Castle Roland

Geek Squad

by Kyle Aarons

In Progress

Chapter 13

Published: 8 Apr 14

Geek Squad

Copyright © 2012 - 2014 by Kyle Aarons and the Revolutions Universe Partnership
All Rights Reserved

Geek Squad LogoBy the time everyone got to the boat the ten kids rescued from the bus were exhausted, scared and just starting to realize the town they lived in was burning in several locations. While the details of the firefight in town were being kept from them, a couple of the youngsters started to look back at the plumes of smoke and the adults knew the questions would not be long in coming.

The highest ranking officer of the Russians who had made the walk, Colonel Dmitry Zolotov's second in command Major Makari Yakov, glanced at the boat then back at the kids. "We are not all going to be able to safely fit." He glanced back at the StarshinĂ¡, or Master Sergeant. "After the flight and the trip here, our younger guys could use a good workout."

StarshinĂ¡ Yevichec snorted, "OK, boys, you heard the man, time for a couple mile swim! Drop your long arms and boots off on the boat and hit the water. First three back have no guard duty for a week! You all let any of your comrade's drown, I'll make you swim back here, then do it all over again!"

As the men tossed their boots and long arms in the boat, Makari glanced over and pointed out six of the young men and shook his head, "Battle wounds, even minor ones, cut you guys out, sorry."

Five of the six looked annoyed while the last one started to protest, only to get cut off by Major Yakov. "Efreitor Lychinsky, I personally saw you make three kills today and did so while pulling the old lady behind one of the burning vehicles to protect her. Your cheek has a burn and your side was grazed by a bullet; you have done more than enough today. Now, if you feel up to it and wish to swim the lake in the morning with any of the other injured, I might find a way to get you off the guard duty roster as well. However, until we have medics fully check you and the others who were nicked up, I don't want any of you endangering yourselves or others."

The major then shot a smirk over to Levi, "This whole thing should keep the kids from asking too many questions from us for a while."

Levi snorted, "And I thought my commander was tough and sneaky!"

"I learned from Colonel Zolotov. He is one of the best officers ever to put on a uniform in Russia, and has turned down general rank more times than I can count, because he refuses to be caught on the political side of things. He feels he is just too good at producing top notch soldiers, and truth be told, he is correct. If you would, keep within sight of the men, though. I may be pushing them a bit hard, even for me."

Levi nodded and motioned for the kids from the bus crash to climb into the large boat followed by Keith, Alexander, Scott, and Justin. An hour and thirty minutes later, and the sun rapidly disappearing in the western horizon, Levi piloted the large house boat toward the dock, but kept it out in deep water in case any of the swimming soldiers had any last minute problems. Those at the back of the pack were struggling, but all appeared able to finish, much to the surprise of all of the kids. As a matter of fact, even as the last man looked up from over three hundred meters off the dock to see how much further he had to go, some of the Russians were already drying off on the shore.

At the same time, Kermit, who had never been to an EEL party at the lake, looked over the property and then over to Levi, "Ok, why is there a huge tent, volleyball nets, and half a dozen large grills, smoke pouring out of them, and all sorts of lights set up when we are trying to stay hidden?"

Justin glanced around and managed a bit of a grin, "This is how we are hiding! No one in their right mind would ever suspect we are the ones to blame with all this going on! I wonder who thought of it?"

Levi took in a deep breath, "I am beyond certain it was either Glenn, Joey, or Ricky. No sane adult would ever think of something this outlandish." He shook his head as he glanced over to the kids from the bus. "Looks like we have a med tent, food and even lawn darts and volleyball. I want you all to let the medics give you a once over, get cleaned up, and get some food."

"I know playing is not really on any of your minds at the moment, but feel free to do so. It would actually do you all some good. Just do not leave the area."

He then turned his attention to Justin, Alexander, Keith and Scott. "The same goes for you four. Two of you took shots to the armor and all of you have been through hell the last day or so. I want you to all get checked out, cleaned up, and unwind for a while. Let us adults do our jobs for once."

Scott's face turned into a bit of a smirk, "I'm all for taking some down time, but after all of this, and my armor getting grazed by a bullet, if you think I am walking around without some kind of weapon…"

Major Makari Yakov patted Scott on the back, "Young man, you have the proper attitude. You are not being told to let your guard down completely, but instead, you need to let these last three days sink in. The sun is setting on this day and you need to recharge your minds and souls.

"What all you boys have done… It is beyond anything ever expected of ones of your ages. I know you will have nightmares over this, if not tonight then soon. None of my men, or myself, can honestly say our first few brushes with death during combat did not weigh on us or change us.

"Every new man in my Spetsnaz units have people they are assigned to, veterans who have been through the…"

As the man paused and tried to find the word he wanted to use, Keith glanced up with a grin, "Der'mo?"

This got some hearty laughter out of several of the Russians

Makari reached over and pulled Keith into a bear hug while ruffling the boy's hair, "Yes, my foul mouthed boy." He glanced over to Kermit and Levi with a sparkle in his eyes, "Your word 'shit' would be the American equivalent."

Levi and Kermit busted up laughing, pretty much joining the other men. As things calmed Kermit looked over to the boys, "Pushing all fun aside, the Major is correct. Sooner, rather than later, all of this is going to sink in and you will have to deal with it. Every single one of you has killed… At this point I am pretty certain all of you have killed twice. There is nothing funny about it, nor cool. You did the right thing, however, and after what we just saw you very well may have to do so again.

"It should never get easy to do so and it should fill you all with some sadness over the fact you may have killed someone's mom, dad, sister, or brother."

Makari nodded in full agreement even as he kept his arm around Keith, "Your escort is absolutely correct young ones. In the heat of combat, life and death cannot be dealt with properly. However, it should never be automatic or fun. The faces of those you killed should stick with you, as a reminder of how terrible taking a life and combat really is.

"On the other hand, they should not haunt you. You all did what had to be done and many others are alive because of your actions. You risked your lives to save another and should wear such knowledge as a badge of pride. Still, those faces will trouble you, if not tonight or tomorrow, soon. Do not face those ghosts alone, nor should you try with just your friends. Come to one of us, any of us. Talk to us, scream at us, cry on our shoulders, whatever you need to do. Let the guilt of having killed come to the surface and get help dealing with it or it will eat you up inside."

Makari then turned to look straight at Alexander, "And you, with the badly blackened eye and swollen face, you should not have come at all."

Seeing Alexander about to protest, the nearest soldier thumped the swollen part of the boy's face with his index finger, not hard, but hard enough to get a yelp.

Makari stared deep into Alexander's eyes until the boy flinched and looked away, "You have nothing to prove, young one. Your face gives testament to this. Just look at your armor, you took three hits, three… without the weird suit covering you, there is no question you would now be dead and would not be able to help anyone else. Besides, if you fall, you endanger the others of your squad who have to move to save you or can't get the cover they need from you. By coming out here today, you were beyond selfish, you were flatly egotistical. Ego kills, kills others who are counting on you.

"Besides," Makari continued harshly, "you have already shown to be able to handle combat. I have heard what you did at this 'Temple'. What more can you need to do to prove anything to yourself or others? Your kills… the kills with a blade… those are most vivid and hardest to get rid of. It is one thing to shoot someone from scores of meters away. It is quite another to whip a knife into someone who is only steps away, or worse yet, plunge the blade in and feel the blood of another on your hands.

"You put on a brave face, young one, but I have seen you rub your hands a few times already. The feel of the blood doesn't wash way. It is in your brain, and you need… you must talk to some of my younger men who have had to recently deal with the same thing. For me, it has been too many years and too many blades into bodies, for me to recall exactly how I got over my first few."

Major Yakov then gave a nod to one of his youngest soldiers, "Efreitor Lychinsky, tell us how you dealt with your first close in blade kill."

The young man cringed slightly as he adjusted his combat knife. "Major, where am I allowed to start? The mission was classified…"

"Not today," Major Yakov commanded. "Today it is nothing more than a way to help the next soldiers coming up."

With this Alexander managed a slight grin. Hearing a Russian Major calling him a soldier felt pretty good. Before he could really dwell on this, however, Efreitor (or Senior private) Lychinsky changed seats with another Russian so he could look straight at Alexander.

The nineteen-year-old thumbed his combat knife for a few seconds before pulling it out and handing it over to Alexander, "I was sixteen days out of training…" The young man paused to look skyward, "We were on patrol about a hundred kilometers south southwest of Omsk, patrolling the border with Kazakhstan, a country which broke off from the former USSR and blames us for much of their problems. Raids and skirmishes between us is constant and the more blood each side spills only increases anger and tensions. You also need to understand the border is marked, but the dividing line between our two countries is open land. A river does not separate us. In many cases, it is farm fields on both sides. With this in mind, my patrol leader spotted a group of armed men clearly in our territory, but not by much. He ordered me and two other brand new, um… you would call us privates by rank, to make ourselves seen pointing for them to move back across to their soil.

"At first we thought they were going to do so; they turned and made their way back, so we moved to escort from a distance. It was then we fell into their trap. Two of them had hidden themselves in the field of grain and came at us with blades, probably hoping to kill us silently. My two comrades fell victim to their assaults, but one of them managed to put a bullet into his attacker as he fell, mortally wounded.

"At the same time the rest of my patrol and the men who had turned back on us started exchanging fire with my comrades. This left me and this lone attacker facing each other. He lunged at me with his blade and cut my arm, forcing me to drop my rifle." The man held up his left arm and pulled down his sleeve revealing a wicked scar. "Since I didn't have a pistol, it left me with just a knife." The young man nodded at the knife in Alexander's hand, "The one you are holding."

Efreitor Lychinsky let Alexander spin the blade and study it for a few moments before he continued, "I think, since I was wounded, he thought I would be an easy kill. Because of this, he made a sharp lunge, exposing his chest as he did so. I took the opening and plunged the blade you are holding all the way in, to the hilt. I can still remember the blood gushing over my hand, covering my arm and drenching my shirt. Even as I pulled hard to remove the blade, I can recall the look in his eyes, the gurgling of his hot breath on the side of my face and his hand as it tried to claw at my eyes. As a matter of fact, I can tell you with total certainty his right middle fingernail was dirtier than the others.

"But all of those horrors are secondary to the feel of his blood. I couldn't get it off, even when there was no trace and I washed my hands in vodka, it was still there, at least in my mind. I did the exact same thing you are now doing, rubbing my hands on my pants, in the dirt, together. Truth be told, I had a hard time eating with it. Any fruit I picked up, I did with my badly injured left arm. The pain was better than me wondering if I was somehow eating some of the man's blood I had missed."

Efreitor Lychinsky spat to show the thought was still never far from the surface of his mind. "Do you want to know what allowed me to stop cleaning the hand until it bled?"

Alexander gulped and stared at the shiny blade, staring at his own reflection in it for a few seconds before he nodded.

At this the young man gave a reassuring smile, "I talked to my… your word would be Sergeant… I talked to him, told him the truth and let it all out. I thought for sure I would be demoted or thrown out, I was embarrassed, I was…" He glanced over at Major Yakov, "Major, what is American for unizhennyy?"

"Humiliated," Keith responded without hesitation, showing he was following every word just as much as Alexander was.

Efreitor Lychinsky gave Keith a nod of thanks, "Yes, the word your friend just said would be correct."

The nineteen-year-old swallowed hard, and looked back at Alexander, "The opposite happened. My team leader took me off to the side and told me what I was dealing with was what he would expect out of any fine soldier. A soldier, he said, cared enough to not want to kill while still doing what was necessary. A real soldier doesn't want to fight. A true warrior does not want blood on his hands. Instead, a real fighter is a protector first and a killer a distant second.

"Once I realized this, and it took time and talking it out, then I was able to come to grips with the fact the feeling of the blood covering me and running down my hand was supposed to feel… creepy?"

"Good a word as any." Alexander admitted sheepishly, "because that is what it's like… creepy."

"This is a good thing, comrade." Efreitor Lychinsky stated firmly. "It shows you care about human life first and only kill when it is needed to protect it, your land, and your country. You are well on your way to being a great soldier. But do not take my word for it. Spend time, talk to others, see the truth to the words. Because until you do fully believe the words I am speaking, you will not fully get past the feeling of blood on your hands."

Glenn glanced down at the food he was eating with the kids pulled out of Paulson's SUV. He only half listened to the conversation, just enough to be able to toss in a few comments. The kids were all worried about their parents, which he totally understood, but there was nothing he could do other than sympathize. His mind was really focused on what he had been working on in the lab, coupled with the electromagnetic scans taken off of Logan and Haden. They had been transported, or sucked through some kind of wormhole, but the how still bothered him, and honestly, the why troubled him even more.

If they had not done the transport, then someone else, or something else, certainly had. He came up with a few guesses. The first, which was probably insane, also made the most sense to him. In simple terms he figured whoever these UNIT kids had been fighting found their base and shoved them out of their home universe because they had been such a thorn in the side of those who they opposed.

The second idea was someone had gotten sick of their egos and foul mouths and had done the same thing. This was pretty lame, but still caused a smirk to form on Glenn's lips. Haden was cool, but Juan irritated him to an infinite degree. The language coming out of the boy's mouth was beyond foul and in a normal situation his parents would kick Juan out of the house and would have certainly banned Glenn from ever seeing him again. Logan, with his super weird mind power was even scarier.

The problem was, Glenn found part of himself liking Juan. The fact the kid had offered up extra healing, in an offer to help him walk, was stunning. Besides, the little creep had toughness to him, an air of confidence which was something Glenn knew he wanted, but figured he would never obtain.

Then there was Logan… during all the shifting in what Logan described as a Mental-Scape, Glenn was certain he had felt something. It was not external, but internal. There were spots in his brain which tingled, were still tingling. He tried to blink the sensation away, since most of it was right behind his eyes, but it did no good.

He rolled his neck and used his left hand to rub his leg. It was cramping again. It was only a matter of time before it would get to the point where he would need help to extend and straighten his leg out.

He looked up, hoping to spot Craig, which he did. The problem was, Craig was sitting at a table with Logan looking at some kind of massive rifle. The look on Craig's face and the way his hand was stroking the barrel of the assault rifle told him it would be a while before he could get help from the older boy.

Glenn rubbed his leg harder and winced as the all too familiar knot tried to form. He let out a long breath and shifted in his chair while glancing over at Craig again, hoping to get his friend's attention. Only as he did he knew something strange must have happened in the mind-formed place Logan had taken him as he found himself not looking at Craig but through him. He could see what was on the other side. This only lasted for a few seconds before Craig shook his head and jerked, which ended the effect.

"Was it me or him?" Glenn muttered.

Next to him, Vinnie glanced over speaking with a strong New York accent, "What's ya say?"

Glenn clenched his teeth as another pain shot down his leg, "Nothing… My leg is really starting to hurt is all."

"What can we do?" Bea asked with a great deal of concern. "Without you and your friends all shooting those people who took us we'd be nothing more than one of those other kids your friends got out of the 'Temple' thing."

Seeing Craig get up, rifle now over his shoulder and case in the other hand, walking up toward the main 'cabin' Glenn sighed, "Um, I need to straighten it out and have someone push my foot to stretch it. But when it does this I can't even get to my foot to take my shoe off…"

"Dude," Hogan jumped up to help without hesitation, "I saw you up on the ridge line pumping shots down at those animals who took us! You risked your life to save us, the least we can do is help you get a cramp out!"

Seeing the other two nod, Glenn forced a smile, "I wasn't going to be the only one up there who didn't shoot…"

"Still you did and we owe you big time." Hogan stated with complete conviction in his voice, "Let us take care of you for a bit!"

Glenn started to argue, but before any words came out of his mouth, he found Vinnie's hands under his armpits gently pulling him out of his chair.

Rather than struggling and making a scene, he relented.

Bea then grabbed an empty cot and pulled it over while both Vinnie and Hogan lowered him onto it.

Hogan then pulled off Glenn's shoes. "What now?"

Glenn's cheeks flashed red with some embarrassment over having three kids openly helping him, but he cringed and pointed down to his foot as the cramp intensified, "Push the toes up toward me and hold them there. Do it hard."

Hogan did as instructed while looking at the pain in Glenn's eyes, "It sure looks like I am hurting you. Should I stop?"

Glenn shook his head fiercely as he gritted his teeth. "No, harder…" he managed to hiss out. "The cramps… hurt more… than the pressure on… my hip."

Next to Glenn, Bea rubbed Glenn's shoulder while a couple of tears formed in the corners of her eyes. "This looks so painful!"

Vinnie nodded as he pushed Glenn's hand off the bulging cramp, "Let me…"

Glenn started to shake his head only to see Hogan looking at him with near desperation in his eyes, "Come on, Glenn, you saved us! Let us help!"

Glenn slammed his head back on the cot and finally gave a pain filled nod. After a few seconds the cramp lessened and he was finally able to speak more or less normally, "I didn't drink enough. They only get this bad when my electrolytes drop too far."

"Gatorade?" Vinnie asked as he found himself cringing at the feeling of the grinding hip as he pushed down on the cramp.

Glenn took a couple more deep breaths before giving the boy a resigned nod. At the same time he realized he would once again have to thank Craig, because before now, there was no way, no matter how bad the pain, he would ever let anyone help him other than his mom or dad. Even though he was totally humiliated at the moment, he could tell the three kids helping him didn't see it in the same light. As a matter of fact, he suddenly realized he could even feel they wanted to help.

Bea quickly got up and came back with a large Gatorade, next to her the lead medic moved over and knelt. "So, your friend here says you are getting some cramps?"

Glenn shot an annoyed glance at Bea before turning his attention to the medic, "I get them all the time just not this badly, or quickly, unless I screw up and don't get enough electrolytes and fluid."

"I can get you an IV…"

Glenn shook his head wildly, then took a deep drink from the watermelon flavored Gatorade offered to him by Bea, cringing at the flavor. He glanced back at Bea, "Any chance you can get me a green one? I mean, I'll finish this one, but watermelon sucks!"

This got a chuckle out of the medic, as Bea bolted off to grab a requested 'green one'. "Young one, if you are cramping because of lack of liquid, an IV will rehydrate you far faster than drinking."

Glenn's cheeks flashed red as he spoke softly, "If I get an IV I have to pee more. There is not a chair accessible bathroom here so I have to get help…"

"I can help you!" Hogan stated without any hesitation.

"No way!" Glenn fired back.

"But, you risked your life to save me!" Hogan argued, "From inside the truck, I could see you shooting down the guys who took me. You were more in the open than most and I know at least one bullet hit your chair…"

"Two, but neither penetrated past the carbon composite EEL made the shell out of. It would take a fifty cal round to punch through this." He reached over and smacked the outside of his hover chair for emphasis. "But, if I get an IV then I have to…" his cheeks took on an even darker shade of red, "um… go… more often and without hand rails or a place to park my chair right next to the toilet I can't even get my pants down… I have to sit to go too…"

"Which is probably why you haven't been drinking as much," the medic scolded Glenn. The man leaned closer to Glenn, "Look around kid, there are dozens of boys and girls who are free, safe and alive because of you and your buddies. You may see yourself as a cripple, but these two and the girl who got me sure don't. As a matter of fact, every kid who looks at you and sees the shoulder rigging with your sidearm takes comfort in the fact you are armed. They see a hero, as they should, not a cripple. I would bet my last meager paycheck on every able child on this property being not only willing, but hopeful you would ask them for help to take a leak. Not only is it a way to pay you back, but it would give them a chance to help an honest to God hero!"

"I didn't go get the others…"

"No." Vinnie interrupted. "You stayed behind with us, kept your shotgun out and kept yourself between us and the dead bodies. Kept your eye out for danger and then hooked up the weird metal detector thing to your chair and boosted power so you could find all the bullet casing things. Yet you never stopped guarding us.

"You're younger than me, but you made sure I knew you were there, even as we picked up the empty bullet casings; you were there with us, head moving around to make sure we stayed safe!"

Hogan nodded his head as he continued to apply pressure to Glenn's foot. "If I ever get back to my mom and dad, I will make them meet you. You are… you and your friends… they are amazing… I have never once thought about science stuff until now… but… well I want to learn and help you. We all do."

Vinnie shot a smile at Hogan, "No way am I ever going to be able to learn science stuff, but I want to help you. Now, if I can get with Keith and throw a baseball around, I'm all for it, but helping you go is definitely something I am up for. Anyone who can catch and throw back a live grenade…" Vinnie stopped and shook his head, "A couple of pro teams ought to let him throw out the first pitch to honor him! And you… You ought to be the poster boy for the NRA and their fight against the new gun laws! A kid sitting in a chair and firing down at bad dudes with guns just to protect kids you don't even know… Dude, when you need to go, all you have to do is ask. I'll be there twenty-four seven for ya! Just don't go all Rambo on me!"

Glenn shook his head, "I didn't do anything some other kid…"

The Russian medic cut him off with a string of Russian words. The way they were spoken told all three boys well over half of them were curse words. The man then gave Glenn a hard flip to his forehead, hard enough to leave a red mark. "I have met hundreds of boys your age since I am tasked to teach first aid at a couple of junior military schools in Mother Russia. Of every boy I have met, there may be five who would have shot to protect strangers and none would have done so while sitting in a hover chair partially exposed to incoming fire. The vast majority would have been clutching their weapons, curled into a ball, and crying their eyes out as the first shots came their way.

"Your chair took two hits and you didn't back down. As a matter of fact, you are lying here bitching about not having gone on the rescue to get the other kids, like you are ashamed…"

"I am! I should have been there to help!"

The Russian snorted, "You are making my point for me young man." He then shot Vinnie and Hogan a smile, "Not afraid to get shot at and mad not to get shot at again, but afraid to get help going to the bathroom, how much sense does this make to you two?"

"But I would need help with my pants…"

"So?" Vinnie stated with some aggravation, "I would have pissed my pants if you guys hadn't gotten to me. As a matter of fact, the lead guy, Agent Paulson, laughed about it and told me to just go, so I could get put in diapers! I don't think he was kidding either!"

"After treating kids pulled from the 'Temple' I am sure he wasn't." The medic responded with near certainty. "If anything, it would have probably been even worse."

The man shook his head as he glanced down at Glenn. "There are monsters in this world and knowing some of them are dead because you and your friends stood up to them and ended their existence will let me sleep a little better at night. At least I know there is a new generation, no matter what country they are from, who are coming up to fight the true evils of the world. All the while the politicians pretend like Global Warming is the evil we should all be fighting when real temperature records only go back a couple hundred years and God only knows how accurate those older than fifty years or so ago were."

With this Glenn just snickered, "Or tell those morons who fly around in private jets, or government owned aircraft, to stick their so called carbon footprints up their butts. What a bunch of self-absorbed moronic, ludicrous, hypocrites they are!"

Hogan shook his head as he stared at Glenn with amazement, "I have heard some of those words a few times, but I don't even know what they mean."

"Because I am a geek…"

"A cool one!" Hogan cut him off.

"A cool one who can shoot and stuff," Vinnie added, then looked down at Glenn. "One who should let us help you, 'cause you deserve to be helped."

Glenn let out a long sigh as he finally gave up trying to argue, "OK, fine… Give me the IV."

Off in one of the smaller tents, Ricky munched on a burger as he tackled the 'Temple' hard drive yet again. With the new computer, which he was still a bit overwhelmed by, he once again tried to break into the heavily encrypted five terabyte drive. The problem was, he was more than a little distracted by the glow coming from Breckenridge. Even though it was rapidly getting dark, and the lights from the fake party made it impossible to see the first stars, the distant fires from the town could still be seen. At the same time, radio reports, although sporadic, were saying the fires around the high school had spread since firefighting units had to be brought in from other areas. Making matters even worse, at least one fuel station had gone up, taking several other buildings with it and the breeze continued to push flames unchecked across a good portion of the town.

News feeds about the events in the town varied wildly. On the East Coast Ashwood's people kept it pretty much in check, but not totally. Many on the East Coast were being led to believe it was a massive school shooting, which then broke out as a free for all as both parents and law enforcement moved in, catching each other in the cross fire. Furthermore, this was being played up as a reason for the new gun control laws, with several members of the administration pounding their chests in front of cameras. All of them seemed to have a similar story line, telling the world how great President Ashwood was for pushing such laws.

Closer, but still east of the Missouri – Mississippi river basins, news was of a quarantine gone horribly wrong when parents tried to forcibly take kids out of the quarantine zone; while everything west of the Mississippi/Missouri river line was reporting agents moved in with gunships and attempted massive sweeps for guns and grabbed all sorts of computers under the veil of a quarantine. The problem was the stories were wide and varied. Some reported the City Hall was evacuated because of an outbreak, as was the fire station, while others said force was used. One thing most reports in the west did show was the hundreds of bodies in and around the High School, and some even had zoomed in pictures of bodies hanging out of some of the windows.

Making matters worse, six helicopters and at least two planes had gone down inside the town limits. This had led to massive damage far away from where most of the fighting seemed to take place. Calling the town a 'war zone' was not a descriptive term. It was the truth.

Texas' government reacted quickly, ejecting all federal law enforcement who didn't immediately surrender their badges and weapons. Hundreds did do so while resigning from their federal jobs; many of whom then offered their services to Texas. At the same time, military bases throughout the state were locked down. Activity inside the bases seemed to suggest some problems, which were getting every bit as much coverage as the bloodbath in Breckenridge.

His mind was suddenly pulled back to the task at hand, as suddenly his latest attempt broke through one of the partitions of the hard drive and started spitting out usable data, almost a terabyte worth. "Now I got you!" Ricky grinned as he quickly pulled out the virus he knew would be built into the data.

This part was almost too easy, which allowed his mind to shift back to the nearby town. He pulled up a couple of web pages on his laptops while he continued to pull out the contaminated code. Since it was in essence the same kind of virus he dealt with on the PDAs it didn't take much effort, but did consume quite a bit of time.

Still, the news out of Breckenridge just kept getting worse by the hour. Many reports stated it wasn't just the High School, but also the hospital was hit and those inside murdered. Ricky cringed as the current reporter said an unnamed official had told her those who entered the hospital found several of the patients had been executed, but it had not, as of yet, been confirmed.

"Just like the Russians said they found…" Ricky shivered at the thought. He reached over, took a sip of soda, and frowned. It had gotten warm on him again. He thought back to what Logan had taught him and taped the can in half a dozen spots freezing bits and pieces of the soda, turning it into a grape slush. He took another sip. "Better Ricky, much better."

Ricky leaned back and rolled his head around some. He hated to admit it, but using his freezing thing, did give him a bit of a headache. On this Juan was correct; however, the more he used it, the less it seemed to hurt. Suddenly a rogue thought occurred to him. He glanced at the empty table a few yards away and concentrated on the humidity in the air above it. It took several tries before he figured out how to make more than a frozen drop to appear; then another five tries before he figured out how to make a truly big one. Several minutes after coming up with the idea to begin with, a massive hail stone slammed into the table and snapped it in half creating a loud gunshot-like crack.

Before Ricky could even get to his feet, Scott, Justin, Craig and three Russians ran into the tent with guns drawn.

They all looked at the massive block of ice, noticed how cold it was inside the tent and slowly turned to Ricky. Craig, was first to speak, "What, blowing up a can and freezing one to my hand wasn't enough? Now you want to drop ice boulders on us?"

Ricky had to wait a few seconds for his head to stop spinning, "I just thought…" He stopped as he leaned forward to get sick, but the feeling passed after only a pair of gags. "I'd never do it to you guys…"

Justin moved over to the destroyed table, "How did it get so big?"

Ricky closed his eyes as he leaned back, his head now feeling like it was splitting open. "I… well, I kind of did the hail stone thing. They only get as big as they do because they keep getting pushed back up before they get too heavy and fall. I just moved around the cold air, making it go up and down until it got too big on me."

Scott let out a long breath as he slung the M-4 over his shoulder and shook his head, "And now you look all pale and stuff. Don't do things with no one else around. What if it had knocked you out and left you to choke on your own puke or something?"

Ricky put a shaking hand up to his forehead, "I'd feel a whole lot better if it had."

This got a humor filled snort out of one of the Russians, "I think proper term you American's use is, 'you did it to yourself'."

This got a snicker out of the other Russian, "Indeed he did. Should he do it again, however, I will find permission to do good old Russian style child abuse…" Seeing the looks he was getting the man gulped, "um, no… I mean child beating!"

Justin giggled as he moved over to Ricky's side, "I think the term you are looking for is 'spanking'."

The man turned a bit red, "The English classes we had to pass to put us on the American infiltration team were extremely good, but I am finding in the short time I have been here there are differences in meaning, in tone, and in usage none of us were taught, probably could not be taught. Also as I speak, I find what we were told and taught for proper usage does not sound right to me now."

The second Russian nodded emphatically. "I very much agree. I came here thinking I knew perfect American English, but I am finding I have to think about some of what is said to me for it to really make sense. The boy, Juan, with his constant profanities made it very difficult to follow him. He seems to insert the curse words in odd spots which changed the whole meaning unless I back tracked and took all of them out and spoke the sentence to myself again."

The man paused and smiled warmly at the boys, "The truth is, you kids, you really smart kids, talk more like we were trained than how the average American speaks."

Craig rolled his eyes as he sat next to Ricky, still feeling some of the effects of giving blood earlier. "I think it's because we are smart enough to know how it should be spoken and have parents who demand we sound as intelligent as we are told we are."

Justin didn't hesitate to nod in full agreement. "My dad is big on me speaking right…"

"You haven't seen or heard speaking right until you lived around the upper crust of politics." Scott snickered with a hint of underlying disgust, "I had classes on how to say things, what to say at what types of events, how to dress, how to eat, even how to look dignified in tying my shoes. There is etiquette on everything and I had to learn it all. I even had classes on speaking informally at formal events, so I didn't make those around me feel I was upstaging them by being too perfect."

Craig noticeably shuddered, "Oh, man, I'd have jumped out of a building, a really tall one, before sitting through some pompous butthole telling me I had to sound dumber than some dignitary from some backwater hick country."

This got a genuine laugh out of Scott, "Happens all the time, Craig. There were some events where we had Secret Service monitors assigned to us to make sure we either toned it up or down depending on the level of competency of the guests we were required to talk to. The agent would come by and tap me on the left shoulder if I needed to talk less formally or right shoulder if I needed to become more formal.

"A pat in the middle of my back meant I had a wardrobe problem, and a step on my left foot meant I needed to make myself look a bit less dignified. One thing I was never supposed to do was to look way better or worse than the kids of the dignitaries we were around unless some point was being sent. Then I had to really pour it on and make the visiting elite look really bad. Those were actually the most fun."

Scott looked down and signed, "Before my brother disappeared, we could team up and really mess with people when told to pull the ultra dignified role. We did just such a number on the French Vice President's kids once. It got so bad the older kid finally shouted out, "Father, they are making me look stupid!"

Scott smiled at the memory, "His dad sent him back to the hotel and flew out the next morning when they were supposed to be on a five day visit."

"Man, how mean…" Justin shook his head, "but why were you supposed to make the kid look so bad?"

Scott shrugged, "It was one of those weird things Mom made us do on occasion, but whatever the reason she was really happy about it, since we got to fly down to Orlando the next weekend with only a pair of body guards to do two days in Disney World."

Scott's smile faded, "Trips with just Grant and me were the best. I have to find him!"

"We'll start working on finding him as soon as we deal with tomorrow and the Governor." Craig assured Scott. "It would help if Ricky would stop trying to make things a perpetual winter and see if there is anything on the hub about him though."

Ricky continued to rub his forehead, but managed to give a slight shake of his head which only caused him more discomfort. "Come on guys, I didn't forget about Scott. I have been running a side search for hours on Grant."

"You have?" Scott demanded to know. "What did you find; anything?"

"I did an extensive, almost exhaustive search and I got nothing directly on Grant."

"So where do we go from here?" Scott wondered aloud with a sad voice.

Ricky glanced up, pushing the pain to the side for a moment, something he had found he could do, had to do, back home when around Davy's dad and his horrible friends. He picked his head up and stared right into the older boy's eyes. "Scott, you don't get it. There is nothing on Grant Race anywhere on the hub, nothing at all. The only place I haven't had some decent penetration at this point is the Department of Defense and I am even making some dents in its security since other government entities have been using their communication grid, which in turn, has given me access to a few areas and I am working on branching out from there.

"I have not found a computer anywhere at the Federal or State of Delaware's level with his name on it. It has been purged from the system. Even his Social Security card and birth certificate are nowhere to be found. I even back tracked Social Security numbers. I have yours and then it skips a number before the next one comes up. The number wasn't erased either, it was totally purged and listed as never issued. The exact wording of the log file is 'not issued due to technical computer error'."

Ricky turned the new UNIT computer around so Scott could see, rubbed his temples again and spoke, "I have one official entry, just one, and it is not about him, really. It is about you, Scott."


"Yeah, it is medical and kind of private, so you may want to look at it alone…"

"No, just show me now… show all of us!"

Ricky shrugged causing another bolt of pain to stab into his forehead. He cringed and took a couple of breaths before speaking in a soft voice, "Tiger Prime, pull up all attempts off my laptop on finding official entries of Grant Race, brother of Scott Race, born October ten, two thousand."

The monitor of the new laptop scrolled down over two hundred searches Ricky had tried. Only one came up with a hit. It was a medical record, not on Grant, but on Scott, from the day they were born saying Scott Race had to be surgically separated from Grant Race at the left butt cheek, but no other parts were shared, both boys were healthy, and no problems were expected. It then went on to list the surgery notes and a side note on the labor having been over thirty-seven hours and the dual births being so hard on the mother, because the boys were conjoined.

The last note reiterated the fact the lead doctor had "tried several times" to perform a C Section birth, but the mother, Holly Race, had refused out of deep religious beliefs of a C Section not being a "natural" birth. The delivering doctor and the team who separated Scott and Grant, all noted this may have caused hidden long term damage to both babies and the mother, but prospects at the end looked to have turned out quite well.

Discharge papers five days later, noted Scott Race and his formarly conjoined brother were released into the care of mother and father with a follow up in ten days. All other records in Scott's medical file made no mention of Grant or even a brother and no file on Grant could be located in the computer archives of the hospital.

Ricky let this information be digested before he lowered his head down onto his arms and spoke again, "Tiger Prime, pull up all news articles on Scott and Grant Race, sons of Holly and Liam Race, born October ten, two thousand. Focus on Grant Race."

This time there were a multitude of hits mentioning Grant. Some from political fund raiser articles, others about scholastic achievements and even one on him playing in a benefit youth lacrosse game. Then there were over twelve hundred articles about his vanishing from school grounds and the subsequent investigation of his disappearance. Suddenly on October 11th there was no more mention of the boy, and many articles even had Grant's picture scrubbed out.

"Since I started the search, someone pretty darned good caught on and so far over seven hundred of these articles have vanished. The signature tells me it's probably the same person who was trying to trace us back in Austin. Whoever it is, though… well he's good. He may be better than I am. We'll see just how good when he targets the London City A.M. since I assume they will go after world press as well." The gleam in Ricky's eyes seemed to surpass his throbbing head as he glanced at Scott, "I left a few ticking Easter eggs in the articles about the two of you touring the Tower of London last March."

Ricky again winced slightly as he rolled his neck, "On the other hand, I moved copies of over three hundred news reports to hidden secure spots and made back-ups of television reports about him and moved them around too; so I don't think whoever is trying to delete him, will find everything and there is no way he will find this."

Ricky dug out a flash drive from his pocket and slid it over to Scott. "It's all there, including every picture I could find, at least until some jack-wad started trying to delete him from history. I have a back up of all of it and will try to push everything back into all the servers in a week or two as well. Hopefully, by then, whoever this jerk is will have moved on to other things."

Scott took the flash drive and clutched it tightly in his hand as a tear slid down his right cheek. Without any bashfulness he moved around behind Ricky, wrapped his arms around the boy and gave him a hug. "I owe you for this!"

Ricky's first instinct was to tighten up, then to break the hug with force, but his pounding headache slowed his reaction time down enough to allow himself to accept the hug. "We won't let them erase your brother. But I have no idea how to find out what happened to him, at least not yet."

Fredric glanced out over the lake, watching the refection of the moonlight shimmer in the waves. Of all his United States properties, this was his favorite. It was normally so peaceful and relaxing. The nearest house was almost a mile away and he owned a huge chunk of land to prevent anyone from building closer. However, he wondered if he would ever be able to view it the same way again.

He glanced behind him, looking at the tents with the giant EEL logos, backlit by lights giving the false impression of a party. Yet, even from where he was, he could hear a couple of kids, kids he didn't even know the name of, crying.

One voice, he couldn't even tell if it was a boy or girl, was even now complaining through sobs, of how bad his or her arm hurt. Frederic thought about going up there, doing what he could, but the problem was he didn't know what to do. His instincts were to run up and hold the child. But it wouldn't take the pain away, and would force him to answer questions about going home, questions he could not answer. The child's home was not the same place it had been, for even now the town of Breckenridge continued to burn on the horizon.

Fredric clenched his hands into fists, and took a deep breath. In his heart, he knew Breckenridge Texas would not be the last town to burn. The ugly truth was, Breckenridge was only the first. It was the foreshock of an earthquake of massive proportions just starting to rumble under the soil of the U.S. and would, probably within days, consume hundreds of places just like the tiny, once friendly, town.

How could he tell the kids in the tents just up the hill this was not some isolated incident? Was there any good way to tell a group of nine to twelve-year-olds, many of whom were wounded, they couldn't go home because they had no home to go to, and probably in many cases no parents to go home to? While the nightmare of a town nearly being wiped out, was atrocious, it was nothing compared to the personal loss the kids would soon have to face. Most of them had no clue of the events, since radios and televisions had been kept away from them.

Those who saw their bus driver get shot, and saw Juan, Craig, and Alexander move to defend them had a better idea, but still had no real clue as to the devastation, the death, and the… horror… left in the streets of a place most grew up in. At some point he would have to talk to them, tell them… tell them what? Fredric shook his head and spat into the sand with total disgust. Could he look a kid in the eyes and tell him or her there was no home, no mom, no dad, and very possibly no way to get to relatives because the very fabric of society was being ripped asunder?

Was there a good way to tell a child who is longing for a loved one, the best he could offer was to transport him or her to a private island on the outskirts of the Bahamas? How cold… how uncaring would such a thing sound? What if the child refused? Then what? He had limited options. First would be to pat the kid on the back and hand them over to some federal or state agency, which would soon be overwhelmed with war victims and the child would get lost in the shuffle. The second option was to simply say 'good luck' and hand them a wad of cash. He doubted they would last more than a few days. Most would be robbed for their cash and left on the streets. The last option was to take them against their will to Rum Cay. Kidnapping was not exactly something he was up for, no matter the reason behind it.

Fredric's hands moved up to his temples and rubbed them. There was no good answer, none whatsoever and as the town to the east continued to burn, the options were not getting any better. On the other hand, the secure communication he had managed to get with the Governor was somewhat promising. Governor Hendrickson wanted to play down the whole incident and keep his schedule, just with a bit tighter security. He still wanted to meet the kids, hand them the trophies, and show the Press things were not as bad as they looked.

Maybe there was a chance this whole thing could be smothered and Ashwood would step down and allow Bryce to take over. The messages had already been sent along back channels about the desire to try to work things out with the administration while still holding a strong line. Details of the how and who could be blamed for Breckenridge and the attack on Bryce could be worked out later.

The sane people in power seemed to hold out some hope on this tactic, but Fredric had seen too much already. He had tried to warn the Governor, but the man was clinging to this one last hope for a peaceful transition, if not… Well the man had told him contingency plans were being drawn up and several other states were readying their own responses. Most of the other states were simply waiting on Texas to make the first move since they had been hit… hit twice. There would be no third one, of this Fredric had the Governor's personal assurances before he had been called for a meeting with his National Guard commanders.

The whole situation was a giant mess, since so many federal agents working in Texas had family in Texas. Their loyalties were divided at best. Already some had asked to be able to move to be under state law enforcement, while others were saying the State had no right to force them to leave when they had homes and family in Texas. The whole situation was becoming explosive.

Fredric knelt, splashed some lake water on his face, and rubbed his hands down from the top of his head to his chin. He let the crisp November air dry it and wake him up a little more. He was exhausted and he never did well without sleep, however, this was not the time for sleep. He snorted to himself as he thought about when the time for sleep would be good. He could find no good answer to the question.

Before he could stand, Mitch's voice came from slightly up the hill and to his right. "Boss, we got more than enough to keep everyone here fed for a week, but I sent the trucks back out to get more. I tried to get the boys to get some sleep, but it doesn't look like it is going to happen. They are all too worked up, and I get it, but it will make for a tired group meeting with Governor Hendrickson."

Fredric didn't even turn around, "Yeah, well I bet they will pass out on their own sooner or later and they can sleep on the ride back to Austin. So, you think we bring them back here until we can get a feel for what is going to happen?"

"It's the best option we have at the moment. Since federal personnel are being pushed out, or at least disarmed this isn't a bad location. Besides, this area is under intense scrutiny from not only the US media, but the world. I'd say those factors makes here about the safest place in the States we have. But, boss, I need to talk to you about Justin."

Fredric gulped, "We didn't get to his dad's truck like we promised him?"

"Oh, we did."

The tone of the voice behind him made Fredric cringe. "On a scale of one to ten, just how bad is the situation?"

"Justin's dad is in our El Paso division being treated by a team we are paying through the nose for. When we disabled his truck to warn him, and popped open the back, we found it loaded to the gills with generic military packs. We transferred them all over to an EEL rig, but as we were pulling out an F-117 dropped a small thermite device on the rig Justin's dad had been driving, killed one of our men, and badly wounded three others, including Justin's dad. The pilot tried for a second pass but we got our rig under a bridge.

"The bastards still let go with thermite on the bridge and killed a score of people on it. I guess it thought one of those secondary explosions was our rig so it left. Unfortunately, all our guys got some burns and we are lucky as all hell to have gotten out of there in one piece. It didn't do our heavy transport truck much good either, but we can replace it."

Fredric turned and stared at Mitch with his mouth wide open. No words came out.

Mitch nodded glumly, "The strange part is, the destination, Boss. He was supposed to drop his load at the Federal Correctional Center in Juarez, the one we converted to hold Mexican Army War prisoners who committed war crimes."

Fredric cocked his head to the side and shook it as his brain started to digest the information, "Combat packs? What exactly was in them?"

Mitch looked over, "Getting unfettered secure communication is difficult. As it is, we are using a Great British Petroleum rig in the Gulf to bypass US communications, so it's a bit dicey to say the least. I already talked to Keith about helping, and I'll be damned if he didn't find a way to boost signal strength already so at least all EEL operations can talk to each other through the GBP rig, a mass hack, his Ham set-up and the Russian military satellite. It makes my head spin just to say it let alone talk about it, but it is working…

"But anyway, from what I was able to get so far, there were weapons, ammo, fatigues, food, and a knife in each pack. Our guys in El Paso are going to stop the other trucks heading to the detention center, and hijack them if necessary, to see what the hell else they are holding."

Fredric shook his head in frustration, "Do we have a count of how many guards they have? Was it like one pack per guard or something?"

"We're not sure." Mitch looked out to the lake, knelt, picked up a rock and sent it skipping over the water. "It didn't sound like guard packs to me, and our people in El Paso didn't think so either. We'll have to see what else they find and maybe I'll be able to get more in-depth information once I get them on the horn again. Anyway, someone didn't want us to have what was in the truck and didn't care how many they killed to try to stop us."

Fredric used his thumb and forefinger of his right hand to rub his eyebrows, "Are we killing people by interfering like we are? Is this all our fault?"

"From the way this all sounds, we haven't fired a shot without first getting shot at, and we sure as hell didn't firebomb a bridge just outside of Las Cruces. We jumped into something just in time to know the shit is about to hit the fan and do something about it. I have already moved almost all cash reserves into foreign currencies, mostly British Pounds and Australian Dollars, but since we seem to have Russian allies, I made a point to purchase over two hundred million in Rubles as well. Other liquid assets are being turned into gold, silver, and gems. It took some doing, but we now have enough to pay cash to employees across all of EEL for three months U.S. while everything else is in other assets.

"Our outstanding contracts are going to be a serious kick in the teeth, if this goes the way it looks like it will be going, since those are all in US dollars, but we will not be alone. It may be up to outside sources to prop up the dollar, should what now seems inevitable to me, actually happen. You give the word and I will get ready to move, with some of our partners, to do what we can to stabilize it as best we can. However, if we do, it will take weeks and we may end up being stuck being part of the US banking system for years, if not forever."

Fredric cringed at the very thought of what he was hearing, yet the business side of him put the rest of the pieces together in a truly frightening way. "Dear God… you're talking about the whole of the US being in a barter economy if the Dollar collapses, right?'"


Fredric let out a very uneasy breath, "With the Federal Reserve being a huge unknown and no real backing to money, it will become worthless overnight and the markets will panic… even those who have money will not be able to buy basic necessities and it will happen overnight!"

"Which is why I took it on myself to diversify us out; EEL is safe. But if an outside force is to take over and prop up the dollar, we will be in a perfect spot to take the lead since we are prepared. The problem is, if this doesn't come to pass, I just cost you well over half a billion and stock prices will suffer for a couple of years, maybe more."

Fredric jerked his head in the direction of the tents and 'cabin'. "We'll make them come up with some new gadgets and earn it all back. You did the right thing, as normal. To be honest, you probably just made us several billion because once the Dollar goes totally down the toilet, then the value of everything else will explode, especially gold and silver. You know, this is about as close to insider trading as I ever want to be."

Mitch snorted, "Yeah, well once I pulled the trigger, half a dozen other companies started to do the same thing, so others are starting to figure out this could go bad in a hurry. On the plus side, while gold and silver prices are spiking badly across the globe, we are the cause, so we got it cheap, all things considered."

"After all of this and Texas kicking out the feds, I'd figure the whole world would be in mass panic mode!"

"The press is playing their cards close to the vest. Local broadcasts are all over the board, but the national media is still recovering from the crippling restrictions the FCC put on them and is not ready to totally let the cat out of the bag. Most are reporting facts out of Breckenridge only, and there are very little facts known. They are also saying this spat between the feds and Texas is both sides pointing fingers at the other. RAM, and to a lesser degree National Cable News, are leaning toward pro-Texas reporting while CNB, along with their sister MSCNB, are Ashwood leaning. The others are in-between but all of them are trying to tone things down, which is not doing anyone any good."

Fredric rolled his eyes, "Will those morons over at the Corporation for National Broadcasting ever learn?"

"Nope. They haven't started to diversify at all, either. Most of the others are hedging bets to one degree or another and are just starting to, other than RAM. They were right behind us, and I do mean right behind us. It was almost like they were waiting to see who would be the first then jumped in with both feet."

Mitch then glanced back up at the tent where Justin, Craig, Scott and Ricky were talking. "So what do we tell Justin?"

"The truth," Fredric stated without any real hesitation. "He deserves no less."

Ricky glanced over at the chunk of ice and two Russian soldiers who were examining it. The men were snapping pictures of it with cell phones and had started to toss it back and forth gauging the weight. He shook his head slightly, promising himself he would never, ever, try it again. The pain was just not worth it. Plus, it really took his concentration away from more important tasks.

While Justin and Craig sat next to a very distraught Scott, as Scott thumbed through the articles and pictures of his twin, Ricky forced himself to get back to work. He continued to plug away at the hard drive. The other four terabytes were even more secure than the first terabyte, and were all in one terabyte partitions, however, with the first one cracked, it still only took another ten minutes to crack the second and third. The virus was embedded even deeper, but the pattern was still unmistakable to Ricky so he quickly set up a side program to deal with it while he worked on the final two partitions.

By this time the first partition was virus free and he put it up on a separate laptop while he continued to poke and prod at the last two partitions. Suddenly, a file appeared from the first partition which caught his undivided attention.

Ricky totally stopped working on other partitions as he slowly turned to look at those at the other table, "Scott… Um, do you… did you know President Ashwood's son?"

Scott glanced up from looking at a picture of him and Grant as they leaned way out over a rail of the Eiffel Tower while one of the security guards in the background could be seen lunging forward with very wide and nearly panicked eyes, "Lawrence? Yeah, really nice kid; not at all like most Ashwoods. I haven't seen him since just before the boating accident though, why?"

"Because I just rebuilt a full sector of this hard drive after taking out the embedded virus, and well, there is a kid on here by the name of Sunni, but it sure looks like the First Kid and he is listed in the file as a 'prized possession of the church.' And it appears they have asking prices for him and several others."

"What?" Justin gasped as he jumped to his feet and made his way over to Ricky.

Before more could be said, Scott moved over and stared at the image of a dark haired boy locked onto one of the shock tables. Scott let out a sharp gasp as Ricky pulled up another image from a different angle; this one showed the boy was nude and in obvious pain, "He doesn't look like Lawrence, he is Lawrence! That birthmark, the small crescent shaped birth mark…" He pointed to the computer monitor, "See it? It looks like it is cupping the left tit… When I was swimming with him, the Saudi Defense Minister mentioned it looked like Lawrence had been touched by Allah himself. I know it's him and he sure doesn't look like he has had multiple surgeries for injuries sustained while boating with Aaron!"

Craig stared at the image and shook his head, "No, it looks like he was a 'Temple' kid, but why… how… the Secret Service must have known where he was!"

Scott winced as things started making a bit too much sense for his liking, "Guys, what I am about to say needs to stay here, between us, OK?"

All eyes turned to look at Scott, even the Russians. After seeing the look in Scott's eyes, all of them nodded.

Scott took a deep breath. "Just before the trip, the boating trip where Lawrence got hurt, Lawrence and another boy were caught fooling around… with each other… President Ashwood's wife lost it. She started screaming about something called the A.O.G. but was tasered by not one, not two, but four Secret Service agents before more could be said. It almost killed her, and President Ashwood muttered he was sorry she wasn't killed because he would have to keep extra security on her.

"Anyway, Mrs. Ashwood suddenly found the supply of cocaine highly increased and I think it was laced with something else because she seemed much more docile ever since. Still, she found out I snickered about watching her twitch and she hates me with a passion for it."

One of the Russians looked over, "You saw this… you heard it?"

"Yeah," Scott managed a small smile. "I even got some of her drool on my foot. Unfortunately, it also happened right in front of the UAE Ambassador's kids. At least the ambassador was below decks at the time… But it sure scared his kids and was one of the reasons I ended up staying on board for as long as I did. It helped sooth the whole thing over." Scott seemed to sour for a second as he added, "Ambassador, Imir Assadir liked me from the first time he met me."

Before more could be said, Fredric and Mitch came into the tent. The looks on their faces caused all four boys to stop talking and look up.

The two Russians, seeing the exchange didn't even bother to excuse themselves. Instead they made a quick check of their weapons as they exited out the far side talking about a quick perimeter patrol.

Craig was the first to speak, "What did we do wrong?"

Scott looked up from the computer and put his hand on Craig's shoulder. "I have seen this look, Craig, it is not what we did wrong, but something went wrong and it's about one of us."

Mitch stated to speak, but Fredric moved up while holding his hand out, silencing the man. "Justin, your dad was badly hurt…"

Justin staggered as if he had been punched, "But you said you would get to him… You promised!"

Fredric moved forward and pushed off Justin's attempt to shove him backwards. Instead he closed in and wrapped his arms around the panicked youngster. "We did, and I am doing everything possible to make sure he gets the best care…"

"But you said he would be safe!" Justin shouted, causing people close to the small outer tent to turn and look.

Mitch moved forward but was cut off by Scott as he moved over to Justin's side, "Come on, hear them out Justin, just listen."

"Justin," Mitch spoke softly yet firmly, "I am telling you, he is getting the best care possible and although the injuries were severe, he didn't get much in the way of burns. Most of it was debris from the explosion. I am not going to lie to you though; he has several broken bones and other injuries I don't know about yet. Even now, EEL is buying and flying in every bit of medical equipment needed to treat your dad and we are flying in doctors from other locations, and even borrowed a couple from GBP."

Tears rolled down Justin's cheeks as he forced himself to speak through the sobs, "So there was something bad in his truck! Ashwood did this to him, didn't he?"

Fredric kept Justin held tightly to his chest, "We are still trying to figure out exactly why he was carrying what he was, but someone in the military didn't want us to know. They think they blew it up. Thanks to Ricky, we know of two other trucks going to the same location after picking up different loads, and we are going to be stopping them and shuttling the cargo off fast so we can get a better picture of what is going on. We will be ready for them to try to blow up those other two rigs; they won't do this to us again."

Craig's eyes went wide, "They blew his truck up? Like there was a bomb in it or something?"

Mitch shook his head, "The reports I have say an F-117 dropped small thermite bombs after we pulled Mr. Rogan's truck over and started to inspect the contents.

"Once we got in, it caused enough concern to where our guys called an EEL transport to move everything over, while our drivers would load it up with something else. I guess they had a plan from there, but what it was I haven't, as of yet, been able to figure out.

"Everything looked good and our people were pulling out the last of the contents with the forklift when the first bomb hit. At first we thought only a few got hit, but now I am getting word it was worse than first thought. The blast ended up killing at least two EEL guys, one in the back of the truck, and the forklift driver instantly. The resulting explosion injured one of our guards along with Mr. Rogan. The first bomb damaged our truck, but the driver was able to pull it under a bridge while our crew pulled Mr. Rogan and our other surviving employee out of danger, but the bridge was hit with a second thermite bomb destroying cars going over it and doing more damage to those underneath moments later.

"The pilot then did an overfly one more time before disappearing into the sky. With all the secondary explosions and smoke, our people on the ground figure he must have thought he got what he was after and needed to get out before emergency services arrived.

"Our truck limped out of the area and we transferred Mr. Rogan and our badly injured security guard out by helicopter to a clinic we have in our research facility just outside of Carlsbad. At this point, I have no other information, but the second I get it, I'll let you know. They are updating me by text through a secure GBP satellite as more information becomes available."

Craig noticed Scott motion him over. With a questioning raise of an eyebrow he stood and moved over to stand next to Justin and Scott.

Scott then glanced over at Fredric, "Sir, we got him. You have a lot to deal with as it is."

Fredric gave Justin one last hard squeeze, "Justin this is EEL's fault, my fault…"

Justin shook his head, "No! It's Ashwood's fault! All of this is and I am going to make him pay!"

Seeing Craig, Scott and Ricky all nod with a new degree of determination, Mitch couldn't help but wonder if the Ashwood administration had just made a fatal mistake. After seeing what these kids' brains could do, and how well they worked together, he wondered just how bad they could make life for Ashwood. Judging on the looks, he would be finding out in short order.

Still, as the man really responsible for this whole science contest, he took a step back as Craig and Scott all but pulled Justin into their protective arms, "Guys, I totally understand this is the last thing you want to hear, but you all still have to meet with Governor Hendrickson tomorrow, take the tour of the Capitol, and get your awards for your projects.

"The Governor wants to try to keep things looking as close to business as normal as possible, in hopes this whole situation will settle. You all know, or at least have a good idea, what is at stake if the next line is crossed, so I am asking you to do your part. Get some kind of rest tonight and be ready to act like kids tomorrow. It may be the last chance we have to show the world the last forty-eight hours can be put behind us without massive bloodshed."

Craig looked over, "We'll do our part, tomorrow, Mr. Ryle; but if you think any of us are going to let Ashwood get away with what he and his people have done here, and to Justin's dad, you got another thing coming."

Fredric glanced over and watched as a still crying Justin nodded along with all the others. Knowing he had similar feelings and trying to stop the kids would be a total waste of time, he clenched his fists. "Boys, I would expect nothing less from my newest department, the Geek Squad."

Even through the tears Justin looked up, "I want a patch for my armor with that on it, so when we hit them, they will be able to put a name to their nightmare!"

Fredric saw Mitch about to argue and held up a hand again to cut him off, "Fine; I'll have one made up once you get it designed. You all may want to get with Joey, he is a very good artist."

Fredric then jerked his head letting Mitch know to follow him.

As soon as the pair were out of earshot of the boys, Mitch looked over, "Boss, they are kids and scientists not gun toting militia!"

From off to the side a deep voice came out of the darkness. "Mitch," Colonel Zolotov spoke as he stood and moved over to the two men, "you're wrong. By what I have gleaned, every single one of them has shot and killed. But you are also right. They are boys and for the most part used to creature comforts and safety. The problem is, everyone in the U.S. is about to become a combatant, and keeping these kids together and letting them get trained by the likes of Levi, Kermit and my Russians will do more to protect them than all the money you can throw at shielding them.

"To put it in another way, think about this." Dmitry paused as he stared into Mitch's eyes, "Sooner or later Ashwood, or one of his goons, is going to put one and one together and realize these boys were part of Ashwood's fall. They will try to take them out. When it happens, and it will happen, do you want kids and scientists or do you want them to be armed and trained to deal with it?"

Fredric lowered his head and shook it, "Well put Colonel. You just summed up what I was going to spend four hours trying to explain. But you did so in just a few sentences."

Mitch looked back at the glow of Breckenridge, "So you are both certain this trip tomorrow is a giant waste of time?"

"Not totally," Dmitry responded with a degree of force. "The idea borders on absurd, given the fact your President Ashwood clearly had pieces lined up for a full takeover for months. Acting like he hasn't and hoping he will just abandon his plans is wishful thinking at its highest. However, showing others they are not afraid, even if they are, will send a message to those sitting on the fence. It looks good to the average citizen for the Governor to hand out awards and go on with day to day business, even while dealing with…" Dmitry jerked his head to the glowing fires of Breckenridge.

He paused, "Look, gentlemen, you can run, you can try to hide, but these kids still have loved ones spread out all over this country and I just got word the lights have just been killed across the eastern half of the U.S. As of now, you cannot even find, or reach, some of their family members. If nothing else, at some point they will want to go get said family members, or at the very least, try to locate them. Are you going to try to stop them?"

Mitch shook his head, "No… no, we wouldn't stop them. Besides seeing what they can do, I am not sure we could stop them."

Fredric glanced over to Mitch, "At some point we are going to have to tell the kids about the lights going out east of the Mississippi…"

Dmitry glanced over as Steven emerged from the cabin with Glenn, Alexander, Keith and Joey. The group made their way over to the tent with Justin and the others. "My guess is they already know."

"Crap…" Fredric muttered. "This is going to be a very long night with some very nervous and edgy kids."

"I will have some of my men order them to bed." Dmitry managed a smile. "Arguing with my guys is not really an option. Still, they will probably spend half the night talking, but at least they will get some rest. They have a big day tomorrow and you need to start figuring out exactly what you are going to do with them long term, and how to get as many family members to them as quickly as possible."

Fredric raised an eyebrow, "Probably a good idea. This way, we can drop them off at the Capitol tomorrow and I can take my guys up to EEL headquarters and figure out what to do while they all take their tours, eat, spend some time seeing how government works, and get their awards. It should give me and my guys plenty of time. Mitch, if you can, send Richard Hendrickson a message asking him if it is OK if Joey joins the tour."

"Already taken care of, Governor Hendrickson even has a trophy with the words 'Inaugural Winner: 2011' on the bottom along with Joey's name waiting for him."

"Perfect," Fredric let out a deep breath, "because otherwise he would be wanting to attend the meeting with me and the chaperones and I don't really need any of the kids knowing what options we are all sure to toss out for discussion. The real question is probably the hardest; which chaperone should we keep with the boys when all of us should be discussing options?"

Dmitry tossed out his own idea, "Let me offer to send one of my younger soldiers. I understand the young man I have in mind has already made an impression on a couple of your boys and he has a very American sounding first name, Mark. Furthermore, he is young and would be interested in seeing how your government works. He would not have to carry a firearm to be able to protect your charges, either, so you would not have to find a reason to make an exception for him. He was placed in fast track of this combat team because he earned his black belt at age thirteen and scored beyond high at a military school in everything but classroom grades; hence, he did not get offered officer school. However, after his bravery today, this will be rectified once we get back to home soil. I will make sure of it.

"Lastly, he looks less Russian than some of my other people since his mother was Greek. He could drive them there and back so you could contact him and tell him to make a side stop if you need more time in your strategy session."

Fredric nodded as he made an unusual snap decision, "Mitch, let Richard Hendrickson know we will be sending an intern to chaperone the boys while we deal with important business matters. Since he will not be armed, we will not have to vet him through State of Texas security, which is good too."

Back in Washington DC, President Ashwood looked over at his advisors as the clock slowly moved around to mark the time as 0515. With a deeply troubled breath his eyes scanned over to those in the room with him, "OK, I need status updates on all prison deliveries. We are only fifteen minutes out before the pardons go live."

The map of all prison locations across the United States came up. One after another the dots went from grey to green as it was confirmed the shipments of weapons and pardons had arrived. Suddenly, one dot turned red.

Ashwood stared at the dot for a moment and his eyes darted over those in the room. His eyes quickly fell on a man in an Air Force uniform who was typing hard at the keyboard in front of him. "Major Guthrey, what is the problem with the Juarez War Crimes POW facility?"

The major looked up with sweat on his brow. "Sir, as you know, one of the three trucks delivering field equipment was taken out when it was found to have been breached, but there is no word of the other two trucks at this time. They have not reported in. The van with your pardons has also not checked in. Furthermore, the secondary shipment we ordered out of Fort Bliss didn't get past the gate. It is being detained by the base commander as he verifies the orders to transfer 60,000 pounds of military gear on a single trailer. It sounds like the NTSB didn't get the proper paperwork to him, which gives him full right to stop it, even though it is under your orders to get the equipment. He is also claiming he doesn't have an extra semi rig, and your orders were to transport by semi transport only."

"So where is the NTSB head?" President Ashwood snarled.

A woman in an Army uniform cringed as she got confirmation in her headset of what she had on her monitor. "Mr. President, the chairman of the NTSB is at home and refusing to answer his phone. We have tapped into his cell and can hear him talking to his wife, so we know he can hear it ringing. They are talking about taking the kids to the mountains."

"And defying Martial Law?" The President asked in an ice cold tone.

"So it seems, sir," the woman gulped, "yes."

The new, young, Cyber Security Director glanced up from his station, "Sir, I have just hacked into Fort Bliss' email. Someone there got the clearance for the truck from the NTSB, but there is a misspelling of the driver's first name. It is listed as M. A. R. C. U. S. when the C should be a K. The base commander sent it back stating, for security reasons, he needed it spelled properly. Internal communications suggest he did this as a delaying tactic. Even if he gets the correct paperwork, he has every intention on finding another way to keep the truck on the base. Still, he would never have been alerted to this if the gate guard had not noticed the clerical error."

"When this is over I am going to fire his ass so fast his head will spin. Someone get me a list of replacement names for Command of Fort Bliss… You know what, Screw it! We now have a second target for the Buchanan and Worden. It's pretty clear which side Fort Bliss is coming down on."

Ashwood then glanced over at the Army female, "Captain Blanchard, get a team over to the NTSB's Chairman's house and arrest him with extreme prejudice the second he leaves his property. Take his wife to Orlando and ship his kids over to Vice President Recore's base of operations in Virginia. Let him know they are coming and to give them a really warm welcome."

A Navy admiral glanced up to the map and spoke, once he was sure the President was done. "Sir, without JWC-POW facility backing the protests, we don't have much chance to tear El Paso-Juarez open and give reason for the Mexican insurgents to come across the border."

Ashwood's hands tightened into fists, "Reprint those pardons and get them to the three remaining Osprey we have in Central Texas. They still have some weapons from the NAS-JRB in Houston. That will have to do. We need that border crossing open!"

He then spun back to Major Guthrey, "And you, unless you want to be a private, find out what happened to our trucks! There is still 120,000 pounds of military gear out there somewhere and we can't have it falling into the hands of some backwater Texas hicks who are backing Bryce!"

The young Cyber Security Director glanced up with a totally pale face, "Sir, I think we have bigger problems…"

"Bigger than tons of MY weapons falling into the hands of Bryce supporters?"

"Yes, sir…" The youngster shook his head as he took control of the main screen. He pulled up monitoring stations and the coverage. The map showed a huge hole over most of the northwest central US. "We now have no coverage at all over Nebraska, Kansas, North and South Dakota, and parts of other states including Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, and Montana."

"How in the hell did this happen?" An Air Force general demanded to know. "Without being able to monitor Nebraska, we don't know which side Offutt will fall on! We absolutely need to know if SAC Underground is on our side or not!"

The nineteen-year-old shot a look right back at the General, "I warned you to let me handle the data purge of Grant Race, General! But, no, you insisted your lame ass NSA guys could deal with it. Well, guess what? I was right! Whoever hacked us to begin with was behind the data collection of Grant Race and he left a timebomb cluster of viruses in one of the files, a brilliantly damned good cluster! It just went off and did a total data scramble of the entire Minot Air Force Base computer system which happens to be the cover for NSA West Central Operations. I had to pull the plug before it infected other systems, and since they didn't tell us in time, we now have lost some of the DoD Command and Control Network including satellite coverage in the northwest central U.S.!"

Richard Ashwood tore out a hunk of his own hair as his foot connected with the chair in front of him sending it into the unfortunate Lieutenant Colonel who was next to him. The man fell clutching at a bloody gash in his head. He then spun and looked at the young Cyber Security Director, "Drop everything else you are doing and get our surveillance back. The next time someone tries to override what you tell them, I will fire them!"

Ashwood then nodded to a medic to take a look at the Lieutenant Colonel before he turned back to the youngster, "And once you are done, I want to know who in the hell is good enough to bend over this whole country of mine and shove a dildo straight up its ass when I spent a fortune hardening MY security against just such an attack! I want… I demand someone find the SOB so I can personally strangle the bastard!"

Morning came way too early for all nine boys, but with some not so gentle poking and prodding from Russian soldiers they found themselves shuffled through showers, fed and loaded into the extended length Suburban all in less than an hour. The sun was not even causing a glow in the eastern sky yet, which allowed everyone to see Breckenridge was still burning, when the last boy slid into the far back.

Mitch leaned into the driver's side window and glanced into the back, "Guys, Mark's word is law today. You do what he says when he says it. I expect you to be polite and keep the topics of conversation on science, not the past few days."

Fredric then leaned in, "And Alexander, we have a very good make-up woman standing by to make your face look more or less normal. Don't argue, don't complain, or Mark will put you on the phone with your parents to explain why you have two black eyes. Understood?"

He waited to get nods from all nine youngsters, then waited until Alexander broke eye contact before turning to Senior Private Mark Lychinsky, "I programmed in the hotel we have the kids staying at and the parking lot you are supposed to meet the Governor's Security men in. I'll have an EEL Security ID card waiting for you at the front desk of the hotel. It will be a level one so you don't have permission to carry a side arm. We did this so we didn't have to have you run through a deep security check by the State of Texas."

Getting a nod of understanding from the nineteen year old, Mitch continued. "Get them to the hotel so they can change into their best clothing, and be at the parking lot no later than 9:30. The kids will get a fifteen to twenty minute briefing on what to expect and how to handle things along with some increases in security. At the same time Alexander will get a professional touchup, a very expensive professional touch up. Don't let him fidget and have him keep his hands away from his face until after all the photos. Once though with the briefing, you will be escorted though security and taken to meet the Governor, get the some photos, and then get a high level tour. The tour should take about an hour and a half then there is a lunch scheduled with Governor Hendrickson. Because of this, Alexander is scheduled for another touch-up. Now, because of everything going on, the Governor may, or may not, be able to show up. If he doesn't, I am sure he will find someone senior to be there.

"Once lunch is finished, the Governor, or someone else high up, will hand out the awards, give a short speech, and probably want to get photos with each boy then a group photo. There will be several reporters there, and some will certainly ask questions about Breckenridge, the air battle which Bryce escaped, and probably the blackout of the East Coast. He will do his best to brush them off saying something diplomatic about this being about the kids and he will answer questions later or something along those lines. Do not let any of these kids let it slip they know anything or it will be a feeding frenzy.

"Governor Hendrickson will then introduce you all to a history guy of some sort who will give you as detailed a walkthrough of the Bullock Texas State History Museum as you all want. This is a take as long as the boys want to tour. Take your time, enjoy the day, and get the kids back to the hotel. If they are hungry, stop for dinner wherever they would like. I stuck two grand in the glove box."

Seeing Mark's eyes go a bit wide, Mitch shrugged, "Petty cash fund. Don't worry about it."

Mitch then turned to the boys again, "Do us all a big favor today, and keep your curiosity confined to the workings of the Texas Government and history of Texas. We loaded a trio of foot lockers with your weapons and armor behind Glenn's chair in the back of the trailer, but they are for emergencies only and your side arms you all have with you stay under the seats and out of sight, understood?"

Seeing the kids nod, he dropped a key into Mark's hand. "These are for the lockers in the trailer. I firmly expect to get this handed back to me unused, but Dmitry and Logan both convinced Mr. Triumph it was in the best interest to keep the gear close, so…" Mitch let out a deep breath, "Just get them back to the hotel tonight safe."

Senior Private Mark Lychinsky looked at Mitch and spoke in a deadly serious tone. "I'd die before any of them get hurt. We will see you this evening."

Mitch patted Mark on the shoulder then looked into the back again, "And boys, make sure you turn on your phones about an hour out from here. If someone is still looking and snooping around they will get suspicious if you are not on the network when you are in the middle of Austin."

Mitch watched as the SUV and trailer disappeared before turning away and moving back to the main tent. He glanced over at Fredric who was busy typing on a laptop computer.

Fredric paused what he was working on and looked over the top of the monitor, "Part of me still thinks we should have just scrubbed the whole award thing, but the Governor really wants to be seen acting like the situation is well under control."

"We had to get them back to Austin first anyway, boss, and with most of the federal agents from Austin being wiped out up here, it is probably one of the safest places in the U.S. at the moment."

"We can only hope." Fredric responded in a voice telling everyone around him he was not convinced. "Still, I want all EEL personal to bring their families to our HQ and lock the place down. I assume you already have it stocked for a few weeks worth of feeding and caring for everyone?"

"Yeah, more like two months, but several employees didn't report in, or have called in sick. A few others have put in for immediate vacation and are taking their families well away from all population centers. We approved all such requests."

"It is their choice, but I think it is a poor one. We will be better able to protect them than they can protect themselves. What about Paul and the murdered boy?"

Mitch took a deep breath. "I had pilots fly the bodies back to EEL last night. We have a cover story of Paul having been in town to pick up supplies and having been caught in the crossfire. The boy told Scott his parents' names, and we have tried to contact the number on file in California, but it goes straight to voicemail. We finally left a message asking him to return our call reference a job offer. Hopefully he will bite since a peek into their finances show they are pretty badly cash strapped. In case you care, the boy's parents are a married gay couple…"

"Not my concern in the slightest. Telling them of their son's final words and to let them know what happened is all I care about. What of the multitude of kids we pulled from the buses and the Temple?"

Mitch glanced back to the tents before he spoke, "The most severely brainwashed kids are going to go back with those… kids… and the female doctor. While I have my doubts, the female doctor, Janet, has none and insists not only can they take care of such mental trauma; they will be able to do some deprogramming. Because of this, I gave final approval for them to take the worst cases. The young boy, Logan, insisted on taking David Teller too. He said he had your approval on this."

"He does," Fredric stated with serious reservations. "First off, if we keep him, we will have to keep him safe because at some point the boy is going to say something to Craig and Craig will want to annihilate him. Second, and almost as troubling, is having to keep a prisoner, any prisoner, let alone one so young. Let them deal with the kid. I have assurances he will not be permanently disfigured or killed. Neither of which is something I can guarantee with the animosity Craig holds toward him. Besides, President Bryce sent these kids here, so whatever happens to David, once they take him, is on Bryce, not us."

Mitch let out a very long breath, "Of all the reasons the last one is probably your best. Still, I would feel better if someone contacted President Bryce directly and let him know we expect David to not be killed or worse."

"I'll send him the message," Fredric assured Mitch. "We have a direct line to him as needed. So where do we stand on all the other kids we have accumulated from Breckenridge?"

Mitch shot a look back to the main tent where several of the kids from the buses were still getting medical attention before speaking. "I have our highest security personnel trying to find next of kin for the kids we have, but so far it is not looking good. Four have family who survived the massacre in Breckenridge, but one of them is an older brother who was in bed sick. We are bringing him here since there is no way a fifteen year old is going to be able to take care of himself let alone his soon to be ten year old sister.

"Five others have relatives west of the Mississippi where the power is still up and running, and thirteen have relatives in the blackout zone. With no word from Ashwood, and no idea what is really going on in the east, I have to assume we will have to take those thirteen under our wings.

"Finally, we have the one pulled out of the high school. We haven't gotten a peep out of him and none of the others know who he is. Last night, however, Steven seemed to be able to get through to him some while he was helping the medics sort through the supplies pulled from the hospital. Steven was able to get him to eat and did so again just before they left. Janet told me we should try to keep Steven as close as possible. She thinks Steven may be the best shot we have to break the kid out of his near catatonic state."

Fredric pulled up both hands to scratch behind his ears as he contemplated what he was hearing. Saddling Steven with such a massive responsibility didn't seem fair, but out of all the kids, Steven was probably the most mature. After a few more seconds of debate, Fredric let out a long sigh. "Let's let Steven be part of this decision. Once we get the kids back here let's talk to Steven about it and see what he thinks."

"I don't think we will have an issue there, Boss. In case you wanted to know, Steven wasn't asked to check on the kid this morning. He was also the only kid we didn't have to push a bit to wake up, although Craig only needed an extra prod from the Russian sergeant."

Fredric managed a small smile, "Somehow I am not surprised to hear about Craig, but Steven has really surprised me so far. He is really looked up to by all the others and is way more intelligent than I initially thought. Still, I don't want us dumping the kid on him. We talk to him first and let him know he can come to us for help and support if he agrees to help the boy."

"Steven was your weakest candidate of the eight, to be sure."

Fredric shook his head, "No, not really. I actually thought Ricky was. Boy was I wrong there."

"Way wrong," Mitch quickly agreed, "but it might be too bad he wasn't because it is his Mass-hack which has caused us to be where we are."

"Yeah," Fredric agreed, "but without it, we would be either looking at four more years of Ashwood which would have distorted this country to something unrecognizable, or we would have no clue what was really going on. I may not like things the way they are, but at least we can be ready for the coming storm."

Mitch glanced in the direction the SUV had gone, "I just hope those nine boys will be ready, because this whole thing is just getting warmed up and, like it or not, EEL is responsible for them."

Fredric nodded while his voice took on a worried tone. "I just hope they are willing to accept they are with us for the duration, because something tells me EEL will need them every bit as much as they need EEL at this point."

Mark pulled up in front of the hotel at 0640 local time and glanced over to Steven who was riding shotgun. Of all the kids in the extended length Suburban, only Steven and Joey were awake. The others didn't even stir and Mark opened the driver's side door and stepped out.

Steven glanced over his shoulder, "Come on guys, wake up already! We're here and we only have a couple of hours to eat and get dressed up to meet the Governor."

Craig groaned, "You are way too chipper…"

Joey managed to snicker as he gently shook Justin, "Steven told you all to stop talking and get some sleep."

"Yeah," Justin grumbled, "and both of you were out cold by like eleven. The rest of us even commented on how fast you both zoned out on us."

"I wasn't really asleep." Joey countered. "I know you and Keith went over the electromagnetic scans with Glenn and even tried to see if there was a way to use the data to make the EM radio Keith wants to make."

This caused Scott to blink and wipe some crusties out of his eyes, "How could you have heard any of it? You were snoring!"

Joey shrugged, "Let's see… Justin's exact words were… 'Steven should be awake for this since he knows so much about magnetics and metal. Instead we should figure out how we are going to find out more on Grant."

Joey then shot Scott a look, "And you said 'without any official records there is nothing more to look for'. I think you are both wrong though."

Ricky yawned and stretched, "I looked everywhere. There is nothing more!"

"Not everywhere, Ricky." Joey snorted, "Since you have records showing the date of birth and the surgery to separate them, there is a whole different angle you should check. The whole hospitalization and surgery had to have cost a fortune. Thirty-six hours of labor, a surgery to separate Scott and Grant, a five day hospital stay… some insurance company had to pay through the nose, and they have to have records on Grant, a birth certificate copy, and all sorts of other documents."

Steven saw the stunned looks on the others and chuckled, "Come on, guys, we can deal with this later. The clock is ticking."

Craig slid out, allowing Joey out before he moved around to the back and dropped the trailer door. He quickly powered up the chair and maneuvered it around so he could get Glenn situated. Finally he glanced back over to Joey, "You know, you could have spoken up last night when we were all beating our heads into the walls and floors trying to figure something out for Scott."

Joey gulped and took a step away from Craig, "I just wanted some sleep, sorry!"

Steven moved forward and put his hand on Joey's shoulder while shooting a sharp stare at Craig, "Which is what the rest of you all should have done. At least the two of us got some decent downtime. You all are going to be dead before we get half way through the museum, and for me, seeing the Bullock Museum is one of the highlights of this whole trip, especially with an old curator of the place!"

Glenn shook his head as he let Craig lift him out of the suburban and into his chair. "Steven's right. If we would have shut up and at least gotten some decent rest; we would be a lot better off today."

Ricky nodded in full agreement as he checked the new computer. His smile told everyone he was beyond happy and suddenly wide awake. "Plus, whoever is trying to erase Grant is now monitoring for more attacks since they got hit by my time bomb. It worked better than I ever expected, too. They must have put some junior scrub on getting to foreign articles, because they downloaded the whole thing. Even now I am getting a condensed file right out of the NSA computers. We'll see if there is anything in them on Grant once the download finishes."

Glenn glanced over, "Won't the download lead right to us?"

"Nope!" Ricky grinned with a glint in his eyes as he did a quick data check even as he slid out of the Suburban, "The time bombs were several staged. The first four I planted were to distract them from the real ones, but they didn't catch any of them. Because of this, the first one replicated all the data in the system and sent them to the hub in Breckenridge.

"Since the hub looks like it is dead they dropped attempts to shut it down, but it can still receive data, just not send until I reactivate it. The second two were to push the virus out into all networked systems. Both made it through half a dozen before someone stopped them cold. This is the same signature of the guy who came close to us during the original Mass-hack. He is really, really, good to have stopped the spider webbing effect as fast as he did, but it kept him busy long enough to send a second copy up to an old military satellite I found since the other parts of government were desperate to send and receive information even while we were hacking them.

"I then shunted a backup to a secondary location. The full copy of everything is now in an old mothballed satellite from a bankrupt company called Globe Con Communications I found months ago. It is floating up there all but dead, except for a dying power source that will probably give out in couple of years or so if no one unfolds the solar array."

Seeing the others eyeing him with astonishment and skepticism, he filled them in on the satellite, "The communications array for sending and receiving large volumes of messages was faulty. The cost of launching it, and then not being able to use it, wiped the company out. I have done nothing with the backup while I made it look like the entire signal was sent through the FCC to the primary satellite, where all this really started.

"The signal is bouncing all around the globe right now and will not stop anywhere. It lands and finds a pathway and bounces again. Since I have it set to send packets, even if he stops part of the transfer he will not get it all. Even on my best day, with this computer, it would take me about twenty four straight hours to totally kill off all of it."

Ricky took one last glance before he cut his connection. "Still, it's him and me and he's closing in a bit. We need to find a new access point and strategy, or he may figure out what we are after and get to it before we do. If I do nothing, then the data will sit in two places while he chases the signal to wherever it can find to go. Then when we relocate I can pull it off the hub. If he manages to stop me, we still have the data sitting in the mothballed satellite and we will get it weeks from now, when no one is looking for it."

Steven shook his head as he glanced back at the young Russian chaperone, "Guys, unless you want Mark to demonstrate some hand to hand, using us as practice dummies, we really ought to get moving."

"Oh come on!" Alexander complained, "Just fifteen more minutes…"

Mark's eyes narrowed while he cracked his knuckles. He then reached in and yanked out Alexander, "Boy, you don't fall asleep again until I give you permission, got it?"

Alexander's eyes shot open as he found himself being held up by the back of his collar while looking at the Senior Private. "Ok, no more sleeping till you say!"

Mark dropped Alexander and gave him a sharp swat on his butt, "Now get moving!"

The boys quickly went to their rooms and got ready. For Alexander, being smacked on the butt was beyond embarrassing, even though none of the others had said anything about it. Knowing getting angry and throwing a temper tantrum out in the open would not be in his better interest with Mark around, he sulked into the room and waited for the door to the bathroom to close. With no one in the main room of his hotel room, he flopped back on the bed and punched the pillow a score of times while Scott used the bathroom.

As he heard the bathroom door swing open he rolled over tossing the pillow at the mirror. With his anger still going full force, his aim was off and instead it headed right for Scott who quickly blocked it. The pillow then hit the lamp.

Both boys moved to grab it before it fell, and in doing so ran into each other knocking the air out of both of them.

Even as Scott fell to the floor, he managed to grab the lamp just before it hit the ground. With the nice lamp clenched in his hands, he gasped for breath.

Hearing the commotion Steven came in through the connecting door and looked down at the two, "Are you two fighting?"

Alexander held his stomach and rolled, still trying to get his breath back while Scott held up a finger as if saying, 'Hold a second'.

Mark was next into the room and eyed the two boys. "What, exactly, is going on?"

Scott once again held up a finger. After several more seconds he managed to sit up and put the lamp back on the table. "Pillow fight…" he managed to gasp out, still trying to recover. "I hit the lamp and we both went for it…" He then coughed a few times. "Ouch…"

Mark shook his head, and rolled his eyes, "Alexander already has two black eyes and a date with a make-up lady so he looks good for his photo with the Governor. Unless you want to find out what sitting in a make-up chair is like, Scott, you best cease and desist until we are done with the tours today."

Alexander growled at the mention of the make-up again, but he already knew he had no choice and his mom and dad would be beyond pissed off if he ended up getting an award with two black and blue eyes. Weighing the options the make-up lady was definitely the better of the two outcomes.

At the same time Scott looked up, "Um, when you tell us to stop, it would sound a whole lot more American if you would say 'Knock it off', or 'Behave', rather than cease and desist."

Steven snickered, "No doubt."

Alexander took one more deep breath and started to get up when he noticed a camera on the floor. "Hey, Scott, this must be yours…"

Steven eyed it with a bit of longing, "I can't wait to get my first paycheck so I can get a camera."

Scott took the offered camera and let out a long sigh, "Here Steven, take it. It was my brother's…"

Steven shook his head, "No way, dude, we are doing everything we can to find him. You can't go giving his stuff away!"

Scott shook his head and pushed it into Steven's hand, "Look, I don't mean any insult, but it's just a couple hundred dollar ten megapixel with a twelve zoom. I don't even know why Grant bought it. He has two more in his room and another the FBI took and haven't given back yet, probably never will. He always had a bad habit of forgetting a camera when we went on trips and would buy a new one. It's no big deal. Besides, you are set on this museum tour and should have something to get some photos with. It takes double A batteries."

Steven started to pull out his wallet with a bit of a worried look, only to get stopped by Scott, "Don't even look. I have more than enough. I'll pick you up a couple sets down in the hotel shop along with a new memory card, since the one in there has a whole bunch of pictures he took in and around school. I think he was playing with the idea of being on the yearbook team since Dad wanted Grant to do something other than just sports. If you are really worried about the cost, don't be, but if you just can't stand it, pay me back with your first check."

Steven gave a nod, "I'm going to get with Justin so he can give me a rundown on the basics."

"Good choice, then we can eat."

Steven stopped and turned back around, "Let's eat, then I will get with Justin on the camera."

This got a laugh out of Alexander, "Human vacuum cleaner. Just hire Steven, no need to buy my robot vacuum!"

This got snickers all the way around. Scott finally put the lamp back on the table, while looking back at Alexander with a fake wipe of his brow.

Alexander nodded, but said nothing. It was the first time he remembered anyone lying for him before. It felt good to have a real friend who was willing to do so. For the first time in memory, his smile was genuine as he moved up beside the slightly older boy and gave him a nod.

In return Scott returned a wink and made a motion of zipping his lips shut.

As the numbers flickered and changed to 0930, Mark pulled to a stop in the garage of the Capitol building. Even as he got out a pair of men came up and patted him down while checking his EEL ID. The larger security man nodded and jerked his head to tell Mark to stand behind him. As the boys piled out and Craig got Glenn's hover chair out of the trailer, the large guard eyed all the boys. "I just need to make this clear. No weapons are allowed; meaning no blades, guns, mace, pepper spray, pocket knives, nothing. We are on a higher alert than normal."

At this, Craig pulled out his pocket knife and tossed it into the back seat, followed seconds later by Scott as he pulled out his scout pocket knife.

Ricky held up the new laptop, "Um, can I take this, it's kind of my camera…"

The security guy eyed it and shrugged, "I don't see why not, but make sure you ask before taking pictures of anything in the legislative area." The man glanced over the boys, "You will have to go through a metal detector, no allowances have been made for the flying chair, but I need to know if there are any compartments for storage…"

Glenn nodded and maneuvered the chair over to the man with ease, "There is a spot in the back for books and stuff. I have my camera in there. I also have a small cooler unit in the front where I have a pair of sports drinks."

The smaller guard did a quick inspection, pulled out the two bottles, and looked them over. He glanced over at his partner as he held them up, "It's powered! I thought there would be ice in it!"

The taller man snickered and shook his head, "OK, even I have to admit having a powered cooler as part of your chair is pretty awesome."

Glenn snickered, "It was kind of my brother's idea. When he saw the first proto-type, he said it had everything but the fridge in it, so I found a way to make one fit."

This got some laughter out of both men, who quickly lead the group into the courtyard and gave them a quick twenty minute outside tour before handing them off to another guard who took them through the security checkpoint and a second, even more secure checkpoint. Both stations were being manned by guards. The first had side arms; the second were much more serious and did full pat-downs on all the kids, even going so far as to have Glenn get out of his chair and lie on a table while they checked him from head to toe. They were also wearing body armor and armed with assault rifles.

Lieutenant Commander Bickford stood out on the aft deck of the USS Charles W Read as the predawn light turned the eastern sky a beautiful reddish yellow. The destroyer had been his home for the last three months and he was looking forward to some shore time. Unfortunately, the powers that be had once again extended the tour and therefore had sent out a resupply ship to top them off with food, fuel, and dropped off an obligatory bags of mail.

By this point the crew was a little disappointed about not getting shore leave as scheduled for the second time in a month, which tended to lead to a bit of corner cutting, something LCDR could tolerate when it came to a well made up bunk or a bit of horsing around on the deck during normal ship operations, but not when his ship was taking on fuel and stores. Because of this, he made sure the deck hands could clearly see he was actively supervising. In this case it still wasn't quite enough.

He moved up to one of the newest sailors to join the crew and nudged the eighteen-year-old, "Seaman Apprentice Warner, I know we went over this on the last supply transfer, but do me and those who are depending on you to secure the mail bags a favor and take a step back, look down and tell me what you are doing wrong."

The kid looked like a deer caught in headlights as he took a step back, tripping over the resupply cable he had been careless enough to straddle and toppled backwards. Fortunately for the young seaman, a petty officer caught onto what was going on and reacted, grabbing Seaman Warner before the young man cracked his head on the deck.

The petty officer glared at Seaman Warner before turning to LCDR Bickford, "Sorry XO, I should have been watching him better. This is on me."

"This is the second time I have seen him do it, petty officer, and I talked to him in length about resupply protocol, but if you are willing to supervise a one man FOD detail of the flight deck after we are topped off, I think we can call it good, but it better never happen again."

"It won't, sir!" The petty officer barked while shooting another stern glare over at the seaman.

LCDR Bickford nodded and took a step back, "You also may want to find a couple of other ways to remind our newest crewmember that allowing the mail to fall overboard is not a good way to start a sailing career."

Senior Chief Petty Officer Michaels sent LCDR Bickford a wink before he hardened and stared straight into the young seaman's eyes, "Boy, if my wife's cookies goes in the drink, I'm sending you swimming after them."

Another voice came from a bit further down the deck, "Same goes for my care package Warner! We are already on comm blackout, so don't go losing the mail! "

As with any ship, the word spread and the jibes kept coming for the entirety of the resupply. By the time the young man was carefully walking over the small aft helicopter landing deck, looking for any kind of debris that could damage the intakes of the ship's two anti-submarine warfare helicopters, he was pretty much convinced people would toss him overboard if he ever screwed up and let the mail fall overboard. A glance back at the petty officer who had covered for his mistake and saved him from falling didn't do much to alleviate this perception.

Above, LCDR Bickford enjoyed a cup of coffee while occasionally glancing down to make sure the extra duty was done correctly. Seeing the look on the young man's face almost made him feel guilty, but almost was as close as it got. The kid would learn from this mistake and the whole crew now knew to watch out for him, all without any kind of a write-up. As his first ship commander used to like to put it, this was a great case of 'no harm, no foul'. Even better, the ship, along with the Navy as a whole, would end up with a much better seaman for it.

Turning away from the FOD or Foreign Obstacle Damage extra duty assignment, he stared out at the totally calm ocean. Off in the distance he could barely make out one of the other destroyers which had also had its patrol extended. He shook his head and muttered under his breath. This extension seemed particularly pointless since they were patrolling the Gulf of Mexico and had been for three lousy months. Even stranger than the duty extension, was the news black-out. Naval Command had cut access to all news feeds and television uplinks. Voice conversation had also been halted so none of the over three hundred men and women on board had been able to hear a voice from home in over three days. Something was off, but there was nothing he could do about it and he had to focus on the ship and its crew. The fact they now had a full fuel load and the stores had been topped off told him this may not end any time soon either.

His thoughts were brought to a sudden halt as the ship's captain, Commander Kopland, stepped out and leaned on the rail next to him. "Looks like a nice peaceful day."

"Yes sir, it does. Any word from command?"

"No, but Lieutenant Reeves and I decided to back door comm."

LCDR Bickford could tell by the voice alone something was very wrong. The fact his commanding officer had breached orders and was admitting it told him far more. He took a long drink out of his mug, "Why do I get the feeling I am not going to like where this is going sir?"

"Probably won't, but I need to know something… Two something's, actually."

"We haven't known each other for very long, sir, but as best as I can tell you are a straight shooter and I'm your XO, so fire away."

"First off, I wouldn't normally care who you voted for, but in this case I kind of need to know."

"I didn't." Bickford stated with a raised eyebrow. "Jackson Bryce was president for far too long already and shouldn't get another term and there is no way in hell I'd vote for the powers that be."

This got a raised eyebrow out of Kopland, "So you didn't go with the SecNav's order to vote?"

"Look, the military can order me to do just about anything, but SecNav can kiss my ass or kick it out of this Navy before he tells me I have to vote. Fuck him and the nose he has buried up Ashwood's ass."

"You know some think early military voting was tracked by Ashwood."

"So, I don't get a promotion or something?"

"It's being rumored, especially since promotions were handed down the day before the election."

LCDR Bickford shrugged. "I'm not even close to being looked at for a commander slot, sir, so I really don't care. I've only been a lieutenant commander for two and a half years and this is only my second gig as an XO." He snorted, "Besides, I am not with the hob-knob crowd. If I make commander it will be because I earned it the hard way or not at all."

The response had the opposite effect on his commanding officer than what LCDR Bickford expected as the man noticeably relaxed. "Not to sound condescending, Commander," Bickford stated with a growing discomfort, "but I figured you for an Ashwood man, but I'm not getting that same vibe now."

"Oh, I voted for the man." Kopland stated with a hint of disgust in his voice, "But, like many, I saw it as an insurance policy. Unlike you, I actually like the idea of an easy promotion and if I have to attend a few parties and suck up to SecNav, I'm going to do it. It's how the game is played, after all."

"Not for me." Bickford shrugged off the comment, "I didn't join to be an admiral floating a desk. Besides, I went to Navy ROTC not the Academy, so I've already got strike one to the big time, which is exactly the way I like it." Bickford paused, noting three other officers were listening to this conversation as were two of the highest ranking petty officers on the boat. They weren't making it overly obvious, but they were, nonetheless, also listening in. Not liking this even a little, he turned and faced Commander Kopland. "So you mind telling me what the hell is really going on."

"First, tell me how you feel about me back-dooring comm."

"Sir, with all due respect, you are the ship's commanding officer. If you saw a need to break orders, that is on you. The fact you haven't let anyone know you did it is sticking with the basics of what command wants, so I'm good with it. Now, if you want me to know something I am not allowed to know, then… well hell, sir, you're my CO and if you feel your XO needs to be in the loop, then I probably should be. If not, then that's your call as well."

LCDR Bickford stopped and eyed the others, noting no other ship personal were in earshot of this whole thing. "The problem is, I can tell there are several others who are in on this to some degree, which is making me more than a bit nervous. So tell me or keep me in the dark, up to you, but don't expect me to support you blindly. If you want me to be the XO to the crew and make sure things run like they are supposed to, fine; but I'll want off as soon as you can find a reason to transfer me without too much damage to my career.

"I know Lieutenant Reeves has been with you a long time, as has most of this crew, so if you want him to take over as acting XO, just give me a good reason and I'll deal with whatever the fuck is going on in my own way. You really want me off this boat now, then give me a few fake stitches and say I cracked my head and fly me over to the med ship and do your own thing. But don't ever expect me to have your back any way, shape, or form if we go down said road."

Seeing Kopland starting to speak, Bickford held up his hand. "Just to get this straight, the Navy is my home and I love it, but it isn't my priority. My boy is the most important thing to me, so getting back to him and paying child support to my Ex, so he can be with me whenever I am not out to sea, is my whole reason for living. Don't fuck with either one of those and the rest we can work out."

Lieutenant Reeves stepped up and pulled out an MP3 player, "Sir, we aren't threatening you. In fact you are the best XO this ship has had in the last fifteen months and the men respect the hell out of you. Shit, the way you handled Seaman Warner was better than anything I could have come up with and he even has more respect for his petty officer since you let him take the blame. That is camaraderie at its best. The truth is we want you here, but we are also fully behind Commander Kopland. Whatever he says we are going to do. With this in mind listen to this and then tell us where you stand."

The Lieutenant hit play and set the player down while backing off to ease at least some of the discomfort the new XO was clearly feeling.

The voice of a male reporter came over the small speaker, "At this point we still don't know if the Ashwood administration ordered this attack or the Federal agents he sent in to forcibly take possession of fire arms got out of control. What we do know, and have verified, is the feed we got out of eastern Texas was not a fake. There was a quarantine put into effect and several agencies used this to do some house to house searches. At some point Federal agents were fired upon and they fired back, but after getting reinforced by air and securing the town's children in the high school, they didn't stop shooting. Some reports say kids picked up firearms off of their fallen parents and opened fire, others say the agents opened fire when the kids came out of hiding. We even have heard kids may have tried to rush the agents firing at their parents. One way or another, the pictures speak for themselves. Kids as young as five or six were shot down in the streets surrounding the school, some holding onto their fallen parents. Countless others were killed inside the school and some were reportedly inside a school bus when it exploded.

"At this point we know three things. President Ashwood was incorrect about Jackson Bryce being killed and election results show Bryce won the election by an extreme margin. Ashwood has declared the election null and void. And lastly, Texas has activated all National Guard and has forcibly disarmed, ejected, or arrested any Federal agent in the state who was with the ATF, FBI, and DEA while ordering all other Federal agencies to disarm or face similar sanctions. This situation is very tense on the ground here in Texas as military units are breaking apart. Some units and pieces of units are leaving the state and others pledging loyalty to Jackson Bryce and staying. The next few days will tell us what the future of our country will be…"

The recoding stopped at this point. Lieutenant Reeves held up another MP3 player. "I have over an hour more, but I had to do it in small bits and pieces by altering frequencies to prevent anyone from catching on to our breaking of comm black-out orders. There are multiple reports President Ashwood has pardoned all inmates and anyone with a felony conviction as well. The entire East Coast is under a blackout, and things stateside are generally going to hell. The USS Franklin Buchanan has been staying within visual range and we believe she is attempting to discern what we are and aren't doing. The problem is we don't know what side she is on."

LCDR Bickford felt his jaw fall open, "This is some sort of sick initiation, right?"

"I only wish it was, Lieutenant Commander." Kopland shook his head. "As of right now we are on normal patrol, but if those orders change and I am forced to make a decision, I need to know where your loyalties will be."

"Sir, if this is for real…"

His words were interrupted as the speaker in the bridge came to life, "Commander! We have a launch of cruise missiles from the Buchanan!"

"Oh shit!" Kopland shouted as off in the distance plumes of smoke could be seen coming from a distant dot marking where the USS Buchanan was on station. The Commander jumped over to the comm and pushed on the button, "Did we get any kind of activation warning?"

"Negative sir! No warning, nothing on comm. All Fleet Command frequencies are nothing but static."

"Radar, get me a track on those missiles. Comm, find me a way to talk to Command now!"

"Sir," the radar operator's voice came over the radio, "We have a second volley coming off the Buchanan and phased array says I am looking at BGM-109D Tomahawks, but I don't know that system sir!"

Kopland glanced over in confusion while a second plume of smoke came off the deck of the distant Buchanan, "Cluster munitions?"

LCDR Bickford moved up to the internal communication system and spoke. "Senior Petty Officer Munoz, take over radar and don't worry about what they are, just get us a track. All hands, battle stations! I say again all hands, battle stations!"

"Sir!" Munoz shouted, "The Buchanan is launching again and the Worden is firing interceptors!"

Before more could be said the radio came to life, "All US warships in the gulf, this is Fleet command. You are ordered to fire on the USS John Worden authorization code Golf, Lima, Alpha Tango, November, Two, Eight, Hotel. I say again, the John Worden has gone rogue, you are ordered to fire. Authorization code Golf, Lima, Alpha Tango, November, Two, Eight, Hotel.

While Kopland pulled the code book and verified this was the correct firing orders, he looked over to LCDR Bickford. "Firing order confirmed."

"Bullshit!" Bickford roared as he looked over. He felt his blood go cold as he looked across the code book and verified. "Holy shit…" He closed his eyes, "Now what?"

Kopland closed his hand into a fist as he hit internal comm. "I need a track on those missiles!"

Munoz voice came over less than two seconds later, "Sir, track puts them on a sight path to Austin Texas, sir. The last three of the last four were splashed by the Worden. But they have already gone low and are wave hopping. We cannot obtain a firing solution, in case you care, sir, but we have the Winslow missiles coming right over the top of us in less than a minute. They are going to take out the Worden and she is using missile defense against the Buchanan.

Kopland hardened, "Then we are her only shot. Anti-missile batteries lock on to the missiles inbound on the John Worden, aft battery, get me a firing solution on the John Winslow!"


Bickford didn't hesitate to back up Kopland, "Callahan, do it! If we don't fire on her first, then we will have to splash her next volley and it will be at us! Helm, turn us so our main gun can fire on the Winslow before she can spin and bring her guns to bear on us. I'm sure she'll take out our missile and then turn on us if we don't!"

"Yes sir!" the petty officer at the helm stated without any further complaint. Hearing someone questioning the CO was bad, doing so with the XO backing him was far worse and he also realized their survival was now tied to the two men in on the bridge.

Moments later the aft battery launched a missile on the Winslow, while the front gun opened up catching the John Winslow totally off guard. The distant warship's bridge shattered as the rapid fire cannon took out its superstructure then, a minute later, the missile slammed into its flight deck.

Less than three seconds later the anti-missile system shot a series of interceptors at the missiles streaking overhead, taking out all four before they were able to put the USS John Worden in any real jeopardy. A minute later there was a large flash, followed seconds later by a loud boom as the USS Buchanan went up in a large fireball.

For several seconds nothing was said. The silence was broken by a tight beam communication from the USS John Worden. "Commander Kopland, my thanks. Were you able to take out any more of those Tomahawks?"

"Negative." CDR Kopland responded.

"Oh shit." The commander of the USS John Worden spat. "They have sarin gas cluster munitions in them."

"What?" LCDR Bickford screamed.

"You heard me right USS Charles W Read. I just found out we were also loaded with them. We had a brief firefight when my XO tried to take over and we have over sixty casualties from one of them breaking open on us during the mutiny attempt. We are almost out of atropine too. Do you have any you can spare?"

"Yes." Kopland stated, "I'll have some flown over. In the mean time I am going to see what I can do for the Buchanan."

"Good enough, we'll take the Winslow, but be careful… we have no idea who is on what side of this. Recommend we gather at a failsafe point."

"Agreed," Kopland let out a long breath. "Convert our senior year Naval Strategies instructor into digits and add in the address of the bar we got hammered at after graduation and put it into your radio we'll talk using that as our secure code and arrange a better one."

Kopland then pulled up internal comm. "Helm, we are the closest to the Buchanan. Get us there."

Suddenly he stopped as he saw the look on his XO's face, "Lieutenant Commander?"

Bickford looked paste white, "Sir, you have to let me get an open channel!"

"You radio out and what little chance we have gets even slimmer, so you best have a dammed good reason!"

A tear rolled down LCDR Bickford's face, "My boy is at a science award thing… He's in Austin sir."

Kopland's eyes went wide as he realized what his XO was saying, "Comm, find me a civilian satellite, do a DoD override, and get me outside comm now!"

Keith glanced back as he noted a large group of kids about his own age behind him. They were also having to go through the first set of security, but were taken down a side hall instead of going through the much tougher Security he was being subjected to. After getting a hand run down the inside of his shoes, and the woman finally nodding her approval, he moved through the second metal detector and shot the group of kids another glance, "How come they don't have to get the full pat down?"

Suddenly a deep voice spoke up as a man in his early sixties came out of a side door followed by two more security members. "School trips don't get access to areas I am going to be giving you, Keith."

Scott turned and spoke without missing a beat, "Governor Hendrickson, on behalf of all of us, thank you for meeting with us, especially with everything you have had to deal with over the last few days."

"Scott Race," the man's smile faded slightly and almost took on a plastic-like fake look, "I have not had the honor of meeting you or any of your family before."

"Sir," Scott stated professionally while extending his hand, "let's be totally honest and admit you really have no desire to meet any of the Race clan, and I don't blame you in the slightest. My mom, after all, is a diehard Ashwoodian and my dad is not far behind. I think, if you are willing to give me a chance, you will find my views are much more in line with yours than my parents'."

The Governor was clearly taken off guard by the comment, but graciously accepted the hand. "I am glad you understand and accept my views young man. I was told by one of my advisors you were an eloquent spokesman with a good chance of a political career in front of you. She was correct."

Scott looked up with complete sincerity in his eyes and voice, "I have gotten about as close to politics as I ever care to get, sir. I have seen and heard too much to ever want to jump in any further."

The man paused and didn't immediately let go of Scott's hand. "Then, since you have such knowledge, let me be very blunt, Scott. Do you know anything about what is going on back in Washington DC?"

"Not as much as I now wish I did, sir. Mrs. Ashwood does not like me, so I have, thankfully, been excused from many White House parties as of late. However, I do know the President has had numerous dealings with both South American and Middle Eastern countries over the past nine months. I also have information on trade deals being brokered and other sensitive information. If you would like to hear more, maybe we should go to a side room?"

The Governor took a deep breath while eyeing Scott carefully, "I think the two of us should talk, but let me deal with the matters at hand first."

"Governor Hendrickson," Scott spoke a little more softly, "There is no reason to keep my new friends out of such a conversation. They may well be able to verify I am saying the same things to you as I told them and all of them have some very interesting insights."

This caused the Governor to raise an eyebrow, but he quickly moved on to introduce himself to each of the kids, while proving he knew them by name. Once he introduced himself to Mark, thanking him for agreeing to escort the kids, he glanced down at his watch noting he only had ten minutes before he was supposed to address both the House and Senate of Texas in a joint emergency session, yet he badly wanted to know what Scott knew.

At almost the same instant, the phone on Craig's hip started buzzing. Craig turned bright red as he quickly pulled the phone out of his belt pouch to silence it, but as he glanced at the screen he noticed it was coming from the USS Charles Read. He eyed the phone for a moment then glanced over, "It's my dad…"

The Governor gave a quick nod, "Your dad is Navy, son. I totally understand. You take those calls whenever you can. I can wait."

With a deep breath Craig pulled up the phone, "Dad… I am with the Governor of Texas right now!"

Craig felt the blood run from his face as he punched the speaker button, "Sir, my dad says he needs you to hear this…"

The Governor moved over to Craig, "This is Governor Hendrickson…"

Craig's dad spoke, "Sir, I am Lieutenant Commander Bickford, XO of the USS Charles Read. Right at fifteen minutes ago the USS Buchanan launched a series of cruise missiles at Austin."

"What?" Governor Hendrickson screamed as he yanked the phone out of Craig's hand.

Another voice came over the phone. "Governor, this the Commander Kopland, Captain of the Read. This is not a joke. We have exchanged shots with and have sunk the Buchanan, but there are thirteen cruise missiles headed your way… Governor, these are not conventional weapons, they are chemical!"

Before more could be said, Alexander slammed into the Governor knocking him back into the room he had come out of without warning. "Guys! Look out!" Alexander shouted at the same time.

Moments later gunfire came from down the hall as one of the guards manning the security checkpoint pointed a rifle and sent a three round burst into the door frame, just missing both Alexander and the Governor.

Mark reacted with blinding speed. He moved up to the rifleman, grabbed the barrel of the weapon, pulled it forward and slammed the butt into the man's face, flattening it.

He then grabbed a knife off the man's belt and plunged it into the next nearest guard's face before grappling the third one and taking the man down the stairs.

Guards from the first guard post moved forward, one taking a shot at Mark while the other grabbed the dropped assault rifle and fired it at the foot of the Governor which could just be seen sticking out of the door. One round hit the shoe, but missed the man's foot.

"Ashwoodian punk!" Glenn snarled as he pushed full reverse power into his chair's controls. Three rounds bounced off the carbon composite frame before the heavy chair slammed into the woman, sending her into the metal detector and crushed most of the ribs in her ribcage.

Craig wasted no time sprinting down the hall. He then slid under a second guard who was aiming at Glenn, reached up, grabbed the guy's groin, and twisted with everything he had. The ear piercing scream drowned out the gunfire as guards started exchanging shots with other guards throughout the Capitol building.

Craig continued to pull and twist even as the man lost consciousness. He then yanked the assault rifle out of his hand and slid it down to Steven. "Cover the Governor!" He then grabbed the second assault rifle dropped by the woman Glenn had crushed and shoved it down the hall. "Justin, we have to protect the lawmakers too!"

Craig looked at the man who had both hands between his legs and was moaning. Craig pulled back his fist and spoke, "A kid by the name of Juan taught me that." He then delivered a shot to the bridge of the man's nose crushing it. As blood rolled out of the destroyed nose and the man's eyes rolled up into his head, Craig saw another guard. This one came out of a door right across from the one Alexander had pushed the Governor into and sent a stream of bullets into the wall forcing most of the other kids to dive out of the way. Craig pulled the unconscious man's pistol and fired a shot at the man. The shot caught the guy in the vest but did knock him back while forcing him to drop his rifle. A second shot hit him in the knee which caused him the fall toward the others.

Remembering Logan's words about the computer being all but indestructible, Ricky swung the laptop into the tumbling man's face knocking the guy out cold while removing a trio of teeth.

Keith jumped over to the guy, grabbed his rifle, and noticed a .38 around the guy's right ankle. He smirked as he pulled the backup weapon and handed it over to Ricky, "Same model and everything!"

Ricky took the offered pistol, checked to make sure it was loaded, then nodded, "Exact same."

He then rolled and yanked the pistol up as the door on the far side of the room flew open. He fired the second he saw another guard come through the far door with a rifle aimed at Keith. The bullet caught the guy in the throat causing him to drop his rifle, stagger back and clutch at his neck, before collapsing against the back wall.

This gave Keith the needed time to spin and fire a three round burst into yet another guard, who was screaming about needing to kill the Governor for the Glory of God's Army. The guy staggered back and tumbled down the stairs he had just run up.

Meanwhile, Scott grabbed the side arm off the nearest fallen guard and moved to the State House's main room. He glanced in, noting most of the men and women were under chairs and tables while looking around with fear. "One of you lock the door on the far side!" Seeing no one move he tossed up his hands in frustration, "The far door, lock the far door! We've got you covered from here!"

A bullet ripped into the door frame only inches from his hand, so he turned and fired five quick shots into the last man at the guard post. Three of the five rounds hit the man's vest while the other two went wide. Still, three slugs into the chest were enough to knock the guy down, which allowed Ricky to put a bullet into the bottom of the guy's foot.

This caused the man to scream, sit up and grab his foot, which in turn exposed his face to Justin who put a three round burst into it.

Scott quickly turned back around and shouted while totally losing his normal prim and proper ways, "We can't cover the far door! One of you needs to find the balls to get up and lock it! I thought I was in Texas, not Maryland!"

Finally, a man rolled from under the table he was using for cover and sprinted to the door. Even as he locked it he turned and shouted up, "Who are you?"

"A kid who is getting really pissed off at Ashwood!" Scott snarled while shouting back, "Now stay put and start acting like Texans! We'll be with you in a minute!"

At the same time Justin grabbed the rifle and moved to the Senate chamber doors, Steven grabbed the second rifle Craig had slid down the hall. Steven wasted no time as he moved into the room where the Governor was lying on the ground with Alexander half on top of the man. He turned to close the door only to find a guard who had come in the far door pointing a pistol at the Governor's face. Steven pulled the rifle up knowing he was going to be too late.

Suddenly, however, the man's eyes went wide. He jerked once really hard as if having a body wide spasm then quivered for a few moments. Steven started to fire only to see the pistol slip out of the guy's hand and clatter to the ground only a couple of feet from the Governor's head. The guard's left arm twitched as if trying to reach for the back of his neck then his body seemed to lose its ability to stand. The man crumpled into a heap as he lost all ability to control his body from the neck down.

Behind the guy, Joey stood over the fallen assassin and looked at his breast pocket. "I need another pen."

Even as gunfire continued to echo in the halls, and Craig's dad's voice could be heard demanding to know what was going on, the others moved into the room with the Governor and looked down at the guard who was mumbling some sort of prayer.

Alexander rolled off the Governor, grabbed the pistol, stood, checked to make sure a round was chambered, then glanced down at the guard as he continued to mutter something about having failed 'God's Army' in its time of great need. Alexander took a single step closer, trying to figure out what had happened to the guy when his eyes fell on the nub of the back of a ballpoint pen sticking out of the back of the guy's neck.

A sudden smirk crossed Alexander's features and he knelt to take a closer look while sounds of gunfire rapidly diminished throughout the halls of the Capitol. "Well, prove me wrong, why don't you Joey!"

Joey glanced over while patting his breast pocket, clearly not happy about not having a pen with him any longer. "Huh?"

"I used to argue with my dad all the time about this. But here you go and prove me wrong. The pen really is mightier than the sword!"

Glenn took an offered pistol and a pair of extra clips from Steven as he snickered, "And the great Edward Bulwer-Lytton rolls over in his grave."

Craig edged his way into the room a few seconds later bleeding from his right shoulder.

Steven moved over and gave a sigh of relief as he saw it was only a grazing shot, a deep one, but still just a graze. "Man, you really need to learn how to duck!"

Craig snorted as he dropped extra magazines for the rifles he had secured off of one of the rogue guards. "I'm a Junior Marine. Marines don't duck: we make others dive for cover. Now put in fresh clips and spread out. We need every bullet and weapon we can grab."

The Governor stood, then glanced down at the phone. He picked it up, somewhat surprised to find it wasn't damaged, but those thoughts came to an abrupt end as he had to quickly pull it back from his ear. As he did so everyone in the room could hear Craig's dad shouting at the top of his lungs, "Damn-it what is going on and is my son safe?"

Craig held up a finger, cutting off any response, "Dad, it's me. Ashwood must have planted some security in the Capitol building, but we are all pretty much good."

"Pretty much?" LCDR Bickford snarled, "What does pretty much mean?"

"It means some jack-wad Ashwoodian nicked him with a bullet again." Alexander snarled as he secured one of the extra assault rifles.

"Again?" LCDR Bickford roared.

"Long story Dad, but I'm fine, really. Now you were saying something about chemical weapons before we were so rudely interrupted?"

A voice from behind Craig's dad spoke, "Is the Governor secure?"

Governor Hendrickson looked around at eight kids and a ninth looking at his empty breast pocket. Seeing the boy was pretty upset over not having a pen, and without really thinking, he handed Joey his $125 pen out of his suit, and whispered, "I'll get another one." Then spoke up, "Well, yeah… Um… I have nine boys who are now armed like they were born with guns in their hands covering me like a blanket. How long do we have before it gets here?"

Another voice, further back inside the ship's bridge spoke up, "Exact time hard to tell, but between forty to fifty minutes is my best guess, Commander."

Craig cringed as Steven pressed a piece of cloth up to his wounded shoulder, "Dad, there is no way to evacuate an entire city in less than forty five minutes. We have to figure out something else. What kind of chemical, do you know?"

"Sarin, son, it is a highly advanced form of Sarin. We got the chemical formula from another ship commander, but it's pretty much meaningless to us."

Steven's jaw dropped, "Nerve gas? They fired nerve gas at us?"

Ricky spoke up as he activated the laptop, somewhat surprised it worked after how hard he had hit the armed guard with it. "Send the formula through to Craig's phone so I can download it! I bet some of us will be able to get more out of the formula."

The voice of Commander Kopland spoke up, "Senior Petty Officer Munoz, send it, but make it quick. We are pushing the limits of giving our position away."

Craig's dad then spoke, "Guys we are going to have to break comm real soon. We will try to contact you all again, but you need to get out of there!"

Before more could be said, the Lieutenant Governor Derek Conway came in flanked by a pair of guards wearing Texas Ranger badges. As soon as the Rangers saw the armed kids, they lowered their weapons at the boys, only to have the Governor wave the men off, "Derek, these youngsters just saved my ass and probably most of the state's elected officials! Now stand down, men. Besides, you really don't want to tangle with them. If you look out into the hall you will see they are a force to be reckoned with."

As one of the Rangers went out into the hall and let out a gasp, the Governor turned to his Lieutenant Governor, "What the hell happened?"

As the second guard moved to glance out into the hall, the Lieutenant Governor turned to the Governor, "It's confusing as all hell. Several guards turned on us and others didn't. Hell, we have over twenty…"

One of the Rangers with the Lieutenant Governor turned and glanced back into the room, "Way more. There has to be a dozen more down out here."

Ricky suddenly spoke up, "I got the file on the chemical formula of the sarin, but someone is on to you and starting to trace the satellite position. Brake off and relocate!"

"Son, I love you!" LCDR Bickford managed to get in before the line to the USS Charles Read cut off.

The Lieutenant Governor ran a hand through his hair as his face went totally pale, "We have sarin coming this way?"

The Governor nodded, "So it seems and we got less then forty minutes to figure out what to do. Are we secure?"

The older Ranger spoke up, "Oh, yeah. We were the first Rangers to get here, but more are pouring in and we have totally taken over security for you, sir. The real problem is, some of the firefight was probably panic and confusion. I'd bet my entire paycheck on some of our casualties being from friendly fire, but we'll never know at this rate…"

His words cut off as Mark came back in leading a female and a man at gunpoint. He had a nine millimeter Glock in his left hand, a large TV camera in his right and a large knife was stuck deeply into his left shoulder. He eyed the two rangers, "Point those firearms at me at your own hazard gentlemen."

The Governor cleared his throat and motioned for the two Rangers to lower their sidearms. "He's good; he's the chaperone for the kids."

"He's just a pup himself…" The older Ranger started to say only to get cut off by Mark.

"You may want to tell your three guards who I be. You will have to wake them up and may have to get a couple of them to write it down for you, however, since two of them have broken jaws as well as other much more serious harms."

Hearing Mark use a couple of words most Americas would not use, yet again, Scott took the spotlight, "So who are these two and where did the camera come from Mark?"

Mark nudged the guy with the camera, forcing him to move into the room then jerked his head at the female. Maybe it was his look, or the fact he had the handle of a boot knife sticking out of his shoulder, but whatever it was, it caused the woman to gulp and move into the room with the Governor without complaint.

Mark then eyed the Rangers, "I found these two in the hall, just around the corner from the first security checkpoint. They got pretty much all of it on camera and most of the fighting was aired life."

"Live," Scott quickly corrected Mark while moving over to grab the camera. "You better sit down…"

"If I heard what I think I heard, there is no time. Besides, the blade is all the way in and not bleeding much, it can come out later. We need to take the advice of the man on the phone and get clear of here. In addition, I managed to cut the transmission just before what was in the package coming our way was spoken, but chances are good speech is out about a cruise missile strike heading this way."

The older guard who came in with the Lieutenant Governor shook his head while eyeing Mark with a hint of suspicion on his face, "They sabotaged the helicopter and firebombed the bunker under this building which is what alerted the Texas Rangers. I don't see how we are getting out of here in time."

"Isn't there another shelter?" Glenn asked with growing fear.

The Governor clenched his teeth and rubbed his chin, "Only the old one under the museum, but it hasn't been really touched since… well I think like 1978 or something close to there. I know it was before 1980. The curator and a couple of others clean it once a year or so…"

The Lieutenant Governor gulped, "We need to get over there…"

"No." Governor Hendrickson stated firmly.

All eyes turned to stare at the man. Finally the Lieutenant Governor spoke softly, "No?"

"No," He stated with determination in his voice. "We need to get this camera crew into the legislative chamber and make a quick joint session of the Legislature. We need to have a vote, then we all need to get over to the other building with as many as we can save." He then turned to the second guard, "Find the curator and see how many it will hold… Hell, find out if it is even useable."

Scott turned to Steven and Glenn, "Guys, you are our best repair people. You need to get over there and see what you can do."

Steven shook his head, "I need to stay. Someone who understands what sarin is and how it acts needs to get the word out. There is at least a chance to save some who are listening! Glenn, Alexander, and Joey go. You all are awesome at mechanical and electronics stuff. Have one of the Rangers lead the way; Ricky and Keith you go as well. We need communications and computers up and running. Take all the laptops you can get from around here. Also, we need to get an ambulance or two here and get all the supplies out of them and down to the shelter so we have some first aid gear and a few paramedics as well. The rest of you stick with me and the Governor. We need to keep him safe."

The younger Ranger spoke, "We can keep him safe, boys…"

"Really?" Joey suddenly spoke up, astonishing everyone including himself, "If you ask me, he is safer with us protecting him than someone with a badge."

The Governor reached over and gave Joey a reassuring squeeze on his shoulder, "I'll keep some of your friends with me, but your chaperone needs to get to the shelter and get his shoulder looked at." He then turned to the Rangers and the Lieutenant Governor, "Besides, if Steven knows what to tell people, then I need him with me. Seeing other kids with guns protecting me will show the world I trust them and people should listen to whatever advice he has, because I have none to give."

"The rest of you need to make sure these other five get to the old shelter and see what they can do, if anything. Remember, without these kids, I'd be dead and there would be no chance to save anyone in Austin. These kids deserve to be by my side as I say what I have to say. Now let's get moving; the clock is ticking."

Without waiting to see if his orders would be followed, the Governor stepped over one of the bodies in the hall and kicked another guard, who was moaning, in the face before pushing open the doors to the Senate conference room. "Get the members of the State House in here, now!"

Four minutes later, under a blanket of protection from Texas Rangers and the Governor being flanked by four boys carrying assault rifles, the Governor nodded to the camera man and moved up to a podium, "Ladies and Gentleman of Texas, I have just had my life saved from an assassination attempt by the young men who were here to get science awards from me, four of whom are now behind me and the other five are trying to find a way to save the lives of the governing body of Texas."

Before more than a few gasps could be heard around the chamber, Governor Hendrickson continued, "Right at twenty minutes ago a US warship was ordered to fire on the City of Austin. The payload is poison and it is on the way. However, before we can adjourn to a safe setting we need to do two things. First we must break all ties with the US. I need a vote now!"

"What about discussion…" a female state senator shouted only to get cut off.

"Maggie," Governor Hendrickson snapped back, "you can sit here and talk till you are blue in the face which you will be in less than half an hour, or you can vote. Most of us are going to vote and head to safety."

Hearing no more complaints Governor Hendrickson gave a little snort, "Thought so. Now keep in mind it was a U.S. warship with orders from higher up which has fired on us. All in favor raise your hands."

All but seven members of the Texas legislature raised their hands.

"All opposed, do the same."

This time four hands went up.

"Motion has passed by overwhelming majority. Rangers on the floor, take those who didn't vote at all into custody and get them out of here!"

It took only a few moments for the one man and two women to get forcibly removed from the chamber.

Governor Hendrickson glanced down from the podium, "Dissenters I can handle, and I respect; fence sitters are not going to be tolerated. Now, for the second vote, and this is a little more terrifying, but in my opinion is something we must do. As of now do we declare open hostilities against the Ashwood Administration and those who support him? Those who say yes raise your hands."

At this there was some murmuring, but within just a few seconds hands started to go up; a minute later only nine hands stayed down."

"Those opposed?"

This time all nine hands went up including three of the four who voted against succession

"Totally understandable. Let it be known, that as of this moment, we are at a state of hostilities with the Ashwood administration. All Federal units who wish to leave the state may do so but equipment stays here. All who wish to stay and help defend this great st… um, great Country of Texas are welcome to do so!

"Because of the extreme circumstances and us needing to get to shelter, I am handing full National Guard control over to Major General Hunter G. Beck. Until we can safely return to our duties, he speaks for all of us. Now, I am going to demand all members of the legislative body follow the Rangers while I turn the camera over to Steven Hoagland. People of Austin, this young man's advice, over the next couple of minutes, is the best shot you have at survival. Listen to him!"

Steven took a couple of deep breaths as he moved up to the podium, realizing it was going to block his face from the camera because of how tall it was, he side stepped and looked straight at the camera. "First off, trying to run is not a great option. The roads will clog and trap you. Please understand, this is not a normal bomb-like attack. The incoming rockets are loaded with poison. This poison is heavier than air, so do not go down into your basements. Stay up high, as high as you can get unless you have an airtight room, like a dust free room. If you do, go there and stay inside. You will need at least four hours of oxygen, more if it is down below ground. Because of this, do not over pack the dust-free rooms with people or you will all run out of air.

"I am going to try my best to get my friends to tap into the civil defense sirens. We will sound them as soon as possible and they will continue to sound until the vast majority of the danger has passed. Low lying areas may not be safe even then so stay out of basements, out of ditches, out of cellars."

Steven took a long pause as he thought over other options when an idea came to him. "There are some cars that are air tight. If you have one, get to as high a ground as you can find and park, engine off. If you are home and have large trash bags, we will attempt to sound a quick burst of three short pulses followed by three long, then three more short just before the rockets get here. As soon as you hear this, inflate the garbage bags as full as you can get them and pull them over you and hold the bottom as tight as you can. Stay there as long as possible, but do not let yourselves pass out. Once you get out of the trash bag, move to as high a ground as you can find and stay standing for as long as you can. It is the best chance you have at this point.

"Finally, we are asking all airlines and private aircraft at the main airport and any surrounding airports to fully load their planes and get as many out of the area as possible. I am sure the Governor will provide lists of safe landing sites shortly.

"Once again, remember go up not down; this poison is heavier than normal air. May whatever God you worship be with you this day."

As Steven backed up with shaky legs and the camera cut off, the Governor came over and put his arm around the boy to steady him. "Son, in all my days, in all my life, and in all my study I have never heard anyone be so clear and so level headed as what I just heard come out of your mouth."

From behind Steven, Craig spoke up, "Which is why he is our leader, Governor."

Justin managed a very nervous, high pitched, snicker, "Steven Hoagland for President in 2026, anyone?"

"He'll get my vote." The Governor managed a grin and he reached over and patted Justin on the back. "Now let's get to the shelter and see how much room we have and how many we can hold."

Kyle would like your comments and most especially your criticisms to his stories: Kyle Aarons

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