It was as if the Grim Reaper had reached out with his scythe and sent it whirling through Jared's enemies. Quick, accurate, deadly bursts of fire exploded from his hands, shredding flesh and destroying armor as he walked through the elite guard President Ellison had gathered around himself. He wasn't as close to the White House as he'd hoped, but he was close enough. Five times his armor jerked as he launched AA rockets, taking down gunships and jet craft that tried to swoop in and engage him. Dozens of times he released his battle armor with his left hand, to aim RPGs at light armored vehicles or prepared defensive positions his rifle couldn't take out.
He moved at a jog, spraying the area with his fire, and keeping a constant eye out for enemy heavy weapons. Several times he had to take cover in a crater to avoid enemy fire until he could remove a heavy weapons squad with enough rockets to saturate his point defense systems.
He didn't have a lot of time before they could pull real tanks up, and he simply wasn't armed heavily enough to take a division or two of those on. Of course, whether or not the tanks would actually try to engage him was debatable; while most of the guards in the area were busy engaging Jared, many more were either trying to deal with a sudden mutiny, or actually trying to help cover Jared as he advanced.
It was utter chaos, open unrestrained warfare in the middle of the heart of the American people, and the back of Jared's mind mourned as he saw civilian after civilian shot down, as he noticed the smoking ruins of what had once been a family car now simply a ruin in the middle of the street. But then he was through the worst of it, and kicking in the front gate to the White House.
The Secret Service was everywhere, but they weren't ready for him. They were too busy engaging in a firefight with the marines who had listened to Jared's speech, and agreed with him.
Jared walked through the chaos and confusion, head turning from right to left to survey the area, and then instinct prompted him to look up.
"Gotcha," Jared snarled. "Time to pay, bastard!"
Jared broke into a sprint, and then at the last moment hit the jump gear on his suit as hard as he could. His leap turned into a short-lived flight that sent him barreling through a second floor window in the residence. He came to his feet, battle rifle leveled at the bastard who was responsible for the death of his children. "I want to pull this trigger," he commented mildly, "but it would be too quick, too easy."
Ellison stood up, head unbowed. "I take it you're here to arrest me?"
"Oh yeah," Jared grinned, triggering his suit to remove the protective visor that shielded his face. "I was supposed to just put a bullet through your skull, but I want more now. I want you on the Six O'clock News, I want your trial, I want your conviction. I want you to experience every last moment of the shame, of the growing certainty of doom. And when the time comes, I want you to feel them shove a needle in your veins, and then wait for the clock to tick your final seconds away."
"In short, you don't just want me dead, you want me to suffer" Ellison smiled.
"Yeah, pretty much," Jared agreed. "Away from the window."
"I'm afraid not," Ellison shook his head. "I probably can't maintain control of America, but I can at least take you with me."
"How do you plan to manage that," Jared sneered.
"Like this," Ellison pulled a trigger from his jacket, and activated it.
Jared jerked as electric fire screamed across his nerves. His suit took the worst of the brunt, shielding him, but it experienced a complete systems failure as a massive electromagnetic pulse shook Washington. Unfortunately, even the little bit of it that got through was enough to scramble augmentation for a few moments, before he could saw through the twisting, jeering pain with the fiery blade of his will.
"You survived," Ellison commented idly. "That shouldn't have been possible."
Jared struggled with the suit. The EMP had completely fried it's electronics, and somehow the electronic muscles had locked in place. Oh, of course -- if he wanted to move the suit himself, the muscles had to be disengaged, first. "You can't win, Ellison," Jared told him.
"Unfortunately, I'm afraid I concur," Ellison shook his head. "I wasn't expecting that broadcast. Clever, doing it from inside DC. So many communication lines run through here, making it the data hub of the Eastern Seaboard. That let me control information, and he who controls information controls the world. And then, for a few brief moments, you took that control from me. Dumped every sordid detail into the public light, and I couldn't cut you out! You actually controlled the systems that let me cut other such broadcasts before they happened!" Ellison shook his head. "Clever. Too clever."
The suit wasn't completely dead, Jared realized. He felt it's systems try to link to his, seeking confirmation for something, but the signal was just too weak, his own augmentation too scrambled. The linkup was not quite there. He needed to buy a few more minutes.
"So, what do you plan to do now?" Jared asked. "You murdered my sons, you killed my love, you've ruined my life, and now I'm at your mercy. Drum head trial?"
Ellison snorted. "I gambled, I lost, I know that. I'm going to die, one way or the other, before the day is out. Either I'll die resisting arrest, or there'll be a 'little accident' once I'm in custody if the arrest is too public to just shot me out of hand."
Ellison pulled a pistol out from a nearby cabinet. "I'm afraid, Sergeant Major Warren, that I'm going to have to settle for putting a bullet through your head."
"I see," Jared licked his lips. With his visor open, the suit couldn't protect him from a head shot. He should have kept it closed, but he'd wanted the bastard to see him, to know who had brought him down. "And then?"
"And then what?" Ellison asked. "You'll be dead."
"If you're going to kill me, you might as well tell me what comes afterwords, what your plan is," Jared asked. "Just to satisfy my curiosity."
Ellison laughed. "My dear Sergeant," he sighed, grinning, "you aren't the only one who believes in suffering. Die, with your curiosity unfulfilled." He raised the pistol and took careful aim, "Besides," he added, "this isn't a movie, and this isn't the point in time where I reveal my nefarious plan to the heroes who will inevitably thwart it."
The President hadn't reviewed Jared's augmentation, or he would have taken more careful aim. The big, heavy caliber pistol had a bullet that would shatter through most skulls, rending it's way through the brain and ending life instantly. Jared's skull wasn't 'most skulls', however; his skeleton had been reinforced with an incredibly light, unbelievably strong artificial alloy capable of handling the immense stress his new strength could place on it, and the vitally important organs hidden behind the skull were protected by what amounted to plates of the alloy. The bullet imparted it's energy directly to the skull, snapping his head back violently and leaving a spray of blood everywhere as it ripped a huge swatch of skin away.
But the brain underneath survived. It was still the softest, most vulnerable tissue in the body, and the impact as it bounced off the skull, twice, didn't do it any good. Jared was dazed, probably concussed, and completely lost track of everything for a few moments as he fell backwards, overbalanced.
But he was alive, and the impact jarred loose the malfunctioning circuits, causing the suit to close up completely, and finally succeed in rebooting enough of the distributed computer network built into it to contact his augmentation.
CRITICAL EMP DAMAGE DETECTED, red text burned into Jared's vision. A scrolling list of the damage report appeared alongside. It would have been quicker, some part of Jared's mind noted, to simply list what was working. ACTIVATE ABANDON SUIT SEQUENCE? the question blinked at Jared for a long moment before he understood it. Yes.
DEACTIVATING SEALS. DISENGAGING ELECTRONIC MOTOR CONTROL. OPENING EXTERIOR PLATING. SUIT NOW OPEN FOR EGRESS. ACTIVATING DESTRUCT SEQUENCE ON ALL ELECTRONICS. GOODBYE. The text suddenly vanished from Jared's view as the suit began to hiss and pop, it's electronics destroying themselves with precisely controlled bursts of electrical energy.
Jared shrugged his way out of the suit, able to move again now that the muscles were properly disengaged to allow him to handle motion instead. The suit finally broke open around him, and he pulled himself out. Already his vision was slowly returning to normal as his enhanced metabolism repaired the damage the bullet had caused. A mirror in the corner of the room revealed that Jared was missing a large chunk of skin from his forehead, and the silver gleam of metal underneath seemed all the uglier for the red chunks that covered it. Jared leaned over and picked up his rifle, checking to see if it was any good. "Damn," he whispered. He liked that rifle, even if the electronics in it had allowed the EMP to fry it too.
Thankfully, the sidearm still clipped to his side was an old-fashioned automatic pistol, without any fancy electronics to screw up, and the grenades clipped to his combat harness were similar. Jared took the time to ditch the pulse ammo he was carrying, which was probably also friend thanks to the electronics necessary to interface with the rifle. "Time to hunt," Jared grinned.
"Mr. President, are you alright?" someone asked from the hallway outside.
"I'm fine, Jim," Ellison answered calmly. "The situation?"
"Completely out of control," the man answered. "Even some members of the Secret Service are actually supporting the mutineers! We have to get you out of here, sir!"
"I'm afraid escape isn't much of an option, Jim," Ellison sighed. "I need to get to the situation room, and it's hardened com-links."
"Yes sir!" the man answered.
"Whose carrying the football?" Ellison asked.
"The- The football?"
"The hard-links are supposed to be protected from EMP, but I may need the football if they're down," Ellison said reasonably.
"You can't... you mean... No!"
Jared peeked around the corner, and saw a white-faced man shaking his head in dismay. "He was right," he whispered, unbelieving. "How- How could you?"
"I do what needs to be done," Ellison answered, tone almost disdainfully reasoned. "Now, where is it?"
The man looked disgusted. "I'm not helping you. Not with nuking our own nation."
"In that case," Ellison's hand snapped up, and the gun in his hand barked three times before Jared could respond, "you aren't any use to me."
Jared stepped out of the door and cleared his throat. "Excuse me, Mr. President, but I think we have unfinished business."
"You, again?" Ellison turned his gaze upward in supplication. "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" he begged.
"I'm no priest," Jared told him, weapon ready. He'd have exactly once chance.
"No, it's a quote," Ellison sneered. "But what would a jar head like you know about history? "
"More than you might think," Jared commented.
"Perhaps, but not enough-" Ellison spun even as he continued talking, weapon rising with lightning speed. Jared, as fast as he was, was almost too slow. His augmentation let him match Ellison's impossible, inhuman speed; his years of experience on the firing range let him pull off the impossible shot, sending Ellison's pistol flying away.
"That shot should have been impossible," Ellison commented, rubbing his injured wrist. "Hitting not only a moving target, but hitting my pistol specifically? That isn't possible."
"Oh really?" Jared sneered, weapon still ready. "Then how did I do it?"
"It doesn't make sense, does it," Ellison commented, then his gaze snapped upwards to match Jared's. "Your augmentation has clearly changed the parameters."
"So," Jared asked, "what's your next move?"
"Good question," Ellison agreed. "I'm surprised I have to say this, but I think you've got me. No more tricks, no more stratagems. My forces are in disarray, my traps are expended, my weapon destroyed. You win."
Ellison walked over and sat down in a chair, Jared watching him like a hawk. This nonchalant acceptance of defeat had him suspicious. Ellison leaned back, crossing his hands behind his head. "So, what do you plan to do now?"
Jared shrugged. "I can't call for help, you slagged my radio but good, but I imagine that sooner or later someone will show up."
"Sooner or later," Ellison nodded. "Very well planned of you."
"I wasn't counting on the EMP device," Jared growled. "You really did a number on my equipment."
"So I noticed," Ellison said congenially. Jared was starting to understand how he'd risen to such a high rank. His sociopathy was hidden beneath a sparkling, friendly exterior that hid the murderer beneath.
Which suggested Ellison was simply buying time in the hopes that he'd be able to find a way out of the situation. Jared jerked his gun to indicate the door back to the room they'd come from. "Move."
"Certainly, Sergeant," Ellison's smile was cultured, nuanced, and didn't touch his eyes at all, now that Jared knew to look at it closer. It seemed to, but when you gazed into them, there was nothing there. Nothing. The eyes were the windows to the soul, and Ellison didn't have one.
Jared shuddered, as he kept his distance. Following Ellison into the room, he gestured to the suit. "Climb into it."
"Excuse me?" Ellison's eyebrow rose.
"Climb into the suit," Jared ordered. "I want you someplace I can control you."
"Very well," Ellison inclined his head graciously. "I suppose you're worried about the pistol I have hidden under my pillow, or maybe the detonator to the C4 under the floor, or some such nonsense."
"Mr. 'I was waiting with an EMP detonator' is one to talk," Jared commented.
"True," Ellison agreed. "There is something you've overlooked however."
"And that is?" Jared asked testily.
"The EMP was never about you," Ellison smiled. "Think about it. I'm sure you'll figure it out, eventually." Jared frowned. "Oh, come now, isn't it obvious? Plans within plans, wheels within wheels. That idiot out there actually came to the conclusion I was planning to nuke the U.S.. Foolish, but once he had the idea in his head I could never get rid of it. You almost -- almost -- spiked my plan. By now, the Federation has taken the advantage I've offered them, launched multiple invasions across multiple fronts."
Jared shook his head. "Oh yes," Ellison smiled. "I will admit, it would have been nice to be able to target those armies, as well as the capitols of whatever nation is stupid enough to launch this attack, but I don't need to. The damage will be enough, one way or another, to collapse civilization. We'll nuke them, they'll nuke us, we'll all glow in the dark as the ash clouds choke out the sun."
Ellison smiled. "What better monument could I ask for?"
Jared swallowed. "You're bluffing," he accused Ellison.
"Oh no Sergeant, oh no," he laughed. "My dear, dear Sergeant, I'm gloating. This is the 'what comes after' that I didn't tell you about when you asked. Dying with your curiosity unfulfilled is one torment, living with the knowledge of what you set in motion will be worse."
Jared shook his head. "Won't happen. Can't happen."
"I'm afraid it already has," Ellison gloated. "Shoot me, it won't change a thing."
Jared glanced out a window, where the fighting was beginning to die down a little. "Damn," he swore. "Too many dead."
"Indeed," Ellison complained. "I had hoped to rule the world, now I must settle for killing it thanks to you."
Jared frowned, realizing that something didn't track. "They'll be nuking Washington," he pointed out.
"Nope," Ellison smiled. "They know we got EMP'd, we aren't a threat."
"Do you really think they'll pass us by just because we're out of the loop?" Jared raised an eyebrow.
"Their foolish sense of morality will prevent them from doing anything else," Ellison shrugged. "Weak, all of them, but convenient."
Jared shook his head. "Something you overlooked," he commented, staring out the window. "Something both of us overlooked."
"And what might that be?" Ellison asked.
"Those nuclear mines you had in orbit, by now the fleet has cleared them," Jared smiled. "Want to know how I know?"
"Actually, yes," Ellison asked. "It seems quite improbable."
"Listen," Jared smiled. "Just listen."
Ellison frowned. "What am I listening for?"
Jared let the moment drag out, as outside the window a unit of marines formed up. "Wish I could tell if they were friend or foe," he commented.
"If I may," Ellison asked, making as if to get out of the suit.
"Stay right where you are," Jared ordered him.
"Very well," Ellison settled back into the armor. "I'm surprised you didn't tell me to close it up around me."
"No need," Jared shrugged. "It keeps you from going for any weapons."
"Ah," Ellison smiled. "Care to tell me what's happening outside?"
Jared looked out the window again. "Looks like the marines won, and they're forming up to attack the place. Question is, which side are they on?"
"I see, I hope mine," Ellison smiled. "By the way, you overlooked something."
"What now," Jared rolled his eyes, still looking out the window, trying to spot anything that might give him a clue about the marine's intentions.
"I still had another pistol in my pockets," Ellison gloated as he raised the weapon. Jared threw himself backwards, pistol roaring as he emptied the clip. Ellison jerked, his weapon flying sideways as bullets punched through his chest.
"Damnit," Jared swore. "Bastard!"
Ellison coughed, smiling. "They'll blame you for this, say you could have stopped me," he laughed, wetly. "One way or another," he coughed, "I always win. Remember that, Sergeant. Make sure they remember-" Ellison coughed again, spraying blood. "Make sure they remember that!" he begged.
Jared turned his back on Ellison. "You die alone, unremarked, and forgotten, Ellison," Jared told him. "No one is going to hear your last words, no one is going to remember you as anything but a failed traitor."
Jared curled his lips into a sneer. "And no one is even going to remember your last moments. No one will watch as you slip across the barrier into death, no one will mark the moment you fade away."
"It's the last insult I can place on your memory."
Outside, the soft thunder that only Jared had heard grew louder, and then with breathtaking suddenness assault shuttles swept over the capitol, dropping marines onto the ground and providing fire support. The cavalry had arrived.
Jared stared out the window as the U.S. marines scattered in surprise, firing into the assault shuttles. "Well, I guess they were Ellison's," he commented as they were promptly blown away. Glancing over at Ellison, he confirmed the man had died. Leaning down, Jared placed his gun on the ground long enough to close the President's eyes. "Enjoy hell," he whispered before standing up and walking over to watch out the window.
"Mr. President! Mr. President!" someone shouted in the hallway outside. "Have you seen the-" they poked their head in the room. "Oh my god. You killed the President!"
"He pulled a gun on me," Jared didn't even turn around. It was over. They'd won. Mostly.
"You bastard, you murdered the President!"
"Oh calm down already," Jared rolled his eyes before turning around.
"Oh shit," he swore, realizing that he'd left his firearm on the ground beside the President.
"You bastard," the man who'd broken in sobbed. "You killed him. The only man I ever loved!"
"How old are you, kid?" Jared asked. "Eighteen, nineteen?"
"Sixteen," the kid sobbed. "And you killed my lover!"
Didn't it just figure, was Jared's last bemused thought before the kid pulled the trigger, emptying his clip into Jared.
It was Deja vu all over again.
"He's waking up now," someone commented calmly, "just as I promised."
"Dad!" Davey said happily, his voice somehow distant.
"I told you he'd be fine!" Cody shouted, "he's invincible!" Cody's voice had the same distance, the same echoey scratchy feeling.
"You got that right, moron," Davey answered him, "you got that right."
"Is that how you address your brother, Davey?" Mathews chided Jared's eldest son, as Jared decided this must be heaven. Mathews' voice actually sounded halfway normal.
"So where's Saint Peter?" Jared croaked as he opened his eyes.
Mathews laughed. "You aren't dead, and you sure aren't going to heaven after giving me that kind of scare!"
Jared moaned as pain stabbed through his body when he tried to move. "You're dead. Same as me. Nobody survived a nuke at point blank range, and nobody survives getting their chest riddled with bullets."
"Fortunately, neither of those statements is completely accurate," Mathews laughed. "My exec ordered my off the ship, and had security stuff me in the pod when I tried to object. If we'd been any slower getting out, we'd have died, but the escape pod got clear of the ship the instant before the nuke went off. There was just enough time for the shield our alien friends gave us to come up, and absorb the worst of the blast."
Jared blinked. Was Mathew's saying... "Where am I?" he asked, staring up at the white ceiling.
"The Central Federation Military Hospital in Geneva," Mathews smiled.
"Davey, Cody?" Jared groaned.
"We're here Dad!" they shouted.
"They can't come in the room, they aren't properly sterilized," Mathews told him.
"Sterilized?" Jared asked.
"You took some nasty hits," Mathews told him. "Doc, you want to explain this?"
"You received multiple gunshot wounds to the head, chest, and gut," the doctor took over. "While your augmentation was able to protect you from the worst of the head shot, and shut down most of the bleeding, you were immediately medevaced to a field hospital, where surgeons managed to stabilize you. Unfortunately, your situation was critical, and you were medevaced here on the first flight."
"It was touch and go for a few days, but you pulled through, eventually," Mathews told him. "Apparently, your augmentation can only do so much at once."
"Correct. Your augmentation was all that kept you alive," the doctor agreed. "It somehow sealed off severed arteries and veins, and somehow transported blood around the severed points so that you didn't die. Unfortunately, while it was busy doing that it couldn't counteract the infection you developed, or accelerate your healing as much as it normally would. You were in a balance between the three needs, and it had to focus on the one that would kill you the quickest."
"I nearly lost you, Jared," Mathews whispered. "Don't do that to me. Don't do that to me ever again. Please."
Jared smiled. "I'll make you the same promise I made my kids. I'll do my best to always come home."
"Home?" Mathews laughed. "Where is home?" he sighed. "Neither of us can ever go back to the U.S., we're persona non grata at best, traitors at worst. The politicians are glad we got rid of Ellison, but they wanted him alive for trial, and are blaming us for everything that went wrong, and some of them are saying that however necessary, our acts were treasonous and we should be extradited as traitors. They're all little children throwing tantrums, each one hoping the public likes their version of the tantrum the best."
"Home," Jared told him while nodding at his kids, "is where they are. Where you are. Wherever that is."
"Are you proposing to me, sir?" Mathews joked.
"Yes. Will you marry me?" Jared smiled.
"You have to ask?" Mathews smiled. "As soon as you're out of here, I'll contact a justice of the peace. Or an admiral. Or maybe the damned President of the Federation, right now I think he'd take my call."
Jared giggled. "Whatever makes you happy."
Outside, through the speaker, Jared could hear his kids cheering, and he smiled. Good, he thought, they like Mathews too.