Castle Roland

Geek Squad

by Kyle Aarons

In Progress

Chapter 19 part a

Published: 25 Apr 16

Geek Squad

Copyright © 2012 - 2016 by Kyle Aarons and the Revolutions Universe Partnership.

All Rights Reserved

Tuesday November 13th, 0412
EEL Headquarters

Geek Squad LogoFredric's eyes snapped open as the warbling sounds of an alarm sounded. It took a few moments for his brain to click over from being sound asleep, but when it did, he sat straight up and reached for the phone at his bedside.

Before he could even pull the receiver up to his ear, Zenon burst into his room, "Sir, we need to get you back to the secure bunker."

Fredric reached for his pants even as he blinked and asked, "What? Why?"

Zenon moved up and pulled him out of the room, "Forget your clothing. An infiltration team made it to the edge of the compound. The Russians caught them at the southern perimeter, but there is no telling if any managed to get past."

Fredric Triumph let out a very long breath as his brain slowly fought the battle between rest and activation. He found it hard to believe others, like Zenon, could go from sound asleep to combat ready in a blink of an eye. He simply didn't know how they did it. At the same time, getting woken up over and over for attempted incursions into EEL's compound was getting more than a little old, "Again?"

"Yeah, again," Zenon sighed as he realized he needed to talk his boss through this for the fifth time, even as he drug him down toward the makeshift secure bunker. "We are about as secure as we can get and while the Russians aren't sending troops to the front lines, they sure as hell aren't afraid of opening up on anyone looking even remotely hostile to us."

As Fredric processed this, Zenon shook his head. Most were OK with the Russians, he, on the other hand, was not. This was an American war, and getting direct help from the outside just didn't sit well with him. Making matters worse, the last few days had been frantic and the decision making left much to be desired in Zenon's mind. The first action taken was to move everything and everyone to EEL Headquarters. The Breckenridge property had been deemed too hard to defend and was a matter of public record. This meant Ashwood would eventually send someone to poke around it.

The move, however, had proven to be a double edged sword. On one side, it gave Ashwood's people a very high priority target and put all the eggs into one basket for him to either bag or break. On the other hand, it allowed EEL, the Russians and the Texas National Guard to only have one place to defend, and defending it they were. All stops had been pulled. Colonel Zolotov even got permission from Bryce to bring in a quintet of Russian IL-76's. Two came with paratrooper units, two with hardware for them and the last with chemical warfare gear. The Austin Airport was now fully defended with surface to air missiles, armor, and light artillery allowing even more Russian support to stream into the Austin area. This left Austin with more Russian security than American. While Zenon was nervous about foreign troops defending his homeland, it was allowing the Texas National Guard to send more units forward, and Colonel Zolotov seemed to be a really good guy. Zenon, on the other hand, was going to save final judgment on the man. If they all went home when this was over, then and only then would he give the man his undying gratitude.

The one thing the massive Russian build-up had done was to end missile attacks against Austin. The reason for this was straightforward. The Russians had given warning that if their 'humanitarian force' was attacked they would be forced to retaliate. The public cover for them being there was the sarin attack. The Russians were 'just providing aid and security to the area in its time of great need'. How many were buying the load of B.S. was up for debate, but Ashwood had enough problems and thus far didn't want to push his luck against the Russians. The funny thing about this was, the longer he waited the more Russians he would end up pissing off. If Zenon had been in Ashwood's shoes, he would have hit Austin with everything he had days ago. Now it was all but too late.

It remained unclear if Ashwood along with his people, had figured out the Russians were also defending EEL's Headquarters Complex, but chances were good he didn't. At least not yet. Zenon couldn't help but wonder what would happen when this revelation broke in Ashwood controlled territories.

Next to Zenon, Fredric turned to one of his scientists, asking if the microwave emitter was up yet. Zenon had to fight his desire to shake the crap out of Fredric. The man just didn't get the danger he was in. It was infuriating.

Zenon also had figured out the man well enough to know Fredric's brain was slow to get moving, but was information driven. Getting him over the fright and a very hard wake-up mental state more quickly meant getting information in to override the 'system shock'. It kind of reminded him of a computer that needed a hard reboot after a power loss. Fredric was awake, but by no means functional. To this end he let the scientist answer then pulled the man's arm in the direction of the bunker again. "Look, boss, the front lines have hardened and the missile attacks against us have gotten Ashwood nothing other than to give us a way of pinpointing where one of his ships was out in the Gulf. We know Craig's dad is out there fighting him, and so are other naval assets. He can't afford to lose another ship to us. Land based missiles are needed to fight battles on the front lines, so those are out. Ashwood's takeover has lost momentum and he needs to regain the upper hand, but he has to catch a break to do so. They have figured out the hard way they can't get past your air defense systems, and they are afraid of hitting Austin directly and pissing off the Ruskies, but they can still hit here. Actually they need to hit here since they have to try to find and take out the leadership helping Bryce. This means us... well you."

Fredric blinked, and he shook his head as if trying to clear it. "I'm not..."

Zenon's voice hardened, "Like it or not, you are. You, along with your company, are a huge part of what is screwing up his plans, but more importantly, Ashwood knows EEL is a link to an entire network working to support Bryce. If a team can get in here, they will be able to gain access to information about Governor Hendrickson, the Texas National Guard and the boys. Also, the dollar may not mean much to the average American at the moment, but the alliance of companies Mitch has built has kept the dollar from turning to worthless paper on the world markets. This is allowing Bryce to move financial assets around and gives him purchase power overseas. It will also allow Americans to recover from all this with money they have in the bank once word gets out about the Fed no longer being the major backer of the Dollar. It isn't worth as much, but it sure is a damn sight better than what would have happened if Mitch hadn't leveraged EEL's corporate power and wealth, combined it with other corporations, and got the word out to world markets, halting the slide off the edge of the cliff."

Fredric tightly closed his eyes while letting Zenon pull him down the hall. As this happened his mind finally started to wake up. "So our labs are OK?"

"They didn't even get past the first fence before the Russians spotted them this time," Zenon stated with a smirk, "at least we don't think they did, but you are still going to the bunker until we can be certain."

"Are they getting careless or desperate?"

"Probably a bit of both, boss. The other thing is, they may be down to second stringers. They lost four special ops teams already, and those aren't easy to replace. Training a strike team takes years and lots of money. Also, the Russians have learned the layout, know the landscape, and have had time to set up fake weak points and with them, ambush points. With each attempt, they are making our defense stronger. The last thing to consider is those they are sending are expecting U.S. trained soldiers, not Russians, so Levi thinks the tactics they have used up to now have been based on the wrong premise."

Fredric nodded his head as some of the information finally started to sink in. "So no damaged buildings or injured employees?"

"Like I said, best we can tell, they didn't even get into the complex this time."

"What about the kids from Breck?"

"They are still in the gym, and it is being guarded with a zealously bordering on fanatical. Ashwood's people got one grenade off close to those kids on the second raid; they will not get a second one. No one comes near the gym without Levi's or Colonel Zolotov's permission and the men and women we have guarding them are the only ones who get direct contact other than you, the original chaperones, Mitch, and the boys with the governor. The one dead boy we ended up with is way too many for any of us."

"Yet one more Ashwood needs to pay for," Fredric snarled. "Any word on Paul's family?"

Zenon let out a sigh. It was always the same questions out of Fredric. The guy should know by now he would be the first to get any updates the moment they were available. Rather than snap at the man, he looked up and forced his voice to be as even as he could, "Nothing new, boss. Jan is still touch and go from Sarin, the two older girls, Liza and Vicky, are better, but by no means out of the woods, and Jeffry is with the kids from Breck. He's still not given any sign of the death of his father sinking in, but he's six and still thinks mom and sisters are just sick."

Seeing Fredric nod, Zenon decided to continue telling the man what he was certain to ask about. "It sure looks like we are going to come out of this assault close to unscathed, but we have to wait for the security forces assigned to buildings to check in. We'll also have to wait and see what our Russian friends have for casualties, but the paratrooper reinforcements we got yesterday gives us almost two companies of elite Russians and we have a company of Texas National Guard manning your equipment, so it's only getting harder for Ashwood's people to hit us. With each passing hour, we are bringing more of your prototype systems online and more are being produced because the Russians got us a couple of shipments of electronics to restock our shelves. Infiltration teams or individuals are our biggest weakness, and the Russians seem to have a good handle of keeping those bastards out at this point."

As Fredric finally stepped inside what used to be an underground weapon testing structure, a quartet of Russians looked him over, swept him with a wand meant to find listening devices then one opened the door while the other three snapped to attention and saluted him. Still not even slightly comfortable with this, he nodded at the men with an embarrassed look on his face. If it was noted by the men, they gave no indication. A second later the door was closed and latched from the inside by yet another pair of Russians.

He blinked a few times as he noted Levi and Kermit in front of a computer terminal going over data with a group of Russians. Finding this strange he moved up, "What's all the fuss, gentlemen?"

Colonel Zolotov glanced over his shoulder, "I think we hit what you all call a jackpot."

This got Fredric's full attention. He moved up to the men not even worrying about the fact he was only wearing boxers, "We catch a break?"

Levi spoke with cautious optimism. "It seems Scott's twin has more of Scott than Race running through his blood. Grant may be missing or even dead, but has found a way to speak with us."

This got Zenon's full attention. "How, and speak to us about what?"

Colonel Zolotov typed on a keyboard causing one of the main displays to light up. The screen showed hundreds of photos of middle school kids. "The missing Race brother may be even smarter than his twin. He left Scott a message right under the noses of whoever Ashwood and his people sent to dig through his things."

Kermit pointed up to the display, "And thank to big background check you did on Scott, because of his connections, and wanting to see if he was really behind fish thing, we had his yearbook on file. This mean we able plug it in then use security protocols in place for EEL to filter it through same system we use to verify access into secure areas. It didn't take much to change program and upload the yearbook so were able to pull facial recognition on every kid. The other Race must have spent days ordering this, then hid it in plain sight in cheap camera."

Even as he spoke the faces had names put with them. The computer then did an automatic sort, pulling the first letter of the first name of each child, substituting the letter for the picture. Colonel Zolotov leaned back, "Your facial recognition software is doing much of the work for us, but Scott's doing the exact same thing by hand to verify this. There are no breaks or spaces so you have to read it as best as possible."

Fredric felt blood flow out of his face as he read the results, "Operation Starshine Objectives. Control of the USA following the political defeat of President Ashwood can be guaranteed if these objectives are met. Scott, I put numbers to these and they are all points in the plan, but some of them are like operation points for overall objectives:

"As soon as it appears as if Richard Ashwood is going to lose control of the Executive Branch of the U.S Full protocols for Operation Starshine should be enacted:

"One, eliminate all viable opponents... apposing? Oh, I bet he meant opposing... the will of God's Army..." Fredric felt a shiver go up his spine, "God's Army? Didn't my b... the boys... say one of the guards at the torture compound say something about a God's army?"

Levi nodded, "And they heard one of the guards in the Texas Capital say the same thing. I am trying my damnedest to get some feelers out to the Mossad to see what they know about this, but if they do have anything on it, it was above my clearance at the time. But boss, this only scratches the surface. Check out number fourteen!"

Colonel Zolotov hit a button and bought up the section being discussed.

Fredric scanned it and read it out loud, "Fourteen, Civilian Opponents: this is a huge focus. Dude, we can't trust Burl O'Henry at all. He is moving people around for Ashwood, like all over the NSA, FBI, and all the other alphabet soups."

Zolotov punched another button. Once again Fredric read it, but his voice was starting to shake, "Forty-six, Use of Strategic Nuclear assets to prevent outside interference is crucial: Scott, this is why I finally decided to go against them no matter what. This scares the shit out of me."

Levi stood, offering his shaking boss his chair, "Pull up fifty-nine."

By this time Fredric needed the offered chair since his legs were getting weak. "Fifty-nine," he whispered just loud enough for those close to him to here, "Pardon, arm and release prisoners from all federal, state and county penitentiaries. Scott, this is not just some, this is all of them right down to the axe murderers and those on Death Row, those who do things to kids and women, and even convicted terrorists. The lists... Um... ae?"

"Pretty sure he meant are, but missed a photo, boss."

"Ah, OK... yeah..." Fredric read the whole thing again adjusting for the missing letter. "Pardon, arm, and release prisoners from all federal, state and county penitentiaries. Scott, this is not just some, this is all of them right down to the axe murderers and those on Death Row, those who do things to kids and women, and even convicted terrorists. The lists are added to daily so they don't miss anyone, even those newly put in jail."

Levi put a hand on Fredric's shoulder. "Boss, this all but confirmed what we already knew when we stopped Mr. Rogan's truck. The weapons were meant for the prisoners."

Fredric nodded weakly, "We guessed this, but..."

Zenon's eyes narrowed, "Guessed, yes... This, if it is true though... It means Ashwood not only knew what was going to happen, but also was hoping it would do even more damage than it did! This... it is..." Zenon shook his head, "Ashwood should be considered an accessory to every single crime committed by those inmates he pardoned and then armed!"

Colonel Zolotov looked over his shoulder at Fredric and the chaperones, "Gentlemen, I find all the concerns I am hearing valid. I think we all ought to be worried about the outside forces more than anything else."

"Outside forces?" Fredric asked.

Kermit pulled up another point. "Read for yourself, boss."

Fredric scanned it and noted another misspelling but by now he was getting the hang of it and his mind adjusted for the mixed up letters as he spoke, "Fifty, Infiltrate U.S. with God's Army allied Foreign Forces: Scott, this God's Army is whispered here and there, but if they even suspect someone is listening they just say Army. It isn't the U.S. Army, it is something else. Something very dark."

Another point appeared so Fredric continued to read aloud, "Fifty-one, Use of tourist visas to bring in first waves. Already here. Mom met with some while you were on the canoe trip. Argentina military men talking about shooting Americans who are breaking martial law and having thousands of men and boys, yeah, they said boys, coming over in shipping containers. They don't even expect them all to live through the trip and they don't care. These guys are cold blooded Scott.

"Fifty-two, Give all them time to get lay of land and know given objectives. Scott, they already have it and it includes National Guard armories. They are going to use it against us and as I said before, there are extra stockpiles for them to grab now too."

Fredric's mind was reeling at this point. A part of his brain tried to find a rational answer for this, "At least they are supposed to stop the looting..."

Levi shook his head, "First off, boss, what do you think a foreign army is going to do while taking out the trash? Second, and far more troubling is, if this is right, then we have a foreign army in this country allied to Ashwood and their first objective was to take armories. This means they will have U.S. equipment and be next to impossible to spot until it is too late!"

"While leaving U.S. loyal military with little to no equipment to fight back," Colonel Zolotov added with a note of disgust.

Fredric felt as if his head was spinning, "How did Ashwood get an outside army into the U.S. and how many are there?"

"Good questions, boss," Levi responded as he leaned over Zolotov and typed something on the keyboard. "Look for yourself."

Since Fredric was all but overwhelmed and Zenon was getting the hang of picking words out of a long string of mashed together letters, he read this time. "Fifty-seven, Bring them in prearranged shipping containers so there is no chance of detection. Those they are shipping will have to spend weeks in them. As mentioned above they already know some will not survive and they don't care. Note Scott I also heard talk of large tour groups for national parks and amusement parks coming in from the Middle East from Horney. Major focus of Mid East force seems to be in Florida. Argentina and Venezuela are two other primary sources. Maybe you could be good to Imir, he must know. Just be careful and do what is needed to protect yourself. Imir will protect you if well you know."

"Imir?" Fredric managed to ask.

One of the Russian guards at the door cleared his throat, "I believe it is talking about Imir Assadir, sir. I heard Scott Race tell Ricky, Justin, and Craig the UAE ambassador really liked him just before you came in and told Justin about his father getting wounded."

Fredric glanced over to the guards at the door then back at the others, "Is there anyone Scott doesn't know?"

Zenon snickered despite the situation, "Not many. Also, thanks to his mom, he received training from about the time he could talk and walk on how to listen, how to memorize names and faces, and even details about people. He has even been taught how to detect falsehoods by body language, voice inflection, and other cues people accidentally let out while hiding those signals within himself. Finally he has learned to deal with being uncomfortable around people he doesn't like or enjoy so completely they actually think he wants to be around them. I am hearing from one of the Rangers he may even have allowed some unpleasantries to happen to himself, so he can get information out of them for his parents and even Ashwood."

Levi shook his head with a disgusted snort, "It is the same kind of training Mossad gives field agents, but Scott was taught this during the ages of largest brain development, and he has extreme natural intelligence, so he is probably better than the vast majority of the highest trained espionage and counterespionage experts the world has churned out. Combine his interest in scouts and outside activities, plus his sudden friendship with Craig and the military men he has met, he is now training in combat skills of many kinds. There is no telling how far he can go. With what he is now learning about fighting, shooting, and humanity as a whole, he may very well become one of the top infiltration specialists this world has ever seen. We could use him to get information from the UAE."

"And feed misinformation," Kermit added.

"I didn't bring a twelve-year-old here to become the world's greatest spy!"

"What your original intentions were or were not matters not at all," Colonel Zolotov stated with an emotionless voice. "You have him, so we should use him."

Fredric turned to stare at the man with a look of disgust and shock etched on his face, "He's twelve!"

Zenon sighed, "He's a potential super weapon and this is a war, boss."

"A war you... which means we... the world as a greater whole... all of us... are currently losing," Colonel Zolotov added grimly. "Keep in mind, my own son is very close to the same age, and if he were in the same situation, I would firmly expect others to use him. This is a world altering event, and Scott Race holds some of the keys in his hands to close and lock some of the doors needed to block Ashwood."

"You want me to just toss Scott into extra danger? What is wrong with you all?"

"I want to be fishing with the kids and Paul out at your cabin, boss," Zenon responded. "However, neither of those are happening. One will never happen again. Besides, the colonel is right. If we play our cards right, we can prevent what happened to Paul and his family from happening to untold countless others from one side of the globe to the other. Scott may be the joker card needed for stacking the deck in our favor."

"So you've all decided to toss Scott to the wolves already without my input?"

"No," Colonel Zolotov growled. "I pushed for it, but your men are loyal to you. They are trying to speak sense into your rather stubborn skull."

Fredric glared at those in the room for several silent seconds. Seeing the looks he was getting, he turned his eyes up at the ceiling, "Tell me what you all have in mind here, people."

All eyes turned to Zenon since Fredric seemed to trust him the most of those in the room.

Zenon moved up to Fredric's side and put a hand on the man's shoulder, "I don't think there is a full plan, but my idea would be to get him out of the bunker and put him in topside. Let him find a way to contact the UAE ambassador. Ask for help, then work his magic."

Fredric frowned deeply, "And even if I say it's OK and Scott agrees, how in the hell is Scott supposed to get in contact with someone with the state of the communications we are left with?"

Levi snorted, "The same way this whole damned thing fell into your lap to begin with. You let the boys improvise."

Fredric blinked as the words registered, "Boys? Not just Scott?"

"Are you kidding me?" Zenon grinned, "I don't even know what they are really talking about, but I do know those boys well enough at this point to recognize they would never let one of the others go it alone. They have become closer than most brothers! Do you really think the boy, our boys, would let Scott try this on his own?"

Fredric's eyes narrowed, "So you already spoke to them about this?"

"No," Colonel Zolotov shook his head and shot a grin at Fredric, "they spoke to us about this. Actually, not Scott, but Justin and Craig. Justin has already guessed Scott will try since it is a possible thread at finding his brother. A very thin thread, but it is there and he is too smart not to try to pull on it. Once Craig heard this he started readying his gear."

Fredric's hand crashed into his forehead, "Oh, for the love of God, what is wrong with those boys!"

This got some snickers out of everyone in the room, including the normally stoic guards at the door.

Levi smirked, "You wanted to find kids like you were. Well, boss, you found 'em!"

"Ugg..." Fredric grumbled as he paced the entire length of the room several times. He finally looked over to Zenon, "Besides Scott and Craig, what kids are we talking about? Just Scott, Craig and Justin? You really want me to endanger Justin? I already almost killed his father! OH, and who is going to be with them?"

Levi responded, "You didn't do anything to Louis Rogan, boss. If anything, you may have saved his life. What do you think they did to those other truck drivers?"

Fredric's eyes went wide, "They... oh for the love of God... they couldn't leave witnesses... is that what you are saying?"

"Probably," Colonel Zolotov confirmed. "Had it been me putting this together, I would see the drivers as a liability once the loads were delivered. The transport to the East Coast would have been turned over to one whose loyalty I just gained by releasing and arming him or her. The drivers would no longer be needed at that point. Keeping them alive would then be a security risk, one that I no longer need, so..."

Fredric leaned over a waste can and puked, wiped his mouth and looked around the room getting nothing but grim nods. He puked again. "How many good men... And you want me to send kids out into this world?"

"Do you want a chance to get the upper hand and stop this insanity?" Colonel Zolotov demanded to know. "If so, you can't hold back what your man rightly called a super weapon." The colonel's eyes bored into to Fredric's, "Mr. Triumph, Scott has the chance to get us hard intel, not just a collage that turns out to be the strategic plans for the takeover of your country and the destruction of the world's economy. We need the pieces inside the strategic plan if we are going to dismantle it quickly enough to disrupt this whole Operation Starshine before it coalesces into something that, even if stopped, brings about a new dark ages for all of humanity."

Fredric covered his head with his hands and leaned forward again. He would have puked a third time if he would have had anything left in his stomach, "Levi, who are you all thinking about sending with Scott?"

"Craig, and Justin for sure. Probably Steven and possibly Alexander. Keith will certainly want to as well, but we are hearing he may be needed by President Bryce's people. There are major communication problems without full satellite coverage and Bryce has requested Keith's help on some special plans. Plus he knows his HAM radio set up and that is how they are probably going to communicate back to us. Besides, while I don't know what project Bryce's people have in mind yet, but it's communications related which pretty much has Keith's name written on it. Bryce's people are talking like they would like to take Ricky as part of it, too. It has something to do with the computer they gave him. If they do, it would allow him to get better medical treatment for his broken leg and get at least the two of them further away from the fighting. Joey also asked if he could help. I guess him and Ricky are really starting to get along. If they all go, then so will Glenn. Besides, those weird kids who came in with Colonel Zolotov suggested they may have a plan when it comes to healing Glenn. They will need access..."

Fredric turned to stare at Levi, clearly having not heard everything, "Joey's making a friend?"

Levi shot Fredric a smirk, "Sure seems like it, and his adoptive parents are willing to let him go as long as you approve, since this is a first for Joey."

"Where would they be going?"

Zolotov shrugged, "West, not sure where. Things are still being kept hush-hush. Truth is they still may be trying to figure out a secure spot themselves and just don't want to admit it. Hell, for all we know they just want to make sure Keith and Ricky are available. Without the hack, led by Ricky, and Keith's communications patches with my people back in Russia, this whole thing could have been over and Ashwood would have complete control of the US. That makes Keith and Ricky two extremely valuable assets to the war effort."

Fredric let out a long breath, "Two boys who aren't even teens yet... How absurd... However, if they can really help... Plus, getting Joey and the others further away from the fighting wouldn't hurt my feelings..." He pointed at the computer listing out all the points of information, "So Bryce has all this information?"

"No," Levi shook his head vehemently, "we can only verify a couple of pieces of this and Scott has made it real clear he doesn't want some of the personal information Grant left for him getting out for everyone to see. Because of this, we are letting him scrub out much of it while keeping enough so, if we can verify, Bryce is going to get a clear picture without Scott feeling trampled on. Governor Hendrickson is helping, but even he admits much of this is personal, between Scott and Grant, and does not need to get out and humiliate Scott."

Fredric nodded slowly, "OK, let me make this very clear, Scott and only Scott decides if comments stay in. I don't give a SHIT if Hendrickson thinks it should stay in or not! Scott doesn't, however, get to pull out any of the numbered items... Are you all really sure we need to get more of this checked out though? Scott, even if he wants to do this, is twelve freaking years old!"

"Boss," Levi spoke softly and evenly, "some of these items are large talking points only. Grant was right to note when he put this together; there were... are... missing chunks. He flatly admitted some of this is more like independent operations put in as sections of a plan. If we can get Bryce this information with added details about some of these operations, the chances of stopping Ashwood increases exponentially. Also, he won't be out there alone. He will have Steven, Craig, Justin, and Alexander with him. Besides, if you don't approve, I'd lay even odds on the boys trying to get out and doing it on their own. Sooner, rather than later, Scott will realize this may be the last chance he has to find Grant."

"This is true," Colonel Zolotov snorted with a hint of a smirk, "truth be told, they aren't willing to sit in that bunker much longer, regardless. I think your American term is 'stir-crazy'. Especially with Craig and Alexander."

"Alexander is a loose cannon..." Fredric muttered. Seeing everyone nodding in agreement, he let out a long sigh, "OK, so what I am hearing is, they really aren't going to give me much of a choice unless we have the rangers handcuff them to pipes or something..." Hearing some snickers, he rolled his eyes, "Sounds way too much like me as a kid, and I almost paid for it in the worst possible way... So who is going to be with my boys? Mark is still too hurt, right?"

"Yes, Mark is still out. The blade went all the way into the bone. They got it out, but he really should be in a hospital, not that bunker. Over half the medical equipment down there is not working and much of the medicine and supplies are beyond shelf life. We are hoping to send him west when things get figured out on where Bryce wants Keith and the others. However, Mark not being able to go really doesn't matter. For this to work they will have to go alone, boss," Levi informed the stunned man.


"It's the only way, boss," Zenon countered with a cringe as the truth hit him. "They are already known by the other side. There were cameras in the capitol and many of them were behind the governor as he spoke. There is no way they will be allowed any contact with anyone from Ashwood's inner circle until they have been carefully scoped out. They will make them move multiple times, maybe over the course of days before they make direct contact..."

"I don't give a RAT'S ASS!" Fredric roared. "Find a way for someone to be with them or there is no way I am going to let this happen! Hell, I don't want it in the first place, so figure it out or forget it!"

After several uncomfortable moments, Levi spoke up. "You heard the boss. We need an unknown with combat experience. Who do we have down in the bunker with them?"

Kermit glanced over, "There is one possible I see."

"Who?" Zolotov, Levi, Zenon, and Fredric all shouted at the same moment.

Kermit pulled up a picture, "This man... He is Aussie fireman, Lachlan Walker, He's ex-Marine, but records show him as muster out with no black mark on him by Ashwood's people. He wasn't really checked out since he started as attached Aussie then joined after proving himself in combat with U.S. force in Mexico. They didn't even tag him as questionable person since when he mustered out, he moved right into civilian life in same line of work as his military job. They will know who he is, but nothing would lead them to think he on our side. Since he is fireman, it would give him reason to have hooked up with the boys. We just have to give him good story cover."

"Cover story," Levi corrected his friend.

"And we trust this man?" Fredric demanded to know.

"The boys do. Justin and Craig have talked highly of him and Glenn recommended we hire him as a member of the security team." Zenon confirmed. "Even Joey has mentioned him as a good guy. Also the four who opened the bunker are all ex-military and could go out as a trailing team, but will have to stay well out of sight since they are blacklisted by Ashwood's people. Still if things go to hell, they could move up and try to pull the kids out."

"Lachlan's girlfriend found a doctor and because of her, Ricky got his leg properly set and casted and Mark got the blade pulled out and stitched up," Levi added.

Fredric started pacing again. After nearly two minutes he unenthusiastically nodded, "If he agrees to be out there with the kids, and the other four are willing to be a… whatever your military term is for a plan B, then I'll very reluctantly agree to this, but if any of my boys get hurt, I'm holding you all responsible..."

Before more could be said, the all clear tone sounded at EEL HQ. Seconds later Colonel Zolotov's radio chirped, "Sir, we have one wounded. They have seven dead and we managed to secure a captive."

"Take him to one of the outbuildings, strip him, wash him with a heavy antibacterial, check his teeth, remove any suspicious ones, and give him an enema just in case he thought he could get something past us the hard way. Once you are certain he is clean inside and out, let me know. I'll come talk to him."

Everyone else in the room eyed the colonel. It was Zenon who finally spoke, "An enema? Really?"

Zolotov's mouth twisted up into a smirk, "You all realize people have smuggled kilos of drugs using the same methods. A kilo of drugs is one thing, a kilo or more of a military explosive like C4 could level a building and cause shrapnel out for several meters. A person carrying such explosives inside would also become part of the shrapnel, and I don't know about any of you, gentlemen, but I, for one, do not want to be killed by a chunk of some Ashwood prick's pelvic bone. To use one of your less endearing phrases, here: Ashwood is screwing enough people already."

Noah woke to the sounds of moaning. The fire pit in the middle of the back room of the post office where he and his fellow paintball team had been living out of for the past few days was down to red embers. The smell of smoke was pretty thick, but in the early morning cool dampness of mid November, warmth was more important than smoky smell. To this end he put a couple of pieces of wood on the still glowing bits from the night before and used a bellows they had found in one of the shot up houses only a block away. It only took a trio of puffs to get the fresh wood to smolder and two more before it burst into flame. Having enough to see the whole room, he glanced around. It took only a few moments to notice Debbie sitting on a chair by the hole in the wall. It was covered with a blanket, but there was enough wind outside to where it was causing it to move.

Noah let out a sigh of relief at seeing someone on guard. Three days prior, they had been sleeping when someone wandered into the post office. The shadowy figure had gotten all the way to the food supplies and had grabbed some before Doug woke up, shouted and fired a single shot into the ceiling. The figure took off, but did so with over half the remaining food. The whole event had proven to be a valuable, yet painful lesson. Fortunately, no one had been hurt, but the next day they had to go out further from the post office to secure more food, and had been spotted by a small armed group. They had to shoot a couple of times which backed the others off, but it had left them all shaken. While nothing had been said about how lucky they had been, each one realized it was only good fortune the lone person had not wanted to hurt or kill them. They were even luckier the second group was easily backed off.

Noah shivered as he looked over at Debbie. "Is it me or is it freezing in here?"

Debbie nodded to him, "The weather turned nasty in the last couple of hours. It just started to get windy and it's misting, actually looks like it's starting to snow. I was thinking about tossing on some wood, but with this wind there is a chance the glow will be seen as the blanket blows around."

"Yeah, well, it's freaking freezing and I can hear Har moaning. We can't let him get cold."

"Has been making noise on and off all night from what Todd and Hazel said. He woke about an hour ago. I helped him up so he could take a leak. He was shivering and wet when he came in, so I gave him some water, a towel, and an extra blanket, but he didn't want anything else."

Noah moved over to his lifelong friend and knelt. He stroked the boy's still damp hair even as he looked over at Debbie, "He still has a fever. He didn't eat dinner, so he is getting sick, too. Did Todd or Hazel get him to eat anything?"

"Neither one said, so I doubt it."

"The aspirins aren't working. Neither is the ibuprofen."

"I noticed, and he is getting worse. We have to find some help, Noah."

Doug rolled over, clearly having already been awake, "I don't see how. He can barely walk."

"We should have never let him carry a pack after the beating those jerks gave him." Noah looked down and rubbed his friend's back over the heavy blankets. "It's my fault..."

"No, Noah," Todd spoke from the other side of the room. "None of us knew how bad he was hurting until we stopped and took his pack. He could have said something."

"Yeah, but the Army jerk who beat him is who should get the blame," Kent whispered as he sat up, rolled over, and popped open a can of soda.

"Doesn't matter who is to blame at this point," Hazel spoke, proving no one was really sleeping even though it was just after four in the morning. "We need to figure out what to do about it."

"Not much we can do," Doug stated. "I heard pretty close by gunfire while taking first watch and there was some explosions to the north just before we went to bed. I'm not real keen on going out too far to look for food after running across the other group, let alone trying to walk to another town."

Noah felt a tear run down his cheek, "We can't just sit here. Har is getting worse."

Todd moved over to Noah, "You're right, but even if a couple of us go to get help the rest are going to have to stay with Harlan. There is no way we can take him with us. Even then, where are we going to go? We don't even know where we are at!"

"Yes we do," Kent corrected the older boy.

"Really?" Doug snarled at the younger boy, "I haven't seen a town marker and the sign outside this building was blasted into bits and there is a hole in the wall above the front door where the building sign was. I haven't see anything telling us where we are while we have been rummaging through houses either. All we know comes from the sides of the shot up school buses across the street. They all say Jackson Parish Schools. I don't know about you, but I sure don't know where Jackson Parish is, and I don't think those busses were just for here. This town is way too small for so many buses."

Kent held up a letter, "I got this out of one of the broken post office boxes. It's addressed Hodge, Louisiana."

"Stealing mail..." Debbie started to argue only to stop herself. After all the houses in the area they had searched for food and other useful things, mail theft was way down on the list of things she figured she should be worried about.

Even as Debbie's words faltered, Kent held up the envelope, "Um, I don't think anyone is worried about a missing electric bill."

Todd nodded in total agreement. "Be a long time before anyone worries about bills being paid, and what is the power company going to do? Threaten to keep the power off once they get it fixed?"

Doug sighed, "If they get it fixed. Plus the house it was going to has to be standing, and plenty aren't."

Kent held up several other letters, "I didn't open these, but all are addressed to P.O. boxes with the numbers they were in. All are addressed Hodge."

"Great so we know where we are, but does knowing really help us? Do any of you know where Hodge Louisiana is?" Hazel asked, "If not, we are still lost."

Doug pointed over at Hazel, "Yeah, not much help, Kent."

Kent looked down, "Guess not..."

Todd frowned and slid closer to Kent, "Geesh, guys, stop being so mean and let's give him some credit. We are sitting in a freaking post office and the youngest of us happens to be the only one to think to check the letters! We may not know where Hodge, Louisiana is, but at least we know where we are! Besides, this is a post office. Even with the fire damage in the big room, there may be a map around here."

Kent gave Todd a thankful smile, "I already looked while you guys went searching and told me to stay here with Harlan, but maybe in one of the buses across the street. I was going to look tomorrow..." He looked down at a watch one of them had found and given him, "Um, today... I mean once it gets light."

"Or in one of the dozens of shot up cars," Noah added. "Really good thinking Kent!"

Kent looked over at Harlan then over at Todd, "There is a mail truck with keys in it in the back garage. If we find a map and you decide where to go, we can take it."

"How'd you get back there?" Doug demanded to know."

"Back outside door."

"I figured it was locked." Debbie snorted.

"It was, I used the tire iron next to the car off to the side of the road. The doorframe was already messed up, so it only took one hard pull. I thought there might be a map back there. No luck though. The fire got to the mail bags back there too."

Noah shook his head, "Good idea, but if the fire burned back there, I'm sure it not going to run."

"It has a burned side, but it runs. I checked. I changed the tire too, since the front driver's side was bubbled from the fire."

Noah glanced over to Kent, "Wow, I've never changed a tire… You really know how?"

"Gramps taught me like three or four years ago. He had to turn the lug wrench to break them so I could spin them the rest of the way, then made the last couple of turns to tighten them back up, but I can do that now… Um, I had to jump on the lug wrench on a couple of them, but I got it."

"Pretty cool little dude, cause I don't know how either." Todd stated then glanced over to Noah, "As long as it's an automatic, I can drive it."

Kent cocked his head to the side, "Really? You can't drive a stick?"

Todd shook his head and blinked in surprise, "No... Why? Can you?"

"Uh huh, I can drive a stick, automatic, and an ATV, and a motorcycle, too. My uncle taught me just in case I needed to drive in an emergency while just the two of us were hiking and when he took me and a friend or two. We went lots of places with no or little cell phone signals, so if he got hurt or something he said I would need to drive. He said at worst I'd get pulled over and we'd still get help." Seeing the others all looking at him with some astonishment, Kent gave them an impish grin, then added, "Don't worry though, Todd can drive it. The truck is automatic and it has over half a tank. The garage door is messed up though. I couldn't pull it open. I tried to use the tire iron, but it wouldn't move far enough for me to get the jack under it either."

Noah scratched at the back of his head. "We'll get the garage door open even if we have use the fire axe we found at the fire station and chop a hole in it. First we need to find a map so we know where we are going."

Todd quickly agreed, "We also want to stick to back roads at night with no headlights, so let's get everything we can today and get ready to head out." He put his arm around Kent and gave the boy a hard squeeze, "Really great thinking! We are so lucky Noah saw you!"

Officer Cole Rail rolled over and reached for his sidearm even before the nearby gunshots fully registered in his brain. Even as he shook his head to clear it, Jamaal came into his room at a crouch. "Hey, cop, shit's hittin' the fan just up the block."

Even as more gunshots echoed off the surrounding buildings, Cole rubbed at his eyes, "Who did what this time, Jamaal?"

"Not us this time, man. I checked; all us in and doors bared. We took down two more last night and grabbed their shit, so we are up to ten uniforms and one of them had a scoped rifle like you've got so we gots a spare rifle and lots a lead for you." Jamaal stopped as machinegun fire raked the building up and across the alley from where they were at. "Doyle say one a them Hummers with a machinegun pulled up down the block and when them bastards got out, someone in the corner building opened up on them. From what Doyle say, one of them got away and now we gots all sorts of shit coming this way, man."

"Aw, crap!" Cole snarled as he slid over to the window and peaked out. His vantage point didn't show much. All he could see was a couple of new bodies with nothing but boxers on in the alley and some flashes of light from further down the alley. Since they coincided with gunshots, he knew they were muzzle flashes. Another burst of tracered machinegun fire really lit up the corner for a few seconds. He pulled his head back and looked at the teen, "I'm not squaring off against that!"

"Right there with ya, cop!" Jamaal nodded with a rapid head bob.

Cole crouched lower as a large explosion sounded from around the corner. He quickly turned back to look at the teen, "Have everyone grab as much as they can and move to the garage. We'll bar the door from the other side and hope they think it is locked when they storm the place. If not, we'll have to make a break for it. Have everyone load up in the truck and have a couple of the men stand by the garage door. Tell that old janitor guy, Mr. Sandoval, who fought in the Mexican war he needs to be up on the Hummer and manning the machinegun, cause none of the rest of us know what to hell to do with it."

"So we gots to get ready to fight?"

"Yeah, just in case... We don't want to start it, but we need to be ready to hit hard and fast, then make a break for it!"

"This your plan B you's been talking about, cop?"

"This is more like plan C, just using what we were coming up with as a framework." Seeing Jamaal move toward the door, "And Jamaal?"

The teen turned, "Yeah?"

"Make sure Eldon and Alonzo don't do anything too stupid!"

Jamaal snorted, "I'll does my by best. What about them two we took from the store?"

"Have Tyrone and Doyle take them down to the garage. Let them know they need to keep them from shouting for help. I don't want anyone to know we are here if we can help it!"

"Ty 'll knock their teeth out if they get stupid."

"Jamaal, they haven't given us any trouble..."

"Yeah, they haven't told us shit either, but I'll tell Ty to warn 'em first."

Even as the fighting escalated only a couple of buildings over, Cole made a pass through all the rooms, scanning them with a flashlight quickly where he could. He grabbed an open soda out of one area and a half-eaten sandwich out of another. Other things he could leave, but uneaten unspoiled food, and still carbonated drinks would tell anyone searching the place it had been occupied very recently. Outside, the sounds of full auto-fire cascaded over the area followed by some screams. It was impossible to tell if it was from pain, panic or both, but Cole was certain it was more than one voice. He also bet one was a woman judging by the high pitched wail. Every fiber inside him wanted to go help, but to do so was beyond stupid and he knew it. There were a total of thirty-four people counting on him. They had to be his primary focus. He went back through every room, making sure no one was being left behind. Because of this, he was the last one to make it to the door leading to the garage.

Jamaal and Ken stood guard at the door. As soon as Cole was through Ken slipped his pistol into his shoulder holster and dropped a bar over to the door. At the same time, Jamaal and Eldon jumped up and pushed a heavy arc welding bench up to the door, further wedging it firmly closed.

Cole let out a long breath as the heavy door blocked out most of the noise. "Tyrone, get me a headcount!"

"I got's it!" Tyrone called out, "You's thirty-seven. We's all here."

Cole cocked his head to the side, "Thirty-seven?"

"Yeah," Doyle responded from the dim glow of a couple of flashlights. "We gots the two from the store. We's countin' them too!"

Cole nodded, "Yeah, right... um... I got to rethink my count. Good work boys."

Eldon moved around from the back of the truck, "Hey, cop, I kind-a bumped Wyatt's leg when I carried him through the door..."

"Aw, crap," Cole hopped down into garage area from the platform above and moved over to the nine-year-old who was clutching his leg and fighting hard not to cry. Eldon was already stroking the boy's hair and apologizing, but Cole moved up lifted the boy's chin, "How bad?"

"I hurts..." the boy whimpered through clenched teeth, clearly trying to be brave.

"Mr. Bishop!" Cole called out, "Where you at?"

The twenty-three year old pre-med student came up with a haggard expression, "Wyatt, did it move?"

"Huh?" the boy whined as he reached down to grab at his leg only to be stopped by Eldon.

Eldon held the boy's hands, "Remember, he said you have to leave it alone. Don't touch, Wyatt."

"But it really hurts!"

"I know. It's my fault."

Forest Bishop took a deep breath, "Guys, knock off the talk. I need to know if it moved or not!"

"Chill the fuck out, doc!" Tyrone growled then softened as he turned back to Wyatt. "The doc's askin' if yer bones moved when Eldon bumped yer leg on the damned doorframe."

The young boy bit back a sob, "I don't think so... It really hurts!"

Eldon cringed, "Man, I'm sorry."

"I know you didn't do it on purpose," the little sandy haired boy managed to get out. He put his arms around Eldon and cried as he added, "You carried me and saved me again!"

Eldon put his arms around the boy, clearly looking uncomfortable to be getting a hug from the smaller boy. He patted the boy's back, "I know it hurts, little dude, but the doc needs to know if I screwed up and hit your leg hard enough to move the bones or some shit. Did you feel anything move?"

"Uh uh." Wyatt shook his head and gripped Eldon tighter. "Just hit the metal bar on the door."

Forest let out a long breath. "OK, as long as you didn't feel it shift we should be OK, I'll unwrap the splint and check when you're not shrieking." He pulled out a bottle and handed Eldon a single pill. "When you are sure he can get this down with some water give it to him. It'll all but knock him out, so we won't have to listen to the bawling."

Cole ruffled Eldon's dreadlocks, leaned in and whispered, "Not your fault, and you're doing great. Just keep holding him until the pain calms and you can give him whatever the doc handed you."

Eldon looked up with some embarrassment, but nodded in understanding.

Tyrone also gave Eldon a nod and smiled at Wyatt before he moved close and glared at Forest. With fury in his eyes he poked a finger into the man's chest and snarled softly, "Damn, dude, he's just a little kid. Next time be nicer or I'll fuck you up."

Forest looked over at Cole even as Tyrone moved out of earshot, "I'm not going to take...."

"Relax, I'll talk to him, but look at the message; not the way it was delivered. You want to be a doctor, you need to work on your bedside manner. A crying kid is part of being a doctor."

Forest glanced back in Tyrone's direction with more than a little fear in his eyes, "Yeah, OK, but I'm crossing Pediatrics off my list!"

Cole snickered, "Instead of looking at the bad side of working with kids and teens turn around and take a look at the good." He nodded in Eldon's direction.

Forest turned and saw the obviously hardened street kid hugging a nine year old and even rocking him back and forth, doing everything he could to ease the boy's discomfort.

Cole forced a grin, "There is a kid who less than a week ago was locked up in the most secure and hard-core juvenile detention facility this state has and the boy in his lap didn't even exist in his world. Now look. There is a heart of gold inside that chest. That same heart can be found in each and every teen in this building. Saving someone like that is one small step down from saving the world, doc. Plus, if what is going on twenty feet from you doesn't choke you up at least a little, then you probably ought to find some other profession."

While Cole was talking to Forest, one of the green uniformed kids captured in the drugstore watched the whole exchange and nudged his fellow captive. The two continued to watch for several minutes as Eldon finally opened a bottle of water and helped the boy in his lap take the pill. They continued to watch as the smaller boy finally nodded off to sleep. Still, Eldon didn't let go.

At the same time, sound came from the barred and barricaded door. Someone on the other side tried a few times to open it and even shouted something in Spanish. As this happened, Eldon gripped the boy harder and pulled him deeper into the back of the truck while pulling out his sidearm. The other teens and Cole spread out and pointed weapons at the door.

Alonzo moved up to Cole, "They said they were going to blow it open if we don't open it."

The two captives exchanged glances before nodding at each other.

The older of the two waved, then let out a light "shhhhhht" sound.

Tyrone spun with a glare only to see the kid holding up both his tied together hands and while jerking his head in the direction of the door.

"Hey, cop!" Tyrone hissed even as he pointed at the two green fatigue clad boys.

Cole glanced over his shoulder and frowned, "What?"

The older boy spoke very softly.

Alonzo quickly translated for him, "He says they can make them let us all leave if we take him and his friend Santi with us."

"Screw that!" Doyle snarled, "They'll get us killed!"

The younger boy shook his head and spoke in badly broken English, "No... we not want here... um, make us...we no go... leave..."

Cole glanced back to the door then over to the boys again. "What in the hell is he trying to say? If he can get us out of this alive..."

"Aw, shit," Tyrone grumbled as he switched to Spanish, "there are enough of us here to translate. Stick to Spanish, but keep your voice down!"

Tyrone then glanced over at Alonzo, "You're the shithead spic. Talk for those two punks."

Alonzo nodded and pointed to himself while speaking. "Talk to me, I'll relay, but make it quick!"

Alonzo listened to the older boy, held up a finger, and spoke to Cole, "The little shit says if'n we gets in the green cloths and use some grease and some a you crackers uses some grease and dirt to hide your skin color, he can give them all the right names and shit to make them think we's a convoy gettin' out of the city. He's saying the others, er nothin' but slave help for us. We'll be able to take 'em all."

Hard banging on the door above told everyone a decision had to be made quickly. Cole tightened his grip on his rifle while looking back at Alonzo, "Ask them why the sudden change of mind."

Alonzo spoke, got the response then turned back to Cole, "He says they don't wanna go back where they was." Alonzo let out a snort as he translated the last part. "He also say cause the kid with the weird hair... well, he said he's nice."

Tyrone, Doyle and Tommy all had to cover their mouths to mute laughter. Off to the side Ken smeared some of the gunk on the floor over his hands and face. He's looked up with a smirk and seemed to sum up what all the others were trying so hard not to bust up in laughter over, "I think somewhere our asshole cell block guard, Morgan, just had a damned heart attack!"

The others all had to clamp hands over their mouths to not burst out in laughter.

Cole put a hand over his eyes, wanting to scream. Here they were facing a very real threat and possible death yet all the kids he had been trusting were joking around. It was enough to drive him nuts. He ran his hand down his face. "Boys, get those fatigues on, and get dirty fast. We are going to try this. Alonzo, tell those two if this doesn't work, we are going to shoot our way out, so keep their heads down if it happens!"

"They try to screw us I'll cap their scrawny asses." Tyrone growled as he spit on the floor. He dug into his pack and tossed a set of fatigues over to Cole, "They came off a fat bastard, but they'll do!"

Ken pulled out his knife, cut his hand and put some blood on a cloth. He ripped off a couple pieces of his shirt and wrapped his hand while tossing it over to Cole. "Put that shit around your neck!"

Cole looked down at the bloody cloth then over at Ken with confusion.

"They'll wonder why you aren't talkin'. You can point to the bloody bandage and let one a them little shits talk for you!"

Alonzo pushed the two over to Cole even as Tommy grabbed the bloody rag and loosely tied it around Cole's neck.

Alonzo pushed them over to Cole and spoke to them while pulling out his own knife. Both boy's eyes went wide as he spoke to them.

Cole eyed Alonzo, only to have Tyrone translate, "He just told 'em to make it real good, like er them two get to find out how sharp it is."

Seeing Cole turn and glare at him, Alonzo smirked, "Hey, I told 'em I didn't want to hurt 'em none!"

Cole shook his head, "Grrrrr..." He glanced at the older man behind the machinegun, who had tossed on one of the green shirts, then pointed up to the platform, "Jamaal, Nolan, push that out of the way and unbar the door, but don't get in front of it. Kill all but a couple of lights to hide our looks better, too!" He then put one hand on the blood soaked bandage at his neck with his left hand while his right was down at his side, right behind the small green clad boy who was promising to get them out of this. As the door opened and two young men came in with assault rifles and three others stayed back, Cole rested his finger on the trigger.

The older boy, Rodrigo, shouted out in Spanish, "Did you clear the street?"

The first two panned their guns around the dim room. After just a few seconds, total confusion rippled over their features. One shouted back. An older man came in flanked by two other men who were in their mid to late twenties. The older man spoke, "What is this?"

Rodrigo spoke, "Mayor, thank you so much; we thought we were cornered!"

The man blinked and looked at the boy. "Why do you speak?"

Rodrigo pointed back at Cole, "Primer Teniente Garcia's neck was grazed. It bleeds if he moves it too much. He says until I am properly trained I am Miliciano, have no place but to speak for him. Will not even let me carry weapon most of the time."

Even though the man clearly didn't relax his stance, he nodded, "Why are you here?"

"We were sent for medicine by Teniente Coronel Sanchez of the 97th Guard to secure medicine since we didn't get what was promised by El Presidente Ashwood. We emptied out a store with the help of these captives, but got hit from buildings as we turned onto the main road. Our radio was hit too. We barricaded in here. At first we think you were them so we stayed, but Primer Teniente Garcia sent Santi to look." Rodrigo pointed to the other boy, "He saw you and came back to report the good news. Thank you for the rescue, Mayor!"

The man eyed Cole, "Is this true?"

Cole noticed Alonzo wiggling his finger up and down so he nodded then made a show of clutching his neck.

The man noted the machinegun armed Hummer, the truck and the pickup with holes in it. He frowned again. "You should have taken the American scum out with the firepower you have with you!"

At this Santi spoke, "Our orders were to get supplies back to the 97th, Mayor and didn't bring many men. We were not sure who was who, but we have many hurt from armed Americans outside the city. We were told this area is secure. It took us by surprise."

"Why do you speak?"

Santi took a step forward, "I am son of General de Brigada Salazar! I am training under Primer Teniente Garcia to fight! How dare you speak to me like I am low Miliciano! Only Primer Teniente Garcia may, and only because my father gave him permission!"

At this the man took a step back and held up both hands. "My sincere apologies young Salazar!"

Santi's eyes narrowed, "You better be! Now get us out of here with an escort this instant or give me your radio so I can call my father!"

The man took another step back, "At once!" He then spun to look at the other two men with him, "Get them an escort out of the city!"

Santi took another step forward, while tapping Alonzo's holster.

Alonzo cringed, but also saw how effective the boy seemed to be, so he pulled up on the back of his shirt revealing a backup pistol.

Santi grabbed the weapon and waved it over his head, "Mayor!"

The man stopped and turned back looking at the boy with wide eyes, "Yes, young Salazar?"

"We need food, new weapons, and ammo too! Fresh uniforms, soap and other basics for all as well! Also you must have other Miliciano to give, so we have more guards for these horrid American wretches! Give us the rest of the boys in your Sierra unit. I hear it was hit hard and you don't need the boys who are left, we do!"

"If you wish, but they are just boys..."

"Are you calling me just a boy?"

"No young Salazar!"

"You best not! We will take the Miliciano. We only need them for guards until we get back to the 97th! You can keep your adults, since as you just said, they are only boys and you need men, since you didn't secure this area as we had been told you would!"

The man snapped to attention and saluted, then quickly spun and left the garage motioning for the others to follow while shouting for guards to cover the building.

Cole eyed Santi while talking to Alonzo, "What the hell was all that?"

"Ahhh, um.. I... I.. don't know..."

Tyrone moved over holstering his pistol with one hand while holding out his other hand for the pistol the boy currently held. He looked at Santi, "Who in the hell is General de Brigada Salazar?"

Santi handed the sidearm back with a hint of a grin. "He was the one who pulled us off the streets of Rosario, Argentina and forced us to into a military camp then shipped us here in shipping containers. I happen to look a whole lot like his kid and have the same first name. He even said so and I was used for the boy's double for a few days during unrest in the area. His son really did join a unit to learn how to be a scout under a Primer Teniente Garcia, so I was moved back to the Miliciano camp. But while I was giving him his things back, I heard he was going to somewhere called Newark, New Jersey. They were going as a father and son to get ready for takeover if needed. They got tourist visas from the U.S. State Departments, but they were supposed to stay in the Newark area until the 97th Guard got here.

"This is a good thing, since there is no way a mayor would know this, and he also won't check. If he does, he will have admitted to talking down to the son of a general. As far as he will go to check... well, he probably won't. But if he does, it will be to make sure there is a Santi Salazar and a Primer Teniente Garcia, but I doubt he will even risk it. As of now, I don't have his name, only his rank, and he will not show his face again, so I can't get it, since he thinks I'm Santi Salazar.

Tyrone and Alonzo both snorted and patted the kid on the back. After a few seconds Alonzo glanced down at Santi, "What about asking for those others?"

"We were the first wave to come into the city. There were sixty-eight of us kids from Rosario who made it alive in the shipping container. After fighting the armed men the first night, we were down to seventeen, most of the others are dead or hurt real bad. I bet there are fewer now. I want to get the rest out. I know them all. We had to share barracks for months and a shipping container for over three weeks. We almost all died in the container. Food ran out in two weeks and water a couple of days later. We even had to drink our pee the last few days. Most of us ate at our own finger and toe nails for food. Some of the others ate some of the dead..." He looked down as a tear slid down his cheek, "My bunkmate... I chewed on his fingernails and nibbled on the skin of the hands and feet after he... He told me to if he died... he killed himself... I think so I could live." He covered his eyes to hide his shame as he whispered, "The others did same things to live. Many ate more. I could not... I just want my last friends to live. This is ok?"

Tyrone translated the boy's words over to Cole with a nauseated expression. At the same time, he put a hand on the smaller boy's shoulders and looked at Officer Rail with concern.

Cole looked down at Santi with shock and dismay, "Yes, but if they try to..." He left his words hanging while nodding for Alonzo to translate

"They won't!" Rodrigo jumped in even as he held up both hands. "They made us learn to fight and we are nothing to them. We are Miliciano, back home they use Miliciano boys to find mines by making them walk the fields. We are here to get shot at, nothing more."

Santi glanced up and over to Tyrone who was looking at both of them with wide eyes, "We will have to stay hidden. The others will know me and Rodrigo. They may give it away. Once we are clear of the city and find somewhere to stop, Rodrigo and I will talk to them, make them understand. Rodrigo was given leadership of our group after the kid above us was gunned down. We all trust Rodrigo so they will... we all will be good for you."

Cole took a deep breath and pointed for Santi and Rodrigo to get in the back of the Humvee. He then looked over to Alonzo, "When they come in, you will order them to be silent. We will have to let them keep weapons until we are clear, but I want them disarmed the second we can safely do so. Once we have their firearms and are out of earshot of the others, we need Rodrigo to tell them what is going on. If they see him or say something while the others are here, we're screwed."

He then turned back to the others, "You all heard what we are trying to pull off. I know this isn't easy, but you need to look and act scared of us. You are seen as slave labor to those who will soon be back."

"Not too hard, really," Erica spoke up. "I was there to see Ty all but rip a guy's arm off. I am scared of you all!"

Tyrone shot the woman a smirk, "Damn, you think we're scary now, ya should a gots to know us before Grandma Baker got to our asses!"

Agent Carter Paulson rubbed his butt cheek as he stood and moved out of the small office. The last couple of days had allowed him some rest and healing, but he still walked with a limp and standing more than a few minutes caused the area around where the bullet was removed from to twitch of its own volition. Once this started, the ache rapidly turned into a burning sensation. Sitting was even worse. He had tried just about everything, including using a pillow and only sitting with his uninjured cheek on the chair. It didn't matter. Any direct or indirect pressure was akin to sitting on a running sewing machine with the needle up against his rear. One of the HRT members even found him a beanbag chair to try. It didn't help, but he had to give the woman credit for thinking outside the box.

The problem was laying down on his stomach, which was the only comfortable position he could find, didn't allow for much work to get done. He was really starting to wonder if the clinic had taken the bullet out or had just sewed him up with the bullet still in him. He wouldn't put it past Burl O'Henry to give such an order.

Other than his throbbing backside, Carter was growing more frustrated by the hour. Communications between him and Washington had been sliced because something extremely troubling had happened to communication satellites. This same unknown phenomenon had also crippled Army of God communications, but the Army had untold hundreds if not thousands of years of true time tested methods to keep information flowing through any unforeseen eventualities. Because of this, he could at least get and receive reports from the Army of God. It was no accident he had been assigned to come to a small safe house complex just outside of Demopolis, Alabama. For the town had a history going all the way back to Napoleon, one of many who came within an eyelash of world domination for the predecessor of the Army of God, the Knights of God.

With Napoleon's defeat, the Knights of God were left crippled and floundering. However, one of his aides, a general, fled after being exiled from France by King Louis XVIII. He found remnants of the Knights of God allies in the fledgling United States who handed a section of land over for him and several other exiled Napoleon followers. The general knew world domination was not going to be as easy as a massive army taking over the world. It was changing too fast for this to happen. Instead, he decided to take a new path. He spent a few years weeding out the non Knights of God, Frenchmen, using poisoning of crops including grapevines, induced sickness through contaminated water, and other more straightforward methods to whittle the group down to where there were only select members left, members who were forward thinking enough to see subterfuge, not direct force, was the key to world domination. This became the backbone of the first AoG communication and covert operation bases in the world. This New World operational area, also gave them a wilderness to operate out of, one where religious freedom would allow for them to scrap the old and bring in the new.

The problem was, the old KoG, was not a subtle organization, and it was woefully lacking on funds after raising Napoleon's army only to see it ripped asunder. The general took what was left and found a group of businessmen to rebuild the wealth and power in a 'legitimate' way. It took a few years, but he finally found a man with the three traits the group badly needed: high intelligence, financial mastermind, and a belief in a world where clergy should lead the serfs. With the perfect man found, the remaining assets of the KoG were put behind him and the Army of God was formed.

Behind this new leader, the old was totally done away with and a new basic outline grew into something more than ever envisioned. But to do this the new-found leader took a step back. He mentored the sons of the other founders of this new order in the ways of business and religion and did so in a way where they blended into this new world. As this happened, the AoG grew in wealth and influence; it also grew into an ultra-loyal religious order. Within a couple of decades, it was a dominant force in the south. So powerful was the Army's influence, by the time the North invaded the South, Demopolis didn't have a single Civil War battle fought in or around it, even though Union troops used the town hall for a headquarters during their march south. As became standard practice going forward, the Army of God was patient. The setback of the South falling, was upstaged by the fact the Army got hard intelligence out of the Union forces, thus allowing the Army of God to move resources around, avoiding damage to its own infrastructure. While this left the South in ruins, the Army of God gained power and influence in the South and managed to infiltrate the U.S. Army in the North. It was these feelers, put in place a hundred and fifty years earlier that grew to where the Army of God was able to help Ashwood gauge the loyalty of troops and move units and commanders around to give Ashwood extremely loyal people where he and the Army of God needed them.

To those who bothered to pay attention, however, Demopolis was made to look like nothing more than an elaborate tax shelter for those who became rich during Napoleon's conquests. Since the land was given to them and they formed their own township as 'refugees', they got land without taxes and were able to bring their wealth with them without fear of part of it being taken by the government. The business side of this was played up to cover the darker side of the founding of Demopolis; the first of a new underground world power, the base of the Army of God. As the world progressed, the AoG used business deals, coercion, and even harsher means to secure more bases throughout the world.

It was this vast and impressive intelligence network Carter Paulson was using to gather information on the families of the science contest winners. While the U.S. Government was struggling to find information on them, and had failed to get to the Olivares family before they went into hiding, God's Army had branched out beyond close family and were closing on them. The same was true for the Shelly family. While the federal government was several days behind the Olivares' and had totally lost track of the Shelly's, God's Army was only a couple of days behind the Olivares family and had just missed the female side of the Shelly clan by hours. Mr. Shelly was in Europe, but wasn't a big part of Keith's life, so he was dismissed as unimportant. However, if the chance came up, Paulson would go after the man. One thing was certain in Paulson's mind, he would have both the Olivares' and the Shelly's well before Ashwood.

God's Army operatives had gone above and beyond Agent Paulson's wildest expectations on one of the other boys, though. For in his hand was a printed out file on Mrs. Thayer. The woman appeared to be fanatically loyal to Ashwood. She had given thousands to his first campaign because of Ashwood's anti-gun stance. She had followed this up with direct money to Ashwood's coffers in the second election along with contributing to several Ashwood supporting action committees this time around. She also spent a great deal of money on groups fighting to keep men, especially those accused of battering women, behind bars. Since she paid for everything with one of two credit cards, then paid off the balances at the end of each month, part of the record in Carter's hands detailed Mrs. Thayer's entire purchase history. He knew everything from what she ate, to how much she drove, to what she and son had done for recreation. He knew about schooling, clothing, power consumption, and even medical expenses for both mother and son as well.

Even better, the woman was extremely controlling when it came to her son. As part of this, she gave him a pre-paid credit card and loaded up allowances on it. This allowed her to track where her son went and what he bought. Agent Paulson smiled as he looked at the thinner, yet detailed, history on a third credit card. The boy did what he could, by taking $20 a week out in cash, all that was allowed, and at a penalty, but the locations of the withdrawals actually helped with the overall picture. There was nothing he didn't know about the two Thayer's including how much the mother spent on computer, electronic, and chemistry related equipment. He knew just by looking, the woman had an impressive lab of her own.

He also was certain he found a trio of trump cards, thanks to extensive AoG digging. He thumbed through the three attached flies with a smirk. With just a little manipulation of the three outside players, it would be easy to put Mrs. Thayer in his hip pocket. He once again winced as he rubbed his butt cheek, but quickly made his way into the main area of the safe house. "Hey, Kurt, I need two retrieval teams and a small scout and intercept team on a third target."

HRT leader, Kurtis Mondale glanced over, "OK, I'm game, but finding anyone in this mess is going to be tough."

"Yeah, well I got a strong feeling two of them will not have strayed far from where I have them. The other, yeah... He's going to be a bitch to find, but he has a coke habit and I know right where his bus dropped him off. He also has a grudge and a gun, so chances are good we know where he is going."

"Released con, huh?" Seeing a nod, Kurt pulled out a pad, "Who and where?"

Paulson tossed down three folders, one very thin, one with quite a bit of information, and the last one pretty thick. "The first is Buck Baron, of Sparta New Jersey. He has a son, Davy, who is not a priority, but would be nice to snag as part of the op, so I can verify my educated guesses."

Kurt picked up the file and thumbed through the half dozen sheets of paper, "Careful bastard. One step away from being a total ghost. Even converted most of his pay to gold and silver, and pays his bills in cash. Only one credit card and it is paid off at the end of each month with only sporadic purchases."

"Yeah, but take a look at the last page. While you do so, let me fill you in on my interest in this man. One of the boys who was with Governor Hendrickson was one Ricky Thayer. Ricky, as it turns out is a computer wiz-kid who spent a great deal of time with the Baron's, including, but not being limited to Buck being listed as an authorized caregiver for Ricky at his school and on the mother's insurance. If you flip over to the last page, you'll see Buck was on a watch list for distribution of illegal images and his phone and net were tapped for over three months by the FBI. He was careful though. Nothing even slightly questionable was ever disseminated during the tapings, so no proof ever came out. This shows some extreme precautions from Mr. Baron, given the fact his name was mentioned by at least three unconnected perps arrested for possession.

"Making things even more interesting, his wife shows to bring in an upper end six figure a year wage as an 'Intermediary'."

"What in the hell is an intermediary, some kind of negotiator or something?"

"No idea, but she travels back and forth from their home in Sparta to Atlantic City two to three times a month. The feds put a trace on her, and came up with nothing, as in absolutely nothing. She made a few calls home, but they have no other electronic activity from her. A physical tail put on her said she spent some time in the casinos, but they also noted she had a notepad with her, but never saw her use it. There was extensive suspicion of her using local Wi-Fi hotspots to send and receive information, but if she did, no one ever caught her in the act."

"So she is hiding something as well. Very interesting. Do you want her?"

"Not worth the effort to find her. She was in Atlantic City on Election Day and we have no clue where she is now. Should you catch her at home, secure her though. She has my curiosity piqued."

Even as Kurtis set down the first file while nodding, Carter pointed at the medium sized file, "The second target is Bradley James Buchwald, known associate of Buck Baron. Bradley, it seems, was arrested on a warrant in a state he has never been to, charged by a cop who was not on the force at the time of the violation, and his bail was rescinded by a judge who was out of the country at the time the warrant for re-arrest was issued. Oh, and he was still convicted and sentenced to two years."

Kurtis picked up the second file and looked at the mug shot picture and noted the conviction. "How in the hell did the charges even stick?"

Paulson snorted, "It seems someone hacked in and messed with everything, and I do mean everything. Whoever it was, was good enough to make fake purchases with good ole Bradley's debit card and back date the purchase to coincide with the time of the fake arrest. Furthermore, there is suspicion of jury tampering because, during trial, false, but badly incriminating evidence was texted to the phones of at least two jury members. Army sources noted the oddity and the full fledged railroad job at the time, but filed it away as unimportant.

"Now, however, we see a tie-in with Buck Baron who is connected to Ricky Thayer, who, in turn, was a direct part of the cluster fuck down in Austin, right after a massive hack happened. Also, this Bradley Buchwald had, up to the time of his arrest, been part of the board of the baseball league Ricky Thayer's league played against often. In addition, Ricky's purchase receipts and cash withdrawals, show he went to movies less than six blocks from said Mr. Buchwald's house on multiple occasions the days before and or after his team had games in Newton, New Jersey. The purchases show he took one to three others, all children priced. Our friends also show coinciding credit card activity with Buck Baron at gas stations during the same time frames as Ricky's. Even more interesting, there is direct crossover with Buck's single credit card, Ricky's pre-paid card, and one of Bradley's cards just outside a ski resort in lower Vermont on three occasions. The place in question is close to where backwoods camping is allowed, and the purchases indicate that is what they were doing. Buck also purchased out of state fishing licenses for himself, his son, Bradley, and Ricky for the State of Vermont. Bradley also bought a few three and five day temporary out of state licenses for kids, so they went there often with others.

"Finally, there is an addendum on Bradley's arrest report of child abuse resulting in injury, but no child listed. Still, it would have guaranteed he would never be able to work with kids again. While there is very little chance a kid of eleven was part of the massive hack on government firewalls, there are too many coincidences for me to dismiss them. I want to talk to this man and his buddy, Mr. Baron."

"So, I gather he was released with the other inmates?"

"Yes, and he declined transport. Instead, he used the hundred in cash he was given in the pack with the weapon and knife plus the over eight hundred in his inmate account and went straight back to Newton, New Jersey where he has a home. A home, I might add, that has been kept current on house payments even while Mr. Buchwald had no income and no way to cover bills while he was locked up. He also got plenty of spending money mailed to him, in cash, from a mail drop box in Sparta, New Jersey. Coincidence? I think not."

"So you think this Buck Baron was taking care of his friend?"

"Probably, maybe even paying hush money. I'd like to know for sure."

"They are just up the road from one another, so we should be able to round them up quickly."

"If they aren't at their places of residence, check out the wilderness camping area southwest of Ludlow Vermont. They went to the same one with Ricky on at least three occasions, so it's a well known area for them. Good old Bradley also selected the rifle, not the pistol, so he may be using it to hunt. Either way he is armed and knows the woods so whoever goes after him will have to be careful."

Kurtis closed the second file and dropped it on the table, "I'll take that team. If they went out into the sticks they'll be a bitch to find, but the backwoods is my preferred stomping grounds and I have a couple of other real good trackers here I can take. Now what about this one?" Kurtis lifted up a thick folder and waved it back and forth.

"Meet one Allen Thayer, Ricky's father."

Kurtis flipped through the first two dozen pages, "Damn, what a piece of work. Seven convictions for drug possession, two for assault, nineteen for petty burglary, dozens of calls for domestic abuse... Geesh, he knows the Sparta courthouse better than the cops and the judges!"

"No question," Carter Paulson snickered. "The old lady kept bailing him out and paying restitution, but when he threatened her and Ricky with a gun one night, she knocked him cold with a frying pan... if you look on page thirty-three you will see she didn't exactly stop after he was down..."

Kurtis found the page in question and cringed, "Full face rearrangement... and he ended up with dentures on the state's dime... OK, if I am going after this wench, I'm taking her down with a taser, then shooting her again just to make sure!"

Carter laughed so hard he ended up having to grab at his butt cheek, "You and me both, brother!"

"OK, so he is certain to go after her and this says he was dropped off in Newark, so he is probably already in the area."

"Unless he is dead, I'm sure you're right, but right after she messed up one of her frying pans, she moved. He will be looking for her, but he will also want to score some coke, meth, heroin, or whatever else he can get his hands on, since records show he was caught with drugs in the prison a few times. The other problem is, with such a drug habit, who knows where his mind is really at. Still, he does have one overriding thing to direct his anger towards. If he isn't on her trail, find him and put him on the right path.

"As of last night, Mrs. Thayer was in her home just outside of Sparta. Because of her staunch backing of Ashwood and his policies, the Army has kept her off the target list. But Ashwood is becoming more unstable, so there is no guarantee he will not go after her anyway. We also know Ricky shot and killed one of our soldiers at the state capitol while Mrs. Thayer is a total anti-gun crusader, so I have to wonder where he learned how to shoot."

"Alright, so you want me to grab her or what?"

"No, I want you to find Allen Thayer, give him her location and stop him just before he gets to her. I want her to see you do it. I then want her to be given protective custody and brought to a secondary location, one with communications abilities so she can use it to get in contact with her brat. I want to use her to get to Ricky. To do this, we need to get her in contact with EEL, who was sponsoring the contest, and have her demand to speak to her son. This should give us a window to find out where the little shit is. Once we find him, we'll find the others and there is a good chance the Governor of Texas as well."

"And the other two? This Buck and Bradley?"

"If they are what I think they are, then Ricky will be terrified of them. Once we find Ricky, if we can take him alive, we will use the two of them to force Ricky to tell us everything he knows."

"Nice plan, but there is no way they will admit to anything, let alone agree to help us."

"Oh, come on HRT Commander Mondale," Carter smirked, "we have exactly what they want!" Carter pointed to the stairs leading down to the basement where the kids from the FOB, and the Ranch were being kept. "They agree to help us, we can pay them in a commodity they desire. Like I said when I was asked why we were keeping them, I made it clear enough. For some, those little bastards are forms of breathing cash. Actually they are better, since the dollar is barely holding on, and will collapse like we originally expected it to, but only if we can take out Texas and the supporting corporations that are propping up the dollar. Since EEL is a one of those, getting Ricky may also let us find out how they are pulling it off. Even if he overheard a few things that are meaningless to him, it may be enough for us to send the Dollar straight down the shitter."

"Ah, yes, the barter economy." Kurtis nodded, "Right out of the Army playbook. Crush the ability for people to earn a standardized living. Reduce the peasants to a trade based system. Corner the items that are most valuable in each area. Use this control over needed goods to pull hard wealth from the masses. Establish a new economic order with God's Army at the top of the pyramid."

Agent Paulson patted Kurtis on the back, "Very good, but let me clue you in on something here, my friend. One of the reasons you are lower in the ranks than I, is your inability to grasp the complexities of the Army of God. It is not a playbook, it is a scripture and you are not reciting guidelines or plays, you are speaking doctrine. You need to show those above you of your loyalty not only to the cause, but to the teachings. How you refer to them, is part of how you are judged."

Kurtis nodded in understanding, "And all you have to do is keep clean, by the commands of the Bishops."

"Ah, my dear friend and Army brother, the Bishops have their own vices. I just need to keep mine confined to helping the Army gain intel. As long as I do so in a way that brings power to the Army and furthers the plans of Lord Bishop, I am sure they will give me some latitude on my own un-Army-like proclivities. For while the main focus of all members of God's Army must be on what is best for the Army, not self, you must not look at things quite so black and white. One does not necessarily preclude the other, however, actions must show the primary focus to be for the glory of the Army of God."

To Be Continued

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