Castle Roland

Geek Squad

by Kyle Aarons

In Progress

Chapter 16

Posted: N/A

Geek Squad

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

All Rights Reserved

Geek Squad LogoIn the Gulf of Mexico, just over a hundred kilometers north northwest of Merida, the USS Charles W Read moved to care for a sister ship that had turned hostile, the USS Franklin Buchanan. For the command staff of the Read, the problem was two-fold. First and foremost the sudden shift of going from peacetime patrol to combat in the blink of an eye. Second and far worse, the "enemy" was fellow US warships and even part of the same fleet.

Commander Kopland's hands rubbed across his face as he looked down from the bridge to dozens of stunned and confused faces of sailors, many of them looking up to the bridge with wide eyes and pale faces. At the same time murmurs from those on the bridge told the ship's commander he had to bring things under control quickly.

He glanced over to his XO and spoke in a harsh tone, hoping to get the attention of all those around him, "Lieutenant Commander Bickford, we have some very confused and scared sailors. We need to explain what is going on to those who were not privy to what just happened and do so quickly!"

LCDR Bickford nodded in full agreement and took control of the ship-wide communications. Before he opened ship-wide communications, he turned to Lieutenant Reeves, "To hell with the blackout orders! Get me a news feed out of Austin now."

Seeing Lt Reeves nod in understanding, he kept his hand hovering over the button to speak to the entire ship. As soon as he got a thumb's up from Lt Reeves, LCDR Bickford pushed the internal ship communications and started speaking. "Officers, NCO's, and crew of the Read, as you know, we just engaged in combat against two sister ships with the aid of another sister ship. At this moment we are going to help survivors. While I am sure many of you are confused, and even angry, the need for this action will become readily apparent. At this time we are breaking radio silence so you can hear a live news feed."

As the radio was piped through, the voice of a man could be heard, "....while we have no more information than what was broadcast from the floor of the Texas Senate. The Governor was clear as was the vote. Texas has voted to break off from the US and commence hostilities with the Ashwood Administration. In addition, as you just heard from our local RAM affiliates in Austin, Governor Hendrickson of Texas stated poison missiles were on the way, launched by US Naval assets in the Gulf.

"While we are hearing from some within the Ashwood Administration, this may be nothing more than a hoax, we cannot, with any degree of certainty, say one way or another. Because of this, we at RAM have decided to recommend anyone in the Austin area listening to us take the actions spoken by the youngster who was at the podium with Governor Hendrickson. At this time we are replaying the entire announcement by Governor Hendrickson and the boy who spoke after him. I also need to tell you we are trying to reach our own scientific advisors to see what they think of this."

Lt Reeves let the entire events on the Texas Senate floor be heard while he found a satellite transmission from an Austin television station. He cleared his throat to get the XO's attention and pointed up to the monitor.

LCDR Bickford nodded understanding and turned to speak into the comm system again, "Crew of the Read, we are now patching in a live feed into all televisions. Keep in mind, as you watch, we are still at battle stations and moving at flank speed to get to a hostile but badly damaged warship. Because of this, do not get too caught up in what is shown on the monitors."

Commander Kopland moved over and chimed in with his own thoughts as he realized his XO was looking at the monitor on the bridge with wide eyes. A glance up at the live feed made Kopland's jaw drop as he identified one of the boys standing behind the Governor of Texas. It was none other than his XO's son. While he had only met the boy once, the youngster's pictures were readily displayed in his XO's quarters so he had seen the face countless times. "Remember, a moment of carelessness could spell disaster. Also, understand the command staff of this ship is unified by our actions. We know for a fact cruise missiles were launched at Austin by the USS Buchanan and the Worden fired on the Winslow, even as she was trying to shoot down the missiles fired at Austin. Finally, as a side note, our XO's son is in Austin. As a matter of fact, the boy just to the right of the Governor is Craig Bickford. Many of you may have met him at the ship's picnic just before this deployment."

Even as the local broadcast out of Austin showed a degree of chaos around the State Capitol of Thandleexas as civil defense sirens went off throughout the city, Commander Kopland tapped his XO on the shoulder. "Your boy is smart and I am sure will find a way out. Right now, I need you with your head on straight."

LCDR Bickford clenched his fist, took a deep breath and gave his CO a grunt of understanding not trusting his own voice. He then had to take a second to wipe tear filled eyes before turning his attention back to running the ship. "Helm, keep us aft and where our main gun can still fire. There is no telling what they may do as we close on them. Comm, signal over we are coming in as a non-hostile rescue ship."

"Already tried, sir," Lt Reeves stated tensely. "I'm getting nothing in response."

"Keep trying!" Commander Kopland ordered. "XO, get me damage control teams on the deck. It looks like we are going to have to do some firefighting!"

Commander Kopland moved over to the helm and ordered a reduction of speed, even as he glanced over his shoulder to make sure those manning the main gun were focused on their jobs. Detecting at least some of his people were distracted by what was being piped through the ship, he shook his head and made a slashing motion with his hand in the direction of Lt Reeves. "Record it for later. We need a focused crew. Even if they aren't outright hostile we are putting everyone on this ship in harm's way. We can't afford any mistakes."

Even as the broadcast ceased, Commander Kopland gripped the edge of the table with growing concern. The problem was, at least in Kopland's eyes, even though burning and seriously crippled, that the Buchanan was a hostile ship and plucking people off a burning ship was not a safe task. This meant Commander Kopland couldn't just move in and start a rescue operation. Instead he ordered the Read to move in so the front main gun was aimed at the starboard side of the burning and listing ship so any hostilities could be handled with superior firepower.

However, as they got to within a good visual range, there was no question the former fellow warship was out of the fight. The USS John Worden hadn't taken any chances. The USS Buchanan had three holes in her. The first was to the foredeck and had taken out the main gun. The second was into the forward superstructure. Where the bridge should have been was now nothing more than twisted metal and raging flames. The final missile had done the most damage, however. There was a large hole right at the water line between the hanger for the anti-submarine warfare helicopters and the aft satellite communications superstructure.

LCDR Bickford scanned the burning and listing ship with binoculars, but a tap on his shoulder followed by a hand pointing skyward directed his attention to a single dot in the sky. It took a few seconds for him to find it with the aid of binoculars, but once he did he could clearly make out a MH-60R Romeo wave hopping heading south southeast. Even weirder, it had an orange Coast Guard rescue helicopter flying in formation with it, but staying north and slightly lower. Without hesitation he pulled up weapon control, "They got one of their ASW birds off, we need a track and a firing solution."

Less than three seconds later the voice of Senior Petty Officer Munoz responded, "I have a track on two birds. Do you want to take them down, sir?"

LCDR Bickford glanced over to Commander Kopland, "I'd recommend it. If she has any anti-ship missiles..."

Commander Kopland frowned deeply, but gave a quick nod. Without hesitation, LCDR Bickford spoke into the comm, "Only one of them is a threat, splash the one further to the south only, Munoz!"

Moments later a single RIM missile launched from the deck of the Read. A few seconds later a puff of smoke followed by an explosion told everyone the results. Even as the remnants of the anti submarine warfare helicopter plowed into the ocean, LCDR Bickford winced knowing men and women he had served with had just been killed. At the same time the Coast Guard H-65 banked further to the south and got even closer to the water and put everything it had into flying faster. Still he forced his voice to remain steady, "Callahan, tell your missile crews they did good, real good, but they still need to stay sharp! If the H-65 turns back toward us even a little, I want her swimming. They could still have a door gunner."

Petty Officer Callahan's voice came back sounding a bit shaken, but still strong, "Understood sir!"

Commander Kopland exited the bridge and pointed to a pair of .50 cal gunners. "Any hostile actions, fire, but these are still sailors and if the reverse had happened we sure as hell would be hoping for a little mercy, so let's give them some, people! Senior Chief, get one of our inflatables out there and let's start plucking out those who are in the drink. Lieutenant Reeves, see if you can establish any communications to her again and let her know we are ready to take them aboard, but they damned well better come over unarmed and non-combative or I swear I will toss them right over the side!"

Kopland then turned to Bickford, "We need to get over there and secure anything and everything we can get, so we know what in the hell we are looking at! Orders for what happened had to come from somewhere! Take who you want, but we are going to need the Marines over here to handle those we are taking aboard!"

LCDR Bickford didn't even blink as he pointed to a trio of sailors he knew liked to hang out with the Marines, had a hard edge, and whom he had grown to trust since being assigned to the Read, "Daniels, Gutierrez, Lopez, secure firearms and come with me. We are going over to the Buchanan!" He didn't bother to check to see if his orders were going to be followed, instead he quickly moved down to the deck and spotted Seaman Warner, who was looking totally scared and lost. He grabbed the young seaman by the shoulders and turned him so he was looking into the teen's eyes, "Son, I know this ain't how it is supposed to be, but you are needed and there are lives to save. You are part of damage control, so jump on one of those hoses and let's get some water on those fires so we can save as many as possible." He then gave the nineteen year old a shove over to the nearest hose crew before continuing to move forward. Even as he moved across the deck, the Read was turning so fire crews could send high power streams of water into the raging inferno of what had been the bridge of the Buchanan.

As the elevator in the bunker made its first trip down with those who were injured, or simply deemed too valuable not to get to safety as quickly as possible, Glenn cringed with every grinding sound the elevator made. He was by no means alone. The first trip down also held most of the large group of kids brought down to the bunker. Almost all of them also looked scared and confused as the massive elevator descended what seemed to be into the pits of hell itself. Finally, Ricky looked like he was about to jump out of his own skin. The pain in his leg was suddenly all but forgotten as the platform vibrated, creaked and moaned in protest over being sent down with a large number of people on it.

With white knuckles Glenn glanced around at the others on the platform style elevator with him and closed his eyes. All of the others looked at least somewhat concerned over the noises and jerking motion of the elevator. Not being able to stand the sounds any longer he spoke to no one in particular. "How far down do you think we are?"

The firefighter, who had clotheslined Senator Klayton, moved between Ricky and Glenn and patted them both on their backs. "Deep, real deep, but look at it on the positive side..."

"What positive?" Ricky managed to ask as a particularly bad metal on metal sound caused the whole platform-like elevator to shake, stop for a moment, then continue downward again.

The man forced a smile and spoke in a calm voice. "Oh, come on, you don't want to be some of the first to see what was left mothballed down here? Just think, even if it's mostly junk, this is like an explorer's dream!"

Ricky managed to look up at the man with skeptical eyes, "You sound like you are the one enjoying this!"

"To be honest, I kind of am. If all hell wasn't breaking loose above us and people dying in huge numbers, then I would be loving this. Think of all the millions of people who don't even know of places like this, and those who do, how many will ever get to see it."

Mark, the Russian chaperon, glanced over at Glenn, "You know, he is correct. This is like going into a time... pill?"

Glenn covered for the young man and spoke again with his teeth still clenched, "Wow, Mark, you need to let them give you the pain stuff, or take a couple of mine so you can try to rest. The word is capsule."

A flash of annoyance flashed across Mark's eyes, "Yes, the pain is really setting in. As soon as I know you nine are all safe, I will be taking the medics up on the offered shot of strong pain killers. You need worry little, however. The last time I was in a knife fight was considerably more malevolent, so I will be fine."

Ranger Guthry frowned, "Still, I would have to agree with our young scientist here." He patted Glenn on the shoulder for emphasis. "Your words are a bit off. You really should take the shot of morphine."

Mark shook his head, "Nothing to inhibit me until all nine are totally safe."

Ricky frowned, "You have a knife sticking out of your shoulder and bandaged in place. I think you are already inhibited."

Mark frowned deeply and his voice took on an angry tone, "My duty was... is... to protect you all and I already proved to be unsuccessful. You have a broken leg and Craig was shot again. This is not a mission success and I do not want to know what... duties... will be given to me to make up for such a... um... desolate... performance."

Ranger Guthry again raised an eyebrow, "I hate to say this, but Ricky is right and, like it or not, your use of words tells me you are either not from these parts or you are starting to go into shock. Besides, there was no failure on your part. You came in unarmed and took down at least three, probably with a knife sticking out of you for at least one..."

"Five total, the final three with the knife in me. The first two in the upper hall, the last three down the stairs. But I do not think I killed the last one. I made sure he was out of the fight and took his weapons. I just do not understand what army he was a soldier of."

Governor Hendrickson briefly clenched his fist as the large platform gave a hard shudder before continuing downward, "Army? They were part of the US Army?"

"I think not," Mark sighed. "As I left him with his own blade firmly implanted in his pelvic bone, the soldier kept speaking he had failed his army and would not be taken in by his god. I did not get more because of fighting up the steps and the film crew. I really did not want the faces of the boys to go out like they did."

Ricky glanced over at Glenn, "Those at the temple thing where we got those kids out of... The people in the robes... I heard one of them say something about failing God's Army..."

Ranger Guthry frowned deeply, "When I got to you all, the guy with the pen sticking out of the back of his neck was mumbling something about 'god's army'... and you say you heard this in some kind of temple?"

"More of a house of horrors." Craig snarled. "A bunch of religious freaks doing horrible things to kids and junk..."

"So Ashwood has the backing of some kind of cult?" Governor Hendrickson inquired.

"I wish we knew for sure, sir," Craig responded as he scratched at the edge of the bandage the paramedics had put over his shoulder. "We never got a chance to figure it all out before we came back to get our awards."

Glenn glanced over to Ricky, who was still not looking any happier about the elevator trip than he was, "You have the temple hard drive. Did it say anything about them?"

Ricky shook his head, "Only what they were doing to those kids and a bunch of stuff about contact names in places in other countries. There is a file that lists safe houses, but I still haven't fully cracked it... well I mean I kind of did, but it is like some of the information is missing or something. It's almost like it has to be hooked up to another computer to get the missing pieces to fill in or something. I have never seen anything like it before. I was going to show it to Mr. Triumph when we got back."

Governor Hendrickson glanced over, "I know you are all super smart, but there are quite a few adults in the Texas Government who might be able to help. A few have computer backgrounds."

Craig let out a long sigh, "After hearing some of what Scott knows, I don't know if I want to trust any of them."

Governor Hendrickson rubbed his chin with a deep frown on his face, "There are a few bad apples in every bushel, Craig. You have to take the bad with the good."

"Easy for you to say. If you count the sarin attack, this will be the fourth time most of us have been shot at by people in some sort of government since we got to Texas!"

"Yeah," Ricky grumbled, "and all them seem to hate kids."

One of the state congressmen, who was on crutches after a recent ankle surgery, shook his head, "Boys, we don't know what you all have been though entirely, but let me be one of the first to say you aren't hated down here. Not by most of us at least. Hell, it's taking everything I got not to hobble over to each of you and give you all a hug!"

Craig's eyes narrowed, "I'd prefer you give me a missile to shove up Ashwood's anal cavity."

This got a snicker out of a few others on the platform including a rather sullen looking Alexander who finally spoke up, "There is a lot of stuff I would like to shove up his butt, but I'd prefer something slow and painful like, I want to make a mini-robot that eats him from the inside out."

Craig shot Alexander a mean grin, "Maybe we could add in my water extractor, so he dehydrates a lot."

Ricky nodded, "Yeah, and I could do some programming on it so it doesn't do too much damage and runs away from people trying to remove it so he has to deal with all the pain for a real long time!"

Glenn pumped his fist, "I bet we could even make it go after bone, so his bones break real easy! Then we could get Steven's help and turn those bone shards into calcium deposits and inject them in his bladder so he always has to pee out stones!"

This got a grin out of Alexander, "I could put some micro-blades on the tail and cut up his butt so he can't hold it in and has to wear diapers."

This got a real laugh out of Craig, "If we could extract enough moisture out of his eyes, we could make him go blind too!"

As the conversation continued to go down a more scientifically morbid path, with the kids feeding ideas and expanding on those tossed out by the others, the Governor edged closer to Mark, "Whose idea was it to make you their only chaperone?"

"Partially mine, sir." Mark replied with a hint of a smile, "But the more I hear, the more I think I need reinforcements."

Even as the elevator with the first load of people made its way down the shaft, Justin glanced over to Keith, "I still am not sure how you plan on me calling Mr. Brandt without Ashwood hearing what we are saying and where we are."

"I know this is confusing, but from the phone records we were able to hack, he has a smart phone so you will first call him and simply tell him who you are and see if he is willing to help us. If he is, we will do the rest by text. You will type the information in; I will then send the signal through cell towers to him and only him. I have already isolated his cell number, and he is moving pretty quickly to the north, best guess by cell phone tower pings he is moving at seventy-five miles per hour."

"Remember there are no more satellites to pick up the transmission and I will be using his phone's IMEI to single it out and send the text messages directly to it from the nearest tower. To make it more secure, once we get a hold of him, tell him to stay in place. I will then isolate the nearest tower and we'll have him go real close to it and stay there. Once he is real close to it, I will cut back on its power output so the signal doesn't go as far. The text messages will look a bit garbled. Since we have his military file, we will use data out of it to give him information he knows to help decrypt it. When you talk to him, tell him all the letters of the third word of every sentence will be off by his birth day number and all the fifth words will be off by the third number of his birth year. Finally, all the letters that are the same as what his mom's original last name starts with, will actually be the last letter of his dad's first name. I have it all written down for you.

"I know it isn't perfect, but it is the best I can do from down here. If I had his phone then we could do more, and I am starting to think we need to have Ricky or Mr. Triumph come up with a mobile scrambling app to put on all our phones where we can input a sequence to text each other that will send out as gibberish unless it is picked up by a phone with the same app and the same input sequence. We may even be able to do the same thing with voice. I'm not real sure, though."

One of the state senators glanced up to the control platform, "Kid, if you can come up with such an app, my company would pay a fortune for it! A secure way to talk to others would be incredible."

Keith grinned at the man, "Give me your information and as soon as we figure it out, I'll be happy to sell it to you."

Maggie couldn't help but snicker at the look on the cute boy's face, "A capitalist at his very core!"

"A good one!" the senator agreed with a chuckle. "One who could make a few serious bucks real fast with the ideas in his head!"

Even as scores of men and women agreed, Keith pointed down to Justin, "Ringing through to your laptop right now. All up to you now, Justin."

On the fourth ring a familiar voice came over the headset Justin was using, "Hello, this is Nick."

"Mr. Brandt..." Justin took a long deep breath, "Um, I am um... Hoping you know who this is and not say my name... Um.... We met in the airport and you said you would talk to me if I got my parent's permission..."

Nick's voice became very strong, "Holy shit! Yeah, I know exactly who you are! You and your buddies saved my skin and countless others! I am so glad you are safe! How about the others?"

"Um, we are all OK... Well..." Justin paused and cringed, "We kind of are, but we really need someone we can trust and... Um, well me and the others... Um, I don't want to ask this, but we could really use some help..."

"Hey, if there is something me and my friends can do for you, all you need to do is ask!"

Justin cringed at hearing there would be others beyond Mr. Brandt, it was pretty clear the others were counting on him to find someone to open the door at the end of the long tunnel. "Um... I don't want to sound like... Well... Please don't get mad at me but can we trust your friends? We are kind of nervous about people we don't know..."

This got a tense snicker out of Nick Brandt. "Kiddo, after the shit y'all just went though, I don't blame you, but I can assure you, those with me are people who I have trusted and continue to trust with my life."

Justin took a deep breath, pulled the headset off and glanced over to Steven, "He says he will help but there are friends with him. He says we can trust them, too..."

"Justin, you have a knack for reading others," Steven responded. "Do what you think best, but let your friend know we are a bit jumpy."

Justin nodded and closed his eyes even as he put on the headset again, "Mr. Brandt, I am going to trust you, but please be careful. Ashwood seems to have people everywhere."

"Young'an, you and your friends are the only reason we are breathing. We are also guessing one of those voices telling us how to take off and where to turn was one of your friends, so the four of us owe you pretty much everything. Tell us what you need and if we have to wade through a wave of zombies, we'll get to you!"

This got a slight smile out of Justin, "OK, Mr. Brandt, we managed to pull some information about you and will do the rest of this by text. First we need you to circle a small area around a cell tower so we can keep the transmission as secure as possible. One of my friends here is going to jump on and tell you what you need to do to understand what we are going to tell you, too. Just make sure you don't lead anyone else to us. I really don't want to know what Ashwood or his goons will do to us if he gets his hands on us."

"Buddy," a strong female voice responded, "any of Ashwood's punks who tries while we are around will find they will have to reattach said hand before using it again! Tell us where you need us and we'll be there!"

Officer Rail took careful aim out of the third story of the building he and his impromptu group of recently released ruffians had commandeered. His captured M14 barked once. The armed figure in drab green military fatigues spun to the side as the 7.62 bullet ripped into his right collarbone. The man's rifle clattered to the street even as he fell clutching his shoulder. Another round, fired from one of the former juvenile inmates, hammered into the man's chest and left the guy bleeding and barely moving.

At the same time, three more gunshots dropped two others in the street below. The last fatigue wearing man only made it a few steps back before he too fell from another pair of gunshots. As soon as all four men were confirmed down, Jamaal and Nolan darted out the lower door and pulled in the group of seven civilians the men had been tormenting and had been getting ready to shoot in cold blood. Even as they were escorting the people inside, two other boys fired and dropped a pair of reinforcements. Officer Rail used the distraction this caused to drop a skinny man aiming a sniper rifle at the window the kids were shooting out of.

Two kids, a sixteen and thirteen year old helped the seven civilians into the relative safety of the old four story brick building. While their buddies were tending to the new arrivals, Tommy and Doyle rushed out and looted the four bodies. Doyle paused long enough to grab the head of the sniper Officer Rail had shot and slammed the man's face into the concrete, ending his struggles to hold on to his military pack.

Off to Doyle's left, Alonzo moved out of the door, took a knee and fired a trio of shots at three more advancing men in fatigues, dropping one and forcing the other two to dive for cover. "Amigo!" Alonzo shouted at Tommy, there is a kid holdin' his leg just around the corner! Grab him. Ken and I gots yer back!"

Fourteen year old Tommy Stiller, a lifelong foster kid and burglar from age eight, gave a sharp nod even as he tossed the equipment he had just removed from the chest-shot man over at Alonzo. "Get this up to the cop, 'lonzo! The rifle has a scope. I'll grab the kid!"

Tommy raced around the corner and slid on his knees to where a bawling nine or ten year old boy was holding his lower leg. Next to the kid was a school backpack full of cans of food and two plastic bags with other food. Tommy grabbed the boy's shoulder "Come on, kid you need to get out of here!"

The kid screamed in pain as he was forcefully turned.

Even as the small blond haired, blue eyed kid let out the ear piercing scream, Tommy noticed two things. First the kid had been on a skateboard, and second the boy's leg was beyond obviously broken. "Shit! Kenny, I'm going to need help carrying him. His leg's screwed!"

Hearing the fourteen year old shout, Officer Cole Rail raced down the steps. At the same time Ken moved forward, firing a trio of shots at the fatigue wearing man who had come back for his buddy. Only one of the three shots hit, but it was devastating. The man folded as the bullet blew into his belly button and out his back. The man's pistol hit the concrete and clattered well off to his side and, as he crumpled, a grenade popped off from his web gear and rolled right toward Tommy. The boy eyed the grenade with wide eyes, fully expecting this to be the last thing he ever saw. After nearly five seconds of nothing happening, he finally noted there was still a pin in the top and let out a long breath. "Holy shit!"

Off to the side Jamaal couldn't help but snicker, "Do you need to change your pants over there, cracker?"

Tommy flipped off Jamaal, "Screw you nigger, last time I peed my pants was just before you pulled them two spics off me in the crapper."

Jamaal openly laughed, "Not my fault you happened to hit one of their cousin's houses, then get locked up in the same wing as them!"

"Yeah, well, I like my ass just how it is, so I still owe you one! So get your black ass back inside while I cover you!"

Jamaal smiled showing crooked but very white teeth, "With the look on yer face I was beginnin' to wonder if I'd be able to keep calling you a cracker, cause them pants got to be a bit brown!"

At this, Tommy openly laughed, "They may be a bit yellow in the front, but nothin' more. Now go get me some help. This little shit ain't going anywhere like this."

Even as Jamaal raced inside with the gear taken off the strangely dressed soldiers, Officer Rail darted out the guarded door and dropped to a knee next to the sobbing child. "I got him Tommy. Grab the food. We may well need it!"

Before Tommy could so much as reach for the bags, the roar of an engine came from around the corner. A second later a Humvee rounded the corner spraying the street with machinegun fire.

Cole dove on the two boys, using his body to cover both of them, getting another ear shattering howl out of the injured boy as his hand hit the injured leg. As he did so the skateboard shot out into the street.

Back, just inside the back door to the building, Eldon Ruff, a fourteen year old purse snatcher, drug mule, and convicted car thief saw the skateboard and glanced back in at the terrified people who had just entered the building. "Damn, it's just a few bullets! Get a grip."

A woman in her late twenties eyed the five foot four inch boy with bright blue eyes and brown hair in long dreads with near shock, "I think there is something wrong with you!"

"The judge said the same thing when I was locked up the first time when I was eleven!" Eldon openly laughed, even as he ducked down a bit further as a few bullets slammed into the top of the door frame. Seeing all those who came in staring at him with jaws dropping, he let out a high pitched snicker, "Oh, screw you all if you don't think it was funny!"

With a shake of his head he noticed the top gunner was basically spraying bullets all over the place with no rhyme or reason even as the Humvee ran over the body of one of the fatigue wearing men he had helped to shoot down. With a glance over his shoulder his smile grew and his eyes seemed to sparkle, "After this you will know there is something wrong with me!"

He crouched down a bit further, waited until the gunner started spraying the opposite side of the alley, then bolted out of the door. Behind him one of the men who had come in shouted out, "You're Nuts! Get back here kid!"

This only caused Eldon to start laughing. With a bit of laughter still on his lips, he darted out into the street. His left foot found the back edge of the skateboard as if he had been born with one. The board popped up into his hand even as he continued to run. Then, just as the top gunner spotted him, he dropped the board, jumped on and stayed real low. He closed in on the Humvee until he was able to grab onto the side. Using his free hand, he pulled the pistol he had been given at the same time he had been handed the pardon and pointed it upward.

The moment he saw the gunner's head appear with a pistol of his own in his hand he fired, catching the man with a near pointblank shot into the face. The man's head snapped back and disappeared from Eldon's view.

Eldon let go of the Humvee only to grab it again by the back bumper. As he firmly expected, the back doors opened and men leaned out with rifles in their hands. He waited until he could see the guy on the vehicle's driver's side before he put two bullets into the man. The man tumbled out of the door spraying blood from an arm artery hit and a chest wound.

Eldon didn't wait to see the results of his handiwork. Instead, he bit down on the pistol and worked himself to the opposite side of the vehicle. He poked his head out and ducked back as the guy on the other side opened up on him.

This got the attention of Cole and Tommy. Both of them took aim and fired at almost the same time. One of their bullets found the door, the other the man's arm.

Getting shot in the arm caused the guy to drop his rifle, which fired off a couple of times as it bounced over the concrete. This also seemed to be the final straw for the remainder of those inside the vehicle. It accelerated to get clear of the alley. The only problem was they had an unwanted and self-admitted crazy passenger still attached to the back.

Still smiling like he was finding this whole thing better than any amusement park ride, Eldon shoved his pistol into his waistband, reached down, snagged the grenade which Tommy had pissed himself over, and jumped up onto the equipment hanging off the back of the vehicle. He worked his way up the back, snickering the whole way. Once he got to where he could be seen through the open turret, he giggled, then shouted, "Hey guys!" As a couple of heads jerked to look at him and went for side arms, he displayed the grenade and dropped it into the turret.

He was not at all surprised when the Humvee skidded to a stop, the doors flew open, and those inside bailed out. With his hand free from the grenade, he grabbed his pistol from his waistband and shot the guy getting out of the far side in the back while those in the building took out the last two on the other side. Carefully he glanced in, realized the top gunner was indeed very dead and slid in through the turret. Sliding behind the steering wheel, he regained control of the idling forward vehicle and turned it until he pulled to a stop next to Cole and Tommy. With a massive grin on his face, he motioned for them to get the kid with the broken leg in, even as he reached back and pushed the body of the turret gunner out of the still open back door.

As Officer Rail lifted the boy with the broken leg and moved to the Humvee with wide eyes, Eldon picked up the grenade, displayed the fact he had never pulled the pin, and grinned ear to ear. "Best carjacking ever!"

Jason Calderwood glanced into the back of the plane, "Boss we are out of Texas airspace, but we have a problem."

Kurt Hatchet took a deep breath and stood. As he did so he patted his son, Noah, on the shoulder. "Keep Kent company while I go see what's going on."

Noah looked up with worried eyes, but seeing the relaxed look on his dad's face helped a great deal. Because of this, he leaned closer to the unexpected passenger, "Are you sure we can't get you something to eat or drink?"

Although still totally confused, scared and more than anything wanting to go home, Kent had calmed a great deal since the insanity at the Austin airport. It also helped a great deal he was with a group of kids who all seemed to be concerned about him. Reluctantly he looked up into the older boy's blue eyes and saw only compassion. "I don't have much money…"

"Hey," fourteen year old Debbie Vallee spoke up from the seats behind Kent, "you are with us. No money needed. We can put a burger and some fries into the microwave for you or even a TV dinner."

Seeing Kent look up with some interest, Debbie jerked her head, "Come on back to the freezer and pick out what you want."

Clearly reluctant to head to the back of the small plane away from the one kid he was starting to trust, Kent looked over to Noah with a flash of fear in his eyes.

Much to Noah's credit, he stood, "Come on, I'll go back with you. I could use a bite after the craziness."

Another boy nodded in full agreement, "Hey, Noah, can you pop me in a Salisbury Steak dinner after you take care of our new friend?"

"Sure, Todd. Anyone else?"

One after another, the other kids on the plane listed off what they wanted. It was clear the panic and terror had been replaced with relief and hunger. They all needed to unwind and as with any kid, one of the best ways was with food.

Between Debbie, Noah and a somewhat reluctant Kent, meals were prepared and handed out. As Kent sat, again right next to Noah, he finally found his voice. "Is this your plane?"

Hazel, another fourteen year old girl, smiled as she spoke up between bites of a turkey dinner. "Noah's dad's, but we get to use it all the time."

Kent looked at the patch one of them had handed to him, "And you all are like on paintball team?"

This got a huge smile out of thirteen year old Harlan, "Not just any paintball team, the first place Griffin Paintball team. Best under sixteen team in Arkansas, and now the entire Southwest!"

Fourteen year old Todd saw a spark of interest, so he jumped up and moved to the far back of the plane. It took only a minute for him to come back with a massive five foot tall trophy, "Southwest Region winners, U-16, and none of us are even fifteen yet!"

Kent eyed the immense trophy with the names and ages of the six kids engraved on it. Even as the word, "Wow," came out of his mouth both Doug and Harlan pulled fancy two and a half foot trophies out of their bags to show the boy they had each received individual trophies as well.

The distraction allowed Kent to think of something else for the first time in quite a while, and he latched on to it with a vengeance. Within five minutes he was eating and talking about what it was like to be on a paintball team. As the kids all got involved, Hazel broke out her paintball gun to show Kent the basics. At the same time the plane, unnoticed by any of the kids, dropped in altitude and within a few minutes was staying just off the Louisiana treetops.

Up front, Kurt Hatchett looked over to his best friend and company pilot, "So, not only are we in a blacked out area under a no-fly order, our GPS is out and we are flying at less than a hundred feet?"

Jason glanced over with a bit of a pale look on his face, "Basically, yes, but the GPS checks out fine. Something is wrong with satellite communications period. After transferring funds into hard coal, platinum, and diamonds, since the price of just about all other hard forms of wealth spiked too much for it to be worthwhile, we lost communications with your lawyer. As it is, we didn't get the greatest prices on those, but far better than gold, silver, and oil. But I still told him to snag some silver since one of the silver dealers in Little Rock had 500 ten ounce bars…"

"Good, cause cash isn't going be worth shit until things calm down. So you think the GPS satellites were taken offline, too?"

"I don't see any other explanation, boss. Right after we lost contact with Chandler, our satellite TV went out, and now the GPS. We are still getting transmissions from some airport ground beacons, but not all, not by a long shot. I think many have been taken offline as well. Everything east of the Mississippi River is dark or going dark. As it is, I wasn't able to reach anyone back home. I tried all the kids' parents, but got nothing or busy signals."

Kurt clenched his fist, "Should we turn around and go back to Texas?"

"Not a good option boss, what I was able to pick up is there are now active air battles between Ashwood and Texas. I also heard something about Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska Air Guard units engaging. Everything to the west is going to hell and going there fast!"

"Shit, then keep us low and get us home."

Ricky let out a massive sigh of relief as the elevator came to a stop with large double doors on the opposite side of where they had entered. Unlike the elevator itself, the doors showed no mechanical problems as they slid open with a nearly soundless hiss.

The pair of firefighters quickly moved out and played flashlights over the room they found themselves in followed by Ranger Guthry and another Ranger, both with their pistols out. All four men quickly calmed as it turned out to be a twenty by sixty foot room. As soon as they set foot on the floor off of the elevator platform a metallic female voice came over speakers built into the walls, even as a bank of lights popped on in the ceiling. "Exit the elevator and proceed to one of the nozzles sticking out of the wall. Stand facing the nozzle. There is a panel below the nozzle. Pull out one and only one of the shaded glasses and secure them tightly to your head. Once everyone is ready the senior government member should push the green button and hold it until instructed otherwise. Do not remove the goggles from your head until instructed.

Governor Hendrickson noticed a single nozzle poking out of the wall every two feet along each wall. He eyed a spot in the front of the room with a lightly glowing sign stating "Senior Government Member". He almost moved up to the spot but stopped and glanced over to Craig, "Young'an, the honor should be yours. You were the one out there risking your neck to save those kids, not me."

Craig raised an eyebrow in surprise, but seeing the firefighters and rangers nodding in complete agreement, he moved up to the spot and turned back to the elevator. Once everything was unloaded and goggles on everyone's head, he eyed the green button for a second and looked over to Ricky, "Well, here goes nothing."

The moment he pushed the button, red lights started flashing and a panel behind the button Craig pushed glowed blue and seemed to scan his hand both up and down then side to side. A second blue glowing panel popped out with a place to put his left hand on it. The female voice again spoke, "Senior government member, please insert your hand onto the hand to get a bio-reading and prepare for decontamination. If injury prevents this, select your representative now.

Craig looked over to the Governor only to get a grin so he put his palm on the reader. A few moments passed before the voice once again spoke up, "Please insure all members of your group stay in front of the nozzles or the process will have to be repeated before allowing entry into the bunker"

Two seconds after Craig inserted his hand into the scanner, the nozzles sent a strong stream of air with an odd smelling mist out. At the same time the floor and ceiling shot a similar spray solution out. After thirty seconds the spray stopped as suddenly as it started. Less than three seconds later, very bright bluish white lights came on and started rotating around the entire room.

Glenn looked over at one of the fifth graders to get priority to come down the elevator with the first group because he was in a walking boot. Seeing the boy looking around in a near panic, Glenn spoke up, "Full chemical and UV decontamination. This is supposed to be a fully environmentally contained and secure shelter, so they had to make sure no one brought anything unwanted in with them. I'd bet money we will all have dry skin and will itch like crazy after this, but we'll also be germ free."

A few seconds later, the bright lights went out and a lower panel popped open under each nozzle. Once again the female voice came through the speakers, "Ladies and gentlemen of the government, please remove your goggles and throw them into the open bin. You are almost done with the entry procedures. You will notice your eyes are burning slightly, this is normal, as the goggles contained an anti-biological. It will pass in the next fifteen to thirty minutes. Rubbing is strongly discouraged, as this will only intensify the feeling. Washing will also cause extra discomfort, but will relieve the symptoms more quickly. As a final action you will see a small plastic bottle in the slot to the left of the goggle disposal unit. Gargle with this solution for at least fifteen seconds, then swallow. Restroom facilities are to your left and right once you pass through the blast doors at the front of the room."

Even as Glenn did as instructed and winced at the less than pleasant flavor, he blinked his eyes as hard and fast as he could. As soon as he swallowed, he spoke, "Burning slightly? I think my eyes are on fire!"

"No kidding!" Alexander stated as he shoved his hands in his pockets to force himself not to rub at them. "But whoever made whatever was in the bottles needs to be shot and stabbed! That was awful!"

Ricky shook his head using every bit of his willpower not to rub at his own eyes, "I've tasted worse stuff, but it ranks right up there!

Even as he spoke, the computer voice spoke again, "Station one seven, blast doors will not open until you drink the enter contents of the bottle."

One of the Rangers frowned and downed the last of the bottle, "How in the hell did it know?"

"Probably a sensor in the bottom of the bottle," Alexander stated even as he spit a few times hoping to get the flavor to go away. There is little metal plate in the bottom of the one I drank out of."

"Mine too." Craig confirmed, "I'm tempted to stick a finger in my throat and throw up just so I can taste bile. It'd sure taste better than whatever was in those bottles!"

Ricky, who was obviously the least affected by the liquid's flavor, snickered, "If we find out who made it, I could hack his bank account and take away everything he earned for making it."

This got some outright laughter and quite a few giggles out of the group, even as the doors on the far side of the room from the elevator slid open revealing they were over a foot and a half thick.

One of the firefighters glanced back at the elevator, "I was supposed to go back up, but I really don't want to go through any of this again…"

Glenn took out a small notebook and pen from his chair, "Send a note back up. No one, other than Ashwood, deserves to deal with this twice!"

"Agreed," Craig grumbled, "but him I could stick in this room and make him do it over and over and over…"

Ricky started to say something to agree with Craig when he felt his stomach lurch, "I need to get to the bathroom!"

The Governor grabbed the boy and moved into the restroom, even as his other hand grabbed at his own stomach. "Me too, like right now!"

Even as the firefighter started to write the note, most of those who came down started to run in the directions of the bathrooms. The man grabbed at his stomach, "It'll have to wait!" He dropped the pen and paper even as he bolted in the direction of the bathroom. Finding all the stalls full, the man clenched his fist and leaned against the wall breathing hard. He motioned for the boy in the walking boot to take the first empty stall, then looked up in obvious agony as a door most of the way down opened and a kid came out, moved over to a sink, and splashed water on his face.

By the time the firefighter got seated, the bathroom was smelling beyond foul, but he simply didn't care. Fortunately, whatever was in the cocktail passed quickly, but with a great deal of force. He washed up and quickly exited the large bathroom, "Aw, crap!"

Off to the side, Craig let out a deep breath, "Literally!"

While the majority of the younger kids didn't get the joke, most of the adults, Ricky, Glenn, and Alexander did. They all laughed, hard.

Even as many of the adults enjoyed the jovial moment, the firefighter wrote the note and moved to the elevator and pushed the button, the metallic voice came back through the speakers, "Members of the government, the door to the upper shaft is sealed until the lower blast door closes to prevent contamination. Please proceed into the safety of the bunker."

The firefighter's head dropped, "Aw, come on, you have to be kidding me!"

Several of the kids were torn between feeling sorry for the man or laughing at his reaction which caused an odd combination of cringes and smiles, gasps and giggles. The firefighter rolled his eyes even as he motioned for people to leave the room.

Craig looked around, "I bet there is an override for inspections and junk, but I have no idea what it would look like or where it would be."

"It is what it is," the firefighter sighed. "Concentrate on important stuff like seeing if there is a way to make sure the elevator runs long enough to get everyone down.

Glenn cringed, "Are you sure you want to do it all over again?"

The firefighter shook his head, "Not even a little, but next time I will be at the front of the room and the first one in!"

This caused a few others to snicker as they watched the man begrudgingly move to the elevator and motion for someone to close the blast doors leading to the bunker.

Alexander shook his head, "I bet we can find an override if you give us some time."

The firefighter waved off Alexander's offer, "No sense in worrying about it now. Just get in there and get things ready for all the rest of us."

With a jerk of his head, Governor Hendrickson motioned for everyone in the decontamination room to move into the bunker beyond. He then looked over at the firefighter, "I'll figure out a way to make this right. From here on out, we need to hit the call button…"

The firefighter shook his head, "I'll just ride up and down until this thing either craps out or we get everyone down here. Once you all are in there, see if there is any kind of access panel to, or readout of, what is wrong with this thing, though. It'd sure be nice if it lasted long enough to get everyone down here."

A few minutes later, Craig found the button to shut the blast doors and gave the man a nod. After a few seconds the doors closed and before any of the boys could do more than look at the trunks containing the equipment given to them outside of Breckenridge, a muffled grinding sound could be heard vibrating through the lower bunker as the elevator made its way back up. Also a pair of lights lit up identifying male and female restroom facilities.

Craig looked around, realizing the restroom combined with the few lights above him illuminated only a small area while the chamber they were in seemed to extend well into the darkness. Craig glanced over to Glenn, "How's your chair doing on fuel?"

Glenn glanced down and shook his head, "The second tank is below thirty percent, and we only have one left…"

"Then using your chair to power things is out." Craig stated, even as he looked in the direction which one of the rangers was shining his flashlight. The powerful beam coming off the three D cell mag-light didn't even reach the far end of the multiple halls, but did reveal a dark security station with a long hall behind it and another blast door just to the left of the secured hallway.

From where they were, there were over fifty doors they could see extending down the five offshoot passages. Each passage was marked with a letter. The biggest one, to the right of the security station and behind a thick looking glass wall, had the letter "E" on both sides of the hall. Off to the left of the male bathrooms was the "H" wing, and the "S" wing was to the right of the female facilities. Finally, behind them and angling to the right and left just off of the blast door entrance were a large placards with "T" and "C" on them.

Even as Craig looked around, he noticed the "C" hall had a whole bunch of doors spaced pretty close together. The others had better looking doors that were wider spaced. The widest spacings were behind the glass in the "E" wing. With a shake of his head Craig looked over to Ricky, "President Bryce didn't get you any sort of layout of this place?"

Ricky shook his head, "From the way it sounded, the only ones who really knew anything about this place was some of the security guys, and the one guy, Agent… um… Clark, I think he said his name is… um, he said all government records were wiped shortly before Ashwood took office. He said it was because President Bryce didn't like what he saw as Ashwood picked cabinet members, so some of his guys pulled the whole bunker project out of archives and put in notes saying the Mexican War Government Survival Project was shut down and most of the bunkers destroyed or mothballed once it was confirmed we took out the cartels' chemical weapons abilities so early on in the fighting."

Alexander cringed, "I never read anything about the Mexican cartels having chemical weapons!"

Ricky shrugged, "The guy I was talking to said they had lots and they got it from outside sources which were never identified. It is one of the reasons there was so much extra money put into the bunker program. He even said Mexico used some chemical weapons here in Texas, but I know I never heard anything about it until he told me."

Governor Hendrickson saw all eyes turn toward him, especially the young science contest winners. He started to lie, but stopped himself before the words escaped his lips. These people, these youngsters, deserved the truth. With a resigned look, he let out a long breath, "Highly classified, kids, very highly classified. But it sounds like the cat is out of the bag now."

Seeing the eyes of everything in the all but forgotten bunker turn to look at him, Governor Hendrickson rolled his eyes, "OK, fine. Many of you kids were too young or may not have even been born yet, but drugs were pouring across the border from Mexico into the US. We tried to stop the flow with the help of the Mexican government, but within a few years we realized it wasn't just the cartels but the Mexican Government itself directly involved in the transportation and even building tunnels into places like El Paso, Laredo, and a few other places. I was Lieutenant Governor at the time, so I didn't get all the information, however, there were high level rumors of something, or someone, deep behind the scenes. From what was being talked about, it was something or someone more powerful than Mexico, but to my knowledge, those are only rumors. Anyway, I don't know it all, only what was going on in Texas, but I heard from other border states of similar situations. We even had several cops killed by Mexican Army who were protecting a large shipment brought underground from Juarez to El Paso."

"Like I said, I was just the Lieutenant Governor when we got hit a second time; this time it was a few dozen National Guardsmen, but they hit the place with a chlorine based chemical gas. It killed everyone in the armory and some outside it as the wind blew it outside the fence. The attack was designed to look like we were storing chemical weapons, but we weren't. At the time we were working on some experimental napalm-like stuff, so between President Bryce and the Governor, it was decided to destroy the whole place.

"We kept the cover story of them being killed in a raid on the armory, which was technically true. The way it looked from satellites, the Mexican soldiers came across and were trying to take US military equipment and wanted to get it across the border. We think the idea was to have US equipment to stage other raids, but the Governor ordered our F-15 wing to take them out and dropped the napalm in an attempt to eliminate the chemical weapon used.

"It worked, but this destroyed the National Guard armory and with it the equipment. It is also the reason Texas bought up the F-15s when they were taken out of service and still maintains a few active squadrons of them and have a couple hundred in mothballs stashed across the state. They were perfect for delivering the strike packages, and when I became governor, I secured the rights to all the others still mothballed, because I saw the value of having an air to air and strong air to ground combination strike capability. President Bryce agreed, which is a damned good thing since, without the extra airpower, he would have probably been killed when Ashwood forces tried to take him."

Alexander eyed the man, "And the Mexican chemical attack is also why you had thermite available today, right?" Alexander didn't give the Governor a chance to respond. Instead, he kept right on talking as all the pieces fell together in his mind. "The strike on the armory was done with first gen thermite. I remember reading about it and asked my dad why they used it. He said it was probably what was available, and just shrugged it off, but now I think I know why there is a large chemical warfare and decontamination program at my parent's company. Someone in the government decided we needed to keep up to date on the best tech, especially since someone else was supplying Mexico. But the word never got out, since fortunately, thermite was used, it incinerated everything and everyone. You never had to let out what really happened, so there was no panic. Not only did it kill the attackers, it also covered for what the insurgents used and who they really were."

Governor Hendrickson couldn't help but snicker, "The more I am around you guys the more certain I am of Mr. Triumph having picked the best and brightest kids possible. You all are scary smart,"

Glenn made a soft growling sound, "Sir, if we were all that, we wouldn't be looking around wondering what to do now."

Lane cocked his head to the side, "Um…" seeing several heads turn to look at him, he backed off cringing.

Glenn piloted over to the small skinny boy, "Lane, you already proved to most of us you are probably one of us, so if you got an idea, speak up."

Seeing Craig, Alexander and Ricky all nod in agreement, the adults all but deferring to the science contest winners, and all of the kids in his class keeping their distances, Lane swallowed hard then managed to squeak out, "There has to be power around here somewhere…"

"Looks pretty dark to me," Ranger Guthry grumbled.

"It is," Glenn spoke up, "but if Lane thinks there is power around here, then I want to hear him out."

Ricky nodded even as Alexander spoke up, "So you really think there is some big switch around here?"

"Yeah," Lane gulped. Seeing all eyes, including the adults on him, he shook slightly and moved further back from the entire group, but managed to get out what was on his mind. "I mean, I know it's dark, in here, but there is no way those huge doors opened and the massive elevator moved with the power being used to light these few lights. I also bet, the scan the other room took was so you could activate something." He nodded over at Craig, even as he backed off a couple of steps from the boy.

Lane then pointed to the security station, "The only lights we have now is right here, like it is trying to tell us something, so unless the people who built this place were really dumb, then it must be right over there somewhere."

Craig raised an eyebrow even as he moved up to the security station. He pulled up a flashlight he had taken off one of the renegade guards in the state capitol and played the beam over the large bank of dark controls. With a shake of his head, he glanced back up, "Ricky, Glenn, and Alexander get over here. This thing is like a space station."

After only a split second of silence, Craig mentally kicked himself for not including the younger boy. Even as he shook his head in anger over his total lack of ability in relating to others, he gave a hard nod in Lane's direction, "Lane, this is your idea, so give us a hand."

Five minutes later, Lane cocked his head to the side, turned a small key sticking out of a side station, and pulled open a drawer. "I think I found it!"

Alexander darted over and looked down at the indention slot for a left hand, "Craig, I think we need a hand."

Even as Craig looked up from the far side of the massive security station, Lane giggled, "Literally!"

Craig moved up, looked down and shrugged. "Ok, here goes nothing. If I lose my hand over this I am going to be real mad, though!"

This got a nervous snicker out of both Alexander and Lane.

The moment Craig pushed his hand flat on the outline of a much larger left hand, a series of blue lines crisscrossed the palm reader. After nearly thirty seconds lights came on extending down all five halls, but a few flickered badly, showing some maintenance was needed.

The same metallic female voice spoke, "Senior member of government please state your full name, place of birth, number of family members with you, and your height and weight. Speak slowly and clearly so voiceprint can be entered into the security record. If this is not possible because of voice or breathing problems, please tap the security terminal three times."

Craig glanced over at the Governor who simply nodded, but it was clear the man wished he had been the one to put himself as senior member of government. Craig kind of cringed even as he spoke, "Craig Bickford, born Norfolk Virginia, five foot five, one hundred and eighteen pounds."

The computer beeped a half dozen times before the voice spoke again, "Craig Bickford, you are now listed as the senior member of government in this facility and your full bio-readings input along with voice print. The following instructions are for you. If you wish to be given time to hear them alone, hold your hand on the bio-reader until you are ready, otherwise briefing will start in ten seconds.

After exactly a ten second delay, the voice started speaking, "Craig Bickford and possibly other members of the government, this facility was put on passive standby and not maintained. It will take approximately…" There was a series of beeps and chirps then the voice spoke again, "Three hours before full diagnostics can be finalized. Any personnel with maintenance knowledge should be readied to make needed repairs. This system is designed to prioritize repair lists, so things should be done in the order recommended as best as possible with the personnel available.

"At this time surface sensors detect chemical agents in the air so full quarantine procedures need to continue to be followed. All new arrivals will have to compete full decontamination before being allowed entry. There is no override for this since chemical agents have been detected above this facility. Also, there is no available communications to any of the other bunkers and no satellite communications can be established.

"At this time, until other government members can be linked to, it is recommended you act as last surviving members of government. All links to outside functioning communication systems will be routed to the command room in the far left side of the Executive wing. The command computer will continue to try to access all communications it can find including the FRN, but will link to be transmitted outside of the area as best as possible to prevent signal triangulation. It will also default to a secure mode and not try to link with other government entities until a ranking nine of ten person overrides this. Understand, overriding the signal security feature may allow captured or compromised bunkers to alert hostiles of the location of this bunker.

"Water restrictions will be kept in place until all sensors monitoring outside water sources are brought online and aquifers checked. Because of this, showers are now limited to two minutes for civilians, three minutes for members of the Texas or other state governments, four minutes for members of the House and Senate and five minutes of members of the executive branch and may be taken no more than once every other twenty-four hour cycle. Members of the Supreme Court, if any, are advised there is a wing inside the executive branch area for you. The wings are each marked with a letter corresponding to respective positions, but the senior member of government, Craig Bickford, will be responsible for ranking all arrivals until Craig Bickford designates someone else to do so.

"At time of being put on standby, this bunker had all current members of government erased. Because of this, the senior member of government, Craig Bickford, is now tasked with assigning those who come down as a civilian, state government member, Member of US House, Member of the US Senate, Executive branch, or Supreme Court. If for reasons unavailable to this unit, this cannot be done, there are nine Supreme Court rooms, twenty-five Executive Branch rooms, sixty US senate rooms, one hundred US House rooms, two hundred and fifty state government rooms and five hundred civilian rooms in this facility. Each room is set for a maximum of a family of five, with four being optimal. There are also military areas for those in a protection role. There are twenty single man, senior officer rooms, one hundred double bunk rooms, and five, one hundred and fifty man barracks rooms split equally between the five wings.

"At this time, information on stores of perishables available are not online but scans of pantry areas in each wing indicate they are at eighty-five percent or more. Even though all stores are supposed to hold indefinitely, make sure to double check all food for spoilage before eating. Water tanks are at ninety-six percent, which under normal water rationing operations will allow for sixteen weeks of operations with full bunker capacity.

"Senior government member, Craig Bickford, you are asked to provide a rating of one through three for all non-government members; a rank of a one is for those who have no access to anything, a rank of two to one room only and a rank three for those who have access to pantry and storerooms in the civilian zone. Note a rank of a one is essentially a prisoner designation, since they cannot even open the room they are put into. Ranks four and five should be used for military and or security personnel. State government and higher ranking military members should get a base rank of six. Members of Congress a seven, members of the Supreme Court and members of the executive branch an eight and those with access to everything other than bunker command authority a nine. At this time you are the only ten, and may designate up to two others as a ten. Once the limit of three with a ten designation is reached, one will have to willingly accept a demotion or DNA scanned as deceased before another ten can be named. Finally only nines or tens may designate anyone with a number over a six. Those with a rank of seven may designate ranks one through four, eights may designate five and six, and nines may designate sevens. It is strongly recommended to promote one other to a rank of ten, since only a ten can promote to an eight, nine, or a ten.

"The "C" wing is for civilians, the only place those with a rank of four and below are allowed is the civilian wing. Ranks of four or more are the only ones who have access to the security areas in the civilian wing. Anyone with a rank of five has access to all wings other than the "E" wing, but only the military bunking areas of the non-civilian wings.

"The "E" wing is for executive and Supreme Court members and authorized security personnel only. An "X" designation after a number or a rank of eight or higher is the only way someone in the bunker can gain access past the bullet proof barrier. Only ranks nine and ten may designate someone with an "X" extension to the rank given. The computer will only allow a maximum of 275 persons to have such a designation with a maximum of ten with a rank of nine and a total of 350 between a rank of 8 or more and an "X" designation. A bio reading will need to be taken on all those who you wish to designate with any rank. A map will show available and taken rooms, over on the far right. It is recommended you assign rooms at time of rank designation so the person may access his or her assigned room. By default, anyone not given a designation will be assumed to be a rank one."

There was a pause, "Senior member of Government, Craig Bickford, this information is now being displayed on the terminal to your left. If you need it repeated, you may push your hand into the ID authenticator and ask for admission requirements. Is this clear."

Off to the side Alexander looked over at Craig, "Say yes even if you aren't! I don't want to have to hear it all over again!"

Craig nodded in agreement, "Yes, it's all real clear!"

The voice spoke one last time, "Craig Bickford, welcome to Bunker Seven. Have a nice stay."

Craig smacked his forehead, "Have a nice stay? Who would program a doomsday bunker to say something so stupid?" He then quickly shook his head and looked over at Governor Hendrickson, "Sir, please get over here so I can make you a ten!"

Governor Hendrickson smiled at the look on Craig's face, "Don't really want to be the boss after all?"

Craig waved his hands almost wildly back and forth in front of himself, "Not to this degree, no way! Not even a little!"

Even as Governor Hendrickson moved up to stand next to Craig he snickered, somewhat relieved to see the kids did need some adult support. His expression changed some once he saw another terminal start to show problems within the bunker. He quickly motioned for Ricky, Alexander, and Glenn to come up as well. "Guys, you all need to get up here too and be nines so you can look at the diagnostics starting to come up on the screen. It looks like there is plenty wrong for you all to work on and I need it fixed! Because, like it or not, this may be the best and most secure place to conduct this war out of."

Commander Bickford moved across the leaning deck of the Buchanan, and made his way toward the communications center of the ship. Even as he and those with him made their way across the ship, they had to be careful of flames, the occasional explosion of ammunition and an ever increasing angle on the normally horizontal deck. This was not helped in the slightest by the hoses of the Read sending streams of water into the flames coming out of the front superstructure. The water splashing across the deck was making the already treacherous footing worse.

Making the effort to get to the radio room even more of a nightmare, was the fact it was difficult not to stop to check on bodies and even harder to ignore those screaming for help. He glanced back, noting the men he picked were just as troubled as he was, but, like him, they knew the mission and the importance of it. With another look back he yanked on the hatch, only to find it was secured from the inside. He tried pounding on it, but got no response. "Lopez, C4!"

Petty Officer Second Class Lopez moved up, slapped a hunk of plastic explosive over the hatch dogs and motioned for everyone to get back around the corner. As he did so a pair of 5.56 millimeter bullets pinged off the metal just above his head. He ducked down cursing even as Lieutenant Commander Bickford and Seaman First Class Gutierrez fired back at the lone rifleman.

One of the two hit the shooter in the right hip. The man fell, clutching his leg and screaming even as he lost his footing and slid down the badly listing deck. Even though the man had just shot at him, Lopez attempted to grab him, since he was wearing a navy uniform. For a moment he managed to grab the back of the guy's collar, but it ripped. Seconds later the hapless sailor slid off this side and into the ocean.

LCDR Bickford made a slashing motion, indicating to forget the man, "Get us in there Lopez! We don't have much time!"

With a final glance in the direction the man had gone over the side, Lopez shook his head sadly and moved back around the corner. He glanced over at LCDR Bickford, "Sir, you know this will either kill or really mess up anyone in the room, right?"

"No choice, Lopez." LDCR Bickford barked, "Now blow it so we can find what we came here for and get the hell off this tub!"

Petty Officer Lopez touched the cross hanging around his neck and said a very short prayer for anyone in the room then hit the clicker which sent an electrical charge into the blasting cap. A split second later there was a loud explosion.

LCDR Bickford was the first around the corner and nodded in satisfaction at seeing the hatch had a hole in it and was now hanging open since it opened in the direction the ship was listing too. "Nice work, Lopez!"

Without further hesitation, he moved in, sidearm ready, There were only four people in the communication room, three badly injured by the explosion and the last one, a terrified very young seaman who was holding his ears and had some blood coming out of his nose from the concussion generated by the small C4 charge.

Seeing a way to get what he was after quickly, he moved up to the young man and screamed loudly in his harshest command voice, "Seaman, the communication logs, I need them before we abandon ship!"

The eighteen year old looked up with total confusion in his eyes, having only heard part of what the high ranking officer in front of him shouted since his ears were ringing so badly he was not sure if he would ever be able to hear properly again. But, he heard enough and it was a Lieutenant Commander towering over him looking really pissed off. With his left hand still pressing against the side of his head which had been turned in the direction of the explosion, he pointed to a log book on the floor next to the junior lieutenant who had been in charge of the communication center, but was now all but splattered over a couple of the radios.

LCDR Bickford grabbed the log, nodded at the fact it showed an authentication to fire, and pointed to Lopez and Gutierrez, "Grab him and let's get the hell off this ship! Daniels, you take point and shoot anyone who gets in our way!

The four men, with the young seaman in tow, didn't even make it back to the hatch before the hatch on the far side opened. A Senior Petty Officer saw the men and raised a pistol, but never got the shot off. Bickford put a single shot just under the man's left eye. The man's head snapped back and he crumpled. Once again, the group of men from the Read started to leave the room, but were stopped by the sound none of them ever expected to hear inside a warship, a child's tearful cry for help.

LCDR Bickford's eyes went wide. Without a second thought he pushed the log book into the hands of Lopez, "Get the log and the seaman out. Daniels, you're with me!"

Daniels moved past LCDR Bickford and shoved the dead man off to the side. His eyes went wide as he saw three kids, two boys and a girl, all had leg chains and handcuffs on and appeared to only be wearing men's tee shirts which looked more like dresses on the three small frames. The handcuff around the lead boy's hands were connected to a chain which attached to a belt chain around the Senior Petty Officer's waist. Total confusion rippled across Daniel's face, "What the hell is this?"

LCDR Bickford moved up, shook his head as if hoping he was seeing things then made a snap decision. He pulled up his pistol and put a bullet into the chain attached to the dead Senior Petty Officer to the leading child. He then fired a round into the chain connecting the boy to the girl behind him, while motioning for Daniels to do the same for the boy behind the girl. Even though this only caused more tears and screams of fear out of the three, LCDR Bickford ignored them.

Once all three were separated from the Petty Officer and each other, LCDR Bickford hefted up the lead boy over his right shoulder and the girl over his left even as they both tried to pull away. Adrenaline and anger coursing through Bickford, combined with the fact the kids still had leg chains and handcuffs on made their struggles all but pointless. With a voice full of fury he glared at Daniels, "Grab the other kid, we are leaving now, and if anyone so much as thinks about stopping us, I swear they are dead!"

Jason's eyes went wide as the radio come to life, "Unidentified twin engine Beechcraft aircraft southwest of Jonesboro, Louisiana, this is US Air Force Captain Omar Medina, you are in a military no-fly zone. Identify yourself. Failure to do so will result in your aircraft being shot down, over.

Even as Kurt looked over at his pilot with a fearful stare, Jason responded, "Captain Medina, this is Beechcraft Kilo Tango Serra Two Zero Niner trying to get a group of kids home to Littlerock, over."

"Your destination, nor who your passengers are, gives you a right to violate a military no-fly order, two zero niner. We have you on a rough flight path exiting Texas airspace which is now a hostile entity. You are ordered to follow escorts into Jonesboro airfield. Any attempt to flee will result in the escorting aircraft knocking you out of the sky, over."

Before Jason could respond a pair of A-10 Warthogs dove out of the clouds. One took an escort position off the port wing while the other fired a burst of nose cannon fire across the nose of the Beechcraft, showing just how serious they were.

Jason almost lost control as shouted into the radio, "For God's sake, we have kids aboard and were only trying to get them back home! We are complying as ordered!"

Captain Medina's voice came back over the radio sounding cold and uncaring, "See you do, zero two niner, or those kids will be splattered all over the forest below you. My pilots will not waste any more rounds on warning fire. We are at war and you are considered a hostile target!"

Kurt took a full minute to compose himself. He had no idea just how close those rounds came to hitting his plane, but the tracers looked close enough to reach out and touch. Finally he rubbed his hands down over his face and let out a long exhale. Behind him, the sounds of panicked voices told him at least some of the kids in the back knew what was going on and may have even realized they had just been shot at.

With a pale face and on shaky legs Kurt stood and used the seats to help him walk to the back of the small craft. Looking at seven very fearful faces, he decided to tell the truth "Kids, we tried to make it home, but we knew we were breaking a no-fly order to do so. We were spotted and they are demanding we land. Since we are coming from Texas, and Texas has declared war on the rest of the US, we may be seen as hostiles. One thing I am sure of, is we can't have anyone from Texas aboard or things will get even worse."

Kurt then looked over at Kent, "Son, if you have anything at all identifying you as being from Texas, go to the bathroom, throw it in the toilet and flush it. Noah, from now until we can get Kent home, he is your cousin, from…" Kurt paused and looked over at Kent, "Do you know any cities outside of Texas, any at all?"

Kent's upper lip trembled as he spoke, "San Francisco and Branson…"

"Branson, Missouri?"

"Yeah," Kent nodded vigorously even as tears threatened to spill out of terrified eyes, "My Grandma lives there and I stayed there for a month this last summer…"

"It will have to do. Noah has been there a few times so he knows enough about it to make it sound good if he is asked or needs to cover for you. Kent, you are now Kent Hatchett. You are from Branson and Noah is your cousin. No matter what happens stick with that story and with him and the others…"

Noah looked up with wide eyes, "Where are you going to be, Dad?"

"Hopefully with you, but I bet they will take both Jason and I into custody for questioning. They may question you all, too. Tell the truth on everything except Kent. He was with us to learn more about being on a paintball team. Since we can have an alternate on our roster, he was going to fill it once he got better. Pull my gear bag out and build a backup pack for him now. Make sure he knows how to load and fire. Everything else needs to be the truth so the one lie blends in."

Even as the plane banked sharply and Jason spoke from up front, "We are five minutes out, and they are not going to let me delay, so whatever needs to be done, do it quick!"

Kent looked up clearly beyond terrified but managed to squeak out, "Kent Hatchett."

"Spelled with two T's at the end." Noah managed to add. While behind him three of the others were pulling spare equipment out of Kurt's paintball bag and stuffing the stuff into an old backup team bag to make a basic paintball kit up for Kent.

"Anything to identify you as being from Texas?" Kurt demanded to know.

Kent dug into his pocket and pulled out his busted cell phone and his airline ticket. He also pointed to his bag with his full name on a tag.

Kurt nodded, "Kent, make sure nothing else in your backpack has anything to identify you with. Noah, pull out his phone's smart card and memory card and hide it so we can pull numbers up on a new phone later. The phone, ticket and tag on his backpack goes down the toilet. If the phone doesn't fit, make it fit!"

The second it's done, you all need to take your seats and buckle in. Also, no matter what happens to Jason or me, don't and I mean DON'T draw attention to yourselves or try to stop whatever it is they do."

"Why, Mr. Hatchett?" Todd asked with a combination of fear and anger in his eyes.

"Because, Todd," Jason shouted from up front, "they already said they would have no problem with you all dying if they shot us down, so they probably will not have any problem beating on you or even shooting you if you try to jump in to defend us. Let us deal with this, keep your mouths shut, and let them do whatever they want to us. If their anger is at us, you all will be a great deal safer!"

Three and a half minutes later, the twin engine Beechcraft touched down on a small airfield just outside of Jonesboro, Louisiana Before the plane even came to a complete stop, a pair of machinegun armed Humvees came out of one of the two hangars and made a beeline for the plane. Above, the pair of A-10's flew a trio of low passes over the airfield to make sure the aircraft was indeed not going to try to escape, before they angled up into the clouds,

The lead Humvee came to a stop only a couple of yards from the nose of the aircraft, while the trailing one took position in the shadow of the plane's tail. A man with military fatigues and a pistol on his hip jumped out of the lead Humvee, while two men armed with assault rifles jumped out of the back and aimed their rifles up at the cockpit.

The man with the pistol pulled up a loudspeaker, "All those aboard come out with your hands up and unarmed or we will open fire."

Kurt glanced over at Jason before moving to the exit door. He dropped it then stood in the door frame, "We have seven kids aboard…"

"I don't give a shit!" The man roared into the loudspeaker. "Move down, one at a time, take five steps forward and drop to your knees with your hands behind your heads!"

Kurt almost said something but stopped himself as he saw both men with assault rifles tighten their grips on their weapons. He moved down and did as instructed. He was followed closely by Jason. The seven kids followed, but as they came out the man with the bullhorn, pointed for them to move off to the side away from the two men.

"Do what they want…" Jason started to say, but was stopped as one of the assault rifle armed men moved up and used the butt of rifle. He slammed into the back of his head and sent him face first into the runway.

Todd, Noah, and Hazel all started to move forward, but a hand motion from Kurt stopped them. The man's action did cause him to get a hard kick into his side, so he went down as well.

The man with the pistol eyed the kids, but when Todd grabbed both Noah and Hazel by the shoulders and yanked them down even as he went to his knees, the guy gave a slight snort and nodded in begrudging approval. He then turned his attention to the vehicle he came in, "Airman Miller, check out the plane. If anyone is still in there, shoot them."

A young looking man in fatigues hopped out of the driver's side, pulled out a sidearm and made his way over to the aircraft. He glanced over at the line of kids, then back at the man with the bullhorn, "Lieutenant, what if it is a kid?"

"Shoot to kill."

Even as the young man's eyes went wide, the man everyone now knew as a lieutenant, looked over to the seven kids, "Unless you want to call whoever might be up there to come down now."

Todd gulped, "There is no one up there…"

The man's grin was far from nice, "For your sake, there better not be," He then turned to the young airman, "Miller, nose to tail search. Anyone in there dies, got me?"

The young man eyed the kids for a few seconds, and seeing a few of them nod, he took a deep breath and entered the aircraft. Two minutes later he appeared, "It's clear, Lieutenant. I don't see any weapons either, but there is a hell of a lot of paintball gear up here."

The lieutenant once again made a mean sounding snorting sound, "Paintball pussies, huh, what a load of shit." He then pulled up a handset attached to a radio on his belt, "Sergeant Borne, send up a transport for a group of seven brats to transport to the Jonesboro holding facility. Let command know we have two adults for questioning and will be bringing them to the command center. The violating aircraft is secure."

It was abundantly clear Kurt wanted more information, but the last thing he wanted was for the kids to get split up, so he made a single nodding motion over to the kids, said nothing and stayed down, holding his side.

The lieutenant then pointed at two men who had gotten out of the rear of the trailing Humvee. "Keep the brats company until they are nice and cozy in Jonesboro. I have a deuce and a half coming."

He then pointed to the two men who had come out of his vehicle, "Make sure the plane can't go anywhere, then secure the prisoners for transport to command.

Seconds later the two men pointed their assault rifles up at the cockpit and sprayed it on full auto-fire causing the nine passengers to all duck further down and several to let out fearful cries.

Once the lieutenant was satisfied, he supervised the securing of Jason and Kurt, glanced back at the seven kids, gave another snort, then made a twirling motion with his left hand over his head. A couple of minutes later the only sound the seven kids heard was their own crying and the sound of an approaching truck.

The two men left guarding them, moved up to each child one at a time, yanked the kid up to his or her feet and very roughly frisked them from head to toe, even taking off their shoes and turning out all their pockets. Harlan made the mistake of trying to take back his wallet and took a hard fist to his stomach for his trouble. He fell gasping for breath, only to get yanked back up by his hair and searched a second time. This time the men took his jacket and belt before the bigger of the two took the belt and swung it so it hit Harlan across his face with the small buckle. Blood erupted out of Harlan's nose even as he screamed.

"Anyone else?" the big man with a trio of stripes on his shoulder demanded even as he spun the belt threateningly in front of the faces of each of the other kids.

By this point the kids were too terrified to even be angry. Each of them shook their heads as a few started to cry even harder.

The big man cracked a sideways grin, "Didn't think so!" He then moved back to Harlan and slammed the belt over the boy's back five times before dropping it on the shrieking and sobbing boy. The man then rolled Harlan over with his boot and looked at the boy who still had blood pouring out of his nose, "Just so you know, I have decided to take a very special interest in you. We aren't done yet."

By this point Harlan could do nothing other than curl up into a ball and sob. Making matters worse the big man pointed at Noah and Todd who both started to move to comfort their friend, "What, you two want to be next?"

This forced both boys to shake their heads even as someone they had known for nearly their entire childhood was wracked with sobs only a few feet away. For nearly ten minutes the kids stayed down, their pockets turned out, their shoes tossed over to the side, and Harlan crying uncontrollably. Finally, a larger drab green truck with a canvass back pulled up and a quartet of men jumped out the back all with assault rifles over their backs.

One of the men moved up to the large guy with three stripes then down at Harlan, "Problem child, Sarge?"

The big man snickered, "Not any more. Segregate him, though, I'll be giving him some personal attention when I get done here."

The man nodded and grabbed Harlan, easily lifting the thirteen year old up. He carried Harlan over to the back of the truck and tossed him in even as the other three grabbed the others one at a time and much more gently assisted them into the back of the hard to climb into big truck. It took only a couple of minutes to get the kids in the back with the help of two others who were still in the back. However, Harlan was kept off to one side, while the others were all forced to sit away from their close friend.

As soon as all seven children were in the back of the large truck, the man who had tossed Harlan in the back looked over the kids, "I am hoping we don't have to waste cuffs on you." He then held up a set of disposable ziptie-like handcuffs.

One after the other the kids shook their heads, even Harlan who was starting to calm a little. The man nodded in satisfaction. "Good, make sure I don't or what happened to your buddy will seem like a trip to Disney World." Even though the seven kids got the message, none of them could figure out why the statement caused all the other men in the back of the truck to start laughing as if the statement held some kind of deeper meaning.

The truck then angled away from the runway over to a side road. As it got into the trees, the forest seemed to explode in gunfire. The cab of the truck was hit with multiple bullets and all the tires blew within moments.

Even as the kids all dove for the bottom of the truck, with Noah yanking Kent down, two men in camouflage fatigues appeared at the back of the truck and opened up on the men guarding them. Two of the men in the back of the truck managed to get off a few wild ineffective shots before they fell, blood gushing out of multiple spots.

One of the two men shooting into the back of the truck jumped up and in, pumped a point blank round into the face of the only moving man in the back of the truck and grabbed two large ammo cans. He didn't even bother to look at the kids, let alone talk to them as he tossed the captured ammo out the back. Even as more men came out of the woods to assist, nothing was said to the kids. A second man jumped in the back to help, but finally paused long enough to look down at the seven kids, "You are all in a war zone and need to get out of here! We got your shoes, so stay put for a minute then get clear of here!"

"War zone?" Todd managed to ask with wide eyes.

The man tossed a couple more ammo cans out of the back, "Yeah, we are with the Mississippi National Guard, and these assholes are with the Ashwood Government. They have secured pretty much everything around here and are even now pushing north and west. You are a good ten miles behind enemy lines and getting further behind them with every minute. You need to get somewhere and lay low!"

"Can't you take us with you?" Hazel pleaded.

"Sorry, we are barely able to take care of ourselves, and are raiding when and where we can…"

"But they took my dad!" Noah shouted.

"Kid, we can't help…"

"Then at least leave us some guns so we can try to get him back!" Noah demanded, even as a few more boxes of ammo were handed down to men on the ground.

"Even if you could find him, it would be suicide, kid…"

Harlan sat up with a cringe and wiped at the still trickling bloody nose, "We can't just let them take Mr. Hatchett and Mr. Calderwood and you can't just leave us out here with nothing!"

Another man moved up to the back and looked into the back of the truck, then over to the man trying to talk some sense into the kids, "They had to have heard us, Sergeant, what's the holdup?"

"These kids want to go after the adults we saw get taken from the plane…"

The man with the single bar on his collar shook his head in frustration, "Damn-it we don't have time for this shit! We are outmanned, outgunned and all but on the run!"

"Then leave us some guns!" Noah demanded again. "We know how to shoot and hunt and junk!"

Todd nodded his head, "You can't just leave us here with nothing! The big jerk already said he was going to do more to Harlan so he will come back for him!"

The man with the bar on his collar punched the side of the shot up vehicle even as he shouted, "Damn-it, fine! Sergeant, leave the dead with their gear and let the kids have it. We need to pull back before those Hummers with the M60s get here!"

The man with the single bar on his shoulder then looked up at the kids, even as another pair of soldiers tossed the shoes they had been forced to abandon back at the air strip up to them, "We'll do our best to take them out, but then you are on your own!"

Before more could be said, the men who had ambushed the truck disappeared back into the thick woods with all the ammo and other gear that had been in the back of the truck except for what was on the dead.

Debbie rushed to the back of the truck and shouted, "You can't just leave us here like this!" But it was already too late.

Todd glanced around at those from his paintball team, "Holy shit, now what?"

Harlan crawled over to the nearest dead man, grabbed the man's assault rifle, and pulled full magazines out of the man's bloody pouches, "Now we do the paintball thing for real, with real rifles and get back Mr. Hatchett, Mr. Calderwood, and kill the bastard who beat me bloody!"

"Are you nuts?" Doug shouted.

Todd closed his eyes for a moment then moved to one of the other dead men and started grabbing the man's weapons and equipment. "I don't see any other choice. I sure don't want to be in some detention center controlled by guys who just went off on Harlan, and I sure don't know about the rest of you, but it sure sounds like President Ashwood just tried to kill us back in Austin. Now his people took Noah's dad and Mr. Calderwood. I think it is time to take some of them out!"

With his entire frame shaking and his voice quivering, Kent looked at the group of kids who were nodding in reluctant agreement. "But I don't even know how to shoot!"

Harlan glanced back with eyes full of anger, "Before this is over, you will!"

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