Castle Roland

Trillion Dollar Family

by Rilbur

On Hold

Chapter 6

Posted: N/A

"So, that's the story," Jared finished. "You can figure out the rest, you probably know plenty of it. It's just... now that you know..."

"Fuck," Captain Mathers shook his head. "I'm not sure what to make of this. You're right, it changes... it changes everything!"

"I hurt him. I hurt him a lot," Jared said, pain in his voice and unshed tears fogging his eyes. "But... it wasn't all my fault. How else could I have... once my feet were on this road, an act I had no choice in, how else could I handle it?"

"You could have..." Captain Mathers shook his head. "Damn it, if you were anyone else you might have, but being who and what you are, and have always been... Even when you were an ass -- and you were a punk assed teenager! -- you never shirked your responsibilities. Never! I still remember you offered to buy an iguana to replace the one you killed. You tried to do right by me, as you did by... Well, that's water under the bridge."

"Will you..." Jared swallowed. "We haven't talked in years. I couldn't... I don't even know... I heard he joined Starfleet, but past that..."

"I'll talk to him next time he's on leave," Mathers told Jared. "No promises. And it's going to be a while, last I heard he was on deep patrol and won't be back in Earth orbit for a while. And even once he's back, the rumor mill says he's on the rotation for an Earth-side black ops position, probably one of the refugee assessment operators."

"RAO?" Jared asked. "I thought you had to be... he made captain?!"

"Yeah, he's CO of his own ship now," Mathers smiled. "Not half bad, considering."

"Not half bad at all," Jared agreed. "I suppose if we hadn't had that fight... I'd probably... water under the bridge."

"Water under the bridge," Mathers agreed. "I'll talk to him, about what I can. Some of this is definitely going to be classified, but the personal aspects of it I'll make clearance for. I probably can't clear him for how it came to light, but..."

"I'll light some fires of my own," Jared smiled. "I imagine it'll get cleared pretty quickly."

"No offense, but non-coms don't carry the kind of weight needed to pull that," Mathers said gently. "Even if it isn't really classified, they're going to keep it confidential until the investigation is complete."

"You might be surprised at the strings I can pull. Even with my old CO being forcibly retired, I know a few names to drop. And one of them, expressly ordered me to contact her if I needed anything," Jared smiled.

"Yeah, well, I don't care how highly placed-" The com panel on the wall began to buzz, cutting Mathers off.

"One moment," Jared said, walking to the com panel and pressing a control. "Hello, Jared Warren speaking," he said clearly.

"This is the White House switch board," a man in a business suit answered. "May I put the President through?"

"Certainly," Jared said.

"Very well sir, one moment..." A click and flashing lights on the panel indicated the switching connection before the visual input resumed.

"Hello Jared!" came the familiar soprano voice. Jared smiled over his shoulders at the wide-eyed Mathers.

"Hello Mrs. President, it's a pleasure as always," Jared said.

"Jared, how many times have I told you, call me Pauline," the President laughed.

"I have an old friend present who would probably shoot me if I dared commit such lesè majesté in his presence, Pauline," Jared said.

"So I see, care to introduce him?" she asked.

"His name is Cody Mathers. Cody, meet Pauline. Pauline, Cody."

"Cody? I thought that was your boy's name," the President asked.

"It's a long story," Jared smiled. "I named Cody after... someone I knew once. The name runs in their family, so they have two Codys and I have a third."

"Sounds confusing," the President smiled.

Jared frowned. "Well, it would be if we were still on speaking terms. I ran into Mathers by pure chance the other day, and he agreed to listen to me about something."

"Well, that's good," the President smiled. "I'm going to assume that you mean the day of the attack?"

"Yes ma'am," Jared agreed.

"Pauline!" he was reminded sharply. "Please, Jared, how many times do I have to remind you?" Jared grinned at the usual byplay.

"Sorry, force of habit... Pauline. And yes, I was referring to the day of the attack."

"Well, you aren't exactly cleared for the news, but the attack was a stroke of luck in several ways. I'm pushing for you to get the full report, but you know how some of these military... what did you call them, war-hawks?"

"Yes, the war-hawk faction," Jared smiled. "That's how my old CO always referred to them, anyway."

"Well, they are being obstructionist and annoying and I'm about to use the phrase 'Commander-In-Chief' in a number of ways they will not like," she grinned. "And you were quite right the other day, I am the Commander in Chief and if I want them to dance to my tune, they damned well will!"

"I'm glad I helped," Jared laughed. "Though if you're having to toss your titles around anyway, could you help me out a little?"

"What's going wrong now?" Pauline demanded, frowning. "I told those people-"

"No, no!" Jared broke in. "I'm being treated fine. It's a personal favor, just to get some things that would happen anyway to happen a little faster."

"I gave explicit and direct instructions-" Pauline began, then paused. "You aren't talking about the way they're treating you, so I guess those instructions could, if they really wanted to screw their careers over, be interpreted to not apply..."

"Ma'am, it's nothing covered by your orders," Jared told her.

"Pauline!" she reminded him again.

"Sorry, sorry, force of habit," Jared apologized again. "Anyway, it relates to the terrorist attack that put me into this situation. And the request is... pre-emptive."

"What about it?" she asked.

"Most of the material involved in that has been rated as classified," Jared told her, "but that's on a purely temporary basis. I'd like to get a specific exemption to release specific, personal information to an individual who is not in the armed forces of the United States, nor holds a clearance... with us. I'd also like specific, limited clearance with regards to some background material involving the attack that helps frame the situation in which the personal information came to light."

"Sounds reasonable enough..." Pauline considered. "Do you mind telling me more?"

"Pauline, it's..." Jared sighed. "This is a secure line, right?"

"Completely," she assured him.

"Can we please... can this please go no further than us, other than what has to be mentioned to get the clearances?" Jared asked.

"From the sounds of it, I'll order the clearances directly and non-specifically, to maintain confidentiality," she told him.

"Is that legal?" Jared asked.

"Commander-In-Chief," she reminded him.

Jared's lips quirked upwards. "Touché, Madam President," he told her, tone clearly marking his joke. "Alright then, in brief. During the attack, my wife received a dose of chemicals that acted as a truth serum, and she said a few things. I've avoided telling you this, but the sexual liaison that led to the birth of my first son, and in fact every sexual liaison we ever had, wasn't willing on my part. I never understood how... how they happened. I never even remembered them after-wards. It turns out, she was drugging me. Our... our relationship and eventual marriage ruined a number of personal relationships I used to have, and I'd like specific and limited clearance to inform one, specific, key individual. His relationship... my relationship with him was the cause for all the others to fail. They were family, and friends, and a lot of them viewed my actions as betraying him. I said things, he said things, we all said things... but if he forgives me..." Jared swallowed. "Please. Please, make this happen. I've asked for things for my kids, but nothing for myself. If ever I were to ask something for myself, this is it."

Blinking, the President stared at him a few moments. Finally she stood up behind her desk, hands flat on its surface as she scowled. "You were raped?!" she asked, livid.


"Cut the crap," she told him angrily.

"Yes ma'am," Jared told her.

"Your wife is dead, right?" she checked.

"Yes ma'am, as a result of the attack," Jared told her.

"Pity," she said, "I haven't had a chance to order anyone shot yet, and with only another year left in office that's an oversight I would have gladly corrected."

"That would certainly have made headlines," Jared commented.

"Fuck headlines," the President snarled. "This line is secure, and I am ordering both of you... wait, no. Mathers, out of the room. Now!" Mathers glanced at Jared, shrugged, and walked out. "All right, please keep silent about this, Jared."

"Of course, Pauline, anything you ask," Jared assured her.

"Do you..." she swallowed convulsively. "Do you remember how I made a big deal of a 'certain young college lady' during my campaign?"

"Yes ma'am," Jared told her. "I was most impressed with the way you dissected the difficulties she had in admitting, even to her family, about the rape. And rather... incensed by the failure of the authorities to do anything about it."

"Said authorities didn't even bother to keep a record of who it was that tried to report the rape," she said nastily. "So no matter how much the reporters dug in, they never found my name."

"Your name? I don't... oh fuck!" Jared abruptly understood.

"I do not like rapists," she said, "I do not like rapists at all."

"I can imagine," Jared agreed.

"I kept my name out of the headlines because I thought it would hurt the legislation I was fighting for at the time, but under the circumstances... Jared, I understand what you're going through. More than you can imagine."

"Thank you, ma'am," Jared told her.

"Pauline," she insisted. "Especially when we're talking about this."

"Thank you, Pauline," Jared told her.

"Do they have appropriate counselors available?" she asked.

"Three of the best rape counselors in the nation were interviewed, though only two were willing to sign the non-disclosure agreements to do the work. And only one of those was willing to work here, with my other doctors, after he discovered the nature of the project. But he's good. Really good," Jared told her.

"Alright, I'm going to contact some friends of mine, see if I can't get you someone I know is good," she smiled. "If I have to, I'll pull out the dread title and just order the military to let him work with you. I know just the man, assuming I can find him. Bill helped me a lot when I needed it."

"Bill?" Jared asked. "William Olson?"

"You know him?" she asked, smiling.

"Guess who signed the NDAs and was willing to work with me?" Jared asked.

"Figures. He always said he'd do anything for a patient in need," she smiled. "Well, sounds like you're in good hands. Anyway, consider the orders given; you should have a written copy within the hour. A copy for both you and Mathers. If there's nothing else, I have some orders to give. And some screaming generals to squash. If I'm lucky, they'll go far enough out of line that I can fire them."

"I'd love to be a fly on the wall for that meeting!" Jared grinned.

"Well, maybe..." she grinned back. "Alright, I'll do it!"

"Do what, Pauline?" Jared asked, almost afraid of the answer.

"Call Mathers back in, and tell him the two of you are going to be sitting in on a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff via teleconference," she smiled. "And Jared, speaking as President and as a woman who deeply respects your opinion and highly values your advice, feel free to speak up. Up to and including telling any of those asses to 'shut the fuck up', as you so frankly put it."

"Pauline, you can do that. I can't," Jared said, shocked.

"Wrong," she smiled. "I am giving you a Presidential Order -- I'll write it out and sign it if you want -- to do just that if you think it appropriate."

"I'll go grab Mathers," Jared grinned. "This should be good!"

The President laughed as Jared opened the door and pulled Mathers back in.

It was just as much fun as Jared expected.

Jared helped Cody with his math homework. It was nice to relax like this. He still needed to have a little talk with the kids, but... things were going good. Really good.

"Hey Dad!" Davey panted as he walked into the room.

"Enjoy the game?" Jared asked.

"Yeah," Davey smiled, wiping his forehead with his sleeve. "It'd be nice to have some other kids to play with, but the marines are fun too."

"Good," Jared smiled. It couldn't be easy, for either of them, to be so isolated from their age groups, but right at the moment it couldn't be helped. The religious group behind the attack on the facility wasn't gone. Most of its senior leaders had been tossed in jail, but the rank and file remained and everyone agreed that new hands were stepping into the boots of those now gone. There just wasn't anything to charge them with yet.

Of course, thanks to the investigation into the religious group in question, and how it breached the security of the facility, great strides had been made into the investigation into the terrorist attack that had changed so much of the world so quickly. Pundits were already comparing it to 9/11 in terms of how dramatically it had changed the face of the world. Hell, they'd been doing that almost from day one; but now the evidence was mounting that they were, unfortunately, right. Military tension was on the rise, globally, and getting worse, fast.

Still, the discovery that the senior members of the 'war-hawk' faction had in fact been in cahoots with the INGC as an effort to further their agenda had caused a number of heads to roll. The vice-president had come out, strongly, in support of the surviving war-hawk members, but that didn't do much to help them. Those that had actually taken part in either of the two attacks were in jail, and awaiting execution. Their exceedingly conservative outlook explained why they were involved with the Armed Brothers in Service of God, but no one could figure out how they'd made contact with the INGC much less managed to convince them to stage that attack. Still, all in all things were looking very good. The remainder of the war-hawk faction was simply too tainted, the public and the military as a whole was turning against the entire group, so at the very least the USA would stop stirring the pot. Of course, dozens of other military groups were still busily fishing in the troubled waters of international relations, and the Federation was showing gatherings signs of strain. There was actually talk of 'temporarily halting' the National Unification Plan!

On one level, the idea of allowing nations like the US to retain their independent sovereignty a little longer appealed to Jared. He was, first and foremost a patriot. But... However much he hated it, it really was time for mankind to set aside its petty squabbles. The weapons available now were just too powerful to risk a real war, and most of the talk of 'national pride' these days was really just a front for childish bickering over who got a bigger slice of the pie. Even if it did put people like him out of a job that much sooner.

Hell, when you get right down to it, people like him loosing their jobs was a good thing. The world didn't need war mongers, it needed builders and leaders. "Maybe I should run for office," Jared whispered.

"What's that Daddy?" Cody asked, looking up from the equations he was working on.

"Nothing, just thinking out loud," Jared smiled. "Davey, finished showering?"

"Yeah Dad," Davey responded, running a hand through his still damp hair as he walked back in.

"Good. I need to talk to you... to both of you," Jared told them.

"Daddy?" Cody asked.

"You guys aren't in trouble," he reassured them. "Though if you keep forgetting that we're under surveillance, which means people are watching us, 24/7 you might just end up that way!"

"Wait, they're watching us all the time?" Davey paled. "Like, even in the restroom?"

Jared sighed. "Pretty much. They're trained to not really pay attention to personal stuff, like showers, toilet use, and..." Jared looked at Davey for a moment. Thirteen... they'd had the talk... yeah. "And other stuff," Jared said, making the nearly universal hand motion out of Cody's sight.

Davey blushed.

Jared suppressed a smile at Davey's reaction. "Anyway, the security cameras caught a little something earlier today."

"Oh hell," Davey swore.

"Language, Davey!" Jared reminded him. "Now, I've watched the video and I want to tell you I love both of you. And Cody, despite his not having the same augmentation we do, Davey is still just as much your brother as he has ever been. There was no need for anything more. That said, Davey, coming up with the idea of swearing yourselves as blood brothers was brilliant, and I'm glad you came up with it. It isn't the way I would have approached the situation, but clearly it relieved Cody's emotional issues on the subject, so well done."

"We're not in trouble?" Davey asked.

"Nope. You remembered to sanitize both before and after, so there wasn't much chance of the cut getting infected, and the odds of blood-borne illness at your ages, especially with the continual medical screening we go through, are almost nil," Jared explained. "That said," he added a little more sternly, "you do something like this again and you had better have a damned good reason -- understood?"

"Yes Dad!" Davey snapped, pulling himself upright in a halfway credible imitation of attention.

"Where did you pick that up at?" Jared laughed.

"The guys do it all the time," Davey explained. "They said it was kinda a way to show respect."

"Son, that is a long conversation I am not touching right now," Jared laughed. "Anyway, take your brother and get him washed up, it's just about time for dinner."

"Alright Dad," Davey said, glad to get out of there with his skin intact.

Jared smiled and turned to the kitchen unit that he'd manage to 'acquire' a few weeks ago. He wasn't much of a chef, but he cooked a mean meatloaf. And the kids loved green bean casserole. He quickly had the food on the table, which he'd set in advance, and the kids made short work of the meal. "Alright, you guys probably want some time to talk about the whole 'blood oath' thing," Jared smiled. "I'll leave you two alone for a little while, watch the news or something."

"Thanks Dad," Davey smiled before leading Cody off.

Jared flipped channels until he found a news show he liked. The President had told him he'd want to watch the news today, refusing to explain why. But it should be good. Though... she'd sounded pretty odd.

"And now we take you, live, to the White House where the President is going to make what is being described as 'an important speech'. We haven't been informed of the details," the anchor reported, "only that it has been labeled 'extremely important'."

The screen changed and showed the familiar White House press room. "Ladies and gentlemen," a staffer announced, "the President of the United States of America."

Pauline walked onto the stage, face grim. "My fellow Americans, it is rare that a President stands before the people of this great nation, willingly displaying their failure. Especially when that failure is as great, as horrifying, as large as the failure I have discovered in my administration. Across this nation, as we speak, federal marshals are knocking on doors and serving arrest warrants. Arrest warrants for treason."

Pauline took a deep breath and lowered her head. "I have failed you, systematically and thoroughly. It is not purely my fault, my arrogance is not enough to claim that others were not involved, that it is purely my failing. But as one of my predecessors once commented, ladies and gentlemen the buck stops here!" she slapped the podium. "People at every level of the government are involved, right up to the highest levels. Most of the individuals involved are moderate level workers, with very few low end workers just starting their careers out. I have no doubt most of those lower level workers, and many of the moderate level workers, were simply caught up in events with no idea of what was going on, no idea they were being used to commit treason. Treason on a level I still cannot fathom."

"The same cannot be said for those who operate at the highest levels. For those who are on my cabinet, those that walk through my office on a daily basis. They will be hunted down. They will be charged. They will be tried."

"And then, as the crime of treason demands even in this enlightened era, they will die," Pauline said flatly.

"I counted many of these people as friends. I cannot believe... but I have no choice but to believe... that they have played me for a fool this entire time. Ladies and gentlemen of the American people, this cabal goes back years. The first act in the public eye was the mass terrorist attack that struck military bases across the world almost three months ago. They deliberately increased international tensions as part of a plan whose goal I cannot presume to know, but their actions speak loudly that it involves international politics, not just local. It's even possible that they are trying to stall the transfer of sovereignty from local governments to the Federation, as many of their people are involved in the political groups pushing that most strongly."

"I'm sorry," Pauline shook her head. "I'm still in shock from the most recent revelation, which I received a few minutes ago. I can't seem to keep to my prepared speech," she gave a nervous laugh. "You see, when I told you that this betrayal ran to the highest levels of government, I was serious. I am not involved, but-"

Jared shot upright, voice stilled in horror.

Across the nation, thousands upon thousands, millions upon millions did the same. Across the globe, aides to politicians watched in horror for a few stark seconds before running to call their governments into emergency meetings. Across the globe people ran for restrooms and lost their last meals. Across the globe tears of sorrow, cries of rage, and in some places screams of joy were to be found.

In Washington DC, in the White House, pandemonium broke loose. Secret Service ran back and forth as news reporters ran screaming from the room. Doctors were called in the forlorn hope that maybe, just maybe, something could be done.

The President of the United States of America lay dead on the floor, in the middle of a speech to unmask traitors running through all levels of the government.

Jared didn't doubt for a second that Pauline Janice Whitaker had been assassinated by the same traitors she was preparing to name. And he didn't have a single fucking clue who they were. Now it would be left to...

Jared stiffened, face growing pale.

"What's wrong Daddy?" Cody asked, coming into the room.

Jared swallowed as he snapped off the TV so Cody couldn't see the scene on it. Pauline had told him not to worry. After all, she was the President, and he was merely the Vice-President. Except now, she wasn't. And he wasn't. And Jared now had the headache of a lifetime to deal with.

And he couldn't escape the sinking suspicion that the man who was now El Presidente was one of those traitors 'at the highest level of government'.

This... was going to fucking suck.

"Sergeant, I'm glad to see you," General Sheridan greeted him.

"It's a pleasure, General," Jared told him affably. "When my guards informed me you'd like to have a word, I was quite surprised, to say the least."

"I imagine so, but the situation is far from pleasant." The General didn't wait to be invited, but simply sat on the couch. Jared took a seat opposite him.

"So, what brings you to this pleasant little underground facility?" Jared asked.

"I just received some orders I don't particularly care for," the General told him sadly. "Pending an official decision by the new CO on the status of your application to live off-base, you are to be placed under house arrest and not allowed to leave this facility."

"House arrest?" Jared asked, aghast. "Wait, new CO?"

"We knew it was coming, Jared," General Sheridan told him sadly. "President Whitaker's support was the only reason I lasted as long as I did. And with that support... withdrawn..."

"Fuck!" Jared swore angrily. "How long?"

"I received my official orders at the same time as I received yours," Sheridan sighed. "The change of command is tomorrow, at noon, in the hanger over on the main wing of the base. My security clearances -- all of them! -- are to be considered lapsed at the end of today. I can't even get within 60 feet of you after that."

"What other bad news do you have to give me?" Jared asked with a sigh.

"Well, I can't give you much," the General told him. "I know General Thatcher by rep; he's tough, but fair. He's... he's not really a war hawk, but he's definitely leaning in their direction. I suspect he's a compromise appointment of some kind. I don't think he'll allow anything really... untoward to occur, though he might push the lines a little. But one thing he will definitely do is try to force you to toe whatever line he sets."

"Any advice?" Jared asked.

Sheridan shook his head unhappily, "I've got to go. At this point, you know just about everything I do."

"It has been an honor and a pleasure, sir," Jared said, shaking the General's hand before seeing him out the door.

"Hello Sergeant Warren," Brigadier General Thatcher, brand new CO of the recently renamed Fort Pauline Whitaker greeted Jared warmly.

"General," Jared acknowledged him, inclining his head respectfully.

"I thought it important to make talking to you a priority," the General smiled. "After all, one of my very first moves as commander of this facility was, regretfully, to stop your change in living status."

Jared had figured as much. "You doubt the reports on my stability?" Jared asked.

"Oh, no," the General smiled coldly. "I have absolute confidence in both your personal, mental stability and the stability of your implants. Despite a few, minor, hiccups in the initial programming stages, your augmentation is functioning almost exactly as expected. And you have adapted superbly to the augmentation, with no signs of stress or psychosis that..." the General picked up a PDA and read off it. "'That could not readily be accounted for as a result of the physical and emotional injuries incurred by the terrorist attack and associated events that brought him into the program.' It goes on to add that if you hadn't displayed the signs you did, that that would have been considered strong evidence of instability. A bunch of psychobabble, but they are quite firm in their assessment, unfortunately."

"Unfortunately?" Jared asked.

"Indeed," Thatcher frowned. "If I'd short-stopped the change on the grounds of some temporary ambiguity in your stability, my superiors wouldn't be able to jump on that as an opportunity to... well, to effectively block your attempts to move out of their control, permanently. I do not agree with their decisions or opinions on the matter, Sergeant, but I am bound by them."

Jared suppressed a snort. You could believe just as much of that as you wanted to, he didn't.

"I'm not happy making this ruling, but given the current... situation, I can't justify letting you move out of the secure facilities we've set up. It's purely a security measure for your own good, until those religious fanatics and the various terrorist groups after you get cleaned up. But my superiors... my superiors are going to take that excuse, and run with it." General Thatcher shook his head. "There are many points I agree with the 'war-hawk' faction on, but there are also many I disagree on. The proper handling of your case is the later."

Almost against himself, Jared found himself being slowly convinced. "Proper handling?" he asked.

"My superiors see you as a test subject, first and foremost, a guinea pig to be used and then discarded once everything they can get out of you has been gotten," the General shook his head sadly. "I will agree with them that an in-depth analysis of the hardware, software, and psychological aspects of your augmentation, with thorough testing is appropriate, as is pushing your performance to the limit to see just how far you can go. Doing that to the point where we forget you're a human being, first and foremost? No. But... there but for the grace of God, go we."

"Let me go," Jared begged.

"I can't," the General said sadly. "My analysis of the security situation is quite certain. If we let you leave, you and your children will die very unpleasant deaths. I can't have that on my conscience, I can't!"

"And if you make us stay here, they'll turn us into guinea pigs," Jared argued, "do you want that on your-"

"Enough!" the General snapped, slapping his hand on the table. "Sergeant, I have bent the rules as far as I can with you but you will not use that tone with a superior officer!"

"General Thatcher," Jared snapped back angrily, "in case you forgot I am retired, and can address you as a civilian might any time I choose to. I'm not in uniform, and at the moment I am first and foremost a father, not a marine. And you can shove-"

"Enough!" the General broke in. "Your retirement is dubious, at best, legally speaking. And if you push me, I will recall you to active duty in-"

"You will not," Jared snapped. "The Presidential Order in my possession makes it abundantly clear that I may not be recalled to active duty against my will, whatever-"

"That order has already been countermanded by-"

"Fuck him!" Jared shouted. "You and I both know that he's in up to his neck with the people who killed-"

"That's treason, Sergeant! If someone hears you-"

"Fuck you, General!" Jared swore. "I'm not playing along with those games. That bastard killed my President, my friend, and by God he will pay!"

The General glared at Jared for a moment before shaking his head. "We both need to calm down," he growled, "before this gets any worse." With a small laugh he added, almost as an afterthought, "Not that it could get much worse!"

"General," Jared said softly, "with all due respect -- which would be almost zilch -- don't be an idiot. This situation could be far, far, far worse. I could genuinely looe my temper and decide to leave... against your orders."

"You wouldn't get five feet," the General warned him.

"General," Jared's voice dropped lower, "don't forget what happened when those idiots attacked us. I, personally, dropped at least six of those bastards. Six of them, when they were gunning for me personally. The after-action report clearly shows that had I not had the support I did from additional personnel, the odds are better than even that I could still have managed the counter-assault I did. I wouldn't have been in very good condition, afterward, but I could have won. My reflexes, speed, and accuracy are outside the expected performance bracket. If I decide to leave, how exactly are you going to stop me?"

"Effectively," the General said simply. "Effectively."

"General, do you really think nameless threats are going to so much as slow me down?" Jared sneered.

"Yes, I do," the General told him. "Simply put, however strong you think you are, you aren't strong enough to take the entire US on by yourself. And if you persist in this one man crusade-"

Jared's eyes flashed. "General, you have no idea what I can pull off and what I can't. Even before my augmentation, I wasn't someone to dick around with. Now... I'm beyond that in ways I'm only beginning to understand."

"That sounds almost... megalomaniacal," the General warned him.

"Perhaps it does," Jared agreed, "but is it megalomania if I really am more powerful than an entire platoon of marines? Don't push me, General!"

"Sergeant, I have dealt with about as much of this as I intend to. Return to your quarters, and we will continue this discussion later!" General Thatcher snarled.

"Make me," Jared snarled.

"Marine," the General said coldly, "do not try my patience. Or I will have you declared a danger to yourself and others and tossed into the deepest, darkest hole available."

Jared opened his mouth to respond, then closed it with a loud 'click'. The bastard would, too. And if that happened... "Very well then, General," the way Jared sneered the title made it an insult, "you win. For now. We will continue this discussion another time."

Jared spun on his heel and stalked out angrily. Only his enhanced hearing let him hear the General mutter under his breath a statement that shocked and surprised him.

"No, it's not over... but I've bought time. Time for you to get your ducks all in a row..."

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