Castle Roland

Geek Squad

by Kyle Aarons

In Progress

Chapter 19 part e

Posted: 28 Apr 16

Geek Squad

Copyright © 2012 - 2016 by Kyle Aarons and the Revolutions Universe Partnership.

All Rights Reserved

Geek Squad LogoCraig and Alexander moved down toward the dock area at the southeast end of the tiny town of Seadrift. They were the only two who were still wearing the armor given to them by Juan and the other extra-dimensional kids. The others had stuck their armor into rucksacks, other than the helmets. They were too bulky and less flexible than the rest of the armor. Instead, they planned on rolling them up in the thin sleeping bags to keep them out of sight. However, as they moved down to the dock they all continued to wear the helmets since it allowed them to communicate with each other and gave them some vision enhancements.

The exchanges of emails between Scott and Imir had been cryptic. It seemed every phrase held a meaning that had to be looked for. Even figuring out where to go had been difficult because Imir's final message was to go to the waterfront where ocean timbers had yet come to shore. It had been Lane who came up with the suggestion of Seadrift, since if the timber had yet to come ashore, it was still at sea and drifting. So Seadrift made the most sense to him.

The others agreed after some stiff debate. Still the deeply riddled and cryptic messages told everyone including Scott, Imir was trying to throw others off. To Scott, this meant Imir wasn't confident in the communication method being secure. This really troubled Lachlan, who tried to persuade Scott and the others to forget the whole thing, but Scott was locked in. For him, this was a last ditch effort to find his brother and set himself so far apart from the rest of the Race bloodline, none of the crimes his family had been involved with could possibly stick to him.

Even to Lachlan, this thought was absurd. Scott had done a massive amount to undermine President Ashwood, Scott's aunt, and even his own mom. Scott however, didn't see it in the same light. To him, the events in Austin, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, Boulder and probably on the West Coast were all tied to his family line, and it would take way more before he could pull himself clear of those acts of genocide.

Scott held on to his MP5, and spoke into his helmet, "How's it looking, Craig?"

"Real quiet. Only a couple of dozen boats left down here. So far all show heavy strafing damage, a few are sunk, but parts of them are above the water, and the docks here are a mess. Looks like everything that was seaworthy is gone, which is why there is no one in the town."

Alexander broke in, "Scott, I know it said to take the job we had to deal with chilly cub's dad, but I'm looking at boat names, and there is nothing about bears, or dads. Certainly nothing with the name Polar Bear like we all guessed. Besides, Craig's right. All these boats are shot up pretty bad. A few have dead hanging off and they've been here for quite a while. It's just as gross as it was back in Austin, looking in the cars, maybe worse, cause birds have picked on some of them."

"Gee," Justin groaned, "thanks for bringing those nightmares back... and making the worse."

Alexander snorted, "Anytime, Justin."

Steven jumped in with a snicker, "Alexander, that's sick... Funny, but disturbing and real sick. But how about you and Craig look past bears. Lots of animals have cubs: wolves, lions, panthers, leopards, and I have even heard badger young called cubs... although I think badgers are actually kits. I'd have to look it up to be sure."

"Huh," Craig responded, "I'm not sure I have ever heard a badger baby called anything. I'll be interested to know when you find a way to check... Um, anyway, good point. Let me switch gears here and... "Oh, man, Steven, good call! I have eyes on a small fishing boat at the very end of the pier with the name Arctic Wolf. Its super structure has small arms fire... which is totally different than the big holes in the others too."

Scott pumped his fist as he spoke, "That's got to be what Imir meant! Let me take a look. They will be expecting me."

"OK, but I'm going to cover you, and if anyone points a weapon at you, they are going to know what Swiss cheese feels like!" Alexander growled.

"Easy Destructicon," Steven warned, "they are going to be jumpy too."

"I have no heat signatures, Scott, so they may have left the boat for you," Craig informed everyone.

Alexander let out a sharp breath, "If they did, we need to check it over to make sure there are no explosives aboard."

"We don't have that kind of time. We'll give it a once over as we take it out. But I only know the basics of ship navigation and piloting, and only what Imir's pilot showed me."

"Then he may very well expect you to get this out to him," Craig stated. "Basics is all you need to get her out into the bay. Did he show you how to navigate the channels?"

"Again, only the basics on how to read the buoys..."

"All you need to get out past the barrier island and out into the Gulf. Once beyond the barrier islands we will be in deep water." Craig's voice took on a bit of humor as he added, "Besides, don't worry, I know how to navigate channels and how to pilot a boat."

"Your dad's Navy;" Justin snickered, "you better!"

"Yeah, he taught me before I was a double digit, but there is still a possible problem. With any luck this Imir will have some electronic position to go to on board this boat. Cause the problem is, we'll have to get there without GPS sats, so I'm no good once we hit open water. I'm too spoiled. I don't know star navigation or whatever once beyond the sight of land. I've only done GPS."

Steven rejoined the conversation, "I think you have me beat. I live in a desert. My whole experience on a boat, is when a couple of friends invited me on a week trip to Lake Tahoe. We did some fishing and got pulled on a tube behind a speedboat. It was a blast, but I could see land the whole time and there was nothing in the water that could eat me!"

"I'd be more worried about jelly fish than sharks, Steven," Craig only half teased.

"If you are trying to make me less nervous about this, it didn't work."

Alexander chuckled apprehensively, "Yeah, well all this is really freaking easy for all you to joke about. I can't swim, and unless I kick and wave my arms around like crazy, I sink. I can't even back float unless I keep my legs kicking."

"Everyone can back float!" Craig laughed.

"Dude, I'm not about to prove it to you in the ocean, but I sink... like a stupid rock. Even the special forces guys who promised me I would be swimming by the start of the next school year, admit they have never seen anyone with less buoyancy!"

"Wow, I'm going to have to see this." Steven snickered.

"Yeah, easy for you to think it's funny, but one of the Rangers who worked with me told me if I was ever on a sinking ship, my best bet would be to take a deep breath, sink to the bottom, and run!"

The other four wearing helmets all busted up in laughter, causing Scott to get some very odd looks from Lachlan, Lane and Saul. Scott was still giggling and holding his side a minute later as he made his way down toward the Arctic Wolf. Nothing moved as he made his way up the half broken plank and onto the deck. He moved to the small wheelhouse, and called out. There was no response. "I got nothing, guys!"

"Stay low," Craig ordered. "Alexander and I have armor on. Let us do a sweep of the boat."

Ten minutes later Alexander came up from below decks and waved everyone else aboard. Scott was at the wheel looking at a note pad. He looked over as Lachlan came aboard, "Says to get out to the main channel and go east."

Lachlan looked over at Craig, "I'm no sailor. I'm a ground pounder."

Craig turned the key with a cringe, half expecting something to blow-up. Instead the thirty-two foot fishing boat shook as the engine came to life. Lachlan scanned the dock, but saw nothing as Craig maneuvered the boat out into the bay then turned to the east.

Craig followed the channel, keeping it slow so there was little noticeable wake, all the while gritting his teeth. He wanted to get it out from between Matagorda Barrier Island to the south and the mainland to the north. The area was narrow enough to where any good shot with a high powered rifle could hit them from either the island or the coastline.

Things got even more nerve wracking as Craig eased the boat through the dredged out channel just to the south of Port O'Connor. Making it even worse, everyone could see some flickering lights on in the town itself. Craig was certain someone had to have spotted them. Fortunately, there was no activity, and ten minutes later Craig pushed the throttle forward as he maneuvered out of the bay and into the Gulf through the shipping lane cut between the Matagorda Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. As he passed the barrier wall, that helped cut down on sand moving into the dredged cut, a light flashed on the compass, telling him to head at a course of 185 degrees. Craig cleared his throat to get the attention of the others, "Looks like your buddy knew we would need some help finding him."

Scott moved up and looked at the glow on the compass dial. "I'd say go for it."

"I already am."

Scott let out a long breath even as Lane came up from the small under deck. "Looks like we are well stocked with food, and there are even some guns down there. There is also a case of floating targets we can play with!"

Craig's eyebrows shot up, "Keep us on a course of 185! I have some weapons to look at!"

"Oh, me too!" Alexander jumped up and quickly followed Craig.

Lachlan shook his head and glanced over to Steven, who he had figured out within just a couple of hours outside of the bunker was the most mature of the boys, "Should I be worried?"

"No. They both know how to fire and care for more things that shoot bullets than I even knew existed before all this went down. They aren't going to do anything stupid... If there is lots of extra ammunition, they will be up on the deck shooting once we get far enough away from land to where they can do so without being noticed, though."

Lane looked over with some excitement, "Can I too?"

"Oh, brother..." Lachlan sighed, "I don't see why not. It's hard to tell how far out we will have to go and I wasn't there to see you and Saul shoot, so I would like to see for myself how comfortable you both are with firearms. I also want to see your levels of safety and ability to clean the weapons."

Lane's face lit up, "Awesome!" He quickly hustled below decks to help.

The three boys spent over an hour below deck before coming up with an assortment of weapons. Craig looked over to Scott, "I'd say your UAE Ambassador buddy, isn't counting on us being safe until we get to him!"

Scott looked over at a couple of assault rifles, a strange looking cross between a pistol and a rifle, a sniper rifle and a pair of pistols. He moved over to the table and picked up one of the pistols, "Caracal? What kind of brand name is this?"

"Never heard of it," Alexander stated, "but this is pretty cool!" Alexander held the up one of the pistols, ejected the clip, grabbed the cross between a rifle and pistol, and slid the magazine in. "Totally interchangeable clips!"

This got a raised eyebrow out of Lachlan who moved over to the table held out his hand for the weapon. He looked it over, "Caracal... Not familiar with them either... Nine millimeter carbine and pistol with exchangeable magazines. That is super convenient..." he picked up the sniper rifle, "7.62 NATO... and the assault rifles are 5.56 NATO... Huh, any manuals?"

Alexander pulled one out from the pistol case, "Arabic, French, English, and Spanish. We have them for the others, too. They are all brand new, and in cases. We want to break them down and clean them first so we get a feel for them and know how to take care of them before we shoot. There is two one thousand round cans of ammo 5.56, one can of 7.62, and a big box of 5000 rounds of nine M.M."

"And a crate with two RPG-7's with seven rounds for each and a wooden case of frag grenades," Craig added with an all too eager grin.

"Oh, fuck no, you don't!" Lachlan roared.

Alexander busted up in laughter, "You owe me ten bucks Craig! He did cuss!"

Justin couldn't help but laugh as Craig shrugged and announced, "It was worth seeing the reaction... But I really do want to try one of those RPGs!"

Lane looked over with a great deal of interest, "I have heard of an RPG, but what does it stand for?"

"Rocket propelled grenade," Alexander responded way too eagerly. "Kind of like a missile, only smaller, with a big boom when it hits!"

Lane looked over with a silly grin, "Yeah, that would be super fun to shoot!"

Lachlan shook his head and went below to check out the arsenal while muttering, "Ugg... they not only stuck me with a bunch of geeks, they are Rambo munchkins too!"

Alexander shot Justin a wide smile and spoke up really loud, just to make sure Lachlan would hear him, "Now that would be a really cool patch! The Rambo Munchkin Geeks! Justin, you are good at art, think you could come up with something?"

Justin had to force himself to answer before totally breaking down in a giggle fit, "I'm sure I can! Mr. Walker's jacket would look good with a Commander of the RMG's patch on his shoulder!"

Up at the front of the boat, Scott and Steven exchanged fist bumps and nodded at the others even as Lachlan yelled, "You guys are impossible!"

As dawn broke on the horizon, the thirty-two foot boat was well out into the Gulf of Mexico. Lachlan had taken over at the wheel, while the kids had all fallen asleep. Once again, the two younger boys had sought comfort with the older boys. Lane was once again sleeping right next to Craig, while Saul's head was on Justin's shoulders.

The foredeck was littered with over four hundred bullet casings, and the weapons they had used had been broken down and cleaned. The smaller submachine guns had been handed over to Lane and Saul, while Scott and Steven quickly decided to change out to the new carbines. The two had also replaced their side arms with the new pistols, and switched out all their magazines. This actually gave both a great deal of flexibility and time savings, since there was a standard clip.

After some consideration and liking the durability of the UAE made weapons, Lachlan had also decided to carry both. Justin claimed both a pistol and a carbine for himself, but only as back-ups. He really liked having the shotgun/assault rifle combination. Craig liked the UAE sniper rifle, but not as much as his chosen weapon, but like Justin, he stuck a pistol and carbine with his gear.

Alexander, on the other hand, was a small kid, and the submachine gun fit his hands well, so he didn't change out. He did, however, say he really wanted to take one of the sniper rifles. He had proven he could shoot it, too, which surprised Lachlan. But it was simply too big for his frame and even the normally stubborn Alexander readily admitted it was too big for him, at least for a year or two. However, when he was lying prone with the bipod hooked on to the bottom, he found the accuracy amazing.

Lachlan yawned and rolled his neck before looking back out over the very smooth water. It was then he saw a dot on the horizon. "Boys, time to wake up! I have a contact at twelve o'clock!"

Craig was the first to jump up, followed seconds later by Alexander. Craig pulled up binoculars, "It's a ship... a BIG NICE ONE!"

Alexander whistled as he found it in his set of binoculars. "Wow! Now there is a boat!"

Scott groaned as he wiped junk out of his eyes, yawned and stood, "Geesh, you guys are loud."

"Yeah, well, you need to tell us if that is your friend, Scott!" Craig pointed even as he pushed the binoculars into Scott's chest.

Scott let out another long breath and followed it up with a yawn, before wiping his face with his hand. He blinked a couple of times and took a look. After just a few seconds he felt a burst of fear shoot down his back. He had to force his body posture to appear calmer than he felt and keep any external reactions facial cues muted, still it was clear, Justin, who was pulling himself up, noticed a change.

"You OK, Scott?"

"Yeah," Scott answered as neutrally as possible, "just tired and relieved. It's Imir's yacht."

"You a hundred percent sure?" Lachlan asked with a great deal of concern.

"I served on her for days, and watched the First Lady get tasered on the aft deck. I'm sure."

Lachlan reached over and ruffled Scott's hair, "You are grouchy when you get up, you know that?"

Scott forced a grin, "You should see me when I have to get up for school if you think this is bad."

This got some chuckles out of everyone, even those still trying to wake up, proving just how good Scott was at deflecting what his true thoughts and feelings were.

Scott stretched and rolled his head even as Justin whistled, "Wow, it's massive! He owns it?"

Scott forced a smile, "Yeah, it's all his. The Golden Eagle is a one hundred and sixty-four foot tri-deck luxury craft built in Belize shipyards. She has a max speed of about twenty knots and a range of 4000 nautical miles at a cruising speed of twelve knots. If you think she's cool from here wait until you get aboard. It has a hot tub on the top deck and a boat garage in the aft lower deck. When I was on her, there were two heavy Kevlar landing boats with dual outboards, but Imir told me he has a mini sub for it, too. There are also two other Kevlar life boats, one at the aft end of the second deck and one on the front of the first deck. He can deploy a really cool water slide with an anti-shark wire mesh pool-like thing that is thirty-six by eighteen feet and twelve feet deep so there is a safe place to swim. Lawrence Ashwood and I played in it for hours..."

Craig interrupted. He lowered the binoculars and looked back at Lachlan, "Pull back! There is someone on deck waving or something, I want to get a better view."

Saul looked up, "I hope it is someone with something to make my gut feel better."

"Seasick?" Craig asked with a slight smirk.

"If that is what wanting the be on ground that isn't moving is, yeah." Saul sighed.

"So not eating much last night wasn't because you weren't hungry?" Lachlan enquired as he pulled back on the power."

"No, I really don't like this..."

"Well I hate to break this to you, kiddo, but we are at least eight hours away from land, and this is as calm of an ocean as you will ever see, so you need to find a way to eat something."

"Why did I think this was a good idea?" Saul groaned.

"Because you wanted out of the underground base!" Lane giggled.

"Right now, I'd like the small room and the grey walls back..."

"Hold, up!" Steven shouted in warning, "He isn't waving, he's pointing and it isn't at us! He's pointing to the southwest!"

Alexander felt a rush of panic as he looked in the general direction Steven was pointing. The last thing he wanted was for something to go wrong in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, when he couldn't swim. Suddenly he spotted a dot on the horizon, "We've got company!"

Lachlan, Craig and Justin all looked in the direction Alexander was pointing. It was Lachlan who finally found it. "It's a Mexican coastal patrol boat! I saw them in action when we did a quick strike and landing at Tampico. They are fast, but lightly armed and armored. I have heard the last few took off and reports say at least one or two took to piracy!"

Lachlan turned and aimed right at the approaching ship. "Craig, Alexander, Justin! Bring up those RPGs and the sniper rifles. Craig, Alexander, you two were great at hitting the floating targets we tossed out for practice with the sniper rifles, I want you prone, on the foredeck, firing at it as soon as you think it is in range. Justin, you are our next best shot, so I want you with Craig's rifle. If it gets close enough, I want you to use burst fire. Steven take the wheel, so I can use the RPG. Scott, we need you to make contact with Imir, so I need you with Lane and Saul to stay hidden, but be ready with weapons as backup if they try a boarding... I am going to do my damnedest to make sure they never get the chance!"

Steven gestured to the yacht even as the rest hustled to do Lachlan had directed, "They are setting up a couple of big tripod guns over there!"

"Keep an eye on them to make sure they don't point them this way, but for the moment we'll play it as if they are on our side. If they do aim this way, make hard evasive maneuvers to warn me. I am going to stay focused on the patrol ship!"

Two minutes later Craig fired, followed only seconds later by Alexander. The response from the fifty-four foot patrol boat was slow, but a long burst of fully automatic fire slashed into water around the boat while a half dozen rounds hit. The firing stopped almost as quickly as it started, however, as Craig and Alexander both turned their attention to the front gunner. One of the two clearly hit as a figure staggered back and fell off the port side of the still advancing boat.

At the same time, tripod mounted machineguns from the yacht opened up on the patrol boat. The belt fed .50 caliber weapons chewed into the craft hard enough for Lachlan and the boys to see pieces of the craft shred and fly off into the ocean. It only took a half minute before the pilot decided it was time to leave, however, as it turned, it gave Lachlan a great shot into its starboard side. The RPG slammed into the pilot house, sending up a large fireball and knocking at least three crew into the water. The patrol boat continued in circles burning for over four minutes before the flames reached the fuel. The resulting explosion ripped what was left apart.

From below deck, Lane popped his head up cautiously, but looked up at Lachlan, "There's a couple of holes that are leaking down here... um, but wow, that was kind-a awesome! I really want to shoot one of those!"

Even as Lachlan shook his head and motioned for Steven to get the boat closer to the massive yacht, Alexander stood, "I need to make Mom and Dad adopt you so I can have a cool little brother!"

Craig exchanged rifles with Justin even as he snickered, "Hey, I already called him for my little brother."

Alexander shot Lane a big smile. Seeing it returned, he nudged Craig, "Wrestle you for it."


Saul came up and looked around, "Don't none of you care we are sinking?"

Lachlan looked down into the lower deck, "Scott, how bad is it?"

"Just a couple of bullet holes!" Scott shouted back up. "I'll have them patched in no time with what they have down here."

Lachlan pointed to Justin, "See if you can help him. We'll need him up top when we get closer."

Steven motioned to Lane, "Take the wheel and take us close to the yacht." He then called out, "Scott, Justin and I will deal with the leaks! You're needed up here to talk to the owner of this floating palace!"

Scott came up the steps with wet hair. "I plugged them, but there is a repair kit down there. It has the sealant for the plugs I put in. You better look for more, but I only found two holes below the water line and five more real close, but above it."

Scott then came up on deck and looked at the remnants of the patrol boat and the burning gas and oil slick. "Wow, you all blew it up?"

"Mr. Walker did," Alexander responded with a note of disappointment. "I wanted to be the one to shoot it with the RPG."

"Me too," Craig agreed, "but it was real cool seeing one used in real combat."

"Damn, I miss all the good stuff!" Scott then glanced over at Lachlan and sighed, "Next time I get to be up on deck when you shoot it!"

Lachlan glared at the boy, "I'm really not wanting there to be next time, Scott."

"Oh, right on!" Craig only half teased, "That means I get to shoot it next time!"

"Why you and not me?" Alexander demanded to know.

Craig scanned the water around the flaming wreckage with his rifle's scope while fighting hard not to laugh, "Um, because I'm older?"

Lachlan looked up at the sky as he moved to help Lane take the boat in close, "Knock it off you two, before I toss you over the side!"

"You'll have to rescue me before I sink, or I'll haunt you!" Alexander fired back.

Lachlan groaned, "You're both impossible!"

Alexander gave a bow, getting some giggles out of Lane and a grin from Saul.

A few minutes later a man looked down from the second deck of the yacht as Craig put some pads on the side of the small boat so it wouldn't so much as scuff the much bigger yacht, "Scott? Scott Race?"

Scott took a deep breath, clenched both fists and steadied himself for a couple of seconds before emerging from the pilot house, "Right here, sir."

The man's concerned face eased a great deal, "Oh, my dear boy, it is so good to see you again! I assume your messages to me mean you are willing to..."

Scott held up a hand, cutting the man off, "Sir, I give you my word. I am at your total service for the duration of our stay on the Golden Eagle as long as my friends are treated as well as you normally treat your invited guests."

The man smiled and nodded, "For you, Scott, they will be treated as family!" He then pointed at Lachlan, who was watching every move along the deck of the larger ship. "Good man, help the boy with you to the aft, where the garage is. I will have a couple of men there to tie you off."

Lachlan was first to hop over from the boat to the lower aft deck of the Golden Eagle. He had one of the carbines over his shoulder and a pistol at his hip. While he didn't have a hand on either weapon, he scanned the area before waving for Scott to join him.

Imir came out of a back door with a pair of guards. He then pushed their arms down as both went for duplicate carbines at their sides, "Scott, I assume this man is one of your friends?"

"Yes, sir. This is Mr. Walker, a firefighter who helped save us. He was in the Australian Military as well, before becoming an American citizen." Scott moved past Lachlan, while keeping both of this palms visible and upwards. When he got a trio of paces from Imir he went down to a knee and looked up while whispering, "The others do not know of the full nature of my agreement to you, but I am yours for the duration of our stay."

Imir moved up to Scott, knelt and took the boy's hand. He then pulled him up and wrapped his arms around him while speaking softly into Scott's ear, "Then the safety and best of treatment of all your friends is assured by me." He kept his left arm around Scott's shoulders and moved toward Lachlan, "Welcome aboard the Golden Eagle..." He then paused as he saw Craig, Alexander, and Steven jump out of the boat, followed by Lane who got help from Craig and Alexander to safely jump down. Justin then lowered an obviously nervous and queasy Saul down to Steven before he jumped down.

Imir eyed the boys along with the weapons and bags they were carrying. "I assume all these fine boys know how to handle the weapons they have with them?"

Scott responded, "Most are seasoned hunters and we've had to fight a few times before getting clear of Austin. We are all pretty good and know how to handle them safely, care and clean them. Mr. Walker has worked with all of us to become much better, too." Scott motioned toward Lane, "Even the smallest is a deer hunter."

Imir gave a nod in Lane's direction, "With any luck I can get permission to take you for an antelope hunt once all this madness is over. I was planning on a safari, before this all cropped up."

Lane's eyes went wide, "I'd really like that, sir!"

Imir eyed the group for a few seconds before speaking again. "Very well, all of you welcome. I am glad the weapons in the UAE's diplomatic boat were available to you all. Feel free to keep them. I will let you all stay armed, but please keep your weapons on safe. Once we are out of the area, well away from all this smoke and fire, you can all use this aft area to toss out some targets and practice." He then pulled Scott into his side and rather roughly ruffled the boy's hair. "Why is your hair wet?"

"He plugged a couple of bullet holes below deck, sir." Justin spoke up not really liking the quick grimace of displeasure to cross Scott's face before it returned to all but unreadable.

Imir's eyes went wide. He turned Scott around and looked him over from head to toe, "Are you hurt?"

"No, sir, I am fine. However, your boat has some bullet holes. We patched the ones below and close to the waterline."

Imir let out a breath of relief, "I am so glad you are not hurt!" He then looked over at Lachlan, "How about the rest of you? Anyone injured?"

Lachlan was starting to ease. It was very clear the man was concerned about Scott. This made chances of the man trying anything a great deal less likely. The fact he was letting everyone stay armed also was a great sign and show of immense trust. To this end he reached over and maneuvered Saul to stand in front of him, "We are all fine, but this little guy isn't really much of a ship person. Do you have anything for motion sickness?"

Imir pointed to one of the guards next to him, "Take him to my physician, and make sure the crew knows he is to be treated as if he was my son." He then turned to the second guard, "Seeing the way this man and the boys are armed, I am certain I am quite safe. Go tell the crew our guests are armed and there is to be no complaints or mention of this. They are to get the best of treatment."

As Saul was led into the ship, he gave a nervous look back, but a single nod from Scott seemed to calm him a great deal.

Imir took note of this and gave Scott another hard squeeze, "He trusts you a great deal."

Lane spoke up, "We both do, sir. They saved Saul and me from the poison and kept us safe all the way to the boat."

"Ah, I am very interested in this. I have heard Austin was attacked by gas, your President Ashwood ordered attack, no less. How did you make it?"

Lane moved a step forward, since it was clear the man was talking to him, "We were on a field trip at the capitol and a bunch of the government people ran past us saying the main shelter had been bombed. We got separated from our class…" Lane pointed over at Lachlan, "Mr. Walker grabbed us and pulled us to the side or we would have been squished from everyone running over us. Then we saw the governor and Steven, Craig and Justin. They motioned for us to come with so Mr. Walker carried me and held Saul's hand so we didn't get knocked over again."

"They all were going toward the big freezer, but ran out of room, so Steven shouted to get to the nearest restaurants and get into the freezers for at least an hour, but not overfill so there would be enough air. We ended up together in a taco place with the people in the restaurant. Craig and Justin grabbed cans of flat tire fix junk out of a crashed ambulance and made sure the door was really air tight. Steven made us stay in until we started to get sick from no air... When we got out, the sirens were still going but there were dead people everywhere... then we found a found a police car... Craig took the guns off the guys inside and got the shotgun out of the back. Alexander did the same to a Homeland Security car. It took us two days to get out of the city, and... we had shoot-outs a couple of times.... there were dead people and even dogs in cars... it was... But we got lucky and found a Army truck with really good guns, so we took them. We only had two more fights, but they ran away super fast when they found out what type of guns we had!"

Imir held up a hand, "All that matters right now is you are alive and safe, although, the waters of the Gulf, are not without threats, as you have seen." He then looked over at Steven, "Also, I was able to pick up what you said on the floor of the Texas Government. You are a remarkable young man and should be beyond proud of how you handled such pressure. You all should. Now, is there any other gear you want off of the diplomatic boat? If not, I am going to have a couple of my men takes some extra fuel aboard and take it to Belize to get repaired."

Craig looked over his shoulder, "The RPGs... and I'd like to keep one of those sniper rifles..."

Imir laughed, "Craig Bickford, correct?"

Craig's eyes went wide, "Yes, sir. How did you know?"

"You, young man, I know of. In fact I have four or your solar water collectors on order! I looked up your bio, and it is quite impressive. I am very glad you are one of the survivors as well. I am honored to have you aboard! Now if you could make a large one, capable of hundreds of gallons, I could help make you wealthy beyond your wildest dreams, for I could line up hundreds, if not thousands of yacht owners all of whom would love to be able to replenish fresh water while out at sea without any power draw from the ship."

Craig smiled, "It's already being worked on."

"Then, I will be a repeat customer!" Imir smiled widely while giving Scott another squeeze. "Why don't I have my men get all the weapons off and stored for you and possibly us, although I hope this was an isolated incident. However, I must warn you, President Ashwood has placed a ten gold bar bounty on each of you science contest winners, alive, and one if dead. This means there is 124 kilograms of gold out on each one of you, or right about five million dollars, before the decline in the dollar price. This means if anyone finds you are out here, they will find it tempting to attempt your capture. As long as you are on board this craft, however, you are under my protection and by default, the protection of the UAE. Now let's get you settled in, so you can all clean up. I will have a meal ready for all in an hour or so. Would you prefer breakfast or a lunch?"

Steven was not bashful in the slightest, "Any food is fine by me, sir."

Alexander glanced over, "Eggs would be great!"

After a second, and having his brain get over the fact the President of the United States had a beyond massive bounty out on five of the kids with him, amounting to about twenty-five million dollars, Lachlan glanced over at Alexander, "I'd have to agree, breakfast sounds really good."

"Fine. I will see you up on the second deck in the main dining area for a good breakfast in say an hour and twenty minutes?"

"Sounds real good," Lane nodded.

"Excellent. Leave any clothing you want on the floors of your rooms I will have a maid do your laundry. If everything is dirty, do not be embarrassed to come to breakfast in the robe, nightshirts and slippers you will find in your closets." Imir again ruffled Scott's hair, "Why don't you get your friends into guest rooms on this deck then come up to the stateroom?"

Scott gave Imir a nod of deference along with a smile. "Yes, sir."

Imir squeezed Scott's shoulder, "Oh, and provide my staff the rooms, so they can drop off smaller robes, shirts, and slippers for the boys."

Lachlan took a quick shower and found a very nice robe with the words Golden Eagle and a bird in fight embroidered into right side. He also found a long white nightshirt he could wear under it, with the same logo. Putting it on, he knew instantly, the nightshirt was silk, and the robe probably cost more than any three of his best suits combined. He double-checked all his weapons, verifying no one had touched them, before sliding the 9mm pistol into the pocket of the robe.

Once out into the hall of the lower cabins, he found a maid entering the room Alexander had picked. He eyed the woman, but she was only in the cabin for thirty seconds. She walked by, noticed him in the door and stopped. She lowered her head and closed her eyes as she spoke in highly accented English, "Room up ex...spect...a...son?"

Lachlan smiled, and nodded, then realized her eyes were still closed and head lowered, so she couldn't see the gesture, "Yes, everything is fine."

She didn't move so Lachlan rubbed his freshly shaven chin and frowned, "I am fine."

"Give per..mizz...un to con..tine..ue?"

The light bulb in his head went off, "Oh, yes, you may continue."

"Need not for, ask if need, yes?"

"Yes, I will be sure to ask if I need anything, thank you."

The woman moved down to the room Scott had taken. It had two small beds, so Saul could stay with him. The woman quickly entered with smaller robes, shirts and slippers, while taking out the larger ones and moved down the hall.

Lachlan shook his head, feeling sorry for her. She was behaving as if she was catering to some billionaire with a highly inflated ego. He paused then glanced back at her, "Poor woman, probably is a servant to a billionaire!" He shook his head and moved up to spiral staircase, and into the beyond extravagant ballroom. It was currently furnished with two round tables with chairs that dripped of being super expensive. A serving line was being set up by two men while two others were setting the table with crystal glasses, silver trimmed plates and, the shine coming off the tableware told him it had to be real silver as well.

As overwhelming as this was, he found some comfort in it, since the twenty-five million in gold bounty was probably a pittance to this man.

As Lachlan approached the table, yet another man moved from the wall where he almost blended into the background and pulled the chair out for him. A moment later a woman came over with a silver serving tray with crystal decanters of orange, apple, and tomato juices. Lachlan was feeling more out of place by the second, but figured it was not his place to step on toes, "Um, apple, please."

With one hand under the heavy tray she picked up the apple juice and poured it into the crystal glass in front of him then moved off. It took a few moments for Lachlan to realize he didn't hear a single clink of glass the whole time. The woman was extremely good at her job. He started to believe everyone onboard was equally skilled in his or her specific tasks.

The other boys showed up, and were subjected to equally professional treatment. As Alexander sat down he looked at the place setting, and then over to Lachlan, "Um, which one is the cereal spoon and what am I supposed to use for the butter knife?"

Lachlan took a sip of the apple juice and looked at the place setting in front of him and the way it was laid out. There were multiple forks, knives, and spoons. "Oh, boy... Sorry, buddy, you're asking the way wrong person."

Imir entered from the far side with Scott next to him shortly after Craig and Lane came in. He kept a hand on Scott's shoulder the whole time until he got to the table. "There is no need to worry about formalities at this table. My staff is simply accustomed to having to set it up for the likes of the Ashwood's. Normally my staff would serve stupidly tiny portions and everyone would leave hungry, and be forced to find snacks. This is not the case while you are on the Golden Eagle, however. As a courtesy, I ask you wait until I arrive and am seated, then feel free to move down the buffet line and ask for whatever you want and as much as you want. If we run short on anything I can send word and get more delivered."

Steven was first to take full advantage. He moved down the line and ended up with a huge plate including an omelet, hash browns, and two bagels. Seeing the look on Imir's face, Scott spoke, "He will eat every bit and still be hungry."

Imir openly laughed, "Then I will get a list of what the young man likes and make sure there is plenty on hand!"

The first part of the meal was subdued in tone as the nervousness of being treated like some kind of royalty made it hard to know what was acceptable. After nearly five minutes of near silence, Scott spoke up, "So, Imir would like to hear what we would like to know, and he will provide us what he can at dinner tonight. He even says he can tell me something about Grant!"

This got everyone's full attention. Imir reached under the table and patted Scott's leg as he spoke, "Yes, I have access to some data and can provide you details on what you want. It will not take me much time to put together if I have a list of what you want to know."

Lachlan eyed Scott who had the briefest flickers of being embarrassed or uncomfortable, but the look was gone as quickly as it came. It made Lachlan wonder if he had imagined it. Still, the offer was beyond what any of them had hoped for, so he figured the man really did care about Scott. "Sir, please don't take this wrong, but why... Um..."

"Why would I be willing to part with what I know? Or why, if I have the knowledge, did I hold it close to the vest when I could have saved lives?"

Seeing Lachlan's jaw drop, and being the least diplomatically skilled of the kids, Steven spoke up, "I'm way more interested in the second part than the first, but both would be really good to know."

"First," Imir sighed a little sadly, "my government has been helping Richard Ashwood for over two decades. He has very close ties to people above me and in neighboring countries. He holds enough sway, to where a miss-step on my part could have... would have... meant not only my untimely passing, but that of my entire family line and possibly the overthrow of the UAE by our bigger neighbors. By playing ball, as you Americans like to say, with Ashwood, the UAE gained great favors including military purchases and safety guarantees.

"Furthermore, your country's move away from oil has badly hurt the entire Middle East. Oil was the main revenue stream for decades. While we still serve China, the prices are low and sales are greatly diminished. Richard Ashwood, came to a few of our countries with an offer to not only help us diversify, but also to eventually be able to regain a foothold in the U.S. markets. This was too good for many to pass up on. Thus, to say something, would have hurt my country in many ways."

Lachlan felt anger boiling inside but held it in check, "So why pull a one eighty now?"

"Two things, well more, however there are three main ones. First, and by far the most important to me, Scott asked. Secondly, I see Richard's house of cards starting to fall. He moved too fast and his use of chemical weapons on his own people is beyond disturbing. If he will use such in his own country, I have no doubt he will have no problem doing the same elsewhere. Finally, I have gleaned enough information, which cumulated when Scott witnessed the stunning of the First Lady on this very craft, to have proof Richard's long term goals and those who really pull his strings are in direct opposition to what is most fundamental about my region of the world... Islam."

"So this God's Army thing..." Alexander started to ask.

"The group you are talking about is the Army of God, and its roots extend back to medieval Europe, maybe before, but it got its current vision in your deep South about the time of the Civil War. Getting more on them has proven fatal to those who try, and even having what I know is probably not safe."

"So this Army of God is not Islamic?"

"No, they are worshipers of the cross, but it is as close to Christianity as the fools who blow up children at soccer games are to Islam. Both real religions have their issues, but serve a purpose and a greater good. Quite simply put, anyone who says they don't have a belief in some sort of higher power is lying to themselves and is a fool. Some worship political correctness, one can never insult anyone at any time, only there is no way to do this, so they start the death spiral of making everything an insult and having to protect everyone, where colleges, places of learning and expression have 'safe rooms' to run to when someone hears something they don't like or hurts their feelings, which of course kills free speech, and causes real hatred. Other believe in Mother Earth, a turning of the clock back in time the likes of the Druids, only in the new guise of environmentalism. Then we have the largest group, those who worship the god of big government where it is the government's job to tell everyone how to live, what is safe to eat, and how to take care of their children: it is this which has led us to this point.

"Huge governments take and take and take, give and give and give, but there is no such thing as making everything equal for everyone. Some are smarter, some work harder, some fight harder... fair is a myth, perpetuated by the true elite, Richard Ashwood being one of them. Why? Because someone is always going to rule and someone is going to be rich and privileged. Without leaders there is nothing. No laws, no order and anarchy prevails. However, if you reduce everyone to nothing, then only a very few call all the shots. This, in a simple version, is the grand plan of the Army of God. They command the helpless masses, and the masses do as they are told. A new Stalin or Hiller-like state, only the world, not just a country.

"Notice, it does not matter, far left or far right leads to the same result, masses under the boot of an elite few, millions die, and the fires of massive war that kills millions, or possibly billions more, cleanse us and the cycle starts over. Only the Army of God, or AoG, has no intention of letting anyone fight back. Why do you think Ashwood's first major thrust was to take firearms? No, a single man with a rifle cannot take on a tank, but a hundred men with a hundred rifles sniping from every corner can demoralize even the mightiest army.

"It is this same thinking, Richard's handlers used with planning to let out the inmates in your so-called correctional institutions. Let out the worst of the worst and purge them with outside forces. Calm the masses, make them accept the outsiders, all the while there are now millions of prison cells available to house those who give the AoG problems. It is a perfect scheme.

"The problem is, we were lied to. Sure there is currently a need for more oil, and in the near term, the U.S. will need outside supplies of energy as it rebuilds, but it will never fully rebuild if the AoG has its way. There will be less of everything. This war will wind down and the price of oil will really sink since the global demand will fall. This will allow the AoG to target the currently oil rich countries and topple them like dominos. With energy under their control, everyone will get used to having less, then the cycle can be repeated in a different reincarnation, two or three more and the new world is down to subsistence living where the church is all powerful like it was during the inquisition, only this time, it will have thermonuclear weapons at its disposal. What happens then? Well, they come after whoever is next, only they will have untold millions to throw into a crusade like purge of the next enemy. They have already shown the use of chemical weapons is completely justified, and I believe you will find nuclear as well, once you get into the fault lines of California. Even if the UAE survives until this point, eventually the likes of Richard will set their eyes on my home and my family."

"Sir," Lachlan stated with a gulp, "you are scaring the shit out of me."

"Good. Fear is a fantastic motivator if used correctly, to give you a reason to fight back even harder than you already are."

Imir finished off his juice and stood, rubbed Scott's shoulders. "Scott, if you would, take their questions, then join me in my stateroom. You can assist in my research."

Scott took down several questions before taking the list up to Imir. The rest of the day, the others did a whole bunch of shooting, enjoyed the hot tub, and had pretty much full access to the yacht other than the pilot house and the stateroom. This included a couple of hours in a VR game room just in front of the engine room. They all realized, as they played, what Scott had said about Ricky's RPG simulator was correct. The super-rich would definitely be in the market for such an expensive toy.

By the time dinner came around, Scott looked tired. He excused himself after eating only a single burger, saying he had heard everything and wanted to take a nap.

Imir, on the other hand appeared to be quite cheerful. "So, some of these I have no clue of or about. You actually have a great deal of the information I thought I was going to be able to provide. However, I can highlight a few points and add a great deal of information on a couple more.

"First, let me say, I will give you a great deal of information on this Operation Funtime, and even some of the hidden deeper uses of the operation, but I will save it for last, because I am quite sure you will NOT want to eat anything else once I give you the outlines I know of."

Alexander looked at Scott's empty chair, "So that's why he wasn't very hungry, huh?"

"That among, other reasons, yes. Now since you were first to speak up, why don't we cover a question Scott told me you asked about. The removal of police protection, and why. The whole point is to use the released prisoners to fight the police. It is hoped, and it sounds like it has been pretty successful in several areas of your country, the massive release and arming of criminal elements would overwhelm the police. People would have to fend for themselves for a time, many of them from the released prisoners. This is supposed to destroy confidence in local governments. It will also provide an opening for the outside forces, of which the UAE is not part of, but Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan are, among others. After all, they may have been blasted back in time, but they have untold thousands of young men who will fight and die if it means a chance to get out or send money home.

"Anyway, where they are coming from is not important. What it comes down to is acceptance. No one in your country would accept an outside force, especially if they come in and enforce martial law. However... and this is the key: With the police unable to protect, and the average person stuck in a terrifying state of having roving bands of hardened criminals doing whatever they want, anyone who comes it will be looked on as a savior. It goes back to my statement of worship of big government. The locals can't do it, but the national government found them help, even from the outside. Oh, and Martial Law is safe, and it will go away, but will it? No, but it will be loosened up to give the appearance of being lifted. People will then get used to the new restrictions on everything from travel to rationing. Everything is OK, because the Government is taking care of them."

"I'd fight back!" Craig growled.

"Some will, but then they will be labeled as part of the problem, oh and there are all sorts of jail cells freed up for the likes of you."

"Oh, man..." Alexander cringed, "I can actually see how that could work!"

"You're intelligent and free thinking. Most in your country, and in many other parts of the world, are being taught how to be neither. Even the radicals in my own religion are helping to further this by forcing people to think inside a line of tightly controlled religious views. It is how they get a teenager to blow himself up, after all."

Seeing everyone at the table other than Saul cringe in understanding, he continued, "Next up on the list is monetary collapse. This has been halted by several companies and is one of the biggest nails in Richard's coffin. He wanted to take away buying power of not just people, but major opposing forces such as Mr. Bryce. Instead your dollar has devalued by about nineteen percent then stabilized. While this gives you less overseas buying power, it also lets you sell more because foreign currency buys more of your goods. This will tip trade balances to you, not destroy your economy. This is also the reason why I am willing to tell you what I know, because this cornerstone of Richard's plan is also hurting him financially in a huge way.

"Months ago, he started divesting his American wealth and put it into other currencies and a massive amount in gold." Imir pulled at his mustache for a second, "Oh, what the hell, this could prove to be interesting. I have no idea who you all have the ear of, but if you can contact someone who can do something about it, there is a massive holding vault in Venezuela," he pulled out a piece of paper and scribbled down some numbers, "middle of nowhere, no roads, and built right into the side of a mountain or rock or something. My company helped in the construction, and while I cannot give you details on security, I assure you, there will be some. The eighty bars of gold he put out for the capture of all the science contest winners is pocket change compared to what he has stored in there."

"Oh we can find someone to get us there, or at least get there themselves." Craig stated with total confidence.

"Be ultra careful. This isn't just Richard's gold, but I believe it may be an AoG vault as well. Hitting it will get the kind of attention you don't want."

"There's ten bars of gold on my head," Steven snorted with a great deal of humor, "I'm pretty sure, the attention is already on me."

"This is true, but Richard is not in command of this AoG, they have some sort of shadowy council, or something along those lines in command. Angering Richard, is only scratching the bigger beast."

Lachlan took the offered piece of paper, committed the coordinates to memory and handed it over to Craig, "You realize if you memorize it, you are putting a bigger target on your back."

"Nice!" Craig studied the numbers for several seconds.

"Yeah, hand it over, Craig," Alexander demanded. "Twenty-five mill or so isn't nearly enough on our heads!"

Lachlan slapped his forehead, even as Imir snickered.

Imir took another drink of water, "The world needs more boys like you all. When you get older, teach others to think like you do." He looked down at his note pad, "Oh, yes, next up removing wealth. Anyone who makes real money has tangible assets. This is things you can feel and touch, not cash, yet have real value. Jewelry, antiques, coin collections... any type of collection really, cars, boats, electronics, right down to camping supplies and the like.

"With money crippled, and in many Richard-held areas, it is, and he wants it to spread westward, he knows there will be an underground economy, a black market. He has put pieces in place to control a huge portion of it. This means as people buy from it, he and his people are taking the real wealth away. The more he drains, the less people have and the more dependent they become. This means he will be able to put rationing in place easily, since there will be nothing to buy anything with within a relatively short period of time. He also will search out and wipe out opposition with his outside forces' help."

"How?" Lachlan asked in total confusion.

"Probably the same way he is bringing in outside troops and military gear." Steven stated as he saw the plan starting to unfold in front of his eyes. "At the end of week one you bring in a whole bunch of food and let people buy it for a little, week two you bring in less and make them pay more because you are controlling supply and demand. By week five or six a can of soup will go for a gold earring. At the same time his people give out rations, but dwindle them weekly, so those who have something to get more food with will do so until there is nothing left. Then, right before people really starve, more food becomes available... Everyone breathes a giant sigh of relief and thanks Ashwood for saving them. He's a hero and he also has all their stuff."

"Very good!' Imir praised.

"I've gone hungry for a few days and was just so darned happy food become available, I didn't care where it came from, so I get it."

"I'm sorry to hear that, but in a large swath of your country, as long as Richard stays in charge, millions will be dealing with the same thing. Incentives of food and other supplies will also be offered for turning in trouble makers as supplies start to dwindle. It turns neighbor against neighbor and puts all trust in the machine Richard came ever so close to building. While some above me may want to see this happen, I am quite happy to see it teetering and about to cave in on itself."

Imir took a deep breath, "I do want to warn you about something as we talk this over. Richard has really set things up to look like New Orleans is where most of these supplies are being brought in. I have it on very good authority, this is not the case. New Orleans is a heavily fortified trap. The real ports being used, I don't know. But he has a couple for troops and military supplies and a couple others for expendable supplies for the citizenry. By this I mean everything from food, to clothing to toilet paper. My information tells me, New Orleans is mined with only a couple of safe channels and there are rocket and conventional artillery all over down there. Trying to hit it would be an annihilation for whoever is stupid enough to go for the worm Richard's people are dangling. The tempting targets are also fake and or filled with troops, too. At least this comes from a very trusted source of mine."

Imir pushed back from the table, "The last thing I want to cover is this Operation Funtime. There are some big amusement parks in the Orlando area. I am sure you know them. Well, they have been taken, yes as in confiscated. The bigger parks are being used as massive internment camps to hold undesirables. This is Richard's words, but this is one of the reason there is so much Islamic support behind it. For the number one undesirable is what you call gay, or homosexual. Islam has strong tenets against this and the more radical the elements within Islam, the more zealously there is about purging these people from the planet.

"Richard, also groups in others as undesirable. These include those who supported others such as Mr. Bryce, and those who are a threat by what they know. This includes most of you, for a reason you probably don't even realize. "Hunters and those who can live off the land are undesirable. He doesn't want hunters providing food to starving masses while he is trying to crush them. He also doesn't want their love of freedom to seep into the masses of city loving people who have never done anything other than go to a store for food.

"It goes deeper, too. Richard has a hatred of those who are artists and artisans. They don't work or make things others want. They have to go, unless they make what he wants. Therefore, part of this whole operation is psychological training, by force, of those with artistic talents. A cartoonist who churns out nothing but things pro-Richard is needed, after all. The same with songwriters, singers, and the like. In Richard's world, as in much of Islam, you can't have someone singing about a 'rabid media' when you control it. Nor can you have a song about tearing down the government. You do need songs about the greatness of the state and the glory of a great leader.

"In simple words, you are looking at a massive reeducation center for anyone who does not fit into Richard's version of a perfect citizen. It is being maximized for the most discomfort as possible without making it totally unsanitary and therefore unsafe to tend. After all, he is hoping they will be able to reenter his society as models of the perfect citizens.

"However, as horrible as this may sound, the conditions are beyond poor. While I have never heard a number, Richard, along with those running the operation, has a percentage he does not want to survive, plus any who do will be so broken, they will cease being a threat. There is also talk of drugs being introduced into the water. This may be talk, but I don't think so. What these drugs are supposed to do is unknown to me, but I can guess. My supposition to you is they would be used to cause massive discomfort in some way. I am not even talking about getting sick, although sickness is possible. Just think of having ten people in a small room with barely enough room to sleep and suddenly everyone gets bad gas."

Saul's eyes went wide, "Aww, gross!"

Imir pointed at Saul, "Indeed."

"The people being taken there will not be the types who stand for it, though," Lachlan argued.

"True, and riots are expected. They have all the tools ready. CS gas, water cannons, razor wire, electrical fences, and any non-lethal ammunition you can think of. I know. My arms manufacturing company got a contract for two and a half million rubber rounds, a half million beanbag shotgun rounds, and a quarter million CS canisters just to name a few items. All of them went to the Orlando area."

Imir let this soak in for a few seconds, "Now are you ready for one of the dark ops buried within Funtime?"

Lachlan cringed and looked around at the stunned faces of the boys, "Is it suitable for kids?"

"Is any of this?"

"Better to hear the truth than end up living it and not know why," Justin countered.

"You make a good point," Lachlan sighed as he reached over and patted Justin on the back. He then nodded to Imir to continue.

"The living conditions are set to make life all but unbearable, especially for those with children. However, they have sections of the camps set to offer children better housing, food, and care. These areas are in view of the bad areas and look nice. However, they are far enough away, to where there is no contact between the kids and the bad camps. The goal is to get parents to send and kids to willingly go over to the other camps. They then do physicals and some other medical testing. Those who pass whatever these tests are, are then funneled out of the camps and are taken for some other reason. One of my people said they have a special train set to transport the kids somewhere. It was not a train he wanted to ever have to be on, so it didn't sound like it had the greatest accommodations. At the same time, others are... well let me be polite, auctioned off to outsiders."

Steven's eyes narrowed, "The kids at the temple... they were being trained..."

Imir held up a hand, cutting Steven off, "I am surprised you know of the temples, but this is something different. The temples are another source of income for Richard. He uses a cult, in the guise of a church, for his temple project. He has had the temple project going long before he ever became president. However, it is not being run by the AoG. He told me at one point it was unclean and not something he could have a direct part in, quite the contradiction, if I may say so."

"Makes no sense at all!" Craig snarled, "But one of my friends was taken from the temple and I want to find him!"

"I can make some subtle inquiries if you wish, but if he is in the temple system, he will not be the same kid you knew. Also a name will not do me much good, because they change them as part of the conditioning. I need a very thorough description. I can then place the order through a third party, if I can find him. It will not be cheap, however."

"I'll give you a couple of the big water collectors once the bugs are worked out and they are built."

"Then get me a description and I will see what I can do."

Lachlan couldn't contain himself any longer. "How is it you know of any of this?"

"Because I was offered a child from one of the temples." Imir answered honestly. "Looking back, I think it was a test. By refusing I passed and Richard confided in me more."

"Why would he offer you one of the kids?"

"In Islam, it is not a problem to marry a much younger female. There are also those who have uses for boys. At some point you may wish to look up the term bacha bazi. While the term itself comes from Afghanistan, it is practiced in many Islamic countries in similar forms. However, the practices in Afghanistan and into Pakistan have been exposed enough to where you can find out what I am talking about. I will say no more because of current company. But I digress. By offering me a totally compliant... mate... he was seeing if I was someone he would see as unclean. At the time I did not know this, but nevertheless, my refusal of the 'gift' gained me my first step toward his inner circle. I am Muslim, however, so I was never allowed all the way in."

Justin shook his head, "If you know all this was going on, why didn't you try to stop it?"

"I am, through you and your contacts." Imir stood, "Now I should go check in on Scott and an early bedtime seems to be calling. It has been a very long day. Keep in mind, my family is still at risk, so I will refute anything I said at this table, and will not speak of it again. As it is, my life is now forfeit to this Army of God and Richard should he catch a single whisper of it. I am fearful, since the small craft found us in the middle of nowhere just as you were approaching, that the AoG may have found I have provided some aid. This means you all need to stay alert and know, I trust every member of this crew with my life, but when this Army of God wants something, they find ways to make sure they get it. I hope I am being clear."

Once Imir was out of earshot, Lachlan glanced around the table, "We just got a whole lot to chew on, and need to find a way to get this information out to those we know. We also need to keep watches while on this ship."

Steven nodded, "Scott has a copy of the camera card. We could use those same images and send them out in a file as soon as we get access to the net. Mr. Triumph has the yearbook and the software to translate it quickly."

"Good idea," Craig responded. "It's a new form of code only we seem to know about..."

Alexander eyed the others, "I'm more worried about a spy on board."

Craig took a long breath. "We need to monitor their communications.... I just wish Keith was here, so I could verify, but Justin and I really checked this ship out. There are two radio areas that run to the main antenna array that we found as we poked around. One is the pilothouse. The other the engine control room. If someone is going to put out a call to this Army of God, they will do it at night when the ambassador is not around and less people are around. I can get into the pilothouse, someone else needs to keep an eye on the engine room."

"I will." Alexander stated. "But what about tomorrow night?"

"One day at a time," Lachlan cautioned. He then glanced over at Craig, "And I want to know how you are going to sneak into the pilothouse where there is only one way up there and it is behind a locked door."

"I'm going to put on my magic ring and go invisible."

Seeing everyone looking at him he smiled, "Yup, I'll just walk right in."

"I need to see this to believe it."

Craig shot Lachlan a smirk, "You can't, I'll be invisible."

Steven cocked his head to the side, "You do realize we are on his ship and there is no good way off, right..."

"Don't worry, I won't get caught, but even if I do I will play the curious kid card and deal with whatever."

Lachlan signed, "For the record, if he beats your ass, or worse, I'm not going to stop him, Craig."

Craig shrugged, "Fair enough."

Trevor groaned as he noticed a flash communication come over. It seemed like every time he was about to get some rest in, another twist or turn reared up an ugly head. Even as he slid his chair over, he thought he was ready for more bad news, but as the report came across he felt his gut churn. With a shake of his head, he queued the very small attached clip. He looked at it in disbelief and really felt as if his blood had turned to ice. He shivered and winced even as he re-queued it and played it a second time. He stared at it, paused it, backed it up and replayed it a half dozen times. It lasted only quartet of seconds, but it was enough, more than enough. A cold sweat popped up on his forehead as he queued another very short video clip and verified the image. With a shaking voice, he turned back to the guard, "I'm going to need the President again, but be warned he is NOT going to be happy!"

Three minutes later Ashwood came back into the main computer room, "Judging on the look on the man who just got me out of bed, we have more bad news… What now?"

"Sir, one of your teams found Olivares' family."

"The little shit in the hover chair?"

"Yes, sir."

"How is this bad news? I thought you were interested in the older girl?"

"Oh, I am, but those guys in the weird helicopter showed up again. They took out your entire team and the whole area looks like a war zone!"

"They got away again? With the family?"

"Oh, yeah."


"Less than thirty minutes ago. They are already long gone, though. Air support moved in at the first indication of resistance, and arrived within three minutes of the first hint of a problem. They found nothing but dead and no Olivares'. They are reporting it looks like it was a hell of a fight and there really isn't anything left. The worst part is, it was right in our back yard again... Connecticut this time."

Ashwood shook his head in disbelief, "They have to have a base in our area! A helicopter doesn't have a huge fuel range, no matter how advanced and imaging doesn't show a refueling probe... It also means that little crippled shithead must be more important than we thought! Who did we send in?"

"We didn't, your Senior Agent Paulson managed to get a track on them and had one of your outside assault teams, dressed as U.S. Army, attempt the grab. Your God Squad didn't fare any better than the real U.S. Army did in Breckenridge or when they tried to take out Bryce! I have a helmet cam segment… a vid clip showing the helicopter, but… the guy who sent it didn't last long enough to get out more than about four seconds."

"That was an ultra-elite team!"

Trevor cringed, "Yeah…'WAS' is definitely the word you want to use sir."

Keith looked at the message and cringed. "Governor, I have a message coming over for you. I... Caught part of it..."

Hendrickson moved over to Keith, "What's wrong?"

Keith pointed to the screen, "Ashwood... he found Glenn's family... they got them out... but..."

Hendrickson pulled up the coded message and read even as the decryption program continued to fill in the text. "Oh shit..." He paused, as he read the next section and let out a long breath."

"What am I supposed to tell him..."

"Keith, telling him news like this is not your job. It is mine. If you want to be there for him, I am sure it would help, but it is totally up to you... However, it sure looks like this next part is for you, buddy, and it is much better news."

Keith reached up and grabbed the notepad, "They got Mom and Ty and they are safe!!!" His momentary exuberance faded, "But... I'm not supposed to be happy... Glenn's brother..."

"Son, hearing your family is safe and secure is something to be happy for. Also keep in mind, Glenn's parents and sister are OK and his brother is alive."

Keith chewed on his bottom lip as he looked at the rest of the document. "Sir, they want us to go out to the Read!"

"Yeah, I know... Do me a favor, get Ricky and Joey, let them know they may as well go as well. All of you want out of here... and who knows, maybe you can do others as much good as you have done for the Texas Government."

Bickford heard the comm go off asking for the captain to come to CIC. For a few seconds he closed his eyes again. His eyes popped back open as Nathan Teller spoke up from where he was quietly playing a computer game one of the female electronics techs had managed to fit in between the desk, the boy's cot, and Bickford's bed. "Um, I think that was for you, sir."

"Oh crap!" newly promoted Commander Bickford snarled as he realized he was not the XO any longer, he was the captain. It hadn't really sunk in yet. He pulled on his pants, stepped into his shoes, and reached for his shirt only to find Nathan handing it to him. "Thanks, kiddo, you going to be OK?"

"Safest I've felt in awhile. Thanks for letting me sleep in your room."

"Nathan, you have nothing to thank me for. If you need anything..."

Nathan shot Bickford a bucktoothed grin, "I'm the temporary kid of a warship captain on his ship! I'll figure it out!"

Bickford gave the boy a quick squeeze on the shoulder while snickering. Still, he looked back only to get a little wave from the boy. He moved toward CIC quickly, but his thoughts remained on the child. The kid was so much like his Craig it was eerie. The kid was wicked smart, an admitted loner, and much preferred adult company over that of the other two kids who were both just starting to talk. He also realized the boy may very well be an orphan, and if he was... There was no way he would let the kid go... Hell, he admitted to himself, he would have a hard time letting him go if they found the father.

His thoughts were interrupted as Lieutenant Reeves looked up, "Sir, I have an authenticated message on the new codes. We have a pair incoming helicopters, one with at least one badly wounded."

"Who's sending them and where are they coming from?"

"One is coming from Texas, the other from a raid, but they aren't giving details. Message is crystal clear. We need to be ready with a burn team."

"OK, let's get a FOD crew on the flight deck and alert medical. How far out?"

"Not sure, but... this has got to be about the strangest message ever..."

Bickford moved up and looked down, "Don't bother to look for them on radar? What type of BS is this?"

"Hell if I know, sir. But if it's true we don't want anyone with an itchy trigger finger to fire at a friendly."

"Good point, Let Commander... um, Captain Kopland know what we are expecting and do a tight beam communication over to the others. Does it at least tell us what type of birds to not shoot down?"

"Yeah, a Huey and a Chinook..'.

"A Chinook?" Bickford looked down at his comm officer with bewilderment, "You can't land a 'shithook' on our deck!"

"Message says they will do a half touchdown, and we need to be ready to extract the wounded..."

"I'm not refueling a bird that is only half on my deck!"

"Looks like they were expecting you to say just that. It says right here refueling is not going to be needed... on either one."

"We are over a hundred knots offshore! Those birds have got to need some juice to get back to where they came from!"

"Not according to this, sir."

Bickford eyed Reeves for a few seconds, "OK, fine, get me a fire crew on standby, and get our most stable and trusted people on the point defense guns just in case one or both tries to ram us or turns hostile. I want the rest of the ship on battle stations lockdown. If they are carrying that much fuel, they are nothing but flying bombs!"

Craig made his way up through the lounge with socks on but no shoes. He was nearly silent as he moved. Once again a combination of martial arts and gymnastics were helping him in other parts of his life, this time to be stealthy. The ship was really quiet, but he did note a man walking along second deck with a carbine over his shoulder. The man was fixated on watching out for external threats, so Craig simply stayed low and moved to the spiral staircase and past the stateroom. He noticed some odd, yet highly muffled sounds, from within. In a way he was glad Imir had decided not to go to sleep and was instead watching a movie or something. The muted sounds coming from the room would mute any telltale noises Craig might make. With a nod of satisfaction, he then slid in a spot between the four steps leading up to the wheelhouse, and the wall. It was tight, but it was also dark.

He then went back to what the kid, Logan, taught him. At first he thought it was a joke, but with Logan's help something was opened in his brain. It really was as if a piece of him suddenly started working, and even weirder, he could feel it happen. Yes, he had heard how the brain couldn't really feel, since there were no nerves, but whatever Logan had done, caused a noticeable itching tingle in the front of his head, but deeper in, where the brain was. Ever since, Craig had spent hours inside his small room in the bunker practicing, and it was super weird. He could bend light, kind of like a prism could separate the waves of light, Craig could do so mentally. In this, he figured he was much like Ricky. Once he knew he could do it, and then believed it, and he readily admitted those were two huge hurdles... But once he got past those two points his knowledge of science allowed him to take it to the next step.

The problem was, it required real concentration to get things moving and was draining on him both physically and mentally, although it was getting a little easier. Because of this drain, however, he wanted to get as close as possible to the door to the pilothouse. With his spot picked out he closed his eyes and concentrated on the limited light in the area. As this happened the spot he was in grew a little darker.

Craig was about to stand when the very subservient cleaning lady came up the stairs with a tray, but this time her head was up and she looked a great deal more self-confident than he had seen her. Craig found this interesting, but other than to take note, he was happy with this turn of events. The door would soon be open and he wouldn't have to open it unnoticed, which was the biggest hang-up in his plan. Besides, if he could slide in through the open door instead of picking the lock, he would make even less noise than he had planned.

However, as he kept himself as still as he could make himself, he heard an odd noise. Forcing himself to keep concentration of the growing light manipulation around himself, he opened his eyes again and watched as the woman scanned the area, then tipped a small tube of liquid into the glass on the tray. She then recapped the glass tube, reached down, and slid the empty vial into her shoe before rolling her shoulders and returning to her normal head down and meek appearance.

His eyes narrowed as he realized he had accidentally found the spy. He also knew, the woman wasn't timid at all. She was trained. This meant he was outweighed and probably outmatched. Unfortunately, he couldn't hide away. The door would only be open for a few seconds at most. He had to get into the wheelhouse and find out what the woman was up to.

However, he had another thought, he just hoped it would work. He waited until the woman lightly rapped on the door. He slid out from his hiding spot and directed all his attention to keeping light bending and staying quiet. Doing both was not easy. He must have made a slight mistake, since the woman turned and looked even as the door was open, but the moment the door did open she dropped her head back down and focused on the man at the door.

As the woman was ushered in with the tray, Craig moved. He stayed low and managed to snag the edge of the door before it shut. He then slid in and kept close to the wall. He slid along the wall centimeter by centimeter, bending light around himself as he went until he had the center control area between him and the pair. He then focused on making the area he was in darker.

The woman, while keeping her head down, turned to look at the door. Her frown was barely discernible, but there nonetheless. She said or did nothing as she held onto the tray and carefully scanned the door as it finally shut. It was clear she was looking at something, but after nearly three seconds she turned slowly back and spoke in Arabic to the man at the controls. Even though Craig didn't know the what was being said, it was clear by her tone she was just as deferent with the crew as she seemed to be with the Craig and the others.

She handed the man a meat wrap that had the strong smell of lamb, then handed him the drink. The man gave a nod, took a bite, clearly found it a bit more spice than he had expected, and took a long drink. He then said something which sounded harsh.

The woman took a step back and responded with what almost sounded like fear, but again Craig had no clue what she actually said.

The man took a couple deep breaths then gulped down some more of the liquid. A few seconds later he started to wobble.

The woman lost all pretenses of being subservient as she stood up straight, moved up the man and started talking to him.

He responded by handing over the ship's log then his movements become hesitant, as if he was fighting to not do what he was doing, but another sharp set of words caused him to shake his head as if to clear it, then he moved over to the radio. He punched in a sequence and took a step back. He then stood there swaying back and forth with a bit of drool coming out of the corner of his mouth.

"Oh, crap!" Craig whispered just loud enough for his ears to hear. He then went into deep thought, "Justin, dude, I need you! I need you in the pilot house right now! Bring Alexander!" He stayed down and kept thinking it over and over even as the woman switched to perfect English and started speaking into the radio.

"This is infiltrator Laura Hernandez with a flash message to our Lord Bishop."

A deep male voice came back, "Infiltrator Hernandez, we have not heard back from our strike team. Was there a problem?"

"They were eliminated. There was nothing I could do."

"This is grave news. Those were good soldiers of God. It tells us you are facing a skilled opponent. What is your status?"

"I am still very much secure. I was correct, Assadir was in contact with units opposing God's Army. It turns out some of the wanted ones from Austin have been in contact with the ambassador and are now aboard."

"Do you know how they survived and where the enemy of God's Army, Hendrickson, is?"

"I have no information on Hendrickson. I heard enough to know these here separated from the political force of Texas as panic broke out. Those here say Hendrickson took over a main freezer and waited it out. Those here survived in a freezer of a food establishment not far from the capitol, but I do not, as of yet, have a location. If true, you will find one with urine and human feces in jars, since they waited out the attack until they were almost out of air, so they used what was available."

"Shows a great deal of resourcefulness. Do you believe peasant children could have pulled this off?"

"The account comes not from them but a peasant simpleton child with them, so I believe it to be accurate an account as there is to be had. One thing I am certain of, is I have five of the science winners on the ship with me. It appears one of the youth holds sway over the ambassador and may even be able to get information out of Assadir, although I do not believe any information has yet been given. He has not met privately with the only adult who is certainly the boys' overseer and the peasants are too weak-willed to let youth hear of such matters. However, the one with sway, and the one who convinced Assadir to take them in is currently sharing the bed of the worshiper of the false prophet. A deal struck in secret for safe passage."

"So he is unclean, but extremely resourceful. Give me your position and we will send enough to make sure they do not slide through our fingers again."

"This comes from the logbook as of twenty minutes ago and current compass reading is one seven six." The woman then started to read out the longitude when Craig jumped up and slammed into her with everything he had. He slammed his left index finger deep into her eye as they tumbled to the ground, hoping to get a quick overwhelming advantage.

She screamed in pain and rage, but even though she had a ruined eye and blood was running down her face, she delivered a nasty elbow, knocking Craig all the way back to the wall and splitting his lip wide open. She then yelled out the longitude again. She got out the first two numbers of the latitude only to get a stocking foot into her mouth. She took a step back, choking on her lower front two teeth, but did drop down and sweep the legs out from under Craig, knocking him on his butt hard.

She fought to swallow the two teeth so she could finish the position when the door to the pilot house blew inward from a twelve-gauge slug. Justin moved to shoot at the woman, only to get the silver tray, flung like a Frisbee, hard into his chest.

Alexander jumped over Justin, pulled his pistol and fired a single shot, only to watch the woman roll out of the way. She then pulled a knife and threw it.

Alexander spun out of the way, but felt it graze his side.

"Bitch!" Craig roared as he saw Alexander grab at his side. He tumbled right at her and, as she reared back on her knees to punch, he did a handspring over the top of her then kicked her in the back, sending her face into the lower part of the command console.

This gave Alexander a chance to get around to her left side, so even as she lunged at Craig, his foot caught her in the throat. He then followed it up with a knee into the side of her head.

This sent the now stunned and unable to breathe woman helplessly toward Craig. He saw a wide open shot and took it. He punched her with everything he had, dead center into her Adam's apple, totally crushing her throat. She went to the floor convulsing and fighting to find air that would never again enter her lungs.

Lachlan, came running into the pilot house with his carbine ready, followed seconds later by Imir, a few guards, and Scott, who had a silk sheet wrapped around himself and looked even more tired and disheveled then he did earlier in the day. Imir instantly motioned his guards off even as he moved to his ship pilot.

Lachlan saw Justin holding his chest, Alexander with a hand on his side, dripping blood, and Craig who looked to be a bloody mess and scanned the room with near panic. "What in the hell is going on?"

Craig put a hand up to his bloody mouth, went over to the radio on shaky legs, and shouted into it, "Hey, dickhead God's Army asswipe, your bitch is dead! You're next!"

Alexander put his hand back on his side, "Don't think he even heard you, the channel is silent."

Craig covered his mouth, shook his head, put his back to the wall, and slid down, "Ouch..."

Imir moved up to his nighttime pilot, and shook the man. Seeing the man do nothing other than stand there blankly, Imir screamed at him and finally slapped the man only to watch the guy fall and look up as if wondering why he had been hit.

Craig pointed to the woman's left shoe. "He's drugged...The drug she used... The vial is in her shoe."

"What in the HELL happened?" Lachlan roared, yet again as he looked around the room trying to make sense of what he was seeing.

Craig let out a long breath, even as Scott moved up and pressed the silk sheet onto his badly split lip, "Mr. Walker, give him a second!"

Steven moved in and cringed as he saw the sheet getting blood soaked, "Scott, that's silk..."

"I have others and can always buy more." Imir spoke as he moved over, found the vial in the woman's shoe, and noted she was wearing three more throwing knives under her maid skirt. "I've known Maria for over seven years... And I happen to agree with Scott, we need to give him some time..."

"We don't have it and her name was really Laura Hernandez, and worked for the Army of God." Craig forced himself to stand with an assist from Scott. "She got a message out over the radio; they have our lat and the first two numbers of our long. They are going to send something way bigger than a coastal patrol boat..."

"The radio is secure coded to prevent..."

Craig hung his head down and spit out some blood, "The drug did something to him... super fast too... he tried not to enter the code, but he just couldn't. I'm betting he'll do whatever you tell him..." He winced badly as Scott pushed the sheet back onto his lip. He then whispered, "Dude, I heard what she said about a deal between you and Imir. You didn't have to sleep with..."

"Not another word, Craig," Scott hissed, "I did this for Grant as much as anything."

"OK, but..."

"No Craig, stop."

Craig held up both hands, "OK, fine, but if you want to talk, or whatever, I'm here. That's all I was going to say."

Scott helped Craig over to a chair, "Thanks, but I'll live and I'm going right back in there once this is cleaned up... Why do you think he just handed over what he knew?"

"Didn't really think about it, and I sure didn't..."

"My call, Craig. You've been shot twice and beat to a near pulp this time. You took several for the team, this is my turn and my decision."



Imir's physician came in with a medical bag, looked around with wide eyes and turned to Imir.

"Take care of the boys. I'd start with that one." Imir pointed over to Craig.

Craig waved him off, "Check the other two. Mine is a split lip and a pounding headache. I'll live. Besides, I have an idea. I need a sea chart and we need to change heading. They have a rough fix, and we need to change course."

The daytime pilot got a nod from Imir, who was experimenting on his night piloting, telling him to stand on one foot, cluck like a duck, and pick his nose. The man was doing all three.

The lead ship pilot pulled out a sea chart and handed it over, then looked across to Craig and spoke in Arabic.

Imir shook his head at his nighttime pilot, told him to stop what he was doing then told him to spin in circles until he got too dizzy. Imir then glanced over at Craig, "He wants to know where you want to go."

"I want to be..." He turned to look at Steven, "The missiles what course did they come in to Austin at?"

"They were traveling almost mostly north, but coming slightly from the east, I think there track was about 325 degrees. Why?"

"Because… OK, 325 so they came from 145... speed of a cruise missile about 550 miles per hour... they were about fifty minutes out..."

He put the map on the table dripping some blood on it as he did so, "550 miles an hour, about 9.1 miles a minute times 50 minutes... 455 miles out at a heading of 145 from Austin..." he dabbed some blood off his lip and used it to put a small circle on the map in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. "I want to be right there!"

Craig then looked over at Steven, "Get Governor Hendrickson or Keith on the scrambled shortwave radio Keith made us and tell them to have Bryce contact my dad. I need him at the launch point again!"

He then glared down at the dead woman and spit on her, "Let's see what your AoG asses do when they find a U.S. Navy missile destroyer waiting for them when they are expecting a yacht!"

Keith eyed the USS Charles Read with wonder as the helicopter angled down toward her. He had seen plenty of pictures of warships before, but seeing one up close was truly awe inspiring. He looked over at Ricky, "How awesome is that?"

"Pretty amazing," Ricky agreed nervously. "But that is a really small dot we have to land on compared to the ocean around it!"

"They do it all the time." Joey stated with wide excited eyes. He really did feel bad about the report of Glenn's brother being badly hurt, but right now all he wanted was a tour of the ship below. "Don't worry, Ricky, this is what they do, and this is going to be so awesome!"

"Good, but I'll still feel way better once I am standing on it. Oh, and if you think my mom will be mad about everything else we've done, me being out here in the middle of the ocean surrounded by guns and sharks... Oh, man, no way am I ever going home!"

Glenn leaned forward and looked down, noting a much larger helicopter than the one he was on departing and crews scurrying around. He could just barely make out what appeared to be a stretcher being hustled into the hangar area just forward of the flight deck. "Do you think that was my brother?"

Keith let out a long breath, "I don't know, Glenn. We'll find out as soon as we get down there."

The pilot spoke up loudly, "They want to sweep the deck before they bring us in, boys, so they want me to make pass to look for potential hostiles while we wait. Keep your eyes open, but you can also see there are three other warships out here along with a supply ship. Currently there is: Read, Worden, Provider, CG Riptide, CG Cherokee. Three subs underwater: Olympia, Regent, Prince. By tomorrow, there will be two more Bryce loyal Coast Guard ships out here with you too. You'll be in real good hands."

Bickford was not happy to be heading back to the missile launch point and was certainly concerned about taking on unknowns from unidentified and unmarked helicopters, but orders were orders and he was reluctantly doing both. The world situation seemed really odd. Since the fleet had been ordered back to the sarin gas launch point, but the Read had been ordered to take on the guest, so even as Kopland was getting orders, the same person was bypassing Kopland to give Bickford commands. It was flatly not the way the chain of command was supposed to work.

He watched as the first helicopter came in hard and fast. The pilot was beyond good, holding the starboard side of the Chinook on the back of the ship, while the port side hung off. First off was a tall skinny looking man with long hair. He was wearing flip flops, a tee-shirt, and shorts. He grabbed an equally skinny kid off, also with long hair, but Bickford still guess it was a young teenage boy by the baggy cargo shorts, running shoes, and baseball cap, that was quickly lost to the rotor wash and went out to sea. The boy moved to grab it but was pulled back by crewmembers of the Read. The tall man then helped a lady out, and there was no mistaking the figure, her breasts even in the gloom of red combat lights were eye catching.

The next ones off were one man, two women, one boy and one girl. They were helped off by deck crew while the Read's medical team rushed up to take a stretcher. The reactions of his team, and how quickly they moved the stretcher in, told him whatever the situation with the wounded, it was not good at all.

The last three helped off had the look of a group of totally shell-shocked non-combatants. Two adults and a child huddled together. The child reached out in the direction of the stretcher, but it was already in, and the two adults showed no signs of letting the smaller figure go.

The incredibly quiet helicopter then took off and banked hard to the north. Bickford grabbed the comm, "FOD sweep! We have another bird coming in! Munoz, you get a radar signature off of her yet?"

"Not even a sparrow sized speck, sir! What the hell is that thing made out of?"

"No clue, Petty Officer, but I'm damned glad it is on our side! Lt. Reeves, radio the second bird, five minutes. Crew of the Read, it looks to me like we are about to have some more civilians on board, and several are kids, watch your language and button up all classified documents!"

Even as the second helicopter angled in, Bickford was buzzed again, "This is the captain, go."

"Sir this is Lt. Marquez. The injured is a small boy and the parents are freaking out about not being able to be with him."

"Shit! Let them stay close, then. As soon as this second bird comes in and all our guests are safely aboard, I'll be down!"

"Captain," Lt. Reeves voice came back over the comm, "Sir, I have another flash message coming across and..."

"Take it for me Reeves!"

"Sir," the voice told more than the words did, "YOU really need to get down here!"

"Screw protocol! Patch it up to the bridge. Everyone up here has security clearance."

"OK, sir, but do us all a favor and sit down."

"Reeves, patch the damned thing through!"

"All yours, sir... All yours."

Bickford moved up to the radio, grabbed the headset and put it on, "This is Commander Bickford of the Read. I have my hands full at the moment, but go!"

"Commander Bickford, this is General Beck of the State Forces of Texas. This message is also going to Captain Kopland, but those of us here figure you need to be point on this."

"What kind of insanity is this, General?"

"Commander, you are about to find out and it will suddenly make a great deal more sense. I am about to patch you through on a multi drone uplink, through a secondary radio, so there will be a delay. I highly recommend you sit your wave riding butt down before I do though!"

Seeing others look at him he decided to put it on the speaker and planted his rear on a stool, "OK fine, but my bridge crew and CIC can hear, sir."

General Beck let out a long breath, "OK, here it goes... Golden Eagle, you now have direct communications with the Charles Read and it's commanding officer, Commander Bickford. Proceed."

Craig looked at the radio and back at Steven, "My dad's in command of the Read? You sure you don't want to do this for me?"

Steven picked up the binoculars and looked aft with a cringe, "No thanks, but I'd love to have some popcorn or something, because this is going to get reallllllly interesting."

Craig flipped off Steven getting nervous laughter from all the others including Imir and Lachlan. Craig took a very long breath, "Charles Read, this is Craig Bickford aboard the Golden Eagle."

Commander Bickford heard the voice and knew who it was even before his son said his name. The bridge went dead silent as all eyes turned to their CO.

With a trembling hands Chase Bickford found his breath after nearly two seconds, "Craig, how in the hell... no... strike that... why are you talking to me on a secure military frequency?"

"Um, well because we kind of... well... Dad, how about we talk about this later?"

"Later? Are you kidding me? I was just told you were in a secure location in Texas a few days ago!"

"Yeah, well, we were... but Dad, um... really this is not the time for this..."

Chase forced a deep breath, "OK, what exactly should I be talking to you about, son?"

"Um, well at the moment I'm really hoping you are closing in on the missile firing point..."

"About twenty-five nautical miles out... Um, wait, why and how did you know where we were going?"

"Yeah... about that... Um, those orders... ah, they kind of came from me..."


"Um, Dad, really, you want to kick my butt, great, cause I really need you here... Um, the faster the better...."

Captain Kopland broke over the radio, "Craig, It's Kopland, what's wrong, son?"

"Well, um... sir, we seem to have really pissed off the wrong people. I'm in a yacht and we have two Ashwood allied Argentine flagged Drummond Class corvettes on the horizon. We are slightly faster than them, but not by much!"

"Battle Stations!" Kopland and Bickford roared at the same instant.

Chase Bickford then shouted into his headset, "How close are you to the missile launch site?"

"Be on top of it, or super close, in a few minutes, Dad. Those warning shots they keep firing from their main guns are way too close for my liking though!"

"If you can turn on a course of 139 without getting too much closer, do so and keep it at flank speed. Don't stop, just blow right past us!"

"You got it, and we are turning at 139 now, Dad!"

Kopland, aboard the Worden, radioed over to the Coast Guard cutters, "You are faster! Flank speed, get me a visual so I can send few missiles up their asses!"

Bickford spun and watched as a strange chair with a boy in it was lowered off the helicopter, "Flight ops, get that damned bird off my deck or secure it. Engine room, if you can find an extra one hundredth of a knot out of our turbines, make it happen! Radar, light up the waves! I want a track on those two Corvettes!"

Seconds later the helicopter took off and headed toward the missile launch site. At the same time a voice came over the comm, "Flight ops, we are secure, sir!"

Munoz voice came over the comm, "Captain, I have three large targets, if one of those is a yacht, she is a big bastard! Tracks says the lead one is being perused by the back two, though, sir! They are all but headed right for us!"

"Good!" Chase snarled. "Fire control, get me solutions on all three targets just to make sure. We fire on the back two as soon as we have visual confirmation!"

Two minutes later Lt. Reeves spoke up, "Sir, the Huey that dropped off the four kids says they have visual. The lead ship is a yacht!"

"God, I wish I knew if we could trust them..."

"Sir, this is flight ops, since all of this is going out over the ship comm, the kids that were dropped off assure us we can. They say they were with Craig and are some kind of science contest winners that were there when you talked to your son when they were in Austin. One of them is in a hover chair and says he roomed with Craig. His name is Glenn Olivares, and his family was who came aboard on the other helicopter. It's his little brother we are working on in the med bay!"

Chase spoke back into the radio, "Craig, do you know a kid in a weird... hover chair or something... and do you trust him?"

"Glenn?" Craig responded in total astonishment, "Yes! He's one of the best friends I have and I trust him with my life!"

"Good, because you are about to!" Chase then spoke into the comm, "Fire control burn those back two bastards!"

Seconds later two missiles left the Read, followed moments later by a pair from the Worden.

Bickford watched the smoke trails even as he shouted into the comm, "Munoz, sound me off the tracks!"

"Both birds on target. Same with those off the Worden, Sir. Just under two minutes to impact; ours will get there first!"

Chase kept his hands on the console, gripping it so tightly his entire hands turned white. A minute fifty-seven seconds later Munoz called out, "Hit!" Two seconds later he shouted again, "Hit! Worden's birds coming in... Hit!... Hit!"

Craig's voice came over the radio, "Dad! They're both burning! You got 'em!"

"Keep heading right past us, son!" Chase shouted. "Until you are well out of their range this isn't over!"

The lead Coast Guard cutter came over the radio, "I have visual on two burning ships!"

"You in main gun range?" Kopland demanded to know.

"Yes, sir!"

"Then light those bastards up until they surrender or sink!"

"Sir," Callahan's voice came over the comm, "our gun is coming into range of the closer ship now. I'd be more than happy to give an extra greeting."

"Great idea, Fire Control! Let's send them a half dozen long range kisses and see if it gets them to strike colors!"

Even as the main gun on the Read belched out a series of shots at a distant dot of smoke, the Worden did the same. Two minutes later the lead cutter reported one of the two was breaking up and the other was clearly abandoning ship and listing badly.

Kopland ordered rescue operations while the Golden Eagle came into visual range for those with night vision goggles. Senior Chief Michaels looked her over with a whistle, "Sir, your boy has this all figured out! If you are going to be out here, you may as well do it right!" He handed the NVG binoculars over to Commander Bickford.

Chase took one look and shook his head while he pointed at the distant dot, "He gets out of an ass beating for this, if and only if, I can get a tour of that!"

This broke the tension on the bridge a great deal as laughter rolled across the whole bridge.

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