When Bug awoke, he immediately smiled at the sensation of being snuggled between the twins.
As much as he knew that he would enjoy staying where he was, he also knew that his family depended on him, and he wouldn't allow them to suffer just because he had found someone to love.
Slowly and carefully, he tried to extricate himself from his place between the twins without waking them, but to no avail.
"Go back to sleep." Ken whispered, barely coherently.
"If you want to have breakfast this morning, then someone needs to get up." Bug said tenderly.
After a moment, one of Ken's eyes slowly opened, then he asked, "Will there be bacon?"
Bug smiled at the question, then whispered, "I didn't look before we went to bed. But I promise, if there's any bacon in the kitchen, I'll cook some just for you."
"Can I sleep until it's ready?" Ken asked as his eye slid closed again.
"I'll come and get you as soon as it's on the table." Bug said tenderly.
"Love you forever..." Ken muttered as he drifted back to sleep.
Bug actually chuckled, and gave Ken a quick kiss on the forehead before climbing off the foot of the bed.
Once Bug was on his feet, he walked around the side of the bed and gave Kev a quick, gentle kiss before going to get dressed.
* * * * *
"Good morning, guys. How are you doing today?" Bug asked as he tended the cooking bacon on the built-in griddle on the stove.
"We're really good, but I'm gonna need more rubbers pretty soon." Lawrence said cheerfully.
Bug glanced over long enough to see Roris' scarlet blush, which he expected, then casually said, "I'm pretty sure that with those gator things, that we can run down to the store and get some whenever you want. Just let me know when you guys feel like driving into town."
"That bacon smells good. Is breakfast almost ready?" Lawrence asked hopefully.
"Yeah. Not too long now. Would you like to help me? I could use some help making toast." Bug asked with a smile.
"Sure! I'll help!" Lawrence said as he jumped up from the chair beside Roris.
As Bug was turning the bacon for the final time, he heard a computerized voice say, "Please, don't bother making any food for me."
"I'm cooking anyway. It's no bother." Bug said honestly.
"There's a lot of food that I can't eat. My mother already called and she's going to bring me a plate." Roris said via the computer voice, and Bug could see the sad look in his eyes.
As Bug started pulling the bacon off the griddle and moving it to a paper towel to drain, he said, "If you or your mom will tell me what kind of food you can or can't have, I can make sure to have what you can eat when I make a meal."
"You don't have to do that." Roris' computerized voice said tonelessly.
"No fuckin' duh!" Bug said with a grin and a roll of his eyes, then continued, "You make Lawrence happy, so I want to do nice stuff for you. It's that simple."
"Thank you. I'll ask my mother to talk with you about it. She knows a lot more about it than I do." Roris said through the computer.
"Yeah. Whenever she has time. In fact, once I know what you can eat, maybe I could invite your parents over to have lunch with us." Bug said as he walked to the refrigerator and took out a carton of eggs.
"I think my parents would enjoy being invited. They were never very social, and it would be special for them." Roris said in his emotionless, robotic voice.
"I'll be sure to do that, then. I want to be sure to stay on good terms with the in-laws." Bug said with a grin.
"How much toast do you need?" Lawrence asked as he took one load of toast out of the four slice toaster, then loaded it again.
"I think we'll need another two loads after that one. Remember, we've still got the boys up in the game room to feed." Bug said as he started cracking eggs into a large bowl.
"Do you want me to go and wake them up?" Lawrence asked with a smile.
"Sure. You can do that now if you want. I'll keep an eye on your toast for you." Bug said with a smile at his older brother.
Without a second thought, Lawrence dashed away.
"I like the way that you treat your brother. Despite his limitations, you constantly find ways to empower him." Roris said with his computerized voice.
"So do you." Bug said with a glance at Roris.
After a moment of consideration, Roris responded, "But when I ask Lawrence for help, it's usually because I need it. Something I cannot do for myself."
"Helping you or me or anyone, makes Lawrence happy. If you think about it, him helping you, someone who can't do it himself is a lot better than him helping me, who just doesn't like to stand around waiting for the toaster to pop." Bug said before getting a little water on his fingers, then flicking some onto the hot skillet.
After watching the sizzle, Bug adjusted the temperature down, just a little, then put a splash of oil in the pan.
"You don't feel like I'm using him, do you?" Roris asked.
"I think that you can use his help, as much as he can use yours. You guys are great together. Don't worry about what anyone else thinks. As long as you two are happy, then who else matters?" Bug asked frankly, then poured the egg mixture into the hot skillet.
"Bug! You didn't take the toast out!" Lawrence said as he walked into the kitchen.
"Sorry, Lor. I got to talking to Roris and forgot." Bug said as he stirred the egg mixture.
After Lawrence emptied and reloaded the toaster, Bug finally asked, "Did you wake up the boys?"
"Yeah. They'll be down in a couple minutes." Lawrence said happily.
"Great. Then I think that everything should be ready just about the time that they get down here." Bug said with a smile at his brother.
"Rory, can you have toast? I forget." Lawrence asked as he looked back.
"No. I'm sorry." Roris responded.
"Don't be sorry. I'm the one who can't remember." Lawrence said simply as he finished buttering the next batch of toast.
"Knock knock!" Doris called out cheerfully as she walked in through the outside door.
"Come on in. Would you like some coffee or anything?" Bug asked her.
"Thank you, no. I just came to drop off a plate for Roris. Marcus is waiting for me to get back." Doris said as she hurried to the dining room table and placed the plate before Roris.
"Roris and I were talking and, when you have time, I'd like to find out what Roris can and can't eat." Bug said as he started taking the scrambled eggs out of the skillet.
"Yes. We'll have to do that sometime soon." Doris said happily, then quickly added, "I've got to go."
"Have a good morning." Bug chuckled.
"Thank you, Mom." said Roris.
Doris stopped at the door, then ran back to her son and gave him a quick, firm hug before dashing away.
* * * * *
"Breakfast is ready. I brought you coffee." Bug said as he nudged Ken's shoulder.
Ken slowly opened his eyes, then broke into a smile before accepting the steaming hot mug.
"Scrambled eggs and bacon are waiting for you on the table, just as soon as you're ready." Bug said warmly, then moved around the bed to Kev.
Bug leaned in and gave Kev a gentle kiss.
As the kiss continued, Kev slowly opened his eyes.
"Good morning." Bug said against Kev's lips.
"Yeah. Real good." Kev responded, before moving back in to continue the kiss.
"I brought you coffee, and there's eggs and bacon waiting for you on the table." Bug said when he came up for air.
"Did you make me breakfast?" Kev asked with a smile.
"Yeah. And I'd better get out there. I let Lawrence wake up Oma Shoupe and he might need my help." Bug said regretfully as he backed away.
"Thanks for the good 'wake up'." Kev said tenderly.
"My pleasure." Bug said with a grin, then hurried away.
* * * * *
"Wow Bug! This is really great!" Bax said enthusiastically.
"I'm glad you're enjoying it." Bug said with a smile.
"No. Seriously, Bug, your food is awesome!" Max said earnestly.
"I tell you what. If any of you guys would like to learn how to cook, just let me know." Bug said between bites of food.
Bax, Ro and Max exchanged looks, but no one said anything.
"Do you remember which pills I don't have to take." Oma Shoupe asked as she looked at Bug.
"Yeah. I wrote it down on the list, so if I'm not around for some reason, you'll have it all spelled out for you." Bug said gently.
"Are you my grandma, now?" Max asked Oma Shoupe curiously.
"No." Oma Shoupe said gently, then continued, "Madelyn is your grandma, I'm your Oma."
Max considered for a moment, then seemed to accept it.
"So, do you guys have any plans today?" Ken asked curiously.
Max, Bax and Ro again exchanged looks, but didn't answer.
"I tell you what. It's cold outside. So as long as you guys stay in the house and stay out of trouble, I don't need to know what you're doing." Bug said simply.
"Thanks, Bug! You're awesome." Bax said with a grand smile.
* * * * *
"Carson, this is your sixteenth wake-up call. I currently have three messages flagged as high priority alerts. Please wake up." Dizzy said in his young teenage voice.
After a moment for the fog to clear from his mind, Carson reluctantly said, "I'm awake, Dizzy. Tell me what the alerts are."
"At two-thirty this morning, which is five-thirty, eastern standard time, President Ashwood declared the election null and void, and made it known that he had no intention, whatsoever, of surrendering the office of president. Further, he declared martial law. At that time, he ordered that all civilian airports be closed and that all citizens were to be in their homes within thirty minutes of the announcement, and remain in their homes until martial law is rescinded."
After a moment to process the information, Carson asked, "Is that everything?"
"No. That was the first of three high priority alerts." Dizzy responded in a tone of voice that seemed a little bit too cheerful for so early in the morning. Carson made a mental note to himself to write a subroutine that reduced Dizzy's enthusiasm in the early hours of the day.
"At approximately five-thirty this morning, landline communications were cut to all points outside the United States." Dizzy said frankly.
"Well, that's not good, but I guess it could be worse. What else've you got?" Carson asked with a bit of dread under his words.
"Just now, I received an announcement that Texas has officially seceded from the United States and they have declared war on the Ashwood administration, which they don't recognize as being the duly elected government of the people of the United States." Dizzy said as simply as possible.
Carson remained still for a moment, thinking about all that he had been told, then thought to ask, "Where did you get all that information with half the country being blacked out?"
"There is an AM radio station in Chicago that is still broadcasting. Several people are blogging and chatting about things being said there. The AM broadcast is being streamed by a Canadian blogger, if you would like to hear it." Dizzy offered helpfully.
"Um, yeah. I'll listen to it while I'm getting ready... by the way, what time is it?" Carson asked blearily.
"The time is now, eight thirty-seven." Dizzy said, and once again his voice seemed to be just a bit too cheerful.
Carson was surprised that he had slept so late, but he also knew that when he was in as much pain as he was the previous night, that it tended to make him feel exhausted for days afterward.
"...not kidding. It's bad. The high ranking member of the police department who gave us the satellite phones has been helping us out through the night. He told us to let you know that what's going on today. We've been set up. People from outside Chicago, some of them from outside the United States, are trying to stir things up and start a riot. The military's in on it, and even some of the police. He just wanted you to know... don't fall for it. Don't take their bait." The announcer said gravely.
Carson realized that he had stopped with the pain pills in his hand, halfway to his mouth. He quickly took the pills, then hurried to get dressed.
"Listen, it's getting serious and you guys need to know who it is that's helping you. He's been going out of his way to stay out of the spotlight, but... now you need to know. The high ranking police official who has been helping us since all of this began is Alexander Cappo. When it came to light what the president and his cronies were doing, Mr. Cappo stepped up and did what needed to be done. He took the mayor and many others who were working against the interests and well-being of the citizens of Chicago, and had them arrested. Mr. Cappo then took on the great challenge of acting as mayor, to give all of us the best chance he could at survival. In a few minutes, I'll play you a recording of the speech Mayor Cappo gave this morning. Before you make any judgments, remember. He stood with us when all those we put into power were trying to sell us out."
Carson had dressed himself automatically, and when he had finished, he went to Dizzy to dock his chair.
"Let me tell you, if it wasn't for Alex Cappo, we'd be lost right now. I'm not talking about this station, I'm talking about Chicago. Thanks to him, we can find out what's going on and pass that information on to you. We can let you know what's happening and how to prepare. We can tell you the TRUTH, that we've been prevented from telling you thanks to the 'Ashwood Regime', as the Texans have taken to calling it. I'm asking anyone who can hear my voice to stand with Mayor Cappo and do what he says. He's already proven by his actions that he's on the side of truth and right. Let's give him everything he needs to keep Chicago free and safe!"
"For anyone who just joined us, I'll repeat, there are people from outside Chicago trying to incite riots in our city. Don't take their bait. Help each other. Check on your neighbors. Remember that this is Chicago! Our HOME! That self-proclaimed dictator in the White House doesn't pull our strings! Now, stay tuned for a speech from Mayor Cappo that tells us, in his own words, what is going on and what we can do to help."
Carson absently took his phone off its charger, then said, "I need to go to breakfast. Call me if there are any more priority alerts."
The radio muted, then Dizzy responded, "You got it, Boss."
Carson smiled at the response, then slowly left the room.
* * * * *
"You really slept late this morning. I was just about to go wake you up. How are you feeling?" Carson's mother asked with concern as he entered the kitchen.
"It was bad, last night. I was so out of it that I missed some of what was going on." Carson said as he made his way to his usual place at the table.
"The world can get by on its own for a while, so that you can sleep." His grandmother, Madelyn, said as she placed a plate of food before him.
Carson noticed a boy at the table that he didn't remember meeting the previous day and said, "I'm Carson."
"Ty." The boy responded before finishing the last few bites of food on his plate.
"Ty's sharing my room." Mikey explained.
Carson nodded, then started to cut up his fried eggs, making sure to break all the yolks as he did so.
"I heard about the president declaring martial law. Although that's going to be a problem for some, I doubt that it will cause us too many problems here." Deb said frankly as she sat down across from Carson with a cup of coffee.
"Yeah. But since they cut communications outside the United States, Dad might have some trouble with his business connections." Carson said frankly.
"He'll make do. I'm sure that everyone understands that we're doing our best, under the circumstances. In fact, he was going to work on getting in contact with Mr. Prater, down in Australia, to see if he could get some extra help with the relief efforts. He may have to jump through a few hoops to get the message through, but I have faith in your father." Deb said casually.
"Did you hear about Texas?" Carson asked as he paused to look at his mother.
"No. What happened in Texas?" Deb asked cautiously.
"They seceded. They said that since Ashwood declared the election null and void, that he doesn't represent the duly elected government of the people." Carson said seriously.
Deb slowly nodded, then said, "I suppose that you could look at it that way."
"They've declared war." Carson added in a whisper.
"War?" Madelyn asked in surprise.
"That's all I know about it. I don't know how bad it really is." Carson said honestly.
Deb nodded again, but didn't respond otherwise.
After a few minutes of silence, Tommy quietly said, "Mikey, do you think that you could help me take care of the guests, today? I've got a lot to do with getting ready for when people start showing up, and I don't want anyone going without stuff, just because I wasn't around to notice."
"Sure. Ty and I will take care of everyone." Mikey said cheerfully.
"If anything comes up that you don't know how to handle, just let me know." Tommy said with a smile at his brother.
Just then, Carson's cell phone started ringing in his pocket.
"Can't you turn that thing off at the breakfast table?" Madelyn asked irritably.
"Dizzy wouldn't call me unless it was important." Carson said as he opened his phone.
After a minute of listening, he quietly said, "Thanks, Dizzy." then ended the call.
"Is something wrong?" Deb asked with concern.
"Yeah. Way wrong." Carson muttered as his mind raced.
Everyone around the table waited anxiously for Carson to reveal what was going on.
"Okay. Dizzy only got the one report, and I'll have to check for myself to see if it's true. But according to him, Kansas City just got... um... from what he said, 'bombed' is kind of an understatement. It sounds like it was mostly blown off the face of the earth." Carson said weakly.
"How can this be happening?" Madelyn asked in astonishment, then saw her husband walking into the room and ran to him.
"Like I said, I'll have to go and check it out to be sure. If what Dizzy told me is true, I'll be able to tell pretty easily from a satellite image." Carson said frankly.
"Thank God we got all of our people out of Kansas City last night." Deb said distantly.
"Yeah, but what about their friends? Maybe even families?" Tommy asked quietly.
"We did as much as we could. I know that won't bring back anyone that they lost, but..." Deb finished with a defeated shrug, obviously out of words.
Carson went back to slowly eating his food, mostly automatically, not really tasting anything that he was eating.
Silence fell over the kitchen.
In the light of such a monumental tragedy, no one knew what to say.
* * * * *
As Carson was mopping up the last of his egg yolk from the plate with his last piece of toast, his cell phone rang again.
Everyone stopped and looked at Carson anxiously.
Reluctantly, Carson looked at the caller ID and saw, to his regret, that it was Dizzy.
"Yes?" Carson asked as he answered the phone.
His hand started to slightly shake and a tear escaped his eye as he took the phone away from his ear, then pressed the button to end the call.
No one present dared ask the question. They all just waited for whatever had caused such a reaction.
"According to a radio station in Chicago, bombs... missiles, just went off in Austin, Texas." Carson said in an emotionless voice as he stared past everyone, looking into a distant place that only he could see.
"Oh my God." Deb gasped.
"I... I really need to go and see what's happened. Maybe it's not..." Carson trailed off, then shook his head before hurrying out of the room.
* * * * *
When Carson arrived in his room, it only took a few minutes for him to realize that not only were the reports true, but that the situation was far worse than he could have imagined.
"I'm sorry for bothering everyone, but there's some news and... I really think everyone should come to the living room, so I can bring you up-to-date." Carson said reluctantly into the intercom.
As he undocked his chair in preparation to go to the living room, Dizzy said, "Carson, there is a high priority alert."
"Reset the alert status. Don't trigger new alerts for keywords used in combination with Kansas City or Austin." Carson said quickly.
"I did that. This alert is regarding an explosion in downtown Oklahoma City." Dizzy said simply.
Carson froze for a moment, then rushed back to the computer alcove to dock again.
"Dizzy, please start playing the audio stream from the Chicago radio station." Carson said absently as he tried to gain access to a satellite feed.
"Details are sketchy, but we've received two separate reports that an explosion has gone off in downtown Oklahoma City. Wait, I'm getting something handed to me... it's from a shortwave operator in the area. Oh my God... if he's right, whatever caused the explosion, or whatever it blew up, was radioactive. Please understand, we're getting these reports and announcing what we're told as soon as we get it. None of this has been confirmed. But if you're anywhere near Oklahoma City, you should get away from there as quickly as humanly possible. If you can't get away, stay inside. Go to a basement or storm cellar or something and wait there for as long as you can. We don't know how bad this is, yet. But you really need to assume the worst and do whatever you can to protect yourselves."
As he was listening, Carson could see the damage caused by the initial explosion on the satellite image.
"Turn the radio stream off." Carson choked out as he was racked with sobs.
Carson leaned forward and put his head down as he gave up control and began to cry in earnest.
A pair of arms wrapped around him from behind, then a soft voice barely whispered into his ear, "It's okay. I've got you."
Carson didn't know who it was that was holding him, but he felt that it was just what he needed at that moment.
"Whatever it is, I'll help you deal with it. You don't have to face it alone."
Suddenly, Carson realized who it was that was holding him and he felt a warmth rise inside him at the incredibly caring action.
"Thanks, Jay." Carson whispered as he hugged the arms that were wrapped around him.
* * * * *
"Do you want to be over by the TV, like before?" Jay asked as he pushed Carson's wheelchair into the living room.
"Thanks for pushing me. You really don't have to, but I appreciate it." Carson said as he worked on his laptop, queuing up the files that he wanted to display.
Jay gave a slight, dismissive chuckle, then said, "With all you're doing to help everyone else, it's nice that someone can do something to help you."
"I usually refuse to let people help me. There's so many things that I can't do on my own, that I won't let anyone help me with the things that I'm able to do for myself." Carson said honestly.
"I won't do it if you don't want me to." Jay said hesitantly.
Carson shook his head and quietly said, "You're the exception. I'll let you help me, if you want. But that means that, someday, when you need it, that you're going to have to let me help you, too."
Jay looked deeply into Carson's eyes and could see the seriousness smoldering within.
Finally, he whispered, "Deal."
* * * * *
Ryan walked into the living room and directly to Carson's side.
"I have an important call waiting for me. I already heard about the US cutting communications with the rest of the world and about the president declaring martial law. If that's all this is, then I need to get back to my office." Ryan said seriously.
"Dad, take a seat." Carson said gravely, then asked, "Would you turn the TV on and set it to the aux input?"
Ryan picked up the remote and turned the enormous TV to the requested channel.
Everyone was quiet and waiting anxiously for what Carson was about to say.
"This morning, the president announced that the elections were null and void, then declared martial law." Carson said simply.
"I'm surprised it took him this long." Oma Shoupe said frankly.
"All landline communications have been cut outside the US. After that, Texas seceded from the union and declared war." Carson said as he looked around for people's reactions.
There were several stunned looks, but no one seemed to be surprised beyond that.
"Then, just a while ago, different cities started being attacked. With all the electric and communications being blacked out over half the country, we can't be sure of everything that's going on, but I've done my best to verify what I can before telling you." Carson said, then brought up the first, and by far, the most horrific image that he had in his queue.
He waited for everyone to get a good look at it before finally saying, "That's what's left of Kansas City."
Everyone was silent for a few seconds, then Hank ran forward and stared closely at the satellite image, obviously looking for something.
"After we're done, I can get you a more detailed image." Carson offered quietly.
"No. You don't have to... they're gone." Hank said in a whisper before he was engulfed in Jeremy's arms.
Carson felt it in his heart when one of Hank's anguished sobs escaped.
"What about Taryn and Michelle?" Lucas asked suddenly.
"Everyone from KF Transport was evacuated from Kansas City last night. They all made it safely to the West before the blackout." Deb said firmly.
Max, Bax and Ro were surrounding Bug, both holding and being held by him. But all of their attention was focused on Deb.
"That's not all of it." Carson said regretfully, then hit enter on his keyboard to bring up the next image.
"Austin, Texas." Carson called out, and his voice sounded hollow to his own ears.
Everyone looked at the screen, and Walt finally said, "It doesn't look like too much damage... a downed aircraft, maybe."
"The explosion wasn't the problem. I did as much checking as I could before coming in here and... I don't really know too much about how nerve gas behaves... but from what I did understand, it looks like over half the population of Austin is either dead or dying right now... maybe as high as three quarters." Carson finished regretfully.
"Nerve gas?" Walt asked, wanting confirmation.
"That's what just about everyone is saying. They sound pretty sure. The word on what's left of the Net is that it's Sarin. But there's no way for me to verify that. It would probably take hours for me to sort through everything posted in the chat rooms about it right now." Carson said quietly.
"Kansas City AND Austin?" Oma Shoupe said in disbelief.
Carson hit the enter key on his computer, and the image on the TV changed again.
"And Oklahoma City. I don't know what it was, but they're reading extremely high radiation in the blast area."
"But why? I mean, I can understand Austin being a target since Texas seceded. But why would anyone target Kansas City or Oklahoma City?" Reginald asked distantly as he clutched his partner to his side.
"To instill a sense of fear in you. To terrorize you. To make the population so numb with horror that they'll do whatever they're told." Walt said frankly.
When most of the attention in the room was turned on him, he continued, "They've just proven that your lives mean nothing to them. They will kill civilians without a second thought. In many parts of the world, that's not a new concept, but in the United States, it's relatively unknown. I don't know what to tell you except that this shows me that these people aren't going to 'play nice'. These people have no code of honor. There is NOTHING that they won't do, and they don't care who gets hurt as long as they get what they want."
"And what they want is control... of everything." Ben said flatly, holding Oleksandr on his hip.
"...and everyone." Bug added.
After a moment to be sure that Walt was finished, Ryan slowly turned to Carson and hopefully asked, "Is that it?"
As Carson was about to answer, his phone rang.
Max, Bax and Ro all noticed the tension that immediately filled Deb's expression at the sound.
Carson reluctantly put the phone to his ear and listened for a moment.
When he finally disconnected, as expected, he saw that everyone in the room was looking at him expectantly.
"I've just received instructions for how to deal with a 'blister agent'. It seems that some people started coming down sick in Boulder, Colorado, and someone just figured out what caused it and passed on how to treat it." Carson said absently, then quietly added, "Dizzy also told me that according to a radio station in Chicago, there are foreign military fighters that have shown up in cities all over the country. Chicago is fighting back, but most of the other Eastern cities aren't doing as well."
Without warning, a pair of arms encircled Carson and he melted into the touch.
A part of him realized that he was in front of a room full of people, openly being held by another boy, and that he should probably pull away. But it felt too good. The hug was exactly what he needed at that moment.
Carson slowly placed his hand on top of Jay's then whispered, "Thank you."
* * * * *
Carson lost track of time. He didn't know how long they had been in the living room, essentially holding hands. Finally, he realized what he was doing and looked around.
All the various people were gathered into groups and comforting each other.
As much as he would have liked to stay and hold Jay's hand for a while longer, his sense of duty drove him to say, "I need to get back to my room and keep up with what's going on."
"Okay." Jay whispered, then began pushing Carson's chair back to his bedroom.
It was strange for him to be pushed in the wheelchair. He was used to doing it himself, always being in control. But, somehow, knowing that it was Jay made it alright.
* * * * *
"Should I leave?" Jay asked quietly.
"No. It'd be better if you stayed. I could use your help." Carson said honestly.
"There's not much I can do." Jay said softly.
"You can keep me company. And if the news gets too bad, then maybe you could hold me again." Carson said hopefully.
"Actually, bad news isn't required for that." Jay said with a grin.
Carson returned the smile, then said, "Dizzy, please play the Chicago radio stream."
Jay looked at him curiously.
"Maybe, if you wanted, you could hold me while we listen to the radio... you know, just in case of bad news." Carson finished shyly.
"Sounds good." Jay responded as he walked up behind Carson and began to hug him from behind.
"...after what the police are calling 'intensive questioning', Mayor Cappo has announced that the foreign fighters were brought here for the express purpose of inciting riots, then helping to contain and control the populations of the cities."
"The recent events have sparked an exodus of people, fleeing to the West. The government has instituted roadblocks to prevent people from leaving, claiming that any civilians on the road are in violation of martial law. There have been numerous reports of soldiers gunning down civilians with little or no provocation."
"This is a nightmare." Jay whispered into Carson's ear.
"I almost wish I didn't know about what was going on. It's almost too much to handle." Carson responded quietly.
"You don't have to handle it alone. I've got you." Jay said soothingly, then they both heard as well as felt a low rumble.
"Was that thunder?" Jay asked curiously.
"Maybe." Carson said as he quickly brought up the local weather radar.
The radar image showed the sky to be clear over the Kettle Falls area, and the 'thunder' didn't repeat.
"We've just received a report that a group from Michigan, making their way West, encountered a government roadblock and were able to overrun it with minimal casualties. According to what we just heard on the CB radio, our friends from Michigan also assisted another group of nearly one hundred women and children to get to safety. Way to go, guys! You're our heroes!"
"At least there's some good news." Jay purred into Carson's ear.
"Hold on! We're getting swamped here with all kinds of new information. It looks like... maybe a nuclear bomb? I don't know. Don't quote me on that. Something big... really big, just happened in California. There's too much coming in right now and no one knows what really happened."
As Carson sat forward, Jay released him and watched him work.
"If it's a nuclear bomb, I should be able to pick it up on satellite." Carson muttered as his fingers flew across the keyboard.
All six monitors were showing different images when Carson suddenly stopped all movement.
"What? Did you find something?" Jay asked, unable to decipher what he was seeing.
"San Francisco, it's... gone." Carson whispered.
"Was it a bomb?" Jay asked as he looked from one screen to another, trying to make any sense of it.
"I don't think it matters what it was. It looks like everything for... it looks like hundreds of miles, is completely destroyed. And... oh my God! That's what that 'thunder' was! The blast was so big that we felt it all the way up here in Washington!" Carson finished in amazement.
"No place is safe, is it?" Jay asked in a whisper.
"No. But we can't let that stop us. That's what they're counting on. That's why they're doing all of this, to demoralize us and make us feel helpless. They want to make everyone a 'victim', so that they can control us." Carson said as he continued to pull up different images on his screens.
After a long silence, Jay quietly said, "That's what my family did, too. They wanted me to be the victim, their victim. It wasn't about me or anything I did or even what I looked like. They just wanted me to be afraid of them. It wasn't about love or hate or... even sex. It was control that they craved. All this time I never realized, them making me afraid was the only power they ever had over me."
"Was your family in Kansas City?" Carson asked quietly.
"Yeah." Jay whispered.
After a few seconds for the significance of that to sink in, Carson said, "Good."
Jay solemnly nodded his agreement.
* * * * *
"We have more news." Carson said as he moved into the living room, to his spot by the television.
The majority of people were still in the living room from the meeting earlier.
Carson looked around, then quietly said, "No one knows what caused it, yet. But from what little I've found out, San Francisco and its surrounding communities are gone. It was a nuclear bomb or a massive earthquake or something big like that. I guess it doesn't matter at this point."
"How sure are you?" Walt asked cautiously.
"I can show you the satellite image if you want. Everything else that I know is from what other people are saying, so I don't know how much of it's true." Carson said seriously.
"Excuse me." Deb said, then rushed out of the room and down the hallway.
Within a second, Max, Bax and Ro were following.
Everyone in the living room was numb with shock and unable to even find the words to say to express what they were feeling.
"What about Anaheim? I have some friends that were supposed to be there this week!" Ben asked in a panic.
"I haven't heard anything, but I'll see what I can find out for you." Carson said quietly as he felt his wheelchair start to move. Jay didn't say a word as he wheeled Carson back into the bedroom.
* * * * *
"Dizzy, please try to establish the satellite feed for Southern California. I need to get an image of Anaheim for Ben." Carson said seriously.
"I'm sorry, Carson. The satellite feed is unavailable at this time." Dizzy said in a regretful tone.
Carson thought for a moment, then said, "Do a search and see what news you can find out about Anaheim, then. There's not a lot I can do to help anyone right now, the least I can do is try to find out if Ben's people had a chance of surviving."
"I'm searching now." Dizzy said seriously.
"Dizzy, please compress all the files of every high priority alert today and send them to Alvin." Carson said as Jay pushed him toward the computer alcove.
"All files sent." Dizzy said a moment later.
"Switch to rest mode, but let me know if any priority alerts come in." Carson said and watched as the monitors retracted and reconfigured themselves.
"You're really incredible." Jay said as he watched the spectacle.
Before Carson could answer, Dizzy said, "Carson, you have an incoming call from Alvin. He said that it was important."
"Do you want me to go?" Jay asked quietly.
"No. You can stay if you want. This probably won't take long." Carson said hopefully.
* * * * *
"Are you sure she's still in there?" Bax whispered to his companions.
"Yeah. I think she's typing." Max quietly replied.
All of a sudden, the sound of a phone ringing caused all three of the children to jump.
"Yes, this is Debra Brown." They strained to hear through the door.
After what seemed like a very long time, they barely heard Deb quietly say, "I understand. We'd be honored to help you."
"Yes, yes sir. I'll let my husband know." Deb said in a firm voice.
Sensing that her conversation was coming to an end, Max, Bax and Ro hurried down the hall and dashed around the corner just a millisecond before Deb hurried out of her office.
The three of them exchanged looks before Max finally said, "She's got a mission."
* * * * *
As predicted, the talk with Alvin didn't take long, but by the time it was done, Carson was exhausted. "Would you mind... I'd like to lay down for a minute."
Without a word, Jay turned the wheelchair and moved it beside the bed.
"Would you lay down with me?" Carson asked hopefully before working to get himself out of the wheelchair.
After a moment to see that Carson didn't need any help, Jay shyly said, "Sure. I think I'd like that."
"I just need some... I don't know, downtime, I guess. There's too much going on. It's all too big. I need to take a step back." Carson fought to explain.
"No problem. Just let me know if there's anything I can do to help you." Jay said as he sat on the bed next to Carson.
"Just knowing that you're here, and that you want to help is all I need right now." Carson said quietly.
* * * * *
"Carson, I'm sorry for interrupting. But I've had multiple hits on a medium priority alert." Dizzy said quietly.
Carson had been drifting, not quite awake or asleep when he remembered Jay at his side.
He moved his hand slightly and encountered Jay's, right beside his.
He took gentle hold of Jay's hand and heard him whisper, "I'm still here."
"Good." Carson said with a smile, then said more loudly, "Dizzy, will you tell me what the alert was?"
"The Chicago radio station reports that Government troops have started either blockading or collapsing bridges in an effort to stem the tide of refugees headed to the West." Dizzy said frankly.
"This is going to get ugly." Carson muttered absently.
"Uglier than it already is?" Jay asked cautiously.
"I'm afraid so. This isn't like bombs or gas, it's not one person pushing a button and a lot of people dying. This is people standing against people, on the street level." Carson said quietly.
"Civil war." Jay whispered.
Carson regretfully nodded his agreement.
* * * * *
The sound of a ringing phone jolted Carson out of a light doze.
He felt the movement of Jay at his side and felt reassured that he wasn't alone.
When he looked at the caller ID on the phone, no number was displayed.
Reluctantly, he answered, "Brown Residence, Carson speaking."
"Good afternoon, I hope I'm not bothering you, but is there any way I could speak to my son, Zane?" The man on the phone asked hopefully.
"It's no trouble at all. It will just take me a minute to find him." Carson said, then hit the 'flash' button on his phone to put it on hold.
"Can I help?" Jay asked quietly from Carson's side.
"Yes. It would be a big help if you could hit the 'all call' on the intercom, right there beside the bed, and ask Zane to come to my room." Carson said hopefully.
Jay sat up and moved to the nightstand. It took him a second to identify the 'all call' button, but then he said in a clear voice, "Zane, could you please come to Carson's room? You have a phone call."
Once Jay released the button, Carson quietly said, "Thank you."
Jay smiled at Carson's gratitude.
"I think I've been resting enough. I really need to check online and see what else is going on. Dizzy is great at searching the Net for news, but it isn't possible for me to make a list of every keyword to search for. I'm sure there are things he hasn't picked up." Carson said as he pulled himself to the edge of the bed, to get into his wheelchair.
"Can I help you?" Jay asked timidly.
"I'm so used to doing this myself, that anyone helping me would probably take twice as long." Carson said as he maneuvered himself into the chair.
Jay walked around the bed to Carson's side, when Zane quickly rushed into the room, out of breath.
"Here. Hit 'flash'. It's your dad." Carson said as he retrieved the phone from the bed and handed it to Zane.
"Thanks." Zane said quickly, then hurried out of the room.
After a long moment of silence, Carson quietly said, "I bet I'd be the same way if my dad wasn't right here, with me."
Jay didn't respond other than to look at Carson regretfully.
* * * * *
When Zane walked into the bedroom, he looked like the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders.
"Good news?" Carson ventured.
Zane smiled, then said, "My dad is safe and he's on his way here."
"That's fantastic news. I'll make sure that Tommy has a room ready for him when he arrives." Carson said warmly.
"Oh, um... I don't know. He said that he's on a bus with about a dozen other people. He might feel like he needs to stay with them." Zane said uncertainly.
Carson chuckled, then said, "Don't worry. With all that Tommy has prepared, I don't think we'll have any trouble finding a place for twelve people."
"Well, um... you see, that's the thing. My dad said that after they left Chicago, their bus met up with a group from Wisconsin. And since then, they've been gaining people all along the way." Zane said nervously.
"Did he say how many?" Carson asked curiously.
"He wasn't sure, but he estimated that with the fifty or so truckers that joined them today, that he's looking at about three hundred fifty vehicles. He doesn't have any idea of how many people, though. They've got a lot of SUVs, vans and even a few buses with them." Zane said carefully.
"Did your dad say when he expects to be here?" Carson asked as he thought about what he was being told.
"He said that it's possible that they could get here tomorrow night, but that it's more likely that it will be Saturday morning." Zane said as he watched carefully for Carson's reaction.
"You need to find Tommy and let him know everything that you just told me. He'll make sure that when your dad and his group arrive, that everything will be ready." Carson said seriously.
"Do you have any idea of where I would start looking for him? This is a really big place." Zane asked cautiously.
"Actually, there's some stuff I should cover with Tommy, too. Jay, would you mind paging for Tommy to come here?" Carson asked as he looked back over his shoulder.
"No problem." Jay said, then went to the intercom on the nightstand and made the announcement.
* * * * *
Dr. Murten looked over his clipboard one more time, then raised his hand to knock on the closed bedroom door.
"Just a second." A voice called out.
Dr. Murten made sure that he was holding the clipboard at his side and did his best to look professional as the door opened.
"Doctor? I didn't expect to see you here. Is something wrong?" Brother Jacques asked, then gestured for Dr. Murten to enter the room.
"Yes. There's something wrong, but I very seriously doubt that it has anything to do with you." Dr. Murten said carefully.
Brother Jacques looked at Dr. Murten quizzically at the unusual comment.
"I sent off your blood work, first thing this morning and I've just received the results. There were some abnormalities and I was hoping that you wouldn't mind if I took another sample." Dr. Murten said slowly.
"What's wrong?" Brother Jacques asked as he paled.
"Nothing more than a problem at the lab, I'm certain of it. But it would be unethical and irresponsible of me to discuss this with you before completing a second test." Dr. Murten said as he held Brother Jacques' gaze.
"It's the AIDS, isn't it? I've gone full-blown." Brother Jacques asked as his eyes filled with tears.
"No!" Dr. Murten said firmly, then continued more gently, "I can't discuss this with you until I've had your blood retested. I wish I could say more, but anything I could tell you right now would simply be what I hope is the truth, and not based on any facts. I know this is hard and that there's no way not to worry, but I'm begging you not to assume the worst. Please allow me a few hours to have the new test done and then I'll tell you everything."
"Okay." Brother Jacques whispered.
"Let me see your arm. As soon as I've got your sample, I'm going to drive it over to the hospital myself and wait for the test results." Dr. Murten said seriously.
"Thank you, Doctor. I promise that I'll try not to believe the worst." Brother Jacques said bravely, although his eyes were still welled with tears.
"I seem to recall that most times when I've seen you, there's a young man at your side." Dr. Murten said as he swabbed the crook of Brother Jacques' arm.
"Yeah. That's Zane." Brother Jacques whispered.
Dr. Murten carefully inserted the needle, then said, "I think, that while I'm having your blood tested, that it might be a very good idea if you spent some time with him."
"He was called downstairs for something, probably a call from his father." Brother Jacques said as he fought to keep his tremors from pulling the needle loose.
"Go to him. Unless I miss my guess, you'll both be glad that you did." Dr. Murten said as he withdrew the needle, then pressed a cotton ball in the crook of Brother Jacques' arm.
"Yeah. I was wanting to ask..." Brother Jacques said nervously as he fought his tremors.
"Yes? What's that?" Dr. Murten asked curiously.
"I know that this is gonna sound weird but... um... okay. If someone had a thing, like a tracking device, put inside their body, how hard would it be to get it out?" Brother Jacques asked carefully.
"I suppose that would depend on where it is." Dr. Murten said frankly.
"In his chest." Brother Jacques said immediately.
"Wait. Are you telling me that you know someone who actually has a tracking device implanted?" Dr. Murten asked with surprise.
"Yes. And he has a vest that keeps the tracking signal from getting out, but I was wondering how much trouble it would be to go in there and take the thing out." Brother Jacques said cautiously.
Dr. Murten thought for a moment, then carefully said, "Let's see. If he's wearing a vest to prevent the signal from being transmitted, then there wouldn't be any practical way to gain access and remove it."
"I think Carson is the one who came up with the jammer vest in the first place, so maybe he could come up with something to let you do the surgery without transmitting Zane's location." Brother Jacques said thoughtfully.
"I seem to recall my son-in-law mentioning something about an RF clean room at his lab. I can't be sure, but we could talk to Ryan and see if that might serve the same purpose as the vest. If it does, then we could have the equipment that I'll need transported there and... well, I'm getting ahead of myself. First thing, I'll need to talk to your friend, Zane, and I'd like to do as much of an examination as possible, without disturbing his vest." Dr. Murten finished confidently.
"He's probably down in Carson's room if you want to see him now." Brother Jacques said hopefully.
"Yes. Then we'll need to talk to Ryan for a moment, to be sure that his lab is available. Then I'll take your blood to be tested at the hospital and I can arrange for the equipment that I'll need to be brought to the lab at the same time." Dr. Murten said, then gestured to the door, indicating that he was ready to leave.
"I can see where Carson gets some of his skills." Brother Jacques said before preceding Dr. Murten out of the room.
* * * * *
"Bug, Ben and Roris, could you please come to my room? This is Carson, by the way, and it's not an emergency, we just need to talk." Carson hurried to say before he released the 'all-call' button.
"Do you want me to leave, so you guys can have your meeting in private?" Jay asked quietly.
"Thank you for being so considerate, but you don't have to keep asking that. I can't think of anything that I could tell them about that I wouldn't want you to know. But I promise that if, for some reason, I need for you to step out, I'll let you know." Carson finished with a smile.
"Zane, can we talk to you for a minute?" Brother Jacques asked from the doorway.
"I think Carson was wanting to have a meeting." Zane said in a conflicted voice.
"We can be done in a matter of minutes, I just have a few questions to ask you." Dr. Murten said seriously.
"Go on. We're just waiting on the others." Carson called out.
Zane nodded, then followed Brother Jacques and Dr. Murten out of the room.
* * * * *
"How is everyone doing today?" Carson asked as he looked around.
"Hanging in there." Bug said as he sat on Carson's bed between the twins.
"I think we're okay." Ben said from his place on the floor with Oleksandr sitting on his lap.
Carson turned his gaze toward Roris and Lawrence, who were deeply involved in a kiss, and decided that they were doing fine, too.
"Is it okay if Jake joins us?" Zane asked as he walked back into the room.
"Sure. The more the merrier." Carson said with a weary smile.
"Is this going to take very long? I need to make lunch for Oma Shoupe pretty soon." Bug asked cautiously.
"Not long. I really just wanted us to have a chance to go over what's already happened and talk for a little bit so we're all on the same page as far as what's happening right now." Carson said frankly.
"There's not much to say. A lot of cities got bombed, gassed, nuked and a whole bunch of other shit. No one likes it, but there ain't much we can do about it." Bug said seriously.
"That about says it." Ben said, nodding.
"Well, Zane was telling me that his dad has about three hundred and fifty friends coming to visit us, possibly as soon as tomorrow night." Carson said with a smile at Zane.
"From what Tommy said, he's got that covered, easy." Ken said simply.
"Yes. But this is just the first wave. The first drop in the bucket." Carson said frankly.
"You're afraid that the bucket's gonna fill up pretty damn quick." Bug responded.
"Maybe if there wasn't that announcement on the Internet, we might have enough places for everyone, but... I've got a feeling that Kettle Falls is going to be busting at the seams before the weekend's over." Carson said with concern.
"They're all coming here because they want to be safe, right? Where else can they go to be safe?" Lawrence asked as he looked around.
There was a long moment of silence, until the voice box on Roris's wheelchair said, "We were told that if we needed help, there was an Air Force Base that would be waiting for our call."
"But an Air Force Base probably has less room than we do." Kev said in confusion.
"Yeah, but we might be able to use their help..." Bug said thoughtfully.
"What've you got, Bug?" Ken asked gently.
"Has anyone heard what Canada's doing lately?" Bug asked suddenly.
"No. I don't think I've come across anything about them, today." Carson said honestly.
"Look at where we are, Washington is pretty much doing a 69 with British Columbia. I don't know how much it would take to do it, but what if we got the people needing help to Kettle Falls, made sure that they're okay to travel further, before we passed them on up to Canada. Then, maybe once they're up in Canada, they could go different places so no one's stuck taking care of hundreds of thousands of people, and so that there's not one huge target waiting for Asswoodie to push the button." Bug said seriously.
"Actually, that sounds like a pretty good idea. We could kind of be like a travelers MASH unit. We could see if they have any medical or mechanical needs, and when they're fit to travel, we can move them on and help the next person." Carson said slowly.
"Yeah. But that all kind of assumes that Canada will be okay with hundreds of thousands of refugee Americans flooding their country." Zane said cautiously.
"I think that we have some friends we can call on to make those arrangements for us." Carson said with a knowing smile.
"Do you really think they would?" Ben asked in a low voice.
"I've already talked to Alvin once today. So, yes. I know without a doubt that they'll try if we ask them." Carson said with conviction.
"Okay, it sounds like we've got the beginning of a plan, but I think we should do some checking around to make sure we can do our part before we call in the big guns." Ken said thoughtfully.
"Yeah. Everyone can think on it for a little bit while I do some checking. After lunch, we can get back together and see what everyone's come up with." Carson said seriously.
"Yeah. I need to start making lunch. Oma Shoupe and Lawrence need to take their meds on time and we've been off schedule for the last two days." Bug said as he stood.
"Okay. I'll do a little checking and make an announcement in a few hours when I have a better idea of whether we can make this work or not." Carson said decisively.
Everyone seemed to be in agreement as they got up to leave.
* * * * *
When they were finally alone, Jay quietly said, "Hundreds of thousands of people?"
Carson looked at him and slowly nodded.
"You're like a superhero." Jay said with a slight smile.
"Not me. I couldn't do this alone. It's all of us." Carson said frankly.
"But I can't do anything." Jay said weakly.
"I don't know if you noticed, but there's a lot more going on than I've been telling everyone." Carson said quietly.
"Why?" Jay asked in surprise.
"I just told them the facts. I didn't mention about what Bryce and Ashwood are saying about each other and all the really nasty things that are being said. It's almost too much for me to deal with and I don't want to put everyone else through that. But if I'm going to keep an eye on everything, I'm going to need you. If I'm a superhero, like you said, it's only because you keep me strong." Carson said as he looked deeply into Jay's eyes.
Jay thought about it for a moment, then quietly said, "If that's what I can do to help hundreds of thousands of people, then you can count on me."
Carson smiled at the answer, then put out an arm to invite Jay into a hug.
* * * * *
"We've tried calling about a hundred times and we can't get through." Doris said as she clutched a teacup tightly in both hands.
"I'm sure with the state of things right now, that the phone system is probably overloaded." Madelyn said sympathetically.
"Yes. That's what Marcus said, too. But I just can't help but worry." Doris said nervously.
"Of course. You're a mother." Madelyn said gently.
"What's that sound?" Doris asked as she looked around.
"I don't hear anything." Madelyn said as she looked at Doris with concern.
"It's coming from outside." Doris said as she set the teacup on a side table and rushed to the window.
"I hear it now... what is that?" Madelyn asked as she slowly stood.
"Oh my God! Marcus!" Doris called out as every bit of color drained out of her face.
Madelyn hurried to the window and froze at the sight of two helicopters on the front lawn.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Yes, I'm pretty sure I'm an editor for this chapter.
I'll have to check to be sure, but that doesn't matter.
It looks as though Jay and Carson are really building a relationship. That is always a good sign. Hopefully Zane can get that darn tracking device removed safely, and poor Jake seems afraid the worst has happened. I hope Doctor Murten isn't just trying to build his hopes up. Somehow, though, I don't think he would do something like that. All we can do is hope. I mean it would be a real shame if Jake came all the way out West, only to be told he was getting worse than ever. Let's keep our fingers crossed.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher
Not the Co-Author's Notes:
Don't worry Darryl, we aren't real sure what you are either.
If what is going on with Jake is what I think (hope), then the doctor is right not to talk until he is sure. Sometimes waiting is harder than anything.
Ashwood sure knows how to make people hate him. Obviously he doesn't know much history. In the 'Battle of Britton' in WWII, the bombing of London didn't weaken the Brit's resolve it magnified it to the point that nothing would have stopped them.
Hello CANADA! I hope Alvin and friends can get a deal worked out with our northern neighbors.
Back to the road trip.