Castle Roland


by Kyle Aarons


Chapter 14

Published: 8 Apr 14

Without GPS, it took all of Rex's augmented senses to stay on course. It didn't get much easier after he pulled the hovercraft onto highway 93 and headed straight for Whitefish. At times he had no idea if he was on the road or not. Other times the trees having been cut back from the highway told him he was at least close to being on or over it. A couple of times the vehicle lurched upwards as it went over something buried in the snow. Both time Rex cringed, wondering if there was a car under the endless white mounds.

Even after finally getting into the town of Whitefish, navigation through the snow clogged-streets was by no means easy. In some places the drifts of snow were so high, they covered building entrances, and in one case the twin globe lights on the Whitefish City Hall building, which were a good couple of feet above the glass doors, were all but covered.

Rex slowed and panned the hovercraft's one remaining spotlight over the building, "I just missed the turn. I can't believe how bad this weather is! I can't even see the blasted street signs!"

"Turn left here," Colt stated while looking at a map. "You only missed the turn by a block or two. No big deal."

"I know," Rex growled, "but just look at city hall! There is no way anyone is getting out though those doors!"

"Anyone trying to get out on the north side of any building in this town is screwed," Colt stated as he stared at the eight-foot-tall drift. "At least with the wind coming out of the north, the back sides of the buildings will not be as bad, and people will be able to get out."

"Only if they have a back exit," Rex reminded Colt. "To be honest, though, I am more worried about how much those glass doors will be able to support before they break. This is a very wet and heavy snow pressing down and into all these buildings."

Colt glanced out the window and took a deep breath. "Once this is over, we are going to have to help people out of their houses, and you're right. More than a few of these buildings look dangerously close to having too much snow on them and it isn't slowing down!"

"Exactly my point." Rex took a deep breath, "It also makes me wonder if it was a good idea to let the screamer take off on his own. Even with a snowmobile, extra gas, a compass and a pack with extra food and warm clothing.…"

"It was his idea," Colt reminded Rex. "Josh offered to let him stay in our meeting hall."

"I know." Rex sighed as he felt the hover skirting bump into something yet again. Rex pushed a bit more power into the back fans, causing the hover to once again push up against the obstacle. Finally, with a bit of an upward jerk, the machine continued forward. "I think I have run over like a dozen cars and trucks since we pulled into town. I sure hope no one is inside them."

"Infrared sensors are shot, so I can't check," Colt stated nervously, "But anyone who would stay in their cars when they could go inside is really stupid."

"I know you're right," Rex snickered, "But you do realize you are basically calling us stupid by saying so. Right?"

Colt frowned, "Gee, thanks for making me feel good Rex!"

Rex grinned slightly as he turned again, "but you are kind of making my point for me. The screamer is out in this on his own, and not inside a heated hovercraft like we are. I just don't see how he is going to make it."

Colt shook his head and yawned as Rex finally powered down in front of the tanning salon, "Those we have been fighting sure have managed to get around on snowmobiles, and I can guarantee you, if Logan was not hurt, he'd be getting around OK."

Rex knew better than to try to argue with Colt once the slightly younger boy had decided he was right about something, so he changed the subject, not really wanting to dwell on the fact they might have allowed a kid to go on a lone suicide mission. "Well, we are here. I know you are all but exhausted, but I don't want to break the door unless we have to. Can you fly up to the balcony and see if they left the sliding glass door up there open?"

"Sure, but once this kid is in one of those beds and we turn it on, I am going to get some sleep!"

Rex glanced into the back, noting Garret and Ajax were on the gurneys with blankets pulled up over them while Gustav was on one of the small seats barely awake. "Get the door open and help Gustav to one of those tanning things. I'll carry the beds with Ajax and the rookie inside. Once we are set, go ahead and catch some shuteye. I'll take first watch."

"You have endurance, but can't go on forever…"

"I'll be fine, Colt."

Colt pushed the door open and glanced into the back. "I hope this works cause it doesn't look like he has much left in him."

"I noticed." Rex nodded in agreement.

Without further discussion Colt launched himself out of the side door. Less than three minutes later the door to the front was pushed open. An older man stood next to Colt, wearing a heavy coat motioning for Rex to hurry inside.

Rex raised an eyebrow as he moved into the back and looked down at Gustav, "How you doing?"

"Not well." The boy stated in a quaking voice. "I think I am more drained than I have ever been, or at least very close and there is no way for me to take in more power. The clouds and snow are blocking it all."

Rex reached down and started to pick up the shaking boy, "Let's get you inside."

"I can walk…"

"First off I don't think you could, even if the snow wasn't up to your waist, and it is. Second, you are in no condition to argue, and third, Josh put me in charge until he meets up with us."

Gustav's head dropped some, "OK…"

"Relax, the last thing I want is to cause you any more harm than has already happened to you." Rex easily lifted up the badly weakened boy. As he did so, he realized Ajax had told the truth. The kid he was now carrying was almost nothing but skin and bone, and even without highly augmented strength, he would have been able to easily carry the boy.

Rex quickly jumped out into the snow and made his way toward the door of the salon, becoming more and more angry with every step. Suddenly he understood why Josh had been so strangely satisfied over the death of someone. What Dark Raven had done to this kid was beyond horrible. The fact others had allowed it to happen and even supported it, allowed Rex to feel a bit more at peace with himself over those he had all but certainly killed over the past several hours.

As he got to the door, the man next to Colt extended his arms, "Let me take him."

Rex frowned deeply, "I've got him."

"Son, I know the people of this area have never treated you and your kind very well, but right now, without you all, we Normals would be in even worse shape than we already are. Not only are you all running emergency services, but Ham Radio messages are saying you and others like you are helping fight off rogue Augments throughout most of upper Montana! Your young friend here," The man gently patted Colt on the back of his heavy coat, "told me what you need. Let me help."

Reluctantly Rex handed over Gustav while lightly nodding for Colt to keep a close eye on both the man and the trembling boy.

The man frowned lightly at the look of total distrust and suspicion written all over not only Rex's face, but Colt's as well. Clearly the two young Augments were not only skeptical of him, but somewhat afraid as well. His thoughts were quickly pulled away from the behavior of the two boys as he looked at the deathly pale face of Gustav. Without further hesitation, he turned and quickly took the youngster into the back with Colt only a couple of feet behind him.

Gently the man laid Gustav in one of the tanning beds and gently stroked the boy's dirty and somewhat matted hair. "What about some food and…"

Gustav shook his head, "Some water, would be most kind of you, sir."

The man clenched his fist in a degree of frustration and anger over the condition of the pale child, but finally nodded. He came back into the room less than a minute later with three bottles of water. As he unscrewed the lid and handed it over he spoke. "OK, so this should like recharge you or something?"

Gustav struggled to get out of his coat, "I hope. The sun and stars give me energy, but I need more skin showing, as much as possible."

Colt moved forward, wasting no time helping the trembling boy remove all but his boxers. Dirt and grime could be seen over much of his milk white skin. As Colt helped Gustav finish one of the bottles of water and lay back down he turned to the man, "What happens if the power goes out?"

"It already did, hours ago. I have a propane generator with enough fuel for several days. Don't worry."

"I'm ready." Gustav said as he closed his eyes.

"You need eye protect…"

Gustav shook his head, "My eyes also absorb energy; don't worry."

A deep worried frown came over the man, but he took a deep breath and nodded, "OK, but if there is any kind of burning you need to let me know. Your skin should burn very quickly, especially as white as it is."

Gustav managed a slight grin. "If this works it will start to turn a khaki color. If it really works it will get even darker and take on a bit of a greenish tinge."

"Green?" Colt half shouted, "Seriously?"

Gustav nodded, "It has been many months since I was able to take in enough to get a bit green, but if I do, then my skin will start making food for me and I will get stronger fast."

The guy raised an eyebrow, but after a few moments of debate with himself he reluctantly shut the lid and turned to a small control panel. "Remember, if it starts to burn you have to tell me!"

"This has to work," Gustav stated with a near panicked voice. "Just turn it on, please!"

The man glanced over to Colt and set the controls on the bed. At the same time he knelt down and spoke as the lights inside the tanning tube turned on. "Are you OK?"

An exhausted yet clearly exuberant reply came back after only a few seconds, "It's working! Can you turn the power up?"

"No. And I am going to break every law in the books about using this if you stay in for more than a few minutes."

"Please, sir, don't make me get out!"

The man took a deep breath, let it out loudly, then glanced back to Colt. "OK, I want to get a good look at you after one ten-minute session. If you are not burned I will close it back up and set it for another twenty minutes, which is the most it will let me set it for. I will then check after each twenty minute setting to see how you are doing. The first sign of any burning, you come out!"

"I won't burn, really!"

"Take it or leave it, son. I'm not going to risk harming you and I need to rest the bed after each twenty minutes anyway."

"Fine." Came a resigned sigh form inside the bed, "but this will take all night for me to get to really feeling better at this rate."

"I'll stay up as long as it takes, young man."

"Thank you."

The guy once again took a deep breath and backed away from the tanning unit while shaking his head. As he turned to look back into the front waiting area, he noticed Rex pulling blankets up to cover Garret better. He looked at the two gurneys and raised an eyebrow. "How'd you get them in here?"

"Carried them." Rex responded softly yet firmly without looking away from Garret who was sound asleep. To add credence to his words he reached out with one hand and easily lifted the gurney with Garret on it. He then lifted it over his head a few times before gently putting it back down. "I'm one of the stronger ones in my squadron."

The guy's eyes opened wide and his jaw opened slightly. It took a second for him to regain his composure, "Impressive! Is he all right?"

"They're pretty wiped out after the fighting tonight, especially the rookie." Rex motioned toward Garret. "Ajax's leg was hurt, but one of us fixed it up pretty good. He'll be fine, but it'll be a day or two before it's all but normal. The other problem he has is he burned a lot of body fat so his own body could fix the damage. He needs some sleep. They'll both live."

The man moved closer only to find Rex blocking his path toward the two kids. He held up his hands. "Hey, I was only checking to see if they are OK!"

"Like I said, they'll be fine, mister." Rex spoke with a mixture of distrust and fear in his voice.

The man's facial expression turned a bit sour as did his voice, "Look, young'an, I am not going to hurt any of you. If putting the dirty one into one of the beds and activating it doesn't tell you I'm not against you, then please tell me what would."

Rex glanced back over to Colt, who was busy getting out an extension cord with the end cut off. With a bit of a smirk he realized Colt was planning on using the functioning power to give himself a boost and would soon be asleep with the frayed end of the cord clenched in his hand while his body sucked up power from the outlet Colt was plugging into. This also meant Colt was about as drained as the others with him. He wondered how many others in the squadron were as tired.

Finally he glanced back to look at the guy, "Look, mister, we don't mean no insult. It is just hard for any of us to believe you or any other Normal around here really wants to do anything to help us. We can't even get though a day at school without the kids and the teachers giving us a hard time, trying to make us screw up and accidentally use our powers so we get in trouble.

"Besides, most of us have been in a couple of very nasty fights tonight, my squadron mates are all but wiped out, and I am sure we are going to be needed again real soon. I'm glad you're helping us and if you ever have any kind of wild animal problem, I'll give you my commander's number so you can get a hold of me. I'll take care of whatever it is for free… But right now it is twelve of us trying to keep this whole county safe, and we have no idea when or where we will be hit next."

The man pulled off his coat and tossed it on one of the lounge chairs and took a seat facing Rex. "What about adult Augments? Where are they?"

Rex paused for a moment, not wanting to give away too much information. The last thing he wanted was to let it get out there were no healthy adult Augments in the area.

The man across from him frowned, thinking it was distrust of Normals alone preventing the youngster across from him from opening up. "Look, I can tell you really care about the others with you and you are certainly the leader of this little group, so let's start from scratch." He extended his hand. "Tony James, TJ for short."

Rex found it very hard to displace the reservoir of mistrust he had in non-Augments for him to accept the hand, but he forced himself to do so, "Rex… Most of the kids at school call me Wild Child."

TJ cocked his head to the side, "You don't look terribly wild to me, other than the fact you are currently wearing a t-shirt and a vest without any coat in a blizzard."

Rex glanced over at Ajax, and listened. Once he could tell by the boy's breathing he was indeed asleep, a bit of a smirk crossed his lips, "Yeah, well my coat kind of got shot up and I found out cold doesn't seem to bother me none."

"Shot up?" TJ asked slowly

"Uh huh." Rex pulled at the Velcro straps holding the vest around him and took it off. After a couple of seconds he found a couple of bullets still buried in the fabric covering the Kevlar, extended his claws and pulled them out. With his claws still extended a few inches he held the slugs out for TJ to see. "I have fangs too, if you want to see them."

"You really got shot!" TJ stated with a degree of horror, totally ignoring Rex's claws.

"Yup." Rex snickered, "Nothing pisses me off quite as much as getting sprayed with a sub machinegun."

"Weren't you hurt?"

Rex found himself somewhat surprised the man seemed more concerned over the fact he had been shot than he suddenly had six-inch claws where he had none moments before. Somewhat impressed, Rex grinned in earnest. "Nine-mill slugs hurt, but barely leave a bruise. From what I have heard from others, it feels about the same as a bee sting would to a Normal, but bees don't penetrate my skin so I wouldn't know. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for mosquitoes, I guess their snouts are thin enough to get in or something…" He kind of snorted. On the other hand, getting sprayed with half a dozen rounds didn't feel great, but all but one hit my vest, so it wasn't a real big deal or nothing."

"Very impressive." TJ stated with a slight shake of his head. "So you can get shot and walk around in a short sleeved shirt in a blizzard. What else can you do?"

Again Rex held up a hand and extended his claws further. He then stood and walked over to the fireplace. Taking a log, he held it with his right hand and swiped at it with the claws on his left hand. The large log shredded under the assault, four pieces hitting the ground while the end remained in Rex's hand. He then extended claws out of his right hand and cleared a few splinters from under the nails of his left hand. "I chop wood like this sometimes, but then I have to be careful to get all the wood chips out, because when I retract my claws, splinters can go back in and really hurt.

"USDT had to get a surgeon to get a few out once because they got caught under the skin and started to get infected. It really hurt bad, cause pain killers and sleeping drugs don't work real well on me, so I was awake while they cut into my thumb. I don't use my thumb nail to cut wood anymore either, because it is larger and tends to trap more wood." Rex took one more careful look under his claws before retracting them again.

TJ whistled lightly, "I'm impressed!"

This time it was Rex cocking his head to the side as he examined the man, "You aren't scared of me?"

"Not really. I mean, I'm sure not going to try to stop you from doing what you want, but like I said when you first came in, Ham Radio reports say USDT cadet squadrons are actively fighting all over this area to protect us Normals. To be honest, I am rather comforted by the fact you are here. I am probably one of the safest Normals in the whole county at the moment!"

Rex snickered for a moment as TJ stood and went to check on Gustav. He quickly walked into the other room as the man took a few moments to examine the terribly weakened boy. At the same time Rex noticed Colt was already sound asleep with the wires clenched tightly in his hand. His exhausted friend hadn't even bothered to take off his wet clothing or boots.

"Um, TJ?"

The man glanced back over. "Yes?"

"Do you um, have like rubber gloves or something so I can at least get Colt out of his coat and wet boots?"

TJ took one last look over a sound asleep Gustav, closed the tanning bed back up and set the bed for twenty more minutes. "Yeah, up the…" His eyes went wide as he saw the plugged in cord leading to Colt's hand, sparks could barely be seen coming out form around Colt's tightly clenched hand, "What the hell?"

Rex held up both hands and moved to prevent TJ from getting to the plug. "It's OK. He's basically doing the same thing Gustav is doing. Don't touch him though, because he hasn't learned how to totally control his electric field when he is sleeping and it will be even worse since he plugged himself in. More than one BEARS cadet has gotten some bad electrical burns from touching him, especially when he is hooked up to a wall socket."

Rex couldn't help but giggle, "At least he doesn't have to sleep in the insulated suit like he used to. He used to hate having to be wrapped in a rubber coated suit all night." He glanced back over to Gustav, "So, he is doing OK?"

"Sleeping soundly and his skin is actually starting to look a bit more normal, and certainly no sign of any burning. However, if his skin color is any indication, I think he is right. It'll take a while for him to get looking more healthy inside my tanning bed."

Rex shrugged, "I'll have to let the others know we are going to be here a while." He paused and looked back as he pulled out his radio, "as long as you are OK taking the risk of having us here."

"Like I said, I am probably one of the safest people in Flathead County at the moment. I'll get you some gloves, but I'll let you get him out of his coat and stuff. The last thing I want is to feel what it is like to be plugged into my wall."

Rex laughed softly, "Probably a good call, TJ. If he wakes up while I am getting him out of his stuff he probably won't blast me, and if he does I'll be able to take it, but I will be seeing stars, and if he kept it on me for more than a few seconds he could kill me… He's the one who took out the power grid a year and a half ago by the way."

TJ gazed at the innocent looking child clutching the end of a power cord as if it was a stuffed animal. "Just him?"

Rex nodded. "USDT says Colt is the strongest electrical Augment they have ever seen. The 110 volts he is grabbing now is nothing to him. As a matter of fact, if the regular power was on, he would probably want to fly up to one of the transformers and black out an entire block for an hour or so. Even then, he wouldn't be totally full. It took the high tension lines coming directly from the power plant to make him feel a bit overloaded. He'll be hooked up to your wall for as long as Gustav is in your bed before he really starts getting his reserves back."

TJ came back a couple of minutes later, glanced into the tanning bed, then tossed some rubber gloves to Rex, "So what about you? Don't you need some rest or something?"

"I have very high endurance. I can go for days without sleep or rest if I have to."

"Still, you're safe at the moment. Why not let me get a cot out of my closet for you."

"Thanks but…"

"Look, son, you said you may be needed at any moment to help others in this county. The least I can do is let you all get some sleep. Besides, I can grab a shotgun from upstairs and keep watch. I have to stay up to check on your tanning friend anyway."

Rex carefully pulled Colt's coat off, pushing the sleeve down over the wire so it was off him, then did the same for his thick button up shirt. Once he was sure the fabric was down on the wire far enough to where it wouldn't accidentally catch fire from a rogue spark coming out of Colt's hand, he removed the boy's boots, socks and finally decided to take off his friend's snow pants and long johns. The fact Colt barely stirred was more than enough to tell Rex just how exhausted he was.

By the time he was done, TJ had a cot for him set up and was handing him a sandwich and a large glass of chocolate milk.

Rex stared at the man for a few seconds before accepting the plate and glass. As he finally moved over and removed Garret's and Ajax's outer clothing and tucked them back into the gurneys they were sleeping on, he turned back to TJ. He smiled as he saw the man sitting next to the tanning bed with Gustav in it, a ten gauge shotgun over his lap. Finally Rex held up the glass and plate in a gesture of thanks. "I really needed some food, you're awesome."

TJ gave him a brief nod, "Not a problem, and believe it or not I am thrilled I can help after all you and your friends are doing for us. Besides, I can tell you care deeply for your friends. You are really like an older brother to the rest of these guys, aren't you?"

"We are family. I would die to protect any of them, and I am sure they would do the same for me. I know for a fact Colt and Garret would. They already have put their lives on the line to help protect me when I was down."

"I can't believe anyone could drop you!"

"I have my weaknesses. All Augments do. Sometimes it is just a matter of finding them in time." Rex nodded in Garret's direction, "Believe it or not, we are all pretty sure he is the toughest and strongest of those of us here, with the possible exception of Colt. Rex pointed at the floor where Colt was curled into a ball tightly clutching the wire with both hands.


"We think so… Hopefully we won't have to find out for sure before our squadron Commander and XO get a chance to work with him some more, though, because none of us are really sure just how big a bang he has in him. We just know it is there and it has come close to emerging a couple of times tonight."

TJ looked at the cute child tightly gripping the upper edges of the blanket covering him with a bemused smirk. "Well, no matter how tough he might be, he clearly needs some rest. My place is yours for as long and as often as you all need it. I have plenty of food and I'll put some more wood in the fireplace." TJ looked down at Colt, "Can't I cover him up with something?"

Rex shook his head, "Not unless you have a survival space blanket or something like it; he has real blankets he can sleep in while plugged into a wall, but he must have left them in the other hover. He'll be fine. The juice from the wall will keep him warm enough. Maybe this will teach him to have his USDT gear with him at all times like he is supposed to."

"Can I at least wash some of your clothing and what you took off all the others?"

"Sure… I mean, I could do it if you just point me to the washer…"

"Let me do this for you all. It seems you all need a bit more support form us Normals. Let me be one of them. Take a breath, let yourself be a kid for a while, and get some rest."

"OK…" Rex frowned, "But I'll doubt I'll ever see the day Normals and Augments fight side by side in any numbers."

"Hopefully my fellow Normals will surprise you one of these days, Rex."

With a nervous sigh he shrugged, "I'd settle for my teachers just being fair."

TJ snickered, "They may care more than you think."

"Not about us!" Rex stated flatly, then switched the subject before he said what was really on his mind, especially about his Math teacher. "If it's really OK, I'm going to lay down. I don't think I can sleep, but if I do and anything happens, pull the trigger and blow a hole in something. I'll wake up. Just don't shake me. Only my uncle, Commander, XO and squadron mates can safely shake me awake. If needed, I'll wake up the others."

"Count on it, son." TJ responded with a bit of a warm smile. "Get some rest though. We Normals need you in the best shape possible cause this storm is far from over."

Rex flopped back on the cot and whispered, "If you only knew how right you are."

Josh entered the hospital rolling his head in small circles. The short nap had not been enough for him to do much more than get rid of his headache. He was far from rested and he knew it. Still he turned to Tanner. "As soon as the girls get here, help them get the civilians in here…" He paused as he looked at the large overhang of snow over the ER entrance, "Do you have enough juice to clear the roof here?"

Tanner wildly shook his head, "No way, but I can clear a path so Skye and Valda can have a starting point to use their augmented strength to get most of it off."

"All right, once the civilians are safe I want you three to do what you can, then find someplace to crash. We all need more than a nap, especially if we are going to get hit again."

"You got it," Tanner responded then moved back out into the snow as Valda pulled the other hovercraft up close to the door. Satisfied the other three would take care of those they had rescued and the dangerous amount of snow pressing on the hospital roof, he turned and entered the ER waiting room. The place was pretty full, as the hospital had opened its doors as a shelter of sorts. Many of those in the room glanced up as he entered and a few even smiled.

Josh found this odd but he pushed it out of his mind, taking a second to nod at a few of kids he knew from the area. Totally outside the norm, a couple even nodded back. Before he could process the total lack of hostility he was seeing, he paused as he saw Gwen lying across three hard plastic chairs in the back corner of the ER waiting room.

He went over and glanced down, "You awake?"

Gwen's eyes snapped open, "Uh huh."

"Where is Eldora?"

The girl's right hand went up to her long braded pig tails and started nervously twirling them, "She went with a couple of the ambulance guys to get some more fuel for the hover. The hand pump was busted at the eastern bunker, so she had to fill it by picking up one of the big drums and dumping in the tank, but she couldn't get it full. One of the ambulance guys said she could use their fuel point and he had keys to it."

"Awesome." Josh stated in the most encouraging voice he could manage then gave the youngest girl in the squadron a bit of a smile. "She told me you did great tonight."

Gwen gave a half shrug. "All I did was fly the winch cable down to a couple of cars that went off the roads and put my force dome around those who had to ride on the roof when we got all those people out of the bus."

"They might have frozen without you. There is no way Eldora could have gotten all of them all to safety in one trip without you. You did fine and you look pretty tired."

"Just sleepy," The girl admitted while turning her eyes away from Josh.

"You are one of the youngest in the squadron, and recharge fast or not, you still have to sleep."

Gwen sighed. "Yeah, but the new kid did way better than me! I heard all the radio stuff!"

"He had to fight, so he got a chance to really stand out, sure. But from what Rex just told me over the radio, Garret is also sound asleep. As a matter of fact, other than Rex, all of us boys are either asleep or have had a nap. In addition, the second I get done seeing what I can do for Sun Storm, I am going to see if I can finish tonight on a cot somewhere around here."

Josh forced his face to stay friendly. "You know, since you and Eldora are the only ones who have not had to fight yet, I'm hoping the two of you will be able to take over guard duty while the rest of us take some needed down time."

"Me… on guard?"

"Why not? You did a good job over the last few hours and have proven you can handle a real emergency. Most USDT squadrons never get activated, let alone move out and help save lives. You have been part of both. Just because you weren't where the fighting was, does not mean you didn't pull your weight out there." He pointed to the door and the constant sheets of white particles blowing beyond.

Gwen chewed on her lip for a few seconds before she finally sat up and nodded. "Do you think I will get an activation badge to wear for the summer encampment?"

"All of us will," Josh stated with certainty. "You should also get a life saved badge with clusters. Between you and Eldora, you have brought in over twenty people tonight. You'll just be turning twelve a week or so before the encampment so you will probably be one of the highest decorated kids your age there. Garret will still be eleven, so even if he has an extra badge or two for getting injured while activated and seeing combat, you will still stand out."

For the first time since joining the squadron, Gwen lost some of the whiny scared tone in her voice and she even stopped playing with her hair when she talked. "So I really am a BEARS cadet now?"

Josh reached out and gave the small girl a hug, "Gwen, you have been a BEARS cadet since you joined us. Tonight you really proved it and even USDT 19 will openly admit moving you up a bit early was a good call. You did great."

Gwen's grin was huge as she stretched and adjusted her bullet proof vest. "I'm rested enough to take a watch if you want to go see if you can help Ricky fix his dad."

Josh gave her a thumbs up, "All right, but make sure you and Eldora take turns. You both need a decent amount of sleep, cause this is not over yet."

For the first time since Josh had met the small blonde-haired girl, Gwen didn't flinch at the possibility of having to do something dangerous. Instead a bit of a smirk played over her lips. "Maybe I can get a live combat patch too then."

"If you get the shot, I am certain you will do great."

"Me too," Gwen stated with an up-till-now unknown confidence. "Sun Storm is in room twenty three with Ricky and Dr. Buddy. I'll keep an eye on the entrance to the emergency area and not let Tanner get out of his fire bag while he sleeps."

Josh gave the girl a genuine warm smile then turned away. Even as he wondered if Gwen was finally breaking out of her shell, he wasted no time at walking toward the door to the ER. As he got there, the nurse at the station gave him a nod and buzzed him though without him even having to pause. This caused him to raise an eyebrow, but he quickly pushed the security door open and moved into the hall beyond.

Before he could even get his bearings, a male doctor and female nurse glanced down, noted the BEARS' patch on his coat and pointed to the left. Even though he was not actively trying to use his mental powers, he could feel a bit of relief from them at the fact he was here. It was a very odd feeling, for ever since his powers had first manifested, he could not remember a single time he had entered anywhere with his BEARS gear and not felt some degree of fear and hostility from non-Augments.

Before he could really dwell on the strangeness of it, an orderly stepped out into the hall, saw his BEARS coat and gave him a rather warm smile. The young woman even nodded. "Great job you all are doing for us, young man."

Josh paused and gave the woman a bit of a return smile. "We are just happy to be able to help, ma'am."

"We can tell, and we will make sure others know as well. Without you, all the cases of mild exposure and frostbite from those you and your friends have brought in would be life-threatening and more than a few would probably have frozen to death out on the roads by now. Is there anything you need?"

Josh started to say no, but stopped himself, "To be honest, all of us need some cooked food and a bed to sleep on for a few hours. If you have some ready for us, it would be awesome."

"I'll make sure you all get both."

"Three others from my squadron are helping a few more people in and then will clear the roof of most of the snow. They will really be hungry when they are done."

"I'll get them taken care of and I'll get you guys a couple of empty rooms so you can get some sleep with peace and quiet."

"Thanks," Josh stated with a tired smile. "We need it."

As the orderly disappeared back toward the entrance, Josh turned and pushed open the door to Sun Storm's room.

Dr. Buddy glanced up as she put her hand on the shoulder of a dark-haired boy who had blasts of light coming out of his hands. The bursts of golden light impacted the body of the man on the bed and seemed to be absorbed. Even from where Josh stood he could see dark purple bruises on the man's chest, but where the boy's light was hitting the damage was just slightly red and puffy.

"Hey, Joshua," Dr. Buddy spoke up making a quick introduction so the boy would not have to pause his healing efforts. "This is Ricky Pierson and his dad. Ricky has a healing augmentation kind of like North Star, only not as long range or powerful. The beams of warm light stimulate cell regeneration in damaged areas. In addition, he says his dad has some sort of increased healing empowerment. Between Ricky and his dad, Mr. Pierson's vitals have stabilized, but he still has some pretty nasty internal injuries."

Josh moved up and nodded at Ricky, who had tears running out of his hazel eyes, "You're doing great. I have a different type of healing augmentation. Is it OK if I try to help you?"

The tearful boy spoke with a tremble in his voice. "Uh huh."

Josh pulled off his gloves and coat as he moved up to Sun Storm. He glanced over to Dr. Buddy, "Can I get a chair or something? I heal better if I can sit down; besides I am already very tired."

"I'll go get one."

The moment Dr. Buddy left the room, Josh looked over at Ricky. "I have never tried to do this while another Augment was healing the same person, so I'm not sure how this will work."

The boy bit back a sob. "The doctor says you are more powerful than me. Should I stop?"

"Not as long as you can safely keep going," Josh responded as he put his hands on the injured man's shoulder. "I can see whatever you are doing is working."

As Josh plopped down on the hard plastic chair Dr. Buddy and gotten him, he used his mental abilities to pinpoint the areas of Sun Storm's body with the worst damage. Once he decided his priority had to be on fixing damage done to the ribs, he determined it would be a good idea to keep a light conversation going. He knew it would take longer for him to help the man, but would certainly help keep the kid across from him calm and focused. "So do you have to know what is hurt to do your healing?"

Ricky shook his head, "As long as my energy rays hit the damaged area it happens automatically. Dad says my ability is kind of weird for a healing augmentation though, since it also works on colds, flu and even infections. When my brother's wings started to come up, his right one got caught just under the skin and it got a bad infection. Dad ended up having to use a razor knife to spit the skin, then I was able to heal it and the infection too. I was also able to help me and my sisters get over chicken pox really fast. I guess most healers can only work on normal types of damage."

Josh's eyebrows arched, "I hear there is a doctor out east who can do some stuff with nerve damage and degeneration, but your dad's right. Almost no one has a healing augmentation capable of fighting off sickness and infections. You could really help lots of people."

"I don't want to be known as an Augment freak though."

"I hear those words every time I go with Arctic Trooper to talk to known Augments in the area about being in the Defender Program."

"So there are others who didn't join around here?"

"None known in BEARS 97's area of operation." He glanced over, "Until now."

"I'll think about it."

"We'd be thrilled to have more members," Josh stated with a great deal of conviction then turned his full attention to healing Sun Storm. Nearly an hour later Josh slid back from the bed and glanced over at Ricky, who was clearly exhausted yet was still trying to do more healing. "Take a break. We have both done all we can for now, and I can feel your dad's augmented healing starting to take over throughout his body. If we push on, it might interfere with his own empowerments."

Ricky finally stopped and wiped some sweat from his brow. As he tried to stand he started to see stars and fell back.

Before he hit the floor Josh reacted with incredible speed. He leapt over the bed and caught the boy before Ricky's head slammed into the ground. As Josh gently lowered the trembling kid to the ground, he checked him over with his own healing talents. "You pushed too hard. Your body can't handle what you tried to do!"

"But it's for my dad," Ricky gasped out as he tried to straighten out his badly cramping arms.

Josh pulled Ricky's arms straight and used a bit more of his healing ability to get the muscles to loosen up a bit. "Hey, I get it. But there is such a thing as doing too much, and you went way past it." Josh picked up Ricky and put him in the empty bed next to his father. "You know, if you join the squadron, you will learn how far you can go without hurting yourself while being pushed to the very limits of safely using all your augmentations."

"Dad works with us all the time, but it's hard to do some things since I have never had a chance to use my healing on such bad injuries. Normally I just touch up myself or my brother or sisters after one of us gets hurt. The worst I have had to heal up till now is my brother's infection and cut when dad helped his wing come out."

"If you join the squadron you will get a chance to help others and really test what you can and can't do under careful supervision of our Commander or XO."

"But then everyone will know what I am and my dad won't be able to live like a Normal."

Josh took a deep breath, "So is your dad going to hide you your whole life?"

Ricky gritted his teeth, "Dad says it is up to us to decide when or if we come out in the open. My brother has wings, though, so he'll never pass for a Normal. Eventually he will have to figure out something. He has even talked about asking dad to cut them off…"

Josh noticeably shuddered. "Seriously?"

"Yeah." Ricky took a deep breath and closed his eyes, "But neither of us think dad would agree to it. At least I don't look like a freak, so I can do what I want."

"Then you are planning on trying to act like a Normal?"

"I don't know." Ricky stated with a sigh, "I talked to dad about joining a Defender squadron after one of the kids from around here got rid of a squirrel problem for us. He said he would let me. The problem is, he has something against the Defender program, but he won't tell us what. I think it has something to do with mom. She left us when her and dad took a trip to Japan. I remember at the time Dad was in the USDT, but I am the only one really old enough to remember much and they kept me out of the loop most of the time.

"All I really know is Dad was part of tracking down augmented animals and killing them and mom really hated it. Just before they went to Japan they had a few big fights between them. She actually went out with a group of other augments and tired to stop USDT 1 from killing some kind of bird. Dad was really mad.

"Just before they left for Japan, they had a nasty argument about dad getting out of USDT to spend more time with us and stop killing creatures just because people were afraid of them. Dad kept saying it was his job to protect people from such dangerous things and someone had to take the lead in protecting both Augments and Normals from augmented beasts.

"The next thing I knew she didn't come back from Japan, dad quit USDT, and we moved here. Dad says he is trying to find her and show her he did what she wanted, but I guess they lost contact with each other. I just don't want dad to get that mad at me…"

From the bed next to them Sun Storm suddenly spoke up in a weak raspy voice, "Son, I would never get angry with you for deciding to join the Defender Program."

"Dad!" Ricky tired to sit up, only to find most of the muscles in his body were too weak to allow him to do so.

Josh put his hand over Ricky's chest, "You need to stay still and let your body recharge. I'll get us some food."

Sun Storm tired to roll over to look at his boy, but winced as pain flared through his ribs.

Josh glanced over at the man. "The same goes for you, sir. The two of us just spent the last hour putting you back together, and Ricky doesn't have anything left to start over."

"So you are in charge?" Sun Storm asked with some annoyance.

"At the moment, yes. USDT 19 has given me full command over all of Flathead County until we have adult support."

Sun Storm slowly moved his head around so he could look around. "Adult support? Why do you need any? We are in a hospital and things look secure to me."

"We aren't even close to being safe. We have had to take on multiple assaults from rogue Augment forces who are trying to get to Senator Jackson's son who was being flown back to his dad after he got hurt in a ski accident. We got to him first and have him stashed at your bunker with your younger boy, a Class One Augment from the Air Force and one of my best combat Augments. The rest of us are doing what we can to hold them off until we get help."

"Well, now you have some adult help."

"Not in the shape you're in." Josh stated forcefully. "Besides, you would have to request reinstatement and since I am in command of Flathead County it is my call.

"There is no chance I will approve it until you are able to move around without doing more damage to yourself. At the rate your body is healing, there is a good chance you will be up to joining us by morning under a limited role."

"Get me some food too, then." Sun Storm growled. "Since I can see it is still snowing and there is little to no solar radiation at the moment, I will need to get all my energy the old fashioned way."

"I'll get us some. You two stay put."

"OK… Commander…" The word seemed to stick in Sun Storm's throat for a moment, "But you don't look much better than the two of us."

"I'm not." Josh admitted, "Which is why I am going to have an extra bed moved in here so I can get some sleep right next to the two of you. I have some other more rested squadron members who will take over watch. Hopefully by morning we will all be rested enough to be able to hold the line and push them back to wherever they came from."

Rex's eyes snapped open as the smell of bacon, ham, and eggs hit his very sensitive nose. His head came up quickly as he looked around the room. He calmed greatly as he saw Garret still sound asleep in the gurney he had brought in the night before. Opposite the roaring fire place, Ajax, wearing just a towel was carefully testing his leg and knee. The boy glanced over, "Hey Rex, Mr. TJ is fixing us breakfast and let us get a shower too!"

Rex sat up as he rolled his shoulders and looked out. It was clearly daytime, but sheets of snow continued to pelt at the windows. "What time is it?"

Gustav came out of the tanning room wearing clean boxer and eating an apple. His skin was a dark khaki color with just a hint of green. His straight white hair had a tinge of red, was freshly washed and hung down almost to his shoulders. In addition to being clean and looking way more healthy than the night before, his eyes were a dark emerald color, "Almost 9."

Rex's jaw dropped some. "Wow, you look way different!"

"Your friend, Josh, was right. The bed worked great. I have not been allowed to be this strong since I was given to Lord Dark Raven."

"Awesome." Rex paused, "How long before you need to get back into a bed here, though?"

Gustav shrugged, "Even with this level of outdoor light I will be fine and can recharge some unless we get into a big fight. But with no one draining me and stealing my abilities, I should be OK as long as I don't overdo it too much. Thanks for rescuing me from those people."

TJ came in with a massive plate with four huge bacon, ham and egg sandwiches dripping with Swiss cheese. "Colt said you would polish this off and still might be hungry." He grinned at the very hungry eyes looking at him. "You should eat and get a shower. Everyone else except for you and him," he pointed to Garret, "have showered and it has been long enough for the water heater to have built up a good supply of warm water again."

"Wow, thanks…" Rex reached over and lightly shook Garret, "Hey, time to get up, rookie."

Garret reluctantly opened his eyes, "I heard you all talking."

"Go ahead and get a shower while I eat. It'll wake you up."

"What about you?"

"I'll get a shower too, but this," he held up the platter of food, "is what will really wake me up!"

TJ ruffled Rex's hair, "It must cost a fortune to feed you all!"

"My uncle's biggest complaint about me," Rex confirmed. "All us Augments eat two to three times what a Normal does, but after the kinds of fights we had last night we can easily eat way more than most people could imagine."

"I have plenty, and I don't want you all heading out hungry. It sure sounds like you will all need your full strength."


Colt came into the room securing his bullet proof vest, "TJ has a Ham Radio and got word Augments took the ski resort last night. They are threatening to kill everyone there if we don't hand over the senator's kid by dusk."

Garret rolled off the gurney and grabbed his clothing while Rex jumped up, "Then we have to go!"

TJ held up his hand, "Eat and get cleaned up, both of you."

Colt spoke up. "Those are orders right from Josh, Rex. He says we have time. Help is on the way but it'll be a couple more hours before they get here."

"Help?" Rex looked confused, "But USDT said they couldn't get us…"

Ajax spoke up, "Gregory got through to his cousin."

"Gregory?" TJ asked.

"The screamer who took me down." Rex growled slightly, then his face lit up his brain wrapped around what he was hearing, "So we have a RLD squadron coming in?"

"Yeah," Colt eagerly spoke up again, "COUGARS 43 only has nine cadets, but all of them are coming in and should be here before noon. They also have Greg and their XO, some woman by the name of Quill, with them. Even better, one of the Augments Eldora and Gwen picked up was able to finish off healing Logan. His dad, Sun Storm, is still hurt, but is strong enough to help and is a master with a rifle. Since Tanner grabbed the sniper rifle, he and his son will help as well."

Rex's claws extended slightly as he took a huge bite out of the first breakfast sandwich and listened. "So what's the plan?"

"You all are the closest," TJ spoke up. "So I offered my place as a staging base for your buddies to link up with you. It'll be a couple of hours before they all get here, so eat up and get clean."

Rex frowned, "You are putting yourself in a great deal of danger. If the separatists find out we are here, they will try to hit us before we can hit them."

"A risk I am willing to take, son."

Rex glanced over to Gustav and Ajax, "How about you two?"

"I'm in." Gustav hardened. "You guys took down Dark Raven and Garret stood up for me and saved my life by not letting anyone put me in the cell. You all then changed whatever you had planned to bring me here. I owe you all."

"You know I will stand by you, Rex," Ajax stated with an unflinching stare.

Garret reached down and tossed his slightly damaged bullet proof vest to Gustav. "Then take this. I can take a bullet. I don't think you can."

Rex glanced over to Garret, then nodded, tossing his vest to Ajax as he did so. "Garret's right. We can take a pounding, you can't. Let's use what resources we have to the best of our ability. Garret, get cleaned up and grab some food. This is going to be a long day!"

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