Castle Roland

Geek Squad

by Kyle Aarons

In Progress

Chapter 19 part c

Published: 28 Apr 16

Geek Squad

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

All Rights Reserved

Geek Squad LogoRafael Latz woke with his head resting in his left hand. He blinked for a second before the secure line on his desk buzzed again. With an exhausted sigh, he shook his head to clear out some of the grogginess even as his right hand reached over and grabbed the phone.

He fully expected to hear President Ashwood's voice on the other end screaming, so when the sound a female voice spoke it took him totally by surprise. "Sir, are you alone and is the room secure?"

Rafael glanced around then nodded. His left hand then crashed down on his forehead as he realized how stupid it was to nod into a phone receiver. He badly needed some sleep. "Yeah, you're fine to talk. Now who in the hell are you?"

"Sir, I am Misti Villasenor, lead bio-researcher in the genetics resequencing lab in Vigo."

Rafael pulled the receiver away from his ear and glanced at it before pulling it back to the side of his head and speaking with a clearly confused voice, "OK... Um... Ms. Villasenor... Um, to what do I owe the honor and where in the hell is Vigo?"

"Sir," the woman's tone hardened, "Vigo is listed as a defunct bio-weapons lab on the western edge of Indiana about about ten kilometers southwest of Terre Haute, but where I am has nothing to do with why I am calling you."

This woke up the attorney general, who decided he better find a way to get rid of the exhaustion. To this end, he grabbed for a bottle of water from the small fridge next to his desk, poured a lime flavored caffeine packet in, shook it up and took a long drink. He then exhaled and blinked his eyes "Ms. Villasenor, you have my undivided attention! I gather the demise of this facility has been greatly exaggerated?"

"One might say so, but I am not about to cross said line, sir, even with you. However, my colleagues and I need to know where in the hell this sample came from!"

"Hold on, what sample are you talking about?"

"The blood sample on the strange piece of carbon, plastic, metal that we still can't get a proper atomic structure of, the one that looks like a buckle or something."

Rafael rubbed his head and frowned deeply, then it struck him. His contacts down in Breckenridge, Texas sent a blood splattered hunk of bullet proof plastic back to be analyzed. "Are you talking about the package I had flown to Ft. Detrick?"

"Yeah, well, it got passed on to us, because they had no clue what the hell they were looking at. Honestly I doubt it made it past the screeners before it was flown here on one of the prototype stealth Ospreys. They are at best the second stringers of bio-weaponry anyway."

"OK, so I am talking to the experts and you are in charge of them... So why the phone call?

"Sir, we absolutely need more of this blood, and I was told your agents found this!"

"They did... Um, why the interest?"

Misti's voice took on an aggravated tone, "Sir, you really don't have a clue what the hell your people dropped off in my lap, do you?"

"No... I assumed it was some special armor with some blood splatter or something. I mean shit, if it has blood on it, it sure didn't do the idiot wearing it much good..."

Misti interrupted with a high-pitched laugh, "Well, the idiot, as you call whoever or whatever was wearing that beyond space aged piece of... um... material... has a DNA, RNA resequenced blood that matches no living thing... no, strike that... It matches multiple living things!"

"Ok, so there is blood of more than one person or animal on the sample, right?"

"No, no, no, no! Damn, listen already! This is a genetically modified DNA/RNA resequenced blood with reactive cell structures!"

Rafael shook his head, "What?!?"

The woman let out a long aggravated breath, "Sir, let me dumb this down for you, OK?"

Rafael frowned deeply but after a couple of seconds got control of his anger just enough to respond without telling the bitch on the other end what he really thought of her, "You are almost certainly a very well paid expert so, yeah, dumb it down for this South Central born LA spic!"

The woman's hardened tone dropped much of its haughtiness, "Sir, I didn't really mean it like that..."

"Whatever, just tell me in some sort of... English... what the hell you just said."

"Sir... Um, OK... Let me give you a quick science lesson, OK?"

"Fine, but let's keep it simple."

"Riiiight..." There was a long sigh. She then spoke as if she was talking to a sixth grader getting his first class on human cells. "As I am sure you know all living things are made up of individual cells. When we are conceived there is a sperm and an egg. Each has half of the genetic material needed to make a human. The sperm penetrates the egg wall and the thirteen chromosomes of the egg and the thirteen from the sperm combine. This gives the fertilized egg its unique genetic sequence that allows us to do DNA testing. No two are alike, but we are all human."

"I'm the attorney general, I know about DNA testing..."

"I'm sure you do sir, but this is where things get insane. The blood your people got isn't human, but it also is. It actually varies depending on a super light electrical current, the type a body generates through voluntary and involuntary nerve impulses. With the slightest adjustment of current passed through the blood, part of the DNA goes into a quasi-dormant state while another part activates. This means the DNA sample is never the same, because different parts activate and deactivate depending on the level of nerve impulses sent through it. Furthermore, this means whoever... whatever this came from has control over it or it would tear him apart!"

"That's not possible!"

"Sir, you're correct, it is not. But I am holding the last bits of it in my hand and I have to get more! There is no way this could exist unless it was engineered... more than engineered it was created, mutated, genetically resequenced, RNA and DNA manipulated down to the atomic level and then the host had to be able to survive it being reintroduced into his blood!"

"So you are talking a super soldier or something?"

"Sir it is so much more... I can't put it in basic enough terms to bring it out of the scientific realms... But the closest I can come is... This came from an engineered hybrid mostly human, almost certainly a human based subject with the ability to control many aspects of his, and we are pretty damned sure it is a he, but we cannot even definitively say so... If we can unlock this, we can start the process of reverse engineering... But I am going off on a tangent... Sir, this subject, this being, has the power to manipulate his genetic structure in a way that puts every science fiction movie ever made to shame. We have no idea what this... being... is capable of, but the possibilities are close to endless. Telepathy, low light vision, enhanced strength, super healing, regeneration, hell for all I know extending claws or horns... I really don't know... but if you can imagine it, with the right genetic tampering to a person, we could make just about anything possible. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that some of the first test subjects will not do well... however, once we have a better understanding... we can start the experimentations... need to start them... However, we get nowhere without more of this blood!"

"I'll get a team to go back to the location and see what they can find."

"Sir, please hurry. This technology must be out there and is being used. If we can't find a way to catch up, then we are certain to lose each and every future war to this new power."

"I'll get back to you very soon. How do I contact you?"

"Just get the sample to Detrick, we will have it in our hands only a couple of hours later."

"Detrick was hit yesterday by a special ops group. We are still trying to get a handle on who, but they got what they were after."

"How did you let anyone into Detrick?"

"Let them..." Rafael took a deep breath to cut off calling the woman on the other side just about every degrading name in the book, "Look, they were a top notch assault team, and Ashwood is out for blood over it, so don't get me started."

"OK, fine, then have the sample sent to Plum Island, New York, they'll get it to me."

"Understood..." The word was wasted since the phone had already gone dead.

Rafael mulled this over for a few seconds before typing in a code into a box next to his desk and pulling out a handset. He plugged it into the phone and typed a sixteen digit code on the dialer. After only a couple of seconds a voice responded, "By the will of his Army!"

"This is Clergyman Latz, the Breckenridge retrieval team I sent out found something destined for God's Mind. We need a larger sample at all costs and enough for a smaller one to get to some place called Plum Island, New York to keep my position intact. The Luna-Gen backup facility is the primary destination. Those who found the original must then be permanently excommunicated so the location of the find says in the Eye of God only."

The male voice answered back, "By His will, consider it done." The line then went silent.

Noah carefully unfolded a map with a burned edge they had found in a shot up Chrysler Town & Country minivan. They had all walked past the vehicle multiple times, but after seeing dead and burned bodies in one, they had stayed away. Others, however, had not. The car had been looted and the gas siphoned. Someone had also taken time to rifle through the glove compartment, but had ignored the map. Like most of the items on the floor of the van, it had gotten some fire damage, probably from the cigarette they had found on the passenger side floor. Fortunately, it has survived basically intact. Only a small section of the far east section was charred and all but about an inch of the missing part was where it had the edge of Mississippi. The trick was figuring out where on the map of Louisiana to look.

Next to Noah, Debbie finished flattening the folds out as best she could, while Hazel started scanning the northern portion of the map using flashlights in the dark room. The only other light came from a battery operated lantern Doug found in the basement of one of the houses they had checked a couple of days prior.

In the garage next to where they were looking over the map, Todd was up on a ladder with Doug and Kent holding the bottom. He was doing his best to force one of the rollers for the garage door back into the track so they could pull it up. After a few minutes, Todd got down, grabbed a hammer and a huge screwdriver Kent had found in the school bus repair shed and started pounding.

The loud echoing noise caused the kids working on the map to cringe. After just a full minute of hearing the pounding, Noah looked over at Hazel, "You better keep watch, and check on Har again."

Even as she nodded, she grabbed the army rifle and moved back into the room with the small fire. A glance out past the blanket covering the hole told her the weather had actually gotten worse. The sky was dark grey and a light wispy snow was falling. Nothing was sticking, but seeing snow only made the already frigid temperatures seem colder.

She moved back to Harlan. The boy was awake, but didn't say anything as she offered him some beef jerky she had found in what had to have been a teenaged boy's room in one of the nicer houses they had checked out. Whoever had lived there had quite a stash of munchies, including three unopened bags of jerky and four boxes of chocolate cake rolls. The rolls had lasted only a day and a half, well over half of them disappearing down Noah's throat.

Even as Hazel knelt she couldn't help but wonder what Noah's mom would do to him if she ever found out the amount of sugar he had inhaled since leaving Austin. With a deep breath, she focused on Harlan again, "Come on, Har, you have to eat. It's been two days..."

Harlan shook his head and sat up slowly, wincing badly even as he grabbed at his left side. "Just thirsty..."

Hazel unscrewed the lid off a bottle of water and handed it over. She then let out a sigh and moved back to the small stack of remaining food. After a few seconds she spotted a can of chicken with rice soup and pulled the top off. "Har, you drink this.""Uh huh..."

"I'm not asking! Drink!"

Harlan glared at her, but all he got in return was the can thrust into his face. After a few seconds and seeing Hazel start to move forward like she was going to force him to drink he finally relented, "OK, fine. but I'm not hungry..."

"The very fact you aren't should tell you just how sick and hurt you are. You ate half a large deep dish pizza when you had the flu last spring!"

This got just the slightest hint of a grin out of Harlan, "I told your mom she should have ordered at least three."

Hazel chuckled, "Yeah, well the pizza guy got two tips from her that night. Seriously, though, you need to finish that, but do it slowly."

"Yes mom." Harlan managed to weakly get out before he once again grabbed at his side.

"If you weren't already hurt I'd smack you!" Hazel shot back even as she moved behind him and helped to prop him up so he could more easily drink the can of soup.

Harlan finished the last gulp, making sure to swallow properly, when his eyes suddenly went wide. Without warning, Harlan jerked hard and pushed Hazel to the side, while letting out a yelp of agony. This didn't stop him, however, from grabbing the pistol he had kept beside his sleeping bag, pulling it up and firing a shot at a man who had pushed open the blanket and was holding an assault rifle.

The shot missed high, but forced the figure to jerk back, which in turn caused him to trip over the bricks at the bottom of the hole. He fell back with a howl of pain as his right foot got caught on one side while the rest of him fell outside the hole in the wall. The man's ankle audibly snapped, but neither Hazel or Harlan heard it because of the sound of the gun being fired inside drowned out almost everything else.

A split second later bullets peppered the far wall as a stream of automatic fire ripped through the blanket covering the hole.

Gasping for normal breath Harlan while clutching his side and with tears streaming down his face, he slid to get out of the line of fire

At the same time, Hazel rolled the opposite direction, pulled up her own rifle and fired back through the shredded blanket. She was rewarded with a scream of pain.

In the garage, Todd jumped down, grabbed his rifle, and moved to enter the room Noah was in, only to find Noah pushing Debbie his direction.

Noah involuntarily ducked as more gunfire cascaded out of the north side room where the camp fire was set, but he still managed to point to the pried open back door. "Todd, think paintball!" Noah hissed. "Hazel and Har are our distractions. You take Debbie and head into the woods. Circle around and cover so Doug and me can wrap around the side of the building and flank while still having cover from you!"

Noah then pointed at Kent, "Grab all the stuff we have in the side room and get it in the mail truck! As soon as we come back we will drive it right through the stupid door if we have to!"

The untold hours of paintball tactics that led the Little Rock Griffins to state and regional championships quickly transitioned into a real combat situation. Todd covered Debbie as she bolted into the trees then let her cover him as he did the same. Noah slid out the back door and moved to the southeast corner. He glanced around and scanned the area. He saw nothing. With a racing heart he glanced over his shoulder at Doug, only to see the boy hold up a fist, point to his eyes and hold up four fingers.

Noah knew this meant Doug had eyes on four bad guys and they were looking in Doug's general direction so they couldn't jump out and surprise them. Noah put up his index finger and twirled it even as more gunfire could be heard from the side of the building. He then made a fist and a punching motion before pointing at himself.

Doug nodded back. He didn't have to ask. He knew Noah was going to circle the building and take the first shot. It would then be up to Doug to pop out from around the corner and take out the most threatening target, two if possible before getting back behind cover. If everything went as a normal paintball plan, whoever remained would then focus on the corners of the building, while exposing their backs to Todd and Debbie.

Forty seconds and at least sixty gunshots later Noah peaked around the corner, noted four men all shooting at the open hole in the wall, while a fifth was laying on his side crawling back toward them. None were looking his direction. He closed his eyes for a second realizing he was about to fire a real gun at a real living person, but the image of his dad getting taken flashed in his brain. With a shot of anger induced adrenaline, he slid out from around the corner just enough to get a good shot and fired. Nothing happened. He ducked back around with shaking hands and looked at the assault rifle only to notice it was set on safe. With a snarl, he flipped the selector to semi, came back out, took aim and fired. This time the rifle barked in his hand. A moment later the man he had been aiming at dropped his rifle and spun, while his left hand grabbed at a spot just under his right armpit.

Just as he had done in countless paintball wars, he spun back behind the corner of the building before any of the other hostiles even realized one of their own had been shot.

Noah noted a great deal less shooting so he waited for a full four seconds before crawling back to the corner and peaking around. He noticed one of the three men who had been standing had moved back to help his fallen buddy, while the other two scanned frantically, looking for where the shot had come from. Noah waited until none of them were looking his way, before firing a second shot. This time, at the man who was trying to help the man he had already shot.

The shot once again found a home in the man's lower leg. He fell while shouting, "It came from the west corner!" He then rolled and sent a three round burst into the wall only inches from where Noah had ducked back.

Less than two seconds later another shout of pain came from where the men were. A different voice shouted, "East corner! Pull bac..." the voice stopped as more gunfire came from further back. A minute later Todd's voice boomed out, "You by the hole in the wall toss your gun or I'll put a bullet in you!"

Just as Noah was about to peek around the edge of the building again, the sound of an engine coming to life caught his attention. He spun only to see an older green army-colored pickup with a machinegun in back come around the bus parking lot. He spun on his knee, kept steady, and fired a single shot at the man behind the gun.

The bullet caught the gunner in the right arm just as he was turning to fire at Todd and Debbie who had come out of the woods with rifles leveled at the fallen men. The shot caused the man to jerk the mounted machinegun even as he pulled the trigger. Over a dozen rounds sprayed the driver and the hood of the pickup. The speeding, driverless vehicle then went off the side of the road and rolled, all but cutting the wounded gunner in half. A second later the shot up engine caught fire and some of the spilled ammunition from the machinegun started cooking off.

Noah darted around the building and motioned for everyone to stay down.

Todd moved toward the battered and bullet pockmarked post office at a crouch even as more ammunition cooked off on the street out front. He moved up to each of the men and poked at them with his rifle. Two were clearly dead, one probably dead and the one Noah had shot, was struggling to take ragged breaths and blood was leaking out of the corner of his mouth. The fifth man, shot by either Harlan or Hazel, put up blood covered hands as Todd moved close and pointed to his rifle that was a few yards away lying in some tall grass before moving both hands back to his stomach.

Todd recognized the man as Airman Miller, the man who had been ordered to check the plane and shoot anyone who might still be hiding in it. He also noted the man hands were clutching at his stomach where blood was seeping out. Still he moved forward, scooped up the rifle and took the knife off of the airman's belt. He then took a second to go back to one of the dead men, cut off a section of the man's coat and handed it over to the badly wounded airman. "Maybe that will help."

The airman nodded as he accepted the cut up coat and pushed it into his gut wound.

The last man, the one who had broken his ankle stayed down, his assault rifle tossed off to the side.

Hazel finally came out of the hole in the building clutching her left arm. Blood could be seen running from around her fingers. Even though she was bleeding and tears were pouring down her cheeks she kicked the rifle further away from the man with the broken ankle.

Noah and Debbie both sprinted to her. Noah got there first, skidding to a stop and skinning his knees in the process. "Hazel!"

The girl managed to point at the man's hip holster even as she went down to her knees.

Debbie moved up and clamped her own hands around her friend's wounded arm while Noah pointed his rifle at the man's face, "Take the gun out and toss it.. then the same for the knife on the other hip!"

The man nodded and slowly did as instructed, but if looks could have killed, Noah realized he would have been reduced to a pile of ashes.

The man kept his hands up, but spoke. "I got lots of buddies, kid!"

"Not as many as you had a couple of minutes ago!" Doug growled back as he secured the tossed weapons.

"Yeah, well we've been tracking you! When we don't come back they'll send others!"

Todd, who was still with the airman, spoke up, "Tracking us?"

Airman Miller spoke up. "You have been leaving notes in the buildings and houses... It wasn't hard to know you were in the area..."

Todd's eyes went wide, "The notes? You mean the lists of what we took?"

"Yeah... along with your names and addresses. Not real smart. They led us right to you."

"Why come after us?" Todd asked with total confusion.

"After you killed the men on the truck and the Humvee Lieutenant Adkins sent out patrols to find you..."

"We didn't kill them it was some other Army guys!"

"Lieutenant Adkins' superior officer, Major Weems, blames you. After this, he will really be after you!" A patrol found the first note two days ago, then found more in buildings we already looked in yesterday. Sergeant Koopson sent us this morning to find you and bring you back or kill you. This was kind of in the center of where the notes were found, so we knew you had to be close to here. The pounding we were hearing led us to this building. The Army has orders to find and secure you. I'm not Army, but they sent me because I know what you all look like."

"Shut up, Miller!" the other man roared. "You're aiding the enemy!"

"They're just kids Corporal Sickles." Miller responded as loudly as he could before gripping at his stomach.

"They're anti-Ashwood rebel terrorists!" Cpl. Sickles snarled back, then suddenly lunged for Noah's rifle.

Airman Miller pulled a pistol from behind his back and shot Sickles in the side of the head. Even as three of the kids pointed firearms at him he spit out some blood, "I didn't vote for Ashwood." He then flipped the nine millimeter around and handed it up to Todd with the barrel of the weapon pointing at himself. "Safety is back on, but I'd appreciate if you didn't pull the trigger, being shot once is more than enough..." He forced a badly pained smile as Todd pulled the weapon up, checked the safety and took a step back making sure the firearm was not pointed at the man. "Just so you know, if we don't report in soon, they will send more. You need to get out of here, kids."

"What about you?"

"If I'm still alive, I will tell them the truth." Airman Miller managed a smirk, "You ambushed us."

Todd mulled this over for a few moments before he looked down at his feet, "We're not even sure where we're at, though."

"You got a map?"

Todd turned to Doug, "Grab me the map!"

Airman Miller had Doug hold the map, "Fortunately for you all, I am normally the driver for Lieutenant Adkins, so I know more than most. You are right here, Hodge, Louisiana. As of last reports the Marine force supporting Ashwood had pushed back all defending forces to I-20 to the north and Highway 171 to the west. The area between 171 and Texas is in a state of constant flux, and I am guessing the Marines will have pushed further north since the last report, but they were getting heavy resistance from forces in Arkansas. Because of this, a second expeditionary force crossed over the Mississippi River and pushed all the way into Little Rock, but the attack stalled there. I doubt they will get much further since supplying them is an issue. All bridges over the Mississippi are gone. So supplies have to be shipped across or airdropped. Still the lines are what they are, which means the best bet you have is to go west. If you can get into Texas, you'll be in Bryce held territory, and, with any luck, be safe. To get there you will need to angle to the north, since the Sabine River is the border between Texas and Louisiana, and all bridges along it have been taken out by one side or the other. The north half, above the Toledo Bend Reservoir, is a land border, not water, so if you can slide past the battle lines, you can get back into Texas."

"But what about Noah's dad and Mr. Calderwood?"

"Kid, the two adults on your plane are being held in Jonesboro, just down the road. You can't get to them. Now if you want survive, and not have Lieutenant Adkins and Sergeant Koopson breathing down your backs, you need to get out of here."

Noah lowered his head and clenched his fists, "I can't leave my dad!"

"Noah," Hazel managed to speak through clenched together teeth, "what do you think your dad and mom would want?"

Doug responded, "To stay alive. It's the reason he told us not to worry about him and Mr. Calderwood and stick together. We also have to get Harlan and Hazel to a hospital!"

Airman Miller shook his head as he heard the kids talk, "Guys, you try to go to a hospital then do so in Texas, not around here. There are too many wounded and the military have taken over all of them I know of; civilians aren't even allowed in. Go west. If you really need medical help, look for someone who knows medicine but isn't in high demand."

Todd looked back at the man, "What, a paramedic?"

"No... a veterinarian."

"Huh?" Debbie gasped out, "A dog doctor?"

"Guys, you really have to get moving, but think about it. Dogs and cats need antibiotics and they use the same type as humans. They also need painkillers and when my dog stepped on glass and ripped open her paw, the pain killers were the same as what I was given when I stepped on a nail. They know how to handle medical emergencies too. It's your best bet. I know there is a vet office in Ringgold, and it is in a non-contested area. So if I were you try there."

Even as the others stared at each other, the garage door went up three quarters of the way then screeched to a stop.

Todd and Doug both turned with surprise, only to find Kent with a hacksaw in one hand and his rifle in the other. "I cut the bent part of the track so the wheel went back in, but the last wheel jumped out the cut section on the way up."

"It's up high enough to drive out!" Todd shouted, "Great job Kent!"

Airman Miller nodded, "Get out of here, all of you."

Noah turned with rage in his eyes, "NO! Where's my dad?!?"

"Kid, they marked him for transport once they realized who was leaving the notes. He is being shipped out even as we speak."

"To where?!?"

"If I tell you, I may as well be killing you, so no. Now either shoot me or leave me, but get out of here."

Noah started to pull up his rifle only to be stopped by Hazel as she reached out with her non-injured but blood coated hand, "Noah, don't. He's trying to help us!"

At the same time Todd stepped between the raised rifle and the airman, "I won't let you do this, Noah. Trust me I get it, but he is willing to die to protect you. Come on, man, part of you knows he is right."

Noah fought back tears, "I just want my dad back!"

Doug moved over and put a hand on Noah's shoulder, "We all do. He's like a dad or uncle to all of us, but I sure don't want to have to tell him or your mom you didn't make it because you went after him. He would never forgive himself!"

Noah choked back a sob and moved toward the mail truck.

Todd let out a long breath, "Debbie get a bandage on Hazel and keep pressure on it. Kent, I need you to help me get all the guns and ammo off these guys. Doug, I need you to see if you can get Noah to help you get Har in the truck. We need to get out of here!"

Officer Rail glanced over to Tyrone as the young man pulled out of the garage twenty minutes after the foreign military officer had vanished. As they exited the garage area, five unfamiliar military vehicles pulled up. Three of them looked something like a cross between a Land Rover and a Humvee, but were open topped with a roll bar. All three were armed with a machinegun with a large box of ammunition on the left side of the weapon. The other two looked like some sort of hybrid between a large dune buggy and military Jeep, had no weapon on top, and were enclosed. Each one was being driven by a soldier, but two machineguns were being manned by young looking teens. There were additional youth in the back of those two vehicles as well.

One had four other kids, the other five. None appeared to be in great shape, five of them had bandages on them, and one looked to have been badly beaten. Still they hopped out of the back, grabbed AK-47's and small packs. Two of them walked with obvious limps, while the badly beaten one had to get help to get his pack on, it was clear by the wince, it hurt him a great deal to do so. Even to the least observant, all nine looked physically exhausted. The two manning the machineguns, didn't look much better off. One leaned on the weapon as if using it for support to stay standing, while the other yawned and rubbed his eyes multiple times as Cole studied them.

After a couple of minutes a young man jumped out of the second machinegun armed vehicle and spoke into the window. His voice started out angry, but as Cole leaned forward and glared at him, the nineteen to twenty year old's eyes went wide and his tone shifted a great deal. He also gulped as he finished speaking while looking at Cole with a great deal of concern.

Cole kept his gaze stern while holding his neck with one hand. At the same time his other hand fingered his sidearm in a way he knew the young man could see it. Even with the fairly cold breeze, Cole noted beads of sweat pop on the man's forehead as he eyed the pistol in Cole's hands.

Alonzo nodded and pointed to himself. He spoke at Cole, knowing as soon as he was out of earshot, Tyrone would translate, "They want drivers for the other Jeep things. You'll have to drive this. When you get a chance I need to get word on where to go, too, since they are going to take lead as an escort." He jumped out and made his way back to the large truck.

Alonzo hopped up to the cab and spoke softly, "Eldon, put a hat on to hide your hair, then jump into the third vehicle back. They are giving us two and as soon as we are out of the city are going to break off and head back. They have supplies for us in the back of the trucks with the kids in them. You are the only other one who can pass by looks and I know you know some Spanish.

In the back of the Humvee, Tyrone relayed what had been said to Cole, "They's giving us them two trucks with the kids in 'em so they wanted drivers. Them two drivers is going to get in the lead truck. He say we needs to keep eyes open cause convoys are being targeted by bandits. Them in the lead needs to know where we's going, too."

Tyrone then glanced back at the two boys in the far back, "You know all of them kids in the two armed Jeeps, right?"

Rodrigo peeked out and nodded, "We know all eleven. We also know the driver and gunner in the lead Tiuna. The gunner was a trainer at our Miliciano camp. He is very, very mean."

Next to Rodrigo, Santi cringed as he took a quick, "Cabo Primero Vasquez: he was our barracks drill master. He will kill all of us if he suspects anything. He killed two from our barracks for trying to run away... one with his bare hands while making us watch. His driver is Voluntario Primero Sosa, one of our barrack's guards. He is even worse."

"Way worse," Rodrigo verified with a noticeable cringe. "He caned us if we couldn't make marches and burned kids with his cigar if they didn't get up in the mornings fast enough..."

Santi shuddered, "He made those who messed up bad do pushups on broken glass and beat them with a cane until they did ten."

Rodrigo held up his hands showing dozens of scars, "I had to do it once. It took a week to find all the glass in my hands."

Cole's whole demeanor grew darker as Tyrone translated. He rubbed his chin in thought as the small convoy got organized and the civilians, under the guard of the armed children, were made to load the truck with everything not nailed down. After nearly a minute Cole let out a snarl then looked around to make certain none of the escorts could hear him speaking English. He turned back to look at Tyrone and the two Argentine boys for a few seconds before he glanced up and spoke to the older man behind the machinegun in the Humvee. "Hey Mr. Sandoval... When we are clear of the city, do you think you can take out that lead vehicle before it can open up on the rest of us?"

"Shouldn't be a problem as long as you pull in right behind it. I'll pan the M-60 around fairly randomly, like I am nervous, but I'll make sure to swivel so it is pointed at them a few times on the way out. This way they won't get too nervous when I do it for real. You know, those other two dune buggy looking things will react as soon as I spray the shit out of the lead truck, don't ya?"

"Yeah, but they aren't armed with big guns and are enclosed." Cole stated as he readied his pistol. "Just take out the armed one. Tyrone, you up for helping shoot at the other two?"

A truly astonished grin spread over the teen's face, "Hell, yeah!"

"Good. As soon as Mr. Sandoval opens up on the armed Jeep at the front, we'll go after the vehicle right behind us. Aim for the driver. If we can take him out, it'll take them some time to recover enough to do anything to the rest. The vehicle behind the truck will have to be last. I'll slow down so we can go after it. I'll be driving though, so most of this will be up to you and Mr. Sandoval."

"What about the kids manning the other guns?" Tyrone enquired.

Cole frowned, "We need to get word to them somehow..."

"Call to the one who was with us," Rodrigo all but demanded.

Tyrone rolled down the window, and shouted, "Zo!"

The new arrivals all turned, but seeing Alonzo quickly hustle back to the Humvee, they went back to getting things organized including forcing the civilians, at gunpoint, to get into the back of the truck.

As soon as Alonzo came over to the Humvee, Rodrigo spoke, "The kid who is almost asleep at the gun is Mateo and the other, the yawning one, is Matias. Tell them to unload. Say Primer Teniente Garcia does not trust Miliciano with heavy weapons. Tell them to unload and use rifles but not to fire unless Primer Teniente Garcia directly orders them to do so. Tell all of them they will be shot if they fire without his, and only his, permission."


Tyrone grabbed Alonzo by the front of his shirt and pulled him almost all the way into the Humvee. He then whispered, "We's takin' out these bitches and can't have them kids helpin' 'em none!"

Alonzo's eyes went wide with a combination of excitement and confusion, "Hell yeah!, but why?"

Cole responded with a deeply angry sounding voice, "Because, after what I was just told, the two in command up there," he nodded at the lead vehicle, "need to die... are going to die... today... I also want as much of their equipment as we can get. Once I get you all to safety I am going to come back here and get my wife out of Lexington along with this Grandma Baker you all keep telling me about."

"Not without us!" Tyrone answered.

"As much as I would like to persuade you otherwise, I figured as much and I sure know better than to argue about it. But first things first. We need the civilians and the friends of Rodrigo and Santi safe." Cole's demeanor remained full of anger, "Now, Tyrone, give Alonzo a good hard shake to make this look good, and Alonzo, make damned sure all these new kids are too scared to shoot once we open up on these assholes! Oh, and Alonzo, tell them we need to head to Paris, Kentucky."

"Sure... where's that?"

"Tell them Highway 68 to the northeast of Lexington."

Alonzo nodded, got another real hard shake from Tyrone and moved to talk to the others.

Tyrone glanced at Cole, "Hey, cop, not that I cares none, but why there?"

"Because I got a buddy who works at a small research station on the edge of Paris. They have three rows greenhouses that they rotate, one line is growing, one is new plants and the other is empty, so they can make sure any bugs are dead and the soil sterile before they replant, so there are several long empty buildings with small bathrooms and running water, at least there was before all this went down."

"Won't you be gettin' your buddy in trouble?"

"Maybe, but the buildings are there, hopefully, and EEL keeps telling the world how they care about humanity. If they try to kick us out, I'll threaten to make it public as soon as all this is over."

"Blackmail?" Seeing Cole nod, Tyrone snickered, "Well shit! Me's thinking we's rubbing off on ya cop."

Cole double checked his pistol's magazine before slamming it back in place. "I'm thinking we are rubbing off on each other, Tyrone, and the world will never be the same because of it."

Tyrone laughed hard enough to get looks, forcing Rodrigo and Santi to duck way down in the far back.

An hour later, on an empty stretch of Highway 68 about seven miles outside of Lexington, Mr. Sandoval spun the M-60 and sent a stream on 7.62 rounds into the lead Venezuelan made Tiuna light strike vehicle. A split second later, Tyrone, flung the back door of the Hummer open, leaned out, and pumped five rounds into the front window of the Argentine made Gaucho LSV directly behind the Humvee. The second and fourth found the driver's right shoulder and chest. The driver jerked back from the hits and the vehicle went across the white lines and rolled in the center section of the divided highway.

Cole spun the wheel of the Hummer, sending up a plume of smoke, allowing the truck with the civilians to go by. He was about to open up on the second Gaucho only to see it take a stream of fire into its front window from Eldon who had grabbed one of the kid's AK's and unloaded a thirty round clip into it. The driver tried to jerk the wheel, but it was too late. All the jerk of the wheel did was take it into the fairway of the golf course off the side of the highway.

Cole slammed on the brakes, ripped off the fake bloody bandage from around his neck, and grabbed his rifle.

The other vehicles in the small convoy also locked up their brakes coming to a stop slightly up the road.

"Tyrone! Have Santi, Rodrigo, get out and talk to their friends fast! But tell them to keep their heads down until we know it's secure!

Cole's first priority was the lead Tiuna, but a single look told him there wasn't going to be any threat from it. Mr. Sandoval had raked full auto fire over it at least a half dozen times. It was burning as was everyone in it. None were moving. He shuddered even as he shot a glance up at the man, "Nice shooting..."

The Army vet panned the M-60 over the Gaucho that didn't roll while responding with fire in his eyes, "I heard what they did to those boys and I have grandkids. 'Nuff said!"

Scott gave both Ricky a hug as the smaller boy handed over a fist full of external battery cubes and smartphone chips.

Ricky looked embarrassed, but accepted the hug then handed Scott an XD card reader with a micro USB connector and a trio of XD cards. "Joey and I got it working, but the cloned phones will have to be in Bluetooth range of the master phone for it to work. It doesn't give you much range. We wanted to build some kind of Bluetooth range extender, but we just don't have the equipment to do it down here.

"Everything down here is like ancient. Most of the things we had to work with are over fifteen years old!"

Off to the side, Hendrickson glanced over at Taggert, "If fifteen years is ancient, what the hell does that make us?"

Conway snorted, "Glenn and Keith tore apart my laptop to make whatever in the hell they are giving Scott, and both were bitching up a storm about how old it was. It was only three years old. These kids know each the way I used to know stamp collecting. It is more than a hobby for them, it is a passion, and old tech just annoys the hell out of them!"

Hendrickson snickered, "Yeah, but come on, we just heard fifteen years is ancient!"

Taggert also chuckled, "Sucks getting labeled as something that needs to be in a museum at age 63, huh, Governor?"

"Old as dirt!" Conway joined in with a smile.

Glenn glanced up from his chair, with a devious grin, "Well, according to the Department of Health and Human Services website we hacked, the average person consumes about 14 pounds of dust in a year, more in dusty areas. So by age 63, Governor, you will have eaten about 910 pounds of dirt, in dust alone."

Hendrickson noticeably cringed as he looked down at Glenn, "OK, that is just disgusting!"

Glenn's smile widened, "Why thank you, sir!"

Hendrickson groaned, "I'm not sure what's worse; that he knows how much we eat in dust per year or how fast he was able to come up with how much I took in over the last 63 years."

This got another, heavier round of snickers from those around the governor.

Scott heard some snickers and glanced over at the governor and lieutenant governor. He cocked his head to the side, as he noticed the massive grin on Glenn, but didn't have much of a chance to focus on it. Instead Keith came over with a torn apart laptop. "Glenn and I made this. It doesn't really extend the range, but with this long USB cord, you can text through the computer into the phone, then the phone can Bluetooth over to the clone. We made four extra twenty meter cables. We wanted to do longer, but it lost speed with this piece of junk laptop. We also made five fifty meter cords to hook into the external antennas I built for the shortwave radio. You can use the speaker in the laptop to talk into the radio if you need a backup. I gave Justin a second radio, but it's not as good as mine. Best Glenn and I could do with the junk down here."

Craig moved up to Glenn and gave him a pat on the back, "It still gives us a way to put the phone out while we stay behind a buildings and text plus a backup. Really great work."

Glenn gave Craig a big smile, "Just stay safe... I really wish I could go with you!"

"So do I," Craig stated even as he pulled Glenn toward him and squeezed. "When all this is done, we are going to work on getting you more mobility! Just make sure you keep the radio handy."

"I'm building one to hook into my chair and tying it into the base's antenna so I'll be listening 24/7."

Scott looked over and gave Glenn a nod, "Makes me feel safer already."

Joey finally stepped up, but stayed far enough away so Scott couldn't hug him. He stuck out his hand and gave Scott three cell phones. "I have the email set on one of the servers at a lab EEL has done some work with in the Bahamas, and made sure to push it out over the web so it will be active and able to be found... Um... Here." He put the phones into Scott's hand. "These three have the best Bluetooth range of those we tested and are already cloned. If you come across any others of these models on the dead..." Joey cringed.

Scott nodded understating and he accepted the phones. "Understood, and thanks Joey. You really did great getting this put together for us."

"It's a good plan, but Ricky's right. Range is a problem. If I could just use Uncle Fredric's labs for a few hours, we could have made something so much better!"

"Sounds like fun. I'll help you work on it once we see you again."

As the group moved to the tunnel, Hendrickson spoke up, "Boys, I want each and every one of you back in one piece, because when this is over we are going to have one hell of a Texas sized shindig with you all as guests of honor!"

"I'm placing my order right now!" Justin quipped as he jumped into the Humvee that would take them to the exit. "Ribs, lots of beef ribs!"

"Whole hearted Nebraska boy there..." Hendrickson spoke softly as the two vehicles moved out of sight down the tunnel.

Next to him, Conway patted his shoulder. "We'll see them again or find a way to kill anyone who causes them harm."

Taggert nodded even as he patted his sidearm, "With extreme prejudice... very, very extreme..."

As the two vehicles came to a stop at the end of the tunnel and Nick Brandt punched in the code to open the door, Lachlan noticed movement in the back of the Humvee he had driven. He pulled his sidearm, "Who's back there?"

Instantly Nick's team fanned out and covered the back of the vehicle while Craig, Alexander, Steven, Scott, and Justin all grabbed for their weapons.

Two sets of small hands came up from under the backpacks even as a voice spoke, "Don't shoot! It's me and Lane!"

Justin kept his rifle up, but moved to stand between Nick's people and the back of the Humvee, "Saul?"


Justin held up his hand, "It's OK!" He then moved forward, "Come on, you two, out!"

Before the pair of fifth graders could do more than get their heads out from under the back seat, Lachlan let out a long breath and waved Nick's team off. "What in the hell do you two think you're doing?"

Lane's eyes went wide as he saw all the guns pointed in his general direction, but managed to squeak out a response, "Going with you..."

"The hell you are!" Lachlan growled as he stepped forward and pulled the two boys out by yanking on the front of their shirts.

Saul pulled free ripping his shirt as he did so, "You have to!"

"Oh, really?"

"Yeah!" Saul stated with a remarkably firm voice considering all the weapons pointed in his general direction. "Without Lane, you'll screw up!"

Craig cocked his head to the side, "Huh, OK, I'm game... Lane's one of us, after all, so do tell!"

Saul reached over and push Lane forward, "Come on, tell them!"

Lane gulped but saw Craig move to stand, almost protectively, between himself and the other. This allowed him just enough confidence to speak, "You can't just go out there and tell whoever it is you were in a freezer. You need a place with one, where we can all pee into a corner, and mess it up, a place where you can tell them right where you stayed in it! They had people in the capitol, so they probably have someone still around to check..."

"Wow..." Steven let out with a long exhale, "Never even crossed my mind..."

"Me neither!" Scott noticeably shuddered, "Imir could use it to check my story before he even agrees to a meet-up!"

Saul nodded, "As soon as he told me, I knew we had to warn you, besides... Lane, tell them about why they should take us, too."

Lane got a nod from Craig, giving him more confidence. "Having two kids from the field trip with you will also help, since there is no way you would take two random kids unless you were stuck with us... Um," Lane lowered his head, "we already know my mom is dead and they can't find my dad or Saul's mom or dad... It can give you a reason for not contacting them... you were trying to find places for us to live. We can say you spent a few days going to houses and getting others back.

Saul put his arms around Lane, "We can be your... um..."

"Cover story..." Lane took over even as he bit back a sob.

"Uh huh!" Saul nodded, "And we can help get them back for what they did to his mom and junk!"

Scott looked over to Lachlan, "They're right. It fills in all the gaps we had in this plan, including one we didn't even think of."

Lachlan glanced over to Nick only to have him shrug.

At the same time one of the others from Nick's team, former Sgt. Wendy Browne, moved forward and knelt in front of the two fifth graders who couldn't have been more different than one another. "You both realize how dangerous this is?"

Lane nodded, "I'd be dead with my… if... it doesn't matter... um..."

Saul took over, "We talked about it. Lane's right, like always..." Saul let out a long breath, "We should be dead. As Lane said, if we die now, we will still have lived longer and junk. Plus, you need a reason... um..."

"An excuse," Alexander spoke up. "Lane and Saul are exactly what we need and pretending they aren't isn't helping. Besides, I should be in fifth grade too."

Scott openly laughed, "Alexander, there isn't a fifth grade teacher known that could handle you!"

Alexander flipped Scott off while taking a bow, "True, which is why Mom and Dad fast tracked me and kept pushing. They were getting real sick of hearing from the grade school how I was the demon spawn of the three Zummer kids.

Steven looked over with shock, "You have siblings?"

"No," Alexander all but snarled as he seemed to instantly turn darker before those looking on, "Mom and Dad have another son and a daughter. Their real kids. I'm a mistake."

Steven's jaw fell open, "Alexander, you are not!"

Alexander's eyes narrowed, "Yes, yes I am. When you get a chance ask Mom and Dad. They will admit it. I was a huge accident. Mom went through an insemination program to have another girl, but it screwed up. She ended up with a boy... me... The same company, Luna-Gen, then gave her a shot, an experimental abortion medication. It failed too." Alexander smirked, "I guess I was just conceived stubborn."

Lachlan looked over with stunned disgust, "They told you?"

"No..." Alexander shook his head and his mood turned slightly upwards, "Look, it isn't like they shout in my face I am a huge scientific flub, but I am. I always knew something was wrong, but I found the lawsuit paperwork when I was seven... the paperwork claiming the abortion shot caused problems and they were seeking damages. I was listed as the child, so it was clear enough. It took me a few days to look up some of the harder words, but I figured it all out. It was all there. The failed attempt to have a girl, the abortion shot, the lab work, the change to her inner ear... all of it.... Mom and Dad wanted damages because they had another kid they weren't ready for and the abortion shot did something to my mom's body chemistry that did something to her inner ear and gave her fits of vertigo. I guess it's why she can't do anything with heights and freaks out whenever I do stuff like climb trees and oh, you know... but it's why I really wanted to jump out of planes. I had to make sure it was just her and not me. Then I found out how cool it was, so I keep doing it."

"The paperwork also hinted at them having a third kid because there was some indication that the so-called abortion drug was still in her system and having a third kid would get rid of it in the amniotic sac fluid. It sure didn't work, though. She gets up on more than a six foot ladder, it's over. The whole legal fight is still ongoing because something happened at Luna-Gen's corporate offices in California about the time Mom had Patrick. Luna-Gen had to declare bankruptcy, but dug themselves back out, so Mom still wants them to pay. I guess she wants money for having to deal with the mistake... me."

"But I've heard you talk on the phone with them..." Steven countered, "They love you!"

"Yeah, they care, but not like they do about their two real kids..." Alexander shook his head and wiped at a tear, "Doesn't matter... They care enough, more than many kids get... Dad's way better than Mom... None of it matters, though. We have a mission with flaws. Lane and Saul are right. We need to find a spot and set it to look like we stayed in the freezer, do a lot of the stuff to it that we did to the upper bunker, and Lane's got a good idea. If we pee in it and mess it up it will look like we stayed there awhile. Having them with us, is also a really good idea..."

Alexander turned to Lane and Saul, "Do either of you know how to shoot?"

Lachlan started to protest, but Craig cut him off, "Yeah, good question. Since it sure seem like you are joining us..."

Lachlan signed, "Guys, I already don't want to endanger you all! We can't take two ten-year-olds!"

"I'm eleven," Alexander countered, "what's the difference?" He then forced a grin, "Other than I am unwanted and expendable."

"No you are not!" Justin fired back with a glare. "Like it or not, Alexander, you are one of us, and are more like a brother to me than my own little brother! You are not and never will be expendable!" Justin's fists clenched, "Don't ever say that again!"

Alexander's eyes went a little wide, but seeing Steven, Scott, and Craig all nodding in full agreement, he held up both hands, "OK, fine... But I really am a mistake..."

"No you're not." Lachlan spoke up. "You are an incredibly gifted youngster, a genius, and a serious pain in the ass, but not a mistake!"

Alexander raised an eyebrow, "Pain in the ass?"

"Big time." Nick jumped in, "But at the moment you are our pain in the ass and I'll smack the crap out of you if I ever hear you call yourself a mistake again, understood?"

This got a cringe out of Alexander, "Yes, sir."

"Good." Nick responded, then looked back at Lane and Saul, "So can you two shoot, and if so, what?"

"Are you all nuts?" Lachlan shouted, "They are ten!"

"And I'm twelve," Justin countered then glanced over at Alexander with a smirk, "and Alexander is a year younger. Look, Mr. Walker, everything they just said is right. Besides, and this sucks to say, but they are good decoys to distract whoever we find away from us helping the governor. We can point to them and say it was about everyone, not just the governor."

"The kids all have good points," Wendy remarked. "If the shit hits the fan, you need to know what they can and can't do, too."

"Shit!" Lachlan snarled, "OK, fine. But if shooting starts I take the lead. I get shot first or no one does, got me?"

Saul smiled, "I'll pass on getting shot... um, but I hunt quail."

"What do you shoot" Wendy demanded to know. "I have a Maverick pump 20 gauge at my house... um, but it is in Dad's gun safe and I don't know the combo."

"Shoot anything else?" Nick asked.

"A .22 rifle, a .32 pistol, and about broke my wrist when I talked Dad into letting me try his .357."

Lane looked over, "The wrist brace you wore for a week?"

"Yeah," Saul grumbled, "and Mom and Dad both thought it was really funny. Mom said it served me right and junk for being so bull-headed."

Nick smirked, "I'd have to agree with her."

Saul rubbed his wrist. "Yeah, well... it was the last time I begged to shoot one of his big guns."

Wendy shook her head, "OK, at least you know what you can and shouldn't handle, what about you, Lane?"

"I may be a wimp, but I was born in Texas. Mom signed me up for a gun safety class and when I liked it, she found a youth hunting club last year. They invited me back this year to help first year kids..." Seeing everyone looking at him he grinned, showing big buck teeth, "Um, yeah... I can shoot."

Craig looked over with a big smile, "What do you hunt and what do you shoot?"

"Oh," Lane relaxed and started eagerly talking, "I do whitetail hunting with a CVA Hunter .243 and bird and deer hunting with a Mossberg 500, with second barrel for shooting slug. I like the .243 for deer better..." Seeing his much bigger friend look at him with a hint of jealousy, he smiled, "I am real good when I have a good scope. I can gut a deer too, but need help to hang it."

Seeing he had everyone's full attention Lane continued almost too excitedly, "Got my first deer last year at a hundred and ten yards with the CVA and the club went up to Scott's Bluff, Nebraska for coyote hunting this fall. I took down two. One with the CVA and the other with the guide's Barnett Vortex youth bow. I want to try deer hunting with a bow... Oh, and I really like the Colt Mustang .380, and while I have to hold it with both hands to get a good grip, the Ruger SR9 is a super good pistol... Mom won't buy a pistol for me yet, but I... she got me my own CVA for getting straight A's at the end of the school year and the Vortex bow for my birthday last month. She was going to get me the Mossberg for Christmas as long as I kept my grades up..." He suddenly looked dejected, "I was going to have so much fun until Ashwood ruined it all... You have to let us help."

Craig moved over and put his arm protectively around Lane while looking back at the others, "Now this is the kind of little brother I want!"

Lachlan rolled his eyes as the other kids snickered, "So Lane, I am guessing a lot of walking and carrying a pack will not be a problem for you?"

Lane shot Craig a slight grin as he answered, "No, I carry a pack when I hunt. Not real heavy, but a sleeping bag, a day of food, canteen, tent, rifle or bow, first aid kit, change of clothes, matches, and a knife..."

Lachlan interrupted, "OK, we'll scrounge you two up backpacks in your sizes and some firepower topside, but you shoot nothing until I work with you and say you can, understood?"

Seeing both boys nod, he took a deep breath, "Fine, we'll take you. Come on. Daylight is only a few hours out and we need to be well clear of here by then."

As they exited the tunnel, Craig looked down at Lane, "So once this is over you are going to teach me bow hunting, right?"

Alexander and Justin both turned, Alexander spoke for both, "Not without me you aren't!"

Officer Rail looked over the eleven kids known by Santi and Rodrigo, even as most of teens from his group moved to check over the two shot up dune buggy looking vehicles. Only Alonzo and Tyrone stuck close. While they both said it was so Cole could talk to the kids, it was abundantly clear, by body posture alone, both the teens were also quite prepared to unleash the furies of hell itself on any of the kids who even so much looked at Cole in the wrong way.

Within just a couple of minutes, however, both hardened teens relaxed some as they realized every kid in the group were not only younger than they were, but were exhausted and hurt in one way or another. One of the youngest looked for all the world like someone had used his face as a punching bag, and another of the kids couldn't even stand straight. Truth be told, he was having a hard time standing at all. However, all eleven sets of eyes looked at Cole with absolute terror and forced themselves to stand at attention. Even with the burning vehicle only a couple hundred yards away, the kids' singular focus was on Cole.

All new kids had, with a single shouted command from Rodrigo, tossed their AK47 rifles off to the side, dropped their packs and had taken off their vests, which included a nine millimeter pistol, four spare magazines for their AK47's, two spare magazines for their sidearm's, and held a combat knife. The set up of the vests also told Cole what hand each predominantly used since the knife and pistol were opposite of their primary hands while the magazines were easily grabbed by their off hand. It was actually very tactically sound. Four of the eleven were left handed including the little guy with two blackened eyes, a split lower lip, and a full handprint bruise on his right cheek and the slightly older boy who was having difficulty putting weight on his right leg.

He moved over to Santi and put a hand gently on the boy's shoulder, hoping the gesture would give the eleven boys some reassurances. It didn't work. Seven actively cringed and the other gulped and fought hard not to take a step back. "It's OK. I'm not going to hurt any of you."

Alonzo repeated the words in Spanish, but it was clear from looks and body posture none of the kids facing him really believed it.

Cole looked over at Tyrone, "Have Rodrigo talk to them..."

"He did. He told 'em yer the boss too, so you gots to talk to 'em. Ain't seen no fool this scared since the last time me see the young fish come into the slam the first time. Shit, these punks even got the fish beat. Bet if I jump at 'em I can get a least one to piss himself."

Cole covered his face, "Ty, come on!"

On the opposite side, Alonzo snickered, "Not real nice nigger, but shit, it be funny to see ya do it!"

Tyrone looked over and flashed Alonzo a big grin, "Damn, if'n me not know how mad Grandma Baker'd be with me ass..."

Cole glanced over, "What about me?"

"Shit, cop," Tyrone responded with a smirk, "You worrys me some, Grandma Baker, she scares me!"

"True dat!" Alonzo chuckled. "Ain't no way any a us gunna make Grandma mad, no way!" He then turned to Cole, "How about we tells them to sit their asses down, get 'em some shit to eat and let the doc check 'em over? The little kid looks beat to shit and the punk with the hole in his pants is 'bout to fall the fuck over."

Tyrone nodded, "Yeah, and the skinny little shit at the end who can't hardly stand none, had ta get help to take off the vest, man. Bettin' he's been beaten on too!"

The kid Tyrone pointed at looked up with some fear, but also a hint of hope. He spoke up softly in fluent English "I was... real bad."

Cole moved closer to the boy then took a step back as he saw him flinch, "I'm not going to hurt you. None of us are. Did Rodrigo tell you what's going on?"

"Yes, sir... But..."

"But what?"

The kid looked over to Rodrigo, got a nod from both him and Santi, and took a very nervous breath, "But, we'll be killed if we... um... we can't run away... they'll kill us and the rest."

Rodrigo spoke up.

Alonzo quickly translated, "He asked if there was any left. He telling the little punk he asked for all from the box them punks was shipped in."

The kid looked down the line and shrugged, "Just one from our container is alive and not here, Marquez, but they brought in more last night to trade for those lost... Almost all of us."

Cole frowned, "Who and where is Marquez?"

"He was shot and taken to the... do you call it clinic or inferm... um... Infrumairy?"

"Clinic is fine." Cole stated as calmly as possible since he realized he was on the edge of building some kind of rapport with the child, and with each and every word, the others were showing signs of loosening up slightly. "The other word you wanted is infirmary. It is probably the better word, but your English is very good and I know what you were trying to say."

This got just the slightest hint of a smile out of the lad before it quickly faded, "Thank you sir, but they will kill Marquez when we don't come back and maybe some of the new ones to set example. They may kill Marquez anyway. They don't like to waste medicine on Miliciano."

Cole shook his head, "No, no I don't think they will. We told them we were keeping you to help us guard. You were not supposed to go back. Besides, look around. Even if they want to come get you, they will come out here and see this. They will think those who escorted us out were caught in an ambush. But I don't think you have to worry about them even looking for you. The only ones who know where I planned on going was in those in the convoy." Cole pointed over to the flaming wreckage of the lead vehicle. "We told them..."

"Thank you, they cannot tell on us nor hurt us now."

"No they can't." Cole stated firmly, "No one is going to harm you here. You look hurt, please sit. All of you."

The boy looked back and Rodrigo, spoke in Spanish and got a nod from Rodrigo. He fearfully relaxed his stance and after seeing no hostility from Cole, moved to sit on the bumper of the Humvee with a bad limp. The others all watched this for a few seconds before moving to find a place to sit as well.

Cole looked over his shoulder, "Ty, let's get these kids some food and water."

"Yes-a Masser!" Tyrone spoke with a lowered head, then grinned over at Alonzo, "See how it is? He picks the nigger to serve!"

"Tyrone!" Cole gasped in shock only to see the teen bust up in fits of laughter followed moments later by Alonzo. He shook his head and flipped both teens off, only getting a louder roar of laughter from the two and several of the others who had turned to see what was going on.

Cole put his head in his hand and shook it, even as his cheeks took on a crimson tinge of embarrassment. "Ty, you are impossible!"

Tyrone shot Alonzo another grin, lowered his head, and spoke, "Yes-a masser, thank ya masser!"

This actually got a slight giggle out of the boy in front of Cole and a few smiles out of the others. Cole rolled his eyes and snickered, then shot the boy sitting on the bumper a smile, "So can I get your name?"

With most of the tension broken, the boy nodded, "My name is Ruben, Ruben Velázquez. Santi and I went to the same school before the police arrested our families and sent us to the Miliciano training camp."

"Arrested your families?"

"Yes." Ruben looked down and sighed, "All of us Miliciano are either taken from the streets or because our families were arrested. Santi's father and mine spoke up against some military spending. Both had their departments cut to buy more for our army. They arrested our entire families for being dissident and inciting rebellion. My older brother, Amgel, was taken for regular army. I was put in the Miliciano camp, I do not know where my sisters, mother and father were taken. They took our homes and property too. I own nothing."

"I am so sorry, Ruben. How did you learn such good English?"

"My father, he attended university in Massachusetts and was in charge of all English language teachers in Rosario. He spoke out because the education minister took six of the nine teachers from under him and it made it to where the schools in Rosario only had English studies one day a week instead of three. Santi's father spoke up with my father because his French teacher staff was also cut by over half. Santi is as good in French as I am in English. He can understand English and I can understand French, but speaking is not so easy. We were both working with Rodrigo to teach him too. He's not good at either but knows some of both."

"Very impressive. I thought Santi could understand what I was saying most of the time. Now I understand why. Are you hurt?"

"I do not remember the last time I was not hurt, sir. The Miliciano camp was... I think the word I need is brutal... It only got more bad in the cargo pod..."

Cole slowly moved forward and put a hand on Ruben's shoulder. The boy flinched but the hope of not getting hit was etched on his face. "No one here wants to hurt you Ruben. Santi and Rodrigo told us some of what went on in the camp. They also said those men we shot in the lead vehicle hurt you all. That is when we decided to kill them."

Ruben glanced at the hand on his shoulder for a second and let out a breath of relief as he realized, at least for the moment, he was not in danger from the man speaking to him, "They did, often, and thank you for killing them. At first I was glad to get put into the cargo box. I hoped I would never see them again, but they were waiting for us when they opened the container... They made us throw those who didn't make it onto a garbage barge... Some were our friends... We got one day of rest then it was just as bad as it was back in the training camp... worse... we... we are here to be Miliciano... conscripted militia... we are... expend... um, disposal... no not right word... Um, replaceable."

Cole had to bite back his anger, not wanting to scare the poor lad. "Ruben, you are none of those things. The words you were trying to say are expendable and disposable, but those words should never apply to any child, and I am giving you my word, those days are behind you. As far as anyone formerly over you thinks, including the Mayor who found us, you were given to us. He really thinks you all were handed over to a military unit outside the city as guards."

"Mayor is the same rank as a major in your army, sir. He is new to here. I hear he was the lead camp officer of the trainers of the new arrivals. They are all from Córdoba from what I heard. He is second in charge of the city now, too. The old second in command was replaced because he could not calm the city with the original troops sent into your city. The reinforcements from Córdoba were supposed to go to someplace in Arkansas, called Little Rock. I heard it is close to the front lines and needs more forces.

"But, your Presidente Ashwood does not want to lose control of any major city behind the lines so they came here instead. The kids from Córdoba were happy not to go so close to the front, but I think I would rather be there than being used to find snipers by walking down the streets here. We were trying to warn the Córdoba Miliciano when Major Acosta came into the barracks screaming at those of us from Rosario to get a shower and form up, but only those of us from Rosario. We were given new field packs, rifles and vests and shoved out to the trucks. We didn't even know what was going on, but figured we were going to draw fire again, so the real military could see where the shots were coming from and not risk themselves. Many of us died like that. I figured today would probably be my day, since I have a hurt leg after Major Acosta beat me last night for... not obeying fast enough. I cannot run fast, so I would be one of the easy ones to shoot."

"Not today, not ever if I have a say in it."

The boy took a bottle of water from Tyrone with a grateful nod and downed over half of it, then ripped the pull top off of a can of cold raviolis and started shaking the contents into his mouth.

Tyrone looked over at Cole and gestured toward the others, "Them is all real hungry, but I thinks we should bug the hell out, man. I'd bet my ass we's not the only fools who can see the smoke."

Cole nodded, saw Ruben wince as he tried to pull himself up and quickly moved to help the boy stand. Even though the boy could see Cole was trying to help, the kid's muscles tensed at the touch, an automatic response to being physically abused way too often.

This left Cole fuming. He had heard and seen enough. He picked up Ruben and gently put him in the Humvee, then looked back at Tyrone, "When we go back to get my wife and Grandma Baker, you have my full permission to unload a full clip into that Major Acosta and anyone with him!"

Ken glanced over after helping the littlest kid, with the badly beaten face, into one of the other vehicles, "See, Ty, I told you he was pretty kick ass for a cop!"

"Yeah, I gots that part, now me really seein' what you's sayin' when you first saw him behind is car. He don't give a shit 'bout nothin' but doin' right and skin color don't mean shit. Grandma Baker's right, God really do look down and fix thing to work sometime if ya let Him!"

Ruben looked over from the passenger seat, "I know you don't trust us, but if you give us our rifles and vests we'll fight with you if we get into trouble."

"I don't want you to see combat again and you aren't in any condition to fight."

"Sir, if it's between fighting and dying or not fighting and getting taken back to be Miliciano, let us fight... or at least promise to kill us if we are going to be taken."

Eldon glanced over to Cole even as he grabbed one of the AK47's and a vest. "Cop, if they beat their own, then thinks what'd them fools do ta us! I mean, damn, let me give 'm back their shit!" He didn't wait for a response. Instead he handed Ruben the weapon and vest. "Ain't no fuckin' way I'm lettin' them bitches do this to Wyatt none!"

Cole fought himself to not grab the assault weapon. Instead he closed his eyes as he spoke, "Alonzo, Tyrone, tell all these boys they are only to use these firearms in a case of last resort or if I give the order." He paused, then glanced over to Ruben, "And do me a favor, since you all are making the call to rearm them. The least you could do is make sure they have the right equipment. One of you get Ruben a left-handed vest!"

Tyrone looked over, "Huh?"

Cole grinned at seeing the confused look on the teen's face, "See, even a cop can teach you something, Ty. The vests are setup for what hand is the shooting hand and what is the reload hand. Take a closer look."

Tyrone pulled up one of the vests and took a look then noticed how some were opposite, "Ah, man, that's some sick shit! I want one!"

Ruben nodded as he struggled to put on one of the left handed vests handed to him by Ken. Eldon moved up and quickly helped him even as Ruben spoke, "They are very nice. We were never given them till now because they are too expensive for Miliciano, but it is nice to have them on. They have Kevlar pads built into them." He tapped the upper chest area and then did the same to the sides, before pointing over at the machinegun armed vehicle Eldon had driven. "There are four cases of twelve in there. Three are left handed in each. There is small, medium, large and fat."

Cole reached over and fingered the vest even as Alonzo, Ken, Tyrone, and Eldon all sprinted over to the back of the other vehicle, "Hey..." He almost called for Tyrone, but wasn't about to get the slave joke tossed at him again so he changed up, "Ken! Grab me a left-handed large!"

The attempt to change up who he told to do something quickly backfired as Tyrone gave Ken a light shove, "I see how it is! The cracker boy gets to give the masser the real hardware. The nigger gets ta serve!" He then looked over at Cole with a gleam in his eyes, "Ya sure ya don't want fat, cop? There's gots ta be a donut shop we can hit fer you somewheres long the way!"

Cole's face once again flushed, "Oh, screw you Ty!"

"Yer the wrong color and wrong sex, cop, but thanks fer the offer!"

Off to the side, several of the rescued civilians started laughing and Wyatt almost fell out of the back of the truck as he totally lost it. At the same time, Alonzo translated for the other kids, so they started laughing as well. Cole slid down in the driver's seat as if trying to hide, getting some extra snickers from Ruben who was next to him. If there was anything good to be said about any of this, Cole decided after a few seconds of total embarrassment, was he got to hear Ruben and the others laugh, at least a little. It gave him some hope that they could rebound from everything they had been put through.

His thoughts were broken as Doyle came over with a vest, a new pistol, and a strange looking assault rifle along with loaded magazines to stick into the vest for both weapons. "There are six boxes of eight of these bastards, a ton of ammo, a huge case of clips, and the kid who was behind the machinegun told Alonzo they are kind of like M16's, only better."

Ruben looked over, "It's a FARA 83. The government started making them again about a year and a half ago... About the same time they cut my father's teaching budget back. They are very nice. Much nicer and more accurate than the AK's. We got to shoot them a few times at the Miliciano camp as part of weapon's training. I liked them a lot."

Cole noticed all the teens from Grandma Baker's Bible group were securing vests and taking the new weapons, while Alonzo got help from a couple of the least hurt kids to get everyone instruction on how to use them. With a sigh he looked over at Ruben, "Tell you what, you give me a rundown on these and I'll let you change over to one."

Ruben looked over with wide eyes, "Really?"

Cole wanted to scream a long string of obstinacies over the whole situation, but seeing the look in the badly abused boy's face, he forced a smile, "Yeah, why not?"

"Can Santi get one too?"

Cole took a bite out of the inside of his mouth rather than say what was really on his mind. "I'll let Santi and Rodrigo each have one if they would prefer this rifle over the AK47."

"Oh, they will! Santi and Rodrigo were not really part of the rest of the Miliciano because they are very good marksman and Rodrigo very good fighter. The army took the best of the Miliciano to help them with real missions shortly after we arrived here because so many were killed so fast by the prisoner release. The officers didn't think it would be so hard, but it was and many were shot. The army ran low on men, so Santi, Rodrigo along with the oldest of us went out with the real soldiers... then disappeared. We were told they had been killed in ambush at a store. Lieutenant Campos got into big trouble because he did not secure the store and lots of food got out instead of being taken. We heard Lieutenant Campos was sent to the front because of it."

"We took the store. I was not there, but was told only Santi and Rodrigo surrendered. The rest didn't and... yes, we killed them."

"I'm so glad. The older ones made us do all the worst things, but Rodrigo stopped much when around. He became our Miliciano leader in the shipping crate after he fought one of the older kids and killed him because he and a few of the others were eating too much food and not giving any to the rest. Since he killed one and stabbed another, everyone was afraid of him. He made us ration so we could live. Many did not make it, but more did because of Rodrigo."

"Well..." Cole started to say he didn't really want Rodrigo armed, but stopped himself, "Sounds like you are all very lucky Rodrigo was in your container, then."

"Very much so, sir. All of us that are left would not have finished the trip without him blitzing Federico and stabbing him and his brother with a snapped off spoon."

"Which explains why all of you looked to Rodrigo when he told you all to drop your weapons."

"Yes, we trust him. But we were also very scared of you. We have seen officers beat and even kill Miliciano for not instantly obeying. Until you have been hit over and over with a broom handle or forced to do push-ups on broken glass... It is hard to understand."

"What is hard to understand is how anyone could do that to another human being, let alone a kid..." Cole muttered even as he lightly reached out and rubbed Ruben's shoulder. This time the was less of a flinch, but it was still there. It made him ill to think about the suffering of the kids he found himself surrounded by. With a heavy heart, he called out, "Doyle! Get Ruben, Santi and Rodrigo these nicer assault rifles and see if we have any of the civilians who can really shoot an AK. We might as well get as much firepower out as we can until we get to the EEL greenhouses!"

Jamaal came up to the Humvee, "Hey cop, one of them buggy things ain't hardly messed up at all. It gots a busted window and some blood on the dash, man. Can I take the bitch?"

Cole snorted, "Oh, why not! Take Tommy or Doyle with you so you have a gunner if needed."

Jamaal gave Cole a hard pat on the back, "Kick ass! Thanks, man!" then turned and shouted, "Tommy, with me, we gets to take the fuckin' buggy!"

Cole fired up the engine on the Hummer even as Mr. Sandoval jumped up behind the machinegun. The older man looked down, "Looks to me like you're goin' to need a real big house when all this is done, officer!"

Cole glanced back with a smirk, "And a big pay raise and an even bigger gun safe."

An hour later they pulled to a stop. In the distance they could see the outskirts of Paris, Kentucky and the greenhouse complex to north of the highway. The problem was the greenhouse complex was clearly under siege. There were a half dozen vehicles with machineguns on top and over fifty troops surrounding the place and occasional fire could be heard and seen from those in the convoy.

"Shit!" Cole snarled as he pulled up binoculars and looked at the scene.

Mr. Sandoval reached down and patted Cole on the back while extending a hand for the binoculars. After watching for over a minute, he looked down. "Looks like the greenhouse found a sizable force. They have good defenses up, but are outgunned. If you are up for it, we could break the stalemate."

"I can't put these kids in any more danger!"

"Hate to say this officer, but there's certainly civilians in danger right up there, and the attackers won't realize whose side we're on till it's way too late. All we have to do is set it up so we come in behind them and open up on the machinegun armed trucks first. Once we take out their real firepower, we'll have them pinned between those in the greenhouse and us. They either drop weapons or get shot in the back, either by us or them."

Next to Cole, Ruben pulled up his FARA 83, and chambered a round. "Mateo and Matias are good with the machineguns and if you get us a little close Santi can shoot one of the gunners up there. Get us pretty close and so can Rodrigo and me. The rest can lay down heavy AK fire. With nine of them on full automatic, shooting into the backs of unsuspecting soldiers, they really will not have to be accurate."

"Aw, hell..." Cole grumbled as he saw Mr. Sandoval nod in agreement with Ruben. He put the Hummer in reverse and backed up next to the vehicle Ken was in. "Ruben and Mr. Sandoval want to play Rambo. Go round up the others and get the kids from Argentina over here as well."

Five minutes later, Cole found everyone but himself on board with the plan Mr. Sandoval laid out. They would pull up like they were reinforcements, then the three machineguns would open up the three forward most vehicles while the Bible group, Rodrigo, Santi and Cole would target the other three machine-gunners. Everyone else, including the Argentine kids and those civilians who assured Cole they could shoot, were tasked with unloading at least one full thirty round clip each into the rest of the attackers. The rest of the civilians, along with a still injured Tommy, stayed back and watched.

Tommy, despite his gunshot wound, climbed a tree to watch and could shoot if needed. He held his breath as several of those laying siege to the greenhouse complex turned to watch Cole and the others come up the road, but seeing familiar vehicles and those driving them with the vests, they turned their attention back to the complex. For the vast majority, that mistake was their last.

Mr. Sandoval was first to open up, taking everyone in the lead vehicle out before they even knew they were being fired on. Mateo unleashed a sustained burst into the second vehicle, concentrating on the gunner, then raking his fire back and forth, killing four others and setting the vehicle ablaze. Matias went with what he had been taught, firing bursts in order to keep the barrel cooler. He took out the gunner of the third vehicle, then focused in on a cluster of men who had been hunkered down behind a shot up sedan, eating. None of them got to their weapons which were only a few feet away.

Next to Cole, Ruben took aim on a man who had been peppering a mound of dirt with bursts of auto-fire, striking him in the right hip, he then followed it up with another shot into the man's left leg. While not killing him, it did cause the man to fall off the vehicle leaving the machinegun unmanned.

One vehicle over, Santi lined up and made a clean headshot on the fifth gunner. The twenty-year-old collapsed and died still standing, supported by the weapon he had been manning.

Rodrigo put two bullets into the vest of the last machine-gunner, knocking him back, but neither round penetrated. This didn't last long, since Eldon put a three round burst into the man's crotch, which was followed up moments later by a three round burst from Ken. Two of those found the right leg. The man fell out of the vehicle screaming.

Seconds later the whole south side of the wood line opened up with automatic fire, ripping into vehicles, supplies, and flesh.

Those who survived the initial five seconds were in total disarray. Many scrambled for weapons, while others simply jump up and ran. Still others covered their heads and got as small as they could.

Most of the remaining attackers jumped up to fight back, only to realize their mistake too late, as those from the greenhouse complex fired into exposed backs. Another fifteen fell in a matter of seconds.

Nearly twenty seconds after most of the enemy fire had stopped, Mr. Sandoval shouted and pointed over at Mateo who was still keeping his fingers on the trigger and sweeping the box feed machinegun back and forth.

Rodrigo noticed this and sprinted over, jumping up on the back of the vehicle and yelling at him to stop before he melted the barrel.

Once Mateo let go, the noise level dropped significantly. This allowed for a few pockets of resistance to be heard and crushed by Mr. Sandoval and Matias with some help from those inside the greenhouse complex and others in the wood line. It became apparent to even the least observant, resistance was not going to be tolerated by those on either Cole or the Greenhouse's side.

Two minutes later, Cole called for a ceasefire as he noticed two pairs of hands sticking up from a group of supply crates and five other sets that tossed weapons out of other hiding places and crawled out with shocked expressions, trembling extremities, and in three cases wet spots on the front of their fatigues. At the same time, a man moved cautiously forward on the opposite side of the greenhouse fence, "Cole?"

Cole stepped out from behind the Humvee, "Damn, Donnel, good to see you man!"

The man let out a long breath, "It's good guys! I know him! He's a cop from Lexington!"

Off to the right Santi suddenly stood, braced his rifle on the roll bar, and fired a single shot. Cole spun to glare at Santi only to jerk his head back the other direction as a scream came out from behind a tree and a man with a rifle in his hand fell, clutching his leg with his other hand.

Ruben then followed it up with a shot to the man's shoulder, forcing the guy to drop his rifle.

Rodrigo then shot him yet again, this time in the hip.

Cole once again spun to look at Rodrigo, then back at the gravely wounded man, "You didn't have to shoot him again!"

Ruben winced as he leaned against the hood of the Hummer, "Yes, yes, we did. He was at our camp." He pointed to the boy with the badly beaten face. "He raped Sebastian twice."

"Aw, screw that!" Nolan suddenly growled, spun, yanked up his rifle, and put three more rounds into the man, silencing him for good. "Been there; ain't having none of them around me if I can help it!"

Off to the side, Sebastian gave Nolan the slightest of grins.

To Be Continued

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