Jared sighed as he looked at the boxes still left to unpack. Even with most of their prior belongings still contaminated, the sheer amount of stuff to put away was rather awe-inspiring. Moving was never for the faint of heart, and the fact that so many of their belongings remained in their original wrapping was making things slower, not faster. Still, they'd managed to make a considerable dent in the pile of boxes waiting to be put away. "All right boys, I think it's time to knock off for dinner," he sighed.
"Yay!" Cody exclaimed, falling to the ground theatrically. Davey didn't even have the energy for that much, collapsing into a sofa with a 'woof'. Cody quickly climbed back up to his feet and ran over to jump onto the sofa too. Davey lazily made room before laying back again.
"I'm beat," Davey complained. "Can we order pizza?" he added as a joke.
"Oh it isn't that bad!" Cody bounced on the sofa. "Just boring!"
Davey simply groaned and Jared shook his head. "Cody, don't forget the two of us have a little bit of an advantage over poor Davey," he reminded his younger son. Cody looked at him without understanding for a second before his face fell.
"I'm sowwy Davey," Cody said sadly before walking off to his room.
Jared sighed as his son walked off. In other circumstances he'd have asked 'What's eating you, sport?', but he had a fairly good idea. It was the same thing that, in the dark hours of the night, nibbled at his own soul. They were different now, made different to save their lives, but still different. And some of the details the doctor's hadn't thought to mention had Jared very, very depressed.
Amongst their other interesting tricks, the nanites not only patrolled his blood stream for 'foreign bodies' but they also helped his cells 'regenerate'. Which was a fancy way of saying that he wasn't likely to fall ill, and he didn't age as quick as he should. It probably wouldn't effect Cody's growing up, the 'hormonal processes involved in aging' weren't touched, only the 'degenerative effects of age', but once he'd reached 'adulthood' he'd slow down too. They only had estimates available on its effects, guesswork the doctor's couldn't be sure of. The best estimate was that they'd age at about one third the normal rate. Jared, at thirty-five, would normally have had about thirty years of active life ahead of him. Instead, he had about ninety. And that was merely an 'average' estimate; Jared's family was always long lived, and he belonged to the relatively small slice of the population that ate right and exercised often. He would be able to stay alive much, much longer.
Davey, on the other hand, would have a normal human lifespan. And that was scary, for Jared. One of the psychiatrists had brought it up once, and Jared still hadn't found any way to come to terms with the idea that he might outlive his eldest child. That, barring accident or illness, he would outlive his eldest child. It was... scary.
Jared shoved the thought aside, and prayed no one had mentioned it to Cody yet. He wasn't ready to deal with that conversation. Not now. Not ever, really, but sooner or later he'd have to.
"Sorry we can't order pizza in," Jared told Davey after a moment. "I must admit, the idea holds some appeal."
Davey shrugged. "This place sucks."
"I know," Jared told him with a sigh. "You don't even get to see the sun or feel the wind on your face. But... it's safe."
Davey looked at him. "I wanna play baseball," he complained.
"You can't do that until your arm is out of the cast anyway," Jared reminded him. Davey just pouted. "I'll see what I can arrange, but it probably won't be soon."
"I know," Davey sighed. "There's not even anyone here to hang out with."
"Come on, let's go get dinner," Jared said, cutting the conversation short. His son was right, and it wasn't exactly fair for any of them.
Then again, life isn't always fair.
"Cody!" Jared bellowed. Cody came out of his room, face still and eyes suspiciously red. Taking unabashed advantage of his younger son's youth, Jared picked him up and placed him on his shoulders. The ceiling was just tall enough to get away with it, though Cody would have to duck when they went through doors.
"Hello gentlemen," Jared nodded to the guards sitting immediately outside the 'suite' he and his sons occupied. They nodded back at him before forming up, two men for each of the three of them. Jared had a certain degree of freedom of motion through the base, but his kids... they were kids. Trustworthy enough as kids went, but not really qualified to be let loose on a major military facility. As a result, they had to have guards to escort them from place to place. Davey could pretty much go where he liked, so long as he kept up with his school work. He had full run of the gym, the dining facilities, the library, and the few entertainment facilities on base, or rather his guards would let him into the places he was allowed. Cody was slightly more restricted, he had to get Jared's permission to go anywhere except the dining facility, but as a 'consolation prize' of sorts could drop by the labs without a prior appointment. Of course, since he had plenty of those anyway, it had been decided at a higher level that letting him feel 'at home' there would be a good idea. Locking Davey out of there was a rather silly decision, in Jared's opinion, but at least they would let him visit when Jared or Cody was busy with a test.
Of course, that was just theory at this point. The 'real' rules would be worked out over the next several weeks as everyone 'settled in'.
Jared fished out his ID card and swiped it through the card reader at the security point that controlled access to the sector containing his living suite. Several of the labs were also situated there, including a medical facility capable of handling emergency adjustments to both the nanites and the implants involved in augmentation. Unfortunately, the sector wasn't large enough to house everything, so they had to go through security sweeps fairly often. Jared didn't really begrudge the security, even if it was a pain in the rear. Even with security codes to input, retinal scans to take, palm prints to scan, and a blood sample to provide, it didn't take all that long to go through a given checkpoint. Three or four of them could add up, but generally it wasn't that difficult to route around the checkpoints. After all, they were designed to control access to given sectors, not control the flow of traffic through the base as a whole. That job was left to the blast doors that only took a simple code or swipe of an ID card.
Jared sighed as he set Cody down outside of the cafeteria and prepared to repeat the entire security process all over again. It didn't bother him that much... but every once in a while he spared a worry for what kind of warped, paranoid thinking it might encourage in his kids. Mind you, most people these days needed a nice healthy dose of paranoia, but a little bit went a long way. A long, long way.
The food, predictably for a military installation, wasn't fancy. But his kids were happy with 'plentiful' and (by their standards, anyway) 'good', and he was quite satisfied with 'reasonably healthy'. And thank God, it wasn't even MREs. Meals-ready-to-eat could be used as doorstops as far as he was concerned. He'd eat them, but... bleh!
Jared glanced at the time and sighed. Just about time for the first round of 'tests'.
Jared leaned back into the couch, starring at the man across from him much like he would any other dangerous animal. He wasn't a lawyer, but in some ways a headshrinker was worse.
"I suppose right now is when I'm supposed to wise crack about sensing some hostility," the man said with a slight smile. "After all, I went to college for ten years just to learn to recognize hostility, so naturally I'll try to make light of it."
Jared frowned in non-comprehension. "I'm not here to make jokes about you or your situation, Jared," the man told him. "I'm here to listen, to talk, to provide advice and help. The first step in that process has to come from you."
"It does?" Jared asked.
"Of course. I can't do anything to help you unless you trust me," the man told him. "Which is why I haven't even offered my name."
Jared blinked in confusion. "Huh?"
The man smiled back. "If I give you my name, then I place a burden of courtesy on you to return the favor. Withholding it grants me a degree of power over you, after all I already know your name, but I can turn that back by making this your choice. If you want my name, all you have to do is introduce yourself. The power, so much as I can make it so, is yours."
Jared frowned. "Is there a point to this rigmarole?" he growled.
"Yes. Rape isn't about sex, it's about power. Control," the man explained. "I'm here to help you deal with that, and one thing I can do to make that easier is to give you some."
Jared leaned forward, wishing he could argue. Dropping his head into his hands he gave a great big sigh just to tell the ass what a position he was putting him into. But... "I'm Sergeant... Excuse me, I'm Jared Brent Warren, ex-marine."
"I am William Olsen; call me Bill," Bill said. "And... ex-marine? Why did you quit? From the tone of it, you aren't happy with the situation."
"How much did they tell you?" Jared asked.
"They cleared me for the entire story, but I told them I wanted to hear it from you," Bill told him. "Tell me as much, or as little, as you want."
"I'm surprised you're willing to ask questions after that bit about power earlier," Jared dodged, thinking.
"For now all I can do is ask questions," Bill shrugged. "It's your power to choose to answer them, or not."
Jared leaned back. These sessions hadn't really been his idea. But the other shrinks had all insisted and he simply didn't have any way out. From the sounds of it, this guy would be beyond furious over that, but...
But he had to be a good example for Cody and Davey. If he didn't cooperate with the shrinks, they sure as hell wouldn't. And... there were times it was clear they needed it, they needed the help. Damnit.
"I'm not happy," Jared admitted. "For years, all I could imagine being was a marine. When I made sergeant... I was on top of the world. The only thing more important in my life was my kids."
Bill asked with as even a tone as possible, "Why?"
"Why? Why was it important or why is my family more important?" Jared asked.
"Both," Bill asked.
Jared leaned back and thought. "I don't see where this is leading us anywhere," he equivocated.
"That's because it's not," Bill admitted. "I could prattle on for hours about rape trauma, but I did check that you'd been given brochures that cover the basics. So our goal is to make you comfortable with talking to me. Develop a relationship so you can trust me."
"A relationship?" Jared quipped. "I'd make a comment about being surprised you swing that way, but I suspect it'd be totally out of line."
"It would, but I'd probably laugh and not care," Bill told him with a smile, running a hand through his silver hair.
"Instead," Jared continued, "I'll simply ask... isn't a relationship a two way street?"
"When I went to college, I didn't know what I wanted to be," Bill leaned back. "I spent years bouncing from class to class before I realized what my major should be, and it wasn't something that my advisers told me. I ran into a young lady, sobbing outside the library. Being a gentlemen I didn't walk away, I sat down next to her and asked what was wrong. By the time we were done talking I was four hours late for my meeting with my adviser, and had decided I knew exactly what I wanted my major to be." Bill looked strongly at Jared. "My job is a 'headshrinker', or therapist, or psychologist, or whatever you want to call it. My calling is to help people heal."
"Like me," Jared sighed.
"Yes," Bill told him. "I didn't originally specialize in rape trauma. I got all the way to my master's thesis before even encountering a rape victim, or doing any studies past the usual on the subject. One of my professors decided I should spend some time with unusual traumas and psychologies, just to be familiar with them. Dozens of people with problems spanning the entire range of psychological disorders. Psychotics, manic-depressives, rapists, and more. The one that stuck with me the most was a young lady who had been institutionalized for attempted suicide. I ended up making her the case study I did my master's thesis on."
"She'd been raped," Jared said softly.
Bill shook his head slowly. "Yes, and.. worse." He swallowed, looking slightly green. "Have you ever served in a third world country?"
Jared nodded his head. "It wasn't pleasant."
"Then you've seen some of what man-kind can do to each other," Bill said softly. "The horrors we can inflict. What was done to her wasn't simply rape, any more than some of the killings you saw were murders. Yes, it was rape, but... it was more. Worse."
"Mutilations, torture," Jared shook his head. "At one point I wanted nothing more than for someone back home to make the decision to nuke the entire damned country and be done with it."
"Yes," Bill agreed. "I couldn't help her physically. I couldn't restore her body, I couldn't undo the scars, I couldn't even take away the ongoing pain. But I was able to reach past that and help her come to terms with her life."
Jared looked up at him. "Is this where I'm supposed to start trusting you to know what's best?"
"No," Bill told him. "This isn't even where I tell you it could be worse. This is where I've told you why I made it my crusade to fight rape. I campaign for stricter, stronger laws on rape. I'm the to-go guy for prosecutors who need witnesses for trials or parole hearings. And I do my best to bandage the damage after the fact. I'm not poor; I have more money than I could spend. So I seek out the worst cases, the people who need help the most."
"So it's an honor to have you as my shrink?" Jared said bitterly.
"No," Bill told him. "It's a horror. Because the only reason I'm here is that you've been violated in a terrible, unimaginable way, and no one else can help you. No one else would help you."
Jared looked away. Honesty. It was strange. "You don't see very many honest headshrinkers," he said after a few moments.
"You don't see very many good therapists, either," Bill told him. "I'm the best."
Jared believed him. The simple honesty with which he spoke was beyond doubting.
Jared bored in like the wrath of God almighty, hands reaching past his opponent's defenses to slam home with bruising force despite the padding both of them wore. His opponent rolled with the punch, but the only reason he survived without broken ribs was the protection they were wearing... and the fact that Jason had pulled the blow.
Already someone was coming in, pressing him from the left, and he swayed away, slapping his hand against her forearm, robbing the blow of much of its power. The snap kick he sent to the right doubled over yet another assailant as he twisted around, grabbing a fourth and tossing him back at the first.
He'd always been reasonably adept at hand-to-hand combat. But his augmentation had moved him to a brand new level of speed, strength, power, and sheer lethality. The sparring partners they'd gathered for him were all black belts, as well as senior marines who had been considered candidates for possible human trials of the Prometheus Project when it reached that stage. Thanks to him, they could look forward to augmentation in as little as a year, instead of five or six. And they'd be receiving the finished package, without bits and pieces that the doctors had to test and fix.
Of course, Jared admitted to himself as he ducked under yet another attacker's kick, that assumed nothing went wrong with his augmentation.
A trio of kicks rocked him back on his heels as, in his moment of distracted thought, he let his defenses slip. Against a normal human being they would have been devastating; despite what movies insisted, the first attack to get through unblocked was usually the end of the fight. Against his body they weren't even enough to develop a bruise. Despite being off balance, he snapped a kick of his own back, deliberately throwing himself sideways. With his strength and speed the kick was still devastating, and he was back on his feet nearly instantly thanks to a roll that a normal human could never have managed.
The first time they'd done a sparring session like this the doctor's had hoped to get a baseline for the improvement of his abilities. They'd walked away in disgust at the realization that Jared was so far beyond the experts they'd pulled in that the test was useless. But the sparring session hadn't finished. The others couldn't possibly beat Jared, but it was a good workout and let him keep his hand in. And they liked pitting themselves against him, an opponent that they literally didn't need to hold back against. He still kicked their asses both singly and collectively, despite having to hold back to avoid killing them.
This session was nearly over, but then a hand clamped on his ankle with a steel grip that was almost painful. Jared tried to twist aside, but for his efforts found himself falling. Snapping a kick where he knew his opponents face had to be, he impacted against the ground with a grunt as his leg passed through thin air. Jared didn't think, simply twisting around and bringing his hand down in a devastating attack against the forearm of his attacker.
Except his aim was off as his attacker simply bent his arm at the elbow, letting Jared's blow slam into the mat instead. It shouldn't have worked, except his opponent's arm was far, far shorter than any adult arm could possibly hope to be.
Jared would have growled in anger under other circumstances, but the second 'new challenger' had waited just long enough for Jared to understand what was happening before engaging in a flying tackle. Had he not waited, Davey would probably have wound up in the hospital. As it was, he carried Jared back to the ground, proving once more that strength was great, but you also needed decent leverage. The leverage Cody was very carefully denying Jared.
"Gotcha! We gotcha Dad!" Davey crowed as Cody climbed on up to sit on Jared's chest with him. "Gotcha, gotcha! Now you have to buy us Pizza!"
Jared laughed. "And how exactly am I supposed to manage that, you little munchkins?"
"I think something can be arranged," someone said.
"General!" Jared smiled. "Nice to see you!" he waved from under the dog pile, while several of the marines he'd been sparring with laughed.
"I'm glad to see you and the kids have settled in," General Sheridan smiled. "Got a moment?"
"Sure, what for?" Jared asked.
"I wanted to talk to you," Sheridan told him. "Alone."
Jared frowned. "Alright," he said after a moment. "Kids, why don't you head outside for a while?"
Davey and Cody exchanged a glance, "Rematch?" Davey asked cryptically, and Cody nodded gleefully. "We'll be at home when you're ready Dad!" Davey said over his shoulder as he left.
After everyone had exited the gym facility, Sheridan punched a code into the control panel at the door, sealing it. "We should be private for a few minutes."
"What's up?" Jared asked, concerned.
"There's a small problem," Sheridan said unhappily. "It probably won't amount to anything. I won't let it amount to anything. But..."
"But I needed a heads up," Jared nodded. "What's up?"
"The original plans had human studies being years out, after we'd had a chance to do dozens more studies," Sheridan sighed. "With a live, human guinea pig to test some people want to move those tests forward. On a live subject."
"Why do I get the feeling I'm not going to like this," Jared sighed.
"Our plans were to start with a fully briefed volunteer. Someone who was willing to undergo... all sorts of testing." Sheridan sounded distinctly uncomfortable. "Not just what they could do, what they could take."
"And now they want me to do it," Jared frowned.
"If it were just you, I wouldn't be half as concerned as I am," Sheridan told him.
"Cody?" Jared growled.
"Yes," Sheridan agreed with a sigh. "They can't do the entire testing sequence on him. Even if he weren't a child, his augmentation is different than yours. His bones and skin have been partially reinforced, but they're nowhere near as strong as your own."
"They aren't?" Jared asked, surprised.
"No," Sheridan shook his head. "I almost wish they were, but it was impossible. Take your bones, for example. The metal that's been woven in through their structure can only exist because that structure is static. If it needed to grow..."
Jared nodded in understanding. "He still has to grow, you can't just plate his bones in metal."
Sheridan looked upward in a clear plea for aid. "Jared, you can't coat anyone's bones in metal," he said eventually. "The bones are more than simply structural elements; bone marrow is also involved in things like blood cell production. If you cut the blood flow to the bones, you don't have blood after a while."
"Oh," Jared said after a moment. "OK. So how exactly did they reinforce them? Splints?"
Sheridan took a deep, slow breath. "No. Think of it like concrete rebar. The nanites built small nano-scale wires of battle steel inside your bones, forming a kind of mesh. Think of it like a giant 3D model wireframe, except it runs through your entire bone, not just around the outside."
Jared blinked. "Battle steel?!"
"Expensive as hell, but well worth it," the general nodded. "And most of the elements needed can be found in trace quantities inside the human bloodstream anyway."
"Most," Jared said slowly. "Those special multivitamins they have me on..."
"Have some of the elements that don't naturally occur in the blood stream, yes," Sheridan nodded. "Didn't they tell you this?"
"Me stupid," Jared said in a deliberately thick accent, "me not get big words. Me like little words."
Sheridan rolled his eyes. "I see."
"You use big enough words and my eyes eventually just glaze over," Jared shrugged. "Sorry."
"It figures I suppose," Sheridan sighed. "Anyway, to get back to the subject at hand, Cody can't really undergo the same testing. If he gets hit with a bullet, it's probably going to get through. You? You're probably proof against small caliber weapons. Probably."
Jared shook his head. "Impressive, I suppose."
"That it is," Sheridan nodded. "Anyway..."
Suddenly the lights overhead started flickering. "What the hell?" Sheridan swore as alarms started going off.
"All base personnel initiate lockdown! All base personnel initiate full lockdown! This is not a drill! We have multiple security breaches in progress!" the PA system boomed, and Jared felt as much as he heard the noise of blast doors across the entire base slamming shut with lethal force. He prayed for a moment that no one had been caught in them.
Jared ran over to the entrance to the locker room and punched in a command sequence on the door panel. "My code overrides still work!" he shouted at Sheridan. "Come on!"
Jared was less than interested in the locker holding his clothing, or the showers. The fact that the base's primary armory had a back door to the gym facility, however... Typing in his code, he swore as the door flashed an 'access restricted' message at him. "I'm not cleared for the damned armory! Fuck!"
"I am," Sheridan growled, swiping his card through the reader and punching in a code. "Go get your card, you'll need it."
Jared glared at his locker for an instant before smashing it open. The lock on it stuck half the time, and he didn't feel like taking the extra time to unlock it. Grabbing his keycard, he ran back to the general just in time to slip through the blast door. Inside the armory marines were busy opening their lockers and pulling on their weapons and armor. The room shook, actually shook despite being a hundred feet below ground and made of concrete. That either meant an earthquake, or...
The lighting cut out and red emergency lights snapped on instantly. Jared swore as his theory of a massive explosion was confirmed. General Sheridan ran his card through the reader on a munitions locker and it clicked open with a quiet buzz. "Here!" he snapped, tossing an assault rifle at Jared. Jared slipped the strap over his shoulder and grabbed a few extra clips that came flying his way.
Jared staggered backwards and blinked in confusion as a sudden profusion of... of... hallucinations took over his vision. Lines, circles, dozens of things he didn't understand and couldn't imagine suddenly seeing didn't actually obscure his ability to see anything, but were as confusing as hell. After a moment he realized that the marines were being outlined in pulsing yellow, while anytime he actually identified a specific marine it clicked over to green.
Jared swore. "What the hell?"
Sheridan glanced at him for a moment, frowning. "Combat-HUD just turned on? Lots of lines floating around?"
"Yeah," Jared told him, blinking. "Bit distracting, but I think I can work with it."
"Good. Do so," Sheridan ordered. "No time to go over the user manual with you, but green is friendly, yellow and orange uncertain, red is hostile. Circles represent specific data points the C-HUD thinks you need to be aware of, people are represented in outlines. It'll also paint various colored lines on the walls to show you where it estimates stuff like power lines or air vents might be."
"Alright," Jared nodded. "I'll try and work with it."
"Don't let it get you killed," Sheridan snapped as he finished belting on a pistol.
"All security personnel, secure local high priority targets!" the PA system ordered. "Power, command and control systems, and research laboratories are priorities, central computers have been physically destroyed so protect localized backups! Major Williams, report to the medical bay immediately, we have casualties! Captain McCullough to the command center immediately, we require your assistance in dealing with a cyber attack! Disregard all further communications over the PA, hackers are attempting to override our controls and use it-" an electronic squeal cut the communication short.
"Cyber attack?" Sheridan blinked. "They must already be inside the facility!"
"General Sheridan," Jared said strongly, "under the circumstances I recommend we split up. You get to the command center and find out what's going on, and I'll take the bulk of the reaction platoon to secure my sons." Sheridan nodded in agreement and started forcing his way to the front of the room. Jared took a moment to grab a few extra clips of ammunition and dump them into his pockets, just in case. Same for the pistol and holster he belted around his waist. Good news was this locker only stocked older firearms, without the smart-chips that prevented anyone but their assigned user from firing the weapon. Bad news was the distinct lack of grenades, HE, or other 'toys'.
The marines were already streaming out the door to their assigned duty stations, but Sheridan was able to grab the reaction platoon and slice of a pair off squads from it. "You men with me, you with Jared. You are to support him in any and all actions he decides necessary, treating him as your commanding officer for the duration of the situation. These orders are nondiscretionary and may not be overridden!"
"Sir yes sir!" the squad thundered.
Jared nodded at 'his' marines and led the way. Hopefully the command facility had managed to cut the blast doors out of the primary command loop; if the hackers had managed to take control of the blast doors, they were all screwed. Jared noticed that one circle, with a marksman's 'X' through it, was constantly bobbing around in the periphery of his vision, growing and shrinking at random. On a hunch, he stepped to the side of the column and took better aim. The circle shrank to a point near his feet, and swept upward as he brought the weapon up. It was an aiming reticule for his rifle. And the number he saw in the periphery of his vision... Jared checked the clip in the weapon, and the number stopped pulsing and settled down. Ammo count. Cool. Which made the second number behind it... a clip count. Nice.
At the armory's main entrance, Sheridan was trying to convince the security door to open up. "The blast door accepted my code, but this damned security door won't budge!"
Jared looked at the console and then shook his head. "Low power. The batteries on this door needed replacing months ago."
"Any ideas?" Sheridan snarled.
Jared's fingers danced over the keypad and pulled up a different menu. Jared input a sequence of commands that produced a series of clunking noises from the door, then walked up and simply put his shoulder against the door. Slowly, hesitantly, it began to swing open. "Thank God I knew to disengage the hydraulics," Jared swore. "With the power out, they would have held this damned thing in place and I couldn't hope to budge it!"
As soon as the door was open enough to slip through Jared did so, clearing the room on reflex. Given how he hadn't been shot at for opening the door he was reasonably certain no one was in the security chamber, but it didn't hurt to check. The marines flooded after him and he waited until most of them were through the door before opening the blast door that led to the tunnel system that connected the various sections of the base.
After opening the blast door, Jared checked the tunnel up and down before walking into it. Sheridan followed right behind him. "I'll head to the command center, you get to your boys," Sheridan ordered.
"Yes Sir!" Jared barked, turning and moving down the corridor in the opposite direction. "See you on the flip side!"
Jared would never have seen the woman on the other side of the air vent if a double circle hadn't started flickering yellow and orange around him. When a red circle zeroed in on the muzzle of the weapon, an orange outline snapped into appearance around her, despite most of her body still being hidden in the air vent. When a red line streaked from the muzzle of her weapon to Jared's heart, the outline turned red. Jared twisted aside, desperately, as the roar of her rifle announced her shot. The searing pain streaked across Jared's left arm as he fell. Things moved slowly, oh so slowly, as he snapped his rifle up, centering the aiming reticule on her forehead. Some corner of his mind noted that he'd serviced his target, even as the roar of the weapon and told him he'd already fired.
"Medic!" one of the marines behind him shouted in reflex. Jared didn't turn and check, keeping his attention on the corridor in front of him.
"Status!" he barked after a moment.
"Caught one in the damned ass," General Sheridan growled. "Not that bad."
"Stay down, sir!" someone told him.
"Son, I've been shot before," Sheridan informed the overeager soldier. "I'll live. Now let me the hell up!"
"Sir," the marine responded, clearly unhappy... but an order was an order.
"Get moving Jared," Sheridan ordered. "These boys can cover me."
Jared nodded and moved out at a trot. It felt good to be back in the swing of things, but the icy chill running down his back reminded him that his sons were somewhere ahead, in the thick of the fighting his instincts screamed he was about to enter. Time to teach these bastards the meaning of war.
His squad moved swiftly down the corridor in leapfrog, each man covering and advancing in turns. The first resistance they ran into was close to the section where Jared and his sons lived. 'Enemy in sight' and 'four' one of the marines signaled, pointing left along the corridor he'd just peeked down.
'Halt' Jared signaled, thinking. Four was too many for a simple rush. Calling the men behind him up, he quickly lined out a plan using hand signals and hushed whispers. The squad quickly assembled, tight against the wall, and waited his signal. 'Ready?' Jared checked.
First stage. Three of the men sprinted across the corridor, diving into cover on the other side of the crossing just as shots started ripping down it. Well, that confirmed the 'enemy' part at least. Second stage. "Go!" Jared shouted, "I'll hold them here as planned! You have to get through!" Jared waited three heartbeats, then edged around the corner, exposing half his face and his arm to get a semi-clear shot. Centering the targeting reticule in the face of one of the enemies, he squeezed the trigger slowly. Things were going slower than they ever had before; always in combat he'd enjoyed a kind of 'slow motion' perception of reality, but now it seemed like he could almost watch the bullets rip down the corridor. Misses. Twenty four. Fire. Two hits. Twenty one. Fire. One more hit. Cover. Eighteen rounds left.
Return fire ricocheted off the corridor wall across from Jared, thankfully missing both him and his squad, and they all took cover out of reflex. Not that there was a lot of cover to take, all they could really do was duck to minimize the target they provided.
Jared poked his head out again. The enemy wasn't providing him with much of a target. Suppressing fire it was. Fire. Fifteen. Fire. Twelve. Fire. Nine. Cover. Again, return fire ricocheted off the concrete of the wall, but this time Jared felt a burning pain across the back of his thigh. Hit. Minor, bleeding. He'd need medical attention... later. For now he waited another few seconds before sticking his head out. He pulled the trigger in reflex, not bothering to aim before jerking his head back around the corner to avoid the enemy's fire. Got them!
'Go' he signaled, then waited again. Poking his head out, he almost bought it as a shot ripped by close enough to his head to take his right ear clean off. Suppressing a scream he pulled back. Without a moment's hesitation, his men leaped past him, three men from each side of the corridor jumping out and taking a prone position across the length of the corridor the enemy had been guarding.
Jared didn't even have time to poke his head back around the corner; six assault rifles on semiautomatic fire can spray a lot of bullets in a very short period of time. And in skilled hands that knew to limit themselves to three round bursts, most of that fire would wind up near or in the three enemies advancing, confidant that Jared wouldn't poke his head around for at least another seven seconds.
"Clear," one of the marines said flatly, emotions suppressed.
'Forward' Jared signaled, shrugging off the marine who tried to field bandage his wounds.
Already his thigh wound had stopped bleeding, and the pain was almost gone. His ear would follow soon enough... or wouldn't. There wasn't enough blood there to worry about, suggesting that his augmentation was already stopping it.
Helpful stuff, that augmentation!
"I don't want to harm the older boy, but the younger boy cannot be allowed to survive," Jared heard someone snarl on the other side of the blast door they'd been moving towards. "So I'll make you a deal, all of you come out with your hands up and the only person I'll hurt is the younger boy. It'll be quick and clean. Make me come in there, and the first of my men through the door will be holding the older boy as a shield, with orders to put a bullet in his head rather than let him escape."
"Shit!" Jared swore.
"Sir?" the marine about to open the door asked.
"Do not open that door yet!" Jared told him. "The enemy is there on the other side."
"Sir?" the marine asked, confused.
"How much do you know about me?" Jared asked.
"Some kind of medical experiment, and they're worried it might leave you unstable," someone supplied.
"Simply put, that's right. Advantage one you've already noticed," Jared indicated his wounds, "advantage two is hearing. I can hear them. And they have my elder son. They're threatening friendlies with him, trying to get to my younger son. I think they want both of us dead because of the treatment used to heal us."
"Threatening a child?" one of the men growled. Glancing over the group, Jared saw the snarls on their faces. Yes, these men weren't just marines, they were his kind of marines!
"Ideas?" Jared asked.
"Air shafts," one of them supplied instantly. "The corridors all have blast doors that break the base up into segments to maximize survivability in the event of an accident, but the air shafts don't. The idea was to channel smaller blasts through them, I think; that's why the blast doors for the air shafts are designed to sever them from the corridors."
"Time?" Jared asked.
"A few minutes, depending on how quickly we find the right vents," the soldier supplied.
"Who's bright idea was it to make the air vents large enough for people to move in?" Jared sighed. "Lead on."
"This one," the lead soldier said after a minute, pulling a device out of his pocket. He quickly removed the security fastenings from the air vent, revealing a shaft just large enough for men in combat gear to move through.
"Alright, move it!" Jared ordered. "You and you, wait at the door. Don't let any more hostiles through, but don't come through yourselves until I give the order." Jared quickly got his squad moving into the vent system.
'Ready?' Jared signaled.
The question went up the line then came back. 'Ready.'
"Last chance," the man Jared had overheard earlier swore. "We are coming in now to kill that abomination, and we'll kill you if you don't-"
When the order was given, there were twelve orange-red tagged (presumed hostile, Jared figured) men in the room, along with a solid green around Davey. Less than five seconds after "GO!", all of them were on the ground, dead or dying. Or, in Davey's case, pinned under the dead weight of the man holding him. "Davey!" Jared shouted, springing into the room without bothering to clear it first.
"Sir!" one of the marines shouted as they kicked out the vents they were using, moving too slowly to keep up with him. Jared rolled the dead man off his son and did a quick check as the blast door they'd bypassed opened.
Wait, the men he'd left behind had been ordered not to-
Jared launched himself aside, spinning and twisting in midair to face the door as he came down prone. Automatic weapons fire ripped past overhead, missing him but catching several of his men as it crossed the room.
Five double red stick figures twisted and danced around the door, with a solid red outline locked on the man in the lead. Jared didn't waste time trying to figure it out, he simply sent a three round burst into the man he could see. And suddenly two of the stick figures resolved into outlines as he could see the men behind the first. Two more bursts took down two more men, leaving three.
None of his men were in position. His son was exposed. His only cover was a thrice-damned body. And he'd forgotten to reload earlier. He tossed his rifle at them, and they ducked under it buying him a few fractions of a second to claw his side arm loose and bring it to bear. Five seconds later the hostiles were dead, and his son screaming.
"Davey!" Jared cried out, seeing the red all over the floor. Instinct took over and he examined his son's... the boy's, the boy's, he can't be my son right now... the boy's wounds. "Through and through, nicked the artery, get me a bandage!" Turning to the boy Jared pressed him, firmly, down on his back. "Stay down, don't move," he ordered, lifting the screaming boy's leg up to get it above the heart. "That will help control the bleeding." Feeling around, he squeezed a point behind the knee.
"That hurts!" the boy screamed, writhing against the men who were helping to hold him down.
"Pressure point, it'll control the bleeding until we can get a proper bandage in place," Jared told the boy. "Got one," one of the marines said, taking hold of the leg about the wound. The bandage was quickly applied, and Jared let go of the pressure point. "Sorry about that," he told the boy.
"It hurt!" the boy complained. "And the floor is wet! Can I move?"
"No, it's important to stay where you are for the moment," Jared told the boy, scanning the room again. "You, and you, check it out," he ordered, indicating the blast door. He wanted to know what happened to his men.
"Looks like they got hit from behind, Sir," one of his men reported. "Out cold, but it was blunt force trauma, not gun shots. Likely the enemy wanted stealth, just like us. They'll probably be concussed, but they'll be alright."
"Thank God," Jared breathed. "Get them on this side of the door and secure-"
The PA speakers squealed for a moment, then General Sheridan's voice came over them. "All personnel, this is command. We have defeated the cyber-attack and regained control of most of the facility's functions. Continue to hold your local positions until command and control can be fully reestablished. Reinforcements are en route and will take the job of securing the facility as a whole once they arrive. Follow the SOP with regards to initiating contact and confirming identities. As a reminder, if you do not know or have forgotten the pass code of the day do not ask others for it. We expect the reinforcements to arrive within thirty minutes, and security monitors show that most of the enemy forces inside the facility have been neutralized."
"Thank God," Jared sighed after the announcement finished. Regular lighting restored itself gradually, and the red emergency lights cut off, restoring a degree of normality. "Alright, secure the section," Jared ordered. "You and you, this blast door. No one gets through without my permission, even if they have the word of the day; there are additional security locks for this section of the facility and I'm activating them. You and you, form an outer perimeter. You are not cleared to engage unless fired on first, withdraw to the secure zone and seal the blast door." Quickly Jared had half of the squad ordered into place to secure the entrance. "The rest of you, give me a moment and I'll deploy you."
Taking a deep breath, Jared looked down into his son's face. "Davey, I know it hurts, and I know you're uncomfortable, but I need you to stay where you are. I'll try to get you to a better position soon, but I need to keep you safe. Do you understand? We think we've killed the bad guys, but we can't be sure. I need to keep you safe, and for the moment, this is where you're safe. In a minute, I'm going to get the doctors on the other side of the security room to open up, and then I should be able to get you moved. OK?"
"Yes Dad," Davey said, gritting his teeth against the pain. "I'll try to be brave, to be strong. Like you."
"I love you, Son," Jared told him before getting up. "You, keep his leg elevated, and keep him safe. If there is so much as a fucking scratch on him when I get back, your ass is grass!"
"Yes sir!" the marine shouted.
Jared walked over to the security door. "Who is in there?"
"Lieutenant Rogers, from security. I'm in charge for the moment."
"The doctors, and child care personnel?" Jared asked.
"Under lock down pending investigation," the answer came back promptly.
"The patient has been secured," the Lieutenant answered.
"Who's with him?" Jared demanded. He didn't miss the word choice. 'Patient', not child; 'secured', not safe.
"He's been secured," Roger answered, voice carrying the 'you idiot' message quite clearly.
"Open this door, now" Jared growled.
"Until this lockdown is cleared, this section is to remain secure. Only properly cleared security and technical personnel are allowed entry," came the response. Jared's eyes went flinty.
"I have authorization, now challenge me properly!" Jared ordered.
"Fuck off, you aren't even in proper uniform!" came the ill advised response.
"Lieutenant, I'm going to give you one chance to correct yourself on one of the three mistakes you've made so far," Jared told him. Every single marine in the room turned to look at him, his tone carrying an order they could no more ignore than they could fly under their own power.
Every last one of them readied their weapons, reloading the clips and making sure they had a round in the barrel. One of them handed Jared's rifle to him, and he slung it back on by reflex and reloaded.
"Excuse me?" the Lieutenant asked, surprised.
"First, and foremost, you failed to recognize that I am on the approved list for access at all times," Jared informed him. "As a security officer assigned to this sector you are required to know my face and identity without me having to identify myself. A proper challenge is to be expected, true, but you should recognize me on your security monitors."
"Second," Jared said, voice still flat, "you did not challenge me before completely denying me access. If you really didn't recognize me to begin with, you have no way of knowing who I am and should have challenged me before making any decisions. To then refuse to challenge me properly only compounds this error."
"Third," Jared spat, "your word choice and tone make it clear you have failed to consider that Cody Gregory Warren is, first and foremost, a seven year old child in need of emotional support and security at times like this. By placing him into isolated confinement, you have caused severe and probably lasting trauma onto my son. Your career just ended, boy, and your only hope of avoiding a dishonorable discharge is to not tick me off further!"
"Threats are neither appropriate to the situation nor helpful," the Lieutenant answered, "and I will maintain-"
"Lieutenant, the only reason I haven't torn this door down already is because a fire fight will place people into needless danger," Jared cut him off, "but if you force this issue by God I will tear it down, and then I will rip your head off and spit down your neck! And while I mean one of those in a figurative sense I am this close to doing it for real!"
"This is a security door," Rogers sneered. "It may not be a blast door but it's more than strong enough to resist the light arms you've got."
"Lieutenant," Jared said, "you are a complete and utter idiot. You received at least a basic security briefing or you wouldn't have been placed in charge of the security..." Jared paused. "What happened to Lieutenant Rawlings? I thought he was in charge of this section!"
"Injured, I was forced to take over for him," Rogers replied.
"You never got the full briefing," Jared said slowly.
"No, just the orders to keep this section sealed until-"
"Get Rawlings out here, now!"
"No can do, he's injured and not to be disturbed," Rogers replied.
"Fine, we'll just have to do this the hard way," Jared sighed. "Marines! Stand by to assault the secure section!"
"What? Are you crazy! The door is sealed!" Rogers snapped over the speaker.
"Interesting fact," Jared told him, "the Q7-M8 security door is to be retired from general use because of a design flaw. This particular door was supposed to receive the mod nine version, but supplies ran short and they had to substitute a mod eight. That design flaw is right here."
Jared reached out to a specific point on the door. As he'd stared at the security door, the C-HUD had changed, colored lines tracing across it to display no doubt fascinating and very useful information... if he could read it. Thankfully, he didn't need to. "Normally, special equipment is required to make use of this design flaw. This is not normal circumstances, and I do not require heavy machinery to do this." Jared pried his fingers in under the seal. He couldn't really use this grip to bypass the security seal, it was a very well designed door... mostly.
But he could place one foot against the side of the door and use it to provide leverage to pull. Hard. On the other side of the door, alarms began to wail. "Final chance, open this door or I'll do it for you!" Jared told them.
"What the hell! That isn't possible! Fuck! Stand by, all personnel stand by to defend this section! Intruders incoming!" Rogers screamed.
"Belay that!" Jared bellowed. "You know me. You know my son. You know what's going on, and you know this ass has violated procedures six ways from Sunday! Stand down marines!"
"Code of the day?" one of the marines asked. Jared wasn't sure about the voice, but it sounded vaguely like-
"Fuck!" Rogers screamed. "Get your ass in line, Corporal, or I'll have you before a-"
"Lieutenant, it's not often I get to say this to an officer, but shut the fuck up!" Corporal Henderson shouted. "Marines, secure the lieutenant and stand by. Jared, code of the day?"
"Code of the day is Guardian," Jared told him.
"And sectional code?"
"Purple, personal code nine-eight-eight-alpha," Jared told him.
"Checking personal code now... Name and rank?"
"Sergeant Major, retired, Jared Brent Warren."
"What the hell? The bastard's retired and you're letting him-" the loud thud that cut off the Lieutenant left nothing to the imagination.
"Thank you, private, hopefully the security monitors will clearly show that he tried to escape custody," Corporal Henderson said dryly. "Of course, the minor fact that we have no authority to place him under custody will be overlooked. I'm sure the Sergeant will see to that. Open the door."
"Marines, return to your previous posts," Jared ordered as the door opened. "Thanks for saving me the trouble of ripping this door out, it'd have been a bitch to replace!"
"Tell me about it," Corporal Henderson smiled. "Who do you think those idiots put in charge of the final installation, despite not having anything resembling an engineering qualification?"
"Don't that just figure," Jared agreed with a smile. "Looks like you did a good job, though. I had to pull a lot harder than I thought I'd need to to set off the alarms."
"I'm surprised you managed that much; even with your augmentation I didn't think you were strong enough to rip the door out!" the Corporal smiled.
"Just between us non-coms," Jared smiled, glanced around, and leaned in closer before adding, "I'm not."
"You didn't!" the Corporal exclaimed, grinning. "Oh man, is that going to look good on the post-op report!"
"I could definitely pop the seals, but the locking mechanism is way too strong. It'd take me the better part of ten minutes to demolish enough of the security braces to let me rip the entire door out of the wall."
"You're joking..." the Corporal began. "God, you're not joking!"
"Nope. It's a design flaw, the braces are vulnerable to external assault. But it'd take a few minutes to take advantage of. Not as bad as burning through the entire door, mind you, but way too long for standard combat ops. And it doesn't require as much in the way of special equipment."
"God, I knew the mod nine was a huge improvement, but I didn't realize just how big!" the Corporal swore.
"Now, priorities. My son?" Jared asked, voice taut.
"Contrary to blunder-guts ideas, he's not alone," the Corporal told him. "Rawlings was hit in the initial firefight, but he gave a few orders even after he was relieved of command. Me and the boys weren't entirely certain who to obey, but when Rawlings collapsed.... he regained consciousness pretty quick, but we couldn't really follow his orders over Rogers'. Not on most things. Sorry Sir."
"I understand. But you did do some creative thinking on other subjects?"
"Yes sir," Henderson agreed. "We 'secured' him in his private room, after we stuffed a few of the docs in there to keep him company. We were ordered to secure the docs, and it isn't our fault the idiot failed to specify that he wanted them secured in a separate room, rather than as a separate action."
"Good... thanks. What's your manpower look like?" Jared quickly worked his way into the nuts and bolts of securing the section. "Alright, I've got wounded men and I want them to go to the doctors. Detail a few of your original detachment to moving the wounded and assisting the medics. Make sure my son gets everything he needs, would you?"
"Will do, sir!"
Jared collapsed into a nearby chair and sighed. "Alright, corporal, I think we have everything under control. We just have to wait for-"
"This is the relief force from Fort Dietrich to facility personnel, we have entered the facility and are proceeding to secure it," the PA announced.
"Are our men in place, Corporal?" Jared asked.
"Yes sir! I've got the detail moving the wounded to the back of the section now, they'll be done in a minute. Once they've finished, I've ordered them to support and secure the makeshift infirmary as needed."
"Good!" Jared said. "Hopefully we'll get some proper medical support in soon, but for now-"
"Sir!" one of the marines shouted as he ran into the room. "Detachment of unknown soldiers approaching the door!"
"Order the outer perimeter to fall back behind the blast door, and do not allow them passage past it. Keep the security door sealed except by my express order, unless they need to bug out."
"Yes sir!" the marine ran off. "So it begins," Jared sighed. "You're in charge here, I need to be at the door when they arrive."
"See you soon, sir!"
"See ya soon," Jared agreed with a sigh.
"This is the relief force, here to secure this section," someone said as Jared entered the security room on the other side of the section.
"Situation?" Jared demanded.
"Initial contact with the relief force, Sir," one of the marines supplied. "Unfortunately, our connection to the main servers was cut so we have no way to verify their security codes."
"Understood," Jared acknowledged the report. "Alright, put me on with the man."
"Relief force, be aware that this is a high-security section requiring special clearances. We are not, I say again, not able to process your identity and security codes at this time, our connection to the main server has been cut. You're just going to have to wait it out with us."
"How do I know you aren't in the hands of whoever attacked?" the soldier asked.
"Do we have cameras for the other side of the blast door?" Jared asked.
"No sir, they got blown by a power surge."
"Shit," Jared swore. Turning back to the mic, he thought for a second on his options. "This section is in the hands of its local security detachment; do you have the capability to process our codes?"
"Affirmative, our wireless connection to base is running and encrypted," the man replied.
"Good, we'll use that... I'm sorry, who am I talking to?" Jared asked.
"Captain Cody Mathers." Jared's heart almost froze when he heard the name. It almost sounded like... The voice was even similar... but he joined Starfleet years ago!
"Captain who?!" Jared squeaked.
"Captain Cody Mathers, US Army, assigned to Fort Dietrich mobile response team," the Captain responded. "Is there a problem?"
"No, my apologies," Jared said. "For a moment I misheard your name... I knew a Cody Mathews once, the name took me by surprise."
"He's my cousin, twice removed," the Captain said.
"Cousin... Are you Cody Lyle Mathers?" Jared asked, surprised.
"Yes, do we know each other?" the Captain asked.
"Oh fuck, of all the people..." Jared sighed. "Captain, I really am very, very sorry about what happened to your pet iguana. I was an ass back when I was a kid, please don't hold that against me now."
"Pet iguana?" the captain said, confused. "I haven't had a pet iguana since I was... God, I must have been five years old! Some idiot ran over it with... his car... Fuck! You?!"
"Can we leave the past in the past, please?" Jared begged.
"Do you know how much you hurt-" Mathers began.
"Please, I know exactly how much I hurt him, there is no need to bring it back up. There is... there is information that recently came to light... God, I can't do this in public. Look me up after this is over... I need to send a message to him, and he won't accept it if I send it in my own name."
"Fuck you! I'm not helping you to-"
"Captain!" Jared cut in. "We have an emergency to deal with. And after it's dealt with... I beg you, I beg you, please, just listen to me. That's all I'll ask; just listen. After that... once you have the entire story... please?"
"I'll... consider it. For now, to business. Code of the day?" They quickly ran through the security process. "Alright, I'll leave this section under your control. And... I'll return, assuming security lets me, to have that personal chat. I won't tell Big Cody about it until... Well, I won't even mention your name to him unless you give me a damned good reason."
"Believe me, it's good. It's unbelievable, but it's good. It's one of those 'stranger than fiction' things."
"Yeah, well, you're going to have to work pretty hard to make me believe it, much less him."
"I know," Jared whispered. "I know."