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A.J. Foley-Stamper gave a little, humorless laugh as the military helicopter swayed back and forth in the winds slam-dancing over his home in Texas. His wife, Grace, sat on the sofa, dabbing iodine on the jagged, lightning-shaped cut their five year old son, Harry, had gotten taking a tumble when a particularly loud thunderclap had startled him. The boy was just like his grandfather; instead of screaming, he was stoically sitting there letting his mother patch him up. "They've gotta be kidding, babe."


"They weren't kidding last time," Grace pointed out. "I doubt they're kidding this time."


"But that was different!" protested A.J., who now had silver temples lending a false dignity to his boyish features. "We barely did it once, and they're asking us to do it again?"


In the same calm voice, which was something Grace had only managed with a lot of practice, she countered, "Well, look at it from their point of view. You did it once, so you're the go-to guys when the world is ending and we want somebody to stop it." The last time had taken the life of her father, and three of the men who'd been like brothers to her. And now they were coming for her husband.


"Oscar's dead, he'd have been able to tell if this was crazy," A.J. sighed, as the Helicopter finally touched down. He recognized the design. Foley-Stamper. Grace and A.J. had made a fortune on Harry's patents, as the world wanted anything with his name on it. And damn if the military eggbeater wasn't holding up in a windstorm that was picking up semis and tanker trucks, tossing them around like jacks.


"It is crazy," said a new voice, solemnly. "But so was launching two space shuttles in the hopes of blowing up a meteor the size of Texas to save the world. They want us to try, so we're trying." Dan Truman limped into the house and offered A.J. his hand.


"But you're talking about strategically blowing every volcano on the planet at timed intervals to fend off another ice age!" protested A.J. hotly.


"Well, y'know," grinned Rockhound, entering the house a step behind Truman, and bending to give Grace a kiss on the forehead, "It's not like we have much to lose if it doesn't work. We'll be no better off than we are if we do nothing. And I, for one, want to give it a try, because I promised my wife Molly we'd have a dozen kids, and we still have seven to go."


A.J. had to laugh at that. Rockhound was the last person he expected to take on the Freedom-Independence Mission 2. He'd gotten himself a hundred grand in deep with a loan shark, had fallen prey to space dementia, and then by the grace of God and the fact that the world loves a hero, gotten his debt handled by the authorities and the fans. "Who else is with us?"


"We're it," Rockhound replied, shrugging. "Chick's got back with his old lady, and he says he's not blowing it this time. If the world is gonna be saved, it's gonna be saved without him."


"What about Bear? Lev?" A.J. asked, feeling a plummeting in his guts.


"Bear had a heart attack last year and died, man," Truman said sadly. "President Sharp wanted the whole team reassembled. Nobody else has the whole planet's confidence in this. Lev flat out said he's used to the temperatures from his homeland, and thinks he's done with the hero thing. So it's just us. Quincy believes it can be done. So we're going to go do it."


"All right," A.J. said solemnly. "Grace, take good care of our next
president." Resolute, A.J. left his wife and walked out together with Truman and Rockhound to the reinforced helicopter. "I'll see you when we get back."


They were strapped in and had been in the air a moment before triple
lightning strikes blew up the house A.J. and Grace called home. There was no time to turn the chopper around. And the house went up so quickly that the only words of support Truman could offer were that Grace and little Harry had likely died instantly.