he was promoted to keep his family happy and he has never been given any serious commands. He served in the American-Mexican war in command of the Prisoner of War camps. It is the closest he ever got to combat, but since he was in Mexico for a while, he got credit for a combat tour."
Governor Hendrickson noticed how many of the state senators and congressmen were staring at Scott with open mouths, "Excuse me, Scott, but how do you know this... and even if everything you said was correct, how and why do you remember it?"
"Governor, my entire existence, according to my mom, was to learn who is important, why, and what they are really about. Before going to parties I was given tests to make sure I knew who was important and why. If someone was getting preferential treatment, like military rank or a good governmental posting, I was told why and how to play up to said person. Over the last three years, General Kerry has been at over twenty parties where I had to attend, so I got to know more about him then he knows about himself. For the past two months he has been making trips back and forth to the War Crimes Camp just south of Juarez and Washington DC with several DoD Psychologists. I was trying to find out why, but his wife is a good handler and sent me off to go get drinks for her and the General whenever I got close when he was talking with others about it. Still, I managed to get enough to know he has been dealing with someone in Mexico on some sort of business deal."
"He's a freaking spy!" Senator Klayton snarled. "Even worse he is a Race, as in Holly Race's kid! How can we trust him..."
Another voice called out, "If he's a Race, he an Ashwood spy..."
Steven turned sharply and glared at the second man, "Mister, I trust Scott with my life and he is working hard to keep all of us alive. Since you aren't... you can't... why don't you pretend to be less important than you think you are and let him and the rest of us try to save your life while thousands above us die."
A couple of other state congressmen and senators started to speak up only to get cut off by the Governor, "Ladies and gentlemen, we would already be dead or running for our lives if these kids didn't risk their lives to save ours. Furthermore, we would not know about the inbound missile attack without them. Any lives saved in Austin today are because they cared enough to try to save us, and if Scott really was a spy he sure picked a bad place to be. Instead he would have run up the stairs instead of the other boy to get extracted. Now knock it off, because right now they are our best, maybe only hope for survival!"
Scott snorted, clearly having had enough to being used for the political games and gains of others. Seeing the angry looks still being directed his way, he moved right over to Senator Klayton and looked into the man's eyes.
The look, body posture and tone of the snort, combined with the fact the boy was armed with a pistol and a rifle caused Ranger Hunt to move to break things up, but Alexander stepped in his way.
Alexander looked up at Ranger Hunt, "I don't know Scott real well, but I do know he isn't a hot head; let him go off on the jack-wad. It'll do both of them some good."
Scott shot a glance back at Alexander, showing he had heard or at least knew the younger boy had his back. He then turned and stared right into Klayton's eyes. "You know what? I am a spy. I am a good one too. My mom paid for me to get classes on perception from the time I was like four and I am the best Race left at picking up things, so do not screw with me."
The man took a step back clearly shocked at being talked to in such a way, "Someone needs to..."
"What?" Scott cut him off, "Beat me so I keep my mouth shut? Maybe you are afraid of what I may know about you?"
At this the man's eyes went wide, "What could you possibly know, you're just a kid?"
"Wow, he is worried!" Justin chimed in. "One second Scott is a spy and the next he is a know nothing kid. What are you hiding mister?"
This actually got a chuckle out of Scott, "I'm getting there, but first, just so everyone in this underground bottle knows where I am coming from let me make something extremely clear, so clear even a lowlife politician from Midland Odessa can understand." Scott didn't even flinch as the man raised his hand to smack him, "Do it. Show what type of oil rich spoiled brat you really are, Senator Klayton!"
Alexander reached for his captured pistol. "If he does..."
Ranger Hunt put a hand on Alexander's shoulder, "If he does he will get a beat down the likes of which a rigged pro-wrestling match couldn't top."
The fact a boy's hand was on a pistol coupled with the threat from the lead Ranger caused Senator Klayton to back off a couple of steps while his hand fell back down to his side.
"Typical of every politician who bought his way into office I have ever met." Scott grumbled.
Senator Klayton's lips twisted up into a snarl only to see Ranger Hunt hold up his left hand while his right fist crashed into it. This prevented any spoken words.
The left side of Scott's lips twisted upwards into a smirk for a moment then he glanced around at all the eyes on him. He let out a long and audible breath then started speaking in a much more even tone. "Now you all see who the real Senator Klayton is, which is great. However, many of you are still looking at me with suspicion. I get it and you should. I'm a Race after all. I'm also twelve years old and did what my mom wanted right up to the minute my brother was taken.
"The second he disappeared I became a free agent. Now, however, I am solidly anti-Ashwoodian since we found out who and what he is. How many of you know his son, Lawrence wasn't hurt in a boating accident, but instead was put into a cult? How many of you know he orchestrated a quasi takeover of the warship he then ordered to fire on Austin, on us. He moved fifty people off the ship and replaced them with his own and if he did it on one ship, I am sure he did it in military units from one end of the globe to the other.
"Now he is trying to kill me and my friends, which is about three steps further than I am willing to be pushed. Yeah, I am a Race, and I also have attended parties and other events with everyone from the Ashwoods to over a dozen other country leaders and hundreds of their underlings. I have sat at the table with the UAE ambassador, been on the UAE yacht, sat on the UAE Ambassador's lap... I have watched backroom deals go down in more countries than most of you have been to, and have even been in the room when arms talks were being made with the UAE and other Arab countries through Argentina.
"Speaking of Argentina, I was there where my mom, on the behest of President Ashwood, met with the Argentinean military leadership to discuss manufacturing weapons for the U.S. there. I have also been in Greece and was a drink server when my mom met with pro-Palestinian leaders along with the UAE Ambassador and several key members of the Greek parliament to discuss strengthening ties to Arab States while putting pressure on Israel to give up the West Bank.
"I probably know more about the global leadership than anyone else in this room and yeah, just as a reminder, I am only twelve. At the moment, I am a very pissed off twelve-year-old who has done things for my mom which should have gotten her thrown in jail dozens of times. But I am not alone. There are other kids who have done similar things to help further the careers of their moms and dads, just not at the level as I was doing them at." He then sent a sharp stare at Senator Klayton, "And you may want to keep your mouth shut, sir. One more word out of you and I may start firing off some other interesting facts."
Senator Klayton's eyes went wide while his face went pale. At the same time a couple of the other legislators wiped some sweat off their brows. Even to the most untrained eye it was clear Scott's outburst had released butterflies in the stomachs of several men and women.
Ranger Hunt glanced over at Scott as a total hush fell over the room. "Damn, son, I had no idea anyone could shut up this many wind-bags so fast."
"Yeah," Scott managed a hint of a smile, "well, I think some of them may suddenly realize I know details they would prefer stay stuck in the back of the closet." He sent a glance over his shoulder and glared for a moment, but no one could pick out who the glare was sent at. Still, as Scott turned back around to look at Ranger Hunt, the boy's voice was arctic cold. The tone alone told those listening the youngster knew something very deep and dark about someone else in the room, "Like a certain someone's proclivities within a certain closet."
Scott then turned and stared at the mass of men and women with a dangerous hardness, "And if you want to come after me in my sleep, realize I have spent the last couple of days putting lots of this stuff into a file somewhere really safe and outside of even the reach of the likes of you all. If I go down so do a mass of others."
Senator Klayton let out a grunt, "Kid, nowhere is safe, the government can find..."
Alexander glanced over, "Mister, the government can't at the moment, at least over much of the western U.S. including here."
"And how would you know..." another woman started to ask only to get cut off by Steven.
"Maybe you all haven't quite figured this out yet, but the nine of us are the ones who crushed the firewalls and got the information out about Ashwood. So, before any of you wonder whose side Scott is on, realize he did every bit as much damage as any of the rest of us did to the sitting President. In fact, he provided us information to protect us as we smashed the protections Ashwood put up to hide what he was up to. Also keep in mind, Scott has taken down a few people in the last few days who were shooting at us. We all have, and we all have his back."
Governor Hendrickson's jaw dropped, "The hacking... It was you guys?"
Half the kids pointed up at Ricky, while the others nodded.
Scott decided to give them all an extra layer of protection as he turned to the Governor. "Yes sir, it was us. We penetrated just about every part of the government and pulled some very interesting files Ashwood had hidden on a whole lot of people, so his secrets are ours as well."
"He'll kill you..." Senator Klayton snarled.
"He's tried," Justin stated coldly, "tried and failed. Now, mind telling us why you seem to be so bent on hoping Ashwood will get to us before we get to him?"
"I never said..."
Ranger Hunt glanced over, "Not outright, but in so many words you seem to imply you want them dead even as they try to save our lives."
"Who's to say they are not the ones who brought this down on us?" Senator Klayton countered, getting a few nods from those around him.
"This file does, Senator." Steven announced as he turned one of the borrowed laptops around. "This is the chemical formula of the sarin fired at us. It was finalized just over nine months ago and has been tweaked to handle high humidity without breaking down as quickly as normal sarin, so it will linger longer and kill more folks here. It is also formulated for an optimal altitude between five hundred and fifty to four hundred and fifty feet above sea level. The other rockets, which didn't get launched, have a totally different formulation, set for a higher altitude and come with injector kits to adjust the altitude."
This caused Glenn to speak up, "For those who are now staring blankly at Steven, the mean altitude of Austin is right about five hundred feet above sea level, so they made this stuff to hit here. I bet Ashwood knew if things went badly for him, Texas would be the first and largest thorn in his side so he made sure he had a way to cripple the government before it could provide the backbone of any resistance. The other missiles, which we are pretty certain our side has managed to get control of, are more generic and need to be fine tuned to hit a specific target with maximum kill potential."
One of the State Congressmen came over and looked at the formula and shook his head after several seconds, "All I see is a chemistry formula..."
"Ignore it," Steven commanded. "It is way over your head unless you have background in Biochemistry. Look at the side notes."
A woman spoke up, "Oh, and you do have knowledge of Biochemistry?"
"Yeah, and he is really good at it," Glenn cut the snobby-sounding woman off. "Care for a demonstration?"
Alexander grinned, "Yeah, Glenn, I haven't seen this stuff yet!"
The woman put her hands on her hips, "What type of dem..."
Before she could finish her sentence, a hiss came out of Glenn's chair as a carbon dioxide launched dart erupted from a small, almost undetectable hole in the chair and struck the woman. Even as her hand started to grab at the dart, her whole body tightened up and she fell face forward, her face frozen in a mask of pain and astonishment over having been darted.
Fortunately for the woman, Joey was able to leap over to her and catch her before her face impacted the concrete floor. Joey shivered as he gently lowered the woman down, "Ok, now I am going to have nightmares about people being stiff as boards! Thanks guys."
"Happy to help," Glenn managed a snicker. "Now the rest of you may want to take a close look, because while she can't move a single voluntary muscle, she is still breathing, can hear, and she can even move her eyes. But the chemical Steven invented overrides all voluntary muscles by directly affecting the biochemistry of the body. Without an antidote, with her weighing about a hundred and ten pounds, she would not regain any movement for about twenty two minutes."
Steven smacked his forehead hard, "Glenn, come on, dude; I didn't make those for you to show off!"
"I know, but a demonstration may help remind all these adults we are winners of the biggest science contest ever held for a reason. Besides, I needed to try the targeting system Ricky and I came up with for them. It works great by the way. Thanks for the programming help Ricky."
"Any time." Ricky responded from somewhere up on the platform. "But remember we still need to work on wind and temperatures to get them truly accurate."
The Governor moved over and looked down. He finally knelt and cringed as he pushed on the woman's arm, "Very convincing kids. Disturbing to be sure, but convincing. Now do you mind hitting her with some kind of antidote?"
Glenn looked down and cringed, "Um, I don't have enough power to turn the chair and the darts with the opposite effect don't really point at her..."
Steven moved over to the chair and carefully pulled up a plate revealing a rotating cartage with fifteen green darts. "You'll have to tell it the last slot is empty, Glenn or it will give you a false reading on your ammo supply."
"Already doing it."
Steven rolled his eyes as he moved over to the woman, "I know you can hear me, so let me warn you, this is going to hurt and you will have muscle spasms for the next couple of minutes as the effects of the two fight for control of your body until the effects are neutralized. Don't try to stand until the shakes stop or you may end up falling flat on your face again. I have a much better counter agent, but I didn't think to give Glenn any." He then dropped the dart so it fell and stuck into the woman's leg while he jumped back.
Moments later the woman jerked really hard kicking one man close to her and smacking another with her hand as the drug caused the first strong spasms. This caused everyone else to move well away.
Ranger Hunt watched as the woman let out a hiss of pain then flopped around like a fish out of water for a few seconds. As soon as he saw the woman about to speak he shook his head. "Unless you want to go through this again, I suggest you just shut your trap and deal with it, because right at the moment there are eight boys who the rest of us are pretty much terrified of and none of us are gong to stop them from darting you all over again."
Seeing all the support swing in the direction of the boys, Senator Klayton moved to the front of the group and pointed a finger at Scott, "How do we know you didn't bring us all down here to poison us with those darts?"
For Scott this was the final straw. He turned sharply and moved right up to the man until the guy's finger was pushed up against his breastbone. "Maybe, instead of pointing fingers, you would like to explain to the others here about the so-called loan you gave your nephew? Tell us how a loan of two point three million bought him a home worth one point one million. Then tell us how he managed to get a two point two million dollar signing bonus to Klaxson and Jester which was signed back over to you to pay off most of the debt of the house and how one point one million then went to a bank in the UAE and was then converted into gold so the loan on the house got paid off without any questions being asked on why the loan repayment was for far more than the house was ever worth? Or would you prefer to tell us how a twenty-two-year-old who barely graduated law school and had to take the Bar exam three times got such a signing bonus from the law firm that handles Filabran Construction, the company your sub-committee awarded the bid for bridge reconstructions across the whole state even though it was the second highest bid?"
Scott's eyes narrowed, "And while your finger is still poking into my chest, let's go one further! Why don't you fill us in a bit more on what General Kerry is up to, since he managed to let it slip your wife was on his payroll and she works in the War Crimes Prosecution Office. Why is she getting money from General Kerry and the DoD on the side, when she is also getting paid a huge amount from the Department of Justice as a War Crimes Prosecutor? How is this possible all when she has the lowest conviction rate out of anyone working in the War Crimes Prosecution Office?"
Several heads turned to look at the man, but before more could be said, Keith called out from the command platform, "Guys can we pretend to be on the same side for a few minutes? We only have about eight minutes before we are in the window for the missile strike and we still need to close off the passage and figure out how we are going to make the gas sink below us after it settles!"
Governor Hendrickson's eyes narrowed as he stared deep into a very pale Senator Klayton, "At the moment, the young man up there is right. But rest assured, this is not over yet."
Before anyone else could react, Klayton shoved Scott back hard enough to topple the youngster while making a beeline for the door. He almost got there, but an axe handle, held out by one of the firefighters, clothes-lined him. He fell flat on his back clutching at his throat while making croaking noises.
The firefighter looked down with a glare, "First off, there is no way in hell we are letting you out of here to tell the world where we are. Second, the axe handle to the throat was for filibustering the request for a pair of air tankers to help us fight wildfires. One of my friends got killed out in the field this year because you decided it was too expensive to buy a couple of planes, all the while you are banking millions on the backs of the rest of us."
Steven watched as Ranger Hunt slapped cuffs on the man who was still trying hard to breathe. Once he was certain the man was secure and Scott was all right, he looked up at the pipes then at the time on his phone, "Ricky, we need to flood the passage..."
"But what about Craig?" Glenn and Justin both shouted at nearly the same instant.
"He knows the basics of what the plan is; he will have to swim through the door to get here, guys." Scott stated with a shaky voice. "If we don't flood the passage now, then we are all dead."
Justin sank to his knees and started to cry as he nodded, "Steven's right... Do it Ricky."
As Ricky started to climb up the tower of footlockers, Joey climbed up the metal rungs to get up to the main shutoff, so he could turn off the water before the whole place filled up with water.
While almost everyone watched the kids climb, Alexander glanced back to Wade and moved to block the old man from leaving, "We are going to need you here to show us how to get down to this other level you were talking about."
The old curator started to protest but was cut off by Ranger Hunt, "The boy is right. We need you down here."
Joey ignored the conversation below. Instead he watched as Ricky focused on one of the pipes with his hands touching it. After several seconds the pipe started to creak then, suddenly, cracked with a series of popping sounds. Moments later the force of the water behind the break broke the ice clog loose sending a stream of ice water cascading over Ricky who was knocked off his feet with a startled cry and tumbled down the pile of lockers.
Before he got halfway to the bottom, two of the firefighters scrambled up the makeshift pyramid and grabbed him. The younger of the two men shivered as he cradled Ricky, "Damn, there is ice in the water! What gives?"
Scott gulped as he saw Ricky motionless in the man's arms. "It's how he broke the pipe. He used a cold thing. Is he OK?"
The firefighter gently passed Ricky down, "I didn't see him spray anything..."
"Well, he clearly did, and we have seen what chemical concoctions they can come up with." The fire station chief cut the younger man off. "He hit real hard. Does he have a pulse?"
One of the paramedics braved the sudden, very cold, waterfall and moved to secure Ricky from the firefighter struggling to stay standing on the pile of footlockers. He moved out of the spray and put his finger up to the boy's neck. "Pulse is strong and steady, but he has a nasty cut on his head and may have a broken leg. It feels unstable!"
As several of the others started to move in Ricky's direction, Steven held up his hand and all but shouted, "Guys, the clock is really ticking here. Ricky is in good hands and we still have work to do!" He turned and looked up to Joey, "I want at least a foot of water covering the top of the door before you even start to crank the valve closed. The water will become contaminated as the sarin mixes with it, so we need enough water to totally cover the door without adding more water and stirring it up. If we end up having to add more we will have to do it gently, or the evaporation may still contaminate the room! Also, someone, make sure the humidity sensor on the air purification unit is set way up. Not only will setting it high allow the unit's output to focus on keeping the air clear, but also the extra humidity will prevent too much evaporation in here."
He then glanced around, "Who is the best swimmer we have? We need to make sure the tubes stay above the water line on the far side."
One of the firefighters kicked off his boots and tossed his heavy jacket off to the side. "I'll handle it kids. I am a member of the flood rescue team."
Steven simply sent the man a nod then turned to Justin, "Dude, I know you are worried sick about Craig, we all are, but I need you hooking up your cameras so the Governor can show he is still alive. If we don't get the message out after the sarin hits, Ashwood will be able to claim the succession of Texas was short-lived and this whole thing falls apart before Bryce can muster more forces."
Steven then turned to Glenn, "You are our second best computer guy. I need you up on the platform so we can send the alert once we have confirmation of the rockets coming in."
Seeing Glenn look at his chair rather helplessly, Scott moved over to the smaller boy, "Let me carry you and help. My fish attractor tech isn't going to do us much good down here."
Glenn sighed, but grabbed one of the captured pistols and assault rifles of the back of his chair before holding his hands out for Scott to lift him.
Alexander moved back over to the bathroom door and studied it for several seconds. "Our biggest problem, other than Craig, is how to get through this, go down to the bunker below us, punch a hole in it without getting contaminated, seal back up this door so noting manages to get inside here, and wait it out for a few more hours."
Keith climbed down from the pipes, checked his signal strength and gave a thumbs up to Steven before looking over at Alexander, "We have our equipment from those... um..." his eyes suddenly lit up as he came up with the perfect term, "The equipment we got from the Sliders... I bet we could rig up something strong enough to blow a hole in the door down there or something. With all this old radio equipment, we could even make a few remote detonators."
Even as several of the other kids nodded, Steven glanced over, "Sliders?"
"You never saw Sliders?" Alexander asked with a great deal of shock in his voice, "Coolest show ever!"
"Oh, man, Steven," Joey shouted down from his perch watching the water as it filled the lower passage leading out of the bunker and started moving up the door, "We are going to have to have a Sliders watching party once we get out of here!"
"Special effects would be way better today, though." Justin agreed, reluctantly joining the conversation. "Still the idea was awesome."
"Who needs special effects?" Glenn snorted. "Wait till Ricky and I dig through all the data then we will see what is special effects and what is real."
"I may be able to find some episodes on the net since Ricky has a link to it." Scott chimed in, cutting off Glenn before he accidently said too much. "We may need a credit card, and mine is back at the cabin inside my wallet."
Glenn glanced over to the adults, "Unless someone here already has Netflix on their computer..."
One of the state senators moved over and handed Justin his computer, while looking around at all the kids, "Um, here. I have a subscription, but how about you wait and discuss this once we are all safe?"
Governor Hendrickson let out a little snort, "Yeah, I have it on mine too, guys, but Senator Loreman is right..."
Glenn shook his head rather dismissively, "With all due respect, there isn't one of us here who can't multitask. The countdown clock Ricky set is now at two minutes, so we have between two and eleven minutes before the cruise missiles get here. Justin, we need to find a backdrop to put on the wall behind your camera angle or it will show we are in some kind of bunker. Once Ashwood sees we are in a bunker, he'll have someone put one and one together."
"Can't you photoshop it?" one of the women asked.
"Sure, but what can be photoshopped can also be un-photoshopped if someone is good enough to break down the pixilation. We also know Ashwood has a very good computer guy because at the end of the hack we were having to jump locations quickly to avoid detection." Justin responded as he started looking around the room while occasionally glancing back at the passageway filing with water. "Alexander, we are too close on the water getting over the top of the door, open those water pipes coming down the wall from the second pipe!"
Even as Alexander bolted across the room and opened the water supply valves, Justin clenched his fist, "Come on Craig!"
Glenn looked down from the command platform, "OK, I think I found something we can't do, Steven. Ricky managed to somehow tie into the Air Traffic Control radar, but I don't have a clue what I am looking at let alone what I am looking for as far as missiles go."
One of the Rangers raised an eyebrow, "I am ex-navy, and worked on a carrier in air ops and had cross training of Radar, but how in the hell did you hack into ATC?"
"You'd have to ask Ricky," Glenn admitted. "But I need you up here monitoring so you can tell me when the missiles appear. Otherwise, we are going to give the final alert at the wrong time!"
The man scrambled up to the command platform and whistled as he looked around, "Holy hell, how in the name of God did he get all these laptops streaming different information?"
"He handles a computer like most people handle tying their shoes." Scott snickered. "He doesn't have to think about it, he just does it." Scott then pointed at the laptop streaming the ATC radar feed, "You need to worry about this and let us handle the rest."
Scott then turned back to Glenn, "If you haven't figured out the control to the civil defense system yet..."
"Don't need to." Glenn pointed to the Governor's computer, "Ricky already wrote a subscript into the controls on the Governor's laptop. All I have to do is hit Control, Alt, F7 and it will change the tone and send out an SOS signal over the sirens. I just need to know when to hit it."
Hearing this, the Governor looked over at the paramedics tending to Ricky, "He is way too valuable to not get the best treatment we can give him!"
Steven moved over to the paramedics working on Ricky, noting the men had striped the boy down to his undershorts to get him out of the cold wet clothing and had covered him with a space blanket. "How is he?"
The lead paramedic glanced up, "Broken leg and a hell of a bump on his head, but the cut won't need stitches. But it sure looks like he has endured some serious abuse. He has deep bruising with several states of healing on his back, chest, and the back of his legs. Do you know who hurt him?"
"No," Justin snarled, "but we have heard him hint at it a few times. Once all this is over, though, we are going to find out and make someone pay."
Steven glanced down as the paramedic exposed some of the bruises on Ricky's back. One of them, although mostly healed, was clearly in the shape of a hand print, with all four fingers still visible in light purple on the skin. "Someone just moved to the level of Ashwood on the people I hate list. We'll deal with this, but from what I have seen, he will freak out if he finds someone undressed him. So let's keep him covered up. Do we need to set the leg?"
"Without an x-ray, no way to know for sure, but I don't think so. It is unstable but straight. We'll air-cast it until we can get him into a hospital somewhere. I am more worried about a concussion. Looking at some of this bruising, I would be surprised if he hasn't had a cracked rib or two on occasion; might still have one and the fall he just took didn't help if he did."
Steven let out a long breath, "Mr. Triumph is going to kill me..."
"Why?" the Governor asked, "None of this is your fault."
"I was elected to be in charge and I let one of us get hurt and the other..."
"Craig will find a way to get in here." Alexander stated with certainty. "He'll figure out something."
"I hope you're right," Justin stated in a voice just above a whisper. "I hope you're right."
Steven nodded, but glanced up to Joey, "Kill the water flow; the door is covered. We'll let the flow from the lower faucets slowly raise the level from here. Sarin mixes well with water, so we don't want any real agitation to possibly release into here."
Joey nodded and started cranking the main valve shut on the busted pipe, "Looks like a couple of rats managed to swim in..."
Ranger Hunt moved over to the water, pulled his pistol and fired a pair of shots which echoed quite badly in the closed off chamber. Ranger Hunt wiggled a finger in his ear and winced, "Not anymore."
"Nice shooting!" Joey called out with a great deal of praise.
Ranger Hunt shot the boy a grin, "Us adults can't let you boys do everything!"
The governor nodded in agreement, then turned to the assembled lawmakers, "We have eight boys in here and a ninth out there making all of us look really bad. Let's get off our collective butts and get this place organized. We have school kids to take care of and need to set up this place as best as we can..."
Before more could be said, the Ranger pointed at the laptop showing the ATC radar, "I have a series of blips that just appeared, they are popping up just on the outskirts of the city..."
Glenn started to push the code on the computer, only to be stopped by Scott, "Wait, Glenn. For Steven's idea to work, we need to hold until the last possible second before we send the alert tone. People trying to stay inside garbage bags won't have a whole lot of air."
Steven looked up at the control platform, "Scott's right. We need to wait until the rockets explode in air then send the tone. It will take a few seconds for the sarin to drift down to street level and during that time is when I want people to inflate the bags and jump into them. I'm not sure it will work, but it's the only commonly available thing I could come up with."
"It's better than what any of us would have dreamed up," The Lieutenant Governor stated with clear praise in his voice. "You kids are incredible."
"Hold off on congratulating any of us until we get all of us safely out of here, sir." Scott stated as he turned his full attention to the control platform.
A few seconds of silence passed before the Ranger called out, "The first wave of four just went off screen which means aerial detonation!"
"Hit the alert tone, Glenn!" Steven shouted.
Glenn hit the keys to activate the subscript and held his breath. He watched as the output tone changed on the sirens to match the SOS Ricky had programmed in. "OK, it is sending the tones out now, but Ricky has a second script in here, but I don't know what it does."
Steven glanced back to the paramedics with wide eyes, "Can you smelling salt him or something?"
"Yeah, but if he has a concussion like I think he does he needs to rest; plus he may not remember everything either."
"We have to try," Glenn called out, "I have no idea what he planned to do with this other script."
The Governor nodded, "If it has the potential to save lives, wake him."
As the paramedics pulled out smelling salts, Steven glanced up to the Ranger looking over the Radar, "I need altitudes of detonation and if we have them, weather and wind data. This way I can extrapolate the coverage areas and the likely kill radius."
Off to the side, Ricky jerked as the smelling salts were put under his nose. The youngster then started to thrash but the pain of the broken leg caused him to stop, "My leg... MY CLOTHES!"
Justin knelt next to Ricky and pulled the space blanket up over him to fully cover the boy, "Your clothing is soaked and your leg is broken..."
Ricky's eyes went wide as he saw the eyes of literally hundreds looking at him. Tears poured out of his eyes, "You all saw?"
"The bruises? Yes," Alexander stated with fury in his voice. "We'll get whoever did it to you, dude, but Glenn needs to know about the second script you wrote. The missiles are inbound right now!"
The Ranger's voice cut off any response. "I have two more blocks of four missiles popping up in other areas... first group detonated... Second group reaching altitude of seven hundred twenty five feet and... detonation, third group looks to be right over the downtown area... they just went off screen... the only area not blanketed is the south west..."
Suddenly the link Ricky had created with Air Traffic Control came to life as an aircraft called in. "Austin, this is November three eight Mike Gulf. I think I have one of those missiles in visual heading toward me. Will it do any good if I ram it?"
"Give him a truthful answer!" The governor ordered.
"He will, especially if he stops it before it gains altitude, but I'll be killing him..." Keith responded in a whisper.
The ranger manning the radar nodded his understanding as he grabbed the headset, "November three eight Mike Gulf, if you can knock it out, it could save thousands of lives, especially if you can get to it before it starts to go high."
"Understood Austin. Tell my boys... well you know."
"Yes we do, November three eight." The ranger stated while closing his eyes. He then looked at the radar as the Lear jet dove and disappeared. For several seconds nothing was said and the only sounds came from crying kids in the bunker. Finally the Ranger let out a long breath. "He must have gotten it. I'm not seeing any more..."
Scott blinked some tears out of his eyes, "Give me altitude and locations of where they went off, if you can."
The Ranger let out a long breath, then nodded as he focused back on the radar screen. "They all came in really low, jumped up to seven hundred twenty five feet above ground level, and went off screen. Give me a moment and I will get you coordinates."
"Take your time. There isn't much else we can do at the moment and the better information I have the better I can do on finding safe areas."
Keith growled, "Yeah, they had them go off just high enough to be above the tallest building in the city. They set them for maximum kill, but they may have made holes in the coverage by doing so."
Ricky, with tears of shame still cascading down his face, "Guys, hit the script, speak into the mic on the computer, and tell people above us what to do; then hit control alt F9 to send it out over the civil defense sirens."
The governor glanced over in shock, "You can send new, non-pre-recorded instructions over the civil defense speakers?"
"As soon as someone records it, it will be pre-recorded," Alexander responded with a frustrated and condescending tone, which got him a nasty look from several of the boys and a light elbow from Scott.
The Governor looked shocked to be spoken to in such a voice by a kid, but at the same time he simply nodded as it dawned on him how silly the question really was. The problem was, the only ones in the room who seemed to see it were the boys and all of them were looking at him like he was really stupid, "Yeah... OK, my bad."
Steven shook his head and rolled his eyes as he moved over to the computer and looked over the chemical formula again, "OK, looking at the air viscosity, the particle diameter, the particle density, density of the air, wind speed, and average heat refraction off the city streets for the weather we are having I have a settling rate of about fifteen and a half feet a second. What I don't have is what kind of explosion distributed the sarin, but since we know they were cluster rounds I don't have to calculate the missile speed, which is nice. Still, without knowing exactly how those cluster rounds scattered, I am going to have to guess on actual dispersion area.
"I am going to try charting a map based on what I have and pulling in varying wind patterns based on the buildings and how the wind moves around them and add in how the heat coming off the streets will cause some of the vapor to get pushed back up by air rising off the concrete. However, if my estimates are correct, and I know my math is, we have about forty-six seconds from detonation before the first partials hit the ground and less than five minutes before ninety percent of the partials are within ten feet of the ground. Winds are light today, with an average right now of just over six miles an hour, but there have been a few gusts over fifteen. Where we get gusts, these numbers are going to be badly skewed.
"The higher up people are, the faster they will be out of the cloud and since we have such a light wind speed, there will be little movement back off the surface once the particles settle. Still, the particle size is small for a vapor so it will move around some. In three minutes we need to tell everyone in the city to move to the top of buildings and stay there. Do not eat or drink anything, since the contamination will be on and in everything. People who get even slightly contaminated or feel any irritation to skin need to get out of their clothing and stay out of them for at least thirty minutes because fabric can hold sarin for about thirty minutes. They need to use bottled water, if possible to wash the skin off and let it air dry. Then we are going to have to figure out how to get survivors help..."
The Governor glanced up to Scott, "Can you record a message telling people to do what Steven just said and to wait for help. We will have to figure out something..."
Scott nodded and started speaking into the computer. Once he finished he glanced over at Glenn, "Give it one more minute, turn off the repeating S.O.S. signal, and then set the message on repeat."
"The message is already set to repeat until we stop it." Ricky called out while gripping at the air cast only to pull his hand back and grab at the space blanket as it slid off his shoulders. "I don't' care if they are wet... I want my clothes..."
The Governor pulled off his suit jacket and tossed it over to Ricky, "Here, you are way too valuable to all of us to let you get sick."
One of the school kids kicked off his shoes and pulled off his sweats, revealing he had shorts underneath. He moved over and handed the sweats to Ricky. "Mom said it was too cold this morning to wear shorts... You can cut the seam to get it over the cast thing."
Justin moved over and knelt. "Let me help Ricky."
Ricky hung his head as he pulled the suit jacket around him as best he could to hide the bruises. "I didn't want anyone to see..."
"Ricky," Alexander growled, "you have nothing to be embarrassed about. If anything you hiding how much you have to be hurting is pretty impressive. We will get you the revenge you deserve and whatever was done to you will not happen again."
"Never again," Steven confirmed. "As soon as all this is over, we'll all be visiting those who did this to you and it won't be to say hi."
Ranger Hunt glanced over, "I can find a few buddies to help you all if you want."
This finally got a slight grin out of Ricky