Castle Roland


by Kyle Aarons


Chapter 12

Published: 8 Apr 14

Rex glanced down at the radio and shook his head slowly for a few seconds. So much seemed to have changed over the past several hours, it seemed like he was somehow different than who he thought he was. USDT 19 command was no longer talking to him as if he was a child, a mere cadet. With the probable death of Dark Raven, the Canadian Red Leaf Defender Command was suspicious, yet optimistic. They agreed to not only expedite getting extra forces to help the BEARS 97 cadets, but also start an immediate investigation into the very idea some COUGAR and BEARS cadets had been captured and were still alive well over a year after the attack on the joint BEARS, COUGARS training camp.

Opal Avenger, the commander of RLD 7, had personally congratulated Rex and those with him, making it clear she wanted to personal thank all of the BEARS 97 cadets for an outstanding job once this was over. Even Battlement, Rex's greatest hero figure, had just spoken to him as if he were one of the guys, not some BEARS cadet who was just one of a few thousand kids entrusted to squadron level under the watchful eye of USDT19. He took a deep breath and pushed back from the cockpit controls knowing deep down inside he had just lost something, but what it was, he could not quite put a finger on.

He glanced around wondering what this meant for the future. Finally he gave up and entered the back of the heavily damaged hovercraft. He said nothing for several minutes as he watched Josh put all his healing efforts into fixing Ajax's leg. Just watching, showed how much skill and medical knowledge Josh had. First Josh forced the boy's pain receptors to shut off so he could work on Ajax without causing more discomfort. Josh then moved on, using his mental abilities to telekinesis the kneecap back into place. Once this was done, he used those same abilities to tighten up the proper tendons and ligaments.

It took a bit more time to force the torn muscles to pull back and re-bundle into proper muscle groups. This was by far the hardest and most exhausting process, since the damage to the leg's soft tissue was so extreme, and properly re-bundling everything was by no means easy. Before he was even half done, he was grateful A.T. had made him attend hour upon hour of medical classes over the past three summers. Once he had taken care of all of the mass damage, he then turned on all of Ajax's internal healing, pouring all of the boy's resources into fixing the leg. Within minutes Ajax was shivering and complaining of serious hunger pains.

After nearly twenty minutes, Josh pushed himself back from the gurney, spotted Rex and closed his eyes. "Rex, we all need food and a lot of it. Ajax and I are really wiped out. We used more augmentations than we probably ever had before and I had to find every extra ounce of fat in him to stimulate healing."

Without opening his eyes he spoke to Ajax. "Your leg will not be fully healed for a couple of days, so don't run or even walk fast. Also I know you're hungry, but chew totally and eat slowly so your body can quickly absorb the food. Being Augments, we can process food faster than most humans and need more of it. Still, having it sit in huge chunks in your stomach is not going to replenish your strength quickly, and something tells me we are going to need you again before too long."

With a long sigh he leaned back and rubbed his throbbing temples. "So where do we stand, Rex?"

Rex let out a long breath of air. "Well, USDT 19 is still finding it hard to believe we took down Dark Raven, so we did what they told us, and took blood samples off the rookie's nunchucks and from the two trees. Garret was kind of grossed out by it, but as usual he is dealing well with being the rookie.

"Battlement says the Red Leaf Defender team will bring equipment to verify, and if it pans out, we are all in for a heck of a reward. He also passes along a promise to work on our behalf to let Ajax stay with us and said he is buying dinner when he finally gets to meet us. RLD 7 has bumped us up on the priority list, and believe it or not, Opal Avenger also has invited us to dinner, and if we really took down Dark Raven, she says we will be formally invited to the COUGARS advanced training camp for free this summer."

Josh snickered despite how tired and hungry he was. "We should be able to buy both of them dinner if the DNA scan checks out, which I am sure it will. I was in Gregory's mind and know for a fact the one we killed was Dark Raven…"

"He was called Dark Raven at the camp," Ajax verified. "But I knew very small about him."

"Very little, not very small," Josh corrected with a slight smile.

"Isn't small and little the same?"

Rex chuckled, "Not quite, but we still understood what you meant."

"We'll help you with English more when things calm down," Josh spoke up. "For now I need to know what else is going on."

Ajax's mouth twisted, showing some confusion, but he remained silent as Rex continued to give Josh a status report.

"Well," Rex pulled six MRE's out of the food storage area in the back of the FEMA hover and handed three to Josh and the others to Ajax while continuing to talk, "we sent the screamer, Gregory, out with one of the captured snowmobiles, a couple of extra fuel cans, and some spare squadron gear. We also replaced what we lost, but we don't have another vest Garret's size, so he will have to make do with his toughness and what is left of his vest. Battlement said they will get us all new USDT quality vests once they get to us…"

"Between his healing and his toughness, I think what he has left of a vest will be fine for now. What else?"

"Skye and Valda have the civilians in our base, and as it turns out, there is actually a hardened prison-like room below it. USDT Command had to remotely open it. The girls put all those we took down in it and had USDT lock it down again. Per orders, all we were allowed to give them was a couple of basic first aid kits and two days worth of food and water. Valda doesn't give a couple of them much of a chance of surviving the beating we gave them, especially the girl Colt fried and the guy Skye smashed. As much as we tried, we haven't found the girl with the spiked tail Colt says he took down, so she is still out there somewhere. As a matter of fact, we haven't even found where he took her out."

Josh shrugged. "Park all the snowmobiles in the base and make sure there are no transports of any kind left in the ranger station for her to steal. Even if she is alive, she'll have to walk out of here. All I can say is good luck to her, especially in a storm like this." Josh continued to try to rest as he pulled apart the plastic container and started eating. "So there has been an Augment prison below our meeting hall all this time?"

"Amazing, huh?"

"Yes," Josh stated with a bit of a whistle and in between bites of food, "but it makes sense. They have to have secret locations all over the U.S. capable of holding Augments until they can be sent to the islands or awaiting trial, otherwise rogue Augment forces would try to spring them. How hardened is it?"

"Valda said it was really deep and impossible to see unless opened by Command and Skye was highly impressed. Multiple sets of heavy blast doors dropped as the girls came out the last time. I guess there are only a few chem-stick lights and a hole in the corner to go to the bathroom in. No food, running water, furniture, lead lined walls, and a sign saying attempts to break out will cause a collapse. I think it is in like 50 languages or something too."

Josh nodded in satisfaction, "Enough said. So are you OK here? I should get back to the others and keep watch over the Senator's kid."

"Well, there are a couple of points you still need to deal with."

"Such as?"

Rex took a deep breath, "Um, the rookie didn't let us put one of them in the cell…"

"What?" Josh shouted and started to stand, "Why the hell not, and why didn't you all just tell him…"

"Hold up, Josh, he actually threatened to fight me over it, and Skye decided to back him."

Josh's eyes snapped open and he dropped back to the floor of the hovercraft, "OK then… I hope to God he has a good reason, or I will kick his butt."

"I'm not sure you'd win."

Josh's lips twisted into a slight sideways smile, "Me neither. So what's the deal?"

"I'm not real sure what all went down, but I guess the rookie took the kid down within moments of us getting here. From what Skye says, the kid surrendered after failing to do more than annoy Garret." Rex paused, "But he is young, probably about the same age as Garret, and bawled his eyes out when Valda started to take him down to the cell."

"So?" Josh countered, "He was part of all this…"

"So was the kid Tanner took out."

"True, but at least Logan knew him from somewhere. Hell, if it were up to me, I'd figure a way to get him here and toss him down in the cell too!"

Ajax spoke up, "My new friends, remember many of us were forced to do this. We had small choice… Um, little choice?"

"Little choice." Josh verified.

ldquo;I do not understand the difference, sorry," Ajax stated seriously. "Still, my pointer being, we came along and did this or we were put on bad work job back at our camp. I do not know why they bring so many kids, but they did, and some were… Um, oh darn. Chtypo…" Ajax glanced over to Rex, "American for puni ou battu?"

"Punished or beate," Josh responded with a snarl. "Still, we can't take in a bunch of kids…" He glanced over at Ajax with a grimace. "You are already one of us and we will fight for you to stay with us."

"Are the others different than me somehow? I shot him!" Ajax pointed at Rex.

Josh slammed his fist into the floor of the hovercraft hard enough to dent it, then gripped his head in his hands, "No, I mean… well, yes… You are different. You have shown us you belong with us…"

"Only because my new friend, greatest friend, Rex, gave me chance for no reason I understand. He could have killed me, or left me to dead. I was too hurt to live much more out in the snow. Some of the others are the same as me. Like me, they fear for friends still held back in the camps. Some even have family, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, mom or dad. The new leader will kill them if he finds out it would do those who turned on him pain.

"At least with Dark Raven dead, not even the new leader will think to blame us for not winning. Even better, Dark Raven will not do his dead touch on us or our friends. He was the one we were most scared of. Sometimes he would grab us just to show us how it felt to get drained when he didn't like what we did. Other times the leader pointed out someone and Dark Raven would drain him to near death, or sometimes even death to remind us who was in command. The new leader will be very angry now, though. Dark Raven was his… um… lead leader?"

"Lead leader is good enough, Ajax." Rex patted the boy on his shoulder.

Josh listened and shook his head in frustration, "Look I get it, you were all tortured into helping, but we don't know who is like you and who is like them!"

"No, not all." Ajax countered, "Many came with Dark Raven to the camp I was in when the new one took over, a few were kids my age and younger. More than a couple no longer live after this night, but there are more, many more."

Josh gazed at the ceiling of the hovercraft. "Exactly my point, Ajax, the fact remains, we can't take in everyone. Nor can we be nice just because the someone attacking us happens to be a kid. I already am trying to figure out what to do with the kid back where the senator's son is, and now I have one more to worry about!"

Rex glanced over at Josh. "Valda said she and Skye would take the kid back with them. He isn't going anywhere…"

"How can you be sure?"

"Because Garret wrapped thick chunks of metal around the kid, and the rays he shoots out of his eyes don't even cause scorch marks on the thinnest bands and, with his arms secured to his sides, he can't seem to throw fire."

Ajax managed a sad shake of his head. "Very skinny, very long whitish hair and a um…" he made a motion across the back of his right hand, "Oh darn… Here, a healed old cut?"

"Uh huh. His right hand has a very nasty scar and eyes change from light grey to very dark grey when he tries to shoot his rays out of them, which he tried to do when we started to drag him into the cell below our meeting hall. He is also very pale, almost paste white."

Ajax nodded. "Gustav, he is from Denmark. Not real strong, but stronger than a normal human. His eyes are worse than his fire, and he cannot use fire unless his hands are free; even handcuffs will stop his fire throwing. If he tries, the fire will start to burn his hands unless he can make a throwing motion. The big guy made him try over and over, but finally gave up after he burned his hands so bad they blistered. Fortunately, he heals really fast under sunlight, so the burns were gone in only two days. If he is very pale now and if you had put him in the cell, he would most likely be dead in a day or so, though."

"Really?" Josh asked with some shock, "Why?"

"He says he needs almost no food, but still eats sometimes. He only has to have water and sunlight most of the time, although he told me on one of the rare times he was not being Dark Raven's servant, he can feed from starlight too, just not as well. The lighter the skin he has, the weaker he is getting. With no sun for over a day, because of the storm, and since he has used so much energy, he is probably pretty weak, but can still live with some… um, natural light.

"He was one of Dark Raven's favorites since Dark Raven could stick him out in the sun after he sucked out a lot of life force out of him and he would heal quickly. I do not think Gustav can harm you much, but do not let him get any kind of staff in his hands. He is deadly with a staff and can even get it spinning to a speed where it breaks the sound barrier when he delivers a strike.

"He knocked Dark Raven back into a tree and did some nasty damage shortly after he was kidnapped by the new guy and brought to our camp. After the attack, the new guy turned him over to Dark Raven, who claimed him as a personal servant and a source of healing whenever he was hurt. We could all hear Gustav screaming from the cabin Dark Raven claimed as his own for several nights after Gustav had hit him and it would take most of the following day laying out under the sun for him to recover enough to be able to even crawl. He used to weigh more too, but all the draining from Dark Raven slowly made him skinnier and skinnier. I doubt he weighs more than 35 kilos now and he was over 45 kilos when he was first brought to the camp less than five months ago."

"Can he be trusted?"

Ajax carefully slid around on the gurney and moved to a sitting position. As his damaged knee joint bent he gripped the sides of the bed, expecting more pain than actually happened. With a sigh of relief he shrugged. "I do not know. Like I said I spent very … little… time with him. I do know Gustav was taken by the big guy and a small group of… Augments?"

Rex patted Ajax on the back, "You got 'em both right."

"Good." Ajax responded. "Anyway, from what Gustav told me, he was visiting…oikogeneia…famille?"

Rex nodded, "We use almost the exact same word, family. Sounds basically the same but spelled differently."

Ajax nodded in gratitude. "It is far easier learning more of a language when those around me speak a different one I already know."

Josh grinned, seeing more and more why and how Rex had gotten to like and even trust Ajax so quickly, "Your linguistic skills are very impressive. So he was kidnapped?"

"Yes, at least it sounded like he was. He told me he was out on a boat, on a fishing journey with family, when the boat hit something and started to sink fast. He remembered getting grabbed by something under the water and fighting back, but says something hit him and he woke up in a truck.

"One of the women at the camp has gills, and is very strong, so I think she grabbed him."

"Why would they take him?"

"He is not the only one who was taken. The new guy hates Augments and regular humans living together. He says our type are the kings of this world now and no one, other than an Augment, should be able to tell an Augment what to do. If he or his people saw Gustav use any augment…" He paused and frowned for a moment.

"What?" Rex asked.

"Um, I am having another American talking problem. I know there is an add-on to your word to make it change, but American is all screwed up. Normally the word augment would be a verb, but when used to talk about us, it is a noun, a proper noun, capitalized, as if we are a separate race. Getting my brain wrapped around this oddity is helping me to use it properly. However, I think the word I want is normally a noun, but to change the normal verb form of the word augment to a non-proper noun to talk about an ability…"

As Ajax continued to talk, Rex lowered his head and started shaking it.

Josh started laughing as he noticed this despite the situation and the main topic of conversation. "Hold on, Ajax. You're going to give Rex, here, a stroke. You have no idea how much he hates English class."

Rex glared at Josh and growled lightly, causing Ajax to snicker.

Smiling widely and fighting back more laughter, Josh managed to speak. "The word you want is augmentation, and you are totally correct on your analysis of our language. I can't wait to get you into our classes so you can talk circles around our teachers!"

Rex's mouth scrunched up as he eyed both Ajax and Josh with a rather evil stare. Knowing he was in a no-win situation, he decided to switch the conversation back to Gustav. "OK, so the big guy in charge of the camps saw the pale kid use an augmentation and targeted him for kidnapping?"

Ajax's face turned serious again. "Probably worse."


"I saw it happen once, but not with the new leader, but one of his other…um… officers is probably the best word. The man saw a girl use an… augmentation..." he glanced over at Josh. Getting a smile and a nod, he continued. "The girl tripped over a branch as she walked along the trail with her mother and bigger sister. When she fell, she turned and made a clawing motion at the stick. Instantly the stick shredded and snapped in multiple locations as if it had been clawed by a tiger or something else with big claws."

"The girl's mom and sister both started yelling at her for using her powers out in the open and her mother smacked her."

Ajax shuddered at the thought of what happened next. "The man I was with told the other two adults with us to watch us and moved up the trail. As he got there, he caused the ground grow to up around the mother and older girl. He then picked up the girl who had clawed the branch and picked her up. He asked her if the others were Augments."

Ajax took a deep breath clearly shaken by the memory. "She started crying and shook her head."

"Once again the man made the ground grow up, only this time around the girl. He told her to watch and learn how to deal with lowly humans then went up to the woman and asked if she was an Augment. Once she said no, he moved over to the older girl and asked the same thing. Satisfied neither were, he focused on the mounds of earth and made them change so the backs of the two were exposed, but the rest of their bodies remained encased in dirt. He then ripped sections of their shirts off and stuffed them in their mouths and started hitting them with a section of the stick the smaller girl had shredded.

"Once neither was awake, he dropped the dirt from around them. Both fell to the ground, so he splashed water on the face of the mother to make the… oh um, get their eyes to open. He turned to the girl and told her humans tell none of the superior race to do anything. Humans are nothing more than toys of the rest of us. He then told one of the others to take the young girl back to his camp and turned to her, saying she would learn how to treat humans if it killed her. He then punched her in the face, putting her out and dropped the dirt around her, letting one of the others take her away.

"By this time I was crying and it made him mad at me too. Finally, he grabbed me and pointed to the two he had left on the path. 'Don't be such a weakling,' he shouted and slapped my face many times as the other man held my arms. 'This is what happens to those who should be our servants, yet think they can be our masters.' He made another motion forcing the earth to cover the two bodies. He then waved his hand. The ground smoothed out leaving no sign they had been there. He then turned to the man holding me and said he had given them a few hours of air to dig out. He made it sound like, if they had any buried abilities, they had a chance to make it out alive."

Ajax covered his face with his hands, "We made camp by a stream not far from there, and when they sent me to get water, I tried to go back and dig them up, but I couldn't find the spot. It all looked the same!"

"At least you tried," Rex spoke softly as he put his arm around Ajax. As Ajax's head dropped onto Rex's shoulder, Rex glanced over to Josh, "One last thing, A.T. wants you to radio him."

Josh let out a long breath and looked up at the ceiling of the hovercraft. "Am I going to get my butt chewed?"

"Probably; he didn't sound too happy about us taking on this second group. To be honest, though, I think he is more worried about what we plan to do next and wanted to talk over a few things with you. He sounded pretty nervous and says it sounds to him like we aren't being allowed to play with a full deck of cards." Rex paused and stared at Josh, "As usual, I have no idea what he means."

"It means…" Josh paused to think over everything they had been through and learned over the past several hours, but couldn't pinpoint anything he had overlooked, "He thinks someone is holding a few cards up a sleeve somewhere. In other words, we are not getting all the information."

"Who would be holding out on us, USDT, BEST?"

Josh shrugged. "I don't know, but I am going to radio him so I can find out."

Rex nodded but pointed to Josh's BEARS radio and shook his head, "He said to use secondary protocol."

Josh frowned deeply as he started to dig into his BEARS issued gear. "He really is worried."

Ajax glanced between Rex and Josh. "I feel I have been omitting something by you."

"Omitting?" Rex asked.

Ajax kind of growled lowly, "um, gone, misplaced…"

Josh finally pulled out a small satellite phone and rolled his eyes. "He means missing, Rex. He thinks he is missing something. You explain; I'm going to go up front and talk to A.T."

Rex smacked his forehead, "Oh, yeah…" He turned to Ajax as Josh moved up front closing the door to the cockpit area, "Arctic Trooper, our commander, set up a way to contact us and for us to contact him in case something ever went really bad, like someone took out USDT19 and our BEARS radios were knocked out. Many commanders from other squadrons do the same thing, but until now, I have never heard of anyone using the backups. The words secondary protocol is A.T.'s way of telling us to contact him with the backup, not our USDT handhelds."

"So your commander does not trust others in your Defender organization?"

"I don't know,"Rex stated with some anger. His hands balled up into fists as he continued to talk. "He already warned us not to do too much broadcasting because he is afraid those who brought you down here may be able to home in to us, even if they can't break the encryption. The fact they were able to find the helicopter in this weather tells me they have some pretty good gear and knew it was coming though this area, so somewhere there has been a failure to keep things secret. I guess A.T. does not want to chance more leaking of information, especially when we could be put in danger by it."

Ajax scratched the back of his head in thought for a few seconds. "The leader of the group I was with did know much while the others to the northwest knew exactly where the helicopter was going and, up to the time they hit it with the first shots, had a… I do not know the proper words again, however, they knew exactly where it was for over an hour before it got to them. I could hear some of the radio talk since I was with the leader for the group I was in."

Rex let out a low whistle. "So they had real time tracking on the medi-vac chopper?"

"Yes, real time. Those are the words I wanted. I do not know how though. I kind of thought they had to have some kind of radar or had an Augment flying with it, keeping track of where it was going."

"Radar would have been detected," Rex stated with certainty. "An Augment, on the other hand…" Rex shook his head, "in this kind of storm he or she would have to be a heck of a flyer to stay aloft and follow, then whoever would have had to do radio reports. I would think someone would have picked up on them eventually. I mean, it was carrying a senator's kid!"

"I do not know." Ajax shrugged. "Once it was hit the first time, however, I know we lost it for a time. It actually sounded like it was luck it was spotted again. Once it was, we were tasked with taking it down, no matter the cost."

Rex's eyes narrowed. "I don't get it. I thought you said you were brought along to make friends with the senator's kid?"

"We were told as such, yes. To act as captif…um prisoner?"

"Captive is probably the word you really want, but prisoner is fine too." Rex rubbed his chin as he continued to put pieces together in his mind. "But if the goal was to kidnap the kid, then bringing down the medi-vac doesn't make any sense. The crash would most likely kill him, should have killed him actually, especially since he was already hurt."

"Unless he is an Augment with much toughness and they knew this. If so, I was not told."

Rex felt a cold shiver shoot down his spine. "Holy crap! If he is one of us, then the senator set all this up!" He jumped and yanked the door to the front of the hovercraft open, forgetting to turn the handle as he did so. Before he realized what he had done, he found he had ripped the door out of the frame. With a slight cringe and a shrug, Rex dropped it with a loud clang and moved up to sit next to Josh.

Josh glanced over, shaking his head as he continued to talk to A.T. "No sir, none of this is adding up and you're right. This is really true if they moved down into Montana and Idaho a couple of days ago, before the senator's kid was even hurt."

Josh snorted, trying to not to laugh at whatever A.T had just said, "Yes sir, Rex just um… well, the hover now has a bit more damage to the inside." He paused, snickered and wagged his finger at Rex for a second, "Um, yeah, a lot more damage is probably accurate. Here, I'll let you talk to him since it looks like he may have more information for you."

Rex snatched the offered satellite phone from Josh, then glanced to the destroyed door and metal frame around it with a cringe. Before he could give Arctic Trooper a chance to say anything, he started talking, "A.T., I was just talking to Ajax, and I think I know what is going on!"

Arctic Trooper motioned for Azure Wave to come over to him as he put his phone on speaker mode then turned down the volume so the kids eating on the far side of the cabin-sized tent couldn't overhear. "Put me on speaker so Josh can hear. I have Azure Wave with me as well."

"Sir, after talking to Ajax again, I think Senator Jackson's kid is an Augment. This whole thing was a set-up to get rid of him and start a huge fight between us and the separatists. They knew the flight path of the medi-vac and were getting real time reports. They only lost track once they hit it the first time. They fully expected Jackson's kid to live, even though he was already hurt bad already, and if it wasn't for this storm, they would have grabbed him with no problem."

Josh glanced over totally confused. "I don't get it."

Rex rubbed his chin for a moment in frustration. "Josh, think about it. The guy got elected on an anti-Augment line. He wants to pull all of us out of normal schools, protect non-Augments from us by making public registration, put our names out for others to be aware of just like they make sex offenders do now. It's all about control, making it hard to live any kind of decent life while having a brand, just like the Nazis did in World War Two, only this one isn't a patch to be worn, or a tattoo of numbers. Instead it is a public humiliation and warning, making us all easy targets for mobs. Look at what would happen once such a registration happened; the first time something catches on fire around here without a clear cause, they would run and look for Tanner, then move on to look at all other fire Augments. It would be easy to point fingers at us for any number of things and we would all but have to prove our innocence rather than them prove we are guilty.

"It doesn't matter if we have done anything wrong or not. We would be labeled. Furthermore, I'm betting a list would be published as to where we live and what we are capable of doing. It would make it almost impossible to go anywhere without everyone knowing who and what we are. I wouldn't even be surprised if they tried to give us different IDs. The second this information got out, many countries would not allow us in, cutting our ability to live a free life down even further. If his own son turned out to be an Augment, then the very thing he wants to do to us would basically happen to him since his brat would have to register just like we would.

"Those from the Church of Purity who voted for Senator Jackson on a wave of hatred against us will pull away from him the second they find out his family line contains an Augment. At the same time those around him would have to question why he would want laws passed that would include his own kid! One thing for certain, those like Colt's dad would certainly drop support and stop sending him money if they found out his boy was an Augment and he hadn't done anything to protect the rest of the world from him."

Azure Wave spoke up. "It's an interesting and very disturbing thought, young man, but some would certainly switch sides and vote for his bills once they find out he isn't showing favoritism to his own flesh and blood."

"Maybe," Arctic Trooper spoke up, "but since this is the first indication we have of his son being a possible Augment, many would be able to point out he, himself, was too afraid to put his own son into BEST. One way or the other, he would lose a great deal of respect and Rex is correct; support from the Church of Purity and certainly the re-election money would dry up from them. The second this happened other pro-Augment forces would hammer him as a two-faced, split-tongue jackass."

"All in all, not a bad description." Azure Wave remarked. "Still, why do it this way? If all this is true, then he is risking everything, including the deaths of numerous Augments and Normals. Also, if it gets out and can even be half proven, he will be finished."

Rex spoke up. "I think he wants a way to get rid of his son. One of our squadron mates was tossed out by his own dad, who is now some sort of big-wig in the Church of Purity. If the senator is like Colt's dad, then why would he want anything different? The only difference is, he can't simply abandon his kid. The press would be all over it. Heck, for all we know, Colt's dad could be behind this whole thing. He certainly would love to get revenge on USDT 19 and A.T., not to mention Colt. Besides, I know those Purity idiots would love nothing more than to have a full scale war between us and non-Augments. Maybe they got the senator to see things their way or found out his kid was an Augment and blackmailed him into this. Both sides of the Augment battle can get exactly what they want out of this!"

"Really?" Azure Wave asked with skepticism. "What is there to gain for any senator, should a full scale war erupt up here?"

Josh felt his stomach start to churn as pieces started to fall in place, almost like he had completed the entire edge of a jigsaw puzzle and only had to start working inward to complete the image. The more he thought it over, the clearer and more sinister the picture became. "With all due respect, sir, the answer is everything. A full scale Augment-Normal war up here would weaken USDT 19, destroy trust in the whole BEST system, and leave hundreds of us and even more non-Augments dead or injured. It would also spread mass fear though the rest of the population.

"The military would certainly have to get called in, especially if the senator can claim his 'normal' son was taken by Augments. He can then push all sorts of anti-Augment stuff through as the dead get shown on T.V. across the U.S. and the world. As it is, we already know of some non-Augments who have been murdered and like it or not, many of us here are going to try to get some sleep knowing we have killed Augments. In this way, those behind all this have already gotten some of what they want. The senator and his supporters could even try to point out it would be better for Augments if the laws got passed, since many of us would be included in the body count… are already in the body count.

"At the same time, the Red Leaf Defenders would get a serious black eye because the senator could point his finger at Canada and blame them for allowing the Augments living there to build enough power to cross into the U.S. and take his son. It would then not be hard to point out, if a senator's kid could be snatched, then every Normal would have to fear the same thing. Hatred and suspicion against us would increase tenfold.

"His stance and public views to this point could be a stepping stone for him to make a run for President next time, and then any anti-Augment law would be pushed by his people and would certainly get signed once it got to his desk. Even more twisted, the Augment separatists could very well get what they want out of this mess, even if it is in the form of something like an Indian Reservation, a large chunk of land exclusive to Augments could easily result."

Arctic Trooper cracked his knuckles and looked back to the 14 young men and women eating behind him. "Guys, it all fits, but only if the boy is an Augment. Josh, you healed him. How long till he recovers enough to get some sort of information?"

"The second he wakes up, I can have Tanner or Logan ask him questions while I do a light mental probe. If he tries to lie, I'll know it and, if he really starts thinking about any augmentations, I'd see them. The problem is he slammed into something pretty bad and the chopper crash made it worse. I think he has a nasty concussion in addition to several broken bones. It would be helpful to know what happened wherever he was skiing or snowboarding, because if he is an Augment with a good toughness, he had to have hit something hard. Really hard."

"Or he had help," Rex hissed as he rejoined the conversation. "A.T., is there any way we can get someone out to where it happened, see exactly what caused the 'accident'?

"Already on it, son," Arctic Trooper responded. "Until we have more information or can at the very least get you some serious help, I want you all to go into hiding."

"We'll keep the senator's kid safe and hidden," Josh stated firmly. "But until we get help, we are the only thing standing between the normals and whoever is behind this. We cannot simply vanish and let these idiots loose to plunder and kill the rest of Flathead County."

Azure Wave started to say something, only to get cut off by A.T. "Do what you can, Josh, but you all need some sleep. Help is on the way."

"I know you have pulled some strings with the RLD, and we have a possible angle on some other Canadian help, but it'll also take time to get here. In the meantime, I want to see if I can't get this Gustav on our side, and talk to the Sun Storm's kids. We need every bit of firepower we can muster."

"Do what you think best, Josh. I trust you… and pass on my support and love to all those in the squadron. A.T. out."

Thanks to D&B for editing this chapter!

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