Ryan watched as the COSAM transport helicopter landed. His stomach had plenty of butterflies over the meeting to come. Although he considered Alex his best friend, he hadn't really seen him in over a year. Sure they constantly talked to each other by videophone, thanks to the free up-link to the COSAM communications satellite system, but it was not the same as being face to face. In simple terms, talking over a videophone was not the same as living with him.
He was surprised to see Alex climb out of the pilot's seat of the large helicopter. He knew his friend had been doing some flying, but to actually see him in the pilot's chair was intriguing. He wondered if Alex's father would allow him to learn to fly as well. He continued to watch with growing unease as the trio made their way toward the terminal. He found himself getting the same feeling he had on the ramjet. It was as if there was an increase of power and it was building rapidly. This time, however, Ryan knew the source. Well, at least he knew it was directly associated with Alex. The only difference was the feeling was more of comforting in nature. Its power was so weird in feeling; it sent shivers up and down his spine as part of him realized there was something calling to him. He noticed his eyes get glancing down to Alex's small gym bag. Something was in there. He was sure of it! Ryan punched his left and into his right hand, "Get a grip Ryan." He whispered to himself. The energies he felt tapered off rapidly
Alex also sensed the strange increase in power, much like he had in his recent dreams. The feelings were not just of raw power, though. Instead it was as if someone had draped a cloak over him when he was cold. It was so comforting it made him smile for a moment. The feeling stayed, but some other force brought in a new feeling of raw energies. The bag he was carrying with the necklace and ring seemed to grow heavier. It then started pulling him toward Ryan, like it wanted to get to him. At the same time Ryan was whispering to himself, Alex shook the bag and muttered, "Stop." The bizarre feelings suddenly diminished, but didn't vanish entirely.
Stan caught up, "What's the problem, Alex?"
"I'm nervous I guess." Alex stated in partial truth, "I really want to see him, but I'm scared, too!"
Bryan frowned, "Alex, if you feel scared, how do you think he feels."
"I know Dad. I just got to get a grip on my own feelings."
The men standing behind Ryan glanced at each other. They were combat veteran Special Forces troopers trained to see more than most. They noticed the boys' reactions had mirrored each other almost to the moment. Equally strange to the two men standing behind Ryan and their boss in front of them, was the fact the light had begun to flicker from the time Alex had jumped out of the helicopter until both boys made very unnatural movements. The second they did, the lights resumed normal operations.
Their thoughts were short lived, though, as they realized Ryan was starting to cry.
The man who picked Ryan up from the orphanage knelt. "What's going on?"
"I don't know." Ryan whispered while wiping away the tears. Not wanting to sound crazy, he didn't mention the odd feelings of power. Little did he know, the three men would not have seen it as crazy at all, but his words refocused their attention away from their own observations. "I'm scared. It's like the first day at the orphanage all over again!"
"Take it easy mate. These things have a way of working themselves out. They are not total strangers coming toward you remember that."
Ryan took a deep breath. "I know, but. I am still scared."
"You have every right to be scared." The man stated as he stood.Ryan looked out the window again and watched as Alex came up the walkway. What should he say? What could he say? He didn't know Mr. Caldwell all that well. He had been around the man often enough when the Cynthia was down doing mineral searches off the coastal waters of Australia, but the man always seemed really busy. He had been very friendly and easygoing. He always made sure to make time to go places with Alex and him, but he never really said much.
Part of Ryan was thrilled to be out of the orphanage; however, he couldn't help he was currently very afraid of what lay ahead. It seemed silly in a way. After all he had been through, he was now afraid of living with a friend. He couldn't help but wonder why.
Much to the credit of the man who had awakened him at the orphanage not all that long ago to tell Ryan he had a new home, the man noticed the boy's new sudden tenseness. "Got another problem there, mate?"
Ryan glanced up, "I guess I am a bit confused. This seemed like such a great idea when you woke me up, but now...Well I really don't know."
"Take it easy mate. I'm willing to bet your friend and Mr. Caldwell are wondering what it will be like to suddenly have a brother and a second son." The man grasped both of Ryan's shoulders, "No one said this was going to be easy. You have a major challenge in front of you, as they do. The three of you will have to figure out how things are going to go, and the quirks of each person. Such things aren't going to happen over night."
"But I'm the outsider." Ryan whispered as he watched the small group pass through customs with amazing speed.
"Ryan," the man's voice hardened a bit, "you have a choice here. You can stay an outsider, or work with them to become part of the family. Stan Richardson, the gentleman who contacted me about this, assured me Mr. Caldwell made the decision quickly. He wants you to become part of his family. I have a sneaking suspicion, especially since he had your name changed, that you will be treated as his son as much as you allow him to."
Ryan drew some strength from the man's words, but apprehension was still plaguing him. "My biggest problem is what to say."
"Go with the flow. The first day I came to see you, it wasn't easy for you to talk to me. I'll bet this will be easier since you know these folks already. If you truly find yourself at a loss for words, say so. I'm sure they'll understand."
Just as the man finished speaking Alex came through the door. The boy stopped short. He had been looking so forward to seeing Ryan again, but like his friend he suddenly had no idea what to say. After a moment Alex recovered enough to come up, "Ryan, I wish I knew what to say without..." Alex's words drifted off as he saw the confusion in Ryan's eyes. Alex looked to his dad.
Bryan was no more prepared for the meeting than his son was. If anything, he was hoping his son would take the lead. When this didn't happen, he went with pure fatherly instincts. He knelt and looked Ryan in the eyes, "How are you doing?"
Ryan looked back and forth between his Navy friend and Mr. Caldwell.
The other man made it easier by backing off while giving a nod of support.
Ryan took a deep breath, "OK, I guess." He couldn't believe how weak his voice sounded. He felt his face go red and a flush of heat rolled over him as embarrassment took over. He shuffled his feet while looking down.
Bryan felt tears start to form in his own eyes as he watched the boy in front of him. Bryan put out his hand and took hold of Ryan's shoulder; "This can't be easy for you. I do understand that much. I also know how Alex felt when we had to tell him his mother had been killed. Let's start off nice and slow. What would you like to do? I don't care what the answer is; we will do it. We will do it together, as a family."
Ryan relaxed as he felt Mr. Caldwell's fingers gently move over his shoulder. Ryan managed a small smile for the first time since he saw the COSAM helicopter land. Mr. Caldwell was every bit as easygoing as he remembered the man. "Anything?" he managed to whisper.
Bryan gently squeezed the boy's shoulder. "Name it. What sounds like fun to you? Money shouldn't even enter into your mind as you answer. If it gets too expensive I could always sell a ram jet or two!"
Ryan couldn't help it. He giggled.
Alex also snorted out a laugh. He knew his father had more money in his personal account than many countries did. If he added in what COSAM could turn over, the amount would make some of the mega-countries nervous.As Ryan relaxed he thought about where he was for the first time. This seemed strange. He had always dreamed of seeing Unified Britain. He loved castles, medieval knights, their weapons, and the stories. Yet here he was in Unified Britain and he hadn't thought about it until now. Making things even more interesting was the fact Unified Britain had been left all but intact after the war. Only a few rogue warships and aircraft made any attempts at attacking. With the exception of a couple of missiles hitting Liverpool and one small tactical nuclear weapon destroying a section of Dublin, Unified Britain got though the war years unscathed. This meant museums, zoos, and other attractions remained some of the best in the world. When Scotland, Ireland, and the surrounding isles also joined to form what was now known as Unified Britain, the country became a true castle lover's paradise.
Ryan finally made eye contact with Mr. Caldwell. "Can we go see Big Ben, the Tower of London, Madame Trousseaux's, and maybe one or two of the big northern castles?"
Bryan was very impressed. The suggestions surprised him a great deal and it showed in his voice, "You mean you are interested in the wax museum?"
Ryan swallowed hard, totally misinterpreting Mr. Caldwell's reaction. "I read about it in school last year."
Bray saw the boy took his question in completely the wrong way. He chided himself for being careless with voice inflection to such a scared boy. "I didn't mean it like it sounded Ryan. I was just astonished to hear such ideas. I figured you would want to go to an amusement park and have me pay to make it a closed park so you could take all the rides without any lines or something! I have never toured Britain before, although I have been here several times. I really like your ideas."
Bryan turned to Alex, "What do you think?"
Alex grinned. "I like it. I have never been to a wax museum before, but your idea sounded pretty cool too, Dad!"
Ryan again giggled, "I think so too, Alex, but I'd prefer to really see some of Unified Britain."
Bryan shook his head with humor; "Somehow I think I will regret ever putting that particular idea into the heads of my two boys."
The Australian Navy man behind Ryan chuckled, "Hell, if it ever happens I hope you invite me!"
Bryan stood and shook hands with the man, "I understand you and a few of your people are joining my security team. Welcome."
The man grasped Bryan's hand then took a step back and saluted. "Happy to be here sir. You're doing a good thing here Mr. Caldwell. Ryan's a great kid."
"Yes he is." Bryan agreed as he turned his attention back to the boys. "Well it looks like it is settled then. Let's get with customs, grab our things, and find a rental vehicle."
As the three waited to get their things at the customs desk, Ryan made a few playful jabs at Alex. Alex quickly countered each blow, "Not bad but I got my black belt a couple of days ago."
"Black?" Ryan stepped back, "I guess I better practice more!"
Bryan looked over and chuckled, "Right where you two left off, huh?" I do want to remind you I expect two civilized boys when we tour these places, not two warmongering ruffians. You two can do all of that back in your own quarters on Cynthia."
Ryan and Alex exchanged friendly grins before Ryan spoke, "Sorry sir... Ah, am... Am I supposed to call you Dad?""
Bryan hadn't really thought this aspect of having adopted Ryan. It was a reasonable question without an easy answer. He decided to go with what his heart told him was right. "I'm not going to rush you on those types of things Ryan. Some of those kinds of questions will be answered by you over time. I hope you will one day decide to call me your father, but I will never demand it. To do so would be totally unfair to you. The only thing I do demand, is you speak to me with a degree of respect, as any youngster should do with any decent adult. You may call me sir, Mr. Caldwell, or Dad. It is entirely up to you."
"It'll take some time for me to decide, Mr. Caldwell. Thank you... For everything."
"You're very welcome Ryan. Are you angry with me for having your name changed?"
Ryan shook his head, "Not really sir. Thank you for letting me keep my own name as well."
"You need to thank Stan. He was the one who thought of it, not me."
"Not really. I had a meal while we were waiting for you to here and I was fed a nice steak on your ramjet. That was so great! I've never flown on one of those before. You fly so fast you can't even see the clouds go by!"
Alex looked over. "I haven't been on one. Are there a lot of G forces?"
"At first there is." Ryan nodded, "But once it stops accelerating it's just like flying on a regular jet. The only difference is you fly through more than three time zones an hour. Part of me knows what time it is, the rest of me says it is completely another."
Bryan hadn't thought about jet lag, "I'm not thinking very well Ryan. Would you prefer to get a hotel room and get adjusted to the times for a couple of days before we explore Britain?"
Ryan thought it over then nodded, "I guess, but I don't want to..."
Bryan waved him off, "Ryan, you will not inconvenience me, I assure you. Besides, Alex will not be terribly annoyed if he misses a few extra days of school."
Alex grinned, "I'll have to do the homework, but it's nice to get out of classes for a while!"
Ryan giggled, "Did you ever get the swimming pool installed on Cynthia?"
"As a matter of fact," Bryan replied, "It will be fully operational by the end of the month. We are testing the filter systems and making sure everything is safe before we open it up to the crew and their families. We took out docking area seven to make room for it. Are you still on a swim team?"
"I was until..." Ryan's voice fell to a whisper, "Well, you know."
Bryan couldn't help but give Ryan a light hug. "I'll never be able to say I completely understand, but I can assure you both Alex and I share some of your pain and loss. We are here for you, even if it is only to listen or give you a shoulder to cry on."
Alex shuffled his feet awkwardly. He remembered the day he had been told about the death of his mother. He had instantly tried to pretend it wasn't true. Part of him tried to think it had all been a nightmare and sooner or later he would wake up to his mom shaking him awake. It never happened of course, but sometimes he still daydreamed the curtains would open and his mom's voice would tell him what a sleepyhead he was.
Alex shuttered inwardly as he realized, really for the first time, his best friend had to deal with both parents being killed. How, Alex wondered, would I have ever been able to get out of bed again if Uncle Stan had told me both Mom and Dad had died. It was hard enough to get up as it was. I wanted to be asleep because I could pretend I had dreamed it all. Only Dad's being there prevented me from sleeping all day every day.
A weird feeling suddenly interrupted Alex's thoughts. A strong burst of energy from the bag he had been carrying caused him to jump a little. He looked up just in time to see the customs inspector unzip the bag. Alex's hands moved rapidly, and a soft whispering chant escaped his lips.
Ryan was able to see something Alex's father could not while the man gave the brief hug. Ryan watched as Alex's hands sent out a green bolt of energy toward the bag. He was reminded of what he had done during his own dreams in the last couple of days. The words Alex spoke so softly were words of ancient power, only of a different type than he had used. Was it possible those had not been dreams after all?
Alex trembled slightly as he felt a burst of power leave his body, but his eyes stayed glued on the customs inspector. He watched as the bag's belongings were dumped out on the table then grabbed and stuffed back in. His nervousness went up, as the side compartment where he had placed necklace and ring was unzipped.
The customs inspector frowned for a moment as he looked into the small compartment, then shrugged and zipped it back up. He turned to Alex, "This yours?"
Alex nodded, "Yes sir."
"What's rattling around in here?"
Alex didn't have to pretend. He was bewildered by the fact the man didn't find the ring and necklace and it showed on his face. "Umm, just my overnight stuff sir, in case we decided to stay in Unified Britain for the night."
The customs officer's frown slowly changed into a smile as he saw how confused the lad looked. "Probably just some loose change or something." The man slid the small bag over to the visually checked section. "Hope you enjoy your stay."
Stan, who was talking to the new security forces he had hired, glanced upwards as the lights flickered again. He noticed the Special Forces men from Australia did likewise, except their team leader. His eyes turned to Ryan. Stan's gaze shifted to Ryan, but Ryan stood totally still, looking straight at Alex.
Stan's eyes once again refocused, this time on Alex. His mind took in the fact; the boy's hands were glowing a light green for an instant, before the luminescence faded. Stan shook his head as if trying to figure out what he had seen. Looking back at Alex, he quickly determined his eyes had been playing tricks on him during the brief power surge. Everything looked normal other than the fact Alex looked a little more tired than he should have been.
Stan shook his head again. Of course the boy was tired. It would have been hard for the lad to sleep last night knowing his friend would be coming to live with him as a brother. Stan returned his attention back to the squad of men. Once again he noticed the leader was still looking at the boys. "Is there a problem?"
To his credit the man answered quickly, "No, I guess not. It's just my mind playing tricks on me cause of some damned ol' Aborigine." The man quickly went on to explain the events in the Sydney airport.
Stan chuckled, "Sounds like you and your men could use a good night's sleep and get adjusted to the colder weather of UB!"
The man agreed with a half snort. "Or the lights need to quit flickering."
Ryan moved over to help Alex and his father with their small bags. He found it hard not to stare at Alex's bag, but something told it would not be wise to draw any more attention from the customs officer to it. Instead he grabbed Mr. Caldwell's case. "My stuff already cleared. It's over with their things." Ryan pointed toward the military men.
Bryan looked over at the baggage before shrugging; "I'll have them take it with them. We didn't bring anything other than what you see so we'll buy what we need here."
Suddenly a customs captain appeared "Mr. Caldwell?"
Alex felt beads of sweat on his forehead as he figured the two glowing stones had been found after all. He sighed as he saw the customs commander extend a friendly hand toward his father.
The man in the captain's uniform gave almost a slight bow, "I am very sorry I was delayed. We were told to expect you and are sorry for the inconvenience of the security check."
"It isn't a problem." Bryan tried to wave the man off.
"Nonsense!" The captain replied. "You company's innovations are some of the best in the world and my country extends a hand in gratitude for so many of your environment-saving energy products. We have arranged for a UB drivers license and visas for you and your boys." The man handed over a folder with all the documents.
Alex glanced back at Uncle Stan. The look on the man's face told him he had arranged for all of this and was somewhat aggravated by the fact any customs checks were being done at all. Alex winked and got a return thumbs up from the man.
Bryan hated getting what he always called the "Royal Treatment". It was somewhat difficult to blend in, when many governments of the world wanted to make sure you stayed happy so they could continue to buy your company's products and services. It also felt very wrong. He was no better than those standing in the long customs lines, getting every single bag opened and the belongings scanned by electron scanners. Besides, there was nothing worse than the looks he got as he breezed through security right past people who had been waiting for an hour or better.
The captain didn't seem to notice the stares, however. He remained friendly and apologetic. "Is there anything else UB can do to make your stay more comfortable?"
Bryan sighed, "It looks like I will be staying for a bit of a vacation, so if you could just direct me to a rental car office, I would be grateful."
"Why don't I get you a military car and driver?"
Bryan shook his head, "No, no. My boys don't need to get in into their head that they are somehow more important than anyone else, but thank you." Bryan paused with a bit of a frown; "There is one thing you could do for me, actually."
"You have but to ask sir."
"Since this is an extended vacation and my ship is already on high alert, I don't want to trouble my security men with having to keep a body guard around for the boys or even for myself. I know your country doesn't usually allow security personnel to have anything stronger than sonic stun weapons, but I would like to hire a pair of men to watch me and one for each of my boys who have a little more..." Bryan's words drifted off.
"Firepower?" The custom's commander asked without batting an eyelash.
"Yea, I guess firepower is as good a word as any. But I don't want them to be babysitters either. Alex and Ryan need space to get to know one another again. They need to have the freedom to explore on their own without having some pesky security guy tell them what they can and cannot do. If they end up climbing too high in a tree and break a leg or an arm, then so be it."
The man listened with a bemused grin; "I fully understand what you are saying." He handed Bryan a card. When you get to your hotel have the staff give me a call. I will arrange everything and make sure the men will be as far away from the motherly type as I can find."
Bryan laughed, "Perfect. Point me to a rental car office and I shall let you get back to work!"
Alex grabbed his bag as he followed his father. It took every gram of willpower he could muster to not look in the side compartment. There was no way the two pieces of jewelry could have been overlooked. He stood back as his dad made arrangements for the rental vehicle.
Ryan had no idea what was going on, but he knew something very strange was going on and somehow he was a part of it. "Alex, what..."
"Let's get out of here first." Alex whispered
"But I saw what you did!" Ryan's voice was hushed but extremely tense.
"What I did?" Total confusion rippled across Alex's facial features, "What are you talking about?"
"The words and the hand motions you did caused a flash of light to hit the bag you are carrying!"
A new realization dawned on Ryan; "You don't even know what you did. It happened automatically didn't it?"
Bryan came over holding some paperwork and the keys to a rental vehicle, having caught just the tail end of the conversation, "What happened automatically, Ryan?"
Ryan saw Alex cringe and covered quickly. He shrugged, "Nothing, really."
Bryan ruffled Ryan's hair; "I have the feeling I am missing something here."
Alex grinned, "You are, Dad, but it's no big deal."
Bryan smiled, "OK, leave your old man out in the cold." He then paused, "However, and this goes for both of you, I want to know if you," he pointed to Ryan, "are having any uncertainties or difficulties with anything. Even if you think you two can handle it yourselves, I want to know about it. Understood?"
Alex answered quickly, "I know, Dad, you already gave me the speech, remember?"
Ryan took a little longer. He gulped then nodded. "Yes sir, but I think I'll be OK. Anything has got to be better than the orphanage."
Bryan took a deep breath, "Ryan, one thing I never want you to have to do, is try to compare what your life is like now, compared to when you were in the orphanage. If you have to do that, then both Alex and I are doing something dreadfully wrong. What I want you to be able to do..." Bryan stopped as he struggled to put his feelings into words. His voice softens as he started speaking again, "What I truly hope is you will eventually be able to make some kind of comparison between your life with Alex and I, and your life with your own parents. It won't happen overnight, but you are the only one who can tell us what you are missing or uncomfortable with."
Ryan wiped some tears out of his eyes as he thought of his mom and dad, "What I miss, you can't bring back."
Alex looked up at his dad helplessly as Ryan started to cry in earnest. Tears of his own started to spill down his cheeks.
Bryan tried desperately to hold back tears of his own. It had been a long time indeed since he had seen Alex look so totally helpless. He saw two vulnerable little boys before him as he tenderly wrapped his arms around both kids. "We have a long road ahead of us. It won't be easy, but we will help each other pull through, OK?"
Ryan didn't answer right away, and Bryan could only hope and pray that everything would be okay.