Castle Roland

Trillion Dollar Family

by Rilbur

On Hold

Chapter 8

Posted: N/A

The blotchy surface of the ceiling above them didn't hold any miraculous revelations, but Jared could see beyond it in his mind's eye to the sea of stars. Space, once called the final frontier. Technically, it still was, but no one bothered to call it that. It just... was. A place of awe, mystery, and wonder.

Space. Cold, unforgiving, hostile, and mankind's salvation. Even Jared, mere 'grunt' as he was, knew how important it was. The great asteroid mines overseen by the Federation provided the Earth with something like two thirds of its ongoing mineral needs as well as fueling all space efforts, and control of the orbitals made war foolhardy. What sane person wanted to go to war, when his opponent could drop ore haulers from low orbit, impacting into the ground with the force of nuclear weapons? Add in the ability to colonize distant worlds to reduce the population pressure on the Earth, and its importance was plain. Hence the Federation.

April Nineteenth, in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Eighteen was a date any school child could recite. It was the day the major nations, and most of the minor ones, met and signed the Federation into existence, replacing the UN with a plan for a global government. It was a slow, steady, sure transformation, not an overnight one. Those powers that worried about loosing their rights saw the dates and laughed, while those who pushed it recognized that while it might not occur in their lifetime, a planetary government would happen. Teachers and professors across the globe taught the brilliance of Chul Mook, the South Korean diplomat who had broken with his government to press the plan, in tones of awe. From the beginning he'd fought to keep the plan long term, nearly a century in length before any 'major' loss of rights occurred, with the better part of two centuries to 'final' amalgamation. As professors began pointing out almost immediately after the signing, the brilliance was two fold. First, no one would really object to the loss of sovereignty because by the time such stages were reached, they would have been incipient for generations. People would have grown up acknowledging their local government, and the planetary government, as authority figures.

And with space firmly in the Federation's control practically from day one, if someone did decide to break lock-step with the globe it would be very, very ugly. For them. Chul Mook had seen what so few politicians were willing to see: space wasn't just about military power, it was about economic power. Even with the Federation forbidden to wage war against Earthly powers using its space military -- with a few exceptions written in later for their 'refugee extraction operations' -- it's power was immense. Cut off the supply of cheap metals, energy, and more that space could be used to provide, and you'd bring any nation to its knees quickly.

Space. Above their heads, the world for the taking. The great orbital cities of dockyards, building the ships that ferried men to the stars. The stations, filled with scientists doing experiments too difficult to manage on Earth. The stations, buried deep under the surface of asteroids far out in space, that conducted research too dangerous to be done on earth. The great colony ships that had constructed colonies on the moon, and on Mars. The science vessels in permanent orbit of almost every major moon, planetoid, and planet in the system (Pluto, Eris, and other Kuiper Belt objects were just too far out to make it practical to establish permanent study stations).

And the stars themselves! With the recent discovery of the space-folding 'Jump Drives', the stars had become accessible, with difficulty. The first scout ships, more than half again the size of the colony ships that had so far driven mankind to the stars, were nearing completion. Much of their massive bulk was dedicated to the ungodly power requirements of the Jump drive, not to mention the sheer mass of the drive itself. Nearly a mile in length, the vessels were slow to maneuver in-system.

But even Jared understood that that 'flaw' was completely secondary to what happened when they reached 10 AUs out. That far from the sun's gravity well they could fold space to move at speeds exceeding twice that of light. And once they broke even further out, into true 'deep space', they would become even faster. No one really knew the limit; the math broke down and experimentation hadn't been able to nail it.

After all, the original probes were too small, too weak, to really make full use of the jump drive. They could prove that it worked; they showed that it required even more power than the mathematicians had estimated (leaving scientists still scratching their hands, even as engineers just coped and moved on).

And Jared was going there. With his kids. Into the black. To the stars!

"The stars!" Jared whispered, staring at the blotchy, nondescript ceiling above him. "But... with transport locked down, how will we get there?"

"I managed to contact the Federation. We got lucky; they had a refugee assessment operator on shore leave in the US when the balloon went up. He's been recalled to duty, and we're arranging a meeting for you. He'll 'assess' the situation, then make a decision," Major Williams said grimly.

"And if he doesn't agree with us?" Jared asked.

"Then we go to plan B..." Major Williams said unhappily. "Don't ask me what it is; you do not have the need to know."

"And if I need to use it?" Jared asked testily.

"When... if it becomes necessary, you won't need to know about it, just accept it. The... plan... will find you," Major Williams assured him.

"The plan will find me?" Jared asked. "How will I recognize it?"

"Istharius," Williams said unhappily. "The root word is 'Isthar', it's... a name. The other possible code word is 'Esorahsus'."

"Istharius, Esorahsus," Jared said. The almost lyrical nature of the words sounded strange.

"The... codes are based on a... language other than English, and we didn't have time to nail down the exact words they'd use, but they'll use a variant of those," Major Williams assured him.

"A foreign group?" Jared asked, worried.

"In a sense, yes, but... think of it as a Federation-wide... conglomerate of interested individuals seeking to... smooth international integration," Major Williams temporized. "They've never asked, and I've never offered, to do anything that could truly be described as treasonous. Lately that's not... one-hundred percent accurate, but that's mostly because that shit-head has taken over the Oval Office."

"In other words, it's treason because it's become morally impossible not to engage in treason," Jason figured out.

"I hate to put it so... bluntly... but yes," Major Williams agreed.

"Alright then," Jared sighed.

"Dad! Major Williams!" Cody cried from the other room, terrified.

Jared had bounced his way through the door before Major Williams could even start moving, and what he saw terrified him. Davey was on the ground, convulsing with what looked to be agonizing force.

"Give me room!" Major Williams ordered, pulling a device out of his pocket. The gray box, about two thirds the size of a paperback book, unfolded to reveal a display and Williams removed a small cylinder from the head of the device. He took the smaller part, like a roll of life savers, and ran it over Davey's body. The display activated and began displaying what looked like medical data. "Heartbeat and blood pressure up, way up, but that's to be expected... no sign of metabolic or enzymatic disruptions... blood looks normal... heart and lungs are good, and don't appear to be taking damage.... liver, kidney, appendix, everything seems OK there..."

Major Williams kept mumbling to himself as he ran the cylindrical section of the device up and down Davey's body.

Suddenly Davey collapsed to the ground, going completely limp. Jared's breath caught for a second before he saw the tell-tale sign of his son's chest rising and falling.

"Dad, you're hurting me!" Cody complained, and Jared loosened his grip on his son's shoulder. Slightly.

Major Williams was one step short of cursing as he ran the cylinder up and down Davey's body, mostly focusing on his head. "This doesn't make any sense," he complained. "The brain function is all wrong, but I can't find a cause! It's as if parts of his brain have just spontaneously decided to alter their functionality. And it's not even the same cells, it's..."

Major Williams paused, and Jared leaned forward. "What is it?" he asked.

"Well, I just realized that while I've identified the sections of his brain with altered functionality, it's never the same place twice. It's... moving..." Major Williams was clearly lost in thought.

"I don't have the resolution I need... now, how did he say to retune it to the micro-cellular level..." Major Williams mumbled as he manipulated the box-like device's controls. Jared waited as patiently as he could while the doctor worked, not understanding anything.

"Daddy, is Davey gonna be alright?" Cody asked softly.

"Major Williams is a doctor, a good doctor," Jason reassured his son. "If anyone can help Davey, it's him."

"Fuck," the object of their discussion swore incredulously. "I don't fucking... Fuck!"

"What is it, doctor?" Jared asked.

"Bad," the doctor told him, then ran the cylinder over Jared and Cody. "Damn, I was right!" He frantically started running the cylinder over his own body. "Well, at least I'm clean!"

"What is it, Doctor?" Jared asked.

"Oh, Daaaaad!" Cody complained, trying to shrug off his father's grip "it hurts!"

"Sorry," Jared told him absently, still focused on the doctor.

"God only knows how it happened, but Davey has nanites in his system. A lot of them," Williams told them. "They're concentrated in his bloodstream, which suggests that the initial exposure was to the blood-borne variety of nanites. What's going on is that now that the blood-nanite level is up where it belongs the nanites are replicating cell-specific versions and attaching them in the appropriate places. Which causes a temporary dysfunction in some cells."

"Wait, nanites?" Jared broke in. "As in the junk that you put in me got into my elder boy somehow?"

"This is not the time for recriminations!" Major Williams told him forcefully. "I don't know how it happened, but we can figure that out later. We've got bigger problems than that right now."

"Bigger problems?" Jared asked.

"Yeah, much bigger. The nanites have various security features built in. They shouldn't have begun replicating in his blood to begin with, and eventually they are going to reach a critical density and recognize that Davey isn't the person they were cleared for. And I don't have the hardware to override their actions if they decide to terminate. And seeing as how they are integrating with life-critical sections of the brain, termination is very, very bad."

"How bad?" Jared asked.

"Depends on whose nanites he got. The civ version will simply de-integrate and then terminate themselves, and will actively attempt to avoid harming him. It'd still be bad, but not permanent. The mil-spec version... is slightly less nice. It'll try to take him with it."

"You said these was blood nannits?" Cody asked.

"Shush," Jared absentmindedly quieted him. "Blood nanites, not nannits, now let the grownups talk."

"But I knows how they got into him!" Cody complained.

"You what?" Major Williams asked sharply.

"We're blood brothers!" Cody announced happily, holding up a finger.

"Yes, I know you're related by blood but that doesn't automatically translate the nanites," Major Williams told him. "Now if you'll excuse us-"

"No!" Cody snapped, stomping his foot.

"Cody!" Jared admonished him.

"We're blood brothers!" Cody shouted, waving his finger at them as if to show them something. "Blood brothers!"

"Cody, be-" Major Williams started.

"Wait!" Jared broke in. "God, how could I forget about that!" he groaned.

"Forget about what?" Major Williams asked.

"Blood brothers," Jared almost laughed. "Davey came up with the idea to reassure Cody that they were still brothers despite the changes in his body."

"I don't understand," Major Williams complained.

"Blood oath," Jared tried. "They swore an oath on their mixed blood to be as brothers, forever."

"From now 'tell end of time, my brother you are and your brother am I," Cody recited, "come what may, be it changes of heart, soul, or body. Brothers, now an' fowever, saled by ouw blood!"

Major Williams blinked. "Are you trying to tell me that the two of you cut your hands open, pressed the wounds together, and used that to swear an oath of some kind?"

"Yes!" Cody exclaimed.

"Well, that explains the transmission," Major Williams agreed. "And since Cody most definitely got the civilian software load out, the damage should be... minimal if the nanites decide to deactivate. I still don't know why they didn't simply recognize the differences to begin with, but..."

"What will happen?" Jared asked.

"In all probability, a temporary coma while his body readjusts to not having the nanites assisting it. No guarantees, but that's what I'd expect," Major Williams told him. "The problem is going to be how long it takes the nanites to figure out something is wrong; they should have passed three separate security thresholds by now, and any one of them should have shut this integration process down."

"So they aren't working right to begin with?" Jared asked.

"Yes," Major Williams frowned. "I just wish I could figure out why! There is some flexibility built into the system, but it shouldn't be capable of stretching quite this... far..." Major Williams glanced over at Cody, a thoughtful look on his face.

"What is it?" Jared asked.

"I just... I'm wondering if..." Major Williams chewed his lip, staring at Cody. "It's possible, I suppose. Not likely, but possible."

"What?" Jared asked.

"We had several sets of code outlined," Major Williams said unhappily. "One of those was for a very late version of the hardware, after it had reached saturation in military circles. We had the idea that we could release it to the public, augment everyone. So all the security measures are... modularized. They were set up in distinct segments of the code, and could be turned on or off relatively easily."

"So the security got turned off?" Jared asked, sighing with relief.

"Looks like," Major Williams nodded. "Ivan 'The Terrible' as you called him may have done it by accident, but... that doesn't leave enough time for the nanites to have spread that far."

"The blood oath thing happened months ago," Jared cut off that train of thought.

"Then my best guess is a flaw in the code somewhere," Major Williams spread his hands helplessly. "Nothing we can do for now, and we have other concerns to deal with."

"OK, but is he going to be alright?" Jared asked.

"I'm going to have to perform a system reset on the nanites, and I don't have the hardware to do that here," Major Williams told him, "so there is a much larger chance of something going wrong with him than with you two. But... overall, I expect him to be fine. Though my scan does show that the nanites are having trouble integrating with several specific brain structures. The normal candidates, really; Broca's and Wernicke's areas have always been a hassle for reasons I don't pretend to understand. I'll leave that to the bio-linguists to figure out."

"Broca? Vernickay?" Jared asked, confused.

"Broca and Ver-neh-kee," Major Williams emphasized the proper pronunciation of the names, "were two linguists who did a fair bit of work in the area of neuroscience. They identified sections of the brain responsible for speech, and got their respective sections named after them. I remember talking to the neuro-linguists on the subject quite a bit while we were working on this problem. We don't understand why those two particular sections are the hardest to link in to, but they are."

"OK, so what's the problem going to be?" Jared asked.

"Essentially, the two sections will function erratically once the nanites begin integrating into them. What's going on right now is basic integration into all the life-critical sections. The nanites pre-positioned themselves and then rushed through all the life critical sections, and are basically 'running' his body while they learn to talk to his nervous system. Since it's a new nervous system, they're not just doing it from scratch, they're doing it from scratch while thinking that they already know how things work. So it's going very, very slowly," Major Williams explained. "For the most part, that won't be a problem; we designed them very well if I do say so myself. But with some sections of the brain, it doesn't work very well."

"Doctor, would you cut to the chase?" Jared asked.

"He's going to suffer from spells of Broca's aphasia and then Wernicke's aphasia in turn-" Major Williams broke off and shook his head. "Sorry, too technical. He'll have trouble talking. First he'll be unable to form complete sentences, then he'll be able to form sentences but they won't make sense. In both cases, just wait for it to pass. It'll be frustrating for all involved, but it shouldn't last more than a few hours at a time."

"A few hours? That isn't so bad," Jared said in relief. "And he'll be alright once this is all done?"

Major Williams shook his head. "The integration process will take weeks, Jared, and by a 'few hours at a time' I mean each time it happens."

Jared blinked. "He'll be fine, though? In the end?"

"He'll be fine," Major Williams confirmed. "It'll take some time before he's through those spells, but he'll be fine."

"Alright," Jared sighed in relief.

"We need to finish out discussion about getting you and the boys out of here," Major Williams told him. "Now, as I said, if things go completely wrong some friends of mine will contact you and implement plan B."

"Istharius and Esorahsus," Jared repeated the code words.

"Yes, exactly," Major Williams agreed. "Now, I've already arranged the meeting for a little over two weeks from today with the Federation's operative. You can use that time to rest up, and believe me you need the rest, but we'll also spend it drilling some of the things you need to know into your skull. Rote learning isn't the best, but if something goes wrong and that chip isn't retrievable for some reason, you'll need to be able to provide at least a little bit of what the Federation's scientists are going to need to know to take care of you and your son. Sons, I mean."

"Alright," Jared agreed.

Country music. Thrice bedamned country music! Of all the songs their contact could have picked. Hell, that specific song... Jared closed his eyes in pain. It had always been his favorite, and that's what burned Jared the most when you get down to it. It had been his favorite. For that alone Jared had loved it, for that alone he couldn't stand it.

As he walked into the airport cafe, children 'safely' stashed in the nearby arcade, he sang tunelessly. "It might be a long, long way to my golden day. That's a chance I'm willing to take. There's no chain..." Getting to the counter he ordered himself a coffee. "Coffee, black, plain," he said irritably as the lady at the counter asked him irritating questions about cappuccino blends and options. If he'd wanted a Starbucks (fat chance!) he'd have gone to one, damn it!

"I couldn't help but notice that you were singing one of my favorite songs," a semi-familiar voice asked Jared as he moved towards the door.

"Oh?" Jared asked. "I can't say I'm into them much, a friend of mine suggested the song."

"Well, 'Big and Rich' has always been one of my favorite groups, despite being 'old, dead, and so long in their graves they were forgotten before we were born', as..." the man shook his head as a look of pain crossed his face. "Excuse me. I didn't mean to digress."

Jared swallowed, really looking at the man's face. Blond hair cut short and swept back, he looked different than he used to, when he wore his hair shoulder length and free to fly in the wind. Just like Jared, the military had changed him. But the eyes... if you looked they were still there. Still the same.

"Oh. My. God." Jared said in shock.


"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."

"Is something wrong?" Cody Mathews asked. "You don't look good."

Jared swallowed convulsively, then took a sip of his coffee. "Let's get to the table," he said, guiding Captain Mathews to the table that was obviously waiting for them.

"You look like you've seen a ghost," Mathews quipped.

"I can't blame you for saying that, Captain Mathews," Jared said softly.

"No names," Mathews hissed. "That was the deal! Heck, you weren't supposed to know my-" Mathews's eyes narrowed. "I know you," he said slowly. "I know you!" he said in disgust.

"Did Kid Cod have a chance to talk to you while you were on leave?" Jared asked.

"Not much of one," Mathews growled. "He did practically order me to listen to you if our paths crossed. I told him to fuck himself, naturally. After what you did-"

"After what she" did," Jared broke in. "Are you familiar with IGP?"

"IGP? What the fuck does that hell concoction have to do with you-" Mathews broke off and glared. "You're lying."

"Cody Daniel Bartholomew William Mathews," Jared scolded, "are you that stupid or has vacuum rotted what little was left of your brains?"

Mathews flinched, but didn't rebut the point. After all, he did know Jared. Intimately. Biblically, actually. After a few moments he looked down. "Why?"

"Why?" Jared asked, confused.

"Why would she use that shit on you?" Mathews asked.

"She wouldn't," Jared said softly. "Remember that night? The one when she brought drinks to our table for both of us?"

Mathews closed his eyes and breathed deeply. "Fuck. Fuck. Fuck-" Mathews bit off his steadily louder repetition of profanity before it became too loud for the noise of the cafe to hide. "Bitch," he said more softly.

"I'm sorry," Jared said.

"No," Mathews shook his head. "The very thing that made it hurt so much..." Mathews shook his head. "Even then, you could never turn your back on your responsibilities, your oaths. That's what made your cheating on me hurt so much, that's what made it completely unbelievable. But you wouldn't be you, couldn't be the man I loved..." Mather broke off and dashed a few tears from his eyes. "God. I've hated you for all these years, but God have mercy on me, you couldn't be the man I love if you hadn't done what you did after she used you like that."

"I'm still sorry, for the pain. And... for the words..." Jared choked out.

"No," Mathews shook his head. "Drop it. Now isn't the time or place."

"Right. If nothing else, I'd rather not leave my children alone for much longer," Jared agreed.

"Children?" Mathews asked, the plural clearly angering him.

"She wasn't satisfied with a sexless marriage... and she knew how I'd react if I caught her cheating," Jared said softly.

Mathews snorted. "As if you'd catch her, you big idiot," he said with a reluctant degree of affection.

"I wouldn't have to; there were plenty of others ready to do it for me," Jared told him.

Mathews laughed. "Just like you! Alright, children, plural. Two? Three? More?"

"Two kids, eight and fourteen. Both boys."

"Alright. Now, explain to me why exactly you're candidates for the refugee laws?" Mathews asked.

"Alright Kode," Jared smiled.

"Mathews, for the moment," Kode reprimanded him gently. "Later... Later I can be Kode, and you my JayBee."

"Alright, Sir," Jared said softly. "Alright. There was an accident, months ago. I've lost track of time. Anyway, I and my younger son were fatally injured. My CO came to me with a possibility that let us live. I volunteered-"

"Volunteered?" Mathews asked sharply.

"Yes, I volunteered." Jared agreed.

"Continue, then." Mathews told him.

"Anyway, he asked me if I was willing, and I agreed. It was an experiment that involved the cybernetic augmentation of human beings..." Jared quickly outlined the nature of the project, its results, and the situation leading up to his needing to escape, helped by the occasional question from Mathews. "...and now we're here, hoping for help. All three of us are on the run from the government. The US wants -- no, the President needs me and Cody dead, and while he doesn't know it he needs Davey dead too, now."

"Davey?" Mathews asked.

"We discovered earlier that he was accidentally infected with his brother's nanites," Jared explained. "I don't understand all of it, but the security features didn't work."

"These things can spread?" Mathews asked, concerned.

"My sons' can, but it requires direct blood to blood contact," Jared reassured him. "Not a chance of 'airborne contamination'. Mine can't."

"So it's not going to turn into a plague?" Mathews asked.

"I'm the wrong man to ask, but... no," Jared said.

"Alright. That definitely sounds like a reasonable cause to pull you guys out," Mathews agreed. "Once we get you topside there will be more questions, but for now..." Mathews pulled out a small black box and opened it up like a cell phone. "Mathews to Nova Maria, Mathews to Nova Maria, please come in..." The slight sound of static responded. "That's odd, the signal should..." Mathews' brow furled as he looked at the indicators. "Shit!" he swore. "Grab your sons, now! They're jamming me!" Mathews reached under his jacket and pulled out a small pistol. "You armed?" he asked.

"No, security would have picked it up," Jared said, looking at the pistol in Mathews' hands. It was clearly a pistol, but it was like nothing Jared had ever seen before. Sleek, deadly, and completely envy-making.

"Federation issue," Mathews explained with a smile as he put it away after checking it over. "Completely undetectable by civilian sensor technologies... for the moment. Now, go get your kids!"

Jared nodded sharply then left the cafe quickly. Mathews followed him closely as they entered the arcade. Cody was already looking for them, and started pulling Davey away from the latest Tekken game the instant they walked in. "Come on, kids," Jared told them.

As they walked for the airport entrance, Mathews fell back a little, disguising the fact that he was following Jared. Jared watched the crowd closely as he shepherded his boys as quickly as he could to the door. Maybe they could get out before security nabbed them... but if the armed forces were already jamming orbital transmissions, that seemed unlikely.

"Excuse me sir," a guard grabbed Jared's elbow, "but I'm afraid you're going to have to come with me."

"What?" Jared exclaimed, trying to duplicate the querulous tourist. "What is this all about? I'll have your badge! You have no right-"

"Please, don't make any more of a scene out of this than it has to be," the security guard broke in, placing his free hand on his weapon. "I'm sure these good folk would all love to hear about how you murdered the parents of these children so you could take them home and have your way with them!"

Jared's eyes went flat, and it was only through years of self-control that he avoided decking the man. The mere idea that he could do such a thing!

"I'm sorry, officer," Mathews broke in, "but I'm afraid today is not your lucky day." Mathews had positioned himself behind the guard, and while Jared couldn't see it he was sure he had his pistol pressed into the guard's back. "I'm with the Federation, and this man is under my protection as a refugee." Mathews reached around and showed the guard a badge.

"Shit!" the guard swore. "Do you know what this bastard did?!"

"The BS that you were spouting a few moments ago?" Mathews said softly. "I know this man, and whatever my disagreements with him may have been, I know that there is zero chance of that being true."

"But-" the guard froze, clearly thinking it over. "The fed are after him," he said in sudden understanding.

"Yes," Mathews agreed.

"God help me..." the guard shook his head. "The army is on its way; they've already locked most of the major routes out of the city down. You aren't getting out of here. Surrender, publicly, and they won't be able-"

"The President can't afford to let me live," Jared told him.

The guard's eyes widened. "That bastard? He's the one after you?"

"Yes, which means I really have to get out of here," Jared told him.

"You can't, they've sealed everything off. You'd have to call in a wing of assault shuttles to punch through them!" the guard told him.

"Good thing they're already on their way," Mathews said with a smile.

"What?!" everyone else exclaimed in unison.

"The second the US jammed my com signal, they also jammed a second, hidden linkup. It's a dead-man's switch, and it's already been triggered. The assault shuttles should be here in a few minutes, it's why I wanted us out in the parking lot," Mathews explained. Jared sighed in relief. If the assault shuttles were already on their way-


"Come on, this way!" the guard shouted, and guided them to a nearby room that didn't have a line of sight to any external windows. "This is as secure as it gets without taking you to the security office itself... and there are too many 'feds' there for that to be secure. Thinking of which..." the guard pulled his shoulder radio up to his mouth and took a deep breath. "Richardson to Laurence, come in Boss."

"What the hell are you doing, Richardson?" someone snarled over the radio.

"We got trouble, boss," Richardson said unhappily. "Tell the feds to kick it."

"Excuse me, son?" someone broke in.

"The individual I was sent to apprehend is wanted because... one sec," Richardson looked at Jared. "Why do they need you dead?"

"They need me dead because I'm carrying data proving the President was behind the assassination of his predecessor," Jared sighed. "My sons and I also carry... things that they don't want making it out of the country."

"Boss, I've got a federation RAO who vouches for this guy's story," Richardson shook his head. "He claims that he has proof the bastard up top killed Whitaker."

"That is a filthy, treasonous lie! You will apprehend both of them at once, or-"

Thunder filled the air. It was softer, at first, but by no means weak. It filled the air, demanding center stage, and grew stronger and stronger. "What is that?" Richardson shouted as it built to a crescendo.

"Our ride!" Mathews told him. "A wing of drop ships and their escorts!"

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