"You don't need the boy..." a silent voice whispered. "Leave him to the legal system, to be dealt with as he deserves..."
The soldier stood up quickly and span around, searching the room. "Who is there?" he demanded.
"No one is here, you don't need the boy. Let Samuel go home!"
"Project Prometheus, amongst other things, teaches all it's officers how to shield their minds from external influence. It's a necessity when dealing with telepaths," the soldier pointed out acerbically as he searched the office.
He didn't find anything.
"Alright Thomas, care to explain what happened last night?" Doctor Woodward demanded. "Remote EEG readings went berserk when you hit REM sleep."
Thomas glanced sourly at the suited man standing behind the doctor. Bastard! Treacherous bastard! he thought angrily, drawing the attitude around his mind like a cloak. Corey's mouth twitched as if to smile as he sent, Takes one to know one... and at least I'm serving my country, not my own pride.
Thomas sent a stream of pure rage at Corey for the fraction of a second it took his collar to react to him using his powers and activate.
"No using your powers, Thomas!" Doctor Woodward exploded angrily.
"My fault, sir," Corey interrupted. "I made a comment he didn't appreciate."
"A comment?" Doctor Woodward asked sharply.
"He really doesn't care for how I 'betrayed' him when I agreed to serve, and I pointed out to him that at least I'm serving my nation, not my pride," Corey answered sadly.
"Ah, I imagine he would find that less than... satisfying," Doctor Woodward agreed. "Now, Thomas, what happened last night?"
Thomas thought fast under his shield. The truth was out of the question, but the obvious half-truth could hurt Sammy...
"I'm not sure what happened," Thomas temporized.
Doctor Woodward glanced at Corey, who nodded. "Give me your best guess," the doctor ordered.
"Any answer I give would be sheer guesswork, you know that." Thomas decided to try a gambit. "The opening process creates a link between me and the subject, and it's possible for Sammy's un-activated powers to filter through my mind."
"What?" Doctor Woodward asked.
"When I activated Sammy's powers, I didn't have time to finish anything but the first stage. It's possible that, in essence, his powers are active but he isn't connected to them. So when we sleep, they are free to try and connect to me instead."
Even as he nodded to Doctor Woodword, Corey sent to Thomas, What a crock of BS, and even if the 'good doctor' doesn't recognize how you avoided the question, I do! Why shouldn't I tell him?
Thomas allowed a single thought to rise to the surface and float above his shields, Because the doctor will insist on installing a collar right away if he knew the real truth, and that would do no good for anyone at this point. The kid will die if he goes under the knife so soon.
Alright then, Corey assented.
"How long will this continue to happen, and does it present a security risk?" Doctor Woodward answered.
"It'll probably continue to happen while we sleep together, and having us sleep apart will probably prevent it from happening again," Thomas answered, with complete and deceptive honesty.
"Security risk?" Doctor Woodward pressed.
"I'd say the ongoing risk is minimal," Thomas answered. "Any damage it could cause is already done, and your machines clearly were able to jolt me out of the altered state the link induced."
"Alright then. But we'll have to expedite getting the kid his collar, he goes under the knife the second his neural pathways are stable enough!" Doctor Woodward ordered.
"Please, Doctor!" Thomas begged. "Don't do that to him, he's only eight!"
"You know as well as I do that any uncontrolled psion is a security risk. The decision stands!" the doctor strolled out of the room, a frowning Corey close on his heels.
Thomas slumped back in his wheelchair, every line of his body an artful pose of complete despair. Not a hint of the grin he felt inside was allowed to show.
Hook, line and sinker! Thomas thought behind his shields, Hook, line, and sinker!
Dill and Bri moped around the house for most of the day. Bri's dream haunted him still. "It was just so real, I thought I really was talking to Sammy," he tried to explain to Dill at one point.
The news all seemed bad. Mr. Murphy's courier had brought the information on the facility, and it was clear nothing added up about the place. A brief effort to call and ask about visiting hours had proven useless, rebuffed by layer after layer of red tape.
That afternoon Cher pulled up and walked in the house. "Hey boys!" she announced herself as she walked into the suite they used.
"Hey Cher," Dill answered with a weak smile, arm around Bri as they watched a movie.
Cher plopped down on the couch beside them and leaned up against Bri. "You OK Brian?" she asked.
"No," he answered sourly, shifting to pull her up closer against him.
"Still no good news on your brother?" she asked.
"No news at all," he agreed, "and no news is not good news!"
"At least it isn't bad news," Cher tried to cheer him up. Bri grunted, but otherwise ignored the comment.
"So, Cher, any news about Rafe?" Dill asked to change the subject.
"He is busy ticking the doctors off," she answered with a grin. "He keeps trying to sit up on his own, and the doctors insist the coma atrophied his muscles too much for that."
"Sounds like Rafe!" Dill laughed.
"Actually, what's really amusing is he can actually manage it, which really ticks off the know-it-all doctors," she laughed. "They're convinced I'm helping him!"
"Oh, and aren't you?" Dill asked.
"Only with getting comfortable after he gets himself up!" she protested.
"Suuuure," Bri dragged out, finally entering the conversation. "Sure you are!"
They laughed for a few moments before lapsing back into an uneasy silence. "Brian," Cher eventually said, "I'm sorry about what's happened to Sammy."
"Sorry?" Bri snorted. "Not half as sorry as I am!"
"It's been all over the news, but no one has ever really said what happened," Cher asked.
"It was so fucking stupid," Bri swore angrily. "He was playing in a playground with his foster brother Eric. They got up on the monkey bars and were horsing around. He shoved Eric, Eric shoved back, and somehow Eric slipped and fell. A stupid playground accident, only Eric hit his head on the way down. Something went wrong, and..." Bri shook his head as tears fell down his face in a cascade of woe. He jerked out of their arms and clamored to his feet, screaming at the injustice, "It's not fucking fair!"
Both Dill and Cher grabbed for him, to try and comfort him, but he shrugged aside their clumsy grabs and stalked around the room, somewhere between tears and anger, muttering incoherently.
"Pardon the interruption," the house AI interrupted, "but there is a gentlemen at the gate who is most insistent on speaking to you Dillon."
"Who is it?" Dill asked with a sigh.
"He refuses to identify himself, sir. He is quite insistent that he must speak directly with you." Dill knew it was nonsense, house AI didn't have emotions, but the machine almost sounded annoyed by that refusal.
"Put him through on the com," Dill ordered, exasperated.
"Very well, patching him through."
"Hello, Dillon," a strangely lyrical voice chimed through the room. "We must speak, immediately, and in private."
"I'm not inclined to invite complete strangers into my house," Dill answered acerbically.
"Make an exception," the stranger ordered.
"Why?" Dill asked.
"You have information I need regarding a close friend whom I haven't seen in years," the stranger answered. "And as far as why you should wish to talk to me, I have information that may be relevant to you. The... source which brought me here suggests so, anyway."
"Source?" Dill asked.
"Another detail best gone over in private," the stranger answered.
"You're going to need more than that," Dill answered.
"The situation which calls me here involves a little boy, either a friend or a relative of yours," the stranger offered. "He's nine, ten years old at the max, and desperately unhappy with his current situation, which involves being imprisoned in a government run facility."
"Sammy!" Bri cried out from the other side of the room. "What do you know about Sammy?"
"That is a discussion best held away from prying eyes," the stranger said after a few moments. "I have many secrets, and I suspect the same is true of you."
"How do I know it's safe to let you in?" Dill asked.
"You do not," the stranger admitted. "I would offer my word of good conduct, but you have no way to gauge it's worth, no name to research." The stranger's voice turned harsher as he added something else, "But I will give you this much: you are not safe from me even now. If I wished to attack you, your defenses would slow me down even less than a child might, for I would hesitate to strike down a child."
The cold chill of the implied threat sent shivers up and down Dill's back. "Threatening me is hardly a way to gain my trust," he said at last, as Cher started muttering to herself.
"It was not intended as a threat," the stranger apologized, "merely as a show of good faith. Your defenses do not stop me, only my courtesy. Of such is my power."
"Oh my God," Cher whispered in sudden realization. "House, Find a voice clip of Paul Koken's speech when he disbanded the Guardians, quickly! Then compare it to this guy's voice!"
"Scanning... analyzing... comparison complete. Results: ninety-five percent probability of match." The three of them glanced at each other in shock and awe at the computer's report.
Dill turned back to the vidcom he'd been using and cleared his throat. "If you give me your word, I will accept it and allow you entry, Paul."
"Why the sudden... wait, what did you just... fuck!" the stranger shook his head angrily at the sudden revelation. Taking a deep, calming breath, he turned to face the security camera squarely. "You have my word, I intend no harm," he swore.
"Then enter and be welcome," Dill said reverently.
"Oh my God!" Cher swore as the stranger climbed back in his car and drove through the now open gate. "It's really him!"
"It's impossible, and wondrous," Bri agreed softly. "Of all the people who might show... even without his powers, I bet he can help us. I mean, not as much as he could if he still had them, but..."
"Wait," Dill broke in. "Remember what he said about being able to walk through our defenses as if they weren't even there?"
"Yeah, what about it?" Bri asked.
"I find myself wondering just how much, or little, of his powers he's lost," Dillon answered.
"Oh..." Cher commented, eyes wide. "Wait... house AI, get me a transcript of that speech and zero in on the part about disbanding the Guardian Order, print it to a local screen..."
Paul walked up from the drive slowly. He hadn't expected anyone to recognize his voice. He didn't look anything like he used to, and he'd long since trained himself to speak differently. It should have taken a trained ear to find the similarities, and then only if they were already suspicious. This information trip was turning hazardous to his long-term health, and he didn't like that. So long as it helped the mission he'd tolerate it, he didn't have much of a choice, but if something went wrong...
He had no room to maneuver, so it didn't really matter much. Oh, was that frustrating. He'd gotten himself mousetrapped, and if Ronan or Jason were still around they'd be kicking his ass from here to next week. But he had to get more information, and his only source was here. He hadn't quite managed to trace the connection back to Thomas, and the second connection, the one the kid had established, was clearly anchored here.
Of course, how he'd managed to sense that second connection was still a complete mystery. It didn't make sense. Tracing Thomas's he could understand, they knew each other, and Thomas had reached out and 'touched' him. But he didn't even know the kid, didn't have so much as a name before he'd reached the house. So how was he able to trace the connection to this house? The far end of the connection should be completely beyond his ability to sense, especially since he couldn't zero in on the 'near' end.
He didn't have a choice, either, he had to involve these people. Time was short, Thomas had made that much quite clear, and if he didn't move, and move fast, people would be hurt. Paul shook his head in frustration and looked up at the rather large house ahead. Extending his senses, he still felt it. Whatever it was was keeping him from touching their minds on anything but the most surface of levels, and that briefly. The walls themselves were crawling with some strange energy field like nothing he'd felt before. He pulled his mind away from the details and looked at the field as a whole, and stopped awestruck as he abruptly recognized what he was looking at. If he'd 'zoomed out' earlier he would have recognized it instantly. The details were always different, but the whole was always so much the same.
He knew exactly what he was looking at, but it wasn't possible. The entire house was... "That's impossible!" he whispered. "Absurd, at the very least!" It wasn't anything like he'd normally see, but the relationship was clear and unmistakable. And absurd barely covered it.
Paul resumed his walk, a trifle faster, eager to reach this house of impossibilities. He'd had two so far, and if he was lucky number three would be pleasant. Wait, no, the name was number two, so hopefully number four would be pleasant... well, finding his name wasn't impossible, just a huge surprise.
The front door opened itself as Paul approached, and he slipped into the house as he forced his mind to stop rambling. If his concentration kept slipping like this, who knows what would happen next! As he walked into the entry hall, three people walked in to greet him.
"Greetings," he greeted them.
"Welcome to my house," the tallest of the three answered.
"I am, as you figured out, Paul Koken," Paul introduced himself.
"Dillon Torelli," the tall man introduced himself.
"Brian Clements," the other man said softly, staring at Paul, eyes filled with hope.
"Cheryl Carver," the woman said.
"Perhaps we should sit down somewhere and talk. Alone," Paul told Brian, sensing that the connection zeroed in him.
"You talk to all three of us, or not at all," Dillon announced.
"Very well," Paul acquiesced. Body language suggested that Dill and Bri would be talking to each other anyways. Possibly over pillows. They hid it well, but to Paul they might as well have grabbed each other and started making out. The tension between the two of them was so strong it was shocking. More than just young love...
Impossibility number four didn't stop Paul in his tracks. He was halfway through analyzing it before really realizing what he was looking at. It wasn't active, but it was there. Extending his senses, he felt around himself and nodded. He knew there were weak points in the barrier between realms, and those weak points allowed humanity's power to come to the surface. To do so to this degree was 'impossible', but given all the other impossibilities, it made sense. Just a tiny fragment of loose magic could do so many, many things. Create a double-ended link that traced back on itself, preventing him from actually tracing the origin, only the endpoints. Create an environment where... no, that didn't explain it. But from inside the house, Paul could feel the incredibly advanced circuitry that ran through the walls, and technology might explain it. Very, very advanced technology, anyway. And in a place where magic gathered, it was no surprise to meet two lovers who both held within them a sleeping spark of the power.
Even if it was just a bit disturbing to sense how close to wakefulness that power was in the one of them... "Dillon, right?" Paul asked.
"Yes," Dillon answered.
"And you're Brian?" Paul checked the other.
"Yes," Brian answered, "why?"
"Just checking that I had your names right," Paul answered as they moved into another room. Paul sat down in the chair Dillon gestured him too, and watched as the others made themselves comfortable. How much to hold back, how much to give... He still couldn't make up his mind, and having them know who he really was just made things more complicated, not less.
"Alright, you wanted to talk. So... talk," Dillon told Paul.
Paul licked his lips and leaned forwards, hands on his knees. "Alright. I came here looking for your help."
"Our help?" Cheryl asked, surprised.
Paul took a deep breath as he nodded. "Something unanticipated happened the other night. An old friend tried to contact me for help. We didn't have a lot of time, we got... cut off midway through. I need to find him."
"What does this have to do with Sammy?" Brian interrupted.
"Who is Sammy?" Paul asked. "To you, I mean," he added in an effort to hide his real interest.
"He's my younger brother. Half-brother, to be specific," Brian answered in a rush. "Please, help us. Help him!"
"Help him?" Paul asked neutrally.
"Yes, get him out of that jail they stuck him in!" Brian begged. "The entire murder thing has gotten blown completely out of proportion and was just an accident to begin with!"
"Accident?" Paul probed, feigning surprise.
"Yeah, they were just playing around on the playground and Eric slipped, it wasn't anything Sammy meant to cause!" Brian explained. "Please, he doesn't deserve to be in jail, and-"
"Enough!" Dillon interrupted, gazing at Paul with hostility. "He's pumping you for information, instead of giving it like he promised."
"Indeed," Paul admitted with a slight smile. "My friend was cut off before he could give me half of what I needed. I was able to trace the connection back to this general area before I lost track of it, and when I did I noticed a second connection. That connection lead from a little boy to this house, and I was able to trace the far end of the connection to you, Brian."
"To me?" Brian asked.
"Had any strange dreams lately? Perhaps involving your brother?" Paul asked, knowing the answer.
"A nightmare, last night..." Brian asked, confused.
"It wasn't a dream. Or at least, not 'merely' a dream," Paul told them. "Sammy was trying to communicate with you, probably without realizing what he was doing."
"But he told me they were hurting him!" Brian protested. "Oh God, Sammy... I'm coming!" Brian turned to leave the room.
"Wait!" Dillon broke in. "You can't just run off like that!"
"But they're-" Brian began.
"He's right, you can't just run off," Cher insisted.
"Alone I'm not sure I can get in there in time, but we should have a few days more before anything happens to Sammy," Paul broke in. "Together, maybe, just maybe, we can move before they're ready for us."
"What do you have in mind?" Brian asked.
"Break in, get the kids out, and leave ruin behind," Paul said. "At this point, I'm going to guess that it isn't a surprise that I still possess a rather large fraction of my powers?"
"Yeah, we even went over your speech and found the loophole," Cher agreed with a grin.
"I thought as much," Paul smiled. "Now, I don't have all the power and strength the order is credited with having. My brother, and Ronan, had so much raw strength it beggars the mind to try and compare me to them. But I've had twelve years to practice and develop my skills, so I can do quite a bit. I just don't have the intelligence, in the military sense, to do much with it."
"Well, we've got lots of intelligence, in the military sense, for you to work with!" Dillon declared, clearly teasing Paul over his amplification of the word 'intelligence'.
"Good," Paul smiled. "Just to check, you have no problems with... less than legal means to affect this rescue?"
"Mr. Koken," Dillon answered firmly, "if I have to shoot every last one of the bastards myself, I'll do it. But I'd love some help in the process."
"I think that can be arranged..." Paul grinned. "I have a few people who owe me favors, and they won't like this any more than I do."
"What's the plan?" Dillon asked eagerly.
"Well, intel is the first order of business, so I'll look at what info you have and do some research of my own," Paul decided.
"Well?" Bri asked eagerly as Paul walked back in.
Paul glanced around before asking, "Are we private?"
"Yes," Dill reassured him.
"Good," Paul ground out, carefully controlled mask starting to slip.
"So what did you find out?" Bri demanded.
"Thomas is craftier than I expected," Paul answered. "He taught them some good defenses, but if you know what you're looking for there are mile-wide holes in them. I was able to search for info, even if I couldn't try to manipulate them."
"What kind of information did you get?" Bri broke in.
"Let the man talk!" Dill told his lover.
"Sorry," Bri answered, modestly contrite.
"I got plenty of info, but I'm going to keep most of it to myself for now," Paul said. "I'm going to make some calls and get some assistance lined up, and we're going to have to prep fast for this."
"Good, I want Sammy out of there!" Bri said angrily.
"You'll want to use the phone elsewhere, the house line may have been tapped," Dill pointed out.
"I brought a number of disposable cells," Paul told him. "Genuinely disposable, can't be traced stuff. I'll make the calls while driving to help screw with any military tracking efforts. I doubt they are looking, but better safe then sorry."
"Alright," Dill agreed. "Anything we should do?"
"Know any arms dealers?" Paul asked.
"No, but I'm sure I can track something down..." Dill answered unsurely.
"Find some weapons you two would be comfortable with, preferably small and concealable," Paul instructed.
"Will you need arms for anyone else?" Dill asked, smile spreading across his face.
"No, the others will be bringing their own weapons. What are you smiling about?" Paul asked.
"We have a small rifle and pistol range downstairs, perfect for the two of us. Including a couple of smaller pistols that are designed to be hidden," Dill answered with a grin.
"I'm a crack shot, ugly over there is OK, for a rich-boy," Bri amplified proudly. "Ouch!"
"Hunting and other weapons use is a local pastime," Dill told Paul as he dropped his elbow. "And Bri is a decent shot, as am I."
"You didn't have to elbow me quite so hard," Bri whispered into Dill's ear.
"Yes, I did," Dill whispered back.
"I'll leave you two lovebirds to it while I make some calls," Paul announced. "Oh," he added before slipping out the door, "Brian, from past experience it doesn't matter if he needed to be so hard or not, he just enjoyed giving you a hard time."
The two looked at each other a moment before laughing gently. "Love you," Dill murmured.
"I love you too," Bri answered back before leaning in to kiss. The gentle kiss lingered for a few long moments before Dill broke off and looked away.
"What's wrong with you?" Bri asked.
"I'm sorry," Dill whispered. "Bri, I did something I shouldn't have."
"What, did you go out with some hooker?" Bri cracked.
"The other day, when you ran off, I used house AI to..." Dill broke off, tear tracking down his face. "I was worried about you, and just wanted to know you were alright."
"You used the security systems?" Bri asked.
"Yeah, I'm sorry," Dill admitted.
"You spied on me?" Bri shook his head angrily to clear it.
"Forgive me?" Dill begged, eyes bright with unshed tears.
Emotions flashed across Bri's face to fast for Dill to recognize. "You... you bastard!" Bri eventually forced out. Dill fell to the floor, ears ringing, as Bri ran from the room. Dill stared after him, tears falling silently down his face as his cheek reddened from the slap.
Three days later, everything was ready. Paul's friends had showed up, including a man with a disorder that left him looking like a fourteen year old boy. "Call me bait," the man had said with a grin. They'd gathered in a large conference room in the basement of the mansion, secured in a dozen ways against outside intrusion.
"I'm going to have to stay way away from the initial entry process," Paul explained. "They have Thomas, and they're on the lookout for me and the other known Guardians."
"Alright, so what's the plan?" Bri asked.
"I picked tonight because they're off on an acquisition mission," Paul explained. "They found a kid they want 'in', and couldn't get him through their normal channels. So the general in charge has ordered a brute force grab."
"Say what?" one of Paul's friends complained. "They aren't just gonna walk in and take the kid!"
"That," Paul said grimly, "is exactly the plan."
"This is America, they can't possibly think they can get away with that!" someone else protested.
"A certain general by the name of Douglas Gideon is going to discover the hard way that he can't," Paul disagreed. "He thinks he can get away with Project Prometheus, but with your help I fully intend to educate him otherwise."
"Can we get back to the plan?" Brian asked. Paul glanced over at him and nodded before looking across the room at Dillon.
"Certainly," Paul agreed. Quickly outlining the plan, such as it was, he kept stealing glances at Dillon and Brian, chewing things over in his mind. "Before we deal with any questions, I'd like a word in private with Dillon and Brian please."
Variations on 'sure' and 'no problem' filled the room as most of the people left, leaving Paul alone with the two. "What's going on?"
"We're getting ready to stage an illegal raid on a US government facility, and-" Brian began, deliberately misunderstanding the request.
Paul slammed his hand onto the table angrily, "Cut the crap! What is wrong?"
"Nothing," Brian shot back.
"If you think it's none of my business, you're wrong" Paul bellowed. "Furthermore, I'd appreciate it if at they very least you had the courtesy not to lie to me about it!"
"Fine, nothing that's any of your business," Brian shouted angrily. "It's between me and my friend, and that's exactly where it's going to stay!"
"Bri, calm down, he's-" Dillon began.
"He's out of line, Dillon," Brian interrupted.
"I don't know what happened between the two of you," Paul cut in, "but it's no good. Fix it! But on your own time. For now, we have a job to do and your problems aren't helping. Call everyone else back in."
"Hey, this isn't your house, who are you to give orders?" Brian said angrily as Dill poked his head out the door.
"I'm the person running the op," Paul said coldly. "Unless you'd rather not rescue your brother?" he asked as people began to file in.
"Fine," Brian ground out. Paul waited a few moments for everyone to find their seats again.
"Alright, before we move any further, change in plans. Franklin, Brandon, you two take point and handle insertion with Brent."
"What?" Brent asked, glancing around.
"Alright, we can handle that," one of the other men agreed.
Brian stared angrily at Paul, mouth opening and closing as he tried to get a sound out. Paul didn't wait for him to get his brain in gear. "Brian, Dillon, sorry to pull you out like that but the argument between the two of you makes it impossible to use you as point. You'll stay in the back with the back up teams and come in after insertion."
"How could you, why... who said we're having an argument!" Brian shouted.
"The two of you are at opposite ends of the room," one man pointed out.
"And he keeps stealing glances at you, while you are being very careful not to so much as look in his direction," another person added.
"You've got a huge chip on your shoulder, and you're not doing a very good job of hiding it, either," come another point.
"Enough," Paul said, raising his voice. "We've made our points. Now, any questions on the change in plans, or shall we start breaking the plan down a bit more?"
"Shit it's cold out tonight," one of the soldiers complained. "Why the hell does command think we need a hundred men just to grab one kid?"
"Grab a kid... dammit, I didn't join the army to kidnap-" another soldier began.
"Cut the chatter you apes!" a sergeant ordered. "I don't like it any more than you do, but we will do this one by the book!"
"Don't sarge me!" the sergeant snapped. "We either do this by the book, or more kids die. If we screw this up... don't forget who we had to leave behind to watch the barn."
"Dammit, this is America," another soldier swore. "How the hell can they get away with this?"
"I don't know," the sergeant agreed, "but we're gonna have to play along until a chance comes to rescue the poor bastards."
"Rescue what poor bastards, Sergeant?" another voice asked with false curiosity.
"Lieutenant!" the sergeant pulled himself to attention.
"As you were," the officer ordered as he began to drift away, "but more quietly, please. I'd hate to actually have to act on treasonable comments. Even if... never mind, just cut it out."
"Yes sir!" the sergeant answered. "You got that apes?"
"Yes sergeant!" they answered sharply.
"Alright, now hurry up and finish securing our perimeter!" the sergeant ordered before hurrying after the lieutenant. "Sir, why are we securing a perimeter? This is a smash'n'grab, not an invasion!"
"Orders, Sergeant, from the Colonel. Secure the perimeter before we grab the kid," the lieutenant was clearly unhappy with his orders.
"Sir, what about the kid's parents?" the sergeant asked.
"Briefing didn't cover the details, but the mother isn't an issue. The father-" the lieutenant broke off and stared into the night. "First squad second platoon will deal with the father as ordered."
"Is something wrong, sir?" the segeant asked. "I mean in specific, not just the mission as a whole," he quickly added in response to his commander's withering gaze.
"We have our orders," the lieutenant answered angrily. "And not much choice but to obey them."
"Sir!" a private ran up. "Perimeter secured sir!"
"God forgive me," the lieutenant muttered. "All right sergeant, lets move out."
At the edge of the perimeter, just out of sight of the guards, a car pulled up on the side of the road, cloaking itself in a small stand of trees. Paul opened his door and got out, senses stretching across the dark landscape of the night around him. Game time.
He carefully checked every weapon ranging from his axe to the fine chains wrapped around the bracers on his arms. The skin-tight black leather suit made no noise as he tested his ability to move, and proved minimal impedance to him. Small sigils sewn in metalic thread glimmered on his gloves as he ran a test flow of power through them, designs unbroken in the eternity since last he'd worn them.
Once more a Guardian walked the night in clothes declaring his position, armed for battle and prepared for war. Paul started humming under his breath as he walked forward, and with a lopsided grin decided to use that.
He started the song over and poured his power into it, a spell building up in the air around him until, like a damn holding back too much water, his restraint broke open. False thunder echoed in the sky and an electric guitar started strumming.
The soldiers ahead began to notice something was up and Paul picked up the pace. Overhead, storm clouds thick with the promise of rain began to unburden themselves, and Paul's mouth opened. From his mouth spilled forth not just the words, but the very voice of the original artist.
"Languid waves of desperation fall before the rains.
A vanguard to approaching war is born upon the sea
The icy breath of cyclones bent on waging our destruction
Drills hard against the hearts of heroes called here to defend
And I see storms on the horizon,
I see the tempest at the gates, (I see the tempest at the gates...)
I see storms on the horizon, and the citadel alone:
Clinging brave, defying fate! (Defying... defying...)"
A flash of lightning streaked across the sky in counterpoint to the song, revealing Paul to the watching soldiers as he strode forward, axe in hand and equipment suddenly glowing. With a single twist of his empty left hand, fire streaked out and exploded in the soldiers midst as the song rose into a shrieking sonic weapon, the beat of the music pounding in the soldiers ears.
"And I will stand here at the gates and face the onslaught fighting,
Without surrender or defeat!
With Troy besieged by tyrants greed -- in Hector's memory God willing,
We shall save this victory, without surrender or defeat."
Paul was inside their perimeter now, and a streak of red-white power erupted from his hand and exploded against the engine of a humvee, reducing the hood to molten metal and sending a spray of molten red droplets flying. Soldiers were ditching their vehicles and firing wildly into the night as fire exploded from his other hand, an ark of liquid flame that settled dreamily to the ground only to erupt in explosive curtains of death.
"Sudden silence I realize, breaking teardrops in the rain (in the rain...)
With every breathing moment, the pillars are sustained (sustained...)
And waking hands attached to nothing, tightly clutching close (clutching close...)
Each sleeping vision speaks unheard, and heaven only knows (only knows...)"
The soldiers were on the ground now, seeking cover, and their fire had focused in on Paul. Bullets whined as they flew past him and others just bounced harmlessly off the air mere inches from his skin, as if he wore an invisible suit of armor that stopped only those bullets that might hit him. With a roar, he threw his axe at another vehicle even as he called forth another gout of fire to screen his advance. Both vehicles exploded, and the axe flew back to his grasping hand without prompting.
It had been years since the Guardians had made war, and these soldiers at the very least had forgotten the nature of his power. Screaming in rage and terror they poured bullets at him with no will placed behind them, just point and shoot. Between the screaming music and the sounds of battle no coordination or communication was possible, and Paul wanted to keep it that way. If they had a chance to take stock of things and notice that not one soldier had been killed, that the few scratches and nicks they'd picked up were from throwing themselves into cover, things would get ugly. He had to keep their heads down and their hearts terrified if he was going to do this without just killing them.
"And I see storms on the horizon, I see the tempest at the gates (I see the tempest at the gates!)
I see storms on the horizon, and the citadel alone:
Clinging brave defying fate (defying... defying...)
And I will stand here at the gates and face the onslaught fighting,
Without surrender or defeat!
With Troy besieged by tyrany -- in Hector's memory god willing,
We shall save this victory, without surrender or defeat."
The reddish light of fire was all that lit the scene now, and the soldiers were running dry on ammo. A few had the presence of mind to throw their grenades at Paul, but he batted them out of the air and back into their ranks. He aimed the frags carefully so that the shrapnel wouldn't hit the soldiers, even as the booming cough of it's detonation scared them silly. Flashbangs he sent flying carelessly into the largest pockets of soldiers, disorienting them.
Some of the soldiers were starting to adjust, to loose the sheer terror and surprise that had kept them completely ineffectual for so long. Paul glanced around the area, the scene lit in the red-orange of burning flames and the strobing white of bursting explosions. Paul stared up into the sky, and nodded.
They'd had a taste of hell fire, of the burning flames of destruction. Now he gave them Heaven's Fire. Lightning roared down out of the heavens at his command and struck around them, a cascade of power arching and thundering through the night as he strode forward. He was almost through them now, almost between the soldiers and their goals.
"Paris arrow landed true...
Paris arrow landed true...
Paris arrow landed true...
Down upon your heel...
This Troy she will not fall again,
This Troy she will not faaaaalllll..."
A soldier rose screaming and darted across the distance between him and Paul. Paul's eyes narrowed as he recognize the man, and he held his hand until the man leapt up, screaming as he brought his rifle butt down onto Paul's collar bone. Or so he thought.
At the very last moment Paul twisted and placed his hand, palm out, between him and the soldier. The soldier froze, mid-air, as if the palm were resting on his chest instead of a foot away.
For a moment everything froze, and everyone clearly heard Paul's voice.
"For crimes against humanity, for premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit the same, for the willing and unforced support in the torture and mutilation of children, for these crimes and many more do I judge."
"As Guardians past were forbidden to do, I now level judgment upon you for acts you have committed. I act with the authority of Presidential Order, granting me rights over all military personnel, including judicial rights."
"I find you guilty. And the only sentence can be death. I so sentence you, Stephen Miguel Drake"
The entire speech took less than a second, and afterwords all the soldiers would agree that time itself had frozen in it's stately course to allow it to be delivered. How they heard it over ears ringing with the sound of thunder and gunfire was a question they wouldn't have deigned to answer, for magic ran rampant that night.
As the moment ended, Paul reached out and placed his left hand against the soldiers chest, over the heart, fingers arched as if holding something in his hand. The tips of his fingers rested on the fabric of the soldiers uniform for a bare moment before Paul closed his fist around the imaginary object and twisted his hand. Paul moved on, leaving the soldier behind as he convulsed in agony for a bare moment before collapsing to the ground, limp.
Autopsy would later show his heart had been both crushed and twisted away, even as it remained in his chest.
"And I will stand here at the gates to face the onslaught fighting,
Without surrender or defeat!
With troy besieged by tyrants greed -- in Hector's memory god willing
We shall save this victory
Without surrender or defeat
(I will never surrender...)
And I will stand here at the gates to face the onslaught fighting
(I will never surrender...)
Without surrender or defeat!
(I will never surrender...)
With troy besieged by tyrants greed -- in Hector's memory god willing
(I will never surrender...)
We shall save this victory
Without surrender or defeat!"
(Cruxshadows -- Citadel. From the CD Ethernaught, 2003 Dancing Ferret)
The song's thunderous conclusion crashed around their heads as Paul reached the isolated farmhouse around which he'd called down the power and rage which was his to command. "U.S. soldiers!" he cried, voice echoing into the night. "I have slain but one of you this night, and that in judgment, not war."
Paul turned and faced the soldiers, allowing his power to flow more freely through his gear until it didn't simply gleam but shone into the night, a beacon of power and responsibility. "I have not slain you in war, but if you persist in these illegal and immoral actions, I will do whatever it takes, whatever it takes," he stressed, "to put an end to them. Leave, now, or you will be destroyed!"
Paul waited a bare moment for them to look around before adding, "And carry this message to your officers, to your superiors, to those that planned and ordered this night. I live. And I will no longer stand idly by and watch."
"Project Prometheus is over, and if they value their hides they will drop it. To do otherwise is to call forth my wrath, and be they in their offices at the Pentagon or in the middle of an entire brigade of troops, my wrath will find it's goal. Do. Not. Tempt. Fate."
Paul nodded and prepared to turn away, but before he could a voice rang out, "Who are you?"
"A dangerous question," Paul commented, "but one you know the answer to. Or should. I am Paul Koken, Guardian... last of the Guardians."
"They're all gone," someone protested.
"All but me. The others set aside their powers, I did not. I made a promise, and it's one I intend to keep," Paul disagreed. "Now go, and do not come back."
"I have orders to take the child into custody," an officer protested. "Orders I dare not ignore, sir. I'm sorry."
"Ignore them, or face me," Paul threatened.
"Your oath?" Paul thundered angrily. "Your oath has no bearing on this! You are sworn-"
"I must obey the orders of my superiors!" the officer argued.
"You have no obligation to obey orders that are immoral or illegal. This is both and you know it!" Paul argued.
"Nonetheless, I must do my best to do this, Sir, and you will kindly step aside, or make sure that my orders can no longer be executed."
Paul raised his axe and prepared to throw it for a bare moment before understanding. He walked into the house and left the soldiers to prepare themselves.
"Who are you?" a man asked timidly.
"My name is Paul Koken, and yours?"
"Nelson, Nelson Hunt," the man answered timidly.
"They want to take your son from you," Paul told him. "I'm here to stop them."
"They... no!" Nelson moaned. "I've fought so long, they can't have him!"
"That's the plan," Paul agreed. "Grab your son, and anything you absolutely can't replace. I'll get you to a place of safety."
Paul waited as the man and his son ran around grabbing various things, patient as the stones. They'd had no warning, no time to prepare, and they were grabbing things they thought important. "Money will be no issue, simply grab the things of meaning that cannot be replaced," Paul advised as Nelson hesitated over a few things. Nelson nodded and started moving again. Soon the two of them were ready to leave.
"Hello there, Tyrone," Paul said gently to the twelve year old boy. "Some scary things are going to happen, but I'm here to protect you. I'm not going to ask you to not be scared, but can you at least trust me to protect you?"
Tyrone nodded jerkily as he grasped his dad's hand.
"Good boy," Paul said with a smile. "Alright, stay behind me. And don't worry about what's about to happen, just let me deal with it."
Paul walked back to the front porch and stared out into the night. The soldiers had re-armed themselves and gotten back into good order. "Please step away from your vehicles," Paul commanded.
"Excuse me?" the officer from earlier asked.
"Please step away from your vehicles, now," Paul repeated himself. Crossing his wrists in front of him, he slowly raised his arms up along a plane directly in front of him, wrists rotating cleanly around as he brought them up from his waist to over his head. Power cracked and arched around him as he called it forth, and he opened his eyes and looked directly at one of the vehicles. He'd hit dozens of them on his way in, but too many were left. Far, far too many.
The soldiers were falling back from their vehicles rapidly, encouraged to move by the small flashes of lightning that cracked and sparked around Paul as his arms had risen. Dropping his arms and pulling his wrists apart with a snap, Paul released the power he'd called forth. Lightning struck the vehicle he'd looked at and leapt outward, taking out every single other automobile the soldiers had brought in a cascade of violence.
"Come on," Paul ordered as he strode across the field. Nelson and Tyrone followed closely, awed by the power he'd displayed.
The soldiers simply fell back, many dropping their weapons and running for their lives. The rest, too few to pose a credible threat, ran after their fellows. Only one was stupid enough to stand his ground, and he raised his pistol and fired. Boom, boom, boom, the weapon echoed into the night in the slow, measured rate of aimed fire. "I had to try," the officer said as he dropped the weapon and drew his knife.
Paul reached from the chain on one of his arms and unhooked it. With a single fluid motion it unwrapped from around his arm and lay in his hand, quivering. The officer charged, knife held ready, and Paul simply flicked his hand out. The chain flew like something living and wrapped its length around the officer, binding his hands and legs together. One end wrapped itself around the officer's mouth as an impromptu gag as Paul led the two he'd rescued back to his car.
After getting their stuff packed in, Paul started the car. Before pulling out, he unrolled his window and gestured as if calling a tardy person to catch up. The chain that he'd bound the officer with came flying into his hand and he laid it aside, rolling up the window as he peeled out.
"We don't have as much time as I'd like," Paul said nervously as he stared into the distance. "It took longer than I expected to handle that, so instead of dropping you off I'm afraid I'm going to have to bring you with me as I rendezvous with some friends."
"I suspect that without you, I'd already be dead," Nelson said sadly. "So I'm not going to argue with whatever you feel needs to be done."
"Thank you. Don't worry, I intend to keep you and your son safe, but for the moment we need to hurry. My friends are going to need my help pretty badly soon, and-" Paul broke off and pulled to the side of the road. "God, no, oh God..." he cried.
"What's wrong?" Nelson asked, concerned.
"Oh Thomas, Thomas..." Paul sobbed. "Not you! Oh, God, not you..." Paul stared to a point just left of the highway they'd pulled onto, and peeled out. "We need to hurry, my friend has been shot."
They barreled down the road at a speed guaranteed to send any cop in the area after them, but thankfully the road was empty except for themselves. Paul's car didn't look like much, but it had plenty of horses under the hood to hit 120 MPH if he really wanted to, and the speedometer stayed pegged at it's maximum. How fast he was really going even Paul couldn't have figured out, but he knew it wasn't fast enough.
"Oh shit!" Paul swore as he slammed on the breaks.
"What is it?" Nelson asked.
"That!" Paul pointed ahead. "Watch! Oh God, Thomas, why the hell did you do that? Please, please let me be wrong!"
A large building, just barely visible in the distance as spotlights stabbed out into the darkness around it, was the apparent focus of Paul's concern, but Nelson couldn't see what was wrong.
"Damn, no no no no no!" Paul swore as a bolt of lightning soared up into the sky.
"What's wrong?" Nelson asked. "You called lots of-" he broke off as the answer presented itself.