Castle Roland

Geek Squad

by Kyle Aarons

In Progress

Chapter 4

Posted: N/A

Geek Squad

Copyright © 2012 - 2014 by Kyle Aarons and the Revolutions Universe Partnership.

All Rights Reserved

Geek Squad LogoAlexander eyed the clearly fancy German restaurant as the van pulled up the curved entry. "I don't think this is exactly a jeans and tee-shirt place."

"Nope," Scott agreed without hesitation while fingering his slacks and very nice colored short sleeved shirt. "But I only own two pairs of jeans which are for scouts and no printed tees, so I am good."

"Speak for yourself," Steven grimaced, "The nicest clothing I have is what mom bought me so I had something good to wear to get the award in. It's in the suit bag, and I promised her I wouldn't wear it and get anything on it until award day. Even worse, I'm going to need help with the tie, cause I never wore one and mom was certain someone would be able to help me. I tried to get her to get me a clip on, but she said I had to wear a real one if I was going to have to meet a real CEO and someone from the Governor's staff."

"Never been in a tie? Not even once?" Alexander looked over in astonishment.

"Don't think so, no." Steven replied with a shrug. "I'm poor compared to you two, and dad never saw a need to waste money on fancy stuff we may only wear a couple of times."

"Damn, how lucky can you get!" Scott stated with total sincerity. "I live in the stupid things."

Steven shrugged, "Luck has nothing to do with it, money does. We went way cheap on everything, when the sale of dad's books was the only thing supporting us and most of the money was way better spent on mom's cancer treatments."

Scott cringed, "Oh, I'm sorry; I didn't know…"

The look on Alexander's face pretty much mirrored that of Scott's, "Me neither. How's your mom now?"

"It went into full remission, but it took a lot out of her. I can't believe how hard cancer is to get rid of once it gets established." Steven sighed, "I sure wish there was a way to use EMPs to find cancer cells as easily as I figured out how to make them determine metal types."

"Maybe there is," Scott shrugged. "There is iron in blood, right?"

"Yeah, but iron is iron." Steven sighed, so it would all show up the same."

Alexander looked over at Scott, then over to Steven, "But if there is a difference in the iron content of cancer cells verses healthy ones…"

A light bulb suddenly came on in Steven's brain. "Then we could map the iron distribution using the same type of tech I am finding metal types with! I need to do some studying!"

"Hey, we can help." Scott stated as he pulled up his smart phone and started looking at what research had already been done.

"Absolutely." Alexander nodded in full agreement as he dug into his suitcase and pulled out a nice looking shirt. "In the mean time, this is too big for me, but I liked the color so mom bought it. I bet it would fit you, Geo."

Steven accepted the shirt and glanced down at his jeans, "Better, but I still ain't dressed for a place like this.

Scott shot Steven a glance, "Don't worry. Let Mr. Triumph and me handle any looks. You'll be fine."

While the three boys climbed out the back, two of them with smart phones out, suddenly investigating cancer, the driver of the van looked over at his partner. "Did we really just hear three kids less than half our age come up with a new way to fight cancer, all in less than two minutes?"

"The other man cringed, "I think we just might have!"

The driver whistled softly, "Even if someone is trying something like what they were talking about, to come up with it the way they did…" The man shook his head while adjusting his suit jacket. "Once again, our boss seems to have guessed right."

"I don't know about guessing, but he sure helped pick out some damned smart kids."

"No doubt, but part of this project was to bring new ideas into our R&D department from an all but untapped source. He spent over four million on this contest so far, but he made that up with the Defense Department's grant to take the water extractor to a much bigger level. Now we are seeing phase two of his plan, which was to get the kids talking and see what ideas they could come up with as a team. It's started, and we haven't even gotten these two to the hotel yet!"

As the two men locked up the van and scanned the parking area for any hazards to the three boys, Fredric jumped out of his car. He quickly slowed as he closed in on the three boys and overheard the conversation.

Scott suddenly tapped Steven on the shoulder, "Hey, Geo, there has been some research done on metal content in some kinds of mouse cancer and even some iron treatments on other types. Take a look at this!"

Steven scanned the first few lines and his eyes went wide. "Send me that URL!"

"E-mail or text?"

"E-mail." Steven responded, then followed it up with his goggle account. "I have a cheap laptop, but can't afford a good phone.

"Scott, send it to me as well." Alexander all but demanded.

As soon as Scott sent the e-mail, he glanced over, "Give me your number."

Alexander passed Steven his note pad. "Here, use this to take a look."

Moments later, Steven joined the other two in reading the same PDF, it was clear he was not quite as up on some of the technical jargon so was a bit slower in wrapping his brain around some of the high level research. "This is going to take me a few minutes. I get what it is trying to say, but I am going to have to look up a few of these words."

"Take your time, Geo," Alexander patted the boy on the back then glanced over to Scott. "So there is a difference in available iron and bound iron, but if I am reading this right, there is also manganese and even some copper differences in cell content."

Getting a nod of agreement from Scott, he turned his attention to Steven, "I bet we could figure out a way to map this kind of thing with the basics of your metal detector, Geo."

"I'm sure we could!" Steven agreed while nodding his head, "But to really make this work, we would need to know how metal content varies in different areas of the body. I know when dad cooks liver; he says it gives us extra iron. I'd assume the same kind of things go for humans."

Fredric eyed the two chaperones as he finally made his presence known and moved up to the three boys. "How, exactly, did a conversation on iron and other minerals in cells get started, and why?"

Alexander looked up with some excitement, "No, we were talking about using Geo's metal detector, but modifying it to map out iron in the human body to find signs of early cancer. Scott actually suggested the basic idea when we found out Steven's mom had cancer."

Within moments, all three boys were speaking excitedly about the idea, literally bombarding Fredric with their thoughts and ideas, all the while admitting a whole lot more work and research would have to be done. After nearly two minutes of listening and absorbing as much as he could, Fredric held up his hands and even had to tap Alexander on the shoulder. "Alright, now we are talking some serious stuff here. If you really want to work on something like this, the place to start is to send me the link to what you all are talking about, then really think it over, just like you did with your projects.

"I'll do my own investigation and may even bring in a couple of other senior researchers. But right now, you all need to chill out, unwind and get some good food in you."

Steven glanced up with hope in his eyes, "You really will help us take a look at this?"

"Oh, yeah!" Fredric nodded vigorously. "While EEL doesn't currently have a medical development unit, if this has the slightest potential to pan out, I'd be willing open up a medical research department to fully investigate this and other possibilities surrounding it. But let me say something else, and, Scott, you should know this; speaking about things like this in public is a great way to get ideas stolen."

Alexander cringed at the comment, clearly more stung by it than Scott. "Oh, man what are we doing? Mr. Triumph is right. We can't talk about this in the middle of a parking lot!"

Surprised by the level of understanding coming from Alexander, Fredric patted the boy on the back. "I bet your parents have to be careful about what they say all the time around you."

Alexander's head dropped and he shook his head, "Not really, but I know better, and…" The boy shook his head as he kicked a rock in the parking lot, causing it to skitter down the curved entry. "Sorry, won't happen again, sir."

Steven glanced over with total confusion, "What am I missing?"

Before anyone else could speak, Scott spoke up, "You've never had to deal with keeping real secrets before, but it sounds like the rest of us have. There are people out there who listen for things and then either twist them for their own uses or steal them and make their own."

"Who would even understand us?" Steven scoffed.

"Very few," Scott admitted with a wide grin, "But think about this, everyone interested in this science contest knows we were flying in today. There are companies who very well might pay people to follow some of us and try to pick up on what we made, how we made it, and then try to duplicate what we did. Now, I know my fish attractor was patented as were several of the design parts I developed, and I am sure EEL did the same for all of your stuff, but information about what I made and how it actually works still needs to be kept a secret.

"To be honest, I have had to be careful at several government type parties not to talk too much because some of the diplomats my mom deals with have tried to find out things from me about it. In particular, the Argentina ambassador had me sit at his table a month ago with several of his advisors and they all asked me all sorts of questions. It didn't take long for me to figure out two of the so-called security guys were actually tech guys.

"Once I pegged them for what they really were, I made it a point to take the conversation all technical on how sound waves travel in water, how whales talk to each other, and how damaging under water explosions were to fish. Once I moved away from my project, they couldn't force the topic back to my fish attractor without playing their hand too much. The thing is, I am so used to them trying to find out things about my mom, other diplomats, and just about anything else, I've learned to be vague about almost everything, all the time."

"The stupid thing on my part is, I never thought about someone picking up on casual conversations."

"Me neither," Alexander shook his head in disgust, "I have been though a few classes, but never even thought about talking about a totally new idea like this out in the open."

Fredric shot a glance at Alexander, "You took classes?"

Alexander nodded, "Several." He shrugged, "But none of them really covered something like this. They all talked about keeping what I know to myself and those who I know I am allowed to talk to."

"Interesting." Fredric stated, then quickly brushed it of so the other kids didn't focus on it. "So let's eat."

Fredric moved up to the reservation attendant with a wide smile, "So, six for Triumph."

The man nodded slowly as he opened the guest book, but shot a glance over at the faded jeans being worn by Steven. Before anything could be said, Scott moved up, put his arm over Steven's shoulder, "It's the airline's fault. His luggage didn't come in, but we promised him a good dinner."

This got a nod of understanding. "Oh, no worries then. I'll make sure to smooth it over if it becomes an issue." The man spoke as he saw four crisp 100's dropped into the guest book as Fredric signed and closed the book so no one else could see.

It took only a couple of minutes to get seated at a back table. Scott made it a point to walk very close to Steven, putting himself on the outside and the poorly dressed boy along the wall. At the same time, he nodded for Alexander to stay right behind them. Once at the table, he didn't wait for the waitress. Instead, he quickly pulled out a chair around back and nodded for Steven to take it so the exposure time of him being is jeans and sneakers was very short lived. He then sat next to him, "If you need to use the restroom, let me know and I will go with you and walk right behind you on the way there and in front of you on the way back. Since it is right behind us, no one will see what you are wearing again until we leave."

Steven nodded with a great deal of thanks. At the same time, the lead chaperone raised his eyebrows. "So we have a martial artist and a smooth talker in the group, boss."

"So it appears." Fredric nodded while eyeing Scott with a bit more respect as the youngster quickly talked Steven though proper restaurant etiquette, first showing him the soup spoon and the salad fork while explaining how to handle the cloth napkin. Before the waitress appeared to take drink orders, Steven was well situated, although totally out of his element.

Partially because of this, and partially because Scott knew Steven had no knowledge of what he wanted when it came his turn to order a drink, he smiled warmly, "My friend, here, has never been to a German establishment. Now, I see there is an appetizer plate which I think the three of us would like, but is there any chance we can get a few samples of some of your finer dishes, so he can try them?"

The woman's eyebrows arched, "Um well…"

While Steven blushed some, Scott didn't miss a beat. While pretending to continue to speak to the waitress his eyes actually focused on a much better dressed host who was walking the floor. He then spoke just loudly enough for the man to overhear. "Just let the chef know we would be quite willing to pay extra to be able to get a variety of tastes coming out of such a wonderful kitchen with such an exemplary reputation as you have here."

One of the other hosts, overhearing the conversation, came over and nodded to the floor manager as he did so. It was not often he had heard such refined speech out of a youngster before, but whenever he had, he knew whoever was with him had to be important. As soon as he reached the table, he dismissed the waitress with a slight wave of his fingers of his lowered left hand. "Is there something we can do for you all?"

Fredric glanced over to Scott and gave a slight nod, figuring the boy was doing better than he could hope to.

Scott smiled warmly, "Yes, good sir, I am sure there is. I was just telling your remarkably fine staff how pleasant it would be if we could pay extra for a sample plate of some of the finer dishes prepared in your highly rated and even more highly recommended kitchen. "Since my good friend Steven, here," he gave a nod over at the clearly very uncomfortable boy sitting next to him, "has never tried true German cooking,

I felt it would not be too burdensome to find out if such an option was available."

The floor manager cleared his throat and looked over to the adults, "I am sure we can come up with something for you all tonight."

Fredric smiled, "Quite generous, however, the young man asking is probably better suited to continue this conversation, not one of us. It was his idea, after all, and he is quite capable of handing these matters."

At this, the floor manager turned his full attention back to Scott, wondering who the hell any of these people were. One thing was certain, it was abundantly clear at least the boy belonged to someone pretty damned important and he had no intention of pissing anyone that high up the food chain off. "So you have heard of us?"

Without the slightest hesitation, Scott smiled and gave a single downward, almost eloquent, nod. "Definitely, which is why we are all here this fine evening. The gentleman who just spoke to you is none other than Fredric Triumph, CEO of EEL. The reason he brought us all hear tonight was at my request, since I have heard from more than one congressman from the Great State of Texas, this is the place to get the best German food in Austin. As a matter of fact, at the last reception I went to at the German Embassy in Paris with my family, one of the ambassador's staff overheard I was coming to Austin and recommended we come here. This caused me to inquire who else found this a suitable place to eat, so my mom put in a call and sure enough, you have had quite a few congressmen, senators, and even the German ambassador to the U.S. here. After finding out all of this, where else would I want to take two of my best friends to eat?" Scott gestured over to Steven and Alexander.

The floor manager gulped and nodded, straightening out is back a bit more as he did so. "I am quite certain we can provide such a sample plate. Is there anything in particular you would like on it?"

Once again Scott didn't miss a beat, "Now I know this could prove a major inconvenience, however, maybe one of your fine chefs could come out and recommend a few items, since I know some chefs have their specialties. This way, we are getting the best you can possible serve and I am sure my parents will find this quite comforting. Besides, once I get to tell them how wonderful your service is, I am sure you will be adding them, and with any luck, my aunt, to your list of very satisfied patrons."

"Your Aunt?"

"Ah, where are my manners?" Scott rolled his eyes and giggled, "My aunt is Adrianna Langwell, lead speech writer for President Ashwood."

Before more could be said, Scott purposefully put on a bit of a cringe on his face, "Now, I know President Ashwood is not well liked here in Texas, but there are members of his Cabinet and staff who do like their German food."

"The popularity of the President is not our concern, young man. Giving world class service and food IS." The floor manager took in a deep breath of air, "So have you met President Ashwood?"

Scott was more than ready for this question. He pulled out his wallet and flipped to the third picture back. It had been taken on the fore deck of the UAE yacht he had spent four days on. In it, Scott was with Ashwood, his wife, and the UAE ambassador. He had a fishing pole in his hand and was leaning on the UAE ambassador like the man was his uncle while Ashwood had his hand over Scott's back. It had been a photo op set up by both the US and the UAE. Both sides needed it to show how friendly they were around kids and how the arms deal had to be a good thing for all involved since it was getting some resistance from congress.

The fact it had worked had been a large feather in his mom's cap and may have been the thing that had pissed off Mrs. Ashwood. The first lady was not really for the deal because the UAE had made her look bad somewhere along the line. On the plus side, it got him out of going to the Whitehouse ever since.

Both the floor manager and lead host turned a bit pale upon seeing how friendly Scott was with the President of the U.S. It took several seconds for the manager to find his breath. "Well, I am beyond impressed, young man. I shall have the lead chef come out and speak with you all, personally."

As the pair backed off, Scott shot Steven a look of total satisfaction. "By the way, no one's going to say shit about what you are wearing, now."

Fredric burst out laughing, "And here I thought you hated being a politician's kid!"

Oh, trust me," Scott grumbled, "I do, but after all the garbage I have had to deal with, I am going to use it when I can. Besides, I didn't like the way they seated us so far in back once they saw what Steven was wearing. After the tip you gave, it certainly should have been ignored. This place is nice, but it isn't all that."

Fredric nodded in agreement. "I noticed that, too. The table they were going to seat us at was by the big picture window. But how did you know who all had been here like you rattled off?"

"The wall behind the reservation attendant had pictures of seven people I have met and had to talk to, plus a dozen others I have been introduced to. Part of mom's training is to never forget the name or position that goes with the face. They didn't have to post who they are, I know them."

Alexander whistled softly while Steven choked on his own saliva.

At the same time, the lead chaperone eyed Scott carefully, "But you really know the president… that picture is real, right?"

"Yeah." Scott sighed as he tossed over his wallet. "So is the picture with the current and past Secretaries of State, the Egyptian Ambassador, the German Chancellor, and all the other morons in there."

Alexander let out a light gasp, "I can't believe you just called the President of the US a moron."

"Trust me, he is; his wife is even worse. What a serious gold digger."

The three men at the table fought hard to keep a straight face, but pretty much failed. This got a sly grin out of Scott, "You should hear what other foreign dignitaries say about him behind their backs about both of them."

"Really?" Alexander asked with a great deal of interest.

Scott paused and looked around. He then nodded, pulled out his cell phone and knocked the battery out of the back. "Since we came here unexpectedly, and we are not even close to a window, the background noise will drown out what I'm about to say should anyone be outside listening, which is possible, but not likely. But to be on the safe side, pull your batteries out of your phones."

While all of the other five complied, they eyed Scott with a questioning stares.

Scott waited till he saw all the batteries were out before he spoke again. "There are NSA programs that can listen through cell phones passively if they have your number. It drains the batteries, so as they back out, they kill any power saving aps you might have and activate all the others, so it looks like your power saver ap accidently got disabled. I heard about it from a very drunk and extremely high senior analyst at the black tie event held by the Secretary of Education a few months back." Scott shrugged, "He was sniffing a line with Mrs. Ashwood and telling her how to keep her husband out of her business. Shutting the phone off is not enough. The battery has to be out.

"Anyway, with very few exceptions, the Ashwoods are not liked, trusted, or even respected. Especially the make-up loving coke snorting Mrs. Ashwood. Most of their strongest supporters are from many Central and South American countries, probably because they can get her drugs, and she must get them some favors. Although, there are some Arab countries which have some very interesting ties to the administration as well. There are several Saudi Princes who are very close with them." Scott paused and glanced over to Fredric, "More than a few are pissed at you, and others like you, because you have cut deeply into their oil selling over here and quite a few blame you for the price of oil going down the last few years."

"Good." Fredric stated, then glanced down at his phone, "How sure are you about the NSA thing?"

"Very, and don't even ask me how I got to overhear the whole thing. It's something I'd prefer to forget, but mom and dad both made it worth my while."

Steven eyed his phone and looked back up to the others, "I don't even want to put the battery back in now."

"Neither do I." Alexander agreed.

Scott smirked, "I have been working on a power interrupt button that breaks the battery's contact with the phone, manually, but haven't figured it out yet. Mom's has a tiny slit in the back of hers, now, where she slides a tiny plastic strip, but I don't want mine to lose the water proof protection by doing the same thing. Still it was the fastest way I could think of for mom to be able to cut hers off at a moment's notice. Of course the problem is, whoever she is with is still vulnerable. It also slowly damages the phone."

Seeing the stare he was getting out of Fredric, he grinned, "Hey, I offered to be a corporate spy for you."

This got a good, but highly nervous set of laughs out of the others at the table.

Just as Scott started talking to the lead chef, the other five boys got back to the resort. Glenn was exhausted and glanced over at Craig, who was rapidly becoming a good friend. "It says in the packet there are two two-bedroom suites with connecting doors. Would you be OK with us sharing a room?"

"Sure." Craig nodded vigorously. "If we share the same room, then maybe we can move forward with our plan to upgrade your chair."

Glenn nodded with a smile, but then looked down, "The problem is, I'm going to need help to take a shower and tonight… well, I'm not sure if I will be able to dress and undress and will probably need lots of help to get into bed."

"Hey, don't worry about it. I'd be kind-a hurt if you didn't ask."

Glenn cocked his head to the side and winced as he continued to look at the packet EEL had waiting for him at the front desk, "You aren't just saying that to be nice?"

"No." Craig frowned deeply, "Come on, do you know how few friends I have? Now I finally have a real one and, even better, a friend who is even smarter than me! You don't think I want to help just about my only real friend?"

"To be honest, I am finding it hard to believe I found someone I could call a friend, and out of everyone here, you were the one I was the most scared of!"

Before Craig could so much as blink in bewilderment, Ricky gulped back some of his own fear and nodded, "Me too."

Craig felt his jaw drop some, "But… you didn't even know me… how… I mean why?"

Keith moved up next to Ricky, "Hey, it's not you, Craig, it's us."

Glenn quickly nodded and grabbed Craig's hand. "You do all the stuff we are afraid of in other kids. You shoot, and not like .22s either, real guns. Plus you know martial arts, are a Junior Marine, and have muscles… Those are kids who scare the crap out of me in school." To emphasize this, Glenn held up his other arm and extended his good leg even though it caused a great deal of discomfort. Your arms are bigger around than my legs and I think your wrist is twice the size of my bicep."

Keith nodded wildly, "Exactly! Even the way you picked up Glenn's therapy case scared me some. I'm pretty sure we all thought the same way. Plus your invention has already made it to market and I heard it was being looked at by the Army!" He managed a grin, "Even scarier for us, you outweigh us and are older than us. For kids used to being pushed around, hearing we were going to be with a Junior Marine who had his picture in the press release carrying an assault rifle and pistol, you have to cut us some slack."

Even though the words hurt, Craig found himself understanding where the others were coming from. He was tough in comparison to the others. Still he had to blink out a couple of tears, "I'm not like that though…"

"No, no you're not!" Glenn agreed without hesitation while gripping the boy's hand with a degree of desperation. "I want to be your roommate, which is why I asked you to room with me. Before I met you, I would have never dreamed I'd want to share the same room, now it's all I want. I just don't want you feeling like you have to take care of the crippled kid."

"No, I… did you all really think I might pick on you and stuff?"

Glenn, Keith and Ricky all nodded and looked very guilty at the same time Justin just sighed. This was picked up on by both Glenn and Craig, who quickly looked up and stared at the kid.

Justin quickly dropped his eyes and shuffled his feet.

"What?" Glenn all but demanded to know, "You weren't afraid of Craig before you met him?"

"No…" Justin chewed on his lower lip, and turned a bit red, "No I wasn't."

"Then what?" Craig asked in a much more compassionate voice than the others expected out of him. "You are the only one who hasn't said much to me, other than Scott, but he bugged out with Mr. Triumph to get the last two. Besides, he spent all his time in the arcade with the adults so he isn't really interested in getting to know the rest of us, if you ask me."

"He just wanted to play shooting games, but wasn't good at them." Justin spoke up in the missing boy's defense. "Mr. Triumph sent Mitch over to work with him. If he hadn't, Scott would never have talked to anyone."

The chaperone who had spent over an hour with Scott raised an eyebrow, "Nice observation skills, Justin."

"I try, because I want to be a photographer and what I really want to do will require me to spot everything. I do brain teasers on line all the time to help me spot things I would otherwise miss. It helps also keep me from being harassed, but I can't figure out how to avoid everything and there is no way to get past what my parents have a bad habit of doing."

"I hear that." Ricky grumbled then turned red and glanced away.

Keith moved over and patted Ricky on the back, "What do you say we room together."

Ricky nodded without hesitation, "Thanks. I was worried I'd have to wait for the others before I found out who I was bunking with."

"No," Justin shook his head and sighed, "that would be me."

Glenn glanced over to Craig, "You can relax with us until they get here. I'll be sound asleep in less than an hour anyway. Besides, if you really are going to be a war photographer, you'll need to learn some self defense junk that I'll never be able to do. I bet Craig will want someone to work out with, too, and you are clearly the next strongest kid here besides him."

Craig glanced down at Glenn and gave his new friend a smile. "Good points. Plus you have already helped him in and out of his chair, Justin. I haven't. I'm sure you can help make sure I do it right." Besides, if Glenn is really going to sleep, we could even go down and check out the fitness area for an hour or so. This way I won't turn the TV on and bother him."

"Oh don't worry about me." Glenn smiled widely, "Once I get a shower and get comfortable in the bed, I'll be out cold, so be my guest. The TV won't faze me. I'll need help to do exercises tomorrow, though, because after all this travel, everything is going to be stiff and won't want to work."

"We'll get you through it," Craig glanced over to Justin, "right?"

"Be happy to. Plus I bet I get stuck with Scott, and as nice as he seems to be, he is even more shy than I am. I'll probably need to have someone to talk to after spending the night with him."

"Don't cut him short yet," Glenn stated, "Maybe I am the only one who really noticed, but his clothing was way nicer than the rest of ours and, unless those shoes were a real good fake, they were Italian Berluti's. They are handmade. My dad owns a pair of those because they were given to him as a present for the wedding. He keeps them in a special case and with these shoe seizers in them because they are like fifteen hundred bucks."

All eyes, including those of the chaperones turned to look at Glenn. Craig was first to express everyone's thoughts, "Fifteen hundred, for shoes? But he was traveling in them!"

"Yeah, kind of my point, guys. Nothing he wore was over the counter. It was all tailor made, and not cheaply tailor made either. My mom went through this stage as a real estate agent where she was only selling million plus dollar homes and had to wear the best of the best. She was good at it, but got sick of the whole cocktail party scene, so she only does it once in a while now, but before I got hurt I had to attend a couple of those parties. Before I could go to them, however, I had to look like Scott, so I know the hell he must go through to have a wardrobe like what he was wearing. If those are traveling clothes, he has way better, which means his family is stupid rich. Even the scouting jacket was an Orion, which runs about four fifty."

"Holy crap." The lead chaperone croaked out, "But he's twelve and will outgrow everything like twice over the next year!"

"Probably." Glenn agreed, "Which was actually the other reason mom dropped out of the mansion selling side. Keeping me, my brother and sister in clothing like most of the upper crust of society likes to do cost mom half a commission on a house and we out grew it all in like four months, so she had to sell like an extra three houses a year, of more than a million, just to keep us in clothing for parties where we couldn't even do anything. It was totally stupid."

Justin glanced over, "So if he travels in clothing you were used to wearing around millionaires, what does he wear to the parties he has to go to?"

Glenn actually shivered at the thought, "Tuxedos, ruffled shirts, three piece suites with real silk ties, shoes worth more than the car my dad drives, maybe even top hats and probably worse. I'd actually pay money to check out his suitcase. I'd like to know if he even owns a pair of jeans. Some of the kids I met at those parties didn't. They weren't allowed to, because they said it would make their folks look bad if the press ever got a photo wearing them."

Mitch looked over at the boys, "It never occurred to me, but he is the only one of the five of you who wasn't in tennis shoes. But, fifteen hundred… good lord, I hope my wife never hears about shoes like that!"

This got some laughter and broke the remaining tension surrounding who was going to stay with whom. Even Justin reluctantly admitted, he was intrigued and kind of wanted to find out more. He also promised to let the others know what was in Scott's suitcase should he end up bunking with the boy, which he was certain he would.

Justin then pulled out his camera and snapped several pictures of everyone. After some convincing, Justin finally handed his camera over to Ricky, who snapped some pictures with Justin in them.

An hour later, Justin helped Craig get a clearly embarrassed Glenn into some pajamas. The two boys then spent about ten minutes adjusting pillows so Glenn's hip was supported with a pillow the way he needed it to be. True to his word, Glenn was sound asleep less than three minutes later.

Craig glanced at the clock, "Only seven forty, you up for heading down to the exercise room?"

"Sure." Justin stated, but paused to write down his phone number and put Glenn's cell on top of the paper just in case the boy woke and needed anything.

Craig quickly followed the example while nodding his thanks to Justin, "I should have thought about that. I am his roommate."

Justin shrugged, "As badly as he was moving, I figured if he needs to go to the bathroom or something… I just felt it was a good idea."

"It was. Like I said, I should have already given him my number in case he needs anything."

Once they were out into the hall, Justin took a deep breath, "Can I ask you something?"

"Sure!" Craig glanced over with a bit of bewilderment. "I have kind of felt you wanted to since even before we were talking about roommates. What's up?"

Justin started to speak, then shook his head, "Never mind."

Craig stopped and grabbed Justin's shoulder before the boy could move further down the hall toward the elevators. "Come on, Justin. Something has been eating at you for hours. What?"

Justin shook his head. "I don't' want to get punched."

"Huh? Why would I punch you?" Even as he asked the question, he could see Justin wilt. Suddenly everything came together for Craig; he snickered, "Do you think I'm cute?"

Justin turned bright red and tears started to fall out of his eyes, but he couldn't help it. He nodded.

Craig couldn't help but blush slightly. "So, you really wanted to bunk with me, huh?"

Justin lowered his head and would have crumpled to the ground in embarrassment had Craig not held on and braced him up, "Hey, I'm not mad, and I damned sure won't punch you!"

Hearing people coming from the direction of the elevators, Craig gently, but firmly, directed Justin to the stairs and quickly closed the door with his foot. He then took a moment to make sure the stairwell was clear before he turned Justin to face him and let go while putting both hands up in front of himself to defend in case the boy thought he needed to attack.

Once he was certain Justin wasn't a threat, he slowly lowered his hands, leaned against the back wall and smacked his head against it a couple of times hard enough to hurt. "Now I have two kids I want to have as friends and I find out one is kind of afraid of me and the other thinks I'm cute, but is terrified of me. I can't even make friends among fellow nerds. I must be an absolute looser!"

The words and the way Craig was acting took Justin totally off guard and allowed him to calm a great deal. Still he had to wipe the tears out of his eyes. "You still want me as a friend?"

"Is there some reason I shouldn't?" Craig asked with some defeat in his voice.

This took Justin even more by surprise. "Um, because I think you're cute…."

"Hey, Dad says some of the best sailors on his ships are gay or bi, and if I ever wanted to be in the military, I'd have to accept some might have deeper feelings for me. To be honest, I have never had a good friend, boy or girl, so I don't even know what I am. At the rate I'm going, I never will have a good friend. Just look at what a screw up I am. If you hadn't left your number, I wouldn't have even thought about it then Glenn could have something go wrong and he wouldn't have anyone. I'm an idiot!"

The very last thing Justin figured he would be doing was consoling Craig, but part of him was thrilled to get the chance. "Just because you didn't think about it doesn't make you a bad friend, Craig."

"Yeah, right." Craig turned and punched the wall hard enough to cause a little blood to ooze out of three of the knuckles, "How can I design half a dozen things with my dad, win this contest, and still be so stupid!"

Justin moved forward and took the lightly bleeding hand in his, "Hey, Craig, come on. You didn't do anything wrong!"

"So, tell me why I can't figure out how to make a single friend." He kicked at one of the metal railing posts in disgust. "I go to the Junior Maries twice a month and know every kid there, but not one is a friend. The same goes at school. You want to know when the last time I have actually slept in the same room as another kid my age outside of the Junior Marines?"

"Um, sure…" Justin responded with a great deal of trepidation.

"Never," Craig responded. "Not once."

Justin felt his eyes bug out, "You have never had a sleep over or been to one?"

Craig wiped some tears of his own out of his eyes, "No, but seen lots of people get invited or invite others. Never me. Like I said, dumbest smart kid ever."

Justin found himself at a loss for words. Even as horrible as some of the sleepovers had been, he could at least say he had them. Some had even been fun and a few of the kids had been nice. Another thing he suddenly realized was he had a few kids he considered friends, just not good ones. It never occurred to him a kid his age had never done a sleepover before and honestly felt he had no friends of any kind. It was actually heart wrenching. Not knowing the right words, he decided to stick with a bit of a joke. "You realize we are kind of looking at you to protect us, and you can't do it if you bust your knuckles up, right?"

This got through and caused a bit of a smirk to spread across Craig's features. "I guess being a protector is better than nothing."

"Not what I meant, Craig." Justin shook his head and pushed his tee-shirt over the still bleeding knuckles. "What I was trying to tell you is, I want you around and want to be your friend, I am sure Glenn does as well. He did ask you to be his roommate and you were very nice to him. You did a better job than I could have with getting him showered and dressed and stuff. Now, let's go down and you can show me how to get arms like yours."

Craig let out a long breath, "I don't think you get it. I haven't done a single thing other than what I was told to do by and for Glenn. I suck when it comes to all the things people do to make friends. Until I saw you write your number down, it never even crossed my mind. Why doesn't my mind think of stuff like caring enough to make sure my bunkmate could get a hold of me?" He shook his head in frustration. "I'm sure I do the same sort of crap to everyone around me and never even notice. No wonder I don't have any friends."

Justin said nothing for several seconds as they descended the five flights of steps. Before Craig could pull on the door to open it Justin finally spoke. "You know, you did something the rest of us didn't today, right?"

"No…" Craig turned in total puzzlement. "What?"

"While the rest of us went straight to the games, you didn't. Know it or not, you were the only one who was there for Glenn, and you spent the whole time with him. Even after Mr. Triumph told you he was going to get the others with Scott, and reminded you both there was thirty bucks on unused game cards, you didn't leave Glenn. You went to games he could play and you helped him out of his chair so he could do the racing games with you. In my book, that's being a way better friend than we were to him."

Craig shrugged, "I did it cause I wanted to be around him, that's all."

"Which is why he asked for you to be his roommate," Justin countered. "I'm the one without one, not you."

Justin decided to drop it as he saw Craig's lips scrunch up in some thought. Instead he silently followed him to the small fitness center, which had nine machines, five of them treadmills.

The woman behind the desk frowned and started to point to the sign about needed to be at least fourteen, but stopped, "Oh, would you be a couple of the science project winners?"

Craig seemed to become a great deal more adult like and showed no signs of being troubled as he nodded firmly and spoke, "Yes, Ma'am. I was told we could use the facilities?"

"As a matter of fact, you do have special permission."

Craig didn't hesitate to wave Justin over to one of the two decent weight machines. "If you are a true beginner, we'll need to start here."

"Do you need any help setting up the machine, son?" The woman asked politely.

Craig grinned, "Got one of these at home, ma'am, plus one at Arizona shack, because dad bought them for me. I now have a Bowflex and a Powerline Ultra, in both places, since I got some cash from EEL for phase one of getting my collector on the market. I have a free-weight set with a squat bench on backorder." His eyes gleamed, "It should be there by the time I get back to the old lady's place."

The woman let out a low whistle, "OK, well, if you need any help, let me know."

"We'll be fine, ma'am," Craig assured the woman as he adjusted everything down to very low weight settings.

Justin looked at it and frowned, "I can lift more than ten pounds!"

"I'm sure you can, but you need to start real light. First, I need to teach you how to breathe and proper positioning so you don't hurt yourself. If you can do twenty sets right, I'll bump you up."

Justin didn't look happy, but seeing the woman nod with a rather impressed look on her face, convinced him to do it Craig's way. Twenty minutes later, and an increase to only twenty pounds he was more than happy he had done things Craig's way, as he was sweating and breathing hard."

Craig didn't once say anything hurtful, but he did push, and push hard. As Justin struggled to pull the bar down behind his back on the seventeenth time, Craig leaned close, "Come on, J you can do it! No! Don't jerk, you'll hurt yourself, smooth and easy!"

Justin's arms trembled as he glared at Craig, "Easy?"

"Yeah, you can do it! Smooth and easy, your half way down! Good job; now, only three more! Remember to let it up nice and slow. Great work! OK, now three more!"

Justin felt his heart sink as he had to clench his jaw to pull down on the bar, then, just as he was about to give up, he felt a slight amount of downward pressure allowing him to complete the rep. Some annoyance flashed into his eyes as he glanced back at Craig and made an upward jerk with his head to have the older boy let go. He then managed to pump out the last two before he leaned forward gasping for air. Even before he got his wind back he could feel Craig rubbing his tightening shoulders.

Craig gave Justin a big grin as the nearly exhausted boy took breath after deep breath. "Nice job for your first time J."

Justin looked back over his shoulder, "You know you kind of pissed me off by helping me, but then you didn't need to on the last two, so it worked, thanks."

"Same thing my dad used to do for me, and it got the same reaction I used to give him. You are meant for this. But now we need to get you a twenty minute slow walk on the treadmill so you work some amino acids out of your muscles. If you don't, you will really hurt tomorrow. Go get a big drink of water and I'll set you up."

"What about you?"

"I'll get in some reps while you walk out the soreness, then I will have you watch while I do some of the more advanced things, then we will wind down with another twenty minutes with both of us on the treadmills."

"Sounds good." Justin nodded. "So is there more for me to learn?"

"Yeah, lots, but you have the basics of arms and legs down and those exercises will take you quite a ways if you keep up with them. Hopefully tomorrow you'll let me do a non-weight workout, so you can see the aerobic side of training. If you do nothing but weights, you get big and look impressive, but you will never be as strong or have the endurance without the aerobic side."

"I'm in."

Craig grinned then moved over to the treadmill and showed Justin how it worked and even made sure to clip on the safety kill cord. Once he had Justin set up, he moved over and did a workout easily ten times as hard as what he put Justin through. As he pulled himself up on the upper pull-up bar and hung upside-down by his knees, he saw the woman cringe. "Don't worry, ma'am, I'm only going to do twenty."

This broke Justin's concentration and he stumbled, causing the kill switch to stop the machine.

Still upside-down, Craig snickered. "If you hadn't had the kill cord on it would have kept going and you would have face planted. Been there, and it hurts. Still, be careful; as tired as you are, you could easily twist an ankle."

Before more could be said, Craig did a set of twenty hanging crunches before bending all the way up and grabbing the bar his knees were around he then slid his hands outward until he could grab the outermost hand grips and rotated his arms around. He then let go with his legs. Both Justin and the woman moved forward only to stop and stare. Craig didn't fall, or even drop down other than his legs. Instead, he held it, arms straight out, turning his whole body into a steady cross.

While the other two in the small workout area also stopped and stared, Craig clenched his teeth, but managed to speak, "There isn't a clock with a second hand in here; I need to know when ninety seconds are up."

Justin quickly pulled up his phone and switched it over to where it showed seconds ticking by. "Should I cut five seconds off, since I had to switch?"

"No!" Craig managed to hiss out. "Full ninety!"

As soon as Justin called time, Craig adjusted his grip on the bars, pulled his legs in, shifted his hands so they were straight above his head the then stuck on his legs forming an "L" with his lower body. "Again!"

By this time, a few people walking by had stopped to watch, which seemed to bother Justin a whole lot more than Craig. Justin kept glancing at the window in front of the fitness center, and happily called time a second time only to see Craig swivel his whole body and spin around.

Craig saw the growing crowd and couldn't help but show off some. His hands caught on the bar with practiced ease; he glanced upward and managed a bit of a grin as he noticed the ceiling was plenty high enough. He then rolled his arms turned himself upside-down again and held himself up in a handstand while his legs went out wide, almost to the point of doing the full splits. Using his legs to help him balance on the bar he was holding onto, he then did ten reverse pushups, driving his whole body upward with nothing but his arms. Finally, he straightened out his legs high above his head and did a flip off the machine, landing on his feet.

Several onlookers clapped as he stuck the landing to near perfection on the mat off to the side of the machine. With a bit of a smirk, he even gave a slight bow.

"Gymnastics," The woman working the fitness center stated with some awe, "Olympic quality, if you ask me."

"No, not even close." Craig snickered, "I only started taking lessons a year and a half ago, because I heard my stepdad bad mouth it the whole time his kids watched some competition on cable. Since it totally pisses off my stepdad to have to take me to a "gay" sport, and my father is willing to fork over the money for me to go to lessons, it was something I just had to do. Still, it is fun to show off sometimes and it is a great workout. My real love is shooting."

One of the other men in the fitness center let out a slight whistle, "Your stepfather should take better notice; you have real potential."

"Thanks, but it is recreation only, for me."

The man grinned as he picked up his hand towel, "But it got you better abs than I have and you can be but like thirteen."

"Just turned thirteen last month." Craig smiled, as he tightened up his arms and chest to show off a very impressive six-pack and arms that looked almost sculpted.

"Whoa," the man snickered, "I got a long ways to go, and I'm not about to embarrass myself by taking off my shirt after seeing what you are packing!"

This got a very nervous giggle out of Justin, who suddenly realized he was even more attracted to Craig after seeing the boy with only shorts and socks on. To hide his embarrassment, he changed the subject, "I bet I could take you at skeet shooting."

Craig's head tilted back, since he was keeping his pose, this showed off some neck muscles as well and since he had leaned back, his legs also showed how rock hard they could become. "No chance."

"I hear it's on the list of things to do this week. What do you say; winner picks what we do after?" Justin challenged.

"Oh, you're so on!" Craig responded without hesitation, even as he realized Justin might have more personal interaction in mind. To this end, he grinned wickedly, "Winner has full say, no take backs either. It's all on the table."

Justin gulped, as he caught the meaning, but managed to find his voice, "Deal."

Craig rolled his eyes, "OK, now get over here, so I can show you some of the stuff you can build into, once you get some stamina."

Thirty more minutes flew by as Craig did a very intensive workout and paused to give Justin a chance to see just how much he could bench and press. Finally, Craig let the bar slowly back up and his last shoulder rep and pointed over to the treadmills, "Let's get some water and then twenty more minutes on those."

While Craig wiped the sweat off his brow and took a long swig of water after stepping of the treadmill, Justin came over and took a sip out of the second fountain. "I never thought this could be fun."

The woman glanced over, "You may not think the same after you wake up, tomorrow." She pulled a piece of paper out of her desk. "If you really want to help yourself, you will eat and drink some of the things on this list, and you are not sweating enough, so you should start drinking more water before you work out, during and after. Those few sips you are taking will never flush your system and will cause cramps tonight while adding lots of extra soreness tomorrow."

Craig glanced at the list and nodded his thanks. "Once again, something I should have taken the time to explain and help with."

Justin heard the comment and patted Craig on the back as they left the fitness center. "You know, it may be you spend too much time beating yourself up and too little time seeing what you do right. I have never felt so close to anyone as I did when you lightly pushed down on the bar. I was pissed, but at the same time, it gave me exactly what I needed to finish the goal you set for me! I'd have never have found it in myself to do those last two without you."

Craig managed a smile as he turned a corner and headed toward the steps, "Thanks, but I never seem to be able to put all the pieces together." Before Justin could answer Craig stopped at the door to the steps, held up his hand to warn Justin to back off and spun around the corner. His left hand grabbed a kid by the front of his collared shirt while his right went back ready to strike. At the same time, Craig's right leg shot out and dropped the boy to his knees. "Kid, I don't know who you are, but you just turned the last five times we did, and have been watching us for quite a while. I saw you in the pool area while we were working out. What gives?"

Justin's eyes went wide as he looked around the corner and saw a kid with very wide terrified eyes, long black hair, and fairly tan looking skin, The kid was probably older than Craig, and probably a couple of inches taller, but several pounds less, maybe even twenty pounds or more less.

Craig's eyes narrowed as the kid's hands started to move, "I see any metal, I'll break your nose. You try to pull a blade, I'll crush your throat, got me?"

The older boy's hands fell down to his side as he started to sob in fear.

Justin moved up and tapped Craig on the shoulder, "I think we're good and I'd kind of hate to find out this was one of the others…"

"Oh, shit…" Craig let go and took a step back, "it if is… Oh shit!"

Before more could be said, one of the chaperones appeared, "What in the hell?" The man paused and looked down at the boy Craig had taken to his keens, "Joey, what did you do?"

Craig gulped, but stepped forward, "Um, it was me… He kept following us and closing on us, but didn't want to get seen. I thought he might be a gang banger or something… I…"

The chaperone's head dropped into his back of his left hand, "Damn-it, Joey, you were supposed to come get them, not stalk them!"

The boy looked up with a quivering lip, "Mr. Yarrow… But…"

"But nothing!" the man roared, "How in the hell am I going to explain this to the boss?"

"Hey, sir," Craig moved closer to take some pressure off the kid, "it's mostly my fault. I get jumpy when I'm being followed."

"I'll never do it after seeing how fast you were!" Justin stated with a mixture of fear over what was going to happen and awe over the speed and skill of the takedown.

The man let out a long breath, "Joey, you OK?"

The boy looked up, while still not even trying to stand. He tried to speak but was still shook up. Instead he just nodded.

"And you two?" The man asked while turning to Craig and Justin.

"Fine, and I'm sorry!"

"We're both fine, and I am pretty sure part of it was Craig wanted to protect me."

A bit of a smile and a snort escaped the man's lips as he reached down and yanked the fallen boy to his feet, "then no harm, no foul; besides, I'm betting Joey just learned a very valuable lesson without getting hurt. Let's just keep this between the four of us. OK?"

One by one the kids all nodded. Once the man was certain the whole unfortunate event would be buried, he gave the boy he was holding onto a light shove toward Craig and Justin. "Guys, meet Joey. He was one of two local winners of last year's contest that served to give Mr. Triumph a blueprint for the national one he did this year.

"Joey was supposed to come and get the two of you almost forty minutes ago, to let you know everyone was back and final room placements needed to be made. Also…" The man snickered, "Well, for your safety we would like you all in your rooms after nine. There is no set bed time, and you can order room service if you want anything…" the man snickered again, "you can also request an escort from one of us. We have chaperones on the rooms either side of your two suites should you want to be out past nine, to catch a movie or like… oh, say work out or even kick the butt of someone following you…" he couldn't help but smile, "Nicely played, by the way. The metal and knife comment told me you had this well in hand."

The man paused and glanced over at Joey, "So, what the hell were you doing anyway?"

Joey gulped and finally found his voice, even though it still quivered, "I…" he pointed at Craig, "He was doing gymnastics and I kind of lost track…" Joey lowered his head, "Sorry, Mr. Yarrow…"

"Oh, God, I hope this is not what I am in for as my kids get older…" Mr. Yarrow glanced upward, then turned his attention back to the three boys. "OK, I got this, but I'm not putting my job on the line again, so this better be the last time!"

Seeing all three kids nodding vigorously, he pulled out his cell, "I found them, boss. Instead of getting them back up to the room, Joey ended up getting a gymnastics show of some sort from Craig. Sounds like I missed something pretty cool." He snickered into the phone at the response. "Yeah, next year we set curfew rules before we let them run around the hotel."

With the phone still out Mr. Yarrow jerked his head to the door to the stairs, "Get going. Fifth floor and no more detours! Now move!"

As soon as the door closed and the boys started making their way up them, Justin turned to Joey, determined to get the kid to calm down more before getting to the room. "So you won last year, huh?"

Joey nodded while staying well away from Craig.

Suddenly it dawned on Justin much of what Craig had been saying was true, as Craig made no further attempt to calm the kid down or join in on the conversation. Craig was simply not good at seeing ways to do the small things to make friends. On the other hand, Justin saw this as a huge opportunity to make a good friend and help Craig all at the same time. To this end he lightly nudged Craig. "Don't you even want to know what he made?"

Craig slowed and looked over with a hint of confusion, "Yeah, I figured he'd say since you were asking, though."

Suddenly Craig's eyes arched upward, "Oh, I'm doing it again… Shit." He turned to look at Joey, "So, look, I'm an idiot. I suck at making friends and tend to prove it all the time. However, for some reason I have yet to figure out, Justin understands me and wants to help, which is about the nicest thing any kid as ever been to me." He gave Justin a nod of thanks then turned back to Joey. "So what did you make, anyway?"

"A jet sky surfboard." Joey managed to get out while moving a bit further from Craig and closer to Justin.

Total confusion rippled over Craig's face. After nearly two seconds, he finally found what he felt were the right words, "OK, I am game, why?"

"Because I used to live up in California and surfed all the time. Once things went south there, I had to leave and haven't been able to board since. I wanted to, so I made a board I could use on a lake."

"Awesome!" Justin grinned, "Any chance I can try it out?"

"You know how to board?"

Justin burst out laughing, "Not a chance, I'm from Nebraska!"

"Half my life is on navy bases, I can." Craig joined in with a smile, "And the more I think about it, the cooler it sounds. You got to give me a shot at it."

"And you won't break my nose or crush my throat?"

Craig held up both hands as he stopped at the door to the fifth floor, "No, but I may be able to teach you how to never let anyone do to you what I just did."

Joey chewed on his lower lip for a moment, then nodded reluctantly, "Deal."


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