A humbled and quiet Torres returned to Union the next morning with a physically defeated Riane. Despite having spent an entire week on the battlefield, dodging bullets from both sides and experiencing more death than she could have thought possible, she still demanded that she watch Jordan's announcement of independence. A quick shower and a change of clothes made her feel refreshed, but a few cups of coffee were definitely needed. Energized enough to finally focus, she gathered all of her gear and headed to Percy's office.
She expected to see the building buzzing with life as the squad leaders hurried to prepare, but instead she was greeted with an empty room. Only one person was there – Percy. The Major was pacing about in his office, his chin pinched by his finger and thumb in thought. It was a new sight for Riane. Curious, she had no hesitations in approaching him and barging right into his office. He didn't even realize she had entered. After clearing her throat and still not getting his attention, she harshly said, "Percy."
He stopped and looked up to face her. There was something amiss in his expression. Something about the look in his eyes seemed out of character. They stared silently at each other for a few long seconds. Finally she realized what it was – fear. He was afraid of what they were doing and nervous of the consequences. Something inside his head clicked and he blinked away the flaw in his mask. His voice cracked momentarily when he said, "Thank you for your work in Ellsworth. Especially that picture of Cristello on the tank. A bit Rommel like but it's a courageous pose. It's unfortunate he didn't make it."
She raised a brow at him but said nothing on the subject. He sighed, but she could tell that it was a labored heave that did nothing to calm him. She asked, "What are you so worried about?" She knew the answer; she just wanted to hear him sound vulnerable.
"This is going to put a lot of unnecessary attention on my officers. Their lives will be in danger," he said.
"That's stupid. Their lives were always in danger. They were soldiers."
Another sigh. "I know. But it's different. Fighting other soldiers is different than turning against an entire country. It's different to fight for yourself rather than for others. We'll have more enemies than before."
She smirked at his admittance. "That's awfully cute of you to open up to me like that."
"I don't have a choice. Who else am I going to talk to right now? Damn, I wish Warren was here."
The grin was gone in an instant. Suddenly he appeared so childlike to her, biting his lower lip and furrowing his brow. Yet she felt powerless; he had reached out to her with his concerns but there was nothing she could do for him. Perhaps it would have been best if Warren was present. She had to offer him what little wisdom she had, however. "It'll be alright," she assured him. "Your officers believe in you, so why can't you believe in yourself?"
He didn't answer. He just stared at her, his brows raised a bit higher than normal. It was a little creepy how his face remained perfectly still, as though he were memorizing every detail of her. It wasn't until she turned away that he finally moved and spoke. He walked by her and said, "You really need to fix your face." She laughed loudly. The roar halted Percy in his tracks and he stopped to gaze at her over his shoulder. "What is it?" he demanded.
She sobered up enough to answer, "I think you like me."
There was no change in expression on his face, just a tad bit of red that appeared on the tips of his ears and nose. "Don't be stupid," he said. "I'm a high-ranking and successful officer. I can have any woman I want. I wouldn't settle."
"Then how many have you had?" she teased. He didn't answer, but he didn't move either. She taunted him more, "Aw, are you blushing? Virgins are the cutest!"
He turned away from her. With his eyes bearing down into the floor, he said, "I would never like someone who had such a shallow character. I have no stomach for women who cheat or use their body to gain power and false respect."
"Whoa, hold on. No need to get hostile. I was just teasing."
"No, you weren't."
He stepped away and left her alone and defeated. It took her a couple of motionless seconds to get her feet moving. She caught up with him easily but he pointedly ignored her. As she trotted beside him, she glanced up at his face only to see the red had faded just as quickly as it had appeared. Now he just looked annoyed. Marching at a brisk pace, he arrived at his destination – the communications room – in record time. He nearly slammed the door in Riane's face, but a soldier quickly caught it.
There was a decent sized gathering of soldiers and Sea Dog mechanics inside that tiny room. She also caught the sight of a technical director from a news station in New York, whom probably had a huge sphere of influence on the media market. He was a close acquaintance of Jordan and probably got swept up by the Attaway's charm rather than the idea of revolution. Regardless of his reasons for being there, he was certainly an important asset to the team.
"How is it going?" Percy asked the room in general.
Glitch answered, "We're inside the audio stream for most major news stations and we've got a lock on some radio stations. We'll have to make it quick, 'cause once they hear us the techs are going to be scrambling to get us off the air."
"This is a lot of extra work. You could just post this online," Riane suggested.
"If we want to be taken seriously, we have to show that we are a threat in a technological sense rather than just a military one," Glitch said.
"You've got fifteen seconds, Jay!" the technical director called out.
"Are you ready, man?" someone asked Jordan.
He nodded and said, "Ready."
Riane saw a look of focus and determination cross through Jordan's green eyes that she had never seen before. From her peripheral vision she could see the technical director countdown from five; when he reached one, his finger flew in Jordan's direction, signaling it was time for him to speak. Riane leaned in and perked her ears. She was ready to listen in on history. Right when Jordan opened his mouth to speak, the door behind her opened; the first words that Jordan said were drowned out by a completely new conversation.
Freddie poked his head inside and made a quick glance over the room. Jordan was too focused on speaking to notice, so he didn't interrupt the announcement. Percy didn't bother to turn his body around to greet Freddie; he just twisted his head over his shoulder and said, "It took you a long time to get back."
Freddie slipped inside and quietly clicked the door shut. "It's a lot easier to leave America than it is to return," he said. "I spent an entire week in Mexico running around the border before I had the chance to slip through the tunnels."
"Whatever," Percy said in response to Freddie's excuse.
"…This is not a declaration of war; this is a declaration of voluntary removal of association with those who seek war. We are not to be writers of a new era, but merely actors of the play already written for us. Our goal is to honor the role given to us through fate and history…"
"I brought something for you," Freddie said. Percy still did not turn completely, but at least he twisted his torso enough to not strain his neck. Freddie lifted up a rucksack and dug his hands inside. He pulled out a rag of nylon, folded neatly into a triangle. The sight of the gift caused Percy to finally turn properly and face Freddie. The flag was handed to him, and he carefully grabbed it an unfurled it out for all to see. Another soldier grabbed one end so they could view the flag in all of its glory.
White was the dominant color, with a single red stripe running down the middle from end to end. A large, blue star was the center peace. Percy frowned and said, "God, who would want to fight for such awful colors?"
"I have another one," Freddie said. The next flag was revealed when Freddie and another soldier held it up for everyone to view. It carried the same red, white, and blue colors. It ran five vertical stripes: red, white, blue, white, red; in the center of the flag was a golden star.
"This is equally as terrible," Percy flatly stated. He passed glances between the two banners displayed before him. He pointed at the first flag and said, "Put a cool sounding phrase on this and we'll use it as a battle flag. The other will be our state flag."
"A battle flag?" a soldier asked.
"That's just ol' Major Raymond being showy as always," someone commented. "You know inside he's thinking how badass it'll look to run into a gunfight waving a flag around like an idiot."
Riane looked up to catch a glimpse of Percy's expression. She expected him to be annoyed over the teasing, but he still held a somewhat blank look on his face. Jordan's voice faded in for just a brief second, "…So long as the individual remains true to their cause and steadfast in their resolve, it is proven throughout history that any goal, no matter how belittled by the majority, is attainable…"
"Ubi libertas, ibi patria," Freddie said, "that should be the words you place on this flag. It means where there is freedom, there is my country."
Percy gave a sharp nod, "Let's do it. We'll place the state flag up tonight. It'll be official that Union is the capital of the Free States."
"Remember that society does not make the man – men make society; government has never ruled man, men have always ruled themselves…"
"You've been cut, Jay," the technical director said. "You just got that last word in there."
"Whew, that's good," Jordan said as he removed the headphones he wore. "All I had left was philosophy and political theory stuff, anyway. We got our main point across."
"Dammit I missed it," Riane quietly cursed.
"You can read it later," Glitch told her. "It's not like we don't have a physical copy of it. It would be pretty lame to just jump into the airways without a formal declaration."
"I feel kind of more rebellious-like doing it guerilla style though," Jordan admitted.
"Formalities are a necessity, even in war. And right now, there is one more formality we must attend to," Percy said. His hand briefly caressed the state flag as a silent signal that they were about to change colors over Union. He watched the fabric dance over his fingers and said, "Have everyone assemble at the center of the base."
They watched as he shuffled out of the room; Jordan, Riane, and Freddie were right on his heels. Freddie eased his way next to the Major and said, "You've been having fun while I was away." The comment was greeted with a raised brow from Percy. Freddie explained, "All anyone can talk about it is how the Major P.T. Raymond and his Easy Eight have driven back American forces and desolated their bases."
"You consider that fun?" Percy questioned. Freddie merely shrugged. "You sure caused a lot of chaos with those planes over Leavenworth, though."
Percy stopped and looked at the older man. He could tell that Freddie was being truthful in his inquiry and honestly had no idea what Percy was talking about. Assembly call from the Company bugle player hit their ears and they continued their short trek. When Percy didn't explain further, Freddie considered the subject dropped.
They arrived at the center of their small base. A modest twenty-foot flagpole that held the fluttering American flag was accompanied by the bugle player and several other troops. The first of the high-ranking officers to arrive was the Rawlings and Conroy, as neither had anything to do. Next was Mackenzie, whom had heard from a Sergeant what was going on, so she brought Percy his gloves. The sight of the Major in full dress adjusting his white gloves caused every relaxed soldier to straighten up. However, most kept their shirts untucked and their shoes untied. They didn't have to follow American protocol anymore.
The last note of the assembly call faded into the wind and Percy gazed at the soldiers loafing in front of him. They were tired, overworked, stressed, nervous, and irritated; they were the same faces that stared back expectantly when they reached Istanbul over a year ago. These were the men and women that he trusted with the world's fate. He trusted them with his fate.
The noise drew a few townsfolk over to witness what was happening. Most had just left church, and their walk back home meant passing by the center of the base. This included Warren and Royal's friend Edwin. Both stopped about ten yards from the spectacle. The Minister was spotted by Mackenzie and she called him over to the flagpole. Edwin, alone, allowed himself to take in all the sights of the military compound for the first time. He wasn't too impressed.
A voice behind him teased, "Yo, Eddy, you get lost?"
He knew the voice right away as Fletcher's. "Why weren't you at church today?" was Edwin's response. He twirled around on his heel and saw the reason why. Standing in front of him in fatigues was both Royal and Fletcher. Royal's face was straight, uninterested, and probably a dash annoyed; Fletcher held one of the largest grin's Edwin had ever seen in his life. Edwin sarcastically said, "Oh, great! So glad to see you joining the murder squad, Fletch!"
"Hey, at least I'm doing something. You know, protecting my town and family. What was the last thing you did for yourself or someone else? Other than pray?"
All he could do was cross his arms over his chest and pout. He made sure to avoid even catching a glimpse of his two friends as they strolled past him. "Edwin!" Warren's voice called out to him. He was forced to pry his eyes off the ground and look forward. The Minister beckoned for him, so Edwin dragged his tired body to the flagpole. For the first time, he stood within arm's length of the mighty Major Raymond. Percy paid the youngster no mind, but Edwin was shaking in his polished church shoes.
"What is it, Minister Taylor?" he asked.
"Help me fold the flag when they lower it."
Royal watched the exchange in mild distaste, which manifested itself on his face in the form of a scowl. Fletch used Royal's shoulder as a stand to lean his arm on, and ribbed, "Looks like you've been replaced."
"Yeah, whatever," Royal said as he crossed his arms.
"Listen up!" Percy's booming voice silenced the onlookers. "I don't have any fancy words of encouragement for you. I don't have a speech to motivate you. If you don't have it in your heart to wage this war, then you can sit content in your cell! There's no room for you in my country!"
Behind him, Wallace and Mackenzie had already started lowering the American flag. When it was within reach, Warren grabbed for it, but was beat by Barton. Joined by Wakeman, the two squad leaders folded the flag with the utmost respect and then handed it to Warren. By the time it was tucked securely under his arm, the new flag had been raised high into the sky. The first to salute the new colors was Wallace; the other followed suit with the click of their heels.
Percy let his hand drop first. To Warren, he asked, "Do you have any words you wish to share?"
He allowed his eyes a brief moment to peer at the flag he cradled in his hands. "May God protect us," he prayed into the wind. "May God protect all of us."