Castle Roland

Book I

by MultiMapper


Chapter 27

Posted: 5 Jan 15

Copyright © 2012 - 2015 by MultiMapper and The Revolutions Universe Partnership
All Rights Reserved

Mountain Fall

Metamorphosis LogoOver an hour later, Dr. Murten emerged from the surgery, looking as though he'd aged ten years.

"How is he?" Brother Jacques asked quickly.

"Zane is going to be just fine. The surgery ended up being quite a bit more involved than we had initially anticipated. As a result, his recovery is going to be somewhat extended. But he will recover." Dr. Murten finished with a weary smile, then turned to his nurse who had been waiting outside the room and said, "Would you go in and stay with him while I talk with the family?"

The nurse nodded as she cautiously walked into the makeshift surgical theater.

Before the door could close, Juan walked out, carrying the ammo canister that he had requested early on in the surgery. Everyone present jumped when a sudden ::boom:: sounded from inside the canister and it jumped about an inch in Juan's hand.

"Looks like Zane was right to wear that signal jamming vest." Juan said simply, then continued on, carrying the canister.

"Can I see him?" Brother Jacques asked Dr. Murten as the tears he had been holding back began to fall.

"Yes. He's still asleep. Try not to move him any more than necessary. I'm going to call for an ambulance to transport him to the hospital, where he's going to need to stay the night." Dr. Murten said quietly.

"Why? You said you got it out, didn't you?" Brother Jacques asked anxiously.

"Due to the extent of the surgery, he needs to be in observation tonight. It's nothing to be concerned about. It's simply a precaution." Dr. Murten said in an assuring voice.

"Trust me." Juan said as he walked back in. "He's gonna be a hurtin unit for a while, but he'll be fine. I'm just pissed that the thing blew up. I wanted to put it on my shelf with all the others, and then when I met Zane's grandfather, perform a transplant."

"Although it's fortuitous that you arrived when you did, I never thought to ask why you came to visit us at the lab today. You didn't know in advance about the explosive, did you?" Dr. Murten asked curiously.

Juan grinned, but shook his head. "I'm good, but I ain't that good." The grin faded, being replaced by a very serious look. "No, actually I brought Carson over cause we need to have a chat with you and his father."

"Last I knew, Ryan and Allen were in Ryan's office seeing to the evacuation of the building. Is there something wrong?" Dr. Murten asked with concern.

"Yes and no." Juan answered cryptically. "Why don't you go get Ryan, and we'll meet in the conference room where Carson and Bug are working." Juan began to turn around, then turned and looked at Brother Jacques. "Would you please join us. I think Carson can use your…. unique perspective."

"Can I have a minute to check on Zane? I know that he won't even know I'm there. But I need to see him." Brother Jacques asked hopefully.

"I'll stay with Jake and we'll catch up to you guys in a few minutes." Kev said decisively.

"Yeah. I never was good at that whole sympathy thing." Juan muttered as he started walking away.

"Can I ask you something?" Bax asked quietly, startling Roris, who had been paying attention to what his mother was saying.

"Yes. Of course. What can I do for you?" Roris asked as he turned to look at the boy.

"I know that Bug had to do some stuff before he goes to help Carson. But I was wondering if, when you go back to the house, if we could go with you. We've gotta ask Bug something, but if he's not there, we don't want to wait around with people we don't know." Bax asked timidly.

"Sure. In fact, Lawrence and I should be going. Why don't you get your coats on and we can leave now?" Roris asked pleasantly, although his computerized voice sounded less than thrilled.

"Okay. Thanks! We'll be ready in just a minute." Bax said quickly and was running away before the last words were out of his mouth.

"I'm glad we've had time to visit. But Carson is depending on Lawrence and me to do an important job." Roris said seriously. And this time his voice conveyed his actual emotion.

"Just so you know, if you don't stop back by here to have lunch, one of us will be over to bring you a plate." Doris said firmly.

"I'll try to break away long enough to eat, but in case I don't, I'll thank you in advance."

"I'll be sure to bring enough for two." Doris said with a smile at Lawrence.

"Aren't you ready, yet?" Bax asked as he and his compatriots were standing by the door, waiting for him.

"We'd better be going, too." Apollo said reluctantly, then turned to see if Jarritt had been paying attention.

"Please feel free to stop by anytime. And just so there's no misunderstanding, you don't have to wait for Rory to visit to have an excuse to stop by. We'd be delighted to have you visit us any time." Marcus said pleasantly.

"Oh... Okay. We'll do that." Apollo said in astonishment, then turned with surprise when Jarritt handed Apollo his coat.

"Come on!" Bax implored from the doorway.

"It was nice meeting you. Good bye." Apollo said as he pulled on his coat.

"Wait! Wait! You can't do that!" Carson said in frustration.

"Excuse me? I just did." Bug said with a roll of his eyes.

"You can't... It doesn't work like that..." Carson struggled to explain.

"Chill the fuck out, already, would'ja? I got this." Bug said as his flurry of typing seemed to kick into overdrive.

"How are you guys doing in here?" Ken asked as he walked into the conference room.

After a long, silent moment, except for the typing, Jay finally said, "It's like they're trying to out-nerd each other. I can't even figure out what they're talking about. I lost any concept of what they were saying about three words in."

"He's doing it wrong." Carson said petulantly, not looking away from the laptop screen for an instant.

"And yet it's working. So how fucking wrong do you think it really is?" Bug asked as he kept the majority of his concentration on his work.

"No matter what universe you're in, you continue to impress." Juan said with a fond smile at Vincent.

"Huh?" Ken asked from Bug's side.

"Doesn't matter. What'cha workin on, there, guys?" Juan asked as he walked to where he could look over Bug's shoulder.

"Bug thinks he can rewrite the entire structure of the relocation program from memory AND without ever taking it offline." Carson said dubiously.

"And Carson wants me to puss out and work out a design and do flow charts and multi-level process analysis before I ever even sit down to work on the fucking code. I mean, all that shit's great if you got nothing but time and no one cares how long it takes. But, fuck! There's people out on the streets right fucking now using this program. They don't need us to be fucking around. They need us fucking fixing it to work the best that we can." Bug said firmly.

"It won't help anyone if it doesn't work." Carson said flatly.

"Yeah. Well, when one of my programs doesn't work, I'll fucking yell it from the rooftop that you were right and I was wrong. Until then, how about you let me do my fucking work?" Bug asked irritably.

Juan, ever the diplomat, jumped in. "Carson, why don't we let Bug work. We need to have a serious conversation."

Just then Dr. Murten and Ryan Brown walked in the room. Juan turned and looked at them with a smile. "Doc Brown. Good to see you. By the way… Have you gotten to the 1.21 gigawatts lately?"

"Oh, how clever. I never heard that one before." Ryan said dryly.

"Wow. We're mining never before used depths of sarcasm today, aren't we?" Juan asked with a grin, before turning serious. "Anyways. It's time we got to business." He turned and looked at Carson. "Here in front of everyone else, or privately?"

"I know what you said before, but I don't really have a problem. So can we just get this over with?" Carson asked as he finally turned his attention away from the laptop screen.

"Okay, if you wanna go that route." Juan said as he shook his head at Carson, then turned to Ryan and Dr. Murten. "What these guys know that you don't is this, and if you need proof, just think about what you've seen us do already. My group and I are not from this Earth, but a different one. We can get into all the fancy details later, but there is more important things to worry about right now. One of the things about us is that we are all telepaths. Just before we came here, I spent some time with Carson going into the nerves of his legs, and shutting them off. This is something that will have to be kept up once a day, but any of the UNIT members here can do it. So, as of now, Carson is not in any pain, which is good. But… it brings up another problem." Juan said, giving one last look to Carson who stared defiantly back at him.

The younger boy sighed, and turned back to Ryan and Dr. Murten. "Unfortunately, during the last few years, he grew addicted to his painkillers…" Juan let what he said drift off, and just stood there to see what would happen.

"What did we miss?" Kev asked as he hurried into the room, leading Brother Jacques.

"Bug's kind of a jerk when you criticize him, Carson's a little bit too controlling, and Juan is some kind of an alien." Ken said distractedly. He looked past Kev and Brother Jacques and was disappointed to see that Allen hadn't returned.

"Brother Jacques, the reason I asked you here is simple. You know what it's like to be addicted to something. Carson's hooked on his painkillers, of course, he's denying it, but that's normal." Juan said simply, bringing Brother Jacques and Kev up to speed.

"You know what? If you really believe that. I'll just stop taking them. Okay? You fixed it so that my legs aren't hurting, so I don't need them anyway. Happy now?" Carson snapped.

Brother Jacques shook his head before he spoke. "You might not take those things anymore, but trust me, you WILL find something else to take."

"You're talking like I'm some kind of junkie. I just took what I needed to stop the pain." Carson tried to explain.

"But the pain never seemed to go away, so you took more. Then it got to the point when you couldn't remember if you had taken it, so you took more. Then you started to realize that you couldn't really think straight without them… Or maybe it was so you could 'think through the pain', so you took more. There was always a reason for you to take more than you should... And it was always a good reason, right?" Brother Jacques asked softly.

"You don't understand! Both my legs were broken, I mean, really, REALLY broken. The little bit of pain medication that Grandpa gave me barely scratched the surface of the pain. I just kept trying things until I found what worked." Carson reasoned.

Carson's father and grandfather shared a look, silently asking each other if they should intervene, but finally Ryan slightly shook his head, wanting to see how things worked out naturally.

"And now we have a problem." Juan said softly. Everyone looked at him, Carson with hatred smoldering in his eyes. Juan just shook his head. "Be pissed off at me if you want, I really don't care. What I care about is having the guy in charge be mentally 'with it' enough to help all the fucking people that are coming here. You're not in pain now, which is great, you don't need those pills… But here's the problem. Addicted or not, you can not just stop taking them. It could really fuck you up if you do."

Brother Jacques moved over and knelt in front of Carson. "He's right. First off, no one is blaming you, or saying anything bad about you. Getting addicted to painkillers is kinda expected with what you've been through. There's just no way around it. The problem is, right now, with you not needing them anymore, we need to deal with the fact that your body is gonna be craving it. And if you can't get your painkillers, you'll go after something else…. Anything else. You need to accept that fact, and know that you have people here you can count on to help you. Trust me, you will need it. Sometime soon, might be tonight, maybe tomorrow, but soon, you are going to be wanting nothing more than to take a pill, or something else. No matter what you are doing, it will be there, in the back of your mind, telling you that you need one. That you aren't functioning as well as you could be, and a pill will make you better. When that happens, you need to talk to someone. You need someone to hold you and help you past that point. The first few days are gonna be the worst, but with all of us, you can do it."

Carson involuntarily glanced at Jay, then looked away as quickly as he could when he saw that Jay had noticed.

"I'll do it, Carson." Jay said quietly.

"I couldn't ask you to." Carson said as he turned toward Jay, but refused to meet his eyes.

"You didn't. I volunteered. Remember when you told me that I make you strong..." Jay trailed off with a smile.

"Yeah. I remember that." Carson said reluctantly.

"Well thank fucking god! I thought I was gonna have to beat some sense into you. And while I usually enjoy that, when I beat up a kid in a wheelchair, people look at me funny." Juan said with a mischievous grin. "Now that the shitty stuff is over with." Juan said looking at Carson, grin still on his face. "You mind if I borrow your boyfriend? I got something I want to show all you guys, that's gonna blow your fucking minds."

"What are you going to do to me?" Jay asked cautiously.

"What?" Juan asked with a look of hurt on his face. "You don't trust me?"

Jay looked Juan in the eyes and no telepathy was needed to understand his answer.

"Okay, I'll give you that one. But what I'm talking about for you is almost not dangerous at all." Juan said innocently.

"Almost..." Jay said slowly, prompting for more.

"All I'm gonna do is get you to put on a special suit. You might catch your dick in the zipper. That's about as dangerous as it gets." Juan said with a note of exasperation.

"Fine…" Jay said softly, before following Juan out of the room.

Everyone was looking around, wondering what they were supposed to do, when a flurry of Bug's typing drew their attention.

"I thought you were almost done with that." Carson said as he moved his wheelchair to where he could see Bug's screen.

"Finishing touches." Bug said as he took his hands off the keyboard.

"So, how did it turn out?" Carson asked curiously.

"Give me a second." Bug said as he quickly typed something, then turned the computer where Carson could see it.

"What am I looking at?" Carson asked curiously.

"The opening screen. This is what everyone will see when they first boot the program." Bug said seriously.

"So you've got ten levels of users?"

"Twelve. You gotta learn to count." Bug said with a grin.

"So, what do I do?" Carson asked curiously.

"Select the type of user that you are." Bug said in a patronizing tone.

Carson selected 'Admin' and immediately saw the screen that he was familiar with, complete with the login prompt.

"If you selected 'Healthcare', then you'd have a different menu. If you selected 'Transportation', you'd have another. Each menu mines the database for the information that they're most likely to need. You need help in your field, it'll link you to personnel. If you need 'Supplies', it'll link you to the person in charge of that, which, by the way, we don't have." Bug added with a raised eyebrow.

"I hired him today." Carson said frankly.

"Well, once he's signed in, he'll have all the tools he needs to keep track of his shit and he'll also be able to request qualified help and supplies." Bug said seriously.

"It looks like I've got some calls to make." Carson said as he took out his cell phone.

"You'd better make 'em quick. Your boyfriend's gonna wanna show off for you." Bug said with a noxious grin.

"Fuck you." Carson said without any anger behind the words.

"Oh, no! My ears are burning! Bad words! Bad words!" Bug shrieked as he covered his ears.

Carson couldn't finish dialing his phone for laughing at Bug.

"Have you had any word from Carson?" Roris asked as he led the way into Carson's bedroom.

"Or Bug?" Bax asked quickly from behind him.

"No. No one's checked in, yet. But if you sign on, I think you've got two or three messages waiting. It's nothing urgent, but I think they're needing some decisions made." Hobie said absently.

"Lee's been handling Carson's stuff. From the sound of it, there's nothing too bad." Ben said as he turned in his chair.

"Thanks, Ben." Roris said as he maneuvered to sit in front of Carson's work computer.

"When you sign in, you'll want to look at the news summary before you get going. But some of the best news isn't on there." Ben said with a smile.

"What news is that?" Roris asked cautiously.

"That Dax has agreed to take over for me, watching out for the people from Chicago." Ben said happily.

Roris looked at Ben, then at Dax by his side, before saying, "I think he'll do a great job."

"That's not fair! Dax gets to do a job and we don't." Bax said grumpily.

"I tell you what, Bax. Why don't you go to the kitchen and see if they have anything for you guys to snack on for a few minutes? I bet by the time you're done with that, Carson will probably be back and he can find something for you to do." Ben said with a smile.

"Okay. But if Carson comes back before we do, be sure and tell him that we want to talk to him." Bax said sternly.

"I will. I promise." Ben said tenderly.

"You guys heard him. He promised." Bax said as he looked at Hobie, Seth, Roris and Lawrence.

"We'll see to it." Seth said with a grin.

Bax nodded once, then led his trio out of the room.

"Lawrence, would you turn off my voice box, then type what I tell you on the computer?" Roris asked hopefully.

"Sure. Just tell me what to do." Lawrence said happily as he flipped the switch on the voice box.

Juan walked back into the room, Jay noticeably missing. "Okay, would you guys like to join us outside?" Without waiting for an answer, Juan turned, and walked back through the lab till he was outside.

It didn't take long for everyone to file outside, and look at Juan curiously. When Juan was sure that everyone was there, he spoke. "What I brought here was one of the few spare suits of body armor that we have. This is the basic armor, we have other armor that is much more advanced, but rarely used. What I was hoping was that you guys..." Looking right at Ryan, and then Carson, "Might be able to recreate a lot of what we did with the armor. Before I leave I will give you guys full schematics of the armor, and the base programing we used for the computers. If you guys can do this, I am positive it will give you both a huge boost in what you have been working on."

"How do you mean?" Ryan asked, obviously intrigued.

"Well first, why don't I give you a bit of a demonstration." Juan said then turned towards the corner of the building. "OKAY JAY!" He shouted, and all eyes went to where he was looking. A moment later a figure, obviously Jay, outfitted in black, futuristic looking body armor came walking around the side of the building towards them. "Now, normally, when we would show what the armor could do, it would include shooting the person in the chest... just to show that it can really stop a bullet. BUT... I figure you guys probably wouldn't like that." Juan said with a grin.

"Ummm... no." Carson said without a hint of a smile.

"I knew it. You guys are no fun. Oh well, I have some other things to show you." Juan paused as Jay came up to them.

"This thing is AWESOME!" Jay said excitedly, causing Juan to grin.

"Okay, let's go over the basics, then we'll get into the really fun stuff. At the moment, this suit is unlocked, meaning that anyone can use it. When someone gets issued a suit, the first thing we do is lock it to their bio signature, as well as their voice print. We won't be doing that now, since the only way to unlock it after it's been locked, is to wipe it clean, and re-upload all the programing."

"Fucking sweet." Bug said with a grin.

"Yeah, keeps people from stealing your shit that way." Juan made a quick mental decision NOT to tell them about the scuttle charges in the armor.

"Now, to get into some of what this can do." Juan said with a grin, then took an exaggerated deep breath and began to speak. "The helmet has Infrared, thermal imaging, ten times zoom, with a reticule for sniper support, active friend and foe telemetry, enhanced communications suite with sub vocal enhancements. Not to mention a maximum of twenty-seven minutes of recycled air, in case of underwater activity. AND… If you are qualified for it, it has an integrated glide suit." Juan giggled at the expressions on their faces.

"Now, that was the passive stuff. Let's get into the really cool. These suits are designed to be power assist." He directed that to Carson who suddenly sat up in his seat, almost salivating. "While it will not allow for someone who has no use of their legs to walk, it will 'assist' someone who does." Juan turned to Jay and smiled. "Do me a favor. I want you to jump straight up, as high as you can."

Jay cocked his head to the side. "Okay…." He said slowly, then squatted down a bit and jumped straight up into the air.

"Holy shit!" Bug exclaimed as Jay easily jumped six feet straight up. Being caught off guard at how high he jumped, Jay almost fell on his ass when he landed, except Juan was right there to steady him.

When Juan stopped laughing, he looked at the group. "Now, I could demonstrate this next part, but I figure you'll just have to trust me on this. Even the youngest and smallest of the squishes can run miles with this suit, complete with a 250 pound pack."

"Sweet Jesus." This time it was Ryan that breathed that out.

Juan grinned while looking at Ryan, then his grin got wider. "Mr. Brown, how much do you weigh?"

"Ummm… about 190, I guess." Ryan said some what uncomfortably.

That'll work." Juan said then looked at Jay. "Jay… Go over and pick Mr. Brown up."

Jay hesitated for a moment, then went over and stood in front of Ryan. When the man nodded, Jay grabbed him around the waist and lifted, not really expecting to be able to lift the man. When he easily lifted him off the ground, Jay couldn't help but laugh, almost dropping the man in the process.

"Okay, now I am officially impressed." Carson said with a mile wide grin, the tension from the earlier conversation completely forgotten. "So, why are you showing this to us?" He asked.

"I thought you'd never ask!" Juan said gleefully. "See, we don't have the manufacturing capabilities to make more of these, and frankly, we ain't got the time. So… It was my hope that you guys would be able to reverse engineer this suit, and then make more of them." Before anyone could say anything, Juan hurried to continue. "Of course, in order to do that, you guys will have to face a few obstacles."

"Like what?" Ryan asked, the scientist in him coming out.

"Well first off, the materials we used, most of them can't be recreated. You'll have to figure out what you can use. The other thing is, you're gonna have to learn a few new things." Juan said, then paused, grinning, and waiting for someone to respond.

"Okay, I'll bite…" Ryan said with a matching grin. "What are we going to have to learn?"

"Well the first thing will be how to program in trinary."

"Holy fucking shit of Jesus!" Bug gasped.

The others who had been so focused on the impressive abilities of the suit were now trying to fight down their laughter.

Carson and his father, however, were every bit as stupefied as Bug at the announcement.

Juan was laughing himself, but finally managed to spit out. "And don't worry Bug, as a safety measure, we never created a GUI for it. Which means you really gotta LEARN it!"

"I took the training wheels off my computer five years ago. Bring it on." Bug said happily.

"Sweet!" Juan said, then turned serious and looked at Ryan. "So, Mr. Brown, you up to the challenge?" Juan reached into the box that had the armor and picked up both a laptop and a rather large book. "This laptop will help teach you guys the trinary, as well as show you how to program the suits. It's like Bug's laptop, only stripped down, since it doesn't do anything other than the armor. The book holds all the schematics and instructions for the suits." He held it out to Ryan, and waited to see if the man would take it.

"When can I start?" Bug interrupted.

"When all the crazy things settle down, maybe we can talk your dads into letting Ben take you up to the cabin for a weekend, sometime. It's like a whole other world, up there." Danny said as the boys sat around Sammy's bed with rapt attention. Gerry and Myron were sitting back, every bit as enthralled as the boys.

"It sounds like lots of fun. But our dad's the Vice President. I don't know if we'll ever be allowed to do something like that." Danny's younger namesake said regretfully.

"Tell us another story about the cabin. It sounds like a lot of fun." Sammy said hopefully from his place in the bed.

"I've got a hundred stories, but when I run out, we'll get Ben up here. He probably has at least a thousand." Danny said before launching into another adventurous tale.

"How are you doing this morning, Geraldine?" Walt asked as he walked into the living room of the main house.

"I feel ever so much better. Dr. Murten is a miracle worker." Oma Shoupe said happily.

"Geraldine, I'd like for you to meet Adrian. He's reviewing the security that we have in place." Walt said warmly to her.

"You know, before I met my late husband, I had a beau named Adrian. He was a fit young man like you. Reminded me a bit of Elvis. He was a Catholic, so my father wouldn't hear of it... Probably for the best... Regardless, it's a pleasure to meet you." Oma Shoupe said with a distant look, and finished with a tender smile.

"If you'll excuse us, I'm going to take Adrian up to talk with the Secret Service for a moment, then we're going to check in with the Vice President." Walt said softly.

"Good Lord, living in the same house as the Vice President. I swear, it's everything I can do to believe that I haven't slipped away into a dream." Oma Shoupe chuckled as she shook her head in disbelief.

"There's quite a bit about the past few days that seems surreal to all of us. I'm just happy to know that you're feeling better. Have a good day, Geraldine."

"You, too, Walt. And it was a pleasure to meet you Adrian." Oma Shoupe said warmly, then watched as the two men walked to the stairs.

"Roris wants to know if we have anyone who can help a blind man find his way around for a few days. The guy came here with a group, who's passing through here to stay with one of their families..." Lawrence was saying when he was interrupted.

"Go under your 'Requested Personnel' tab and ask for someone who can help. It'll probably take less than a minute before Dizzy finds a match. I mean, all they have to do is be able to see... Right?" Ben asked seriously.

After a moment to listen to what Roris was saying, Lawrence responded, "We'll try that."

"What is it, love?" Reginald asked with concern.

"You know that I was telling you about them asking me to help out? They've put me in charge of the non-foods warehousing and distribution for the entire refugee effort." Walter said in amazement.

"If it's more than you can handle, just tell them and I'm sure that they'll find someone else." Reginald said frankly.

"No. I was just looking over the relocation program that they're going to be using... I can do this. This is exactly the kind of thing that I've been looking for the past few years. There just weren't any job opportunities in the field." Walter said happily, then looked at Reginald and added, "And considering your career as a clothing buyer, I'm sure that I could put your skills to good use."

"I don't know. I mean, yes, I would like that, but shouldn't I keep myself free to watch after Ronan?" Reginald asked in a conflicted voice.

"That boy, Bug, was right. Ronan is getting older and needs to know what it feels like to be independent and trusted. We'll be sure that he can contact us if he needs to, then trust him to make good decisions. And if he screws up, which he probably will, we'll impose whatever punishment seems appropriate, then we'll trust him again... We just have to face it, he has to grow up." Walter finished with a slight shrug.

"It's hard not to think of him as a little boy, but you're right. Did you see him with his friends at breakfast?" Reginald said with a small smile.

"I know that Ronan had friends before, but these are the type of friends that every boy should have... close friends... best friends." Walter said with a smile at his partner.

"But what happens if things start to move beyond friendship? He is just about at that age." Reginald asked cautiously.

"He'll survive it, just like we did." Walter assured him.

"But when we were that age, there weren't sexually transmitted diseases that could kill you." Reginald said seriously.

"True." Walter conceded, then, after a moment to consider, he continued, "I think maybe it's time we had that talk with him, before he has the chance to make any mistakes with lifelong consequences."

"As much as I hate to admit it, I think you're right." Reginald reluctantly agreed.

"Next time he stops by... Probably at mealtime..." Walter chuckled, "Let's pull him aside for a few minutes."

"You know I'm dreading this, don't you?" Reginald asked cautiously.

"I know. So am I." Walter said honestly.

"That officious twit!" Mike huffed as he backed away from the computer monitor he had been reading.

"What's wrong?" Eric asked as he walked to his husband's side.

"There are about a thousand and one different operations in progress to help the general population escape the horror of the past two days, and everyone has been doing whatever they can to make it easier on everyone..."

"...Until now." Eric supplied.

"Some Canadian bureaucrat has thrown a monkey wrench into what would otherwise be a smooth process." Mike huffed.

"Maybe, if you can get in touch with him, you can discuss your concerns and get him to understand how important his cooperation can be." Eric gently suggested.

"Make no mistake about it. He know's that he's being an ass. He's deliberately stonewalling us and delaying the approval for our refugees to move into Canada. There's nothing I need to discuss with him, he knows exactly what he's doing and how many people he's making suffer in the process." Mike said in a low angry voice.

"Then, I suppose you should go over his head." Eric said simply.

After a moment to consider, Mike finally said, "He's a cabinet minister. I'm not quite sure who's next in their chain of command. But I suppose that it's about time that I find out."

Eric nodded, then went back to his own duties, helping to support the massive relief effort in anyway that he could.

"Ben, there's something here that I don't understand." Dax said quietly from his side.

"What's that?" Ben asked as he turned his attention to Dax's screen.

"All this stuff about distributing one job class and concentrating another, it doesn't make sense to me." Dax said honestly.

After a moment of reading, Ben quietly said, "I think you need to look at what you're actually deciding with this program."

"What am I deciding?" Dax asked cautiously.

"You're deciding where people are going to live. Pull up the detail on one of those job classes and you'll get a better idea of what I mean." Ben said as he shifted to see Dax's screen more easily.

"Emergency Services." Dax said slowly.

"Right, so we want for police, firemen and EMTs to be as evenly distributed as possible through the community, not only for the convenience of having them close by, if needed, but also to foster a sense of community, so they'll be more invested in helping 'their' people. Other jobs, like doctors and nurses, we'd want as close as possible to the hospital, and we'd want them grouped together so they can more easily support each other." Ben said seriously.

"I don't know if I'm smart enough for this. I never would have thought of that." Dax said honestly.

Ben leaned close to whisper, "I didn't think of it, either. Bug or Carson did. If the only people helping out are the ones who are smart enough to understand it all, then Carson and Bug are going to have to do everything themselves."

After a moment, Dax reluctantly said, "I guess. But, kinda keep an eye on me, would you? I have the feeling that if I make one wrong move, that the people who are depending on me for help are going to end up suffering."

"I promise that I'll do everything in my power to keep that from happening. And I'll be right here to help you if you have any questions at all." Ben said warmly.

"How's your thing going?" Dax asked quietly.

"You're asking about my thing?" Ben playfully chuckled.

Dax blushed, then stammered to explain, "I don't really know what you're doing, and I just wanted to know if it's going okay."

"What I'm doing is finding out as much as I can about what's going on in the country, then trying to get a sense of what might happen next and how it might impact us, so we can be prepared for it. That's why Carson asked me to help him, because I got a sense of the danger before it actually happened." Ben slowly explained.

"Yeah. I remember that, at dinner, at the mission." Dax said thoughtfully.

"But for right now, we need to get back to work. Your Chicago people should be here tomorrow, and you want to have everything ready for them." Ben said frankly.

Dax nodded, then turned his attention back to his computer.

"Did it work?" Zane asked as he fought to open his eyes.

"Yes. The tracking device is gone. You're going to be fine." Brother Jacques whispered as he held Zane's hand firmly.

"What went wrong? I sort of remember the doctor saying that it was in really deep, then I fell asleep." Zane said in confusion.

"It seems that your grandfather booby trapped the tracker so that if anyone tried to remove it, that it'd kill you, and probably the doctor, too." Brother Jacques said regretfully.

"Is everyone alright? Did anyone get hurt?" Zane asked with concern.

"Everyone's fine. As soon as the doctor realized what he was looking at, he told Mr. Brown and the building was evacuated." Brother Jacques said gently.

"Where are we?" Zane asked as he turned his head slightly.

"We're in the hospital in Kettle Falls. The doctor says that you're going to need to stay here tonight, but that's just to be sure that you don't have any complications from the surgery. Don't worry, I'm going to be right here by your side until you're released." Brother Jacques said with an encouraging smile.

"What about the kids? They're your responsibility. Don't you need to be there for them?" Zane asked with concern.

After a moment to consider, Brother Jacques slowly said, "Let me make a phone call and see what I can do. If I can work it out so that I can stay with you, I will. But I promise that I'll only do that if I'm one hundred percent sure that the kids are being taken care of."

"Okay." Zane whispered as his eyes closed.

Brother Jacques leaned in to give Zane a gentle kiss, then quietly left the room.

"How did everything go?" Hobie asked as Ken walked into Carson's bedroom.

"Okay, I guess. Jake and Zane are at the hospital, but Zane's going to be fine." Ken said with a worried expression.

"I didn't get what was going on. Why is he at the hospital?" Seth asked curiously.

Ken looked at Ben with question, not sure if he should say.

"Zane had a tracking device implanted in his chest, so our grandfather could get him back if he ever tried to run away." Ben said frankly.

Both Seth and Hobie's eyes went wide with surprise.

"It turned out that it was worse than that. The tracking device was booby trapped to explode if anyone tried to remove it." Ken said darkly.

"You're missing the best part." Juan said as he sauntered into the room.

Ken turned and looked at him curiously.

"That thing wasn't just a transmitter, it was a receiver, too. When the old son-of-a-bitch realized that Zane was gone, he sent the 'kill' command to detonate it. I tell you what, there's a lot of uses for a heartless motherfucker like that. Just never turn your back on 'em."

"But you said that Zane's fine, right?" Ben asked with concern.

"Yeah. Although, if he has to go through any metal detectors, he's gonna have a fun time explaining things." Juan chuckled, then glanced at the doorway as Carson entered.

"Why is that?" Ben asked cautiously.

"When the tracking device was implanted, there was an explosives package embedded even deeper in the bone and rigged to detonate if anyone tampered with it. Because of that, I had to take a big chunk of his breastbone out, to keep from setting the thing off. I put the metal plate in to support the structure of his ribcage. It'll hurt for a while, but he'll be okay." Juan finished with a shrug.

"I need to go..." Ben began to say, then looked back at his computer with regret.

"Just tell me what you need me to do, and I'll cover for you while you check on your cousin." Dax said quietly.

"Fuck that. Just go. I've got you covered." Bug said as he walked into the room, carrying his laptop.

"Are you sure, Bug?" Ben asked cautiously.

"I wouldn't've fuckin said it, if I didn't fuckin mean it." Bug said as he dropped into his chair and opened the laptop on the table.

"I'll be back as soon as I can." Ben said anxiously as he stood, then looked back at Dax with concern.

"Everything's fine. If I need anything, I'll ask Bug." Dax assured him, then noticed that Bug was completely engrossed in something on his computer.

With one last look at the people in Carson's room, Ben hurried away, with Oleksandr in his arms.

"I ain't done with my presents yet!" Juan said gleefully. Carson didn't know whether to groan or grin, Bug though acted like a child at Christmas as he looked up from his laptop for an instant. Ever since Juan had told them about trinary, Bug had been buried in his laptop, trying to learn the new and very complex computer language. "Don't worry, while this ain't as cool as the last one, I think you guys will find this VERY useful."

"Okay, what is it?" Carson finally asked.

Juan went over to Carson's bed and laid down the long large case that he was carrying. "One thing you guys may not have thought about yet, since it hasn't come up, and you've never done anything like this before, is communications." He popped open the case, opened the lid, and then pulled out a two foot long rectangular box. He reached back down, and pulled out a few cables, and then went over to Carson. "This will act like a relay center for all the communications devices, not only what's in the case, but also anything else that can catch the signal. With what I have heard about Dizzy, he'll be able to interface with this easily, and control everything." Juan handed the box to Carson, as well as the cables. He then went back to the case, and lifted the top part off, and pulled out a small box about the size of a cigarette box, then a long thin wire. "You got two choices, and I'll leave it up to you as to who gets what. You have a total of two hundred voice communications devices here. One hundred fifty of them are like this." He said holding up the cord and box. "You put the receiver on your waistband, or belt, plug the wire in, run it up under your shirt, and plug the ear bud in. These are a lot like what the Secret Service use, except they don't have cuff mics. The mic will hang down right by your throat, and you transmit by gently squeezing the mic." He paused to hand the receiver and wire to Kev, who was standing closest to him. "Pass that around if you would." Kev looked at it for a moment, then passed it to Ken.

"Now, we get into the fun ones." Juan said as he picked up a small piece of what looked like paper. "These are called subvocals." He took the top piece of paper off, and showed them a flesh colored thin strip, and another flesh colored button. "The strip goes against your throat, and the button behind your ear. All you need to do is touch the strip and speak to transmit. You don't need to speak higher then a very faint whisper to transmit, and the little button will send the sound waves directly to your eardrum. They are much higher tech, with more functions, but also a bit more fragile."

"If you'll excuse us, we need to go and check on the kids. Call if you need us for anything." Ken said quietly, obviously not wanting to disrupt Juan's presentation.

Bug nodded at Ken that he had heard, then turned his full attention back to Juan.

"Okay, what's the range on these things?" Carson asked as he finally got a look at the sub vocal.

"The standard ones are about twenty miles. The subvocals are closer to fifty. Of course terrain and other factors affect it, but..." Juan answered.

"Sweet." Bug said looking at the receivers, then looked up at Juan. "So, any more toys for us?"

"Well, that all depends on if you want to play with the guns and explosives I brought with me." Juan said with a grin.

"Do you have a job for us, yet?" Bax asked as he rushed into the room and ran directly to the alcove where Carson was finishing patching in the communications box.

"What?" Carson asked with confusion.

Bax looked around the room, then accusingly said, "You promised that you'd tell him."

"Actually, Ben promised, and he had to leave suddenly." Seth said with a smile.

"What are we talking about?" Carson asked with confusion.

Juan looked at the young trio, then at Carson with a smile before saying, "I think I know what they want, and this could work out really well for everyone involved."

"What?" Carson asked in confusion.

"These guys want to help out. And from what I know of your grand scheme, I think I can see a way that they can." Juan said with a grin.

"This doesn't involve those explosives that you were talking about, does it?" Carson asked cautiously.

"No. Let's see. How's the best way to do this?" Juan asked as he made a show of looking up and down and all around, then finally his gaze settled on the communication devices on the bed.

"Come here, guys. You'll each need one of these." Juan said as he picked up one of the comm devices.

"Are those like radios?" Bax asked as he accepted one.

"Got it in one." Juan said as he continued to hand them out.

"What do we do with these?" Max asked curiously.

"Go out and get a gator, and we'll radio with your instructions." Juan said with a grin.

As soon as all three had their comms in place, they rushed out of the room to find out what was going to happen next.

"Bug, do you think you could add a number thirteen option to your program?" Juan casually asked, already knowing the answer.

"Sure. What does it need to do?" Bug asked as he looked up from his laptop briefly.

"You guys have done a great job of getting professionals and supplies where they need to be, but there's gonna be times when you need a piece of equipment or something like that, and you don't want to have to stop what you're doing to go and get it." Juan explained, although no one seemed to be following what he was saying.

"So, what?" Bug finally asked.

Juan rolled his eyes, then said, "The new class is gonna be called 'Gophers'. When you realize you need something, you sign in and ask a gopher to go and pick it up for you."

"Gopher... Go for." Carson said with a nod.

"Duh!" Juan rolled his eyes again, then turned to Carson and said, "I need for you to requisition three tablet computers. Then tell Dizzy to tell the 'Gophers' where they need to go to pick them up."

"I have plenty of tablets." Carson said even though he was already bringing up the supply requisition form on one of his screens.

Juan nudged Seth out of the way to quickly key in some instructions. "Good, the Gopher comms are now logged in. When you have their pick up instructions, just have Dizzy relay the information to them and they'll be on their way."

"What did you need the tablets for?" Carson asked slowly.

"That way the Gophers will be able to access maps or detailed information, when they need to." Juan said simply.

"I'm done with the mod, do you want to check this out?" Bug asked Juan quickly.

"God damn! You're fast!" Juan chuckled as he walked to Bug's side.

"I type five or six hours a day." Bug muttered absently as he reviewed his work.

"Not that. I mean the way you process information. If we slipped your mind into a positronic matrix, you'd probably be up and running inside of an hour." Juan said as he also read through Bug's code.

"Thanks... I think." Bug said uncertainly.

Juan rolled his eyes, then said, "It just means that your mind is well organized. Don't worry about it. We don't have any unused positronic brains laying around, anyway."

"Good to know." Bug said cautiously, then asked, "How is it?"

"Looks like it'll work. With that global patch you worked in, anyone in the program will be able to request a Gopher from any location." Juan said with a nod.

"Isn't that going to be a lot for them to handle?" Dax asked with concern.

"Yeah. Once people know it's there, it'll be way too much for the three of them. But they're the first. When they need help, they'll recruit the people they need when they need them. And the best part is, they'll be in charge of the whole thing, so they'll be discovering and learning some important things at the same time they're helping us out." Juan said in an uncharacteristic serious voice.

"I remember how it was when my parents started trusting me to do stuff on my own. It'll be good to pass that feeling on to a new generation." Carson said introspectively.

"Right. Now, you old folks need to stop reminiscing and get your asses back to work. I need to track down Adrian and finish the job that I was sent here to do." Juan said decisively.

"What about these other radios?" Carson hurried to ask.

"Give them to the people you put in charge. Since you have a limited supply, you probably don't want to give one to people who are stationed behind their computers. But anyone that's mobile, should have a way that they can immediately request help or receive instructions. The subvocals would probably be best for your key people who will be needing the most flexibility.

"Like my dad." Hobie interjected. "He's always on the move and it's a real pain for him to be tied to a computer to get updates from me."

"Exactly. Think of it as brain and brawn. The brains, that's you guys, are behind the computers, while the brawns are out doing the stuff that needs done. But they're counting on the brains to tell them what needs to be done. Because, down in the middle of it, they can't see where they're needed most." Juan said seriously.

Carson slowly nodded his understanding.

"Bug, how do I change this?" Dax whispered.

"I'll leave you guys to it. I'll probably check in again before I go." Juan said and hurried out of the room before anyone could respond.

"What's that, Dax?" Bug asked as he approached.

"I want to set this up so it's kinda like a little model of Chicago. When the first people show up, we ask what their address was, and then I was wanting to use that to put people in close to the same neighborhoods." Dax explained.

"Give me a second..." Bug said as he stared at Dax's screen vacantly for a moment.

Dax watched curiously as Bug seemed to be frozen in place.

Then, before he could react, Bug moved back to his laptop and started typing at lightning speed.

"I think that means that he's figured it out." Carson chuckled, then turned his attention back to his screens.

"Carson, you have a call. It's Jacques Samuelson." Dizzy said simply.

"Brother Jacques, what can I do for you?" Carson asked pleasantly.

"I was figuring that calling you would be the best way that I could get in touch with Ben or the twins. I need to ask them a favor." Brother Jacques said anxiously.

"I'm afraid that they aren't here. I think Ben is on his way to the hospital to visit his cousin, and the twins said that they would be checking on the kids." Carson said seriously.

"Well, I guess that's good. I was wanting to ask them if they'd keep an eye on the kids for me. I'd really like to stay here with Zane until he's feeling a little better." Brother Jacques said honestly.

Dax got up from the table and walked to stand behind Carson, then said, "This is Dax. If you want, I can get the twins for you or give them a message, I can even help with the kids."

There was a long moment of silence, then Brother Jacques quietly said, "Thank you, Dax. I think that if you'll let the twins know what's going on, they can contact me here at the hospital if they need me for anything."

"I'll let them know." Dax said confidently.

"And if you're serious about helping with the kids, make sure to let them know that, too. I'm sure they'll be happy to have someone else to help them." Brother Jacques said peacefully.

"Ben asked me to help to make a place for the Chicago people, when they get here. But I think I've done as much as I can until they start arriving. So I can help the twins if they need me." Dax said seriously.

"What happened to the closed off, angry boy that we brought with us from Chicago?" Brother Jacques asked in wonder.

"I guess he took a chance and let someone in." Dax said shyly.

"Whatever happened, I'm glad it did. Please let the twins know what's up and be sure to call me if you need me to come back there." Brother Jacques said calmly.

"Don't worry about us. We'll take care of everything here." Dax said reassuringly.

"Thanks." Brother Jacques said before the link fell silent.

"I'll be right back." Dax said quietly before hurrying out of the room.

"What do you think that was all about?" Carson asked as he looked around.

"Roris thinks that being here has caused Dax to do some growing up." Lawrence said frankly.

"Excuse me, Carson. But do you have a minute?" Lucas asked as he walked into Carson's room.

"I've got lots of them. What's up?" Carson asked as he looked away from his screens.

"You asked me for my thoughts about things we can do to make our guests comfortable when they arrive." Lucas said slowly.

"Right. Did you come up with anything?" Carson asked curiously.

"Perhaps." Lucas said slowly. "I discussed it with Gordon and we thought that it might be good to offer our guests the opportunity to divert their attention for a short time and relieve some stress."

"Sounds good so far." Carson said slowly.

"As I understand your plans, portable kitchens are going to be employed to feed large numbers of people who will be arriving until they either move on, or get set up in a home of some sort and can cook for themselves."

"Yes. I think Lance has that all arranged. In fact, he may already have the first of the kitchens in operation by now." Carson said seriously.

"The first has been running all morning. Dad has the second one prepping right now and it should be open for lunch." Hobie said from in front of his laptop.

"Good." Carson said with a smile in his direction, then looked at Lucas curiously.

"Well, we were thinking that since we already have those preparations made, we might add a few minor distractions to help take people's minds off their troubles." Lucas said hesitantly.

"Oh my fucking God! Will you just spit it out already!? What the fuck are you planning?" Bug exploded.

"Something like a street carnival or festival. We would encourage anyone with musical talent to play their instruments. In other areas we might set up a crude dance floor and ask a DJ to lend his services. Maybe we could get people to tell stories to entertain children or any number of things to allow people a chance to catch their breath and relax before taking on their next challenge, whatever it may be." Lucas said as he looked around the room to gauge people's reactions.

Carson considered for a moment, then said, "I like it. Not a lot of preparation and it could give people a chance to stop and collect themselves before starting on the next thing that they need to tackle."

"Group fourteen, 'Entertainers'." Bug said, then started typing.

"What's that?" Lucas asked cautiously.

"I think that means that Bug is modifying his program to spot people who might be instrumental in your plan." Carson said with a smile at Bug.

"When you decide you want to do a 'festival', all you gotta do is open the menu, do a search, and send them a request. If they say yes, tell'em where and when." Bug said simply.

"Me?" Lucas asked cautiously.

"Yeah. Who the fuck else?" Bug said before going back to his typing.

"Well, I suppose I could..." Lucas said slowly.

"Listen. I put a tattletale in there so whenever you schedule something in someone's area, it puts up a notice. That way, it's available for anyone who wants to join in and you don't have to fuck with emails and shit." Bug said as he turned his attention back to his laptop.

"That sounds very convenient." Lucas said cautiously.

"Is Lazlo doing something? I thought he'd be down here by now." Jay asked Lucas curiously.

"He was watching the news when I saw him upstairs. He seemed to be caught up in it." Lucas said thoughtfully, then asked, "Do you need him?"

"No. He's taking things really hard. He needs to deal with them in his own way. But if you think he needs a distraction, later, you can send him down here and we'll put him to work." Jay finished with a smile.

"How are you doing?" Lucas asked gently.

"I'm good. I'm right where I need to be, right now." Jay said simply.

Lucas nodded, then turned for the door.

"Before you go, you need to take a radio." Bug said suddenly, then added, "That way if you're out setting up a festival or something, you can call and get in touch with us if you need to."

"Good thinking, Bug." Carson said with a smile in his direction.

"Yeah, well, we gotta give these fucking things away or you won't have anyplace to sleep." Bug said as he handed a radio to Lucas.

Carson smiled as he watched Bug go back to his laptop.

"Here. We got 'em. Just like you wanted." Bax said as he ran into Carson's room, followed by Max and Ro, all of them looking windswept and excited.

"Good. Thank you." Carson said with a smile.

"Bring those over here. I need to set them up." Bug said seriously.

"And while Bug's doing that, I can tell you about the job we have for you." Carson said with a smile.

Bug accepted the three boxes and started opening the first one.

"Juan came up with a pretty good idea for you. If you guys are willing, I think you could help a lot of people when things start getting really crazy." Carson said as he undocked his wheelchair, so he could turn and face them fully.

"What do you want us to do?" Max asked hopefully.

"Well, the idea is that when someone like me or Bug is really busy, that sometimes we need things, like, maybe those tablets. Instead of having to drop what we're doing and go get it ourselves, we can call on the 'Gophers' to go and get what we need and bring it to us." Carson explained slowly.

"Gophers?" Ro asked cautiously.

"Yes. You 'go for' things for whoever needs it. You'll be kind of like a messenger service." Carson said frankly.

"So we'd get to ride gators and take people the stuff they need?" Bax asked to verify his understanding.

"That's right. But, the more people we have using our system, the more you'll have to do. It probably won't be very long before you'll need more people to help you, so you'll have to recruit new gophers. If you need any help with that, you can come to me, Bug, Ben or Roris and we'll be happy to help you." Carson said seriously.

Roris turned on his voice box then turned his chair as he said, "And you'll need to be sure that the people who are working for you are doing what they're supposed to and delivering the packages quickly. We're not going to be following behind everyone to see that they're doing their jobs. If we notice a problem, we'll let you know what it is and let you handle it."

"So, we're in charge?" Bax asked cautiously.

"That's right. And I think the first thing the Gophers need to do is to talk to the parents to be sure that they're all on board with you riding gators and going into town. If they say no, it's off. But if you can get them to go along with it, you'll have a way to help people all over the area." Bug said honestly.

Bax ran to Bug and pulled him into a quick hug as he said, "I thought you was gonna give us something like housework or some stupid job like that."

"Well, I'm sure I would've come up with something for you. But it was Juan who came up with this idea. Make sure that you thank him if you see him before he leaves." Bug said with a smile.

"We will." Bax promised.

"Before you go. I need to give you these tablets. I just finished loading a new app on them, so Dizzy'll be able to help you out with maps and directions and stuff." Bug said as he reached back to his table and picked up the first tablet.

"Are these for us? Do we get to keep 'em?" Bax asked hopefully.

"You get to keep them for as long as you're gophers. If you decide to quit, you've got to give 'em to the gophers who take your places." Carson said seriously.

"Wow. This is really nice. I mean, it's not a cheap little 'no name' thing that doesn't work right." Bax said as he looked the tablet over carefully.

"Here you go, Ro. Yours is ready." Bug said as he handed the next tablet over. "Yours will be ready in just a second, Max." Bug said as he connected the tablet to his laptop and initiated the upload.

"Wow. Look at this. It can do games and movies and music and books..." Ro chattered happily.

"And work." Carson interjected.

"We'll do our jobs. You don't have to worry." Bax said solemnly.

"Here you go, Max. You're all set up." Bug said with a smile.

"Thanks!" Max said happily.

"Now, go and ask your parents. Remember to have them call down here if they have any questions." Carson said seriously.

"Bug! Can I be a Gopher?" Bax asked enthusiastically.

"Yes, you may." Bug said very precisely.

Bax giggled at the response, then turned to Max and Ro and said, "I got mine done. Who's next?"

The three new 'Gophers' were out the door before Max or Ro could answer.

"Danny, do you have a minute?" Apollo asked cautiously from the doorway to Sammy's room.

"Sure, come on in. I was just telling the guys about some of the stuff we used to get up to, back in Florida, when we were their age." Danny said happily.

"Um, could I talk to you out here, in the hall?" Apollo asked anxiously.

"Sure. I guess." Danny said hesitantly.

"Go on. This'll give me and Myron a chance to tell some of the stories you were too shy to tell." Gerry said with a mischievous grin.

"Great." Danny said with a withering look, then walked toward the door.

After leading Apollo into the room that had been used by the Reeds, so they could speak privately, Danny quietly asked, "What did you need to talk about?"

"It's about Jarritt." Apollo said nervously.

Danny waited, but Apollo didn't seem inclined to continue. Finally, he asked, "What about him?"

"Well, I, um... He wants to..." Apollo stammered.

"He told you that he loves you?" Danny guessed.

"Yeah. That." Apollo whispered.

"How do you feel about him?" Danny asked simply.

"I don't know. I mean, I only just met him. I like him, of course. But he's... you know..." Apollo trailed off in anguish.

"Jarritt has Down Syndrome. Because of that, he has some limitations. But that doesn't make him any less of a person, or any less of a man. I can't tell you what to do, because I don't know how you feel about him. But please don't let the fact that he's different be the cause for rejecting his feelings toward you. If you don't love him or if you don't want to pursue a sexual relationship with him, that's fine. I know that it might hurt him in the short term to hear that, but he'll bounce back from it, in time. But I will tell you this. When Jarritt loves someone, he loves them with all his heart. If you're up to it, I think it could be a wonderful relationship." Danny said carefully.

"I was afraid that if we did that, people would think I was taking advantage of him." Apollo said nervously.

"Some of them might. But those are probably the same people who look at Jarritt and see an overgrown child. I've been watching after Jarritt since his mother passed away and I can tell you, he's an adult, complete with adult feelings and adult desires. Of course, he has limits. But in all the ways that matter, he's just a man that loves you. Now, all that you have to do is decide if you can handle it." Danny said frankly.

"Is that all?" Apollo asked weakly.

"There's no rush to decide this now. Take the time you need to sort through your feelings. Get to know Jarritt a little better and see if you can envision a future with him. If you decide to go for it, you're going to have to be strong. There are going to be some hard times, probably having to deal with other people's attitudes toward him, and toward you for being with him. I don't know you that well, but I have the feeling that if you decide to go through with it, that you'll find the strength." Danny said seriously.

"If I... If we... did. Then you'd be okay with it?" Apollo asked to be sure.

"Actually, I plan on being the best man at your wedding."

"What did they say?" Max asked anxiously as Ro walked out of the guest house where his parents were living.

"Are they going to let you?" Bax asked hopefully.

"Yeah. They said I can be a Gopher." Ro said distractedly.

"Then, what's wrong?" Bax asked with concern.

"They started talking to me about all this stuff about penises and 'birds and bees' and... it was really confusing and made me feel weird." Ro said quietly.

"Oh? Did they talk about how babies are made?" Max asked suddenly.

"Yeah. They mentioned that, but then they started talking about flowers and dick diseases and using condoms... it didn't make any sense at all." Ro finished with a helpless look at his friends.

"I think they were just trying to tell you about how sex works." Max said honestly.

"No. I already know about that. This was something else. I'm just not sure what. All I know is, I'm glad I don't know what they do when they're alone in bed. Because from the stuff they were telling me, I think they've got it all wrong." Ro said thoughtfully.

"Well, they said you can be a Gopher. Let's not worry about the rest. Max still needs to talk to Lucas and Gordon, so we can get started." Bax said firmly.

"Yeah. Okay." Ro said as he started to walk away with them.

After a moment of walking, he quietly asked, "Do you guys know what a 'herpes' is?"

"Bug, why don't you call it a night? I don't think there's much more you can do, right now. And maybe you can spend a few minutes with your family before bedtime." Carson said as he backed his wheelchair out of the alcove.

"I've just got a couple more tweaks that I want to do before I stop for the night. Besides, I had lunch and dinner with Oma Shoupe and she knows what I'm doing. She's just happy that I've found a way to help." Bug said honestly.

"Okay, then, how about you just get out of my room so I can go to sleep? I'm tired and I can barely keep my eyes open." Carson said frankly.

"Well, if that's how it is, then I guess I can finish this in my room." Bug said with a shrug.

"Good idea." Carson said with a grin, then quietly added, "Thanks for everything you did today. Without your help, there's no way we would have been prepared."

"It was a team effort..." Bug said, then looked around and asked, "When did everyone else leave?"

"An hour or so ago. I thought you'd get the hint, but obviously, you didn't." Carson said with a grin.

"Yeah. I don't do subtlety very fucking good. I guess it's good that I got other skills." Bug said with an answering smile.

"Carson. You asked to be notified when the bus from Chicago reached the first checkpoint." Dizzy said informatively.

"Wait! What?" Carson said as he looked up with surprise.

"They weren't supposed to arrive until tomorrow morning." Bug said as he followed Carson to the alcove.

"The checkpoint has requested communication. Would you like to join the channel?" Dizzy asked pleasantly.

"Yes! Connect us!" Carson said immediately as he locked his wheelchair into position.

"Hello? This is Father Brian Doherty..."

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

Well, as Bug might say, "It's about Fuckin' time we find out what's happening to Father Doherty, etc.

We seem to be moving along very nicely. I think this is the third new chapter in less than a week, WOW!

Zane's Grandfather was one sick puppy, wasn't he? It's a darn good thing that Juan showed up when he did, or things might have turned out a lot worse than they did.

It looks as though Ro's dads have finally seen the light that Ro is growing up, and can take some responsibility.

Carson will need to get a grip on himself and admit to himself, if no one else, that he has grown extremely dependent on the pain pills, and then he'll finally have to get some help to resolve that issue.

I notice a few threads left untied. What happened to Ken's pop?

Will anyone sit down and eat some of Doris' healthy snacks and or meals? Don't forget, her cooking has kept Roris' condition from deteriorating any further and has certainly helped stabilize him.

You have to wonder if Lesbian Gravy will be willing to put on one of their concerts.

I wonder what's happening with Emo's little bundle of joy.

Don't miss the next exciting episode, or we'll sick Juan on you.

Darryl AKA the Radio Rancher

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