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dkstories last won the day on April 11 2013

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  1. dkstories

    Chapter 2

    “It doesn’t look any different.” Brandon’s voice came over Worthington’s headset as they sat on their bikes in the middle of the highway, looking at the dirt road ahead of them. Brandon’s little green and black Ninja bike was idling smoothly, a soft purr next to the much louder growl of Worthington’s Ducati. Behind them, two more Ducatis growled as their riders revved them up a bit. “You said they would be improving the road too.” Rob’s voice held a slight bit of taunting to it over the radio. He was riding Worthington’s old temporary bike. “Can you feel the magic?” Jamie asked, and Worthington was suddenly reminded of the barrier in his mind. Even with Jamie riding a bike that was the twin of Worthington’s custom-made bike, he had forgotten the split between them as they rode up into the mountains. It was cooler up here than down in the valley, and he was appreciative of the temperature difference. “What are we waiting for?” Carl’s voice held just a bit of a whine. He was on the back of Jamie’s bike and didn’t like riding nearly as much as everyone else. “I can feel the magic.” Worthington agreed after a moment of concentration. It was subtle magic and had a different feel than the human magic he was accustomed to experiencing. With a purely mental sigh, he revved his engine with his right hand and released the clutch with his left. His bike sped forward, and the dirt road shimmered as his bike’s wheels ran over its surface. “Hot damn!” Rob called out with a whoop of joy as his bike also reached what they now saw as a road paved with carefully smoothed and placed stones. They glittered in the sunlight, and at first, Worthington was concerned with his tires keeping traction, but they ran over the stone like it was asphalt, and he relaxed slightly, opening up the throttle a bit as they sped along the road. “I wonder if that’s an illusion too?” Brandon said as they neared the chain-link fence that had marked the boundary of the abandoned mine Worthington had purchased last year. Beyond the fence, he could see the familiar rusting buildings and piles of slag waste that the dwarves had been so interested in, and around it all, he could barely sense the shimmering of the same magic that had hidden the stone-paved road. “I think it is,” Worthington said as the gates opened. Even as they rode through them, the illusion ended and they could see what the dwarves had managed to build in just a few months. He nearly wrecked his bike, and instead of risking it he brought it to a halt and looked behind him at the great metal gates that were now swinging shut. They were easily forty feet high and reflected the sunlight like shining beacons. Where there had been a chain link fence, there was now a wall twice as high as the gates, and he could see short figures on top of it, peering down at him before turning back to look out over the way they had come. That was not all that had been covered by illusion. Gone were the rusting buildings and the piles of slagheap. What had once been barren, or near barren ground was filled with buildings in various stages of construction. Some looked nearly completed, and they formed a maze of streets that led to where the old main building had stood. In its place was what looked like a small castle that rose five stories into the air. On the far side of the rectangular stone building was a round tower that rose another four stories over the main building and was as wide around as the main building itself. It was the only building that looked completed, but from their current point of view it was impossible to quite tell. “Holy fuck.” Rob whistled over the radio. “How the hell did they do that in just a few months?” “They’re dwarves.” Worthington said in a voice that he hoped didn’t sound too impressed. The truth was he was very impressed at what he saw just now. Instead of speaking again, he put his bike in motion again and wound his way through the maze of new streets. As they rode he saw dwarves working on the buildings stop and look at them pass by without any discernible expression that he could read. All of them were the familiar dark-skinned dwarves he had become accustomed to seeing, and it looked like there were hundreds at work. As he took a right turn down a road that seemed to lead towards the main building, he looked down his left at what had been the central pit of the mine before. The walls of the pit were a bustle of activity with hundreds more dwarves carving out what looked like dwellings from the rock face of the pit. Below a few quick glances showed more dwarves at the bottom in what had been little more than a cesspit of wastewater. Now the water looked a lot cleaner, and he could feel some magic rolling off the dwarves as they worked in the water. The castle in front of him consumed the majority of his attention as they reached it, and he instinctively moved his bike into the shelter built into the side of the castle’s walls. It had neatly painted lines on it just big enough for motorcycles, with about twenty spaces. On either end there were larger spaces marked off as parking for larger vehicles. He claimed the center motorcycle spot, and felt the other three bikes pulling into spots near his. While he got off his bike and took off his helmet, they shut off their engines and mimicked his actions. “Amazing,” Jamie said softly, with awe apparent in his voice too. “It’s only been what, about eleven weeks and they’ve managed to do all this?” “We’ve had nearly a thousand dwarves every day of the week and in shifts around the clock.” A gruff dwarf said from the end of the shelter. “Don’t be thinking we’re miracle workers just yet, lad.” “We are still impressed,” Worthington said and winced mentally at the pronoun he had used. This close to Jamie, and with their reactions to the dwarven achievement, they had let the barrier thin just a bit. With determination, they both strengthened it again and took a deliberate step away from each other as Worthington turned to face the speaker. “That’s good of you to say, Master Sinclair.” The dwarf did sound happy as he rocked on his feet a bit. His skin was dark, although not nearly as dark as the dwarf Worthington had first met, the First Councilor to the King. He’d learned that at least among the Dark Dwarves, the darker the skin, the more ‘noble’ a dwarf’s blood was considered. “I am Governor Lokar, appointed by his royal Majesty as his Governor in Clairville.” “Clairville?” Brandon asked with surprise. “It is the name his majesty has given this settlement.” Governor Lokar said with a chuckle and he crossed the distance between them until he stood just an arm’s reach away from Worthington. He barely reached Worthington’s waist, and was nearly half again as wide as Worthington, with large arms and a chest that was more muscle than fat. His beard was pitch black as well but only came down to the middle of his chest, and while his face was wrinkled, he didn’t feel as old as many of the dwarves that they had dealt with before. If anything, he was likely just approaching his middle years. “The name is meant as an honor to the Sinclair that has given us his leave to settle on his land.” “I am honored,” Worthington said. “That’s a good thing lad.” The dwarf laughed. “It wouldn’t do to take offense to something his majesty intended as an honor. Now here’s the key to your new home.” “A key?” Worthington asked in surprise as he took what looked like, and felt like nothing but a plastic card. It was a metallic gray in color, with a black tribal design that looked somehow familiar on the front of it, and a black magnetic strip on the back. It thrummed in his hand with magic almost as if it was matching itself to him. “There, it’s keyed to you now.” The dwarf said with happiness. “We got the idea from those little electronic keys human hotels use. Now you won’t be wanting to lose that little thing, at least until you’ve reset the wards on the place to your own. From it you can make more keys, and you can set what floors and things those other keys can access. That way you can control who can get into and out of the place. Now, how about a little tour?” “That would be wonderful, Governor,” Worthington said with a very slight bow of his head. The main entrance nearly took his breath away and was just the first room of the building. Skylights from the roof five stories above let the sunlight in, and the marble inlays of the floor glittered. It was a large room, with several gilded tables along the walls, artwork, and mirrors on the wall, and a grand staircase that headed up and split into two different directions. Six more doors led to other rooms on the ground floor. On the ground floor were the kitchens, a massive dining room, and ‘audience hall,’ as well as several smaller sitting rooms. The next floor held meeting rooms, offices, and other similar rooms that Worthington knew had Brandon drooling. The upper three floors held entertainment and sleeping rooms, all of which were more spacious than the rooms he had at his current house. The tower that soared four more stories above the main building held a series of rooms that could be equipped as mage workrooms, labs, or any number of uses suited to magic work. Below everything, there was a massive basement that was well equipped as a primary mage workroom, where they could practice all forms of mage-craft, and even combat between groups of mages if they so desired. Everything was furnished in a style that would have fit in with European royal courts of the eighteen hundreds, but with a modern flair. Nearly every room had a television, and he was not surprised the entire building was equipped with fiber-optic data lines for phone and Internet service. Only the most modern televisions were in the rooms, plus a generous number of electrical outlets were available in all rooms. The kitchen had some of the most modern equipment available and could be used to fix a meal for one or for a thousand just as easily. “So, you be liking what we’ve done?” The Governor asked. “We could have been nearly done with the above-ground facilities of the settlement by now, but we put extra effort in this place. From outside, it looks no different to non-mages, or even the human satellites. Mage-folk and creatures who cross into our boundaries will see the truth.” “We are impressed, sir.” Worthington said and they wondered how they could get away from living in the home that was being built for them back in town and just live here. No, that would not be wise. Still, Brandon had talked about moving the business functions of the Sinclair family out to Phoenix, and this would be as good a place as any. Then he realized he’d used the plural pronoun and nearly cursed aloud. Being this close to Jamie, and being impressed by this place had thinned their barrier again, and for the briefest of moments, he felt his determination matched with Jamie’s before the barrier broke them apart again. This wasn’t easy to deal with, but he knew very well it was something that had to be done, no matter how sweet it had been for that moment when the barrier was weakest. “A place as large as this will need people to care for it.” The dwarf continued. “I have asked and some of those who will be moving to this place we are building will agree to act as housekeepers for you. They will not be servants, mind you boy, dwarves do not enter service. They will keep the house clean and maintained, and they will cook food for you and your people, and do your laundry and the like. If you are interested in retaining someone, I have several interested parties for you to meet with today. All of them have agreed to accept reasonable bindings to not steal or reveal what happens inside unless, of course, it might be a threat to our King.” “I will consider this,” Worthington said after a moment. It would be better than trying to hire non-mage humans to take care of the place, and the dwarf was right. If he let it go a week without cleaning, dust would cover everything, and Brandon would work his butt off just trying to keep the ground floor polished. “Good, when do you want to meet the first applicant?” The dwarf asked with a grin and a chuckle. “She is my wife’s sister and a good lass. For the last five years, she has served as the Second to His Majesty’s Mistress of House, so she understands well the caring of noble houses.” “Send her here in a few hours,” Worthington said. “If you do not mind, we would like to explore.” “No problem, Master Sinclair.” The dwarf said in good humor. “I will leave you now.” “Good day, Governor Lokar.” Worthington bowed his head as he spoke. When the dwarf was gone, he turned to his small group, linking with Brandon even as Jamie linked with Carl. “Rob, why don’t you take the tower and begin casting the wards we showed you?” Jamie suggested, and the blond mage bowed his head before heading off. Rob wasn’t much for subtle magics, but he understood offense and defense and was quite capable there. From the tower, he would set defensive wards that would activate first in case of an attack, and he understood how to link them into the living life of the world around the building so they would not fade. He and Jamie had other work to do, and this work would stress their determination to remain separated identities. While Jamie and Carl took up a position on the third floor in the middle of the new building, Worthington made his way to the basement with Brandon right behind him. In the large, cavernous room lit by electrical overhead lights, Worthington took up a position directly beneath were Jamie stood several stories up. Working in tandem, they began to leech out the magic of the temporary wards set by the dwarves when they were building the place, and began to reset it with their own wards. The work would have gone much smoother and faster if they had thinned the barrier between them, but they didn’t do that. Instead, they worked in tandem as ordinary mages would work, and began to spin out powerful ward after powerful ward. By the time they were half done, Worthington was covered in sweat and nearly panting with the effort of the magic he had been casting. The first sets of wards were done though, and he leaned against Brandon for a moment. The shorter Channel was also covered in sweat, but he had a smile on his face as he looked around at the mat-covered basement. It would be a great workroom for practicing so many different types of magic, and a great room for practicing physical fighting as well. “I think even these dwarves will be impressed with that bit of spell casting,” Brandon said. “It must be full dark up there by now.” “I thought there would have been more ceremony than one lone dwarf, even if it was the Governor,” Worthington said as they climbed the stairs back up to the main level. “That was the ceremony.” Brandon snorted. “Only the most formal of dwarf ceremonies are really all that complicated. At twilight is how they measure the passing of days, not morning like us. We arrived right on time, took possession of the premises and did the first spellwork to make it our own. That’s more than enough ceremony for them.” “I hope you’re right.” Worthington sighed as they reached the main level where they waited another two minutes for Jamie to show up. “Rob quit about a half-hour ago and is in the kitchen trying to find some refreshments.” Jamie said with a smile. He was as sweaty as Worthington. “I think I’d like to clean up a bit. We should have brought a change in clothes. After the ride, and now this spellwork, these leathers are going to smell until they get cleaned.” “You’re right.” Worthington laughed. “I almost hate to say this, but weren’t the master bedrooms on the top floor?” “Great, I get to climb all these stairs again.” Jamie groaned. “You’d have thought that these great dwarves could have put some damn elevators in this place!” “You need the exercise.” Worthington teased his brother. “You’re starting to look a little flabby around the middle.” “There’s no fat here!” Jamie exclaimed as they began to climb the stairs. His jacket was open and he lifted his white t-shirt to show tight skin over his belly. “Just because I don’t have a six pack like you anymore doesn’t mean I’m flabby! You’re just jealous my belly looks normal, not like some damn sculpture!” “You wish.” Worthington snorted, even though that statement was too close to the truth. He was jealous, but because there was a difference between them where there had been none, and it had only been seven weeks! How different would they look when years had passed? “How are we going to assign rooms” Brandon asked as they reached the second floor and began to walk to the stairwell at the other end of the floor’s main hallway. This floor was obviously meant for business, with several offices and large areas in which cubicles could be set up for various clerks and administrators. Worthington could almost feel the gears moving in Brandon’s head as he examined office space and figured how many people he could fit in here for ‘Sinclair’ business. The rest of the official staff that ran the family business affairs would probably be based in Phoenix, out of the same building Worthington was now renting for the affairs of the Mage’s Council. “All the MRs will want a room here, you know?” “We put them on the fourth floor,” Jamie said with certainty as they began to climb to the third floor. “The third floor, it’s mostly family apartments and the like as well as the movie theater and game rooms.” “We should have a library,” Brandon noted sourly. “No house is complete without a real library with real books in it.” “Put one in the tower,” Worthington said with finality as they walked down the third-floor hallway to the next staircase. He understood why the dwarves had built it so that you couldn’t just go from one floor to the next. It made good defensive strategy attackers would have to fight hard to get up to the top floor and the most ‘protected’ of the building’s occupants. It was almost quaint, except they’d recently fought demons, and he couldn’t help but think at least a little about the defense of any place that he intended to call home at least part of the time. They finally reached the fifth floor and the rooms for Worthington and Jamie plus their immediate retinue. The stairs let them out onto the north side of the building, nearest the section that intersected with the tower. There were four rooms on the north end of the building, and all of them were bigger than the room Worthington had back in Scottsdale at his Aunt’s house. For each set of two rooms, there was a common bath the two rooms shared that was quite luxurious. The largest drawback that Worthington could see was that only the rooms on the east and west ends had any windows at all. “I think Rob would love to have one of these rooms,” Brandon said with a smile. “As for the others, well, I guess someone can come along and claim them eventually.” “There’s plenty of space in the building,” Jamie said softly. Along the eastern wall were several more rooms, all of them spacious and well furnished. Worthington and Jamie both understood these would be excellent rooms for…wives and children, and there was a large room in the middle that would be perfect for a nursery. On the south end of the building, they faced a large wall that took up well over a quarter of the floor space. There was a single door in the middle of the wall, and they opened it to find an impressive suite of rooms. This was obviously meant for the ‘master’ of the building, or ‘masters’ because they soon found that it had been prepared with more than one person in mind. The first room was a sitting room, complete with a large plasma television that would descend from the ceiling with a flicker of magic. A series of leather couches and love seats were arranged around a large fireplace. When it was lowered, the television would cover the mantle of the fireplace and be easily viewed from any of the couches. There were more rooms that led off from the sitting room, including a small dining room that could seat eight comfortably, or double as a conference room complete with wired speakerphones and more televisions. Then there were two small offices obviously meant for assistants and a small kitchenette that could be used to store snacks and prepare small meals if desired. Then they found the bedrooms. Behind the sitting room was a small hallway that had two other doors at either end. The door on the left was the first one they went into. The room was big, about twice the size of Worthington’s bedroom in Scottsdale, and had large French windows all along the southern and eastern walls. While it was dark outside now, during the day sunlight would stream in from them brightly. For now, great crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling. They were electrical, but it took a moment to figure that out because the light they gave off had the same quality of candlelight. Curtains of a silver-gray color were drawn back from each of the windows, and could be used to block out the outside light if it was desired. In the middle of the room was a large, oversized bed with curtains drawn back showing a rich dark green bed covering. In several places around the room were small couches or armchairs that could be used by a few people, or many, and there was a large fireplace in the wall that separated it from the bedroom on the other side. A fancy wood partition separated off a dressing area that led to a deep closet, and another similar partition separated out an office area that bordered on the eastern wall. “Wow,” Carl said with pleasure as he opened up a door set in the northeastern wall and it revealed another sleeping room that was a little smaller than some on the floor but richly appointed and with a large king-size bed of its own. “I think this was meant for me.” “What makes you think that?” Jamie asked with a little grin. “It’s got everything in blue and green in there, and those are my favorite colors.” Carl grinned back. He had grown about an inch in the last few months and was reaching that gangly stage of growth where his body was not quite adjusting to its new size. His blond hair was cut in a bowl-style, and he had a toothy grin that still showed childish delight in everything. “That would mean this was to be your room, right Jamie?” “I think so,” Brandon said as he picked up an envelope that was sitting on the desk in the office area and handed it to Jamie. Worthington looked over his brother’s shoulder and was amused by the fancy cursive script that flowed across the envelope. It was his full name, and he opened the envelope slowly before pulling out a piece of parchment, not paper. Adept Jameson Anthony Sinclair-Bradwell, I bid you fair greetings, brother, and pray that you will find these rooms acceptable for your use whenever you are at a residence in Clairsville. In honor of the great victory against the demons, I have ordered the production of clothing for you. It is bael-naedhras, or in your tongue, ‘woven metal’ and the rarest of dwarven clothing. I hope you will find them useful. I look forward to a long and profitable relationship between our peoples. Odras, King of Baldran-Don “I think you should go look at your bedroom, brother.” Jamie smiled as he read the note over one more time and his eyes began searching for the closets they’d seen earlier. Worthington nodded, and he left the room with Brandon in tow. Carl was already searching his own room for clothing or notes, and Jamie was lost in his new closet. The other room was slightly larger than Jamie’s but almost identical. There was even a similar side-bedroom that was obviously meant for Brandon, and had its own bed. On the desk in the office was another note from the dwarven king that said much the same as Jamie’s, although the language was a bit more flowery. While Brandon found the smallish bathroom attached to his room, Worthington found a large, luxurious bathroom in the wall near the fireplace that separated his bedroom from Jamie’s. The bathroom nearly took his breath away. The sink countertop was a light golden marble, and the double sink fixtures were solid gold. There was also a large shower that could probably fit five people comfortably, complete with a ring of showerheads in a variety of positions that looked absolutely heavenly. In the back corner of the bathroom was a large Jacuzzi tub big enough to hold four people comfortably. It was nearly forty minutes later before he left the shower behind and dried off using one of the large dark red towels that he’d found in a closet within the bathroom. When he went into the dressing area, he took in once again the beauty of the room. The French windows had curtains of a darker gray than Jamie’s, and the furniture was a darker wood as well, with his bed coverings and draperies in a dark red much like his towel. It wasn’t a color he’d necessarily have chosen himself, but he realized he did like it a lot. In his closet he soon found out what the dwarf king meant by ‘woven metal’. The shirts reminded him mostly of the tight Under Armor style workout shirts that football and baseball players wore. They were soft to the touch, almost sensual, but they had a strength to them that seemed powerful. Pulling out a dark gray shirt, he slipped it on and soon found that it felt like the shirts he saw the other jocks wear. It fit his form perfectly, but was far stronger than any cloth he’d ever worn before. Some experimentation showed that hitting it felt like hitting metal, and hurt. It also showed the shirt had some sort of padding effect as well that cushioned the blow much like his motorcycle-riding jacket did. Then there were the pants. In the closet, they looked like black leather, but he saw in the light of the room that they were made of a similar material as the shirt, except thicker. A quick search through the drawers proved that they held silk boxer-briefs, as well as bikini briefs, and he also found plenty of socks in there as well. Quickly he slipped on a set of the underwear and socks before pulling the tight pants on. They must have gotten his sizes from Brandon or his personal shopper because everything fit perfectly. When he spotted the boots in the closet, he smiled and tried them on as well. They were black boots that came up just over his ankle, and fit perfectly. When he walked around the room, looking into one of the several mirrors he nearly gasped at how good he looked. The shirt and pants showed off his body very well, and they glimmered as he moved, as if light was refracting off metal, and he really liked the effects. “Damn we’re going to have to find a way to repay him for these.” Jamie murmured from the doorway. He was dressed in a brown pair of leather pants that glimmered softly like Worthington’s, and a shirt of a much lighter gray. “I had clothes too!” Carl called excitedly as he came in the room, wearing a set of regular leather pants that were snug-fitting, and a white loose-fitting shirt with long sleeves that emphasized his lean frame in a way that made Worthington’s pants stir. Jamie frowned at him for a moment, but didn’t say anything. He’d never do something like that to Carl, or at least never again. It was just a normal reaction to the look of pure cute innocence in Carl at that moment. Brandon emerged from his own room, also with new clothes although they were not leather pants. His outfit was dark slacks, and a dark red shirt that fit his complexion perfectly. “The Governor should be back soon with that woman he wants you to meet.” Brandon reminded him, ever the perfect assistant keeping his boss on time. “Well, let’s not keep him waiting.” Worthington said and led the way out of the bedroom area and down the hallway. This place really was huge, and he wondered how many people he’d have to employ to keep it clean. The dwarves had certainly made sure he paid a lot of money for furnishing this place, but he realized it was worth every penny. He could almost hear the halls buzzing with activity as people went about doing his business, or the children he would have someday played in the nursery, and tried to slide down the banisters of the stairs without getting caught. There would be no long trips for him every day to conduct business. He could do it here, and then spend time in the tower working on magic, never far from home. Fifteen minutes later they were sitting in a small dining room off of the main dining hall. That hall was large enough to fit a few hundred people in it and seemed to be styled after a medieval concept of a Great Hall. It could be used for formal dinners, receptions, or any host of events that included a large gathering of people. The smaller room they were sitting in had a long table that could comfortably hold twenty-five people, although it was just Worthington, Jamie, Brandon, Carl, and Rob along with the dwarf Governor and the first female dwarf they had yet seen. She was shorter than Lokar, had only the faintest hint of a mustache above her upper lip, and her skin was a pale brown rather than the darker charcoal black or other darker colors he’d seen on many male dwarves. The dwarf woman had bowed when she was first introduced and had remained silent until they were seated in the room. It was then that she spoke, and Worthington found himself liking her from the first words out of her mouth. “You will of course wish me to use the proper dwarven title for my role in your house.” She said immediately. “That title is Mistress of the House. His Majesty has honored you with magnificent gifts I see, the clothing you are wearing. Only nobles of the highest blood may wear it, and the king only gives it to those humans considered to be of high blood. You are a Sinclair, so that fits, as well as your achievements. To honor the king, of course, you will run this household as a noble would, which means that you will want a household staff of at least fifteen, and that not all of them can be dwarves. Most definitely they cannot all be humans either. Never fear, I will be able to find an appropriate mix. “Of course all who work in the house, myself included will have to accept fealty binding to your house.” She continued with barely a pause for breath. “That cuts down the dwarves who would allow themselves to be bound to a human, but I know quite a few. Still, there are a few who will only accept such employment if it’s offered as a lifelong placement, excepting for malfeasance or similar, and retirement privileges. You will not wish to bother yourselves with the hiring, so I will take care of it for you. Before we give final approval to any of them, though, I will have them meet you so you can be the one who offers them their employment instead of it coming from me. It is you they will care for after all. Remember that, we care for you, not serve!” “We remember, my lady.” Jamie laughed. “Oh, simply Mistress will do, my lord.” She bowed her head, and Worthington almost thought she was blushing! “Or Housemistress is also a common form of address. You will, of course, wish to pay me at a rate showing the value of your home, so it will have to be more than most nobles pay their Mistress of the House, but most definitely less than that made by the King’s. I believe $93,500 US dollars will be appropriate in your currency. We shall need a household budget of $1 million per year to keep this place running properly, although if you are here more than a few times a week that may need to increase.” “We will discuss the specifics of the household budget later.” Brandon had said firmly, and she smiled at him. “Is this your aide, my lord?” She asked. “Yes,” Worthington answered with a chuckle. Yes, he had a feeling she’d make a fine Housemistress. “Good, I will finish the details with him.” She said firmly and then looked thoughtful. “That is if you wish to hire me?” “By all means, Housemistress.” Worthington smiled. “We could not imagine a more capable person to keep this house running properly.” “Oh my, such a fine young man.” She was blushing this time. “We will not have any problems at all!” She took Brandon with her at that point, bustling him towards the kitchen, and Worthington had sat back in the chair he was in and smiled. “A woman who knows what she wants.” “All dwarven women know what they want, and it is useless to try and negotiate with them.” Lokar snorted with amusement. “You may be assured though, that she will keep your household well-run and a credit to her name as well as yours. So long as you keep her happy, that is.” “I am afraid that seeing her angry will be worse than facing a Demon Lord again.” Worthington laughed, but he had a feeling that his words were accurate. “My King understands that next week is your birthday, sir,” Lokar said in a way that made it clear he’d changed the topic on purpose. “Will you be present here in your Hall?” “I have not made any definitive plans,” Worthington admitted. “It is…a day of mixed feelings for me.” “Ah yes, it was the day your family was murdered a year ago.” The dwarf nodded. “It must be difficult for you.” “Actually, their dying was the best thing to ever happen to me.” Worthington snorted. “Still, it might appear unseemly for me to celebrate anything on that day.” “Then what better place to spend it than in your own Hall?” Lokar asked. “You can celebrate quietly, with those who know you and understand that it is not necessarily the black day it would be for others. His Majesty would like to attend if you are willing and doing something here.” “Then, by all means, assure him he is welcome, and we will be having a small celebration,” Worthington said quickly. He really did want to meet the dwarf king. “I have brought some refreshment, my lord.” Sapha said as she reentered the room, bearing a tray full of tall mugs. She served Worthington first, followed by Jamie, and then Governor Lokar before she sat a mug of what looked like milk in front of Carl, who sniffed at it and frowned. Worthington’s held strong coffee fixed just the way he liked it best. “Your aide did inform me you have not yet had supper. If you will be patient with me, I will have some food prepared in less than an hour while he and I finish our discussions.” “That will be fine, Housemistress,” Worthington said, and she blushed again. “Oh, I do love hearing that title used for me!” She gushed as she bobbed again before taking the tray out of the kitchen. He made a mental note to always use that title with her. “I have not seen her so happy since the day I married her sister.” Lokar chuckled. “Maybe now she will settle down. I have several of my best men who have been after her hand in marriage, and she does not make a choice! It will be good not to have to keep them apart from each other.” “Won’t it cause problems when she picks one and not the others?” Carl asked with real curiosity on his angelic face. “Lad, dwarf women are rare indeed.” Lokar rumbled in deep laughter. “Only those of noble blood get the honor of being married to a dwarf woman without a co-husband. As the Mistress of your House, she will be of sufficient rank that she will only need to take two or three co-husbands. Both of my best men who are interested in her get along well enough to be married with her together. I am blessed that I only share my wife with one other co-husband. It is a sign of great prestige among my people.” “Interesting.” Jamie laughed, and Worthington smiled ever so slightly. “Wow,” Carl said with wide eyes as he sipped his milk. “I have a feeling that there are a lot of customs among your people we will be learning in the days ahead,” Worthington said calmly. “There is that, Adept.” The dwarf laughed. “We will all be learning new customs in the days ahead. My liege has asked me to begin discussing with you the ideas that he holds in his heart.” “What ideas are those, governor?” Worthington asked as he sipped at the coffee. “Lad, are you not surprised at the number of dwarves I mentioned being here?” Lokar said with passion. “Before we approached you, how many dwarves did you think existed?” “I have never given that much thought,” Worthington admitted. “The legends say that the dwarves were few in number when they went west from the old world.” “That they were, but we have been here for centuries now, biding our time and reproducing.” Lokar chuckled. “With many co-husbands, our women often pop out a dozen babes before they grow past their years of fertility. Once, when we first started the halls of Baldron-Don, there were just a few hundred of our kind left. Humans, the ones you call mundanes, disease, and the Demon Wars took many lives from our people. As humans expanded into the west, we retreated back into our halls and hid lest the mundane humans find us and begin once again their pogroms against our kind. All magical beings like us did this, even our Light cousins, and the Elves, and Ogres and Kobolds. Now though our populations have grown so much that we are rubbing elbows everywhere we turn around.” “You speak as if the different races all live together.” Jamie frowned as he spoke. “We live near each other, in the mountains that run from the places you call Idaho and Colorado down into this area.” Lokar nodded. “We have even begun to heal the differences between those of us you call Light and Dark, although we do not subscribe to many of the same beliefs you humans seem to believe in. There have even been two marriages of the different races, and children produced! The elves still argue and fight but now it is formalized. When it gets too much between them they call duel arcane and fight until one is defeated instead of to the death, or in open warfare. All of our people are flourishing, and growing, and where we live is becoming too crowded to hold all of us in such near proximity.” “Dwarves prefer to live underground,” Jamie said with a frown. “But you’re building houses here.” “Dwarves will live in the caves and homes being carved into the rock and underground.” Lokar nodded at Jamie with approval. “The homes are for others. Elves and Ogres, brownies and pixies, and even some of the Halflings are choosing to come here, to see if this vision of our King will work.” “What vision is that?” Worthington asked. “Can’t you feel it, lad?” Lokar asked with a frown. “You are an Adept or will be one once you are full-grown. The world of magic is growing strong again, strong as it has not been since the days of yore when the races of magic lived amongst the races of man, and your mages protected all from harm. Magical races, and creatures are growing in such numbers that they can no longer remain hidden. This outpost here, this village will be the first of many, where magical beings relearn what it is like to live with humans, and humans remember us, and live with us.” That shook Worthington to the core, on many levels, and try as he might, he had to admit he’d felt the winds of change the dwarf talked about. The only thing he could think about was how the mages he knew would not be happy and would disagree mightily. What was he to do about it, though, and who gave him any authority at all to be the one to decide anything?
  2. dkstories

    Chapter 1

    It was a scan of a good, color picture from a newspaper. The caption below the picture mentioned that Worthington Michael Sinclair, V, was the sole heir to the Sinclair fortune and had miraculously survived the accident that took nearly all of his family. In the picture, he was wearing that dark suit at one of the many funerals that had taken nearly a week, and there was a bored expression on his face rather than one of grief or any other emotion. Cold Hearted Killer? That was something new, printed above the picture in large, bold, italicized font. The whole thing was packaged all nice and neat on a webpage and being circulated around the e-mail network of students that he now attended school with. Brandon had forwarded it to him after one of the potential recruits for Mike’s Riders, the motorcycle gang that he rode with, had received a copy. I look so pale. That was the only thought that Worthington was able to summon up at the sight of the picture. The Worthington in the photograph had been a totally different person, mentally as well as physically. A year ago he had been pale, very slender, almost effete is how he’d say it now. In the present time, he was taller, much more muscular, and his skin was a healthy tanned bronze while his hair was several shades lighter, almost platinum blond and cut into a crew cut instead of the carefully gelled hairstyle he’d worn back then. There were other changes though, much more than the obvious physical ones. Changes that were far more profound than a new tan, or shorter hair, or a physique many would kill for (and he spent a few hours on every other day). A year ago, the Worthington in that picture had been half of a person, mentally. His mind had been split into two by a geas put on him by his untrusting father. The Sinclairs rarely trusted anyone they could not control through money, blackmail, magic, or all of the above. Even as a child, Worthington had been powerful, and influenced early on by a female mage that his Uncle, a sworn enemy of his father, had sent as an agent. Her job had been to make him ‘weak’ by teaching him what it was like to love and be loved. All Sinclairs viewed that as a weakness, and when his father discovered her work, he’d not only killed her immediately but began a series of spells on his son that would, after the death of the father, end up splitting Worthington the Fifth’s psyche into two personalities. The struggle to merge the two had been painful, and costly, not only to Worthington but to his half-brother Jamie as well. For most of his life, Worthington had lived a dual existence. Most of the time he was one person, a spoiled only child of a rich, powerful family that wielded great influence in a variety of arenas. He attended a boarding school and spent very little time in the company of his parents, and he was gay. Not openly gay, but from a relatively young age he’d been sexually active and sought all sorts of physical activities with other guys whenever and wherever he could. Not that he would ever be open about his sexuality. No, he planned to get married, have children, and still have his fun without anyone being the wiser about what he truly preferred in his bed. The rest of his life was the secret part, the part that overshadowed everything else and caused the real problems after the death of his parents in a freak lightning storm he now knew to have been an attack by his Uncle. Almost every night during the times when he was home, his father or his mother would come, lift the spells that kept him under tight control, and he would remember all of his life and would remember about magic. Then they would teach him his family heritage as well as magic before the geas descended again on him and he went about his life believing he’d had no real contact with uncaring parents. At school, where magic was taught at night as an adjunct to the regular lessons of the privileged offspring of the elite, the geas would again be lifted, and he would learn more magic. Those lessons had taught him much, and he was a good pupil when his mind was allowed the necessary freedom. By fourteen he had mastered magic that would leave those of lesser ability fumbling, and by the time of his parents’ death, he was bordering on achieving even greater ability in the realm of magic. Magic was the Great Secret. All those who were born into families of mages were taught to keep it secret from mundanes, humans without magical ability. If mundanes, and their government, ever truly understood the powerful machinations that were possible with magic, no mage would be truly safe or allowed their own life free of tight controls and supervision. Most mages followed one of two paths: the Light and the Dark. Worthington’s family, and the families of all those he attended school with and went with to the secret magic lessons at night followed the Dark path. Some might call the Dark path evil, but he understood the difference between Dark and evil. Certainly the Dark was a path easier for an evil person to follow, to use, and to wield without fear. His aunt from this mother’s side had rejected the Dark and left it, and her family for her Light-following lesbian lover long before Worthington was born. After the death of his parents, she was the only living family member left besides his Uncle, the man who had killed all of the others, and Worthington had been given into her custody. From them, he had learned more about the Light path, and come to understand it far more than most Dark mages. There were many similarities between the two paths. Both were about the exercise of control. Light and Dark taught mages to control their mage abilities, and from there to control the world around them. In both paths, mages were taught to protect the Great Secret, to keep magic from the uncontrolled knowledge of mundanes. Many spells between the two were very similar as well, accomplishing the same ends by slightly different means. Except for certain higher-level spells, a Dark mage could even learn many Light spells, and the opposite was true as well. He knew from personal experience casting the Light version of a spell he’d learned from the Dark path was more difficult, but could be done. The differences though were vast gulfs, a real divide as large as the famed Grand Canyon in Arizona, as deep as the Marianas Trench, the deepest part of any ocean in the world. There was always a price for power, and for those who followed the Dark, it was about making sure someone else paid the price. The more powerful a Dark spell, the more necessary it was for another person to pay the price. When a Dark mage as powerful as Worthington sought to work with a Channel like dark-haired, boyish-looking Brandon, it was the Channel that paid the price by being soul-bound to Worthington. Certainly, Worthington paid some price in the soul bonding, else Brandon would have received nothing from the spell at all, but what he paid was far less than the soul-deep changes that had occurred in Brandon. Whether it was a bit of magic, a bit of blood, pain or anything else, the Dark taught its mages to make someone else pay the price for the power it gave. The Light, on the other hand, valued the sacrifice of its own mages. When blood was required for Light magic, a Light mage gave his own blood. When pain was necessary, they gave their own pain. That was why Jamie had sacrificed his virginity to save Worthington when the geas-created part of his psyche almost won their internal battle. Jamie’s sacrifice had cost him the path of the Light, but had brought about Worthington as he was today, neither Light nor wholly Dark, but rather one of the few who walked between the two paths: A Gray Mage. Jamie now walked that path with him, both searching out a way for himself when everyone said there were only two paths. They learned Dark magic from Byron Jones, a teacher at Worthington’s former school, and it was from him they’d learned the joining spell, the spell that was now the reason that Worthington felt so alone, and kept jabbing at the barrier in his mind like someone using their tongue to poke at a sore, loose tooth. The picture in front of him was no real concern to him or the way it was spreading around the high school he now attended with his brother, Jamie, as well as many other people in his life. None of them, none of the important people in his life would believe the thrust of the message, that he had killed his family in a bid for money and power. Whoever was doing it was jealous, and seeking to demean him. It could be anyone, really, and would at worst be a distraction from the real problems he was facing. “You okay?” Brandon’s voice came from the doorway to his room, and Worthington turned to look at the short, dark-haired young man who was soul-bound to him. While they were both sixteen, bordering on seventeen, Brandon often looked several years younger but acted at least a decade older. In addition to going to school himself, studying magic and helping another young Channel named Carl, Brandon acted as his personal assistant, taking care of any number of confusing details for him. “Yeah, let’s just ignore it for now,” Worthington said with a sigh as Brandon nodded while coming into the room, shutting the door behind him. “I’ve received confirmation from the dwarves,” Brandon said with a sigh. “Today is on for sure.” “Well, it’s about time,” Worthington growled He was glad for something that would take his mind off the problem that occupied most of his thoughts these days. They should have known the joining spell would have serious side effects for them. In his way, Byron Jones had warned them before they did it the first time, but they had not heeded his warning as about them. The man had not known they were related as closely as they were, or he would have never taught them the spell. Most of the world knew them as cousins through their mothers. Jamie’s biological mother was Elizabeth, the younger sister of Worthington’s own mother. A lesbian, Elizabeth had conceived Jamie from the same fertility clinic that had impregnated her partner years earlier. That birth had been their oldest son Richie. She thought sperm from the same donor as Richie’s biological father was fertilizing her child. Worthington Michael Sinclair the Fourth had other ideas though. He wanted a backup heir no one knew about in case his then-unborn son had not lived or failed to pass muster. With his money, it was easy to pay the fertility clinic to use his sperm for Elizabeth’s child, and he’d gotten two sons, born just a few weeks apart when his wife delivered a full week late and Elizabeth two weeks early. Worthington the Fifth and Jamie Bradwell were officially known as cousins, which was correct from their mother’s side, but they were also half-brothers sharing the same father. It was a level of relationship so close that it was normally forbidden for them to conduct the joining spell more than once. From Byron Jones’s explanation that day they had thought it was just usual Dark path nonsense where brothers would never trust each other. Most Dark path brothers kept each other at arm's length even if they did not openly feud as did Worthington’s father and Uncle. It was to their dismay that they now knew the prohibition on brothers performing the spell was about more than typical Dark path paranoia. “They will expect us at twilight.” Brandon continued with a smile. He had a right to smile. Worthington had let him deal mostly with the dwarves and Brandon had managed to pull off quite a few concessions from a race largely regarded as the toughest negotiators in existence. “We’ll be there,” Worthington assured him. It would not do to be late, or early, not after all the mess Brandon had gone through, albeit he had been backed by the long years of experience from Randall Smythe, Worthington’s father’s attorney. “Stop picking at it,” Brandon said with a hint of disgust. He hated that Worthington had made him watch for certain signs of behavior. Brandon hated anything that was critical of Worthington. “Shut up.” Worthington snapped irritably. “Crap, I’m sorry Brandon. You’re just doing what I told you to do.” “It’s okay.” Brandon shook his head sadly. “If trying to ignore it doesn’t work, maybe we should talk about it? We haven’t tried that yet.” “He’s having fun right now.” Worthington frowned. He owed Brandon a lot, and not just for the way he was doing a grown man’s job while only being sixteen. The longer this went on, Worthington was finding that Brandon was more than just a kid from a poor, abused background that had latched onto him for safety and protection. “I can feel the joy inside of him right now, whatever he’s doing.” “Jamie’s out in the pool with Richie, Billie, Josh, Colin, and Carl.” Brandon shrugged. “I don’t need to be bound tightly to him to know he’s out there having fun. I can look out your window and see it.” “I know.” Worthington frowned again. “Why are you in here staring at that stupid message instead of out there with him?” Brandon asked. “They’re his people, not mine.” Worthington’s voice was caustic. He could remember parts of Jamie’s childhood still as if it had been his own. It felt like Richie was his brother too, at times, and that he’d known Billie all his life as his brother’s best friend. “We’re not supposed to mix things like that anymore. Jones says we must slowly split apart what has been joined, including the memories. We’ve been working on it bit by bit, but it takes time to split them apart and separate them back into where they were supposed to be.” “Why is that?” Brandon asked with real curiosity. “I mean, I’ve never really understood what was going on besides the fact that the joining spell was creating a new consciousness inside of you and Jamie.” “You were there when Housemaster Jones explained it to us.” Worthington frowned at the memory. It had been that day after the battle with the Demon Lord, the day when they’d gone swimming together, the last time they’d truly been close to each other. It was a bitter memory for Worthington. “That was at the meeting at the hotel downtown.” Brandon nodded. “We were on the other side of the room, though, with the people that Jones brought with him. He was only talking to you and Jamie, and we thought the two of you were going to blast him apart from the expressions on your face. Afterward you told me the basics, but that was it.” “Well, you got the basics of the explanation,” Worthington said bitterly. “In people as closely related as Jamie and I, the spell has severe side effects if it is used more than once.” “But why?” Brandon asked. “I mean, it doesn’t make all that much sense why the magic would do this.” “It’s an unusual Dark spell, which is one reason why it’s not very popular.” Worthington sighed as he tried to structure his explanation in a way that Brandon could understand. “You understand that with most Dark spells it takes power from the caster, and some other price from another person.” “That’s why some people think of Dark as being evil.” Brandon nodded. “Like when you soul-bonded me, it required pain and blood. Most of it was my pain, and my blood, mixed with a single drop of blood from you.” “Right.” Worthington nodded without any other reaction to the memory that called up. He’d been under the control of his father’s geas when he did that, and would not do it now, or at least that’s what he kept telling himself. “The joining spell is a little different. Two mages have to cast it equally, and it takes from both equally. Normally it mixes them together in a truly equal joining so that as long as the spell lasts, they are one. It was made to allow Dark mages who needed to work together to do it without having to worry the other Dark mage was about to stab them in the back and make them pay the whole price for whatever they were doing together. “Part of the side-effect of the spell is that even afterward the two people are slightly mixed together.” Worthington continued his explanation. “A little of their DNA mix together. If they’re already related, it brings them closer together. If they’re very closely related it does something else.” “Like what it did to you and Jamie, making it appear like you two are twins.” Brandon nodded in understanding. “That’s too simplistic.” Worthington frowned. “We thought it was just mixing our DNA together, making us like twins but it was doing more than that, much more that. If we had only done it the once, that is all that might have happened, but we did it more times, far too many times. It didn’t just mix our DNA together; it combined them and made us into a new person, a combination of who we were genetically before. We’re both taller than we should be, and our bodies are much different than they were. That’s the spell, and the Dark at work. It did more things as well.” “The consciousness,” Brandon said softly. “Yes, that is the true danger of the spell,” Worthington said. “It’s the Dark’s true price for it. The more we used it, the more a consciousness formed between Jamie and I. This thing, it took our minds and began to meld us together, like someone taking two different shirts and sewing them together to make a new shirt. First, it changed us physically, and then it started changing us mentally. We didn’t even really notice it happening, just thought it was the way things were supposed to be until Byron Jones pointed out what was happening. If we don’t stop it, the consciousness will succeed in melding us into one being with two bodies, and Jamie and I will cease to exist as individuals.” “And it is a creature of the Dark, right?” Brandon asked. “It is the purest form of Dark there could be.” Worthington shuddered. “The Dark formed it inside us, and it is totally dedicated to the Dark. The first phase of undoing this has been hard. We’ve had to keep this barrier up between our minds so that we can’t see through each other’s eyes, know each other’s thoughts. It’s kind of like walking around with one arm and one leg missing. Everything’s off-balance, incomplete.” “But it’s not as bad as it was at first, right?” Brandon asked, and Worthington took a deep breath before exhaling it slowly. “No, it’s not as bad.” He admitted. “I miss it still, though.” “What’s next?” Brandon asked. “I mean, I know you’re working with Housemaster Jones to find an Adept who will help.” “We’ve already started the next phase.” Worthington sighed. “The first phase was about keeping the barriers up in our mind, our minds. We also had to keep physically separated. No more sleeping in each other’s bed, no more sex, no more doing everything together. The next phase has to deal with our memories.” “That’s what I don’t understand,” Brandon admitted. “The consciousness was taking our memories, and weaving them together.” Worthington tried to explain. “It was like we had both lived each other’s childhood. I could remember my tenth birthday party, and my father raping me later that night, and I could remember the red bike that Mom got me, and the look of pure jealousy on Richie’s face when he saw it. They weren’t Jamie’s memories or my memories, they were all our memories, together as if we had just been one creature born and living in two separate bodies. Now we have to find these memories, one by one, and rip out the seams so that they are two separate memories. I have to remember that it was Jamie’s bike, not mine, and he has to remember that he never had a father who did those things to him.” “But why don’t you just erase the memories that aren’t yours?” Brandon asked. “We can’t,” Worthington said irritably. That was what he’d wanted to do. He’d had enough experience with losing control of his mind to another identity within him. As much as he loved Jamie, and he cared about Jamie with all his heart, and as much as he had loved the feeling of them being together, being one, he didn’t want to lose control over his mind to another entity altogether. Both of them had paid too high a price for what he was now to lose it to a new entity brought about by the Dark. “The consciousness, the Sinclair as it thinks of itself has woven those memories into our being too tightly. At this point, we can’t get rid of them altogether without pulling out the roots of our own memories at the same. It’s like two trees that have grown so close together that their roots and trunks are entangled. The best we can do is separate the trunks, and mark the roots in such a way that we know which roots are mine, and which are his.” “I think I understand.” Brandon frowned. “When will all this be done?” “Months, or more,” Worthington said with a sigh. “There’s more down the road we have to do, some of which will require help from an Adept, which you know we’re trying to get.” “They all want a lot of money.” Brandon frowned. “Well, money’s one thing I don’t have to worry about.” Worthington grinned, hoping to change the mood, lighten it a little. “That’s for sure.” Brandon snorted. “You’d be hard pressed to spend all the money you make in a week, and that’s just from letting your investments sit.” “I have no interest in all that business stuff my dad did,” Worthington admitted. He wasn’t his father on many levels, no matter the man’s attempts to mold him into what the man wanted him to become. To his father, magic had been another tool in his arsenal for business domination. For Worthington though, magic was so much more. Part of that was because Worthington was more powerful than his father ever had been, more powerful than any Sinclair male in generations. Worthington had enough power that one day he would be a full Adept, the most powerful and skilled of mages. Already he bordered on Adept status. Certainly he was powerful enough without the added power that he could summon through his link with Brandon. The soul-bond between them allowed Worthington access to all of Brandon’s magical resources, and the boy was a Channel, one of the rarest types of mages. A Channel had very little inborn ability with magic but could tap into massive reserves that they could not use. Instead, they could link with a mage and provide that mage with all that extra power. It nearly doubled Worthington’s power to be able to do that, and since Brandon was soul-bound to him, only he could tap Brandon’s power. Being an Adept was about more than power, which was why Worthington and Jamie were not quite Adepts yet. It required a great amount of skill and practice with magic, something that could only come with time, and it was about creativity, the ability to create new forms of magic, new spells. There Jamie had outperformed him until their joining spell had merged them so much more closely. The Dark had also increased their power a bit, made them both a little stronger in anticipation of the Dark being that would emerge when the joining had been completed, and they had lost their individuality. Now they were even in power, just as they looked exactly the same physically. Worthington had found he was more creative with magic, and Jamie had found he had more skills than previously. The major difference between them was that Worthington had a soul-bound Channel. Jamie had access to a Channel in the form of Carl, the now-fourteen-year-old young man who had been a former student at the same boarding school Worthington and Brandon had attended. Unlike Brandon though, Carl had rejected the idea of being soul-bound to a more powerful mage and had been kicked out of the school, but not before being punished. His punishment had included being raped by geas-bound Worthington and his memory of that event controlled so that he would always remember it but be unable to tell anyone. When Worthington had been going through the process of integrating his geas-bound identity with that of Michael, the identity that had really taken root only after coming to Phoenix, he had freed Carl from the controls he had placed on the boy. Worthington’s Uncle, the televangelist-mage who had killed all of Worthington’s family except for Aunt Elizabeth, had found Carl and used a Sinclair-family secret technique to force the boy to do his bidding. Then he’d set Carl as a spy on Worthington by moving him to Phoenix. Worthington and Jamie had found the boy, figured out what had been done to him, and Jamie had freed Carl by using the same dark-technique to reset Carl’s loyalties. Now Carl was ‘adopted’ by Jamie in most ways, like a younger brother. He lived with Jamie, and his family didn’t even remember his existence. Carl was now pretty much a happy young man, eager to learn more about being a Channel and who helped Jamie whenever he could, but he was not soul-bound to Jamie. That meant Jamie could not necessarily use his power without Carl’s assistance like Worthington could do with Brandon, and it also meant that if he wished, Carl could link with and help any other mage. Measured in pure power alone, Carl and Brandon were about equal. The soul-bond though made Brandon and Worthington stronger together than Carl could be with any mage. Neither he nor Jamie minded though. The truth was neither would want to go through what it would take to soul-bind Carl to Jamie. The Dark consciousness did want that though, and it was one of the reasons Jamie was so much stronger than Worthington in resisting it. It knew that with two Channels soul-bonded to the two Adept parts of itself, no one would be able to stand against it regarding magical power. Not even if every Adept in the world banded together would they necessarily overcome it with its combined might at that point. For good or bad, Worthington was well on the way to becoming an Adept and would reach that status before too many more years had passed. Already he did many things only an Adept could do, and he understood that. He loved the world of magic, and while he also enjoyed things about the mundane world, he knew that the world of magic was where his heart lay. There was more to magic than mages, as he knew better than ever before. Dwarves were creatures of magic, and he was dealing with them over an abandoned mine he had bought to use as a meeting place with his mage-teachers. Now it was becoming more than that, and later tonight he would see what the dwarves had made of it. Even without seeing it, he had a sense that it would be an important place for him in the future, a place where the world of magic was stronger than any of the mundane residences he might call home. There were more than dwarves to the world of magic, he knew. It was only a few months ago that he had fought and defeated a Demon Lord, summoned from another dimension. There were more creatures in those other dimensions, some he knew of, most he didn’t. Then there were the creatures of magic who lived in this world, hidden from mundane sight in the mountains and wilderness that remained in the industrial world. Many of these creatures had fled the Old World with the finding of the Americas, and as humans followed, they had moved westward until they entered deep hiding in the few wildernesses left. If you knew where to look, you could find dwarves, elves, pixies, brownies, kobolds, ogres, trolls, and many other creatures out of human legend or fairy tales. The problem was knowing where to look. By and large, these creatures had lived the past few centuries with no overt contact with humans, even human mages. Sure, there had been occasional contacts, especially between the Light branches of races like elves and Light mages. Dwarves and other creatures had donned magical disguises and occasionally made forays into the human mundane world, but for the most part they kept to themselves, until now. It had been the Dark dwarves that had sought Worthington out, seeking to build a settlement amidst the old mine that Worthington had recently purchased. When some of the other magical creatures had found out about the settlement, they had nearly gone to war with the dwarves until an agreement had been reached. Then the dwarves had approached Worthington to reach an even bigger agreement. That had cost tens of millions of dollars, mostly because of the speed with which he had to work. The deal could not take years to complete as many land deals took. He had less than a month to do it, and his father’s attorney Randall Smythe had his work cut out for him. Still, the purchases had been made, and while the final paperwork would not be done for another month, the dwarves had taken it as completed and begun fulfilling their part of the bargains. This was the world Worthington wanted to live in, the world of magic. He would go to school, university, and would learn enough that he could keep abreast of the mundane world but it was the magic world that would hold his attention. Worthington wanted to study magic, and creatures of magic. He wanted to explore the other planes of existence and learn the creatures that dwelt there. There was a change coming, a change he could feel deep in his bones, and he knew that whatever form that change took, it would be best for him to know all he could of the world of magic. “You need to do something fun.” Brandon broke the silence that had filled the room while Worthington ruminated on his future and his past. “Why don’t you go swimming? You know that just because they’re friends with Jamie, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you too.” “It’s not that.” Worthington frowned. “Jamie’s there, and we’re supposed to avoid unnecessary contact. Do you think we could, being in a pool together? That’s a little bit too much.” “I’d say go see Jeremy, but he’s still in Florida.” Brandon frowned and frowned even more at the look of hurt that crossed Worthington’s face. That was another sore point for him. Jeremy was Worthington’s mundane lover. They’d met on the wrestling squad, and he’d fallen for Jeremy big time. It had been Jeremy the Demon Lord had sought to use as a tool against Worthington, and after Jeremy’s home had been destroyed in the battle, Worthington had arranged for his family to receive a new home as a ‘donation.’ The new home was just a few blocks away, and the family had received a two-week vacation to Disney World for free. What was more, Worthington had nothing to do with it. It had come as a gift for families of the trailer park that had been dislocated because of the ‘freak storm’ that had destroyed their homes. That was the cover story used to keep the real reason, a magic battle between mages and demons, from public knowledge. Even before the joining spell, Jamie and Worthington had been growing closer and had an odd three-way relationship with Jeremy, who seemed to love them both. The mundane didn’t really understand what was going on now, and why the both wouldn’t be in bed with him at the same time. It had put a strain on their relationships, with Jeremy refusing to make any sort of choice between the two men he loved. Until their relationship was resolved, Jeremy would be their friend but nothing more. “Yeah, well maybe it’s for the best that he’s not around.” Worthington sighed, and Brandon winced at the pain in his voice. “What about Barry?” Brandon asked after another long silence. “He hasn’t left for college yet, and he’s not doing anything today that I know about. Why don’t you call him and see if he wants to do something, like go for a ride.” “It’s a hundred and fifteen out there.” Worthington snorted. “Then ride up north.” Brandon retorted. “It gets cooler just an hour or two up north.” “Fine,” Worthington said with a sigh, and Brandon was smiling as he left the room. A quick phone call revealed that Barry was as bored as Worthington, and thought a ride would be a great idea, as long as they got out of the heat. It only took Worthington fifteen minutes to change out of the shorts and t-shirt he wore and squeeze into the riding leathers he liked to wear when riding. The black leather pants were well padded and had everything he needed to survive a wreck on a speeding motorcycle. A black t-shirt went on underneath the black and yellow leather-riding jacket, and he headed out his bedroom door. One of the nice things about being a mage was that he could leave a mental message with Brandon about where he was heading. His Aunt Elizabeth and her partner Stacy were sticklers for making sure they knew where he was. Until he turned eighteen, they made it clear he would always keep them informed of his comings and going. He couldn’t complain about that too much. His real parents hadn’t cared much beyond his use to them as an heir, and that he did not disrupt their plans for the future. He knew without a shadow of a doubt that Stacy and Elizabeth cared for him as a person as if he was as much one of their children as Richie or Jamie. That thought warmed him inside and made their restrictions chafe less than they might have otherwise. Phoenix summer heat hit him as soon as he entered the garage. Unlike the house, it was not cooled by air conditioning and was sweltering in the early afternoon heat. Wearing heavy leathers didn’t help the heat, and he was sweating by the time he opened the door and wheeled his bike outside. This bike was another custom bike, built to replace the ones he had wrecked fighting demons. The top-of-the-line Ducati he’d bought as a temporary bike was now Rob’s personal machine. A tall, sandy-blond haired wrestler, and a mage, Rob was currently at lessons with the teacher-mage that Worthington had hired months ago. The bike roared to life, and Worthington put on his helmet, being careful to jack in the helmet’s radio to the bike’s power system. It wasn’t necessary, except that Brandon had gone to a lot of trouble to find a system that would work. Spread around the valley were several radio relays for the frequency these helmet radios used. The power amplifier Brandon had arranged to be installed on the bike of the members of the MR gang boosted the signal enough so they could talk to each other from anywhere in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area. Towards the end of the fight with the demons, Worthington had formed a Mage Council with the predominantly Light mages that lived in the area. It was the first mage government of any kind, anywhere in the world, for the last several centuries. Not since the Demon Wars that had toppled the Mage Lord Sinclair had mages willingly come together in any form of government. The Council existed for the specific purpose of defending the area’s mages from attack by outsiders, and if all parties requested it, to arbitrate disputes between mages. So far they had only had to deal with the demons, and no requests for arbitration had been made. As the only Adepts, even if only in potential, he and Jamie had been named as heads of the Council, rotating the actual chair position between them each year. Worthington held it the first year and had spent many days of the last few months working with the Council to establish how they would operate. The group of young motorcycle riders that had aided in their defenses during the demon attacks had been the first real bone of contention between him and the Light mages of the Council. Once the demon threat was over, they had wanted to wipe the memories of all the human riders. These young men had risked their lives and spent a lot of time riding patrols that had protected mages. They had expressed a fervent loyalty to Worthington that had surprised him and found an answering loyalty in him. Yes, he paid them for their work, but they had taken the motorcycle ‘gang’ that had really been a loose affiliation before and named it Mike’s Riders. Most of them knew him as Mike, or Michael because when he first started attending school and met them, he had been going by that name. It was the identity that had led him to reject his family’s geas and forge a different path as a mage than they had expected of him. Eventually, a compromise had been reached when he’d explained his plans for continuing to use Mike’s Riders as a part of the area’s defenses. It had taken nearly a month of work, but he had managed to alter the anklets that he’d given the gang to warn of nearby demons and to provide them some limited protection from the evil creatures. Reluctantly the Mage Council had agreed to his compromise and accepted the help of the human riders. The anklets were still protection from demons and many other forms of magical creatures. They were even a limited form of protection against mages. Any mage attempting to tamper with the wearer of the anklet would receive a nasty surprise, and a warning set there by Worthington. Further, as long as the wearer was in the Phoenix area, Worthington would know of the tampering. If it occurred while the wearer was outside the area, he would know next time he stood near the human rider. All of them understood that the silver anklet was part of their protection and their status as a member of Mike’s Riders. So long as they wore it, they were part of the group, and their memories of magic were largely intact, although they could not speak of magic to anyone who wasn’t a mage, or of Mike’s Rider’s either. If they ever removed the anklet, or it was removed from them, one last spell would wipe their memories of anything to do with magic. If they wanted to leave the group, they knew it would be better for them to come to Worthington and tell him. When he wiped their memories, the whole experience would be a lot cleaner and less painful than just taking the anklet off. With that condition though, the Mages Council had agreed to not having to wipe them immediately, and that had been Worthington’s goal. All thoughts and concerns slid from his mind as he got on his bike and roared down the street. It was hot outside, but it faded to comfortable warmth as he accelerated and the wind pushed against him. By he reached the freeway, he had even stopped picking at that barrier in his mind, and rather just enjoyed the feeling of being free on the motorcycle, with nothing between him and painful death but his reactions and skill. “Mike’s on the road.” He said as he pushed the transmit button on his handlebar. Even he could hear the simple joy in his voice. Life may have thrown him a lot of problems, but for now, they were behind him, and the open road was in front of him. If Barry were going to join him on the ride, he’d have to hurry. Life was too short for him to wait around.
  3. dkstories

    Final Chapter

    Well, after the Israeli incident, the history books pretty much tell the story from there. President Jacobs died in a nuclear blast, my brother and I helped usher in the Great Republic of God, and then twenty years later we helped overthrow that same government. I hope that the future brings you more joy. For now I'll end my life in bed, with the man I love.
  4. dkstories

    Keeping Secrets and Telling Lies

    Note to Readers: A common saying of those days was that 'history would judge the rightness of our actions'. I've got news for you: History judges nothing. It simply is. What humans judge is what they know of past events, and as you are discovering, you rarely know the truth of history. People spend their entire lives studying the past, trying to answer the same questions that religious scholars try to answer. Where do we come from? What made us who we are today? Surprise. The answer is rarely found in a history book, and only those who were there could ever give you an honest answer to those questions, and most of the time you won't like the answers. History is a lie, but that's okay, because without little white lies, our lives would be far more uncomfortable than they are now. The x-ray the Israeli doctor was holding held incontrovertible proof that the silly idea by Dr. Jeffries back at the school wasn't so silly after all. About six months ago, the school had moved studies of our gifts into where they touched on the physical as well as the mental. All of our bonded had noted several things, including increased stamina, overall general health, and some increase in healing rates from minor injuries. Amongst the gifted, these things were even more pronounced, especially the healing aspects. Testing had revealed minor cuts healed at a rate about three times normal among the bonded, and about eight times normal among the gifted. A few broken arms (really accidental), and a bad case of the flu revealed that the healing rates held up to previous expectations, although the more serious the injury or illness, the more drained and exhausted the gifted became, and the bonded men and women required more physical contact with their bonded. For the bonded, and gifted, it was reasoned that the powers of the gifted was directly involved in the speedy healing, and that it had to be recharged in the bonded. That was the basis for their need of contact with us. The bonding created a connection, and set a part of our power inside of them that held them to us. Over time, that power faded and was recharged by physical contact with their gifted. Injuries, like those Martin Carrolls had suffered in the bomb attack that had killed Jennifer and Thoreau would require more constant contact with me or he'd suffer the dementia, paranoia, depression, and eventual suicide that accompanied the draining of our power within the bonded. Dr. Jeffries, the medical researcher who was assigned to the school for the gifted we'd founded had theorized that when someone was bonded to us, the power established a defense mechanism that prevented the person from ever breaking loose from the bond. If the level of power within them ever dropped to a low enough level, the bond could theoretically be broken, so as the level of power within a person dropped lower, they're mental stability decreased, and they would die before reaching the point that the person could break free of the bond. Ever the scientist, Dr. Jeffries had suggested a study to determine just how low the levels went before they reached that point, and to see if a bonded subject would simply die of heart failure or brain failure before the bond could be broken. Henry, Tim and I, the only gifted with bonded at this time had refused the study immediately. His suggestion of using a convicted murderer or someone similar was still being evaluated. The energetic, and brilliant, Dr. Jeffries had also theorized that the healing abilities could possibly extend to the regeneration of lost limbs or organs. None of the gifted ever had their tonsils out, or other problems like spleens being removed until now, and no one had volunteered for a finger to be chopped off or similar procedure. The x-ray the Israeli doctor was now holding and staring at was proof that maybe Jeffries had been very right. He'd be very happy, so long as this didn't result in full exposure. Of course, Henry was here, and he was thinking much faster and better than I was. "May I take a look at that?" Henry said as he rose from his seat. The doctor nodded and Henry took hold of the x-ray, his fingers brushing against the doctor's. "Who else have you told about this?" "I haven't really told anyone, yet." The silver-haired doctor said slowly. "The x-ray technician saw it and remarked that she thought there might have been a mistake with the x-ray. Doctor Zalekas thought it might be some surgical gauze we used during the surgery, or some type of contaminant from when the x-ray was taken." "In all likelihood, both of them were correct that it was just a smudge or other problem with the x-ray." Henry said aloud, and I noticed the Doctor's head nod slightly. "I think if you'll take another x-ray you'll look at the results and see that it's gone. The x-ray tech and Doctor Zalekas don't need to see the new x-ray either. It'd be a security breach. Once it's done, you probably should seal the copies, the negatives, and anything else about them and give them to Ms. Ellington so that she can give them to Dylan's doctor at home." "I think you might be right." The Israeli doctor said after looking at Henry for a moment. I was surprised at how easily Henry had done that. He was far smoother than I was at the subtle controls. "I'll have them redo the x-ray and I'll watch while the x-ray tech develops the images. As soon as we make sure the x-ray is clear, we'll seal them up and give them to your Chief of Staff. Does that sound good to you, Mr. Jacobs?" "Perfect." I said with a small smile. The silver-haired doctor left at that and mom was just sitting there with an appraising look at Henry. "I can see how…dangerous that would be in the wrong hands." Mom said after a moment and both Henry and I smiled at her. "Just be glad we're among the strongest, mom." Henry told her as he re-took his seat with a satisfied grin. "Dylan's really the best of us so far." "Don't be so sure of that." I countered him with a grin of my own. "I don't think I could have done what Henry just did so smoothly." "That's because you're Mister Blunt Force." Henry joked and I tried not to chuckle myself. He was right. I was good at the subtle stuff, but my preferences for direct action kept me from being as good as Henry was at the most subtle of controls. "Well, boys, I have to go get ready for dinner with the Prime Minister's wife." Mom said suddenly, standing as she spoke. She gave me a kiss on the cheek, and Henry one as well, before she made her way out. "Henry and I need some time alone." I said to those who remained in the room and they filed out quickly. Henry gave me an odd look and I motioned for him to sit at the chair close to my bed. "What's up?" Henry asked and I sighed for a moment. This was really the first time when I knew we'd have some alone time since I'd woken, and I felt strong enough right now that I could use my power in the way I needed to so I could do this. "I want to share some memories with you." I told him and he nodded, taking my hand gently. It had been years since our one, semi-sexual experience, but our love for each other was no different now than it had been then. We were brothers, bound tightly to each other with brotherly love. He was straight, I was gay, and that didn't stand between us at all. Our powers surged, mine still somewhat weakly, and blended through our joined hands. Sexual attraction, feelings, and experiences were part and parcel of our powers, but they didn't have to be in every situation. While it had led to our discovery and exploration of them, sex no longer was a part of our sharing. Instead, as our powers met, and merged together over the physical connection, I could feel the love he held for me, and he could feel my love for him. I summoned up the memories I'd stolen from Sofia, and my own thoughts in that confrontation, my own theories on our purposes for existing, for using our powers, and our role as defenders and protectors of regular people. When I was done, I expected him to pull back from the contact and think about what I'd just shared with him. He didn't though, instead he sent his memories of Mexico and what had happened there. We'd shared memories like this before, and I was accustomed to seeing the world through his eyes, as if they were my own memories, so I wasn't shocked at the experience. "I understand that you are worried about the future of your people." Henry was saying in a room filled with people. This was his memory, but it felt like it was me saying, and thinking these things. I knew what to expect from having shared with him before. It was different when we shared together than with others; a part of our closeness. I realized that this entire conversation was being conducted in Spanish, but I understood it as instinctively and thoroughly as Henry did. The answer of how, and when, he had learned the language was still not there, because he wasn't sharing that moment, but I knew I'd have to ask him soon. "We are not going to be puppets of the United States or any other power!" Miguel Sanchez, the leader of the pro-Independence group was nearly shouting. "We kicked out the Spanish and you will be gone as well!" "Under no circumstances do we want puppets." Henry shot back calmly. "You must face facts, even as we have had to face them. Despite the wealth of your oil, despite the investments in business within your northern states, despite the fact that you have a workforce dedicated to working to the maximum of their abilities, we have seen your people fleeing across our border, taking the most menial of jobs for decades. We know that by taking your people and placing them as Protectorate of our own country, by giving them the rights of American citizenship, we will be dismantling our borders and allowing free migration. If we move forward with this, your people will be our people. We already have a word to describe that, the word is 'Mexican-American'. They will not lose their culture, their way of life. English is not the national language of the United States, there is no national language. Things will not change overnight, but in ten years, twenty years, the historians of the Mexican people will look back on this day and say that the lives of their people were made better, not worse." "They will say that this day we were made slaves!" Miguel shot back in a righteous huff. "Slaves do not choose their own leaders, do not make decisions on their own futures, and are not taught to think for themselves, as the Mexican people will be." Henry answered in a voice that was calm as a lake on a still summer night. "After five years of appointed governorship, the Mexican people will vote on continuing as a Protectorship, or regaining their independence. If they choose to remain a part of the United States as a Protectorship, they will also choose their representatives to Congress and regional governors. If they decide otherwise, they'll choose their own leaders. Eighty percent of all revenues from Mexican resources will be pumped back into the local infrastructure. Schools, sewage, water, electricity, highways, and all the other infrastructure advantages that American states enjoy over the current Mexican infrastructure will be yours. After five years, these resources that belong to the Mexican people will pay for more improvements than have been spent by the Mexican government in the last twenty years." "We will look at your proposal one more time." Enrique Palomar, Miguel Sanchez's right hand man said and Henry nodded his head at that. It had been what he'd been shooting for. Fifteen minutes later, Henry was walking down a hallway, talking to his Chief of Staff, a delightful woman by the name of Marjorie Hanson when the sounds of gunshots sounded. The reactions of Henry's three security staff were the same as mine would have been, and just as ineffective. The first shots had hit one of the guards, killing him instantly. The feelings of the death of a bonded man swam through Henry's memory and I cried along with him. Marjorie reacted the right way, tackling Henry and bringing him to the ground as the two surviving guards opened fire with their pistols. Their attackers were better armed though, and in moments two more of Henry's bonded had died. Henry and Marjorie tried to fight back, but Henry had gone unarmed except for an expandable baton. It had taken fifteen men to subdue him in hand-to-hand combat, but they had succeeded. Marjorie had fought just as hard, managing to stab one of their attackers before being knocked to the ground. She was bonded to Henry as well, and I echoed his own sigh of relief that she hadn't died. A hood was placed over Henry's head as two of the attackers grabbed him by his arms, and another grabbed his still kicking legs. He wasn't carried far, a nearby room by the short distance they had carried him. Henry relaxed a little, knowing now they weren't here to kill him, and a sneaking suspicion filtered through him that the gifted he'd felt traces of days earlier was going to make an appearance. His captors placed him in a chair, firmly holding him in place when a young male voice spoke, confirming that he was indeed meeting the gifted. None of his contact with his captors was skin on skin, long enough to use his abilities, so Henry had no idea if they were bonded, controlled, or just normal allies. "Don't resist." The young male voice said in accented English. It was an accent he'd come to place as belonging to the more well-off Mexicans he'd dealt with, part of their aristocratic elite. "This will go much easier for you if you relax." "You won't get away with this." Henry replied in English, allowing his voice to tremble just a bit. He relaxed a little as he spoke, and he felt the grip on his arms and shoulders relax slightly. The sound of someone stepping closer to him was barely audible, and after a moment, his hood was removed. The kid standing in front of him was handsome, dressed expensively and about his own age. The refined aristocratic look was firmly stamped on his face and he smiled condescendingly at Henry. "Yes, I will." The teenager said, leaning forward and putting his hands on either side of Henry's face. That was all Henry needed, and Henry let loose his own powers, flooding into the boy with a vengeance. The boy managed a strangled gasp before Henry's powers swept past his own, taking over that core center where our mental abilities touched on our physical. We couldn't take over another gifted, control them like we could non-gifted, but here, at this nexus, we could incapacitate one another briefly, so long as physical touch remained. Then Henry began pulling up the boy's own memories. The boy was the son of a prominent, aristocratic Mexican family. Born into wealth and the social position of his 'old' family, the recent troubles in Mexico had disturbed him and his family. He'd discovered his abilities at a young age, the first time he'd slept with a local girl that worked as a maid in his father's home. His father, scared about the possibility of losing his wealth and power, had brought him to Mexico City to use his abilities on Henry and on Sanchez, the lead pro-independence delegate. The boy's memories had told Henry all he needed to know. Although of a similar age to us, he viewed his powers as just another tool to control those beneath him, to secure himself a position of power, and to be used for his own selfish reasons. When Henry had collected all he needed, he'd stood and reached out, snapping the boy's neck with a simple jerk. The guards around the boy had all been bonded to him for this mission, to take Henry and turn him into another servant of the boy, and they simply dropped dead as their 'master' fell. Most people thought Henry was the 'nice guy' of the two of us, but when he felt someone had to die, he was more ruthless than I had ever been. Granted, he always thought things through more, and took action less often than I did, but when he acted, there was no stopping him and no plea for mercy would help. "Oh wow." I said aloud as he broke the contact and the streams of memory. "I didn't think they'd gotten so close to you." "I kept details to a minimum until we got home." Henry said softly. "You can see why the things you were saying, and thinking worry me though." "Yeah, but I'm not going in that direction." I argued with him. "We're different, not superior, that's a clear distinction." "But a very fine one." Henry countered with a slight frown on his handsome face. "It is only one small step from different to superior or inferior. It still doesn't change the fact that we are still human, even if a different sub-species." "I don't know why you're so insistent on not admitting our difference, but I can live with that, I think." I said with a sigh. "What is important though is that we prevent others like us from doing the things like your Mexico boy and the twins here did." "The school is a good start." Henry allowed with a nod of his head. "We know how they think, and we got to them before they really started using their powers for harm. Tim and Jeremy were forced to do the things they did, and don't pose a threat, not like these other three that used their powers for their own good." "That does seem to be a deciding factor in whom we let live and who we kill." My words drifted in the air between us for a long moment as we both thought that over. "You still squeamish about killing?" Henry asked me with a look of curiosity. "Not really, it had to be done and really we are the leaders of those like us." I answered in total honesty. "That's the only reason dad hasn't killed them all yet." Henry said with a shrug and I frowned. Sure, Jeremy and I had never really become a couple, but I still cared a lot about him, loved him even, though he wanted little to do with me in the romantic sense. "I thought that we got him over that a year ago." I responded after an uncomfortable silence. "We did." Henry said with a snort. "It was my fault, really. You know Maria? Well she was one of the two I took with me on the Mexico trip." "Oh, don't tell me you two clicked?" I said with a groan and he smiled almost sheepishly. "Yeah, we did, like you and Jeremy did." Henry said with that smile. "Only she doesn't look at you like you're a cold-blooded killer." My answer was gruff, and filled with self-recrimination. That lay at the core of why Jeremy and I had never become a couple. "Sorry about that, still bitter." "You have a right to be." Henry said consolingly. "Anyway, I mentioned to dad that I might like to date her when I got back and he started thinking about what might happen if our children have the gift as well, and the whole 'starting a whole new race' thing." "Ouch, yeah, I can see where he's coming from, but that's our worry, not his." I said firmly and Henry looked at me for a long moment. "Henry, think about these things, and what I shared with you. Even dad is uncomfortable with those of us with these abilities, and you know as well as I do that if we weren't his sons we'd be long dead. I know you want to try to mainstream as many of us as possible, but we can't do that. We also can't form…permanent attachments between us." "You're just saying that last because of Jeremy." Henry said sourly, and for the first time I really felt a gulf between us, and his comment made me angry. "Just because he gets a weak stomach at killing people who deserve it doesn't mean I want to keep any of us from being happy!" My voice was tense with anger and Henry looked at me with concern for a moment. "Sorry, I was just acting my age." Henry said softly and I nodded, letting out a deep breath in order to relax. "I think you're basically right for now, though. We need to low-key the roles the kids at the school play, and minimize inter-personal contacts as much as possible. There should also be limits on how many they bond, just a few people each." "That should help calm down dad and the others." I agreed after a moment. "So what exactly are we going to be revealing at this upcoming conference?" "Like all the best lies, most of the truth." Henry accepted my changing of the topic with his typical grace, and was now smiling slightly. "Dad'll present records about a CIA plot to breed super-agents, and how it failed miserably. He'll claim that a new drug was developed that allowed people to use the kids from the fertility study to take control of a person. The records of how the drug was developed were destroyed, along with its creators, when Washington blew up. It only works with people from the study because we are 'immune' to its effects and can flood our system with it and use it by touch. There'll be a whole lot of medical testimony, and then the Israeli premiere will announce that he controls the last vial of the drug, and our Khulari friend will recommend that it be destroyed right there in front of everyone. The British King has already been briefed using the cover story and he'll back up our claims, as will both Khulari and Rabin." "Two life-long enemies both saying the same thing should help, if we can be sure of Khulari's cooperation." I admitted with a sigh of relief. "Oh, he will." Henry said with a firm nod of his head. "The new US Ambassador to the UIC arrived two days ago in Tehran. Jeremy posed as his son and managed to bond Khulari." "How the fuck did Khulari get duped into being alone with someone our age?" I asked in total surprise. "Because the ambassador's real son is eighteen and going to college." Henry explained and I just shook my head. "The Ambassador asked for a private meeting to discuss us and well, Khulari only brought one guard with him. The guard was bonded as well. They'll both pass away in a few weeks, after they come back from the conference and after Khulari says what we want him to say." "I can't believe dad picked Jeremy for that." I said in surprise. Poor Jeremy, he hated bonding people to use them and throw them away afterwards. "Jeremy volunteered." Henry said, surprising me even more. "He's done it before, and he worries more than anyone else at the school about our secret getting out. None of the others except Tim has done anything like this and Tim looks too young to pull off looking eighteen." "Jeez, he's changing." I said in wonder and Henry actually laughed. "Yes, and you might be pleasantly surprised next time you meet him." Henry said hopefully, and I let myself hope a little too. I really did like Jeremy. We continued talking for another hour about the upcoming conference and what our roles would be in the proceedings. It was a tightrope that we would be walking, and soon afterwards the only world leaders who would know the full truth would be dad and Rabin, the Prime Minister of Israel. Dad trusted the man implicitly, and I only hoped that trust was well-placed. While taking action was tempting, I knew that doing so would make dad reconsider his trust in us, and would endanger our lives. So long as he believed Henry and I were dedicated to the same principles as he was, we were safe, and as long as the others at the school stayed dedicated to us, they were safe as well. Hours turned into days after that, and I was out of the damn hospital five days after I'd been admitted. My injured detail member was still there, and I visited him the three day that we remained in Israel after that. His remarkable recovery was the subject of much discussion among his doctors, but when my plane lifted off, he was on it, although he was put in my bed instead of one of the seat/beds that everyone else used. The longer exposure to me seemed to help him recover even more, and I spent most of our time in the air at his side, holding his hand and calling up my powers and sending them into him. Like a sponge, he soaked them up, and after two hours in the air, I was asleep at his side. By the time the plane landed in Lyon, France, I was feeling rested. Martha had a file ready, with the final draft of dad's presentation at the meeting that would be held in two days. There were already some changes to the planned disclosure, and I liked them a lot better. The changes were much more likely to keep both Henry's and my head attached in case things didn't go as well with the world leaders. The list of people attending was very impressive as well. When the International Conference began three days later, my nerves were on a tightrope that had me practically shaking. Dad had arrived the night before and we met in the French hotel that we were all staying at while waiting for things to begin. The final briefing we had there, after the room had been swept for listening devices, did little to calm my frayed nerves. It was risky, bold, and would either result in disaster for Henry and I, or success for everyone involved. How the French had built their new 'Palace of Justice' was beyond my comprehension, but it looked like it had been there for centuries, not just a single year. The actual meeting room was huge, easily fitting the sixty-odd world leaders who now sat at a horseshoe-shaped table. At the open end of the table was a single small table that would fit three or four people comfortably, and that was where I sat next to Henry, both of us dressed in civilian suits. The apex of the table was where dad sat, with the British King, the French President, and German Chancellor on either side of him, and leaders from other countries ranging down each side. Khulari, the representative for the UIC was sitting about halfway down the table on the left side (as I faced it from the table) and Rabin, the Israeli leader opposite of him. Those two would be our key players in this charade and I only hoped that it worked nearly as well as we had planned. Of course, it would be easier because Khulari was now controlled, through a bond to Jeremy. Knowing that made me a little sad, but I agreed that it had been absolutely necessary to save my own skin, as well as the skins of all those like me back in the states, and Henry's skin too. Khulari only glanced at me once, and the look of fondness I'd seen before was gone in those eyes. I had to resist the urge to shrug my shoulders. We'd managed to debrief him after Jeremy had bonded the man, and what we'd learned was enough to firm up my belief that it had been absolutely necessary to neutralize him as a possible threat. The French President broke my train of thoughts when he began speaking, and the voice of the translator sounded through the speaker in my ear. "On behalf of the French people, I welcome you to this International Conference." The French leader had said. "In accordance with the Reykjavik Accords, the President of the United States has called for this meeting to discuss a matter that affects all of the signers. I now turn to the US President to inform us of the reason for this call." "Thank you, Pierre." Dad said in English as the French President sat down. Dad shuffled some papers as four aides began placing binders in front of each of the leaders. "I believe no one here will object to this meeting being called after they hear of the news we have to impart today. As soon as the aides have distributed the materials to each of you and left the room, I will proceed with my briefing. I remind you that except for our personal translators, no one besides those present in the room will receive the information unless we release the information to the public. We have agreed that no recordings of these proceedings will be made as well." "Are these security measures really necessary?" The Indian Prime Minister, a thin woman who looked extremely tired asked. Her country was still reeling from the crisis, and had suffered more deaths than any nation except China. China still had not recovered enough central organization to be represented here which was still a sore point for the International Community. The CIA was theorizing that India would begin moving into China soon. As she spoke, though, the last aide left the room, and dad was free to begin. "Considering that the information we will be giving to you today deals with the causes of the recent Crisis, and a threat to all of our governments, I believe that such security is indeed necessary." Dad answered her in an even, emotionless tone. His words brought about a slight shuffling in the room as all the men and women in the room shuffled in their chairs slightly. "The causes of the Crisis, and the threats to our governments today began not just a few years ago, but over a decade and a half ago. A large part of the threat came from a secret program within the United States Intelligence community. Before we get into the specifics of that program, I would like to ask my son, Dylan, to explain how we first became aware of this program and the investigation he has led over the past two years." "Thank you, Mr. President." I said formally, and tried not to squirm in my chair as all these men and women looked at me with interest. "In 2010, I was sent to the state of Utah on behalf of the United States to resolve issues related to their attempted secession from the United States. Many of you may be familiar with the fact that I was kidnapped during my mission there and had to fight my way out, but we have not released the full story until today. "The full story is a scary one, and should give you an idea as to the full scope of the threat all of our governments faced until just recently." I continued after a moment's pause. "During a welcoming dinner with the Utah delegation, the leaders of the state rebellion attempted to use a secret weapon that had been under development for the U.S. intelligence community over the past decade. This weapon is human based, and involves the use of a psychotropic drug that allows the user to subvert the free will of the subject." "Excuse me." The Japanese Prime Minister (who I had met before) interrupted me very politely. He continued when I nodded in his direction. "Are you saying that the United States has developed a drug that can take over a person's mind?" "Yes, sir, I am." I answered him quickly, not even pausing as the room filled with murmurs as people reacted in surprise. It grew quiet again as I spoke. "The drug is very powerful, and takes effect within seconds. It is effective with skin-on-skin contact as well, and is probably one of the most dangerous substances ever developed by humanity. The only drawback to the drug is that if it is administered in anything but the smallest amounts, it kills the subject. The rebels in Utah had found out about this drug, and the solution for the delivery of this drug, and were using it to their advantage against their own populace. They attempted to use it to control me, and managed to use it to take over my security staff and remove me from the safety of my aircraft." "You say they attempted to use it on you?" The French President asked me and I nodded at him. "They attempted to, yes, sir." I answered his question. "What we found out at that point was that I have immunity to this drug that will be explained later. Essentially what was discovered was that the drug was administered through skin-to-skin contact with a person that was genetically engineered to be a 'carrier' for the drug. While I was not affected by the drug, I quickly realized what was happening and pretended to be affected, obeying their orders. That allowed me to overpower their guards and interrogate the Utah leadership about this drug. "What I learned during that investigation was useful, and I was able to recover several young people who were subjects of their experimentation as well as destroy their lab and all material regarding their program. I know it was reported that their leadership died during my escape, but what really occurred is that they were executed in accordance with secret orders issued by the US President. They posed a clear and present danger not only to the United States but to the world as their plans included the eventual use of this drug to assume control over as many countries as possible. The medical staffs plus all others working on this program were also executed." "His actions were in full compliance with the orders I had issued prior to his leaving our capitol." Dad broke in, as planned as several of the people in the room looked at me with expressions ranging from surprise and horror to calculation. "Our Congressional Leadership was informed immediately upon his full report to me and cleared him of any charges of wrong-doing." "Thank you, sir." I said, taking over from dad after his scripted comments. "Since that time, at the direction of the US President and Congress, my brother Henry and I have been investigating this drug program and hunting down any other agents like the ones we found in Utah that could use this drug. That investigation ended almost two weeks ago when the last two 'carriers' of this drug were eliminated with the help of the United Islamic Council and the nation of Israel." "Several days before Dylan's successful elimination of the threat in Israel, I also succeeded in eliminating the next-to-last threat located in Mexico." Henry added, as planned and I could see him getting some of the same looks I had been receiving. His tone left no doubt that he'd 'eliminated' the threat in the same way I had, albeit much more quietly. "It was found that like Dylan, I was also immune to the drug and so I was called upon to assist in the elimination of this threat. "I believe that it is now time that we explain to you why both Dylan and Henry were immune to this drug, and how a substance that was deadly in direct dosage to a subject was transmitted by these 'carriers'." President Jacobs said in a stern voice, taking over the briefing. He opened his own copy of the binders that had been passed out earlier. "If you look at your briefing binder, you will find hard copies of the information we have gathered both in English and your native languages. In 1986, a secret US government research facility developed a psychotropic called 'Tetraflorozine' that totally overtook control centers in the human brain allowing someone to implant 'suggestions' or 'commands' into the subject. The drug was so strong that direct dosage killed, and only light, topical applications to the skin were safe. After two agents were incapacitated by the drug during testing and the one attempt to deploy it, it was sent back for more research. "In 1992, a secret research program into genetic manipulation reached a key breakthrough as did research into the use of this new drug." Dad continued, not pausing as the world leaders flipped through the binders while he spoke. "By combining these two programs, they believed they could develop a breed of super-agents that could safely use this drug. Using resources only available to the US government, they instituted a new fertility drug as a cover for this program. Thousands of unknowing couples across the United States, and several families from other countries, participated in this program that bypassed the review of the United States Food and Drug Agency. This program resulted in four groups of births throughout the nation. The first, and largest group, produced malformed children that did not live long past birth or were aborted before being brought full-term. The second group, and most common of the remaining three, resulted in children who have slightly higher intelligence and but no other obvious factors. The third group of births, much smaller than the first two, came closer to the goals of the program's sponsors. However, it still failed in that while the children of this group were immune to the effects of this drug, their immune systems dissolved it on contact, making them useless for the purposes of the program. The fourth and final group of births in this program was what the program had sought. They could absorb this drug and anyone they came into contact with would receive a strong enough dose to render them susceptible to the commands or suggestions of the child in question." "This is preposterous!" The Chilean President roared loudly in his native language. "Unfortunately it is not." The British King retorted in a calm, cultured voice. He leaned forward slightly and grabbed the attention of everyone in the room. "My intelligence services were aware of a secret American breeding program but no more than that it existed. We have reviewed the data they provided and our scientists have confirmed that while the odds of success were very low, it was plausible." "There were over three thousand children conceived under this program." President Jacobs said, regaining the narrative now in the silence that followed the British announcement. "Of those three thousand, two thousand eight hundred and five were malformed and either died or were destroyed. One hundred and three were born in the second group, completely normal. Sixty two other children were born into the third group, and thirty into the fourth and final group. Of the children in group two, most of them were killed in the nuclear exchange of two years ago. Twenty-one children in the fourth group were killed at the same time. We have accounted for the other nine children. Two were recovered from Utah and were executed within a month after we developed a full understanding of this program. With the young lady that Dylan executed in Utah that left six to account for. Over the past two years, Henry and Dylan have succeeded in tracking down and executing the remaining six children. You will find detailed accounts of their work in executing these weapons." "Why did you seek to execute them instead of using them?" The Russian President demanded in a harsh tone. He also glanced at Henry and I very suspiciously. "I do not even need to look in your documents to know that they will say these two boys are in the third group. Why should we believe you? How can we believe that this third group is really not able to use this drug?" "He chose to execute them for the same reason I chose to help the United States seek to destroy the two children of my faith that belonged in the fourth group." Khulari said in Arabic and instantly had the attention of the room. "To seek to control the minds of others is an offense against God. President is many things, but a man of God first. He will not use such an evil tool. Instead, he sent his son to me and asked for my help in ridding the world of this vile creation. I have here, the last sample of this drug in existence." As Khulari spoke, he pulled from his robes a small vial of clear liquid. It was nothing but water, I knew, because no such drug existed. Still, from the gasps in the room and the way the two men next to him recoiled, they believed it was indeed the drug in question. I almost breathed out a sigh of relief at the way they believed what they were being told. "Most of the research records, including the chemical structure of the drug and the drugs used in the fertility program was destroyed when Washington was nuked." President Jacobs stated in the silence that followed Khulari's gesture. Most of them were still staring at the drug Khulari had set on the table in front of him, in clear view of everyone. When dad continued, they returned their gazes to him. "Shortly before the Crisis happened, the CIA sent teams overseas to attempt to regain control of the three children that were not American citizens. The parents had bought their way into the program and the CIA was not able to stop their participation without endangering the secrecy of their program. Two of the teams were compromised and the supplies of the drug they carried with them were captured as well as the nature of the program and their mission being revealed." "The families of the two children in Saudi Arabia were extremists." Khulari broke in, as scripted. "They saw an opportunity to utilize the children in their control and to strike back at the world. They succeeded in subverting key officials and instigating the Crisis that threatened the world. Also, they were able to subvert world leaders subtly and to bring about the exchange of nuclear weapons." "Are you saying it was these…children that caused millions to die?" The French President asked, and Henry could not resist diverting from the script. "Billions, Mr. President." Henry said softly, drawing attention back to us with his words. I almost felt like squirming, but managed to sit still. "Two children, with that drug, managed to kill billions of human beings. I know that many believe me to be a gentle person, or at least more gentle than my brother. After learning of this program, and that I was a result of this program, I had to do some soul-searching. I can only thank God that I am not a part of the fourth group, or I would have begged my father to kill me." "You expect us to believe that?" The Russian President demanded suspiciously. "Believe it or not, that is your choice." Henry said with a shrug. "The danger posed by this drug, and the fourth group is too great to allow any of the people in that group to live." "On that, I agree with you." The Russian President said slowly, in English. "What I don't believe is that there are two separate groups." "Then call in your soldiers and have them execute us, now, while the remainders of the children from the other two groups are rounded for you to execute." Henry stated and the man winced visibly. "If you do not believe that I, and the other children born from that group are not dangerous, then you must kill us, beginning with Dylan and I." "Let us not be hasty." Prime Minister Rabin of Israel said, leaning forward. "I have information that may be of some assistance. Israeli intelligence has been able to corroborate much of the information provided by President of the United States. Our operatives have eliminated the last people controlled by the children from Saudi Arabia, and we are certain the threat is now over." "As are we." Khulari said in a way that made it clear he hated having to agree with the Israeli. As we had hoped, these two old enemies agreeing with each other, and with dad sealed those who doubted the evidence we were presenting. Both Henry and I let out soft sighs of relief as we watched the faces of the world leaders as they broke out in discussion with each other. "The question remains, what we tell our people." The Russian President said after nearly ten minutes of people talking quietly with their neighbors in a variety of languages. "I have a suggestion for that." The British King said, and I silently thanked God that the ruse with him had worked. His support had been what dad had worked hard on over the last few days, and only been gained with certain concessions that we'd made. Still, he didn't know the full story, the real story, so he posed minimal risk. *~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* "The conspiracy that plunged our world into chaos two years ago has finally been destroyed." President Jacobs said into the microphones. Behind him, the world leaders all stood watching, as did the horde of press people in the large room. "In cooperation with world leaders from dozens of countries, the leaders of the conspiracy that created the initial Crisis and subsequent Nuclear Crisis have been hunted down and destroyed." The story that dad laid out after that statement mentioned nothing about breeding programs, secret drugs, or any reference to Henry and I, except that we were key to hunting down and killing them before they tried to kill us. The other leaders spoke briefly, exhorting their non-existent help, or presumed help. It was surprising, but they had all agreed with the cover story and insisted on watching the last vial of the 'drug' being destroyed. It had been Khulari and Rabin who did the actual deed. They had even insisted that the files be destroyed, that no evidence of the program remain for other people to attempt to rebuild the program. I was amazed that so many intelligent people had been so easily fooled, and I wondered at how much they really believed. It didn't matter really, because dad was ever the consummate manipulator, and this fit into his grand scheme in a perfect way. The public story, what we told the people was that an international cartel of businessmen, ideologues, and extremists had bonded together to overthrow government interests. Secretly, the governments of the world had agreed to limit genetic engineering in the future, and to pass laws that would prevent such actions in the future. His last statement though, initiated the next-to-last stage of Operation Rebuilder, and the eventual transformation of the United States. As he spoke the ending to his speech, I felt a shiver run through me, and felt like a pit was opening in front of us, threatening to swallow us whole. "Two years ago, men seeking power and money sought to destroy our world." Dad finished his speech in a stern tone. "We have come through these hard times, but only at a great cost. It is not a coincidence that the bible calls Greed and Pride deadly sins. We must. We must be careful and watch to make sure that never again will a group of people be able to inflict so much harm. It is up to us, the survivors to keep such a tragedy from ever occurring again." Thus we kept our secrets close, and the way was cleared for President Jacobs to continue his grand plan for the future of the United States.
  5. dkstories

    Escapes and Hospitals

    Note to Readers: Some might point to fighting in a mosque as something typically American to do to Islamic people, but the truth is holy ground is among the bloodiest in history. That is both because people use them for protection as they launch attacks, and because beleivers of other faiths love to destroy them. For me, fighting in a mosque was no different than fighting in any other building, only one thing was important: I made it out alive. The sounds of bullets puncturing the helicopter's skin were loud and soon drowned out by the roar of the answering fire from the door gunners and from the men who poured back out of the cargo area, answering the assaulting fire with their own. I could hear the sound of a grenade launcher, followed quickly by the explosion against a building and wondered why we were still on the ground. Lifting my head, I could see the knife hilt still there, now firmly bound to where it was and surrounded by bloody bandages. It'd wait there until we got to a hospital where surgeons could remove it without risking extensive bleeding that could not be immediately repaired. The pain was receding, and my head felt giddy enough that I knew I had been given some pain killing medicine, but not too much. I could feel Killmer's hand still on my neck, and he was whispering something that took me a moment to understand. When I did, I remembered an experiment we'd done on my abilities, after one of our students had broken an arm. The student's arm had healed far faster than normal, days instead of weeks, and experiments had been conducted to see if our abilities were connected in some way. They were of course, it was the only possible explanation. What the experiments proved was that our abilities kept our bodies in healthier shape, and when we were injured, accelerated the healing process. It wasn't instantaneous, or even quick enough to prevent a slashed neck from gushing out all of the body's blood. Rather, in my case, instead of weeks recovering from this knife wound I would be well within a few days. There was also another effect with our bonded, and I could draw back into me, some of my 'essence' that made them bonded to me, and recover some strength temporarily. It left the subject extremely weak for days, which is why I'd never been tempted to use it before, but with Roger Killmer's insistent urging through my drug-induced haze, I decided now might be the time. "He's coming back around." Paul's voice was filled with relief as the world came back into a sharper focus. The pain in my belly did too, but that could be ignored. I noticed Killmer being laid down as he was now unconscious and breathed a slight sigh of relief that someone had caught him. "What's going on?" I demanded, trying to sit up, and surprised when Richardson helped me instead of stopping me. "Pilots are dead as are two of the air crew." Paul stated flatly. "One of the armored vehicles just got hit by an RPG, and the other is holding back a group of armed people. We can't risk getting you out that way. We need to fly out." "Get me into the seat." I said sharply, and let out a hiss of pain as they lifted me into the pilot's seat. The engines were still running, although the hydraulics had been hit and were now running on a limited back-up. As I grabbed the pilot's helmet dangling nearby, my vision blurred and I nearly passed out. "I'm still too weak." "Here." Muldoon said softly, rushing up to me and grabbing my hand. I didn't hesitate this time, drawing strength in so quickly that Richardson barely caught him and took him back to the cargo cabin. I felt stronger, although the pain was even more intense now. A quick check showed that everyone was aboard and I pulled on the collective just as small arms fire sounded from somewhere close by. The heavy machine gun in the helicopter's door was fired as we lifted into the air in what had to be my worst take-off since my first time in a helicopter. Still, we were in the air and climbing while moving forward, westward I noticed from the machine's compass. In the distance I could see four specks that must be Israeli attack helicopters, all firing into areas of the settlement we were in right now. "IDF, this is Dylan Jacobs." I spoke after keying the microphone. The controls of this machine were very similar to an American helicopter, enough for me to operate them easily. "I'm at the stick of the medivac bird you sent. Sniper got the crew before we could lift off. I need directions back to base. We've got wounded, including me." "Is this a joke?" A controller's voice said with a tone of disbelief. We were now at three hundred feet and I leveled off our ascent, heading towards the nearest of the specks that was an Israeli helicopter. "No joke." I stated as firmly as I could. My voice was still weak, and the strength I'd taken from my own men was failing fast. "Your pilots are dead, I've got a knife in my gut, and if we don't hurry this bird will crash. I'm a qualified pilot, just tell me how to get back to base." "Our attack helicopters have spotted you and one will rendezvous with you." I familiar female voice said over the radio, and I recognized the Israeli general's voice. "I told you this was not a good idea, Mr. Jacobs. Several of my people are dead now." "So are the people who killed your Prime Minister." I told her hoarsely, focusing my vision on the helicopter that was now flying towards me. The pilot got close enough to give me a hand signal that I returned before following him as he peeled off to the right and started climbing. "The clerics are still alive, I'm alive even if injured, and we're out of there. Those responsible for killing your Prime Minister, the attempt on me, and the attempt this morning are all dead. The shooting started when those responsible tried to keep the clerics from turning them in to me. Pull your people out and things will calm down." "Get yourself back to base first, Mr. Jacobs." She said curtly and I gave her an affirmative answer. By the time the base came into sight and the controller came back on with landing instructions, I was struggling to keep conscious. Everything was becoming blurry and I knew that I would soon pass out. Fortunately, I held on until we touched down but it was my worst landing every, dropping the last fifty feet hard and bouncing four or five times before settling down. I could see teams of people rushing towards the helicopter, and arms reached for me, dragging me out of the seat and onto a stretcher. Everything was blurry and hazy, except the fire of pain that was reaching through my belly. The only thing I knew, and cared about was that I'd gotten most of my people back with me. The rest were on the armored vehicle and should be back safe soon. That was all that mattered, that and the fact that I'd taken care of the two who had caused this mess in the first place. As I fell into the blackness of unconsciousness part of me hoped that I'd never wake up and have to make decisions like those that led me to this point in the first place. "He's recovering far faster than I would have believed possible." A male voice was saying softly as the darkness receded. I felt groggy, and my mouth was full of cobwebs. I felt like I was floating in a cool ocean and for a blissful second I had no memory of who I was, where I was, or memory of the world around me. However, with a snap that I thought must have been heard around the world, everything fell back into place as the voice continued speaking. "We removed the damaged spleen and stopped the internal bleeding. It's unlikely he'll require any more surgery. I still don't believe he actually managed to fly all the way to the base. He's a tough kid, though, and I think his recovery will be relatively trouble-free. Still, he'll need to be here for at least a week. They took a big enough risk flying him to Tel Aviv instead of treating him there." "The best doctors are here." Martha's voice was agitated, I noticed and opened my eyes to see her and Paul talking to a silver-haired doctor wearing glasses. The man was looking at a chart in his hands as they spoke, and none of them were looking at me yet. "When do you think he'll wake up?" Paul asked. "It'll be another hour or so." The doctor answered. "He almost woke up during the operation and we had to give him more anesthesia. We'd normally keep him in recovery longer, but with who he is we moved him to this room. He'll be in ICU for at least a day before we move him down to a regular floor. We need to limit visitors during that time as well. Since the two of you are the closest to family here, you will have unfettered access. However, anyone else will have to be limited. Just be glad that the nursing staff is used to having guards in the hospital or there'd be more protests about your security requirements." "They are not negotiable." Paul said, as I let out an involuntary groan. I'd tried to move on the bed, and the pain that shot through me told me I was still very, very hurt. My sound drew their attention though, and both Paul and Martha rushed to my side while the doctor tried to move them out of the way. "I don't believe this." The doctor murmured as his hands moved over me, checking something before a light shone on my face. "Mr. Jacobs, do you know where you are?" "ICU in a hospital." I said in a croaking voice. At least there was no tube down my throat although I realized there was a nasal cannula delivering oxygen to my nose. "I was stabbed, you took out spleen, fixed bleeding, be here for a week or so." "You heard all that?" The man asked incredulously before proceeding to give me a full check-over right then and there. I could see the relieved smiles on both Martha and Paul's faces as they watched me carefully, and I looked at them closely. They both looked exhausted, but relieved. "Casualties?" I demanded from Paul and the doctor started to protest, but the stare I gave the older man stopped him in his tracks. I turned to Paul and nodded at him to speak. "Three Israeli soldiers didn't make it back." Paul stated. "We have three injured from our team, and two who passed out from exhaustion. I'd had them on heavy guard schedules and the stress must have gotten to them. They've both been released and ordered to rest. The other three are minor injuries and they should be back on duty within a week." "Big Picture?" I asked Martha and she understood what I meant. "The unrest in the settlement area died down within an hour." Martha informed me in a firm, steady voice. "The three clerics we saved moved out and started talking to their people, calming them down and telling them that we'd saved their lives. Since then everything's been quiet. An independent news team somehow got pictures of your landing and removal from the helicopter by a medical team. We've released a short statement stating that your wound was inflicted by those attacking the clerics, not by them and that those responsible are all dead. Everything's quite right now. We pulled Nadine from the plane and she's working with the embassy on news control." "We need to do a press conference soon, don't we?" I muttered and she nodded. "We need people to see that you're alive and okay." She said. "Everyone from the UIC to the local clerics have denounced the group that assassinated the PM and tried to kill you. For once, we've got almost everyone on the same page. The bodies of the leaders who fled here were discovered in the last hour as well. They're dead from what looks like suicide by poison." I knew that last sentence was a lie. Those men had died when the people they'd been bonded to died. Rahlil and Sofia had not died easy deaths at my hands, and I felt no guilt at how I'd killed them. For a moment that surprised me, but the personal revelations I had during that encounter still held firm, and I knew I'd been right to do what I had done. "The clerics have put the bodies on display in their mosque." Martha continued in a quieter voice and the doctor frowned at her. "They've already been filmed by two news crews before we learned about that. The room is a mess and they've already been broadcasting their story all over the satellite networks." "What have they been saying?" I asked in a quiet, worried voice and Paul smiled sardonically at me. "You're being presented as someone to make Billy the Kid look like a total wimp." Paul's voice was actually filled with a touch of humor. "They've been talking in English and Arabic about how you single-handedly killed twelve attackers with your pistol and your knife before our team arrived to finish rescuing you. Unfortunately, they've also revealed the drugs those kids used to take control of people and hinted at how they were somehow connected to the beginning of the Oil Crisis." "It doesn't seem medically possible for such a thing to be done." The doctor whose name I still didn't know said in a quiet voice. "It's possible, doctor." I told him in as firm a voice as I could manage. "The information on how it was done has already been destroyed so it cannot be replicated." "Oh, I believe you, young man." The doctor said with a small smile. "Now, you should get some rest." "We'll be back in a bit, Dylan." Martha said with a comforting smile. "I'll hold a brief interview with the press downstairs. I'll tell them that you're awake and responsive and that you'll hold a press conference when the good doctors here say you are strong enough. They'll decide when you're strong enough, so any questions at when you're well enough will be directed to them. Henry's finished up with Mexico and is stopping at the Presidio to pick up your mom. They'll be here in a day or so." "Get some rest, Mr. Jacobs." The doctor said as he took Martha by the arm, and despite how awake I was feeling, I passed out again as soon as they left the room. That first day, I'd wake up for a few minutes here and there, but would always fall back asleep for several hours after that. Nurses and doctors would come into my room, examine me for a few minutes or administer some drugs (a lot were antibiotics), and then leave. When I was awake, I was fully alert and in charge of my intellect, but I'd only stay awake for fifteen minutes or a half-hour at the most. Still, a clear picture of what was happening outside was gained in those moments of alertness. I had made one major mistake as I was flying that helicopter to safety, voicing aloud some parts of my thoughts over the radio. The radio was unencrypted, and a news crew that had a scanner had recorded everything. While nothing I had said revealed the true nature of our abilities, or that I even shared such abilities in common with the deceased Rahlil and Sofia, I had muttered 'I got the bastards that started everything.' I also had muttered 'They killed over a billion people. At least they won't be able to do it again.' From the way the three older clerics had told the story of what they had observed, there was no hint that I'd 'executed' the twins or anyone else in that room. The early consensus, as related to me by Martha, among the news broadcasters was that I'd killed people attacking me, and that I'd attempted to wound the last one, Rahlil so he could be brought to trial. That had given him the chance to stab me, and I'd been forced to kill him. I was being criticized for not having killed him outright, for giving him a chance to wound me, instead of executing him on sight. The UIC had jumped onto the bandwagon by issuing a statement. They stated that I'd come to them, asking for their help in tracking down these vile murderers, and that they'd cooperated fully with me. Khulari himself was shown on camera leading a prayer of thanks that people who had nearly caused the ruin of the world had been brought to justice, and a prayer for my speedy recovery. Henry and mom were in the air now, flying towards Israel as fast as their plane could go, and broadcasters were speculating on if my injuries were more severe than had been indicated by the doctors. There were even offers to send the world's best surgeons to Israel to help in my recovery and when Martha told me that, I'd looked at her with scared eyes while Paul laughed. "You don't look that sick." Henry's voice preceded him into my room the next day and I smiled at seeing his blond headed face. Mom was right behind him, entering my private room on another floor, outside of ICU. She looked happy, and relieved as well. "Dylan Jacobs, if you ever get yourself hurt like this again, I'm going to ground you for an entire year." Mom said sternly as both of them took positions on either side of the bed. Mom leaned over and gave me a kiss on the cheek before taking my right hand while Henry grasped my left gently. "Promise?" I asked her in a weak voice and they both laughed. I might have laughed too, but it hurt like hell when I did. "Your father is both very pissed and very happy right now." She told me sternly and I smiled weakly. "You've always said you'd like to go to Israel again." I told her and she laughed. "I just thought I'd give you a reason for a trip out here now." "That is the most stupid piece of logic I've ever heard from you." Henry said firmly while mom laughed again. "So, how does it feel to be the man who delivered justice to those that almost ruined the world?" "It hurts like hell." I said softly and mom got a stern look on her face. "Let that be a lesson to you, next time." She told me. "In the future, you just kill them before they have a chance to hurt you." "MOM!" I exclaimed somewhat loudly, and then clutched my still-healing abdomen. She sounded bloodthirsty there for a moment. "I'm serious, Dylan." She told me with that same stern look. "Just because your father is the general and I'm the good wife doesn't mean that I don't understand a lot more than you ever give me credit for. I'm as involved in everything as either of you are, and have been for a lot longer. I may do things that aren't as visible, or dangerous as the two of you - good grief, the scars you and Henry have - but I'm a woman and they don't look as attractive on me as they do on you two." "Henry?" I asked, knowing he'd never been hurt enough to have scars. He shrugged before replying. "Stray bullets in Mexico City." Henry explained. "One grazed me on the arm. Then the kid I found causing problems there almost knifed me. Walters got him in a head shot." "See, that's exactly what I'm talking about." Mom said firmly. "Both of you try to talk to these kids like you, hoping to get them into your little school and they end up trying to stab you. Just shoot them from now on." "You know?" I asked her in a stunned voice. We'd never planned on telling her of our abilities. "Yes, I do know." She said with what sounded like exasperation. "You Jacobs men, always thinking the little women can't handle the full truth about her own sons. Henry told me all about your little abilities when the story broke about these 'drug' children. In all honesty, I probably understand some things a lot better than your dad does. You all seem to forget who my parents were, and that they had a lot of connections in the defense industry. They knew the study was backed by the government and they didn't want me to participate, and they refused to have anything to do with Henry because it was a government program." "Oh, wow." I muttered and she patted my shoulder gently. "Don't worry, Dylan." She comforted me warmly and I realized once again how lucky I was to have her now. "I will always love you both, no matter what. I've talked with dad and from now on I'll be working with the two of you and your school children as well. You men haven't been doing to badly, but what you've both been through recently proves that these other children are potentially dangerous. We have to be sure of them before we let them out, and while you've made a good start, you haven't really been going about it the right way." "How's that?" I asked her with a lot of curiosity. "We have to make sure these kids are absolutely loyal to you, and to us." Mom said. "I know you've made a good start, but you haven't been doing it enough. Their loyalty to you has to be the loyalty you feel to family, not just to country or ideas. You started it right with this Tim and Jeremy. I've met both of them - remember? They look at you two like older brothers, and that's what we need, for them to think of us as their family, their parents and older siblings. Family doesn't have to be blood related, and in fact the family bonds someone willingly chooses are stronger than any other relationship out there. Once you get back on your feet, we'll start building those family bonds with these children. I've talked to dad and we'll be spending some time at this school. He's working up a public relations story for that. I'm also traveling back with you Dylan. I want to get to know your little 'circle' better. From what I saw of Henry's it's like a big family and I want to make sure you're both treating them right." "Uh…" I stuttered, not sure of how she'd respond to some of the ways we interacted and she just frowned at me. "Don't think I'm going to flip out about who sleeps with who." She told me firmly and my eyes just widened. "I can do the math and you have a lot more men in your circle than Henry does. I'm not going to judge you on that Dylan. Just make sure everything stays quiet." "Yes ma'am." I said softly, hoping in vain this was a drug induced dream. "Now, let's talk about what really happened." She said firmly, pulling up a chair and sitting down in it primly. "Your people gave dad a fairly good picture, but they weren't in the room so they can't tell us everything. Start talking." "Uh, well, it started out just like I had expected." I said as I began to tell her the story of that day's events. I found that my previous assumptions on her intelligence had underestimated her by a fair margin as she asked very good questions throughout my telling of the events. When I was done, I was exhausted, something she picked up on quickly, so she kissed me goodbye and left with Henry in tow. I napped again for several hours and woke up in time for dinner, which the three of us ate together in my room. I was on liquid foods, which meant Jell-O mostly. Henry made sure to eat some chicken parmesan that smelled wonderful and got a lot of nasty looks from me, nasty looks that he enjoyed. The conversation related mostly to a video conference they had held with dad that afternoon while I slept. Naturally, most of the world leaders were demanding more information on what had happened, and the links between Sofia and Rahlil and the Crisis. While some seemed angry or upset, most just seemed to want to know more information. After some discussion, an international summit would be held in two weeks, once I'd recovered enough from my injuries. It would be announced later today (for the US evening news which was still several hours away due to time zones) that dad would be attending, as would Mom and I. Mom would fly with me up to the meeting site in Geneva, Switzerland. I also had been tentatively cleared for a short press conference in the morning, mostly to show that I was doing okay. Why they thought me being wheeled into a room on a wheelchair would make me look okay I had no idea, but mom was quite insistent. Darren Knight and Martha were busy working with the Presidio on what I'd be saying and were supposed to bring a rough draft for me to start working on later that evening. The rest of the evening passed quietly, but with a steady stream of visitors. Each and every member of my circle managed to filter into the room, and I spent a few minutes with each of them, touching them quietly, and talking in quiet tones. My injury, and what they viewed as a 'near brush with death' had unsettled them, and because of the bond, they were all on extreme edge. It was also a good experience for me, because that first day in ICU, I'd really felt no part of my ability as being awake and as I called it up to brush each member of my circle lightly with it, I was relieved to feel it working normally. I was asleep after the last of them left, and didn't wake up at all, despite the nurses entering and leaving the room every hour. When I finally woke the next morning, way past 0800 hours and very late for me, the first order of business was the removal of my catheter. That was a distinctly unpleasant experience, made even worse by the attempts at sounding comforting from the nurse while she manhandled my private parts. Then they wheeled me down to x-ray for some pictures of my stomach. The doctor moaned that he'd prefer an MRI scan, but that there wasn't enough power for the machine unless it was absolutely critical. That was a good thing, because we'd learned at the school that MRI scans revealed a distinct electro-magnetic field around those of us gifted, and a much fainter field around our bonded. We'd initially thought to use this for detecting people like us, but the energy use, and size of the machines made that all but impossible. Maybe in the future advanced technology would yield a portable scanning device, but for now it wasn't possible. However, a scan of me by doctors here would raise too many questions, while the x-ray wouldn't. (The field was so subtle, even in Henry and I, that sensors used to detect similar fields in electronic objects failed to do so, even when touching us. It was something about the MRI scanning process that detected it at all, and our technicians had yet to figure out exactly what that something was.) When I was returned to my room, Mom and Henry were waiting along with Martha and Knight. Mom and Martha were chatting like old friends, despite the nearly twelve years difference in their ages while Knight was chatting amicably with Henry. They were all here to discuss the upcoming press conference that would be timed to coincide with the early morning of the East Coast in America. The Israeli Prime Minister also wanted to visit today, as did the three clerics from the mosque. All that was being arranged for after my press conference, and was totally contingent upon how I felt. Except for a little tingling, and pain if I moved too quickly or abruptly, I was actually feeling very good. Martha had brought detailed print outs of the speech dad had given last night, and the outlines of the speech I'd be giving to start the press conference. There were also several 'get well' messages from various countries that she wanted me to work on replies to later in the day. For a brief moment, I wondered if I could get the doctor to kick them all out so I could rest, but realized that I was just trying to be lazy. Henry had also brought a very nice night robe that I'd wear to the actual news conference itself. I'd been in a hospital gown so far and the doctors refused to let me wear a shirt in case of something happening with my wound, so I accepted their ministrations with some grace. Martha pulled out a basin of water and while Darren put a plastic cape over me, she began to wash my hair gently. Having her and Darren washing my hair, and giving me a sponge bath didn't embarrass me, but having mom and Henry watch did. "Shut up." I warned Henry as he startled giggling at my expression. "Your face is quite amusing right now, dear." Mom said in a patronizing tone. "That's it." I huffed angrily, locking gazes with my blond brother. "Stuff it now or I'm having Martha tell your people all about how wonderful it was doing this for me and then we'll see how long it takes for them to do the same to you! I'll also makes sure mom gets to watch that too!" "You wouldn't." Henry stated soberly, his face a little pale and mom chuckled. "If he doesn't, I will." She threatened and I was satisfied to see his sulky look, admitting defeat. "Martha, I'm not made of glass." I said as Martha tried to get me so I was laying backwards into the basin of water for her to rinse my hair. "Just get it over with, will you?" "Quiet, Dylan," Martha ordered me sharply. "or I'll have every member of your circle in here doing this each day you're in the hospital, and then every one will get a turn when we're out so they won't feel cheated." "My, what a fine idea, Martha." Mom purred and I groaned aloud. She was suppose to hate hearing anything about our circles and how we interacted with them! Dad didn't react like this! It wasn't fair! "Isn't Killmer one of your men?" Henry asked me once Martha had finished washing my hair and was now drying it. He was looking at something in a file that obviously didn't have anything to do with my upcoming press conference. "Yes, he is, why?" I answered and asked at the same time. "His younger brother, Fred, is on the list of the study children." Henry said, shocking me with the news. "What?" I exclaimed, trying to sit up straighter, but Martha's hands on my head kept me from moving. "That explains the traces I found on him when I bonded him. We never did find anything when we looked into that." "You remember what happened with his family last year, don't you?" Henry asked me and I nodded. It had been one of the first personal tragedies in my circle that came from the bonded member's outside life. Killmer's house had been destroyed during a riot started by Arian gangs. While no bodies were found inside, it was assumed they'd either fled or been taken, and no word had been heard from them since. Four of my men had accompanied Roger to his home and searched themselves for any sign of his family. While it had been a tough time for all of us, it had shown just how tightly knit we were and supportive of each other in hard times. "Yes, I do." I answered Henry's question simply. "He is my bonded after all." "I know that." Henry stated irritatedly. "I was just making sure. Anyway, his little brother was from the program like us. That does explain the trace of controls on Killmer when you met him. What's interesting though is that there was a report from a woman camping in the Rockies that she though she saw him at one of those new tourist villages that have been springing up. She knew the family and contacted her local law enforcement when she returned home. They got the Colorado State Police to search the area for him and they came up empty handed. It's not too surprising, though. A lot of people fled to the wilderness, the mountains, places like that when the Crisis began and never came back down. They've been starting up these tourist traps to get money now, but most of them aren't coming out of their camps." "I've been telling dad he should do something about them for a while." Mom stated with an irritated frown. "If there's any chance of armed resistance, it's going to come from them first and we should wipe them out now." "No, it's a good idea to let them continue." I argued softly. I could see right away why dad didn't move against them. "In fact, it'd be a good idea to encourage them to flourish a bit, and when the time comes that they may cause trouble, we know where they are and a few conventional fuel-air bombs takes care of them all." "That's a little blood-thirsty, isn't it?" Henry asked me with a wide-eyed expression. We hadn't had much of a chance to discuss my thoughts in the mosque yet, so I wasn't surprised at his reaction. "It is." I admitted with a shrug. "The alternative though, is to let them become a potential resistance group that can challenge our long-range plans. The old saying that 'birds of a feather flock together' is a very true one, and having them there now ensures we know where they are. A few agents within their groups keeps us well informed of their activities, and when the time comes, it is much more humane to just bomb them out of existence." "How can it be more humane to kill them before you are certain they've done anything?" Mom asked me carefully, studying me very closely. "I was talking about rounding them and sending them to jail or ship them all to one of the Hawaiian Islands we don't need." "As long as they are alive, they continue to pose a danger to society." I asserted firmly. "I know that simply wiping them out is a bit extreme and totally not necessary right now. By putting agents in the groups, we can find out those that are likely to become guerrilla agents and those that will be outcasts. We don't bomb them all, but those that pose a threat, we wipe out. Neither of you saw the memories of that Sofia girl, I did. Henry, when I've recovered a bit more, I'll share them with you. Mom, I'm sorry but except the normal way, there's no way for me to share them with you. Still, I learned something from those memories. I've learned something from being in this damn country as well. No matter how small their chance of success, these groups can and will become nests of rebellion when we make our long-range moves. If we wait to move on them until they start blowing things up, they'll kill a lot of innocent people before we crush them. If we just blow them up first, we won't have to deal with them killing innocents and then hunting them down." "So, you're saying if Israel had taken a harder approach with the Palestinians from the beginning, they wouldn't have the problems they do today?" Henry said, extrapolating and then following what had been my likely thought processes. "Not all of the Palestinians, just those that provided any resistance." I answered firmly and clearly while Martha went into the bathroom to dump the dirty water and Darren helped me into the comfortable blue robe. "The rest could eventually have been integrated into their society and not posed the threat they have for the past few decades." "So you think we should consider the same for these groups?" Mom asked me cautiously and I nodded. "Geographically, we aren't in as tight of a quarter as Israel." I explained. "We can even let the less militant groups flourish. The UIC uses Bahrain as a pressure valve for their citizens living under the strict Islamic law. They go there, indulge in their pleasures, and go home, content under the laws they live by day to day. The more peaceful groups will act as a similar valve, funneling out those who don't fit in well enough and can make it to them. Only the dangerous ones need to be destroyed." "Several people have had similar ideas and were working on a similar plan, but using a place like Las Vegas or Atlantic City." Mom said and I nodded. "I know, and they will work as well, but we also need a more permanent place for people to escape to, and they have to be well-infiltrated." I said and she nodded in agreement. After several minutes of silence, Henry nodded as well. A knock at the door announced the doctor who wanted to do one more check on me before I was unhooked from the monitoring machines and moved into a wheelchair. I'd be back on solid foods for dinner if my x-rays showed nothing wrong. A few minutes later, a nurse appeared and I was moved into the wheelchair, disconnected from the I.V. at last (although the needle stayed in my arm for the easier application of medicines.) We moved down the floor of the hospital in a tight knot of people. Paul had four of my detail surrounding me as a nurse wheeled me towards the elevator and I felt my cheeks blushing slightly at having to be wheeled in a chair instead of walking. I was pretty sure I could have walked on my own, but there was no way anyone was going to listen to me. An elevator took us to a lower floor of the hospital and I was wheeled into a room that was full of blinding television camera lights as well as the flashing of camera strobes. There was a low table that held a microphone at the front of the room and the nurse positioned me in front of it. Mom sat on my left while Henry was on my right and the doctor on the other side of him. The room was silent while we got positioned and I noticed several members of Henry's detail lining the walls of the room. There must have been forty people in the room, and I made a mental note to myself that the vast hordes of media were growing once again. "Good afternoon." I said once everyone was seated and the silence stretched almost to the point where some media person might have broken it first. I had my note cards prepared by Martha and Darren, and I was ready for this, I hoped. "I would like to first thank all those whose bravery and sacrifices in the last few days have made it possible for me to be here speaking today. Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians have all given their lives in the events of the last few days, and to them I, and many others, owe a debt of eternal gratitude. As will be detailed more fully later, those who gave their lives in recent events did not do so in vain. "For the past few years, the United States and many other countries have been investigating the cause of what is now being called the Great Oil Crisis. As part of our negotiations with the UIC, we shared with their leadership the evidence of an international conspiracy that nearly shattered our world. This conspiracy reached across borders, across cultures, and threatened all of us. "Yesterday, key information was received by Palestinian leaders and I went to learn this information from them so that an international force might be able to arrest the last members of this conspiracy and end their threat. Unfortunately, they learned of this meeting and moved to stop it from happening. Many people suffered injuries or death yesterday in stopping their attempt to end our pursuit of them. For what I pray will not be the last time, Palestinian, Israeli, and Americans fought side by side against a common enemy. Some paid the ultimate sacrifice, they gave their lives in the fight to defeat this enemy of the world. "I was injured in that brief conflict, but thanks to the members of my security team, the Israeli Defense Forces, the Palestinian leadership, and the excellent doctors and nurses here, I was fortunate enough to survive. I know that you, and the people of the world in general, are anxious to find out more news of this conspiracy than you have received already. However, I must ask for your patience just a little while longer. In a few weeks, the President will meet with other world leaders and present to them everything we have gathered on this conspiracy, and how they were finally stopped. After that meeting, we will provide more detailed information. Suffice it to say for now that we have compiled most of the answers and once the leaders of the world have been given them, they will be fully disclosed to the public. "Not because we think the people of the world don't deserve to know them now, but rather because we believe actions will be necessary on an international level to prevent anything like this from happening again. Give your leaders a chance to formulate a solution to prevent a similar occurrence in the future, before they give the details of what has happened. For now, the immediate threat is over, and we have an opportunity for peaceful cooperation that has rarely existed in the past. Now, the doctor has said I can answer a few questions, although I'm still a little tired. Please understand I won't answer any questions on the nature of the conspiracy or its specifics. Others I will answer as best as I can. Genevieve, let's start with you." "Mr. Jacobs." Genevieve said as soon as the uproar had died down slightly. As soon as I had said I'd answer questions, people had began standing and raising their hands, barely waiting for my last line before shouting things out. Still, they quieted down when she spoke. "How do you answer allegations that the US government was keeping this conspiracy secret from those who needed to know?" "Everyone who had a need to know, was informed about it as soon as possible." I answered her firmly. "It has always been our intention that the conspiracy would be fully revealed to the people. As it became necessary to gain the assistance of other countries, or they were directly threatened, they were informed as well. No one who needed to know was kept in the dark. We even took the step of informing the UIC directly, even before the conclusion of our recent treaty. Next question?" "Were the other members of the Jacobs family informed of this conspiracy?" A dark-haired woman asked with a French accent. "Yes, we were all targets of this conspiracy in the early days of our Administration." Mom answered the question for us. "The conspirators sought to continue the conflict between the United States and our allies. As such, we were all major targets in the early days, and for reasons that will be made more public later, both Dylan and Henry were ideally suited to participate in tracking down members of this conspiracy. We won't answer more specifics on that until the meeting in a few weeks. As parents, both Jim and I were reticent to include them in the search for these conspirators, but it was necessary and we bowed to our duty as a family to the people of the United States, and to the world as a whole." "How are you feeling now?" Another reporter asked, shouting the loudest of those that were asking questions, and since it changed the topic, I chose to answer that one. "Tired and sore is how I'm feeling right now." I answered him with a sigh. "I'm also grateful for all those that helped me survive the last few days, and I'm relieved that this whole situation has finally reached a resolution point that allows us to reveal the full picture to the world. I don't like secrets being kept from people that they deserve to know. Until now, it's been necessary to keep a lot of this secret, but in a few days we'll finally be able to give a full accounting to the world, and that makes me feel very relieved." "Is it true that a sixteen year old American girl was killed in the second bombing at the Prime Minister's office?" A female Israeli reporter asked and I glanced at Martha real quick for guidance on this one. She just nodded shortly, indicating to answer the question, one that we had notanticipated. "Yes, Jennifer LeMay was a member of my staff who died in that bombing, along with a member of my security detail and many Israeli soldiers." I answered in a soft voice. "She was a friend, and very competent young woman. When we needed additional help in keeping the Prime Minister safe, she volunteered and bravely fulfilled every duty requested of her. Her loss, and the loss of the others in that attack are only mitigated by the fact that they were among the last that these people will ever cause." "How long will you be in the hospital?" Daro Fo asked and I was surprised at the softball question from him. "Hopefully, not more than a few days." I said with a small chuckle. Even that still hurt a little and I paused to grasp my side before continuing. "Although if I'm not careful, the good doctor here might tie me down to make sure I don't hurt myself again." "I think that will be enough for now." The referenced good doctor said with a slight grin. He'd caught the hint that I wanted him to end this now. "Mr. Jacobs is recovering quite well, as I mentioned before. His youth and excellent physical condition are speeding his recovery from what could have been a very serious wound. We do not want to tire him out needlessly though." A half-hour later, I was listening to Henry tell me how Mexico was now a US Protectorate, partially. Northern Mexico was now a separate protectorate with a Governor-General that dad had appointed and would be confirmed by Congress in the next few weeks. Central Mexico, with the Mexico City area almost the southern border was also its own protectorate, while Southern Mexico was given its independence. For the past forty years people in that area had fought and campaigned for their own independence. Now they had that and forty million dollars in aid money for five years. Getting saddled with the Mexican population would be a drain on the United States economy, except for several important factors. First of those was the oil reserves we got from them. Since all oil production and refinement was nationalized, and only finished products sold to private gas companies for distribution and public sale, revenues from oil went directly into federal coffers. Revenue from the Mexican fields would produce more than enough revenue to offset federal monies spent there on a two-to-one basis. The other reason was that many American companies had out-sourced factories and whole industries to Northern Mexico and now that they were an American Protectorate, those factories and their workers would be contributing to the American economy. Our discussion was cut short by the entrance of the elderly doctor who had been overseeing my recovery and who had operated on me. He had a grim look on his face as he entered, an x-ray in his hands and he spoke very quietly. "Mr. Jacobs, we have a problem, and quite frankly I have no idea exactly what it is yet." "What do you mean, doctor?" Mom asked him very worriedly. The doctor held up the x-ray in his hands and looked at it with a deep frown. "Either Mr. Jacobs is re-growing his spleen, a medical impossibility or something was left inside him from the surgery." He answered and I looked at the x-ray he was holding with a sinking feeling. "We're asking to get more power for an MRI, but we're probably going to have to do another surgery to take whatever it is out." This was not going to be fun.
  6. dkstories

    Chapter 30

    Note to Readers: There have been few times that gifted have openly faced each other in combat. When it has happened, it's rarely been anything but bloody and deadly for regular humans. That's one of the reasons we try to limit such things from happening. If we didn't, humanity might never have survived. "What the fuck's going on?" Paul demanded as soon as we entered the small room where our communications gear had been set up. Roger Killmer's blond hair was offset by the headset he was wearing, and he covered the mouth piece as soon as he heard us enter. He had a look of anger on his face as he faced us. "Their new duty shift was just coming in and Jennifer was checking them when she called out the codeword." Killmer said in a harsh voice. "The group that was coming in was the first that were allowed to go home since the assassination. The presumption everyone is working on is that it was a suicide bomb. EMS is just getting on the scene. The new Prime Minister's alright, but more than that I can't get yet. Carrolls was on duty with Thoreau as her escort." "Well at least we know Carrolls is still alive." I said in a husky whisper and noticed Killmer was staring at me oddly. "Dylan felt Thoreau die." Paul explained and Killmer nodded. He also let out a sigh of relief as he turned back towards the radio set he was connected to and twiddled with the dials for a moment. "EMS is onsite now." Killmer said softly, an almost palpable guilt audible in his voice. I could understand that. He was probably relieved that Carrolls, who was Mormon like him and a good friend of his was okay while he also felt guilty that he was relieved that Carrolls was alive while Thoreau wasn't. I was kind of relieved the same way as well, even though Carrolls was still having a hard time dealing with some issues related to the bonding. He'd been a fairly devout Mormon and had been conflicted for a while over feeling sexually attracted to other men in our circle. Still, he was a very nice guy and I enjoyed having him around. A part of me knew my thoughts were rambling and I forced my mind to think through the problems at hand. "Paul, have Darby get into his fatigues and get him a rifle." I ordered softly and everyone in the room looked at me, waiting for me to finish this line of thought. "I want Davies and Darby to take Alan to the Prime Minister. They stay with him and make sure he stays secure. Get the rest of the team ready to move out. Have Cyrus and Botha take over the communications here. Martha, you and Knight get to the hospital and make sure Carrolls pulls through, and Jennifer if she survived also. Stop by the room and tell Jimmy to get my field uniform and web gear ready." "You're not going to the mosque." Paul stated flatly. "Once word of this gets out, the Palestinians are going to be celebrating like mad. We'll wait a few days for things to calm down a bit." "Killmer, tell the Israeli liaison that we'll need armored back up and they might as well get the attack helicopters ready in case we need them as well." I ordered as if Paul hadn't spoken. He started to speak, but I raised my hand for silence and he shut his mouth. "I also think that having a medivac helicopter might be a smart idea. Paul, these fuckers have killed three of my circle now. I'm going and there's nothing you can say or do to make me change my mind. Don't make me force you to obey." "Dylan, please, don't do this." Paul pleaded but I just stared at him. Killmer was already talking into his headset after changing a frequency. Martha just nodded and left to carry out the tasks I'd given her. Paul continued staring but finally dropped his gaze when he saw I wasn't going to back down. "Get the team ready, Paul." I said softly. "We bring everyone that can handle a gun. I want Jimmy and Neil staying here, though, and checking the employees. Have two of the marines go with them with that other black box you rigged up. I want us ready to go in thirty minutes. I'm going to have a little chat with the ambassador." "Yes sir." Paul said softly, with no hint of irony or sarcasm in his voice. I let out a sigh at the expression on his face. "Paul, you've kept me well-trained and in good shape." I told him in a soft tone. "Alan has neither the training nor the experience I have. If we wait for things to calm down, they might move, they might get to the clerics loyal to Khulari or any number of things. We end this now, today, before they have a chance to blow me up as well. I'm trusting you and the others to get me in there, and out without me dying." "One hour." Paul said firmly and with a nod. I was out of the room after that and moved at a very brisk walk to the Ambassador's office. It was still early in the morning, but the man was likely to be there already. I was right because when I walked into his office he wore a very grim expression on his face. "You probably found out before I did about the explosion." He said simply and I nodded at him soberly. "I was just on my way to inform you." I said and he let out an explosive breath. "This isn't going to be too good. Have you had any word on your people yet?" He said after taking in another deep breath. "Just the code word when Jennifer's detector picked something up on one of the guards." I answered, keeping it in line with the cover story we had developed for Jennifer's 'test' of the guard staff. "I'll have two of my staff checking all embassy employees before they enter for work this morning and I'm sending Martha to the hospital if anyone survives. We finally have a strong lead on the perpetrators and we're going in to get them in an hour. I'm going with the team since the contact is through some channels that I'll need to be there for when getting the information we need." "I'm not too sure that's the best thing to do." The ambassador's statement wasn't surprising to me at all. "It's what will happen." I told him forcefully. "I'm an officer in the Army as well as the President's son. I'll be fine. I'm also sending Alan with our reserve tester and two guards to the Prime Minister." "He'll appreciate that." The ambassador said slowly. "Shouldn't you check with the Presidio before you go out into the field?" "Nice try, but no. I already have the authorization I need for this." I told him and he sighed again. "Good luck." He said and I smiled at him before leaving without saying anything more. By the time I reached my room, both Jimmy and Neil were already gone, sent on the missions I had assigned through Paul. My gear, desert fatigues, web gear, weapons, and a radio set were all laid out on the bed and I quickly changed out of my civilian clothes and into the gear. The most important piece was the shoulder holstered Beretta pistol that I put on over my t-shirt and under my uniform tunic. When I was dressed and ready, I opened the door to my room and found Killmer and Kevins waiting outside. "Everyone's assembling in the courtyard." Kevins told me in a gruff voice, and as we walked in a small group to the embassy's courtyard, I noticed that both of them were walking with an extra edge of alertness. The courtyard was a bee-hive of activity as everyone prepped the gear we'd brought with us, checking the communications equipment and signal booster that we'd take with us, as well as making sure the heavier weapons we had were also ready in case they were needed. "Look, we appreciate the offer, but we've got enough men with us right now." Paul was telling the Marine officer in charge of embassy security. "You just make sure that everyone who comes in here is tested by the team we're leaving behind." "If that's your final decision, then so be it." The Marine said sourly before walking away. "We ready Paul?" I asked as I approached him and he looked at me for a moment before nodding. "We're just stowing our gear in the vehicles now." Paul stated with a nod towards where that was now being done. "We've got a twenty minute drive to the IDF base. From there we're taking choppers to Jerusalem where we'll hitch a ride with two armored vehicles. They'll take us to the site and standby. They'll have rescue and attack helicopters on standby as well as two platoons of armored cavalry ready to help if we call them in. We're on different circuits though so I'm bringing Cyrus with us to stay in the armored vehicles. He'll relay to the local commander for us. I'm having Terries come over from the plane to cover for him here." "Let's get moving then." I said firmly and within a few minutes we wereon the way. The convoy of vehicles drove through a city that was walking on eggshells. It was now mid-morning and people looked at us nervously as we moved past them in the embassy vehicles. The news of the bomb explosion had begun to circulate, and the new Prime Minister had appeared on television and radio to show he was unhurt. Still, the event had brought tensions to a boiling point again, and there were reports of minor scuffles already in the Palestinian zones. "Martha should be at the hospital soon." Paul said as we rode side by side in the back seat of the car. "We've already gotten word that Jennifer and Thoreau were both declared dead at the scene. Carrolls is in critical condition with penetration wounds from fragments and some burns. Four Israelis including the bomber died and another eight are seriously wounded. Six more have minor wounds that were treated at the site." "Damn." I said softly, thinking of Jennifer who was just a little younger than me. "Dad's not going to like having to explain her death. It probably won't go over well at the school either." "It'll go over worse if you die as well." Paul said firmly and I frowned at him. "Paul, I'm not changing my mind." I said firmly and he sighed. "How exactly do you want to approach this?" Paul asked me softly, giving up on the idea of keeping me from being involved. "This mosque we're heading to has three entrances." I said as I called up my memory of the drawings of it I'd seen a few days ago. "We'll secure the main entrance area. Park the vehicles in front and deploy in a perimeter. Most likely they'll send someone to ask what's going on. Have Tapers get on a bullhorn and keep any onlookers calmed down. I'll tell whoever comes that I want to speak to the head Mullah in charge of the mosque and go inside. I'll remove my belt pistol before going in, get the information we need and then we'll pull out, going to wherever our targets are. Have the attack helicopters rendezvous with us there and we kill anything that moves in the area." "You can't go inside this place alone." Paul stated flatly and his gaze was very sharp. "I'm playing off of the image of my talks the other week with Khulari." I said as firmly as I could. "That means me, alone, apparently unarmed. Since these guys already talked to Khulari's people and got orders to help, we know the targets haven't been there to subvert them. They won't risk violence in the mosque itself, so it's safe. If something does happen, I have my hidden weapon and my communications gear. Paul, it's an acceptable risk." "I thought I was to be the judge of acceptable and unacceptable risks when it comes to your security." Paul argued. "Have you forgotten Utah already?" "No, I haven't." I retorted hotly. "Have you forgotten that I still made it out of there, and it was a lot more dangerous than this?" "Fine, but if there's even the slightest hint of trouble, you better call us in." Paul said. "I also want your promise that you'll stay with the track when we get to the target area. You're staying where it's safest then." "Deal." I said firmly and with a nod of my head. He relaxed slightly. The flight to Jerusalem in the Israeli helicopters was longer than it would have been in a plane, but still not too long to be uncomfortable. At least it gave us time to refine the basic plan and make up some code words in case of different things going wrong. The radio gear was a modified version of the standard Secret Service set. It had a pale earpiece that was almost invisible, and a button transmitter that was attached to the lapel of my uniform instead of the cuff, and could be set to transmit on voice activation. That would be the setting it would be left on when I entered the mosque. When we landed at the Israeli army base, another speed bump was encountered in the form of the Israeli General in charge of the area. Ruth Sarone was a short woman, and had a fierce expression on her face when we met her. When she returned our salute, she told us in a firm, gravelly voice to follow her. She led Paul and I into a nearby building where the three of us stood in a room, alone. "You can't go into the mosque area." She said when we were alone. The room wasn't air conditioned and in the fall heat it was stifling. I could feel the sweat beading on my face as we faced her. Unlike mine, her face was dry despite the heat. "Why not, ma'am?" I asked her politely. "The situation is far too unstable." She said firmly. "Armored vehicles and troops sitting in front of that mosque right now would start a wildfire of rumors that we were arresting or killing the clerics there." "We'll put an American flag on the vehicle." Paul said and she looked at him thoughtfully. "We'll also use loudspeakers to tell them that we're Americans here to talk to the clerics about making sure they are safe." "They won't believe that." She said firmly. My patience was running out. We had to move before they went to ground or found out the clerics were being told to betray their location. If they did that, they'd likely move on the clerics, taking them under control. Either scenario was bad for me. "It will have to do." I said just as firmly as she had spoken a moment before and I could see her getting ready to argue. "There will be no argument ma'am. Every moment we delay puts your Prime Minister and your government in direct danger. Have your troops on standby and ready to move in. Just do what you can if we run into trouble. It's on my head, not yours." "Why don't you just send your people in instead of going yourself?" She demanded. "The clerics there have been directed by Khulari to talk to me." I told her and her eyes went wide. "How do you know that?" She demanded sharply. "Intercepted communications for which we've broken the cipher." I explained, and continued before she could say something more. "Our people here broke the code a while ago and haven't followed their orders to share information fully with you. We'll have to look into that after this is over. They have orders from the President for full cooperation with you and haven't been doing so. I'm as pissed about that as you probably are right now. We have a mission though, and every moment we delay, we're risking failure." "I've got two armored tracks for you to use in getting there." She said after a few moments of silence while she considered what I had said. "I'll have two platoons standing by to move in and the gunships will be sitting on the pad with rotors turning." "Where do we load up?" Paul asked as she took a radio out and began to issue orders in Hebrew. "The vehicles will be here in a moment. The officers all speak English as do most of the crew." She told him and we both saluted before she waved us out of the building. I wasn't too surprised when Kevins brought out a flag from one of his bags and started fastening it to the lead vehicle. Within two minutes, we were loaded and moving off into the city itself. Part of me wanted to climb up into the open copula and look at the city we were passing through. Jerusalem was one of the holiest cities in the world, the holiest city of so many religions. Somewhere nearby was Golgotha, the hill where Christ was crucified. For centuries, the Catholic Church had sent thousands of crusaders to this town in the name of Christendom, and more blood had flowed here than most other parts of the world. Would more blood flow today? The question was idiotic, I thought to myself as we passed some kind of checkpoint. Of course blood would flow because we were here to kill the two kids known as Rahlil and Sofia. Anyone bonded to them would die at the moment they did, but no one else had to if we played our cards right. If we did set a riot off, the Israelis would have an excuse to kill a few thousand Palestinians again. The General had probably been more worried about my safety than about the safety of Palestinians, and the excuse to unleash their guns again would probably make most of her troops happy. Unlike the days before the Crisis, most nations really didn't care what happened between the Palestinians and Israel. I think most of them gave up on doing anything to resolve the millennia old dispute between them and since no real oil was involved, the rest of the world just turned a blindeye. Fortunately for Israel, the United States remained interested, and fortunately for the Palestinians the UIC backed them up as well. The biggest difference was that Israel and the United States had better weapons, better training, and better technology on their side. A banging sound resounded through the vehicle, and repeated itself a few times when the officer in command of the vehicle closed his hatch and swore before turning to us. "Kids with rocks." He explained briefly. "We are about five minutes from our destination. No gunshots, but you can assume they know we are coming by now." "Tapers, get on that loudspeaker and start telling them we're Americans." Paul ordered and Tapers made his way towards the vehicle commander inside the cramped compartment. He almost fell when we turned, but Davies helped him stay on his feet. When he took the microphone from the vehicle commander he started speaking rapidly in Arabic. The sound reverberated through the vehicle as it bounced off the surrounding buildings. The rocks stopped for a bit and when the Israeli officer poked his head back out of the vehicle he nodded, shouting down that there was no one around anymore. However, when we pulled up to the front entrance of the mosque, a gun battle almost began the moment we deployed out of the vehicle. Fortunately, Tapers was the first out and started shouting in Arabic at the four armed guards outside the mosque entrance. One of them shouted something back to him as the rest of our men deployed barriers around the two vehicles for when the expected crowd showed. After several minutes of arguing, one of the four men disappeared and Tapers came to where I was standing, surrounded by Paul and two others in case someone started shooting. "He said he's going to get one of the clerics." Tapers said with a sigh. "He didn't believe me that Khulari himself told you to come here, so I offered to get the good Ayatollah on the radio. He rethought his idea about telling us to leave at that point." "Good." I said flatly, and we waited for a few minutes. The same guard reappeared a few minutes later and spoke rapidly in Arabic to Tapers who got a stony look on his face. "He says they'll only let you in and you have to remove your weapons." Tapers said quietly after the man had stopped speaking. "He also wants to remind you that your helmet and radio would be…impolite." "No problem." I said with a nod, removing the pistol belted around my waist, then my helmet and the radio earpiece. I put the pistol belt and radio into the helmet and handed them to Paul who just gave me a guarded look. The guard who had spoke still barred the way though, and I let out a sigh before removing the knife from my belt and putting it in the helmet. "Testing." I said softly while my back was turned and Paul just nodded. I wouldn't be able to hear them without an earpiece, but the microphone was still attached and they'd hear everything I was saying. I still had the pistol in my shoulder holster, another knife and an expandable baton hidden away as well. When I turned back around, the Arabic guard nodded and said something that needed no translation as he moved off. As we moved into the ancient mosque, I could feel the two knots of tension from the two of my circle who had somehow been bonded more closely than the others. Killmer was the closest of the two, and I could feel that tension rising even more by the time I was shown into a largish room where three older clerics waited in their dark robes. The guard behind me left as soon as I entered the room and shut the door behind him. The room had several columns in it, as well as several oval doors spread about plus some tapestries that I wanted to get a closer look at because they looked old and fascinating. Besides the three men before me, there was no one in the room. "What business do you have here, with us, Dylan Jacobs of the Unites States?" The man who stood in the center of the three of them asked after I'd looked around the room for a moment. His English was heavily accented, but clearly understandable. "I apologize for arriving in the transportation I did." I said instead of directly answering his question. I knew how deep the rivalry and hatred between Palestinian and Israeli was, and knew these men were Palestinian. No matter what their orders from Khulari, the fact that there were two Israeli army vehicles parked out front would be a negative in my dealing with them, and I wanted to minimize that as quick as I possibly could. "They insisted on these vehicles instead of decent cars like I would have preferred. I am not your enemy, nor do I wish to be, and I know I would react negatively to such an arrival if I were in your place. I know my apology is not much, but I hope you will accept it as it is all I can give at the moment." "Why did you come here then?" The man to the left asked in barely understandable English and in a nasty tone. "Americans are the lapdogs of Israel. You do not blink an eye when they kill us!" "The ways of the world are always changing." I said in order to give them a very false hope. "The Grand Ayatollah and I have had many talks in recent days, and I have learned much that I hope to share with my father when I return to my home." "If you have learned anything from our revered leader it would be best that you return sooner rather than linger here." The man on the right said in nearly perfect English. "I will return home as soon as my work here is done." I said firmly and the man in the center looked at me sharply. "Then tell us why you come here so you may be on your way." The center cleric said softly. "You know why I am here." I told him firmly and when there was no immediate protest, just a raising of eyebrows and a frown discernable despite the long white beard, I continued on in that firm, clear voice. "I am looking for two children. They are an abomination before God, and no matter how you may agree with the results of their actions, their actions are an abomination before God. Of that fact, the Ayatollah and I are in perfect agreement, though we disagree somewhat in the wisdom of the acts they have performed." "What makes you think we have any such knowledge of these children?" The cleric on the right asked in his perfect English while the other two shared thoughtful looks. "You know much of what goes on here, and their presence is not something that would escape your notice." I said softly. "If we were to tell you, that would only make us targets for your Israeli friends." The center cleric said. I recalled the information from his file. Mustaffah al-Kharleb was his name. He was the religious head of the Palestinian people, and was believed to have had strong ties to Hamas and their splinter groups. He had reached his position after the assassination of his two predecessors in recent years, and was obviously worried about his own neck. "The Israeli government has been told that there will be no retaliation for the events of the past few weeks." I informed them in a calm, firm voice. "If any retaliation is made, they will face the…ire…of the American government and our continued assistance in the form of fuel will have to be reconsidered. Don't mistake me, we will not fail to support them, but we will cut back their fuel supplies enough that the civilian market will not receive much, if any. That should be enough to see that those in power who ignored our warnings are replaced by others who will be more willing to accept such restrictions." "But we will still be dead." Mustaffah al-Kharleb noted and I shrugged slightly. "And you would be the last to be killed in such a way for some time." I noted and he nodded after a few minutes. That point was something that no amount of education with Harvard professors or at the school itself had taught me. In many situations, the death of an individual could lead to bigger rewards for the broad picture, and so a person in that situation would be willing to sacrifice their life. The last man in a squad holding a key position would fight to the death so that his squad mates could get away was such an example. So was the suicide bomber who furthered the cause by blowing himself (or herself) up. History was replete with such examples, not the least of which was Jesus Christ himself, dying not more than a few miles from where I stood to save all of humanity from hell. It was no wonder that people in this land seemed to understand such a principle almost from the crib while many Americans never learned it at all. "They were staying in a safe house near Tel Aviv as of yesterday." Mustaffah said after considering my words for a few moments. "We have been told that they have moved though. As soon as we hear where they are now, we will send a runner to you. Please tell the Israelis not to shoot him." "How many people are with them?" I asked politely and he opened his mouth to answer, but was interrupted by a stutter of gunfire. I recognized it as being from an AK-47 and dropped to the ground as fast as the three men did. Palestine was not a place where people grew up not knowing to duck when gunfire sounded so close. "Stay still." The cleric on the right said to me as he drew a radio out of robes. Before he could speak into it, though, one of the side doors opened and several armed guards came pouring in. One pointed his rifle at me but the others went to the clerics who were now sitting up. "I'm not hurt, but having that rifle pointed at me is making me nervous." I said aloud, mostly for Paul and those listening. I didn't want them starting a gunfight to get me out unless it was absolutely necessary. Mustaffah spoke quickly to the agitated guard and the man who had been on his right spoke to me after a moment. "Someone has entered the grounds and killed two guards." The man said with a very angry tone, motioning for me to get back on my feet. "We are not sure who they are, but they appear to be Palestinian." "It might be agents of those I'm after." I answered immediately and he nodded, as did the other two clerics. "They might know you would tell me where they are and decided to stop you. I offer you my protection if you wish." "This man will escort you to your vehicles." Mustaffah said, pointing to the guard who had pointed his weapon at me but was now watching the door I had entered through. The other guards looked anxious to get the clerics out of here. "We have our own means of staying unharmed. We will send you word on these…people as soon as we can." "Go with God." I said in Arabic, one of the phrases I'd picked up on this trip, and all three held their hands in their version of prayer briefly before moving towards the door the guards had entered. It burst open again before he'd taken one step and before I'd fully turned away. This time four guards, dressed the same as the ones in the room flowed inside and something about the expressions on their faces set off the alarms in my head. This time when I dropped to the floor and rolled, I pulled my pistol out from the hidden shoulder holster and flicked off the safety. While I was doing that, one of the new guards spotted me and opened fire with his weapon. I kept rolling, praying he wouldn't be smart enough to anticipate my move and the first burst of fire missed me by mere inches. The guards already in the room raised their weapons at this, all facing the newcomers. The other three new arrivals didn't waste time though, and their shots took down the men who had arrived earlier just as the three clerics dropped to the ground again, shouting in Arabic something that sounded like orders to stop firing. The man who had fired at me wasn't listening, and if the look on his face was any indication, he wasn't going to stop as he moved his rifle slightly, adjusting his aim to where I was still rolling. That was all I needed though, and I fired two rounds, hitting him squarely in the chest. He was knocked backwards, and I noticed there was no sign of blood. He was wearing body armor. My next two rounds took another man squarely in the head before he could react. I had reached the column I was rolling towards and moved into a crouch just as the other two new arrivals opened fire. Their rounds splattered into the column and I breathed a quick prayer of thanks that it was thick stone and the bullets didn't go right through it and into me. I could hear the scuffling of feet as the burst of fire stopped briefly and peered around the column quickly. One of the men was almost directly in front of me, but it took him longer to adjust his aim than it did me and my two shots hit him squarely in the head as I took off at a sprint for the next column. The other man wasn't as good a shot when his target was moving as he was when his target was standing still and I made it safely, finally remembering I had an open microphone on. "Paul, four men burst in and opened fire." I breathed rapidly towards the lapel of my uniform where the microphone was hidden. I paid attention to the sound of moving feet carefully as I spoke. "Four possible zombies, two down, one possible down, and one up. Possible zombie situation. Do not approach; wait for me with three friendlies." After I said the last I realized the footsteps had gotten a lot closer. I could now hear the sound of someone breathing harshly close by and let myself slide down the column so that I was in a crouch. Just as I did so, a rifle appeared around the edge of the column and started firing right into the air where I had been standing. The noise was deafening, but I reacted quickly, rolling onto the ground and as soon as the target appeared I opened fire. My first two rounds hit him in the leg, and his rifle swung in my direction again before I let loose with another round that hit him in the arm. I rolled as the arm jerked and the rifle began firing wildly. My next shot hit him in the head and I breathed a sigh of relief as he fell to the ground and his rifle was silent. A stinging sensation in my leg announced I'd been hit, but a quick check proved it to be a graze wound. Still, the leg gave a little as I stood and rushed to the three clerics who were getting up. Seeing them helping each other to their feet, I rushed to the first man I'd shot. He was still breathing, and I kicked his rifle away as he tried to rise. Then I planted my boot on his chest, pistol pointed into his face and knelt as if I was checking his pulse. My bare fingers touching his neck told me all I needed to know. Mindful of what had happened with Khulari and how it had led to having to reveal information about our gifts I reached into one of my pockets pulling out a black plastic case that was in reality a battery pack for a laptop computer. I pushed one of the ends against the man's neck, my finger touching his skin and exerted my power just enough to break the controls on him. When the power holding him in its control was broken, I removed the battery pack and stood, moving away from him cautiously. The man stared at me for a moment before speaking rapidly to the three clerics in Arabic. The men looked at him and then looked at me several times while I kept my eye on the door the guards had come through. "He says two children came through the side entrance and made magic on them that convinced them you were here to turn us to the devil." Mustaffah said when the man was done talking. "He says they will be coming in a moment once they have cured the others of your evil influence, and he says that you did something that drove the magic out of him so he can think on his own." "It's not magic, but technology." I said quickly. "The device you saw eliminates the effect of that technology on those it is used on. I'm afraid that I must ask you to reconsider not coming with me. We don't have much time if they're using it on your own people." "We will go with you." Mustaffah said after a quick dialogue with the other two in Arabic. I bent down, offering a hand to the guard I had shot, but whose body armor had protected him and he took it after staring for a second. He had just got to his feet when I heard boots coming into the room. Before I could react, more gunfire erupted and he jerked as the impact of them on his back pushed him onto me. I fell under his sudden weight, trying to get out from under him and take aim at whoever had come inside, but a booted foot kicked the pistol out of my hand and I found myself staring down the barrel of an AK-47 assault rifle. "Do not resist, Dylan Jacobs." A soft, feminine voice said in a happy purr. "If you move without being told to, he will kill you." I turned my head and saw both of my 'targets' entering the room surrounded by about ten men, all with rifles pointed at me. Rahlil was smiling, as was Sofia and he moved to each of the three clerics and touched them briefly while speaking in Arabic. The three clerics stiffened as he approached, but after he touched them relaxed silently and watched with light interest as Sofia approached me. She motioned the man with his rifle pointed at me to back up, and he did so. With an expression of disgust, the girl, who was just a little bit shorter than me kicked the body of the dead man off of me. Her hand motion indicated for me to stand and I did slowly until I was looking at her from a distance of only a foot while she looked at me appraisingly. "I am surprised you did not bring the boy like us with you." She said in a voice that would barely carry to those standing nearby. "I would think you would keep yourself better protected." "I didn't know you'd be so bold as to attack here." I admitted with some chagrin. "I don't know how you think you'll be able to get out of this, though." "That is the easy part, Dylan Jacobs." She purred, stepping closer to me until we were mere inches apart. As soon as she touched me though, she'd know. I had to do something, and of course that was the moment my wounded leg chose to tremble and I nearly fell down. She grabbed my arms to steady me, and fortunately the cloth of my uniform prevented our powers from touching, but I knew that moment was nearing. "My leg." I said softly and she gave a rich, low-throated chuckle. I moved my arm out of her grasp though as my leg stopped trembling and she let me move them without protest. I moved into an 'at-ease' stance that put my right hand near the knife hidden in the small of my back, under my uniform top. "Tell me, Dylan Jacobs, how many people know about people like my brother and I, and your little friend?" She asked softly, obviously trying to be seductive. I swallowed hard, as if I was nervous and she smiled a little more. "More than enough to stop you." I said in a voice that shook slightly. "It won't matter." She answered, moving her hips under the dark robe all females seemed to wear in her culture. "Tell me, have you ever known the pleasure of a woman?" "That is none of your business and something you'll never know." I hissed back to her, and I could hear her brother chuckling from where he stood near the clerics. "Oh, you'll tell me all I want to know and then some." She smiled softly, confident in her abilities, and unknowing of my own. I had to wait though, until she made her move. Until she made her move, the guards around her would be too suspicious and any fast move by me might backfire. "You're just a pathetic human, so easy to twist to my will." "Just get it over with." I snarled, my anger only partly feigned. "Oh no, not yet." She gloated, moving away suddenly and I almost moved after her. The men whose rifles were pointing at me stopped me though. She turned back around to face me, smiling a little more. "Don't you get it, Dylan? My brother and I, Allah has made us more than human, and when we're done we'll rule this planet in his name. Your pathetic America won't be able to stand against us. Look at us, two children and we've already brought the world to its knees. When I first saw you on television I thought you had to be one of us. Rahlil went to talk to you, to bring you into our fold, but you had that fool with you, protecting you. We thought he might already have controlled you, but it became obvious he takes orders from you. That is a crime you will pay for; controlling one of Allah's chosen." "How many of us is your government trying to control?" Rahlil asked in what was actually smooth voice only barely tinged by anger. "You're fine people to talk." I said scornfully. "Who is pulling your strings?" "No one controls us!" Sofia said angrily, marching to me and only stopping short of slapping me. "We control them! They thought they could control us, but we saw Allah's true will! Do you think those petty men, concerned with only their own wealth and how many toys they had could conceive of this plan? It was we who devised the plan to stop the flow of oil! It was we who used Allah's gift to make your leaders suspicious, to lead them down the road of war. It was we who did Allah's will and set you on each other!" "Then it will be you who pay for the deaths you've caused." I said with a firm resolve that caused her to step back for a moment. She moved back towards me though, and smiled wickedly. "I like it when they struggle, before they fall to my feet and worship me." She said in a soft, and what she probably thought was a seductive, voice. "You will kneel before me, kiss my feet and beg to serve me, Dylan Jacobs." "Fuck off, bitch." I cursed at her, tired of the banter and wanting to end this whole thing. It worked, I knew the moment I saw her eyes go wide and she grabbed my arms in a tight grip, far stronger than I had expected. She stood on her toes before I could react and her lips touched mine, but that was when she lost the advantage and I struck. As her power poured into me, it met the wall of my own power, and I could hear her small gasp of surprise, and feel her physical attempt to pull back. My left hand rose and pulled her head back towards me and when our lips met again, I sent through them a wave of my power that inundated her, sweeping away her amateur attempt to block me out. She was strong, stronger than anyone I'd met except Henry and Jeremy, but strength only accounted for so much. While she'd been using her abilities far longer than I had, I had experiences she'd never dreamed of having. When I'd met Jeremy in a similar circumstance, taken by surprise and captive, I'd learned something about our abilities that we later tested in our 'school' under laboratory conditions. She'd never done that, and so her limited experiences with her own brother had never prepared her for what someone with my knowledge could do to her. I couldn't take control of her, I couldn't force her to my will or bond her, but I could fight her to a point where she couldn't act physically, where she'd be frozen so long as I held dominance over her, and I could do more than that as well. In the non-gifted, it wasn't possible to see someone's memories, and I'd only been able to achieve an empathic bond with two of my circle, but among the gifted our powers could be used to share memories, thoughts, transmitted along the conduits of our powers. What could be shared, could also be taken and this too we had practiced and developed. She moaned slightly as I changed the hue, the shape of my power and sent it further into her until her own abilities warped themselves around mine and transmitted what I wanted. For a moment, I wished I hadn't. No ten year old girl should ever be raped by her own father. Only the certain knowledge that she had killed millions with her games kept me from slackening up on her at that moment, and as I finished the memory of that rape I saw that while she was the victim of a sexual assault from her own father, her exploration of what was effectively her first bonded man left me even sicker than the rape itself had done. It wasn't just what she did after she found her father would now do whatever she demanded, it was the joy she took in that power and she immediately set about using it on everyone she came into contact with. She was shocked when her biological twin had resisted her, and she grudgingly accepted him as an equal. I pulled harder on her, and memories flashed into me of her uncle, the supporter of al-Quaeda who had the first thoughts of what would eventually bring about the Great Oil Crisis. It had taken nearly two years for them to put everything into place, two years in which they'd explored how to control humans, and two years through which they developed a belief they were Allah's gift, and more than human. They had seen the leaders of their own country, and especially the religious leaders as only stumbling blocks on their path to their god-given positions, rulers of the world. Their plan began with the assassination of the Saudi Royal Family. There was no need to control Islamic leaders who filled in the gap, and those they did control whispered the right things into the right ears. It was one of these that had flown around the world with them in tow, subtly influencing leaders with a slight touch, as I had done to Khulari myself, and gentle words that set suspicions and distrust in the minds of those men and women. They had wanted to get to Dad right after he became President, but his threat of nuclear annihilation and refusal to meet with a negotiating team had stopped that. Instead they adopted a plan to kill me in Israel, to end American support for that country by having an Israeli kill the son of the American President. When that failed, they thought maybe there were others like them, and I might be one of them. Rahlil had gone to meet me, and maybe try to draw me to their side or to kill me. Alan had upset their plans and at first they thought Alan (and Jennifer because the boy/girl mix fit their own style) was controlling me. After looking at what had happened, they'd decided that I had some type of blackmail control of the two and decided to proceed with making my death a wedge between America and Israel before they proceeded with another plan to finish off most of the military power of the world. The assassination of the Israeli Prime Minister was the first step of that plan. Its only purpose was to draw me back to Israel where they could strike at me. Jennifer's death was part of the plan to take out the two they saw as threats to their mission. Alan would have been eliminated tomorrow in a similar incident, and then they would have believed the path to me to be clear. Then I'd die, and they'd be sent to the United States as part of the official 'mourning party' of the UIC. From there, they'd take Dad and lead the US on the path to another, more deadly nuclear war. That was all I needed to know, and I'd gathered the information in a matter of seconds, just long enough for Rahlil to grow suspicious at how I'd not succumbed to her yet. Through the contact of our lips, and my hand on the back of her head, I kept her motor skills incapacitated as my free hand whipped up under my uniform tunic and I brought out the knife hidden there while my other hand grasped her hair firmly and whipped her around so she was a human shield. By the time anyone realized something was really wrong, my knife was gleaming at her throat. "Back off, or she bleeds." I demanded in a harsh voice and the guards brought their weapons back up, pointing at me. From their expressions I saw that five of the twelve men were fully bonded either to her or her brother, while the rest were merely under simple controls. "You messed up, Rahlil. You should never have assumed I was within your ability to control." "Lower your weapons." Rahlil said sharply, and the guards only hesitated a moment before obeying. Two hadn't hesitated at all and I knew they were bonded to Rahlil. That left three that would die as soon as I killed the girl whose powers were now marshalling to resist me. I concentrated for a moment, quashing that resistance and she whimpered. I had to change my grip from her hair to across her body or she would have slumped to the floor as I tightened the barrier keeping her from controlling her own movement. "Don't just lower them, drop them now." I ordered and Rahlil only nodded. From Sofia's memories I knew that despite how they'd never truly liked each other, they both thought they needed each other. If Rahlil thought he didn't need her, this would never work. For a moment I wished my abilities included telekinesis so I could summon my gun to me, but I knew from extensive testing that wasn't possible. Still, there were other ways. I moved us slowly, having to drag her since I'd have to loosen my blocking of her motor centers to allow her to move at all on her own. She was heavy, but my steady workouts that Paul had never let me slack off on ensured that I could do what I had to do. I stopped when I reached the point I wanted, just a quick drop and roll away from my pistol. In these close quarters it would be better than a rifle and a quick count of the shots fired told me I'd have to reload after taking down three of the guards. I had two magazines in the shoulder holster, both should be more than enough. "You can't escape from here." Rahlil said slowly as the guards dropped their weapons and I reached the position I wanted. "You are one of us, Allah's children. We don't need to fight each other. Join us and throw off the slavery of mere humans. Those like us are smarter, better than these filth who have ruined the world age after age. Allah gave us our powers to rule them, surely you see that." "Nope, I have no delusions of grandeur." I said simply, taking a deep breath. I'd killed before, just a few moments before even, shooting three men without hesitation. Now though, I was about to kill a girl, and for a moment my mind flashed back to that room in Salt Lake City where I'd shot four men in cold blood because of what they had done, and what they might do in the future. Here in my arms was one of two people that had done far worse things, and I wondered why I had hesitated at all. She, and Rahlil didn't even deserve the relatively quick death that awaited them. I remembered discussing the slitting of an enemy's throat with Paul once. He'd told me that it was a very stupid way to kill someone. First of all, it wasn't quiet, and secondly it was very messy. No, a quick knife thrust through the base of the skull and into the brain, or from under the jaw was better. For a slitting to be effective and quick, it had to be very deep. A shallow slit along the throat would take minutes to kill, and the person would be in immense pain as their lungs flailed for oxygen and their heart pumped their blood messily through the torn artery. That was why, as I spoke the last word of that sentence, I began a slow, shallow cut along Sofia's neck. I saw Rahlil's eyes widen as it started and he'd moved a full step before it was finished. The three guards that were bonded to her were already pulling their pistols out before the first gush of blood pumped from her gashed neck, but I was already moving. As I dropped to my right, I let go of the bloody knife with my right hand and reached for the gun as I fell. I caught the knife with my left and grabbed the gun as my shoulder hit the floor, rolling quickly towards a nearby column as I'd done before. All the guards were moving, some diving for rifles as others sought to pull their pistols free. I stopped after two complete rolls and fired two quick shots at one guard, who fell with a round in his head and I squeezed off another round that went low, hitting another in the crotch before resuming my rolling away. Rahlil had closed half the distance to his sister before the first guard got a weapon in hand. By the time he fired, I was on the other side of the column, panting slightly. "Paul, now would be a good time." I said softly, hoping the microphone was still working and Paul had somehow gotten through to a place where he could help me. I almost laughed when the sound of familiar weapons filled the room. They ended moments later and I breathed with relief as a familiar voice sounded. "Clear." Roger Killmer's voice was firm and certain. "Clear." Richardson's voice was tight but controlled. "Clear." Muldoon's voice held a hint of humor in it, as always in combat situations. "Clear." I said as I peaked around the column and sighed when I saw the three clerics still standing, under some control obviously because they'd not reacted to anything. All the guards were clearly dead, and Rahlil was kneeling on the floor, trying to stem the flow of blood from his sister's throat. She was making gagging noises still, and flopping slightly but the amount of blood around her and on her brother told me it was her dying gasp, and sure enough, she went still in death as I rose to my feet and took a limping step forward. I could see my three men moving into the room, and the look of concern on their faces, but I waived them back. Rahlil looked up at me and dropped his sister's body to the floor, using his blood-covered hands to rise to his feet. Rage filled his eyes and he was breathing in short bursts as he stared at me, and I looked at his blood covered clothes, noting how fitting it was that they were now covered in blood not only figuratively but in reality as well. His voice shook between a keen and a yell as he moved towards me, and before any of my men could shoot, I raised my pistol and fired, blasting his kneecap with a direct shot. "No." I said as my men raised their guns, and they immediately moved into positions guarding the entrances while still keeping on eye on me as I approached Rahlil, who was now thrashing on the ground, grasping his shattered knee, and letting out moans of pain, shouts of anger and grief at the same time through his tortured throat. It seemed fitting to me, and several ways of ending this scenario flittered through my mind. I was filled with a rage that went beyond powerful. Here was the last of the two that had caused the heartache of billions that had indirectly brought about the deaths of my parents, my sisters. The death tolls from the nuclear exchange, from hunger, from rioting, from looting, from despots like Jefferson and the Prophet, and from the diseases and famine that had swept the world after the collapse of civilization had come to around one billion, three hundred twelve million, six hundred eighty four thousand, and two hundred three people. That was probably a very low number, and many had been Chinese people killed by American nukes, but it was the latest firm number I had seen. Yet, they had still planned for more, and nothing I could do would ever bring any of these people back, but the rage inside me demanded something. It wasn't the blinding, all-consuming rage I'd felt before. It wasn't a petty hatred that would burn itself out, and it wasn't the fiery hatred that would consume me forever. It was something else, and as I watched Rahlil thrashing, trying to get to his feet, and finally focusing on me with pain and rage filled eyes, I knew why I was here. I knew why I had the abilities I had, and I knew for what purpose God had made me. These two had taken their abilities and used them for their own power and greed. They had used what God had given them and believed they were more than human. In a way they were right, those like us weren't really human. These two were wrong, though, in that we were meant to rule humanity. Rather, we were meant to serve. The 17th Century philosopher Thomas Hobbes had written theories about social contracts that formed the basis of society, and had proffered his "Leviathan" theory, in which the people offered up every freedom, every aspect of their lives to a Leviathan who would protect them from all harm. In coming to terms with the bonding of those in my circle I'd developed an understanding of how within my circle, I was 'Leviathan'. I had absolute control over their lives, their welfare. Any command of mine would be obeyed utterly, even the command to end their life if I felt it was in the interest of our 'society'. The circle, and our ability to control those within it was the ultimate example of that. Several things clicked into place at that exact moment. When it looked like Rahlil was getting to his feet, I took a step forward and fired another bullet into the shoulder of the arm that he was using to lever himself up. I stepped forward again, gripping the knife in my other hand tighter as my thoughts continued to tumble over each other with the realizations that were clicking into place. While the Crisis had been artfully created by these two and their abilities, they had not had the power to make things as bad as they had become. They had influenced the leaders of the world's great powers, but those leaders' lieutenants could have stopped things before they'd gotten truly bad. Those lieutenants had not done so. Democracy, the great experiment of the modern era, had proven its weaknesses during this crisis. The signs were already starting to form of the cracks that had existed before the Crisis, and dad was counting on them for the ultimate goals he had. Rome had lasted for two thousand years under a mixture of democratic and imperial rule. The United States had lasted a little more than two centuries before it declined into the depravity and corruption that had ultimately destroyed Rome. It wasn't necessarily not following biblical law that had caused that fall, and in private dad had never said it had. Instead, it was the corruption of those in charge, it was the failure of the leaders to follow the fundamental principles of the bible, not the letters of biblical law that had caused the ruin of not only Rome, the United States, but of all the major powers throughout history. The strictness of biblical law was for those too stupid, or too ignorant, to understand the fundamental principles to be trusted without a strict code of behavior. The Corinthians couldn't understand how to deal with priestesses who were attempting to subvert their church, so the Apostle Paul had told them how to do so. He'd told them that women must wear hats or head scarves during church, and were not allowed to preach. That wasn't a law for all people and all ages. It was how to handle that situation they faced with priestesses whose religion forbade them wearing head scarves such as he'd told them to require. Preventing women from speaking in service also filled the same function. Paul was telling the early church leaders how to lead, how to overcome problems they faced, not issuing directives for all ages and peoples. What dad wanted was not to force all women to walk around with their heads covered, but rather to instill a set of beliefs, of values that would prevent the failures we had faced a few years ago when these two children moved against the world with their God-given abilities. Yes, things would still have been bad but God was the ultimate Leviathan, and just as the men and women of my circle had me at the center of their lives, and put their ultimate faith, even if forced, into me, so too dad wanted to have the leadership of our country and the world to have their ultimate faith in God, and the core biblical fundamentals of service and love to others. This boy and this girl had wanted to rule over others with their God-given gifts. What they had not comprehended was that we were intended to serve, not to rule. As I reached Rahlil's side and put my gun away into the shoulder holster, I accepted that my role was to serve humanity and society as a protector. I wasn't here to rule, but to protect the society as a whole from the excesses of human nature. Pride, Greed, Gluttony, Sex, and all the other sins were sins not in and of themselves, but from their excesses when not controlled. Neither Dad, nor the others, nor I wanted to put a stopper on all of them, but rather to limit their excess. Pride in a job well done was not a bad thing, but too much of it was. Greed fueled the desire to improve, to become better, but too much of it ruined the lives of others. Well-fed people were healthy, but fat people were a drain on society. Sex formed bonds of love between people, acted as a stress reliever, and propagated the species, but it could be used to harm and hurt others when taken to excess. Even gay sex fit into a 'healthy' spectrum of forming bonds between people as well as a stress reliever. It was also dangerous when taken to extremes as diseases like AIDS had proven. That was why dad didn't care what happened in private, because unless it was forced sex or rape, it was healthy. There wouldn't be bath houses like had existed in San Francisco because that led to excess, but if two men shacked up together it wouldn't be something he cared about so long as it stayed private. While those with the intelligence or desire to understand these principles could be trusted, the majority of people would not, and did not take the time to reach that understanding. That was why the stricter rules of the bible were necessary; to give them the lines in the sand they knew better than to cross. As I lifted Rahlil from the ground by his hair alone and stared into his pain, and hate, filled eyes, I realized that I owed him and his sister a small debt of gratitude. I'd been struggling with these thoughts, these issues for over a year now, and here, as I confronted them I'd finally found the answers I needed. I shifted the knife in my left hand, and instead of the slower death his sister had, I decided to give him the quicker thrust, from under his jaw and up into his brain, a quicker, less painful death. He must have sensed it from the look of victory in his face, but I was wrong. The pain in my abdomen proved that as he stuck me with a knife I hadn't seen in his hands. Even as I cried out in pain, my knife arm jerked forward, cutting into his throat with a stabbing motion instead of a slitting motion. I could see Roger Killmer reacting to my pain through the closer bond and he began to move through me as I pulled my knife out and dropped Rahlil just as the blood began spurting out of his throat. I knew I was covered in it as I felt it splash against the chest of my uniform, but I just stared down at the small handle now sticking out of my lower right abdomen in surprise. It was numb there, and as Roger reached me I sagged into his grasp gratefully. "Dylan, don't move." Roger said forcefully as he took my weight and lowered me to the floor. "Paul! Dylan's been injured. Knife wound to the gut. Get that medivac helicopter in here." "What's happening outside?" I asked as Rahlil was flopping on the ground, trying to stop the bleeding from his throat with one hand. He'd be dead in a moment. "Mob formed when the shooting started." Roger said as Sammy Richardson reached us while Muldoon stood guard. Richardson was also a trained medic and began to cut my uniform top off away from the knife wound. Blood was seeping out slowly, and we all knew better than to draw it out. "He sent us in after we took out the guards at the gate. He needed everyone else to keep the path clear for us to get out of here. They're pretty much scattered but we have a few snipers still." "We have to get him out of here now." Sammy said in a pained voice and I could start to feel the pain coming from the wound. It hurt worse than anything I'd ever imagined. "No." I said firmly. "The clerics are still under some form of control. I have to fix them now, before we leave and this place explodes out of control. No arguing. Roger, Sammy help me up and over to them." They didn't argue, and with their help I reached the three men. I touched Mustaffah first, ripping away the controls that had been set by Rahlil. I did more than that though. Through the haze of pain that was growing, my control of my power fluctuated, but I still managed to get him to tell me what Rahlil had done. Fortunately for me, it was a command to stand still and remember nothing of what happened. At my direction, Sammy fumbled in my pocket retrieving my small battery. As I used my control to bend him towards believing what I was about to tell him as Mustaffah regained awareness, I quickly told him that they'd used a skin contact drug that had been developed in secret by a company. In order for the drug to work, treatments had to be done when a person was still a baby and a secret group had planned to use these children to take over world governments. The US had found out about this and these two were the last of the children who had received the treatment and were able to administer the drug through skin to skin contact. "With the last of them dead, we've already destroyed the labs and those that created them are dead." I finished telling him and he nodded. "We will release this information now. It was an abomination to God to take away a man's free will to choose who he serves, and could not be tolerated. I will leave you now, in peace. I am sorry for the desecration of this holy place." "It was not you who brought them here." Mustaffah said wearily, putting a hand to his head. "You are wounded! Go! I will calm the people, and tell them how for once the Americans did come to help. Go!" "Thank you." I said with a whimper of pain. It was growing more intense now. Sammy and Roger barely waited for me to touch the battery, and my fingers to the other two clerics and release the hold on them before dragging me out of the room, a very nervous Muldoon leading the way. I was almost passed out by the time we reached the outside and the sounds of a helicopter landing nearby were audible. Paul's face was white when he saw me, and two more men held a litter that I was quickly placed on. We were rushing through a knot of people, all worried and taunt with tension, towards the nearby helicopter. I could almost hear a collective sigh of relief as we reached the machine, and I was loaded on board. That was when the unmistakable sound of machine gun fire rent the air again.
  7. dkstories

    Moves on the Chessboard

    Note to Readers: Some times the less said, the better. What was most surprising of the events that happened while my plane changed course for Israel was the radio message from the UIC central command granting us flight clearance to continue across their airspace to Israel. It had come in while I was in videoconference with Dad, and had been a lot more polite than anyone had expected regarding something to do with their arch-enemy, Israel. While the dark-haired Botha moved around in my cabin, packing several bags with things I'd need while staying at the embassy in Israel, I sat at my desk reviewing the file Khulari had given me. Cyrus had photocopied it so that Martha and Paul could read over the information as they prepared for the unexpected tasks we had coming up for us. After looking over the same information for the fifth time, I put the file away and instead took out my notes on my conversations with Khulari over the past week. He'd given many insights that would help my Master's thesis, and I wanted to make sure I had organized them correctly. I had been surprised at his willingness to allow me to use him as a source, and some of the things he'd said would probably raise quite a few eyebrows in the Yale faculty room. When the pilot announced we were thirty minutes out from our final approach, I noticed that Botha had finished packing the clothes and other equipment into my bags and laid out a suit for me to wear, complete with the black arm band for mourning. With a sigh, I put my thesis notes away, took out my file and moved into the conference room where the table was already full, only my seat was vacant. Paul and Martha took the seats immediately next to mine. Nadine Grass, Mike Darby, Darren Knight, Sammy Richardson, James Hollings, Jimmy Muldoon, Michael Rogers, Barry Davies, Roger Killmer, George Hegel, and Reggie Roerich filled the other seats and they all had grim expressions on their face. If I'd expected them to react with anything other than wariness over our new mission, I'd have been very disappointed. Their response to anything that put me in danger was never a positive one, and the loss of Halpern and Jones on the way to our negotiations had them all on edge still. The entire time in Bahrain, they'd been edgy, and this only made that edginess increase. "We have most of our gear packed and ready to go." Paul said as I sat down. "Each team member has full comm. gear and weapons on hand and in their baggage. We'll be in desert fatigues the entire time of the stay. The Israelis will have vehicles for our use upon arrival. I've looked over the files you got and there's four areas we need to check first. I want to send two three-man teams to check them out. Two are refugee camps and the others are settlement areas the Israelis established for Palestinians after they took the extra territory during the last war." "We have the cover story set up for Minister Sharone's security staff as well." Nadine said with a smile and handed me a small black box with two buttons and two lights, one red and the other green. "It's nothing more than a simple electric circuit we took from a remote control. Cyrus is really good at wiring so he rigged it up. Each button turns on a light. Jennifer will touch each guard as they come on shift, and press the button after she's made sure they aren't being controlled and are not bonded. She'll have Mike Darby, Jeremy Young, and Kelly Losier with her at all times, if the Minister agrees to your idea." "I've been in contact with the Minister's office." Martha said when Nadine was done. She looked tired already, and as my Chief of Staff she had been working non-stop as hard as anyone on the security detail. "We'll be landing about an hour before dark. He'd like to meet with you over dinner, and there'll be cameras as you arrive at his home. After dinner, he'll talk with you privately in his home office. It will be just the two of you there. When you're done there, we head back to the Embassy. They've cleared out space for most of us, but a few of us will have to stay at a nearby hotel. The news crews have all been on the phone with their offices and they'll be staying at nearby hotels. I've told them that we'll be busy while we're there and I think their offices are going to be sending them out on stories. No interviews are planned, but I did promise them that if we did any, they'd get first crack. Right now, they're planning on staying until we leave. The only other transport back is a US freighter that is unloading food stuffs in Haifa. It won't be back to the states for over two weeks." "Sounds like we have things under control." I stated, leaning back in my chair slightly. "When we get a sniff of either of these kids, we can get Alan and go after them." Paul said firmly. "We're all safe since we're bonded, but we'll bring him just in case they have surprises we don't know about yet." "No, you'll get both Alan and I." I said in response and he shook his head. "Dylan, it's too dangerous." Paul's voice was firm and I noticed everyone at the table nodding in agreement. "This isn't like Utah or Idaho. We have other gifted with us, and we'll use them. There's no need to put you in any direct danger." "Paul, this is not something I'm going to argue about with you." I shot back. "I'm not going to argue it with any of you at all. When we get a trace on these two, we're all going to go after them, including Alan and I. He doesn't have the military training I do, and I'm in far better shape than he is. This is my responsibility, and if there's two of them wherever we find them, I want two of us there as well." "We'll take Jennifer then." Paul stated and I shook my head again. "We can put her with Sharone's detail without raising too much suspicion." I told him in the firmest voice I could. "I can't do what she can without raising too many eyebrows." "You being involved in a firefight will only raise more eyebrows." Martha argued. "We are saying you're here to represent the United States during the burial of the old Prime Minister and the installment of the new PM. You running through the countryside with guns blazing will cause way too many questions." "I'm going, and that's final." I growled and met stony gazes. None of them liked this, but I wasn't going to be moved from my position. I knew I was breaking my promise to listen to Paul on security issues, but it had to be done. "What if they've come up with some new use of our abilities? Alan's good, but I'm better and we all know that. If they come up with some way of overcoming all of you and I'm not there to stop whatever it is they do, they'll get away and that will be worse than any questions we get from my being directly involved in the hunt for those responsible." "We'll work on the cover story to fit your direct involvement in believably." Martha said with a sour grunt. She didn't like it, but as she relented, so did most of the others. "Jimmy and Neil will be working communications with Cyrus. We're taking the portable gear with us to the embassy, and Botha will remain here as a backup if things go wrong at the embassy." "We'll be taking light arms with us." Paul added. "I'll add a set for you as well. Alan's been trained with pistols so we're including one for him in the baggage gear. Full communications and body armor is available for everyone on the teams. With the Israeli backup we should be fine once we've found them, but I still don't want to take any unnecessary risks." "Just as long as we work fast on this." I told them. "We can't let Rahlil and Sofia slip out. We're likely to find Khulari's runaway leaders with them. They die as well. If we find anyone who knows of their abilities, they are not to live. Anyone you find that you suspect of having knowledge we need to locate our targets gets taken to Alan so he can control them to get the truth. No survivors, gentlemen." "The body count could get very high." Hollings stated and I nodded. "Minimize collateral damage whenever we can, but if they know of our abilities, they don't survive." I reiterated and was met with nods around the table. Discussion focused on the details of what would happen, when, and where. Rules of engagement were established for the teams that would be going out (led by the men in the room), and for exactly what support we'd be requesting from Israel. By the time we were finished discussing plans and ideas, the plane had landed and taxied to a hangar that had been set aside for our use. The pilots and three female crewmembers would be staying with the plane in case there was a need for an emergency bug-out . Once we were in the hangar, a ladder was attached to the plane and the US Ambassador to Israel, Thomas Goldman entered (after shaking hands with Paul of course). It was the first time I had met the graying, lanky statesman and he seemed to be slightly rushed as we prepared to leave the plane. There was a full convoy of vehicles waiting to take us to the embassy, and it took a few minutes for my people to shake hands with everyone from the drivers and embassy marines that were a part of the convoy, as well as to unload all of our baggage and equipment. The Ambassador stayed in the conference room with Martha and I, discussing the funeral arrangements that were still being firmed up, and the process by which the Israeli Knesset (parliamentary body) would be picking a new Prime Minister. The given assumption would be that Sharone would be elected by the Knesset to that position since his party still held a narrow majority without having to form a coalition government. (Israel uses a parliamentary government where the 'executive' of government is chosen from within their elected members, unlike in the US where the President ran separate from the legislative body. Israel also uses a proportional representation system where more political parties are able to get seats in the Knesset based on the percentage of votes they receive instead of who gets the most votes. This usually gives no clear majority of a single party so they have to form 'coalitions' with other parties to get a majority of votes to get someone elected as Prime Minister.) The last Prime Minister had ordered an election two months after they had beaten back the approaching Islamic armies and taken swaths of lands to their East, South, and North that had been traded back and forth between Israel and its neighbors since the 1963 War. With those lands in hand, the resounding defeat of their attackers, and firm control of the country, the Prime Minister's party had won a clear majority of seats in the Knesset for the first time in decades, and ensured that no coalition had been necessary for his election. That majority still held, and as the second-in-command of the majority party, Sharone's succession was all but guaranteed so long as he stayed alive. Israeli Security Forces though were in some disarray. The Prime Minister's entire detail was placed under arrest immediately after one of their number killed their charge, and they were now being interrogated. Civilian leaders didn't trust the military and police forces; military leaders were upset about two apparent defections in a few weeks and suicidal attacks by supposedly trusted personnel. The ambassador was obviously very curious about my planned private meeting tonight with Minister Sharone, and was fishing for information, and I finally told him that he'd be informed after I had discussed matters with Sharone (although he'd only get the cover story). Israel had been extremely short on fuel since the crisis began, and were it not for the shipments from the US, they would have had almost none at all. That was why I was not surprised at the lack of other vehicle traffic on the streets as the convoy finally made its way through the capitol to the US Embassy. As we moved onto the Embassy compound, the heightened alert of the Marines on duty attested to the fact that things were still tense around town, even if they had calmed down some. Several years before the crisis, Embassy security had been relegated to non-military services as a cost cutting move, but after the Crisis, the Marines had resumed their time-honored duty of defending these American outposts. It was obvious that they didn't like letting the armed members of my detail into their secure compound, but they really had no choice in the matter (of course, my detail didn't like having armed marines who could be subverted by the two gifted we knew were out there either). The Marine captain on duty immediately protested when Paul started detailing the new security protocols he required. Paul waited until the marine officer had built a good head of steam in their argument before producing a memo directed to that officer from the Commandant of the Marine Corps, the Secretary of State, and the President directing that all security requirements of my detail commander were to be complied with in full. I didn't get to see much after that because I was whisked inside by the ambassador and Martha to the rooms that had been assigned to me. Jimmy and Neil were both carrying my bags and immediately started to get things set up for me. Two cots were set out in the largish room, obviously for them, and the ambassador paled slightly when one of the bags opened revealing an assortment of weapons. Martha and I led him out of the room, and convinced him to show us around the embassy, explaining the different operations and introducing me to everyone in sight. Of course I was scanning each person I was introduced to as I shook their hands, and was relieved when I scented no evidence of any of the staff having been tampered with. Brian and Rogers were following us, and would have acted immediately if I so much as coughed. By the time we were done, it was time to get ready for the trip to dinner at Minister Sharone's residence. A quick shower (with cool water since it was as warm here as it had been in Bahrain and even the embassy didn't have full air conditioning) followed by an equally quick change into another suit was all I had time for before we had to leave. Paul appeared in the room, making sure I had both the knife and a pistol on me before we left. He was as nervous as I'd ever seen and was double-checking everything. If he kept up this way I would end up worrying about him dropping dead of a heat attack before we left. The ambassador accompanied us to the dinner, and I got my first look at the man who would be the next leader of Israel, and who my dad trusted so completely. He was lean, balding much like his father had, and was in his mid to late-forties. The dinner was decent, and most of the people present were introduced as members of the Israeli government or military forces. It lasted almost two hours, and most of the conversation seemed to focus on learning details of the treaty I had signed. It was obvious they were nervous about being left out to dry by the American government. I was so busy explaining and reassuring them that they were in no danger of being abandoned that I barely ate much of what was put in front of me. Dinner felt far longer than the almost two hours it had taken. As most of the people left the table for coffee in another room, and our ambassador escorted Martha after them, I followed the Minister into another room, obviously his study, and the man shut the door. As I took the seat he pointed to, and he poured coffee from a tray that had been set up before we had entered I noticed he was studying me carefully. "I remember the first time I met your adopted father." Avram Sharone said from behind his desk. He was staring at me hard. "It was about five years ago and he was leading a group of Christian pilgrims on a tour of the holy sites in Jerusalem. I had become familiar with Senator Crawley over several years when he made trips to our nation as a member of your Congress's Foreign Affairs committees. I was impressed by his military knowledge, and his dedication to his faith. It is rare to see such things combined in Americans. Either, we see military people who have studied our victories on the battlefield or we meet religious leaders who view our land as the root of their faith. I invited him to my home, and we spoke of the future, and I realized that one day he'd move into a position of leadership within your country. I did not expect to see him in the position he now holds, but for my people I cannot be more thankful for the mysterious ways of God." "As I said at dinner, Israel should not fear that we will abandon them." I said and he nodded. "When I spoke to your father earlier, he said that you would have much to tell me." Avram Sharone's voice was firm, but filled with curiosity. "I will tell you some things first. Over the years I have known Senator Crawley and your father, they often spoke of the future. When I became Defense Minister, I also learned many things and over the last year, our intelligence has heard many rumors moving through your country. We have spoken and I've learned which of these were true, and which were not, and I have agreed to keep silent on what I've learned. I know you are a part of these plans and I have had our intelligence services tear apart your history for anything they could find. They found many things of course, much of it complimentary, but there are many questions as well, and a few odd coincidences I have found. Would you care to hear them before you tell me your news?" "I…uh…sure." I said lamely, wondering just how good the legendary Mossad really was. "You were born Dylan Thomas, fifteen years ago, to a young school teacher fast-tracked by his school district for becoming a principal." Avran Sharone continued after my stammered response to his question. He wore a small smile. "I was quite fascinated that your file was quite extensive, including your medical information from birth onwards. Most of the information was from the Food and Drug Administration records, and integrated into the records of the American Central Intelligence Agency when you turned ten, and after you scored not just in the top 5 percentile of your nation's intelligence tests, but scored in the very top percentile. I assume from your expression of surprise that you did not know the American spy agency keeps tabs on all children with your intelligence level. They think of children like you as a national asset. We also have made it a point to keep track of such records on children like you. America and Israel have often enjoyed a…rocky relationship and we found that the more we know of our friends over there, the better off we are." "I seem to remember hearing that Israel spied more on America than they did their enemies." I said in a weak voice and he chuckled. "Not quite true, but we did expend a vast amount of resources in your country from time to time." He was chuckling softly now. "Every penny paid off the other year when we destroyed our enemy's army with weapons we procured from America. Now, there was another, more special reason why you were watched for so long by your Central Intelligence Agency as well. You weren't the only child watched so closely, something I am sure you would not be surprised to learn. We were able to get our hands on one hundred and forty-eight files of children like you who scored so high on the standardized tests in your year, and the year behind you. We found a common thread between the all. Do you know what this thread was?" "They were all conceived by use of an experimental fertility drug." I stated in a very low voice, my eyes wide. One hundred and forty-eight was a number we had never achieved in our attempts to track down the participants of the failed program, and he actually had their names and histories, probably up until nuclear attack on Washington! My palms were sweaty now as he nodded at me with that damn infuriating, knowing smile of his! "Yes, quite an interesting program." He said with his smile turning into a frown. "We found the company's files on their program interesting reading, and our intelligence staff wasn't surprised when they destroyed their own records about two months before your crisis. They were paid vast sums of money by the government for developing a fertility drug that would also breed children of more potential than the average child. The one scientist of ours laughed at the files when we showed them to him. He said what they were trying to do was quite impossible and would only result in deformed children." "He was mostly right." I said weakly. "Most of the children were deformed." "That is correct." Avram agreed soberly. "About eighty percent of the children in the study were born with deformities, stillborn, or aborted when the deformities began to mount. It was a disgrace for your FDA. The drug should never have been allowed into such wide studies, and your Pentagon quickly destroyed their records of funding the study lest word lead of their involvement. Still, some children were born, and they all showed remarkable intelligence. Not all in the same fields. Some were obviously suited for the sciences or mathematics, while others like you suited for other forms of intelligence in reading people, social patterns, and similar type of studies. The CIA was looking forward to you entering high school, and had even offered your parents, through other agencies of course, large sums of money to accelerate your education. They thought you'd make a superb analyst for them one day." "No wonder mom and dad would get so upset every time someone came around wanting me to attend some school they had." I said with a small smile. They'd always looked after me first, even though the money must have been very tempting. They were good parents, every bit as good as the Jacobs had been to me for the last few years. "Many of the kids whose files we have were in the major cities of your nation when the Crisis began." Sharone continued. "Those not already in military hands were placed under military control by orders from your White House. James Jacobs, your new father likely received similar orders, but by the time they were issued you were already at his HQ, and becoming part of his family. When the nuclear weapons fell, many of the other children like you and your new brother, Henry, were lost in the blasts that destroyed so many others. Still, almost half survived, and a good portion of those are now in a special school your government has set up. Now, here you are, and I believe you are about to tell me that the recent troubles in my country have something to do with some of the children in these files who are not at your school." "These files, we haven't been able to find anything as comprehensive as what you are describing." I said immediately. "We've looked, but we couldn't find anything." "I am not surprised about that." He told me with that small smile I was coming to dislike really quickly. "The attack on your country destroyed those few files remaining, and they were never put onto computer systems. I will have the records we have copied for you as a gesture of goodwill for the help you are about to provide." "They will be appreciated." I said after taking a deep breath. "Intelligence and birth defects weren't the only side-effects of this drug they developed." "I am beginning to understand that." He replied to my statement. "What are the other side effects and how are they being used against my government?" "The children born from this study were affected mostly by an increased usage of their brain." I began with the scientific explanation that had been developed from the last year of studies at the school. "On average, we use five to ten percent more of our brain than other people. There is also a strange low-level electro-magnetic field. It's so low-key that it can't really be detected except through touch. Normally even when someone puts leads on us to check vitals like at an emergency room, it's undetectable except maybe as a slight level of feedback in the system. However, once we understand that it is there, we can increase the strength and…do things with that field." "What things?" Sharone asked sharply, leaning forward on his desk with his eyes boring into me. "Using this field, and by touching someone we can affect the minds of others." I answered and his expression told me to go on. "It has to be touch, and almost always skin to skin contact. Some thin clothing won't stop it, but most clothing acts like an insulator. The briefest of touches, the lightest of contacts can do little more than deepen or lessen a person's thoughts without being noticed. More deep contact can be achieved to issue commands or orders that the person wouldn't normally do. The problem with that is that the field we push from ourselves into the subjects fades pretty quickly from contact and the level needed for commands not in-line with the person's natural thoughts recedes even quicker. We can detect the 'residue' from that contact with another and if we've felt that residue before we can even tell who it is from." "So you could walk up to a guard on a compound, touch him and tell him to let you in?" Avram asked me and I nodded. "You could even make him forget he saw you if you took the time and manipulated the field right." I answered. "It takes time and really only works on memories of single, or limited encounters. A person resists forgetting days or weeks at a time. Also, if the person feels strongly against what he's being told to do, the control will only work while you're in actual physical contact or for a few minutes. There's also different strengths among us, and we can overcome controls set by each other if we're stronger or the time since initial contact has been long enough." "Then how did they get Major Goldline and the guard who shot the Prime Minister?" Avram asked me in a harsh tone. "Both men were extremely loyal, and I doubt that if what you're saying is accurate they would have done those things." "There is a more powerful use of this ability that I haven't spoken of yet." I answered and shifted uncomfortably in my seat. "It is more invasive, and more permanent than the other forms. We're not even sure how it works fully because while we've been able to study the lighter forms with MRI chambers, we haven't been able to observe this deeper control. It's permanent, and we've been reluctant to do it any more than necessary and it hasn't been necessary for a while." "How does this 'deeper' control work?" Avram Sharone pressed and I shifted in my chair again. "We still haven't figured out all of the 'why's' and 'how's' yet, but basically it works through excitement of the body's nerves and pleasure centers." I answered and his eyes widened slightly. "The field of the controller can act as an enhancer for sexual arousal in both the subject and the controller, and it creates a sort of bond between the two. When the subject reaches their point of orgasm, something changes in their mind that allows the controller the ultimate level of control. Some part of the controller's field enters the subject and totally changes how the subject views the world. It binds the subject to the controller and the desires and well-being of the controller becomes paramount to the subject. They will do anything for their controller, no matter how strong their loyalties to others might be. A father will kill his own children without a second thought. The longer the connection lasts, the stronger it grows and there is less reliance on touch for certain things. It's almost as if a meta-physical connection forms between the 'master' field and the 'slave' fields in the subjects." "So if one of you establishes this connection in even the most loyal bodyguard, they will kill whoever you command." Sharone said softly, leaning back in his chair and nodding thoughtfully. "I assume this even overrides a person's sense of self-preservation?" "It can be used to make someone kill themselves without a second thought." I told him and he frowned. "How do you undo this?" He asked me and I shook my head. "Death is the only way." I told him. "The controller's field establishes itself fully in the subject. It does fade slightly with time, and must be renewed by contact with the controller on a regular basis. The more tightly someone is bonded, which is what we call this, the longer they can go without contact. Also, if they spend a lot of time in contact with their controller, the bonded subject can operate longer out of contact, but they eventually need to 'recharge'. If there's a lot of daily contact, simple touches can fill that need, but there's a need for more extended contact on a regular basis even then. It doesn't have to be sexual in nature, but well…a night in the same bed every couple of months does seem to satisfy that need even without sex. There's also a side-effect in that the bonded subject can sense the fields of other controllers, not only when they make physical contact with another controller, but through contact with someone who is either bonded or recently controlled. The longer someone has been bonded the more sensitive they are to the fields in someone who has been bonded or recently controlled. A controller cannot overcome the bonding field inside a subject, either through regular controls or the bonding process. Once a person is bonded to the controller, they are protected permanently." "What happens when the 'controller' is killed?" Avram asked quietly. "The controller's bonded die." I answered with a shudder. "The originating field in the controller is needed to keep the subject fields alive and when it's gone, they all go. It doesn't work in reverse though. Bonded subjects can die without taking their controller with them, although the controller will feel their deaths if he is close by." "Your two men the other week were bonded." Avram said thoughtfully. "I remember in the report they were shaking the hands of the Major and driver when the alert was sounded. They detected this 'field' inside the Major and sounded the alert. You felt them die?" "Yes." My answer was simple and flat and he nodded slightly. "All of your detail is bonded to you?" He asked me and I nodded. "What's the limit on how many people one of you can bond?" "We've never found out." I told him. "The upper limit would depend on how you can manage daily contact with most of your bonded and make sure that they receive the 'recharge' they need on a regular basis. Thirty or forty is tough enough as it is." "I'd like to see you try to keep that many when you're my age." He said with a short laugh, and I understood he was referring to the sexual part of this. He laughed harder at my disapproving frown. "Calm down, son, I'm not that much of a prude, nor am I as dirty minded as you think. I heard the part about it not having to be sex to 'recharge' your people. Now, tell me about the 'controllers' who are messing with my men." "They are Rahlil and Sofia al-Falid." I said as I pulled out a picture from my inside coat pocket and handed it to him. "They were born twins…" "The only pair of twins from your study group." Avram finished, pulling out a file of his own. "They are also the only Arab nationals who were part of the study and disappeared soon after their birth back to their native Saudi Arabia. We thought they might have something to do with this, call it gut intuition. From what you've told me, these bonded men of yours are the best suited to hunt them down. Even I can see that. Tell me what you've got planned and we'll see about eliminating them." The discussion that followed was a surprise for me. I gave him Paul's list of requests and he not only didn't try to shorten it, but he added a few things as well. We discussed refugee camps, and settlement areas that would be searched, and he surprised me again by asking if I wanted to bond a few of his troops to aid in the searches. I turned that offer down immediately. Naturally, he had already matched up Jennifer and Alan with his list and asked about their roles in all this. He was quite pleased at the plan we had for Jennifer and a few of my bonded circle to check out his own security detail on a daily basis and even offered some suggestions on how to increase the number of people checked on a daily basis. Then we got into a more detailed discussion on how clothing could be used to limit the ability of someone to control his people even momentarily, and I realized that many of his people were going to be unhappy with new requirements that would soon be issued, and the planned restriction to base for many key people. I also realized that whenever Israeli politicians shook hands in public from now on, they'd be wearing some type of glove. He also developed a plan to have me and my staff meet each and ever member of the Knesset in the next few days. It was midnight local time (which was two hours earlier from where I'd spent the last week) before I left his study and exhaustedly climbed into the black car for my trip back to the embassy. The ambassador and everyone but my security detail had left earlier, and I was so tired that I had to tell Paul it'd wait until morning for me to share everything that had gone on with him. I crawled out of an exhausted sleep early the next morning at 0600 local time, with less than five hours of sleep. Both Jimmy and Neil had crawled from the cots put in my room for them into my bed when I'd arrived, but they were already up by the time I rose, getting things set out for my day. Neil left to tell the others that I had woken and by the time I was done showering, Martha and Paul had arrived with the schedule of operations for the day. "We've received word from the Minister's staff that four of their elite units have been assigned to each of our search teams." Paul told me as I was getting dressed. "Our teams are meeting with them now to discuss search patterns in the areas we've already chosen and they'll be acting as backup." "Minister Sharone has already informed us that they are ready for Jennifer and her team to begin their checks." Martha added. "They've spread the cover story of a new drug that can be used to make people do what they want and their troops are actually lining up to be tested. We've made a second box for Alan to use testing the troops that will be our backup for the search teams. There's also a full schedule for you to meet most of the Israeli government officials in the next few days. He's also scheduled an interview for you with the family of the deceased Prime Minister and your arrival there will be filmed by the media. You'll have lunch with them and be expected to say a few words when you leave. Then, we have more 'meet and greets' with government officials and a formal dinner for you as well. The body of the Prime Minister will lie in state starting tomorrow and he's scheduled for you to visit at the same time as him. The French and English ambassadors will be there at the same time. Then you've got more meetings with their government people. The funeral is in three days and you'll be a front-row guest at that. It's another four days after that before they hold their vote for the new PM position. There'll be a swearing in ceremony for the next day and you'll be a VIP guest at that as well. After that, we can stretch it a few days for our stay if we need to, but we start getting on thin ice then." "This gives us more time than I was expecting." Paul broke in as soon as she was done and before I could say anything. "We've got a few extra days so the teams will take a little more time to be more thorough. The story we're going to use is that you wanted to see how the people in these camps were really being treated and sent your people to look into things. The Israeli forces will be back out of sight, hopefully letting us work more freely. Teams will be armed, but will keep them slung, and they'll also be carrying voice recorders for show as part of their 'mission'. There's no way for us to enter the area unnoticed, but this will hopefully keep things from getting rough or looking like we're searching for something to most of the people there. We've got a whole slew of questions from the State Department that they'd really like to gather information on, so there's actually some truth to the cover." "Good." I said, and then noticing the anxious looks on their faces, I realized I hadn't really told them all that had happened the night before in my conversation with Avram Sharone. So while Jimmy brought me in some breakfast, I told them the details of what had been discussed and they both asked some good questions that I answered as well as I could. It wasn't long before I was in a car and heading towards the government buildings where I'd meet my first group of Israeli lawmakers. The meetings with the Israeli lawmakers were something I'd just thought of as 'cover' for being here, and as time filler while I waited for the search teams to find our targets. I was proven wrong though from the very start. I had a lot to learn about Israel and these men were intent on teaching me as much as they could in the time allotted. I spent about a half-hour with each group, but the discussions flowed almost as if I was with the same group of people each time. Several years before the Crisis, a noted political theorist had remarked that the entire Israeli government had a 'siege mentality' and their political spectrum ranged from those that thought appeasement was best to keep them from being obliterated and those that thought the nuclear annihilation of their enemies was the only way to preserve their country. Before the Crisis, there had been a balance between the two, but now the debate seemed to rage over how many nuclear weapons it would require to make them safe and the best way to go about procuring more of the devices. "You Americans forget the lessons of the past far to easily." Benjamin Jacobs (no relation to my family) said to me in the session right before lunch. Four of the men I was talking to were rabbis as well as legislators, and Jacobs was the most cynical of them. "I still remember the day I first say my grandfather's tattoos and asked him what they were. You Americans mark your bodies now like it was nothing, but I remember those tattoos and how that madman sought to exterminate us. We cannot and will not allow that to happen again!" "We haven't forgotten the lessons of the past." I countered in a calm voice. He ran a hand through his dark hair, and like many of the men I'd met was much leaner than the generation older than him. "This treaty with the UIC is based on economic principles, not military. They won't have the funds to rebuild their armies for years under this treaty. The French and Russians, their two main suppliers won't even have surplus equipment to sell for years anyway." "That will not stop the bombings!" Avi Ballhorn said firmly, his slightly gray hair was immaculately composed and waved slightly as he shook his head while speaking in an invigorated manner. "This intifadah of theirs has forced us to give them ground time and again, and each time they send their suicide bombers into our streets. They may not buy tanks and bombs, but they will buy explosives and sneak them into the Palestinian camps and sections. We stop many of them, but more get through. I still say we should wipe them all out!" "Wouldn't that make you the same as the man who tattooed and tried to exterminate your grandfathers?" I asked a bit harshly and was surprised when Ben Jacobs chuckled. The other three started chuckling after a moment. "There is the problem with that solution." Avi Ballhorn said with a smile. "Still, you must remember that we are a people who faced extinction. Our history is full of our enslavement, our persecution, and our deaths at the hands of others. We are surrounded by people who would love to see our people drawn and quartered and dance with our carcasses through the streets. We do not have the luxury of oceans separating us from those who would kill us if they could." "You do not stand alone, though." I pointed out and he frowned slightly. "It was the US that helped push the United Nations to support the founding of your nation in the 1940's. It was America that gave you the arms to hold your own each time you were invaded, and in the last few years, when every drop of fuel was most precious, we sent our planes and our pilots to fight and die at your side, in defense of your country against nuclear attack. That is not going to change. As much as you might feel like it at times, we do stand beside you when the time comes." "You forget the years of America telling us to give up land for the Palestinians." Ben Jacobs pointed out and I had to agree somewhat. "You told us we would be better off giving the Palestinians land, and they used that to attack us." "And you used the agreements to force your settlers in to areas before the deadlines, further undermining the agreements." I retorted quickly and held my hand up when he was about to respond. "That is irrelevant to the present. We told the UIC that the land you hold now is the spoils of war you earned when they attacked you. There will be no more land grabs. The people there have the option of living under Israeli law or moving." "When word of that reaches the camps, there will be riots." Avi Ballhorn said with a grim smile. "I hope you've told this to Minister Sharone." "I have." I told him and his smile grew bigger. I had several more discussions that day, and the next day, that were similar, and several bits of discussions made good additions for my thesis project. Israel wasn't an obvious example of a government run by the tenets of a religious faith, but the number of non-Jewish government leaders was marginal even before the crisis, and now the Knesset featured two non-Jewish members, both of Christian denominations. Laws once passed to make life in Israel more comfortable for non-Jewish citizens were being steadily repealed and the small country shaped more and more in accordance with the precepts of their faith. Still, the day wore on and I was anxious for news on what the search teams had found. "What do you mean nothing?" I asked later that evening as Paul and Martha were meeting with me in my room at the embassy. "Look, we're searching huge areas and through thousands of people that don't necessarily want to give us any information." Paul shot back testily. "We nearly caused a riot at one point. Everyone's testy and the fact that the Israelis have shut down all the exits to most of the compounds isn't making anything better. Those that actually do have jobs are worried about losing them because they can't go to work." "What are they so worried about?" Martha's voice was acidic. "It's not like any of the Israelis would take the jobs the people in those camps hold. It's sick. They give the worst jobs to the Palestinians. Once the garbage starts piling up and their maid doesn't show up for a few days, the Israelis will open the camps back up." "They're more worried about another camp being opened first and another Palestinian getting their job." Paul clarified, shaking his head slowly. "It's weird, when you look at the whole picture here." I admitted with my own headshaking. "Both sides have legitimate grievances…but they both…" "They both do things to earn each other's grievances." Martha said with a soft sigh and a knowing nod of her head. "Don't think you can come in here and solve all their problems, Dylan. You're smart, but these people have been going after each other since before recorded history. When a feud's that old, solving it isn't a matter for diplomacy." "It's a matter for genocide." Paul said with a grunt and I actually laughed. "No genocide today, or tomorrow, at least." I chided him while I was still laughing, and I relaxed a little. After that it was just more talk about the plans for the upcoming days ahead of us, and some refinement of the search patterns. The next day was much the same as the day before, nothing was found of the two kids we were searching for, or the leaders who had fled the UIC. The funeral for the slain Prime Minister came and went, as did the vote in the Knesset for Avram Sharone to be the new Prime Minister. A full week passed by and still we had nothing except one small riot caused when one of the teams thought about questioning some clerics at a local mosque. That was our lucky break. "We've got them." Paul said the morning after the small riot, bursting into the room and finding me in what would normally have been an embarrassing position with Neil and Jimmy. "Got to go." I said in a rush, pulling out of Neil who let out a muttered curse while Jimmy started snickering. It only took me a minute to get dressed in a pair of slacks and a shirt while Paul laughed at Neil who was trying to both cover up and pout, accomplishing neither successfully. At least it put me in a much more positive mood. We'd come up with the idea of me staying in the area to do 'research' for my thesis paper for a few extra days, but that was very weak. Now, we wouldn't have to worry about that cover story. Paul led me deeper into the embassy, and into the office of the man whose real job here was the CIA attaché. He was grinning very widely and handed me a document as soon as I entered. Tom Martinson was a vain man and he checked his pepper-gray hair in a mirror before sitting down. I looked the paper over for a moment and felt a surge of excitement. "So Khulari told the clerics to turn them over?" I asked with a pleased grin. "Yep, he did." Martinson said with a grin of his own. "It was on the A3 encryption system so you can't act until the clerics make contact. Once you get these freaks off the market we can get things back to normal. But I don't want them clued in on the fact we broke their A3 codes. Not even the Israelis know about that. Just get them and get out of here before this place blows up worse than it already has." "Thanks, Martinson." I said slowly, staring at him for a moment. "We won't ruin your code breaking. I'll go down to the mosque unarmed and 'apologize' to the clerics. Give them a chance to help me out." "You do that." Martinson said in what was clearly a dismissal. While he'd been friendly the first few days I'd noticed that he was decidedly unfriendly the last few days. I'd even gone so far as to have him checked each day but there was no trace of anyone's controls on him that Martha could detect. Paul and I headed back to my room, where Jimmy and Neil were now dressed and cleaning things up. Martha was there as well, and once the door was shut behind us, it was time to talk. However, Paul had a topic in mind that wasn't directly dealing with our hunt for the two Arabic gifted. "Dylan, he called them freaks." Paul said softly, referring to Martinson's comments of a few minutes ago. "I know." I said just as softly while Martha, Jimmy, and Neil looked at us in some confusion. "We didn't release that information to him or anyone here in the embassy." Paul stated in that same tone. "I know." I said again, pinching the bridge of my nose in unconscious imitation of dad. I could feel a slight headache forming. There's also the matter of why they haven't shared the breaking of the UIC encryption with the Israeli government. That's a violation of the direct orders from the President on full cooperation. "I think we know the cause of his behavior around me the last few days, and I'm pretty sure that means the CIA knows about us. From the files Minister Sharone had already provided, the CIA had long been aware, and even a participant in the medical studies that had lead to the conception of those of us with these special abilities. The program had failed because of the high mutation and death rate of the conceived children, but efforts had been made to track all the children successfully born. Most of the files had been destroyed a few years ago, and the mystery of who and why they had been destroyed might very well be answered by this little development. The only way Martinson could know about these 'freaks' was if he knew about the program that had produced us, and if he knew, so did others in the CIA. The loyalty of that organization to the American government, and to my father, the President was now in question." That was a question for another day, though. "Dylan!" Brian's voice was anxious as he opened the door to the room in a hurry. He was panting as if he'd just run from the room where our communications was centered in the embassy. "Zombie code from Jennifer's team." "SHIT!" Paul nearly shouted as he grabbed Brian's shoulders and pushed him out the door. I was right behind them, Martha right behind me, when I felt it, the sudden flash and pain rumbling through my head. It wasn't as hard and intense as it had been that day at the airport, but I could feel it as Thomas Thoreau was hit by an explosive blast and fragments of metal ripped through his body. I stumbled just a bit and Martha caught me instinctively. I could see Thomas as he was the last time I'd seen him, walking off with Jennifer and Carrolls for the Israeli government building where they'd screen incoming guards for being controlled or bonded by those we were hunting. Yesterday had been his 21st birthday and we'd thrown him a small party that day and he'd laughed at the surprise, brown eyes warm with happiness at the soft kiss I'd planted on his cheek. Now, I could feel that last moment of breath, and I dreaded the hatred that would come as the bond snapped and he was no longer controlled by me in that moment right before death. It never came though, as the bond snapped inside of me faintly. However, it was different than the last time two of my bonded had died. He'd lived for a moment after whatever it was had sent shrapnel into him, and in the moment that death took him, I felt the bond snap and tasted just for a moment his true feelings about me, and it wasn't hate. I could feel amusement, and fondness, and even a form of brotherly love as life slipped from him miles away. I knew I was shuddering slightly as Martha held me. I was crying softly into her shoulder as Paul came running back towards us. "It…Thoreau just died." I said softly and Martha shook her head sadly. "C'mon, Dylan, we need to get to communications." Paul said softly and I lifted my head up, wiping the tears from my cheeks before stepping out of Martha's embrace with a gentle smile. "You were right, Paul." I said softly and he smiled for a moment before his grim expression returned. He knew what I was referring to, without a need for explanations. "I told you so, smart ass." Paul said fondly, tousling my short hair with a small grin. "Now, it's time to get down there and get some revenge. That's three of us they've killed and I want payback!" "Let's go." I said firmly, nodding my head. I could feel a slight gap in me where the bond connecting Thoreau to me had been. There was some grief too, because I'd really liked him, and he'd been one of my circle for a long time. The time for grief wasn't now though, that would come when we were back on the plane, safely away from here. For now though, we rushed down to the communications room to see what we could find out.
  8. dkstories

    Chapter 28

    Note to Readers: International relations are a matter of convenience only. There is no such thing as a 'true friend' between nations, no matter what people say. Many Presidents, and others, have said that America and Britain are 'true friends', yet it was an American nuke that destroyed London,and a British nuke that destroyed Washington D.C. This was why I had no qualms about negotiating a treaty with the UIC that I knew wasn't worth the paper it was printed on. The day would come when that treaty would be used to bring about the end of the UIC, and the subsequent diversion of Europe while America went through a transformation in the future. They were all pawns in the hands of President Jacobs, and it was my job to help keep them that way. In 1939 Hitler (the leader of Germany) entered into a treaty with Ioseph Stalin (the leader of the Soviet Union). The treaty gave Hitler two years to consolidate his hold over Europe and when he was ready, he sent his troops thundering into Russia. The fact that the Germans were stopped within sight of the onion domed churches in the Kremlin, and that the Soviet Union eventually pushed them back to Berlin is a matter of poor decisions anb poor planning on the part of the Germans. If they had planned better, used their troops better, the Soviet Union would have fallen, thanks to the treaty that had been signed in 1939. Likewise, the treaty I was working on with the UIC would be their doom, so long as we planned it right when the time to move came. Four days of negotiations passed by rather quickly. Each morning we'd show up and be confronted with questions about different aspects of the proposals or changes from their delegation. During lunch, Paul and Martha would proceed back to the plane and discuss them over secure lines with the experts at the Presidio. Then we'd meet again after a lengthy lunch (wherein Martha and Paul would give me what answers they'd had), and we'd give those answers and counterproposals. Dinner would be on the plane where we'd discuss everything more fully, and then return to a local Mosque where I would be filmed watching the service respectfully, and then the cameras would record the Ayatollah and I walking through the columns of the building in animated discussion. It looked good on camera for him, and surprisingly even better on camera after the Ayatollah agreed to an interview with Daro Fo and told him he'd never met as agile a mind as mine, nor ever expected a fifteen year old to debate theology so well. While he tried to appear as an elder scholar instructing the young to his own people, he tried to appear as if a 'bond' were being formed by two intellectuals when he spoke to Daro Fo, and that helped back home. He was not a stupid man, but rather a crafty one who sometimes underestimated his opponents and who listened to bad advice. I did not use my power on him after that first moment because there was no need to do that. He knew we would fall back on military options if the negotiations failed, and he knew the offers we were making would genuinely give him what he needed to feed and power his people for many years. The trap that was laid into them was nothing he could know about, especially since only a few of us knew about it at all. He learned a lot about me in those days, and I learned a lot about him and his hold on the leaders under him. It was a hold based not on the power of military strength, but on the belief of the people. The political and military leaders lived in fear of mobs crashing their palaces and tearing them limb from limb if this man told them to do so. His insights on how to maintain a grip on the passions of the people were keen, and cruel in the extreme. His ideas on how to regulate the 'pressures' of the world of the flesh and use the passions to keep a grip on the individual as well as the mob were like no lesson I'd ever had before. In exchange for his insights, I had to share a few of my own. He learned from me what I'd seen and learned both in Idaho and Utah (except for my abilities), and I gave him my own opinions on why Jefferson and the Prophet had failed in the end. He was particularly keen on learning how I had managed to convince the Prophet's own guards to turn on him, and using some of the things we'd discussed earlier, I used a reasoning about how the Prophet had failed to fully understand who they were and what they wanted, and I'd been able to touch into that. He seemed to accept that reasoning. After nearly a week had passed, everyone was growing exhausted. Usually these types of meetings had over a hundred people working together, and while there were many more in the Presidio working than just us, it was the team here that bore most of the work. The afternoon meeting of the sixth day ended with no new questions, and no new issues to be resolved. I noted that while most of the people at the table seemed happy (or relieved on our side), a few Generals and political leaders looked like they'd swallowed sour milk. I hoped to talk to the Ayatollah about them after the evening prayers. He looked a little strained, more strained than he had earlier in the day. He even stumbled once or twice during the prayers and I realized he really was an old man. It was something that made me wonder what would happen when he did pass away. Would the cleric that replaced him be as reasonable, or more bound to the passions that seemed to accompany their faith? Alan had asked to accompany us on this last day, and both the Ayatollah and I had agreed. Jennifer and Alan had been a topic of discussion the evening before, and I had explained their presence in line with our cover story, never hinting at the deeper nature of their purpose here. He'd remarked that their own education system often identified gifted youngsters and had them trained in advanced subjects as much as possible. That was why, when we went for our walk around the columned building, Alan was at my side and I was not surprised that he had a young man who looked at us with a serious expression at his side. He introduced the young man as Rahlil, and we all nodded at each other in greeting before walking down the moonlit walk, talking of education and the emphasis on religion that their system included which ours did not. We talked for almost an hour before I decided to see if I could talk to the Ayatollah alone for a moment. "I would like an opportunity to talk to Alan a little more as well, sir, if I may." Rahlil said with a deferential bow of his head. "He made a point earlier about the difference between expressive belief and true belief that I would like to discuss further." "Very well, then, you stay here while I talk with young Dylan." Khulari said with a fond smile and we moved off a little ways before I began to ask him what problems might occur with the men who did not seem too happy with the final treaty that would be presented tomorrow and signed. "They are the ones that are most unhappy with not forcing the issue of Israel." Khulari said with a tone that I had a hard time placing. "I fear that there might be some problems for tomorrow. It might be best if you were prepared to stay a few more days to handle any issues that arise." "I think that I might be able…" I started to reply, but was cut off when I heard my name shouted in a strangled voice. I turned and found a sight I was totally unprepared for, and had feared ever since the Major in Israel. Alan was standing there, locked into a grip with the boy, Rahlil. Alan was wearing a short sleeve shirt, unlike me, and Rahlil had a grip on his bare arm. Alan's other hand was locked around the boy's throat in a tight grasp, with the boy's other arm trying to pull it free. Both of them were staring at each other with eyes locked in fierce glares and I knew that powers were clashing through those touches. Before I could react though, a gnarled hand seized my throat and I looked up to see the elderly Ayatollah grabbing my throat. The old man didn't stand a chance though. He was an academic, a cleric, never one to exert himself overly much, although he did stay in shape. Still, a seventy year old man who had never trained in hand-to-hand combat was no match for me. I managed to break his hold roughly, and a single punch to his stomach sent him to the ground. For a split second I considered reaching into him quickly with my powers, but a cry of pain from Alan's direction drew my attention. Rahlil had drawn a knife from somewhere and slashed Alan's arm. Alan released him from his grasp and boy turned towards me, but I reacted faster than he could rush me, drawing a knife that I had hidden on my right leg. It was in my hand, and I was in a ready crouch before he took two steps towards me. He stopped when he saw my stance and the sound of Alan moving towards him made him turn quickly, slashing violently. Alan barely avoided the blow by jumping backwards and falling down. Rahlil took the opening and headed for doors at the far end of the corridor. I took off after him, yelling at Alan to stay where he was and keep the Ayatollah there. Rahlil had too much of a head start and I threw my own knife as he slipped through the doorway. The knife quivered in the doorway and I slammed through it a moment later, facing stunned guards who were just bringing their pistols out of their holsters. "He attacked the mullah!" I screamed in broken Farsi and they looked at me in surprised indecision for a moment. Their officer screamed something at them and they chased off in the direction Rahlil had fled while the officer followed me back into the passage where I'd left the Ayatollah, and there was a moment of worry until I saw that Alan was helping the man to his feet. Alan had likely broken the controls of the boy, and was now keeping a reign on the man. "Find the boy Rahlil and have him shot on sight!" Khulari shouted as soon as he saw the officer, and the man turned immediately, running down the passageway after the guards. Alan stepped away from the Ayatollah, who was breathing heavily and I noticed that he looked much more like his normal self than he had earlier. It was obvious now that he'd been controlled sometime between dinner and the evening prayers, and that it was not bonding but simple controls that had been used. "I broke the controls Rahlil set and did nothing else, sir, I promise!" Alan said in a scared voice and I breathed a sigh of relief. Alan was pretty good at thinking on his feet, and had just handed me a way to handle this without revealing my own abilities. Until just now, the man had not touched Alan or Jennifer, and so there would be no suspicion of undue influence being used. Still, I'd have to weigh the importance of letting him live. The secret was out now, but maybe it was out in a way that it could be handled. Khulari was studying me carefully now, and I noticed that he also was looking at Alan carefully, while Alan was now gripping his wounded arm. "Alan, go find Paul outside and have your wound looked at." I told him forcefully. "I also want you to tell him that the Ayatollah and I will be having a long talk. I am in no danger." "Yes, sir." Alan said, leaving immediately and still clutching his arm. Khulari's guard officer reappeared then, announcing that the boy had escaped. Khulari's eyes flashed angrily as he yelled at the guard in their language and the man paled before leaving at a run. "We have much to talk about, I believe." Khulari told me, motioning me in the opposite direction and leading me through several passages before we entered a series of small rooms. Servants poured over him immediately, finally bringing two coffee cups and a steaming pot of the drink. The servant filled both cups before leaving, shutting the door behind him. We sat in silence as Khulari sipped on the coffee with shaky hands. He calmed down after a bit but stayed silent, staring hard at me. I took a sip of my own cup and relaxed as I tasted the spicy drink. "I've been meaning to ask how this is made." I said softly. "I find it delicious." "I will give your people some as a gift before you leave." He said after a moment, still staring hard at me. "They brought the boy to me at dinner after I had requested one of our brightest for our walk tonight. I thought al-Saliyah looked too happy when he was brought in to meet me at the end of dinner. When he touched me, I felt invaded, and when he spoke, I knew I could not disobey. They intended to have me withdraw from the talks tomorrow, and demand that Israel be discussed. "They told me they would not use his abilities on you, because they wanted you to leave, but they did tell me that they had used a similar technique to attack you before you arrived. My original intent in Israel was to delay you, make you sweat while we assembled the leaders we needed. I was furious someone had tried to blow up your plane, but they claimed it was a local group, unconnected to us. I think that Rahlil meant to make your friend kill you." "Probably." I said with a nod of my head. "It would eliminate me without blame on you or your people." "How is this possible?" Khulari asked in a voice that sounded old. "I am old, and I do not like new things, and this is far too new for me to like. When your friend touched me, it was like a cold wind blowing through my soul, wiping away the foul touch of that other boy. I knew he could do the same as the other had done, but he withdrew once I was clean. What is it that they did?" "It is a new ability that we ourselves have only learned of recently." I answered him honestly. The best of lies were filled with almost all truth, just subtle elements left out of them. "We found it being used by the Prophet in Utah. They too sought to control me with the boy's ability, but they had made the boy do things that caused him to hate them, and he saw the opportunity to break free of them when he met me." "It was this boy who changed the allegiance of that man's guards." Khulari stated with a knowing nod. "You did not seek to control me in these negotiations." "There are several reasons why we did not make such an attempt." I answered his statement calmly. "Foremost is that the taking of a man's will is a crime against God. God gave us free will and to seek to take it away is to go against God's wishes." "If they had presented the boy to me and told me of his uses, I would be tempted to use them for my own goals, but I am glad I was not faced with such temptation." Khulari said after a moment of thought, and then nodded at me to continue. "Second, is that we knew that others with these abilities might exist." I explained and he nodded again. "We believe we traced them to a fertility program that existed in the United States several years ago. Those records were destroyed, but we have sought to find as many as we could. If we knew we had them all, we might have…eliminated the threat they posed." "Also a reaction I would have had." Khulari nodded before looking at me sharply. "Are you among these…people?" "No." I answered immediately and he smiled. "Nor would you admit you were if it were so." He said. "Still, you could not be sure you had them all, so eliminating them would be foolish." "Nor could we advertise their existence because everyone would fear the chance that we might use them offensively." I said and he nodded. "So, we collected them together and have sought to instill in them certain attitudes. They are to defend our leaders from such intrusions as you experienced, to cleanse the effects of those when we can, as Alan did for you, and that is all. They are taught to use their abilities in defense only, and never to assume control over another." "What are the limitations on this ability?" Khulari asked sharply and I took a deep breath. This would have to be almost all the truth fearing that he could learn something different later. "There appears to be several levels of control possible." I answered. "The lightest are barely noticeable, while others are more noticeable. In all honesty, tonight I saw evidence of that deeper control with you, but attributed it to tiredness. There is also something that has been referred to as bonding or sealing. It subsumes the total will and life of the subject to that of the person using their powers. A person controlled to that level will do anything, betray anything they believed in before, even kill themselves at the command of the person who bonded them. It is the ultimate betrayal of God's will for us as individuals. Such bonding cannot be undone, only solved by death. Also, the person bonded dies when the person holding the bond is killed." "How many have you found with the ability to do this thing?" Khulari's voice was cold now. "Almost twenty." I answered, again honestly. "How many know about them?" He continued with his questions. "A total of eighty-six people." I told him, counting quickly of those that I knew. "The President, a few advisors, the medical staff and soldiers that guard the school, and the leaders of my security detail and my brother's. We each took two of them with us to protect and test the…usefulness of our indoctrination. As you saw tonight with Alan, I do believe that it has worked." "Your young Alan seems to have developed an interest in my religion." Khulari stated in a voice that brooked no argument and I squirmed uncomfortably. "I will also make sure he does not entertain the use of his…abilities in violation of God's will, and he will help me identify any who have been touched by Satan's spawn." "I must discuss this with the President." I answered after a few moments. "I agree, that it is a solution, but he must be treated well, and I believe that we will send another student after a time to develop a better understanding of our new…partners." "I also believe that I will send one of my aides to look at this school of yours…and maybe see if we can achieve a similar facility here." He replied and I nodded slowly. I considered using my abilities regardless, but if I did so it would have numerous ramifications later. "You understand that if your students ever touch me or anyone except at my command, they will be shot immediately." He said slowly and I nodded, cutting off that line of thought. "The temptation to use their abilities is great." I answered, letting him think that he was correct in his line of thinking, which he had been, after a fashion. "This will remain something of which few are aware?" "Only myself, and my closest advisor will be aware of this." He said firmly. "However, there are others we need to question. I will be issuing orders to have al-Saliyah and the others who were present brought to us. I believe some will be fleeing, but we will get to the bottom of this. Tell me your thoughts on the use of these…abilities to ascertain the truth in situations such as this." "To ascertain the truth of how such abilities have been used, it is acceptable to require the truth to be told, but no more." I answered immediately. "Then you will allow me to utilize young Alan tonight?" He asked me with a meaningful look. "I will be present during such questioning of course." I stated and he nodded. "I will need to talk with my security commander and let him know what we are doing, and make sure young Alan is recovering from his wound and is able to help." "Why did you truly bring him tonight?" Khulari asked. "He really was interested in our discussions." I answered. "He is a bright guy and since he's been at the school, he hasn't had much interaction with people. Alan enjoys scholarly debate, and we've talked a lot when we've been able to during the last several days." "Then I believe he won't be totally bored by staying here." Khulari said with a smile. "Speak to the attendant outside. He will show you the way to your security officer and return with Alan." "I will be back soon." I said and left in a slight hurry. Paul was all but frantic, having heard already from Alan what had happened. He was leaning towards fighting our way out. I felt in over my head, standing on a brink and realized it was no longer a new feeling. I'd been in this situation before, and walked away with what we had needed. With some careful work here, I could do the same. Still, I didn't like leaving Alan here; it was just too dangerous. "Are you okay, Alan?" I asked the young man who was sitting next to where Paul stood, a new bandage on his slashed arm. He looked up at me, grinning broadly when I spoke to him. "Just a cut." Alan shrugged off his wound. "I can't believe it! I was right. Those suckers at school are going to hate me. They owe me fifty bucks all together." "You made a bet on whether you'd get hurt?" I asked in surprise and he chuckled softly, looking around to make sure no one was close enough to hear. There were UIC soldiers nearby, but they were pointedly not looking at us while talking rapidly to each other. "No, it was a bet about if we'd find another gifted here." Alan whispered with a fierce smile. "I just can't believe it was me he went after and not you. We were talking about something and then he touched me. He took me by surprise but I pushed him out just like we practiced. Then he took out that knife and slashed me." "You reacted well to the surprise, and what you did with Khulari was perfect." I complimented him and he beamed up at me, flush with the praise I'd given. "Khulari wants to have you present while he talks with…" I was interrupted by the sounds of soldiers rushing to positions around Khulari as he moved towards us in an unsteady gait. He was escorted by several other clerics, all of whom looked grim. He paused in front of me as I faced him squarely and he looked over at the injured Alan quickly before returning his gaze to me. "Your man is not injured severely?" He asked me in a low voice. "He will be fine." I answered and he nodded. "He has my thanks and the appreciation of my people for his brave defense of my life." Khulari said in a formal voice. "Several of those responsible have fled the city already and are being hunted by our security forces. It would be best if you returned to your plane tonight. We will be delayed an hour in tomorrow's ceremony, but it will be held. I will see you then, and maybe we will talk briefly before the ceremony itself. If you don't mind, I would like to thank young Alan myself for his protection this evening." "Of course." I said despite being confused. Something had changed between the time I left his room and now, but his offer to shake Alan's hand was obviously his way of telling us this was his own decision. Alan rose to his feet, shaking Khulari's hand and nodded at me before we made our way to the waiting cars. It was plain that we'd be staying on the plane tonight, and when we arrived the ground generator was running, providing basic air conditioning that was very much needed in the hot night. It was only a matter of minutes before the secured satellite connection was made, and I sat in my cabin and used the lowered flat-pane television screen to hold a videoconference with dad. He had Senator Crawley with him, and they both looked like they'd been up all night (it was morning back in San Francisco). "It never rains but it pours." Senator Crawley said softly when I was done outlining this evening's events. Both of them looked upset and I wondered what else had been happening. I didn't have long to wait though, because dad was quick to inform me. "Henry's run into a roadblock as well." Dad explained. "Several of the pro-US faction members suddenly changed their positions in the middle of the night, demanding Henry and his team leave. Mary, one of the students Henry has with him figured out they'd been bonded to someone overnight. This makes it official, I do believe, that your gifted are far more common, and more commonly known than we'd believed. So far, both you and Henry haven't been exposed, but the likelihood that this will become common knowledge before too long keeps increasing." "I doubt that his request to keep Alan there will be followed through." Senator Crawley said, returning to the topic of Khulari. "He's risking looking like an American stooge as it is, and I think that's what his advisors told him tonight. Anyway, I don't think we can afford to have you leave anyone there for now. He'll actively be hunting for them now, and I think he stands a good chance at finding those responsible. Just get the Treaty and get yourself back home as fast as you can." "I agree, Dylan." Dad told me firmly. "We'll work up a plan on dealing with things if they go public, and try to keep the two of you as not being a part of this group. Good job on keeping the negotiations on track. Bring the treaty straight home. We'll figure out what to do about these rogue gifted there. We need to come up with a better name for it as well. Get some rest, and head home." "But, dad, I think I should…" I started to protest the order to head directly home, but all it took was one look from him and that made me accept I'd just been given a direct order from not only my dad, but from the President. "Yes, sir, straight home." "Good night, son." Dad said and I cut the connection. However, it wasn't time for bed as we held an impromptu meeting in the conference room with the support staff as well as Alan and Jennifer. The news crews were spending the last night at the hotel and would be coming on board right after final ceremonies were over. We'd head back to the hotel in the morning, hold a last meeting behind closed doors, and then Khulari and I would come outside, sit at two small tables, sign the treaty, and each make a short speech. There'd be no questions from the press after that. Following the speech, there'd be a short farewell and then we'd be gone. The treaty still would have to be approved by Congress, and according to the new rules by which it operated, a hearing would have to be held with the chief negotiator within three days of my return to the States. Then the document as a whole, without amendment would be voted up or down on the floor of the Senate, which gave dad's administration the time between when I signed the document to the time I landed in the States, and three more days to make sure we had the votes lined up for it to become official. The good thing about staying on the plane is that Jimmy got to climb in bed with me as soon as I lay down. I slept a lot better with him curled up next to me than I had in my hotel room, even with Sammy Richardson keeping an eye on me there. Even though I was feeling like I was swimming in a pit of molasses and unable to see beyond a swirling brownish muck, at least I wasn't alone. A surprise waited for me the next day as we entered the negotiations room. The large table that had been there every other day was gone, and in its place stood a small table with two chairs. About twenty of the clerics, politicians, and military generals that had been part of Khulari's team waited on the far wall and Khulari himself stood next to one of the chairs and motioned me towards the other. I told my people to wait for me beside the entrance and crossed the room with a confident stride. Khulari smiled when I reached the table and invited me to sit. There was a steaming silver pot of coffee on the table and he poured the coffee himself into two cups of delicate china. I was pretty sure if I had asked, I'd have been told the china was hundreds of years old. Khulari was smiling the entire time he poured and we sat, both sipping on the hot coffee for a few minutes before he spoke. "In the next few days, eighteen of my people will receive promotions because their superiors failed to inform me of two young people and their amazing abilities." Khulari told me without losing that smile on his face. "Four of those superiors will have to wait for justice until they are found. The others saw the dawn for the last time this morning." "Sometimes I envy your…swifter forms of justice." I said with a nod of my head at his news. His smile grew almost feral. "There are times that living by the Word of God has its advantages." He said with a slight chuckle. I looked at his people on the far wall without moving my head and could see a few of them paling at that chuckle. We were speaking so softly that it wasn't likely they'd actually heard a word that had been said. "Having an American stay with me would look…suspicious for many of my people." He continued after a moment. "Therefore, I will not ask that your Alan remain behind. We are quite certain that there are only the two, twin children of parents who sought aid from your country when they could not have children on their own. The children were brought back here, and raised in our…schools where they were taught to hate everything American, and our other enemies. This is their file, the left is the original in my language, and the writing on the right is a hasty translation of all that we know of them and their families." "Thank you." I said as I took the file from him. I looked inside quickly, seeing a picture of the boy Rahlil, and a young girl that according to the file was his twin sister, Sofia. "I have not slept since we last met." He said in a very tired voice, and his smile slipped just a little. "We had many to question, much to discuss, and much more to consider. Two years ago I was much surprised by the events that occurred. They were not an approved action. Last night, I discovered that the most zealous haters of Israel in my ranks formulated the events to carry out the destruction of Israel. They thought that while the world worried about oil, Israel could be destroyed without interference. For their hubris, nearly a billion have died. That is far too much blood for even Allah to condone." "Is there proof of this?" I asked in surprise, shaken by the news. "In that file you will find the detailed confession of two Generals who knew the full picture of what happened." He told me, pointing to the file I now grasped tightly. "They used the children, barely fourteen at the time to subvert workers, guards, and even advisors of foreign leaders to carry out their plan. After their plan to take Israel failed, they undertook revenge, infiltrating the boy Rahlil into your White House with a special delegation to discuss oil supply. The boy made your former President feel paranoid, in the hopes it would lead to nuclear war." "Which it did." I whispered in horror, looking down at the file in my hands. If this ever became public knowledge, every last one of us would be hunted down and torn limb from limb. "It did indeed." Khulari said slowly, his smile finally fading. "I worry about your school, and those within it. I wonder how many of them will seek power on their own, or be pawns for others. I wonder if one day they will seek to rule the world over the rest of us humans, and I can think of no way to stop them except to shoot them all now. I imagined last night how your father must have felt when you learned of these children's abilities, how he decided to respond in any way other than to eliminate them all. The only thing I could think of is that he must believe he has some way to make sure they do not do those things, they do not use their abilities for wrong. He must be able to bind their loyalty to some one, or some thing in order to keep them leashed. It is the dog that loves its leash that is safest in the home." "As I said before, they are taken to this school, treated well, and taught the best we know how to be loyal." I said softly. "You said this other boy, who was forced to work for your Utah Prophet, he decided to turn against his master when he met you." Khulari stated and I grew a bit nervous. "Yes." I answered plainly. "That also made me wonder." Khulari stated. "What was it about you that made him see strength in you to take down his evil master? How did he come to believe that you would free him? Then I had the tape of you in Idaho brought to me, and I saw how he might have believed you had that strength." "Excuse me?" I said softly, trying not to let my eyes widen and he smiled at me. "My first thought was that you had used these abilities to assume control of your own father, and through him the country." Khulari said and I shuddered suddenly, totally afraid. I wondered if I should try to fight my way out, but he seemed totally calm and was looking at me with a slight smile even. "I wouldn't…" I stammered, but he raised a hand to stop me. "No, I do not believe you would do such a thing." He told me. "We have talked this past week on many topics, and I have come to understand you as I believe few people truly have done in your young life. You do not seek power, but you accept it when it is thrust on you. You have the arrogance of youth and the arrogance of your American heritage, and of course that arrogance that comes with intelligence like yours. You are even smart enough to dissemble when faced with the fact you have been discovered." "What is it you want?" I asked in a hissing whisper and he leaned back, smiling even more. "I want these two dead." He said with a flick of his fingers towards the file in my hands. I looked down at it briefly before nodding. "I want the same." I admitted aloud. "You told me that the taking of man's will is a crime against God." He said slowly, and I noticed an appraising look on his face. "I see now you were speaking from the voice of experience. Your father ties these children to you, so that you hold their loyalties, does he not?" "That is how it appears to be working." I answered in honesty. "Much of the ethics they are taught comes from what we have worked out on how God would want such abilities to be used." "America and Israel have always been the focus of my people's hatred." He said, and I wondered if this was a change of topic, or part of the topic. "Now, with this treaty, America is to become our friend, and I find myself depending solely on Israel as a focus of the hatred and anger of my people. Without an external focus, I fear their anger might turn inward and my power over them will weaken. That has in part, already happened as proven by last night's events. Israel must remain strong if it is to remain our enemy. These plans we approve will keep us from rebuilding our armies for many years. I believe that those who have fled will seek to weaken Israel quickly before the hunters they fear come after them." "I will speak with my father about this and we will expedite our hunt for them." I told him and he nodded. "You will send me the pictures and information on every child you find and teach at your school." He told me in a tone that brooked no argument. "You will not send these children into my lands without my permission. If I learn you have used their abilities against God's will, or against me, your secret will be known throughout the world in minutes. If, while I live, I see you have abided by God's will in the use of these abilities, and have only used them to defend against others, then this secret I will take to the grave. Allah will judge you after that." "I will discuss this with my father." I said slowly. "Please allow some time for me to explore this with him." "I give you one week from your return to your home." He said with a slow nod of his head and I took a sip of my coffee. "I'm really going to miss this stuff." I said with a slight grin and he chuckled. "I have had two hundred pounds of the beans sent to your aircraft." He told me. "If you need more, let me know and I will have it sent to you. It is you Americans that have caused these…powers to challenge us. Your arrogance in playing around with the creation of life has come back to haunt you. It is your mess to deal with, and I believe Allah has chosen you to deal with his threat. I have learned to not argue with Allah when he makes his desires clear, and he has done so with you. You will personally take care of these two abominations and any others that you find. I expect you will make sure any who do not meet your standards and follow the Will of Allah will see him sooner than the others. He sent you here now, exposed this boy and his conspirators now, while you were here, for this reason. Otherwise, I would not know you well enough to judge you, to place this trust in an arrogant American boy." "My father said something similar when we first discovered this ability by accident." I admitted and he smiled. "I see great changes for your country with your father in its leadership." Khulari said and for a moment I thought me might know more about dad's long range plans, but his next words relaxed me slightly. "Perhaps with his example of moral leadership, the excesses of the old America will no longer be something the rest of us must tolerate. I pray that it will be so." "As do we." I said, lifting my coffee and saluting him with it as I drained the cup. He responded with the same gesture and we both set the empty cups down. "I am not comfortable with this." Khulari said as he let out a sigh. "If I thought you had tampered with me to make me place such trust in you, I would never consider what I've said, but somehow, the fact that I still consider having my guards shoot you dead right now only leads me to trust you more." "I never thought someone considering killing me would be a good thing." I quipped and he laughed. "I do believe it is time for us to make our speeches and for you to be on your way." Khulari stood slowly, and I also stood. He paused for a moment, reaching out to take my hand and I couldn't resist a quick touch of my power to make sure he was still uncontrolled, and breathed a sigh of relief when I found nothing but the faintest traces of Alan's touch on him from the day before. "May Allah guide us on the paths we tread from this day forward." He said slowly and I nodded my agreement. Paul and the others would have to wait for explanations. The speeches before the press went well, with no mention of last night's events. It was obvious we'd all keep quiet, probably forever. I remained silent all through the trip back to the airport. The signed copy of the treaty lay in my hands. As I stared at it, I felt a sickly feeling of fear creeping through me. I no longer had any real control over who knew of my abilities. Someone who not a week before was an enigmatic enemy had that secret now, and a level of control on me that I had feared. I knew Paul would want to immediately go back and kill this man and all who he might have told, but even that bore costs and risks that could not be afforded. There was only one solution for me at that moment of absolute desperation that I was feeling as we pulled onto the airport and headed towards the hangar where my plane sat. I would have to just put the matter into God's hands, and pray that things would work out. I said that very line to Paul and Martha twenty minutes later while the plane was being wheeled out of the hangar and they told me to stop being an idiot. They had dad on a videoconference call a few minutes later and I was shocked to hear Paul asking if an air strike could be called to eliminate this man's threat to my safety. I was relieved when dad said I was right, and that we'd have to trust God on this matter, but he added that some careful planning might not be out of order either. The call ended because he had a meeting that could not be delayed, though, so I got to listen to Paul gripe about two hundred pounds of coffee in the cargo hold that had only been given a cursory search before being loaded. We waited fifteen minutes on the tarmac for the cars with our journalists to arrive. Martha reported that Genevieve was in a very bad mood after being given short shrift by our hosts for the past week. Martha suggested that Genevieve be given the first of the three-minute interviews each of them had been promised on the trip back. I agreed since Genevieve was someone I'd respected for a long time, and actually liked her as well. After take-off, I changed into a relaxed pair of jeans and more casual button-down shirt while Martha let Genevieve set up a camera for the interview in the conference room. The plane was cooling down already and I was glad to feel really cool for the first time in a week. I don't think I liked the dry, desert climate too much. I'd felt dehydrated the entire time I was there. When Martha came to tell me that Genevieve was ready, I found that I too, was ready. "Well, Dylan, here we are now in the air after a successful negotiation with the United Islamic Council, and a treaty in hand that many would have thought impossible." Genevieve said as she began the interview once I'd sat across from her. "Tell me what your thoughts are at this moment?" "Thank God no one shot at anyone while I was here." I said with a small sigh that actually got a chuckle out of her. "Details of this treaty were handed out moments after your final press conference." She said, more for the viewers than for me since I already knew that. "I've only had about a half-hour to review the documents, but this seems like a sweeping partnership between the US and the UIC. Many people might be worried about the scope of our involvement with them in the future, and worried about how this might affect Israel. How would you answer their concerns?" "This treaty is based on an economic partnership between our nations." I answered with a firm voice. "Our economic and military commitments to the preservation and security of Israel will not be changed by this treaty. I'm not foolish enough to believe that there won't be problems that will have to be smoothed out over the fullness of time, nor do I expect none to exist between the UIC and Israel because of this, but I do not think that the fate of Israel is adversely affected either. Hopefully in the long run, it might actually help as the UIC learns we can truly be friends with them, something Israel already knows. As friends with both, maybe some resolution will be found eventually. Such a situation though, will not exist for many years." "So you hope that this will bring more peace and stability to the region?" She pressed. "Yes, it will." I told her. "It isn't a magic pill, there are still many issues to be worked out. What it is though, is a blueprint to handle immediate points of contention and a plan for a bold future not only for the US but for the UIC as well." "Well, that's all the time we have for now, Mr. Jacobs." She said, and then turned to the camera with some pre-planned comments for the studio people. This wasn't being broadcast live, but would rather be a part of the broadcast package when people woke up and saw their morning news. Most people in the states were still asleep right now. "So, are you as glad to get out of there as I was?" I asked her when the camera was off. She smiled at me for a moment before nodding her head. "Yes, I've always hated that place." She said slowly, shaking her head. "I must say though, that their contempt for women has grown worse." "Well, we'll be back in the States soon." I said and she nodded while her crewmen broke down the equipment that they had set up, and Daro Fo's men began moving in to set their stuff up. "DYLAN!" Paul's voice was loud and excited as he brushed past one of the news crews, barging into the conference room in a rush. He picked up the remote for the large television screen on the aft wall and turned it on, tuning immediately to the NBS satellite feed. "You need to see this!" "…rumors we're getting from officials close to the Prime Minister's office say that the man responsible for the assassination of Benjamin Besch was an Israeli officer assigned to the Minister's security detail." A reporter on the screen was saying. Behind him, smoke from fires could be seen rising in the background. "As news drifted through the city of the Prime Minister's death in the early hours of the morning, Palestinian refugees in enclaves and camps throughout the country took to the streets in celebration. Angry units of the Israeli army and police forces tried to break up the mobs of people and there are reports of hundreds dead. Israeli citizens are starting to take to the streets as well and as you can see from behind me, it appears the violence is spreading. We're also being told that rumors of a treaty between the United States and the UIC are fueling Israeli apprehension of imminent invasion. Defense Minister Avram Sharone has been announced as the temporary leader of the nation and should be addressing his people soon. Back to you in the studio, Jim." I waved at Paul to turn the television off, and he did so while Daro Fo and his crew got ready. I could see the expectant looks on their faces and knew that instead of the accomplishments we'd just made being the subject of this interview, it would be this new development. Genevieve talked to Martha in the doorway and Martha nodded at whatever they said. Instead of leaving, Genevieve stood in the corner, out of the way and out of sight. "So, are we ready?" Daro asked his crew who all nodded, and he looked at me as well, and I nodded. "Dylan, I, uh, you understand I'll probably be asking about what we just saw?" "Yes, Daro, I'd do the same in your shoes." I told him and he smiled. "Good morning, this is Daro Fo, reporting from Air Force 3." Daro began with a smile for the camera. "We've just lifted off from successful negotiations with the UIC and I'm here with Presidential Advisor Dylan Jacobs. Like many of you are probably hearing, the successes of these negotiations are now being overshadowed by the death of the Israeli Prime Minister. Just a few seconds ago, we ourselves learned of this assassination as we prepared for this interview. Dylan, how do you think this will affect the treaty you've just negotiated?" "Daro, first I'd like to offer my condolences to the family of Minister Besch." I started my response carefully, and in a calm voice. "He was a good man and I had the honor of meeting him twice. His loss is a great blow to his family, his country and the world as a whole. I would like to urge calm though, for the people of Israel. What we just saw in the early news reports are not good things for any people in times like these. As for how this will effect our negotiations with the UIC, I do not believe there will be any major influences. They are separate issues, with separate countries." "Just last week there was a bombing attempt on you personally." Daro stated, moving in a direction I'd hoped he wouldn't. "The suspect in that attempt was an Israeli officer, as is the primary suspect in the report we just heard. Is this a sign that the Israeli military is staging a coup?" "I am not qualified to answer such a question, nor would I wish to do so." I responded in a firm tone. "We don't know the specifics, we don't know the 'why' behind either of those events, and I believe speculation at this point will only do more harm than good." "So what will happen now?" Daro asked. "At this moment, I have no idea." I answered honestly, and then cringed. I could hear dad's advice 'never admit not knowing on camera.' So, I added something more before Daro could say anything. "I know what likely is happening back at the Presidio. The President and his advisors are meeting discussing these events, making calls to Minister Sharone. Minister Sharone's father was once Prime Minister and I believe that he'll have a good handle on restoring order as quickly as possible. From there, the President will make any decisions on providing whatever support Minister Sharone requests or needs." "Do you think we'll be diverted to Israel?" Daro asked, and as if on cue, the plane began a long gentle turn. I couldn't help but laugh softly. "I don't know if the viewers can see what just happened, but the plane began making a gentle turn." I said by way of explanation. I looked towards the doorway and Paul was pointing at me and using hand signals to say we were heading to Israel. "My Security Chief is also signaling me that we're heading in that direction right now. I imagine that as soon as this interview is done I'll be on the phone with the Presidio and discussing exactly what we'll be doing when we get there. I hope you hadn't made any dinner plans back home, Daro. We have more work to do." "No, I hadn't yet made any plans." Daro said with a smile. "Well, I'll stop keeping you from your work. Jim, back to you in the studio." "Dylan, the President is on the line in your cabin." Paul said and I stood, disconnecting the microphone and handing it to Daro's crewman before moving into my cabin and shutting both the outer door to the security office and my own door. I sat at my desk and pushed the button that lowered the screen here and synchronized the signals with the satellite, ensuring encryption as well as clear reception. Dad was on the screen, with Senator Crawley. I'd planned to talk to them in a few hours, but events seemed to demand otherwise. "Dylan, we've diverted your plane to Tel Aviv." Dad said as soon as we were linked up fully. "Officially, you're going as our representative for the state funeral and as a witness of the installment of their next Prime Minister. You'll stay at the US Embassy. I don't think I need to tell you why you're really going. The assassin really was one of the Prime Minister's guards, and one of the most loyal men they had." "I see." I said slowly, thinking hard. "I've got more information than last time we talked." "Share." Dad ordered, and I did. I told him everything that had happened this morning, every thought, impression, and reaction I'd experienced, and the information from the file that I had put in my desk immediately upon my return to the plane. Both men frowned at what I told them, and when I was done, I could tell they were both upset. "We'll have to deal with Khulari through more conventional means." Dad said at last while Crawley just muttered to low for the microphone to pick up. "It won't be easy, but we can't risk him using this against us. As for the information he gave you, use it Dylan. You have both Jennifer and Alan with you; use them and your detail as well. Sharone can be trusted with everything, and he needs to know in order to get the support you need. He's a personal ally, not just a political ally." "Rebuilder?" I asked, referring to the plans he had for the future and both men nodded solemnly. This was something new to me. I never knew that there were international elements to their plans, but from what I knew of their plans for the UIC that we had set in motion, it made sense. "Dylan, you do whatever it takes to eliminate these two kids." Senator Crawly said in a firm, clear voice. "We can't allow them to interfere in Israel. We'll take care of the other concerns through other means." "Yes, sir." I said, accepting his directions with only slight unease. I had liked Khulari, but he was a threat to my own personal safety. "Dylan, don't put yourself directly in danger unless you have to do so." Dad told me in a firm voice. "Israel though is very important. This is a military mission, to eliminate a direct threat to us. Don't try to talk through problems, or negotiate. If you need more force, talk to Sharone and you'll get what you need. That includes helicopter gunships, fighter/bombers, and armor. Try to keep your involvement low-key, but if it becomes public, we'll chalk it up to your role as a military officer defending a key ally. Body count is not an issue. Is that clear?" "Yes sir, it is very clear." I answered, stiffening in my chair slightly. "Sir, one thing though. With Minister Sharone, is disclosure 'as needed' or full?" "Full disclosure." Dad answered. "We had planned to bring him in to the loop within a year as it was." "Understood, sir." I said with a nod of my head. He looked at me with concern for a moment. "Dylan, every time you've done something for me in the past, it's been to find a peaceful solution." Dad said with a sad tone. "This is the first time I've actually ordered you to use deadly force. Is this too much?" "No, sir, it is within my abilities." I said firmly, and then softened slightly. "Dad, It's been two years since the first time I've used deadly force. These people tried to kill at least once directly, and their attack with Rahlil at the mosque was aimed at me in all likelihood as well. They are also a living threat to the discovery of our special abilities and I'm very much aware of the danger in that happening. I have no problems with hunting them down and was trying to figure out how to argue with you to put me on their trail. I'll find them, eliminate them, and accomplish our mission. Now, how's Henry doing?" "He's got Mary and Tom, the two gifted with him, hunting down the culprit there along with several members of his bonded detail." Dad informed me. "Just talked to him last night, and he's confident he'll have everything wrapped up in a few days. Don't take too long in Israel, but get the job done." "Will do, Mr. President." I said firmly and he nodded before disconnecting. I sat there for a few minutes, contemplating the possible body count before I finished this mission and calmly accepted the fact that I would soon be killing again. It didn't bother me as much as it once had, and the fact that it didn't bother me was both reassuring and worrying at the same time.
  9. dkstories

    The Opening Act

    Note to Readers: The art of international diplomacy is just that...an art. Sometimes the artist is able to complete the work quickly, other times it takes forever. Often the most beautifully crafted treaties aren't worth the paper they are written on by the time they are completed. I was determined to make sure that the negotiations with the UIC did not fall into the category of 'failure'. Of course, a successful treaty in this case was not what many would consider 'successful' or even 'fair'. That fact mattered little to me, or to those who had sent me. The time for equality in the international community was long since past. "We've got permission for use of Jordanian airspace." Paul said as Mary set a fresh cup of coffee in front of me. It had been six hours since the bombing and it was now dark outside. The conference room table was filled with all three pilots, and most of my actual support staff. "We've talked with Basra Command." Lt. Colonel Snelling took up as Paul finished. "They will be launching a tactical wing within the hour. Two sniffers will be up as well, and they have SAM suppression aircraft as well as interceptors. A refueling wing will join up with them to make sure their tanks are topped off as well. Everyone's running heavy on drop tanks so they'll be fine when we meet up with them. We'll take off just after midnight local time and arrive in Basra about six hours later." "Sounds like no one is getting any sleep tonight." I stated and he nodded. "Best take a nap right after dinner." Colonel Snelling comments. "Seat belt lights won't be coming off and I'll need one of the enlisted men in the cockpit with Captain Harrington on the electronic warfare console. We've sealed over the few cracks we found from bomb damage and no windows suffered any damage from the concussion wave." "What about while we're over Jordan?" Paul asked as that really was our weak point. "The clearance gave a twenty-four hour window and had no flight corridor or other restrictions." Snelling answered with a smile. "This bird's got damn good look-down radar that was designed for bombers doing low-level operations. We'll be about two hundred feet above ground level, avoiding all towns and cities the entire way. We'll be going full throttle all the way." "Colonel, isn't that a little dangerous?" Martha asked in a weak voice. "It doesn't matter if Jordan sends up planes after us if we crash into the side of a mountain. This isn't a military plane, it's an airliner." "It's an airliner better reinforced than any bomber I ever flew." He told her. "I did some test runs when I first got command of her. Took her to the Grand Canyon, and really tried her out. She won't beat a fighter for speed or maneuverability, but she's as good as any bomber I've ever flown. If she were smaller, I'd fly her at 100 feet above ground level. Two hundred is our safety margin. Ground-based radar will stand a bigger chance of picking her up, but we'll be running our jamming system as well and they've never seen this package before. I'll be surprised if our own guys see us before we pop up out of the ground clutter and jamming mess." "Do it." I said simply and he nodded. The argument was over, and now it was time to talk about the other important message we'd received. "So, the Ayatollah wants us to fly to Bahrain." I said slowly and everyone nodded. "What does everyone think?" "It's a good choice." Nadine said. She'd spent the most time in this region of everyone on board. "It's officially a part of the UIC, but it's also the Las Vegas of the region. It's always been friendly to the US, and is all but dependent on the Saudis since their own oil fields dried up. That combination didn't do them much good over the last few years, but the Saudi government uses it as a 'pressure relief valve' for their population, as does most of the UIC. People can go there and drink, gamble, and play with prostitutes before going back home. The Emir misses the good old days when American ships would dock here for shore leave and re-supply, and boost the local economy when the sailors got their liberty. I remember paying thirty bucks for a long island ice tea last time I was there." "There's still a fairly strong sentiment for Americans there, but it is buried under the UIC attitude." Paul added. "There haven't been any anti-American demonstrations like the other UIC countries so it makes sense he talk to us there without getting the people he's been riling up all pissed off at him." "We'll re-fuel and re-stock all of our provisions in Basra before making the flight to Bahrain." Lt. Colonel Snelling stated. "They've sent parking arrangements for us while we're there, including a hangar. Outside temperatures are still over one-oh-five Fahrenheit with about seventy percent humidity. We'll have full power in the hangar and plane, although the only air conditioning will be on the plane. They're offering you the use of a local hotel for quartering if you wish. You might want to do that, it's going to average over ninety degrees on the plane." "What's the advance team situation?" I asked Paul. "None." Paul stated with a frown. "They'll loan us two vehicles if we want them, but the only advance we can get is a few squads of troops from Basra and they won't allow bringing vehicles. They've offered to meet at the airport if we stay on the plane. They're not pushing us either way." "What does that make you think?" I asked him and he shrugged. "They're awful confident." He said. "I think the bombing here was a test, and while you might be safer in the plane, it won't be much. We pretty much either use the hangar or stay on the tarmac and roast like pigs in the oven. If we use the hangar, we'll need a ground tow in order to leave; you'll only be slightly safer on board than in a hotel room. The margins are so slim on this one the choice is more diplomatic than security." "Hotel room for diplomatic reasons." Martha declared and Paul nodded with a frown. "We'll use the Utah boys for drivers." Paul stated. "They actually completed the driving program with higher scores than the rest of us and I don't want to trust their people driving. There'll be bomb and bug sweeps of all vehicles and rooms, and we are still to treat them as unsecured locations." "Very well, tell the Presidio that we'll be on our way at midnight." I ordered and everyone relaxed slightly. The pilots left at that, in order to begin preparations for the upcoming flight and to get some rest. Paul stayed while Martha headed for the communications shack to send out the necessary messages. "Any results from our searches?" I asked Paul once we were relatively alone. "Not even a hint of any other controlled or bonded people out there." Paul stated and I had to sigh. I even sent Jennifer and Alan out there to sniff around. As gifted, they could do more than feel for an echo by actively searching for markers in the people they touched. They'd turned up empty handed as well, but at least they'd helped us figure out that the outrage amongst the Israelis was real. That one of their own had attacked my plane had them worried the US might pull its support from them. That worried them enough that the Prime Minister had asked the Presidio if he could come apologize to me in person. Instead, we'd talked briefly by radio and I'd accepted his apologies and condolences for the loss of two of my men. I'd given him my own condolences on the fifteen dead and twelve injured Israeli soldiers. Dinner was a solemn occasion as we dealt with the loss of Jones and Halpern and the near disaster we'd had earlier in the day. Neither man had been popular amongst the circle, but they had been a part of us, and were now gone. They reminded us that we were mortal, we could be killed, and that what we did was dangerous. After dinner, it was time for interviews with our press members on board. While we were getting ready for some rest before our late night flight, the United States was eating lunch or getting to work, listening and watching the news stations that were providing constant commentary now on the bombing, and occasionally mentioning Henry's mission in Mexico. The Red House (as the new Presidential Office/Residence was called) had authorized brief interviews with me in order to show that I was perfectlyfine. I'd taken a quick shower and changed into a fresh dress shirt and slacks while the conference room was set up. We'd be using the videoconference camera on the television screen and the television itself instead of setting up cameras. This was in part because we were broadcasting to two networks in a short period of time and because Paul was only willing to let the reporters themselves come forward, not their crew. Daro Fo was being given the first five-minute broadcast, followed by Genevieve. The print reporters were allowed to watch both, and would each get a five-minute exclusive interview after the television shots were done. As I entered the conference room from my cabin, Fo was talking animatedly to a studio person before the signals were synchronized. He stopped when he saw me enter and shook my hand before I sat down next to him. "I can't believe you let me be the first one to interview." He told me as we both sat down. "I think Martha picked it alphabetically." I said and he smiled at the polite fiction. "Okay, Daro, are you getting the picture yet?" The voice of the studio technician asked and Daro told him we weren't. A few minutes later, though, everything was working properly. "Daro, this is Tom in the studio, we can see both you and Mr. Jacobs, can you hear and see us as well?" Tom, the announcer on screen asked and Daro told him we could. The sound had been turned down from the screen to prevent feedback and we were both wearing headsets that transmitted the studio's sound to us. "Okay, Daro, it's good to see you." "Believe me Tom, it's good to be here still." Daro said with a smile towards the screen and camera. "They told me Mr. Jacobs here can attract danger and I'd better be careful, but this was nothing like what I expected. I'm sitting here on the plane everyone now calls Air Force 3 with Dylan Jacobs, special advisor to the President and currently on a mission to discuss the impending Oil Crisis with the UIC. As you know, several hours ago a suicide bombing was attempted here at the airport where we're sitting in Israel. The car bomb killed two members of the Secret Service detail and several Israeli soldiers. We all felt it on the plane, but no one was injured. Mr. Jacobs, what can you tell us?" "Please, call me Dylan." I answered, smiling at him, and then looking towards the camera. "First of all, let me say that the mission I'm on isn't because of another Oil Crisis existing, but rather to keep one from happening. It's nothing as serious as what we faced two years ago and I'm hoping it will be swiftly resolved. As for what happened today - the Israeli security around the plane, and our own Secret Service detail, did their job and stopped any harm from coming to this aircraft or its occupants. The occupants of the vehicle were confirmed to include an Israeli Major. His home was checked and they found his family murdered, likely after the bombing failed. I have spoken to the Israeli Prime Minister, and he has given me an apology that was not needed. Israel is, has been, and will always be a friend to the American people. They have helped us time and again, and I grieve for the loss of their men, including the Major and his family, as well as the loss of Halpern and Jones from my security detail. You might not know this Daro, but those two men have been with my team since the beginning and they were an important part of my life. They'll be missed." "My condolences on their loss as well." Daro said in an honest tone. "So, it is your opinion that this was an attempt to blame the Israelis?" "The evidence does appear that way, yes." I affirmed. "I also do not think it's linked to the upcoming talks. Rather, as you know, Israel is facing an increase in terrorism in recent months and I think this attempt might have been directed at getting the United States to intervene in Israel's domestic policy. We won't do that, of course." "Has there been any word on how long we'll be here?" Daro asked and I nodded. "Yes, we'll be leaving sometime within the next twenty-four hours." My answer was given with a smile. "For security concerns, I won't be specific, but within the next two days we should begin our negotiations with the UIC leadership at a location of their choosing." "Earlier, you admitted that the United States had once threatened to use nuclear weapons against the UIC." Daro Fo asked, and I almost frowned, but realized his tone was expressly neutral, with no hint of accusations in it. "How do you think that action will affect the upcoming talks?" "Hopefully, not at all." I answered, surprised at how…fair the question was. It was a totally legitimate question given the circumstances. "The situation then and the situation now are two totally different things. We've been waiting months for an opportunity to discuss some exciting opportunities for new partnerships with the UIC. There are new things that we're bringing to the table and not one of them concerns potential military conflict, much less the use of nuclear weapons against the UIC. I hope they'll be pleasantly surprised by what we have to discuss. I know I am." "Thank you, Dylan." Fo said, turning to the television. "Tom, any questions from the studio?" "Yes, Daro." Tom, the anchor said immediately. "Dylan, have you been following the reports of your brother's mission to Mexico?" "I have been following that, yes." I said with a smile. "Any thoughts so far on what your brother's been doing?" Tom asked from back in Atlanta. "Only that I think I have the easier job." I said with a chuckle. "Poor Henry's stuck in a tight spot and I wouldn't trade with him. I think he can handle it though, and better than I could." "I'm sure he'll appreciate your confidence in him." Tom said. "We'll be right back after this commercial break." "Thanks again." Daro said softly as he stood up, taking off the headset as he did. "No problem, Daro." I informed him earnestly. "I enjoyed it as well." The rest of the interviews went well, with only mild variations and more questions about my thoughts on Henry's mission. I imagined he'd been getting similar questions when he did an interview and I really hoped he was doing okay. The potential dangers for him were just as great as for me. Shortly before take-off, I had a satellite conversation with dad, and we discussed the true nature of how the Major had been controlled into making his suicide bombing. He agreed with me that it needed to be investigated, and we discussed possible ways of that being done. The only thing we did decide on though was that I'd be coming back to Israel before heading home. He wanted to talk with Senator Crawley some more about things (Admiral Fullard was on a site inspection at the new San Francisco Naval Base). The flight over Jordan was one of the most interesting flights I ever experienced on that plane. We climbed, we dove, we made sharp turns and if I hadn't had my seat belt tightly buckled, I'd have been severely bruised. All loose items had been locked down, and as it was, several items fell out, causing some minor bumps and bruises when they hit people. Still, we made it through the country without being spotted, only rising when we were directly under our escorts, and even they only detected us at the last minute. The flight to Basra was fast, and trouble free. We landed in the early morning hours and most of us immediately went to sleep while American military crews serviced the plane under the watchful eyes of those still awake. A few hours later everyone but the plane crew was driven to a nearby headquarters where those who hadn't showered since we left the States got to do so, and I had a private brunch with the American and British Generals in charge of the area. The two men were quite well aware of the items dad had given to me for discussion with the Ayatollah, and had in fact been the origin for some of them. They were both quite familiar with the region and its people and had presented some radical thinking that was quite needed for these negotiations. The UIC leadership had long used our country as the 'devil' for their people while enjoying a crippling grip on the western world with their supplies of oil. Those days were coming to an end though, especially with the changes caused by the Great Oil Crisis. The world wasn't going to shift out of its oil-dependency anytime soon, but it was moving toward less usage that made the role of the Middle East less dominant. Within two years, the new Russian trans-Siberian pipeline would be complete, and oil would be more readily available to Europe from them than the tankers leaving Persian ports. The northern Iraq pipeline to Turkey was so damaged that the Russian pipeline would be completed before the new Iraq/UIC regime could make repairs and pump oil to Europe through Turkey. Instead of fighting each other over the oil reserves found under the ocean floor in the Southeastern Asia sphere, the major countries in the area were now cooperating on funding five oil platforms to be manufactured and moved to the area. They would be sharing the proceeds in levels equal to their contribution, and the navies of all those countries would guard the platforms. When the second platform went operational in four years, they would deliver the death blow to the mid-East's chokehold on oil supplies. Instead of dictating terms for oil production, their oil would compete on a much more challenging global market. We knew that, and they knew that. The State Department strongly suspected that this wasn't a move just to accomplish the more traditional goals that we expected, but rather to also secure their position economically through the next few years. These Generals were invaluable in giving me some insights into rumors from the local population, and when we took off into the air, I had even more confidence in how my negotiations would turn out. Peter Tapers, the member of my detail who was perhaps the most deadly of them all at hand-to-hand combat and had an uncanny ability to melt into any crowd was also very fluent in the local languages. When we landed, he would be my 'translator' and would also be a bodyguard that wasn't expected, if things went wrong. My body was so confused it had no idea if I should be asleep or awake, so I stayed awake going over and over the documents that had been prepared for this meeting. Knight and Darby had been working hard at getting the necessary binders together and the last minute confirmation meant that there was a lot of work to be done. Instead of the small, direct meeting I had been expecting, this was going to be a big one, with half the members of the UIC leadership, the Ayatollah, and the government leaders of several of the local countries attending. There was another problem in that the culture had no respect for women, and in recent years had become even more fanatical about that aspect. Therefore, Jennifer, Martha and Nadine would be wearing head scarves and would not sit at the table. They would still be in the room and would have microphones under the scarves covering their faces, ready to give any advice into the earpiece I would be wearing. Instead, I would have Paul, Darby, Knight, Cyrus, and Botha, my support staff sitting in suits with me. The news crews would be set up inside the outer rooms of the hotel ballroom where the meeting would take place, but it would be quite obvious that the six of us would be sitting across a table from nearly forty people, one more sign of the mentality they were approaching us with. It was the same mentality that was common to the schoolyard bully who surrounded himself with hangers-on, not only as sycophants who boosted his ego, but for the intimidation of those who might fight back instead of being intimidated. It was also something for their cameras to record, saying to their people 'see, we have brought the great Satan to his knees and now he cowers before us as we give him our terms.' I had no problem with giving them that, so long as we walked away with what we wanted and what we needed. The flight to Bahrain was relatively short, compared to the flight that had brought us to this point. The landing was rough, not because of poor flying skills, but because the runway itself was pitted, cracked, and all but unfit for air traffic. As we taxied into the hangar that had been provided, it was abundantly clear that this once-active airport was neglected, and had seen its better days many years ago. Still, it was functional and when I exited the plane an hour later, the fading heat of the day reminded me that the shade would be merciful to the crew who were staying with the plane. A flotilla of vehicles arrived, all of them older black Mercedes-Benz 2004 luxury vehicles with tinted windows. Tapers met the drivers as they exited the cars. He spoke to them quickly in their native language as they handed him several sets of keys before leaving. One man did remain behind, the 'guide' that had been referenced in the arrangements. We didn't have to look around to know that soldiers were around, but they back were far enough to not be immediately obvious. The security detail was dressed in desert fatigues now, and every single one of them looked far more comfortable than they did in Secret Service suits. They all carried the new M-21 assault weapons, much smaller than the M-16 and perfect for the operations likely to occur if things went wrong. While a team swept the vehicles for explosives and listening or recording devices, another team began to load them with baggage (and a few heavier weapons hidden in cases). Finally, we were ready to go and we got into the vehicles, heading into the city itself. For this evening, we were staying at a large hotel that had once been a Sheraton. I'd been in hotels now all across the United States, and several hotels in countries around the world, but nothing was like this hotel. On the outside, it matched the drab, beige exteriors I'd seen as we drove through town, but inside it was sparkling and richly adorned. Thick woven carpets covered the floors and glass barriers lined the stairways, topped by gold handrails (that Nadine informed me were real gold). A swarm of porters began loading our baggage on golden-railed luggage carts and the hotel manager himself met Paul at the door, handing us several card-keys for our rooms. Two sweeps of the rooms, twenty-six listening devices, four hard-wired cameras in various lighting equipments, and fourteen interruptions from apparently well-meaning hotel staff members later, we realized it would have been easier to stay on the plane. Paul stopped at that point, leaving the small camera Davies noticed as he was looking at a painting and a few others that had not been detected by the equipment we'd brought. We hadn't planned on giving them anything to use anyway, discussing Henry's mission mostly, and a few references to our routines for the next day. A couple of things were very obvious from the behavior of our hosts. They were going out of their way to both intimidate, and not threaten us. Two years ago, bugging the hotel rooms like this just wasn't done! Sure, laser targeting of windows to overhear conversations, signals intercepts to listen in on phone and radio calls , but actually putting listening devices in was considered…rude. From the way they had been layered, and the conditions of the ones removed, they weren't meant to operate, just to let us know how serious they really took these talks. It was the more subtle devices that were the serious efforts to find out what we were going to offer. Only a fool would have skipped the broadcasts and ignored the statements we'd released to the public. They had heard teasers of the wonderful offers we might make and the stick of military force that lay within the comments to the press. It had worked apparently, and I couldn't help but smile up at the camera still in the painting of my well-appointed room. I did have problems sleeping, no longer being use to sleeping alone, but having someone with me was just not possible here. However, Richardson came in after two hours of my tossing and turning, sitting himself in one of the chairs and leaning back before dozing off. For a moment, I had a flashback to that time in Idaho, when he was the only one of my detail I'd bonded, and I let out a relieved sigh, falling asleep within moments. Time is subjective, a lesson that was brought home the next morning when, over what I would call a very interesting interpretation of the classic American breakfast, I watched a riot taking place in the darkness of Mexico City's night. It had begun while I was still asleep and, for the peopleinvolved, was taking place in what was my late yesterday evening. It was something to make the head spin if you thought too hard on it, but I was mostly worried about Henry. The riot was from about a million people protesting American involvement and demanding that we leave. It had turned violent when millions more who had protested FOR American involvement but had gone home after Henry's arrival, returned to the streets and the two groups clashed with each other. The Mexican police and army were all but helpless to restore order, and Henry was urging calm, in both English and Spanish, while I was quite sure he was calling dad for more help. We were actually watching the BBC, not an American station and I was tempted to head back to the plane and get what direct information I could. I was worried about my brother, but there was nothing I could do. Our first meeting was scheduled for early today, and we had many things left to get ready. Since the inclusion of women in active roles of the deliberations would be 'unseemly' for our hosts, Martha, Nadine, and Jennifer all had to dress in headgear that covered most of their faces and while not wearing the full robes like locals, they were all dressed in rather conservative dresses. Alan and Jimmy were busy making sure they had the appropriate binders and other items ready. Paul was giving quiet reminders to the security detail of each step along the way. Since Paul was needed at the table with me, Hollings would be in command of the detail outside the room. At precisely 0815, we left the suite of rooms we'd been provided and headed down to the ballroom through the glittering, empty corridors and elevators of the hotel. On the ground floor, we were met by two men in suits and headscarves that bowed before speaking in fluent English that we were to follow them. There were many more soldiers visible here and a ring of soldiers and armored vehicles could be seen through the hotel's front entrance . Still, there was no feeling of imminent action, and I stayed fairly relaxed as we entered one of the grand ballrooms of the hotel. This one had obviously been set up as a refreshment area for the negotiation teams. Several tables filled with coffee, juices, and refreshments were spread around the room, and several soldiers stood guard along the four walls. Hollings deployed the security detail among them, taking up similar positions as the protocols allowed. Already in the room were twenty-five men, dressed in clerical robes, business suits with headscarves, and several more in military uniforms of various countries in the UIC. I recognized the oldest man, with a long, white beard and very sharp eyes. He recognized me as well, and I approached with my retinue behind me. When I stood a polite distance from him, I bowed my head and greeted him in his own language. It was all I had time to learn, but it brought a small smile to his face. "Welcome young Mr. Jacobs." He answered in slightly accented voice. It was much less accented than I'd heard last time on the phone. "I wasn't aware you had bothered to learn any of our language." "I felt it was only proper to be able to say hello in the language of our host at the very least." I replied in English as well. "I am afraid that my education has a few holes in it yet, and I plan to fix them as soon as I can. Your language will be among the first I learn when I return home." "Learning the languages of others is appropriate for any who would lead in the world." Ayatollah Khulari said in a voice that I had long since come to associate with a teacher speaking to students, or a religious leader to his flock. "The President of the United States sends his greetings and good wishes, sir." I said, beginning the formal process of these meetings, sticking my hand out in the American fashion. He smiled at me, almost patronizingly, and spoke right before shaking my hand. "I trust that is all he sends, and not threats of nuclear weapons?" Khulari said in a dry tone, his smile slipping into a slight sneer as he took my hand and shook it. For two years, I'd been preparing for a moment like this, and this time I didn't need any encouragement from dad to do what I did, but at least I did have his permission this time. It was only the lightest flick of my power, not really a controlling touch, rather a light feather brush that would reinforce any belief he had that what I said was absolutely true, a fact beyond doubt. I felt it sink into him, and detected nothing out of the ordinary from him. "We still have those nuclear weapons, and the conditions of their use remain the same, sir." I said in a tone that was as respectful as I could get it to be, "however, the things we bring to the table should provide you and your people enough for us to reach an agreement." "We do not appreciate negotiating under threats." He said in what was almost an angry tone as he withdrew his hand from mine. The feather touch of power I had used would remain long enough for another statement before it dissipated, and there'd been no visible reaction from him that it had been felt by him. "No more than do we, and the riots of recent days are viewed by us as such a threat." I replied cautiously. He just stared at me, obviously debating another denial of involvement in those riots, but finally just nodded his head. "Let me introduce you to the leaders of the United Islamic Council." He said, sweeping his arm in a grand gesture to the men around him. It was a good thing I had a perfect head for matching names to faces and remembering them later as I was introduced to leaders of twelve nations, and we got our first surprise from the UIC in that four of the men were the political and military leaders of two former Soviet nations: Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. That gave me my first clue as to what may be waiting for us as it was suggested we formally begin our negotiations and we were led into another room that featured a long table with several dozen chairs on one side, and a handful of chairs on the other. The cameras from both their news teams and ours were left behind as the doors closed behind us. There were no soldiers, no guards in here, just the negotiating teams and a few assistants who would stand behind the table (including Martha, Nadine, and Jennifer). "The United States has requested a meeting with the UIC, and we are here to listen to what your government has to say." A small man, wearing a business suit and seated next to the Ayatollah said when everyone had been seated and reintroduced. His name was Falim al-Saliyah, the official political head of the UIC. "I am Dylan Jacobs, and on behalf of the President of the United States, I thank you for agreeing to this meeting." I said from a seat across the table as Jimmy and Alan began to hand around several blue leather binders to each of the men. "Surely the American President would send a man, rather than a child if he were serious about these talks." A General from Egypt said with a snort as Alan handed him a binder. The man took another look at Alan and then snorted again. "Or is the United States now led by children?" "Even children can be dangerous, sir." I replied with a toothsome smile of my own. "As it is, I am a senior advisor to the President, a graduate of Harvard University, and fully credentialed as you will see on the left side of the binder you have just been handed. On the right, you will see the authority of the United States in commencing these negotiations in accordance with the Reykjavik Accords. What is agreed to here, will be binding on all countries of those Accords, which remains in effect for another calendar year." "Do you wish to see our credentials as well?" Khulari asked in an amused tone as he flipped open the binder briefly and scanned through the top pages. "As we are the petitioner in this discussion, we have no need to ask." I answered politely, far more politely than I felt like being. "We know you have the authority to speak for those that we need to hear what we have to say. We are honored that men of your positions would take the time to listen to us directly instead of through your ministers, as would be common. The United States hopes that we will be able to make the time you spend here worth your presence." "What is it that the United States wishes to discuss?" al-Saliyah asked with a slightly raised eyebrow. This was the part of negotiations that could take the longest, agreeing as to what the negotiation was about. "Two years ago, the world nearly imploded on itself when disaster struck the ordered distribution of oil throughout the world." I began slowly. The wording was carefully done, laying no blame on anyone. "Oil from your countries helped the rest of the world to begin a recovery that continues today, and while you have received some compensation for that assistance, that compensation will not carry you into the future. As you are aware, we too realize that the changes in the world's infrastructure from that crisis will lead to eventual impoverishment for your nation. We are here to offer you involvement in new technologies and economic alliances that will see you past the days when your oil becomes less important to the world." "Shouldn't there be discussion on the present, first?" Khulari asked in a chiding tone. "The future is all well and good, but there are important issues that we feel must be resolved, including the continued American support for Israeli outlaws, and their continued occupation of lands to which they have no right and the outrageously low prices for our oil." "Israel is an issue that is more appropriate for other discussions." I countered. "Rather, now is the time to discuss our future partnerships because if we do not begin now, it will be too late for you to take advantage of them in the future." "Do you threaten us with your nuclear weapons already?" al-Saliyah demanded sharply and I smiled. "I have made no mention of nuclear weapons or military actions, nor do I hope to do so while we are here." I retorted in a calm voice. "The use of force is the choice of last resort in relations between nations, and we believe that there is much more we have to offer than the violence of guns, bombs, or mobs." "Let us hear more of these items you wish to discuss." Khulari said and, with those words, I could see the men around the table relax slightly, which served to confirm exactly who was in charge on their side of the table. "Within five years, new sources of oil and reduced demand because of new technologies will see a forty-percent reduction in dependence on oil from your nations." I began in clear, concise tones. "During that time, your supply will diminish to a point that nearly one-half of all wells in the region will be economically unsuitable for continued operation. Your need for either increasing revenues now or finding some other source for revenue production is abundantly clear, and understandable. Currently, your primary source of income is oil production. It has been the basis of your economy for generations and you are the first leaders to face the possible loss of that revenue." "Your figures are slightly inaccurate." Al-Saliyah said with a slight sneer. "If they are in any way inaccurate, it is because they are too optimistic." I shot back with a slightly raised eyebrow. "The United States is not here to lie to you. We are here to reach a solution that will help all of us, equally. We know that even with the new oil supplies we are developing in Alaska, the Mexican oil fields, and other resources, America's needs as the leading manufacturer in the world will continue to outpace our production. We will need you, although not at a level that will continue to support your economies as we have in the past. Therefore, we are prepared to offer you new methods of generating revenue. The packets now being handed out to you detail the harnessing of one of our world's most plentiful sources of power, the sun, and also of the wind." "These are not new technologies." The Syrian Prime Minister said in Arabic (translated by Tapers). "The principles of these technologies are not new." I answered immediately. "Though what we are able to do with them is new. Research for new photovoltaic cells was underway at the time of the Great Crisis, and has been increased since then. The newest models we are testing in our Nevada and New Mexico desert regions are now producing the same amount of power as a 3 megawatt plant using the same amount of space as that plant. These tests were conducted during the winter months, and power production is expected to be higher during summer months. Wind production is slightly less effective, but also increasing. With these technologies, and new power transportations systems we are perfecting, you can turn your desert regions into power production facilities that will allow you to transfer power throughout much of Europe, Indochina, and to your own populations with pennies on the dollar for annual maintenance as compared to your oil production costs. In return we ask for continued output levels of oil at the current levels, moderate price caps with annual increases in ranges based on economic indicators as listed in your packets. We will also offer international manufacturing licenses on new products that require environments many of your countries possess. I ask that you read over these packets, and that we meet to discuss these ideas and come to an agreement wherever possible." "Who cares about these techno-gadgets when Israel still exists?" The Syrian Prime Minister shouted and I looked at him calmly. "Israel has existed now for over half a century." I said calmly. "It has survived several armed conflicts, and decades of terror bombings. We will not cease our support for them no matter what position you take. If you would rather see your people starve than live with the status quo, then that will be your choice and these negotiations can end before they have truly begun. If you wish to see your people destroyed, then we will oblige you. Israel is a small country, smaller than any of those represented here. They will not make any more advances into your territory; they will live their lives within their current boundaries. If you wish to discuss that situation further at some future time, I am sure something can be arranged. Now is not that time though. If you wish to end these talks by pushing for such a discussion now, I will be on my plane and leaving by nightfall." "So we once again hear American ultimatums." Al-Saliyah sneered. "Just as I once again hear your ultimatums regarding Israel." I retorted, allowing a hint of anger in my voice. "If you want to raise issues that you know will be show-stoppers, I will leave instead of waste our time. Then, we can meet again on the field of battle, if that is what you prefer." "Ah, now we get to the threats of force." A General further down the table said with a long sigh. "There is no threat of force." I answered. "I am not telling you to agree with what I'm putting before you. I do not say you have to agree, I do not say to accept what we offer off-hand. I ask you to look at it, I ask you to consider it. Most certainly, if after you look at it and you have questions or changes you want considered, we will listen and we will consider changes based on the merits of what you say. The reason why we are here, now, this day, is because you have slowed down the regular flow of oil. No, don't waste your breathe on denying any such calculated involvement. Everyone here knows the truth and it does us no good to deny it for diplomatic posturing. You could have had this offer on your table a month ago for your consideration, but you preferred conflict. You know as well as I do that our only interest is to make sure that we have enough oil to continue our recovery until we don't need you anymore." "So the great America reveals its true nature at last." Khulari said with a pleased grin. "Just as it does you no good to deny your involvement in the riots, it does us no good to deny our true purposes when you understand them as well as I do." I told him and saw him lean back in his chair, poising his hands before him thoughtfully. "The United States is changing, moving in a new direction, different from the past. Part of that is we wish to deal more honestly, more openly with our fellow nations. I will not hide that if these negotiations fail, it will mean war. American troops and ships will flood your oil fields, seizing them for our use. We will use every weapon at our disposal to continue meeting the needs of our people. In the past, we had nothing more to offer than we had at the time, and that was not enough for you. "When we looked at your situation, when we saw the unrest growing, and we knew that the current agreements were not truly fair to you, we put together this offer." I continued before anyone could react to my references to military strength. "We hoped to discuss this when there was no crisis facing us, when there was more time for thought and consideration, but you refused those requests for discussion. What you see here, now, is what we would want if we were in your situation. Here is a real plan to give you financial independence without oil. With this, you can potentially have more influence on your neighbors than you do now. We are not you, however, and there are things we may have missed, things which need adjustment. You may have ideas we haven't thought of and which you can now present. "While you get these new technologies that will lead you into the future, we get the resources we need to also move into the future." I concluded. "Our goal is not to trick you, to lead you astray, or to prove ourselves superior. We are here to get what we need for now and the future, and in exchange for your giving us that, we will give you what you need for the future. For the present, you will now, and in the future continue to receive the cash you need to meet your needs as well. This is not an offer between an Empire and a Colony, or between a powerful nation and a weak nation, rather it is an offer from one nation that needs what another has; an offer between economic equals. If you wish to turn your back on this totally, if you would rather debate issues that our fathers and grandfathers debated, and likely our own grandchildren will still debate without resolution, then I will not waste our time any further. If you wish to take the time to look this over, to consider what we have offered, and if you wish to discuss how we can reach agreement on these principles, then I will be happy to meet with you again, soon." "I believe tomorrow will suffice for an initial review." Khulari said with a nod of his head. "For now, why don't we enjoy some refreshments next door?" "A good idea, sir." I agreed with a nod. Everyone stood, and Khulari's gesture as we moved down the table indicated he wanted me to walk by his side. I knew Paul bristled when, after the table no longer separated us, the elderly man moved to my side and put an arm around my shoulder; an almost fatherly gesture. We moved out of the room that way, and into the previous room with the refreshments. The cameras and lights were focused on us. I knew that the picture that was being sent out would look like an older, wiser man counseling a young student. Many Americans might not like it, but his people would and it was a bone I tossed willingly to him. Pride is a delicate thing, and it can often be the downfall of great people if others knew how to use it carefully. This man and his people had pride, and seeing their religious leader in such a position with the young, brash American would beef up that pride, and tone down the hostility. The goal here was two-fold. We needed the oil and expending military resources was not the preferred solution. Further, something more was needed for the future plans dad had, and this would put that into place as well. "You speak boldly, and openly for an American negotiator." The Ayatollah Khulari said as we moved towards a corner of the room where two seats waited, one a high-backed chain in which he sat and the other a lower chair obviously for me. Again it was the image of the wizened counselor and youthful supplicant being presented for the cameras. Two servants brought a wonderfully spiced coffee that I thought to myself would be a nice change on the plane, and he was silent, his posture waiting for an answer, but I didn't speak until there was no one near. "If we wanted to give you honeyed words and tell you that things would continue as they had before the first Crisis, we would have sent a career diplomat." I answered. "The world cannot continue as if the past has not happened, and old ways will not work in the new world we face." "You said we were economic equals in there, a qualification on equality." He said after another sip of the coffee. "Do you imply we are not otherwise equal?" "We are men, as God created us." I answered after another sip of my own coffee. It really was quite tasty. "The United States is founded on the ideal that all men are created equal. That does not mean we are equal all of our lives. Placed side-by-side, and looked at as humans, one of your people and an American are both human, but place them in a car and watch them drive, their natural abilities and skills will make them different. As a government, it is our job to put the interests of our people first, but that does not mean everyone else is worthless. It only means that we will try to make sure that it is the American who gets the car first. Your person can still drive another car, or even get the same car after our American has one, or at the same time, but if there is only one car, we will do what we can to give it to our person." "An interesting analogy." He nodded at me. "Continue." "In the past, the approach has been to get the car for the American, and maybe even a second one, and if you get one as well, then you got lucky." I said and he nodded in agreement. "What they failed to see in the past was that when your person saw us with two cars and they had none, they got angry, they saw us as keeping them from having a car of their own, and in our pride we didn't care. Now, today, we see that in order to get our people what they need, we have something of value to offer you, and it does not hurt our people to give it to you. We cannot provide power to Europe the way you could with this plan, we could not profit from it, but this way, we can profit from it indirectly, and at the same time help you get a car for your people." "Yet you still threaten us with violence if we do not agree." He pointed out and I grinned slightly. "You already threaten us through violence with the withholding of what we need." I said with a slight shrug. "Economically we are equal, but militarily we are not. If we must, we can take what we need from you and you cannot stop us. In the past, the strong have always taken from those not as strong. A few years ago, my father and I took what we needed and paid only what we could afford at the time from you. That is the prerogative of the strong. With all due respect, you misjudged our desperation at the time. Now, we try to make amends in our way, and establish better relations. We are all men of faith, sir, and we understand each other better because of that." "The United States is not the only nation with nuclear weapons." Khulari stated and I let a small smile creep onto my face. I wondered how long it would take for him to bring this up. We'd gotten the flash message on the flight, and it had proved to be useful. "If you are referring to the Krasniyy Rabotaet, then I regret to inform you that it was sent to the bottom of the ocean by the time these talks began." I told him softly, still with that small smile. "The Russian fleet command worried when it lost contact with their nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine. When it sank the attack boat that found her, they called us and one of our Seawolf submarines found her. She was ordered to sink the renegade boat at the time our meeting was to begin. I must say the Russians are quite interested in finding out how you convinced her captain to mutiny against their command." "What makes you so sure we were responsible?" He asked me with his own small smile. "At exactly 1323 hours zulu two days ago, a burst transmission was sent from the submarine using a French satellite to contact your command in Tehran. A response was sent fifteen minutes later and the submarine has gone to periscope depth every two hours since the Seawolf assumed position behind her." I answered without changing my expression. "We still have nuclear bombs from Pakistan." His smile was frozen on his face as well. "They can hit nothing important." I answered with a shrug. "Israel's defenses will destroy any missile you launch against them. Any other country that you could fire at would respond in kind, and any naval vessel you approach will destroy the plane long before they get in range to drop their bomb. They are useless to you. Militarily, you are not a significant threat." "Even if you invade, my people will resist." He said firmly, the smile gone now. "You learned a hard lesson with Iraq, and it will come even harder to you if you invade again." "Nuclear weapons will take care of everything except where the oil fields are." I said in a very, very low voice, no longer smiling either. "We have enough bullets for the rest and plenty of eager people to take care of the work. When there is no more oil to be had, we can bring them home or install solar panels and sell electricity to Europe directly. The world will protest, we'll pay them in oil. Dad will be remembered as someone who murdered more people than Hitler, but America will thrive, and you will be dead. Your faith produces people willing to give their lives to blow up a few people. Dad is a man of faith as well, and being vilified by history is a small price to pay for doing God's work, don't you think?" "Harsh words from a fair face." He stated as he sat back in his chair, a little paler than before. My slight touch earlier had reinforced his belief that we would use nuclear weapons, and it was coming home to roost now. "We do not want that solution, sir." I told him in a voice that was still calm. "Militarily, we are not equals and in all likelihood we will never be equals. Economically, though, we have much to offer each other in equality. We do not bargain from a position of strength, because you have what we need now. Nor do we demand what we need and rob you for it because we are stronger. What I have said to you now is not to make you agree to our offer. It is not perfect, and there is room for change. If they are reasonable and fair, you will get those changes. We will walk away from these negotiations into the dawn of a new day, bright with the possibilities for us both. There are no demands for silly things like treating women in your countries differently. We do not care if you live by the laws of Islam or the modern laws of liberalism. Those are your affairs and we will not interfere." "Your troops in Basra." He stated, and I now leaned back with a soft smile. This was one thing he could give his leaders as a clear victory. "Our General promised the civilians there certain things to get their cooperation during the crisis time." I stated. "Those promises will be fully completed in three years, at which time we will depart forever. What happens after that is no longer our concern. Our commitments will have been fulfilled." "I see." Khulari said softly, and we were both silent as we examined each other. His face was well-tanned, and lined from the desert environment. We sipped our coffee in that silence, both studying the other carefully. He finally nodded to himself and smiled gently towards me. "Tell me, how do you find Bahrain?" "It is a city long past its prime." I answered honestly. "Since its oil has dried up, so has its spirit, its vitality. What is left is nothing but a shadow of what once was." "But it still serves a purpose." Khulari said firmly and I nodded in agreement. "A hive full of scum and villainy." I quoted from a movie I had loved as kid. "A place for the faithful to let out the excesses of their humanity, and return home purged of the vices, keeping the vices out of their home and family life." "Without a place to go and indulge it would fester and take root in their homes." Khulari said in agreement. "Tell me, is the observation your own or fed to you?" "A little of both." I answered without taking offense. "The reality of its importance is mine, and how it can be used in a strict society as a pressure valve, to keep things from exploding in revolution. Taken to extreme, you find the decadence that was common in America before the crisis, and will fester again soon." "How will your father handle that in the days to come, as a man of God as well as a leader of your country?" Khulari asked and I was a little surprised at the question. I had not expected this for the course of our discussion. "In the end, it will be the American people who must face the decision of how to handle their own future." I answered after a moment of thought. "They will be faced with a choice, and we can only pray they choose correctly. The horse can be led to water, but it must choose to drink." "Or be made to believe that drinking is the only real choice it has." Khulari said, and I found myself chuckling softly. He actually did as well and nodded in approval. "That is a point many people never consider." I replied after a few minutes. "I believe it is one that you and your father both have considered." Khulari said and only smiled when I didn't answer. He finished his coffee and stared at me for another few minutes while I finished my own. The caffeine was really strong because I could feel a slight rush in my metabolism. "You will attend prayers tonight with me. Observe politely and we will speak afterwards of how one as young as you has grown so wise. Tomorrow, we will meet again, your small group and the inner circle of my leadership team. We will discuss the specifics of your plans. The riots will stop, oil will flow." "I will be honored to attend." I said with a soft bow of my head and he smiled at me again. "Tell me, if you may, what will become of your brother's mission to Mexico?" He asked me in a curious voice. "Do things proceed as you have hoped?" "I believe they are proceeding well." I answered cautiously. "I believe every side will walk away feeling as if they earned something to be proud of in that situation." "Are they your economic equals as well?" He asked with a predatory smile, a smile I returned. "No, they are not." I answered him honestly and he laughed with a loud, belly laugh. We rose from our chairs after that, and he made a short speech before the cameras, telling them that the negotiations were going well and would be recessed until tomorrow morning. His words were a clear message to his people that the need for rioting was over. I kept my words brief as well, mostly to the point that while many issues remained to be discussed, there would be no Second Great Oil Crisis. All around the world, people let out their breath with a sigh of relief and set about their days with much more relaxed minds.
  10. dkstories

    Danger Before Arrival

    Note to Readers: Navigating the ancient hatreds, the blood-feuds, and the politics of the Middle East has never been easy, and I was a fool to think I might have had it easier. It didn't take long for me to see that the dangers and risk were very real, and in many ways greater than any other American delegation had faced in many years. Still, I was optimistic right up until we touched down for the first time. "No." I replied. "I hate talking to them." "But Dylan, they are your guests right now." Martha protested. "It's customary on something like this to at least check in and say 'Hi'. You don't often take reporters with you anymore. It might not do any good with the CCN reporter, but Genevieve was there in Idaho and the print reporters have been very supportive of your father's presidency. Plus, you know what your father wants before they file their first reports." "Okay." I sighed. "At least you're not bringing them up here. When do you want to do this?" "After we're done refueling." Martha said with a sigh. We'd been in the air a little over twelve hours now. I'd gone to bed about an hour after dinner, but it was Darby's night and we hadn't slept much. Martha woke me up when we crossed the 'dawn' line into morning about four hours after I'd gone to sleep. There was a problem with Egypt denying us use of their airspace because of a continued debate over reparations for the hundreds of fighter craft they'd lost over Israel with our help. Now, the State Department was concerned that Egypt might harass our plane as we passed near their space. I didn't think it likely to happen at all. Why would Egypt risk war with the U.S. by attacking my plane? Negotiations were underway with the Jordanian King, an old friend of the U.S. before the Crisis. The plan was to fly across Jordanian airspace and into Iraq (which was now part of the new United Islamic Council). They didn't have an air force, most of their anti-aircraft weapons were long since destroyed, but there was concern over the possible capture of American anti-aircraft weaponry from the days after the Crisis. A J-Star aircraft had picked up what it thought were American-made radar signals from central Iraq a few days ago. While the Iranians still had one or two operational American SAM batteries sold to them before the Shah fell in 1979, these signals were from newer systems. Another option was to go up over Turkey and then back down into Iraq, or an even longer route over Russia and down through some of the lower satellite countries to their south. That was not without risks though, because several of those countries had large Muslim populations and recent intelligence pointed that they were considering joining the UIC. This was especially worrisome because our intelligence agencies warned they had acquired old soviet-made nuclear warheads and still had the means to deliver them. Whether they had the technology to deliver them accurately was an issue no one knew and Russia was in intense negotiations to keep them out of the UIC or to get those weapons back. Those reasons were why Martha wanted me to go welcome the journalists on board and give them a brief run-down of what was going on and where we were heading. I wouldn't give them a full accounting of all these considerations, but they did need to know why we'd be stopping in Israel for a day or two. The age of instant news was back, and landing in Israel was sure to be picked up as soon as we were down, and we couldn't keep them from broadcasting once we were on the ground. They couldn't use their satellite link-up backpacks on the plane, or if they did we'd know instantly since it might screw up our own systems, but once we were on the ground, there was no way short of force to stop them. Refueling seven planes, one of them a huge passenger plane, took time, and it was two hours of circling in the air before everything was done. We were first to refuel since we had the largest tanks, and we topped off again after the last fighter had been fueled. The pilot announced that we were free to move around again and that we would be landing in about four more hours. He didn't say where, though, and it was Martha who had asked him to wait on that. Martha headed back into the Guest cabin to talk to them briefly and to tell them I'd be coming back for a visit. Paul was grumbling about me going back there but already was telling Hollings to get his dark Service suit on and escort me back there. There was a door to the rear cabin on each side of the plane and I'd go in through one while he entered in the other. I really didn't think it was necessary, but after Utah I didn't argue with him on security issues too much. She came back a few minutes later and told me it was my turn, and that they were cranky. I was dressed fairly casually (although a little more than two years ago I would have thought I'd been dressed up) wearing a nice pair of jeans, a dark green collared shirt, and loafers. "Good morning, or afternoon, or whatever it is." I said in a friendly voice as I entered the Guest cabin. Here, the plane more closely resembled an airliner than anywhere else, but they still had spacious seating that no airline would give, and plenty of cargo room. When I'd entered, there'd been a buzz of conversation that had stopped as soon as the door opened. I'd met most of these people before, and so there was no need for introductions. "I imagine that you all must be interested in where we're headed." "You might say that." Daro Fo, the CCN reporter said in a slightly scornful voice. I noticed he was trying to casually turn on a small recorder in the edge of his seat and I smiled at him without looking directly at the recorder. "Well, I thought I'd come back here myself and let you know instead of having the pilot tell you over the speaker like this was an airliner." I said with a smile. "I don't think an airliner would be this comfortable." He said, and I knew he was looking for a good quote to use against me. I was coming to love these word games with people from CCN. "Maybe it's how an airliner should be." I stated clearly. "We pretty much have to live on these things on trips like this and being in such cramped quarters can be trying on even the best tempered people. Still, I'm here to let you know what's going on, not talk about airline décor. Egypt has refused to grant us the use of their airspace, so we're working on some auxiliary plans. For now, we're heading to Tel Aviv where we'll stay for a day, maybe two while the State Department works things out." "Wouldn't staying in Israel before going to the UIC only make them more upset?" Genevieve asked immediately. I smiled at her and said, "I was worried about that aspect of this as well, but Tel Aviv is the closest airport that is secure to our final destination." "What is our final destination?" Fo asked as if not expecting an answer. "Last time we heard, the Ayatollah was in Tehran, but if he's moved our final destination will change as well." I answered him with a calm smile. "Why are you meeting with the Ayatollah and not the political leaders of the UIC?" Fo pressed on, trying to find a question I wouldn't answer. "The Ayatollah, despite his assertions to the contrary, is behind these riots." I told them and saw several eyebrows go up, and writing pads come out suddenly. I wondered if Fo realized he was giving away his tape recorder by not taking out a pad. "We intercepted communications between two of the political leaders discussing the riots and concerns about America's reactions. They wanted the riots toned down, but the Ayatollah refused, according to these men. This was the final proof we needed to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that these riots are not 'spontaneous' demonstrations as has been asserted, but rather planned, coordinated attempts to disrupt the world's supply of oil." "How will the U.S. respond to this?" Fo asked eagerly, leaning forward slightly. "This is our initial response." I informed him, looking at him directly. "We are trying to talk to him, and after our findings that he is controlling these riots, I must wonder if Egypt, a member of the UIC, is really adverse to our use of airspace or if the Ayatollah is stalling for time. If the Ayatollah doesn't want to meet with us, then he'll have to face the military intervention of not just the U.S., but of the world as a whole. We learned this lesson the first time someone disrupted oil in the Middle East. We are less dependent on oil today than we were then, but we still need this vital resource. If the Ayatollah thinks the world will be held hostage this way, he has a big lesson coming. There are some ideas I wish to share with him on a peaceful resolution that is amicable to both sides, but if he'd come to us first and asked to talk instead of trying blackmail and extortion this way, the terms would have been better." "What are the terms?" Fo pushed on, finally finding something I wouldn't tell him. "Really, Mr. Fo, what would be the purpose of traveling all this way if it was as easy as telling you?" I asked him and he squinted at me harshly. "Do you wish to negotiate on his behalf?" "I'm just asking what the people need to know." He stated angrily. "Need to know, or what you want to know, sir?" I asked him. "There's nothing wrong with curiosity, there's nothing wrong with wanting to know something before everyone else, and be the one to tell everyone else. However, if we could resolve it so easily we would have done so. Two years ago we were approaching this situation and it was handled with a phone call. I was there when that call was made and it was resolved very quickly. This time the situation is different and it needs to be handled differently." "Is it true the President threatened to nuke them and invade them two years ago?" Marquez Garcia, a handsome Hispanic print reporter asked. "I have no idea what the President two years ago might have done." I said with a smile, and was taking a breath to continue when Fo broke in. "You just said you were there when he talked to the Ayatollah!" Fo nearly shouted with a look of triumph on his face. "Excuse me, Mr. Fo." My voice was gentle and polite. "I was making a joke at Mr. Garcia's expense. I think he meant 'nearly' two years ago, not literally two years ago. Sometimes my sense of humor is a little odd. Exactly two years ago, James Jacobs wasn't the President so I have no idea what he said. Nearly two years ago, actually around four months shy of two years ago, I was in the room talking with the President, my brother, and two other officials. We did indeed discuss the use of nuclear weapons. The United States was hard pressed at the time, if you remember, and the Ayatollah was stopping the flow of oil which not only us, but the entire world, needed to recover from those horrible days. The Ayatollah was told that he'd be given fair credit for all oil provided before the currency standards were set, and after that the market would set the price. He wanted something else." "What did he want?" Genevieve asked in a gentle voice and I broadened my smile for her. Always trust her to ask the good questions. "He wanted a lot of gold." I told her. "While people were freezing to death, starving, and huddled in dark, unlit buildings, he was wanting America's gold reserves or he'd shut off the oil. Dad, excuse me, the President told him that he'd be paid fairly in currency when that was set, and he still declined, demanding gold as payment. He was told that gold wasn't an option and that if he refused to help the world, the world would help itself. Because the U.S. needed the manpower at home, and because the world's countries could only spare enough troops to hold the oil drilling and transportation facilities, the use of nuclear weapons had been approved by all the signers of the Reykjavik Accord. We didn't want to do such a desperate act, but the alternative was to let our own people die, and that was not acceptable." "So he did threaten to use nuclear weapons!" Fo's voice was filled with excitement and he went so far as to check his recorder to make sure it was working. "I'm sure your recorder is working fine." I kept my voice pleasant. "I saw it working when you turned it on. Now, are there any questions for what was supposed to be a pleasant conversation where I politely informed you what was happening and after you promised my Chief of Staff that this was off the record?" "There is no such thing as off the record when we find out that your daddy threatened to annihilate innocent people." Fo stated firmly. "Is that really all the story that you see?" I asked him slowly. "Tell me what you would have done in his place." "I don't have to try to come up with fixes to a problem, that's your dad's job!" Fo stated angrily. "My job is to point out that he was wrong and wanted to murder millions of people." "It's nice to know you know the limitations of your abilities." I told him with a wicked smile. "What I might want to make sure you don't do, is misrepresent what I told you, something you just did with that statement. The President didn't want to kill millions of people. Dad hates violence and death. I remember the looks on his face every time his people didn't come back from patrol at the beginning of the Crisis. I've seen his face every time he learns that more people have died or been injured as a result of his orders, but he doesn't let that stop him from doing what needs to be done to keep the people of the United States free and alive. When this event occurred, we needed oil to recover or more Americans would die, and maybe even our very nation itself would have descended into chaos. We were on the brink of that already, and this man threatened to cut off the resources we, and the world, needed to recuperate. We did not have the military resources to invade and hold these areas. The only other option at that time was the use of nuclear options. There are many more tools in our box this time. We are a nation that is farther along the path of recovery than we were then, and we have far more room, and items, to negotiate with. We are going to negotiate, if he will listen and work with us, I'm confident a solution can be reached. Right now, though, the ball is in his court and it is his choice." "That doesn't change the fact that he threatened to unleash nuclear weapons on innocent women and children!" Fo was angry now, but I stayed calm. "Nor does it change the fact that the Ayatollah was trying to use the lives of American men, women, and children as hostages for gold." I said in that calm voice. "The President has stated time and again, that the lives of our citizens must and will always come first in our dealing with other nations. If the American people do not want someone who will use every tool, every weapon, at the disposal of our nation to keep them safe and free, they can elect someone else. If he was as bloodthirsty as you insist, I wouldn't be here; he'd just be launching a nuclear warhead right now. But he isn't, and I'm here, and there are a lot of things for me to talk about with the Ayatollah before military force, much less nuclear weapons are put on the table. America's leaders have been thinking long and hard about this region of the world, and we have a few ideas we'd like to run by the Ayatollah. Unfortunately, he's refused offers from the State Department to discuss them, and refused to talk to us. Instead, he's been fomenting civil disturbances that threaten the world's recovery from the recent Crisis. There will not be a second Great Oil Crisis if we can help it, and we can. The best, easiest, and most profitable way for everyone to resolve this potential problem is with talk and reaching a consensus. If military force is necessary, however, it will be used." "So you say the threat of nuclear weapons will be used again?" Fo pushed more and now I was surprised. It seems he had the one-track mind from hell. "Who did you lose that day in November?" I asked him quietly and in a voice filled with sympathy. He looked at me in shock, and then anger. "I suppose your handlers told you about my wife and son!" He said angrily and I shook my head. "No, no one mentioned it to me before now, and I'd like to say that I am very, very sorry for your loss." The compassion in my voice was real, and I realized I had a chance here to maybe reach out and change some of his thinking, without using my ability. "Frankly, I don't ask about the backgrounds of reporters, mainly because I think that reporters are professionals who deserve professional respect from me. I take reporters at face value, and base my opinions of you on my interactions with you. I did not know of your loss, and I really regret that anyone had to lose loved ones to that horrible day." "Of course you say that now." He said angrily. "That doesn't change the fact that you were just talking about flinging the things around like candy." "Please, listen to what I'm saying." I said in a passionate, but soft voice. "Saying that we would even consider flinging nuclear weapons around like it was nothing is insulting. None of us would even consider the use of nuclear weapons again. Would you like to know why we are so prepared for this crisis that we acted immediately?" "I'd like to hear that." Genevieve said seriously. "Later on the day of that phone call, dad told his advisors that he never wanted to have to depend on the use of nuclear weapons to maintain the security of the United States." I said in a very soft voice. "He was shaken that day, with almost having to order the use of nuclear weapons, and he swore that he'd never be in so tight a position again. Yes, he would have used nuclear weapons that day if nothing else had been possible, but such use was, and is, always a last resort. Maybe one day we can rid the world of such things, and I know he's been talking with our friends about working towards that day. They are not ready to go there yet, preferring to focus instead on continuing their economic recovery before the costly expense of ridding the world of nuclear weapons." "So you're saying the President would support getting rid of nuclear weapons but will use them if he has to?" Fo asked in a much calmer, but confused voice. "Isn't that hypocritical?" "No, it is not hypocritical to a military thinker." I said softly. "Before you ask, the President is the Commander-in-Chief, and must at times think as a military commander. When you are faced on the battlefield with a fearsome weapon, you do not throw out your own supply of that same weapon just because you know how horrible it is. The moment you do that, the enemy will hit you with his because you cannot strike back and hurt him. If that wasn't a true fact, nuclear weapons would have been removed from our arsenal in 1990 when the Soviet Union ceased to exist. We still have them though, because that is a true principle. I can promise you right now, if every nation in the world that has nuclear weapons says they will destroy theirs, and make no more, dismantling their ability to make more, we will do the same without hesitation." "That will never happen." Fo said sadly. "People once said they'd never be used again." I reminded him gently. "People said we'd never face the situation we faced in the Great Oil Crisis. People said Americans would never do things like Hitler had done, but I still remember the stink of those desecrated churches in Idaho where the bodies had been stacked by Jefferson's men. Things we think will never happen do happen, and as many bad things as we've seen in the last few years, I think something good like that would be due for us." "You really mean that, don't you?" Fo asked me with a look of surprise. "Yes, I do." I told him. "I've been to four of the cities that were destroyed, and looked on the horror these weapons caused with my own eyes. I never want to see another one of them used again, and if we can get rid of them all, I would be very happy to see that day come." "But you'd still use them?" Genevieve asked and I sighed. "Yes, I would." I answered honestly and Fo's eyes sharpened again. "If the fate of America was on the line, if the lives of millions of our people were in danger, I'd support using them. I'd probably cry myself to sleep every night for weeks, and have nightmares for the rest of my life, but the alternative would be worse. Our job is to protect Americans and that is what we'll do. It's not to use nuclear weapons just because they exist, and we will use every other tool we have first." "So, when will we be arriving in Israel and will we be able to get off the plane?" Bill Golding, another print reporter asked, changing the subject. Fo leaned back into his chair and studied me as I looked at the man who had asked the question. "It'll be about four hours before we land." I answered. "Right now, we will be staying on the plane. They'll be topping off our water and collecting the sewage, but that's about all. We'll be running the generator we have in the ventilated bay for power, so it might get a bit warm during the day. "We're negotiating for a power connection, but Israel still runs low on power and has to rotate blackouts during the day so we're not holding our breath. Right now the only ones allowed off the plane are the maintenance crew and my chief of security for discussions with Israeli security." "Will we be able to file stories?" Golding asked another question. "Yes, as soon as we land we'll turn on the satellite phones and the fax machines." I informed him. "If you want to set up any video shots once we land we'll set up the transfer units as well. Well, thanks for your time, folks. I hope you enjoy the rest of the flight." I still didn't understand why dad wanted the nuclear weapons rumor confirmed, but I'd done what he wanted during my first contact with the press, I'd given them all the main points that he wanted released. I was just happy to get out of there and back into the secure area of the plane. I took a moment to look around. Four of the men were at the entertainment area with their headphones on, engrossed in a movie that was playing. Brian and Neil were talking to each other in their twinned seats, smiles on both their faces, and Kevins was arguing in a very low voice with Davies, who had been sharing a set of twinned seat/beds with Killmer. As I walked near them, I got the point that Kevins wanted Davies to move, and Davies was refusing. Davies, a tall blond that looked more like a model than a soldier or security guard was telling Kevins that just because Kevins finally kissed Killmer didn't mean Davies didn't trust him not to fight. I walked over towards them, and Davies with his back to me didn't see me until I was behind him, my arms reaching around his waist in a tight grasp. "Why don't you come and spend some time with me, Barry." I said in a very low voice, calling him by his first name. He stiffened for a moment and then relaxed like putty. I loved this effect on the people in my circle. It gave me a thrill every time. I moved to his side and pulled him along as I moved towards my cabin. Looking back over my shoulder I caught Kevins' eye. "Oh, Kevins, do me a favor and move Barry's stuff to his new bunk, would you please?" "Sure thing Dylan." Kevins said and I felt Davies stiffen a bit. However, a soft growl from my throat made him melt a little more and smile at me. As we moved into the conference room I noticed that Alan was standing next to Jennifer, and both of them had watched the whole scene and were now wearing looks of shock. That only made me more anxious to get Barry to my cabin and I quickened the pace. "Later." I said as Martha opened her mouth as we crossed the conference room. She just smiled as well, shrugging at Paul who was laughing softly. We never made it to the bed itself since Davies practically dragged me to the floor as soon as the door was shut. I'd forgotten something about him when I decided to use this method of ending his argument with Kevins. Davies was a beautiful man, probably the most handsome in my circle, and he was a very even-tempered man. Several people had described him as calm as a still lake in the dead of spring. But when he was excited like this, he burned with a fire that would set entire forests ablaze. Two hours later I found it difficult to walk normally when I came back to the conference room. My shower had been enlarged in the renovation (the second toilet removed as well as the door to the second cabin walled over), so Davies had fun a second time in the shower (after turning the water off so we didn't waste too much) and I was a little sore. It didn't make things any less uncomfortable for me when I walked out and Martha smiled as I made my way to the table for coffee. I noticed Paul receiving a single new dollar from her and smiling as well. "What was that bet about?" I groaned as I sat down. "How bad you'd be walking when you came back from Davies getting you back." She said with a slight frown at me. "I thought he'd be nicer, but Paul said you'd have trouble walking until Rogers gave you one of his massages." "Where's Rogers?" I asked hopefully and they both laughed. "He'll be available in a few minutes." Paul said with a smile. "I warned you about using that technique of stopping arguments on Davies. There's something about you being all seductive like you were that gets him hot and he loses what little restraint he has when it comes to making love." "Paul!" I gasped in shock. "That sounds like you're speaking from experience." "He is." Martha laughed and I felt shocked. I thought these two had all but declared themselves a couple within the group! She looked at my face and started laughing harder. Paul was laughing as well and it was a while before they calmed down enough to talk. "Oh god, I forgot how naïve you can still be sometimes!" Martha said amidst some giggles. "The look on your face! I don't think I've seen you so shocked since the time that you caught Knight giving Darby a blow job while Darby was cooking." "He was frying CHICKEN!" I retorted. "There was grease popping around and all Darby had been wearing was an apron!" That only sent them into more gales of laughter. True, that had been the first week as we all adjusted to life in the Harvard house (actually it had been a block of apartments renovated for our use) and the apron had been covering Knight's head, but it was just the thought of someone having sex while cooking my dinner had sent me over the edge. It had been a joke for almost a week before the circle got tired of teasing me. "Oh, I feel so much better now." Martha said, wiping a tear from her eye. "So what was this about you and Davies?" I asked, realizing they'd brought up the kitchen incident in an attempt to divert me. "Oh, that was at the Presidio." Martha explained, smiling even more as Paul started blushing. "You know how Davies gets that look in his face sometimes, that smoldering look that practically shouts 'I WANT YOU!'? Well, Paul let that look get to him one time right after we got your house in the Presidio set up. Paul asked Davies if he wanted to have some fun and the next thing he knew, Davies had Paul bent over his own desk. He'd never bottomed for a guy before." "Oh god, I wish I'd seen a picture of that." I exclaimed, blushing slightly and heard Paul groaning aloud, his cheeks bright red. It looked good on him. "So do I." Martha admitted, blushing slightly. "I keep asking him to do it again but he refuses." "Weren't you going to talk about the communiqué from the Presidio?" Paul asked pointedly and she laughed before returning to business. The message had been a good one at last. The US Ambassador in Jordan had met with the King's Foreign Minister and reported that the meeting was actually very friendly. There was a good chance that Jordan would give permission within the next four to eight hours. Of course that set off a long period of wondering if it was a genuine offer or a trap. Would Jordan, a member of the UIC, send up planes to shoot us down? Was there a SAM trap set up in Iraq? What other dangers awaited us? What game was being played here, what were the rules, and how could I change them? Never play by the rules someone else sets; make them play by yours. It was Nathan Timms, another of the Utah Boys, who came running into the conference room about an hour before landing to shout that Henry was on the television. As Paul turned it on, and tuned it to the right station, I wondered if he'd already solved all the problems down in Mexico City while I still hadn't even reached my destination. A little bit of jealousy was needling my spine, wondering how he got all the easy assignment, but I pushed it away. Henry didn't deserve that attitude. One thing that hit me as soon as the picture showed up, and the sound, was that Henry did look handsome. He'd grown a little bit more, and let his hair grow out slightly longer than the tight army cut we'd worn most of the time. He was standing at a podium in some big hall of some building in Mexico City and I immediately learned something about him I hadn't known before: Henry spoke Spanish very fluently. I never knew he had taken the time to learn the language so well. I'd picked up a few words of various languages by other children at school: Spanish, Hmong, Vietnamese, Chinese, and even some Russian. I still didn't speak anything as fluently as Henry was now exhibiting by speaking in Spanish. It made me wonder how well I really did know my brother if this had been something we had never talked about. He soon switched to English though, and I put aside my wondering to listen to his speech. It seemed he'd arrived in Mexico City to find literally millions of people rioting and looting as a large part of the crowd stormed the Presidential Palace and main seats of the most recent government. When he'd arrived, a convoy of vehicles had escorted him safely through the crowds and he'd arrived to talk to the leaders of this popular revolt who were at the Presidential Palace. However, instead of meeting their demands for immediate assumption of US control of the area, he had gotten them to release the most recent Mexican leaders and was now forming a commission made up of them and the riot leaders to look into long-term solutions for Mexico. Where that commission would lead, he would not speculate, but Mexico had a proud and independent history, and that we (the US administration) did not want to see them throw that away because of temporary problems. Really it was a quite masterful handling of the whole issue. We knew that while the urban residents and many others supported being under US leadership right now, there were more people in the southern states and rural regions who wanted nothing to do with us. Among them were the leaders of the old faction that had just lost control. Henry switched into Spanish again for several long minutes, and then switched back to English and explained what steps were being taken to restore order by the Mexican leaders, although it was Henry announcing them, and encouraged the people to follow what he felt were most sensible directions. Then he mentioned that several hundred more US Marines were headed in to monitor local police forces as they restored order, and to make sure that all sides were following the sensible directions. It sounded as if Henry was doing quite well for himself, and once his speech ended, we listened to the television anchors at NBS studios discussing what appeared to be a rapid return to calm in the Mexican capital following Henry's speech (I learned then that it had been recorded an hour ago and this was just a recap). Then they turned to speculation about me, and my mission, stating that no word had been released from the administration or their reporters who were traveling with me. I had an idea then and had Paul switch over to the CCN channel where they were reporting the same issues. Their broadcasts, to my surprise was being very positive towards Henry's approach, and at the same time very negative about my mission, largely speculating that the lack of news indicated a total lack of progress. I mulled over my idea of making a live video call to their studios but I finally concluded that it had not been nearly as brilliant as I had originally thought. There were too many variables I didn't control that could go wrong and result in more troubles for me. For now, I'd have to take the criticism and doubt from both stations and let events unfold as they did. However, once we were on the ground, it might be a good idea, and I discussed it over with Martha, Paul, and Knight while the plane approached the Israeli coastline, and began to descend. A flight of their fighters met us, and our Navy escort returned for the long journey back to the carrier while we began our approach into the airport. We landed without incident, and taxied to a secure part of the airport where a ring of Israel security assumed positions facing away from the plane (obviously guarding us from outsiders, not keeping us prisoner). Paul, Martha, and Lt. Colonel Snelling all descended from the plane to talk with the Israeli security officer, a representative from the government, and an airport official. They came back on board about ten minutes later, with essentially good news. A power connection would be established and our water tanks and sewage would be taken care of by airport support crews. The phones were turned on, and the reporters in the back were anxiously filing stories with their news agencies. I was watching from the conference room when Fo's call came in and the anchors immediately cut to take his call. There seemed to be a great deal of surprise that we were in Israel, waiting for clearance to proceed with our flight from either Jordan or Egypt, and I was very surprised that when one of the anchors asked Fo why we didn't have the Navy blast all their fighters out of the way, Fo said 'I think the Jacobs boy actually wants to try talking this time instead of shooting.' Maybe our little chat in the back cabin had done some good, I was thinking but then Fo went and confirmed the rumors that last time we faced this situation we had threatened to use nuclear weapons. Even though dad had wanted that news out before we reached our destination, I still didn't like hearing it over the airwaves. The only good thing was when one of the anchors asked Fo if that was what I was being sent to do again, Fo had used my line about dad just being able to call the Ayatollah and tell him. Fo expressed his opinion that we really were being sent to talk before any military options were considered. His saying that surprised not only me, but the anchors in the studio who pushed him on why he thought that. "Dylan Jacobs came back to our cabin shortly before we landed." Fo answered the question with a neutral tone. "He was quite honest and upfront with answering our questions, and from his answers I believe that he understands the horrors of nuclear weapons and is trying to avert their possible use." "You couldn't have given him a better line to say." Martha noted with a smile as the anchors continued pushing him for more specifics. He didn't give them much though and I could see the confusion in their eyes. It was a sweet feeling of victory when I switched over to listen to Genevieve who was speculating on when we might take off again. Outside, I knew the airport trucks that would collect our wastewater and fill up our water tanks would be approaching. Paul had deployed six of our security detail under the wings and fuselage of the plane, and the entire aircrew was currently outside checking over the plane. An enlisted member of the crew, who was bonded to me, would shake hands with all the local workers, checking to see if they felt anything that would indicate another person had controlled or bonded these workers. I had thought it was being overly cautious at several points, but I never argued security with Paul unless it was something very important. The news stations were switching back to the Mexico topic and I was soon bored since they were just speculating. I always had my thesis to work on these days, so I got up and headed back into my cabin, patting Matthew on the shoulder as I passed through the security office. He grabbed my hand before I could continue on and pointed at one of the exterior screens. Like all the detail members, he had his earpiece and microphone on and was obviously listening to something. I looked at the screen he was pointing to and saw Halpern and Jones approaching the vehicle as the occupants talked with the Israeli guard commander. "What's up?" I asked Matthew. Another of the blonde Utah boys, Matthew loved the security office assignment. There was something about the cameras that gave him a feeling of superiority when he was on duty there and I'd noticed he always seemed to have an erection when he came off shift. "The jeep just pulled up and started talking to that officer." Matthew stated. "They almost didn't stop, but the Israeli commander stood in front of them and didn't budge. The guy in the passenger seat is a higher ranking officer, Major, if I remember the Israeli emblems right. Paul told Halpern and Jones to go see what was up." "I hope those two don't do anything stupid." I muttered, remembering the time they'd all but strip-searched the members of my Harvard study group because they thought one of the guys was shifty-eyed. Their paranoia had gotten better, but it was still there. Our cameras were damn good, and as Matthew zoomed in on the vehicle, quietly talking into his radio to the two detail members jogging towards it, I saw that both men were indeed in dark suits and appeared to be talking angrily with the Israeli guard commander. My curiosity about what this was all about was growing and I decided my thesis would wait another few minutes. "Okay, the guard officer is talking to Paul now." Matthew told me since I couldn't hear the chatter over the radio network. "The Major is supposedly from the Israeli Intelligence and says he has some important information for you. The commander's orders are that no one approaches the plane without prior permission from his superiors and us and that's what they're arguing about. Paul's in the communications shack and he's getting the government on the line. Okay, Halpern and Jones are there now. Paul's told them to greet the officer and his driver and…holy shit!" Time seemed to flow into slow motion at that moment. On the screen, I could see that Jones had just shaken hands with the Major and was now backing up, screaming something into his microphone while his gun hand went into the dark suit coat he was wearing, reaching for his shoulder holster and pistol. Halpern was backing away from the driver in the same way, and the Israeli guards were reacting with surprise as the Israeli Major realized something was wrong. An alarm began blaring over the plane's speakers, the alarm for a security breach and I realized that once again Paul had been right to have someone bonded to me physically touch anyone who came near me. The jeep's driver slammed on the accelerator just as Jones and Halpern had drawn their weapons. The jeep surged forward as the first bullets left their guns, wounding both men in the jeep, but not killing them. I could hear feet pounding throughout the plane as several of my detail stormed into the conference room to get to me when the wounded Major reached into his uniform, and a second later, more bullets hit him, this time punching through his head, killing him instantly. But not before he'd completed whatever it was he was doing. The answer to what he'd been doing was clear a moment later when he exploded into a giant fireball that caused a secondary explosion in the jeep. The plane rocked as the blast wave hit it, and I could see from the security cameras that the fireball was sending metal fragments in all directions. The sounds of some of those fragments hitting the plane were clearly audible, and I was tackled to the ground, all within a few seconds. I could feel that two of my bonded men were now on top of me while Matthew was screaming something over the radio network. None of that mattered, though, because at that moment I felt something inside of me snap and break and realized that it was the bond connection with both Jones and Halpern. I'd never been this close before when a bonded member of my circle died. Truth be told, the only other time had been the follower of Jefferson I'd ordered to commit suicide, and he'd been nearly four hundred miles away when he did it. No, this was my first experience with it directly, and Jeremy's description of what it was like was nothing like really experiencing it, and in duplicate. I could feel it as life slipped out of those two men. I could feel the pain of burns, of fragments punching through their bodies, and I could feel the essence of the two men as their bodies gave up the life they held, and I could feel the bond snapping free, and in that last moment of life I could feel their true reactions to the bond, and how they truly felt about me without the bond influencing them, and it was horrible. The pain, the rage, the fear, and the disgust from inside these two men left me feeling dirty, and unclean. As the feeling faded and their lives were gone, I sobbed quietly into the rug I was being held down on, and wondered how I'd ever convinced myself that what I'd done to these people was really alright. Deep down, under the power of the bond that made them love me, they hated me and would forever resent what I'd done to them. I could feel them lifting me up now, and dragging me back into the conference room, putting me in a chair and I didn't even bother to recognize who was doing this. I was too busy wondering if there was a way to undo the bond, so that they'd no longer be forced to serve me, to protect me. I didn't want to feel their hatred when they died the way Halpern and Jones had, I didn't want to feel their true hatred and disgust. "DYLAN!" Brian Dellington's voice was sharp as it called my name, bringing me back to the present. I could see his little brother Neil standing anxiously just inside the room as Brian tried to get my attention. "I'm so sorry, Brian." I mumbled in response. The Utah boys were among the worst really, of the crimes I'd committed when bonding these people. They had been given a choice: me or death. They should have taken death, it would have been kinder for them. "What are you talking about?" Brian demanded with some confusion. "There's nothing you could have done. Jones and Halpern died doing their job. There's nothing to be sorry about." "Yes, there is." I argued in a low voice. "Brian, I felt them die." "You what?" Brian asked in a high, sharp voice. I could see Paul enter the room then and come quickly to where Brian and I were talking. "I felt them die, and in that last moment, I could feel the bond break." I whispered in that same horrified voice. Paul was now listening closely. "Before they…passed on, I could feel how they truly felt about me, the anger, the hatred, the fear. I know that all of you must feel that way now." "For someone with your intelligence you really can be stupid sometimes." Brian said in a harsh voice that shocked me and I looked up at him in surprise. He had a stern look on his face and was frowning slightly at me. "Listen, what you're talking about, we understand that and we've all talked about it at times." "Brian." Paul's voice held a harsh warning to it when he spoke, and he was looking at me with concern. "No, Paul, he needs to hear this now." Brian said in a firm voice, and I was surprised. None of the Utah boys had been so vocal before. "We've all talked about this amongst ourselves, and we've talked about it with the scientists at school, but Dylan's never heard this." "That's because we all thought it would be hard on him especially with Jones and Halpern." Paul said and I was now looking at him curiously. What had been held back from me? "They're dead, Paul, and he felt it from them when they died." Brian said and Paul looked at him for a moment before nodding. "You're the one who has been able to express it best, Brian." Paul stated softly, looking at me again with concern. "Explain it to Dylan." "Okay, look, Dylan, you know how when you bonded me, and the others, we didn't really like you?" Brian asked and I nodded. "You see, we could still remember those feelings and they bugged me and a few others with how we felt now. We talked about it, prayed about it, and eventually we found that those feelings were fading. We all thought it was just the bond getting rid of them, but when we had those sessions at the school with the psychologists, they really made us examine them and talk about them and we all learned some things about those feelings. "When you bond us to you, you switch something inside of us so that we need you; we need your affection, your love, your approval. We become something other than what we were, but what we were remains a part of us, inside us. We can remember that, and that's what we were feeling inside. That's what made Jones and Halpern the way they were, because what they had been and what they were now was so different. But it's different for everyone else here. Dylan, I hated what I was. I hated the things I did but I was scared to admit it to myself, and when you bonded me, a whole new life opened up for me and I love my life now. Not just the 'me' that is bonded to you, but the person I was before as well, loves what I'm doing. That's why those negative feelings went away and aren't there anymore. It's because I'm happy with my life. We all are. That's why the scientists are so methodically searching for people to be bonded to the others like you. They've figured out what kind of people can learn to love it, and which will hate it forever." "How could you not hate me?" I demanded and the room was filled with people chuckling softly. "I take away your free will, I force you to do what I want!" "No, you don't." Paul said sternly, but smiling still at me. "You take away our total control over ourselves, yes, but you don't take away all of our free will. You let us lead our lives pretty much as we want, within the normal confines of our jobs." "But you also give us so much more." Brian cut in with a smile. "Dylan, I don't have to worry about if I'm doing the right thing, I know it, and I can feel it. You're changing the world for the better, and thanks to you I'm a part of that. I really feel like I'm doing what God wants from me, and that's all I've ever wanted in life. When we served the Prophet, I thought we were helping do God's work, but we weren't. It was just his way of getting us to you, putting us at your side, where we belong. After talking with those doctors, I realized I've always been a follower, I always looked for things outside of myself to make me feel worthy, and I've got that now, and wouldn't trade it in for anything." "I think Doctor Rhodes called it the 'co-dependent's wet dream' when she figured that aspect out." Paul said with a chuckle. "Not all of us share Brian's religious leanings, or yours, Dylan, but we all do know that this is where we belong. You give to us, as well as take, and Jones and Halpern just weren't quite capable of accepting that fully. Don't take what they were feeling as true about everyone else. We don't feel that way." "I'll think about what you've said." I told them with a heavy sigh. I still had a lot of thinking to do. "What's going on now?" "I assume you figured out Jones and Halpern detected that the Major was controlled?" Paul said and I nodded. "Well, the Major, and the jeep were obviously rigged with explosives. They've left a crater in the concrete. The Israelis are launching gun ships and sending armor to surround us in case there are more of them. I've talked with Martha and she's calling the State Department. Part of me wants to get you into the air, but frankly I don't know if it's necessary." "How many people did we lose altogether?" I asked. "There are a few minor cuts and bruises from our other people." Paul answered. "The Israelis lost about fifteen people. They're regrouping fast and mad as all hell. The government's already called saying they'll lock this place down tight if we stay, but they also understand if we want to leave. Like I said, I'm not sure which way to go with this, but we should be able to check everyone they put around the plane, and maybe if we stay we'll be able to find out who was controlling those two. They were bonded, not just controlled as well. Jones used the code word for bonded threat, not just controlled." "We stay." I said. "Running wouldn't look good right now. Okay, this changes the stakes here. I can't help but suspect this was from the Ayatollah and he's got a gifted working for him. Have our people check everyone on the ground, and tell the Israelis no aircraft. I'll need to talk to dad. Whatever we do when we get to our destination, we'll need to include the concept that they have a gifted on their side somehow. We were so confident that only Americans were given that drug." "They could have gotten an American child that was born to immigrant Muslims." Paul said quickly. "There could be a few dozen ways that they got their hands on someone, but for now, I agree. The only question is, what to do about the reporters. They've got their cameras with them and satellite gear. They could just transmit." "Shit." I cussed. It wasn't something I usually did, but I did do it on occasion. At my nod towards the television, it was turned on and we were instantly treated to the picture of a plume of smoke from the tarmac. They were using a videophone transmission and Genevieve was telling the studio that they still had no official word on how many people were hurt or what was happening next. She described it as being locked down in the back, and the studio anchor asked her to guess why we weren't moving yet. "Paul, get Martha back there to give her the basics. I don't care if they send it out live. Just tell them it was a suicide bomber dressed as an Israeli Major. Israeli security and our security stopped them before they could get close to us. Israel's beefing up security now and we're checking the plane for damage while consulting with the Presidio on what to do. Get her there fast." "Got it." Paul said, rushing out and I watched the scene that was being shown through one of the plane's little windows. I could see ambulance crews approaching, along with what seemed like fifty military vehicles. It wasn't a pretty sight and I wondered just what the affects of this would be and what the original intent of the bombing was.
  11. dkstories

    A Mission to the Middle-East

    Note to Readers: The sands of the Middle-East run red with the blood of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Israelis, Iraqis, Iranians, Saudi-Arabians, Egyptians, Syrians, Pakistanis, Yemeni, and many other nations as well. Like no other place in human history, this regions has been the focal point of more wars, more bloodshed than any other. American blood was rarely shed in the area until the mid-1980's when a series of low-grade conflicts involving oil brought our country firmly into the region's politics. The U.S.S. Stark was heavily damaged in 1987 by two Iraqi cruise missiles, and 37 sailors died. Since those 37, thousands more Americans have died in that region for various reasons. During the time of the Crisis, nearly forty-thousand soldiers died as they were cut-off from reinforcements by the Crisis. As America continued to recover, and we gained back strength, we began to take a more pointed look at that region, and to deal with them using a far different approach than we had once before. It was kind of funny how being on this plane always made me feel more at home than anywhere else ever did. Recently, I was assigned a house in the Presidio and I had lived in a house just off-campus at Harvard, but it was here on the plane that I felt most at home. I don't know what a psychologist would make of it, but I think it was because it was here that I felt safest, surrounded almost exclusively by my circle and a few trusted others. Besides the thirty-two members of my circle (Martha Ellington and Nadine Grass had been added when they resigned their commissions and stayed on my staff as civilians), there were only the three pilots (Colonel Haywood and his crew had transferred and the plane was now flown by Lt. Colonel Snelling, Major Davenport and Captain Harrington) who were not part of my circle on board. On this trip, there was no pretense of sending 'diplomats' from the State Department. The plane had gone through some renovations while I was attending Harvard and now looked a little different on the inside. There was no longer any 'Operations' cabin. The separating wall had been removed, as had the cabins that had been in that area. The center area of where that cabin had been was changed to an entertainment area with a table, a large flat-screen television on the wall (connected to the plane's DVD collection as well as the satellite receivers), and additional twinned seat/beds for the additional members of the circle. The VIP cabin on the right side of the plane that included my cabin, a connecting guest cabin, and the main conference room had been expanded by about four feet allowing a larger conference table that could seat eighteen around its more circular shape. The security office had also been expanded slightly to allow whoever was on duty there more breathing room. The guest cabin had been changed as well. Now it was a working administrative office that would have made any technology lover slobber. Three VIP cabins on the left side had also been removed. The two private cabins that remained were were up next to the communications shack . These two cabins were for any 'VIP guests' we might have on board at any time. The extra area had been used for more of the tubular seat/beds that Martha, Paul, Nadine, Darby, Knight, and the enlisted Air Force crew that were also bonded to me all shared. The rear 'Guest' cabin for news crews and minor guests on our flights went unchanged. It seated eighteen people and was currently empty. "Okay, we have our full crew aboard." Martha was saying as we sat at the new conference table. Nadine, who now had a new prosthetic arm to replace her lost arm, was busy working on her laptop while Martha talked. Knight and Darby, dressed in the dark slacks, white shirts, and dark ties they always wore now were rifling through several folders making sure they had all their files in place, and Paul was frowning over a set of documents that likely held threat assessments at each of our destinations and files on everyone who would be boarding the plane as we traveled. "The new pilots are settling in nicely and seem quite happy they won't have to hot bunk in the cabins below-deck. They've fit well into our routines and I don't think we'll have any problems with turf issues on the enlisted crew like we were starting to see with Colonel Haywood." That had started to become a problem, and was one of the reasons the old pilots had all been 'promoted' and transferred. Normally, enlisted aircrew members were under the authority of the pilot in command of the aircraft, but since they were bonded to me, their first loyalty was to me. That had started to cause some problems over time with Colonel Haywood, who did not know of my abilities. The new pilots had all served in the Air Force, and then retired into civilian life as airline pilots. During the Crisis they were recalled to active duty. So far, the only airlines to operate again were small turbo-prop planes that offered local commuter service. A full airline was restarting soon, equipped with engines like those on this plane that burned far less fuel than past engines, but the jobs for pilots were still scarce as the airline struggled to refit planes with the new engine. They were happy to be flying, and working, and the fact that the aircrew wasn't assigned directly to them was a minor annoyance none of them wanted to push. "The kids from the school are being flown to Atlanta." Nadine said in her contralto voice. She was frowning slightly. "The cover story is that they're going along to observe real world interactions in a crisis situation. Alan and Jennifer were the two that published the thesis on crisis handling that caused such uproar last month. Their hypothesis on how the Great Oil Crisis should have been handled has been quoted at least ten times in the last few broadcasts about the current situation so our bringing them along won't seem too unusual." "I still don't like it." Paul said, his dark suit coat hanging over the back of his chair and his tie loosened. He'd much prefer fatigues to the Secret Service suit. "We've never even contemplated using other gifted before and this could blow the pot wide open. Plus, the whole idea of hiding the school in the open was supposed to help make you and Henry appear to be more normal, not set the others into the same category as you two." "We all know that plans don't always work exactly as we had hoped." I reminded him and he just nodded slowly. "Besides, Henry and I are never going to be thought of as normal. The best we can do is to show we are not unique, that others are as smart as we are. It keeps us from being easily called 'freaks of nature' as Bob Baker was trying to do last year. Now, who are you assigning as their escorts?" "I'm putting four people on them in rotating shifts." Paul said. "Since all the Utah boys are now certified and on the Service payroll, I'll be pulling them fully into your detail. Losier, Davies, Carrolls, and Kevins are all going to watch Jennifer and Alan." "Jimmy is going to act as their personal assistant." Darby added from the other side of the table. "He's wanted more responsibilities and I think he's ready for this." "How are we handling Neil this time around?" I asked, referring to the youngest of my bonded. "Same as always." Martha answered with a smile. "I've adopted him legally now and since I'm going with you, and his older brother is here, I couldn't think of anywhere safer for him. The accounting's being taken care of so his food and 'costs' of being here are all being paid from the trust fund you set up. That way the CCN won't complain. We've already prepped the documentation of that and I'll hand it to their reporter who comes on board when he sounds like he's going to run a story on it. It doesn't hurt that NBS just ran another story on how well your family takes care of these friends of yours. Most people just look on it as another sign of how 'generous' all of you are." "I don't like the number of guests we're picking up either." Paul added, frowning at some more files. "We've got that Genevieve woman again, with her four crewmen. We've got Peter Rockdecker from CCN with his four crewmembers, and five print journalists. That pretty much fills up the Guest cabin. Some of the men, especially Hollings, are pissed because the weight room is so crowded with extra food stuffs that they can't work out.." "I am too." I said with a smile. I'd been working out for over a year now with Hollings and my body showed it, filling out nicely. Henry and I had both been voted the two best looking heartthrobs last summer (he'd beaten me by one percent) and every time we met some girl our age there were rumors we'd gotten girlfriends. "That brings up the issue with Jennifer." Nadine said with a smile, as if reading my thoughts. "The President's worried about all the stories starting about you and Henry not having any dating life. If rumors start up that there's something between the two of you, we're not to discredit them. When you come back and she goes back to the school, we'll leak that the two of you dated for a bit but didn't 'hit it off' and were now good friends. She's already been briefed and agreed to work with us on that. There'll be a few appearances together, but nothing that would be 'scandalous'." "If I have to." I groaned and they all laughed at me. They knew where my true preferences were, especially since all of them had been in bed with me at one time or another. That was one area where I was a normal teenager and my sex drive was just as bad as any other teenager in the world. The biggest difference was that I had thirty-two people in my circle to choose from, ranging from fifteen year old Neil to thirty-year old Martha Ellington (although I'd only been with her once, and she was now all but married to Paul Connors within the circle). "Just be nice to her." Nadine chided me. She was the most motherly towards me of all the people in my circle. "This is the first time since you got her out of that Utah cell that she's been anywhere besides the school. Her and Alan both just had their fourteenth birthdays and they're excited about this trip according to Tim. Hell, from what he told me everyone there is excited about you and Henry taking some of them along." "I wish I was so excited." I commented, reflecting on the dread with which I'd viewed the images coming through the satellite feeds. Riots in every major port city along the Persian Gulf was not an image the world relished on September 12th, and it had only taken dad two hours to finish his meeting with his cabinet and Congressional leaders before he announced in a news conference that I was being dispatched for emergency negotiations with the Ayatollah. Then, the reports had started coming in of the Mexico situation and dad had announced Henry would be heading there tomorrow morning. "Well, you have a little more time to prepare than Henry does." Paul pointed out. I had to nod in agreement. "Yeah, but Henry's going to deal with people who are begging to be administered by the United States. I'm going to deal with people who call us the devil and want us destroyed." "You're also going with much more support than Henry has." Paul pointed out. "The Enterprise Group will reach striking distance about the time we hit the Indian Ocean. The reinforced air squadron in Basra is at full capacity and we are back up to forty thousand troops in the southern Iraq region with another ten thousand British troops to assist. Not to mention you have the ace card up your sleeve, the nukes." "Then why are you so worried?" I pestered him and he frowned. "There's also a few million people rioting in the port cities and they'd love to tear you apart." Paul admitted and I smiled. "Good thing for me I have you guys then." I said and he nodded. "I talked with the Secret Service Chief." Paul said with another grin. "We'll be wearing desert uniforms once we leave the US, not these monkey suits. Full gear, with rifles as long as we are over there and I couldn't be happier. It's the first time he's let us do that, and I'm going to feel a lot better with the heavier firepower." "Okay, so have we gotten any word yet on exactly where we're going and who we are meeting first?" I asked and Martha looked down a bit. "No, the Ayatollah hasn't responded to your dad's request for a meeting yet." Martha replied. "State thinks he's stalling, trying to appear to have the upper hand. If he hasn't responded by the time we reach the Suez airspace, we'll divert to Haifa and you'll 'consult' with our allies there. That should set them on edge enough to clear up problems. Egypt is still stalling on airspace fly over permission as well, but we know they pretty much listen to the Ayatollah anyway." "What about fighter coverage?" I asked and Paul pulled out another file. "We'll have planes from the Eisenhower escorting us from about three hundred miles west of Gibraltar until we approach the mid-point of the Mediterranean." Paul answered after a moment of looking. "All the planes will refuel at that point from air tankers. Then they'll escort us either to Israel or to the Suez. Then planes from the Diego Garcia airbase will meet us and escort us to the Indian Ocean where the Enterprise air wing takes over while the Diego planes return home." "That's a lot of fuel." I stated and he smiled before shrugging slightly. "No one is going to complain except CCN." Martha stated with a rueful smile. "If they didn't complain, then people would probably worry we weren't doing enough to keep you safe." "They really do fill the role of loyal opposition, don't they?" Nadine said and we all chuckled. It was becoming a regular joke. We'd announce something and people would tune into CCN to see if they were protesting it, and if they were, people would relax in the knowledge we were doing our job. Weird! "Remember when they ran that story about you having cheated on your school work?" Knight asked with a wide smile. That really had been funny. Two weeks into my first, last, and only semester on the actual Harvard campus, CCN had run an expose on charges by Professors that I was a fraud. They showed several blacked-out faces and distorted voices saying they were convinced the professors that had tutored me had actually prepped me for my tests and given me the answers before hand, and that my current teachers were being pressured to do the same. Then, they'd run a few similar stories from Yale Professors about Henry. Henry and I stormed the office of our respective University Presidents the next day. We demanded an opportunity to refute the claims, and the result had been oral examination boards to be conducted testing us on our coursework from our private tutoring. The boards were held two days later, and on the demand of CCN televised as special broadcasts. They were done at the same time, on purpose, and covered by both the national networks (who interrupted their scheduled programming for this). For the first time in recent memory, Harvard and Yale cooperated with each other by asking their questions in alternating order between the two campuses so the viewers basically got to see Henry answer a question and then I answered a question. We were told "acceptable" or "unacceptable" after each answer. One hundred questions were asked to each of us, and we both received perfect scores. All the professors chosen for the panels were among those that were critical of us, and they tried hard to stump us, but failed. About two weeks later, a new game show debuted in America where a panel of professors would ask contestants very hard questions, and the person with the most correct answers would receive prize money. It was still the number one rated show in America, and the only strong revenue producer of CCN. "I remember." I stated after the laughing had died down. "Speaking of which, I still need to work on my Master's Thesis." "I know, and you'll have plenty of time on the flight." Martha said with a slightly irritated tone. I was now working on a Master's Degree from Yale while Henry was working on a Master's degree from Harvard. We had no real classes. They were accepting our work as government officials as part of our credits and requiring us to do certain readings and hold videoconference meetings with our 'Advisors'. We both also had to do a thesis before we got our degrees, and if anyone thought it was easy, even for us, I'd most likely shoot them. Our goals were to have PhD's from Stanford by the time we were eighteen. "So what else do we have to do here?" I asked and Martha grinned. "You're done." She said. "We still have some things to go over, but you really don't need to be here for that." "Good, see you when we land in Atlanta." I said as I stood. I headed into my cabin, which hadn't really been changed much. There was now a bookcase on the wall opposite my desk. A large flat-panel television would swing down from the ceiling in front of the bookcase if I needed to use it and had a camera attached for videoconferencing too. Other than that, the cabin was unchanged. The bookcase was filled with books that I used for my studies, or liked in general. There were a few mementos from my first family's home now decorated the top of the case, like my baby bottle in its gold box and clear plastic lid. Special rails kept everything from shifting and falling off in flight. My desk was fairly neat, a few pictures of my old and new family carefully positioned on it, as well as a group picture of my circle. A laptop computer was nestled in brackets in the middle, and I pulled up my thesis notes when I sat down. I also pulled a huge book out of one of the drawers and resumed the research I'd been doing earlier, taking careful notes to use as my reference material. "You still working on that damn stuff?" Neil's voice startled me slightly. I hadn't heard my youngest bonded enter the cabin; I'd been so immersed in my studying. "Yeah, I am." I said with a smile. I could feel his slight irritation as he sat down in one of the chairs bolted to the floor in front of my desk and he started swiveling it in short arcs. "What's got you so antsy?" "Oh, just Kevins and Killmer arguing again." Neil said as he shook his head in exasperation. He had light blond hair and blue eyes that sparkled in almost any light. "Let me guess, you guys were doing your bible study again and he came along and started teasing the group." I said with a slightly irritated sigh. Kevins was always a testy man, prone to bar fights before he bonded to me, and was as agnostic as a person could be. Despite the changes in them since they'd bonded to me, all of the Utah boys, and Roger Killmer, who shared their commitment to the Mormon faith, often held bible studies together and always prayed before meals and as a group together. Most of the people in the circle just smiled and left them alone, but it always seemed to irritate Kevins. One thing I'd noticed was that if the group didn't have Killmer with it, he usually left them alone. I'd already come to my own conclusions on why that was, but kept my mouth shut. "Yeah, Roger was leading us this time and Kevins came up from the weight room all pissed already because he couldn't work out and he went off on Roger real bad." Neil said with that irritated tone. "It's bad enough that I really don't want to do them all the time, but it only makes it worse when he does that. Them two are still arguing about it so I just left and came in here." "If you don't want to go, why do you still go?" I asked him. "You know I don't make any of you do, or not do, stuff like that." "It's just that Brian wants me to do it with him." Neil said softly. "We don't get as much time together as I would like so it's just something more I can do with him." "Why don't you get as much time together as you like?" I asked in confusion. "We're all together a lot as it is." "He's always doing security stuff." Neil said. "They won't let me do that since I'm still too young, so I'm always being sent off to study with someone or run errands or something." "Sorry, Neil." I said. "It's okay, Dylan." Neil said, stopping his swiveling and smiling. "It could be a lot worse. You could have chosen not to bond me and then I wouldn't have been around here at all." "Hey, I promised you I'd let you choose." I defended myself quickly. "Yeah, but I was wondering…um…" He stuttered, blushing and I knew what this was about. "Are you horny again?" I asked with a smirk and he blushed even more. "Actually, I was more wondering if you might be?" He asked as a response and I knew what was going through his mind. Every time he felt insecure about his place here, he would always come and seek me out. When some people felt insecure, they sucked their thumb, bit their nails, or did something else like that. When Neil felt insecure, he serviced me and felt better. "I could use a little attention." I answered him, swinging around slightly. Neil didn't hesitate at that point, but was coming around the desk, dropping to his knees and unzipping me quickly. That was the good thing about being a teenager. I never had problems getting excited when it came to the merest hint of sex. A few minutes later, though, Mike Darby came into the room with some papers for me and frowned as he saw what was going on. "Jesus!" He swore, startling Neil who looked up for a moment before going back to his business. "It's my night tonight!" "Oh shut up." I told him with a wave of my hand and a slight growl. "You know you won't be bored." "I better not be - here!" He growled in mock anger, coming further into the room and throwing the papers lightly on the desk. "These requisitions need your signature before we land in Atlanta and you better not get any stains on them." "We won't." I assured him. Darby, ever the lover of sex stood there watching for a few minutes. "Hey kid, why haven't you ever fooled around with me?" Darby asked, breaking the near total silence. "Because you always call me 'kid', Mike." Neil said, taking a moment to pause and answer. "Later, Darby." I said and the man smiled wickedly before leaving. The interplay between the people in my circle was interesting. They really were like a big family, with some people closer to each other than others, some disliking each other while still caring about each other. It wasn't like a brothel where sex was constantly going on, but when we were alone, not having to worry about others seeing what was going on, it wasn't uncommon for us to walk around and see two or more people having sex. Not everyone had sex with each other, and some didn't have sex with other members of the circle at all. It was something that was their own choice, and something that the others didn't intrude upon or force. The only real expectation of privacy was the nights that people shared my cabin with me, since those nights were considered 'private bonding time' with me and whoever was there. Most of the people I'd bonded had been totally straight before being brought into the circle. That experience changed most of them, so that they were to one extent or another more bi-sexual, but several of them only expressed that with me, while others were a lot less picky in the gender of their partners. Nor did the night with me always involve sexual activity (although it usually did with me being a teenager and having a warm body in bed with me). Martha Ellington and I never had real sexual intercourse, just the orgasm she experienced when I bonded with her (and no penetration had been involved). With her, on the nights that she spent with me, she cuddled me in an almost motherly embrace, as did Nadine Grass, and we often just talked about how we were feeling, or even the weather until we went to sleep. This was also why we were bringing the people from the School with us on these trips. Henry and I frequently conferred with each other on how we managed our circles, sharing problems and how we had solved them. We ran them in pretty similar methods, the main difference being related more to the personal difference between us than anything else. It was a good system, that kept our bonded people relatively happy, and functional in their relationships with each other as the psychologists at the school remarked several times when they examined all of us. Those psychologists had remarked repeatedly that our circles operated as large, well-adjusted families with only the normal problems inherent to any social group. Only a fool would refuse to accept that the kids we were training, who shared our gifts, would one day bond other people. In fact, it was something that we had to presume if they were to function in any capacity within the government, although we had plans to make sure their circles were much smaller than what Henry or I had, and that those bonded to their circles were all bonded willingly; not by forced choice of bonding or death, or unwittingly, or by mistake as had happened with several of mine. In fact, the psychologists had begun to develop profiles of potential bondees within military or law enforcement ranks that would fit well into the potential lifestyles of the students at the school. Some time in the next two years, Jeremy and Tim (the only person besides us who had a living bondee) would bond one or two more people to them, and work on bringing about a healthy circle like what Henry and I had. Then, others would be selected so that by the time the students turned eighteen, they'd be surrounded by small circles of people they'd known and grown comfortable with over several years. Neil left a little while later, leaving me very satisfied and he much more reassured that things were right in his world. He'd left saying he had his own homework to finish and have transmitted off by fax to his teacher back in San Francisco. I'd insisted that everyone who wasn't eighteen earn a high school degree, and he was the last to still be working on a full high school degree. Jimmy had finished his far ahead of schedule thanks to tutoring by my Harvard professors. He had thirty-two people, including me, who would all willingly tutor him and never once had been stuck without help on anything he was studying. He was also still more determined than ever to become a pilot so that one day, as he put it, 'We won't have to depend on outsiders for our flying.' I continued working on my thesis, something that was also more important than just for my Master's Degree. To anyone who didn't know about Dad's ultimate plan, it sounded like a strong argument for representative democracy and the separation of religion from public governance. 'Why Religion-Based Governments Fail' definitely didn't sound like a document that would be a cornerstone piece for people who would seek to transform the secular America into a Christian-based autocracy. It had been my idea for this topic of my Master's study, and after discussing it with the Trio (Dad, Senator Crawley, and Admiral Fullard), and with Henry, they had all agreed it was an excellent idea. Henry's topic "Global Trade and National Sovereignty" was another topic of interest in dad's plans for the future that was now less than four years away. My work on the thesis was just in the beginning stages, no more really than research into past religion-based governments that were successful but ultimately failed. Ironically, the most numerous governments that fit into my studies were Islamic-based and so I was also studying intensively the regions and culture to which I was now being sent. It was also an irony that Mexico was also going to be a centerpiece of Henry's study. Dad, who was very much involved with our lives and knew these facts, had obviously factored this information into making his decision to send us to these spots, as well as the fact that I was being sent to where the military threat was the greatest. I wouldn't be wearing a military uniform on this trip though. I was going as a civilian representative of my government, fully credentialed and empowered by Congress and the President. My uniform, with its gold 2nd Lieutenant bars would remain safely in the wardrobe. Both Henry and I, upon earning our degrees had received full commissions as 2nd Lieutenants in the US Army Reserve. We were the youngest commissioned officers in the history of the United States. No, instead of a military uniform, I'd be wearing a civilian suit with the threat of dad's nukes in my back pocket. It was dark in Atlanta when we landed. Normally, even such a short trip would have required me to disembark and give a speech with the local Governor and Mayor, but this time we were on the ground for less than forty-five minutes as the new passengers were loaded after having passed through metal detectors and searches, their baggage and equipment fully searched by hand, and our fuel and water tanks topped off. Jennifer and Alan were both shown into my cabin, the first of our guests to be allowed on onboard, and sat down in the two chairs on the other side of my desk. I could tell they were both very nervous, staring around with wide eyes. Jennifer had long, straight strawberry-blond hair and green eyes. She was shorter than Michael Rogers by about an inch (which made her about 5'5) and thin. She had on a medium length black skirt, a blue blouse and a pair of nice shoes. Alan was taller, just a little shorter than me, a medium, undefined build and brown hair with brown eyes. The thing that really made him stand out though was his large nose that had a big bump in the middle. I remembered he'd been offered to have it surgically fixed, made smaller, but he had refused. He said his family all had big noses, and since that was all he had left of them, he'd keep it that way. "Neither of you have been on a plane since you got to the school, have you?" I asked them and they both shook their heads, looking down suddenly. "What do you think?" "It's a lot nicer than I remembered it being." Jennifer said. "We didn't see much before but it looks nicer than it did, and bigger." "That's because all of you were in the back." I said with a smile. "Now you're up here with the rest of us. Did they show you the two cabins you'll be staying in?" "Yeah, they did." Alan said. "They're a little small, but I think it'll be cool. I've got two windows I can see out of from there." "I like mine." Jennifer said. "We never had our own television at the school, and the air force lady said it had DVD and even a satellite connection so it'll be fun to watch what I want to watch." "I'm glad you both like them." I said, suddenly wondering exactly what I wanted. Things had been rushed setting this up, and the decision to include them had been almost accidental. How much had they been told? "What have you two been briefed on for this mission?" "Um, they just told us we were going with you to help you out on something." Alan said first. "They said we were to do what you told us to do, that you alone had authority to tell us to use our powers, and that this was an important test of our education." Jennifer said. "Doctor Rhodes wasn't happy about it." Alan added. "She wanted to come up here and talk with you about it and maybe make you change your mind about taking us. She thinks we're not ready yet." "I see." I said slowly, and for a moment Alan looked worried. "No, you're not going back to the school just yet. According to Jeremy and Tim, you're two of the more advanced, mature students at the school. They told me you are better prepared, mentally and physically than any of us were when we started a couple of years ago." "Greetings passengers and guests." The pilot's voice interrupted me and I stopped to let them listen. I was use to these pre-flight speeches by now, but it was their first time hearing them and I wanted them to enjoy the full experience. "This is your pilot and plane commander, Lt. Colonel Snelling speaking. I'm joined in the cockpit by Major Davenport and our back-up pilot Captain Harrington. I'd like to welcome you aboard Air Force 3 as guests of Mr. Dylan Jacobs. We are currently preparing to taxi onto the runway and will be lifting off in approximately ten minutes. All crew are directed to prepare for take-off and passengers are to take your seats and fasten your seatbelts. I'll speak to you again once we are at our cruising altitude." "Now, where were we?" I asked when the pilot had finished and found both of them smiling. A knock at the door sounded and the crew chief (and Head Stewardess) Mary Collins poked her head in. "Dylan, we all buckled up in here?" She asked with a smile and I nodded as Jennifer and Alan figured out their seat buckles and fastened them. I'd fastened mine when the pilot was speaking. Mary just nodded and left, closing the door behind her. "I guess I should tell you that if we crash to duck your head between your legs, if we lose cabin pressure, masks will drop from the ceiling and to put one on yourself first, and all that other stuff, but if you really want to know, ask someone while we're in the air and they'll tell you." I said and they laughed. "Okay, back to the topic at hand, why you are here. What it boils down to is that we think you're ready to start thinking about life after school. Both of you have expressed an interest in working for the government directly and Henry and I believe that it is time for you to see how we operate. Your role here is to observe how I work in a real mission environment and how those bonded to my circle work with me and with each other. Any questions so far?" "So we're not actually going to be doing anything?" Jennifer asked in a very neutral tone. "You're going to be learning." I told her. "As for actually being expected to use your abilities, no, you are not going to be expected to do anything. The rules remain very much the same as at the school, no use of power against any person, and minimize physical contact with non-bonded people. However, you are going to make contact with unbonded people, and it will be good exercise to learn to keep your abilities in check throughout daily life. You'll also be in an environment where you will see a large circle working together. You can see how they interact, the problems that occur, and how things work on a regular basis. You've met some of my bonded before, but over the next few days you'll get to meet all of them. Watch them, observe them, and if you have questions at all, ask them. They know you're here to learn, and I think you'll find them happy to answer your questions. If something you ask is uncomfortable for them, they'll tell you that and I ask you not to push them after that. If something goes really, really wrong and you're faced with a life or death situation, you are allowed to use your powers to protect your life or the life of any American on this plane." "I hope you don't get upset when I say I'm relieved to hear that." Alan said. "I was not looking forward to actually using my abilities. I'm still a little uncomfortable with the ethics thing." "That's another reason why you're here." I said. "I don't use my abilities in most situations, but there are times I do. I want you both to feel free that when we have privacy, and I'm not in a meeting, that you can challenge me on anything you see me do, or to discuss the ethics of it. We're all in this together, and we can all learn from each other." "I do have a question about something that's been bugging me." Jennifer said as the plane began to roll, and the pilot told the crew to prepare for take-off. "Ask away." I said as the two of them gripped their chairs nervously. I couldn't help but smile at their apprehension on take-off. She was quiet as we turned onto the runway and began to accelerate, looking out the windows as we reached take-off speed and lifted into the air. "This is so cool." Alan said with a broad smile that Jennifer shared. "We're like sitting here in this cool office and talking about stuff while the plane's lifting into the air. I thought the plane would be like that room we were in the first time or the other one on the other plane, you know, regular airline seats, but we're not." "The Guest cabin is for people who aren't part of our team." I told him with a smile, yawning to pop my ears. "You're both part of the team, even if you're just here to observe, and that means you sit up here with us." "That's kind of what my question was about." Jennifer said, also yawning to pop her ears. She looked real serious now. "What are we exactly? When we were kidnapped and they tried to brainwash us, they wanted to make us tools, weapons. You and Henry obviously work for the government and we're being trained to, so is that what we're expected to be as well?" "That's something we're struggling with." I admitted after taking a nervous breath. "I think that you can understand how easy it would be for one of us to misuse our abilities. The government doesn't want that to happen. I'll be honest, there was serious thought about just killing everyone except Henry and I, but neither us, nor dad, the President, would allow that. I'm not going to lie to you, all of us will be watched very closely, and that includes Henry and I, and anyone who misuses their ability will face swift action." "You mean they'll be killed." Alan stated with a big frown. "It depends on exactly why they did what they did, but I think it is safe to say yes." I answered in complete truth. "If I used my powers on my dad, and say Senator Crawley discovered it, I could expect a bullet in my brain. But, that's something I will never do." "So we're pawns, our abilities at the control of your dad and his cronies?" Jennifer asked with a hint of anger. "No, we're people, human beings." I answered. "I have no idea how a President other than dad would handle this, but I do know that he believes God has put every one of us, gifted or human, on this planet for a reason. He also believes that we have the capacity for good or evil, and that it is up to us to choose. That is why ethics is such a big part of the school, to make sure that we know what is right or wrong, and we can make the right decisions when the time comes." "What if I don't want to serve the government?" Jennifer asked. "What if I want to do something like…be a doctor and I maybe use my ability to keep patients calm when they're freaking about something?" "Does that fit within the ethics?" I asked her. "There's nothing saying you have to be a part of the government. You can expect to be watched all your life, but that doesn't mean you will be forced to do anything, or work for the government. As for using your abilities on a patient, it would again depend on the situation. Let's say someone you're about to operate on gets up, grabs a knife and threatens to harm people. Using your ability to get him to drop the knife wouldn't be a questionable action at all, but what about using it to make someone quit smoking?" "Smoking can kill, but the person isn't putting themselves or others in immediate danger." Jennifer reasoned out. "The knife situation, that's immediate danger. But what about, say, a suicide survivor?" "Survivor?" I clarified. "If they aren't in immediate danger and say you put a control on them to keep them from committing suicide while in the hospital being treated?" "It might be okay if you limit it to while they're in the hospital, getting help." Jennifer thought aloud. "But not if you tried to make it permanent. They have to be able to decide for themselves eventually." "But what about while they're seeing a psychologist?" Alan queried. "That's being under treatment, isn't it?" "But part of out-patient treatment is supposed to be about learning to live their life on their own again and not about being controlled like in the hospital." Jennifer shot back quickly. "In the hospital, they can tie you down so you can't hurt yourself, that's part of the treatment, and a mental control is no different really than being tied down, and it's even more humane because they can have more freedom, get more adjusted to life. However, when they're out of the hospital, it's to get them back on their feet and living again, so the control would have to be removed to allow them to do that." "A very valid point." I said. "I think that most people would agree with that as well, Jennifer. That's the whole point of ethics. Do you guys have discussion like this at the school?" "No, they just tell us what is and isn't ethical." Alan said with some disgruntlement, and I agreed with him. This was something I'd bring up with dad and Henry. They should be holding situational ethics discussions, led by doctors. I know that Henry and I would often hold these debates, including this very debate, with dad and the rest of the Trio. "We'll have to fix that." I stated aloud. "Henry and I hold these debates with dad a lot, and they help us understand things better." "That's a good idea." Jennifer said. "A few of us have talked about it when we could, but Dr. Rhodes discourages us from thinking about ethics beyond what they tell us." "Which is a big mistake." I stated firmly and they nodded. "Well, that's why you're here, and in a less controlled environment. Remember, you're learning, but so are we and I'm not afraid to take careful looks at what we're doing and see if it can be done better." "With your bonded, can we touch them safely?" Alan asked. "Sometimes I still lose control when I touch someone who's not one of us, and I'm scared of touching people sometimes. It's one of the things that worry me about finishing school." "You can touch them, and if you slip up, just apologize." I answered after thinking for a moment. "Make sure to apologize immediately. If they think you're trying to control them or anyone else, their orders are to take you to me instantly, and as you've been told there's no way to control a person bonded to another. It won't work." "I won't do anything like that!" Alan said in a horrified tone and I nodded my head in agreement. I noticed the plane had finally leveled off, and as expected the speakers came to life with the pilot's voice again. They both looked upwards with smiles on their faces and I wondered if I'd ever been so fascinated with the workings of a flight. Yes, I had been at first. "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. This is Lt. Colonel Snelling again." The pilot's voice sounded definitely cheerful. "I hope that you're enjoying the flight so far. I know that things are rushed for many of you, so I'll give you a little bit of information on our flight plan so far. We're currently at 32,000 feet and heading east over the Atlantic Ocean. We'll be on this path for a while, making only a minor adjustment to course and altitude to avoid a storm brewing about four hours ahead of us. In about eight hours we'll be approaching the island of Gibraltar where we'll be escorted by navy fighters, so if you see lights out the windows, don't be alarmed. We'll fly east over the Mediterranean from there and rendezvous with a tanker plane to refuel. We'll announce that refueling because you'll need to be seated during that process for safety. If you've never seen one done before, we'll have the plane's televisions and sound systems send pictures from our fuselage cameras and you can hear the radio chatter as it takes place. "We'll be serving dinner here in about an hour. Our crew chief, Sergeant Mary Collins and her team should begin cooking soon. Refreshments should be available soon as well in the Guest cabin. Please turn in your menu selections as soon as possible. Airmen Michelle Terry and Sarah Jensen will be rotating duty as Stewardess for the Guest Cabin and our other passengers already know the routine. If you need some assistance, just push the call button on your seat and a crewmember will be there as quickly as possible. Phones and fax machines in the Guest cabin are turned off at this time for security purposes. If you need assistance with contacting someone or transmitting a document, let a crewmember know and we will provide whatever assistance we can. Your seats have televisions connected to the plane's entertainment and satellite systems for your enjoyment. Access to the Operations and VIP cabins forward are restricted. If you need assistance, please contact a crew member and we will assist you. Our final destination has not yet been confirmed, and we will let you know as soon as we can. The cabin will remain dark for the next six hours, but once we pass over into sunlight it will be returned to normal lighting in order to help you adjust to local times. Thank you and enjoy your flight." "We don't even know where we're landing yet?" Jennifer asked in surprise. "What's this about picking our dinner?" Alan asked at the same time and I laughed. "We know where we're going, but getting there is still being worked out." I said. "That's the State Department's job and they've got plenty of time to do it for us. As for dinner, we don't get the selection they do in back. We have a basic meal rotation to make things easier when we have guests aboard. Tonight is steak night I believe. If we're lucky Mary got some shrimp to go with it." "Sounds good to me." Alan said with a smile and Jennifer shrugged. "So, what do we do while we're flying?" She asked. "I'd suggest you get to know the members of my circle a little better." I told her. "The only areas off limits to you are the communications shack, the cockpit, the Guest cabin, and both of the lower galleys. You're free to come and go between the VIP cabins and the Operations area. We keep those doors open all the time now. If you want to see me, just check with the Security Officer to make sure I'm available." "Okay." Jennifer said while Alan nodded. "Now, I believe they've assigned Jimmy to work with you two as your assistant while you're with us." I said, standing up and they also stood. "I'll introduce him to you and he'll give you a rundown of our routines here, how to do stuff like get something to drink, the coffee pot rules, and believe me when I say they take those very seriously. He'll also show you how to work the televisions and DVD selector and some other things. We can play up to ten movies at one time, but with this many people you might have to wait for your own movie. There's also little things that might take some getting use to while you're here." "Like what?" Alan asked and I smiled. "Oh, like how to pretend you're not seeing things that are usually private." I said with a grin and they both blushed furiously. "That's one thing you might want to remember about a bonded circle. Privacy becomes almost non-existent, especially in a setting like this. It's also why the Guest Cabin is kept locked and there's a privacy curtain that is kept closed whenever anyone enters or leaves that cabin. There's also a door that slides closed and is kept locked between the VIP area and the communications shack. That keeps the pilots from seeing anything they're not supposed to. If someone from outside the group comes in, there's a light that is turned on to let everyone know there's outsiders here." "Aren't we outsiders?" Jennifer asked as we passed through the Security office and into the conference room. "No, you're cousins." Jimmy said as he moved towards us from where he'd been standing, obviously waiting. "Hi, I'm Jimmy and I've been assigned as your assistant to help you guys out." "Hi." They both said, shaking his hand hesitantly, but he took theirs confidently, and I noticed they relaxed at how confident he'd been in touching them. Personal contact was something kept to a minimum at the school, and I realized that a good idea would be to have everyone from the school spend time with Henry and I before they left, so they'd get more comfortable with it, another lesson learned. "So what's this about us being 'cousins' and not outsiders?" Alan asked Jimmy, who smiled at getting a question about his comment. He loved being able to explain things to others. "It's how we, Dylan's circle, see the others like him and their bonded." Jimmy told them with a bright smile. "You see, the circle is like our family. Most of us have blood family, but now they're sort of like a secondary family. Our first family is the circle. We're brothers and sisters of a sort. The others, like Dylan and their bonded like Henry's group are like cousins for us. Related, but not directly like we are in Dylan's circle. Still, you're not outsiders like people who aren't gifted or bonded at all." "That makes…sense." Jennifer said with a nod. "Yeah, a bit." Alan agreed with her. "C'mon, let me show you around." Jimmy said and they followed him out the door. I would have been lost in thought about Jimmy's statement except Paul came in, directing Kevins and Killmer ahead of him. Both of them looked like they'd actually come to blows and I groaned. Usually, Paul handled any problems between people, but if it got serious, he brought it to me. "What happened now?" I asked Paul who grinned very evilly at me. "These two started arguing as soon as we got to cruising altitude and Kevins decided to punch Killmer. It went on from there before they got separated." Paul said in an angry tone and I groaned. Now, both of them were looking at the floor and wouldn't face me. "You two follow me." I said, heading back into my cabin. They followed, still looking abashed as I led them inside. I didn't sit at my desk though. Instead, I stood by the large bed that filled the other side of the cabin. They stood near the desk, waiting for me to tear into them. "You know, I've got a headache now, don't you?" I asked and they both looked even more abashed. "I'm sorry Dylan." Kevins said in a tone that he never used with anyone else, almost apologetic. "I didn't want to…" Killmer said also in a soft tone. I looked at them closely for a few minutes, studying them. Kevins was slightly taller, and bigger built than Killmer and had brown hair and eyes while Killmer had that pale blond hair and green eyes like some of the boys that had come from Utah. Like them, he'd been raised devout Mormon, and that faith was part of Kevins dislike of them as a group. However, he'd only take it to this extreme with Killmer. Killmer was a sweet guy, never provoking and I wondered why Kevins always got riled up around them. "Shut the door and tell Jones I don't want to be disturbed." I said and Killmer rushed to do it before Kevins could. He then came and stood in the exact same spot he'd left while Kevins glared at him. Oh, yes, I think I was right. "Strip." I ordered and they both stared at me in confusion for a moment. "I said I want you both stripped down, standing nude in front of me. Do it." They both hurried after that, stripping down to nothing quickly, piling their clothes behind them. I noticed them both sneaking looks at each other while they did it and I breathed a sigh of relief. Now they both faced me, looking in my face and blushing slightly. I noticed how smooth and pale Killmer looked and how tanned and scarred Kevins was. They formed a contrast that didn't leave me unaffected, but I pushed my sudden desire down. I didn't want Darby any more upset if he walked in again. "Now kiss." I told them and they moved towards me. I put my hand up. "Not me, kiss each other." They stopped in surprise at that, and I saw them suddenly become very nervous. Killmer even shuffled his foot a little and I almost laughed as they looked at each other. I wasn't controlling them directly with the bond. If they really didn't want to do this, they could tell me so, but neither did of course. They stepped closer, but hesitantly and, to my surprise, it was Killmer who actually started the kiss. I heard Kevins moan softly and the kiss instantly became very passionate from both of them. They'd wrapped their arms around each other and I almost laughed, ruining the moment. When they did end the kiss, they looked at me rather sheepishly. "You can use my cabin until dinner's ready." I said with a smile and walked past them as they looked at me in surprise. Paul was waiting in the conference room, sitting down and drinking some coffee while looking over a file. He looked up at me with surprise at my entering alone. "You didn't leave them alone in there to fight it out, did you?" He asked me with a little bit of worry. "I'm smarter than that, Paul." I said in a teasing tone. "I made them kiss and make-up. I think they're probably getting a bit closer right now." "I was hoping you'd do that." Paul snorted with a smile on his face. "I've been talking to them alone about how they feel about each other, but they couldn't get past 'he pisses me off!' and I was getting tired of it all." "I think we all were." I said and we both laughed. Yep, we were a family all right, with all the problems that happened in families. Of course I wondered if they thought of it as incest when they slept with each other. For some reason though, I never bothered to ask. It seemed like it was something between them, not me and I wouldn't poke into it when I didn't really need the information. Besides, I had other things to worry about, like how to negotiate an end to riots that were producing a shortage of oil without using nuclear weapons or giving away things that we needed.
  12. dkstories

    The Time Between

    Note to Readers: A lot, and very little happened between the end of the Utah Crisis and the great Mid-East Crisis.I'm not going to be bother with a day-by-day account of those two years. Instead I'll just let you know what happened in a summary. March of that year passed far too slowly for me to ever have appreciated what really was a beautiful city at the beginning of spring. It only took a week for the country to be convinced of the evil nature of the 'Prophet' and while there were many comments from people 'concerned' about how I must be having nightmares, no one called me a murderer after that incident. I also found that being caught in the middle between two sides who are very passionate about their ideas, despite only being separated by the thinnest of lines was not fun at all. A team of four officers arrived to investigate the 'Prophets' use of drugs and children, and revealed at the end of three days that his program had been completely destroyed. It was also revealed that they had kidnapped children to use against American governments in future operations and had been attempting to brainwash them. They even revealed my 'rescue' of these children. Brian and the other former guards were officially placed in protective custody lest some remaining followers of the Prophet sought revenge against them, and of course for their safety they were allowed to stay with me where they would receive the same protection I did. This also kept them from being interviewed by reporters. They were adjusting to life within my circle, all eagerly receiving tattoos like the others once they saw them and started begging for their own. How they would be handled long-term was something we weren't sure of, but it was something constantly in the back of my circle's minds. Henry arrived the day the announcements about the 'children' were made. He brought with him a team of psychologists and scientists from various fields that would help not only the children recover from what they had been through but also scientifically study our abilities. All of them had extremely high security clearances and Admiral Fullard was absolutely certain they'd never reveal the things they were to learn. After spending a day with them, which included me using my abilities to really test their commitment to secrecy, I not only had a better understanding that they really were the right people to work on this and that they would not reveal our secret, but I also learned how little I understood about the experiments I had been conducting. When Henry left, he took the five rescued kids, Tim and Sandy, and Jeremy with him. Tim, Sandy, and Jeremy were our safety team. They had earned even dad's trust and so were going to stay at the facility in Missouri where the studies would be made. They also would contribute to the study, but they were there to make sure the other kids didn't take matters into their own hands. Henry and I would visit since there was a good cover story in place in the area for us to be seen there. Our visits would be to participate in select short-term studies as well as to make sure the children weren't being mistreated (by our standards, not the scientists). (Jeremy was just added and is already trusted by Dad? See next note.) I didn't want Jeremy to leave. What I had thought would be my first regular relationship though, had been hampered by Jeremy watching me kill those people. He said he loved being around me, talking to me (when he got a chance), but he kept on having nightmares and thought maybe the psychologists would be able to help him too. He was also needed, badly since the security for the people working with the kids required that someone trusted be in the room at all times, and so far the only people with our gifts that were trusted at all were Henry, Tim, Jeremy, and I. Both guys had proved themselves here and after Henry met them, he too decided they could be trusted fully. Bob Baker was fired from NBS after fielding a report from Brian and Neil's uncle claiming that Brian and Neil were kidnapped, brainwashed, and being used by members of my security detail. General Dillard sent a team of officers to investigate and after speaking with both of them separately, spent a day conducting further investigations. When the regular police arrested Brian and Neil's uncle the day after, they invited other reporters to come in and view the collection of pictures they'd seized from the uncle's home. From pictures of the uncle having sex with underage girls, as well as several other men who would soon be arrested, to pictures of the uncle standing over the dead body of Brian's older brother Michael, plus the nearly two hundred pounds of high explosives in his basement with sketches of the daily routes driven between the government offices and my plane at the airport. Don't worry about Bob, he got a job as a news anchor on the second national network just starting up, or rather re-starting, from the old CNN studios. Their new name Coast-to-Coast News was a play on the old name, while trying to represent themselves as a new company. Many Americans lacked faith in the old mega-companies from before the Great Oil Crisis and companies were frantically trying out new names. Bob had a big beef with how the economic recovery was handled. A lot of people had lost fortunes, and there was one problem that no one had really answered before it was too late, and that was retirement accounts and those approaching an age where they could no longer work well and whatever extra savings they had were now gone. From that issue, CCN had grown increasingly critical of everything the government did, even raising the point of were we still a democracy and were we still free. During the time I spent in Utah, I learned a lot about how government is run on a day-to-day basis. I'd really expected it to be like Idaho where people came up with ideas, then ran them by each other and all I ever did was nod in agreement, offer the occasional suggestion or question, and wave for the cameras. I found out the very first day that I was absolutely wrong. I had people with very passionate beliefs on every issue coming to me and trying to convince me they were right. The military staff I had with me were overwhelmed with little details, and I ended up turning to the Professors who were supposed to be teaching me coursework. They still taught me regular lessons, mostly at night and in the early morning, but they also played a bigger role for me in the day. Professors Sheffield and Higgs were in most meetings, sitting in the corner, ostensibly grading one of my papers, but really listening to whatever I was hearing as well. Then, after the meeting was over and I had said 'I'll be thinking about this' we would debate everything some more, between us. Then I'd reach a decision from there. That kept me from making a lot of mistakes when my opinion was being swayed on the basis of how well someone argued instead of what they were saying. A lot of lessons I'd learned before, and even had firsthand knowledge of in action, congealed . I really didn't spend more than one or two days a week doing anything military related. Still, the skills they'd already instilled, and I had used, stayed sharp with even that occasional reminder. No 'permanent' Federal Mediator was ever assigned to Utah. By the end of the thirty days that I was there, a new state constitution was in place. It had been the work of the Provisional Council (that had grown to ten people plus me by the end of the first week), and we all signed it. I tried to back out of signing it, but was all but dragged to the table and told to sign it first, since I'd broken the tie votes on most of the items included in it, or not included as the case may be. I still remember the most memorable comment from the event, from none other than Bob Baker: "Now Dylan Jacobs is the first signer of the new Utah Constitution, even though he's not yet old enough to sign his name on a legal contract or drive a car." The man hated me with a passion, and I guess I had earned that. On March 21st, the people of Utah voted the new Constitution into place with an approval rating of 86%. Margaret Millard became the new governor by 51% of the vote and my duties were done. She wanted to have a parade, but I refused so adamantly that she let me go the day after her inauguration without a parade. On April 14th, the people of the United States voted on a national Constitution for the first time in their history. As I remarked in several speeches, in more cities than I care to remember, it was the first time the people themselves had actually voted on the Constitution. When the first one was approved, it was by the state legislatures. Every time it was amended, it was voted on by congress and the state legislatures. Yes, it was approved by the elected representatives of the people, but the people themselves had never spoken directly on the document upon which their nation was founded. I'd made that observation late one night while meeting with Knight about the next day's schedule, as the plane was flying across several states to get me there. He'd liked it, talked about it with Martha Ellington, and the two of them had it written into my speech the next morning as the final sentence. "Now, for the first time in our history, this nation will be based upon a document that was created for the people and approved by the people." It became the new campaign slogan for the approval of the re-written document. Approval polls had shown it slipping to 70%, far below the 80% the document itself had been written to require, or to be amended. It had been attacked from the very first broadcast of the CCN network, and they had had an affect. The votes weren't completely tallied until April 18th, and when it did there was a huge party in Huntsville, Alabama. 94% of Americans had voted to approve the re-written document. In May, elections were held by every state for the first time since the Great Oil Crisis had begun. Nearly every city in the U.S., and most rural regions, now had power again and life was returning to normal at an ever increasing pace. There were still two political parties, but neither were Democrat or Republican. Rather, there was now the Traditionalist Party headed by what I called the 'disgruntled elite' and the Reformist Party that had all but begged dad to join. They wanted him to run it as well, but he stayed out of it except for signing his name to their charter. Senator Crawley was their first Chair. The entire family stayed out of the state elections, but the Reformist party won super-majorities in every state legislature, and they won all but one of the forty-nine governorships, and almost every state-wide office. Most of the Reformist candidates were heroes of one form or another from the Crisis. Military, civilian, and religious leaders that had been praised for the way they had led their areas through that Crisis. After this election, it was announced that the site of Huntsville was no longer able to handle the needs of a federal government, and a permanent capitol was needed before national elections were established. Two weeks later, after twenty cities submitted their names, the Continental Congress announced a list of five finalists and requested that they vote to approve the application of the city, and to cede all rights to claims on that land, and allow the creation of a Capitol District. Two states approved that request, but three more declined. When Washington D.C. had been built, it had been built on empty swampland. We didn't have the time or the desire to do that, so it came down to which of the finalists had either unused land, or lightly used land that could be built or converted to use as a seat for the federal government. Both cities prepared and submitted proposals complete with artists rendering of various building designs within their city boundaries. Austin, Texas, that state's capitol already, submitted designs that included renovating several skyscrapers in their downtown district to government use. It was nice, and a complete break from the past architecture of the capitol (again a recurring theme in the America of that time). But it lacked anything that set it apart from any other city, and most people that were there (including both Henry and I on behalf of dad) were left wanting something more. San Francisco, the other finalist, took everyone's breath away. Since the worst days of the city nearly deserted, the people there had struggled hard to recover. Once considered among the dirtiest cities in California with tons of homeless people, trash all over, and also the most radical city in America, San Francisco had changed itself almost overnight. Most people in the city hadn't bothered replacing cars (and had announced a plan to use the hulks of most of the cars remaining in the city as reefs. They'd even collected them in sites around the city, just waiting for the resources to construct the reefs.). The streets were filled with bicycles, electric mopeds, and pedestrians streaming to work in the new businesses that were forming the backbone of the economy. It's position as a shipping port was even more important now as refineries in the local area now produced a large portion of the fuel for California. All these things made it a bright, bustling city whose fortunes were on the increase as America recovered. What made it even better though, was the site they proposed: The old Presidio Army Base. It was a heavily wooded area with red brick buildings that, with the landscaping, made it look beautiful. It had been closed as a base and opened for commercial enterprises long before the Crisis, but was now empty. It had two things that really sold it though: Current facilities from which to operate were available with only minor renovations, but there was more than enough room to build new buildings and a new capitol building instead of forever being kept in existing buildings. It was close to every major transportation system, easily accessible but at the same time, set far enough away from the city to allow the security staff to sigh with relief. What's more, I remembered from one time that I'd been there how the style of the buildings amidst the landscape, and the quiet away from the bustle of the city, had given the area a peaceful, tranquil feeling. Naturally, the issue of earthquakes was raised and the city representatives laughed, reminding the questioner that the location's buildings were quite resistant to earthquakes. His joke about government always needing a little shaking up on occasion got some more laughs as well. The issue of the city's weather was also brought up, especially the dense fog and how that would affect air traffic, but they were prepared and had a demonstration model of how the airport was fully equipped for the inclement weather with automated systems, and how there were three fields within forty minutes by train of the city itself, all capable of handling major traffic. Then they went on about a new set of hangars at the airport that could handle all five of the "presidential family" planes in a secure area, and how helicopter traffic to and from the Presidio wouldn't interfere with standard flight patterns of the airport. Added to that, the numerous active and inactive Air Force fields in close proximity meant that defense of the area was easy to maintain and wouldn't strain the military resources as much as the other site. They capped their presentation with a picture of the USS Gettysburg returning to port after shooting down an inbound nuclear warhead. The chief presenter smiled and reminded the audience of just how lucky a city San Francisco is; after all it was the only American city to have successfully been defended from nuclear attack. On June 10th, San Francisco was selected as the next capitol of the United States, and work on preparing the Presidio for its role as the heart of the nation began. On July 4th, the first national elections since the Crisis were held. The date was chosen for its symbolic nature, after all, what could be a better celebration of America than the first national election following the greatest test of our nation? The Reformist Party was the big winner again, and once again we did not campaign. 285 of the 320 House seats were claimed by the Reformers. 84 of the 100 Senate seats were also won by the Reformers. The new Congress was sworn in on July 21st, in the new capitol, San Francisco, C.D. Their first act was to vote a Joint Resolution praising James Jacobs for his leadership of the Nation since the nuclear attack on Thanksgiving Day. On August 30th, the new Congress approved the first budget of the new nation. They also voted upon the President's request to declare the National State of Emergency over. The last part was passed unanimously, and the country was returned fully to civilian governance. National Guard units stood down for the first time since September 12th of the year before, and everyone let out one final sigh of relief. Henry and I, whose military status had been downplayed over the summer, were officially transferred to the US Army Reserves. I completed flight training on September 2nd, earning my pilot's rating for the Blackhawk and two other types of helicopters. Professor Higgs left my staff around that time and went back to teaching and wrote a book about Idaho and Utah that stayed on the best seller list for a very long time. Another book he wrote on what it was like teaching me included a lot of my sarcastic comments and, with my permission, several excepts of essays I'd written since he'd been with me, which actually helped improve my image as more than dad's 'hit man'. On September 12th I flew an army helicopter to Modesto. We were escorted by four more helicopters, with TV crews on both mine and two other choppers. The advanced planes had flown in the day before and when I landed, I was surprised at how much things had changed. Everything seemed much brighter, despite the dark day that it was an anniversary of. I knew better than to expect privacy as I visited the graves of my first family, and I knew the tears on my face would be on a close-up of that evening's news. Then, I gave a speech on the spot where my birth father had died that managed to gather better reviews than dad's speech. Mom had flown to Seattle, Henry to Houston, and Dad to Orlando, Fl. (the new Hollywood of the entertainment industry) for their speeches. September 13th, everyone breathed a sigh of relief when they turned on their light switches after waking up and their lights turned on. Dad formally announced his candidacy for President that day as well; from the steps of the half-finished building that would become the Red House (red brick façade would decorate the new home and office of the President). Two weeks later the Reformist Party held their first convention and mom gave the speech that nominated and introduced dad as the Reformist candidate. It was my first exposure to a political convention and I was struck by how everything worked, and struck by the number of speeches, meetings, and dinners I was scheduled for with party people from all over the nation. That was also the week that my military guards were officially decommissioned. They no longer wore military uniforms, but now instead wore the dark suits of the Secret Service. The military officers that comprised my staff all also returned to civilian life. Martha Ellington stayed on as my civilian Chief of Staff, as did Nadine Grass. Of course all the bonded people who had performed enlisted military functions were hired on for similar positions as civilian staff. My plane crew and the enlisted crew members remained assigned to me, and had quarters very near mine on the Presidio government complex. The biggest controversy during the election (Dad was opposed by a Traditionalist named George LaVerne) actually focused on Henry and I. The old bald man that questioned us during the meeting of the financial restructuring committee had passed away in mid-October. He had done quite well for himself, becoming the first of many new millionaires within the first eight months of the nation's recovery. He died without children, and unbeknownst to us he'd willed his newest fortune to us. LaVerne's supporters had filed a lawsuit challenging our ability to inherit based on our age, and our role on the committee (never mind that most of the committee members had gone on to profit greatly from their work - it was us who weren't allowed to profit). The case lasted all of three days before the judge threw it out, citing numerous situations where we'd already been legally recognized as functioning adults, and of course that we'd never participated in more than the one deliberation of the committee and we'd never directly tried to profit from the work we did on the public's behalf. After that, there were several more attacks on us until they realized their numbers weren't going up at all (they had been getting 18%) and actually dropped (to 12%). Dad won the election on November 8th, with no problem. The new constitution provided for a direct election, by popular vote. Ninety-six percent of eligible voters went to the poll, and dad received 89.6% of those votes. It was actually a fun day, as we relaxed after last-minute cross-country flights we'd made. It had been obvious for the past two weeks that dad had no real chance of losing, but he wanted as high of a turnout as he could get. That night, his speech wasn't about his win (although he did mention it) but the victory of the American people as they showed the highest turnout in recorded history. Thankfully, the Thanksgiving holiday and the one-year anniversary did not coincide this year. For Thanksgiving, we returned to Modesto where dad gave a special sermon at the old church. I did not go near the pulpit despite the teasing Henry was giving me. On the day of the actual nuclear anniversary, we each visited different sites that had been blasted as part of a national day of mourning. Christmas passed quietly and was a family affair, both with the Jacobs as a whole, and within my circle. In January, Henry and I flew to actually attend our universities and we stayed there for the entire semester. It was our last semester of college, having completed all the other work we needed except for a semester's worth of courses that they required we take on campus. It wasn't easy, since most of the professors seemed to think we were some form of fraud, but they eventually realized we did know what we were about. I attended a few parties around campus, but spent most of my time with my circle. Those that hadn't finished high school still had private tutors that helped them either complete or work towards completing a high school degree. While in our schools, our lives settled into the closest thing to normalcy either of us remembered in a long while. For Spring Break, we did fly back to San Francisco and then to Hawaii for three days. There wasn't the least bit of scandal from that though. When we were in classes, we weren't bothered by the growing number of reporters, we didn't have people following us everywhere, studying our actions, didn't have people trying to kill us, and the fate of the world, or at least a state or country didn't come anywhere near our shoulders. We graduated with honors, perfect grade point averages, and mom and dad had to choose whose graduation to attend. Dad attended mine, and mom attended Henry's. Neither of us was upset by it, since those were the parents we also felt the closest to as well. Over the last year, I'd grown a bit closer to dad while Henry had grown closer to his mother. As a family, we spent a day together in Orlando. It was a fun day, then we kissed our parents goodbye and took off on a working vacation. We started together, landing in England and spending a week there (longer than we did in any other place). It was Henry's seventh trip overseas, and my first. To the great surprise of many Americans, the Monarchy had enjoyed a huge amount of popularity for their role in seeing their country through the Oil Crisis, and when their elected government re-formed, it was with the King as Head of Government. He now had powers much like the US President, while the Parliament (based in Manchester) worked as a legislature. Henry was greeted as an old friend and while I got along with them as well, it was nothing like the reception Henry got from them and from the British people in general. Henry was more popular overseas than I was, while I enjoyed slightly more popularity at home. Henry went on to France, Germany, Poland, and St. Petersburg, while I traveled to Lisbon, Rome, Greece, Israel, India, and Australia. Then, we both crossed over to South America, which was a continent that was quickly becoming a bigger economic powerhouse than they'd ever been before thanks to several oil reserves that, until the Crisis, just hadn't been worth the economic investment, but now were pumping oil into all the countries in the area. We hit every country on the continent and then swung through the Central American states, except for Mexico. Mexico was a very sticky situation for the government still. The US had never pulled out of their oil platforms and coastal cities responsible for most of Mexico's oil business. No other country but Mexico had even complained and we had no plans to pull out either. The "government" in Mexico had been through four coups and two collapses in the last year and the entire place was slipping into chaos, except the areas we were controlling. In those areas, dad had instituted a policy of treating the locals like they were American citizens, and they were now on a par with most of America when it came to living conditions, education, and work. Every time a rumor would get started that we were leaving them and letting Mexico take over again, there were instant demonstrations by thousands of locals demanding we stay. The three cities that were under our direct control had sent four delegations to Congress begging the US to declare them a protected territory, and just as California had once experienced massive immigration, these cities also experienced massive numbers of people fleeing to them in hopes of work and food. Henry and I returned to San Francisco on September 3rd of that year. We were fifteen years old, both holding college degrees from two of the most prestigious universities in America (mine in Political Science with a specialization of Public Policy, Henry's also in Political Science with a specialization in Foreign Relations), and after our performances in the public eye during the Great Crisis period, it was generally accepted that we would work in the President's administration in some capacity. After our return, Henry and I spent a week giving testimony before the House and Senate Foreign Relations committees. Most of it was televised, and while most people didn't watch all of the testimony, or even more than a few minutes here and there, several polls conducted rated us as being "Extremely" or "Very" competent. At dad's request, the Senate approved 84-16 (party line vote between Reformist and Traditionalist Parties) our appointment as "Ambassadors-at-large" and as "Special Assistants to the President". The other purpose of our trip, and one that we spoke to no one about except dad, Senator Crawley and Admiral Fullard, was that we had shaken hands with the leaders of most of the world's important countries and as many of their government leaders as could get close enough to shake our hands. Gentle probes during each of those encounters, and throughout our trip had revealed that no world leaders were under the control of someone with our abilities, and we had detected no trace of any such abilities whatsoever outside of the United States. That was something that made all of us sleep a little better at night, and gave us hope we'd gotten control of that situation and potential problem. A search of the company's records had revealed that all information on the subjects of the fertility experiments, the drug's chemical structure, and really any information about the whole subject no longer existed. That had made us very concerned, but as the number of kids at our special school grew to twenty, we became more and more confident that there was no other group that had found out about the abilities and sought to use them to control the world or even their own little areas. The 'school' we'd founded for 'Very Gifted Children' was actually becoming public knowledge. Where better to hide a secret than in the open? It was acclaimed as a school to teach advanced children like Henry and I who were very intelligent but still wanted to experience a somewhat 'normal' environment. Through visits to the school by children and parents interested in sending their kids, we found ten of the other children who had our special abilities and they had been enrolled. Another three had been identified through lucky accidents between members of our circles and those children, and they had also been enrolled. While the school focused some of the most respected educators in the country, its real focus was the exploration, study, and training of our abilities. Heavy emphasis was placed on teaching the 'students' a strong code of ethics about their gifts before they were allowed to bond anyone the way Henry and I had. Tim had already bonded Sandy long ago, before we'd met him, and no effort was made to separate them. Henry and I had visited the school often once it had been established. Part of this was to make sure the kids were being treated well and also to allow experiments between us and those we'd bonded into our circles. It also gave us a chance to get to know the others who shared our gifts and for them to get to know us. We all spent some time touching each other, sharing some memories (a use of our abilities that had become our equivalent of 'getting to know each other'), and becoming familiar with the 'scent' each of us left when we used our abilities. While Tim and Jeremy, the two people most of them had known as 'leaders', were popular, it was Henry and I who were active in the real world that they often looked up to as role models for what they would be when they finally left the school. Most of them looked forward to graduating at eighteen and being allowed to work in government one way or another and I knew that dad and the others were struggling to find a way to use them that could keep the abilities a secret and wouldn't violate the code of ethics we were trying to instill in them. That was the struggle we all knew and worried about most, the ethical use of our abilities. The only alternative to an ethical use was to kill them all, and while I'd thought about it on occasion, I couldn't justify doing that when none of these students had shown a desire to misuse their abilities. It would also be far too easy for us to use them however we wanted, or needed, but to do so would present the concept that maybe ethics weren't important, and then we'd risk them going rogue and causing even more problems. The Prophet in Utah and Jefferson in Idaho had sought to use our abilities for their own purposes and, in the end, had their 'tools' bite them back. That was the problem with unrestricted use of our abilities on the enemy. Those of us gifted remained unbound by anything but our own thoughts and desires. It was all too easy for one of us to turn on those who used us when the slightest opportunity presented itself. Therefore, if we were to do anything besides kill these others, or keep them locked up in isolated chambers with no human contact, we had to instill into them a dedication to a code of ethics and never encourage or allow them to act outside of that code. If any of them did, they could be eliminated, and those that stayed by the code would not be alarmed, but rather reminded to stick to the code instead of betraying it, and us. The second anniversary of the Great Oil Crisis approached with only mild apprehension on the part of most of the world. While not every country, or every region within different countries, had recovered to their pre-Crisis levels, the world was once more humming along quite well. Except for the occasional civil war or coup in Africa, conflicts between nations were rarer than they had been pre-Crisis. While people looked at the calendar and the approaching day cautiously, no one expected another major catastrophe to occur on that day. When the day itself arrived, though, it was as far from calm as we'd hoped it would be. Just as events occurred on that day two years before that changed the world, so now, two years later, events would occur that would change the world even more. Although the effects of that day weren't as apparent as those two years earlier, they would be even more far-sweeping than those that had come before because of one overriding effect. Despite the dire threats they posed, no one panicked, countries did not strike out at each other to get valuable oil, and the lights stayed turned on, the electric and alternative fuel buses and mass transit systems still ran. Those citizens who had chosen to buy hybrid or electric cars instead of using mass transit still had fuel or power for their vehicles, and citizens all over the world came home, cooked dinner, and watched the television as President Jacobs sent his two Ambassadors-at-large to handle the crises that had erupted. Everyone went to sleep that night as two huge 787 aircraft lifted off from San Francisco International Airport and headed to two different locations. People turned off their televisions and went to bed, or in different countries around the world, to work, and waited for the news that the two "wonder boys" of the American President would solve the problems and they could continue on with their lives without worrying about black-outs, looting, and seeking food in the dark, dirty interiors of abandoned grocery stores. They didn't realize that by placing such faith in us, they were walking right down the path dad and his friends wanted. They had no idea what their faith in the strength of the new leadership would bring. But Henry and I knew and we also realized that, as smart as we were, dad and his friends had wisdom and experience on their side, which trumped our intelligence, hedging both of us down a path neither of us had decided we really wanted. The only question that remained for both of us was: Is it too late for us to change our minds about supporting dad's vision of a future America? Only time would tell.
  13. dkstories

    Wrapping Things Up

    Note to Readers: I was amazed at how rapidly the newly bonded young men from Utah were integrated into my circle. Why I might have been so amazed I'm not sure, but I still was at the time. It is a mark of how much the bonding affects their outlook on life that they readily accepted the five boys, and integrated them into our little 'family'. This was something that we studied much more in depth later. "Dylan, wake up." A female voice was saying gently into my ear. I wanted to ignore it, but it kept repeating that line. I was tired, feeling like I was clawing my way through a murky darkness that clung to me and wouldn't let me get away. However a new voice cut through that darkness and I bolted awake. "DYLAN THOMAS JACOBS, GET YOUR ASS OUT OF BED!" Paul Connors voice was loud, and as I jerked into a sitting position, blinking at him through sleep-crusted eyes I realized he still looked angry. For a single second I stared at him, wondering what I'd done to get him so angry and then the memories of last night flooded back to me, being covered by the blood of the young man I'd killed, and all the rest of it popped back into my head in a flesh of sights, sounds, and smells that overwhelmed me. I did make it into the bathroom in time before puking my guts out. There wasn't much there for me to puke up, and it became dry heaves next. They finally subsided and I realized someone was holding my head gently. I leaned into the embrace, resting against the firm, strong grip and letting out a single sob. "You okay now?" Paul's voice was soft and filled with a concern that was even more soothing than his arms around me. "I…need to clean up." I mumbled, still not thinking totally clearly. "Get in the shower, Dylan." Paul said and I stood up, moving out of his embrace slowly. Someone had undressed me when I was in bed, and so it was easy to step into the small cubicle and start the shower. The water was chilly at first, but that fact barely registered on my body before it warmed up. I stood there, not moving as the water fell on me and I felt the floor tipping ever so slightly. "Here, open the door." Jimmy's voice was soft, and filled with concern as well. He was wearing nothing but a pair of tight briefs and held a scrub brush in his hands as he decided not to wait for me and opened the door himself. Although the shower was bigger than the one on my old plane, it still wasn't big enough for two people. He moved closer, though and turned me to face him before rubbing some soap onto my chest, and slowly beginning to scrub in light motions. We went on like that, him telling me to move, or gently lifting my arm to scrub something else. I noticed he kept remarking that there really wasn't a scratch on me, just some bruises and scrapes. It was after he scrubbed my face and shampooed my hair, scrubbing my scalp gently, and in a way that made my head tingle that I recovered the power of speech. "The floor." I stated in a soft voice. Jimmy looked down at the tiled floor that was now filled with thin layer of water that moved as the plane moved slightly. "Don't worry about it, Dylan." Jimmy said softly with a chuckle. "One of us will take care of things. You need to get clean, dressed, and back into the conference room. The President is furious. He didn't want to wait three hours when Colonel Haywood called him, he wanted to talk to you now. When we told them you'd passed out from exhaustion he ordered us to the nearest air base, but then Haywood had the communications guys play the recording of your last radio call and your dad calmed down enough to order us to a secure staging area. He's waiting now. He said four hours was enough sleep and that we were to wake you and get you ready. He's waiting in the conference room." "The officers and professors?" I asked, still not awake enough to make full sentences. "Awake, and feeling sick as hell." Jimmy answered with a small smile. "Whatever it was that Jeremy guy did, it worked good. We're in the air still, about a hundred miles north. Both forward support planes are here now as well, waiting for the order to move in, and we're surrounded by six fighters from the Air Force who have orders to shoot anything down that comes into the air." "Okay, Jimmy, thanks for helping me get cleaned up." I said, and he started shaking a bit, moving further into the shower cubicle and wrapping me in a tight hug. I hugged him back, reminding him I was okay, and he moved back out as I turned off the water. I'd later learn I used up over half the water supply with that one shower, and that two of the aircrew spent two hours cleaning the room up, but no one ever complained. Jimmy had disappeared into the room he shared with Tim and Sandy while I went back into my own room, still dripping wet. I didn't have to get a towel out of the drawer because Mary Collins was waiting next to Paul and the two of them moved forward with towels in hand, drying me and not even listening to my half-hearted protests. Like Jimmy had, they were also checking me for damages, as if still panicked that I was not alright. Then, Paul even checked my arms for needle marks before admitting I was okay. Mary pointed out some clothes, jeans and another button down shirt that were waiting on the bed, with under clothes as well. Both of them watched me dress in silence before following me into a very crowded conference room. I noticed that the officers all looked pale, but were nonetheless grilling the boys I'd brought back in angry tones. "People, please, be quiet for a moment." I said in a quiet, but firm voice that grabbed everyone's attention. "They won't tell you anything because I threatened them if they did. Is this room set up for the videoconference?" "Yes it is." Major Unger said in an angry tone, staring hard at me. "I promise that all of you will get a full explanation when I've finished talking with the President." I said firmly. "For now, I ask that everyone leave except the people that brought me back. Lt. Connors, no one is to come near this cabin, and that includes you or whoever you post to make sure of that. Make sure no one is in Jimmy's cabin either." "There's coffee and some bread and other food on the table for you." Mary Collins said quietly before she joined the people filing out. There wasn't an argument from any of them, something I was glad for because it was hard enough just standing there. When the room was empty except for the five newly bonded guys, Jeremy, and the fourteen-year-old, Neil, I sat down near the carafe of coffee. Mary had placed a mug beside a plate with a bagel, a muffin, and some regular toast. Butter, jelly, cream, and sugar were all nearby and as I buttered a piece of toast, I noticed how nervous they all looked, especially Neil. They also looked exhausted. "They didn't let you get any sleep, did they?" I asked and they all shook their heads. "I'll make sure they do when we're done." I said with a soft smile, and everyone but Neil relaxed slightly. "During the videoconference, stay quiet unless someone asks you a question directly. Neil, you're probably going to hear some pretty bad things, and you're definitely going to hear things you won't understand. Just stay quiet for now, please." "Okay." Neil said softly, just as the phone rang. I picked it up, listened to Hegel as he walked me through how the videoconference would work, and he stressed that once it was patched though, it was encrypted. If there were any problems, I'd have to have him reestablish a new connection since he couldn't do anything with it from his control station once it was linked up. I noticed that Jeremy was fidgeting now and put a hand on his. He'd automatically moved to the seat next to me. While I waited for Hegel to finish whatever he did to make this work, the rest of the guys in the room moved until they were sitting in seats facing the wall with the television screen on it. I noticed a new camera sitting under the screen, pointing in our direction. Finally the phone beeped in a different tone than its ring, and I pushed the speaker button just as the screen came to life showing a very upset-looking dad as well as Senator Crawley and Admiral Fullard. I recognized that they were in dad's office back in the Alabama hotel that was currently the seat of government for the United States. "Dylan, what the hell is going on out there and are you okay?" Dad demanded as soon as the connection was fully established. He was peering at me through the screen like he was about to leap through it and check me out in person. "I'm doing okay dad." I said softly and he relaxed a bit. "I'm just a bit bruised and extremely tired still. Thanks for letting me get some sleep." "What exactly happened out there?" Dad asked me. "A lot happened." I said in a flat voice, looking at the two men sitting next to dad and wondering how they would react. "First, though, we need to tell Senator Crawly and the Admiral the full truth about Idaho, and about Tim." "I take it one of these boys is like Tim?" Dad asked me with a very tired voice. "Jeremy here on my right." I said with a nod. "More importantly, I've got five more under guard in the Guest cabin." Dad looked totally shocked at that and just nodded at me. I launched into a full explanation, leaving out details of things like how exactly we could bond people to us, but describing how Tim had been used, and many of the things we'd learned since then about our abilities and what they were. The two men had many questions at that point and I thought they were taking it pretty well. "I authorized Dylan to bond the people to him, if they were willing." Dad finished after I'd exhausted most of the information I had had before coming to Utah. "Henry was told to do the same. The risk of infiltration through this method was too great, and I wanted them protected. We all know how secrets become more dangerous the more people know, so we kept it as quiet as possible. However, if Dylan's found so many of them I don't think we can keep a lid on this much longer." "No dad, it's not going to be easy." I said firmly. "I made a lot of mistakes here dad. I should have listened more closely to Lt. Connors. He wanted me to use my abilities to check on certain people, to make sure the few I haven't bonded weren't being controlled after they returned from meetings, and I didn't. He was right, dad. They took Holt during the first meeting and bonded him. I knew the threat of someone my age being alone with an unbonded person and I dismissed it as being too remote of a chance. That's how they were able to do what they did on the plane, with his help and knowledge." "We'll worry about what was and wasn't a mistake later, just tell me what the hell happened and what those boys around you have to do with this all!" Dad said in a frustrated tone. So I started the story from dinner, told him of the Tina girl's attempt to exert a subtle control that would lead me down the path that the Prophet's men wanted and to my eventually being bonded to their side. I told them of how Killmer, raised to be one of their most faithful people had been bonded to my side and helped set up the situation where Jeremy chose to help me instead of continuing to be used by them. All three men listened intently, asking a few questions when they didn't understand something or my explanations were less than clear. My voice shook as I related the events in the Prophet's room where I'd murdered first Tina, because of what I thought she and her bonded Paul Holt might do, and my murder of the guard Gary Timms when he refused to be bonded me, and the murder of the four Deacons based on my opinion that their continued control of Utah would pose a future threat. When I reached the point where we prepared to head to the building where the other kids like me were being held, I halted for a moment, waiting for the response from these three men. "When a military commander discovers a clear and present danger to the government, he is expected to take whatever action he believes necessary to end the danger." Admiral Fullard said after a minute of silence. "You are a Warrant Officer in the Army, you were in a dire situation, and you used every weapon in your arsenal to end a threat to the United States. If you'd been able to call in and tell us of this situation, I would have ordered you out of there and recommended to the President we nuke the place out of existence. I would have ordered every military unit we had into a full attack to wipe everything there out of existence. You made the correct military decision to eliminate the threat to the government and its leadership. I know that doing the things you did was hard, and that it is going to be rough on you for a bit, son, but I won't hesitate in telling you that you did the right thing. I'm just glad your father insisted on you receiving the training you did." "Training you will be continuing." Dad said firmly. "Finish the story." So I did finish, telling them of our assault on the center where the kids were being held, our killing of the guards there, and the rescue of the five children. Then I told of our drive out of the city, and our harrowing trip to the plane, and how the security detail had erupted from the plane in a frenzy that eliminated all the guards who'd been watching the plane. Our take-off, my orders to have Jeremy work his powers on the officers and professors to adjust their memories of exactly what had happened, and ended with my passing out. "Sweet Lord God Almighty, this is almost too much to believe." Senator Crawley said slowly while shaking his head. "Dylan, what are the chances of covering up the…more sensitive parts of this?" "I'm not completely sure." I admitted. "It depends on how many people knew of these abilities and their uses." "If I may?" Jeremy asked, leaning forward and I nodded. "Most of the people who did know are now dead. Most of the rest, knew bits and pieces, but I doubt they knew everything." "Go ahead Brian." I said to one of the older bonded from this recent group. He was leaning forward and looked like he wanted to speak. "Most of the people who knew anything about this only knew that if these people touched them, they could somehow be controlled." Brian said. "Only the guards really had any idea of how things worked. Almost half of us are either dead, or now belong to Dylan. Can't you just, I don't know, make them forget?" "It's not that easy." Jeremy said quickly. "One event, maybe two, or a few consecutive few hours, or a day have worked when I've done it before. But, this has been going on for years, and there's people who have known about it for that whole time, and even the guards have known for weeks. Stuff like that, it's hard to make a lasting impact with just basic controls." "Dylan, we've been receiving messages from a group calling itself the 'Utah Provisional Council' for the last few hours." Dad said. "They seem pretty insistent that they want to talk about…recent events and seem very worried. Do you think that they are seriously seeking resolution or something else?" "More than likely it's the people that didn't fully appreciate the Prophet." I answered after thinking for a moment. "Do you want to return and handle things?" Dad asked and I sighed. I created the mess, and I should clean it up. "I think that you might be able to figure things out better from there." "We'll work on what to do about those kids you rescued as well." Admiral Fullard said. "The military has a lot of civilians that work on highly classified projects. I think we might be able to set something up to help these kids. I agree with you, we need to help them recover and they are a danger left to their own means, but they don't necessarily reflect a threat that deserves their death. We'll figure something out for them. For now, don't tell your officers any details until we develop a cover story and get everything sorted out with those people down there." "Thank you sir." I said slowly, rubbing my temple. "I think I better go back, dad. There's too many questions left unanswered and if I leave now, I think we'll only guarantee that the whole story comes out." "I'll have your pilot and support staff informed you're going back." Dad said, and then he paused to stare at me hard. "Dylan, this time you listen to them when they tell you to be more careful and suspicious. You don't dismiss their concerns out of hand." "Yes, sir, I will." I said, promising him and meaning it completely. We both disconnected the signal after that and I put my elbows on the table, rubbing my temples tightly at the headache that was forming. Jeremy was looking at the blank screen like it would spring back to life and pronounce a death sentence on him, and I noticed that Neil was staring at me hard. "Will I be allowed to stay with you or will I have to go wherever they send the others?" Jeremy asked me in a soft voice. "I'll fight to keep you with me." I said. "More than likely, I will be there for a little bit myself. I might insist on it even, just so I know that those kids will be treated right. I promised them that they'd be treated better and I intend to keep that promise." "What's to become of us?" Nathan asked me from where he sat next to his twin brother. "That's easy, wherever I go, you go." I told him. "I made you a promise when I gave you the choice to be bonded to me and I will keep that as well." "What about me?" Neil asked in a very quiet voice. He looked scared to death. "You'll stay here for the time being." I told him, looking at him carefully. "I remember making some promises to you as well, and I'll keep them. But you will have to decide soon which way you want to go." "Okay." Neil said softly and I told Chris to get up and let the people who were probably clustered in the Guard cabin back in. Within a few moments, people were filing into the room and everyone but Jeremy was shooed into a corner, watched by a suspicious Jones and Halpern while the officers all sat down. "Do we finally get to know what happened?" Major Unger said in a tightly controlled voice. "Some of it, yes." I answered him quickly. "I'm under orders to keep certain details secret until the President and his advisors figure out how to deal with what I learned." "Then tell us what you can." Major Unger said with a hint of anger and frustration in his voice. "First, those guys and Jeremy here are responsible for saving my life." I said firmly. "They haven't had any rest. Put them in my cabin and Jimmy's and they can get some sleep. They're my guests for now." "Do it." Major Unger ordered, nodding at Jones and Halpern. Jeremy stood, glancing at me with concern before allowing himself to be led into one of the cabins. Now it was just me, the officers, and Mary Carroll who was bringing in more coffee and food while the plane began a long, gentle turn and tilted downwards a bit. "Basically I made several mistakes in not listening to you, and I apologize." I told them immediately, getting a few curt nods. "Essentially the man who took over their government, and led the move to secede from the U.S. was a self-styled 'Prophet' and found some means of controlling people. That's why they took Holt and I from the plane, but before they could do anything, I was able to break free." "You were able to break free." Major Unger's voice was filled with disbelief. "The guys going to sleep in there were some of the guards." I stated and I heard several people draw in their breath quickly. "Before anyone says anything, let me say I think the Prophet had a screw or two loose. He chose people for his guard based on the strength of their religious beliefs, not necessarily on skill or maturity. Those guys saw things that made them question whether the 'Prophet' really was a man of God, and when they were told to beat me, they hesitated. In that moment of hesitation, I was able to take one of their weapons and forced a stand-off. Five of the six guards decided they had had enough, and didn't want to be a part of the Prophet's team anymore. The sixth started shooting. The Prophet, his Deacons, the girl Tina, and Holt all died in that scrap up. The guard who started it did as well." "Then what did you do?" Major Unger asked. "I had learned that this Prophet was using more kids to test whatever this control thing was, so I talked with my friends and we went to the building where they were being held. It was only lightly guarded and they helped me get in there, get the kids, and their medical records, and get out." I said. "Was Killmer helping them?" Major Unger asked and I realized I should have realized he'd suspected that. "No." I said firmly. "He grew up around some of the people in the Prophet's group, and he had told me about that long before we came here. He was under orders from the President to allow them to believe he was working for them if something occurred like what happened. He had no knowledge of what they would do at the dinner, but when he found himself in that situation, he let them believe he was faithful to their ideals. Without his help, I probably wouldn't be here today. He set them thinking they were more secure than they were with me, and that helped me take advantage of the situation when it happened." "So why are we heading back there?" Major Unger asked. "The Prophet and his entire upper command structure have been killed." I answered. "I think the people left may be having second thoughts about resisting federal control." "Major?" Hegel's voice called from the doorway. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but the advance planes are calling for you and Lt. Connors to discuss arrangements for our landing." "Anything you want for these arrangements?" Major Unger asked me, with a slight hint of sarcasm. "Wherever you think is safest for me to meet with these people, Major." I said. "For the meeting itself, me and Lt. Connors and two or three security people only. We have some things to talk about the President wants kept secure. Video surveillance is okay, but no audio whatsoever." "You'd trust your security detail over officers?" Major Unger asked and I just eyed him carefully. "They are more expendable, Major." I answered him and he stared at me for a moment before nodding. I stood up and said I'd be in my cabin to the people that were left. I had forgotten that the room would be full. I just wanted to sleep some more while I could. The room was dark, and I noticed three figures on the bed. Two were clumped together and I realized in the dim light from the open door of the security office that Brian was holding his little brother, Neil tightly. The other person was Jeremy, and all three were sound asleep. I crawled in between Brian and Jeremy and was surprised when Jeremy sleepily turned, making more room for me and wrapped his arms around me. I fell asleep feeling safe and slightly excited by the close contact. I was vaguely aware of Hollings, cramped into the security cabinet and staring at us briefly. I wondered how we look, three bright haired blonds and me with my dark hair in between them. *~*~*~*~*~*~*~* "Brian…what if he says 'no'?" Neil's voice was extremely soft, and as I woke up I realized that the two were still lying next to me. Jeremy was gone, and that was probably what had woken me, as well as the voice of someone who didn't belong to my circle. "He won't." Brian said with a certainty. "It's like I've known him all my life, not just a day or two. Every time I think of him, I can feel that tingle again and it's a good thing, Neil. I love you, bro, but it's like I belong to something bigger now. You saw those guys, the others. They're killers, but they all feel the same way about him that I do. If you don't, you'll have to leave. I know it, I can see it in their eyes. They don't even let those officers near him like this and they are part of his crew. I can tell they don't really like me yet, but they don't know me yet. Still, they let me closer to him than they would anyone else. I mean, we're in the room alone here and you heard what the big guy said." "Yeah, if he sees me alone in here without you he'll kick my ass." Neil said softly. "He meant it to, Neil." Brian said softly. "He trusts me because when we touched he felt what I did, it's like an echo of Dylan. He knows I'd never hurt Dylan or let him be hurt. You though, he'd break you in half if you took one step out of line." "What would you do if I did?" Neil asked and Brian sighed. "I…I'm sorry bro, but you'd never get the chance to hurt Dylan." Brian's voice was sad, but also filled with determination. "So, you'd pick him over me." Neil said in a very hurt tone. "It doesn't have to be like that, Neil." Brian said. "If he…if he brings you into his circle, like they called it, he wouldn't be between us like that." "But I wouldn't be me anymore." Neil said in a desperate tone. "I'm still me, Neil." Brain said. "I told you when we were little I'd never walk away from you, but Neil, it's you who is walking away from me now." "I'm scared, Brian." Neil said. "He scares me, the way he just killed those men and didn't even blink an eye. He's freaky as hell." "Yeah, but wouldn't you rather be on his side than against him?" Brian asked and I could hear a softer sigh coming from Neil. "I'll ask him when he wakes up." Neil said in a sad tone. "You're sure he won't turn me into someone else?" "It'll change you, bro." Brian admitted softly. "But you're still the same person afterwards. It's just, different things are important to you than they were before." "Okay." Neil's voice was determined now. "I don't want to lose you the way Michael just left. Dad never really cared for either of us. After Michael left it was always about Eddie and what he wanted. I'm tired of his crap." "We'll be fine, Neil." Brian said. "Eddie will never be able to touch us again. Besides, we won't have to go to his wedding now. Isn't that worth it by itself?" "Yeah." Neil's voice was filled with amusement now, and I decided it was time to let them know I was awake. "I'm awake." I told them and I could feel the bed shift as Neil jerked in surprise. "How long you been awake?" Brian asked and the bed shifted again as he turned to face me. "Long enough to know that your brother and I need to talk." I answered. "Go tell whoever is on duty in the security office that I don't want to be disturbed for a little while. I think Neil might want a little more privacy. You can watch from the office, but don't intrude." "Okay." Brian said, getting up quickly. I noticed he'd stripped out of his uniform that had born the Prophet's insignia and was wearing very tight white briefs. I found myself wondering if all blonds were so hairless, but movement from the bed returned my attention back to Neil, who like his brother only wore white briefs. He was looking at me nervously, studying me closely. "You like my brother." He said after a moment. "I mean you like, you like his body." "He is handsome." I admitted. "I…I've had thoughts about him at times." Neil admitted, and I knew this was tough for him. It'd be tough for me as well. "I've even had thoughts about some of my friends. I never had thoughts like that for a girl, though. That…that's my biggest secret, something I never even told Brian." "You never have to tell him, either." I said. "But, you might find out it's not that big of a deal anymore. Between us, the circle, it's not something we care about, but it something that we don't want others to know about." "I feel like I've lost my brother." Neil said in a voice that turned into a sob. I moved over on the bed, and in the dim light saw he was crying softly. I took him into a light hug, and he flinched at first, but then relaxed as he felt nothing but a comforting touch. Yes, my power was there, ready to be used, but I was holding it in very tight check. "I'm sorry." I told him softly. "I wish I hadn't had to make him choose, but it was necessary. You both come from a big family?" "Yes, we have three other brothers and two sisters." Neil answered softly. He was looking at me now, studying my face. "Well, now Brian has almost thirty more brothers and sisters." I told him and he studied me a little longer. "I…I always wanted to learn how to fly." He said softly. "That was always what I wanted to do, learn how to fly planes." "I love that, too." I replied, and told him about my experiences flying and landing a plane on the way to Alabama, and the lessons I was currently taking. "If…I join your circle, can I still learn to fly?" He asked me when I was done. "Yes, absolutely." I answered and he smiled. "Then that's what I want." He said firmly. "I don't want to go home. The only ones who really cared about were Michael and Brian. Michael went away years ago and I'm not losing Brian." "Okay." I said softly, leaning in to kiss him gently. Ever since I'd first seen him he was hesitant, unsure about things, but not now. Now, I learned, he was bold. I was leaning in towards him, but it was his lips that met mine. Bondings could be fast, or slow, and this was something in between. What was also different was that as he manipulated me free from the pants I'd fallen asleep in, and I pulled down his underwear, I found I wanted this to continue. I wanted to see if I could reproduce the effect I'd achieved with Michael Rogers. When it was over, and we were both left gasping on the bed, I knew that I had succeeded. There was another little knot in my head that I could feel as the guy lying on my chest and panting. He stared at me with wide eyes and a broad smile as he slowly regained control of his breathing. "Brian's right, this is worth it." Neil said at last and I smiled again. "You need to change though." He was right, my clothes were stained now and it wouldn't do for me to be seen in them. Our timing wasn't bad either because by the time I was changed, I was being summoned back to the conference room where a much harried Major Unger and Lt. Ellington were waiting for me. Captain Camus was still in the Operations cabin going over issues with the forward detail who had just landed at Salt Lake City and found a deserted airport, the bodies from last night's escape still littering the tarmac, and a Terminal building that was smoldering in areas. It had only been the sprinkler system that had kept the building from exploding in fire, and it was members of the forward details that put out the remaining smoldering debris from our firefight. It had been three hours since I had gone back to sleep after the videoconference with dad, and in those three hours, a much clearer picture of what had occurred the night before and this morning was taking shape. While the boys and I had been freeing the five prisoner kids at the 'reprogramming' center, Brian's dad, a minor Deacon in the Prophet's hierarchy, had found that the room the Prophet was in was locked and that there was no response when he'd tried to contact the Prophet in there. He'd gotten the guard lieutenant that had access to the room and a squad of his men. Mere seconds after we'd gone out the gates, word began to spread that the Prophet and his closest advisors had been assassinated. A minor functionary who had seen us in the hallways remembered seeing Brian escorting the group holding a very bloody Dylan Jacobs and leading him out of the building. Brian's dad, who had since gotten himself into the company of men more loyal to himself had tried to flee the compound. Men loyal to the Prophet, and who had tied themselves to his cause closely enough that his death seemed the end of their world reacted violently and a blood bath ensued in the compound. Under the Prophet's orders, many people had been moved out of the city and across the state into farming collectives. Most of those that remained had connections to the administrative offices, the church, or the military and factions had been forming among supporters of the Prophet, and two other groups who held various positions on different issues. The pro-US faction, led by General Dillard of the National Guard and several moderate church and government leaders, had led the best-trained forces that vied for control. When he'd contacted me, he'd been certain of winning, but the fighting had not stopped until about two hours before I woke. General Dillard had prevailed, but the losses had been pretty heavy for all three sides. The Prophet's supporters were dead, almost to the last man, and many of their families had died in the crossfire (I would have to tell Brian and Neil that their brothers and sisters were dead some time later). Fires were burning throughout the city and the fighting between the two factions had stopped mostly so they could help fight a fire that was threatening the Temple itself. Radio contacts throughout the state revealed that pro-Prophet and anti-Prophet groups were fighting each other in most of the municipalities. Realizing that continued fighting was no longer in anyone's interest, General Dillard and his chief supporters had met with the three leaders of the opposing faction and agreed to ask for federal intervention. The chief difference between the two sides lay within the issue of who should have legal control of the state government: a secular government (Dillard's side) or the Church. My father's civilian role as a pastor made the pro-Church group believe that his federal government, and specifically me as the representative he'd sent, would be more favorable to their position while General Dillard, who had watched several of my interviews, thought that a fair medium might be reached. That is why, after refueling with an Air Force tanker we were heading back with dad's order to get things settled as fast as possible. The support planes had landed thirty minutes earlier, with a satellite-equipped news crew that had begun taking shots of the airport area, and the fires burning in the distant city skyline. We stayed in the air for another three hours, eating lunch quietly as Major Grant listened to reports from the advance teams and gave orders, as well as conferred with General Dillard about how to approach things. While the fighting settled down in the city itself, and most people were focusing on stopping fires with the few firefighters still in the area, the rest of Utah was quickly descending into chaos, and a quick, definitive image was what most thought would stop things before they went to far. Utah had come through the crisis so far largely immune to the rioting and looting that had plagued the other states. While fuel had been hoarded by the Prophet's supporters, food was still available and most communities had some sort of power, even if it was only at the local parishes. That's why in the late afternoon, my plane descended once more into the city and we landed at the airport. This time the troops on the ground were ours, and a third plane was bringing in another hundred for security purposes. This wasn't Idaho where he had to provide full operations, but the added troops were more a precautionary reaction by an overly sensitive Major Unger and Lt. Connors. I learned later that the news crews had four cameras, one with a telephoto lens that, when we pulled to a stop inside near where we had parked earlier, got some great pictures of bullet holes in the fuselage, near the forward and aft hatches, and a few other area. The plane's fuselage had been reinforced with lightweight armor that had stopped the rifle fire from penetrating but combined with the bodies that had been on the ground when the advance planes arrived, the pictures of bullet holes in my plane, live and being broadcast across the nation confirmed that we had fought our way out of a city erupting into open fighting. As I listened to the reporter talking about our plane's arrival and the troops who immediately assumed positions around while technicians from the advance team maneuvered the ladder back into place and did all the things that are standard for parking a plane, I realized I missed Genevieve's objective and direct style of reporting. She would never have done all the speculating about what must have happened and the rumors he'd heard on the advanced planes about me having been kidnapped and escaping with guns blazing. While it was essentially accurate, I still didn't like how convinced he sounded, and thus convinced millions of people watching, that the bullet holes in the planes proved the rumors true. I was mostly silent, listening to the television and trying to not rub my chest. There were several times when it felt sticky. Major Unger noticed my distraction at several points, and after the fifth time of trying to bring my attention back to the discussion he took me out into the narrow passageway and gave me a stern lecture that went 'Pull your head out of your fucking ass and keeping focused on the mission at hand. We aren't done here yet and we're not going to be done here for a while. You wanted to be here, you volunteered, and you got yourself in and out of a mess. Worry about the blood later, when you're home and crying on mommy's shoulder. Right now you're needed here!' An hour after we landed, two civilian cars and a humvee pulled into the airport. They approached the security ring slowly, and the passengers disembarked slowly, and with their hands in clear view. The only one who even appeared armed was General Dillard, who approached the base of the ladder where I was standing with all the officers from my staff around me, and my personal security detail arranged in a half-circle around the ladder. "Sir, I surrender my weapon to you." General Dillard said after the officers had saluted him (I was wearing civilian clothes again and did not salute). The General handed his pistol to Major Unger, who saluted again after accepting it. I hadn't wanted this to be done this way. I remember imagining a tall, proud, General Lee handing his sword to General Grant in surrender, effectively ending the Civil War, and I was scared the image of this General Dillard surrendering his pistol to Major Unger would evoke a similar feeling amongst the people watching. However, after the bullet holes in the plane were aired on television, Major Unger felt some solid sign of things being over was necessary. However, the Major had listened to my thoughts and we'd reached some sort of compromise that I thought might lessen the negative impact. I expected Major Unger to perform the next part of what we'd planned and discussed with General Dillard, but he surprised me, handing me the surrendered weapon with a look that told me he wanted me to do this part for some reason. "General Dillard," I said, turning to face the proud man who had surrendered the weapon and who was now standing, facing us at a very stiff attention. "Your country needs your service, and your state needs your presence. Will you consent to serve?" "Yes, Mr. Jacobs." He said with a proud tone. "Major Unger, will you administer the Oath of Office?" I asked. "Please repeat after me." Major Unger said, and both men raised their hands, swearing the Oath all military personnel took, to the United States of America. When they were done, Lt. Ellington handed me a blue leather binder that was supposed to go to Major Unger, but he shook his head slightly when I turned towards him. I hated being forced into these things. "General Dillard, you will find enclosed your commission as a Major General in the United States Army Reserve and confirmation of your appointment as Commanding Officer of the Utah National Guard in absence of proper civilian authority within the state." I said in a firm, clear voice. He took the document, and saluted me directly, which I returned automatically, not having expected it. Then we shook hands. I noticed he didn't flinch or react like he knew what I could do and I figured that he at least didn't know about me or didn't know anything about these abilities at all. The General then introduced the other people with him and we moved up as a group into the plane's conference room. During the conference that took place over the next hour, a fast, and quick discussion took place about the future of Utah, and while I said very little, I noticed both sides of the Utah delegation listening intently every time I talked. We had several fruit juices and water served, as well as some snacks while the meeting took place, and Jeremy, having been loaned an air force green flight suit, was one of the people serving. I noticed several of the Utah people looking at him, but none reacted as if they recognized him, which told me even more that these people weren't a danger to my secret. Major Unger and the other officers had been touched briefly and told they wouldn't realize that it was anyone but Hegel who'd been helping Mary provide the refreshments. By the time they left the plane, the immediate governance of Utah was settled by the formation of a Provisional Council made up of two representatives of each group and a Federal Mediator who would break tie votes and also have veto power over any decisions by the Council. I couldn't wait for dad and Congress to appoint a Mediator so I could get out of there. True to form, as soon as the meeting was gone, Professor Hildebrand dragged me into the Professor's lounge across the way and handed me a ten page final exam on calculus. I passed, I was pretty sure when I was done, but how well I'd done I wasn't sure. She smiled at me and told me it was another lesson in the real world for me. I was obligated to take a test today and finals waited for no one. Over dinner I learned that dad had recommended a temporary Mediator and Congress had voted unanimously to appoint dad's son, who was already in Utah, to that post for thirty days until a permanent replacement could be found that would handle the post until a civil government was elected democratically. I almost wanted to kill him at that point. We talked by teleconference again, and this time I gave him a piece of my mind for this, and he gave me a piece of his mind right back, which shut me up instantly. Then in a very stern voice he told me what he expected from me as his Mediator, what he wanted done and not done for the next thirty days, and told me he'd be sending me a written list in a few days. He finished by telling me what arrangements were to be made for the five kids in the back of my plane, and how he wanted anyone handled that I found knew about the abilities I shared with them. There was some leeway based on who it was and how much they knew, but either way he wanted to be sure that no hint of the true nature of our abilities were known outside the select group. That was why after dinner, as the sky darkened into night, I finished a broadcast on television and radio to the people of Utah as the Federal Mediator. The broadcast was to be repeated for the next day, but reports started coming in that fighting throughout the state had stopped by the time I went to bed. In the morning, the plane was moved to a large hangar that had once belonged to a now-defunct airline. Cots were set up in the Guard cabin for the new members of my circle. At first Major Unger insisted they be removed from the plane, but he was finally convinced having helped me kill and escape from the Prophet, they likely wouldn't be safe elsewhere, and their actions had earned them a safe place here. The next morning, I was interviewed by the reporter that had come with the plane and the mild dislike I'd felt for him bloomed into a strong dislike. His name was Bob Baker and he'd once been a leading correspondent for a major network and now resented having not been given a plum assignment by the newly incorporated and private news corporation NBS (it was the same organization set up right after the nuclear bombs fell, and those men and women who had first started it were made the 'directors' of the corporation and they'd received generous grants from the government to fund operations until advertisements brought in enough revenue to operate. Commercials once again went out across the airwaves, but the government was the purchaser of most of them.) As I waited for the interview to begin, I noticed a small monitor sitting just out of the camera angles that was showing the current picture that was being broadcast. Genevieve never used such a thing and I wondered if it was here so Baker could see himself on camera. "This is Bob Baker, special correspondent for NBS, aboard what many are coming to unofficially call Air Force 3, with Dylan Jacobs." The reporter stated as he began his live interview. The lights had been set up and I was sitting in a seat next to him, in front of my desk. The heavy, red, curtains were drawn so that my bed wasn't visible, and the security door was shut as well. He'd been given a tour of the main deck of the plane (the kids in the Guest cabin had been moved temporarily to the aft galley below the main deck until his film crew was back setting up in my cabin. "Mr. Jacobs, you've had a very rough few days, haven't you?" "It hasn't been the easiest few days of my life." I admitted warily. "We've been told that two days ago, you and Assistant Secretary of State Paul Holt were kidnapped by men working on behalf of the man who called himself the Prophet." Baker stated in a voice that was far too enthusiastic for my taste. "Is that an accurate statement?" "Yes, that is an accurate statement" I answered, not wanting to run my mouth and say too much here. Dad had been very clear on exactly what I would, and would not say. "How did that happen?" Baker asked, but didn't wait for an answer. "I've just been given a tour of your aircraft, the tape of which will be aired later, and I must say this place seemed to be more secure than anything I've ever seen. You have a lot of soldiers here guarding you. How did they fail to protect you?" "I was the one who failed them." I said angrily and he blinked in surprise. "My staff advised more caution when it was recommended that we hold a dinner here on the plane, and I went ahead and allowed the dinner to take place. We found out at that dinner how the Prophet operated, and my security staff's concerns were proved correct." "Exactly what happened?" Baker asked in an excited tone. "I don't want to go into too many details." I said immediately. "Preliminary evidence is showing that the Prophet and his supporters were using children to administer mind-altering substances that rendered the subject…vulnerable to commands from others. How they developed these drugs we're still investigating, but it is likely the drugs and the records of their development were lost when the Prophet's compound burned down in the fighting that took place last night." "So, they tried to use these drugs on you but it didn't work?" He pressed. "No, I got suspicious at the last moment and prevented the drug from being administered to me without being detected." I said. "When that happened, the negotiating team produced some type of sleeping gas that knocked us out. They then removed Mr. Holt and myself from the plane. Apparently they only brought one dose of the drug and had to return to the Prophet's compound for more." "What was their purpose in trying to drug you?" He asked sharply. "Their purpose was to persuade Mr. Holt and me to support a Utah independent of the United States and to possibly use me to get to the President, my father." I answered and could see him take in a deep breath. "How exactly that would happen, I'm not sure and I doubt it would have worked, but the attempt was made." "How did you get away?" Baker asked critically. "How do we know that they didn't succeed?" "Shall I say first that Utah is now and will be forever a part of the United States, just as every other state in this Union?" I asked him with a critical tone of my own. "Shall I point out the Prophet is dead and so are most of his followers?" "How exactly did that happen?" He asked. "I'm amazed one fourteen year old boy could manage to slip away like that." "It wasn't one fourteen year old boy." I stated firmly. "When we went there, it was Mr. Holt and I there. The Prophet wanted to gloat over having captured me, and in the process of his gloating he made a vital mistake. I was able to seize the side arm of one of his guards. Some of them sought to subdue me, as did the Prophet and his advisors, while others stood back, choosing to not assault me. After the fighting was over, they helped me escape from the building at great personal risk to themselves. Mr. Holt died in the fight, unfortunately. We escaped from the compound, returned to the plane and took off into the air." "So you killed people, including this Prophet in your escape?" He asked sharply and I had to bite back an urge to yell at him to get out. "Some people died, yes." I admitted in a flat voice. "But you personally killed some of these people?" He pushed and I had to take a deep breath before I told him to get out, something that wouldn't be wise since this was a live interview. "I'd prefer not to relive that particular experience." I told him, my voice trembling slightly. I swallowed again and felt a little calmer, less angry. "I took no action that wasn't necessary." "Were you aware that there were security cameras in the hallways of the palace?" He asked me, and I shook my head in surprise. Surely he couldn't have gotten any evidence. "If you look over here at this monitor," He said and now I knew why the thing was there. On the screen was a picture of the group moving out of a doorway. It was from the garage and was taken as Chris and Matthew were helping me into the Prophet's vehicle. My face was clearly visible, as were theirs, and I winced at the sight of me, covered literally with blood across my face and my chest. No wonder Neil had been afraid of me. "How did you get that?" My voice was a low hiss of surprise and anger. "Were these two young men some of those who helped you out?" He asked me and I nodded. "Why was there so much blood on you?" He asked me. "Were you injured?" "A few bruises and scrapes." I said in a very low voice. Martha appeared in the doorway with a look of concern on her face and I hoped she'd demand the interview be ended, but instead she mouthed the words 'calm down'. I took a deep breath. "The blood belonged to others." "The people you killed?" He pressed on harder, a gleam in his eyes. "Do you take pleasure in the deaths of others?" I asked him, and saw him react with surprise at my words. Martha was frantic now, telling me to calm down. I took a deep breath and spoke again before he could react. "Sorry, it's just that killing other people is not something I like. I've seen far too much death for someone my age, but I think that so have many other Americans. Death sickens me, and I'd be happy if I never saw it again." "But you didn't hesitate to use force, did you?" He said in a voice touched by hints of anger at my outburst. "You didn't hesitate to kill your father's enemies and end up covered in their blood, did you?" "I did not hesitate to kill enemies of the United States when they threaten the safety of our citizens, or are leaders." I answered in as calm a voice as I could. "We came here, in good faith to negotiate an end to the dispute between the leaders of Utah and the federal government. They chose instead to use drugs, violence, and force to subvert our officials and potentially to assume control of the United States the way they assumed control of Utah. They killed this state's leadership after using drugs to gain power, they emasculated the National Guard units that would have opposed them, and they forced their viewpoints on the people of this state, forcing many to move to farms and work under harsh conditions. They executed people for not agreeing with their religious beliefs. We're finding plenty of evidence of this already. That they sought to extend their reach across America is clearly evident by their kidnapping of me." "We'll be back after this commercial break." Baker said with a smile into the camera as one of his crewmen held up a hand and said we had one minute. "Watch your line of questioning!" Lt. Martha Ellington said immediately after that. She was glaring at the reporter harshly. "These are legitimate questions!" He retorted immediately. "Martha, I'm fine." I said quickly and she looked at me, stepping back to the doorway and glaring at the reporter, who glared back until his crewman started counting down from ten. "And welcome back, this is Bob Baker with Dylan Jacobs broadcasting live from Air Force 3 in Utah." The reporter stated with a smile at the camera and then turned back to me as he continued. "Mr. Jacobs, you were just giving a speech about the alleged atrocities of your father's enemy, can you…" "Excuse me." I broke in with a calm, firm voice. "First of all, this man was not my father's 'enemy'. I resent your attempt to make me sound like a hit man sent by a mafia boss to eliminate the competition. I was sent here to help Mr. Holt in negotiating with this Prophet and his men. We came in good faith, acted in good faith and were attacked. Mr. Holt and I were kidnapped, and the Prophet attempted to use subversive means to weaken the government of the United States of America. I used what force was necessary, and no more than that to escape a bad situation. If the Prophet and his people had not attempted to use deadly force, to kill me in order to keep me from escaping his attempted kidnapping, I would not have used deadly force. The truth is, they tried to kill me and thanks to the training of the men and women of our armed forces, I survived. The fact that I only got out of there with the help of people from the inside proves that I was not on a rampage like you tried to imply, and I'm not a blood-thirsty murderer, as you also tried to imply. If you have legitimate questions, ask them and I will answer with the truth. Otherwise your network might want to consider a reporter who wants to find out the truth, not satisfy his prurient interests in blood and death." "You're not blood thirsty?" He asked, now totally pissed off. "Then why were there bodies strewn all over this airport when I arrived?" "Probably because they were trying to kill me and the people that helped me escape." I answered more calmly. "The security team on my plane had received a message from me that I was returning and when the guards at the airport opened fire on the vehicle I was in, the men and women whose job it is to protect me did what was necessary to save my life. Nothing more, nothing less. Are you trying to say they should have stood back and watched these guardsmen kill me and the people who helped me escape?" "But their bodies were left on the pavement to rot during the day!" The man shot back with a frown. "It was one of the most sickening sights I've ever seen!" "Oh, sorry." I said softly. "I only hope that is the worst sight you'll ever see. As to why they were left there, what should we have done? Sure, we could have stopped from taking off, gotten off the plane again and tried to bury the bodies. Of course we didn't know if there were still people out there who would love to kill one of us, or if there were supporters of the Prophet heading to the airport to try to stop us from leaving. According to your statement, we should have cared more for the bodies of the people who'd tried and failed to kill me than about getting to safety. Is that what you mean, Mr. Baker?" "Stop twisting my words!" He snapped at me in angry. "Then stop trying to imply things with what you're saying." I said calmly. "Ask objective, relevant questions and we'll end this war of words." "What do you think about your appointment as the Interim Federal Mediator for Utah?" He asked after a moment of dead quiet. "Do you think a fourteen year old is capable of doing the hard work that is necessary?" "What do I think about it?" I stalled for a moment, trying to decide how to answer. It really was a legitimate question. "I'm both honored and upset. I'm honored that the President and Congress would think so highly of me to grant me this honor, and I'm upset because I would rather be at home relaxing or going to classes like a normal kid. As to whether I'm capable or not, I think that with the support of my Professors and the people around me, I will be able to accomplish the tasks I have been set. If I am not capable, I will inform the President immediately. This is not a game we're playing here, this is the real world and I will not allow my flaws to hold people back or hurt them." "You've had some very stressful days recently." Baker said, switching tactics. "What did you do last night after your meeting with the Utah Delegation?" "I took my calculus test." I said with a frown. "Excuse me?" He asked in surprise. "Yesterday was my calculus final." I explained with a small smile now. "My Professor told me that just because I was a little busy, I shouldn't think I'd be allowed to skip a scheduled test. It was awful. I didn't even have a chance to study, I just had to take the thing." "Do you think you passed?" He asked and I smiled. "Yeah." I admitted softly. "I'm just not sure if I got an A or a B. I guess I might not get a 4.0 g.p.a. at Harvard after all. I just hope mom and dad aren't too upset with me for not studying like I should have."
  14. dkstories

    Escape from the Prophet

    Note to Readers: Utah was a place of many lessons for me, not the least of which how much my views of killing had changed. It was something that stayed with me for many years, the ease of killing those that 'might' be a problem as well as those that were a clear and present danger. It wasn't until I was eighteen that something happened to change that belief. What was it? It was four, no four and a half months ago that I'd first killed another human being. Then, I'd shot a man who was sighting a rifle on a General I'd just met, who'd been nice to me and Henry. The man had been about to kill that General and instead, I'd killed him. When I saw his blood and brains splattering against the wall beside him, I'd thrown up and had nightmares. Now, just a few minutes after gunning down a girl less than a year younger than me, I showed no reaction to having murdered her, and the man bonded to her, a man who had been a part of my team the day before. Instead, I threatened to shoot anyone else who so much as breathed wrong, and I still held the wrist of the self-styled Prophet that had seized power in this state. Not only did I hold him in my physical grasp, but I also held him in the grasp of my mental powers. Something bothered me though. I had him in my grasp, had his four chief Deacons, and six personal bodyguards standing in front of me, scared to move, and I had one friend, who I thought was or would be my lover standing by my side. No one else had reacted to the gunshot; the door hadn't opened with alarmed guards rushing to save their beloved Prophet. We were still alone here in this cold, impersonal room. "Why hasn't anyone come in here after that gunshot?" I asked the Prophet, pushing with my boiling, ripping power coursing through him. "The room is soundproofed. No one would have heard it and the door is locked so they couldn't enter if they did." The Prophet spat out in a rush to please me, all control over his own words or actions bound to my will, not his, for as long as the control of my power lasted on him. "How are we going to get out of here?" Jeremy asked again, now turning to face me instead of looking at a door that was not likely to be opened by surprise. "I'm working on something." I said, wracking my brain for anything that might work. It's not like this was a Star Wars movie. There, that gave me an idea. "If we took two of those guards' uniforms and used them to get to where they're holding these kids, would that work?" I asked aloud. "No." The Prophet answered. "They'd recognize you weren't part of my guard unit. Their faces are well known." "What if we controlled them?" I asked. "No, the reprogramming center's guards know to look for the signs of someone being controlled." The Prophet answered again. "That's why we didn't just put commands on Holt." Jeremy said, wincing as he looked at the man who'd died when the girl he'd been bonded to died. "Sealing them to us leaves them able to react more normally to situations." "If you'd really been able to control me, where would you have put me for the night?" I demanded from the Prophet. "In the reprogramming center." The Prophet gasped out as fast as he could. "That's were all those like you are kept." "He'd always put the protections robes on us and then have the guards take us there." Jeremy said with a thin smile. The smile failed after a moment. "That's why they're trained to notice the guards' behaviors to make sure they're not being controlled." "What are these protection robes?" I asked. "They're heavy black robes that cover us from head-to-toe." Jeremy answered. "They have small eye slits so we can see, but that's it. With them on, we can't touch anyone by accident or on purpose." "If you'd only known that I was bound to Jeremy, would you have made me wear these protection robes?" I demanded of the Prophet. "No, I'd have just had the guards escort you there and made sure they knew to put you in different cells." "Well, then, it looks like we have our answer." I said, satisfied that I'd figured out a way to the cells where the five children with powers like me were being held. "But how do we get back to your plane from there?" Jeremy asked and I scowled at him. "One thing at a time." I told him. "I would like to ask you to put controls on the good Deacons and put them to sleep, if you don't mind. Tell them to sleep for ten hours or until they hear the sound of your voice calling their name and telling them to wake." "I can do that." Jeremy said with a nod. "Gentlemen, and that includes you brave security guards, don't resist." I said firmly as Jeremy approached the first man, Deacon Timms. The man tried to draw back but the sound of my clucking tongue drew his attention. "You have a choice, either accept his touch or accept a bullet in your brain like little Tina. Believe me I have far fewer qualms about killing any of you than I did with her." No one even blinked when Jeremy walked up to them and touched a hand to their heads, giving them the instructions like I'd asked. Each of the four middle-aged men dropped to the floor soundlessly, clearly asleep. The six guards stared at us with wide, fearful eyes, and I realized why they had looked a little odd earlier. They looked young and innocent, far younger and more innocent than even Killmer, the youngest and only non-veteran member of my security detail. They looked like juniors or seniors in high school, not seasoned, veteran soldiers guarding the leader of their church and state. "How old are you?" I asked pointing my gun at the nearest soldier, whose eyes got even wider. "Six….sixteen." He stammered out in obvious fear. "Don't be fooled by him." Jeremy said slightly harshly. "These guys were all chosen from the local church schools because they were all the most fanatical believers of whatever shit the church dished out. They used to kick me around a lot when they first took over. Still did whenever they could do it without a Deacon seeing." "Jeremy, something I learned a while ago is that bullies make the biggest cowards." I said. "Anyone with a half a brain doesn't pick bullies for his body guards. Now, boys, I hope you heard what I said to the Deacons. You get the same choice, let Jeremy touch you without flinching or get a bullet in the brain. I'm not a bully; I don't do things just to see people hurt. I just do what I have to do to survive and you better believe I don't mind shooting any of you and all the wide eyes in the world won't slow my finger down as it pulls the trigger." "I don't think they'll be a problem." Jeremy said moving towards the one closest to him. There wasn't even the danger of them grabbing Jeremy to hold him hostage. Jeremy would just take control of them with his powers then. I could see the boy he touched watch the single finger Jeremy laid between his eyebrows like it was the kiss of death. "Oh, Jeremy, just a light control please." I said. "Just tell them to stand still and watch, doing nothing." Jimmy looked surprised, but nodded and turned back to the boy guard he was touching. Here I was calling them boys, but they were all older than me, yet in that very moment I knew they were boys compared to me. I'd left behind the fear that was turning them into little kids right this moment. They stopped shaking though as Jeremy's controls controlled them. I smiled at them as I released the Prophet, and instructed for him to remain kneeling. Then I handed the gun I'd been holding to Jimmy. He looked at it with a little fear at first, but took it firmly in hand. He had at least a passing familiarity with guns because he held it correctly, but there was a questioning look in his eyes. "What are you doing?" He asked me. "Take that gun and hold it to the Prophet's head." I told him gently. "Don't pull the trigger unless I tell you to." "What are you going to do?" He asked me again. "I'm giving our boys here a choice." I whispered so low only he could hear. "If I bond, or Seal, them to me, they won't raise suspicion when we go to get the others at this reprogramming center of theirs." "Why didn't you have me bond them?" Jeremy asked just as quietly. "Do you want to?" I asked him and saw from the look of revulsion on his face that he didn't. "Look, Jeremy, the way I see it, those guards are a threat, but also the key to saving five innocent kids from being used the way you were used. Are the lives of these bullies worth the lives of five innocent kids like you and me?" "No." Jeremy said after a moment. "But it still…I don't like forcing this on anyone." "Neither do I, Jeremy." I said. "That's why I am going to give them a choice. You haven't had the training I've had, but you've seen some of what I've been through. I understand what's at stake here; I understand what happens if I fail, and I know how many people will die of I don't succeed. If that means I pull the trigger six more times tonight, then I will. If it means I bond six more people to me tonight, then I will." "Can you bond six in one night?" Jeremy asked. "I've never done more than one at a time and some of them left me exhausted." "I can do this." I assured him, although I'd only managed four in one day before. Still, I may not have to bond all six. I bent down, picking up one of the other five pistols Jeremy had collected from the six guards. I clicked off the safety, made sure a round was chambered and walked to where the six of them stood, carefully stepping on Deacon Roberts's stomach as I came to stand before them. Their eyes followed me, but their bodies were locked in place, unable to move. I slowly unbuttoned the shirt I was wearing, and as I did I could see uneasiness in their eyes. I smirked at that, and saw that uneasiness grow as my shirt fell to the floor. I turned around and lowered the top of my jeans in the back so they could clearly see the tattoo that was less than a day old. "Do you see that, boys?" I asked. "Jeremy, tell them they can answer my questions." "Answer any questions he asks you directly." Jeremy ordered them, and then added after a moment. "Tell him the truth too." "Do you boys see my tattoo?" I repeated and got six voices telling me "yes" in tones ranging from edgy and agitated to angry and fearful. "This circle represents my power boys, my strength in bonding people to me. The gold stars you see? All twenty-four of them represent the men and women bonded to me in this circle." I turned around then and looked at them carefully. Jeremy had told them to stand still, and they were, but there faces wore expressions ranging from shock, to uncertainty, and to revulsion in a few of them. I stepped up to the one who looked the most revolted, the pistol I'd picked up resting in my hand as my arm hung loosely from my side. "What's your name?" I asked the boy I was looking at. "Nathan." He said truthfully. He seemed too pleased he'd managed to not say his last name. "Nathan, do you believe in God?" I asked him. "Yes I do." He said more confidently. "That's good, because I do as well." I told him and his eyes widened slightly. I was glad he was the shortest of this group as we were looking almost eye to eye. He was just a bit taller than me. "Nathan, what do you believe is the Prophet's relationship to God?" "The Prophet is God's chosen representative on Earth, he speaks for God and imparts his will on the Faithful." Nathan answered with what was obviously a Litany. "Is that man the Prophet if he's being controlled by me and could die at any moment?" I asked. "He's…" Nathan started to say something, but he stopped. I could see the signs of a command kicking in, Jeremy's truth command probably. Then it looked like Nathan was trying to keep something back, but he finally spat out the words "I don't know." "Good, Nathan." I said in a calm voice, raising the gun I was holding so that it was clearly visible between our faces, just below the level of our eyes. "Do you see this gun?" "Yes." He said instantly, his eyes darting to the others around us, trying to gauge their reaction to his statement. "Nathan, you've seen your two choices that I'm going to give you." I said in a soft, comforting tone. "You can choose to remain loyal to that man over there, the one you're not even sure is the Prophet of God that you believed he was. If you choose to remain loyal to the Prophet, you will die by a bullet from this gun for a man who may or may not be what you believed he was. It's an honorable choice, if you decide to make it, and I will have to admit to some grudging respect for your soul, but you will be dead. Or you can make the other choice." "What's the other choice?" He asked in a quavering voice, no longer looking at his other friends but at the gun in my hand between us. I knew he was remembering the way I'd shot Tina, and there was no doubt in his mind that I would do it again. Any guilt I'd felt about Tina's murder was gone at that moment. It had been the right choice to shoot her, if her death was already making this boy realize I would kill him as I had just threatened to do. "Your other choice is to help me do what I need to do." I told him softly, almost sympathetically. Major Unger had given me lessons in voice control a few times and they were paying off well here. "But, you have to understand that the lives of many people are resting on me being helped, and not betrayed. I have to trust you completely, and the only way to do that is to bond you to me. Do you understand what that means completely?" "Not really." He answered, again truthfully. "I know it means you kiss them and do something to the person and then you control them completely and they die without you. I don't want that." "You've seen how the bond can be misused." I told him in that same sympathetic tone. He looked confused at that. "The bond can indeed be used horribly. I can tell any of the people bonded to me to kill themselves and they would do so without hesitation. That is why I will tell you that I do not believe that man over there speaks for God, because God would never want any of his children destroyed by the abilities he's given me and Jeremy. You've seen the tattoo of my circle. We all wear it as a symbol of the relationship, the bond we share that God has allowed us to share. Those bonded to me are not my slaves, or my servants. They are my partners in life, both men and women, who seek to help me accomplish the tasks I face like this. They serve me loyally, and I serve them loyally. We care for each other, and I make sure they have as much freedom to live their lives as they wish to, within the boundaries of their bond to me. If you choose to serve me, there will be twenty-five stars on my back, and you will be treated the same as all the others, judged only by how well you live. I can't promise you anything you want, but I do promise that you won't ever regret making that choice. I could force the bond on you, and you would not be able to resist it, or refuse me, and you would be my slave until the day you died, but I won't do that. Instead I ask you to help me of your own free will. I'm asking you to ask me the one question that will help you make this decision." "Will you make me change my beliefs in God?" Nathan asked me after a few moments of silence. I smiled at that question. "Never." I answered him immediately and forcefully. "A man's belief in God is his own. If you ever want to discuss the differences in what we might believe, I'll enjoy the conversation, and I'll try to convince you I'm right, but I'll never force you to believe the same things I believe in when it comes to God." "Then I'll help you." He said with a sigh, closing his eyes. I didn't wait, but rather stepped even closer, lowering the gun to my side and pulling him closer to me. Before my lips touched him, I noticed his eyes scrunched up in fear. "Relax, Nathan." I whispered softly, and noticed him relax slightly. My power was humming inside me now, a soft muted buzz more than a roaring inferno. "I'm not going to hurt you, God wouldn't allow that." That seemed to relax him even more and as my lips touched his trembling lips, my power poured into him like a wave rippling over parched soil. He soaked up that power for a moment and I felt him melt against me. I was expecting a backlash from the power of Jeremy that had been controlling him, but this time it felt like Jeremy's power recognized me and melted into the flows of my own that was washing through Nathan's lithe body. Nathan started moaning deeply, and as my tongue entered his mouth, he started shaking in my grasp, moaning hard and I noticed a single tear drop slide down his face as he sagged against me. His orgasm finished sweeping through him, and I released his mouth. His head drooped until he nuzzled against my neck, crying softly. "Why was I ever afraid of that?" He asked, no longer controlled by Jeremy and now bound to me. His voice was stronger now, and I knew the five others heard him as well. "You okay now, Nathan?" I asked gently and he sighed in response, straightening up and wiping his face of the tears. He smiled hesitantly at me and I smiled back. "I've never felt anything like that before." He said softly now, and in a husky voice. "Don't worry, it won't go away." I said. He looked nervously at one of the other guards who were now staring at him like they'd never seen him before. "If you guys are smart, you'll make the same choice I did, especially you Sean." He said firmly and then looked at me, waiting for direction. "Go stand by Jeremy for now." I told him. "Remember, he's my friend, so help him if he needs it. You can pick up one of the guns on the floor and put it in your holster." "How do I address you?" He asked me. "My name is Dylan, please call me that for now." I said with a smile that he returned. "Thanks Dylan." He said before moving around to where Jeremy was standing. I noticed he made it a point to grind his boot heel into Deacon Timms stomach as he moved. I turned back to look at the five remaining guards, boys rather, and they were all staring at me with a lot of fear in their faces, and in one total revulsion even fiercer than what Nathan had shown. That was the one I stepped in front of next. This time I had to look up since I was staring at his chin, and he began glaring at me sharply. "Did you hear and understand everything I said to Nathan?" I asked him. "Yes." He spat out. "What's your name?" I asked. "Gary Kevin Michael Richard Timms." He said fiercely. "Is that your dad asleep over there?" I asked and realized that had only made him madder. "Yes, and that's one of my younger brothers you just perverted you sick fuck!" He spat angrily, edging around the controls Jeremy had placed to just answer questions. "Then I'll ask you to ask me one question that will help you make your decision." I said and was met only by silence. I realized that if he had made up his mind already he wouldn't be able to speak. "Or if you've already chosen, I'll ask you to tell me which you choose, the gun or serving me." "The gun you little pervert." He sneered instantly. "I bet you won't even…" He never finished the sentence because my gun came up and fired, into his face, right between his steely green eyes. I'd never shot someone from this close before, and the roar of the gun deafened me as I smelled the gunpowder and felt something wet and sticky hit my face. I froze for a moment in shock. This was so up close and personal compared to even killing Tina. For a moment, I started to shake and my stomach roiled, but then I remembered five kids somewhere nearby being treated like slaves, being brainwashed so others could control them and seek to control others through them. I remembered Jeremy's memory of Mathew Smith being shot like that, and never being given the chance that Gary Kevin Michael Richard Timms had been given. He could have chosen to live. I took a deep breath that settled my stomach and stepped in front of the next person. For a moment I was haunted by very familiar green eyes, and realized that the face they were in was almost exactly like Nathan's. "You're Nathan's twin brother, aren't you?" I asked and the boy nodded. "You heard the offer I made to both your brothers, didn't you?" He nodded again. "You understand and believe that I mean both offers?" I asked and he nodded. "Do you want to ask me a question or are you ready to choose?" I asked him. "Will you kiss me, please?" He asked in a weak voice, almost begging. This brother lasted longer in the kiss than Nathan had, but when he reached his orgasm, he collapsed, only being held up by my arms around him. I noticed the front of his uniform was smeared with blood and looked down to find my chest had a smear of blood on it. After getting my newly bonded back to his feet I reached down to the sleeping form of one the Deacons and used his suit jacket to wipe the blood off from my face and chest. It left smears, but most of it was gone by the time I turned back to the next guard. By this point, I think all of them had had their spirits broken, and I just asked them if they wanted to ask me a question or were they ready to choose. All of them immediately asked me to kiss them. By the last one, I was literally exhausted and had to sit down in the chair that the prophet had sat in when we were brought in the room. I looked over at the Prophet who was staring at me with wide eyes. He'd recovered enough from the tight controls I'd placed on him that he'd seen most of what had happened and was almost trembling. "Did you see that?" I asked him maliciously. "One of your boys actually chose death for you. How does that make you feel?" "They should all have chosen as he did!" The man shouted angrily and a fit of anger burst over me. I raised the gun I was still holding and shot him, causing Jeremy to leap backwards. I just sat there; staring at the body slumped over and wondered what the hell had happened here? "Dylan?" Jeremy's voice was soft, almost comforting and I looked up to see him standing in front of me with a look of concern. He'd given his gun to one of the guards and was focusing on me. "Dylan, are you okay?" "I think I've screwed up big time." I said. "I was sent here to talk and I've just killed the man dad told me to talk to and negotiate something with." "Dylan, do you realize what you've done?" He asked. "The men here in this room are the one's who led the coup, who took over the church. Everyone's afraid of them. Whenever someone spoke out, they brought Tina or me in, and we Sealed them. Tina got all the men, and they're probably all dead now. That would be the rest of the Deacons not in here right now. The Prophet's been afraid for the last week now that people were going to try to lead something against him because a lot of them are seeing the United States recover and we're not really doing much." "Dad told us they were cutting off satellite connections last week." Nathan spoke up. His twin Sean also nodded. "They've been putting a lot of people in the police and guard under watch too." "So, if the entire government leadership was dead, there'd be a power vacuum with no one to step into it?" I asked. "I think so." Sean said. "If you're saying what I'm thinking you're saying. The only people who could take over here are the ones lying over there. I know you don't respect us much, but we heard a lot. They only let the sons of important people be guards here, and well, I remember the Prophet saying when you were coming here that they had to get control of you before things collapsed." "A fact which explains why they were so desperate to remove as much security from my team as they could." I stated glumly. This was why they had refused to let the advance teams land. I really should have listened to the advice people were giving me. Maybe that was why there advisors? "If…if we kill these Deacons wouldn't that help you?" Nathan said, stuttering a bit. I could understand why he did stutter. He was newly bonded to me, probably trying to earn my respect and attention, and he was suggesting killing his father to do that. I winced at that thought. Still, with what they were saying, doing that might just save my overall mission as well. I stood, feeling a little weak, and looked at the four men, lying there asleep. Jeremy caught my arm and gave me a sympathetic look. "Tell them to do it, Dylan." He said softly. "You don't have to do it yourself." "You want to know one of the first things I was told about being an Army officer?" I asked him and he frowned. I didn't wait for his answer though. "I was told that an officer is as responsible for actions committed under his orders as if he had done it himself. Jeremy, whether I order them to do it, or do it myself, I am just as responsible." "We…I'll do it, Dylan." Nathan said with a look of sadness on his face when I turned to him. "You don't have to tell me, I'll just do it. I don't want you to feel bad." "I made you a promise before I bonded you, Nathan." I stated firmly, standing a little straighter. "I will not have you killing them to make me feel better. Thank you though; I do appreciate you saying that." Nathan looked relieved at my words, and then looked away as I moved my arm a little, taking careful aim. Each of the four shots were loud, clear, and distinct, as were the results. I didn't flinch though. I wouldn't let myself. Instead I placed the gun on the desk. All five of them had guns now, and my carrying one would only raise suspicion if anyone noticed. "Get that protective dress or whatever it is and let's go get those kids." I mumbled tiredly. I felt drained, exhausted, but I had to still get the kids, Jeremy, and my new bonded back to the plane. "We can take the Prophet's Humvee to the reprogramming center." Sean said as Nathan came back with a thick black garment that he helped Jeremy put on. Jeremy picked the gun up from the desk and pulled it under the garment with him, where it was hidden. I must have been tired not to think of that. "Then we can use it to drive to the airport." Brian Dellington, one of the others said, looking at me for approval. "No one would dare to stop the Prophet's vehicle." "Okay, let's get going before I pass out." I said, stumbling when I took a step. "Look, let Chris and I carry you between us, Dylan." Matthew Brady said quickly, stepping to my side and positioning himself under my arm, supporting me as he draped it over his shoulder. Chris Davidson did the same on my other side. Nathan unlocked the door from a control on the desk, and we moved out in a group. Nathan and Sean in the lead, with Jeremy between them covered in that ugly garment. Chris and Matthew came next, carrying me between them and I didn't have to do much faking to look as if I would collapse without their support. Brian brought up the rear, closing and locking the door behind him. I heard him mutter under his breath that only two other people had the key so it would be a while before anyone walked in on the bodies inside. It was late at night and the hallways they took me through were almost deserted, but we did pass a few people who hurriedly passed by us or turned and went in another direction. Soon enough, we were in a garage that held a Humvee with the Prophet's sigil on two flags, and I was being helped into the rear seating area. It was comfortable, and I almost fell asleep right then and there, but I had to think ahead here. "How many guards are there at this place we're going to?" I asked. "Six on the inside and two at the entrance" Brian answered. He was driving down a driveway and deeper into the compound. "Um, Dylan, my brother, he's on guard duty inside." "Do you think you could subdue him without killing him?" I asked. "Yes, I think I can. He's my younger brother, only fourteen and he shouldn't be there, but he begged and begged Dad." Brian answered. "They're making him do gopher stuff. Everyone else, they're regular Army. Tough guys." "Don't be nervous guys." I said as soothingly as I could. "Are all six on the inside going to be grouped together?" "No." Brian answered. "They have like a control center where one of them stands guard. They control the lock down sections from there. Then they have two pairs on patrol through the different wings. Then there's the one who'll take you two to cells. He usually makes my brother help him with that." "Okay, Brian, you go up to the control center. Will that make anyone suspicious?" I asked. "No, usually one or two of us go up there to chat while the people are being locked down." Brian answered. "Nathan, Sean, you guys stay near the entrance, make sure the guards out there don't come inside once the noise starts. Once any noise starts, you draw your weapons and shoot anyone not with us." "Got it." They replied in unison and I just raised my eyebrows. I turned to Chris and Matthew who were sitting next to me. "When we go inside, you do whatever's necessary to make sure they take us to the same area." I continued, thinking as hard as I could. "Then when they're about to put one of us in the cell, you two let me go and I'll stumble into Jeremy. Jeremy, fall down and give me the gun you're holding. Mathew and Chris you guys will then pick me up and step back yelling I have a gun. Jeremy, you try to tackle Brian's brother before he does anything." "Okay." They said slightly out of unison. I didn't have much more time to think on revising my plans. Oh yeah, I was forgetting the kids, the reason we came here! "Um, Brian how do we release the kids?" I asked. "We'll know where they are when I take the control center. They always mark the cells and they keep the progress charts there." Brian answered. "Brian, I'll send someone to you once we take the guards down. Lock out the guards on patrol. Make sure they can't help. Then we get the kids and get out of here." "We're here." Brian said, pulling in front of a long, low building with two guards standing out front. I groaned as the five of them moved out, shuffling Jeremy and I into the same order as before. We approached the two guards who were looking at me in some amusement as we came into the brightly lit doorway. "Who is that and how'd you guys get to have fun with him?" One of the two sentries asked. They were both older, in their mid to late twenties and one of them had the beginnings of a nice fat belly. "That's the US President's son." Brian said in a good sneer. "We got to play with him for a bit when he badmouthed the Prophet. Then the prophet turned him over to the witch bitch here and she did her thing to him." "Oh man, the Prophet's actually done it, eh?" The fat sentry said with a laugh. "Well, get him on in there, boys." We entered through the two solid wood doors, which clicked shut behind us. Brian immediately set off down one hallway and came back a moment later with an older man and a kid, both in uniform. The older man sniggered when he saw me while the kid just looked a little wide-eyed. The man ordered the two carrying me to follow him, and then looked at Jeremy in that damn robe and told the kid to make sure the 'bitch' behaved. There were two more hallways leading in different directions and he led us down the right one. I was feeling a bit better now and thought I might actually be able to pull off the whole thing. We reached a cell and he told Jeremy 'welcome home bitch.' The grip of the two holding me up loosened and I let out a groan, falling forward and right onto Jeremy who immediately collapsed. "Shit, he slipped!" Chris shouted as Jeremy and I fumbled to get the gun into my hands. He managed it though, Just as Chris and Matthew hauled me back to my feet by grabbing the back of my trousers. "GUN!" Matthew shouted and the two unsuspecting guards jumped back in surprise. My aim was less perfect this time and the bullet caught the older man in the chest. The second bullet hit his heart though, killing him as he slid down the wall. The kid hadn't moved and stood there staring. Matthew, who was closest, grabbed the shocked kid's gun arm and used his other hand to pull the kid's pistol out of the holster. Only then did the kid come out of shock and try to struggle. "Stop it Neil!" Matthew shouted firmly at that. "The Prophet's dead and Dylan here killed him in front of our eyes. We're with him, and so is Brian. You're either with us or you're dead. Which is it?" "Brian's with you?" Neil asked in a weak voice, staring at me with wide eyes. "Yes, and the Prophet's really dead too." Matthew's voice was sharp and Neil winced. "I…I want to stay with Brian." Neil whispered in fear and Matthew nodded, taking a pair of handcuffs from Neil's belt, he handcuffed the boy to his own left arm. Neil stared in surprise, but Matthew looked at me as if for approval. I nodded tiredly. "You're still tired aren't you?" Matthew asked softly and I nodded. "You can make sure of him later then." "What's that mean?" Neil asked suspiciously. However, the sounds of heavy booted feet running towards us demanded my attention. "Down!" I shouted, suiting my words to action as I dived to the floor in the direction of the sounds of booted feet. Two men appeared in uniform and with guns drawn from the opposite way we had come. One froze at the sight he saw, but the other started to take aim from twenty feet away. Two bullets from my gun hit him square in the chest, and the next two hit his partner before the first man's body started to fall. I tried to remember how many rounds I'd fired from this gun, and decided it didn't matter. I'd just get a new magazine. "I need a new magazine." I said and a moment later Chris was handing me one from his belt pouch. I ejected the one from the gun and put in the new one. The old one still had four rounds in it, so with one in the chamber I would have been fine, but this way I had seventeen plus the one in the chamber, plus the magazine with four left that I stuck in a pocket of my slacks. I noticed that Neil was staring at the three dead guards and at me. When he saw me looking back, he flinched and looked like he was going to cry. "Do what you're told, don't make a sound and help us if it's needed, and you and Brian will both be fine." I promised him. He nodded at that and Matthew rubbed his hair, gaining him a glare. "Chris, go find out what's up with Brian and the other two. Jeremy, get that damn thing off." "I thought it was that girl under there." Neil stammered when Jeremy appeared from under the black cloth. He just smirked at the kid and made as if to touch him. Neil squeaked while he backed up into me. He grabbed me as if begging for protection, practically ripping Matthew's arm from his socket. Jeremy started chuckling when Neil relaxed against me once I had put my free hand on his shoulder. "Don't get too comfortable there, kiddo." Jeremy sniggered. "He's the one who Sealed your brother, his four buddies and shot Gary when he said 'no'." Neil tried to flee my grasp with a shriek of terror, but I was strong enough to hold him in place. Fortunately he was shorter than me, and much thinner. He struggled for a moment, and I let him, not exerting any control over him, not that I could have summoned much at the moment. "Neil, calm down." I said gently. "You've been touching me long enough for me to do something if I was going to. I'm not going to hurt you, in any way so long as you keep your promise." Neil calmed down after that. I let him go and he moved away slowly, staring at me hard. His look of fear slowly receded though and I could see him thinking hard. I hoped he was smart enough to think things through. "You Sealed my brother to you." He stated flatly. "Yes." I answered. "Are you going to do it to me as well?" He asked, this time with a hint of fear. "Maybe." I said flatly as I felt another wave of exhaustion hit me. Where were Chris and Brian? "It depends on you and what you want. Brian will be staying with me, no matter what now. If you want to stay around him, you'll probably have to choose accepting that I bond you. If you decide you can stand to live without Brian around, we'll work something else out." "You mean I'll have a choice?" He asked quietly. I just nodded. "He gave us all a choice, although you're getting a better one." Matthew stated. "What was your choice?" Neil asked him. "He could bond us or he'd kill us." Matthew replied. "I only kill when I have to." I said. "Neil's promised he won't try to betray us. I think he understands that if I die, his brother will die too. That's enough that he's got an easier choice." Neil studied me in silence for a moment, and I could see that Jeremy was doing the same. After a few moments, Jeremy came over to me, taking my free hand in his and I could feel his power flowing into me gently, like a warm spring breeze, and it felt refreshing. It didn't last long, and he shrugged as if to say sorry, but I stood up straight and wasn't breathing as heavy as I had been. I was still exhausted, but I was less tired than a minute ago. "Thanks." I said softly. "I wasn't sure if it would work." Jeremy said just as softly. "It made me tired though, and I didn't want to risk wearing me out also." "That was the right choice to make." I assured him. There was the sound of more booted feet, but before I could react, I heard Chris' voice. "It's Chris and Brian!" The voice called before coming around a corner. He breathed a sigh of relief to find that I wasn't going to shoot him. "I thought it'd be safer to shout first." "Good idea." I said with a small grin. "We've…we've taken care of the rest of the guards." Brian said. "Sean and Nathan just opened the front door and shot those two before they could react. The guard in the booth, well I shot him before he turned around. Then the three of us took out the other two who were coming back from their rounds. Chris told me about the two you got. Sorry, they must have heard the shots. Hey Neil, you're okay?" "Yeah, I'm fine. Are you okay?" Neil asked. "Yes, and I'm really doing okay, really, I mean it." Brian said. "I still love you, little bug. That's not changed, but, I guess you know, right?" "Yes, they told me." Neil said sadly. "Are you…" "Guys, save it for later." I said sternly and both of them jerked a little before facing me. I smiled as well as I could. "You'll have time to talk later, I promise. For now, we still have to get out of here. Now, where are the kids?" "Nathan and Sean are getting them." Brian said. "They're lining them up in the main entrance. Sean's got all their charts. I thought you might want them. Um, they're using the traveling chains on them. I mean, they were brainwashing them here, but there's no way we can know how they'll react and they might put you in danger and…" "Relax." I said, and he did immediately. "I was going to ask you if there was anything like that we could do. We're setting them free of here, yes, but that's not free to do whatever they want. If they aren't a danger, they'll live a good life. We've found another like us besides Jeremy, and he's on the plane right now, being kept safe, taught by the same teachers that teach me school stuff." "There's another one on the plane?" Jeremy asked in surprise. "Yeah, he's in the Professor's cabin." I said and Jeremy nodded. "Let's get going." I said and we moved out. I told Matthew to take the handcuffs off of Neil, who smiled at me a moment before racing to his brother's side and hanging there. Matthew picked up the extra gun he'd taken off of Neil and gave it to Jeremy who gripped it tightly. When we reached the entrance, I found the last two of my new guards standing in front of six black-robed figures of varying heights. I stopped for a moment as their shapeless heads looked at me and I could hear a few gasps of surprise. It only took me a moment to figure out what to say. "Listen," I said softly but firmly, trying to project reassurance. "My name is Dylan Jacobs. Some of you may have heard my name before, but if you haven't; my father is the President of the United States. I know why you're here, and I'm getting you out of here. I promise you, you won't be treated like this when we get out of here, but for now we don't have time to be certain that you won't hurt any of us. I promise you, if you do what you're told, and don't cause any trouble, we'll get you out of those chains as fast as we can. Now, we're going to take you outside and put you in the back of a vehicle. I want you to all scrunch up when you're inside it and don't move or make a sound. If you do, we won't make it out of here. Do you all understand?" I saw a bunch of bobbing, shapeless heads and hoped this would work. At a nod from me, we began to move out. The six kids were bunched into the cargo section, out of sight and the rest of us crowded into the passenger sections. Brian was driving again and took off at a much faster pace. It was ten minutes before we reached the compound gates and were waved throughout without stopping. I breathed a sigh of relief, but we had a ways to go yet before we were safe. "Um, I hate to ask, but does anyone know how to get to the airport?" Brian asked five minutes later. "I've never driven there." There were several audible groans, including mine, and I panicked for a moment before remembering the briefings before we arrived, and my staring at a map of the city. It was another minute before Brian gave me a cross-street I recognized from the map. I kept having to repeat the directions as we continued through the dark city. There were almost no electric lights on away from the Prophet's compound, and I had several flashbacks to Idaho, imagining snipers in every building. I realized I really was tired. Finally, we were getting close and I began to worry again. There were snipers at the airport, and several squads of troops, and my own people didn't know I was coming back, or that I had friends, and in the circumstances under which I'd left, I had no idea what was going on right now. I didn't even know what time it was. "They're waving us to stop." Brian said as we approached the airport fence from the service road. I looked sharply in the vehicle lights. It was a chain link fence, and there were no concrete barriers. We could ram through it, but what about when we got close to the plane? Then I felt something inside my head and almost let out a shout of joy. "RAM THE FENCE AS FAST AS YOU CAN!" I shouted aloud. "WEAPONS OUT! BE READY TO RETURN FIRE!" Brian slammed the accelerator as we sped forward and I crammed my feelings of joy, and desperation into that little knot in my head that was 'Michael Rogers', thanking God over and over again for the miracle that had created his unique bonding. As we drove past excited guards who were diving out of the way, I leaned forward and turned to the right, the closest door, taking aim through the rolled down window, firing two rounds at the officer screaming into a radio. The first one missed, but the second hit him in the throat. We were well past the post before any of them recovered enough to return fire. Neil, who was sitting next to me on that side just stared at me with wide eyes. There was a pinging sound, and I recognized the stuttering fire of M-16's. Brian had spotted our plane and was heading towards it while the guards who'd been ringing the plane opened fire at us, turning their backs on the plane. I prayed that Michael Rogers had gotten the message I'd been sending. He had. The forward and aft doors of the plane opened at the same time, and the muzzle flashes from them were brief. I knew those shots would be aimed at the snipers. Rappelling ropes flew from the aft door, and the aft door on the far side of the plane and dark shapes shot down from them. Muzzle flashes shot from the doors again, and several of the troops who had turned to fire at our vehicle fell. Then a cargo bay door opened and two anti-tank missiles streaked towards the terminal where reinforcements were streaming out to reinforce those on guard duty. The rockets destroyed the entrance and those near it, cutting off the support of those on guard duty. Brian headed the vehicle towards the ladder connected to the now open forward door. There were over twenty four guards on duty around the plane, and they faced eight Seals and Special Forces now on the tarmac, and eight more firing from the doors and cargo bay of the plane itself. They didn't stand a chance against my men. By the time we reached the door, the firefight was winding down. Almost no more bullets hit the vehicle and as we came to a stop, the familiar figures of Darby and Knight streamed down the ladder, pistols in hand. "OUT!" I shouted. "GET THE KIDS OUT OF THE BACK AND GET ON BOARD!" People piled out of the vehicle then, and Darby and Knight tensed, but did not shoot when they saw me coming out. They winced when they saw my bloody chest and face but showed no other reaction. Everyone from the vehicle except Neil, who I'd held at my side with a firm grip, were getting the kids out and I saw Darby and Knight's eyes grow wide at the sight of the six shrouded figures. "Get everyone on the plane!" I ordered to the two sailors. They nodded and motioned everyone up. I pushed Neil ahead of me and followed them up. I was about halfway up when I turned around something gnawing at my gut, screaming for me to watch out. That was when I saw a dark figure, outlined by a reflection of the vehicle's headlights, crouching and pointing a rifle towards me. I didn't hesitate, raising my pistol and opening fire. The first few rounds fell short at that distance, near the maximum effective range for the pistol, but the next three hit, just as a stutter of fire from further aft of the plane also hit the man. Then I was caught by a wave of dark figures rushing up the ladder, and the feel of my circle ran through them. "GET YOUR FUCKING ASS ON BOARD NOW!" Paul shouted in a rage I'd never heard before. I didn't have a chance to comply because he and the giant Hollings lifted me and carried me up the rest of the way between them. They threw me in a chair in the conference room and I noticed that my five newest bonded were sitting there, as was Neil and Jeremy. The shrouded kids were nowhere to be seen, and Hegel and Roerich were standing there, pointing their pistols at Neil and Jeremy, both of whom looked scared." "We've got him on board!" Paul yelled after picking up the phone, and the plane's engines could faintly be heard rushing to life. "Prepare for emergency take-off!" Colonel Haywood's voice was stressed as he yelled over the speaker system. "Get those fucking doors closed!" "Are you injured?" Paul asked me as he turned back around to face me, keeping his balance as the plane swung through a tight turn. He was staring at my bloody chest and face, blood which had now congealed. "Not a scratch." I whispered and he stared at me. "You left here, a fucking prisoner for all I knew, supposedly under this fucker's control and you come back with your tail on fire, covered in blood that's not yours, just as the entire fucking Salt Lake City airwaves start shrieking with what sounds like banshees yelling at each other and all you have to say is 'not a scratch'?" Paul's voice became higher and higher pitched as he ranted, and I couldn't help but let out a small chuckle. "Don't even get me started on how I've got several United States Officers and civilians tied up in the guest cabin, all of whom are going to want me gutted for treason!" "Paul, shut up." I said softly and he stared at me hard. "I'm fine, I'm not under control. Jeremy's my friend, and he's gifted just like me. We can't control each other, but what we are, it's different. Thanks to him, the Prophet is dead, along with his entire command structure. Get us in the air and a safe distance away, but don't land anywhere. Keep the officers and professor locked up. As soon as Jeremy's rested a bit, he'll start working on the memories of everyone who's not bonded, except of course on Tim and Sandy. They know how to keep their mouths shut. Oh yeah, the six kids in the shrouds? Stick them in the guest cabin. Once we've gotten the officers out and professors out, unchain them and get those shrouds off of them. Make sure they have decent clothes and get them calmed down. They're gifted as well so no one who is not bonded is to enter that cabin once they're unchained, and they most definitely are not to be allowed out." "Dylan, I can take care of your people's memories now." Jeremy said, standing up. Everyone's weapons had been lowered. "What do you want them to think?" "They were knocked out by the gas and had bad reactions to it." I said tiredly. "I, um, have them think they have headaches or something and are sick to the stomachs when they wake up. The symptoms last four hours after they wake up and um, have them sleep for another hour. Tell them to go to their cabins, go to sleep and when they wake up, they feel sick. Hegel, take him back there. Paul, make sure that things work right. I'm exhausted." "Okay, Dylan." Paul said in a soft voice. "What about Killmer?" "What did you do to him?" I asked worriedly. "He was supposed to tell you I was okay." "He did, but he got hit in the leg during the firefight." Paul explained and I got a worried look on my face. "It's not bad but he's in pain. The bullet missed anything vital." "Stop the bleeding, knock him out, and put him in Holt's room" I said. "Oh, and Paul you were right. The little bitch they had bonded him during that first meeting." "Next time listen to me." Paul said simply before leaving. We were heading into the air now. I could feel the plane rumbling and bucking as we approached top speed and headed out. The pilots would have to be taken care before they spilled the beans. I wondered how much they knew, and didn't know. "Tim took care of the pilots." Michael Rogers said as he came into the room. "What did he do?" I asked. "After you were gone, we got in there and found the gas had gotten them too." Rogers said. "Tim did a touch thing and told them to stay in the cockpit, only remembering they'd been gassed and when they came to you were gone. He told them they shouldn't leave the cockpit in case you came back." "What time is it?" I asked tiredly. "0300 local." Darby answered from where he stood, watching the people still at the table cautiously. "I bet this is going to be some story." "I don't believe it myself." I muttered, just as the phone rang on the conference table. Mary Collins came in at that moment with a large carafe of coffee and began to pour me a cup when Knight handed me the phone. "Jacobs." I said into it automatically. "This is Colonel Haywood." The pilot's voice was rough. "Look, the skies are clear and the radio chatter cleared up about the time we started rolling. We just got a call asking us to stand by for a transmission from the Provisional Command. There's no air traffic and no chatter now. Do you want us to bug out or circle?" "Circle." I said immediately. "Oh, and get on the radio to wherever our support planes are. Tell them to roll as soon as they can. Oh, and scrounge up a news crew to come in with them if they can." "You sure?" He asked me. "I'm sure, Colonel." I answered. "Also, before I forget, get Alabama too. I need a videoconference with the President in three hours. It needs to be encrypted, max security and tell him to have my favorite two friends of his there as well. He'll know what that means, and Colonel, you push whatever buttons you have to but make sure you speak with my dad directly, even if he's still asleep. Is that clear?" "Yes sir." Colonel Haywood said immediately. I hung up the phone and let out a sigh. I didn't have long though before it buzzed again. "Sorry to bother you so quickly, but there's a very worried sounding man calling himself General Dillard requesting to speak with you." Colonel Haywood was sounding exasperated now. "Patch him through." I ordered, waiting for the click of the patched call to sound. "This is Dylan Jacobs." "This is General Dillard, the, uh, the provisional commander of Utah, sir." The man's voice did indeed sound worried. "Uh, on, uh, behalf of the uh, people of, uh, Utah, I'd, uh, like to apologize for any, uh, trouble you experienced, and, uh request that you, uh consider returning to complete the uh, talks regarding, our, uh, surrender?" "There is no surrender here, General." I said in total exhaustion. "Utah's a part of the United States. We just have to make sure that everyone remembers that." "Uh, yes sir." The man said and I wondered if he knew he was speaking to a fourteen year old kid. "General, my plane needed to spread its wings for a few hours." I said, in case anyone was hearing this besides us. "That's all. Once the pilot figures out he hasn't forgotten how to fly, we'll be back on the ground. There'll be a few planes coming in from your friendly neighbors as well. You guys were real nice to give me ride back to the airport, but I don't want you wasting any more of your fuel. There's no need to send any aircraft up to show us the way, either. We're quite familiar with how to get here. No need to test any of your ground radars either. Our radars work fine." "Understood sir." The man's voice actually sounded relieved. "Uh, what time should we expect you?" "My pilot will call you before any aircraft land." I said. "They'll make arrangements from there. You can also talk to my officers regarding when I'll be available. Jacobs out." I hung up immediately, looking through blurry eyes at the people around me. I figured out from the twin brown heads standing near me that Knight and Darby were nearby. I sighed, tried to stand, but found I was far too weak to even do that. "I'm going to sleep right here." I mumbled as a black tidal wave rushed through me. "Can someone tell Haywood what I told him and make sure I wake up before we land and before my conference with dad. I really need a…" I never finished because I was passed out, dead to the world around me.
  15. dkstories

    Dinner and Discovery

    Note to Readers: We all make mistakes in life. Sometimes they are little mistakes, other times they are big mistakes. The difference between mistakes made by leaders and by regular people are usually measured by body bags and lives ruined. That's something I learned the hard way. "Deacon Roberts, let me introduce you to Major Daniel Unger, US Army and the Chief of Staff, Dylan Jacobs, Lieutenant Martha Ellington of the US Navy, and Captain Camus of the United States Marine Corps. Last but not least, this young man is Jimmy Connolly, a close friend of Dylan's." Paul Holt spoke as he led the Utah delegation into the conference room. The officers were all dressed in their dress uniforms and shook hands with the man as they were introduced. I was wearing the suit that had been laid out for and shook his hand as well, resisting the urge to sweep a control into him. I didn't want to risk something like that if it wasn't needed. There was always too much risk of being noticed. "It's a pleasure to meet all of you." Deacon Roberts said. He was a tall, patrician looking man with gray showing at the edges of otherwise dark hair. He was wearing a finely tailored dark suit that was as nice as the one I was wearing. "These men with me are Deacon Timms, who bears responsibility for our Agriculture and Transportation programs. Next to him is Deacon Davidson who works with our Defense programs. Deacon Mangum works in my Foreign Relations group. We've also brought two of our younger citizens, Ms. Tina Rothschild and Jeremy Young. "I'd like to welcome all of you." I said when he finished the introductions. "I hope that this dinner will be satisfactory. Please, have a seat." The table seating arrangement had already been faxed to them before they had come aboard, so they all knew where their seats were. The air crew had covered the conference table with a crimson table cloth that was very finely textured. Fine china and crystal were set on the table as well and water was already poured in the glasses. As people lined up at their chairs, Roberts stood at the seat closest to the door and waited for me to reach mine, sitting at the same time as I did, followed by everyone else. I had Holt sitting on my left and Deacon Timms on my right. Holt had Deacon Davidson on this other side, with Captain Camus next to him. The girl, Tina Rothschild sat next Camus and Martha Ellington. Martha, a PR professional and consummate conversationalist would have no problems sitting next to Deacon Roberts. On Roberts's other side sat Deacon Mangum, a stern looking man with fading blond hair and a growing bald spot. Jimmy got to sit between Deacon Mangum and the Jeremy Young boy. Both Jeremy Young and Tina Rothschild were close to me in age, and I guessed they might be a year younger at the most. That meant they were possible dangers, as Paul had suggested, but I really thought he was wrong. Besides, if they tried anything with Jimmy, the most likely target, we'd all know in a heartbeat, and he was well protected by his bond with me. Major Unger completed the seating arrangement, sitting between Jeremy Young and Deacon Timms who was on my right. "A fine table setting." Deacon Roberts said as the three female air crew members came in, also dressed in the full dress uniforms and setting salads down gently before each person. A dumbbell service hoisted full trays to a port just outside the cabin and they had commandeered one of the other air force crew members who normally worked on Communications to help them by loading the service from the kitchen. "One would almost think we were in a fine hotel or home instead of an airplane." "The plane itself was ordered by the last administration." I responded very politely. "It was modified a bit to make it fit our use more, but most of the décor was already chosen and we decided changing it to more utilitarian designs would have just been a further waste of resources." "Ah, being forced to accept luxuries instead of wasting them." Roberts said with a huge hint of irony in his voice. "Such a tragedy when we're forced to accept such things." "I'm sure they'll find some way to get me back for it." I said and he smiled, taking a bite of his salad after pouring a bit of dressing on it. "I trust you aren't too uncomfortable here then?" He asked after chewing the bite he'd taken. "No, but the Professors seem to think they can monopolize my time more now that we're away from the hustle of Alabama." I answered, getting a polite chuckle from several people "So you are continuing your education despite your duties?" Deacon Timms asked from next to me. "The two do not have to be mutually exclusive." I answered him. "The Professors travel with me. Their cabins are just on the other side of the passageway and my schedule is blocked off for several hours each day while they give me my lessons." "What subjects do you study?" Deacon Davidson asked. "A full spectrum of the usual subjects." I explained. "English, politics, physical and life sciences, mathematics, history, and sociology are the areas we currently focused on. I was even informed today that I have m calculus final in two days and my history and sociology finals sometime next week." "Maybe we should let you go study instead of keeping you for dinner." Deacon Roberts joked, getting several laughs. "Thanks for the concern, but I should find plenty of time to study tonight and tomorrow night." My voice almost broke slightly and I blushed. I thought I'd gotten past that point. I must be more nervous than I thought. "You don't have religious studies?" Jeremy Young asked in a slightly nervous voice. "I thought that with your dad being a minister that religious studies would be included." "My religious studies are primarily with my father." I temporized, lying only slightly. "I do any religious studies he assigns on my own time, as a family." "Family and faith are always closely interconnected, and form the strongest of ties between parents and children." Deacon Roberts said firmly, briefly glancing in the direction of our two guards, one of whom was Roger Killmer, his nephew. Of course he didn't know I knew that, or that Killmer was far more loyal to me than he would believe possible. "Yes, they are." Major Unger agreed immediately. "I've noticed a welcome trend among our men that many of them are actually reading bibles in their spare time. I think Dylan's example has been a good one for them. I even saw one or two reading the Book of Mormon the other day." "Truly?" Deacon Davidson said in apparent surprise. "I'm surprised you'd allow members of our faith as part of your mission. Aren't you worried they'll throw off their uniform and come home?" "The United States is a place of welcome for all people of faith." I said immediately, before anyone else can react. "We're here to bring about an end to the confusion that lies between the federal government and the State of Utah. We are not here to tell you to submit or die, we are not here to deliver ultimatums, but we are to resolve the differences between us. People of your faith are as welcome in the United States, and as valuable to us as the members of my father's own church." "A refreshing attitude considering the anger and hostility we have so often experienced from the United States." Deacon Timms said sourly. "I only wish we could be certain such attitudes would remain in the future." "History shows just how rare such an attitude truly is." Deacon Roberts said sadly. "History shows we are not always welcome, and the blood of our people has soaked into too many lands for us to ever forget." "History is something to be learned from, not a justification for unreasoned action." I said firmly, and there was silence as people ate some more. I realized we'd headed too quickly into the issues between us. Fortunately Holt changed the topic by turning to Davidson and asking him a question at the same time that Timms asked me a question about research on new hybrid engines. The rest of the meal passed relatively pleasantly as people spoke to the people next to them and stayed off of any topics related to the status of Utah and the federal government. Timms was quite interested in technology research on fuel substitutes and alternative energy sources, and had some ideas I found quite interesting. Mary Collins and her staff had really outdone themselves with dinner. It was quite possibly one of the best I'd had in a long time and the compliments from our guests were quite effusive. I noticed that both of the kids my age were eating very hungrily, earning a disapproving glance from Deacon Roberts that stopped the boy, Jeremy Young from taking a third helping of the roast beef. The dessert was equally impressive, a cream pudding that was glazed over and tasted very sweet. "I must thank you for an excellent meal, and excellent conversation." Deacon Roberts said as he wiped his mouth and placed the red cloth napkin on the table beside his plate. "I am happy we had this chance to get to know one another better." I replied and he nodded. "I believe it is customary for small tokens to be exchanged at such diplomatic events." Roberts said in a pleasant tone. "Tina, would you please?" The girl, with her long blond hair falling off her shoulders smiled pleasantly and stood up from her seat. I moved slightly in my chair as she approached, holding out an ornately covered book as she approached. The pleasant dinner had relaxed me somewhat and I was already congratulating myself that things had gone so well. "This is the Book of Mormon." She said when she stood near my chair. "The President himself gave it to me as a gift for you." "Thank you." I said carefully, thanking Holt for suggesting we have something ready. Like Roberts, we'd chosen to have Jimmy be the one to present it, a copy of the new constitution that was to be voted on in April (yes, another delay). It was set in a red leather binder and was elegantly drawn up on parchment style paper. "I hope this might lead you to a new insight of faith." Tina said as I took the ornately covered book in hand, her fingers moving just a fraction so they brushed over mine, and the instant she was speaking, I felt a power reaching into me from her. It was blocked of course, by my own power that roared to life within me at the attempted intrusion, but my mind was stunned into inactivity by the shock that Paul had been right after all. Unfortunately, my body and the defensive training I'd been ingrained with the past few months weren't paralyzed by my total shock. The book went flying across the room and my hand gripped her wrist in a crushing grip. Surprise filled the room as the book went flying and the girl gasped in pain. My officers were all surprised at what they saw to be an attack by me on a defenseless girl, and the Utah delegation was also surprised. "Now." Deacon Roberts yelled, throwing something from his hand that he'd taken out while everyone watched the girl moving towards me. A bang and cloud of smoke filled the room suddenly as whatever he threw exploded. Pandemonium filled the room as several things happened at once. All of my people reached for the guns under the table as the Utah delegation reached inside their suites and pulled out small masks that they covered their faces with. Davidson threw one of the masks towards Killmer who was drawing his weapon. My last sight before passing out was him catching it and pressing it to his mouth. *~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* "Listen to me Roger, you have to know something about how the boy resisted Tina's Holy Touch." Roberts's voice was distant, as if I was hearing it through a tunnel, and I knew that we'd made a vital mistake in our planning. We'd never expected use of some sort of sleeping gas. That one vital flaw had caused disaster, but it wasn't complete at least. I could feel my hands were tied behind my back, handcuffed actually and I was resting on my side, obviously on the floor. "Tina, any luck with those soldiers?" Roberts's voice was clearer now, and I had to resist the urge to moan or open my eyes. "No Deacon." The girl's voice was sounding stronger as well. "They all resist when I try to put God's Will on them. The other officers are all under God's control, but I can't seem to break through these others." "Jeremy?" Roberts's voice sounded again. "No sir, the boy resists as well. I don't understand it at all." Jeremy Young's voice was ragged like he was breathing hard. "What's the situation outside?" Roberts asked. "Our man got the outer door open in time." Davidson's voice answered. "I can't change any of the camera views, but we gassed the people in the galley before they could come up. The guards back of the cabin collapsed but more appeared with gas masks on before they could get us out of here. Your nephew's code can open the door, but they've got people stationed there." "Roger, they won't shoot us if try to leave will they?" Roberts's voice was concerned now. "Their orders are to not let anyone off this plane with Dylan." Roger Killmer's voice was firm. I was glad that he was holding onto his orders. I'd been very clear, and thought it was just overkill when Paul suggested that I tell Killmer to play along if we ended up in a hostage situation. "What is this stuff that Tina and Jeremy are talking about?" "God's given us a gift beyond measure, nephew." Roberts's voice was filled with pride now. "About five years ago we found out that some of our children were blessed by God with his power. They can channel his will through their touch render sinners subservient to any command God chooses to give through them. We've made great works here at home with their touch. We've also found that through God's kiss they can bring someone born and raised in the outside world to God's cause as thoroughly as you have been by being raised with us, Roger." "Amazing." Roger Killmer's voice held just the right amount of awe to it, I thought. "But somehow, this Dylan Jacobs seems to have a similar power." Roberts's voice filled with worry now. "Tina was supposed to put a simple thought into him that the Book of Mormon would show him the way and then he could be brought to the Prophet's side willingly. We'd have sent him back to his father, after he'd been Sealed to Tina through God's Kiss. She would have returned with him, to make sure he followed what we wanted, keeping our people free from his government. If it had worked, we'd have continued these useless talks until we were able to bring him before the Prophet alone. A few more meetings with Tina touching him would have done God's work and we'd have been free from any threat." "What now, Deacon?" Roger Killmer asked quietly. "We'd planned for this too." Roberts said slowly. "But this isn't working out right after all. There's still some of their people awake outside. At least we got all the ones in here. Tina and Jeremy can put God's Touch on them, make them forget anything but the dinner, and we'd have taken the boy with us Sealed to Tina and things would still have worked. We have to figure out why it won't on them. They can't resist God's work like this." "Maybe you should have Jeremy try on Dylan instead." Roger said. "If Dylan can do things like they can, Jeremy might work better." "What makes you think that?" Roberts asked him. "The people that God's Touch isn't working on makes me think that maybe he's done something with them." Roger Killmer said cautiously. "It's possible he's Sealed them to him, disgusting as the idea may be." Roberts admitted. "Why is it so disgusting?" Roger Killmer asked. "The Seal contains a level of…intimacy to it." Roberts's voice was low now. "Then I think that's why Tina and Jeremy can't do anything with them." Killmer said with a note of disgust in his voice. He was a good actor after all. "There are rumors about why that kid, Jimmy, is with him. I heard some of the other soldiers saying that they were homosexual lovers. These other guards all spend a lot of time alone with Dylan as well." "Jeremy, try to Seal the Jacobs boy." Roberts said in an angry tone. "But, Deacon, you said I was to never…" Jeremy's voice sounded frightened now. "I know what I said!" Roberts shouted. "I know after we killed the Smith boy we never planned to create such an abomination again, but if this is what is needed, you'll do it. Don't worry; we won't kill him until we're done with him. You'll just have to go with him back to his home." "Yes, Deacon." Jeremy's voice was resigned now, and I could hear his footsteps approach. "Will it work with him still asleep?" Killmer asked, sounding slightly worried. "Yes, it will." Roberts said in a very certain tone. I started worrying right then and decided to let out a low moan. Killmer might think I was being threatened beyond the level where my orders held his hand. If he reacted with violence now, the situation was likely to escalate too far out of control. "He's waking up." Killmer's voice almost sounded relieved and I cursed how protective the bond made my circle. "Hurry boy." Roberts's voice was loud, and a hint of panic was in it as he spoke. The footsteps of Jeremy quickened and I could feel someone next to me. A hand landed on my shoulder, pushing me onto my back and crushing my hands a little. A mouth descended on mine just as I opened my eyes, looking into a set of ice blue eyes. Those eyes widened as, when our lips touched, his power and mine met each other like two tidal waves crashing into each other. I could feel so many things as the waves of our powers crashed into each other. There was pain, sadness, loneliness, all mixed in with a reticence to be there, to be doing this. The kissed deepened just a little, and our powers changed subtly, no longer crashing against each other, but flowing in around each other, as if tasting each other cautiously, and I could feel something new from him…hope. "Deacon, I think it might be working." I heard Jeremy's voice again as his lips pulled off of mine. "He's not really fighting anymore, but, I…uh…ah…" "Spit it out, boy." Roberts was impatient now. "I think he's going to require more…work than anyone ever before." Jeremy's voice said softly. "He won't fight me, but the pain from the handcuffs…and well you might not want to see what happens because it's going to take a lot of work." "Roger, can you take him into that cabin?" Roberts asked with a strong hint of revulsion in his voice. Jeremy was lying; he knew I was no where near to being beaten, which meant he wanted privacy. "I hate to ask this son, especially so soon after you've come home, but make sure the Jacobs boy doesn't hurt Jeremy. It's disgusting what's going to happen and he's right, I don't ever want to see it again." "If it's necessary for God's work, I can withstand a lot of things." Roger Killmer said determinedly. "You always were a good boy." Roberts now spoke in a voice filled with pride. "Pick up the Jacobs boy and you can take the handcuffs off in there. Be sure not to come into contact with his skin and you'll be protected." Moments later I could feel Killmer pick me up and carry me into my cabin, placing me gently on the bed. He also told the Jeremy boy to wait by the door in case I did fight back. After laying me on my side, Killmer leaned forward and whispered in my ear, asking me if I was alright and what I wanted him to do. "Wait by the door, Roger." I whispered back. "We're…negotiating right now. There's no way he'll harm me. Just make sure no one watches. You're doing great." "He's not moving at all." Roger said as he stood up straight. "I told you he wouldn't." Jeremy said indignantly. I lifted my head just a bit to see Jeremy's hand brush Roger, and he recoiled violently. He stared from Roger to me while Roger's hand went for his pistol. When Jeremy spoke next, it was in a very harsh but quiet whisper. "No, sorry." "Be careful." Roger said after a moment, relaxing his hand from his pistol as Jeremy looked at him in fear. Jeremy saw me looking up from the bed and sat down on the edge cautiously. "Get up here; you're supposed to be bonding me." I whispered forcefully and he crawled up on the bed. I turned on my side, and he turned on his, wrapping an arm over my waist. I did the same and we were soon nose to nose. I noticed his was long and thin, and his longer bangs hung nearly to his pale eyebrows. "I can't believe you're really like me." Jeremy whispered. "There are more of us." I told him just as quietly. "Jeremy, what do you want?" "Is this why they sent you, so you could do this to us and get what you want?" He asked me instead. "No." I said softly, lying just a little since dad had indeed suggested that if it was necessary. "I use it to defend myself. My guards are bonded to me, what Roberts called 'Sealed'. Once I figured out what it was, I asked them before I did bond them to me. They're part of my circle willingly. There's another one like us on board, Tim. He's here because he was being used by a bastard up in Idaho like you're being used here. He's with me so I can keep an eye on him, so no one tries to use him. My dad, the President knows about me, and about Tim. He doesn't really like it, but let's me do certain things to protect myself." "He doesn't use you to force others to do things?" Jeremy asked with wide eyes. "No, and he won't use you either." I said. "I'm gay." Jeremy whispered. "He won't want a gay boy around you." "Kiss me." I said softly and his eyes widened. Changing my mind I moved forward an inch and covered his lips with mine. This time it wasn't fear, anger, or a desire to defend myself that brought my powers up, but a feeling of sympathy for Jeremy, and a very real desire. He was cute, and his body was warm against mine though our clothes. I could feel an answering passion rising through his power as they met again, crashing in waves once more, but in an exciting way. I felt something else as the kiss deepened and I hardened my grip against his waist. There was innocence to him, an innocence that reminded me oddly of Tim. What was it about boys who'd been used like they had that let them somehow remain so innocent? He hated how he was forced to do things, and as our powers flowed more deeply into each other I began to see some of those things. I saw another boy with brown hair, looking like he was maybe eight years old, and an innocent kiss that turned into something more, and I knew that it was an eight year old Jeremy that had bonded the boy to him, not knowing what he was doing so young. That surprised me tremendously. I had thought maybe our powers didn't being until puberty, but here was proof that they began far younger. I knew that the next scene was a year later, and an angry father walking in on two boys in the garage, doing things they shouldn't. The father, a deacon in the church, then reacting to a panicked control by the little Jeremy to leave them alone, and the instant obedience. Unfortunately the father realized what had happened, and after that never came close enough to touch Jeremy again. A week later the experimenting began, first on family members but then on others. Then a stranger came, an older man with silver hair who laughed when he saw what Jeremy could do, and told Jeremy's father that great things were happening for God's people. Then there was the image of ten-year old Matthew Smith being shot in the head because Jeremy had refused to kiss a girl and do to her what he did to Matt. They had made Jeremy himself bury the boy on the back of the farm. There was no fear of the local sheriff in this small town. He was a member of the church, and followed the will of God over the will of man. Images came then, faster and faster, and I saw the rise to power of the Prophet in the days before and after the beginning of the crisis. I saw the work Jeremy did, and he'd heard there was a girl who could do what he did. Jeremy was kept in a stark room most of the time, isolated from most people, only allowed to see the girls and women he'd bonded on rare occasions, just enough to keep them certain he was safe. Then came the days of the rebellion, the assumption of power and the coup within the church itself when Jeremy was led in and met Tina for the first time as they exerted controls over the church leaders so they would establish this new man as their Prophet, their President. Jeremy might have followed them willingly, but they had made one vital mistake when they killed Matthew Smith. I also learned first hand what happened when someone you knew, cared about and had been bonded to for a long time died, and that was you felt that moment of their death. You could feel the life passing from their body, passing into the unknown, and there was both a sense of loss and a sense of joy at that moment. I learned even more about the bond, and what to expect as time would pass for me and the people of my circle. I would grow more aware of them as time passed, sense their feelings and the mine when we were close enough. Distance would reduce that sensitivity, but it would become a more emotional connection, melding us closer and closer together. I wondered if distance would lessen or change the effects of the bond and if that was why neither Tim nor I had felt it when a bonded died in the past, but I didn't want to experiment for the answer to that question. We pulled back from the kiss then, and I looked into those ice blue eyes and felt something I'd felt before, but never as strongly before. I felt a connection to this handsome person across from me. I knew, from what he'd shown me that we were very close in age. He'd just turned fourteen a week after me, but our upbringing had been vastly different. He had been a tool for years, but didn't want to be a tool ever again. This time it was my turn as he moved to touch his lips to mine. I called up memories of growing up with my first family, lessons from my dad about thinking for myself, of using my intelligence correctly. Then I showed images through our connected power of my becoming friends with Henry, and our first days in the crisis, and our bond of friendship and brotherhood that formed. Then I showed him Jimmy, and that first innocent bonding, and I could feel his surprise and envy. Then I showed my attempted bonding with Henry and how it had become so different than either of us expected. I could feel his intense envy then of my having a brother who shared our abilities, and his desire to meet Henry and be friends with him too. I was careful in what I showed him of my memories of my interactions with dad. Only the supportive memories were shown to him, and I realized he couldn't tell I was holding anything back. He was weaker than me, I realized suddenly. He was stronger than Henry had been last time I'd seen him, but he was still weaker. Then I showed him memories of my bonding the people in my circle, and how we'd become close and I felt a slight jealousy in him at that. Then it was over, and our powers were drawing away from each other. "Will you take me away from here?" He asked me quietly. "Yes." I answered instantly. "But, you know, I can't leave until things are fixed here, and we'll have to fix a lot of things." "I don't understand, why can't we just leave things here?" He stated in a whisper. "Who cares what happens here?" "A lot of people do." I answered. "It's a long, complicated answer." "Give it to me after." Jeremy whispered. "For now, let's just work on getting out of here." "Jeremy, I wasn't going to use my powers here before." I whispered softly. "Now, though, I've seen what's going on and I will have to, not because I'm told to, but because it's necessary." "I don't…I don't feel as bad if it's me who chooses to do that." He whispered after a moment. "I trust you. What you showed me…you're smarter than me, you understand things so much better. If you tell me we have to do it, then I'll do whatever it is you want." "You don't have to do anything." I said instantly. I knew now that if he thought he was being forced to do something, he'd react badly. "I can do it on my own, but it will be easier if you choose to help." "I like you, Dylan." He whispered and leaned in to kiss me again. This time the kiss was different, and so was his power as it met mine. It was filled with pure passion and had a desperate quality to it, as if he was desperate for something to cling to, and I felt an answering passion rise up in me to meet his. This time our tongues met as I pushed mine into his mouth. I felt something rising up in him as we kissed, a rising hope and I moved my arm towards his pants. A moan escaped his lips as I unzipped him and took him in my hand. It wasn't another few moments before he exploded in an orgasm, and I almost joined him, but didn't quite reach that point. Instead I felt our powers, merging softly, but his were now wrapped inside of mine. Something now connected us, almost but not like when I bonded someone. I couldn't control him, I knew instinctively. He still had his own will, but he was now connected to me and I felt a wave of pure emotion from him that I recognized instantly. It was love. Not the brotherly love I felt for Henry or Paul, but a pure and passionate love. Lust was intermingled and a part of it, a desire to explore every part of me, to entwine himself in me so tightly that he'd never leave. I may not be able to control him with a simple command, but I realized in that moment he'd handed his heart and soul to me. I felt an answering love to him, and an answering lust as well, although not as powerful as the one he felt for me. Still, it was my first experience with an actual romantic feeling for someone and it felt so damn good I wanted to shout.. "Your turn." He whispered fiercely, unzipping my slacks quickly and pulling my still pounding erection out. I started to protest, we had work to do, but I knew that bonding required the bondee to reach orgasm, and I really wanted this. His hand was soft, silky smooth and it wasn't long before I was experiencing my own orgasm, and exhaling harshly. Oh yes, I definitely liked this Jeremy. I was tempted to lock us in here and damn the consequences of it just so we could explore each other some more, but duty was a stronger force inside of me. "Okay, you've just bonded me." I said when I had caught my breath a moment later and he'd zipped both of us back up. The bedspread was a mess between us, and I strongly suspected there were drops on us. "Tell them that it finally worked, but it exhausted you, that you won't be able to do much for a while. You've never faced this before so it shouldn't be too suspicious. Tell them I've 'sealed', I think that is the term they use to describe it, most of the crew so that all you have to do is tell me to tell them what to do and they'll obey. Tell them we can just order the crew bonded to me to stand aside, and they will." "Okay, just make sure you act the right way, and tell them you're dedicated to the work of the Prophet and God now." Jeremy responded. "Oh, and you better change your clothes. You're kind of messy and the sight of that will freak them out big time." "Okay, love." I whispered, pecking him on the lips and grinning foolishly. He was grinning too and we paused to stare at each other. Did he find my eyes as beautiful as his were? "Get moving." Jeremy whispered. "The longer this take the more suspicious they'll get." "You got it." I said, jumping off the bed excitedly and heading over to my wardrobe as I kicked off the civilian clothes. Killmer was watching me carefully, with a worried expression. My smile calmed him down though. "You okay Dylan?" He asked me carefully as I finished stripping down and started to put on another set of civilian slacks and dress shirt. "Perfect." I whispered back. "Jeremy and I talked. He didn't like being forced to the things he was doing. He's with me now." "He's part of the circle?" Killmer was surprised. "But I thought that couldn't happen" "Touch him." I said and Killmer crossed to where Jeremy was now standing by the bed and hesitantly touched him. He looked surprised as he came towards me. "He feels more like you now." Killmer said. "It's not the same as the others in the circle. I can still feel him from when he touched me before, but now he's different. I can feel you in him, and I can feel that he's almost yours, but it's not like you're his if that makes sense." "Somehow it does." I said with a smile as I finished buttoning up the shirt. I nodded at Jeremy who led the way out, Killmer following closely behind. I noticed as I entered the conference room that Holt was standing behind the Tina girl, and realized that Paul had been right about him as well. From now on I would listen to Paul about these things. The four 'Deacons' were standing in a knot, talking to each other in hushed tones, but they stopped when Jeremy returned to the room with me behind him. I did my best to look at the back of Jeremy's head and look as lovingly at him as I could. It really wasn't too hard as I felt my feelings towards him bubbling inside. They felt nice, like that warm sunny day in Tucson had. "It worked, Deacon." Jeremy said immediately, sounding tired. "It wasn't easy, and he fought, mentally at least, very hard before I was able to beat him, but God's power is always greater, isn't it, sir?" "It is." Roberts said smugly, looking me over like a man looks over a new car he'd just bought. "So, Mr. Jacobs, you thought you'd do to me what we've done to you?" "No sir." I replied, ducking my head and trying to look down. "I'm not supposed to use it without direct permission and I didn't have permission here to use it, but now I'm dedicated to doing the work of the Prophet and of God." "Yes, you are." He said with a note of triumph and a glow of satisfaction to his face. "I want you to tell me how you can make sure we get off this plane and take you to the Prophet without any of your people trying to radio their leaders." "Most of the crew was sealed to me to ensure their loyalty." I said immediately. "Killmer and the officers were the only ones I hadn't sealed besides the Professors and two boys in the other cabin. When they wake, they'll do whatever you and Jeremy wants me to tell them. They can either keep watch on the officers or we can control the officers. Make them think it as a big misunderstanding because I'd panicked over nothing and that I'm going to the Prophet to apologize in person." "That's a decent idea." Roberts said after whispering with his people for a moment. The two soldiers they'd brought with them moved at that point to one of the prone figures that I realized was Paul. Paul was staring at me with a look of utter pain on his face and I realized they were all awake. I scanned the other prone figures and realized the officers were looking at us in total confusion and shock, not understanding a thing of what happened. No matter what happened now, they were a problem that would have to be dealt with. "Do we alter their memories now or later, Deacon?" Tina asked from where she stood in front of Holt, another problem to deal with. I didn't need Jeremy to tell me Tina was dedicated to the cause of this Prophet. It showed in her eyes and her body posture. She loved the power over others that she got to exert, and she looked at Jeremy with jealousy after she glanced at me in disgust. It was obvious she'd wanted me badly. "It takes too long." Roberts said. "Jeremy's also said he's tired. We'll go to the Temple and stay the night there after the Prophet has interrogated the Jacobs boy for everything he knows and given us orders on how he wants things done. Jeremy, have the servant order his men to secure the plane and wait for his return." "Dylan, tell them to keep the plane secure and wait for you to come back tomorrow." Jeremy said in a stern voice and I almost laughed, but managed to keep my face neutral. "Anything you want Jeremy." I said softly, and then turned to Paul who was still lying on the floor, struggling to stand up against the boot of one of the Mormon guards against his neck. It took me a moment to figure out how phrase this, and that it would have to be an order, an order based on the bond that he couldn't disobey but that wouldn't raise too much suspicion. "Paul, there's nothing to worry about." I said in a strong voice. "Jeremy would never hurt me just like I'd never hurt you. This is an order. When they release you, you will not attempt to struggle or fight back. I'm going with them of my own will and you will do nothing to interfere. This is an order, Paul. You will lock the officers in the Guest cabin and lock it down so they exit the plane or use any of the electronic equipment to call for help or tell anyone of our situation. This is an order to everyone, you will wait for my return tomorrow. You will not worry, because I'm safe. You will make sure no one transmits anything about this situation. Keep the Professors and the boys in their cabin and tell them we are on security lockdown until I return. No transmissions from this plane are to be made except for acknowledgement and status reports. You will do nothing that will hint, or otherwise intimate that there's anything wrong." "Tell them to obey Killmer if there's any doubts or questions." Roberts added and Jeremy nodded at me. "Paul, this is an order, you will ask Killmer any questions." I said, and paused so he'd be able to tell the next part was not an order. "If Killmer tells you to do something, you should do it like you do when I tell you to do something." "Okay, let that one up and release him." Roberts said, and then made Paul repeat everything I'd said. Paul was more relaxed, but I could see the doubt on his face. Major Unger was turning purple behind his gag and I realized that he was going to be particularly hard to deal with when this was over. "Now, Jeremy, have the servant get on the plane's announcing system to say this has been a misunderstanding and tell his people to stand down. Then the soldier goes out and keeps them in line while we leave. Once we're gone, this plane gets sealed until we return." "Do it." Jeremy said and I nodded, making the announcement. Paul went out a moment later and returned saying they were ready. Roberts led the way down the plane's ladder and were surrounded by their troops as a large SUV pulled out from the terminal and headed towards us, followed by a large limousine. I realized I was about to head into the enemy's home, unarmed, surrounded by thousands of his followers, alone except for the new friend I'd just made, or was he a boyfriend? It didn't matter, I was going alone. The fact that Holt sat in the limousine across from me didn't matter, he was bonded to the girl, who was a willing follower of this prophet and Roberts. The strangest thing was I felt no fear, only an exhilaration that practically tingled without any of my power behind it at all. Maybe I was crazy. During the drive towards the center of Salt Lake City it was all I could do to maintain the act of staring adoringly at Jeremy while Roberts gave a long spiel about how great the power of God was and how his state would thrive, and then send out teams of Missionaries to their neighbors. How useful I would be to their cause with Jeremy and I in the center of government and how soon the whole United States would be a LDS state when we 'converted' its leaders to his cause. I had expected we'd be taken to the Temple in the heart of the city, but we weren't. Instead we were taken to a large compound, surrounded by a large garden and a large building surrounded by several dozen soldiers. We waited in a large sitting room for nearly an hour before another man came out and led us into another room. This room was stark, with a bare floor and one large desk in it. The same silver haired man, a little thicker around the waist than he had been in Jeremy's memory, sat behind the table and smiled when he saw me with the group walking inside. The three other Deacons flanked Roberts while Tina followed behind them with Holt walking just behind her. There were about six very young guards in the room, who looked at everyone suspiciously. Jeremy and I entered with me slightly behind him, just in front of Roberts. "What took you long?" The silver haired man said when we stood within a short distance of his desk. "Why'd you bring the boy now?" "There was a problem with our plan, Elder." Roberts said softly from behind me. "The boy has the same ability as our two here. He resisted. Tina was unable to Seal him with the Kiss, so we were forced to use Jeremy. He succeeded, although he says the boy's mind fought hard against God's Will." "You let the boy Seal him?" The Prophet spat with disgust. "It was the only way short of killing him." Roberts said. "We should shoot them both now." The Prophet said and I felt a moment of fear. "Sir, his father…" Roberts began but he was cut off. "Silence, Roberts." The silver-haired man ordered. "Boy, you, Dylan, who do you serve?" "I serve the Prophet and God." I said immediately, looking to Jeremy as if for approval. The Prophet smiled at that. "That's right, you do serve me now." He said in a pleased tone. "I want you to know you are never to lie to me. Now tell me, what would that man you call a father do if you were killed here?" "He'd…" I hesitated as if looking to Jeremy to speak. "Tell him the truth." Jeremy ordered me firmly. I swallowed, looking at the Prophet before looking down at the floor. "He'd launch so many nukes that not one inch of this state would be left untouched by a direct blast." I said in a horrified voice. "I…he'd kill everyone here!" "No man would be that insane." The Prophet said in a whisper. "Sir, the pictures of all those bodies from Idaho?" I whispered in a horrified tone still and I saw I had their attention. "Those weren't people killed by Jefferson. They were killed by our soldiers because Jefferson had almost hurt me. That man that took prisoner, he didn't kill himself. Dad tortured him to death." "Roberts, did you know this?" The Prophet asked sharply. "No, I didn't." Roberts's voice was weak. I tried not to smirk at that. My lies were having the desired effect on them. "Perhaps it's a good thing you allowed the boy to Seal him, but you two boys listen to me, you will not touch either in a perverted way again. Is that clear?" "Yes, sir." Jeremy said immediately and I added my own voice to that. The man rose from his desk and stood in front of me, studying me closely. I kept on looking at the floor, praying that he'd make a mistake. "Is he safe to touch?" The Prophet asked, looking over my shoulder at Roberts. "Jeremy?" Roberts asked. "Absolutely." Jeremy answered immediately and with confidence. "The first order I gave him after telling him he'd serve was that he'd never use his abilities without permission from you, the Prophet, or Deacon Roberts." "Then I will bless you into God's service." The Prophet said, placing his hand on the top of my head, and I felt my heart surge with joy. My power surged at the same time as it leaped through my head and into him. There was no chance for subtlety here, where even a whisper could be heard. Instead, as I'd learned from Major Unger during a lesson on military tactics, this was a time for a bold, daring strike at the heart of the enemy. The Prophet gasped loudly as my power moved into him, and my hand reached up to grasp his wrist. "KNEEL!" I commanded him loudly, and he dropped to his knees, and my next command was ringing through the room before anyone had more than a moment to stare in total shock. "If anything happens to me here, you will kill yourself immediately!" "Stop…" Roberts started to yell, but as he realized the effect my command would have his voice dropped off. "Everyone will move to where I can see them." I commanded as the guards finally drew their pistols and pointed them at me, looking to the Prophet and the Deacons with uncertainty. "Do it." Roberts said in a weak voice as the Prophet continued to stare up at me with a blank expression. My power was flowing into him from where I held his wrist. I'd never used this much of it before when controlling someone. Everyone moved to where I could see them, forming a loose half-circle in front of me. The girl, Tina was glaring at me in hatred. "Give me your guns." Jeremy said firmly, moving forward towards the guards. When Roberts nodded they handed the guns over to Jeremy who took them. He set them down on the floor near us, but I motioned for him to give me one. I switched the hand holding the Prophet's wrist so that I could hold the gun in my gun hand. The safety was already off, so I was ready. It felt good to be armed again. "How…" Roberts voiced aloud in a soft, horrified whisper. "I'm not controlled." Jeremy said immediately. "You made one mistake." I told Roberts firmly. "You win loyalty through love and trust, not by killing people others care about." "You won't get away with this." Tina spat, her eyes angry and a look of pure fury on her face. "You're surrounded by thousands of people who will tear you apart for touching the Prophet. You'll be burned in the Square for heresy like the others!" She stood there, panting after her ranting, her eyes still shining with that anger. I could see Holt behind her, alarm and worry on his face and I could see a calculating look, trying to figure out how to get to me, to satisfy her desires regarding me. I knew he'd do something heedless of the Prophet's safety. I also knew that the girl would be a huge problem. She wasn't a Tim or a Jeremy, a safer risk. She wanted to use her powers for these people, and left alone she would. She'd either have to be guarded constantly by bonded people or locked away where she'd never touch someone, and there was always a risk of her escaping. Didn't they use to show television shows with plots like that all the time? Evil bitch escapes and creates havoc until she's killed by the good guys. The sound of the gun firing in my hand made almost every jump. Everyone except me and the Prophet, who was heedless to anything but my voice at that point. Tina's eyes didn't even have time to widen in surprise as the bullet entered her head. I noted with satisfaction that my aim had not suffered from a recent lack of practice. A second after her body slumped to the floor, Paul Holt collapsed. That answers one question. If I didn't want my bonded to die the moment I did, I'd have to stay alive. "What…what did you do that for?" Jeremy's voice was filled with horror as he looked at me in fear. "Jeremy, you know she did what she was told to willingly." I told him. "She would have continued to do those things, or been kept a prisoner so she couldn't. She'd eventually kill people when she did escape using her abilities, and she'd have to be hunted down and killed then. She's a fanatic, Jeremy, the most dangerous type of person. She Sealed Holt to her and he was about to do something, I could see it in his eyes, and she was about to do something as well. I want you and I to leave here alive. As long as she was alive, that wouldn't happen. I'm a soldier. I'm trained to read these types of situations, and to deal with them. Holt didn't care about keeping the Prophet alive, only about making her happy, and she'd always be a danger in the future. None of these others are like that, so as long as they continue to do what they are told, no one else will die." "If you say so, Dylan." Jeremy said after a deep breath. "I…I just hate seeing people die." "So do I, love." I said softly and he relaxed slightly. Roberts was looking at me with a mix of fear and disgust. "All of you will remain silent unless I ask you a question. You will answer honestly and truthfully. If I suspect you are hesitating, Jeremy here will use his abilities to command the truth. I prefer people to give it of their own free will. You will not attempt to escape, or warn anyone outside of this room. Is anyone unclear about my directions?" "Jeremy, keep an eye on the door in case someone heard the gunshot." I asked and he nodded, turning slightly so he could see the doorway. I looked down the Prophet wondering what the hell I should do now. I looked around the room, and my eyes rested on Tina's body. How many others of us were there out there?" "Prophet, tell me how many other people are there that you know with abilities like mine and Jeremy's." I demanded angrily. "Five that I am aware of." He answered from where he knelt and my grip on him tightened. "Where are they?" I demanded. "Here, in this compound." He answered. "We keep them at the reprogramming center." "Why?" I hissed in anger. "How?" "They are not children of the faithful." He answered quickly. "We found that the Rothschild and Young children were from a clinical fertility study. The Rothschild's knew of another family in the study that lived here. That family knew the others. We took the boy from that family and burned the rest of them because they were heretics. When we called the Faithful home after our independence, we had those near the others take the children and kill the families when they returned. The last arrived last week. The first two are making good progress. I was told they would be ready for use in a few weeks." "What was your plan for them?" I asked in a neutral tone. My anger was too hot now. Jeremy was no longer looking at the door but at the Prophet kneeling before him. "When they were ready, we could get rid of the Young boy." The Prophet said. "We'd already eliminated all those he had Sealed. We didn't need them anymore, and with more true believers like Tina, we didn't need the faggot anymore. Then we'd send them out with our Missionaries, Sealing leaders of people where they went and with Tina controlling you and your family, we would have spread the Word to the entire nation within a few years." "Dylan, can I kill him?" Jeremy asked me in a quiet voice while I absorbed this information. It shocked me he'd ask that after just having seen Tina killed, but as our eyes met, he touched my neck briefly and our powers caressed each other lovingly. I felt the horror, the anger, and the humiliation he was feeling at how he'd been used. Apparently distance did make much of a difference in the feeling of your bonded's death. Another important lesson for me to learn. "Keep on eye on the door, Jeremy." I said softly. "If anyone is to die, let me do it, please? I love you the way you are." "Okay, Dylan." He said just as softly. I turned to look down at the man kneeling before me. He deserved to die, and I had to admit that I wanted him to die and I wanted to be the one who killed him. Still, we had to get out of here, and we had to get to the other kids like us. The question I faced was do I kill them or rescue them? Would they be like Tina or like Jeremy and Tim? What would we do with them? How would he handle so many? What was right and what was wrong? Jeremy didn't have these answers, I knew. If the pattern held true and he had the same basic potential intelligence as me, it wasn't trained like Henry and I had been. Tim had the same potential, but except for his Chemistry, it had never been nurtured and grown. I couldn't talk to dad, no matter how much I desperately wanted to, and even Paul and the others were out of reach. When I'd faced Jefferson down in Idaho, I had my friends, my guards, and the first members of my circle with me, but here I was essentially alone inside the enemy's base with a pistol, my powers, my mind, and one ally of unknown strength and an unclear mission to accomplish. Next time Dad can send Henry on his little errands.

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