Castle Roland

Book I

by MultiMapper


Chapter 38

Posted: 2 Nov 15


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

All Rights Reserved

Justifying the Sacrifice

Metamorphosis LogoDeb spent a few minutes alone in her office, mulling over what she had been told.

On the surface, what Dr. Hayes and Juan were offering was nothing short of a miracle. But realistically speaking, what they were proposing was an incredibly dangerous and involved surgery.

Deb wasn't one to back away from challenges. She was in the habit of taking calculated risks in both her professional and personal life on a more or less regular basis, and she had a pretty good track record of having her risks pay off.

But now she was thinking about taking such a risk with the well-being of one of her children.

It took a few minutes for her to realize that the decision had already been made. As soon as they said that they could restore Carson's legs, Deb knew that they were going to go ahead with the procedure. What she was doing was trying to justify her decision.

Deb glanced at the time and, although it was time for her to get into the kitchen to begin supervising the massive dinner effort that was already underway, she decided to call her father. She knew that he was busy, and she didn't want to take him away from his work. But before she could proceed, she needed his reassurance. Ryan would, no doubt, accept whatever decisions she made. Her father, however, would tell her without prelude, just what he thought of what they were proposing.

"So, how was Arlan?" Bug asked as he and Allen left the house.

Allen gave a slight laugh, then said, "That boy has all the qualities that we're looking for. Even if we weren't embarking on a new project, I'd hire him in a heartbeat. He has so much untapped potential and is just waiting for someone to guide him in a productive direction."

"Thought so." Bug said with a grin.

"But I'm going to need more help. The 'body armor' project is of a much larger scale than anything we're currently working on. Even if I pulled the entire staff to work on it, we'd need more people to work on all the different modules." Allen said frankly.

"I'm guessing that you know how to ask Dizzy for help." Bug said in a leading tone.

"Of course. But I'm reluctant to take such a 'grab bag' approach. You don't just do a 'cattle call' when you're hiring for engineering positions." Allen said frankly.

"You and Deb must get along really well. You think alike." Bug said honestly.

"Thank you, I think." Allen said uncertainly.

"That wasn't a compliment." Bug informed him, then continued, "When you use Dizzy to find people, he's looking at the refugees who have the skills that you need. These aren't people who no one else would hire, they're people who probably had really good jobs and felt safe and secure just a few days ago. Now, they're fleeing for their lives. You're not sorting through the unemployable dregs to find one who's just barely good enough. You're selecting from a cross-section of the entire population, which includes the best and the worst."

"Good point." Allen conceded.

"Then what the fuck are you doing just 'pondering' the possibilities. Ask Dizzy to start looking for people you can use! Every minute you waste is time when the people you're looking for are deciding to move on to Canada, where they're of no fucking use to us." Bug said firmly.

"Has anyone ever mentioned that you have a foul mouth?" Allen asked Bug with a grin.

Bug feigned a look of surprise, then quietly said, "No one's ever said anything. Do you really think so?"

Allen laughed aloud at Bug's completely believable look of wide eyed innocence.

As they walked into the skatepark, further conversation became impossible due to the clamor of people and the cacophony of music.

"How are things going, here?" Bug asked as they approached the twins.

"Everything's great, except that we feel like a couple of old farts being around all these kids." Ken chuckled as he pulled Bug into a hug.

Allen walked to the nearby pop-up restaurant as Bug and the twins began to wander, seeing what all the different groups of kids were up to.

"If you guys don't mind, I need to go check on Oma. She's got some stuff going on and I just want to be sure that it all worked out, then I need to get back to the house." Bug said regretfully.

"We could go with you, if you don't mind." Kev said cautiously.

"Are you sure? You could stay here and enjoy the party." Bug asked seriously.

"It was nice to stop here and check the place out, but I think we've had enough." Ken said frankly.

"Besides, all these kids with their energy and excitement, is making me feel old." Kev said with a grin.

Bug laughed, then put an arm around each of the twins and started walking.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his escort, Kyle, watching them as he started walking to follow.

"Bug! Look at this!" Oma Shoupe said when she saw Bug and the twins enter the classroom.

"What is it, Oma?" Bug asked with concern as he broke away from the twins.

"Look at what Jamiah picked out for the girls." Oma Shoupe said happily.

"They didn't have a lot for me to choose from, but I thought that I could make this work." Jamiah said timidly.

Bug and the twins looked at the twin girls who were now outfitted in new dresses and had their hair done in a much more mature style.

"Quicia has a few things, you know, like bracelets and stuff, that I think would go really well with these outfits. Oma says that we're going back to the house when we're done here, so I'll try it out, then." Jamiah said as he looked the girls over critically.

"Jamie said that we're really older than the way we dress." One of the twin girls interjected. She was obviously happy with the transformation.

Jamiah shrugged, then explained, "Just because the clothes made in their size are for little kids doesn't mean that they have to 'look' like little kids. All it takes is a little accessory here and there and a more mature hairstyle to make someone look a little more grown up."

"You've always had a talent for clothing design, but I think you've outdone yourself, this time." Ken said frankly as he looked over the girls.

Bug seemed to be lost in thought for a moment, then he looked Jamiah in the eyes and seriously asked, "What would you think about having a job?"

"I've already got a job. I watch out for Loquicia." Jamiah said frankly.

"Yeah. But if you knew that Loquicia was someplace safe, what would you think about having another job that could help people?" Bug persisted.

"What kind of a job?" Jamiah asked cautiously.

"A lot of people coming through here are stressed out, feeling like their world is falling apart around them. I was thinking that, if you wanted to, we could let the clerks at the different shops know that if they have someone feeling really down, maybe they could call you to help them with a makeover." Bug said honestly.

"How would that help?" Jamiah asked cautiously.

"Someone feeling all beaten down, like the world's out to get them, might start to feel better if they felt like they caught a break and things were turning around for them." Bug said carefully.

After a moment to consider, Jamiah shook his head and said, "I need to be here for Loquicia."

"It's not like you'd be doing makeovers all day. You could stay with Loquicia and when someone needs you, you could go off and help them, and then come back." Bug said seriously.

"Do you really think it would help?" Jamiah asked in a wavering tone.

"I think that you working your magic on one or two people who really need it will brighten their days and, I don't know, I guess that if they're happier, then the people around them might be happier, too. So... I honestly don't know how much help it will be to the overall effort, but until you've got a better idea, it's something to do to help someone." Bug said honestly.

"What do I need to do?" Jamiah asked cautiously.

"Just stay here with your sister, for right now. I'm going to have to get back to the house to put this plan into action. But don't be surprised when a gopher shows up with a radio for you. Once you're on staff, we'll need to be able to get in touch with you." Bug said seriously.

Jamiah thought about it for a moment, then looked Bug in the eyes and quietly said, "Thanks."

"Mrs. Brown?" Jamey asked from Deb's office doorway.

"I'm on a call." Deb said firmly.

"I know, but this is important." Jamey said regretfully.

When she was sure that she had Deb's undivided attention, she continued, "We're going to need to use your living room for a little while. We've got someone inbound who sounds like he's in pretty bad shape."

"Excuse me, Dad." Deb said to her computer before looking at Jamey and asking, "What kind of bad shape?"

"Incoherent, shell shocked, grieving... we'll know more when he gets here. I just wanted to let you know what was coming our way, so you wouldn't be surprised if you walked into the living room and saw a kid freaking out." Jamey said frankly.

"A kid?" Deb asked with concern.

"We'll see that he's taken care of. It's just, at this point, we don't know what he needs, yet." Jamey said honestly.

Deb took a moment to process the information, then quietly said, "Thanks for the warning."

"Tell Dr. Murten I said 'Hi'." Jamey said with a smile before leaving the room.

It took Deb a moment to get her thoughts back on track, but finally she unmuted the video chat and said, "Sorry about that, Dad. You were saying?"

When the boy was escorted into the living room, there were already several people in attendance. Some were Secret Service, some were military, and a few were the members of the UNIT who didn't currently have other duties, demanding their attention.

A large man guided the boy to sit on the couch. A moment later, Bryan silently slipped into the seat next to him. Jamey looked at Bryan curiously. The last she knew, Bryan had been on escort duty in town. But she was aware that some of the escorts were being relieved and called back to the house and supposed that that's what had happened.

Jamey tried to use her telepathy to get a sense of what was going on, but the boy's mind was too active, replaying the same horrific scene, over and over again.

You could have heard a pin drop in the room as Bryan took out his sidearm and pressed it into the boy's hands.

"So, who do you want to kill?" Bryan asked in a cold, emotionless voice.

The boy started saying something quietly. No one tried to stop him, or question him at that point. All of them knew that he needed to process what he was feeling through words. Later, there would be time to ask questions and attempt to make sense of things.

For now, it was more important that the boy be allowed to talk.

When the verbal flood seemed to have reached it's end, Bryan quietly said, "Tell me more about your brother. Why were you guys running?"

What followed was the boy's life story.

It was a tragic tale about uncaring and abusive parents, desperate poverty, and a brother who sacrificed so much to protect the boy.

"Then those... the military guys found us. Why the hell did they have to try and get us. We weren't doing anything wrong! Brett never hurt no one! Why'd he have to die?" The boy cried out in a pleading tone that tore at Jamey's heart.

Amongst his swirling thoughts, she had been able to pick up that the boy's name was Kevin. A few people approached to attempt to console the boy, but they were warned away with a glance from Bryan. In the few instances when that didn't work, he pointed at the gun in Kevin's hand and they backed off.

"Why'd he have to die?" Kevin screamed out, demanding a satisfactory answer.

Bryan calmly said, "Because he had to make sure you were safe."

When those words seemed to sink in, Bryan continued, "It's something that all good big brothers are willing to do for their little brothers."

Kevin's look into Bryan's eyes seemed to be the meeting of kindred spirits.

"Your brother sacrificed himself so that you could escape, so that you could survive, but mostly, I think, so that you could fulfill all those dreams that the two of you had." Bryan said softly.

Where, before, Kevin seemed to have been lost within himself, now he appeared to be soaking in Bryan's every word.

"I never was one that believed in God, at least not until recently. I still believe that the worst crimes in history were perpetrated because of religion, but some of the things that are said, do make sense. The book of John, chapter 15, verse 13, 'Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.' Brett laid down his life so that you could live. The choice you have to make now, the hardest choice you have had to face so far, and may be the hardest choice you will ever face: Do you betray his sacrifice by allowing your life to be over, or do you honor what he did by living your life the best that you can, and doing whatever it is that you can to pay back the sons of bitches that took your brother from you. Do you roll over and let his death mean nothing, or do you pick yourself up by the balls, put one foot in front of the other, and make those assholes pay for what they stole from you?"

The weak, forced smile that Kevin responded with tore at Jamey's heart.

"Weep not for those who have gone before, weep for those that remain behind." Kevin said distantly, then continued, "Brett said that to me when my dog died. I was eight. I have no idea why, but it always stuck with me."

Jamey discreetly reached up to wipe a tear off her cheek.

"Now I think I know what he meant. I'm not really crying for him, but for me." Kevin continued.

"He's gone, and there's nothing I can do to change that. But now it's up to me to keep going like I know he would want, or... let his death stop me from living. He wouldn't want that. He always told me we had to push through when things got rough. If we stop then we fail. But if we keep pushing, no matter how bad it is, the only choice is winning." Kevin said in a rambling metre that indicated that he was sorting it all out in his mind as he spoke.

"Wise words." Bryan said softly, then asked, "So have you decided what you are going to do?"

Kevin seemed to be frozen in thought for a moment.

When he finally snapped out of it, he had a determined look in his eyes. In a voice filled with determination, Kevin firmly said, "First thing I need to do is find Diego."

"I'm right here."

Kevin looked up in surprise and blushed when he noticed all the other people filling the room.

He looked down at himself self consciously and noticed the gun in his hand.

He absently handed the gun to Bryan as he walked across the room to stand before Diego.

"I don't know you, Diego. But Brett seemed to. If you had something important... Something that Brett died for, something that he wanted to get here, um, who would you see? Who do you trust here?"

Diego glanced around the room uncertainly when Kevin continued, "What should I do with this?"

Diego's eyes went wide as he saw the disk in Kevin's hand.

"Is that..." Diego began to ask, but was interrupted.

"I don't know what's on it. But Brett... he gave it to me... in case anything happened."

Everyone in attendance noticed Kevin's quivering lip and could see that he was fighting to hold back his tears. But they also respected that he was fighting past his pain to carry on.

Diego made a move to take the disk, but Kevin pulled it back.

"No. Brett told me to make sure it got to someone in charge. I... I have to do this." Kevin said firmly.

Diego glanced away, toward a man in a suit.

Kevin could tell by Diego's expression that the man was the person whom he trusted.

On shaky legs, Kevin walked to the man and said, "Sir, I don't know what's on this, but... well, my brother died to make sure it got to someone in charge. I... I assume you're someone in charge?"

The man soberly nodded and quietly said, "My name is Mike Reynolds. I'm the Vice President of the United States."

Kevin had to fight down the surge of unnamed emotions that were threatening to overwhelm him and was finally able to say, "Sir. Please see what's on this disk and use it however you can. Brett... Brett said that you'd know what to do with it."

As soon as Mike had taken the disk, Kevin collapsed in heart wrenching sobs. Mike's thoughts of his own kids filled his mind as he tried to comfort the boy who had crossed the country and suffered such a devastating loss to deliver the information he now held.

Although the information might well be important, he didn't know if it could ever justify what Kevin had lost.

"What are we doing, now?" Kev asked as they walked out of the school.

"Unless you guys wanted to do something else while we're here, I was planning to go back to the house." Bug said frankly.

"Do you think that, maybe, later, you could break away for a little while? I think it'd be really nice to spend some time with you." Ken said frankly.

"Well, we've got a monster convoy coming in from Chicago, in a few hours. I'll need to be there for that. But if everything goes right, I should be able to take some time off after that." Bug said warmly.

"That sounds great. I think we're going to check around with the mission kids to make sure that no one is feeling left out or sorry for themselves." Kev said thoughtfully.

"Before we go back, I need to stop and get rubbers and french fries." Bug said suddenly.

After a moment, Ken cautiously asked, "Do I even want to know what you're planning?"

"You'll just have to wait to find out." Bug said with a grin.

Deb walked into the living room and stopped when she saw Mike comforting a crying boy.

A moment later, Jamey noticed her and quietly said, "I think everything's going to be alright, now. He's past the worst of it."

"I'm glad. Let me know if there's anything that I can do to help." Deb offered sincerely.

"We will, as long as you realize how much you've helped us already. You're allowing us to live in your home." Jamey said seriously.

"Actually, you're living on my front lawn." Deb said with a smile.

"You know what I mean. Thanks to your hospitality, we're free to do what we need to do. So please don't ever think that you're not doing enough to help. You've already done more than we would have asked." Jamey said honestly.

"Okay. I'll try to keep that in mind." Deb said quietly, then continued, "But I need to talk to you. We've decided that we want to proceed with Carson's surgery. I was hoping that you might have a free minute to talk to Carson with me, in case he has questions."

"Do we need to wait for your husband and your father?" Jamey asked curiously.

"No, although they would both drop what they're doing in a heartbeat if Carson needed them to be there. The fact of the matter is that I can handle this and leave them to handle the things that they're already doing." Deb said seriously.

Jamey nodded her understanding.

"Do you have time, right now?" Deb asked hopefully.

Jamey nodded, then followed.

"Okay. This isn't working." Dax said as he looked over Ben's shoulder at the computer screen.

"You've got to give it some time. You've got a good idea, but the skills that you're looking for are fairly obscure." Ben said gently.

"Maybe we need to look at finding just a few people with those skills, then getting a whole bunch of people to learn from them." Dax said thoughtfully.

"There's a community center not far from your Chicago people. Maybe you could use that as a place for the teachers to hold their classes." Ben suggested thoughtfully.

"And if you had a shed, you could put the stuff everyone will need in it, so they can get more stuff whenever they need it." Oleksandr suggested.

"That's a really good idea, Olex." Dax said with surprise, then turned and asked, "Seth, do you think your dad could set up some kind of a shed or garage near the 'Little Chicago' rec center?"

"They've already got a store room. Do you need more space than that?" Seth asked cautiously.

"Yeah. If this goes like we're planning, we'll probably be able to fill up a store room pretty quick." Dax said frankly.

"You don't need heat or light or anything like that, do you? Just the building?" Seth asked to be sure.

"A building is fine. We're just going to use it for storing big stuff." Dax assured him.

"Let me look." Seth said quickly, then started typing on the laptop he was using.

"We have two more hits on quilters." Ben said suddenly.

"Well, I don't know if we'll have enough clothes or shoes or food, but we'll have plenty of blankets." Dax said unenthusiastically.

"From what I've heard, quilts take forever to make. It takes a lot of time and a lot of work just to make even one. I bet that if we get every single person who wants to work on quilting everything they need, we still won't have enough quilts for everyone." Ben said seriously.

"I don't know anything about that stuff. But if it really takes that long, then we should probably get them started. Is there any word on the supplies?" Dax asked anxiously.

"Every sewing machine from every store in Kettle Falls has been requisitioned. I don't know how long it's going to take to get them there, but they're on their way." Ben assured him.

"There's a million and one things I want to get done before the Chicago people get here and I feel like everything's going in slow motion." Dax growled, on the brink of exploding in frustration.

"Headlock?" Ben asked as he looked away from his computer.

That broke Dax out of his mood and he smiled before saying, "Maybe just a little one."

Ben walked to Dax and pulled him into what was more of a hug than a headlock.

"Better?" Ben asked as he held Dax close.

"Yeah. A lot better." Dax confirmed.

On impulse, Ben kissed the side of Dax's head, then went back to his computer.

"I need a headlock, too." Oleksandr said frankly.

"You got it." Ben said as he moved in to hug the boy.

Dax watched for a moment, then said, "I need to get back to work. They'll be here soon."

"If we're lucky, they'll be able to put up your storage building before the end of the night. It's not going to have a foundation or anything, but they'll anchor it so it won't blow away the next time there's a stiff breeze." Seth said quickly.

"Thanks Seth. That sounds like just what we need." Dax said gratefully.

"I'm routing the craft supplies to your rec center." Carson said without looking away from his screens.

"Thanks, Carson." Dax said with a glance toward him, then he tapped his subvocal and asked, "Dizzy, could you please call the number for Connie Lorenta?"

"Yes. Right away." Dizzy said efficiently.

"If she doesn't answer, just keep trying, like, every five minutes, and let me know when she picks up." Dax said as he walked behind Ben to look at his computer screen.

"Who's that?" Oleksandr asked curiously.

"Connie's a woman I met this morning while I was walking with Jingo. She seems like she's smart and strong, so if she's willing to help, maybe she can go to the rec center to oversee things for me." Dax said simply.

"You're going to ask some lady you just met to help to be in charge of stuff for you?" Oleksandr asked cautiously.

Dax laughed, then said, "Yes. That's what all of us are doing about a hundred times a day."

Oleksandr thought about it for a moment, then seemed to accept Dax's words.

"I have Miss Lorenta for you, Dax." Dizzy said professionally.

"Thank you, Dizzy. Go ahead." Dax said seriously.

"Hello?" Connie asked hesitantly.

"Hello, Connie. This is Dax, we talked earlier." Dax said carefully, trying to sound business-like.

"Oh, yes. What can I do for you, Dax?" Connie asked pleasantly.

"I was thinking that, if you don't have anything else to do, how would you like to take care of the local rec center for me? If everything goes right we're going to have lots of supplies going in and out of there and lots of classes going on. I haven't been there, yet. There's probably already people who work there, but I'd like to have one of my people there so we can make sure that we have the things we need for our people." Dax said honestly.

"You want me to do that?" Connie asked cautiously, then continued, "Why me?"

"Because, you're a proud Chicagoan." Dax said simply.

"I'll go down there right now and check it out." Connie said decisively.

"I'll see to it that you get a radio, so you can call me directly, but until then, you can get on any computer in Kettle Falls and sign on to Dizzy, then ask for Dax and he'll get a message to me." Dax said seriously.

"Yeah. Thanks, Dax." Connie said happily.

"We're all in this together." Dax said before disconnecting the call.

"It looks like you've got this under control. Way to go, Dax." Ben said proudly.

"Thanks, Ben." Dax said timidly, then added, "I think I've done everything that I need to here, for now. I need to get back to checking that everything is done before the Chicago fleet arrives."

"Call if you need us. We'll be right here." Ben said warmly.

"Carson, do you have a minute?" Deb asked as she walked into the room, followed by Jamey.

When Kevin had finally regained some measure of his emotional control, he realized that he was crying into the chest of the Vice President of the United States.

"Come on." A voice said close to his ear and he saw Bryan looking at him expectantly.

"What am I going to do now?" Kevin asked quietly, and felt another wave of tears threatening to overwhelm him.

"You're going to learn to fight back and make them pay." Bryan said firmly.

"He looks like he needs his rest." Mike said with concern.

"He needs this worse." Bryan said frankly.

"He's right." Kevin reluctantly agreed, then looked up at the Vice President and quietly said, "Thank you."

"I'm staying upstairs. If you need me, you know where to find me." Mike said gently.

"Thank you, Sir." Kevin said respectfully, then allowed Bryan to guide him away.

When they had set off down the street, intending to talk to people about what special skills they might have to contribute to the effort, Trav assumed that he would be doing the majority of the talking.

It turned out that, when people saw a priest, that they were hungry for guidance and reassurance.

Once Father Kinsey was able to comfort the distraught people, he would guide the conversation to what they might be able to do to help others. That's when Trav would jump in and find out what skills they might have, then he would get on his subvocal and catalogue their information so that they could be called upon when needed.

Father Kinsey made a point of telling every person they came into contact with, how they could be contacted and to call if they were in any need of help, anytime, day or night.

When they had first met, Trav had been attracted to Malcolm's gentle, unassuming nature. Trav was aware that his own personality was rather... assertive. So, it seemed to reason, that Malcolm was the perfect counterbalance for him.

What Trav never seemed to notice was that whenever he hooked up with someone who seemed to be 'just right' for him, the barely-there relationship would inevitably disintegrate, revealing two self-deluding people who never had any business being together in the first place.

But as Trav watched Malcolm talking to yet another group of displaced people who were in desperate need of comfort and some peace of mind, he realized just how strong and self-assured Malcolm was.

On the surface, Malcolm might be quiet and timid, but underneath, where it really counts, he was firmly rooted on a foundation of unshakable strength. It occurred to Trav that, this once, he might not only have gotten what he wanted, but also what he needed.

"Hey guys!" Bug said as he walked to the checkout counter with a selection of three different varieties of condoms and various other related items.

"Good afternoon, Bug. I'm surprised to see you away from the house." Marcus said frankly.

"Yeah. Needed supplies." Bug said as he held up his purchases.

Although Ken and Kev were standing right there with him, they were doing their best to look as though they didn't know the young man with the short braid and the boxes of condoms.

"Where did you find those?" Apollo asked nervously.

"Aisle five, between the batteries and the tampons... don't ask me why." Bug finished thoughtfully, as though he were determined to reveal the logic behind the store's organization.

Apollo and Jarrett hurried away, leaving Marcus standing in the checkout line.

"Jarrett and Apollo felt the need to be away from the house for a time, and I have to admit, that I was feeling a little confined, as well." Marcus said honestly.

"Yeah. Same here. We walked around to check things out and, you know, get the blood circulating and do something different for a little bit. But now we have to get back to work. We have people depending on us." Bug finished in a resigned tone.

"Be sure to let me know if there's anything I can do to be of help. I don't know how much use you'd have for a corporate accountant, but I'd like to help, if possible." Marcus said sincerely.

"I don't know. If you're really wanting to use your skills, Mr. Brown might need someone to help keep track of all the money he's spending. I really don't know much about stuff like that, but it wouldn't hurt to ask him. But if you're heart's not set on doing the whole 'accounting' thing, then I think you could talk to Roris about how you can help him with his 'special needs' things." Bug said frankly.

"I wouldn't want to intrude on Roris' business." Marcus said honestly.

"Listen. You had a kid with just about every reason in the world to give up on himself, but somehow you raised him to be someone who can take charge and get things done. I got a fuck of a lot of respect for you for that. And I think that if you worked with Roris, maybe you could take what you learned raising him and use it to help other people. Not just people with disabilities, but their families, too. You could give them ideas of how to 'deal'. Believe me, there's been times with Lawrence that I didn't have a clue what was the right thing to do for him." Bug said honestly.

Before Marcus could respond, it was Bug's turn at the cash register.

The constant influx of people was exhilarating for Father Doherty and his group. In actuality, all they did was circulate amongst the people outside the high school stadium and offer to help anyone who appeared to be lost or in some sort of distress. But, even so, they felt such a sense of fulfillment in being able to help.

"Excuse me." An older woman said as she walked up to Father Doherty with a look of determination in her eyes.

"Yes. How may I help you?" Father Doherty asked cautiously.

"I noticed that you're a priest, so I thought that I'd welcome you to Kettle Falls. My name is Ella Wallace, I'm the head minister at the local Unitarian church." She said firmly, then added in an almost challenging tone, "Sometimes called the GAY church."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Reverend Wallace. I'm Father Brian Doherty. We're circulating amongst the new arrivals, offering what help we can. Would you care to join us?"

"What?! No fire and brimstone condemnation? Somehow, I expected more from a priest." Reverend Wallace said frankly.

"In truth of fact, my fellow priests and I resigned our positions within the Catholic Church just before embarking on the journey to come here. But, be that as it may, I have always held the personal belief that strict adherence to one of the Levitical teachings requires strict adherence to all of them. Otherwise, one is nothing more than a bully and a hypocrite."

After a moment to get over her surprise, Reverend Wallace quietly said, "I'm relieved to hear that. In the midst of everything else, I really didn't want to have to deal with some mackerel snapper spewing their papist venom at me."

Father Doherty laughed at the statement, then said, "You have no need to worry about us. We're simply here to help people in need. Care to join us?"

"Yes, thank you, Father. I think I will. And while we're doing that, I'm interested to know how you can reconcile your personal beliefs with the misogynistic, homophobic doctrine of the Vatican."

"I'm actually kind of busy right now, we've got a convoy of buses coming this way from Chicago and we're trying to get ready for them." Carson said as he glanced away from his screens, at his mother, for only an instant.

"I've just had a video conference with a few people, one of them being Juan." Deb said as she tried to keep her impatience from showing through.

"What did he say?" Carson asked as he started typing on his keyboard.

"He said that he checked a few things when he got home and he thinks that they can fix your legs." Deb said simply, then turned to walk out of the room.

"Wait! What?!" Carson called after her.

"Oh, you're busy right now. But be sure to come and talk to me about it when you find the time." Deb said before quickly slipping out the door.

Jamey took note of Carson's shocked expression as she followed.

"Hey there, are you ready to go back to the house?" Bug asked as he and the twins walked away from the pop-up restaurant.

"I'm your escort. I'm ready for anything." Kyle said frankly.

Bug's eyes went wide in surprise at the declaration, then they narrowed as he appeared to take it as a challenge.

Kyle maintained a cold, neutral expression as he did a complete evaluation of Bug's potential as a threat, in an instant.

The twins watched anxiously, not knowing what to expect from either of them.

All of a sudden, Kyle got a sour look on his face before exclaiming, "GROSS!"

"You weren't ready for that." Bug said with a self-satisfied grin.

"Man! You're just nasty! How did you... that's not even physically possible." Kyle stammered.

"Isn't that what photoshop is for?" Bug asked as he looked for oncoming traffic before crossing the street.

"What did you do?" Ken asked curiously as he hurried to keep up.

"Rule number one. Know your opponent. This guy could probably kick my ass nine different ways before I ever knew he hit me. But I know that he's a telepath, so I kind of just put a mental image out there for him to find, to get at him that way." Bug said with a grin, as he led the way into the gator parking lot.

"You're sick!" Kyle grumbled as he followed.

"Maybe. But you weren't ready for that. So I won." Bug said happily.

"Yeah. I guess." Kyle grudgingly conceded.

"I tell you what. If doing this is really that bad for you, I'll just ask Courtney not to have you escort me again." Bug said honestly.

"No. It's okay." Kyle quietly admitted, then added, "Besides, I liked the one about the 'sweet pulsating fuck', you actually made me laugh. That doesn't happen, much."

"Here you are! What about my legs?!" Carson demanded as Jay pushed him into the kitchen.

"That's alright, I need to see to dinner, anyway. We can discuss it later, if you're too busy." Deb said as she stirred a pan of sauce on the stove.

"Mom. I'm sorry I said I was too busy. Will you please tell me what they said about fixing my legs?" Carson asked hopefully.

"I suppose so." Deb said as she set her stirring spoon aside and turned to face her son.

There was a long moment of silence, as Deb continued to look at him until Carson finally said, "Mom?"

"Hold your hand out."


"Just do it." Deb said seriously.

Carson held his hand out toward his mother and was surprised to find that it was slightly trembling.

Deb looked at the time, then quietly said, "It's a little past time for your medication."

"I took my pills at lunch, like I always do." Carson said as he put his hand down.

"No, I mean your pain medication that we're trying to wean you off of."

"I've been so busy I didn't even think about wanting it." Carson said honestly.

Deb stepped away long enough to draw Carson a glass of water, then quietly asked, "Have you looked in a mirror lately?"

"I probably looked this morning, why? What's wrong?" Carson asked with concern, then accepted the pill that his mother offered him and washed it down.

"Carson, you don't look well. You look drawn and stressed out." Deb said frankly.

"There's too much for me to do to worry about that, now. Can you just tell me what they said about my legs?" Carson asked hopefully.

"Since you're so busy, I'll just give you the basics. When you have time to sit and talk with me, I can fill you in on the details that I know, or you can ask Jamey, she was at the meeting and heard everything that they told me."

"Can you just tell me?" Carson begged.

"If we agree to go through with it, they're going to try to surgically replace your legs. They seem confident that they'll be able to do it." Deb said frankly.

"Really? Just like that?" Carson asked in wonder.

"There's more, but it would be time consuming to tell you and some of it's pretty unbelievable. But that's the essence of it." Deb said honestly.

"Tell them 'yes'." Carson said firmly.

"I already did." Deb said simply.

"Thanks, Mom." Carson said quietly, then regretfully added, "I need to get back to work. Who knows how many people are having to do without things because I'm in here."

"Can't Bug take care of things for you for a little while?" Deb asked cautiously.

"He's not here right now. He said that he had to go into town to take care of some stuff." Carson said seriously.

"Bug got a group of hackers together to help him with his work so he was able to get away from the computer for a little bit." Jay said quietly.

Carson turned in his chair and looked at Jay with a wounded expression.

"You could do that, too, Carson. I know that there's stuff that only you can do, but you could get someone to help you so that you'd be able to eat a full meal or take a break to talk to your mom about something that could change your whole life." Jay tried to explain.

"Carson. Do it." Deb said firmly.

"It's not that simple." Carson said as he reluctantly turned to face his mother again.

"I realize that, but what you're doing isn't healthy. Either get help or I'm pulling the plug." Deb said seriously.

"You can't! Everyone is counting on me! The VICE PRESIDENT is counting on me!" Carson urged her to understand.

"I realize that. But you're my son and I'm not going to stand idly by and watch you make yourself sick. Due to your injuries and your medications, you weren't in peak health to begin with. Now, with all this stress and the long hours, you're a ticking time bomb. That's the reality of it. If you want to help everyone who's counting on you, if you want to help the Vice President, find a way to do it without working yourself into an early grave. You've got this one chance to do things your own way. If you don't handle it, I will. And I'm pretty sure you're not going to like my way of dealing with it." Deb said calmly and with finality.

There was a long moment of silence, then Carson quietly said, "I need to get back."

Deb looked at Jay and silently confirmed that he would watch over Carson.

"I love you, Carson. That's why I'm doing this." Deb said quietly to her son.

"I know." Carson said regretfully as Jay started pushing him out of the kitchen.

"How long was I asleep?" Zane asked in almost a whisper.

"Just a few hours. How are you feeling?" Brother Jacques asked gently.

"A lot better. I slept really well." Zane said with a slight smile.

"I'm glad. Your dad stopped by to visit while you were sleeping. He left something for you." Brother Jacques said as he reached to the bedside stand.

"A walkie talkie?" Zane asked blearily, in sleep fogged confusion.

"Yeah. You put the earpiece on your ear and you can talk to your dad whenever you want." Brother Jacques said with a smile.

"Oh, I guess that is a pretty good present, then." Zane said as his eyes started to fall shut again.

"You look like you're about to fall back to sleep. Do you need a drink or to go to the bathroom or anything?" Brother Jacques asked cautiously.

"I have everything I need." Zane whispered as he drifted back to sleep.

Brother Jacques glanced at his father with concern and received a smile in response assuring him that all was well.

After pushing Carson back into his bedroom and directly to the computer alcove, Jay quietly asked, "Do you want me to leave?"

"No. But next time, remember whose side you're on." Carson said as he looked over what was displayed on all the screens.

"I'm on your side. If I wasn't, I'd only tell you what you want to hear." Jay said seriously.

"You don't realize..."

"Come here. You need to see something." Jay said firmly.

"I don't..."

"Do I ever ask you to do anything? Come here." Jay demanded.

Carson undocked his wheelchair and noticed that Ben and Oleksandr were studiously watching their computer screen, appearing not to have heard. Likewise, Seth and Hobie were hard at work and might possibly have been too busy to have noticed. However, Lawrence and Roris were both watching curiously, waiting to see what was going to happen next.

"What do you want me to see?" Carson asked challengingly.

"Come on. Follow me." Jay said as he walked across the room and into Carson's bathroom.

"I've kind of got used to you pushing me." Carson said as he moved slowly across the room.

"Maybe you've gotten used to too many things." Jay said from the doorway, then backed away as Carson entered the bathroom.

The 'click' of the bathroom door closing seemed to almost echo as everyone in the room listened, whether they 'appeared' to be paying attention, or not.

There was a long moment of silence in the bedroom, before Seth quietly asked, "Does anyone want to guess at what they're doing in there?"

Ben glanced toward the bathroom door, then said, "It's none of our business."

"JD, are you alright? Do we need to go?" Jody asked cautiously.

"No. I'm fine. I just decided that I'd like to hang around here in the skateboard part for a while." JD said assuringly.

"Where there's no girls." Jody added knowingly.

"It's not bad, Squid. I promise. Some days are just better than others. Remember what Mr. Cooper always said, everyone, even the normalest normal people, have bad days, and times when they don't feel like doing certain things." JD said frankly.

"I'm pretty sure Mr. Cooper never said 'normalest'. " Jody said with a grin.

"He might have. He's a funny guy, sometimes." JD said with a smile of fond remembrance.

After a long silent moment, Jody quietly said, "I hope he's alright."

"Me, too. But he's in charge of the home, now, ever since Mrs. Usher retired. So he has to be there to take care of all the kids." JD quietly explained.

"I know. But I still wish he was here, safe with us." Jody said honestly.

"How would you feel about doing your big brother a really big favor, right now?" JD asked as he forced a smile onto his face.

"What do you need?" Jody asked cautiously. Yes, he loved his big brother, but he wasn't going to immediately say 'yes' and essentially give him a blank check.

"How would you feel about swimming through that sea of girls to get me something to eat at that tent kitchen over there? Whatever they're cooking smells great!" JD asked hopefully.

"Yeah. Okay. I'll be right back." Jody said easily.

JD watched his little brother go and fought to keep his mind from returning to worrying about their fathers.

"What did you want to show me? If it's what I'm thinking, you didn't need to be all pushy about it." Carson asked with a smile.

"I don't want you to look at me, I want you to look at you." Jay said as he pointed to the mirror.

"I got the point, okay? I'll do like you and Mom said and I'll try to get someone to help me." Carson said grudgingly.

"Look." Jay said firmly as he pointed again.

"When did you grow a backbone?" Carson grumbled as he maneuvered his wheelchair to stop in front of the sink which was specially placed to be convenient for his wheelchair.

"I've always had one, but I only show it when I have to. It would have been just fine with me if you never saw it. But nooooo, you had to go and be a butthead." Jay said frankly.

"Okay. I'm here. Now what?" Carson asked as he looked up at Jay.

"Look in the mirror and tell me what you see." Jay said simply.

"I really don't have time for this..." Carson began to say.

"You can't do it, can you? You can't look at your own reflection." Jay said firmly.

Just to prove a point, Carson turned toward the mirror over the sink and opened his eyes wide.

The image looking back at him from the mirror was almost that of a stranger. There were dark circles under his eyes and his skin looked to be a little bit too pale. The face was thinner than he remembered it being and there was no doubt that he had recently lost weight.

"That's why I did it, Carson. That's why I told your mom about you needing help. I've only known you a couple days and you've already changed this much. If you try to keep going, what are you going to look like next week? You're running yourself into the ground. Everyone wants to help you, all you have to do is let them know what you need them to do." Jay said honestly.

"Okay. I will." Carson promised.

"Good. And while we've got a minute with just the two of us, there's something that I've been wanting to do for a while." Jay said with a grin.

"You know, there's stuff that I really need to be doing right now." Carson said cautiously.

"Too bad." Jay said, then swooped in to give Carson a full, deep kiss.

The ebb and flow of people checking in at the arena had been something of a blessing. The lulls gave the workers a chance to catch their breath and the rushes made the time fly by.

"Can I speak to someone in charge?" A man in a volunteer sash asked as he walked around the 'Special Needs' desk.

"Joe's running things at the moment. I'll get him for you." David said before dashing away.

"Is something wrong? Would you like a bottle of water?" Amber asked as she approached the man.

"No... wait, I mean, yes. Thank you. That actually sounds like a very good idea."

"Hello. My name is Joe. How can I help you?" Joe asked courteously as he slowly approached, maintaining a death grip on his walker.

"Hello, Joe. My name is Ted. I've been trying to coordinate things in the arena and keep them running smoothly..."

"Excuse me, Ted. But I'm deaf and you're speaking a little bit too quickly for me to read your lips. Could you please slow down just a little bit?" Joe asked hopefully.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know..." Ted began to say when he was interrupted.

"Here. A sip of water and a deep breath might help." Amber said with a friendly smile as she offered him the bottle of water.

"Thanks." Ted whispered to her, then followed her advice before continuing, "I guess I'll get straight to the point. There are several buses of people inbound from Chicago. We've just learned that they have an entire bus of injured people who are going to be taken directly to the hospital. I was wondering if you could possibly spare one or two of your people to process them into the system at the hospital and evaluate their special need accommodations." Ted asked hopefully.

"When will you need us there?" Joe asked seriously.

"They're still a few hours away. But I just wanted to be sure that we'd have someone at the hospital who knows what kinds of accommodations are available." Ted explained.

"We'll have someone waiting when they arrive." Joe assured him.

"Thank you so much. We have no shortage of volunteers, but we really need someone at the hospital who knows what they're doing." Ted said honestly, then took another drink of his water.

As Joe was about to reply, Ted quickly said, "I've got about a thousand other things that need to be in place before they get here. Thank you again, and thanks for the water."

Joe smiled as he watched Ted hurry away.

"Hey, do you guys want to go on a BMX run?" Collin asked as he approached.

"I hadn't really been planning on it. Why?" JD asked hesitantly as he set his empty fast food container aside.

"They have a really nice run set up and they've even got bikes that we can borrow. I just checked and they have enough for all of us, if we go right now." Collin said excitedly.

"Aren't you guys too old to be doing stuff like that?" Jody asked cautiously.

"We're twenty!" Collin exclaimed.

"Yeah." Jody said, as if Collin had just proved his point for him.

"We haven't done anything active since we've been here. Come on, it might be fun." Collin urged.

"You know, it might be nice to do something." JD said thoughtfully.

"Where are Jorry and Nick?" Jody asked as he looked around.

"Holding the bikes for us. Let's go!"

"Hey guys! Did I miss anything?" Bug asked as he walked into Carson's bedroom and automatically set a box of condoms on the table that Seth and Hobie were using, to his right.

As he walked across the room, he diverted to his left enough to hand a box of condoms to Lawrence before walking to where Oleksandr was sitting to hand him a bag of french fries..

Bug then looked around and noticed that Carson and Jay seemed to be steadfastly focused on Dizzy's screens, everyone else was silent and the tension in the room was thick enough to cut with a knife.

"What the fuck, guys? Do you mean that I can't leave here for a few minutes without everything getting fucking weird?" Bug asked as he settled into his chair and opened his laptop.

"Looks that way." Ben said under his breath as he smiled at Oleksandr happily munching away.

"I can't do this shit right if I don't know all of what's going on." Bug explained, then looked at his laptop screen and said, "Recognize Bug."

"Jay and Carson appear to have taken their relationship to a new level." Roris said frankly.

"Um, okay. Congratulations, guys. So, what's the big deal?" Bug asked as he paused to look around.

"Things just got tense for a few minutes." Roris explained.

"What the fuck ever. Just so I know what's going on. That's all I care about." Bug said frankly.

"There's some other stuff going on, and you're right. You probably should know about it." Carson reluctantly said.

"Okay, what? I ain't got all fucking day." Bug said irritably.

"Um, excuse me, but as far as I can see, you do have all fucking day." Roris interjected.

Bug rolled his eyes, then looked at Carson expectantly.

"My mom said that Juan may have figured out a way that they can restore my legs." Carson said quietly.

"Really?! That's great!" Bug said with surprise, then thoughtfully asked, "When did they say they're going to do it?"

"Mom didn't give me any details. She was kind of in a pissy mood right then." Carson reluctantly admitted.

"Carson's mother noticed that Carson's been losing weight and working himself too hard." Jay said as he moved to gently hug Carson from behind.

Bug seemed to be about to say something, but ended up restraining himself.

"Mom thinks that I need to do like you did, Bug, and get a team together to take care of some of this stuff." Carson reluctantly admitted as he closed his eyes and enjoyed the hug for a moment.

"Well, DUH!" Bug said with an eyeroll, then added, "I've even seen it, and I'm oblivious as fuck!"

"I just don't know how I can make it work." Carson said quietly.

"You figure out the jobs that need to be done, then you find people to do those jobs." Bug said frankly.

"But how can I do that? What if they miss something?" Carson asked in a pleading voice.

"They will. And when that happens, you'll deal with it. But at least you won't be dealing with everything, all the time." Ben said frankly.

"Guys. Before we start on that, I think we need to set up some rules." Bug said as he got up from his chair and started pacing the room, apparently working out a million and one things in his head as he did so.

"Rules?" Seth asked cautiously, not liking the sound of whatever Bug was intending for them.

"We've been here in Carson's room for days, so it's no wonder that he hasn't been able to break away from his work when he needs to." Bug said thoughtfully.

"Are you saying that we need to find another command center?" Seth asked slowly.

"No. Dizzy's here. I think we still need to be here. It makes the most sense." Bug absently responded.

"You're not kicking me out! This is my room!" Carson said firmly.

"Chill the fuck out, Carson. I'm not saying that, either." Bug said with an annoyed glance in his direction.

"Well, what are you saying, then?" Ben asked seriously.

"Rule number one. Carson's command center is open from nine to five. Period. After that, everyone goes home." Bug said firmly.

"There's no way that's going to work. We can't keep up with everything..." Carson began to say when he was interrupted.

"Carson, chill!" Bug barked, then continued, "At five o'clock each day, or let's just say after dinner, we'll all pack up our shit and move to our own rooms or wherever the fuck we want, and work on our stuff from there. We can use subvocals or video conference or what the fuck ever to contact each other when we need to. But that way Carson doesn't have us... doesn't have me monopolizing his room when he needs to stop and rest."

There was a long moment of silence, then Ben quietly said, "You know, I think that might be a good idea. Dax, Olex and I can set up our own little command center up on the third floor and I think we'll be able to get a lot accomplished without the distraction of everything else going on around us."

"Yeah. And we'll still meet in here every day so that we can brainstorm and shit, but we don't have to be together every fucking minute of every fucking day." Bug said honestly.

"But that doesn't really cut down on the things that Carson still has to do. He's going to have just as much work as ever." Jay said thoughtfully.

"That's up to him. Us being here ain't the problem, but always being here ain't helping, either. But if we're out of the way, then Carson's probably going to be able to get his shit together a lot easier than if we're always here, dividing his attention." Bug said seriously.

"When do we want to start this? I mean, the Chicago fleet of buses is going to be here in a few hours." Ben asked anxiously.

Bug stopped to think for a moment, then decisively said, "Let's get everything done that we need to right now so that when dinner's called, we can all pack up our shit and go. After dinner, we'll all go and get set up wherever we're going to be working and make sure that we've got everything we need before the 'fleet' gets here."

"Do you think the computer in my bedroom is going to be good enough to keep up with everything that we're doing?" Ben asked cautiously.

"Fuck that! We're going to get you and Oleksandr each laptops, so you're not locked into just one location." Bug said firmly as he went back to his computer.

"Seth and Hobie, are you guys going to be alright working on your own, like this?" Jay asked the young teens cautiously.

"Yeah. We can work from my house. No problem." Hobie said confidently.

"Roris and Lawrence? How about you?" Carson asked with concern.

"I wanted to be back at the stadium before the buses arrived, anyway. So this works well for me." Roris said seriously.

"Ben, a gopher should be delivering some laptops to you in the next half hour or so." Bug said as he looked up from his laptop.

"Thanks, Bug." Ben said with a smile at him.

"So, I guess all that's left is for Carson to get his tired ass in gear and put together a team so that they can take on some of his work." Bug said frankly.

"Yeah. That's not as easy as it sounds." Carson grumped.

"Fuck! Stop and take a look at all we've done the past few days. None of it was easy. It had to be done, so we did it. Now, all we have to do is get it through your thick fucking head that this needs to be done." Bug said firmly.

"Yeah, Bug. I got it." Carson assured him.

"Well, thank fucking God for that!" Bug said before turning his attention back to his computer.

Jay leaned in so that his lips were nearly touching Carson's ear before he whispered, "You're doing the right thing."

"Thanks for not giving up on me." Carson said quietly, then forced himself to kick into high gear as he went in search of highly skilled individuals to take on part of his workload.

To Be Continued…

Editor's Notes:

I'd say it's just about time Carson faced some facts. It means he is finally seeing for himself that he simply can't continue to burn himself down to a nub.

This is the same lesson that Bug learned a while back. No one person can do everything. No matter how important you think your job is, you simply cannot continue to try to do it all. You have to learn to trust the fact that other people can do some of the things that you do. Both Bug and Carson were trying to keep their hands in the center of whatever activity they found themselves in charge of.

They both need to delegate. There are a lot of people with certain skills, and most of them are willing to chip in and use what skills they have to further the well being of the people who need help. The more people who are involved, the less each person needs to focus on, and the more work will be finished, since no one is as bogged down and worn out.

Dizzy has been storing a huge bank of information on the people who are signing in, so he knows which people have various skills and interests, and he can put people where they can do the most good. It just takes the proper coordination, and knowledge.

All the groundwork has been set up, now he just has to connect the dots, and bodda bing bodda boom, the pieces can fall into place.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher

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