LIX
The Siege at Leavenworth III

Riane knew she was a great actress. She had been able to convince just about anyone almost anything over the course of her life. It came in handy when Wallace had appeared; she knew he would tell her to go back to Union, just as McGill had. So when he grabbed her, she did her best to act like a frightened, broken, helpless girl. Truthfully, she was quite afraid during the incident, but afterwards she was more infuriated than anything. Yet despite that, she still wanted nothing more than to get inside Leavenworth. So she faked her tears, followed orders, and then promptly broke off from the group when they weren't looking.

She decided to go to the front gate and try to get permission to go inside. At first, she claimed she had a meeting with General de Rojas; the two men at the gate shared a look between each other and then called over the superior. When he showed up, she said there had been a misunderstanding and that she had been sent by the New York Times to investigate rumors of an anarchist cell inside the Leavenworth facility. It was a lie, of course. The man in charge of the guards yelled at them for not offering her first aid; it was then that they realized her face was badly bruised and her neck had a fresh cut.

They gave her another ice pack that she placed against her cheek. The superior carefully gauzed and bandaged her neck. He asked her what had happened; she explained each injury to him truthfully. Appalled at the fact that an American soldier had apparently assaulted her, he tried to apologize but she politely dismissed it. Then she pulled out all of her credentials, proving that she was really a member of the press. The soldier took her fingerprints just in case and ran a quick check. Everything checked out fine. He told her he would have to ask his superior if she could continue forward. With every new person she met, they simply sent her to the next person. She ended up going from soldier to soldier until she was finally face-to-face with an officer.

It was a young Major – perhaps even younger than Percy – that finally stopped the shuffling. When she was first brought to him, he was merely passing through a hallway that she was being escorted through. The Sergeant she was with stopped the young man and gave her to him. The Major's nametag read, "Cristello," and he had to raise his brow and adjusted his glasses in both confusion and annoyance at her appearance. After her story was told to him, a realization seemed to dawn on him. The expression of sudden understanding was quickly replaced by one of irritation. He said, "Why are you bothering me with this? We're under attack. I have more important things to worry about."

"More important than the safety of an American citizen?"

The voice belonged to General de Rojas. His sudden appearance caused Cristello and the Sergeant to snap into perfect salutes. The General ignored them and focused solely on Riane. He didn't seem imposing in the slightest; rather, she almost wanted to hug him, because he appeared so cuddly and lovable. Due to his name and dark skin, she had assumed his voice would be thick with accent. Instead, his English came out more crisp and clear than anyone she knew. His dress was minimal, with only his fatigues to keep him warm. Seeing these high ranking men in their battle ready dress was a stark difference from Percy, who rarely stepped out of his full dress.

He introduced himself, "I'm Lieutenant General Juan de Rojas. Please forgive Major Cristello's rude behavior."

"I'm Riane McDermott. And it's no problem," she said. "He reminds of another Major I know pretty well."

"I'm afraid you'll find that much of the armed services have lost their way," de Rojas said. Then he turned his attention to Cristello and said, "It's chow time. Why don't you get something to eat for Miss McDermott? We'll have lunch together."

de Rojas walked away without another word. The Sergeant that had brought Riane to Cristello scrambled away. This left the young Major and Riane alone. After a few seconds of silence, Cristello asked, "What would you like to eat, ma'am?"

"Now you're suddenly nice to me?"

"I'm not in the mood for snarky comments, ma'am."

"You're pretty pompous for not even being thirty yet."

Cristello started walking and said, "So sirloin steak with a side of mashed potatoes and corn."

"I'm a vegan," Riane said as she followed after him.

He stopped, stared at her, turned around and said, "No you're not. You are a liar, though."

That was the end of their conversation. He took her on a weird path through several different hallways and took a few shortcuts through several different rooms. Despite the fact their base was under attack, most soldiers seemed rather carefree. They didn't consider it a threat. Cristello stopped to talk to an enlisted soldier for a brief moment about what Riane was getting for lunch. The soldier took off in a different direction. Cristello took Riane and led her down one more hallway until they reached their destination.

By this point, Riane had no clue how far into the base she was. The room Cristello had led her to was large and filled with various people attending various tasks. It was well lit; a meeting table rested in the middle; both the north wall and the west wall had big screens, one for notes and the other with live satellite feed. The amount of noise was quite a shock, as it seemed as though each person was speaking all at once. In the middle of it all, munching on a sandwich while he glanced over reports, was General de Rojas.

When he caught sight of Riane, he called her over, "Please come here, Miss McDermott. Make yourself comfortable." With one hand still holding his sandwich, he pulled out a chair for her. She graciously took the seat. He finished his conversation with another officer about the attack they were under, and then he turned his attention to Riane. He took a seat next to her, so they were seated side by side. With his body twisted to face her, he said, "I know who you are and where you came from. You're attached to Major Raymond's Company, aren't you?"

"I'm not 'attached' to anything."

"Regardless, you did fly in one of the Sea Dogs jets," de Rojas said. "The entire force is probably aware of your name, if not your face. It's unfortunate you were injured."

She remained silent.

He continued, "I have a lot of respect for Major Raymond. Before I was promoted, my men and I were trying to halt the advancement of Prince Brunhart's empire. Gibraltar is where we were at. Our squadron was there to eliminate Brunhart's agents that were sneaking into Morocco. Apparently the Prince didn't like us doing that, so he sent in an entire brigade to get rid of us. When we requested backup, the cowards at the Pentagon decided we were stretched too thin. There were no soldiers to send in for backup. We had to hold our position at all costs until reinforcements could be found. The Easy Eight in Istanbul caught word of this, so Major Raymond took himself and two squads to aid us. I am alive today because of him."

Riane had tilted her head in interest sometime during de Rojas's story. As a reporter, her thirst of knowledge needed to be quenched. She questioned, "You were there to take on Brunhart's agents? How did you even survive? They are some of the best soldiers in the world."

There was a brief moment of hesitation before de Rojas answered. "It wasn't the first time I fought his agents. I was an operator, a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment. Delta Force. It was five years ago that I first met with his agents – and with him. First they had sent in the SEALs. They went to his place of residence in San Marino. Everyone was confident, because a Tier-One unit does not fail. For years, we had the best warriors in the world. But they bested our men there. So they sent in us, not even an hour after the SEALs disappeared off the Earth. My men and I made it in with ease. We made it in to his chambers.

"We expected him to be gone, but instead I found him wide awake and waiting for us. He stood alone in his room, not a single light on, just the moon to illuminate him. He had dressed himself in full military dress, his medals and his awards protecting his chest; that damn sash was draped across his heart and the saber of his at his hip. He smiled at me when I entered his room, opened his arms and said, 'Welcome to the Republic of Eurasia. My men said I had company, so I had them dress me properly to greet you. What an honor it is that the United States of America wants me dead. I am humbled.' I should have shot him dead once he opened his mouth, but I lowered my gun at the sight of that young man."

Cristello had long ago casted a sideways glance at his superior, and Riane caught this. The man had just revealed classified information to her. She asked, "Do you regret it? That you didn't kill him?"

"Never," de Rojas answered honestly. "That man… why are we even fighting him? It was wrong for America to pick sides in the European war based purely off of old loyalties. How could we defend that disgusting union?"

"Then, what do you think of what Major Raymond is doing?"

"Major Raymond…" He let the words trail off as he thought about it. "What is he doing? I can't beat his leadership, I'm just holding out for now. But why did he do this? I've had many long talks with him. Never once did he seem unhappy in his situation. His men, though, that's another story. Maybe you can tell me, Miss McDermott. Why is Major Raymond fighting against America?"

She contemplated it a second, but quickly realized she hadn't a clue herself. She shook her head.

He sighed and said, "It's only a matter of time before we end this ourselves. It's just as Tristan said, we have to choose between this union or a new union."

Cristello interrupted, "Speaking of that man, we confirmed who was attacking our west side."

"It was Tristan, wasn't it?" de Rojas asked. Cristello nodded. "Of course it was. He's just poking us from a distance, trying to get our attention."

"Do you know him well?" Riane asked.

"He's a former operator, too," he said. "Major Raymond's attacks had been directed at our anti-aircraft guns, but not our people. Now, Tristan attacks our rec area but isn't fighting very hard. My only question is where those damn planes came from. The Sea Dogs should be crippled."

That last sentence made Riane wince. She ignored it, though, and said, "By the way, the real reason I came to see you was for this question: I overheard that the Secretary of Defense was here, but may have been involved in some sort of an accident."

"Well, I already told you classified information, so to hell with it. Leoni is dead. We were able to retrieve enough meat off of him to feed a dog."

"One day that mouth of yours is going to get you in trouble, General," Cristello said.

"You best heed your own warning, Major," de Rojas. The tone between the two didn't seem harsh at all. Rather, it reminded Riane a bit of Wallace and Percy.

She had one more question. "So what are you doing to do, General de Rojas?"

"Sit here on my ass like I should until the time is right," he answered. It was said in a different tone then she was expecting; it was quiet and harshly spoken. His voice brightened when he said, "Protecting America is in my blood. My paternal grandparents won their citizenship by wearing the Army uniform. Every member of my family serves at least the minimum time in the armed services. I am proud of that. But to be American, does that mean I protect the land? The citizens? The government? Our rights?" He stopped and turned to face her with a smile. It was forced. "I'm sorry, I've kept you long enough, haven't I? You look tired, would you like a place to sleep?"

"That would be nice –"

"Major, take this young lady to the dorms and give her a place to sleep. If she would like, she can buy some fresh clothes. I'll have the meal sent to her room."

"Yes, General," Cristello said with a salute. He didn't bother to ask Riane to follow him when he stepped away. She stayed on his heels like a puppy following its master. Once they were outside the meeting room and walking down a hallway, he finally spoke to her. "The General will be angry if I don't try to keep you safe. I'll let you sleep in my room, since it's one of the more secure dorms."

"Is that supposed to be a pick up line? It's pathetic. And why would I trust you with my body, anyway?"

He stopped abruptly. Riane awkwardly crashed into his back. As she tried to regain her balance, he twisted around and grabbed her. She couldn't suppress the surprised yelp that came from the back of her throat. Once she was stabilized, he let go; and in return, Riane let out a sigh. He turned from her and calmly said, "You've got nothing to worry about. I'm not going to be here. I have to get to Ellsworth by nightfall."

"Does that mean you would do something if you were here?"

He gazed at her over his shoulder. She couldn't quite see his expression, as it was perfectly hidden by his glasses. "I'm not interested in your type," he said. Finally, he turned to face her. For the first time, he appeared to have a grin on his face. It was mean-spirited. "You're the type of woman who goes around and lays with any man who smiles at her. Aren't you?"

"Did you just politely call me a slut?"

"Yes, ma'am."

Silence, but only for a brief moment. "So, why are you going to Ellsworth?"

His grin fell. "What are you talking about?"

"Whatever the hell you were just talking about. You said you had to go to Ellsworth by nightfall. Ellsworth is under control of Major Raymond."

"Not quite," he corrected. "At this moment, it's under no one's control. Major Raymond has what? Eight to twelve men there? They cannot win. They need assistance."

It took her a few seconds to process the statement. When it finally registered, she couldn't hide her surprise. "You're going to help Major Raymond!" she cried. The accusation didn't affect Cristello in the slightest. "What if the General finds out about this?"

"Are you kidding me? I'm doing this under direct orders of General de Rojas."

"Just because he ordered, or because…"

"I'm doing it because it needs to be done," he interrupted. His voice seemed much louder than before. This was an important proclamation for the young man. "I've known since I was a boy that this moment would come in our history. I've prepared myself for this fight. The rest can wait in their complacency for the world to change for them. I will do it – I will change the world. I will rescue the masses from their servitude; I will end the slavery of the individual to the majority. We have to choose between liberty and remaining content in our half-freedom; cut the chained arm off or rot forever in our servitude. I will be the sword to cut the chain. I will free not just the American people, but the entire world from the legal enslavement of mankind under the tyrannical government. I would rather die than allow another person's rights taken away."

She smiled at his intensity; the way he glowed when he spoke, his cheeks red with emotion and belief in his speech. He caught the sound of a slight giggle that was emitted from her. He felt himself back down and felt foolish for his actions. She said, "I think you just grew a bit more attractive to me. I can't tell if it's the glasses or your passion. And that line: 'I'm doing this because it needs to be done.' That's from chapter four, The Right of Revolution by –"

"Professor Casper Anderson, yes," he interrupted. "I read it several times while I was at the academy. 'An act of compassion or justice should be done because it needs to be done; not for karma's sake, their sake, or God's sake –"

" – But for the sake of the action itself," she finished. For once, he truly smiled at her. She asked, "So you're going to Ellsworth, are you? How would you feel about having a journalist tag along?"