Castle Roland


by Kyle Aarons


Chapter Epilog

Published: 17 Apr 14

Garret grabbed his lunch off the table and tossed the other bag to one of his adopted brothers, “Come on, I am not going to be late to the last day of school, but we will be if we are going to walk to the river again at this rate.”

Tony snagged the tossed lunch sack by gliding upward. He hovered there for a few seconds before coming to a nice gentle landing next to Garret.

Gustav finished off his three egg omelet with a huge bite and grinned, “Nice landing, Tony!”

Mrs. Krammer grinned as she took the plate off the table, “Much better, kiddo! You didn’t even bunch up the carpet this time!”

Tony pumped his fist, “I knew I could do it!”

“So did we, I bet you’ll be just like Garret and be able to gain enough control to join them at squadron level early.”

“Oh, he will if we have anything to say about it.” Garret stated with complete conviction. “No brother of mine is going to wait till he is in middle school before making squadron level.”

Mr. Krammer came out of the back bedroom, “Remember, guys, no lollygagging on the way home tonight. The Randal’s are having an end of the year school party at their lake, starting at four, and you all agreed to help set up some of the heavier stuff.”

“We know, Dad,” Gustav smiled. “We’re meeting Killian out front of the school and his mom is taking us over there so we’ll get there in plenty of time. Rex and Josh are getting a ride from Mr. Randal too, so we’ll have no problem getting everything set up.” He took his empty glass over to the dishwasher and stuck it in the top shelf, getting a kiss from Mrs. Krammer.

The trio of boys headed out the door and detoured toward the edge of the river instead of going straight toward the grade school. It had become a daily trek for all three since Tony was certain his brother would eventually turn up and figured when he did, it would be by the new bridge. It was the hope of a nine year old boy, nothing more, and both Garret and Gustav knew it. However, they played along, partially because the daily walk along the river’s edge allowed them to heal some as well.

Garret stopped at the large marker guarded by a USDT Augment guard and a Normal member of local law enforcement since it had been defaced and graffitied over a half dozen times after first being erected. The final time this had happened, the local Church of Purity members found a large group of Augments and Normals from the local Church of Christ waiting for them. The fight had put over a dozen people in the hospital and had finally led to the final chapter of the Church of Purity closing the doors of their final building in Flathead County and taking down the signs. At least Garret hoped it would remain closed.

Shortly after the bloody fight, it was decided to post both a Normal and an Augment guard at the monument to show unity and keep it well protected.

He walked up to the pyramid shaped monument. On one side was a list of USDT cadets and adults who had died defending Whitefish. On the second side was a much longer list of Normals who had done the same. Finally, the third side gave honor to those from Woodsman’s group who had moved in and paid the ultimate price for driving back allied Augments and Normals of Senator Jackson and the remnants of Bronze Age’s group who had linked up with the Separatists.

Off to the side, was a smaller monument, a grave stone really. It held the name of Bradley Lonschok, along with the crest of USDT and West Point. The young man’s throat injury turned out to be too bad for the doctors at the clinic to fix. His death was the one Josh was haunted with the most, because he had offered to teleport back to save him, but had been convinced not to. While the younger Lonschok’s didn’t hold this against him; Josh came here often, holding it against himself.

Both guards nodded to the three boys and even gave a salute to both Gustav and Garret. Both boys returned the salute and moved in to run their hands over the names of the COBRAS who had lost their lives within yards of where they now stood.

At the same time, Tony knelt and did the same thing he had done every day for the last four plus months. He touched the name of his brother, Everett, and looked back over the river, “Where did you go? Why did you leave me?”

“Come on, Tony; he didn’t leave you.” Garret responded as he put his hand over his step brother’s shoulder. “He was here, we all saw him. He was fighting a pair of Bronze Age’s goons with Spencer and Marcie and he was holding his own. He didn’t run and he sure didn’t abandon you.”

Tears welled up in Tony’s eyes and he touched his brother’s name, “Mom and Dad sure did.”

“They may have given birth to you, Tony, but you are our brother and a Krammer now. We are your family and you have a real mom and dad now. Forget about them already.” Gustav all but growled in a demanding voice.

Garret knelt and wrapped Tony in a hug from behind, “Arctic Trooper said you can go with us when we do a deep patrol in a couple of weeks. While we are officially going out to try to find those who escaped the Normals at the Ski Lodge, we’ll also look for him the whole time, promise.”

Tony put his hands over Garret’s and let his stepbrother comfort him until he managed to blink out the final tears. Off to the side, the two guards backed off further giving the trio a little more room. Besides, they both knew no one would dare try a thing with both Thunder Strike and Lord Rune Strike anywhere within eyeshot.

Garret finally helped Tony to stand, “Let’s get to school so we don’t get a detention. Jade Witch would not be happy if we screwed up on the last day of school!”

This got Tony moving. Still, the three boys glanced back toward the brand new bridge and stared at it. Gustav grinned, “I bet we could still take it down again, even with all the extra reinforcement they gave it.”

“I know we could!” Garret snickered.

The Normal guard shook his head, “Not something you two should be saying out loud.”

“Yeah, or we may have to mention something to Arctic Trooper.” The Augment guard snickered.

“Hey, we didn’t say we were going to do it, only we could.” Gustav countered with a laugh.

Tony smiled as he looked back at the two men, “I bet either one of my brothers could do it alone if they really wanted to!”

Gustav shook his head, “Rune Strike could, but not me... Not alone. Those are titanium reinforced rods going through those pillars which go down several yards into the bedrock...”

“I bet you could do it.” Garret stated with certainty. “Don’t doubt yourself.”

“Yeah,” another voice came from just up on the bridge. “I’ve seen what you can do with your staff, Thunder Strike.”

Garret patted Gustav on the back, “Two against one...”

Gustav rolled his eyes as he gave a humor filled snort. “OK, Wayne, you’re probably right, but I’m not about to try it.” He moved up to the boy who was walking with his adopted family. “How you feeling?”

Wayne gave a shrug, “Had another bad headache last night, but Ricky was able to stop the pain, so I think I am getting better. Still have some double vision problems when I wake up, too. I think the helicopter crash, more than slamming into the trees caused most of it. I still can’t believe my own dad would do this to me, and put you all through what you went through.”

“Our dad is your dad, Wayne, and it sure wasn’t your fault.” Ricky stated firmly.

Wayne shrugged again and nodded at the monument. “Most of those people died because of me...”

“No,” Gustav corrected Senator Jackson’s son, “Bronze Age was, your dad was, not you. You were laying in a semi coma for most of the fighting and you never did anything against a single person. Besides, you are now one of us, a member of BEARS 97.”

“I just hate knowing how many died trying to protect me and this town...”

Kenny moved over to his stepbrother, “I’m just glad you lived so you could be my brother.”

Ricky nodded in total agreement, “Well said little bro!” He glanced down at his cell phone, “but if we don’t want to be late, we need to get moving!”

Gustav let out a long breath of air, took one glance back at the river, and gave a shudder, “I still can’t believe we dropped a bridge on ourselves. Mystic Knight still gives me hard time about it every time he talks to me.”

“Same goes for Battlement with me,” Garret sighed, “Even President McCain asked if it was really my idea to bring down the bridge while I was on it when we went to the White House. He even asked me what possessed me to think it was a good idea. Still, the bridge wasn’t the problem; it was how cold the water was!”

“Yeah...” Gustav gave an involuntary shiver. “It was still really creepy seeing all those we took down with us though. All those dead... I think that was the worst part.

“I know you have had those nightmares,” Garret shook his head, “but even as much as I try to tell those BEST grief counselors, they don’t seem to believe I didn’t notice them. I was too focused on making my sorcery bubble as strong as possible and staying warm. Not even Telecon has been able to convince them and I am getting tired of it.”

“They sure helped me with my nightmares.” Gustav countered. “I haven’t had a really bad one in over a month. Now if Josh could just find out what Tanner dreams about... I just don’t understand why no one can help him.”

“All sorts of things activate around Tanner when he slips into one of his nightmares.” Ricky reminded the other two. “Josh tried to get inside his head, but something blocked him, same with when the USDT telepath tried.”

“I know.” Garret spat with some disgust, “I keep telling them it has a magical element to it, but I seem to be the only one who sees it. Still, Josh has been able to calm the dreams when he is around before he gets blocked out, so we have had some progress.”

The boys stopped talking about what was going on with BEARS 97 business as they got to the edge of the temporary school. With both the biggest grade school and middle school badly damaged, the town had shuffled things around, making the rec center the middle school while moving the grade school and the sixth graders to Colt’s father’s former office complex which was now government owned.

All six boys paused as they noticed a group of kids who just didn’t seem to get the fact the vast majority of the kids in the school had accepted them. The lead pair of boys road by on their bikes very close, spraying all three with pebbles as they screeched to a sliding stop only a couple of feet away from them. The bigger one, Billy made a pig sounding snort as he verified he was on the line marking school property, a line the kids he was trying to torment couldn’t use any of their Augmentations once they crossed.

Even as Tony clenched his fist and Garret grabbed him so he didn’t do anything stupid, there was a shout from off to the left causing Billy to turn his head just in time for a football to slam into Billy’s face, knocking him off his bike and into the gravel. A second later, a baseball plowed into the gut of the second bike rider, who, like his friend, fell with a loud yelp.

Off to the side Brock and Killian both advanced at the boys who both had tears and rage in their eyes. Brock was the first to say something, “We told you to catch.”

Billy balled his hands into fists, “No you didn’t!”

One of the boys Garret had saved from getting hit with the mailbox only a few months earlier, moved up to stand next to Killian and Brock, “Yeah, they did.”

A few others Normal kids moved to stand between Garret and his brothers with hard looks while half a dozen others dropped their packs and moved to stand opposite of Brock and the other boys. This left the only angle of retreat the front door of the school. Seeing more coming to defend the six Augments including some of the Junior BEST cadets and their Normal friends, Billy grabbed his friend and all but ran to the safety of the building while those behind them did the same.

Brock grinned as both Garret and Gustav moved over to pat him on the back. “I’ve been waiting weeks for those two Church of Purity pukes to do something in front of all of us again!”

Killian giggled, “I guess falling UP the steps last month wasn’t quite enough. Hopefully this will be.” Garret moved up and patted Brock on the back, but pointed to the bikes, “They are CoP, I think it will take more than this to get them to see the truth. Still, we need to get those into the bike racks.”

A couple of the kids started to protest, but Killian turned to them, “Garret’s right, guys. We did what we had to do, but to keep being mean to them is to be no better than they, and their dying Church of Purity, are.”

“Can’t I at least bend their handlebars or something?” Kenny asked with annoyance.

Ricky moved up with his brother and shook his head, “As much as I would love to see you do it, no. The whole idea is to let them see we are opposite of what they have been told we are. Ricky glanced over at his brother, “Kenny, put their bikes on the rack and keep an eye on them until first bell rings.”

Garret gave Tony a little push. “Go with him. Nothing happens to those bikes, nothing.”

Another Normal boy moved up to the group, “Hey Myst Medic, um, I tried that jump over at the field...”

Ricky turned and saw the kid holding up his elbow. It had a nasty road rash from the elbow almost to the wrist. “Again? When are you going to learn, Mitch?”

Mitch gave a pained grimace, “I am going to hit it before the end of summer! I thought I had it this time!”

Ricky snickered, “At least your pants are intact and I don’t have to fix your knees this time. He glanced down to make sure both he and Mitch were off school property before extending his hands and sending bolts of lights into the fresh injury. A few seconds later, the welling up of the blood stopped and the whole thing started to heal. “I’ll hit it again after school if you want. You need to get it cleaned up first or I might heal a pebble or two in there, though.”

The whole group moved to the front door of the school talking about what they were going to do for summer break. As they got into the door they saw Billy complaining to one of the secretaries only to hear Mr. Blackly moved up, “Billy, if you would learn how to catch a football like I tried to teach you in Gym, you wouldn’t have been hit in the face and getting a black eye; now get to the nurse.”

“But he hit me when I wasn’t looking!” Billy argued.

Mr. Blackly cocked his head to the side. The man then snickered, while winking at the group of kids coming in, clearly knowing what had really happened. “It hit you in the eye, but you weren’t looking? Really?”

“This isn’t fair!” Billy complained as the secretary put a firm hand on his shoulder and led him into the office to see the school nurse so he could get a bag of ice on his rapidly blackening eye.

Garret broke off from the group as he looked over his shoulder. He had said those same exact words hundreds of times because of what kids just like Billy had done to him. “Not fair...” Garret shook his head as he whispered the words. He actually felt himself feeling sorry for both Billy and his friend, Donny.

As he dropped his lunch in his small cubby in his classroom he made it a point to make sure both kids would get invited out to the Randal’s Ranch for the big end of school party. He was all but certain they would not show up, even if allowed to do so. Still, it was something which had to be done. To leave them out was no different than how he was at first left out of the ski party just before Christmas break. He knew the hurt of not being invited and refused to let it happen to others if he could avoid it.

Being the first one in the room, he had nothing better to do than to get ready for the last day of school. He pulled out all his school books and readied them for turn in, then looked up at the world map. He couldn’t help but smile as he saw the splotch of land in the upper north, a Canada now marked with red. The large island had been handed over to the Woodsman under the condition he, along with those who wanted to follow him, obeyed all the laws of Canada and allowed RLD policing.

It was rapidly becoming a place for Augments from both Canada and the U.S. to go to live in peace and be around their own. Many who had gone were the ones who really stood out, like those with extra arms, strange colored skin, horns, and the like, but others went just to get away from the hatred directed at them.

Woodsman was still working on setting up a governing body for the large island, which would also have to meet with the full approval of the Parliament, but in the meantime, the Augment Reservation, as the Canadian Government was calling it, seemed to be off to a good start.

Of course, this wouldn’t have happened at all if Bronze Age hadn’t been defeated and Woodsman hadn’t moved in his people to help defend Whitefish and rescue the Augment children taken from the ski lodge. The fact Woodsman and his group had also rescued and kept safe dozens of kids from the joint COUGARS BEARS encampment the prior year also helped. The one thing there was no doubt about, however, none of it would have happened without the united efforts of the BEARS and COBRAS holding the line and finally crushing Bronze Age at Whitefish.

Woodsman had personally thanked all of the kids for their victory, their understanding, and above all, their efforts at uncovering who had really been behind the slaughter at the encampment. It allowed the whole world to see there were Augment separatists out there who didn’t harbor hatred to all Normals and just wanted to be left alone to live in peace with other Augments.

In Garret’s way of thinking, it was stupid, though. Some Augments still had Normal kids, so what would happen when Normal children started to appear in the reservation? Would the reverse happen? Would the Normals be abandoned? Some probably would, and knowing this bothered Garret and the other BEARS 97 cadets a great deal. It was a nearly constant topic of conversation with their newly found Normal friends as well.

To the credit of Brock’s mom, she had reached out to the Woodsman to ask those very questions. She, along with several others, was even setting up the framework of an outreach program to make sure, if such a thing did start to happen, those Normal children would have a place to go with families willing to take them in.

It seemed the whole world was changing, all as the result of two of the worst days, yet best days of Garret’s life. His thoughts were distracted as Killian came into the room pushing Gwen in her wheel chair.

Killian nudged Garret, “Hey, Gwen has permission to go to the party, but we don’t have a wheelchair vehicle for her. Any chance we can have you pick her and her chair up and get it into Brock’s dad’s van?”

“Not a problem, just has to be outside the school perimeter.”

“I’ll tell Brock to call his dad and have him park in the store lot across the street after school.”

Gwen looked over with a squint. “Thanks Rune Strike.”

“Not a problem Wizardress, not a problem at all. So how did your treatment go yesterday?”

“I hate them.” Gwen grumbled, “They make my back hurt and my vision is always more blurry for a couple of days afterwards, but I was able to take ten steps without a walker or leg braces!”

“Right on!” Killian praised the girl, “We knew you could do it!”

Gwen managed a smile, “Only because you keep helping to push me to fight though the pain, but you all will have to help me see again today, since my vision is really screwed up. Those darned light rays from Ricky after the healing take away lots of the pain, but man, do they make things look like I am in a bad fog for a couple days. But at least I am getting close to having normal vision again without those stupid thick glasses.” She let out a sigh as she adjusted her sunglasses, “Light still bothers me though.”

“We’ll get you through today.” Killian stated as he pushed Gwen up to her desk.

Garret nodded in full agreement, “Don’t worry about anything, Gwen, we’ll take care of turning in all your stuff.”

“Thanks.” Gwen sighed, “I just want to be able to do it all myself.”

“You will, Gwen.” One of the other female classmates stated as she walked into the room, “And the second you can, we are going to have a big dance so you can show off!”

“And I get the first dance with you!” Killian stated without any sign of embarrassment.

Before more could be said, the teacher walked in and cleared her throat, “OK, let’s get today going. This may be the last day of school of the year, but we all can still learn some things.” She then walked out to the hall and clapped her hands, signaling the need to stop talking in the hall and get into the room for those who were far more interested in the day being over with than starting the day.” The teacher stood by the door, making sure everyone entered the room before she shut the door. It took her only a moment to do a head count and verify everyone was present. Nodding in approval, she spoke up again. “So take your seats and pull out a piece of paper.”

The teacher pulled the maps off the walls and rolled them up revealing a huge word math problem underneath the map of the United States. “Now, just to get your brains working and to give you a last chance at a better grade, I’ll bump up one grade of your choice by half a grade on your report cards for anyone who can list at least thirty states with their capitols or solve this math equation.”

Killian raised his hand. As soon as the teacher pointed at him, he spoke up, “Ma’am, Gwen had to get an eye treatment yesterday...”

The teacher nodded in understanding, “So you help her read the math problem and write it down for her big enough so she can see it. I already know she is going to jump at it and you take the states names on your own without help, since I bet you can bust out at least thirty.

“I’ll get all fifty.” Killian stated with confidence.

“I’ll hold you to that, Killian!” The teacher snickered.

Garret glanced over the lengthy math problem for a few seconds before shaking his head. He then went on to listing states and capitols. He got the first twenty-six quickly enough, but the last four he was not sure on. So, just to be on the safe side, he listed a total of forty states and put down what he thought the capitols were, figuring he had to have guessed right on at least four. He then wrote at the top ‘add to spelling’, since the difference between a C+ and a B- was five bucks in his pocket. The “grade money” as his dad called it was a huge deal since Garret’s allowance was only ten dollars a week now that he had two brothers. But the cut in allowance was well worth having kids around he could play with.

As kids turned in their answers, the teacher was more than ready to keep them busy. She had worksheets waiting for them with a note at the top saying getting above an eighty percent would guarantee a candy bar at lunch. He eyed the note as he went back to his seat wondering if it would be a bite sized one or a full sized one. Not wanting to take the chance at missing out on a full sized candy bar, he went to work again.

Before he even realized how much time had passed, the buzzer went off signaling it was time for morning recess. Sliding the almost complete worksheet in his desk he got up and stretched, noting a couple of the other kids had already turned in their first worksheet and they were busy on one printed on yellow paper. He moved over to Brock as they filed out of the classroom, “So what bribery is she using on the second one?”

Brock grinned, “If we get an eighty on it we get to stay out for lunch with the younger kids. If we don’t we have to come back in and correct our mistakes.

“I wonder if she thinks she’s being sneaky about keeping us busy?”

“Probably.” Gwen giggled as she was pushed down the hall by Killian at a near break neck pace. A couple of teachers glared at Killian as he jumped up on the back so he could go along for the ride, but being the last day of school, they glanced at each other and decided to say nothing. The truth of the matter was, pretty much all of the teachers were as ready for the end of the year as the kids were. The last thing they wanted to do was keep kids after school or call parents so they let a few things, such as taking a joy ride on the back of a wheelchair, slide by without a fuss.

Garret moved out into the field are beyond the playground equipment, knowing if anyone got hurt, even after what had happened, they would still look for the possibility of an Augment having caused the problem. However, unlike before Bronze Age’s attack, several others came out and joined him and the baker’s dozen other Augments in the third through fifth grades who had signed up with BEST over the past few months.

It didn’t take long to get a game of hacky sac going, while they talked about the upcoming vacation and their plans. Several of the kids talked about fishing and a few about trips to large amusement parks or national parks their parents had planned. One girl even asked Garret, along with the others who had gone to Washington to meet the President and tour the Smithsonian, what she should go see.

The conversation came to an abrupt halt as just beyond the fence an armored car was cut off by a large front end loader tractor. The tractor slammed into the car directly in front of the large armored car with a massive crashing sound and the breaking of glass. The screeching of the brakes, and the smoke caused by the locked up tires, didn’t hide the follow-up gunshots being fired at the escort car behind the armored car. At almost the same time, the now smashed lead escort car was fired on from above by a winged person launching sparking orange flares out of his hands.

Garret yelled, “Everyone down!” as he moved to stand between the two kids closest to the fence and the sudden battle just outside the fence, taking a rogue gunshot to his abdomen for his efforts.

Off to the side, Ricky yanked the girl asking about the Smithsonian down behind Garret as he pulled out his BEARS radio, “Command, we have gunshots at the school...” His voice was drowned out by automatic fire from the trailing escort car at a pair of men, one of which looked to have lizard like skin.

Arctic Trooper’s voice came over the radio without hesitation, “Protect the kids and get inside. Use of defensive augmentations authorized!”

Gustav spoke into his own radio even as Garret started to form a shield to better defend those out on the playground, “A.T. it look like Augments are attacking on an armored truck. We need help!”

Garret took a burst of flares from the flying Augment as the flyer saw the shield start to form, “Ouch!” Garret shouted as he brought up the shield to deflect a second volley of shots, but since his shield wasn’t fully formed it shattered under the assault.

Corbin came sprinting from the opposite side to the large field, forming his gravity armor bubble as he did so. He got there just in time to stop a burst of automatic fire directed at Garret. The bullets stopped and hung in mid-air, but without permission to go on the offensive, he extended his hand and used just enough gravity control to where they scattered harmlessly off to his right side.

Wayne also bolted toward the fence as shimmering purple armor covered him from head to toe. As soon as he showed up, however, many of the Augments attacking the armored car turned and focused on him and other members of BEARS 97.

Seeing another burst of gunfire go past them and hit one of the fleeing students, Garret dove, taking another two bullets in his thigh rather than allowing another kid to get hit. At the same time his shield started to reform. As he winced at getting shot again, Garret shouted out, “Gwen, put up your bubble! I know it can’t take more than a couple of hits, but it may let the others get inside!”

Ricky spoke into his radio, “Command, some of the Augments have started attacking us and a couple of others are shooting toward the school! One kid is already down! We can’t protect them all!”

Jade Witch snarled at hearing this. She switched her radio over to USDT One Command frequency, “USDT One, this is an Emergency Flash Message! We have rogue Augment activity at the Flathead grade school, one Normal is down and our cadets are under direct assault. We are out of position at our base. Need authorization for full activation of BEARS 97!”

Moments later Gwen’s Force bubble formed and just as quickly cracked and shattered, but it allowed several kids enough time to get to the relative safety of the building, but one more fell as a grey-green ray caught him in the leg.

Suddenly all the BEARS held Radios on the playground came to life with an alert activation tone. “All BEARS 97 cadets, this is a Phase One Activation. All Squadron level cadets, this is Lord Geode of USDT One. At this time, all Squadron level cadets are authorized to activate any and all augmentations to defend the grade school, students, teachers and staff. Junior BEST cadets, use of defensive Augmentations authorized! Suppression and or elimination of hostile Augments and their support is also authorized. All USDT personnel in and around Whitefish deploy with all haste to assist and support!”

Upon hearing this, whips came out of Gwen’s wrists as the winged flyer made a pass trying to get behind Garret and Corbin so he could launch his flares at Wayne. Although she could only see shadows, she could clearly tell the orange bursts erupting out of the flyer’s hands since the brightness of them hurt her eyes. One whip strike missed, but the second one hit the flyer in the wing sending him out of control. He slammed into the side of the front-end loader with the sound of breaking bones.

At the same time, Ricky sent a pair of light beams into the face of the closest shooter, which caused him to drop his Mac-10 and clutch at his face. Another man moved up but never got the chance to react.

At the middle school, Josh didn’t hesitate in the slightest. From inside his social Studies classroom he simply stood and vanished with a slight crackling sound.

Two classrooms away, Colt ran to an open window on the second floor and lept out. While a few kids ran over to see, a bluish-gold sheen of electricity enveloped Colt as he fell only a couple of feet before launching into the sky. By the time the last kid in his Science class got to the window all they could see was a rapidly departing dot in the sky.

Josh appeared at the top of the makeshift elementary building, selected a target, and vanished again. This time, he appeared to the left side of the gunman moving up to help the man injured and temporarily blinded by Ricky. He put everything he could into a left hook, flinging the guy over the top of the ruined lead escort car. He then turned as he got a warning shout from Gustav, only to see a woman with a glowing blade lunging for him.

The woman’s eyes seemed to glint with victory even before the blade found flesh. The look was quickly replaced with total confusion as she found herself swinging at... nothing...

Josh appeared behind her and kicked the woman in the butt hard enough to send her into the side of the armored car and dent it. She spun with a trickle of blood coming from a cut on her eyebrow, but basically looked unfazed. She lunged again.

Realizing he was dealing with an Augment with serious toughness, Josh let her get close and teleported again. This time, however, he put himself below her and between her legs while tucking himself in a crouched position. As soon as he appeared, he jumped up with everything he had, delivering the hardest two handed shot he could manage while launching her over eighty feet into the air.

Her scream of pain from the blow, mixed with fear, caused many to pause and turn. Those who turned their eyes skyward saw a bright blue-gold streak in the sky, which suddenly set loose with a flash of lightning. The twin yellow and blue forks of energy struck the woman, ending her screams. She fell out of the sky like a brick and slammed into the sidewalk just outside the school perimeter with enough force to crack the concrete.

Back at the middle school, Ajax looked over at Rex in the back of the Math class, “My ghost can get there, but need protect my body.”

Mr. Evens jumped up from his desk, tossing the keys to his restored 1977 Camaro to Rex, “Take Skye and go. I’ll watch over Ajax!”

Ajax nodded, “Go Rex!” A moment later Ajax’s body slid down in his seat as his ghost form briefly appeared next to his body then vanished.

As Mr. Evens moved to stand right next to Ajax, he shouted to a rapidly departing Rex and Skye, “Boy, you put a scratch on my car and you will be spending the weekend at my place helping me fix any damage!”

Eldora, Valda, and Logan all ran out the front door only to see smoke coming off the back tires of the rapidly departing sports car. At the same time Rab came out of a side door, spun his hand above his head, creating a swirling of air around himself and took to the sky. Eldora crouched, getting ready to transform into her eagle form, while the other two kids glanced at each other. Logan and Valda were getting ready to start running when a voice from behind them caused all three of them to turn with a universal cringe.

Mr. Lutz, the school custodian, astonished all three as he jerked his head in the direction of his Chevy Avalanche, “If Mr. Evens will let Rex drive his ride, then I’d look like a total jerk for not letting one of you take mine. Keys are in it, now go!”

Just over a mile and a half away, at the elementary school, Garret blocked a grayish black ray with his shield which had clearly been aimed at Gwen.

Brock suddenly came running back out of the building along side of Killian. Before Garret could shout for either of them to get back inside, Brock tossed Gustav a mop handle with the mop unscrewed. At the same time, Killian stayed low, but grabbed the handles of Gwen’s wheelchair and started pulling the protesting girl back toward the building. Brock quickly joined Killian in helping get Gwen into safety while scolding the girl, “With you inside, Garret can go on the attack and take out the trash. You can protect us from inside!”

Garret stayed put, blocking another grayish black ray and a pair of gunshots directed at the two boys pulling Gwen as fast is their legs would take them.

Wayne glared at one of the shooters and squinted, dark purple rays blasted out of his eyes putting two holes in the shooter who fell screaming and clutching at his chest.

Gustav spun the metal mop handle and grinned. He moved up on the ray shooter and swung. The makeshift staff turned a bright golden color just before it made contact. It then made a thunderous crashing sound. The older looking man was launched back into a tree which in turn snapped as the guy went through it.

Gustav then rolled out of the way as one of the attackers fired a three round burst from an assault rifle at him.

Before the assailant could try to get another bead on Gustav, Ajax appeared next to the man, “Not nice to shoot at Thunder Strike!”

The man turned tried to butt stroke the unexpected arrival, only to stumble right though the ghost image.

Ajax raised both hands as the attacker turned with bewilderment written all over his face. He let loose with a pair of heat beams, setting the man’s clothing on fire, while causing the rounds in the rifle magazine to go off. The series of exploding rounds tore the guy up while simply passing right though Ghost Shadow’s image.

Rex slammed on the brakes and spun the wheel so the Camaro slid to a sideways stop blocking traffic from accidently approaching the sudden battle zone. This maneuver also allowed Skye to jump out on the passenger side in the direction of the fight. As soon as her feet hit the street, her rock armor encased her. She then started running toward the fight.

At the same time, Rex jumped over the top of the car while his claws came out to their full length. He headed straight into the wood as fast as he could run, hoping to take some of attackers from behind.

Ricky sent another light ray at yet another Augment, as the woman grabbed the driver of the trailing car out of the window and tossed the hapless guard at Gustav. Ricky’s ray missed the dodging woman; instead, it connected with the car’s headlight, shattering it.

Gustav saw the guy flying toward him, but knew he couldn’t do much about it other than to get out of the way. Gustav couldn’t help but cringe as he was forced to dive and roll out of the way.

Just before the guard splattered into the ground, Rab dove down and spun his arms, causing a vortex of air to lift the screaming man up then gently deposit him on top of one of the larger pieces of playground equipment. He then dropped to the ground and dismissed the torrents of air around himself, so he could focus on fighting rather than staying airborne.

Seeing two kids slightly younger than him come out of the woods on the far side, one with greenish blue skin, and the other with sharp looking horns coming out of his forehead, Rab whistled over to Gustav and pointed to the scoop of the front end loader.

Gustav gave a single nod as he moved forward while shouting, “Rune Strike, Gwen’s inside! The only ones left outside are the two who were hit and Myst Medic and Telecon are moving to help them; time to show off!”

A smirk crossed Garret’s face as his fists flashed bright blue. He blocked one more ray fired at him from behind a boulder off to his left and moved right toward the armored car where three attacking Augments were trying to peal open the back door. While, from above, twin bolts of electricity dealt with the ray shooter.

Detecting things were rapidly going from bad to worse, the Augment who had tossed the guard out of the trailing car dove into the shattered window, grabbed the steering wheel and punched the gas. The back tires let out a plume of smoke as the car turned sharply and headed right for Skye.

Skye eyed the oncoming car and shook her head. She slammed her back foot into the paved road and braced herself. Moments later, the sounds of screeching metal, breaking glass, and an echo of a massive crash cascaded over the area.

Skye winced with a bit of pain as the heavy car hit her dead center and folded around her while the radiator blew open, the left front tire bounced past her left ear, and the engine block came to rest against her abdomen. However, the Augment who had thrown the driver guard and, without Air Magus, would have certainly killed the man, hadn’t put on a seatbelt, normally not needing one.

At the same time, the fact the woman behind the wheel had tried to kill someone really ticked Skye off. The pain from the crash only heightened her aggravation.

The Augment who slammed into Skye went right through the front window of the car as it came to the sudden violent stop. Unfortunately, however, simply going through the window and slamming into the concrete, which may have been survivable to the very tough and strong woman was not what happened. Instead, she saw nothing but a huge rock covered fist with large pink spiked knuckles as she flew out of the wrecked car. It was the last thing she saw.

Skye reared back with everything she had as she delivered the ultimate haymaker. The Augment may have come out the front window on the driver’s side, but she went right back through the passenger side of the front window and out the back. She then connected with the back doors of the armored truck with enough force to break the left side clean off the armored hinges.

While Skye shoved the remnants of the car off herself and tossed the engine block at a guy lining up to shoot at Ricky and Josh who were trying to help the two injured Normal kids on the playground; Gustav moved on the two boys who were right about his age. “Guys, stop. We don’t want to hurt you.”

The bluish-green colored boy flipped his very long tongue, sending a nasty looking glob of goo at Gustav, but it never made it. Instead it burst into flames as Tanner blasted it with a fire dart from above.

Gustav shook his head, caused the mop handle to flare again, and slammed it into the ground with enough force to knock both kids down. He then looked up, “Crossfire, get them into the tractor scoop!”

Tanner dropped down and landed next to Gustav, “In there?” he pointed at the front end of the tractor.

“Yeah!” Rab shouted from just off to the left and behind.

Tanner shrugged and sent a condensed wave of heat into the kid with the horns just as he started to stand. The impact flung the kid into the scoop, causing a cry of pain as the youngster slammed into the thick metal. Tanner then took another step toward the kid with blue-green skin, “Jump in or be next, your choice!”

Seeing the mop handle start to glow again, along with a visible wave of heat around Tanner and dust starting to swirl around Rab, the kid held up both hands, turned, ran, and jumped into the scoop with the other boy.

Can you lock them in there, Air Magus?” Gustav gestured toward the two boys.

Rab nodded, moved forward, and waved his arm, putting a very powerful and thick wall of air over the scoop trapping them inside. “Take care of your friend, stay there, and don’t try to get out. We don’t want to hurt you, but we will.”

The kid who jumped in tried once to push on the wall of air only to get thrown back by the invisible raging torrents. Seeing all three boys glare at him, he held up both hands again, shook his head and moved to check on the other kid.

Rab glanced over at the other two with him, “As small an area as my wall is covering, it would take a Class Four strength and quite a bit of toughness to get out of there without serious injury. Neither of them look like they have either.”

Jade Witch pulled up in her Pathfinder on the far side just as Logan, Valda and Eldora joined the fight. She pulled the radio up to her mouth, only to see Arctic Trooper pull up next to her.

Arctic Trooper jumped out of his pickup and encased himself with his ice armor as he surveyed the scene. “Have USDT forces deploy to the east and south. Let’s keep the fighting contained and out of heavily populated areas. This will funnel all of them to the north and into the wilderness.

A third vehicle pulled up alongside Jade Witch’s and Arctic Trooper’s. Mr. Hammond jumped out and brought up his sonic armor. “Where do you need us?”

A.T. glanced over at the newest adult leader of BEARS 97 with a smirk, “Lumberjack, we are leaders and trainers. You’re protective; I get it. But right now, you need to be next to us, keeping an eye out in case one of our kids comes up against something they can’t handle or gets seriously hurt. They are named and us jumping in at this point is not in their best interests; nor will they ultimately be happy about it. Let’s see them in action and see what we need to work on. Besides, I don’t see any threat they can’t deal with at this point.”

Lumberjack clenched his fist, knowing in his heart AT was right, but not liking the fact some of the kids under his care could get injured. The week in the Billings’ hospital was probably the worst of his life. Still, he deferred to the man next to him as he brought up his Chi Axe just in case while looking in the back seat at his son and daughter, “Well, don’t just sit there you two! Get going! You’re squadron mates need you!”

The back doors of the pick-up popped open as the twins built up their augmentation powers around them. At the same time, Dena Hammond glanced over at her brother, “This is better than getting the gear ready for the patrol.”

Scott Hammond rolled his eyes, “School would have been better than getting the gear ready, Tundra Cat.”

“Thermal Lance, Tundra Cat,” Jade Witch snarled, “get going, or all chores for the first week out on patrol have your names written all over them!”

The eyes of both kids went wide. Thermal Lance launched into the sky as he got up enough heat built up around him, while Tundra Cat did the same with cold air.

“Check for flyers and keep an eye on Telecon and Myst Medic, since they are in the open helping the injured students!” Arctic Trooper commanded as the pair took to the sky.

Not far from the armored car, a large guy with bear-like features moved up to the driver’s door and started to peal it open. He just managed to get it open when a bright blue fist caught him in the gut, flipping him up high enough to where he slammed onto the top of the armored car and fell off on the back side.

Garret glanced at the armed driver, “Don’t shoot me, it hurts and makes me mad.” Seeing the man’s eyes glance at his nine millimeter Ruger and back at him, Garret waved a finger of warning, “We’re trying to help you, but if you shoot me... He slammed his fist into the step up, ripping it right off the side of the armored vehicle.

The man gulped and lowered the firearm, causing Garret to grin. “Now, run to the school, we’ll cover you!”

As the man scrambled out and headed toward the school, Garret shouted out, “Guy in the blue uniform is the driver, cover him!”

Above, a burst of fire took on one Augment who moved up to try to do something to the running man while a burst of ice shards took out another.

At the same time, Logan used his blades to cut down yet another Augment while Eldora, in tiger form, lept on a teenage boy and roared at him.

The boy started to try to fight but stopped as he saw a tree reach out, grab a female adult and yank it toward a teeth filled woody mouth. The woman’s screams of terror were cut short as she was stuffed into the mouth which closed and reformed into a normal looking tree, only with feet sticking out of the trunk.

Valda moved over and glared at the teen Eldora was on top of, “Stay put or I’ll show you what else the Woodsman taught me!”

The boy opened both hands and ceased all struggling as he looked at the girl then up at the tiger. His eyes went even wider as the white tiger growled at him.

An instant later both Thermal Lance and Tundra Cat shouted out at almost the same time, “Rune, Look out!”

Garret turned just in time to see the bear-like man swing the back door of the armored car Skye’s punch had knocked off at him. Instead of trying to block it with his shield like he had the mailbox only months before, he punched it. The bear-faced man flew back as did Garret. The man went into and through a boulder, while Garret was driven under the armored car.

Seeing this, plus the fur covered man trying to stand while shaking his head, as if trying to clear it was more than enough for the adults to take notice. Arctic Trooper, Jade Witch and Lumberjack all started to move forward, but three things happened within moments of each other, causing them to stop and glance at each other with cringes on their faces.

First Rex came out of the woods and pointed at a pair of teenaged Augments. From behind Rex, a pair of cougars leapt, one into each of the teens. Both girls screamed as the claws gouged into them and knocked them to the ground. Rex moved up, “Stay down and don’t fight them, or I will tell them you are the lunch I promised them!”

From above, Colt saw the bear-man stand, albeit on wobbly legs. Knowing the guy had just decked Garret and not knowing how badly Garret was hurt, Colt landed on top of the main transformer sending power to the school, grabbed the wires with one hand and sucked up all the power going to the building behind him, forcing the emergency lighting to come on in the halls. He then extended his other hand and let loose with everything he was sucking in, plus adding a great deal of what he had stored inside him. A monolithic bolt of golden-blue electricity crackled though the air causing a thunderclap. It slammed into the bear-man with devastating effect. The guy didn’t let out a sound as the electricity hit with enough force to blow him out of his laced up calf high boots, melt all his fur and hair, and cause all the metal buttons on his vest to became hot enough to melt.

The monstrous man landed in a heap ten yards away, smoke coming out of his ears, eyes, nose, moth, and even underneath where his butt had slammed into the ground.

The last two attacking Augments, who were still at the back of the armored car, suddenly felt the whole vehicle shift as a young sounding voice shouted out, “Ouch! That HURT!”

Before either one could run, the whole vehicle lifted up in the air.

Garret shook with rage as a little bit of blood trailed down from his badly skinned knees from where the blow from the armored door had all but slid him under the vehicle, while pealing back pavement with Garret’s knees. Without even realizing what he was doing, he grabbed hold of the drive train of the truck with his left hand while he stood, lifting up the whole thing above his head.

Only seeing two remaining combatants, and still shaking with pain and rage, he glared at the two, “You want what’s in here? Then have it!” He then slammed the open back end over the top of the two with enough force to bury the edges over a foot into the concrete. Still really mad, even as his road-rashed knees started to heal, he slammed his blue fist into the middle of the road creating a huge hole. “Stay in there or I swear...”

Before Garret could do more damage, Josh teleported next to him, “Whoa, Ruin Strike, chill! Go punch some trees or boulders or... I don’t even know what, but something USDT won’t have to pay for!”

With all threats eliminated, and no sign of any of the attackers having escaped, the three adults in command of BEARS 97 moved forward to survey the carnage.

Josh stood next to Garret long enough to make sure the kid was back under control, before teleporting back to the kid he had been working on.

Rex moved over to the two girls who were eyeing the mountain lions with terror in their eyes, “Where are the others from Bronze Age’s group hiding?”

The girl with a rhino-like horn looked over, “Huh?”

Rex extended his claws again, “The rest of Bronze Age’s group, where are they?”

The other girl started to raise a hand only to have the cougar circling her snarl, “Please, we give up! Call them off...”

“Unless you want to be their lunch, tell me where the camp is!” Rex shouted angrily which caused both large mountain lions to growl threateningly.

The rhino horned girl shook her head, “We don’t know what you are talking about!”

Jade Witch moved up while motioning for Rex to have the two large cats back off.

He whistled causing both animals to move to his side. Still he glared at the girls as he pointed his claws at them, “You move, and you’re lunch!”

At the same time and only a few yards away, Lumberjack walked up to the front end loader and looked at the two terrified boys in the front scoop. “How about you two? Do you know where the camp Bronze Age’s flunkies are operating out of?”

The bluish-green kid shook his head, “I don’t know what you are even talking about!”

“Then where are you from and why are you here?” Rab demanded to know as he moved to stand next to Lumberjack.

The boy glanced down at his friend, “We were let out of the Augment Care Center in Ann Arbor just before Christmas and taken to another center just west of some little town called Marquette. We were told some senator, a Mr. Jackson, wanted all of us freaky looking ones put somewhere else, so Normals didn’t have to look at us and other adults who look just as screwed up as we are would deal with us.”

Upon hearing Senator Jackson’s name, Arctic Trooper’s eyes narrowed. “So, how did you get here?”

“Over land, we were forced to ride in the back of a semi with me making an Illusion of stuff in the back whenever it was opened... then we walked, for like three weeks...” The boy looked down, “Kevin is hurt bad...”

A.T. glanced at Rab, “Let them loose Air Magus. They ain’t about to go anywhere with all of us watching them.”

Rab nodded, “Duck down and cover up your partner, this is going to hurt and there is nothing I can do about it.”

As soon as the boy disappeared from view, Rab put up a fist and rapidly extended all of his fingers. The air wall blew apart. Inside the scoop, the bluish-green boy yelled in some pain.

Arctic Trooper looked over his shoulder, “Telecon, Myst Medic, I could use one of you two over here.”

Josh looked up from the kid he was working on and shook his head. Ricky did pretty much the same thing, but did respond, “Tony knows how to use his healing pretty well.”

Arctic Trooper put fingers up to his mouth and let out a very large and loud whistle, “Tony Krammer, get out here, we need another healer!”

Tony glided out of one of the second story windows and landed only a few feet from A.T. with only a sight stumble. He looked down and kicked the ground, “Dang it!”

Lumberjack smiled, “Way better than I have ever seen you land, Tony.”

“Way better!” A.T. agreed as he escorted the youngster over and lifted him up into the scoop. “Either of you two try to harm him...” He left the warning hanging, figuring he really didn’t have to say more.

Tony knelt and started to glow a lime green. Within a few minutes, the boy Tanner had heat shoved into the scoop groaned and started to complain about being cold.

While this was going on, Jade Witch eyed the two girls. Having heard what the younger boys had said, she followed up with a question of her own, “So, you all traveled by foot for weeks to get here?”

The girl with the rhino horn gulped and nodded, “Kodiak, the bear man, he was in charge at the center in Marquette Michigan, he made us train every day and told us the government and Senator Jackson was giving us a chance to be something other than freaks. We lived in the back of the semi and off the land for the past four months. We also got supplies dropped to us a few times by Senator Jackson; at least we were told it was him. He flew in with food and weapons...”

“What was he flying?” Rex demanded to know.

“Nothing!” The other girl spoke, “He flew in with stuff on his back...”

Jade Witch pulled out her smart phone and pulled up a picture of Senator Jackson. “Does this guy look familiar?”

The girl with the rhino horn nodded, “That’s Senator Jackson, when he is not shape shifted into someone else...”

Wayne’s jaw fell open, “He’s an Augment and can shape shift into other people like I can?”

Both girls nodded as they watched Wayne change into a pudgy looking girl with strawberry colored hair, then back to his normal slender, brown haired, blue eyed self.

“There’s no way!” Wayne shouted as he shook his head. “He hates us and... and how did he pass the physicals and lie detectors and stuff?”

Jade Witch shook her head, “Good questions, but if you really think about it Wayne, it makes sense. Everything he was doing in the Senate was to create a war! Full scale war between Augments and Normals was his end game. However, now, as one of the most wanted men in North America, he is switching to an alternate plan... Even worse, if he was controlling Bronze Age then he is actually an ultra powerful Class Five!”

Over at the front end loader, Lumberjack and A.T. lifted both boys out of the scoop while Tony floated out and dropped down, landing perfectly this time. The youngster then knelt, “He’s still kind of hurt. I need some food and rest before I can do more... Sorry...”

“Nothing to be sorry for, nothing at all,” A.T. praised the nine year old. “You did great. I have some MRE’s in my vehicle, get your breath back and go grab a couple.” He then rubbed his hand over his face, “So you walked all the way here and Senator Jackson brought you food and stuff?”

The bluish green boy nodded as he chewed on his bottom lip. “He told us the truck was Church of Purity and wanted us to take it here and kill all the Augments helping the Church of Purity that would show up...” He gulped, but pointed at Wayne, “He also said we need to kill him or he would kill us!”

“No one’s going to be killing any of you.” Lumberjack stated with rage in his voice, while A.T. nodded in total agreement and moved toward the playground equipment.

Arctic Trooper’s eyes narrowed as he moved over to the jungle gym the one guy was still sitting on, trying to recover. “Church of Purity?”

The guard eyed A.T. with a great deal of distain, but nodded, “We were pulling everything we have of value out of the area...” The guy shook his head, “Look, I want nothing to do with any of you but your kind just prevented me from being road kill, so here’s what I know. We were ordered by Mr. Lugrall to take this route and said we had to be here right when we got here. Something about Senator Jackson needing us here... Now I know why, I just don’t get it.”

Colt flew off the power pole and landed next to the guy, “My dad is behind this, too?”

“Yeah, Freak...” The man’s voice trailed off as Arctic Trooper turned to glare at the man.

Colt shrugged as he looked up at A.T., “It’s OK.” Colt then moved a step closer to the guy, “You know, before I became an Augment, I used to spend the night at your house and played with your kids Mr. Schneider. I used to say the same thing about Augments when we saw them on TV. Just remember, when you go back to Porter and John, to tell them my new and real friends are the only reason you are alive to give them a hug tonight!”

Colt then turned his back on the man as he moved over to the others in his Squadron who were gathered around the two mountain lions, feeding them some beef jerky, and petting them.

The boy with the bluish-green skin looked up at Lumberjack, “Senator Jackson said he would make this a war between us and the Normals one way or the other...”

Josh stood while helping the boy he had just healed to stand, “He’ll have to get though us and those like us first. After all, we are Defenders!”

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