Jared grinned at Mathews. "Loud!" he said over the roar, the instant before it dropped down sharply.
"Assault shuttles coming in at maximum burn usually are!" Mathews shouted back as the noise started to rise again. "The fun part is that was just the first half of the wing, doing a combat sweep of the area before landing. What you're hearing now is pure engine noise from the others coming in to a landing. Those things are noisy!"
"Combat sweep?" Richardson asked.
"Well, I'm sure as a security guard you have a different meaning for the word, but an advanced element of a few specialized craft did a high-speed fly-by of the area with their sensors set to maximum. They'll check that the rest of the flight is clear from any heavy ground-mount weapons, then take up a CAP over- I mean, a combat air patrol over the battle zone."
"Battle zone?!" Richardson spluttered. "This is a civilian airport!"
"Not any longer," Jared told him sadly. "The second the feds started jamming signals in and out, it became a military hotspot."
"FUCK!" Richardson swore. "How many people are going to die because you fucks picked this place to show up?!"
"Hopefully, none," Mathews said. "But if any do die, it's going to be because the current President of the United States is a rat-fuck bastard."
Richardson closed his eyes and moaned.
"Don't worry, the army isn't stupid enough to take Federation marines on," Mathews reassured him. "Whoever is in office, they aren't close to being that stupid."
"Richardson, what the fuck is going on?" the radio on the guard's shoulder started shouting. "Those are Federation combat shuttles, and they're demanding we hand over their Captain!"
"You will do no such thing!" another voice ordered. "You will keep hold of all of the individuals until they can be brought in for questioning by the proper authorities."
Mathews grabbed the radio and spoke into it. "This is Captain Mathews. My primary communication device has been jammed, and those shuttles are operating under SOP to try and rescue me from the assumed threat."
"Threat? We're the government around here, not some-" the man on the other end screamed.
"I'm a refugee operator; I usually work in high-risk areas. I don't think anyone anticipated me losing communications while in the middle of a US installation, but the procedure for that was written in fucking stone," Mathews snarled back
For a few moments, all that could be heard was the now dull roar of shuttle VTOL engines. Then the man on the other end of the radio swore.
"Since your civilian radios aren't being jammed," Mathews asked, "could you forward my signal to those craft?"
"No need Sir!" a new voice announced.
"Janice!" Mathews said joyfully.
"Yes Sir, and it's a pleasure to hear you too! I've already localized your location and forwarded that data to the SGC, he's detailing an escort for you now," she told him.
"Good. We've got one adult male, a teen male, and a male child," Mathews said quickly. "Full scale refugees, from the US government."
"Refugees from the US, what a surprise," she answered sarcastically.
"Now is not the time," Mathews scolded.
"Sorry, Captain!" she answered.
"It's alright, Lieutenant, we all agree with the sentiment. Now, what is the situation looking like out there?" he asked.
"There are three divisions of the US army zeroing in on your location, and they've got enough fighters airborne that I'm nervous about having you take off until they've been thinned a little," she said.
"I'd rather avoid open conflict with the US!" he snapped.
"Not an option, sir. They haven't opened fire yet, but- Shit! Vampire! I say again, vampire, vampire!" the Lieutenant shouted.
"Report!" Mathews ordered.
"The US fighters just opened fire on the CAP, and it looks like... yes, the army artillery units just opened fire. Interceptors are at maximum, but some are going to make it through. You might not want to fight, Sir, but I'd say the US has a different idea!"
"Understood, Lieutenant. Rules of Engagement Yellow Two, I say again Yellow Two," Mathews looked down. "Get me that marine escort, now! I don't want to run this battle over an unsecured link."
"That's why I'm not feeding you tactical data," she told him. "Marines should be there any moment now."
"Good, I could use-"
"Down!" Jared barked, tackling Mathews. Richardson stumbled backwards, surprised, then froze as a loud crack cut through the ambient noise. Everyone stared at Richardson as he pressed a hand to his belly, then pulled it away wet with blood.
"I've been shot," he said, shocked. Then a red dot appeared between his eyes and before anyone could react, another crack announced his arrival into the afterlife.
"Stay down!" Jared ordered, pressing Mathews to the ground. "Cody, Davey, get under those seats now!"
"Captain! What's going on? Captain!" the lieutenant asked over the radio as the kids scrambled to obey.
"How long do you think those marines are going to be?" Jared asked idly, watching as the red dot of the laser sight swept the room a few times before vanishing.
"Not long, I hope," Mathews said. "How the hell did they get a sniper shot, though? There aren't any external sight lines!"
"Dad!" Cody exclaimed. "He's hurt!"
"Cody, we'll worry about that in a bit!" Jared shouted back. "He's inside the building," he told Mathews, "probably on the catwalk somewhere," Jared said. "No external sight lines, sure, but plenty of internal ones... this is not the best of spots, but it's probably the best available."
"Great, so we're pinned?" Mathews complained.
"Only until those marines of yours get here, then they can sweep the building and get us the fuck out!" Jared reassured him.
"He was aiming for me, wasn't he?" Mathews asked.
"Yeah, I saw the laser sight in time, or..." Jared shook his head. "I couldn't stand losing you."
"Cody!" Davey shouted.
Jared whipped around and froze in shock. Cody had crawled out from under the seats and was dragging Richardson to cover. "Cody!" Jared shouted, shocked.
"He's hurt, Dad!" Cody exclaimed. Another loud crack sounded, and Cody grunted. "That hurts!" he complained, continuing to drag Richardson, blood trickling down his leg
"Weapon!" Jared snarled angrily, thrusting a hand at Mathews. Without question, Mathews handed Jared the pistol he'd pulled earlier. "Shoot at my son, will you?" Jared said softly, poking his head up and sweeping his vision over the possible shooting spots. The combat HUD came up and started highlighting possible shooting points, then suddenly zeroed in on one specifically.
"Reflections are a bitch," Jared mused as he very carefully sighted down the barrel of the strange pistol. It snarled in his hand, and suddenly the area just above his target point vanished. "Shit!" Jared swore, adjusting his aim and firing again in an instant. "This thing has almost zero bullet drop!" Beyond that, which he didn't comment on, was the strange, unearthly sound it produced. Nothing like a conventional firearm. It almost... whined... though there was a harsh enough edge to the sound that it came out as more of a snarl. What was more, Jared was sure that it was an automatic weapon of some kind. It wasn't firing one shot, it was firing lots of shots.
"What the fuck is this thing?" Jared asked as he dropped back behind cover. Glancing over, he reassured himself that Cody was back where he belonged. From the looks of it, the bullet had grazed past him, resulting in a little bleeding and pain, a lot of humiliation with the seat of his pants torn open, and not much actual harm.
"Second generation pulse pistol," Mathews smiled. "Nasty little thing. Takes minute rods of an ultra-dense metal and accelerates them to several times the speed of sound using pulsed electromagnetic energy. Lots of ammo in a very small space, and when it hits you know it."
"Well, that guy doesn't," Jared said grimly, "know much of anything, that is." Looking over at Cody he frowned. "What the hell did you think you were doing!" he scolded the boy.
"He was hurt, Dad! I had to help him!" Cody said simply.
Jared closed his eyes and counted to ten. "Cody, you could have gotten yourself killed! What use would you have been to anyone then?" he shouted.
"I got that super-skin!" Cody protested. "Look!" he pointed to his rear, "it barely hurt me!"
Jared counted to ten again. "And how did you know that'd work?"
"I had to risk it!" Cody argued back. "It was the wight thing to do!"
"Right, not wight! And damn it, you're too young to be making arguments like that!" Jared shouted, frustrated.
"There are my marines," Mathews said as a clumping noise started.
"Maybe..." Jared said. "Identify yourselves, or be shot!" he shouted over the furniture.
"Captain Mathews, you there?" one of the marines shouted.
"Corporal Smith, I have never been so glad to hear your voice!" Mathews said.
"Especially since we aren't at Captains Mast?" someone quipped.
"That too, but right at the moment we need the area swept for snipers!" Mathews shouted back.
"Snipers? Right away!" Quickly the marines broke up and secured the area.
"Sir, we have a clear route back to the shuttle, but only if we go right now. Those army divisions are getting awful close, and the air support can't fire on them since they aren't firing yet," Corporal Smith said as one of his men checked the injured security guard. The sad look as he shook his head told Jared all he needed to know. "One of the strike-craft did a strafing run of their artillery positions, I think that taught them to keep their heads down. Artillery fire has ceased, so we're safe from shelling, for now."
"I'm authorizing preemptive fire if the ground elements refuse to change course- I mean, if they refuse to stop advancing," Mathews said sadly. "Now, let's move!"
Corporal Smith relayed the change in orders as they got underway. "Move, move, move!" the marines urged, and Jared smiled and started setting the pace. Cody, and surprisingly Davey, had little difficulty keeping up. The marines blinked in surprise and then started moving quicker, able to keep pace with difficulty.
Mathews, much to his disgust, was simply picked up and carried by one of the larger marines after he dropped some of his extra equipment. "This is completely undignified!" Mathews squawked.
"Better than getting shot!" Jared said with a grin. "And if you kept up with your exercise regimen, ate all your vitamins, and-"
"Fuck you!" Mathews broke in.
"Perhaps later," Jared said coyly. "But do you really think we should discuss these plans in front of your troops?" Someone snickered, and Mathews started spluttering.
"Jared, you know damned well that kind of comment is prejudicial to good discipline!" Mathews said after he'd recovered a little.
Jared shrugged. "I'm an ex-marine of the United States, not a Federation Marine," he said. "No regs covering my behavior!"
"Actually, Sir," one of the marines said apologetically, "on-board ship you're still held to certain standards, and that comment probably was a bit out of line."
"We're not on-board ship yet," Jared said reasonably.
"Sir-" one of them began.
"But I take your point, and I'll try to restrain myself in the future," Jared agreed.
"Thank you. There's our-"
Jared stumbled forward as something smashed into his shoulder with bruising force. Thankfully, the shot hit far enough off center that all it did was spin him around hard, allowing him to bring his pistol to bear more quickly. And thanks to the speed of the processors attached to the CHUD, he didn't even need a second to figure out where his target was.
To an outside observer it would appear that Jared's arm flailed wildly across the arc of his vision, but to Jared things seemed to move in sudden slow motion as he serviced target after target in rapid succession. Soon all the snipers he could see were down, just in time for the Federation marines to redeploy, leaving half their people behind to lay down suppressive fire against any other snipers that might get ideas. Jared ran backwards, throwing the occasional glance over his shoulder to check that his path was still clear, as he continued to sweep the building. "Cease fire!" he ordered, annoyed. "All you're doing is making it harder for me to spot- sniper!" His borrowed gun snarled again before the target could fire. "Cease fire already!"
The marines, hearing the voice of command, obeyed. Besides, evidence was clearly showing he knew what he was doing, none of them had seen that sniper. Or most of the others he'd picked off.
"On the shuttle, now," Jared ordered Cody and Davey, both of whom ran ahead as quickly as they could. Cody easily outdistanced Davey over the thirty yard stretch, but Davey still managed to give the marines a good work out.
Jared continued to sweep over the airport terminal as he moved backwards at a good clip, looking for targets. Finally he was charging up the ramp to the shuttle, which closed the second he reached the top. "Combat launch in thirty seconds! Strap the fuck in everyone!" the pilot announced.
Jared found an empty seat between his boys, and checked their restraints. "We are go!" the pilot announced before he could get his own in place. Jared grabbed the bars over his shoulders and tucked his legs in under the chair to try and hold himself in place as the shuttle began to shudder. He braced himself just in time as the shuttle took off wildly, G-forces throwing them all over the place. Thankfully everyone else had managed to get themselves strapped in properly, as no normal human could have held themselves in place against the sheer violence of a combat launch.
Unfortunately, while Jared had the sheer muscle to hold himself in place, he didn't have the leverage. He managed to avoid flying around the troop compartment by holding onto the bars behind his seat, but with only one point to anchor himself to, his body went flying all over the place until Cody grabbed him. Unfortunately, augmented or not, Cody was simply to young to have the strength to hold his Dad in place either, and only bought Jared a few moments respite. Jared cursed as he flew into Davey, knee impacting into skull with concussive force. He couldn't stay here!
Seeing a pattern to the G-forces, Jared let go and let them throw him halfway across the compartment. Landing, hard, against some cargo netting on the wall, he grabbed hold and tucked himself in as best he could between evasive maneuvers.
It wasn't fun, but he managed to avoid bouncing into anyone else. And soon enough the flight began to settle out. "All right ladies and gentlemen, this is your pilot speaking. We have exceeded standard air-breathing fighter altitudes," the pilot announced in a dry imitation of an air line announcement. "I'd love to say that it should be smooth sailing from here on out, but it looks like the US has scrambled a couple of squadrons of high-altitude fighters capable of achieving low earth orbit. As a result, expect turbulence, evasive maneuvers, and excessive G-forces. Please strap in properly, secure the loose object I heard thumping around back there during takeoff, make sure your seats and tables are in their upright and locked position, and enjoy the ride. Thank you for riding Drop Shuttle Airlines."
"Somebody has a sense of humor," Jared groused as he moved, gingerly, back to his seat. Augmentation or no augmentation, some of those impacts had hurt. "You OK Davey?" he asked.
"Fine... I... hurt..." Davey stammered, eyes wide. "Talk! Not... Daddy!" he moaned.
"Shh, Son," Jared said soothingly as he strapped himself in quickly. "The doctor said this would happen, remember?"
"I... like... don't... Daddy!" Davey complained.
"Shh, it'll work itself out soon enough," Jared said.
"What's wrong with the kid?" a marine asked, grabbing a box with a caduceus on the front. Jared snorted, remembering the ruckus when the Federation Medical Services had decided to use that as their symbol a few years ago. After all, the rod of Aesculapius was the 'traditional' medical symbol, despite popular culture's misconception.
The discovery that the symbol had been chosen by a bunch of 'trekkies', as they used to be known, had simply fanned the flames all the further.
"Secure the medical kit," Jared ordered the marine.
"I'm a trained medic, I can-"
"Stand down, marine!" Mathews barked.
"Sir!" the marine responded, securing the medical kit.
"Given that he's certain his son is safe, I'm inclined to wait until after we finish evasive maneuvers to worry about the boy's condition. The last thing we need is yet another loose cannon on deck," Mathews explained. "As soon as we're free and clear, check the boy out to your heart's content."
"Sir yes sir!" the marine smiled.
"Thanks," Jared said softly.
"Knowing you JB, if it weren't something you were expecting you'd already be panicking," Kode said softly.
"So, we're back to Kode and JB?" Jared asked with a smile.
"For the moment... yes," Kode said. "We're going to have a very, very long talk later, though."
"I imagine so," Jared said.
"I still haven't forgiven you, not really," Kode admitted.
"Could have fooled me," Jared said softly.
"I've had a very long time to learn a measure of self control. And..." Kode looked away.
"You knew something, didn't you?" Jared asked. The silence he got back was all the answer he needed. "We will be talking."
"Yes, we will, but for the moment this is far too public a situation, what with your elder son sitting between us," Kode said.
"Fine... deaf!" Davey smiled, poking his fingers in his ears.
"Davey, we're about to be engaged by enemy fighters, I think perhaps you should grab hold of your harness and make sure your arms don't smack someone in the head," Jared smiled, pulling his son's fingers out of his ears so he could hear the order.
"Aaaaah!" Davey complained with a smile as he obeyed.
"So what's going on doesn't affect his hearing?" Kode asked.
"Just his speech," Jared confirmed. "It's something called Wernicke's aph-" Jared stomach did a somersault as the assault shuttle started moving again.
"Ladies and gentlemen," the dry airline announcement came back, "we are experiencing some turbulence. Please do not be alarmed, the enemy won't be in firing range for a good twenty seconds. In case of accident or emergency, this shuttle has been equipped with multiple defensive systems and engines capable of high-force evasive maneuvers. Should an enemy missile get through, it'll be over quick. That will be all... and see you on the flip side!"
"Does he know there are civilians on board?" Jared asked as the promised maneuvers began.
"He thinks it helps to calm them down," Kode replied.
"Really?" Jared said with difficulty.
"Look at... your sons'... grins!" Kode managed, slowly.
"That's because... they like... roller coasters!" Jared pointed out.
Then the shuttle went crazy and the maneuvers were bad enough that even Jared couldn't get a word in edgewise. He mused for a few moments that it was a very good thing that his augmentation could control the nausea he'd normally be feeling from being treated like this. With the years of training under his belt, he could probably have held it in, but Cody wouldn't have stood a chance. And Davey's augmentation should do much the same-
The sudden smell of vomit reminded Jared that his eldest son wasn't 'fully' augmented.
"God, that stuff is vile in zero-G!" Jared complained as he used the sani-wipe to try and get the worst of it off him.
"Just be thankful we had enough spare air on board to simply flush the cabin," Kode told him. "It'd really be vile if we still had free-flying globs of it-"
Davey heaved again, though thankfully there wasn't much more than a bit of spittle left to heave into the space sickness bag he'd been provided. "How long until we reach the ship?" Jared asked, worried.
"We're going to dock in another five minutes or so, but that's not what you need to worry about," Kode said sadly. "It's a relatively small ship, and unlike all those sci-fi movies you see, we don't have gravity on board."
"You mean..." Jared said, horrified.
"You're going to be stuck in zero-G for at least the next several days," Kode agreed. "Don't worry, he'll adjust. I've already given him an anti-nausea patch. Truth be told, I'm not sure why it hasn't taken effect."
Jared closed his eyes and swore. Fluently.
"I thought sailors were supposed to be bad," Kode laughed.
"It's not a laughing matter," Jared said angrily. "The anti-nausea patch won't work. At all."
"What?" Kode said sharply.
"Remember the project I was involved in?" Jared said, glancing over the marines who were watching.
"You don't... you can't be serious!" Kode protested.
"The... contamination was accidental, but the end results..." Jared shook his head. "We'll need to talk privately on that subject."
It was Kode's turn to turn the air blue. Grabbing a com set, he called up the ship. "Captain speaking. Inform command we have a civilian, suffering zero-G induced nausea, who is unable to utilize the standard anti-nausea patches." Jared almost quirked a smile at the tone of command Kode was using. It was... nice to see him all grown up like that. "Confirmed. I want a half-G course laid in to bring us to a station ASAP. Contact command and see how quickly they can get us slotted in. Oh, and set up for an emergency landing, I want this kid out of zero-G as quickly as possible!"
"You heard the Captain!" one of the marines shouted, "buckle up!"
The assault shuttle quickly became a hive of activity as everyone carefully secured their wash rags, sani-wipes, and other cleaning instruments in the clearly designated disposal receptacles, and then secured themselves. Most of the worst of the smell was out of the air, and there weren't any more free flying globs left. And most of the globs that had stuck to something had gotten more or less cleaned up.
It still stank to high heaven, and made everyone's eyes water. Jared very carefully secured a trio of space-sickness bags, and placed himself to help Davey if he needed it. The G-forces produced by the emergency landing were a welcome respite from zero-G, despite their brutal strength. And at least this time, they were relatively constant, without the jerking and zigzagging that produced motion sickness.
The landing was short, sharp, sudden, and the resumption of zero-G made Jared very glad he'd grabbed a few space-sickness bags for Davey, who'd managed to loose the bag he was using.
"Ship's doctor, I understand we have a motion sickness patient who's allergic to the standard meds?" a woman announced as she came on board.
"Not allergic, ma'am, but I'm hesitant to discuss the situation in public," Jared said, waving at her. Grabbing a rail, she launched herself gracefully across the bay, slowing and then stopping herself by grabbing various things as she got close.
"I've got alternative medicines, if you'll tell me which ones-" she began as she opened up the box she was carrying.
"I'll explain later, but his system won't respond to any of them," Jared said softly.
"That's... bad," she frowned. "I understand why the captain wants you on a station ASAP!"
"I don't," Jared complained.
"Most of the stations rotate to provide gravity, or at a minimum their living quarters are set up to provide it," she explained. "While underway, our ship's engines produce a reasonable modicum of gravity that can prevent the worst of bone density loss, but stations don't have that option."
"Now hear this, now hear this!" the PA blared. "All hands stand by for maneuvering! All hands, I say again, secure stations and prepare to maneuver! Thirty seconds and counting!"
"They must have secured the shuttle," the doctor frowned, and grabbed hold of a nearby handle. "Get ready for gravity to return. The way the shuttle is resting, gravity is going to be..." she mused for a second before nodding. "Down is that away," she said at last, pointing to the 'rear' of the shuttle as she moved to brace herself properly.
"Took you a while," Jared commented.
"I'm used to functioning in zero-G, and on board ship every compartment has a clearly defined 'down' to it," she said with a shrug. "Unfortunately, shuttle ops are always conducted in zero-G, for safety reasons, so I've never actually had to deal with gravity while on board a shuttle. Just took me a second to remember which way 'down' is."
"Seems strange that you'd forget which way is down!" Jared commented.
"You have to, if you're going to function in zero-G," she explained. "And when you're in gravity, you don't have to remember which way down is, because every second of every day your body tells you. It's the transition periods that are... hard."
"All hands stand by! Maneuvering in five... four... three... two... one..." It wasn't as abrupt as the shuttle's engines had been, but the return of gravity wasn't as gradual as Jared really would have preferred. Davey's stomach rebelled yet again at the renewed assault, and Jared was doubly glad this time that he'd had the extra bags ready and waiting.
"I'll take that," the doctor said with a smile as she started climbing down the shuttle, which now seemed to be set down sideways.
"You ready to go, Cody?" Jared asked.
"Yeah, Dad, but I'll wait for Davey," the boy said.
"Should they leave right by home later?" Davey struggled to say.
"That sounds like Broca's aphasia... has he been suffering long?" the doctor asked.
"I didn't catch your name, ma'am," Jared asked politely.
"Doctor Anderson," she said, quickly climbing up a few more feet to offer him a hand.
"Glad to meet you, Doctor," Jared smiled back. "I'll talk to you about the situation in private. Not only would it not be fair to discuss Davey's condition in public-"
"The marines understand the concept of privacy, and confidentiality," she reassured him. "This unit was attached specifically to handle refugee pick up missions and are all bound by the same confidences that I am."
"Second, it wouldn't be safe because some of the information is confidential as in classified, not private," Jared said sternly, glaring at her for interrupting him.
"Oh," she said, abashed. "Sorry, I guess I'm kinda used to a certain sort of complaint."
"Apology accepted," Jared said. "Though in the future, interrupting people isn't very nice."
She flinched. "I'm sorry, I was... well, where I was raised interruptions aren't quite as rude as they are elsewhere. I really am trying to retrain myself, but..."
"Interruptions aren't considered rude?" Jared asked, shocked.
"I come from a minor African tribe," she said, shrugging. "Respect of elders, yes, but interruptions were..." she shook her head. "The customs of my tribe are just plain weird to most people."
"I can buy that," Jared said with a smile. "What's the name of the tribe?"
She frowned at him before looking away, tears in her eyes.
"What's wrong?" Jared asked, reaching out to grab her shoulder.
"I'm sorry, it's just..." she swallowed. "One of the minor bush-wars that still break out in Africa from time to time occurred in the area I grew up in. My tribe... my people..."
"Oh no," Jared said softly. "How bad?"
"My people believe... believed... that to speak the name of the dead was disrespectful, that it called them back from the afterlife," she said softly. "I won't tell you their name, because my tribe is dead. My brothers, my sisters, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, my parents, everyone..."
"Surely some of them must have survived?" Jared asked, shocked.
"The only survivors are those, like me, who left," she said softly, "and we were cast out of the tribe. So my tribe... my people... are no more."
"I'm sorry," Jared said softly.
"I know," she said. "Come on, let's get your boy to sick bay, where we can talk."
"The Federation... did they do anything?" Jared asked.
She looked at him, eyes flinty. "The raping, murdering bastards who thought they could kill children... learned otherwise," she said flatly.
"Good," Jared said firmly as he unbuckled himself carefully.