Castle Roland

Geek Squad

by Kyle Aarons

In Progress

Chapter 15

Posted: N/A

Geek Squad

Copyright © 2012 - 2014 by Kyle Aarons and the Revolutions Universe Partnership.

All Rights Reserved

Geek Squad LogoEven as the election results looked to be turning things ugly, and the media in some areas started to get the truth out about the Ashwood administration, most Americans shrugged it off. For the average Citizen of the US, the idea of a major problem befalling the country over an election was absurd. Most figured life would continue. Sure, there may be a few bumps in the road, but within a few days things would sort itself out, Ashwood would start packing up, and Bryce would move back in.

All the rumors of Ashwood trying to assassinate Bryce weren't even enough to cause major concern. If such a thing did happen, then it would be dealt with. Honestly, most people figured a deal would be brokered and nothing would happen, or at the very worst some underling would take the fall. Such was the business of politics and the lives of the elite.

Unfortunately, for one youngster, the elder Harrison household held just such beliefs. Even as the news started to grow dark and ominous, Mr. Albert Harrison Sr. dutifully pulled out into the light extremely early morning traffic and made his way to the San Francisco airport. He pulled into short term parking and escorted his grandson, Kent, to the check in counter with the boy's single checked bag over his shoulder.

Next to him, Kent was one step away from sleepwalking, a blanket wrapped around him in an attempt to hold back the cold misty November air. The eleven-year-old simply yawned as his grandfather informed the baggage attendant the youngster would be traveling alone to Beaumont Texas, where his mom would be waiting for him.

The paperwork to allow him to travel alone took a few minutes, but for Kent, it meant little to nothing. He would be home in his own bed, his friends around him and back in school by Friday morning. Sure, staying with Granddad was fun, as was missing almost two weeks of school, but the man was kind of boring and there weren't any kids his age in the condo complex the man lived in. Making matters even worse, the sixty-eight-year-old man had no cable TV and no Xbox.

Kent was definitely ready to go home! However, at this particular moment, all the boy really wanted to do was to curl up and go back to sleep.

With the paperwork signed, and his grandfather having paid an extra fee to make sure his grandson got an escort to his connecting flights, Kent was handed off to another airline guy. The man nodded and buzzed for yet another attendant to escort the boy through security while telling both Kent's grandfather and Kent he would have to change planes in Oklahoma City then again in Houston where he would take a small aircraft into Beaumont. The second attendant informed both Kent and his grandfather the crews of the planes would be informed of this and would make sure the youngster in their care would get to the proper gates. However, it was also noted the airlines were not the guardian of the boy and their responsibility was to get Kent from one aircraft to the other, nothing more.

Of course, being one oh five in the morning, Kent didn't hear this nor did he really care. He wanted nothing more than to go back to sleep. At the same time the boy's grandfather nodded absently, pretty much counting on the airline to do their job in taking care of his grandson, while being somewhat happy to be sending the normally over-energetic, bordering on hyper, youngster back to his mom. It was also a relief to know his daughter was well and was out of the hospital after an emergency appendectomy, which is what had let Kent to spending the last week and a half in San Francisco. The fact the trip out to San Francisco had been non-stop out of Houston and before this, the boy had never before flown anywhere didn't really cross the mind of either the boy or his grandfather.

As would be expected of any Grandfather, the man gave the boy a kiss on the top of his head while sticking a trio of twenty dollar bills in the boy's front pants pocket. He gave the cursory, "Don't spend it all in one place" then, "I love you buddy," followed by, "Be good."

Kent gave the man a hug and yawned yet again. He walked in a semi trance, following the airline guy. He rubbed his eyes and blinked a few times as the airline man led him though security. There was some confusion as his carry-on had so many electronic gadgets and their chargers it made the TSA employee demand the backpack be opened and searched. Once this was done, Kent was led to the departure gate where he quickly nodded off. Thirty minutes later, a female flight attendant lightly shook him and informed him it was time to board.

By the time the aircraft arrived in Oklahoma City, things were starting to go wrong on the East Coast. Massive power outages lead to flights being delayed, grounded or outright cancelled. Even Kent couldn't help but notice the arrival and departure board was showing the mess.

It also didn't take long for the youngster to notice people clamoring around the gate kiosks, either. Many sounded angry while others seemed worried. With a nervous glance at the next departure board, Kent let out a light sigh of relief as he saw his flight to Houston was still showing 'on time'. Even better, it was due to leave in less than an hour. He started to say something to his escort, wanting to know what to do if his flight was cancelled, but could see the man was as concerned as many of the passengers. Because of this, and the fact his flight was still on the board as 'on time', he kept his mouth shut. Besides, his flight was still doing what it was supposed to, and he figured if something did go wrong, his mom or uncle could drive up to Houston to get him. He knew it wasn't very far between Beaumont and Houston.

To this end, he plugged in his cell phone as he waited for the flight to take off. The extra thirty minute change brought it up to 94% battery before it was time to board the plane, which, since he was unaccompanied, he was allowed to do first. Twenty minutes later and the 737 only half full, the aircraft pulled back from the gate. Because of the number of people who had missed the flight, Kent ended up in a row all to himself. It was three fifty-eight in the morning Central time when he turned his cell-phone off, closed his eyes, and drifted off dreaming about his Xbox.

Part of Kent heard an announcement, but he quickly drifted back into dreamland. Twenty two minutes later he jerked awake as he felt the aircraft touchdown and the reverse thrusters kick in. He rolled his neck since he had been sleeping a little weird in his seat, then sat up as the pilot's voice came over the speaker again.

"Ladies and gentlemen, weather in Austin is forty-nine degrees under partly cloudy skies. Local time is five fifty two. Because of the situation, we will have to disembark by step ladder since all gates are now full. At this time we are not sure how things are going to be handled so stick close to monitors and listen to all announcements."

Kent blinked and shook his head in total confusion. At the same time his heart sped up. "Austin?"

Since he was up front almost all of the conversation was being held behind him, but he quickly tried to focus in on what was being said. It didn't take long to find out a couple of details he had missed while sleeping. First, they were indeed in Austin. All commercial air traffic had been ordered to land at the nearest available airport. Second, the blackout on the East Coast had grown.

Kent swallowed hard as he looked over at the steward, "Um, mister?"

The man unbuckled his seatbelt and moved over to the wide-eyed boy while speaking, "I'm sure this is just a glitch until the power to the east gets restored."

"But how am I supposed to get to Houston?"

The steward glanced over his shoulder and jerked his head in the direction of the lead stewardess, "Angie, what are we supposed to do with…"

The woman's face twisted into a bit of a frown, "I'll put in a call to our gate people and see. Normally, in cases of delays, we put unaccompanied minors in staff break room or something, but I have only had to deal with it twice before in my eighteen years, yet nothing like this."

The Steward turned back to Kent, "I want you to wait, be one of the last off the plane, and we'll escort you into the terminal and go from there, OK?"

The next few hours were one step down from a nightmare for Kent. After getting off the plane, he was escorted to a lounge where some of the flight crews normally took breaks and waited during lay-overs. The airline people were really nice, not just to Kent but the other five unaccompanied minors they found themselves stuck with, but no one had any answers. Making matters worse, try as he might, he could not get through to anyone in Beaumont, Texas, not just his mom and his uncle, but no one. All of his friends, all of his mom's friends who were his emergency contacts, even his uncle's office was busy. It was as if they were all talking to each other. The worst part was the attempts at land line communications from the airline's desk got the exact same result.

He tried his grandfather's house, but after twenty seven rings, he remembered the old man telling him he was going to go down to the bay to fish since he was already up. Kent shook his head wondering for about the five hundredth time how his grandfather could live without a cell phone. The man's answer was astounding no matter how many times he heard it, "why do I need people bothering me?"

Kent sighed as he looked down at his phone, "This is why you need a cell phone, grandpa, what if someone has to get a hold of you?"

One of the other kids, a girl trying to get to Memphis, looked over, "I can't get anyone either. I'm supposed to be leaving Atlanta right about now."

Kent looked at his phone blankly for a few seconds before looking up and giving a slight nod, "I should be at home now, but mom doesn't even know where I am… I'm really not sure I know where I am at…"

This got a snort out of another kid, a fourteen-year-old boy heading to Newark, "Just hearing I am in Texas weirds me out. It was bad enough we were supposed to do a stopover in Dallas. At least my dad in Salt Lake City knows I am here, but there is no way he can come get me. I hope this gets straightened out soon.

Kent looked down at his phone, "No one knows I'm here, no one…"

Before more could come out of his mouth the door to the break room flew open so hard it slammed into the table behind it with enough force to knock the coffee maker off and shatter the coffee pot. Two men, one pilot and one flight attendant appeared, "Kids, we have to go now! Follow us!"

"What? Why…" The fourteen-year-old from Newark started to ask with wide eyes, but never got a chance to finish the thought. Instead the pilot came over, yanked the boy out of the chair he was sitting at and shoved him toward the door.

The teen started to shake lose only to get grabbed even more firmly, "Look you little shit, none of us have time for attitude, now move!"

"My dad…"

The look on the pilot's face became even harder as he slapped the boy's face, "Your dad can sue me later. Right now we need to get out of here and you are not about to give me any lip!"

Seeing the way the pilot was manhandling the oldest and biggest kid in the room while the male flight attendant pushed the others to get moving was more than enough to kill further arguments or even questions from the other kids. Kent grabbed his backpack and phone, barely, before another attendant rushed into the room and gave him a light, but firm, push toward the door.

Once back into the terminal, the kids looked around in horror as people were frantically running, knocking people over and trying to get to gates with no rhyme or reason. The pilot glanced back over his shoulder and shook his head, "We need to get these kids out of here and onto a plane on the tarmac!"

The trailing flight attendant gave a nod and motioned the group to a door with the words 'Restricted Access' on it. The man waved his security badge over the scanner and motioned for everyone to follow. Unfortunately, they were not the only ones to rush the door, so did dozens of others who saw the door open.

Kent did his best to stick with the group. He even managed to make it to one of the metal ladders leading to the plane he had arrived in. However, as he got toward the top, the stewardess inside the plane waved her arms back and forth while another person inside the plane pushed the door closed. The flight attendant who had opened the door looked back at Kent and the one girl who didn't get on the plane and pointed at another large plane a couple hundred yards away, "Kids, get to that one and get in! Go!"

With no idea what was going on and seeing the plane he just missed getting aboard already taxing down the runway, Kent did as instructed. He ran. He only made it about halfway before he ran headlong into a large group rushing toward the same aircraft he was. Kent hit the ground hard and had to roll out of the way to avoid getting trampled.

Breathing hard, he stood and realized he had lost his phone. Without it, he would never be able to get a hold of anyone, since the only numbers he had memorized were his home phone and his own. By the time he spotted it and retrieved it, there were already too many people trying to get on the plane he was told to run to. Still having no clue why, but knowing he had to get on a plane for some reason, he looked around in a panic.

Suddenly a man in a shirt, tie and carrying a briefcase moved over to Kent, "Kid, what are you doing?"

Kent looked up and saw the guy eyeing him with a raised eyebrow. "I… I don't really know… The flight guy told me to get to the plane." Kent pointed as the aircraft he was told to get to was already pulling away. In the distance plane after plane was taking off. Even to a kid who had no idea what was supposed to happen he could see they were taking off way too close to each other. "What's going on?"

A slight grin crossed the man's face before it returned to a totally serious look, "A terrorist attack has poison coming here. We all need to leave." He put his hand on Kent's shoulder, "I have a small plane." He pointed at an old blue and white Cessna 172. "We can get going together."

Kent started to nod, but something just seemed off. Maybe the way the guy was holding onto his shoulder. Maybe it was how the guy looked around to see who was paying attention, or maybe just a gut feeling. Whatever it was, told the boy something was not right here. He pulled back, "No… Um, I need to get on a big plane."

The man's face took on a dangerous look, "Kid, I don't have time for this crap, now you are going with me!" The man lunged forward and grabbed Kent.

"No! Let me go!" Kent shouted.

Off to the side, only seventy five yards away, another plane, a Beechcraft King 250, was being hastily loaded by two men and six kids. As one of the kids tossed up his bag and turned to grab another, he spotted Kent struggling with the man who was all but dragging Kent toward the much smaller plane, "Dad!" The boy shouted as he pointed toward the struggling boy.

The young teen's father turned as his eyes followed where his son was pointing. The man didn't hesitate. He jumped down from the baggage compartment and sprinted over to the pair, quickly followed by his son and two other kids. "Hey, what's the problem here?"

The man holding onto Kent turned and looked like a deer caught in headlights, "I was just trying to…"

"He was forcing me to get on his plane!" Kent shouted with some desperation and fear in his voice.

"I was trying to save your life!"

The man from the larger plane moved up while clenching his fist, "Find someone else to rescue, buddy."

The man holding onto Kent frowned deeply and his face flashed with some anger and frustration but seeing the looks of the man and the three kids all looking at him, he shoved Kent toward the group, "Fine, you all take him. It's one less thing for me to worry about."

The man from the larger airplane shot the other man a dangerous look while the man's son helped Kent back to his feet. Kent looked back over his shoulder as the man moved off toward the tiny Cessna while breathing hard, "Thank you…"

The boy who had helped Kent up cocked his head and let out a sharp breath, "Glad I noticed, but where is your folks?"

"I was flying alone…"

The man looked over, "Son, I'm not about to force you to go with us, but we only have minutes to get out of here. You can come with us, and we'll worry about getting you home, wherever it is, once we are clear of the area!"

One of the other kids picked up Kent's cell phone and handed it over to the badly shaken boy, "You'll be safe with us, promise!"

After only a moment of debate, and seeing the other two kids nodding, Kent gulped but nodded, "Ok, but I only have sixty dollars…"

The man smiled, and gave Kent a pat on the back, "No money needed, kiddo, but we have to get out of here." The man looked over at his son, "Noah, help him aboard and get him settled." He then looked back at Kent, "Is the backpack all you got?"

Kent pointed at the sky while shaking like a leaf, "I think my bag took off already."

The man motioned the group of kids back to the Beechcraft. Kent was led to a seat while three other kids looked over questioningly.

Noah waved his hand, "He's with us now guys. We'll explain once we are out of here."

From up front the man in the pilot's seat, shouted back over his shoulders, "No time for niceties, guys. We were just cleared to be the next to leave. Buckle up and hold on, we are being directed to climb to 2000 as fast as possible and bank hard to a heading of zero nine zero so the next flight can take a heading of zero four five. Someone is really pushing the limits here, but whoever it is, is damned good!"

Moments later the aircraft tore down the runway and made a super hard bank to the left. Off to the side, a smaller aircraft could be seen taking off from one of the taxiways with an identical banking maneuver only staying lower.

The man who had come to Kent's aid looked out the window with a cringe and shook his head, "Holy shit!" A couple of the kids in the back held their breaths as another large airliner took off and banked so hard and close to another small aircraft, the smaller plane almost lost control. Fortunately the pilot of the smaller craft managed to fight off the turbulence created by the much larger plane and gain enough altitude to turn, but it sent the smaller craft right below the plane Kent found himself on.

From up front, the pilot shouted back over his shoulder, "Guys, you need to hear this!" he then put the radio communication over the speakers in their ten seat aircraft. The voice, even over the radio, sounded very young, "Kilo Tango Serra two zero niner, this is Austin alternate control. Maintain heading of zero niner zero at an altitude of two thousand feet for twenty five miles then change over to VFR."

The pilot answered the communication, "Austin control, this is Kilo Tango Serra two zero niner, understood, maintain heading of zero nine zero. Once twenty five miles out, switch to Visual Flight Rules. Can you advise of other landing fields? Over."

Another, different young voice came over sounding a great deal less aware of how to properly talk over the radio. "Beechcraft K.T.S. two zero nine, at this time, you will have to find a smaller airfield. All major ones are pretty much packed. Be aware though, unless you are planning on staying in Texas, you need to clear Texas air space. Texas has broken off from the United States and hostilities have already begun between the country of Texas and Richard Ashwood Administration. At this time we are allowing anyone who wants to leave to do so, but the window given by the Texas government will allow is closing fast…" someone said something from behind the youngster speaking who then finished up, "oh, yeah, sorry… over."

The pilot then spoke again, "Austin control, we were originally heading back to Little Rock. What can we expect if we try to make it all the way back home, over?"

Yet another young voice came over the radio, "K.T.S two, zero nine, once clear of Texas airspace, you are on your own. We have no details about anything east of the Texas border and most areas in Texas close to the border are getting strong Electronic Counter Measures from Ashwood allied forces. Austin is being hit with rockets right now, so we have other things to worry about. All I can tell you at this point is, if you land in Texas expect to stay here. Over."

"Understood Austin control, good luck and god bless. Kilo Tango Serra Two Zero Niner, out"

The pilot looked back over his shoulder at the other man, "Kurt, we have twenty five miles before we need to make a decision here…"

Kurt looked around at the faces of the four boys and two girls he knew, then down at the boy he didn't before glancing back at the pilot, "Get us home, Jason. The shit is hitting the fan and we need to be back there taking care of family if we can get there. Also, see if you can get a hold of my lawyer and move funds over to metal or other non-currency based assets before the dollar drops like a rock."

The pilot, Jason, nodded and let out a long breath, "Who's our extra plus one back there, Kurt?"

"No idea, but I think it is about time to find out and let him know no matter what happens, he is safe with us."

Kurt made his way over to Kent and knelt as he saw tears streaming down the boy's face as he gripped his broken cell phone so hard the cracked screen was causing his hand to bleed. Kurt put his hand over Kent's and gently started prying the boy's fingers loose. "Son, let go of your phone, you are slicing your hand up."

Kent looked up with tears and snot running down his face, "I need my mom… it's broke… I… I can't call her!"

Kurt finally managed to get the phone loose; while he passed it over to his own son, he wrapped the bawling boy into a tight hug, "We'll figure out a way to get a hold of her. Until we do, we'll take care of you, all of us will." He glanced over at the kids who were watching, "Won't we." It was not a question. Instead it was a command and all six kids on board knew it. Within moments all of them were nodding. The more they saw the unknown, slightly younger boy cry, the more determined they became.

Finally, Kurt's son spoke, "As of right now, you are part of the world championship Griffin's youth paintball team. We stand together as brothers and sisters and you are one of us!"

One by one the others nodded until the oldest girl ripped off a patch from her jacket and moved over to Kent, putting the patch of a strange winged eagle and lion combination holding a paintball gun. As she pressed the patch into Kent's uninjured hand, the other girl grabbed a first aid kit off the wall and started bandaging Kent's bloody hand.

Even through tear-filled eyes Kent saw the looks of concern, of caring, and of determination to help him in the eyes of every single person on the aircraft. With a vast quantity of fear and relief all slamming together within him, he wrapped his arms around the man holding him and sobbed.

Back in the bunker under the museum, Steven, Glenn, Scott and Keith all took turns helping the ex-Navy man control the flights departing Austin's airport. As soon as the Navy man gave them the go to take off and gave them basic headings so they would not slam into each other, one of the boys would take over that flight and get them as much information as they could. Twice, panicked pilots of single engine aircraft came close to causing an accident and once one almost went down because it got way too close to a jet, but overall, things went remarkably good. Not a single aircraft was lost.

While this was going on, Governor Richardson was busy communicating with his military command and Mr. Triumph. It didn't take a whole lot of intellect for everyone to figure out if Texas was going to survive, EEL, and in particular, Mr. Triumph and his science team would have to play a large role. It didn't take long before Mr. Triumph was talking directly with Major General Beck and other key commanders, a role he was not even slightly comfortable with. Fortunately, for all involved, a few of the chaperones were.

Still, within all this chaos, every one of the science contest winners couldn't help but look back toward the passage filled with water, hoping, willing, to see any sign of activity. To a boy, the science contest winners saw each other as so much more than new friends. Over the last few days they had become a family of sorts and right at the moment their family was missing a brother.

While each of the boys had slightly different thoughts over their missing 'brother', there was one thing they all had in common, even Ricky, who was dealing with the pain of a broken leg, kept glancing back over at the water only to shake his head and return back to the best laptop he could find out of all the lawmakers who had come down to the bunker.

After his fourth attempt, he stifled a yelp of pain and looked over at Justin, "I have control over traffic cams throughout the city. I am still working at hacking in to the private ones in the area, though."

"Great work!" Justin shouted with a great deal of praise. "Keep working at it. Transfer control over to me and keep at it!"

Justin glanced over at the laptop he had borrowed only to see the screen change to show the controls for the cameras and a view that showed the front of the state capitol. Behind him, one of the lawmakers whistled, "Is there anything you kids can't get into?"

Steven glanced over after directing a 737 to head north, then found an airport big enough to handle it since it had taken off with a light fuel load, "If it is hooked to the net, he can get to it."

Before more could be said, Justin used the limited zoom on the cameras to take a close look at the courtyard. He gulped as he saw dozens of dead birds and a half dozen bodies, one of them smaller than the others. "Oh, my God…"

While others moved closer, Justin worked his own magic, enhancing the image beyond what anyone thought possible. Within a minute, it was clear they were not looking at Craig; instead it was a girl about their age, frothing at the mouth and convulsing. Justin panned the camera off her while wiping tears out of his eyes, "Ashwood is dead, I swear to you, he is dead!"

Scott finished redirecting a small Piper Cub out of the area while telling the crying man behind the controls to stay above a thousand feet before speaking, "That's it guys; we got as many out as we could, but the guy I was just talking to says the rocket exploded under him and people on the ground are already falling, every plane got off except for two with mechanical problems. Best guess is about two hundred didn't make it out of the airport, two hundred people Ashwood slaughtered… for what? How can we possibly make him pay for all of this, we can't kill him thousands of times… No matter what we do to him… nothing can equal this!"

Silence took over as lawmakers, kids and others down in the bunker watched the death toll from the sarin attack continue to climb as Justin moved from camera to camera, looking for any sign of Craig. While all the cameras showed dead and dying men, women, children, and animals, there was no sign of Craig.

Scott blinked tears out of his eyes as yet another camera showed one of the bus loads of kids, some of their faces pressed against the glass of the side windows, foam coming out of their mouths. "Oh, God, nothing can be worse than this! We have to figure out a way to help them!"

Glenn shook his head, "Scott, there is nothing we can do and you know it."

"And we are not alone." Keith spoke up, causing people to turn to look at him, but not before several moved off to the side and puked.

The Governor looked up, looking green, but forcing himself to hold it together as best as he could given the circumstances. "What do you mean? Did his missiles hit somewhere else?"

Keith gulped as he stood, "No, sir…"

"Then what?" Steven demanded to know.

"Guys…" Keith leaned over and forced himself to take a few calming breaths, "I… I am monitoring other problems in the U.S. through the link… The one Ricky established with Bryce's people and those weird kids we met. Something massive blew up in Kansas City about twenty five minutes ago. It was so big buildings are gone… much of downtown is a crater…"

"For the love of God!" The Governor shouted in anger, "What can you tell us?"

"I…" Keith looked back at the computer as tears welled up in his eyes and he started breathing really fast, "There is something bad happening in Oklahoma City… I am getting feeds from traffic cams showing a large explosion… Radiation monitors in the federal building are going nuts…"

"Someone dropped a nuke?" one of the rangers stated in total shock.

Steven quickly ran up to the command platform and scanned the data, "No… no… It's… there is no widespread damage! It must be a dirty bomb!"

Steven started typing furiously on the computer, then slammed his fist onto the control console, "Ricky, drop what you are doing and get me a weather feed from downtown Oklahoma City! We need to get weather patterns, wind speeds and temperatures. Glenn, get me a three D view of the buildings so we can track the dispersal patterns! If we can get this information to Bryce, he may be able to have people direct traffic out and away from the contamination cloud."

Scott moved over to another laptop, "Glenn, get me a link to Bryce, we need to be on with his people so we can set up the best places for decontamination! Ricky, once you get us weather data, get us control of their civil defense! Once we get the data, and before Bryce can do anything substantial, we can get a hold of first responders and tell them the best and safest places to set decon stations while not risking their people. We can then broadcast, just like we did here, telling people where to go and what to do."

Steven nodded as Justin ran over to yet another laptop, "We can help coordinate rescue efforts in K.C. too. We got nothing better to do and we can take some of the pressure off Bryce!"

"You really have a line to President Bryce?" One of the lawmakers finally managed to ask.

Joey glanced over, "Yeah, some of the equipment in those cases we had you bring down came from him and his friends. You all still think Scott is on Ashwood's side?"

Before anyone could answer, two figures popped up out of the water covering the back passage. The two figures were in puffed out fire suits with duct tape wrapped around every seam and every opening. The water dripping off the suits showed some bubbling around a few spots, and it was clear both figures were struggling to get up the incline. However, the smaller of the two ripped off his helmet, "Who said Scott is an Ashwoodian?" Craig snarled. "Point him out and I'll shoot him!"

"Craig!" Justin shouted as he jumped up and started to run over to the other boy.

Craig held up his hand, "Justin stop! This suit is contaminated as is the water we just walked through. We need to get this off and toss everything we are wearing into the water then strip and wash up to get any residual off us."

Justin stopped and nodded in understanding but still dropped to a knee, "I've… I looked with every camera we could find…" Tears dripped down Justin's cheeks, "I thought you were still up there!"

"We were." The Ranger spoke up as he ripped his own helmet off and tossed it into the water. "Craig, here, wouldn't leave until we took a pair of busses up to the top level of the parking structure and used up the last of the fix-a-flat and duct tape. We also stuck the rest of the air tanks on them and turned them on trying to do on a large scale what Craig did with these suits, putting more pressure on the inside than the out so any leaks were from the inside going out.

"We didn't leave until the tanks we have inside these suites gave us just enough time to get here. Your friend here is a beast, he really pushed. I think I am more tired than he is, too!"

Craig let out a long breath as he looked over at the ranger, "Remember the gloves are the last things to come off. Take everything else off with them, but don't touch your skin. Once all the outerwear is off, we'll have someone pull off the gloves with pliers then glove up with latex gloves and cut off our clothing and toss it all in the water. We'll shower and see what we can find to wear."

The ranger nodded, but looked over at Justin who was still shaking with a mixture of relief and anger. There was no doubt in the ranger's mind there was a bond that was deeper than friendship there. A glance over at Craig, and seeing the look in the boy's eyes as he looked over at Justin told him the feeling was mutual. The two cared deeply about each other and both wanted to say something, but neither really knew what to say.

Knowing in his gut, Justin needed to understand what Craig had done, why his friend hadn't come straight down here. A sudden idea came to the ranger. He turned and nodded toward Justin, "Hey, while we get out of all this crap, can you find us a few cameras overlooking the upper parking deck? I want to see if those kids are safe!"

Justin gulped and turned back to the computer. After cycling through several views and coming up with nothing he glanced up to the control platform, "Keith, I got nothing here, find me a view."

"I'm trying to get the data for Steven…"

Joey shook his head, "Give me the camera controls; between Justin and I, we'll find a view, even if we have to Mass-hack surrounding buildings."

The ranger continued to pull off the fireman's suit while forcing himself not to push the kids. It was pretty clear they were all beyond busy. Every one of them had multiple laptops around them doing a host of things the man didn't even try to understand. Instead he nodded over at one of the paramedics. "OK, mind giving me a hand with the gloves and getting me out of the clothing…"

As the man was cut out of the last of his clothing and got under the water spigot to fully wash, Justin pumped his fist, "Got it off a camera from a nearby skyscraper. Enhancing now!"

Craig, who was just finishing up a thorough wash in very cold water grabbed an offered suit jacket from one of the lawmakers and moved over to look at the display. Only seeing reflected sun off the glass of the bus' window, he clenched his fists even as he shivered, "Is that the best we got?"

Justin made a bit of a growling sound, "Come on, Craig, give me a bit of credit. I am the camera guy after all. I am crossing this with another view and merging the two. Give me a few seconds."

One of the female lawmakers cocked her head to the side as she moved closer, "My computer can actually do those kinds of things?"

Justin glanced over at the woman, "Yes, ma'am you bought a very high end laptop. It does way more than show you dresses and handbags for sale during your meetings, like the cookies in your computer suggest you do."

This got a huge snicker out of several others while causing the woman's face to flush. But before more could be said Justin snapped his fingers, "Got it! Coming up now!"

Dozens leaned closer as the image came up. Justin took a few moments to further enhance the image before the sights of kids moving on the bus could be seen. They all looked very scared but also very much alive and healthy. Justin turned with wide eyes, "You did it!"

"What about the other bus?" the Ranger demanded to know.

Justin switched to different cameras and took a couple of minutes to make his magic work with the angles he had available. Finally he got a clear image of kids moving around in the second bus as well. "Two for two!" Justin shouted jubilantly.

"Yeah…" Craig sighed as he sank to a knee, "but did we give them enough time?"

Steven switched over to another laptop, and nodded, "With them being on the top floor of the parking structure, plus the winds the way they are, they should be good as long as they don't touch anything outside the bus or eat or drink anything!"

"We put a couple of cases of bottled water on each bus and all the junk food we could grab out of the vending machines." Craig spoke with a great deal of relief. "We need to radio the teachers in those buses and tell them what to do!"

"I gave one of them my radio, but can we get a signal out?" The ranger wondered aloud.

Glenn made a snorting sound, "Mister we got Strike Comm, he'll get us a way to contact them!"

Keith glanced over his shoulder as he spoke while still typing, "Already patching it through to you, Steven. Just speak into the mic on the laptop you are using. Tell them what you want and need them to do to keep alive!"

"Holy crap!" Yet another lawmaker spoke up as Steven started talking to the teacher in one of the buses. "You guys make the CIA look stupid!"

"Because they are." Ricky stated with complete conviction. "I busted their security about thirty minutes ago since they started piggybacking off an already compromised Defense Department Satellite. It looks like they are trying to figure out what countries are falling on which side. It also looks like several foreign intelligence services have cut off their information flow to the U.S. so they are using everything they can find to send their field agents messages. It has totally compromised their normally airtight computer security."

Seeing well over a hundred jaws drop, Glenn glanced over and smiled at Ricky, "I think you just proved my parents wrong, you really can shut up a politician!"

Ricky managed a smile and even a giggle while rubbing the outside of the air cast around this leg, "It was nice of them to open themselves up for us, since they actually have program models showing how radiation would spread though several cities including Oklahoma City. I downloaded the entire simulation program and am sending it over to Steven. With any luck it will let us find the best evacuation points and places to set up cleaning units and junk! It's weird though, someone in the CIA is running a very similar program about Boulder Colorado with multiple air drop sites. They have even input current temperature and wind data into it."

Craig looked over at Ricky with wide eyes, "Dude, they may be next! Can we get word to Logan or Bryce?"

Ricky's eyes went wide as a shiver ran down his back, "Yeah! Sending the data and the link to show them the simulation now!"

All the science contests winners worked furiously over the next few minutes, coordinating rescue efforts to places a few hundred yards above them to hundreds of miles away. Data streamed from the bunker to the secret location of President Elect Bryce only to be gathered up, mostly by other kids to reposition rescue efforts for maximum efficiency. While untold thousands died, just as many were saved by two groups of kids who hadn't even met each other until a day or so ago.

Keith suddenly punched one of the borrowed laptops so hard he totally busted it. "Craig, you were right, but we found out too late. Boulder is being hit right now!"

"Are you sure…" the Governor asked while moving up the ramp to the platform.

Keith closed his eyes and pulled up a feed on another laptop, "Here, listen to a call coming directly through the First Responders' Network."

The voice of a boy could be heard screaming, "I can't see! My eyes are burning! Mom! Mom! Help us!" As the child started screaming uncontrollably, Keith killed the feed, "I can give you hundreds of calls just like that!"

"What the hell?" One of the Rangers asked, "Are they all talking about burning?"

Keith pulled up another call. "Ma'am I need you…" A screaming woman's voice cut off the 911 operator's voice, "I can't see! My skin is on fire and my little Bennie is screaming! I can't even see him! Help me! I can feel… I think my skin peeling off!" There was a sound of something hitting the ground, followed by the sound of the woman's voice going weaker and weaker, "my Bennie I can't find my… He isn't crying anymore…" then nothing.

The Operator tried three times to get the woman to respond, to no avail.

Off to the side, by the welded bathroom doors, Alexander glanced over from the hydrogen tank he was converting into a torch with the help of the old curator. "Guys, I am not supposed to say anything about what I know about my parents' company, but I have heard of stuff like this. There are a couple of military projects to decontaminate a group of chemicals called blister agents. From what I am hearing from up there, those people are getting hit by them. They need to get under running water and put multiple layers of cloth over their noses and mouths so they don't breathe in any more than they have to!"

"Glenn, Keith," Steven spoke forcefully, "drop what you are doing and get me control of the Boulder Colorado Civil Defense system. Also get me some kind of secure link to surrounding areas so we can tell those rushing to help what they are dealing with." Steven then shot Justin a look, "Get Bryce this information as well!"

Craig, wearing nothing but a suit coat, moved over to one of the unused laptops, "We need to coordinate all of this better. I need a Mass-hack so I can break into Civil Air Patrol communications and get them moving with everything we already know, so someone feed me what we have so I can catch up. I also need to find a way to talk to local National Guard units. Since they are from those areas, they will be much less likely to be allied with or commanded by Ashwoodians."

Time seemed to slow for all those down in the old bunker. It didn't take long for the Lawmakers to start offering to help where they could with coordination, while being in the rather odd position of taking their orders from a group of kids. More joined in when they got confirmation the kids did indeed have a direct link to President Elect Bryce. However, problems continued to compound as word came from El Paso of the massive Prisoner of War facility in Juarez having been emptied by presidential pardons followed by news of air transports having flown in to arm those same released prisoners.

The prisoners then linked up with a large band of Mexican infantry and captured part of Juarez and even pushed into El Paso. However, the military units at Fort Bliss proved to have little to no loyalty to Ashwood. There was some brief fighting between units, but within two hours the command structure within Fort Bliss was firmly on the side of Texas. Heavy military units moved out of the base in response to the new Mexican threat, stopping the assault and even turning it back in many locations.

Still, there were pockets of heavy fighting and many areas were under control of Mexican forces. The problem didn't stop there since there were widespread reports of heavy fighting in both Juarez and El Paso with citizens taking up arms and fighting, some for the U.S. others for Mexico, creating a massive free for all in many sections of both cities.

Even as all this happened, other bad news continued to flow from just about everywhere. Presidential pardons, issued en mass, emptied jails and removed all criminal records from any and all people ever convicted of a crime in the U.S. A huge numbers of those same freed inmates where then armed even as they walked out of the detention facilities they had been locked up in. Several prisons became killing grounds and in many cases guards had to lock themselves in to prevent getting killed or worse.

Some of the prisoners were transported, by the trucks carrying the weapons back into cities, creating even larger problems. Major firefights broke out between law enforcement, criminals and what seemed to be a heavily armed third party in dozens of cities, but getting a firm fix on who this third party was continued to be elusive. Still death tolls climbed in every major city the kids could get information from. Even worse, this was not confined to the western part of the U.S. Instead, scattered reports came from cities in the east by radio and some still functioning First Responder Networks. Cleveland, Jacksonville, Atlanta, Little Rock, Philadelphia, New York, even Bangor Maine all reported similar problems.

Justin eyed the reports when a sudden thought occurred to him. He glanced over at Steven, "All those trucks Owen Ashwood sent out… They were part of this! One of the other trucks EEL stopped was heading to the Federal jail just outside of El Paso, the La Tuna facility, with military packs for them… all of this is Ashwood's doing!"

The lieutenant Governor looked over with a shocked expression, "Are you really saying President Ashwood not only released all inmates, but then armed them as well?"

"That's exactly what he is saying and it makes sense." Steven stated as he sat down and took a long gulp of water out of a plastic bottle. Seeing everyone focus on him, he let out a long breath, rubbed his hand though his hair and spoke up a bit louder so he could be heard by everyone, "Think about it, guys, very few would let or stand for a president who just lost to remain in power or take over, but right now, with what is going on, no one can argue. Instead, everyone is trying to stay alive and deal with bad people with guns, open fighting on city streets, no power… This whole thing is giving Ashwood all the time he needs to grab power in a way it can't easily be taken from him. He must have realized the western part of the U.S. would be his biggest problem so he arranged for big disasters out here. Like it or not it all fits!"

Governor Hendrickson nodded as he moved up to Steven's side and patted the boy on the back, sensing the youngster needed some extra strength. "Steven is absolutely correct, and now it is our job, our God-given duty, to make sure he fails. Up 'till now, most of us adults have been sitting on the sidelines or being support. These young men can't do this alone and they shouldn't have to. Let's start working toward our strengths and see what pressures we can take off them. We are supposed to be leaders so it's about time we start doing some leading. Now let's get to work!"

Even as it was decided by the Governor to leave the military problems in the hands of military leaders, everyone started to get a better feel for the numerous disasters spreading across the western half of the country. First responders were told of the dangers, the best angles of approach and how to handle the various types of threats they were facing. Unfortunately, before they even settled in on strategies for dealing with the multitude of problems, another one hit. It was Scott who broke the news as he looked up, "Guys, we have problems on the West Coast!"

Steven jerked his head to look at Scott, "Now what?"

Scott pointed at his computer, "I have been monitoring all government agencies we have gained access to, and the USGS just went nuts."

"USGS?" one of the paramedics asked.

"United States Geological Survey." Steven answered before turning his full attention to Scott, "What are they saying?"

"I think it's an earthquake, but I am outside my knowledge base. This is more down your avenue, Geo."

Joey moved over to Scott, "Steven has his hands full; I grew up in California and have dealt with tremors before so I spent some time understanding how they work, let me take a look."

Scott pulled up all the data he could get form the USGS and turned it so Joey could take over.

Joey studied the data for a few seconds and pulled up seismometer readings all along the West Coast. After only a minute he let out a low whistle, "Holy crap, San Fran just got nailed, guys. It has got to be at least an 8, maybe even a nine. It's too soon to know for sure especially with the USGS office in Boulder out of action. My best guess is an 8.5."

One of the state senators moved over and took a look at the data. He put a protective arm around both Joey and Scott as he looked at the monitor. This action caused Joey to jerk his shoulder and move well clear of the man while Scott closed his eyes and moved closer to the man. Scott's action had the effect Scott hoped it would. The man, although clearly taken aback by Joey's reaction, turned his attention to comforting Scott while looking over the data feed.

The Senator chewed on his bottom lip for a few seconds then let out a very uneasy breath as he spoke, "Earthquake, no question. I was an oil guy before moving to politics and have a degree in Geology. Without the Boulder office, we will have to extrapolate the data from here and provide Bryce and California with the best data we can. With something this bad, there will be other fault slippages as well. Pull up another computer for me and let's get to work."

"You have got to be kidding me!" Steven snarled. "How in the hell did Ashwood cause an earthquake?"

"Maybe it's just a fluke…" one of the women commented only to get cut off by one of the rescued fifth grade boys.

The boy turned with a degree of annoyance in his body posture and disgust in his voice as he spoke, "Come on lady, a earthquake just happens to hit with all this other junk going on? Man, I can't believe people actually vote for people like you!"

The woman's eyes went wide with anger, but before anything came out of her mouth, Alexander snorted, "Right on kid! Way to tell her!" He glanced over, "You know what, come over here and help us. Anyone with the balls to tell the world what you think deserves to be part of this and not a bystander!"

Even as the kid made his way over to Alexander, Keith spoke up, "Guys, I can't get any satellite feeds from over San Francisco."

"What do you mean, I gave you access…" Ricky growled as he turned his attention to the satellite network he had been able to hack into. "Holy crap, they are dropping off… all of them."

"Are they on to us?" Steven asked with a great deal of fear.

"No… no…" Keith stated as he typed furiously, "They are being taken out! Ricky, someone is going after active satellites!"

Ricky nodded as he sent an emergency message to Logan and President Elect Bryce. Even as he was typing, another message came up on his screen. "Guys, Mr. Triumph just sent me a message saying the same thing. He is pulling all EEL satellites offline as fast as he can and wants us to shut down the Russian satellite. I am also pulling the plug on the mothballed comm-sat I have full control over, but we don't have much time. They are dropping from highest to lowest, spreading out from those over the San Francisco area outward. This is a massive attack on all satellites!"

"Ashwood is going to blind us!" The Governor shouted.

"It's not Ashwood…" Keith spoke as he sent the command to do an emergency power down to the Russian satellite and followed it up with a command to do the same to a GBP communication satellite. He started to go after another corporate satellite from a company helping EEL, but was too late; the satellite vanished even as it tried to shut itself down.

"Are you sure?" one of the lawmakers asked

"Positive." Keith answered as he started scanning for other satellites. "We had access and even partial control over several since we were stealing signals from Ashwoodian friendly groups throughout the government. They would never shut down the network and would certainly not kill their own satellites. Now they have no way to contact operatives in other countries except by land lines, and those are all screwed up with the power being out over half the country, and an earthquake hitting San Francisco will probably cause blackouts in the West."

"So are they being hit with a beam weapon or something?" the Lieutenant Governor asked.

"Yeah, probably," Steven tossed up his arms showing growing frustration, "but now we lost primary communications to Logan and President Bryce along with many we were trying to help. We need to find an alternate way of opening secure communications if we are going to continue to help. Any ideas, Keith?"

"Turn all Mass-hacks loose on the cell phone control networks. If we control them, we can communicate to everyone with power. Set up a feedback system so they can't triangulate where we are and program a randomized system of hitting cell towers further away instead of just using the closest ones. We will have to override the basic protocol and may even need to take some towers out of the loop then put them back in on a random alternating basis so we can confuse any attempt to find us.

"Also, many of the first responders are on emergency power, so we need to hack them as well. We had some access to the First Responder's Network already. Now we need full access. Break it open and take over as much as we can. That is so interconnected at this point, tracing will be a real problem, especially if we randomize what repeaters we are going through."

Ricky turned his attention to the laptop provided to him by Logan. "Give me a few minutes. Between Mass-hack and this baby, I'll get you some kind of control!"

Before he could even start the needed hack, a kid he didn't know came over the computer from wherever Bryce was operating out of, "Logan told me to give you full access to what you needed and we already have full control to the FRN, so take it and do what you need. Your assistance and what you all are doing is duly noted. Logan says if you need anything, just ask. Bryce says the same thing." The boy's face vanished from the monitor before Ricky could even respond.

Off to the side a hiss could suddenly be heard. As heads turned to look, Alexander motioned for the boy he had invited over to wrap his hands in one of the lawmaker's expensive suit coats so he would not burn his hands. He then handed him a screwdriver and had him scrape at the weld. After a few seconds the bead got hot enough to where the boy was able to start taking chunks of the weld off.

One of the Texas Rangers moved closer and looked at the progress with confusion. "I don't see any flame…"

One of the firefighters shook his head, "Pure hydrogen fires are nearly invisible. If you look real close, you can see a bit of a blue glow once in a while, but nothing more. If he pulls it back from the metal you wouldn't be able to see at all. I still can't believe the kid made a torch out of what he could find down here."

Knowing he had to work as fast as possible because he would use up the tank of Hydrogen quickly, Alexander didn't even turn as he spoke, "Mister, I built my first real robot out of stuff my dad's company threw out and won my first Robot War with it. Turning this tank into a cutting torch is real basic."

The ranger took a step back and watched while whispering to the firefighter, "I think I will shut up now."


Liam continued to head east, figuring Clergyman Paulson would head to an area in more secure territories. Already the Army had warned Liam and those they came with of their doubts about Ashwood. The man had moved too fast and at the most would only be able to control the eastern part of the country. Still, with the Army's help, key military men had been replaced and or shuffled around so the east side of the country would fall firmly under Ashwood's control. One thing the youngster did know, was he didn't want to be in Texas. The Army had repeatedly warned him of the dangerous, independent, ungodly thinking of many who lived in the accursed state he found himself in. To be stuck here would not be pleasant nor would he be able to help the Army in any decent way. The real problem, however, was without a firm direction, going anywhere was a waste of time and resources; something the Army was big on was not wasting anything.

To this end Liam found a grove of trees well away from any structures or roads and munched on some granola bars he had found inside the last house. He took a few seconds to wash the bars down with a healthy swig of water from a canteen before he moved back over to his dirt bike. He pushed his data card into his GPS and typed in his code. It took a couple of minutes but finally it updated where he needed to go. He stared at it in disbelief. The location was deep into Alabama, almost seven hundred miles away by main roads, and there was no way he could take main roads. First off, he was not old enough to drive in the United States, and second his dirt bike was not meant to travel on highways let alone interstates! He pulled the card and put it back in, clearing the memory before retyping his code. The destination came up the same. Demopolis, Alabama.

Liam's hands went up to his face as he let out a soft groan. This had to be a final test, nothing else made sense. "Seven hundred miles, eleven hundred and twenty-five kilometers…" he spoke aloud. "Gas mileage of one hundred and ninety-five miles a tank at top speed… almost six tanks of gas. Figure an extra two hundred kilometers since I have to travel off road, so seven tanks of gas… ninety five kilometers per hour top speed, but I can't possibly go top speed the whole way… But still, at the very least I am looking at fourteen hours of travel time, probably double since I will have to stay hidden and on side roads plus find gas… I will need some sleep and need to eat." Liam shook his head. "He better be there when I pull into Demopolis about thirty five hours from now or I just might have to shoot him." This caused Liam to grin, since he realized he was only half joking with himself.

With a shrug of his shoulders he pulled the backpack on and hopped back on his bike. As he brought up the GPS to find the best route another problem appeared as a message appeared on the screen of the GPS, ‘Satellite signal not found.' With a deep frown, he pulled out his card and inserted it again and typed his code in. This only got him a message. He looked up, "God, is all this really needed to test me? Haven't I done enough to prove myself?" Liam shook his head, "Sorry God it is not proper to question the tests given me, but this is… I need to find a map and I have not been given much in the way of map instruction. I guess the Bishop wants his infiltrators to be able to learn while in the field, but… No, no buts. I am an infiltrator in training in God's Army! I do not back down from any challenges!"

With a new determination in his posture he glanced up, got a heading of east based on where the sun was and headed out. He would figure out how to make it to the small ranch shown on the GPS before it lost signal. He had over twelve hundred kilometers to figure out how to get a hold of a map. In the meantime he knew Alabama was east of where he was which was enough for this soon to be Army of God Infiltrator to make due!

Fredric glanced up from his workspace at his most highly secure building on his complex and studied the data being fed to him on the main screen. The room he was in was a couple of stories under one of the more mundane-looking buildings at EEL's corporate headquarters. To add to the already airtight physical and electronic security, Fredric had moved out all those he did not personally know for over four years and replaced the guards with those from his Chaperone staff and a pair of extra security guards he had hired back when he first decided it was in his better interest to have a private security team for himself.

Using the data provided by the kids from his science contest… his kids from his science contest, he was able to see what changes were made to the chemical composition to make the sarin more stable and longer lasting. However he, with the help of three of his best chemical compound scientists they found a flaw. Not a big one, but one that could certainly be used if done right.

The problem was doing it right, while it would save lives, was by no means an easy alternative. After running the simulation a second time and tracking the winds, he glanced over at the monitors. "I don't see a choice and the window is closing pretty fast."

One of the other scientists nodded, "The Governor has put us in contact with his National Guard people, and we have direct contact with their air defense. There is a pair of F-15s over Austin with full strike packages, but we could kill people… Will kill people…"

Levi's lips pushed tightly together as he looked over at Fredric, "Like it or not, we are now on the front lines of this whole mess and the Governor is counting on us to keep his command structure intact enough to form a defensive line until other states realize Ashwood has to die. Let's see if we can get them to do this fast and in lines so we do as little damage and cause as few deaths as possible. Otherwise we lose Austin and, probably, this war."

Fredric clenched his fists and pushed them into his face to hide the tears. His voice betrayed his anguish, however, "I… I don't see any choice. Tell them what we have, Levi… Tell them it's from me…" A sob escaped him and he fought the desire to totally break down and cry. "This is now a war, a war we are going to fight with everything we have. Levi, let them know we are in, with everything we can throw at Ashwood. In the meantime, I want our prototype IR Radar activated. The government, the Ashwood Government, paid us a fortune to develop it, so let's use it against them."

"Nice of them to pay us several billion to make something that will bite him in the ass, huh, boss?"

"Yeah," Fredric nodded, "Let's also pull out the Sonic Cannon project he mothballed on us. Dust it off and let's get some people back on it. It's been two years, and we have had some advancement in sound wave tech since then. Maybe we can get some use out of it."

"Scott Race seems to have a good handle on sonic tech…" one of the engineers mumbled. "His fish attractor is beyond ingenious."

Fredric rubbed his chin as he glanced over at the woman. "Nice thinking. Send him everything we have on it and let him and the boys play when they get a chance!"

"Sir, those are Top Secret…"

"Yeah, I know." Fredric barked back. "And the government who made them top secret is the same one trying to wipe out millions of people! Screw them!"

"Besides," Fredric continued as he fought to calm himself, "most people in Austin are already dead or will be. The Sonic Cannon project was originally a Bryce administration toy, so dusting it off and giving it over to Scott isn't, exactly, a breach of anything, especially since Scott and the others are talking to Bryce and helping him pretty much across the entire western half of this country!

"Also, you need to realize, Steven's idea of the plastic bag was a great one, but only for those close to the original dispersal sights. Anyone still in a plastic bag will be out of air by now. Plus, where we are looking at, there are no buildings high enough to keep people above the gas. Have Ricky or one of the others send an alert to seek shelter on the line, but we only have a few minutes if we are going to prevent the National Guard Command and Control from getting hit with the sarin."

Levi looked over, "Boss, General of the Air Guard wants to hear this directly from you…"

Fredric reached out and grabbed the offered microphone for the radio, knowing even as he did so, some innocent people would die because of his recommendations, but many, many more would be saved. He also knew he had to be the one to send the information over to the military. This had to be his choice and not someone underneath him. Yet, even as he keyed the radio, he felt physically sick. "General Randolph, this is Fredric Triumph. You heard my guy correctly."

He listened to the cursing coming over the radio for a few moments before stepping on the transmission, "Look, I know this sucks; I know you aren't really going to want to hear this, but we have a way to stop the clouds of gas from getting to your command and we can stop the other clouds as well."

The General came back instantly, "By burning up part of Austin?"

"General, it's that or lose all of Austin and a few miles outside of Austin. I don't… I can't demand you do this…"

"Actually, per the Governor, you can, so… Son of a bitch! Just… just hit me with it, Mr. Triumph!"

"Intense heat will destroy the binding agents keeping the sarin more stable and the flames will burn up most of the gas itself. If we can bomb the clouds with some kind of thermite, they will come apart and what is not destroyed will dissipate fifty to sixty times more quickly and be less potent."

"Are you totally sure?" The general roared. "I am not going to take out large areas of Austin unless you are positive!"

"Sir, you can drop just behind the lines of advancing gas. Most people will already be dead, but the high heat will destroy the leading edge of the clouds. If you don't, then those clouds will persist for hours because of the chemical formulation and many, many thousands of others will die."

There was a pause at the other end, "OK, Mr. Triumph, my orders are crystal clear on listening to you, since, from what I am hearing, most of our command is currently being run by a group of kids you are responsible for. Can you give me where you want these strike packages dropped?"

"We need four lines dropped in ten minutes; we will have to time them from here since wind speed is variable. Low-lying areas behind these lines will still not be safe and there will be some lingering sarin beyond where we destroy the concentrated sarin, but not enough to kill. As long as people stay in the fresh air and out of low-lying areas, they may get sick, but they will be OK. Also, the further it moves the less toxic it will get as it mixes with fresh air and becomes less and less concentrated because the heat will have broken the binding agents.

"I have a pair of birds with some thermal ordnance already over the city and can get more, but not soon enough if we are going to keep our CAP up."

"If you pull your Combat Air Patrol and they send more missiles, we are screwed." Levi countered. "And we have a way to see them even if they are stealth-coated so our people can direct your fighters in if needed."

"OK, Mr. Triumph, and EEL HQ, we'll do this your way. We will have to land the birds and rearm them, then hope they can get to the second drop areas in time." The general stated with a resigned sigh. "Can you assure me this will destroy the clouds of gas?"

Fredric glanced over at one of his scientists and got a nod, so he responded with as firm a voice as he could force out of himself, "If we drop it just right, yes, and if you can get me details on what you are going to drop, we can guide your fighters in so it happens."

"Alright…" the General stated with disgust in his voice. "But we only have five minutes before the first cloud hits our command and control and we don't have enough chemical gear for everyone, so if this doesn't work and I don't evacuate those people…"

"General, trust me." Fredric fired back with growing aggravation. "This is one of those times where you have to trust the geeks of the world instead of having to protect us. If you don't do this, we may lose this war before we even have a chance to get in it!"

"Fine, Mr. Triumph, I am turning over control of our air assets over the city to you. Just don't let all this power go to your head."

"Trust me, it won't because I don't want any of this. As soon as this is dealt with, I am handing them right back over to you and going to puke into a toilet or something, 'cause I am already feeling sick about this!"

"Welcome to my world, Mr. Triumph. Good luck… and thanks in advance. Randolph out."

Fredric glanced back at his science team, "Once this is done, get back on the satellite problem and find a way to contact our facilities in New Mexico. Have them use up everything they have on hand to make a few satellites and get them ready to launch, because there are companies out there who will pay us up the nose for them. Greed is not normally my thing, but we are going to need a hell of a war coffer if we are going to do everything I want to do to Ashwood."

"Won't someone just shoot them down, or whatever they did, all over again?" Kermit wondered aloud.

Fredric took a deep breath, "It'll take a few days to get the first few ready, and up to a week to launch. Then, to really get going on production of more, we'll have to figure out supply and distribution, so we have some time to figure out what happened and why. In the meantime, we need to have them ready, because demand isn't going away just because someone took them all out.

"You are correct, though. We'll have to put our Carlsbad unit on finding a way to defend them. I just wish I knew how and who, because without those key pieces of information we are going to have to figure out some elaborate defenses. No one is going to spend several million only to have their new toy blasted or whatever happened to them."

Fredric then turned his attention to the wind data and the camera views Keith and Ricky had linked him to. "Right now, however, we have some sarin to kill."

Over the city, the F-15 flight leader listened to Fredric then confirmed with Air National Guard Command. The pilot looked down at the city and back over to his wingman who just stared back at him through the cockpit canopy. "Ted, I know you live here…"

"Jose, let's just do this before I have to think about it some more."

The flight leader glanced down and switched the frequency back to talk directly to Fredric, "EEL Command, this is flight leader First Lieutenant Jose Morales, I have confirmation of your orders. Do you have drop locations? Over."

"Lieutenant," Fredric started while forcing himself to breath, "We are going to try to minimize damage, but priority has to be Air National Guard Command and Control from what we have been told. However, if we can get you to drop right along Hancock Drive, just to the northeast of the base, we can limit some damage. Your path will have to start over structures though. Still, we think we can keep damage down considerably if we do it this way. Also, if we do it this way, you will be able to destroy the cloud before it gets to the elementary school just north of the base. The second cluster will have to be dropped moments later along Shoal Creek Boulevard. We are going to have you actually drop on, or as close to, the creek so we minimize damage there as well. We have uploaded the patterns of drops for you.

"Unfortunately, we can't give you exact time until seconds beforehand because a gust of wind could screw this whole thing up, so you have to be in position and wait for my signal. Can you even do that?"

"Mr. Triumph, to save a school full of kids I will make this baby dance the Cha cha! Over."

This got a slight smile out of Fredric, "OK, this drop will deplete your thermal ordinance, so you will then have to land, rearm and fly to the second location, which we will get to you as soon as you are airborne again. I am told your second payload is already waiting on the runway for you."

"What about the other Combat Air Patrol…"

Fredric cut him off, "We already had them land, refuel and rearm so they have nothing but air to air. We are keeping them up and to the south in case more missiles are fired at us."

"I didn't think cruise missiles could be seen with radar…"

"We aren't exactly using radar here, and they will not slip another missile by us, Lieutenant." Fredric responded cryptically. "Now we estimate two minutes to drop get close and stay ready."

"We'll be on station in less than a minute, Mr. Triumph." Jose responded then switched back over to a private channel, "Not exactly using radar?"

"You are talking to the CEO of EEL," Ted countered, "Who knows what top secret crap they have?"

"Obviously something really kick ass, but I hope they have some other toys, 'cause Texas can't hold off the entire U.S."

"I don't think we will have to." Ted sighed, "If Ashwood has really hit KC, Oklahoma, Colorado, and now California… Pretty much the entire west is going to jump on board with us."

"I hope you are right." Jose sighed as he banked his F-15 hard to east, "So I am taking the drop along Hancock. My niece goes to that school. You take the creek."

Ted angled slightly away from his wingman, "Good luck Jose…"

"Thanks. You too. I sure hope someone kills whoever fired those damned missiles."

The kids in the bunker watched and listened as the pair of F-15E pilots made their first drops of thermite and disappeared off the radar as they went in for a hard and fast landing to rearm. Keith took control of the cameras and found the best ones to watch the lines of flames and plumes of smoke. "Anyone who was along either of those two lines are gone…"

The Texas Ranger manning the radar let out a long breath, "How will we know if this worked or not?"

Steven moved over to Keith's side, "Pull up camera views of the school and areas around it. If we don't see any dead or dying birds and other animals then it worked, if not…" Steven let out a long breath. "Just don't show the actual school. I don't want to see it if this didn't work."

Ricky stifled a yelp as he shifted his leg, "What about those fires? How do we put them out?"

"Those fires need to continue to burn for a while, Ricky." Steven stated as much for everyone else as for Ricky. "There is still gas behind the leading edge of the cloud and it is being pushed right into those flames. Like it or not, by using thermite, we are killing as much of the gas as we possibly can. Mr. Triumph is doing the right thing even if it doesn't look like it from down here."

Steven looked at the assembled lawmakers and then over at Governor Hendrickson, "The thing everyone needs to understand, now, is low-lying areas are going to stay contaminated for hours and really low spots for even longer because of this formulation. It will start to break up, but needs fresh air to do so. Since it is heavier than air, there is no fresh air mixing with it to make that happen in low spots."

"So you trapped us all in here?" The woman the kids knew as Maggie demanded to know.

Off to the side Alexander clicked off the flow of hydrogen and, with the assistance of the kid he asked to help and the curator, the trio used the remnants of the borrowed suit jacket to protect their hands and pulled open the door. "I guess it just depends on where this goes, now doesn't it."

Craig glanced over, "Hey, Ricky, see if you can get Logan or one of those other kids to ask President Bryce what he knows of this lower bunker."

While several of the kids, along with a handful of adults, moved into the bathroom to look at the shaft going down, Ricky spent several minutes on the link with kids from the secret base Bryce was operating out of. After nearly ten minutes, Ricky let out a whistle getting Steven's attention.

Steven came back in the main room, "Tell me there is some good news, because there is no way we are getting Glenn or you down the tube, and I really don't look forward to climbing down a metal rung ladder when I can't even see the bottom with the best flashlight we have."

Ricky looked up with a nervous grin, "According to President Bryce's Senior Agent, a guy by the name of Clark, if he remembers correctly, there is a lever behind the toilet of the tenth stall, doesn't matter if it was men's or women's bathroom. But he also said it was supposed to be destroyed…"

"Yup," The curator snorted, "it sure was supposed to be. Darn shame it didn't happen, huh?"

This got a snicker out of well over a hundred people in the bunker.

Ricky couldn't help but giggle, "He said pretty much the same thing given the circumstances. He also said there was lots of stuff down there. Or at least is supposed to be. And he said it's ours if we can get to it and get it out. Problem is, we need to find someone who can get northwest of the city, preferably with some military knowledge, who we can trust. If we can find someone who we can trust, he or she can open the tunnel at the far end and then we will have to do stuff on both sides of the inner door to get access once we do get down there. He gave me a code to open the emergency exit which leads to a tube. President Bryce's guy said the escape door leads to a secure tube, an eighteen-mile tube with a double door at the far end. The door at the far end is secure too, and can only be opened from the outside, since the bunker under us was supposed to be sealed from this end."

Ricky paused, "Mr. Triumph said they can get someone there, but they would pretty much have to fly to where we need them since, even with the gas being destroyed, low-lying areas will still not be safe. This would mean driving well outside of the city where there is some fighting between released inmates, law enforcement, and an unknown third force.

"The problem is, if they fly, there is no guarantee they won't be shot down just like the satellites were, although there are fighters up, so he thinks it might be safe…"

"No way are we going to let any more chaperones get killed." Steven stated with anger. "We need to figure out something else."

Justin glanced over at Glenn, "Hey, what about Mr. Brandt?"

Glenn's eyes went wide as he nodded, "Oh, man… do you think he is alive?"

"Who are you guys talking about?" Steven demanded to know.

"The gate attendant who pushed me when I first got here. He was really nice, and an Army guy who even had a bullet wound." Glenn responded. "He gave both Justin and I his number just in case we needed anything."

Ricky glanced over, "I still have some access to the CIA and DoD through one of the other hubs. Let me run his name and phone number. Maybe they have something on him."

Justin moved over and pulled up Nick Brandt's name and phone number on his phone then handed it over to Ricky.

It only took a few seconds before Ricky spoke up, "Former Army Ranger, E-6, whatever that is…"

Craig smiled, "Enlisted rank six or a Staff Sergeant. It's his rank, Ricky."

"Oh, OK," Ricky nodded as if he only partially understood what Craig was talking about. "So he had an E-6 pay grade… so yeah, rank or pay. Let's see… He has two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, and got out after taking a bullet to his shoulder just over four years ago. He has a thirty five percent disability rating, and before he got out he had a Secret security clearance. Hey, he is labeled as a possible subversive… Looks like the label was placed on him about two years ago after he helped a couple of his Army friends get work for the airline after they got out after refusing to reenlist under Ashwood…"

"I like him more by the minute and don't even know him." Craig snickered before turning very serious, "I hope he is alive."

"Want me to call him?" Ricky asked while looking at Steven.

"He sure sounds like the kind of person we could use right about now…" Steven cringed, "if he is alive… Justin, Glenn, do you two trust him?"

"I do." Justin nodded.

"Same here, which is pretty rare for me." Glenn responded after a few seconds of silence.

"Let's see if we can contact him, then." Steven decided. "We need all the help we can get, but we should warn him, we seem to attract trouble and being one of our chaperones, even for a short time, is not exactly a safe job."

"So I have come to find out." Mark stated while eyeing the well-bandaged knife still sticking out of his shoulder.

Officer Cole Rail grabbed a woman and her son and all but threw them behind his squad car. Moments later the driver's side shattered as another bullet ripped into his Lexington Kentucky police cruiser. He ducked down and pointed at the ground, "Stay put!"

"Those animals grabbed my daughter!" the woman shouted through tears as she pointed down the alley.

"Damn it, I know!" Officer Rail shouted back as he ducked down a bit further as a few more gunshots struck the opposite side of his car. "But you going out there with your other kid isn't going to help her, you, or your boy!" He pulled up his radio, "Dispatch, kidnapping in progress corner of Wrenn Court and Short Street! Taking heavy fire!"

Even as desperate as the call was it took several seconds for anyone to respond. "Unit thirty one, pull back to the substation. We have nothing left to send you."

"What are they talking about?" the woman shouted in horror upon hearing the response.

Cole put his back to the car even as more bullets slammed into it. "Between the blackout and this riot, we are out of resources. Now, get into the building behind me as I cover you. Get to the first door you can find and lock yourself and your boy behind it!"

"But what about my daughter?"

"Look, lady, I'm going to go after her, but I can't protect you, your boy and get to her. Now move!" He gave the lady a hard shove even as he pulled himself up and put two rounds into a rifle-armed man and another into a pistol-toting thug with a military-style backpack before he ducked down. Three more bullets pinged off the frame of the car while a fourth flattened the tire on the back passenger side.

Cole glanced down at his pistol and then at his belt, noting he was on his last magazine and wasn't even sure how many rounds he had left. He looked up again only to see a well-built guy round the corner out of the alley and point a rifle at him. He was certain this would be the last thing he saw even as he pulled his pistol up to fire at the man.

Cole never got the shot off, however. Instead, the man aiming at him dropped the rifle, twisted to the side, and grabbed at his neck. Moments later two more rounds slammed into the man, dropping him. Cole spun in the direction the shots had come from expecting to find a fellow officer. Instead his eyes went wide as a teenager ran over and slid down next to him.

Officer Rail's eyes went wide as he saw a familiar face. It was the face of a boy he had arrested and watched get loaded into an ambulance less than a year prior, "Ken?"

The fifteen-year-old nodded as he grabbed the dead man's rifle, pulled out the extra ammo in the military pack and pushed it over to the officer. "Yeah, hope this makes us close to even."

"Even…" Officer Rail eyed the boy and the .45 pistol the boy was armed with. "What are you doing… why are you here?"

"Everyone was let out of the youth facility real early this morning and we were all given military packs, weapons, ammo, a hundred bucks, and a big knife. The semi the packs were in then dropped us off and the driver told us the city was ours if we could take it. I saw you and… and, well… you were right… and I wanted to try to make it right."

Total confusion rippled across Cole's face even as he took the rifle and ammunition. "Who? What … you were pardoned? By who?"

Another teen, slightly older than Ken came over escorting a sobbing boy of no more than eleven with a ripped coat and shirt, "The prez did man, Prez Ashwood!" The teen then glanced back over at Ken, "Hey, man, we got her and found this kid with her. Those dudes are backing off. What now?"

Ken looked over at a totally flabbergasted Officer Rail, "We go and do whatever he wants, guys. If it hadn't been for him last Charismas Eve, I may not have made it and he still managed to put me on the right path!"

Another boy, this one slightly younger than Ken, moved out of the alley and looked over at Ken, "They all took off, but Tommy says there is heavy fighting moving this way. He says it is military-looking guys, but not in normal uniforms. He's pretty sure they are fighting a bunch of adult cons and shooting at random people too. This is nuts!"

Two more teens both about sixteen came out of the alley holding up the kidnapped girl. One was bleeding from a grazing shot to his leg, but both kids kept the girl safely between them.

Ken looked back at Officer Rail, "What now?"

Cole eyed the kids surrounding him with a great deal of fear but decided to make the most of the surreal situation, "Get them inside, and get the girl to her mother." He jerked his head in the direction of the door behind him.

Yet another kid moved up and handed Officer Rail a .45 along with two clips and a full box of ammo. "I saw your ammo pouches are empty, so you'll probably want this."

Cole secured the weapon, looked it over, and waited until all the kids had moved into the building before backing himself in. Once he was behind a close door he turned and glanced back at Ken, "Who are all these kids?"

"They are part of the bible group my grandmother started after I was locked up. They made me the leader and once we got out of the truck we were going to try to head to her place, but we saw you and the girl get taken…"

The kid who had handed Cole the .45 patted Ken on the shoulder, "He said we can't be real Christians and let you try to take on all this alone, 'specially after what you done for him. He even said you covered him with a jacket after ya busted him."

Officer Rail glanced over at Ken, "You remember that?"

"Look man," Ken stated with a great deal of conviction, "I remember two things crystal clear after you helped get me out of the wrecked car. One was making me see the crying girl we hurt. Her face is burned into my brain and I see it every time I close my eyes. The second is you putting your coat over me even as mad as you were.

"I made my Grandma a promise to make the whole thing right or die trying. I can never take back what me and Vinnie did, but I can sure try."

The kid who had come back with the boy looked over, "And his grandma made sure the rest of us feel the same way."

"So what now?" Ken asked.

"Now we stay low and wait this out."

"But people are getting hurt out there!" One of the other teens shouted.

Officer Rail looked around then back at the street, seeing a couple of civilians trying to run. "OK, we turn this building into a fortress of safety, but damn-it, I don't want any of you all taking any bullets."

Before he could say more Ken ran out and motioned for the two fleeing people to come over to the building. Even as he escorted the man and woman inside, another teen ran out and secured the weapons and packs off of the two men Officer Rail had shot. The two teens all but dove back inside as the sounds of nearby gunshots grew even louder.

Officer Rail let out a long breath and brought his radio up to his mouth, "Dispatch, this in unit Three One. Be advised, I have firsthand information of mass pardons being issued to prisoners. I am holing up in a building not far from my last reported position and will be holding here for as long as possible with civilians and some armed friendlies."

He didn't even wait for a response, instead he turned to one of the other teens, "Are all of you really with me on this?"

The teen nodded, "We all promised Grandma Baker we'd do what's right when we all get out, and Ken says helping you is what we should do, so ya tell us what to do and we do it."

"Damn, she must be a hell of a woman…" Cole muttered as he saw the other teens all nod in full agreement.

"She's all our grandma." Another boy spoke up. "And she got more balls than any a us."

This got a slight smile out of the officer for the first time in several hours. He looked around seeing all eyes on him so he pointed at Ken, "Fine, then we make this a fortress of sanity and protect as many as we can. Go get with a couple of your buddies and find something to bar the door and send some of the others to round up whatever you all can find for food and drink. If you have to break in, do it."

This got some snickers out of the former juvenile detention inmates which caused Cole to roll his eyes. "No stealing from others, though. Vending machines and things left in the open only, got it?"

Seeing the teens all nod, Cole let out a long breath, "Check out nearby buildings if you can, but stay close. Once fighting gets here we keep everyone we can safe and see what the next couple of days brings."

Alexander came back into the main bunker, "The elevator hidden behind the tenth stall seems to be working, but it's making a bit of a grinding noise."

Governor Hendrickson moved over to Alexander, "Then let's get those we know can't climb down first. If it breaks then the rest of us can still climb."

Scott glanced into the bathroom, where the metal rung ladder was with a cringe. "Well that means Mark, Glenn and Ricky should go down first with as much stuff as we can get down there…"

"I want a couple of rangers down there too, just in case." Governor Hendrickson demanded. "We'll also send down youngest to oldest."

"What happens if it gets stuck on us?" Glenn asked with a great deal of concern. "If I am on it and it stops, I'm really stuck."

One of the firefighters glanced over. "I'll go down with you, just in case. If I have to, I'll carry you."

"But…" Glenn gulped. "Without my chair…"

One of the paramedics glanced over, "We'll get you out, Glenn. You are way too valuable to not get you down and get you out. You have to help run the country of Texas, after all."

One of the fifth-grade boys, who had been hanging well back from the others, shook his head and rolled his eyes. The action was spotted by Craig, who totally misread the boy's seeming disgust. He glanced over with a glare, "What? You don't think Glenn is important or something?"

The boy's eyes went wide and he moved further back while shaking his head wildly enough to send his long black hair waving across his face.

While a few of the kids closest to the boy seemed to get some satisfaction out of seeing his discomfort, one of the bigger kids moved to stand between the boy and Craig while sending a sharp glare at a few of the others kids. Seeing the others back away from the clearly scared boy, the bigger kid turned and looked right at Craig, "Hey, Lane isn't like that. If anything he is way more like y'all."

Knowing how bad Craig tended to be at reading and understanding others, Justin moved to stand next to Craig while eyeing the boy who was defending the much smaller kid. "More like us?"

"Yeah," the solidly-built fifth grader responded without showing any sign of being intimidated. "Lane's the smartest kid in our class and without him helping me with math, my old man would have never let me finish the lacrosse season." The kid glanced back over his shoulder, "Without Lane, I'd probably be looking at another year of fifth grade 'cause I'm just barely passing half my tests, even with him coming over and helping me a couple times a week."

Lane nervously glanced up, "You got an eighty two on the last quiz…"

"Nice," Keith jumped in further defusing the situation. "Nothing wrong with giving or getting help. I help a few kids on my baseball team with homework once in a while."

"Well, this certainly explains a lot." The kids' teacher spoke up as Joey moved over to Lane who looked like he was ready to cry. "I had no idea who was helping you Saul, but I knew someone must be." The woman looked at the bigger kid, "So, let me guess, Lane started helping you about the beginning of October, right?"

The boy nodded with a bit of embarrassment, "My mom overheard Lane's mom talking about him not having any friends and since they work in the same buildings, Mom already knew Lane is like super honor role. She invited Lane over and forced me to sit down with him and go over my math. He explained it like ten times better than any adult ever could and he has been coming over a couple of days a week ever since."

Joey reached over and patted Lane on the back and all but pushed him to join the rest of the group. Feeling the kid try to angle away from Craig, Joey put his arm over the much smaller boy. "Hey, just a misunderstanding, and trust me, he doesn't bite. I know all about being on the wrong end of Craig's misunderstanding, though, so I get being a bit afraid of him. He can be pretty scary."

This got a cringe out of Craig and a snicker out of Justin.

Craig took a step over toward Lane and saw the kid noticeably cringe, "Hey, like Joey said, I don't bite…"

"Nope," Joey grinned, "just knock people down and threaten to do grave bodily harm…"

Again Justin snickered, "Hey, now, I think it was more of a promise than a threat."

Craig looked up at the ceiling and raised his hands as if he wanted to strangle someone. "Somehow, I don't think either of you are making Lane feel any better, geesh!"

This finally got a little smile out of Lane, while many of the others in the bunker looked back and forth wondering what the three boys were talking about. However, Craig refocused the conversation as he focused back on Lane. "So why'd you roll your eyes when we were talking about getting Glenn down to the lower shelter?"

Lane glanced around. He was so nervous he started shaking and breathing hard, but he managed to squeak out, "I… it was about the Country of Texas…"

This caused the Governor to frown, "What about it?"

Saul moved up and put a hand on Lane's right shoulder while Craig did the same to the boy's left shoulder. At the same time, Joey's left eyebrow shot up, "Don't you think they did the right thing?"

Lane drew a bit of strength from the hands on his shoulders and the way Joey was asking him without sounding mean. With a gulp he glanced at Joey, "It doesn't matter if it is right or not, Texas can't stop being part of the United States."

"We just did." One of the state senators spoke up with an undertone of annoyance in his voice.

"But you can't." Lane countered.

"Oh, really?" the Senator snarled. "And why not?"

Craig turned to the senator as he felt Lane tighten up and try to step away from the man.

"Hey, let him talk, or are you afraid you'll find some other kid who knows something you don't?"

Steven gave a humor-filled snort as the Senator's face turned a bit red. "Come on, Lane, we won't let the big bad senator bite you. Why can't Texas make its own country?"

The boy's upper lip trembled, "It's in our History book, in the aftermath of the Civil War section. There was a Supreme Court case… Texas v. White… The Supreme Court said the United States is an indestructible union from which no state can secede. Texas wasn't allowed to break away, no state is. The Supreme Court ruled the Union's Civil War victory had enforced, by force of arms, the rule of law that no state may secede from the Union…"

The Governor glanced over at his Lieutenant Governor, "You're a lawyer; is he right?"

"Technically…" The Lieutenant Governor stated slowly, "um… I'd have to see the case law, but I think he's right!"

There were several seconds of silence which was finally broken by the Governor. "Well, shit!"

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