Castle Roland

Geek Squad

by Kyle Aarons

In Progress

Chapter 20

Posted: 11 Aug 16

Geek Squad

Copyright © 2012 - 2016 by Kyle Aarons and the Revolutions Universe Partnership
All Rights Reserved

Geek Squad LogoGlenn angled away from the helicopter and across the landing deck of the Read. Even as he did so, he could feel the ship shudder slightly and could tell in short order the ship was picking up speed. The deck crew seemed agitated as they beckoned him, Joey, and Keith to get into the bay. Behind him, two of the crewmen combined to grab Ricky's crutches even as another man scooped up the boy and hustled past Glenn with the startled boy in his arms.

Getting into the helo bay, a small security team was there, as were a pair of men with a large medical kit. Around the security and medical people, were a couple of people Glenn was totally shocked to see. First, his sister Kris, was at a hatch leading deeper into the ship. She wasn't being prevented from going in, but she was too busy holding on to the edge of the door to notice him. It was as if she was uncertain what she wanted to do.

Next to the tied down helicopter was another person Glenn knew pretty well. It was Quade, his sister's boyfriend. The kid was nice enough, but far from the brightest bulb in the human genetic pool. And while Glenn's mom got along well with Quade's mom and dad, Glenn's dad detested the boy. Glenn really didn't get why this was. If anything, Glenn was pretty happy to see him even though Quade was almost three years older. It was no secret, Glenn's dad wished Quade would be much more like his considerably brighter, more athletically inclined and outgoing older brother Doug.

Glenn pretty much had the opposite feelings. Doug was a macho sports fiend, tough teen who played three sports, and had a football type build. Glenn figured the kid probably got better grades than he really earned because of looks, build, and his prowess on the sports fields. The older teen also rode a dirt bike, rock climbed, and was totally uncomfortable around Glenn. Quade, on the other hand, wasn't the bragging sports star type. In fact he was just the opposite. Even as Quade and Kris became more interested in each other, Quade and Glenn had formed a bit of a symbiotic relationship. Glenn tutored Quade on math dozens of times. In exchange, Quade helped and even occasionally played with Glenn. The kid also had something Glenn needed at first: really skinny and fairly long arms. Quade could almost effortlessly reach places most could not, and Glenn flatly couldn't when it came to minor maintenance on the hover chair. Without Quade, Glenn would have had to have torn his chair apart dozens of times to make minor or quick adjustments or repairs, where Quade could reach in and around things and do it without even removing the housings. Eventually Glenn redesigned a few things, but those first few months would have been a great deal tougher if Quade hadn't been willing to get his hands dirty and spend time with the 'crippled kid down the block'. Words Doug had said several times, including a few when he knew Glenn could hear.

Glenn guessed it was Doug's attempt to get Quade to back off, but it didn't work at all. If anything, it lead Quade to spend even more time over at the Olivares' house. This in turn, ended up with Quade helping Glenn fix his hover chair a few times. Quade was also one of the few older kids who had no problem throwing a ball with Glenn, for an hour or so, while most of the other kids did stuff Glenn couldn't do. It was not uncommon for Kris to complain that Glenn was trying to 'steal' her boyfriend to which Glenn usually responded that if he had a real sister he wouldn't have to. It had led to more than a few verbal blow-ups and reduced allowances for both Kris and Glenn.

Glenn moved deeper into the bay, noting Quade's mom and dad were both looking pretty stunned, and the man's shirt had a bad burn mark on it. Mr. Stoughtenger's hand was partially covering the burn and looked like he had a cold pack or something pressed up against the area under the burn mark. At the same time, Mrs. Stoughtenger was leaning on his shoulder and looked pretty distraught. She also didn't look her normal super-model self. She wasn't in nice clothing... Glenn shook his head, that wasn't really true, she was in a nice dress, and had jewelry on, but it was dirty and there was some singeing on the dress. He had been told his brother had been burned during a rescue, but the more he looked, the more he realized, whatever had happened, hadn't just got Jose.

Another glance around the bay only verified this further, for one of the corpsmen was working on yet another boy Glenn knew quite well. Braxton Grider was Jose's best friend in the whole world, and the two boys spent so much time at each other's homes, both sets of parents were referred to as mom and dad by both boys. Seeing Braxton getting a blistered arm wrapped in fresh sterile bandages while he held onto his own mom with everything he could muster while the boy's dad stroked his hair was heartbreaking to Glenn. The younger boy was almost a second little brother since he spent so much time over the house.

While all this was beyond troubling, the hangar also held a couple of other people. One Glenn was able to identify because he had seen the woman's picture on Keith's phone. At the same time there was a boy who looked a great deal like Keith, but had sandy colored, very straight hair, and was built a little more solidly than Keith. Glenn had heard Keith say his non-identical twin brother was stronger than him, but Keith claimed he was faster, more agile, and way smarter than his brother Ty. Looking at the boy, Glenn realized he could pretty much see all three traits in Tyler. However, the way Keith talked, his brother was pretty dumb. Looking at Tyler, the kid didn't look stupid. If anything he was paying more attention to what was going on around him than all of the others combined. In fact, the boy was looking right at Keith, but because Keith was in full armor including the helmet, there was no way Tyler could identify him.

Glenn glanced over at Keith and spoke into the helmet radio, "So, Strike-Comm, how you going to explain the silenced MP5, combat armor, nine mil pistol, and combat knife to your mom?"

"The same way you are going to enlighten yours to your folks, but you have the added fun of the street sweeper you managed to mount with quick release clamps to your chair so you can either shoot it from the target display we added to your helmet or grab it fast and shoot it normally."

"Yeah, I am already getting wide eyes from the two guys with M4s on either side of the door... or is he looking at you and the gauntlets we added to your armor, Waverider?"

"Probably all of us." Joey spoke up as he pulled up his left arm and looked at the thickened band around the wrist of his armor with a rectangular box under it. "At least my new toy doesn't shoot. Just think what they will say when they find out we converted Ricky's crutches to three shot twenty gauges."

Ricky let out a nervous sigh as he moved up to join the others after getting put down and his crutches handed back to him, "I told you all that would end up getting me in trouble."

"It's simple, Skynet," Keith snickered. "Don't tell them. Unless they take off the pads to find the safety and triggering systems, they'll never spot it. They'll just think they are heavy crutches. I mean, geesh they just handed them back to you without a second glance."

"They are heavy, but Mark was right, I am already getting stronger arms by using them, and I am pretty weak. But the outline of the shell ejection ports can still be seen."

"Those reload and ejection ports look like normal molding casts to anyone who isn't looking for your crutches to shoot and they are locked while the safety is on so they don't push in. No way is anyone going to notice what we made them into. Plus, none of us are very strong other than Destructicon and Recon," Joey responded.

"Bull!" Glenn countered. "We all saw you pick up that crate under the museum, turn the handle on the door no one else could budge, and I don't care what anyone says, you buried your pen into the back of that dude's neck who was coming after the governor and us! You put it right through his spinal column!"

"Yeah, Waverider, you are at least four of me, probably more," Ricky grumbled.

"I think you are way overestimating me again. It was just fear of the gas causing an adrenaline boost, nothing more."

"Show me how to get that kind of boost, Waverider," Keith teased, "and the next time I'm behind the plate with a bat I'll send a shot screaming out of the park!"

"I don't really think you need the help, Strike-Comm," Glenn snickered. "The baseball games played in the old motor pool left you with a batting average of over .715."

"They were only throwing fastballs, and taking it easy."

Even though he was wearing full armor, all the others could see Ricky's head cock to the side and there was no question by the body language alone the boy was all but glaring at Keith, "Then why was the next highest average .698 by none other than Waverider, here, followed by .594 and .591 by Destructicon and Recon respectively. Yeah, all really high, but still, you blew away Craig."

"Didn't know you kept stats on all of us."

"Remember, Mom forced me to play on a team, so I know the sport. I suck at it, but I know it. Plus, I had nothing better to do and even if I wasn't on crutches, the chances of me hitting a ball is about the same as us finding Bigfoot... Actually, after all the crazy things we've seen in the past couple of weeks, Bigfoot is a much bigger possibility than me hitting a baseball thrown by an adult. I'm lucky to foul one off when a kid my age is pitching!"

Keith shook his head, "Oh come on..."

"Hey, take a close look... you are now looking right at a person with a ZERO batting average. ZERO!" Ricky let out a long breath, "Getting on base was strictly getting hit by the stupid pitcher or getting lucky enough to get four balls."

"As soon as you get off those crutches, I am finding a batting cage to take you to. I'll make sure you get a hit if it kills me."

"If you're serious, I'll give it a shot, but let me warn you. You will wish it killed you before this is over."

Glenn couldn't help but laugh loudly enough to be clearly heard outside the helmet, yet no one was really paying attention to anything but the sounds coming over the speaker. This caused him to look around. Even the guards at the door, who had been eyeing the four of them and their arsenal of weaponry were focused on the a speaker close to the hatch leading into the ship, a hatch Glenn realized after only a fraction of a second was way too small for his hover chair to get through.

Not liking the fact his chair couldn't get into the ship, he moved forward to take a closer look. As he did so, Craig's voice came over the speaker.

"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!"

Another voice shouted out "Battle Stations!" and red lights went on in the hangar moments later.

The voice that shouted then spoke with a combination of rage and fear in his voice, "How close are you to the missile launch site?"

Craig's voice responded, "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!"

Keith looked over at the others, "Craig's out here with us?"

His question went all but unnoticed, but two heads turned to look at him. His mom looked at the heavily armed and armored figure, "Keith?"

Keith's head dropped, "Oh, crud..."

Glenn glanced over even as he focused on the conversation on the speaker, "Lucky, you, Strike-comm, you get to be first!"

Keith shook his head, stuck his hand behind his back so his mom couldn't see, flipped off Glenn, and took a deep breath even as he looked at his mother, "Um, hi, Mom."

The woman's eyes went wide as her initial reaction was confirmed, "Keith Rylan Shelly! What are you doing here? And... Are those guns you are carrying?!?"

"Ah... Mom... about that...."

"Don't you 'about that' to me young man..."

Glenn looked at the woman with a cringe and spoke softly into the radio, "Bad start, and happy to get to know you Keith Rylan Shelly."

"If my mom wasn't glaring at me right now I would flip you off again sooooo bad."

"All things considered this is going better than it will with my mom and dad, so please continue."

"Open to suggestions."

Ricky responded, "Point to the speaker and say that is our friend and try to distract her until you can come up with something better. We'll try to help."

In front of Keith his mom moved toward him, "...And what is this crazy costume you are wearing? Put those guns down this instant before you shoot yourself..."

"Mom, um, you can yell at me all you want in a minute or two, but I need to hear this! That's my friend Craig I was telling you about on the phone before Ashhole took over!"

Behind Mrs. Shelly, Keith's brother looked over with wide eyes, "Dude, I can't believe you just cussed at Mom! You are going to be soooo dead!"

"I didn't cuss!"

"Yes you did, I heard you say asshole!"

"I didn't Ty, I said Ashhole! As in the former stupid president!"

"No, I heard you say asshole! You cussed in front of Mom!"

Even as Mrs. Shelly got red in the face, Glenn couldn't help himself, "Oh, brotherly love at its best. My money is on the non-geek."

"Until he's out of the armor, Strike-comm has him beat and even then, my money is got to be on Rylan," Ricky radioed back, causing Joey to bust up in snickers.

"Screw all three of you, and you aren't helping!" Keith growled into his own radio while glaring at his brother.

Mrs. Shelly stomped her foot on the deck, "Keith Rylan and Tyler Hudson, knock it off this instant before I..."

Inside his armor Ricky cringed, "Gee, Strike-comm, you definitely got the better middle name. I mean, Hudson? Really? Did someone not like your brother at birth or something?"

"Yeah!" Joey agreed instantly, "Hudson... That's just awful! Almost makes me feel sorry for the poor little hudster."

"Middle name alone..." Glenn snickered, "Rylan definitely wins. I mean, at least it sounds cool and isn't the name of a nasty polluted river in New York and New Jersey."

Even as concerned at how angry his mom was and how mad he was getting at his brother, Keith couldn't help but snort at the back and forth conversation coming over his radio. After only a couple of seconds, and some more comments about Hudson, including being named after an old car and a type of jeans, he literally couldn't help it. He started laughing.

This, in turn, caused both his mom and bother to look at him as if he was insane.

Glenn fired off one more comment into the radio, "You know, I went through a Hudson, Colorado once on vacation. Wasn't much to talk about and smelled a lot like cow poop, so be happy with Rylan, Keith." He then took off his helmet and spoke up, trying very hard to fight off a giggle fit. "Mrs. Shelly, I'm Glenn. Keith is one of my best friends and I am so happy to meet you, but um, we all kind of need to hear what is going on. Craig is one of the other science contest winners with us and it sounds like he may need our help."

At almost the same instant the speaker came to life again, "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..."

"You can!" Keith shouted out as he ran toward the speaker only to get blocked by a man with an M4.

Glenn also shouted out, "Mister! You got to listen to us! That is my best friend in the world out there! You have to let whoever is in charge know the people on the helicopter can be trusted!"

"Please!" Keith shouted. "Let us talk to Craig's dad! Craig told us his dad is the second in command of this ship! We were with him when he talked to his dad when we were in Austin!"

The man at the speaker looked at the only one who had his helmet off, "What's your name, kid?"

"Glenn! Glenn Olivares! Craig and I roomed together in Austin! We are all part of the science contest he was part of with EEL!"

The man with the M4 eyed Glenn for a moment, "Your brother's name?"

"Jose! We were told he was burned and I think I saw him taken in a stretcher while we were circling. Please, you have to let someone know the helicopter crew can be trusted!"

The second Marine guard nudged Kris Olivares, "Your brother?"

Up till now Kris had been in semi-shock, but the light shove snapped her out of it. "Huh?" she turned, saw Glenn and rushed over, "Glenn! Jose was burned real bad!"

"I heard, Kris, but I can't help him right now. I can help Craig!" He turned back to the guard even as he gave Kris a return hug, "You have to let me talk the ship's second in command! It's his son out there!"

The man took a deep breath before he pushed the button on the intercom, "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!"

A moment later the ship shuddered twice as a pair of missiles were launched. As the seconds moved by, a man called out the times and tracks at ten second intervals. All four boys stared at the speaker willing the missiles to hit. The total concentration in their posture kept everyone else quiet and listening to the missile tracks being spoken over the comm.

As missile impacts on the two ships trailing the yacht was confirmed, Keith pumped his fist, "YES! Come on, Craig, talk to us!"

A moment later Craig's voice came over the speaker, "Dad! They're both burning! You got 'em!"

"Right on!" Joey shouted and did something totally outside his normal nature as he turned and gave Ricky a hug who in turn accepted it, but broke the tight grasp quickly yet didn't completely let go.

Keith listened as Craig's father gave fire control authorization to open up on one of the burning ships with the Read's main gun, "Yeah! Blast em!"

Glenn gave his sister a light push, then applied power to back up closer to Keith. He took Keith's hand and gripped it, "Sink them both! Don't stop shooting!"

The boys continued to hold on to each other, but their anxiety changed over to jubilation as one of the Coast Guard cutters confirmed one ship was breaking up and the other listing and abandoning ship. Keith gave Glenn another hard hug and let out a long sigh before taking his helmet off, standing up and looking back at his mom with a nervous grin, "OK, Mom, feel free to yell and smack the crud out of me if you want to."

Mrs. Shelly looked at her son for only a couple of seconds before rushing over and giving him a massive hug. Even as she all but picked her son off the ground, she spoke with tears coming out of her eyes. "What are you doing out here with guns and stuff?"

Glenn spoke up, "Doing his best to help President Bryce turn this war back on Ashwood, ma'am."

She looked over at Glenn with wide eyes, but wasn't about to let Keith go. "How? You are just..."

"Kids?" Ricky asked with a mixture of sadness and disgust. "Ma'am, I'm pretty sure I haven't been allowed to be a kid for quite a while. But what kid I had left was done when Ashwood and his goons came out of the woodwork."

Quade looked over, "Glenn, what is he talking about?"

"Ashwood ended lots of childhoods," Glenn sighed. "Some by death, others by wishing they were dead, and many, like us, who have seen things and done things we can't take back and can't forget."

"Yeah," Keith responded, "it really started right about the time Ashwood's people attacked fleeing kids outside of Breckenridge, Texas. It was right by where we were camping and we were forced to get into a gunfight to protect them and us..."

Ricky interrupted, "Or maybe it was when he tried to kill off busloads of kids trying to escape the carnage of Breckenridge, but the final nail was making us save the Government of Texas as he gassed Austin. Do you have any idea how many men, women, and kids we saw die on cameras even as we were doing everything we could to survive?"

As this was being said, Glenn's dad came out of the door with the red cross on it. Only hearing what was just said stopped him cold. Otherwise he would have run to his son. However, he caught enough to make him take a breath. "Dear God!"

Glenn openly cringed, "Um... Hi Dad. How is Jose?"

The man moved over to Glenn, "He's in bad shape, Son, really bad shape… But did I just hear what I think I did? You... you saw... you really were there? In Austin when the gas hit?"

Glenn accepted his father's hug and blinked away a few tears, "Uh huh."

Joey lowered his head and shook it, "And more, too much more."

Mr. Olivarez stroked his son's hair, while staring at the automatic shotgun mounted to the hover chair. He was torn between shouting at his son and wanting... needing to know more. But after seeing his youngest son horribly burned, just holding on to Glenn was something he badly needed to do. However, he could both see and hear the other boys' sadness. To this end, he looked over at the others, ", how did you escape?"

"We did some quick fixes on an old bunker since the main one under the State capitol had been firebombed by Ashwoodians," Joey looked down as he shuffled his feet. "After we stopped Governor Hendrickson from being killed we kind of took over his security and junk..."

Glenn spoke up as he saw and felt his dad's posture take a harder, not really believing what he was hearing, stance. "Dad, it's true. If it wasn't for Keith and Ricky getting communications and computers up and running so fast, thousands more would have died. They tapped into cameras so they could see what was going on topside even as Keith took over part of Air Traffic Control and helped flights out of the airport. We also tapped into the civil defense sirens so we could broadcast a warning."

"Sir," one of the guards spoke up, "I wouldn't believe it either, but I have seen the live footage. Once we secure these youngsters' weapons, we can get inside and can show you the recording we have of Governor Hendrickson talking to the cameras and turning it over to some of the science contest winners. Our captain's son was one of them."

"Craig." Glenn stated with a hint of a smile.

"The same Craig your mom talked to on the phone? The one who you let help you?"

"Yeah. Best friend ever, Dad. These guys are pretty close, though. Really close. All of them have helped me since I got to Austin. Joey, Ricky and Keith really helped in the bunker."

"OK, so you all got down in some old bunker?" Glenn's father asked. "You managed to ride out the terrorist chemical attack in a bunker?"

"Yeah, but it was not a terrorist attack. It was Ashwood." Joey responded.

"But the news I saw..."

"The news you saw was put out by Ashwood controlled news, sir," Keith informed the man. "If you don't believe us, wait and talk to Craig's dad. He was the one who called and warned us of the attack. It was launched on us by U.S. Navy ships firing cruise missiles. We know, we tracked them from in the bunker even as I was helping to get planes out of the airport without slamming into each other."

"The bunker we ended up in wasn't secure and we only had like twenty minutes to make repairs, Dad."

Joey nodded, "Glenn used his chair to give us power and Keith and Ricky got communications and computers up and running. Justin, Steven, and Alexander made quick repairs and Craig sealed the door from the outside."

Glenn looked over at Joey, "While you were doing the hard work of moving an air purifying unit around so we could stay alive." He then looked back at his dad and Mrs. Shelly, "And Craig, my best friend, was who you just heard talking on the radio. He saved two busloads of kids and was out in it when the gas fell. Ricky, here, broke his leg getting up to the pipes to flood the lower end so we could seal the other entrance with water so the gas couldn't get to us."

Seeing his mom looking at the others with wide eyes, Keith jumped in, "Steven then did the work on the chemical gas and figured out how long it would take to hit the ground so we set off the sirens. We hoped people could pull trash bags over themselves to get out of the first few minutes. It worked, but not for everyone. Others panicked and we watched on cameras we tapped into... we saw hundreds... thousands die."

Keith took a deep breath. "We are all hoping the others are with Craig, too. Steven, Justin, Alexander, and Scott went with him... Actually they went with Scott to try to get Bryce some more information. All of them... all of us... were in Austin... under Austin... and did what we could. You may be mad at Glenn for having a shotgun or even being out here just like my mom is mad at me, but... without him we would all be dead."

Glenn looked back, "Only because we survived to get to Austin in the first place. Without you, we'd be lying in pools of our own blood outside Breck!"

Keith shook his head, "Oh, come on..."

"Come on, nothing!" Ricky cut him off. "You are the one who threw the grenade back!"

Tyler looked over at his brother, "You threw a grenade, like a real one?"

"Not just throw one," Joey answered, "caught it and threw it right back into a truck full of Ashwoodians trying to kill kids escaping from... let's just call it a place outside of Breck."

"And kill us, too. Keith's catch and throw took out all of them or we would all be dead." Glenn confirmed.

Keith hung his head, "Oh, guys, come on! I told you not to say anything about the grenade..."

"Keith, she'll hear about it sooner or later. Besides, it wasn't like you wanted to do it. You had to!" Glenn fired back. "As far as the guns and armor, well, we have pretty much been armed ever since and we all know how to use everything we have. We've all shot and killed Ashwoodians since, too." He glanced over at Joey, "Well, not all of us. Some of us seem to prefer closer combat."

"I'd prefer none..." Joey muttered, "but I guess fate had other cards to play on me again." He didn't let anyone dwell on his comment. Instead he shot a smirk back at Glenn, "But close combat? You are the one who plowed into the guards with your chair and got us some of the weapons we ended up using to finish off the others at the capitol."

Seeing his father looking down at him with very wide eyes, Glenn forced a sheepish grin and shrugged, "Mr. Triumph was nice enough to make me a duplicate chair out of carbon composite, so it seemed like a good idea at the time. Besides, I was and am getting tired of Ashwoodians putting bullet scuff marks on my chair while I'm in it."

Glenn's father's eyes went wide, "You've been shot at?"

"A few times." Ricky confirmed, "We all have. There is a reason all of us are carrying guns."

The lower ranking Marine eyed the kids then looked down at the chair, finally speaking, "Armed, is one thing, but you have automatic weapons." He moved closer and stared at the street sweeper. "Son, is that real and loaded?"

"Yes, and yes," Glenn nodded, "and tied into the heads-up display in my helmet so I can aim it perfectly while mounted. We built some mini servos out of junk in the bunker so it swivels like a turret and can raise and lower too, but only in a forty-five degree arc in front, a four degree down angle and a nine degree up angle. Best we could do with what we were able to scrounge. Oh, and... and if I plug in the retractable cord into the added port on my suit, the laser and sensor we added in makes it all but perfect when I carry it too! Still working on heavy wind setting, though." he added with some frustration. "Something is off with our calculations on buckshot and strong winds."

Ricky looked over, "We need a wind tunnel with various types of loads to dial it in." He looked at the Marine even as he patted his MP5 and now trusted .38. "But don't worry. We keep all our guns on safe until we need them."

Glenn couldn't help but shoot the guards an impish grin as he saw the edginess in their demeanor, "Hey, no need to be so nervous. We were sent here to help out and we are here at the bequest of Governor Hendrickson and President Bryce."

The senior Marine shook his head, "I don't care if you are President Bryce himself. No one comes aboard armed. We'll be happy to take your weapons down to the armory..."

Glenn shook his head, "But..."

Keith's mom looked down, "First off, you are too young to be carrying guns and I am really pissed at EEL for letting you..."

"Mom, don't blame Mr. Triumph or EEL! One of the EEL chaperones was killed and two others shot trying to protect us."

She looked over at the other boys, saw their nods and grim looks and gulped, "OK, so maybe because of what happened you did need to learn or something... But you're on a warship. I'm pretty sure you are safe!"

"Mom," Keith spoke while shaking his head, "Ashwood has people everywhere and there is this other shadow organization supporting him. Bryce and Governor Hendrickson are both trying to get more information on them and..."

"Hold on!" Mrs. Shelly cut her son off, "How and why do you know about all of this? Any of this?"

"Kind of my fault, ma'am." Ricky spoke just loud enough to be heard.

"Your fault? But you're... kids... What you are saying? It makes no sense. You can't be part of President Bryce's... um... whatever in the hell you are claiming you are!"

One of the guards looked over at her, "Ma'am, as insane as what they are saying sounds, the orders to take you and those with you aboard came directly from President Bryce. The same applies to the orders to take aboard those from the second chopper, who... well there are only four of them and we were told to give them top clearance and VIP treatment. I have no idea what or why, but President Bryce considers your son and these other three VIP's and has given them full clearance, as in nothing is restricted to any of them. It's the only reason we haven't pointed our rifles at them and forced them to drop the arsenals they are carrying."

Even as Tyler Shelly stared at his bother with a wide open mouth, Mrs. Shelly, gazed at the two men, noting both were nodding their heads, then looked back at Ricky, "OK, so you are about my son's age... How can this be your fault?"

"It started out as a fun bet, but, well, um, we found a few things we couldn't ignore. Once we saw who and what Ashwood is, we all knew we couldn't let him keep it secret. So I kind of got their help to hack into what Ashwood was doing. "

"Yeah, help is all we did. You did the main attack and cracked their firewalls," Joey stated as he finally removed his helmet. "But, Keith, you are the one who called in the big guns once Ricky poked a few holes so they could gain access."

Keith cringed, "OK, yeah... but I didn't know who Sergei's dad really was."

"Your Russian radio friend?" Tyler finally spoke. "The kid you are teaching English to?"

"Yeah, Ty." Keith shot his brother a smirk and spoke with a note of disgust in his voice. "You should have been nicer to him when I let you talk to him, by the way. 'Cause it turns out Sergei's dad is one Colonel Zolotov, of the Russian Military. He's in command of a large number of Special Forces and also took a bullet for Bryce at some point. The two of them are good friends. Once I talked to him and told him what was going on, he called in some Russian hackers. It is the Russians who really yanked the carpet out from under Ashhole by getting out the word as to what Skynet found behind the FCC firewalls. But Skynet, here, had to make a second hole in the US firewalls so they could do so. All we did was poke, prod and distract. Ricky did all the real work."

Mrs. Shelly blinked her eyes as if trying to clear them. "You... You are the ones who hacked the federal government and got word out about what the FCC was doing to President Bryce?"

Ricky let out a long breath, "Yes, ma'am. The breaking down of the FCC firewalls was pretty much all me. But, Scott was really the key, because he knew where to look. He pointed the way. The rest distracted and I put a hole in the FCC restricted and secret files. I then widened the crack so Keith's Russian friends could get the files out over the net for us. So I really didn't do..."

"Yes you did!" Joey spoke up again. "Come on, Skynet! You and your alternate self got us everything!"

"No, Craig got us the key."

"Craig got the key because he did what you asked him to do," Glenn reminded Ricky. "Your mass-hacks, your computer, your ghost in the machine, your telling us what and how to get into government servers, and you getting into the FRN and getting us access to the hub. All you!"

"But... Certainly the U.S. has better anti-hacking... um... programs and stuff... I mean, you're like ten."

"Eleven, but I'm a small wuss."

"No you're not. You shot at least two people and helped save the lives of thousands including the Government of Texas!" Glenn fired back. "Stop putting yourself down, Skynet."

Keith looked up, "Mom, Ricky, we call him Skynet, here, is the best computer guy I've ever even heard of! And Skynet, Glenn's right. You're no wimp and there is no way any of this is your fault. We didn't know what we were getting into and Ashhole was going to do this regardless. No way can you blame yourself."

Glenn's father moved over to Ricky and put his arm around the boy, "Kiddo, if even half of what I am hearing is true, there is no way you are anything but brilliant. Some work the body, others the brain, and you are clearly a person who prefers the latter. Don't see yourself as anything negative. You aren't. Besides, my son and these others are seeing you as an equal or even their better. I know my son well, and he is not one to give over such respect and trust to anyone until now."

Keith looked over, "Pretty much the same thing President Bryce said to you just before we left the bunker, Skynet. You really need to stop putting yourself down."

Mrs. Shelly's head jerked even as she gripped Keith tightly. "You talked to President Bryce? Actually talked to him?"

"Several times ma'am." Glenn responded even as he felt his father's hand tighten on the back of his neck in astonishment. "He keeps telling us to call him Jack, but I would get in way too much trouble..."

"You sure as hell would," Mr. Olivarez growled, "no child of mine calls an adult by his or her first name!"

"So would my mom," Ricky chimed in. "But, she'll disown me for sure since I not only used a gun, but also went against Ashwood. She worships the jerk!"

"None of us call him Jack." Joey spoke up. "But most of us just call him Bryce or Mr. Bryce now, even when talking to him. He told us to stop with the President Bryce thing since he wouldn't be in a spot to be president without us. Actually we'd probably be looking at another term of Ashwood, or with Ashwood totally controlling the U.S. Keeping Texas' government safe and alive bought the rest of the western states needed time and forced Ashwood to drop bridges all along the Missouri and Mississippi river, cutting the country in half."

"I don't understand..." Mrs. Shelly stammered, "How'd you all become associated with a former, and soon to be president of the United States?"

"Mom, I'm not sure we really do either, not totally, and we have been in it from the days before the war even started!"

"And every move we make seems to draw us in deeper," Glenn added.

The Marine guard interrupted, "As interesting as all this is and as much as Commander Bickford needs some of this kind of intel, you are on a U.S. Warship. So part of this or not, in President Bryce's inner circle or not, you've got to hand over the firepower kids."

Keith looked down at his MP5 and back up at the guard, "It only takes a single Ashhole jerk with a bomb or a grenade..."

A voice at the main hatch cut off Keith, "Young man, all of us share your concern, but how about letting the adults handle things for a bit?"

All four boys looked over as a man in a naval officer uniform came into the hangar bay followed by a boy of about ten. The kid stuck close to the man, but his eyes were full of a mixture of curiosity and hope. As they entered the hangar the two Marines snapped to attention but kept a close eye on the armed kids.

Glenn looked up and noticed the name tag, Bickford. He couldn't help but smile, "Sir, it is good to meet you! Craig has told me so much about you!" His smile quickly faded as he looked at the door that was labeled as 'Med Bay' with a red cross on it. "How is my brother, sir?"

Chase eyed the mounted automatic shotgun on the chair and made it a point to not walk in front of it as he moved over to Glenn, "To be totally honest, son I have no idea. At the moment he is in the best hands this ship has, and me barging in and demanding answers is the last thing my medical teams need. So while they deal with your brother and the other injured, I need some questions answered."

Keith looked over, "Wow, I guess we know where Craig gets it from."

"Yeah, no doubt." Joey snorted with a hint of a grin

"Gets what from?" Chase demanded to know.

"His drive, his devotion to be the best and to never back down." Glenn responded. "He's taken the lead each and every time Ashwood's jerks have hit us and he and he alone opened the door so we could pull off the hack leading to Ashwood's election loss."

Chase's eyes darted over all four kids, noting all were nodding and were dead serious, "Guys, as much as I want all the details, I have had my hands pretty full. There are two enemy warships sinking and we are in the process of starting rescue ops. I am in a warzone. The location of this ship and the rest of this small fleet is probably known to the enemy. I have the safety and security of my crew and the western half of the United States to worry about. My son and a few others are on an assault raft and will be aboard in minutes. And last but not least, it seems like the people with the most information are my son and some science contest winning kids who he just met! Now, it is not many people who can rate changing orders to a naval fleet, even fewer rate a spec ops team going in to rescue family, and fewer yet are sent ultra top secret super stealth tech choppers to land on a naval ship in time of war... On top of this I find my son is being chased by Ashwood allied foreign naval warships and he is on one of the biggest and nicest yachts I have ever seen. I really look forward to hearing about all of this, but right now I need to know why you aren't safe in some bunker in Texas like I was told you were and what brings you out here armed like you are single-handedly trying to fight off everything Ashwood has lined up against us!"

"Oh, geesh," Keith grumbled, "um, honestly, sir... I know I am out here to help get you better communications with a naval fleet in the Atlantic, Ricky is here because the medical bay in the bunker wasn't in the greatest shape. As for the others, I'm not, um, we aren't totally sure."

Glenn forced a grin, "To be honest, Mr. Bickford. I think Mr. Triumph was worried we were getting close to trying to sneak out of the bunker, and there really isn't any place to sneak to on a warship in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. All things considered, and the fact all of us have been shot at, being in a war zone wasn't as important to Mr. Triumph and the chaperones as them being able to keep us where they all know where we are!"

This got some snickers from the other three confirming they all fully agreed with Glenn's assessment.

Chase slapped his forehead, "Oh, for the love of God... Is there anyone who can give me solid answers?"

"The person who knows is Firebrand," Joey interjected. Seeing a raised eyebrow, Joey quickly cleared his throat, "Um, sorry, sir. Um, Scott Race, we call each other by code names... He's Firebrand... He had a plan to get important information and Intel and Craig and the others went with to help him... And um, we are really hoping Scott is with Craig on the yacht."

Chase turned his full attention to Joey, "Who, exactly, is Scott Race?"

A voice spoke from the hangar door, "This is Scott, Dad!" At the same time he spoke, Craig pulled off his helmet and gave Scott a gentle but firm push forward.

Chase spun at the sound of his son's voice. At the same time the kid who was slightly behind Chase bolted past everyone, "Craig! Alexander!"

Craig looked shocked but didn't hesitate to drop his helmet on the deck and scoop the onrushing boy who was not all that much smaller than him into his arms. "Oh my God! Nathan! How did you get on the Read!"

At the same time Alexander moved up and wrapped his arms around both Craig and Nathanial, "Little dude! Man, Craig has been worried sick about you since we found your backpack!"

Nathan burst into tears, "My brother turned us in! You were right!"

"Yeah, we know." Steven stated. "We caught your brother and turned him over to some friends of ours." He moved forward as Craig put Nathan back down. "It is really good to meet you Nathan."

Nathanial looked over at Steven even as he stayed glued to Craig's side. "Are you some of the others who were part of the hack on Ashwood's computers?"

"They all were," Lachlan answered, "but from what I heard in the bunker, the one who was really behind it all is over there. Ricky. The one with the crutches."

Craig let out a deep breath and couldn't help it. He leaned over and gave Nathanial a kiss on the top of the head. "I am so glad you are safe!"

Unseen by either Lane or Nathanial, Justin gave Craig a light knee into his side and nodded at Lane who was looking a little sad about suddenly being an outsider to a kid he had very much grown to trust.

The connection between Justin and Craig allowed Craig to quickly rectify the mistake he was making. Craig looked back, "Lane, come here! This is the boy I was telling you about. He is just like us and only a few days older than you. I bet you'll be great friends!" He then put an arm around each boy and hugged them tightly.

Justin smiled as he saw Lane all but melt into Craig's side, knowing he was not going to be left out now that Craig had found Nathan. To keep the two younger boys distracted from Craig's initial mistake, Justin knelt. "Hi Nathan, I'm Justin. I am really glad you are safe. Craig has really been worried about you, but if you were taken by the Army of God, how did you end up here?"

Nathan used his shoulder to wipe back some tears, "Commander Bickford rescued me off the ship that fired missiles at Austin. It was burning and he carried me through the fire, down the side of the ship, and up to the Read!" Nathan gripped Craig harder as he added, "They hurt me Craig."

"We know, Nathan." Steven spoke harshly. "And we haven't even started to make them pay yet. Do you know any of the names of those who hurt you?"

"Uh huh, one was a woman, Agent Cassidy. But her boss killed my mom."

"Her boss?" Scott asked softly.

"Yeah..." Nathan choked back a sob even as Craig led him back inside, "After David told on us... this really mean man pulled up and took over. When Mom tried to pull me away... He shot her!"

Craig's eyes narrowed dangerously, "Do you know who it was?"

"Agent Paulson... He pushed me over to Agent Cassidy, pushed Mom to the ground and shot her!"

"Paulson again," Steven snarled even as Craig shook with fury. "OK, Craig, now you are going to have to beat both me and Inquisitor in shooting him when we find him."

"Oh, we are so going to kill him or at least help," Alexander agreed while clenching his fist. "He is ranking right up there with Ashhole with me now!"

Justin reached over and squeezed Nathan's shoulder, "Trust me when I say Paulson is real close to being our number one target, if not our biggest priority. However, you should know Agent Cassidy is very dead already. We killed her at the Temple."

Nathan looked up with wide eyes, "She did bad things to me. Is she really dead?"

Steven looked over, "Oh, yeah. One of our chaperones shot her with a sniper rifle. She's dead and her blood is splattered on the side of the Temple walls."

"Which one was she?" Alexander asked.

"The one who tasered you and kicked you in the face, Destructicon." Ricky stated as he moved to greet the group.

"Oh..." Alexander cringed, "You mean I was nailed by a girl?"

Steven couldn't help but grin, "Gee, you look shocked."

Alexander instantly caught the dual meaning and flipped off Steven, "Somehow, I don't think shocked quite covers being nailed with a Taser!"

"But it was sooooo cute seeing you get a full make-up session to cover up your eye!" Steven teased.

Alexander turned bright red, "Oh, come on Geo! You had to announce it to the whole world?"

Scott snickered, "Relax Alexander. I have been through hundreds of those. It's not a big deal, and you have to admit, that woman and the doctor who drained the blood to take down the swelling did a great job."

Craig looked over even as he guided both Lane and Nathanial into the hangar, "You just got tazed and kicked. I got shot!"

"Nicked." Alexander countered, "And a way cool scar to go with it!"

Scott snickered, "Hey, I have one of those too!"

"Yeah, I get electrocuted and you two have awesome bullet scars! Not real fair if you ask me..." Alexander stopped as he saw Craig's dad staring down at him with something beyond a stern expression. "Oh, um… Hi Craig's dad."

Figuring he may as well go for broke, Steven decided he'd take a shot and add to the exasperated expression written on the man's face, "Oh, come on Alexander, you have a wicked knife scar from the AoG woman aboard the yacht. Talk about bragging rights, I got a big nothing!"

"Neither do I, and I am glad about it." Keith stated. "I'm amazed nothing hit me considering the guy at the window opened up on full auto with a submachine gun at me."

"Because you two were smart enough to stay out of the way and duck," Justin chuckled.

"Except I had a stupid dog catcher wrapped around my neck." Steven reminded the others. "Fortunately, Justin blew the guy's arm off."

"Don't remind me of those dog catchers." Ricky trembled at the memory.

Nathanial looked down, "That's how they dragged me into that place. I had to do what they said or they just pulled it tighter. I had to let them..."

"We know." Steven sighed. "But you will never have to worry about the Temple again. We took the place out and everyone in it."

Nathan looked up at Craig with even more hero worship than he already had, "Really, you took it out?"

"Burned it to the ground." Justin confirmed. "Craig really wanted to get you back but we were too late. As soon as we found your backpack we knew you had been taken by one of the helicopters. We got the rest of the kids out and grabbed as much intel as we could, then burned it all. I have a copy of camera footage from inside the SUV if you want to see it."

Nathanial gave Craig another hard hug, "Thank you for trying to save me!"

Craig looked down, "I'm just sorry we didn't get to you before they hurt you..." He paused as he noted the look in his dad's eyes, and cringed, "Hey, Lane, how about you take Nathan over to look at the helicopter or something while I go get my butt chewed on by my dad?"

A deep growl emerged from Chase while Mrs. Shelly looked over at her son with total exasperation.

Justin looked over at the woman, "Hi, I'm Justin..."

She shot her son another look before turning to Justin, "Is everything I am hearing... um, is it true?"

"Yes ma'am, afraid so."

Tyler looked over at his brother, "You really threw a grenade?"

Mrs. Shelly turned to her other son and threw up her arms, "Ty! How can you still be stuck on a grenade after hearing your brother was shot at by a machinegun?"

"Um, cause... Keith got to throw a real grenade! That's like so awesome!"

Steven grinned as he moved over to Keith and gave him a light shove, "Hey, I really like your brother!"

Mrs. Shelly shot Steven a bit of a glare, "Are you all trying to get my son in more trouble or out of it?"

"At the moment, I think we are doing a bit of both, ma'am," Steven answered with a mischievous grin.

Chase suddenly chuckled, surprising everyone, "I can already tell this is going to be one of my longer nights... Boys, all of you, hand your firearms over to the Marines so I can get you all down to the officer's mess and..." he paused, as he looked over at Lachlan and Imir. "And you two... Um, I gather you have had some kind of part in this?"

Imir stepped forward, "Commander, I actually came into this endeavor very late into these boys' adventure after getting a message from Scott, here." He put his hand on the boy's shoulder. "I came over because your detachment gave me little choice. I also must, in good conscience, file an extremely mild protest and politely demand your men do not confiscate the weapons on board my yacht."

"And you are?"

Scott spoke up even as he handed a Marine his weapons, "Sir, this is Ambassador Imir Assadir of the United Arab Emirates and the Golden Eagle is his official yacht."

"Oh shit!" Chase gasped, "I'm sorry Ambassador! I had no way of knowing I was sending forces onto foreign soil!"

"There is no reason to apologize Commander Bickford. I made no effort to tell your men and I fully understand with the situation at hand. Your actions were of a military man and a father. However..."

"Say no more Ambassador." He looked back at one of the Marines to give an order to the detachment on the Golden Eagle only to stop short as he saw one of them aiming an M4 at him and four others standing over the two who had been standing guard, both bleeding on the deck with throats cut. "Sgt. Glasgow, what are you doing?"

"Commander Bickford, thank you for delivering us all nine of these criminal children. But I am sorry to say we cannot hand over the reward for their capture because you are likely to try to stop us."

"Army of God pricks!" Alexander growled. "Had to wait for them to take our weapons before showing your faces, didn't you!"

Sgt. Glasgow snorted, "Not as smart as you thought you were, are you little child?"

Chase took a step closer hoping to get within striking range, "Reward? What are you talking about?"

"On us, Dad. About five million worth of gold each. But what is really interesting is how they know if you don't. You have open comms or something?"

Chase glared at the Marine. "This ship is on communications lockdown. How exactly did you get a message I don't know about?"

"Wouldn't you like to know?" the man sneered. "But you will be going to your grave without ever finding out!"

One of the others pointed a pistol at Imir, "And while we thank you for not divulging what you know, Ambassador, we cannot work with the unclean, so your usefulness is at an end."

As both men started to pull triggers Alexander and Scott reacted. Scott spun and pushed Imir down and covered him with his armor, while Alexander slammed down his helmet and jumped between Sgt. Glasgow and Chase Bickford. Bullets bounced off both sets of armor, but one of the ricochets caught Nathan in the arm. The boy fell screaming.

Alexander heard the boy yell but lost track as the HUD in the armor pulled his attention away from the growing battle. With annoyance, he pulled off the helmet, tossed it to the side and looked around trying to regain clear understanding of his surroundings.

Lane, who had been totally ignored, pulled the pistol he had been given and shot the pistol armed Marine with a trio of .25 rounds. Two hit body armor, but the third caught him just above the chest armor, but below the neck. The man dropped his .45 and fell back clutching at his upper sternum.

Glasgow spun to take out Lane, but only got turned half way before Craig plowed into him and shoved his fingers as deep as he could into the man's eyes, shouting, "You shot Nathan, you bastard!" as he did so. Glasgow screamed as he threw Craig off of him, but it was already too late. Craig had hooked his fingers into man's eye sockets, so when he was tossed back his fingers pulled both eyes totally out.

Glasgow went down wailing in agony while clutching at his bloody and voided eye sockets.

Three more Marines moved forward with raised M4s. A hiss of compressed air from Glenn's chair was missed by everyone else, but the effects of the dart were not. The first man went rigid and fell face first onto the deck breaking his nose as he did so.

The second Marine turned to aim at Glenn. At the same time, Glenn's father moved between the two and took a bullet in his left shoulder. A second later, the Marine went down as Saul pulled off the leg sweep Craig had showed him countless times. As the man hit the deck hard, Lane moved up and put two shots into the man's face even as the guy reached for his knife to stab Saul.

Glenn heard his father let out a gasp of pain even as the man reached up to the back of his shoulder, while at the same time he slid off the side of the chair. Pure rage filled Glenn as he shouted, "Dad! Stay behind my chair!" He then put full power into his chair and plowed into a third man who turned to shoot at Lane, crushing his legs between a bulkhead and the carbon composite chair. He then backed up and plowed forward a second time crushing the man's skull. He quickly reached down, grabbed the man's M4, and tossed it to Steven.

Justin rushed forward as Steven sent a burst of rounds into a man trying to get over the unconscious body with a small dart in the side of the head.

Justin ducked under the M4 in Steven's hands even as the man fell back from two hits to his chest. Justin yanked Glasgow's .45 out of his holster, flipped the safety off and sent four shots into the chest and face of the next closest armed Marine. At the same time, he grabbed Glasgow's M4 and slid it across the deck, "Scott! Rifle's behind you!"

While Scott grabbed the rifle, Alexander grabbed the combat knife out of the sheath of the man Glenn had crushed the skull of and went after another Marine who was trying to slide down the wall unnoticed. The man managed to throw a hard punch, fully expecting to knock Alexander out of the way, only to see anger flair in the small child's eyes as he spit out some blood.

Even as Alexander spat out blood from a badly split lip, he thrust the blade forward. It went into the front of the astonished man's neck and out the back. The man tried to grab Alexander but failed to do more than secure the boy's shoulders before losing consciousness. He fell right on top of Alexander.

Two more men rushed in, both Navy, not Marines, but were armed. One shot at Glenn, but didn't get a chance to get a second shot off. Instead Joey stepped forward. He jerked his wrist up, causing a nine inch long spike to pop out of the box mounted about his wrist. He then slammed it into the man, punching through the Kevlar vest like it wasn't there, and driving it into the man's lung. He pulled back, leaving the spike in and flipped his wrist again. Another spike took the place of the one he had left embedded in the first guy.

The second naval man through the hatch backed up firing at Joey with a quartet of shots before turning to run as the bullets bounced off the boy's armor.

Keith saw the man making for the hatch he was close to, "Ricky! Crutch!"

Ricky looked over and tossed Keith one of his crutches, only to see Keith roll his eyes. However, this didn't stop Keith from sticking the crutch across the hatch frame moments before the man got to it. The man's head snapped back as his face impacted with the crutch and his feet went forward. He then fell right over the lip of the lower hatch snapping his back leaving him bloodied, unconscious, and paralyzed from the waist down

Keith looked down with a quiver, "Not what I had in mind, but whiplash will work!"

Outside the hangar bay, two more sailors fell as Scott opened up with burst fire. One crumpled to the deck, the other spun and went over the side, screaming.

The last one sent a burst into Scott's armor, but was tackled to the deck by Lachlan, who then grabbed the back of the man's head and slammed it down a half dozen times into the steel plating. By the time Lachlan let go, the man's skull was flat on one side with rivet and welding indentions matching the seam in the metal under him.

All the boys looked around even as Chase moved over to Alexander and pulled the dead man off the struggling boy. At the same time, four more men rushed in. The first one shooting another Marine in the back of the head as he did so. "Captain! You OK?"

Chase held up his hand, "Whoa! Hold! Daniels, What's the status?"

"Four tried to take the bridge, sir, but were stopped. Two others didn't even make it to the hatch of CIC before Gutierrez and I stopped 'em sir! Lucky the intercom was still open so we knew what was going on down here. We got a bloody mess outside of CIC, though sir. Gutierrez decided to pull the pin on Sgt. Samuel's vest and shoved him into Lance Corporal Eggland before slamming the hatch to CIC. There really isn't much left of either of them, sir."

Chase let out a long breath, "Nothing a mop and bleach can't solve. Great work..."

Chase was interrupted as another sailor came out from behind the helicopter with one arm pressed around Lane's throat and a disposable lighter in his hand. The other hand was on the fuel line for refueling the helicopters. "I'll burn this kid and everyone in this bay alive, just like the one in medical if you don't surrender this ship to God's Army, Captain!"

Ricky stared at the flickering flame of the lighter, "Hey, Steven, any idea what the chemical composition of butane is?"

Steven glanced over with a smirk, "Yeah, C4H10. Freezing point is..."

"Don't need it. If all I have to do is stop two types of atoms, this is going to be real easy."

While Ricky took another step forward, Chase started to move forward to block him.

Craig spoke up, stopping him. "Dad! Back off. He's got this."

"But he's in a cast and only has one crutch..."

"Trust me, Dad. He's got this."

Ricky shot Craig a quick smile even as he spoke, "Hey, God's Army dickweed! You do know butane needs to be in a liquid form inside your lighter so it can turn to a gas to make a flame, right?"

"Yeah, what of it?"

"Well, the liquid state of the butane just changed." As soon as he spoke the flame vanished.

"What the?!?" The man looked down at the lighter in panic and tried to run flip roll igniter, but it was suddenly so cold, it was frozen in place as well. At the same time the cold of the lighter caused the man's hand to start to burn forcing him to drop the lighter and yank his hand back away from Lane so he could grip the injured hand.

"Oh, no more flame, so sorry."

Steven grinned, "But cold can burn too, especially such an extreme cold."

Before more could be said a figure charged through the hatch, slammed into the man even as he tried to grab Lane to use as a shield. The newcomer put a fist into the man's gut with enough force to pick the guy up off the deck.

The Army of God sailor shoved Lane to the side and managed to deliver a hard punch to the side of his unexpected attacker, but all it seemed to do was make the new arrival even more determined and angry. The two men exchanged a few more blows before the newcomer stunned the AoG operative with a hard shot, cracking a couple of ribs and knocking the air out of him. The sailor then delivered blow after blow speaking between each shot, "The... kids... on... this... ship... were... put... under... my... protection!"

Seaman Warner grabbed the front of the man's shirt and delivered another hard blow before dropping him. He rolled his head and started to back off, only to hear the man gasp out, "God's Army will kill those heretic kids..."

Warner turned with something far deeper than fury in his eyes. He stomped down on the man's groin with everything he had. Then, as the man jerked up into a sitting position with a silent scream on his lips, Warner grabbed the man's left ear and threw one of the hardest punches anyone standing in the hangar deck had ever seen while using his grip on the man's ear to yank the head toward the oncoming haymaker. The impact not only shattered the Army of God operative's cheek bone, but also dislocated the man's jaw, totally unhinging it. In addition, it partially tore off the held ear.

Warner stared down at the gravely injured and unconscious man even as he pulled at a finger on his hand since he had dislocated it on the final punch. It took a second jerk on the dislocated joint to pop it fully back in place, yet Warner stayed focused in on the bloody mess at his feet. "Screw your Army! I'm Navy!" He then took a few steps back and wiped blood off his face before moving over to Nathan and putting his hands around the bleeding bullet wound.

Off to the side, Alexander ignored the fact he was drenched in the blood of the man he had stabbed and spoke up, "Wow! I like him!"

Gutierrez looked over with wide eyes, "So do we, kid, so do we… Damn, Warner, remind me not to piss you off!"

Warner kept his hands over the bullet wound while glaring at the man he pummeled, "He's just lucky he's unconscious and I have to keep my hands on Nathan's arm!"

Chase Bickford double-checked to make sure the fight deck and hangar were secure before focusing on the young sailor, "Seaman Warner, while we need to work on your seamanship, I'm field promoting you. The next time we need a combat team for off ship, you are with me! You are also now part of ship security detail!"

"Hell, yeah!" Daniels stated while staring down at the mangled face of one of the engine room mechanics. Even as he spit on the man, he glanced over at Warner, "You're one of the away team guys for sure! Oh, and you take the big guys."

Chase rolled his eyes even as he knelt down and picked up the lighter only to instantly drop it. He stood and backed off blowing on his fingers, "What the hell? It's frozen!"

Steven looked over with the most innocent face he could muster, "Yes, sir. Basic scientific principles say butane freezes when it gets below minus 140 centigrade. You're lucky there is so much humidity so there is a coat of ice over the lighter. Otherwise, you would have freeze burned your hand. I think you will see mister mush face has skin missing from his hand where he was holding it. I bet he also has a nasty case of instant frostbite as well."

Even as some of the other contest winners snickered nervously at Steven's comments, Chase stayed focused on the lighter, "But…" Bickford kicked at the lighter while taking a step back, "How?"

Craig looked over, "Like I said, Dad, Ricky had it handled."

Keith interrupted, "Um, any chance we can worry about the frozen lighter when we aren't having God's Army jerks trying to kill us? I mean, we may be safe now, but we need to figure out how Ashhole got a message to his people…"

Commander Bickford glanced over with a befuddled nod, even as he poked at the lighter with his foot. With a shake of his head, he looked down at the petty officer who was lying in the hatch, his back bent in the wrong direction about a foot down from the man's head. He eyed the crutch, noted it wasn't bent, and finally knelt, "His back may be broken, but he's breathing. Get me some smelling salts!"

One of the corpsmen who had moved over to Nathan shook his head. "Sir, you can't. He needs…"

"He needs to tell me how they got a message I didn't!" Chase snarled, "This bastard's buddy just threatened to burn up this ship and even worse my son and Nathanial! No chance in hell any of them are getting medical help until I find out how they got past communications blackouts! Now toss me some salts." He then shot a stern look over at his son, "Craig, gather the weapons and… well shit, get your buddies their firepower back and keep watch until we figure out what is going on!" He eyed Glenn, "But son, I ain't giving you back the auto shotgun, not on my ship. Too much ricochet potential. You got anything else?"

Glenn sighed and pulled up the silenced MP5 from where he had a spot for book storage. Seeing the look in Commander Bickford's eyes, he forced a smile, "Sorry, must have slipped my mind when I was handing over the other stuff."

Chase saw the resemblance in the facial features of Glenn and his father, as the man moved over to his son still clutching the left shoulder. Chase let out a long breath, while noting the disapproving stare the boy was getting from the man, "We'll get you medical help as soon as we can. In the meantime, feel free to pop him if he's yours. But unless you say otherwise, I'd let him keep it. At this point I don't really know how many I can trust on my own ship, but I am real convinced at this point these boys..." Chase tossed up his hands, "You get what I am trying to say!"

Glenn's dad smacked Glenn on the back of the neck hard enough to give him a red handprint, "That's for trying to hide a submachine gun!" He then ruffled his son's hair, "And that's for taking out the jerk you crushed against the wall over there! But let's not tell Mom." He then grabbed his shoulder again and glanced over to Kris, "Not a word to your mother, got it?"

Kris gulped, "I'm not stupid! No way am I going to tell her Glenn just crushed someone's skull and sprayed the wall with blood!"

Next to Kris, Quade looked at the bloody wall and back to Glenn, "You want to keep it a secret, you best find a way to clean off the side of your chair."

Glenn looked down and cringed as he realized the entire right side of his chair was splattered with blood. "Oh, nasty!"

Keith glanced over at Joey who was looking almost green as he stared at the gore on the wall and Glenn's chair, "Oh, man, you darted the first one, dude, why'd you have to crush the second!"

"He shot Dad!"

Quade shivered, "While I'll help you fix your chair if you need it, there is no way in hell I am helping clean it!"

"I'll figure it out." Glenn looked away from the gore, "But crushing him helped save all your lives. Plus, since he was right there I was able to snag his rifle and toss it over to Steven."

"You did good!" Craig stated, then cringed as he saw the look on Joey's face, "Hey, Waverider, don't look at the blood pool. We still need you."

Keith did one last visual sweep of the area even as he secured one of the M4s from a dead Marine. He then turned his attention to his mom who was clutching onto Tyler, "Mom! You and Ty OK?"

She looked over with trembling hands, "I'm so scared right now I can't even think straight! What the hell is going on?"

"Ashwood and his Army of God," Justin spoke softly. "They had people already on the ship waiting for the right time and I guess they thought now was it."

Keith snorted, "They were wrong, in this case dead wrong."

"Strong emphasis on dead!" Alexander agreed, even as he pulled off his blood soaked armor. He then pulled off his shirt and tried to use it to remove some of the blood on his face and hair.

Mrs. Shelly glared at her son, "If Ty wasn't glued to me right now I'd slap the crap out of you!"

"For what?"

"For using a gun!"

"Mom, I handed over all my weapons! I grabbed this after the fight." He pointed down at the man with the broken back, "I took him out the hard way, without shooting him."

Craig cocked his head to the side and looked at Mrs. Shelly, "He just helped save us. Why are you mad at him?"

"Just because!" she shouted even as she looked around noting the kids all gathering weapons and securing them to the weird looking costumes.

At the same time Scott helped Imir to stand before turning to look at Commander Bickford, "Sir, can we get the Ambassador back to his ship?"

"Not until I figure out who I can trust and what is really going on." Chase growled. "Sorry Ambassador…"

Imir patted Scott on the back while focusing on Commander Bickford, "Nothing to apologize for. The same kind of thing happened aboard my own ship, Commander. This Army of God, with Richard Ashwood's help, has deeply infiltrated many places. However, your son and his friends seem to have a knack for not only exposing, but eliminating them. I will wait while you sort things out, but I must request Scott stay with me and armed until we are certain we are secure. I wouldn't mind being allowed a side arm for myself either."

Chase gave a single nod, "Agreed!" He then pulled the shoulder rigging off a dead Marine and slid it over to Imir.

He glanced over to Lachlan, "Hold on to what was on the one you took down, too. The boys, including my son, trust you, so I do as well." With another scan of the deck and hangar, he took a few steps back so he could really look at everyone. "Kids, I've seen more than enough to trust all of you at this point. I want you armed until we know what our operational status is. I can tell just by the way this all went down, you have been taught to handle these kinds of situations well enough to help with basic security."

Mrs. Shelly looked over with tears in her eyes even as she gripped Tyler harder, "But they're just kids."

"Again, Mom, no... we... Mom, not anymore." Keith stated with a confused sounding sadness to his voice, "Not after Breckenridge and Austin. This is nothing compared to those two places."

Chase cleared his throat loudly to get everyone's attention. "I want and need to hear more young man, but right now I have additional wounded and an attempted mutiny on my hands." He spun to look at a couple of sailors he trusted, "Daniels, Gutierrez, you are now my lead ship security. Collect weapons from up here. Take them from the dead and move through the ship looking for any other threats. If you find any, they either cease what they are doing and agree to be locked down until we can verify, or they get a heavy dose of high velocity lead poisoning. I want only people you are beyond certain you both can trust… Oh, and take Warner with you. If anyone gives you lip about rank or only Marines doing ship security, let him swab the decks with them!"

Craig moved over to Nathan, while looking over at Warner, "I've got him. Help my dad secure this ship."

Even as Warner stood and patted both boys on the back, he looked down at the man he mangled. Out of nothing but spite, he drove the heel of his boot down on the man's hand while picking up the small .25. He handed it back over to Lane with a nod, before securing a .45 and joining Gutierrez.

At the same time the corpsman who had been working on Quade's father moved to look at Glenn's father. "It's in there but not bleeding too heavily, so don't think anything vital was hit."

Mr. Olivarez glanced over his shoulder and pointed over at Nathan, "Tape a bandage on it and help the boy. I'll live and I can wait."

The corpsman secured a bandage over the wound then quickly moved over to Nathan who was crying on Craig's shoulder, "Let's take a look."

"Treat him as if you are working on the president!" Commander Bickford ordered even as he cracked open the package he had been tossed.

It took a few waves of the smelling salts to get the partially paralyzed man to open his eyes. Seeing the commanding officer staring at him with something akin to fire in his eyes the man groaned, then let out a scream as he tried to move. "My back!"

"Broken." Chase snarled. "Now if you want any decent medical attention you will tell me how you got outside orders!"

"Screw you, Commander..." The man stopped and let out a blood curdling howl as Chase delivered a hard punch into the man's side, shifting the broken back.

"Right now I'm not a naval officer, I am a father." Chase shook with rage. "So before you go mouthing off, you low life piece of shit, keep in mind you and your traitorous buddies just tried to kill my son, and shot Nathan who is right on par with being my son, so don't try me! You will not like the outcome!" Chase then reared back for a second punch.

"No!" The man screamed even as the blow landed, "OH, shit no! My back!"

"Either talk or get round three asshole!" Chase warned.

"Oh, God..." Seeing Chase's hand rear back yet again he shook his head, "OK, OK, STOP!"

"Start talking and it better be the truth! Five, four, three..."

"I don't know who or how, but Glasgow is in charge! He has been getting and sending orders, but I don't know how! He rounded us all up as soon as you came down here and gave us weapons! Please, my back! I can't even move my legs!"

"Tends to happen when you run face first into a steel crutch and land over the lip of a hatch." The corpsman responded while washing out the bullet wound on Nathan's arm. "Bullet went straight through, Commander. I'll have the bleeding stopped quickly once I am sure it is washed out. We'll need to get him a tetanus shot and antibiotics, but he should be throwing a football in no time."

"Until you are certain he is good, your sole focus is to be on Nathan!" Chase commanded even as he stood and moved over to Glasgow who had his hands up to empty eye sockets. He kicked at the man and watched him thrash for a few moments, "Mr. Glasgow, unless you want me to find people to piss into the holes where your eyes used to be, you will tell me how you got past communication blackouts!"

Glasgow spat in the general direction of Chase's voice, but said nothing.

Steven put a finger up to his lips even as he moved over to the corpsman and grabbed a bottle of saline solution. He moved up to Glasgow, "I guess I'm first. This is for trying to kill one of my best friend's dad." He then sprayed the solution on the man's face.

Glasgow thrashed and tried to get out of the way, but Steven made sure to move with the man, "OK, I'm done. I bet his whole skull will get infected from this. Who's next?"

Glasgow trembled and finally spoke, "You disgusting unclean heretics! The Army of God will find and wipe you out!"

"Interesting, but we have already heard others say the same thing," Steven responded. "How much pee do you really want in your eye sockets anyway?" He then gave the bottle another squirt.

Glasgow thrashed again, "Your disgusting actions will be known by all, and you will be labeled..."

"OH, my turn." Craig spoke up and moved closer. He waited a second before pointing to Steven who squirted more of the bottle on the Army of God's operative. "Hey, look there, he must really like to get peed on! Some is getting into his mouth!"

Commander Bickford eyed Steven and his son with a raised eyebrow, but decided to go with it even as Glasgow gagged and spit several times. "I guess I'm next. Unless of course, you want to tell me where the radio is."

Glasgow rolled his head away from the sound of Chase's voice, "Disgusting unclean fools! You think God's Army is stupid enough to hide a stupid radio on board? Those transmissions would have been traced during the transmissions and they only lasted moments!"

"No radio?" Justin asked, "Then how?"

"Ignorant peasants, you are so far below the Army of God, you don't even rate their notice!"

"Funny, since they have a millions of dollars' worth of gold reward on us and told you all to show your ugly mugs to grab us. Sounds to me like they noticed." Scott snorted, while refusing to look at the man for fear of throwing up at the sight of the missing eyes. "I would say you are the ignorant one, since you couldn't even take a group of kids for your masters. You are nothing but puppets on very long strings who know nothing of importance."

"We know of you and your genetically engineered friends. You will fall to the Army soon, child! Even now, word is getting out of this setback. Your future is dimming even as I die for the greater good of God's Army!" The man then pulled something off his belt and stuffed it into his mouth even as Chase tried to grab his hand. Moments later Glasgow started convulsing and foam came out of his mouth.

"Damn-it!" Chase roared even as he kicked the dying man.

Keith rubbed his chin for a second, "Sir, what electronics are active right now?"

Chase turned to look at Keith with a great deal of anger, "Boy, this is not the time..."

Mrs. Shelly reached up to grab her son, only to have him pull away. He looked over at Craig. "Recon, help me out here!"

Craig jumped up, "Dad, Chill! Kick my ass if you want, but stop! If there is anyone in this bay who can figure this out, it's Keith! We call him Strike-Comm for a reason!"

Even as Chase glared at his son his anger abated slightly, "We are under low electronic signature protocols. We are passive on almost everything!"

"Almost?" Keith asked with a cock of his head.

"Yeah, we still make a radar sweep, but rotate it with other ships in the fleet so no one ship can be targeted. We also use tight beamed low power transmissions to talk to other ships. In addition, we have been in contact with other allied naval forces, but those transmissions are few and far between and being relayed by drones."

"Sir, of those transmissions what is not monitored by your communication people?"

"They all are..."

"Even radar?"

"Well, no, but you can't send a message through..." Chase's eyes went wide, "Well, shit, I guess you could if you..."

"Tied into the array and sent a subcarrier wave." Keith responded. "And since it is rotational, you could even send a burst when it was aimed at the direction you wanted the transmission to go. In fact, you would want a very narrow means of transmission so the chance of intercept is tiny!"

"Yes... yes you could, but it would have to be built in..."

"Easy enough. All it would take is a maintenance crew to work on the radar and put in a few small hidden modifications. But it would draw extra power and leave a trace. You wouldn't happen to have a computer checking on power readings of various systems, would you?"

"Yes." Chase nodded even as he stared at Keith with wide eyes. "Down in engineering. But we have to shut down the radar!" He moved over to the comm.

"Sir, hold up!" Steven shouted. "If we do this fast, we can use this against them!"

Keith snapped his fingers as he looked over at Chase while holding up both hands, "Sir, we need a radar trace of all ships we can see and try to detect if there is a power spike of any kind. If it is a burst transmission set to the radar, we can draw a line and maybe pinpoint where the transmission is going!"

Craig looked over, "Dad, how long till the Read does its next sweep?"

Chase nodded in understanding. He moved up to the comm, "Munoz, how long till the Read takes over radar sweeps?"

"About seven and a half minutes to next sweep, sir. Do you need me to bump it up?"

"No, but when we do, I want you to really focus. I want to know every tiny blip and its compass heading from us, even targets too small to be a threat. We just had an attempted mutiny and there is a chance they have others out here to help them since they couldn't expect to hold the whole crew for long."

"Understood sir. As long as it isn't made out of the same thing those birds were, I'll log a complete trace of everything larger than a rowboat, and even a few of those if they are out here with us!"

"I'm counting on you Munoz, so make it your best sweeps ever!"

Glenn looked over at Ricky, "Sounds like you got right at six minutes to get down to wherever the power monitoring system is, tie in, and set to scan for a power spike, even a real small one from the ship's radar."

"Get me there and if there is a port to plug into I'll be ready in no time!" Ricky stated while holding up his computer.

Chase scooped Ricky up and glanced back to Keith, "Pick one and follow me! The rest of you keep your eyes out and guard the med bay. We are going to need it and there is a boy they are working on in there!"

Glenn glanced at the wounded AoG operatives, "What do you want done with the ones still living?"

"Once Nathan and your father are patched up, then Petty Officer Razinski can do what he can for them, but they are all low priority. Now, Keith pick one of the others; you are with me. Move!"

Keith looked back, "Steven?"

"No, I know medical stuff, take Justin. He may be able to detect Army of God scumbags!"

Justin grabbed two spare magazines for the .45. He then re-procured his assault rifle shotgun combo. "Craig, grab my camera bag and get pictures so we can show what the AoG and Ashwood has done here!"

"I got it!" Craig shouted as Justin hustled after Craig's dad. "Just take care of my dad and keep the others safe!"

Justin moved down to engineering, staying right on the heels of Keith who was staying glued to Commander Bickford's back. As Justin entered a room with a bunch of computers and information on ship functions being displayed he managed to catch a glimpse of a man with a sidearm. The guy started to pull it up to aim at Chase, but Craig's father grabbed the man's arm, yanked it forward and head-butted the man. He then set Ricky down, grabbed the gun arm of the now stunned sailor, twisted it and slammed his elbow into the twisted elbow of the guy. The joint snapped and bones burst through the skin.

Commander Bickford wasn't in the mood to take chances, however. He pulled the pistol out of the man's hand and brought the grip down over the screaming guy's nose, flattening it. Then, as the guy fell back, Craig's father then flipped the gun around, caught it and put three quick rounds into the guy. He scanned the engineering section noting two of his men down. With a snarl he shot the guy a fourth time in the face.

All three boys just stared at each other with wide eyes.

"Boys!" Chase barked while looking over his shoulder, "The room is clear! If you can find a signal coming or going from my ship you have less than four minutes before the next radar sweep and if I delay it, whoever is monitoring will know we figured it out! Now get to work!"

Ricky gulped and pointed to a terminal with a USB port, "Keith, get me over there!"

Keith helped Ricky over to the terminal even as Chase grabbed spare ammo off the dead sailor and moved to check on the two other crew members. Even as he let out a sigh of relief at finding a pulse on the first, he looked over to Justin, "Kid, that suit of yours stops bullets pretty damned well, guard the hatch and don't let anything in this room get shot!"

"Got it, sir."

Ricky wasted no time accessing the system. He moved through over a dozen power subroutines before he found the radar. He pulled up a history and examined it. "Sir, there is a power spike on the second and third rotation of the radar about a third of the time. It is slight, but there."

Chase stood and moved to look over Ricky's shoulder. After just a few seconds, he let out a whistle, reached over and ruffled Keith's hair. "Damn, son. Hell of a call. Looks like you were right!"

Keith looked over the data even as he grinned at getting the compliment. "Skynet, the power spike… what's causing it?"

"Looking, Strike-Comm. It's odd; the computer registers it as a glitch, but it was programed to ignore it instead of report it. The power output is odd. It's a spike but not on radar power. It's also causing a bit of fuzziness in the return signal."

"Which would block what it is in line with." Keith stated. "Sir, there is a good chance something else is close enough to be picked up on radar, but you can't see it because of this programed glitch. Something out there is putting up an all but unnoticeable skip in your radar. I bet it is receiving a signal that tells it when to glitch too."

Justin looked back, "Ricky, can you trace times and direction the glitches happened and compare with the ship's position?"

"I guess. Why?"

"Because if you can and it is blocking another ship, it will give us a track on it over time."

Chase chewed on his lip and shook his head, "If you are right it isn't only this ship, it's all of them out here."

"Ashwood and his Army of God have infiltrated much of the military. How often does repair crews work on the ship?"

"Pretty much every time we are in port." Chase shivered, "And I know both the Read and Buchanan had refits done recently and it included radar. Shit! We can't trust anything on this ship!"

"I don't think Ashwood would do too much or people would notice. This is super subtle and they rewrote code for it. I am looking for more code changes with close to the same timestamp." A few seconds later Ricky snapped his fingers, "Found some, this is in communications, specifically microwave readings. It is set to kill detection of microwaves directed at the ship at the same time and only the same time the glitch on the radar activates."

"Microwave transmissions?" Chase asked while rubbing his chin. "So there is a microwave transmitter on board I don't know about?"

"Sounds like it, sir." Keith responded then snapped his fingers, "But it would be set to the radar so it could transmit and receive at the same times as the radar sweep goes over the area they are fuzzing out!"

Justin looked back into the room, "Sir, this may seem like a really strange question…"

"Son, everything about this is surreal, so ask away."

"Um, is there, gee how do I ask this? Do you have any microwave ovens close to the radar array?"

"The upper enlisted lounge is just aft of the radar array, why?"

"Because, it produces microwaves and could be set in plain sight!" He pulled on his helmet and spoke into his radio, "Hey, anyone in the helicopter area on?"

"I am. Everyone else has helmets off," Joey responded.

"Waverider, I need you to get to the upper break room and look at microwaves. See if one of them has an extra cord into the wall or has an extra port like a USB or micro XD card slot!"

"Why would a microwave have a memory port?"

"It wouldn't unless it is a radio. If I'm right, you best take backup, cause someone might be trying to send a message and we only have a couple of minutes until the next radar sweep!"

"Oh, man, I get it! A decoy! " Joey quickly shouted over to Craig, "Recon! Do you know where the upper break room is?"

Craig frowned, "Been there, but..."

Nathan stood and put his good hand high in the air like a student showing a teacher he knew the answer, "I do! I do!"

The corpsman turned his attention away from Glenn's father. "You need to take it easy!"

"I will once I take them to the enlisted lounge!"

Lachlan moved up to Nathan, "I'll go with you."

"The crew would never let you," Craig stated as he moved to the door while pulling off his armor. "They seem to know Nathan and all but a few know me. Lane, let me borrow your .25!"

Lane put in a fresh clip and handed the small firearm over along with one more full clip.

Craig slid it in his back pocket, then put a captured knife with a belt sheath on his hip. "Lane, you showed you could use a .45 with two hands. Get one and help keep watch."

"Without armor, you'll be outgunned with no protection," Lachlan warned.

"True, but with it I'll attract too much attention. Besides, most of the people on this ship side with my dad, and they know me. If someone does something stupid, there is a good chance I will have back-up."

Lachlan let out a sigh, "Good points but be careful. What you are doing is beyond dangerous and there is no question if you encounter someone they will try to harm or even kill you. They may even try to take you as a hostage. The last thing I want is your father blaming me for letting two boys he clearly cares deeply about getting hurt or worse."

"Don't worry, it's just one more thing he will blame me for. The talk I'm going to get over all of this is going to really suck."

Craig left Lachlan shaking his head as he followed close behind Nathan. The younger boy showed just how deft he had become with knowing the passageways on the Read, as he navigated the ship flawlessly. It was also very evident to Craig, the crew knew him on sight, since those they saw nodded at him and a few even asked about his bandaged arm.

Nathan brushed off the questions saying he got hurt when the bad guys tried to take over, then quickly followed it up by saying Commander Bickford asked him and Craig to get something for him and they were in a hurry. This was taken at face value, but many kept a close eye on them.

Craig took this as a very good sign. The vast majority of the crew were concerned about Nathan and seemed relieved to hear Commander Bickford was alive. This seemed to verify the Army of God didn't have much, if any, influence left in the crew. As they got to the door to the small lounge, Craig put his hand in front of Nathan to stop him. "Let me go first and stay back. If you see anything, get down then shout a warning. Lachlan's right, there is nothing safe about this at all and if you get hurt my dad is going to kill me or worse."

"OK, but…"

"Nathan, I just spent the last few weeks trying to figure out how to find you. Don't you dare go getting captured or hurt any worse by these jerks!"

Nathan nodded and stepped back allowing Craig to enter the lounge and recreation area by himself while he stood at the door and peeked in.

Craig entered the room. It was all but empty since the ship remained at battle stations. However there were two men inside. One was holding on to his lower arm with blood dripping down, while the other tore strips of his own shirt off to make bandages. Craig looked over with concern, "What happened?"

"Hey, the captain's boy!" the one tearing off strips of his shirt spoke up. "Met you at the picnic."

The other man spoke, "I'll be fine. Got cut by one of the assholes trying to get into the bridge. I pushed him out into the hall and they closed and latched the hatch from the inside so it stayed secure. Commander Bickford's been super worried about you. Glad to see you safe."

"Thanks." Craig forced a grin. "But after getting chased by those corvettes, I need a bite to eat."

The man with the bloody arm nodded in the direction of some cabinets, "Got some beef stew and other canned stuff in there. Don't think the captain will mind."

Craig moved over to the cabinet and pulled out the first can he found, which happened to be corned beef hash. "This looks good!" He then grabbed a plastic bowl and moved over to one of the three microwaves.

Nathan watched all this from the door with growing discomfort. Something seemed off. Suddenly it dawned on him what it was. He stepped in, "Hey, the first aid kit is up on the wall. Why aren't you using it?"

The one with the bloody arm stared at Nathan like a deer caught in headlights. "Um…"

At the same time the other reached down and went for something

"Craig! Look out!" Nathan shouted even as he jumped back into the passageway.

Craig used the fact both men had moved on Nathan to gain the advantage. He pulled the .25 up and noted the guy making the bandages was armed with a .45. He put two bullets in the man's back. He then dove as the other one yanked up a sidearm and fired a snapshot at where Craig had been.

The one Craig shot grabbed at his back, "Shit! He's armed! But careful Cooper! You hit the microwave, we're S.O.L.!"

"Nathan! Get help and let them know they were right!" Craig shouted even as he used his gymnastics to roll behind a table while also giving him a clean shot at the guy he had already shot. This time he braced and aimed. The shot caught the man just under his left eye. He fell back screaming. Craig fired another shot, this time putting the small round under the man's nose. The guy finally fell unmoving.

His efforts to take down the first one was rewarded with three .45 rounds sent in his direction. All three rounds bounced off of metal forcing Craig to get and stay small as they bounced around him. He then rolled again, getting behind better cover from the second man only to see him fire at the open door. "No!"

Nathan only got a few meters when a hand yanked him out of the passage. A moment later a bullet whizzed past striking metal with a loud and echoing pinging sound. He started to pull away only to see Senior Chief Michaels looking down at him. At this point he wasn't totally sure if he could trust the man, but up till now Commander Bickford had shown the senior enlisted man of the ship the utmost of respect.

"What the hell is going on and who the hell just shot at you?"

"It was either Seaman Cooper or Petty Officer Matheson!" Nathan managed to gasp out as a few more shots were fired.

"Neither one of them are supposed to be armed! How in the hell…"

"Don't know but Craig is in there!"

"The CO's boy?" Michaels stated with wide and suddenly very angry eyes.

"Yes! They are shooting at him!"

"Like hell they are!" The man roared as he pushed Nathan into his cabin. "Stay!"

Nathan nodded, but the man didn't see it. Instead Michaels ignored another round of gunfire as he charged into the break room. He spotted Cooper aiming at a figure behind a table, grabbed the back of the man's head and slammed it down onto one of the metal tables with everything he had. "Craig Bickford?"

Craig cautiously poked his head up, "Senior Chief?"

As soon as Michaels verified it was Craig, he slammed Cooper's head into the table again. He then grabbed the back of the man's head with both hands and drove it into the table a third time fracturing the skull against the edge of the table. He then grabbed the man's .45 and looked down at Matheson. "He shoot at you too, son?"

"No, he was going to, but I shot him first."

"Good for you, but he's still breathing. You may want to look away."

Craig did as instructed only to hear the pistol in the man's hand bark once. Senior Chief Michaels kicked the dead man hard as he looked back at Craig, "Problem solved. You're safe, son."

Craig stood and let out a long breath, "Thank you, sir!"

The man snorted. "You can call your dad sir; I work for a living. Mr. Michaels is fine."

"You got it, Mr. Michaels! Where is Nathan?"

"My cabin and he's safe. I came down to get the .45 Commander Kopland gave me when I was promoted to Senior Chief. But gunfire prevented me from getting to it. You OK?"

Craig wiped at some blood on his upper right leg, "Got nicked again, sir, but I'll be fine."

Senior Chief Michaels grabbed Craig by the shoulders and hefted him up to one of the tables. He then ripped the small hole in Craig's pants open to get a better look. "Looks like you got part of a ricochet in there. I see metal. We need to get you to medical."

"Sir, um, Mr. Michaels, I can't! I need to check out these microwaves. One of them is tied in to the radar and sending and getting messages somehow!"

Michaels' eyes went wide, "You sure?"

"It was only a guess, but the one you just finished off told the other to be careful and not shoot the microwave, so I am now."

Senior Chief Michaels picked Craig back up off the table and carried him over to the bank of microwaves. He put him gently down on the counter. "You ain't putting any weight on that until we get it taken care of. Now, what are we looking for?"

Nathan came back in, "An extra cord, a memory slot, maybe a USB port." As he spoke, he glanced down at the dead men with grey matter coming out of his head, turned and puked. He kept his head turned away, "Sorry!"

"Nothing to be sorry for. No kid should have to see that!" Senior Chief Michaels stated even as he pulled one of the microwaves up and started looking it over.

"Careful, we don't want to unplug it or whatever," Craig warned. "Some of my friends are down in engineering trying to trace it so we can lock onto what it sends and receives!"

Michaels was a little more careful as he searched the one in his hand, "Looks normal to me."

Nathan came over, avoiding the two bodies, "I didn't really look at the ones on in the hangar, I just…"

Craig reached over and squeezed Nathan's shoulders, "Like the Senior Chief said, nothing to be sorry about. We've all puked at least once, Even Alexander. Seeing bodies is just nasty." He shook his head as he put down the microwave he was looking over, "Nothing here, either."

Michaels looked over the last one and shrugged, "Unless I'm totally missing something this one is normal too."

Nathan moved closer, "Um…"

Michaels looked down at the boy, "You see something we don't?"

"The cord on the one you are holding is different than the other two. It's round, not flat, and way thicker."

Craig ran his hand over the cord of the one he had looked at, then over the cord of the one Nathan was referring to. "He's right!" Craig leaned into the spot voided by the three microwaves, "It's not plugged into a socket! It still has a plug, but it plugs into another cord sticking out of an Ethernet-like port back here!"

"So how does it send and receive messages?" Nathan asked.

Craig looked down at the bodies. "One of them must have something that talks to this stupid thing."

Nathan started to move over to look but quickly turned away. "Sorry, I… just can't touch a dead guy!"

Michaels lightly pushed Nathan out of the way. "Son, don't worry about it. Let me check. Any ideas as to what I should be looking for?"

Craig tossed up his hands, "Something that wouldn't stand out would be my guess."

"Something they could talk or type into if it is radio, right?" Nathan asked while looking at Craig instead of Michaels and the bodies.

"Probably," Craig agreed.

"Got a cell phone." Michaels stated as he turned and tossed it over to Craig. "Everything else is pretty standard and nothing electronic." The man moved over to the second corpse and started digging through pockets.

Craig hit the power button on the phone and it pulled up an on screen keypad. A note was already written, 'Attempt failed. No contact with others. Assume all lost. All peasant children from Austin aboard. Awaiting further instructions. For the glory of the Army and Arch Bishop.'

"Got it!" Craig called out. "But I have no idea how it syncs up. Nathan, we are going to need Keith up here!"

"I'll go get him! Um, which one is Keith?"

"The one who went down to engineering with Ricky. He's the one who stuck the crutch across the hatch!"

"I don't know where engineering is… I only got down there once."

Senior Chief Michaels moved over to the ship's comm, "What's his last name Craig?"

"Just ask for Strike-Comm and tell him Recon needs him."

"Okay," Michaels stated with a raised eyebrow. He then clicked the comm, "Strike-Comm, per Recon, meet Senior Chief Michaels in the hangar bay. I say again, Strike-Comm, Recon needs you to meet Senior Chief Michaels in the hangar bay!"

The man looked back, "You two going to be OK in here?"

"Be better with a .45 instead of a .25," Craig stated with a hopeful grin.

"I've seen you shoot. Here!" Michaels handed Craig the .45 and an extra magazine taken off Petty Officer Matheson. "Be right back!"

"Hurry, it can't be too long till you do the next radar sweep and we can't delay it or they might figure it out!"

Keith made it with just under a minute before the Read was supposed to do the radar sweep. He looked at the phone and moved over to the microwave. "There's no way I can do anything with this! Maybe if I had twenty minutes, but probably more like an hour or two. We'd probably need Ricky and a Mass-hack too!"

"So do we not do the sweep?" Michaels asked as he moved over to the comm ready to give the orders.

Craig shook his head fiercely, even as Nathan put a bandage over the bullet wound on his leg, "No, if we let on we know, we lose the advantage!"

"What advantage?" Michaels demanded to know.

Keith let out an uneasy breath, "If they think they have agents and can still get information out of the people on this ship, they will continue to operate as they have been. If not, there is nothing to stop them from using whatever jamming they are doing to mask where they are and put it on a missile or several. They may be able to sink this whole group of ships!"

Michaels moved up to the comm, "Commander, we can't be sure we fully have things under control, but recommend we proceed with normal radar sweep. We don't want to break protocols and endanger the fleet, sir."

"Orders are to proceed with your recommendations," Commander Bickford responded. He then looked down at Ricky, "I need you to get me a solid direction on this glitch if at all possible, son."

"Oh, I'll get it. I have a track for the last five radar sweeps too. Whatever it is cloaking has been shadowing you all, but it has stayed to the southeast. I am also seeing code telling me your radar was actually sending out your position, but it has been inactivated since the satellites disappeared, so it must be tied into your military GPS."

"So they just know our direction?"

"Yes sir, and I will soon know theirs."


A voice came over the ship's comm, "Sir we are taking over radar sweeps now."

Chase moved to stand right behind Ricky as the boy typed on the keyboard of the laptop. After the fifth rotation of the radar, He looked over, "Got them, sir. They are on a heading of 129.54. I have a line right through where they have to be. The radar also sent a message and received one on a microwave subcarrier. Both were super short bursts, so neither could have been very large."

A minute later the Read ended radar sweeps. Seconds later Ricky looked over, "Um, is there anyway to get to one of the other ships before they do a radar sweep and before this ship does its next one?"

"We could fly you over to the Worden, but I'd need a damned good reason."

"Because, if I can get to a slightly different position, and use the codes I just added to your ship, then use what I get off the others ship's radar, I could get you an exact position of what is causing the glitch."

Chase looked over to Justin. "You OK, keeping watch here until I get someone else down here?"

"Sure, um, I guess."

"Good, then your job is to keep this room secure!" He picked up Ricky and moved over to the comm, "Warner, Daniels, and Warrant Officer Jericho to the flight deck!"

Four minutes later Ricky was in the air headed over to the Worden with Steven, Seaman Warner, and Seaman Daniels. Commander Bickford talked to Captain Kopland on a secure line, giving him only the basics of what was needed until the Worden's communications systems could be checked. At the same time he watched with growing frustration and anger as a bullet fragment was dug out of his son's leg.

Keith, guarded by Senior Chief Michaels, stayed in the enlisted lounge and continued to work on the phone. "It received a message and this game app is blinking, but when I pull it up it is a crossword puzzle. Without knowing the code, there is no way I will be able to unscramble what came in. It is playing like a normal crossword game. Joey is really good with computers and the Mass-hack. Maybe he can decrypt this, but I sure can't."

Even as Joey came down to the enlisted lounge, Ricky and Steven were taken by Captain Kopland down to engineering on the Worden while he got an update on what had happened aboard the Read and what the kids had already discovered.

Before Kopland had a full grasp of all the details Ricky snapped his fingers, "Got it! It's the exact same code! This will be easy! Steven, I need an overlay of the last track from Craig's dad's ship and combine it with the track I will give you from this ship. We will have a fifteen minute delay between sweeps, but how far can a ship move in fifteen minutes?"

"A fast one, twenty knots an hour, maybe a bit more," Kopland informed both boys.

"So I will plot a circle out from where the lines cross of five knots." Steven nodded in understanding.

"That is still a big chunk of area."

"If it was the entire circle, yes, but it has to be on the line I will give you." Ricky reminded the man.

"Oh, got it!" Kopland let out a light whistle of understanding mixed with appreciation of the amazing intelligence of the kids who had taken over the engineering section of his ship.

One of the petty officers watching, spoke up, "Thirty seconds till our sweep is supposed to start sir."

"You ready?" Kopland asked.

"For over two minutes." Ricky spoke up.

"All I need is the course heading and I can draw the line." Steven confirmed. "But I still am not sure what good this will do us. If we move toward them, they will be able to spot us with the code they have in the system. If we don't do the normal radar patterns they will also know we are on to them."

"Both very true, boys, but we are not alone."

"It doesn't matter, I bet the Coast Guard ships have the same code..."

"I am sure you are correct, but we have other friends shadowing us..."

"Sweep starting now, sir," the petty officer interrupted.

Twenty seconds later Ricky pumped his fist, "129.37, Steven!"

"Overlaying now!" Steven all but shouted in excitement. He then spun the computer, "Lines cross at 24.372593, -88.627671."

Kopland pulled up a radio, "CIC, get me the Tempest on ULF."

"But if they have a way to track us, they have a way to track subs, sir." Steven warned.

"I'm sure you are correct young man, however, I am not contacting a U.S. warship. We have a couple of British friends out here with us."

Steven's eyes went wide, "Oh! Well I bet Ashwood didn't foresee a foreign sub helping."

Kopland shot Steven a grin even as the transmission was put down to engineering. "Captain Kopland, this is Commander Wright of HMS Tempest. What can we do for you this fine evening?"

"Commander, according to what I was told you have a SAS team aboard?"

"Indeed we do. What in the bloody hell are you wanting, Captain?"

"Tempest, we have a target at approximately 24.372593, -88.627671. I don't really care what you find when you get there. It may look innocuous, but it is a hostile electronic warfare and espionage ship. I cannot tell you how we know this, but expect crack troops aboard. The problem is, we need it taken, not sunk. Also, we are pretty sure it has anti-sub capabilities and can monitor our radars."

"Well, Captain Kopland, this isn't exactly what we were expecting, but I am quite sure our SAS boys would love to go for a swim tonight. We'll be back with you as soon as we know something."

Ricky looked over at Steven with wide eyes, "Sounds like Ashwood's God's Army is about to get some unwanted visitors!"

"I can't allow communications to get off this ship until we hear back from them." Kopland stated. "Can you block this built in ability to send just in case I have any infiltrators left aboard the Worden?"

"Not a problem. I can take out the subcarrier code for sending microwave transmission without the location wave being affected. I just need to tweak the code so the diagnostics shows a problem with the microwave. They didn't even bother to hide the diagnostic side of the subroutine since they didn't expect this to get found. It will show the microwave connection to the radar array is bad. This will send out an alert to anyone who can access the warning, so you may want to station a few trusted people to watch the microwaves just in case someone tries to go fix what will appear as a loose connection."

Steven glanced over at Ricky as a thought occurred to him, "Hey, Skynet, this whole secret microwave and radar blocking thing. Is it set to a set certain frequencies?"

"Yeah, one for outgoing one for incoming. Why?"

"Was it the same frequencies for the one on Craig's dad's ship?"

Ricky pulled up the extra code and pointed to it, "Uh huh, right here, exact same. But again, why?"

"Come on Skynet, we may be looking at the Army of God's comm system! The two helicopters we came in are heading back toward the coast and have way better electronics on them than what we have access to. Use Tiger Prime and contact them. Have them do a scan and see if there are any other ships or whatever else is out here. This may be how the Army of God jerks are communicating when most of us can't!"

"Oh, yeah! Of course! Let me get Keith on this."

"I'll contact him by radio as you get to work!"

After a short conversation over his armor's radio Steven looked over to Ricky, "Keith says with what you pulled up and what he is looking for on the other warship, this could be a huge chunk of the Army's network! He says Ashwood and the Army of God could even use U.S. warships to fill in the gaps in their own web with only a couple on board knowing about it!"

"Which means we are part of the web and could create a huge hole in their network! If I do this right I could even implant a virus, since all of this goes into the computers of the ships. I'll contact the UNIT helicopters, you radio Strike-Comm and let him know what I'm going to do."

After a short conversation with Keith, Steven looked over, "Strike-Comm says we have to get to the ships on this group of ships too!"

Ricky rubbed a hand down his face, "He's right. We will have to pull the plug on all the ships at the same time, or at least before they do radar sweeps, or we will accidentally infect the ships of this group. We need to contact Admiral Norris too. They could be part of the Army's network and not even know it. Does Keith see what needs to be done?"

"Yeah, he saw the code and knows how to get into it. He is going to show all the others. You will have to provide the actual virus to all of them though."

"No need. I can handle that from here. It will spread out as it hits other computers. We just don't want it to hit any good ships."

"So you'll have him let Norris and Bryce know to pull the plugs on their systems. We don't want their ships getting sick."

"And the Coast Guard station supporting us. Some of the points in this web are probably ground based, so military base radars could easily be part of this. If we mess up some ground stations on Ashwood's side, fine, but we don't want good bases to get hit. I'll work out a quick fix to send out just in case, but I don't want to since once it is out there, the God's Army will get it."

"On it." Steven sighed, "I'll handle coordination since this is all way above my computer knowledge."

Kopland and a couple of the other crew of the Worden eyed the back and forth between the two boys. When nothing else was said, but Ricky started typing furiously on his computer, Kopland cleared his throat, "Boys! How about filling in the rest of us on whatever you two are talking about?"

"Oh, sorry!" Steven smiled excitedly, "Ashwood could be using this whole microwave transmission thing as a huge relay system, just like we are using drones! I bet we are seeing how they are communicating with their foreign supply ships and probably how they sent for warships to come after us on the Golden Eagle!"

"Yeah, but they probably have like major base station-like communications towers acting as normal relays, but are really part of the God's Army network and are all invisible to U.S. warships," Ricky added. "If they are dialed in with directional radios like are being sent to and from these ships, they would be hard to detect, but with a couple of helicopters flying back they could monitor for hits the whole way and we may be able to trace part of their network."

Steven nodded as the men around him all looked both stunned and excited, "Sir, if you can get us secure communications with Strike-Comm, um, Keith, He may be able to find a way to backtrace other ships out here too. We could start dismantling a huge section of Ashwood's ability to talk to those sending him supplies. At the same time Ricky is working on a virus to infect the whole relay system. I don't think it will spread too far since they have a super good computer guy, but it will make it hard to trust their secure communications for several hours and give us some time to figure out how extensive this hidden grid is. Even if they shut it down quickly, between Strike-comm and Skynet, we will be able to give you the locations of dozens of ships and ground stations."

"We'll get you access to the directional communications and patch it down here," Kopland stated even as he motioned for a couple of men to make it happen. He then eyed the other men in engineering, "And for all of us who were wondering why kids have the clearances we have been ordered to give these boys, I'm pretty sure we now know the answer."

Even as the men agreed, Ricky and Steven started working with the others aboard the Read and the two UNIT helicopters. By the time the HMS Tempest SAS team boarded a fishing trawler and eliminated those on watch, four other communication relay ships had been located, and the numbers continued to grow. At the same time the Read shuttled some of the other boys over to Coast Guard ships to help in the triangulation of the directional signals coming off the up till now hidden ships while protecting the Army of God communications. While this happened, the virus Ricky sent out caused a few of the ships and stations in the network to ping locations on a preset frequency, while also losing the ability to decipher incoming communications because part of the virus caused the computers to randomly scramble any incoming messages.

Two and a half hours after touching down on the Read, Keith listened to the SAS team leader as he reported the fishing trawler had been taken, but not cleanly. Two of the SAS team were wounded and the pilothouse had been destroyed by someone who blew himself up with a firebomb rather than let them get to whatever documents had been kept there. However, the ship and most of its communications systems remained intact as did a computer. Even better, they were able to pull active security codes off the radios.

While the codes only stayed active for another five hours, it allowed the small fleet to gain a vast amount of intel including the location of five additional relay ships, nine land stations, and the needed carrier wave frequency to find others within range of the fleet. This caused a large and ever growing hole in the Army of God's communications ability and left most of the Gulf of Mexico totally devoid of ECM and ECCM being used against Kopland's small fleet.

During this time, the helicopters of the Read were shuttling the other boys, in pairs with escorts, over to other ships including the two new additions to the fleet, a pair of new Coast Guard National Security Cutters. The 418' long ships had been designed for extended operations and had electronic warfare capabilities plus had additional helicopters. Even more important, they escorted a second resupply ship pulled out of mothballs. The old Mars Class resupply ship was still being worked on, as could easily be seen from the air, since sparks from welding crews working on the hull could be seen.

The Great Plains had food, water, medical equipment, and other basic supplies. It also held a large detachment of Bryce loyal Marines, all of whom had been key in stopping the Mexican incursion into California. The Marines didn't just stop the advance, they helped push back the Ashwood allied forces before crushing them in Ensenada. Then, with the help of the free state of Baja, the Marines secured the port, capturing hundreds of thousands of tons of military supplies stockpiled in shipping containers from Venezuela.

Glenn and Alexander, being escorted by Lachlan and Lieutenant Reeves, circled the USCGC Washington Duke once allowing them to get a good look at both it and the Great Plains before getting permission to land. The boys found a mixture of Marine and Coast Guard personnel waiting for them. It was clear the back and forth communication between the Washington Duke and the Worden had warned those greeting them of the fact the kids would be armed. It still didn't prevent four of the Marines to raise eyebrows and take more of a ready stance as Alexander jumped out with his Caracal CC10 carbine slung over his shoulder and his Caracal F nine millimeter pistol in his armor's holster while the armor's utility storage held eight magazines. Finally he had a combat knife in the sheath.

Glenn already realized there was no chance of his chair fitting through the hatches of a warship, so as soon as he got into the hangar, he powered down and allowed Lachlan to pick him up and put him in a small folding wheelchair. This didn't stop him from securing his own MP5 and M9 pistol. He was the only one in the group who had changed over to the Beretta nine millimeter pistol, but for Glenn the grip just fit his hands better than the other pistols. Plus the armor's built in side holster was such a good fit for it, it didn't even need to be modified or adjusted, unlike the sidearms carried by most of the others.

One of the Marines stepped forward, still eyeing the two boys as he saluted Lt. Reeves. "Sir, welcome aboard. LCDR Boyles is up in bridge, and has requested we take you up to see him."

Reeves returned the salute, "Lead the way Lance Corporal."

The young man paused as he glanced back over to Alexander and Glenn. "Sir, I know we have been ordered to allow you and even the kids to stay armed, but..."

Reeves let out a humor filled snort, "Is it the silenced MP5 or the carbine getting under your skin?"

"Honestly, sir, both. But what kind of suits are they wearing?"

Glenn looked up, "Think of it as a combat armored suit with a few fun extras, but we need access to the communications and radar monitoring and diagnostics. Is that on the bridge?"

"Honestly, I have no idea." He eyed the MP5, "But I just have to ask, what is the tube under the barrel and the cord going into the arm of your suit for?"

"Oh, brother," Lachlan sighed, "there is a question you really didn't want to ask. While you get us to the bridge, be prepared for informational overload."

Alexander snickered even as Glenn started talking, "The sensor under the barrel gives wind speed, temperature, humidity, elevation and barometric pressure readings to the computer in the combat armor. It also projects a UV beam to the target, one I can see when the helmet is on. With all the information the HUD of the helmet gives me a targeting grid based on the range the UV beam gives to the target and allows me to perfectly hit what I am aiming at as long as I use bullets with the same specs.

"The effective range with the silencer was just at two hundred meters but with the advanced targeting we have extended it to two thirty-five. We are still working on heavy gusts of wind and playing with going way beyond the effective range with more of an indirect fire, but those kinds of calculations will need wind tunnels, large open fields and remote sensors so we can really plot out how the round moves once it loses initial momentum. Our guess is somewhere along the bullet's path it stops spinning from the grooves in the barrel. Instead it starts tumbling. This messes up how the round flies, slows it down, and makes it more quickly lose momentum. Also we will have to add in more advanced gravity calculations since at some point the round will have to fall out of the sky. It may not have the inertia to kill, but it would be fun to shoot some Ashwood moron from a few thousand yards away, even if the bullet literally falls out of the sky on top of him. We were just starting to work on what the terminal velocity would be before we came out here. We need to figure in the drag coefficient on the bullet and we are hoping to get some help from Steven, Justin or Craig on it since we couldn't find reference to drag of a standard military nine millimeter round. Once we have the drag figured out we can reprogram in everything to make the round fall out of the sky right where we want.

"A human falling out of the sky has a terminal velocity of about 195 kilometers per hour, a bullet will not have nearly as much drag but will be lighter, so we still have lots of work to do on it. We are still betting it will fall fast enough to kill, or at the very least hurt real bad."

The Marine glanced back, "You are making this all up, right."

"No!" Alexander snarled, clearly insulted by the comment. "He is just giving you the basics, but it's standard scientific principles!"

"Chill, Alexander." Lt. Reeves ordered. "Maybe he didn't just go over your head with his explanations, but it sure as hell did for the rest of us."

"Really, it's all just simple math." Glenn countered. "The force of it falling out of the sky is what is really important if we really want to hurt or kill someone with a bullet falling out of the sky. Once we have the needed data, we just use standard gravitational and terminal velocity formulas to figure out how hard it would hit some Ashwood jerk thinking he is safe hiding in a ditch or whatever. Our biggest obstacle is the wind, since it can change speeds and directions at different altitudes, but we'll figure out a way to gauge it. The last thought we toyed with was to embed a sensor in some bullets and let a computer model run by the armor use data from the first shot to calculate the next shot. Each one will be more accurate than the prior. It would also make the bullets heavier, so while they may not fly as far, they would hurt more coming down because terminal velocity would be higher. It is really straight forward."

"Simple math to me does not include drag coefficients, or gravity formulas, Glenn." Lachlan chuckled.

"The hard part will be adjusting for altitude, since gas density increases the lower the altitude. This means we will have to have a sliding scale built in for gas density as it falls into and through thicker atmosphere. Otherwise we will still miss the target."

The Marine's eyes went wide, "What you are saying is like real? Seriously?"

"Oh, they are as serious as it comes." Lachlan stated. "I also warned you, you picked a very bad question to ask."

Alexander shot Lachlan a frown, "All we are talking about is the math around the baseline trajectory of a bullet and offsetting it by all the things affecting its path to the target. As long as you can hold the weapon steady, the firearm is in good working order, and the round is not faulty, the bullet is going to come out the same way each time. It is weather, altitude, and gas density working against it actually hitting. Get those annoying details with the needed math behind them out of the way and you get a perfect shot every time!" He then looked down at Glen, "I want one of those aiming sensors for my carbine when you get a chance!"

"We'll have to rework for the muzzle velocity and spin of the round, but it's a nine mill, so most of the calculations are plug and play. I am really looking forward to using this instead of messing up people with my chair. It took almost twenty minutes to get the blood off, and I bet there is blood inside the housing from the guy who shot my dad. It'll take hours to really get it clean."

"At least you didn't have to strip in front of everyone and hose your armor out like I did," Alexander countered.

"Seriously?" the Marine asked again, clearly stunned, "You both sound like combat is nothing more than a game."

"A game, no." Alexander stated. "But there is a certain adrenaline rush I have not found with anything else, even skydiving. I kind of like it. Without the blood, it would be a whole lot better though."

The young man shook his head as if to clear it while repeating the same word, "Seriously?"

"Oh, more than seriously." Lt. Reeves responded. "From what I have seen and heard, both these boys took down men during the attempted mutiny. As in killed those attacking them and our crew."

Seeing the Marine's eyes go wide, Alexander smiled, "Not just geeks, but dangerous geeks we be!"

Aboard the Worden, Ricky rolled his neck and yawned as he worked on the computer secured from the fishing trawler. It only took a few seconds to see a similar virus in the computer hard drive as had been on the Temple hard drive. Only this one was even more deeply embedded. Since he didn't have the needed passwords, he had to go through the binary code and pull out the bits manually. While having the UNIT computer allowed him to do this hundreds of times faster than he would have otherwise been able to do so, it was still time consuming and exhausting.

Next to him, Steven was cross checking all locations of known relay stations and using them to branch outward even further. Like Ricky, he was fighting the desire to put his head down on the console he was working at. As he pinpointed yet another land based retrans location, this time in Mexico, he chugged half a bottle of water and dumped the rest over his head to force himself to wake back up.

Ricky glanced over with another yawn, but grinned, "You want to wake up, I could make that cold."

Steven snickered, "I'm almost tempted to take you up on it, but until you learn how to not freeze things, I'll pass!"

Kopland moved up to the two boys and set down a plate of Nachos, cheese, and chili along with two sodas, "Boys, you really need to take a break."

"We can't, sir. Sooner, rather than later, the Army of God will realize we are on to them and shut down their network on us." Steven answered even as he fought off another yawn. "Besides, I'm not real hungry."

"Me neither," Ricky glanced over at the tray, "but the smell is starting to change my mind." He then gave Steven a playful poke, "And since when are you not hungry?"

"There is a first for everything..." Steven eyed the tray for a couple more seconds before sticking a chip in the chili. "Oh, wow, that's good."

Ricky rolled his eyes and quickly grabbed a handful of chips and dumped some of the cheese and chili on a spare plate. "Now you got him started, sir. You may need to call over the new resupply ship real soon!"

Kopland smiled, "Bit of a human vacuum?"

"More like a human black hole," Ricky giggled.

Steven didn't even bother to respond. Instead he downed a couple dozen chips dripping with the cheese and chili.

Kopland ruffled Steven's hair. "I'll have the cooks do another batch, I can already tell what you have there will not last long. Need anything else?"

"Another caffeinated soda or three?" Ricky asked with hope while taking a long drink.

"I think we can spare a few more."

Just as Kopland moved toward the door, Steven looked over his shoulder, "Sir?"

Kopland moved back over, "What's up."

"Not sure, sir. But the last sweep is picking up chatter. But it's broken so it is just on the edge of our range and it isn't English. I need to have Keith listen in on this and see if he can get a better signal. Problem is, you have a better communication array than Craig's dad's ship and while I speak some Spanish, I can only pick up a few words of what I am getting. They are talking too fast for me. Strike-Comm is fluent."

Kopland nodded in understanding, "How about you let some Navy guys do their jobs and help you out?"

"Because Strike-Comm is better," Ricky responded then gulped as he saw Kopland's eyes narrow, "um, I, um, mean probably better."Captain Kopland reached over and patted Ricky on the shoulder, "Your friend very well may be better, but Petty Officer Soto is pretty damned good, he speaks Spanish, and he is on the Worden. Your friend isn't."

Steven nodded, "Be happy to get his help, sir, and sorry, I think we are both getting real tired. Ricky wouldn't normally say that."

"You are both working your butts off after a long flight and a firefight. I get it young man. I'll send Petty Officer Soto down, then grab you some more soda and nachos."

Ricky cringed and looked over to Steven as Kopland left, "Sorry. I can't believe I said something so stupid!"

One of the other men in engineering glanced over, "Hey, relax. He gets it and you're fine. However, badmouthing a crew to the person who was up till a few days ago commanding officer of a warship and is now fleet commander is a sure fire way to get such a look."

Ricky kept working on the code while responding, "Yeah, well if looks could kill you would be sweeping up a pile of ash off this chair."

"Not as bad as the look Keith got from his mom when we landed," Steven managed to get out between bites of nachos.

The two boys continued to joke about being happy it was Keith's mom and Glenn's dad and not their parents until Petty Officer Second Class Soto peeked in the room, "I hear one or both of you need some help with comms?"

"Yeah!" Steven stated as he stood and pointed to the stool he had been sitting at for the last few hours. "I got chatter but it is real weak and keeps fading out on me. It's also in Spanish. I think they are talking about losing something or being lost and are asking for a safe course, but as fast as they are talking and as poor as the signal is, I can't get much more."

Soto sat down, "From what the captain says, you are a real smart kid. You interested in radios?"

"Yeah, but other than be available to tell you how they work and building one, I really don't know much."

"Better than most of the world. Most just turn them on look for a station they want to hear, then expect it to work each time they turn it on. There is an art to radio communications and communication security. One of the first things about getting a weak signal is there is lots of background noise, static. The more you turn up the volume the louder the static is. So step one is to do what seems counterproductive, turn down the volume, put on a headset and push them tight around your ears."

Soto handed over a second set of headphones and plugged it in. Once he was certain Steven was hearing what was coming over the radio he slowly dialed down the volume. It didn't take long for the words to be heard over the competing crackle of static. "This is an AM signal, so they don't have to be line of sight to us. Normal ship communications are VHF, and are line of sight, so this is odd. However, with a digital receiver we can move up and down the AM spectrum in very small increments. With any luck we can force a clearer signal."

"It's already better with lower volume." Steven nodded in understanding. "It's a ship and is trying to locate other ships it was supposed to be with, but they are talking too darn fast!"

"You are correct, the ship doing most of the talking is trying to link back up with others. It got off course and now has lost its tracking signal. The ship by the name of Parkland is in communication with another by the name of Greythrope. The Greythrope is telling the Parkland it followed the wrong escort and is out of eyesight and even VHF radio contact. Both ships are telling each other they have lost navigational beacon fixes and the remaining escort ships have as well.

"This is as clear as I can get it, but the Greythrope seems to be the only one able to reach the Parkland and is telling it to turn southwest since the escorts it accidently followed turned sharply to the northeast. The Greythrope is also telling the Parkland the convoy has stopped until it can reestablish contact with a beacon since there are hostile ships somewhere to the northeast of them."

Ricky looked over, "Didn't you guys get chased by a couple of warships coming from the southwest?"

Steven nodded, "Yeah... Holy Crap! This could be one of Ashwood's resupply convoys! I bet they were using the Army of God ships to tell them where we were so they stayed outside of our radar range and..." Steven stopped as he pulled up a list of the ship's stores on board the Worden.

"And? And what?"

Steven tapped the monitor as he found what he was looking for, "And I have an idea. I need to talk to Mr. Kopland and Craig's dad!"

Soto glanced at the monitor and noticed Steven was pointing at the eleven remaining RGM/UGM-109D cruise missiles, "Son, those are cluster munitions filled with illegal chemical weapons. Sarin to be precise!"

"I know. It's what hit Austin when we were there. Like I said I need to talk with Mr. Kopland. I have an idea!"

Ricky looked over in shock, "You saw what sarin did in Austin! You can't..."

"Relax, Ricky, I am not about to use sarin on anyone. I wouldn't even unleash it on Ashwood himself. Paulson, maybe... But..." he shook his head, "A bullet or fifty is what Paulson needs, one at a time, none lethal... Anyway, I never want to hear or see the effects of sarin again. And I'd never use it on anyone. No way. But we have those missiles and a possible Ashwood cargo convoy dead in the water since we took out their navigational relays. I really need to talk to Mr. Kopland!"

Soto eyed Steven even as he moved up to the comm, "Captain Kopland, your presence is requested down in engineering, sir."

Commander Bickford jumped out of the helicopter the moment it touched the deck of the Worden. He then reached back and helped his son and Justin off pointing for both to angle well away from the back rotor. The look the two boys gave him told him both kids had done this more than a few times at this point and didn't really see the need to be reminded.

Chase gave both boys a light pop on the back of the head and gave another hard point well away from the back of the helicopter. He nodded in satisfaction as Justin's eyes went wide and held up both hands before turning in the direction of the outstretched arm. At the same time Craig gulped and nodded before following Justin.

As soon as the trio was clear the pilot lifted back off the deck circled the Worden once then angled to the southwest. Less than a minute later another helicopter touched down and a ramp was lowered. Glenn maneuvered down the ramp while Alexander jumped off. The two boys were followed by Lachlan and Lt. Reeves, both of whom did the exact same thing as Chase had done, pointing for the boys to move in a straight line well away from the tail of the aircraft.

Alexander didn't even get a chance to send a glare at Lachlan, the man was already eyeing him as if expecting the protest. Seeing this, Alexander quickly hustled toward the hangar.

Reeves glanced over at Lachlan as the two men moved to catch up, "You seem to know him pretty well."

"Too well. Spent days walking out of Austin and getting down to the coast with him. He's extremely intelligent and overall a great kid, but thinks a bit too highly of himself and loves to take risks. Out of any of the kids out here, he is probably the one you all need to keep the closest eye on. However, he is extremely tough and strong for his age and size. I have heard from others it took a Taser and a kick to his face to take him down in a fight and ten minutes later he was up and walking around really mad at missing most of the fight. He also took a fist from one of the rogue Marines on your ship and still managed to put his blade all the way through the guy's neck."

"I'll let some of the other men know."

"He'll listen, but if he gets riled up someone he sees as an authority figure needs to quash it quick. He'll throw a bit of a pouting temper tantrum but can control himself and if pressed about acting like a spoiled brat will really back down quickly. The biggest thing out here you all need to know is he says he can't swim at all."

"Can't swim? Shit, I'll make sure we keep a close eye on him then."

"He is the only one of the nine who can't. I've been told by the others Glenn knows how to sweep his arms around and dog paddle. He can also move his legs, but his hip was crushed or something in an accident, so he can't walk. But he told me in the bunker, part of his physical therapy is to move it in the water to keep the muscles from atrophying. It sounds like once he stops growing they will be able to replace his hip with a metal one and he will be able to walk again." Lachlan managed to grin, "In the meantime, his chair is like a mini hovercraft, so he can go right over the water in it."

The men stopped and looked back as a Coast Guard helicopter came in. Keith hopped off followed by Joey and Scott. Right behind the two boys LCDR Baxter, commanding officer of the Glassell hopped down and gently yet firmly pushed the boys toward safety. Petty Officer Callahan was the last one off, and waited to make sure the kids were clear before motioning for the pilot to take off. Like the first two, it circled, then angled to the southwest.

The seven kids and their escorts were met by a very fair skinned man with flaming red hair. The man saluted Commander Bickford then turned to the others, "LCDR Whelan, acting commanding officer of the Worden until our commander recovers from sarin exposure. Every time he thinks he's got it beat, he gets sick again. Let me take you to the officer's mess."

Commander Bickford motioned for Whelan to lead the way even as he spoke, "So can I get a clue on what is so important and classified as to where the Coast Guard cutters are taking over rescue ops of the ships we sunk, all ship commanders are over here, and we don't even want to use low power directional comms?"

"Sir," Whelan shrugged, "I am not yet in on this. All I can tell you is the two men who were down in engineering along with my radioman who were with the two youngsters you sent us to get rid of the microwave communications and radar situation looked pretty stunned when I saw them, but by then Captain Kopland ordered them to keep their mouths shut. The only thing I have been able to glean is this has something to do with ships to our southwest and an idea being floated by the one the boys call Geo or Geothermal. I have heard him called both. From the look on Captain Kopland's face alone, whatever this idea is must be really insane. However, he called this meeting, so there must be something behind it."

Justin glanced over to Craig, "Oh, man, what did Steven do or say?"

Alexander grinned, "Who cares? I can't wait to hear this!"

Glenn spoke up, "Geo hasn't steered us wrong yet, so whatever it is, I'm in!"

"Me too," Scott stated. "Out of the nine of us, he is one of the smartest, if not smartest."

Keith quickly agreed, "While we all can do a lot of what the rest of us can do, only he knows chemistry, and while not the greatest at computers, he is learning real fast."

Even though he was not happy with what was being said, Alexander forced himself to admit the truth. "I knew as soon as I met him at the airport during the layover he was better than me. Just look at what he did with what he had! We all had backing of parents and money, he pieced his together from junk and some of the best ideas we have come up with surround what he managed to build!"

Steven heard the comment and moved to the door of the officer's mess, "Oh, come on Alexander, stop. Your robot is about the coolest thing ever and you actually won awards and prizes before this contest. All eight of you smoke me on computers, and my metal detector is going to be one of the hardest things to market. All things considered, I have yet to do a thing."

Ricky looked over at Steven with a measure of exasperation, "Other than save the lives of thousands in Austin, come up with a plan for cloud seeding in Boulder, trace fault line slippage and help calculate the best evacuation zones in California. Oh, and the attack on the Temple, it was your plan!"

The adults all exchanged glances, but Chase spoke up before Steven could counter Ricky, "Boys, while I both want, yet dread, to hear what you all are talking about, now is not the time. Captain Kopland has basically put this fleet on standby for this and some of us have ships to run. As it is, I am nervous as hell about not being aboard the Read, since I have no way of knowing who else is on Ashwood's side!"

Ricky spoke up, "Only two left and I sent the names to Mr. Warner and Mr. Gutierrez, sir. They won't be a problem anymore."

"And you know this how?" Chase asked with a glare.

Kopland held up his hand and slid a file over, "Because this young man managed to break the encryption of the computer the SAS team recovered from the fishing trawler. It held the names of every operative in our fleet along with the passwords to unlock their phones. As you were flying over, I got confirmation of the information being correct on a trio left aboard the Worden and the two on the Read. We also have names of men aboard the Guard cutters, but there is only a baker's dozen between all the ships. It seems penetration of the Guard was not nearly as high of a priority as the Navy. The bad news is they knew the Glassell and the Duke were sent to link up with us. They didn't have information on the Great Plains, though."

Petty Officer Soto looked over, "Sir, just before you came in I got word from Seamen Warner and Gutierrez. Warner said those aboard the Read had been 'secured' and Gutierrez added in 'the hard way'."

Chase picked up the file and read down the list of names, "Huh, I never did like Nelson, but Saunders is a surprise. Going to miss his cooking."

"Good thing we got to this when we did," Kopland jumped in. "Since we have the passwords we were able to download the last transmission they got. It was to poison the crews of all the ships. There was at least one cook on every boat. We recovered a large package of toxin from Petty Officer Third Class Becker's gear."

"You sure it is toxic?"

Steven looked over, "When he realized he was caught he put some in his mouth. He was dead before they got him to the medical bay, sir. Whatever it is killed really fast, and caused his mouth to foam just like the guy Craig pulled the eyes out of. My bet is it acts faster concentrated. Mixed in coffee or whatever, it would be much slower."

Chase looked down the names, even as several of those who didn't know about the eye gouge looked over at Craig.

Craig gave those looking at him a shrug and a smirk, while his father spoke, "Looks like the attempt to take the ship while we were in the hangar pulled most of them out of the woodwork. Good to see some good news for once. The real question is why did we have to come here if our ships are now secure?"

"Because," Kopland shot Steven and Ricky a raised eyebrow, "it seems like our guests are actually better than what they are willing to give themselves credit for. Not only did they crack the computer, they have crippled a widening circle of Ashwood's communications. As soon as we have located all the ground stations we can, we are going to fire cruise missiles on them to permanently remove them from the network Ashwood has clandestinely built. The Tempest and Torrent are already moving in to sink the closest in targets and will continue to work to the south since many of the ones to the north can be hit from Texas based aircraft. At the same time a computer virus should continue to expand outward. Ricky, here, assures me they will stop it soon, but as of yet, they have not and more stations both mobile and fixed are falling victim to it and in turn give us their locations. As I just mentioned, those in Texas or close to it are going to be taken out by Governor Hendrickson's forces while we will hit what we are in range of, but they can't. How many targets are we up to boys?"

"Eleven fixed, but two are right on the edge of our range." Steven stated then shook his head, "Twelve, just got another one in Mexico. We are well within range of it."

"Impressive," Baxter spoke, "damned impressive. Seems like EEL found the right kids to pick as contest winners."

"You know about the contest?" Keith asked.

"Oh yeah. My son submitted a drone that does all sorts of flying tricks, but only got to phase three. He said as soon as he met the kid with the camera stabilizer he knew he was done."

Justin's eyes went wide, "You're DeShawn's dad?"

"I am, and you must be Justin."

"Uh huh... I told my mom the second I got home DeShawn's drone was the only one I was worried about. The other eight were stupid."

Kopland cleared his throat, "As fascinating as this is, can we get back on track please?"

"Sorry sir!" LCDR Baxter responded while shooting Justin a big smile.

"Um, yeah." Justin answered a moment later, but still looked over at LCDR Baxter, "Any chance when this is done I can spend some time with him?"

The large black man smiled, "You sure as hell can. DeShawn has wanted to contact you about using your stabilizer on his drone's camera since he got back from Omaha."

Justin smiled widely, "I've been thinking the same thing!"

Next to Kopland, Chase put his head in his hand and shook it.

Kopland paused and glanced over, "Problem, Commander?"

"No, sir. Not really, but he sounds exactly like Craig. There was a boy who had this solar radio flashlight survival tool Craig met at the final set of interviews. He has been on me to help him find him so he can combine his idea with the other kid's."

"Kasper," Craig spoke up. "Really sucks they didn't give us more time to talk to each other afterwards."

Kopland let out a long breath, but LCDR Baxter interjected, "Kids, they probably didn't want you all to accidentally give out details of your ideas to others since EEL wanted to help patent and market the winners' projects. Now how about we all pay attention before Captain Kopland sends us to the brig?"

Kopland snorted with a big smile, "Don't tempt me Lieutenant Commander!" He let the snickers roll over the room before he moved behind Steven and put his hands on the boy's shoulders, "The reason for this meeting is standing right in front of me."

Once he was sure he had everyone's total attention, Kopland continued, "Steven, oft referred to as Geothermal, managed to pinpoint what we think is an Argentine supply convoy headed to Ashwood held territory."

"You're giving me too much credit." Steven spoke with total embarrassment. "Mr. Soto was the one who really managed to get the transmission clear enough to understand it."

"Without you, kiddo, I wouldn't have known to help, and you knew you needed help and asked for it. All in all, this is on you."

Kopland gently squeezed Steven's shoulders. "Now is not the time to deflect credit. Besides, when you tell everyone here what you want to do, I need all of them to know just how sharp you are." He looked up and spoke very slowly and clearly, "Gentlemen, you need to let him finish before you start speaking. Otherwise we are going to have a repeat of what happened in engineering and it was not pretty. Your initial reaction will be to shout and cut him off, trust me. However, this idea deserves to be heard in its entirety. So, Steven, the floor is now yours." Kopland then took a step back.

Steven had a flashback to being in front of the camera in the Texas capitol building, He took a deep breath, "OK, geesh, this is hard to do... First off, the helicopters are all moving southwest so we can confirm what we are pretty sure of. But we hope to get, um, proof of what we think."

"And that is?" Chase asked softly, deciding to assist a child who was clearly beyond nervous.

"There have been several conversations between two cargo freighters. One is with a convoy the other isn't. It got separated. We actually think it followed the two warships you all sunk instead of the others it was supposed to. This really does makes sense, too. The warships came from the southwest and came right at us. It was just getting dark and the conversations we managed to hear suggest the convoy was under communications blackout. The captain of the Parkland has said at least half a dozen times he followed the warships as they moved past him. He was on the front north corner of the convoy and simply thought the warships quick change of course was a way of warning him to follow.

"The Parkland was too slow, and quickly got separated from the warships but not before it moved out of range of the other ships it was supposed to stay with. It tried to turn back and link back up with the convoy, but the rest of the ships along with the three remaining escorts were ordered further south because this fleet changed directions and moved in the basic direction of the convoy. This also fits what we know. It also makes sense, since they couldn't contact the Parkland by then since they didn't want to risk this fleet hearing them.

"At this time, our best guess is the Parkland is about a eighty miles from us. It has been told to move back to the southwest, so the actual convoy is probably another thirty or more miles out."

Baxter spoke up, "I follow all of this, but what makes you think the one ship is still so far out from the others?"

"Because the Parkland is still using AM radio to talk to them. Also the word we get from the ship talking to them, the Greythrope, is saying they have been ordered to hold position since they have lost all beacons and they no longer know where we are.

"The Greythrope?" LCDR Boyles asked.

"Yes sir."

Kopland turned his attention to Boyles, "You know her?"

"Hell yeah." The man all but spat. "Damned thing is one step the wrong direction from being a rust bucket. We rescued her crew in heavy seas last winter. Thought for sure she was going to go down since it lost all power. The waves beat the crap out of her for two days, but she managed to stay afloat somehow. Lost over half of its containers in the blow. I could have sworn I read a report saying it was sold to Argentina for scrap!"

"Sounds like they got it up and running instead of scrapping it." Baxter stated.

"And according to Ambassador Assadir, Argentina is one of the big suppliers to Ashwood," Scott announced.

"Along with Venezuela and what is left of Mexico, in the Americas and there are several Middle Eastern countries and African nations also helping Ashwood." Justin added.

Baxter glanced back and forth, "Is there anything you kids don't know?"

"At this point we all know far more than we ever wanted to, sir." Scott responded. "The problem is, to make this all go against Ashwood we need to know more."

Steven made sure the side conversation was done before he continued, "Knowing the Greythrope was sold to Argentina is awesome. This means we have side information on what we are hearing and it fits in with what we know about the Ashwood supply lines. I just hope one of those helicopters can get us more chatter or I just used up a lot of fuel for nothing."

"It is a calculated risk," Kopland reminded Steven. "One I approved of and even issued the orders, so it is on me not you."

"OK," LCDR Whelan took the floor, "so we have what looks like a promising target for the first time since we sunk the Buchanan and Winslow. We have a full load of missiles and the Provider has enough to restock us. So why the meeting? As soon as we locate them we sink the bastards and take a huge divot out of Ashwood's fairway."

"Because I don't want to go for a chip shot onto the green for par. I want to score a double eagle on a par five!" Steven responded.

"Huh, look there, the kid knows golf, too!" Baxter chuckled.

Steven grinned, "Caddied for some extra money over the summer and built a siphon with a filter out of four old shop-vacs I found in the junk yard and a multi shunt tube that only let the balls go into the hopper. I used it to suck balls out of the pond on the back side of the fourteenth hole so I could sell them back to the guys I caddied for. It was my backup plan if I couldn't get my metal detector to work."

"Now there is something my dad would and should buy!" Craig stated, even as he edged well outside of his father's reach.

Despite the situation most of the room exploded in laughter.

Steven glanced over at Craig and shook his head. There was no question as he studied the eye exchange between Craig and his father, this matter was far from over. However, on the plus side, Craig's father was smiling, although with a hint of a smirk.

As the laughter faded and a few of the men gave Chase a good natured shove or pat on the back, Steven moved around to a computer. "Now before I start with what I'd like to do I want to make it clear I am not talking about using what is in the missiles, only the missiles themselves."

This got everyone's attention refocused on the situation at hand. LCDR Whelan was the first to speak, "Are you actually hinting you want to use the sarin warheads?"

Seeing other men all jerk their heads to look at Steven, Kopland spoke up, "Not a word! Let the boy finish or this will degenerate into a screaming match and I already had one of those with him!"

"But we can't open those warheads! Just one seriously wounded dozens and killed..."

Kopland slammed his fist down on the table, "Lieutenant Commander, shut the hell up and listen! One word until he is done and I will personally throw your ass in the brig! Same goes for the rest of you!"

Once he was sure the assembled command staff wasn't going to say anything else, Kopland nodded at Steven. "OK, son, the floor is yours. Take your time and go for it."

Steven ran his hands down his face and took a long breath, "OK, yes, I am talking about the cluster missiles. And yes I know they contain sarin. As a matter of fact, I know the exact chemical formulation of the sarin and the stabilizing agents involved. I used the formulations to do a prediction table on dispersion rates in Austin. The nine of us were there, and if you want, you can check with Captain Kopland who has been in contact with Governor Hendrickson. He can give you a video feed with the governor telling him I was the one who did all the calculations on the sarin to give the best survival chances to those who pulled plastic bags over themselves to keep the gas off them and out of their lungs."

"Not to mention help calculate how long it would take to get to a relatively safe concentration for those who moved up to the top of buildings to stay out of the clouds of it close to the ground." Scott added. "Steven knows this stuff and saved thousands of lives in Austin."

Justin also jumped in, "Including ours and the entire government of Texas. The information and chemical movements of the sarin helped Mr. Triumph to come up with the best places to drop lines of thermite to destroy most of the clouds, preventing it from getting to large areas of the city including a couple of elementary and junior high schools only a few blocks outside of the contamination zone. Each and every kid in those schools are alive, along with the teachers, while many of their parents aren't because of Steven's work on the formulas we got from Craig's dad."

Chase gave Steven an approving nod, "Since none of the rest of us can put a candle next to the inferno of what the kid has done, the least we can do is hear him out, gentlemen."

Seeing the initial hostility drop significantly, Steven gulped and moved over to a computer and hit a key on a computer. The screen at the far end of the room lit up with a schematic of the RGM/UGM-109D cruise missiles. He then started speaking quickly, "These missiles hold the sarin. Each small round is in essence a separate chemical bomb. However, in this design, they are trinary rounds, meaning there are three substances which need to combine to make one. The first two are what makes the sarin. The third much smaller compartment, is for a stabilizing agent. This prevents the sarin from breaking down naturally and keeps it viable for several days. It also is tailored to make the sarin more effective at the altitude dispersed.

"Because of this third chamber, the missiles were designed to be easily opened so the stabilizing agent could be added once the exact target was identified. This also means I can take out the clusters and drain them. We can then change the chemical agent."

"OK, hold up just a second." Baxter spoke up. "I follow everything you said, but there are one primary and two secondary issues, plus at least one tertiary one I can think of."

"I bet I can eliminate most if not all of them before you even ask," Steven stated as he changed to the screen to show a blow-up of one of the cluster munitions. "I bet your biggest concern is one already broke open so you are worried about their stability."

"That is the primary concern, yes." Baxter admitted.

"Cross it off your list. These are in glass lined aluminum cases. It took a bullet to penetrate the aluminum and break the glass lining. What happened with the bomblets involved, several rounds struck the open case, since the stabilizing agent was being added at the time the shooting broke out. The bullets penetrated a half dozen clusters spilling the contents. They then mixed and made the sarin. I could pick up one of the unmixed clusters and throw it down on the ground and chances are the glass lining wouldn't break. Even if it did, the chances of both sides breaking are very slim. Even then the outer case would keep it contained unless it also breached, and there is a small explosive charge to blow the case open after the chemicals mix. Furthermore, the stabilizing agent chamber is between the two sides of the binary sarin, so all three would have to break internally for it to even mix.

"Captain Kopland allowed me to look at the damaged missile and I was able to determine the sarin contamination on this ship was caused because multiple clusters were hit. No one cluster caused the sarin to form. Instead, multiple ones were breached and so they mixed under the leaking mini-bombs and the cloud formed because the binary agents mixed."

Noting almost everyone was looking at him with stunned expressions, Steven continued, "The next fears you probably all have surround the binary agents themselves and how we get rid of them. I am sure you are all very worried about cracking open the cases and disposal."

Seeing several heads bob up and down Steven snickered, "Erase those fears. My plan is to drain only one side of the bomb at a time and simply dump it over the side." He held up an open palm to stop the comments he could tell were about to inundate him. "Yes, it will all end up in the ocean and yeah, it could mix, but sarin as a whole is very water soluble and there is way more water to dissolve in than would ever pose a risk. In the bunker we were in, we had to worry about evaporation and added water to prevent it coming out of solution, but that was because we were underground and it is heavier than air plus it was already mixed. This meant we had to worry about it coming out of solution. We were also ready for it to do so."

Alexander spoke up, "None of these situations will apply here, though. In this case we will empty all of one half, then move before emptying the second half. Then even if they do manage to find each other, the concentrations will be so low and in so much water it will never pose any threat ever. We won't even kill a fish."

Steven pointed to Alexander and gave a thumbs up even as he continued, "The next worry almost certainly has to come from what we want to do with the bombs. This is where things get interesting and will probably cause some problems, but keep in mind, what I am suggesting is mostly non-lethal and Ashwood already broke the rules or whatever you want to call them."

"So you are talking about the use of some kind of chemical weapons?" Chase demanded to know.

"Yes," Steven nodded, "but nothing like sarin."

"Before you all start shouting; I need to point out something you all need to consider. Something I bet Steven doesn't realize, but still needed to be tossed out there." Scott jumped in forcefully.

Kopland raised an eyebrow and pointed at Scott, "OK, what insights do you have, young man?"

"Simply this," Scott stepped up to the table and spoke. "If we do what I am now certain Steven is thinking about doing, it will not really fall into normal international law or the treaties against use of chemical weapons in warfare."

"Really?" LCDR Whalen snarled. "How in the hell do you figure?"

"Simple," Scott responded while staring right into the man's eyes. "There are exceptions to use of chemical agents. It is what allows law enforcement to use tear gas or CS gas. While I admit the line is fine, this is a domestic issue, since this is a civil war conflict. Thus we can consider this as crowd control or a police action. This could be extended out to the foreign ships since they are directly supporting Richard Ashwood in an internal U.S. matter. Use of chemical agents is legal for police for internal crowd control. If you give me a little time on a computer I can find the exact treaties and the passages in them to clearly spell them out, but I really shouldn't have to. You all know use of chemical agents in a police action is totally legal. The reason is, the treaties we signed kept them legal."

Even as Whalen rocked back as if he had been punched, Boyles let out a long whistle, "We have CS gas rounds and grenades on cutters for police actions. I never even thought about why that was legal when using them in warfare is not!"

"The CWC or Chemical Warfare Convention and the treaties made because of it contains stipulations for use of chemical agents in the use of law enforcement. It is often referred to as a loophole, but no matter the treaty, they are there," Scott assured the rest of the command staff. "And since Steven seems to be wanting to stop weapons from illegally getting into the United States with some kind of chemical weapon, this could clearly be declared a police action."

"Part of what the Coast Guard is for!" Boyles smiled widely, "The last part of our charter says it all. Providing for the well-being, general safety, security, and interests of the citizens of the United States. Damn, I love this kid and the way he thinks! Wish I had a boy like you!"

Scott snorted with a great deal of sadness, "Good, cause after this is over I am going to need someone to take me in. There is no way I can be a Race after this."

Boyles' smile faded, "Kiddo, you'll have a good home come hell or high water once this is over. My boy and girl would love an older brother, and you would be a hell of an older brother."

Kopland agreed, "Scott, you have nothing to worry about. There are plenty of men and women in this fleet who would take you in as their own in a heartbeat, including myself and clearly LCDR Boyles."

Scott took a step back and smiled, "Thanks. Um, Steven, you mind finishing?"

Steven reached over and patted Scott on the back, "A home is the last thing you need to worry about Scott." He then looked back over at Baxter, "Does this solve your initial fears?"

"All but one," Baxter admitted. "And, Scott, you're flatly brilliant to have come up with a backdoor on a way to give us permission for what Steven is angling toward. To have done so on the fly, when you didn't know what this meeting was about is even more impressive. Steven is correct, you have hundreds of men to pick from if you want a new home." He then refocused on Steven, "Last real question. There will be residual in the cluster munitions, so some sarin will still be let out, right?"

Glenn shook his head, "No, sir. As Steven noted sarin is very much soluble in water. It would be easy to rinse out each bomblet or whatever you call them. We can pull water right out of the ocean to do it with and do so safely."

Steven nodded in agreement, "Glenn's right. I would actually want to wash them out as we clean them."

"I think more and more of us are warming to this idea, Steven," Chase stated. "So what do you want to fill these things with and then what are you proposing?"

"My plan is to go with a binary component and use a stabilizing agent between them just like Ashwood's people did. Only instead of sarin, it would be a combo chemical of 3-Quinuclidinyl Benzilate and Scopolamine. Both would have to be pulverized to get them airborne and the stabilizing agent would keep them airborne for longer instead of making them last longer."

"I've heard of Scopolamine," LCDR Robles of the USCGC Riptide stated. "It is used in seasickness and can, in a pure form, cause a person to be very suggestible."

Steven nodded, "Exactly. When combined with 3-Quinuclidinyl Benzilate, it will leave the vast majority unresponsive, totally loopy, or unable to fight coherently."

"And where would we get a hold of these chemicals?" LCDR Hood of the USCGC Cherokee demanded to know.

Keith spoke up, "The Russians."

This caused most heads to turn to stare at Keith.

Keith grinned, "The dad of one of my friends just happened to turn out to be Colonel Zolotov, Russian special forces commander and personal friend of President Bryce. "

Steven nodded, "And I have already talked to him. The Russians happen to keep 3-Quinuclidinyl Benzilate for anti-terrorist operations and have agreed to ship us some."

"And Ambassador Assadir, of the UAE, is going to have a shipment of Scopolamine ready in Belize for the Russians to pick up." Ricky added. "A way of thanking Scott and the rest of the others for finding an infiltrator on his yacht and saving his life over on the Read."

"Expect it to be here in about four hours from the time we give the go ahead. We'll have to fish it out since they are going to do an air drop in three loads." Kopland added. "They are also sending us more helo fuel."

LCDR Whalen was first to find his voice, "Why would the Russians..."

"Because," Kopland gave a grim chuckle, "President Bryce and Colonel Zolotov are good friends and Keith, here, has been helping Zolotov's boy learn how to speak English for months via shortwave radio."

"Damn," Baxter muttered with a great deal of appreciation, "my boy never had a chance to win if this is the kind of kids who ended up going to EEL Headquarters!"

Justin shot the man a smile, "DeShawn was super close. I know it had to be between him and me. I can't wait to get to know him better."

Baxter chuckled, "OK, but trust me. I will warn him he is going to be out of his league."

Ricky spoke up, "If he impressed Justin, we can get him up to being in our league without too much problem."

Chase looked over at Baxter, "Now you need to be worried."

Baxter snickered, "Oh, I am." He then looked back at Steven with a smile, "OK, so let's say for the sake of argument we all are all on board for this chemical attack. You did say it wasn't totally non-lethal, so what are we looking at. Also, what exactly are you planning?"

"The people who are in the lower parts of the ships will get a higher concentration unless they get in a sealed section, then they may not get any. Nothing I can do about sealed compartments. Those who are in very heavy concentrations could die, some certainly will, but most are sailors and are healthy. This will help lower casualties. I'd say, based on chemical composition and what I know of them, plus my knowledge of the chemical interactions with humans, we are going to be between five and fifteen percent killed or badly overcome to the point of some permanent problems. All in all, way less than if we shot them with missiles and sink their ships."

"I'd agree." Boyles stated. "Sinking them and then trying to rescue we would have way higher death numbers. But then what?"

Steven glanced over to Kopland, got a smile and a nod then turned back to the whole group, "Then we take the extra Marines on the new supply ship, steal the whole convoy, and give it to Bryce and Hendrickson. We can put it all to port at the Coast Guard station and even find crew to man the warships and add them to our fleet!"

Around the room jaws dropped even as most of the science contest winners nodded. Ricky was the only one who didn't really see the final part of the plan until Steven spoke it, "Oh, man, Ashhole will lose his mind!"

"Not far to go, if you ask me." Scott stated with a satisfied grin. "I just wish I could see his face when he finds out!"

Before anyone else could speak, the comm in the room came to life, "Captain Kopland?"

Kopland moved over to the comm, "Go."

"Sir, I just received word from the Riptide's bird. They are getting radio intercepts and they have long distance eyes on a fleet of ships."

"How many and how far?"

"About ninety nautical miles to the south, southwest, sir. It says they have eyes on fifteen freighters and three Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates. All but one are clustered pretty tight and seem to be stationary. The last one is staying out further to the north of the others and is doing most of the talking. The Read's bird has a sixteenth freighter to the southwest sailing further to the southwest. If she is trying to link up with the others she isn't going to find them in the direction she is steaming."

Kopland acknowledged the report and turned off the comm, "OK, gentlemen, I think it is now or never. I for one, think we should do this, but I want a consensus."

"Even if it wasn't brilliant, I'm all in." Chase growled. "Besides, Ashwood's bastards shot my son and Nathan!"

Alexander shot Craig a smirk, "You'd think three times would be the charm, Recon. You really need to learn how to dodge better!"

A couple of the others looked over even as LCDR Whalen looked over with wide eyes, "You've been shot three times?"

"More," Craig sighed, "but let's not go there."

"Not yet." Chase agreed, "But soon. Very soon."

"Ah, crud," Craig muttered, "thanks Alexander."


This got some snickers even as one after the other the rest of the ship commanders agreed to the plan.

Steven looked over with growing excitement, "I need the convoy position so I can get maximum effective dispersal on the missiles! I'll also have to fix the damaged one so I can knock out their communications decoy."

"We'll get the locations to you. Now that we know where they are I'll have the Brits move in closer and keep tabs on them," Kopland responded with total confidence.

"What about the other ship?" Keith asked.

"Nothing I can do on it. It's moving fast, which will limit the effect of an overhead gas dispersal and I am going to need to do some tight calculations to cover seventeen ships with eleven missiles as is."

Kopland responded with a hard look, "Just make sure you get the three frigates. Our Marines can take the freighters." He then turned to look at Keith, "As for their lost soul, I'm quite sure the Brit SAS team would love a softer target this time."

"What do we do with the hundreds of captives we are sure to end up with?" LCDR Hood asked.

Chase Bickford looked over, "Unless they have security personnel, there will be between twenty and forty crew on the cargo ships. We can stick those on one of the decks for a few days. If there are more, we may have to use two decks. The frigates are another problem. The standard complement on each of them is 215, at least it was for the U.S. Navy. Also, Steven, Captain Kopland is correct. Those three ships have to be a priority. They are missile frigates and, while old, are still very dangerous ships. Like us they seem to be keeping a low electronic signature, but they each can hold forty missiles, so just one of them could sink all of us."

"Commander Bickford is totally correct. We have them out classed, but they could still sink us all if we aren't careful." Kopland stated with a firm warning. "This means if there is any signs of them not falling to the gas attack, we will have to sink them. However, if we manage to take all three we will be dealing with 645 military personnel. We'll need to keep them contained with enough food and water to get them to Texas and then let Hendrickson and company figure it out. We will have to take a look at the ships. Hopefully at least one, preferably two will have a dry cargo hold we can empty and move to one of our supply ships, then stick the warship crews in them. We can run down water and set a couple of pumps to pull waste out and put it over the side. Not fun or comfortable, but they will be safe and secured."

"And if none do?"

Chase looked over to his son and the other boys, "These boys think they are smart, we'll let them figure it out!"

"Hey!" Justin shouted.

"You got us into all this, young man, you can help us get out of it." Baxter chuckled.

"But..." Joey finally spoke up, "Without us, we would have already lost!"

"And thanks to you all we haven't. As a token of our thanks you get to continue to work your butts off to make sure we win and this is part of it." Kopland stated with a satisfied sneer.

Alexander smacked his forehead, "Geesh, no respect at all!"

"Lots of respect," Baxter corrected the boy, "along with equal measures of satisfaction over making sure the future generations learn there is always a price to pay, even for the best and most brilliant ideas. Makes me wish my son was here."

Seeing the other men all nod Justin rolled his eyes. "Come on guys, we have lots of work to do. Steven where do you want us?"

"I'll get Glenn's and Joey's help on draining the missiles while we wait for the Russian shipment. Keith, stay on communications and work with Ricky. First priority is getting us the shipment from Colonel Zolotov. From there, I need the most accurate data we can get on locations and ship positions to each other. Also see if the sub tracking them can get me weather data.

"Craig, you know ships. Why don't you work with Scott on figuring out how to keep all the crews prisoners, given what we may end up with. Once you have a few plans, focus on the information we got from the ambassador and see if he can get us any more information on what ports are shipping things to Ashhole. Maybe Bryce can find a way to hit them and cripple future shipments.

"Justin and Alexander, you two seem to have a decent grasp on computers and communications, keep tracing the Army of God network. As soon as you see Ricky's virus getting attacked, you will have to help Captain Kopland and Craig's dad prioritize targets. We need to take out as many as we can so we leave the vast majority of the Gulf of Mexico in an Army of God blackout. This will allow this fleet and Texas to operate free of spying."

Steven focused his full attention on Captain Kopland, "Sir, I am sure you have people who can help with every one of these things and we need all the help we can get. Right now weather is very calm and I'd like to launch this attack while it is, so we have to have everything ready so we can load the missiles and fire."

Kopland gave a single nod, "You heard the boy. Get to your ships, find him the types of people he needs and get ready to give this a whirl. We need radar coverage looking for inbounds and keep point defense systems ready."

Three hours later, as massive floating containers were dropped by a trio of Il-76 aircraft, a helicopter landed on the Worden. Moments after landing two men got off. The two moved over to Glenn, who was getting help from three men and one woman. They were opening, draining, and rinsing the cluster munitions for the second time, this to get rid of the second half of the binary concoction designed to produce the highly toxic sarin.

Glenn didn't notice at first, but a nudge from one of the men helping him caused Glenn to look up. "Hey, Dad!" His voice quickly trailed off as he saw the look in the man's eyes. "What... what's wrong?"

Tears started streaming down the man's cheeks as he tried to answer. No sounds came out. Instead he moved forward and wrapped his son in his arms.

"What? What happened?!?" Glenn shouted even as tears started to fall out of his own eyes.

Commander Bickford moved up and knelt, "Glenn, it's your brother... We did everything we could..." At this Chase's voice also started to fail.

"No!" Glenn shouted loudly enough to get both Steven's and Joey's attention from the stations they had set up to drain the other missiles of their vile toxins.

Steven sprinted over, "Glenn! What's wrong?"

Glenn looked up at his dad, over at Chase, then back to Steven, "My... my brother..."

Steven's face turned pale, "Oh, no!" He gulped and looked over at Chase, "He... he didn't make it?"

Chase shook his head even as he put an arm around Steven who suddenly looked like he, too, needed a great deal of support. "The best medical people we had did everything they could, but there was just too much damage. Guys, I am so sorry."

Glenn gripped his father, not even noticing the look of pain as it rippled across the man's face from his son so tightly gripping where the bullet had been pulled out. "Is this my fault? Is he dead because of what I did?"

"No!" Mr. Olivarez managed to bark out, "No Glenn! You can't blame..."

"Yes I can!" Glenn started sobbing, "If we hadn't..."

"If you hadn't done everything you did, you would be dead and your family would be in Ashwood controlled territory, or worse yet..." Chase wiped at some tears on his own face, "Or worse yet, this whole country would be under the boot of Ashwood and this God's Army. No Glenn, you can't blame yourself."

"But they came after my family because of me!"

"Son," Glenn's father managed to whisper, "you know me. I would have been a target no matter what, and with me the rest of the family. There is no way I would have let Ashwood do what he wanted, what he is getting away with in half of the country. I would have fought back. My gun collection isn't just there for looks, Son."

"I... I know... but..."

"Don't, Glenn." Chase all but ordered, "This is not on you. It is on Ashwood and his thugs."

Glenn tried to stop crying, but failed badly, "Where... where's Mom?"

"Sedated and in the Read's medical bay." Chase answered since it was clear Mr. Olivarez couldn't. "Your sister is with her. As of yet, no one has informed her you are with us out here."


"Because, Son," Mr. Olivarez answered, "from the moment I first saw you, I could tell by the reactions of those around you and how you handled the firefight, you were needed to do all the things you have been doing. There is no way on this earth or the next, your mother would have let you out of her sight, let alone fly around this fleet to various ships, work with all the things you have gotten your hands on, and very possibly helped turn this war against Ashwood.

"I know this is hard, beyond hard, but the people all looking at you, are also counting on you." Glenn's father choked back another sob, "Now do me a big favor, OK?"

Glenn wiped a copious amount of snot and tears onto the back of his hand as he forced himself to look into the eyes of his father. "What?"

"Finish what you are doing. Make Ashwood pay for what he did to Jose!"

One of the men next to Glenn pulled off his shirt and offered it to the boy. Glenn took the shirt, wiped the back of his arm and blew his nose, "I... I don't know..."

"Glenn, you can." Joey interrupted. "This is no different than skeet shooting or the gun fight we ended up in right after. You lean on those around you and use anger to push back the fear and focus. It is what I seem to be able to do when things get really bad. I don't really know how it happens, but I know it when I feel it. Try to do the same thing. Think of the kids in the Temple, think of what those same kinds of people did to your brother, and make them pay! Just do like I did in the helicopter bay when I stuck the jerk trying to kill us!"

"Speaking of which," Chase glanced over to Joey, "my corpsman says you punched your spike right through a Kevlar plate. Mind telling me how you did so?"

"Must have been a weak spot," Joey shrugged, "and it wasn't a spike. It was a pen."

Chase cocked his head to the side, even as Mr. Olivarez glanced over while still hugging Glenn, "A pen?"

"Yeah," Joey flipped up his wrist causing a spike to appear. He then reached over with his other hand and pulled it out. He clicked the back button causing a gel tip to pop out of the tip even as the sharp metal tip folded back into the spike. "See a pen."

"Drilled out of tempered steel with the retractable tip being titanium." Glenn added as he fought back sobs. It was clear talking about something else helped as he was rapidly able to continue. "I helped him design them. Each box in his wrists contain four and we made six quick replacing clips and a few dozen extras to refill them all, but we ran out of gel, so some of the spares are just ballpoint."

Chase took the offered pen, looked it over, and clicked the back. The gel tip instantly disappeared behind a solid very sharp looking metal tip. He tapped it and instantly pulled his finger to his mouth to suck at the blood as it welled through the prick in his skin. "Call it a pen if you all want, boys, but this damned thing is a spike, and a sharp bastard!" He handed it back to Joey with a shake of his head, "Who came up with it?"

"The idea was Ricky's." Joey answered even as he replaced the 'pen' and clicked a button on the box causing it to retract. He then moved up to Glenn and squeezed the boy's shoulder, "The design was all Glenn, with me and Keith combining on the gauntlets. Ricky then added the reinforcing rods to the arm armor, so when I punch the force is distributed all the way to the shoulder. I'm glad he did, too. Otherwise, weak spot in the Kevlar or not, I would have hurt myself real bad when I punched the jerk on your ship."

The shirtless man looked over with a shake of his head, "Wickedly genius!" He then slid close and wiped a couple of more tears from Glenn, "Why don't you let us finish..."

Glenn shook his head, "NO! This is the first payback for Jose! I need to do this!"

Mr. Olivarez leaned over and kissed Glenn on top of his head, "That's my boy. Make them pay, son. Make those bastards pay."

"Oh, they will." Steven stated. "Over and over. Up till now this has been about others, but now it is family, and Glenn is family with the rest of us which makes his brother family as well. Come on, guys let's finish up and take us a convoy, so we can start working on screwing over Ashhole in new and interesting ways!"

Joey gave Glenn another pat on the shoulder, "We do this for and in Jose's name, so let's do it right!"

An hour and a half later Steven moved over to the fire control computer and double-checked his numbers and finalized them with the weather data the HMS Torrent provided. He then verified the positions of all the ships and looked over to the fire control officer, "All targets are set as are the needed order for maximum dispersal. Fire!"

The woman smiled and pointed to a glowing button, "Be my guest, son."

"Ah, cool!" Steven stated with excitement, even as he pushed the first button, "I get to shoot missiles!"

He then quickly went down the sequence, firing each missile as it showed ready.

Three and a half minutes later Kopland watched a timer and finally pointed. "We are about forty seconds from the missiles popping up to detonation altitude." He then looked over to Keith, "Well, hell, we can't let Steven have all the fun in here now can we.. OK, son, radio the helos and tell them to activate ECM and direct it at those frigates!"

Keith's eyes went wide as he eagerly grabbed the mic, "Kilo One Tango, Charlie Seven Echo and Delta Niner Lima commence ECM runs on your target ships!"

One after the other the helicopters verified the orders. At the same time a fourth helicopter angled in toward the fleet and called out the aerial explosions. As the last one detonated over the ship further out the copilot of the fourth helicopter radioed, "Looks like they just activated radar!"

"They know they have been attacked, but shouldn't know by what." Steven stated with fingers crossed "Those on the warships should be smelling a light orange scent right about now. The Russians did some work on the gas and said most people inhale this scent more deeply by instinct so they take in more fast, before they realize what is going on. Then it should be too late. The cargo ships will be getting their first whiffs in the next minute. Man, are we lucky there is almost no wind!"

After several seconds of no communications, Keith nervously spoke into the radio, "Gulf Seven Romeo, anything?"

"No, Worden, nothing. Radar clearly activated on two of three frigates, but nothing else. I am going in for a closer look."

"Careful." Keith warned.

"Oh, trust me, Worden, we are ready to get the hell out of Dodge at the first signs of hostile intent."

Kopland looked over at Keith, "Make sure to tell the other birds to keep hammering those ships with ECM. They can avoid gunfire, but a missile is much harder to lose."

Keith relayed the orders while looking over at Steven who was gripping the edge of the missile launch console with white tipped fingers. Two minutes later the recon helicopter broke the silence, "Worden, I am right over the first warship. There are people down on the deck and nothing is moving. My crew are reporting the same from the other two!"

"Now! Keith, Now!" Kopland roared.

"Kilo One Tango, Charlie Seven Echo and Delta Niner Lima, deploy securing teams! Whiskey Romeo Niner four, Echo Mike Seven Three, November Alpha Six one, GO! Remember gas masks!"

Kopland turned to the ULF radioman, "Tell the Torrent we are landing assault teams, then get the Tempest on the horn and tell them those SAS boys need to secure me the last freighter!"

He then spoke to everyone in the room. "As soon as your teams have the bridges secure we move in, start the turn now and get ready to order the whole fleet to move at flank speed!"

The next half dozen minutes seemed to last for an eternity, but finally the radio came to life. "Worden, this is Charlie Seven Echo. My team reports bridge secured. As of yet they have only found three awake, one of whom walked over the side before they could stop him."

Within moments the other two aircraft reported their assault teams had equal success, However, the third ship managed to secure a few areas with watertight doors, so there were crew members awake in those sections. Kopland directed backup assault teams to assist even as the whole fleet turned and angled right at the Ashwood convoy. "Keep on your toes. There is no telling what, if anything, those freighters may have for defenses."

Aboard the warships, the assaulting Marines moved quickly and methodically, using zip ties to hogtie every person they came to. Their first stop was the weapons lockers. With the bridges and the weapons lockers secured, they branched out. At the same time the helicopters continued to shuttle more Marines to the warships.

At the same time, pilots secured the helicopters from the captured warships, flew back to the USS Great Plains, picked up other teams and took them to the freighters. All but one was secured without a shot being fired. The last one had a small security team that managed to get masks on. The fighting was fierce, resulting in the death of three Marines and six of the eight man security team. The last two took poison after declaring God's Army would visit its wrath on the Marines and their entire extended families.

Even as the ships were being secured, Justin noticed signs the AoG had found the virus and were working to eliminate it. He quickly informed Ricky, who confirmed this. More missiles were launched, taking out twenty-six AoG communication relay points, and cutting Ashwood's communications network over almost the entire Gulf of Mexico.

Back in Texas and the surrounding states, Bryce allied forces hit scores of other compromised relay stations, further crippling Ashwood's ability to talk to his forces behind enemy lines. This allowed others to be found and eliminated. Within five hours AoG communications which had been viable worldwide for several decades, were failing across a fifth of the globe.

Kopland slid down in a chair in the Worden's CIC and closed his eyes for the first time in over thirty hours. Just as he entered REM sleep a sound woke him. He looked over to his radio man, "Hey, keep it down, Anderson!"

"Sir, you need to hear this!"

"Shit," Kopland muttered as he wiped his eyes, "what now?"

Petty Officer Anderson put the radio on speaker, "Unknown person say again."

"Oh, screw you!" An angry sounding male voice came over the speaker, "You heard me you son of a bitch! Get me one of those damned science contest brats on before I lose this damned satellite relay!"

Kopland grabbed the mic, "Do you have any idea who the hell you are talking to?"

"Oh, yeah!" The voice responded, "Voice pattern says I am now talking to one Commander Kopland of the USS Read. Any other smart ass questions?"

Kopland shook off the last vestiges of grogginess, "OK, you have my attention."

"I don't want your attention! I want one of those science contest pricks!"

"Sorry, don't know what you are talking about."

"Like hell you don't! It has taken me hours to find the source of the virus and managed to track it down to the Gulf, which is why I am talking to you on this connection. A connection I will only have for another six to twenty-nine minutes depending on where in the hell you are in the Gulf. Now, there is no one else who could have done this, so get me the little SOB who infected President Ashwood's network!"

Kopland looked over to one of the other sailors, "Get the boys up here just in case. In the meantime let me screw with this asshole."

The man nodded and took off at a run.

Kopland then put the mic back up to his mouth, "Sorry, I don't know any President Ashwood. The U.S. Supreme Court has passed leadership of the U.S. to President Bryce. So if you are speaking for FORMER President Ashwood, please inform him of the requirement to turn over full leadership to the rightful president of the U.S. Oh, and while he is at it, the rest of the communication network he is using since it is clearly being used for U.S. military needs, it too belongs to the U.S. and therefore President Bryce."

"Damn-it!" The voice roared, "I don't have time for this shit! Get me one of those brats!"

"Again, I am sorry, but I don't know any brats. I might be able to let you speak to a few very fine young men, but if you don't curb your foul language I will be forced to terminate this link. As it is, I am tempted to do so anyway."

"OK, OK, fine! Just let me talk to one of them!"

"Much better. Now be a good little Ashwood stooge and keep it more civil. I'll see if I can manage to get one of them on a relay so they can talk to you... If they even want to talk to you."

"Oh, trust me, they will WANT to hear what I have to say."

"Stand by, but the second I detect anything coming at us..."

"It would have already been sent if we could. If you check, this is a damned mothballed sat I was able to partially activate. It was put up in the nineties and is simply bouncing my signal all over this damn planet trying to reach you. I can't track you with this anymore than you can trace where my signal is coming from."

The communication officer gave Kopland a nod after only a few seconds, "Looks like he's telling the truth. Anyone with a radio on this frequency within thousands of miles will be able to hear this."

"Still makes me nervous, send a signal to place the whole fleet at battle stations and get me a second radar up and running. I don't want any surprises."

"On it, sir."

A trio of minutes later all nine boys were brought in to CIC, with Glenn in a small wheel chair being pulled over the lip of the hatch by Craig. All nine looked exhausted and not happy at all about being woken up.

Kopland waited for the hatch to be secured again, making the room very cramped with all the extra bodies in it. "Sorry, boys, but there is someone insisting you really want to talk with him. He also says he works for Ashwood."

Keith shook his head and became wide awake, "They know where we are?"

"No this is an open band communication from an old satellite. But because of this, whatever you say will be able to be heard on open band for anyone who is in range of the satellite and can receive its communications."

Steven let out a long breath and looked around. "So who should talk to him?" Seeing the other all looking and three pointing back at him, his head dropped, "Oh, great."

Kopland looked down with a great deal of compassion, "Steven, all you have to do is say no and I order the communication terminated."

Steven thought about it for a second then shook his head, "No, maybe we can gain some more information from them."

"Don't give them your name." Keith warned.

"They have voice pattern ID." The communications officer warned.

Ricky shook his head, "Then let them ID this." He moved over to the radio and hooked up his computer, pulled up a program and pointed for Steven to speak into it.

Steven glanced over, "So what did you program me to sound like?"

"A five-year-old girl," Ricky teased.

Steven flipped him off even as he moved up to the computer, "OK, you woke me up, what do you want."

"Voice scrambler," the voice responded, "nice. So which one of the nine of you is this?"

"Doesn't matter. What do you need? I want to get back to my dream of tossing Ashwood off the side of this ship."

"Why you self-righteous little prick!" another voice roared behind the person holding the mic. "When I get my hands on you..."

Steven killed the audio, "Oh, crap! Was that Ashwood?"

"Sure sounded like him." Kopland stated with wide eyes. "Anderson, get all this on recording so we can do a voice analysis!"

"No need," Ricky stated as he moved up to the computer and typed quickly. A few seconds later he pointed at the screen, "97.876 percent confirmation of it being Ashwood. Keep him talking and we can get it to a hundred or lower it."

Steven turned back on the sound just as the second voice finished the tirade, "... You are damned lucky I can't shove a missile or fifty up your asses!"

Steven watched as the percentage moved above 99, and snorted, "Oh, come off it Mr. Former President, my butt is exit only, but I bet you could deep throat one if you really tried."

The next several seconds were filled with more profanity than real speech. As it died down, the first voice spoke again. "Look, guys, this is meant to be a courtesy call. Insulting the guy willing to cut you a break isn't very productive."

"Cut us a break?"

"Yeah. If you agree to go home to mommy and daddy like good little boys we promise not to target any more family members."

Justin and Glenn both moved toward the computer, but were stopped by a raised hand from Steven, "A little late. You already hurt family members. Besides, after what we saw at the Temple, we also know what Ashwood put his own kid through. If he is willing to put Lawrence through what the Temple did to him, then there is no way we can trust him."

"You? You are the ones who hacked the Temple?"

"Hey, looky there, the guy on the other side of the radio is pretty quick."

The voice of Ashwood became clearer and sounded beyond nervous, "OK, you little shithead, where in the hell is my son and Aaron?"

Steven almost spoke, but Kopland reached over and killed the sound, "What in the hell is this about?"

Behind Steven Craig spoke up, "We hit a place in Texas, they called it a Temple, but it was more of a torture center. We found proof Lawrence Ashwood was there, but we assumed the video was old!"

"It was old, over six weeks old by date and time stamp." Justin stated, "But he must have still been there. But who is Aaron?"

"I bet it is Aaron Zumwalt!" Scott announced with astonishment. "Aaron and Lawrence were very close, too close according to many. I heard Mrs. Ashwood say Aaron and Lawrence were making them look bad and the relationship needed to be stopped. My brother heard pretty much the same thing out of Attorney General Latz before he disappeared. This also means both Aaron and Lawrence are outside of Ashwood's control and may have all sorts of information."

"Including on your brother?" Justin asked.

"I can only hope! Steven you need to find out more, please!"

Steven turned the sound back on, "Sorry, we missed part of what you were saying. Signal isn't very strong. Are you asking about Aaron Zumwalt?"

"Son of a bitch! You know!" Ashwood screamed, "Where is the little fag?"

"We let him out. I hear he wanted to find his lover, your kid. So I am sure he is going after Lawrence."

There was a sound of someone hitting something hard even as the first voice spoke again, "When is the last time you saw Aaron and Lawrence?"

"We don't know anything about Lawrence," Steven lied. "Was he in the Temple when we hacked it and opened all the doors? He sure wasn't there when we assaulted the place."

"You? How did a bucket full of pampered, big brained and low brawn kids assault my Temple?" Ashwood demanded to know.

"Wasn't too hard." Steven shot Craig a wicked grin, "Agent Paulson was kind enough to lead us right to it."

"What?!? I am going to kill that shifty little bastard!"

Off to the side Craig pumped his fist several times while the others all grabbed at their mouths to hold back laughter. Steven managed to control himself as he responded, "As for taking the place, you have to be kidding, we splattered those sadistic moron Army of God jackwads all over the place with no problem at all!"

"Those were outsiders!" Ashwood screamed. "The Army of God does not have unclean in its ranks!"

"Must really suck to find your kid was one of those unclean, huh?"

"Shut your filthy little twisted mouth or so help me I will withdraw this offer and kill each and every one of your extended family even if I have to carpet bomb your hometowns!"

"We have already contacted all our families. They are no longer anywhere near home. Of course you probably already know this since you lost one of our families. How many of your assault team were killed trying, anyway?"

The first voice spoke again, "Guys, last chance. Go home to your mommies and daddies and leave leading to those who were meant to lead, who were designed to lead.""Designed?"

"Yes," the first voice responded, "I was made to be your better, am your better. You're all good, but I am better."

"Oh, really? Who are you?"

"Trevor, Trevor Longway. Now, kids, go home. You are all smart enough to become part of the new world President Ashwood is making. You can be part of the elite. If not, I will have to crush you like bugs."

Ricky moved forward, hit a couple of keys to change the voice coming over the computer and spoke, "So Trevor, you are the one fighting our hacking?"

"I am, and as you should know by now, I am better than all nine of you."

"You're good, no doubt. But I am curious, are you the one who eliminated the virus I sent out to the God's Army so we could find their retransmission stations?"

"No, Army of God computer experts did it. They didn't need my help."

"You should have helped."

"Oh, really? Why? From what I have been told you just used the same type of virus they implanted in the Temple hard drives."

"Indeed I did, and I was counting on them doing exactly what they did. Something tells me phase two will need to be you. Have fun."

Ricky glanced over his shoulder, shot the whole CIC a big grin and hit a single key on his computer. "I didn't give you one location. I needed it for this."

Moments later the communication coming over the radio changed over to a series of tones. Ricky's grin widened as he looked over to Keith, "Thanks for teaching me Morse Code."

Keith started laughing really hard within seconds. This was followed by shocked expressions from several of the ship's crew who started putting the repeating dots and dashes into words.

Kopland looked over at Ricky with a mixture of disbelief and humor, "I hear what you did, but how did you do it?"

"The virus I was asking Trevor about was a deeply embedded binary code. I all but duplicated it from a hard drive we pulled out of the Temple, but I also went way deeper. By them pulling out the bits, they built a second virus which is now spreading to all God's Army radio stations. All I had to do was turn the key. It is telling the computers to take everything said and change it over to Morse Code. This will help us find more stations, while also having every single retransmitter send out the message you are now hearing. Even better, the code itself changes to adapt to each transmitter and the retrans frequencies, meaning it adapts and changes its pattern based on the sent and received frequencies and continues to evolve with each new frequency it is sent. So, even as Trevor remotes in, he is changing the virus and how to kill it.

"In simple terms, this means they should have to take down the entire network and remove the viruses one at a time because there will be no single program code fix. He's good enough to kill it, but I bet even on his best days, it will take him three or four days to wipe it out. I also bet there aren't more than a dozen people on this planet who can help him, and I am one of them.

"Um, there is one thing I need you to do though. The key I sent unlocked the virus, but it is now in the station I sent it to. Any chance you can blast it for me before Trevor finds it?" Ricky pointed down at his computer, "Those are the coordinates."

Kopland looked over to fire control, "Get a missile set, but just because, let Ricky here fire the damned thing."

Scott eyed Ricky even as Ricky got to launch a cruise missile, "OK, so you mind telling those of us who don't know Morse Code what it's saying?"

Kopland snickered, "Richard Ashwood sucks donkey dick for cash and is proud of it."

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