Castle Roland


by Kyle Aarons


Chapter 16

Published: 8 Apr 14

Rex glanced over at Garret, "You ready?"

Garret held up a finger, then knelt and concentrated a bit more on his shield. As he did so, it got noticeably thicker and glowed brighter. Satisfied, he stood up and nodded, "Now I am."

A female voice spoke then she seemed to emerge out of the sheets of blowing snow. "Ready to tell me where the boy is, I hope, or the one I hold will not make it out of this engagement alive."

In her ice-coated arms, Ricky struggled to pull free, but was no match for the woman's strength or the icy bonds she had wrapped around Sun Storm's oldest child.

Rex shook his head, "Even if we knew, which we don't, there is no chance we would tell you. Now, if you don't let him go, I am going to personally gut you." He help up his right hand and extended his claws to their full length to make his point.

The woman snorted. "Do you really think those fingernails are going to cut through my ice armor?"

"They cut through A.T.'s just fine," Rex shot back. "Tell you what: why don't you come over here and let me test them out?"

The woman snorted in mock disgust, but she took a half step back without even realizing it, "You do realize I could coat this brat's whole face in ice and prevent him from breathing, right?"

Garret's whole face scrunched up as his arms pulsed to an even brighter blue. "You try it and you'll be dead before he can stop holding his breath."

Rex cringed slightly as he forced himself to stay next to Garret. The energy field around the younger boy was causing his skin to tingle and even felt like it was being scratched by sand paper. He lightly elbowed Garret and spoke out of the corner of his mouth in a soft yet commanding tone. "Chill, I can feel what the others have talked about: you are about to really go off. If you do, you'll kill both of them."

Garret clenched his fists tightly and took a deep breath; as he did so the glow around his arms dimmed slightly, but still didn't recede to the level they were at before his anger flared. He took a step forward. "We aren't asking. Now let him go!"

The woman gulped and took another step back, this time knowing she was doing so and not really caring about showing some fear. Her voice also betrayed a great deal of unease as she spoke while eyeing the small, very angry-looking child. "Stay back! I felt an energy surge from you! What the hell are you packing?"

A bit of a snarl escaped Rex's lips, enhanced by his ferocious looking fangs, "You don't let him go, you'll be finding out real soon!"

"I'll lock him in a block of ice! I swear I will!"

Suddenly, from behind Rex and Garret, Sun Storm's voice penetrated through the snow with a fierce roar, "Not my boy, you can't!" His voice then boomed with a clear command. "Son, vaporize!"

An instant latter a single loud bang of a shot being fired seemed to echo off the buildings in the all-but-deserted and snow-clogged streets.

A moment before the bullet pierced the woman's left eye, the she felt the solid form of the boy vanish. Before she could do more than panic at the fact she was left holding on to nothing but the boy's clothing and his heavy boots, which had fallen into the snow in front of her, the single high powered round ended her life.

Sun Storm moved forward, sniper rifle in hand, and glanced down as his son's mist from swirled back into the empty pile of clothing on the ground. Even as Ricky reformed and stood, basically fully dressed, all-be-it with his shoes on the wrong feet and his snow pants on backwards, Sun Storm knelt and winced as pain flared in his chest yet again. He bit back a gasp, trying his best to stay composed as he looked over at Rex, "Richard is going to be on your team, son, so you best start working with him now and start finding ways for his abilities to complement the rest of those in your squad. He is more than just a healer.

"Forming a cohesive unit of Augments takes a vast amount of time, energy, money and ingenuity. Since you all don't have any of those except the ingenuity at the moment, your best bet is to spend as much time as a group talking over what you all can and can't do, so you will all have at least a basic understanding of each other then use your imaginations. Surprise is going to be your best ally.

"Richard is trusting you to lead him and so am I, so you best finish this and get your group together to talk over some basic do's and don'ts before someone else gets hurt. As a starting point, let me point out I have spent countless hours with my son and he has total control over the Augments we know he has. It takes him a split second to turn into his mist form. The only thing we have found capable of harming him in mist form is strong chi energy." He glanced at Garret, "And whatever you almost let loose is certainly some sort of major chi energy attack, a damned big one. So don't go pointing those arms of yours at my boy. Also, for the record, there is now no doubt in my mind about you being a class five."

Taking a breath and a moment to scan the street, he finally glanced back at Rex. "As a team leader, you need to know what your other members can do without hurting each other and make sure the others understand this as well. Normal attacks, heat, cold, radiation, sonic waves, and a whole host of other things just pass right trough Richard with no effect once he goes to mist, but he cannot stay that way very long or he starts to loose cohesion, especially in this kind of wind. On the plus side, he can shift back to mist form after only a few seconds of becoming whole again."

"We have already had one young man badly hurt because he had no clue what pushing the girl with the spiny woody armor out of the way would do to his flesh. We don't need another of those kinds of mistakes. In the meantime, just make sure everyone in your team understands what will and will not hurt each member of your team. Knowing this will allow each of you to be able to better utilize your powers with each other. It's not perfect, but it is a start."

Ignoring the frustrated grunts of his son as the boy once again changed into mist form and reformed only to find he had corrected his other problems but had managed to get his shirt on backwards, Sun Storm keyed his radio. "I have a confirmed kill on number seven. We still have two more out here, folks. Keep your eyes peeled and let's finish this up."

Half a block up, Reed was suddenly flipped in a full 360-degree spin before crashing back into the snow. Gwen's eyes went wide as she ran over to him, only to see Colt flash by only a few yards off the ground.

A bolt of electrical energy flashed out of his hand, but missed as the incredibly fast being he was chasing dodged behind a large lump of snow. A moment later the muffled sound of a car alarm chirped from under the snow, letting everyone know Colt had done at least some damage to it.

A few seconds later a weird hum came from over head and increased in pitch as Allen Cargle of the RLD squadron used sound waves to first hover over the two, then changed the pitch of the sound waves around himself to land. "Reed, you OK?"

Reed shook his head and wobbled slightly as he stood. "What hit me?"

"A speedster I have been trying to help their electric flyer take down, but both of them are just too fast for me!"

Gwen looked over as Allen used his tail to help steady his squadron mate. "I didn't see nothing until he was already hitting the snow." She pointed to Reed.

Allen let out a deep breath. "He's real fast and has some sort of glide Augmentation. He barely leaves a groove in the snow!"

Reed rubbed his shoulder and winced, "I may have some toughness, but I don't think I can't take another one of those. We need to end this fast and between all of us we can make it happen."

A blast of blue electrical light flashed downward from back up the street, followed by the sound of glass shattering. Reed glanced around and spotted a postal box somewhat protected from the snow by an overhang. Still seeing some stars he took a knee, snow coming up to his waist as he did so, and glanced at Gwen. "Can you wrap one of your whips around that," he pointed at the blue box, "from the far side of the street?"

Gwen shrugged, "Yeah, but if I make one long enough to go all the way across the street, I can't control what I do with it, it is just rounded."

A smirk appeared on Reed's face, "As long as you can make it reach, we're good. The problem is you will have to put it just below the snow so the glow is at least partially hidden."

"I can put an illusion around it…" Allen spoke, only to get cut off by Reed.

"You could, but then you wouldn't be able to do what I have in mind. Get back up there and have their flyer bring Mr. Speedy back toward us, then make an image of me still trying to shake off the last attack. Put me in the middle of the street, staggering toward the protection of the overhang. I'll use my sonic control to give your illusion sound."

"Going to send him for a bit of a trip, huh?" Allen snickered.

Gwen's eyes went wide as she realized what was being planned. "Wow, I don't think Jade Witch ever thought of trying this with my whips!"

Allen snickered. "Most of the weird stuff we do with our Augmentations comes from inside his brain."

Reed rolled his eyes, trying to ignore the compliment. Instead he pointed to a light post on the opposite side of the street. "Once you have your whip around the mailbox, go around to the pole, set your whip just below the top of the snow and then circle the post a couple of times, so the pole takes the impact and not your arms."

Reed shot a hard look at Allen. "Find their flyer and see what he can do to get this jerk back down here!"

A moment later Allen surrounded himself with sonic vibrations and took off.

A block over, in front of the tanning salon, a woman's voice boomed out, causing a couple of the windows to crack. "So the twins have defected! Sammy, Paige, I can smell your fear! Now get back out here before I give your brother and sister to Dark Raven!"

Inside the shop a wet spot appeared in the front of Sammy's pants and Paige started to cry. Ajax moved up to the two of them as he glanced at Josh, "Mind Siren."

Josh managed to speak though clenched teeth. "I call feel her telepathy trying to get information. It is taking just about everything I have to block her attempt at mind reading while countering the Telekinesis she is trying to use on the door. The rest of you will have to do the actual fighting!"

TJ stood and chambered a round in his shotgun and moved to stand between the door and Gregory.

Tanner shook his head, "Let us take care of this, TJ." He then glanced back to Josh. "Let her open the door and keep her Tele-powers off me!"

Josh's brow scrunched up further as he managed a nod.

As the door blew inward, Tanner stepped up, blocking entry.

"Boy, get out of my way!" the woman snarled as she tried to push him back with a telekinetic shove, only to find it totally blocked.

Tanner's eyes narrowed as his hands came up and fingers flipped out from clenched fists, sending a small, but very powerful burst of super-heated air out. It struck the woman dead center and flung her back almost twenty feet from where she had been standing.

The woman jumped back to her feet and shook her head to clear it. Her face clearly showed some fear as Tanner boldly stepped out into the street. Even as her eyes went wide at the fact Tanner's hands were duplicating the maneuver, she made a throwing motion with her left arm and, as she finished it, a huge burst of flame came out.

The exchange of powers crossed the street, melting over a full foot of snow as they did so. The woman was flung back a second time, slamming her into a buried vehicle while Tanner was knocked down, but even as he fell, his body absorbed the majority of the flame attack. As it did so, it started to pull even more out of the fallen woman. Sheets of flame seemed to leap from the woman to Tanner.

As he stood a wicked gleam came to his eyes and snow around him melted all the way to the concrete. As he stepped forward, snow vaporized a full foot around him. "Come on! Give me some more!"

The woman looked on in horror as the young teen continued to make his way toward her while literally pulling more and more energy from her. In desperation, she extended her hand and fingers sending a purplish ray outward. Some of the ray's energy seemed to burn up as it entered the incredibly hot bubble surrounding Tanner, but what got through was more than enough to cause some very painful blisters to instantly form on Tanner's right cheek.

Tanner winced as his hand moved up to his cheek. Rage seemed to spill out of him as he focused his attention back on the woman. Twin rays of ultra-hot energy flashed out of his eyes cutting into and through her, igniting the fuel in the car behind her and sending up a large fireball while flipping the car and the woman's lifeless body high into the air.

Tanner jerked his head away from the carnage as a few pieces of metal whizzed past him. He then froze in terror as he realized what was left of the SUV was falling right back down on him.

Down the street Logan raced forward past a trio of older teens who had come out of one of the homes to watch the fighting. He pushed one into the snow and used his gloom blades to knock dozens of pieces of spinning and burning metal out of their paths. One particularly large chunk was partially defected by his gloom armor, but still sliced his upper thigh. He yelped in pain and fell hard to the ground as his gloom armor faded out from around him.

One of the older kids ran up to the fallen twelve-year-old. Even as he asked, "Are you OK?", his hand moved down to Logan's leg to keep it from bleeding worse and he shouted for his brother and friend to get help.

Inside the salon Kurt looked out and realized he only had moments to react. He grunted and swung his arm in a wide arc. Instantly a thick wall of see-though bluish tinged magical energy formed in an arch shape, like a mini bridge, with Tanner underneath. The flaming wreckage slammed into the force wall with a terrible screech of metal and more breaking glass before it slipped off the side of the sudden magical barrier and slammed back into the street only a few feet behind Tanner.

Tanner turned and looked at what was left of the Land Rover with wide eyes. Even as he extended his hands, got control of the flames and extinguished them, he gave Kurt a nod of total gratitude.

"Dear God!" TJ managed to gasp out as he patted Kurt on the shoulder, "Nice move, youngan!"

Ajax nodded, "Awesome! But, I though the woman said it takes time for you to do one of those!"

Kurt shook his head and took a couple of deep breaths, "No, I can put one up ultra-fast, but I can only have one up at a time and it takes a few minutes for me to tear one down so I can put up a new one. They also take a lot out of me when I make them as strong as this one, which means it will take me longer to take it apart, which also requires quite a bit of energy."

Josh wiped some sweat from his brow over the exertion of blocking the woman's telepathy and telekinesis. "So how long will it last if you don't pull it down?"

"Several hours in most cases, but when I make one this strong and small it could last for days. On our last camping trip we lived out of one for three days before I had to make a new one…"

Shannon, one of the boys from the RLD, squadron snorted. "Only because he found a new Augmentation and sank all our tents into a quicksand bog."

Gustav snickered, "Sounds like you get into all sorts of trouble!"

Kurt rolled his eyes and let out a long breath, "Yeah, somehow it always seems to be me screwing things up."

"Not this time," TJ stated forcefully. "You just saved his life." He pointed out to Tanner who was still looking over the after-effects of his eye rays.

"I'm sure Quill will still find something I screwed up." Kurt stated with an edge of sadness as he moved out into the snow and put his hand on the blue tinged magical construct.

"Over my dead body, Kurt. You were awesome this time!" Shannon stated as he stepped out to keep the boy company.

"Gustav, Ajax," Josh ordered, "watch his back and let him know we'll also stand by him. Without his wall Tanner would be dead." Glancing out into the snow he shook his head and focused on Tanner. "Nice new Augment, Sparky, but let's not use those eyes of yours again until AT and Jade Witch can work with you."

"I don't even know how I did it!"

"Not good…" Josh muttered, "OK, well for the time being there isn't much we can do about it, but you need to use up what you took from the pyro thrower; you are starting to smoke your boots again!"

Tanner glanced down and frowned deeply as he realized this fireproof boots and clothing were once again starting to melt. "Great…" With a bit more focus he built up enough heat to gain lift and shot into the sky.

TJ moved up to Josh. "Are you OK?"

"To be honest, I am starving and have a headache. I've never tried to block someone with telepathy and telekinesis before. It took everything I had to keep her fully in check. The fact I was totally able to block her means I am stronger than she was, but I don't think it was by much."

quot;I'll get you some food, but if you guys want to come over again, let me know in advance cause I didn't think anyone could eat as much as you all!"

"We still have others out there fighting TJ." Josh reminded him as he lay back on the cot Garret had slept in. "Keep some for them."

TJ pushed a pillow under Josh's head. "I was just teasing a bit. I have enough for now. Get some rest."

Outside Tanner spotted an electrical blast and caught up to Colt.

Colt winced and moved a bit away from Tanner. "Back off hot-head! You're burning me!"

Tanner backed off slightly. "Sorry, drained another flame Augment. But this one was stronger than the other so I have even more heat inside me."

"Then let's use it while you got it," Colt stated firmly. "The boy leader of the RLD squadron has some sort of plan. He wants the fast foot down there to get back over to Railway Street between Baker and Central. I've been able to keep him close but maybe between both of us we can get him where they want him."

Tanner nodded, "You make him turn right, I'll make him turn left when we need it."

Colt gave a thumbs up and dove, barely missing the fast moving figure below, while forcing whoever it was to turn onto Spokane to avoid the electrical discharge. Colt continued to launch bolts downward, preventing the figure from making a turn, still somewhat frustrated at the fact he was not able to hit such a fast moving target.

Then, just as the figure started to angle toward the Whitefish Library, Tanner streaked downward and sent a sheet of sparks cascading right into the being's path. The startled figure almost lost control but regained footing and speed off down Railway.

Energy crackled as Colt shot by with a bit of a victorious grin, all the while sending down yet another ball of electricity to prevent the ultra-quick being from turning onto Central.

A moment later Colt's eyes went wide as he saw Reed's staggering figure in the middle of the street. Before he could even yell "Watch out!" the figure below adjusted course and extended an arm, clearly planning on using the speed to do serious harm.

Much to both Colt's and the figure's astonishment, the speeding figure's arm went right through the image. An instant later Gwen stood on the far side of the street and pulled her whip tight. Reed also appeared as he jumped up from out of the snow and grabbed Gwen's arms to help her hold it tight.

The figure tried to stop and turn but it was too late: with a scream of pure agony both legs hit the force whip and snapped. Going at well over three hundred miles an hour, the figure slammed into the snow and hit the street underneath with enough force to break scores more bones. Adding insult to injury, the mail box on the far side of the street ripped loose from the force of the impact and slashed through the air, still attached to Gwen's force whip. It slammed into the helpless being from behind; it then bounced straight for a door with two young faces peering out watching the battle.

Just as a man behind the two kids made a desperate attempt to yank the kids back Garret appeared at a full run. He dove, extending his shield. The large blue box slammed into him, smashed his shield into hundreds of bits, and knocked him back into the wall mere inches from the glass screen door the man and the two kids were behind.

Reed and Gwen both bolted from behind the post while Colt and Tanner swooped down from above.

At the same time the front door of the house burst open and the man knelt down, shoving what was left of the mailbox off of Garret.

Rex arrived a moment later. "Oh shit!"

Rex slid on his knees as arrived at Garret. "Come on, Rookie, open your eyes!"

Garret groaned, and started to stand, only to have the man put a hand on his chest. "Whoa, I don't care how strong how you are; you just took a heck of a shot saving my kids' lives!"

"He's right, stay down." Reed spoke up as he also knelt next to Garret, "Nice move though!"

Garret's eyes finally opened and he looked at his hand which was bloody but already healing. His eyes showed he was clearly a bit confused after briefly being knocked cold. "Did I stop it?"

Gwen nodded and reached out, tenderly wiping blood from under Garret's nose. "Yeah, with your shield and your face."

Colt couldn't help it, he snickered. "Looks like more face than shield, though, Rookie."

"Man, that would have killed most of us," Tanner whistled, "How you feeling?"

Garret took a deep breath and looked around as his mind cleared a bit more, "Way worse than taking a bullet, way worse!" Rubbing the back of his head where it had met the wall, he cringed and stood, albeit a bit shakily.

"You should have used your glowing fist to punch it out of the way, Rookie." Rex stated in a relieved voice, "Not even us really tough folks are up for taking a hunk of metal the size of a mail drop box!"

Garret rolled his neck and blinked some tears out of his eyes, "It was them or me, and I had a way better chance than they did."

One of the kids came out of the house and looked over at Garret. "You didn't know you'd be OK?"

"Not a chance," Colt spoke up. "Until last night none of us knew he had some toughness, and he dove so he didn't even have anything to brace against. He's lucky it didn't kill him."

The father glanced over, noting the fact what was left of Garret's clothing was nothing more than rags and the boy was shivering, "My oldest is about your size. Let's get you cleaned up and into something warm."

Rex started to argue, but stopped as he realized Garret was not immune to the cold and although rapidly healing, was still badly banged up. "Go ahead. I'll keep watch."

The father looked over at his younger boy. "Get them all some cocoa or coffee while your brother and I find some clothing for this one."

"Give us a quick scout of the area to make sure we're clear, then come get something warm to drink." Rex ordered Colt and Tanner.

Tanner criss-crossed the surrounding six blocks a few times before he started running out of the extra heat he had taken from the woman he had killed. Finally he landed next to what was left of the mangled body, marked only by a raised mound under the snow. Carefully, he kicked at the snow, finding a large lump of nearly unrecognizable flesh, bone and bits of clothing underneath. He turned away and shuddered while forcing himself not to puke. "Nasty!"

Colt also pulled up, landed and glanced at what Tanner's heat and foot had uncovered. With a horrid cringe he turned away and keyed his radio, realizing Tanner had fried yet another one. "Their runner is… um… well paste would probably be the best word. Tanner is cooled, but his radio is dripping down his shirt and Rex, Garret, Gwen and two of the COUGARS are with me, but went inside a house to get something to drink. Garret got banged up pretty bad, but seems to be fine."

Quill's voice came over the radio, "OK, kids, we have accounted for all nine. Get your butts back to the salon ASAP and let's check out the damage."

Sun Storm came though the front door of the salon, noting Valda was trying to repair it from the violent telekinetic bust that had flung it open. With a shake of his head he leaned the sniper rifle up against the wall and lowered himself down into a chair with large grunt of discomfort. Finally, he glanced over at Quill. "From what I have seen and heard most of the damage is to property. Our kids came though amazingly intact."

"We still have some injuries…" Quill sighed and started to say more but stopped herself. Instead she clearly and purposefully changed her tone. "But you're right, Sun Storm. Our kids did exceptionally well and should be very proud of themselves."

She turned her attention to Gregory. "How are you doing, son?"

Gregory glanced down at his hand and tried to close it into a fist but yelped at the pain before it was even halfway closed.

Josh raised his head from the cot and shook his head. "TJ got the thorns out and Kurt stopped the bleeding. I was able to start the healing process, and Ricky cut out the chance of an infection, but he still should see a real doctor. It was really bad. He had three thorns all the way through his hand. The worst part is, TJ had to cut out the biggest one, which caused even more bleeding so he lost a lot of blood."

Josh then pointed over to where an older teen was lying in the other cot. "The guy Gwen and Reed took down is in far worse shape, though."

"Way more Gwen then me, guys," Reed stated as he walked in while putting a rather protective arm over Gwen's shoulder. "You all have a hell of a squadron mate here!"

Quill almost said something about use of language to Reed, but stopped herself as she noticed the small girl next to him burst out in a large grin.

At the same time Josh glanced over. "Great work Gwen, you'll definitely have a combat patch on your squadron uniform for encampment."

As the others started piling back in the small shop, Sun Storm nodded. "All of you have earned combat patches, many of you with some blood spilled to prove it. You did great, better than some USD Teams could have hoped to. Collateral damage seems to have been limited to property, which is astounding given the exchanges.

"Unfortunately, the real objective is the sky resort and it is held by far more than nine Augments. I want all of you to eat and rest while Quill and I get things organized." He turned to Gregory. "Son, you are going with Quill, straight to the hospital."

Before more could be said a man, carrying Logan, came in, followed by a trio of young teens. "His leg is cut badly, but he wouldn't let me stitch it. He says one of you could heal him or something!"

Josh sat up and jumped off the cot. "Put him down here!"

"Damn!" Sun Strom muttered, "What happened? Are there more of them?"

Logan shook his head while tears poured down his cheeks. "Part of the car Tanner blew up hit me."

The kid who had first gotten to Logan and had plenty of blood on him to prove it, looked over. "Only because he jumped past us to protect us. We went out in the street to watch and he saved all of us!"

Josh ripped what was left of Logan's pants off and looked at the gash. "Kurt, you are the best of the three of us at stopping bleeding."

The man watched from over Josh's shoulder with a great deal of interest and concern. "I'm a surgeon. I can clean it and stitch him up."

Kurt pushed past everyone watching on and glanced over at the man, "We can do it faster and without a big scar."

Josh nodded, "We're going to need Logan this afternoon. We need to team up. I'll use my mental healing and telekinesis to line up everything so when he heals it, the wound and flesh will all come together quickly. Ricky, hit this cut with your light rays to kill any infection while we get to work!"

The surgeon moved over to look at Gregory's hand while still watching in awe as the trio of boys went to work, each using his own abilities to not only assist, but to enhance the other two. Less than fifteen minutes later, Josh held up his hand and backed away. "OK Logan, try to stand."

Even as the boy stood and jumped up and down a few times, everyone looking on realized all that was left was a tiny pink area, barely noticeable.

Logan turned and spun doing some practice moves with his martial arts skills. Finally he stood. "I'm back to full, but the hunk of metal shattered my chi armor. It'll be another hour or so before I can bring it back up. My snow pants are shot, though."

The boy who was covered in Logan's blood moved to the door. "I'll get you one of my old ones…"

Reed pointed to Shannon. "Go with him and keep him safe!"

The man whistled softly. "Any time you three want to come to the hospital, I'm sure I can find some who would be willing to let you work on them!"

"A Normal letting one of us heal them?" Kurt nearly choked. "You must be kidding."

The boy who had first run up to Logan turned from the door and looked over at Kurt. "Give me your phone number. The next time I get hurt I'll call and I can be your first!"

Quill snickered, "He's being honest, Kurtis."

"I'm in too," the boy's friend spoke up. "That looked way better than getting a cut cleaned up, then having someone take a needle and thread to sew me back up!"

The other teen shook his head, "I'll stick with my dad and doctors."

"Only because you haven't been hurt badly enough to go to hospital!" his younger brother growled.

The surgeon glanced over at his older son. "Your brother's got a point." Before more could be said he nodded in Gregory's direction. "I can tell some amazingly quick healing is taking place, but I can still see all the way though his hand. He should be in a sterile environment."

Quill spoke u., "We were going to take him to the hospital…"

"North Valley clinic is way closer and has emergency power. If you trust me to take him…"

"I can tell you are sincere," Quill interrupted. "Reed, you look pretty fresh still; take them in one of the snow cats while we get things more organized here."

"What about this boy?" The surgeon moved toward the badly injured separatist.

Skye blocked his path. "He's one of those we are fighting."

"But he's just a kid."

Quill glanced over at the wounded kid. "The doc's right. He still deserves some medical attention. Allen, Vicky, go with them and keep watch on the slim chance the mimic gets enough strength back to try something or his friends come for him. Your first priorities are to protect Gregory and the doctor. We'll pick you up later."

Gwen moved up to the kid and extended just a bit of her force whip. "You try anything, anything at all, I'll come back for round two."

The kid's eyes went wide and he spoke weakly yet still full of dread. "No… no more. You won."

Quill moved up and put a tender hand on Gwen's shoulder. "The fight is gone out of him. There is no need to threaten him."

She then glanced to the others. "Get another meal and an hour of down time. While you rest, talk over your abilities with each other and bat around some ideas. By the time Sun Storm and I get back, we will expect you all to be ready to hit our objective. TJ, if you would be kind enough to keep them in line for us for a bit?"

"Sure…" His voice, however, told everyone listening he was not sure what exactly anyone thought he could do if the kids from the two squadrons did misbehave.

Sun Storm frowned but forced himself to stand and followed Quill out the back of the salon.

The moment the door closed behind them Quill turned to face Sun Storm. "I sure hope USDT has plans to get these kids some help."

"Help is on the way…"

"No, I mean long-term help. They have killed, fought and bled. We have men and woman in combat who come back with battle field stress who have not seen this kind of combat!"

"They'll get whatever and as much as they need," Sun Storm stated with a hard edge to his voice. "Even if my company has to pay for it. But right now, they are starting to see something none of us thought possible. For even as we speak, there are Normals in there offering their help to us, risking their lives to be by our side. That is the best therapy any of us can get."

Quill paused and nodded slightly. "OK, yeah, you have a valid point, but they have yet to move up and fight next to us."

"The fact some of our kids have risked their lives to save Normals and it is being acknowledged is a start. We may never see the day when Normals and Augments fight a threat side by side except in the military, but I'll take what I am seeing in there, right now, as a giant leap forward.

"Did you listen to a couple of those kids? They even said they would let one of our kids heal them with Augmentations! I have been in and around Augments and Normals my whole life and have never heard a Normal kid look up to an Augment the way I did just minutes ago. What these kids are doing is real. If they can actually rescue the majority of those hostages later today…"

"And if they fail…"

"Then we are right back where we started." Sun Storm shrugged, then gripped his ribs as pain flashed though them. "Like it or not, this is the best chance we have ever had of Augments being seen as something other than freaks and outcasts."

"You really believe this is a chance for an Augment-Normal breakthrough, don't you?"

"Enough and to the extent I am letting my child join in on this… Quill, you need to understand even as much as I hate USDT for what happened to my wife, I am letting my own son join this group of kids and their squadron afterwards if he so desires.

"Trust me, I know what you are saying, and know we will have to provide a hell of a lot of support for all these kids once this is over. This includes my own son. But can we really ignore what we are seeing and hearing? Private radio stations are praising these kids. People in the hospital were looking up to them when I walked out, and Normal kids were nodding in the direction of Augment children their own age without a nasty look or grunt of fear or disgust! A Normal kid even has the blood of an Augment on him just the other side of those doors from trying to help! Look at what these young men and women have accomplished!"

Quill paced back and forth a few times. "We could end up with a dead kid or two, more if the assault on the resort goes bad."

"I know and it scares the crap out of me. Still, I am for this. My very flesh and blood may be seriously hurt or even killed and, as one of the younger and least powerful among these kids, he is among the most likely to get hurt. Yet, I am willing to let the chips fall where they may in hopes this will be a starting point for something greater for both us and Normals, Quill. I know it sounds cold…"

"No…" Quill shook her head, "Just incredibly sad. Even after all humanity has done and all the evil in this world, here we are basically deciding the best chance this world has to unite is by ns through the blood of children."

A big thanks for another fine edit by D&B.

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