"Why do I have to do this, again?" Eric asked as he fussed with his hair, trying to get it into something vaguely resembling presentable.
"This is going to be recorded as proof for the citizenry that the proper forms are being followed in the succession of power. Although everything was official as soon as the federal judges made their ruling, in the minds of many of the people, I won't officially be Vice President until they've been able to witness the ceremony." Mike said as he took off the towel he had worn from the shower so he could begin dressing.
Eric smiled for a moment, enjoying the sight, before responding, "Actually, it was a rhetorical question."
"Of course..." Mike said as he turned with a grin, but the expression fell away and he continued, "You're not wearing that... are you?"
"Seriously? We barely survived today and you're worried about what suit I'm wearing?" Eric asked incredulously.
"We have to appear to be confident and in control. You looking like an out-of-work dinner waiter won't help with that." Mike said frankly.
"It's not that bad." Eric said with slight irritation.
"I take it you haven't looked in a mirror." Mike said as he gestured toward the mirror in invitation.
Eric rolled his eyes, but finally crossed the room to stand beside his mate and look at himself. "Oh... I see what you mean."
"Where did you get that, anyway?" Mike asked curiously.
"I borrowed it from one of the Secret Service guys." Eric said as he tried readjusting the suit jacket to somehow make the fit look better.
"When this is all said and done, we need to make sure he gets a raise so he can afford better clothes. But, for now, we need to find you something better to wear for the ceremony." Mike said honestly.
"I don't think any of the other Secret Service guys are close to my size. If this is really as important as you say, do you think, maybe, I should borrow something from Mr. Brown?" Eric asked hesitantly.
"Yes. In fact, when you ask him, you might also invite him and his wife to witness the ceremony. Since they're our hosts, it seems the least we can do for them." Mike said immediately.
"Yes. That sounds like a good idea. Plus, being invited to the ceremony might help to make up for me waking them up in the wee hours of the morning." Eric said with an uncertain look toward his husband.
"And while you're doing that, I'll finish getting ready, then go check on the boys. We need to get this done so we can get to work. Who knows how much has been happening out there while we've been getting settled in." Mike said anxiously.
"I don't think three hours of sleep interrupted by a formal ceremony qualifies as being lazy." Eric said flatly.
"I'm betting that there are a lot of people going through a whole lot worse right now. And they're counting on us." Mike said as he stepped to the mirror to check his own appearance.
"Right. I'll go talk to Mr. Brown... Can I have a kiss before I go?" Eric finished with a smile.
"Anything for you. You know that."
* * * * *
"What's wrong buddy? Are you hurting?" Ben asked as he heard Oleksandr's muffled sobs.
"I heard Alvin in my head, he said that he's leaving." Oleksandr mumbled sadly.
"You knew that he was going to. He has people depending on him." Ben whispered as he pulled the boy into a gentle hug.
"I know. I just wanted him to stay. I love him." Oleksandr said as he pulled back and looked up into Ben's eyes.
"He loves you, too, Oleksandr. And I'm sure that you'll see him again very soon." Ben reassured him.
"You're not going to leave me, too, are you?" Oleksandr asked cautiously.
"Never ever. Not in a million million years. The only way you'll ever be rid of me is if you choose to leave me." Ben said lovingly.
"I want to stay with you forever. You make me feel safe." Oleksandr said as he rested his head against Ben's chest and cuddled tighter.
"Someday you might want to make someone else feel safe, like what you did for Alvin today with Carson." Ben said gently as he slowly stroked Oleksandr's back.
"Carson wouldn't hurt anyone." Oleksandr muttered sleepily.
"That's true. But right in that moment, Alvin didn't know that. All he knew was that he was afraid and he saw you step forward to defend him." Ben said with a smile that could be heard in his voice.
"I didn't think. I just did it." Oleksandr said honestly.
"I know. And I'm very proud of you." Ben said gently, then whispered, "Go back to sleep. It's going to be a busy day."
"I love you, Ben." Oleksandr said in a barely heard whisper.
"I love you, too, Oleksandr."
* * * * *
"You're up awfully early this morning. How are you doing?" Deb asked as Carson entered the kitchen.
"Some missiles were launched around six this morning. That's when Dizzy woke me up. I was tied up with that for a while. But once we figured out that the targets were further East, Theodore and Lee told me to let them deal with it and focus on all the people headed this way. It's hard to tell because the reports are spotty, but it looks like a convoy of about five hundred vehicles is heading this way and will probably arrive tomorrow about midday. I need to get with Tommy about the state of the new houses. I know he said that they're going to have heat and power, but I don't know what he plans to do about furniture and clothes and stuff..." Carson said as he took his place at the table.
"Actually, I was asking how you're doing." Deb said frankly.
"Oh. Um, okay, I guess." Carson said uneasily at his mother's expectant gaze.
"Your father mentioned last night that you're nearly out of pain medication." Deb said as she maintained eye contact with her son.
"Yeah. I've only got about five or six pills left. I'm going to need some more." Carson said as he squirmed in his chair. And, considering his mobility issues, squirming took quite a bit of effort. Nonetheless, he squirmed.
"We've discussed this before. Although I hate to do this, with everything else going on right now, I think it's best for your safety and well-being if I take over administering your pain medication." Deb said firmly.
"But MOM!" Carson called in a typical young-teenager fashion.
"It's not forever, just until things settle down and you can focus more of your attention on taking care of yourself." Deb calmly explained.
"But I've made a promise to take care of all these people who are coming here. How am I going to be able to help them if I can't think past the pain?" Carson asked in a begging tone.
"How are you going to help them if you're dead from an accidental overdose?" Deb countered reasonably.
"Please! I NEED those pills so I can keep going!" Carson exclaimed.
Deb was momentarily shocked by his words, but quickly calmed herself and quietly said, "If I wasn't sure about my decision before, I am now. You've become dependant on that pain medication. Here are your choices. Either you can come to me when it's time for your medication to receive your prescribed dose, or you can go to your grandfather to discuss what else you might be able to do for your pain management."
"I can't believe you're doing this now, when everyone's counting on me!" Carson raged.
"I want you to be alive and not in a drug addled state so everyone can count on you. But if you feel that it's too much for you, let me or your dad know and we'll relieve you of some of the responsibility that you've taken on." Deb said simply.
"No. You don't have to. I'll do it... I just won't like it." Carson reluctantly grumbled.
"Sometimes, that's what it means to grow up." Deb said sympathetically.
"Yeah, well, it sucks." Carson groused.
"Sometimes it does. Did your friends ever determine where the missiles are going to hit?" Deb asked out of curiosity.
"They couldn't be one hundred percent sure when I was talking to them, but it looks like maybe Billings, Montana and Cheyenne, Wyoming. I wish there was something I could do to try and warn people, but Theodore is already doing a lot more than I could think of to try and get people to safety." Carson said as he slipped into a more professional state of mind.
"Drink some juice and your breakfast will be ready in just a minute." Deb said, then walked to him and placed a quick peck of a kiss on the top of his head before continuing out of the room.
"Thanks, Mom." Carson called after her with a reluctant smile.
* * * * *
"Huh?" Ken asked as he sat up to turn on the bedside lamp.
"What is it?" Kev asked sleepily.
"I think Bug is having a bad dream." Ken said uncertainly.
"...asshole cunt..." Bug mumbled.
"He doesn't sound like he's mad or afraid or anything. Maybe that's just the way he sleeps." Kev said with a loving smile at Bug's sleeping face.
"It wouldn't surprise me. God, Kev, how'd I fall in love with him so fast?" Ken asked as he followed his twin's gaze at their sleeping bedmate.
"I don't know, but I feel the same way." Kev quietly admitted.
"Do you think it's going to be a problem? I mean, is one of us going to be left out?" Ken asked with concern.
"If you would've asked me before we met Bug if something like this could work, I would've said 'no, not in a million years'. But I love him, too. And I think that he really loves both of us. And it's weird, it's not like he just loves you and me. He loves us. It's like he looks at us together and wraps his arms around us both and loves the combination of you and me... I don't know if that makes any sense." Kev said introspectively.
"I don't know either. But I feel the same thing and I couldn't have come up with a better way to describe it. It was different with Jake. Maybe that's because he knew you a long time before he ever met me. I don't mean to say it like he ever treated me like 'the other one' or anything like that. You know that I love Jake more than anyone in the world except you... and maybe Bug." Ken slowly explained.
"...cocksucking douchebag..." Bug muttered, then made a sound halfway between a snort and a snore before settling down again.
"What do you think about us making breakfast for everyone this morning? We can let Bug sleep in." Kev asked with a silly grin at Bug.
"I don't know if we'll be able to make as good a breakfast as Bug can, but I'm willing to try." Ken said with an identical grin.
* * * * *
"Come on, boys. I'm making breakfast. It's time for you to get up."
"Um, yeah. Thanks Mr., um, Gordon."
"Will you see that Ro and Max get up? I need to get back to making breakfast."
"Yeah. I'll take care of it."
* * * * *
Apollo woke to the sensation of being wrapped in warmth and being gently held in strong arms, as though he were something precious. He was less surprised than he had been earlier at the feeling, which, in itself was surprising. Even if his conscious mind couldn't seem to grasp the concept, deep inside... he felt safe.
Before he could open his eyes, he felt a mouth against his, kissing him ever so gently.
As his eyes opened, he found Jarritt looking at him hopefully.
"That's okay, isn't it?" Jarritt asked cautiously.
"Yes. It's fine. Just..." Apollo trailed off.
"Just what?" Jarritt asked hesitantly.
"I'm not ready for more, okay?" Apollo asked gently, really not wanting to hurt the man who was being so loving toward him.
"Yeah. Danny said that someday, when I love someone, that things will need to be right and we'll both need to be ready before we do new things together. He said that I'll need to be really extra sure that we're both sure and we both really want to, because once you do that stuff, you can't undo it." Jarritt said seriously.
"I think Danny taught you some really important things about life. You're lucky to have him." Apollo said tenderly.
"Yeah. I am. I love him... the other way." Jarritt said earnestly.
"The other way?" Apollo asked hesitantly.
"Yeah. The way that guys can love each other without doing sex and stuff." Jarritt said frankly.
"But that's not how you love me?" Apollo asked cautiously.
Jarritt firmly shook his head before saying, "I love you like forever."
Even though Apollo had a good idea of how Jarritt felt toward him, hearing the words, spoken so sincerely to him, caused tears to well in his eyes and a lump to form in his throat.
"That's alright, isn't it?" Jarritt asked cautiously.
"Yes. Of course. I'm just... We met yesterday. How can you be so sure?" Apollo stammered.
"I know how I feel. I only said it to one person before you, and that was Danny. But that's when he told me about all the sex stuff and how to do it by myself until I found someone who I wanted to do it with."
Apollo thought for a moment, then looked into Jarritt's hopeful eyes and quietly said, "I think that since your friend Danny is such a smart person, that I should probably talk to him a little bit and get some advice before we do anything more than kiss."
"That's okay. I just wanna kiss right now, anyway." Jarritt said happily.
"Okay. We can kiss for a few minutes. Later I'll talk with Danny so I can be sure what's the right thing to do, before I make any promises." Apollo said seriously.
* * * * *
"Hello?" A fairly young red-headed woman said hesitantly from the doorway that led to the outside.
"Hi..." Ken said cautiously at the arrival of the stranger.
"I'm Corina, I'm Rory's sister. Mom asked me to bring a plate of food over for him." The young woman said uncertainly.
"Oh! The red hair should have tipped me off. Please come in. I'm Kev and this is my brother Ken. I don't know if Roris is awake yet, but breakfast is almost ready, so we'll be waking everyone up in a few minutes anyway." Ken hurried to explain.
"Oh, good! I'll just sit this over here on the table, then." Corina said as she walked toward the kitchen where the twins were working.
"Who's this young lady you have helping you?" Kev asked with a smile at the three or four year old girl following close behind her mother.
"This is my daughter, Cheyenne." Corina said with a smile back at her daughter.
The little girl's stark red curls bounced as she turned her head from side to side looking first at one twin, then the other.
"I think she's confused at seeing two of you." Corina chuckled fondly.
"Yeah. We get that a lot." Kev laughed.
"It was nice to meet you. But I've got to get back. My husband, Davis, is about to leave for work." Corina said as she took her daughter's hand and guided her toward the door.
"Okay. We'll see that Roris gets the food. Bye bye, Cheyenne." Kev called after them.
"BYE BYE!" Cheyenne called back in a disproportionately large voice that made Kev grin even wider.
* * * * *
"Bug, it's time to wake up." Ken said gently as he placed a hand on Bug's shoulder.
"Why? What time is it?" Bug mumbled.
"Nearly eight." Kev said frankly.
"Holy shit! I overslept! Why the fuck didn't you guys wake me up?" Bug gasped as he sat bolt upright in bed.
"We wanted you to be able to sleep in. Don't worry, we went upstairs and checked on the boys and even made breakfast. Everything's fine." Ken said gently.
"You made breakfast?" Bug asked with surprise.
"Yep. It'll be ready in just a minute." Kev said with accomplishment.
"Here, have some juice. We thought you'd want to be the one to wake up Oma Shoupe and Lawrence, so we haven't done that yet. But I think everything else is taken care of." Ken said assuringly.
"Need coffee." Bug said as he looked at the glass of juice dubiously.
"Of course. I should have thought of that. Just wait right there and I'll get it for you." Kev said quickly as he walked out of the room, carrying the glass of juice.
"I bet Oma Shoupe's been up for about three hours by now. I'll let her know that breakfast is ready when I've had some coffee." Bug said as he blinked his eyes, trying to be more awake.
"Roris' sister stopped by to bring him some food for breakfast and she had her daughter with her. Cutest freckled little red head you've ever seen." Ken said as he sat on the edge of the bed at Bug's feet.
"Gingers freak me the fuck out." Bug said as he seemed to give up and closed his eyes as he flopped back onto his pillow.
"Really?" Ken asked with surprise.
"Yeah." Bug said as he opened his eyes and looked at Ken.
"What about Roris?" Ken asked curiously.
"No. He doesn't bother me at all. I'm not sure why. But just the thought of a ginger kid running around here gives me the creeps." Bug said frankly.
"I love you, Bug." Ken said warmly.
"For reals?" Bug asked with a smile.
"Really, for reals." Ken said earnestly.
"Here's your coffee." Kev said as he walked into the room, this time carrying a steaming mug.
"Thank you! Fuck! I need this!" Bug said as he sat up again.
The twins watched with matching tender expressions as Bug nursed his coffee and was finally able to get his eyes fully opened.
* * * * *
"They're still out there." Madelyn said as she approached the table.
"I realize that." Dr. Murten said flatly between bites of his breakfast.
"I feel bad for them." Madelyn said to her husband as she took her seat.
"So do I, but I'll be of no use to them if I can't focus on my work due to being hungry or with indigestion from eating too fast. I won't keep them waiting any longer than necessary. But it looks as though I'm likely to have a very long day and I need to start it off properly." Dr. Murten said honestly.
"Is this likely to be one of those days that you don't have an opportunity to stop and eat until after sundown?" Deb asked her father cautiously.
"Yes. It certainly has that potential." Dr. Murten said resignedly.
"Please let us know if there's anything we can do to help. If you'll just let us know when you need it, we'll see that a meal is delivered to you." Ryan said seriously.
"That isn't the problem. It won't even occur to him that he needs to stop and eat until he's worked himself past the point where it would do any good. And even if we did track him down and bring him food, it's more likely than not that he'd be involved in something that he couldn't put down to take a break." Madelyn explained with a sympathetic look at her husband.
"It comes with the M.D." Dr. Murten said with a nod.
"Well, I'll be with you, at least for the first part of the day. Maybe I'll pull you aside for a meal at the lab before you leave for the hospital." Ryan said pleasantly.
Madelyn chuckled, then said to her husband, "He still hasn't got a clue about what it is that you do, does he?"
"What do you mean?" Ryan asked curiously.
"When you're a doctor, nothing goes to plan... ever."
* * * * *
Gordon and Lucas smiled as they watched Max, Bax and Ro dash away from the breakfast table as soon as they were finished.
Somehow, and they weren't quite sure how, Loquicia and Jamiah ended up having breakfast with them. The children were well mannered and a pleasure to be around, so neither man had any problem with it.
Jay had remained silent through the meal, presumably intent on finishing quickly so he could go to be with his new friend, Carson. As Jay got up to leave, Gordon tentatively asked, "Jay, before you run off to be with Carson, do you have a few minutes to speak with us?"
"Sure, I guess. What'd you need?" Jay asked cautiously.
Gordon and Lucas walked with Jay to the stairway for privacy, a respectable distance from the dining table.
"So far, it seems that every time we've spoken with you it's been because there's some problem that needs sorting out. I just thought that maybe we could take a few minutes to sort of get to know each other and..." Gordon began to say, but was interrupted.
"You don't have to bother, I get what's going on. You two wanted to get your kids out of Kansas City and when you talked to Mrs. Winer about it, she stuck you with me and Max. You brought us here with your family where we'd be safe. Thank you for that, by the way, I know you didn't have to be nice about it, but you were. Anyway, I can't talk for Max, I don't know her. But you don't have to go to any trouble for me, I can take care of myself and I'll stay out of your way and I won't cause any trouble for you." Jay said frankly.
"You don't have to do that. Lucas and I might not have expected to get two more children, but that doesn't mean that you aren't wanted. We understand that you've been through some difficult times recently, and if you ever want to talk to us about that, we'll always have time for you." Gordon said gently.
Jay looked at him warily, but remained silent.
"You seem to be very direct and straight to the point, so how about I tell you in no uncertain terms how we feel about the situation." Lucas said seriously.
Jay was surprised and somewhat relieved at the offer, and hesitantly nodded his acceptance.
"What we would like to eventually happen is for you and Max to become part of our family. We realize that it might take some time before you're comfortable with that. In fact, the truth is, you may never be comfortable with it. We'll be here when you need us, however you need us, and as much as you are willing to let us in. But we're not going to push you to do more than you're ready for. You'll always be invited to participate with the family, but you'll also always be free to decline." Lucas said seriously.
Jay slowly nodded, then thoughtfully said, "Yeah. Okay. I think I need some time to wrap my head around that, but I heard you."
* * * * *
"Are Oma Shoupe and Lawrence up yet?" Ken asked as he noticed Bug leaving Lawrence's room.
"Yeah. The guys will be out in a minute and, just like I expected, Oma Shoupe's been up for hours. She just wants to change clothes before she comes out." Bug said as he crossed the room.
"Go ahead and sit down. We're just about ready to put it on the table." Kev said as he opened the refrigerator.
"It sure does smell good. What'd you guys make?" Bug asked as he took a seat at the table.
"Just an old-fashioned Chicago shelter breakfast." Kev said with a grin.
"Why does that scare me?" Bug asked playfully.
"Come off it, Bug. Nothing scares you." Ken chuckled, then turned at a movement across the room.
"Good morning, guys. Did you have a good sleep?" Kev asked cheerfully.
"No... I mean, yeah. We slept good, just not a lot." Lawrence said as he walked beside Roris, into the room.
Bug smirked at the answer, but knew better than to ask what had kept them awake.
In an attempt to change the subject, Bug turned to the twins and asked, "Have you heard anything from Brother Jacques or Zane this morning? I kinda figured that they'd be the first ones up."
"They came down just after we got up. But they didn't seem to be in much of a mood for food. Actually, I think they're waiting for Dr. Murten to finish his breakfast..." Ken was saying when he was interrupted by his twin.
"...Or maybe to start his breakfast, since they were up so early. I don't think either of them would admit it, but they're both really worried about what's going to happen." Kev said frankly.
"I guess I can understand that. I've only known you guys a few days and I think I'd be freaked out, too, if one of you were going in for surgery. Even if it was only for something simple." Bug said honestly.
"Thanks, Bug." Ken and Kev said in unison with identical loving smiles.
"You didn't start without us, did you?" Bax asked as he ran down the stairs.
"Are we too late?" Max asked from behind him.
"When I checked upstairs a while ago, Lucas said that you'd be eating breakfast with them." Ken said as he watched the inseparable trio hurry to the table.
"Well, yeah. But that doesn't mean we want to miss out on Bug's food. We didn't eat a lot so we'd still have room." Bax said seriously.
"Bug didn't fix breakfast this morning, we did. I hope you three will decide to try some anyway." Kev said as he watched the three to see their reactions as he picked up a large bowl of biscuits.
After a moment to consider, Bax finally said, "We'll give it a try. But it'll have to be really, really good, to be as good as Bug's."
"Well, I don't think our cooking compares to Bug's, but you can give it a try since you saved room and everything." Ken said as he carried a large steaming pan of gravy to the table.
"Do you have enough food made for three hungry boys?" Bug asked with concern.
Kev laughed before saying, "No problem. That's the best thing about Chicago shelter cooking, there's always plenty for everyone."
Bug smiled at the answer, then turned to the boys and said, "The next cook might not be as prepared as the twins are. You guys are always invited to eat with us, but next time it might be nice to give us a little warning."
"Yeah. Sorry, Bug. I guess it'd suck if we showed up and someone had to do without because of feeding us." Bax said slowly.
"Why aren't we eating?" Ro asked as he looked at the table full of food before them.
"We're waiting for Oma Shoupe." Bug answered simply.
"Do you want me to go and help her?" Lawrence asked as he looked toward her room with concern.
"Let's give her another minute. When I offered to wait for her she said she was feeling stronger today and that she wanted to do it on her own." Bug said simply.
"Oh. Okay." Lawrence said easily.
"Are you going to Carson's room after breakfast?" Roris asked via his electronic voice.
"No. The doctor needs to do something with Zane, so we're going with him and Brother Jacques, in case they need someone to help them through it." Bug said as he turned his attention to Roris, then thought to add, "Would you and Lawrence mind being here for the boys while we're gone?"
"We don't need a babysitter!" Bax barked indignantly.
"Fuck! Chill out, Bax! I'm not asking them to babysit you. Just check in with them every so often and if you run into any trouble, you've got someone who knows what's going on to help you out." Bug explained patiently.
Before Bax could think of a response, Oma Shoupe walked out of her room, looking to be quite a bit more energetic than the day before.
"Do you need any help, Oma?" Lawrence asked as he stood.
"No. I'm feeling as fit and spry as a seventy year old, this morning. It seems that Dr. Murten was right about my medications." Oma Shoupe said as she walked to a seat at the table and sat down without any assistance.
"You look like you're feeling better." Lawrence said happily.
"Not only that, but for the first time in years, I actually have an appetite. Are we waiting on someone to pray over this or can we start eating?" Oma Shoupe asked seriously.
"Dig in. The twins made breakfast this morning, and they said that there's plenty." Bug said with a grand smile at his Oma's improved condition.
Oma Shoupe looked from one twin to the other, then said, "If this tastes half as good as it smells, I'm adopting both of you."
Everyone started serving themselves and passing bowls and plates around the table.
After the first few bites of his food, Bax turned to Ken and said, "It's not better than Bug's, but I think it might be just as good."
"It is." Ro agreed.
"Biscuits." Max said past a mouthful as she reached for the bowl.
Oma Shoupe handed it to her, then turned to Kev and said, "That settles it. You're adopted."
Ken and Kev had matching, beaming smiles at the declaration.
* * * * *
"Carson, fuck, I hate to interrupt, but do you have a minute?" Bug asked as he poked his head into the bedroom.
"Yes. I think I'm due for a few minutes away from these monitors, anyway. What can I do for you, Bug?" Carson asked curiously.
"Fuck. There's some shit going on with Zane, and me and the twins kinda need to be there. I fuckin hate to bail on you like this, I really feel like a shit for doing it, but I'll be back as soon as it's over." Bug said regretfully as he stood just inside the bedroom door.
"Yeah. I heard a little bit about that. You're going to the clean room in the lab, right?" Carson asked as he undocked from his alcove.
"Right. Fuck. I know I promised to help you out with your shit, and now on my first day I have to leave you fucking hanging, but I can't explain it except to tell you that the twins need for me to be there." Bug said in frustration.
"Don't worry about that. Remember what Alvin, Adam and the President all said, your family comes first." Carson said seriously.
"Yeah. I guess. I'm just sorry as fuck that I won't be able to help you set up that motherfucking program today. I fuckin worked out this really fuckin kick-ass system flow while I was sleeping last night. It makes that horseshit I showed you yesterday look like goddamned Basic." Bug said irritably.
"Well, if you want, and this is only if you have time, you could still work on the program from the lab. That laptop that Alvin gave you is already on the network. You can access Dizzy from there, so you'll be able to work from there as easily as you do here. I do it all the time when I'm working on my robotics projects." Carson said frankly.
"Fuck! Really? Fuck yeah I want to!" Bug said happily.
"Bug? Dr. Murten said he'll be ready to leave in a minute." Ken said as he rushed into the room.
"I need to go back to the room and get my laptop, then I'll be ready to go." Bug said with a smile at Carson before hurrying away.
Carson looked across the room to see Hobie and Seth staring at the door that Bug had just walked through.
"What?" Carson asked curiously.
After a moment, Hobie quietly said, "Fuck."
Seth broke into laughter, followed by Carson and finally Hobie.
* * * * *
"Please wait here in the conference room. I have to check to be sure that everything that I need has been brought over and correctly installed in the clean room." Dr. Murten said before hurrying away.
Everyone filed into the room and settled in around the large table. After a few uncomfortable, silent minutes, Ken finally asked, "Did you find someone to watch the kids while we're all here?"
"Lucas and Gordon are going to watch after Loquicia and Jamiah. Ty and Mikey seem to be hitting it off, so I asked Mrs. Brown if she'd keep an eye on them. And, of course, Dax and Oleksandr are with Ben. I didn't really think about asking him to watch them, it's kind of a given that he will." Brother Jacques said honestly.
"Yeah. But I'm kind of worried about Dax... you know how he can be." Ken said cautiously.
"I get the feeling that Ben is the best person to get Dax past whatever it is that causes him to be that way. You know, I haven't seen him go into a rage one single time since he's met Ben." Brother Jacques said frankly.
"I guess you're right." Ken said slowly.
"Take a good look at Dax when we get back. I think that whatever is going on with him and Ben is causing him to do some much needed growing up." Brother Jacques said thoughtfully.
"Jake... your hand!" Kev said suddenly.
Brother Jacques looked down at his hand, then back at Kev inquiringly.
"The tremors... they've completely stopped?" Kev asked in wonder.
"Yeah, at least, so far they have. It's the freakiest thing. Dr. Murten gave me one little pill to take after dinner last night and within an hour, my hands had almost stopped shaking completely. This morning, they weren't shaking at all." Brother Jacques said as he held out his hand to demonstrate.
"Zane, considering what this doctor has done for Oma Shoupe and Brother Jacques, I don't think you're going to have anything to worry about." Ken said to Zane who was sitting silently at Brother Jacques' side.
A flurry of typing caused everyone to turn and look at Bug, who had a laptop open on the table.
Everyone was silent as they watched him type.
It took a few minutes before he finally noticed that the others had stopped talking, but when he finally looked up he saw that everyone was looking at him.
Looking mostly at the twins, Bug quietly said, "Sorry, guys. I'm really here for you. But while we're just sitting and waiting around, there's some stuff I'd really like to get done."
As if a switch was thrown Ken and Kev looked at each other for a moment. Ken finally said, "It means everything to us that you're here."
Kev immediately added, "And we know that when we need you, that you'll step up."
"Yeah. Thanks, guys." Bug said with a loving smile, then turned his attention back to the laptop.
* * * * *
"I'm sorry that I'm so late. Lucas and Gordon wanted to talk to me about some stuff." Jay said as he hurried into Carson's room.
"I hope that wasn't too awful." Carson said sympathetically.
"I'm not sure, yet. I'm still thinking about it. I think that maybe it went alright." Jay said honestly.
"Well, why don't you grab my spare wheelchair over there and roll on over here beside me. I think you're going to need to be sitting down to see what's happened so far today." Carson said with a pained look over his shoulder at Jay.
"Oh, no. What now?" Jay asked cautiously as he did as Carson had suggested.
"Dizzy, would you play the news summaries on screen six, starting from midnight?" Carson asked into the air.
"Coming right up, Boss." Dizzy responded immediately.
"I keep forgetting to adjust his cheerfulness to a lower setting in the a.m. hours." Carson said wearily, then reached out a hand so that Jay could take it.
"How bad is this going to be?" Jay asked cautiously.
"Compared to yesterday, not that bad. Compared to just about any other day in the past twenty years... bad." Carson said regretfully.
* * * * *
"We're gonna go outside for a few minutes. Is that okay?" Bax asked in a rush as he hurried up to Lawrence and Roris.
"Yes. If you'll hold on for a minute, we'll go out with you. I wanted to visit with my parents for a few minutes before we start helping Carson." Roris said with a smile.
"I'll get our coats." Lawrence said quickly and dashed away, not waiting for a response.
"Are you guys going to be warm enough?" Roris asked, noticing that Max, Bax and Ro were all wearing their new coats.
"Yeah. It looks a little bit frosty, but not real bad. But if it gets too cold, we'll just go inside." Bax said happily.
"I got our coats. Let me help you." Lawrence said cheerfully as he hurried back to Roris' side.
Roris was surprised that Lawrence was able to put the coat on him, seemingly without any effort whatsoever.
* * * * *
"Wait. Let me get this straight. The President of the United States was impeached last night?" Jay asked disbelievingly.
"Yes. There's a whole lot to how they were able to make that happen with all the chaos that's going on, but they finally pulled it all together and formalized it early this morning." Carson said casually.
"I don't get this next part about the Vice President." Jay said slowly as he tried to make sense of the somewhat convoluted description.
"Come back and read it later, you need to get to the next part about the inauguration, there's a video clip that you're going to want to see." Carson said as he tried to restrain a smile.
"Inauguration? Do you mean that President Bryce is officially president again?" Jay asked quickly.
"Yes. But that's not the best part. Just watch." Carson said as his smile broke through.
* * * * *
"What are you guys doing out here?" Bax asked the two men standing behind the house.
"Jarritt wanted to go outside and see where we are. We never really got a good look at it yesterday."
"Yeah. The only time I ever left Florida before was to go with Ben and Danny up to the cabin in the hills. That was fun!" Jarritt said happily.
"I'm Bax, this is Max and Ro. Those guys are Roris and Lawrence." Bax said before stopping to take in a long slow inhale of the cold morning air.
"My name is Apollo and this is Jarritt." Apollo said with a smile at the gregarious youth.
"It's nice to meet you. We're going to that house over there where Roris' parents live. Do you want to come with us?" Bax asked cheerfully.
Apollo looked at Jarritt to see how he felt and found him staring at Lawrence. "I guess... Do you want to go meet some new people?"
"He's pretty!" Jarritt said as he kept his gaze on Lawrence.
Apollo blushed as he said, "Please excuse Jarritt if he says something that seems impolite. He has a habit of saying whatever's on his mind."
"So does Lawrence. Don't worry about it." Roris said as he looked at Apollo and Jarritt with an appraising eye.
Apollo looked at Lawrence curiously. The young man was stunning to behold, his light blond hair nearly glistening in the morning sunlight. However, the expression the young man wore was that of complete innocence.
"So, are we going or what?" Bax asked as he looked around at the young adults.
"His name is Bax, but we'll understand if you call him Bug Jr." Roris said with a playful smile.
Bax shrugged and said, "I been called worse."
"Guys, my dads' place is right there. Let's go see if breakfast is ready!" Ro said suddenly.
Roris, Lawrence, Apollo and Jarritt watched as the trio of walking stomachs scurried away.
* * * * *
"Woah! Hold on! That's Mike, the guy upstairs!" Jay exclaimed.
"Not only that, look behind him, to his left." Carson giggled.
"Is that your dad and mom?" Jay asked in wonder.
"That's right. And that room that they're standing in, it's upstairs." Carson said with a grin.
"Holy crap! The Vice President was inaugurated here in this house?" Jay asked disbelievingly.
"Just a few hours ago." Carson confirmed.
"I thought you said that the stuff that happened was bad! This is incredible!" Jay said with a glorious smile at Carson.
"Yeah, well, the bad stuff is coming next." Carson said regretfully.
* * * * *
"Good morning, Rory! I wasn't expecting you to stop by this morning. Please, all of you, come in!" Doris said cheerfully.
"Thanks, Mom." Roris said as he led the way into the living room.
"How are you doing this morning, Lawrence?" Doris asked pleasantly.
"I feel good. I like it here." Lawrence said with a heart-stopping smile.
"Mom, I'd like for you to meet Apollo and Jarritt." Roris said formally. And, for once, his computerized voice conveyed the proper emotion.
"It's a pleasure to meet you. Please have a seat. Have you had breakfast? Can I get you anything?" Doris asked as she gestured for them to take seats in the living room.
"Do you have any coffee?" Lawrence asked as he took a seat.
"No, dear. But I have a variety of herbal teas. Would you like something like that?" Doris asked pleasantly.
"Sure. And I like lots of milk and sugar in mine." Lawrence said cheerfully.
"I don't use actual milk or sugar, but I think I can come up with something that you'll enjoy. Would anyone else like some?" Doris asked as she looked around.
"Yeah. I'd like to try it. Do you want some, Paul-o?" Jarritt asked with a smile.
"No, but thanks for asking." Apollo said hesitantly.
"You guys, make yourselves comfortable, I'll be right back." Doris said as she rushed away.
Apollo looked around for a moment, then said, "This place is really nice. Cozy."
"Yes. This is one of the guest houses. I can't believe that anyone could have a place as nice as the Browns'." Roris said honestly.
"Someday, I'd like for us to have a house like this." Jarritt said to Apollo as he put an arm around him.
"Me and Roris, too." Lawrence said happily as he got up from his place on the couch and climbed onto Roris' lap.
"Unca Rory!" A small voice crowed.
All the young men turned to see Cheyenne rush into the room and immediately to Roris' side.
"Good morning. How's my favorite niece this morning?" Roris asked with a smile.
"You sound just like my bouncy game!" Cheyenne giggled.
"What is that?" Roris asked with a smile.
"The bouncy game is one of the preschooler games that she has on her tablet. It has a computerized voice something like yours." A red-headed woman said from the kitchen doorway.
"Everyone, this is my sinister, Corina." Roris said with a smile, then a look of surprise took it's place.
"Sinister?" Corina chuckled.
"The voice box still has a few bugs to work out." Roris hurried to explain.
"Actually, I don't mind being thought of as your 'sinister Corina'. It kind of fits." Corina said with a grin.
"You've got a point."
* * * * *
"Oh my God! Where the missiles are going... isn't that where that big convoy is supposed to be?" Jay asked in panic.
"Yes. But from the bits and pieces of information I've been able to gather, it looks like our refugees weren't targeted." Carson said with a weary gaze at the screen before him.
"Then what're the targets?" Jay asked anxiously.
"You'll have to get with Theodore to get the list. I only know a few of them. The last time I talked to him, he made me realize that me focusing on all this stuff that's out of my control is taking me away from preparing for all the people who are coming here and isn't helping anyone. I'm still keeping an eye on things, but I'm not digging to find the details unless there's a reason. There's too much for me to do right here, right now." Carson said in a pained voice.
"Is that all?" Jay asked hopefully.
"No, there's one more thing. A little good news to take the edge off the bad." Carson said with a smile that was a little bit forced.
"I could use some good news." Jay said honestly.
"You see that? Japan and Australia have dispatched ships to our West Coast to aid in the relief efforts." Carson said as he pointed at the screen.
"But won't it take weeks for them to get here?" Jay asked cautiously.
"No. They had some ships on maneuvers somewhere around the Bering Strait. I know that everyone wishes that they were closer, but they'll still be able to save a lot of lives." Carson said frankly.
"I guess that's something." Jay reluctantly admitted.
"Now, if you're up to it, I think it's time for us to get to work." Carson said as he turned more fully to look at Jay.
"What do you need for me to do?" Jay asked quietly.
"Help to keep me sane in an insane world." Carson said as he looked deeply into Jay's eyes.
"You can count on me." Jay said confidently.
"If you guys are done over there, I've got sixteen cars from Seaside, Oregon, set to arrive in about forty five minutes. HoboCree wants to let Studmffn know that he's coming." Hobie called out from across the room.
"Sixteen families, got it." Seth said quickly.
"Really? I talked to him, like, once, maybe two years ago." Carson said uncertainly.
"I guess that makes you a close personal friend to him when he's going to someplace he's never been before." Hobie said playfully.
"Yeah. You're practically besties." Seth chuckled.
A ringing sound caused Carson to turn his attention back to Dizzy.
"What's up, Tommy?" Carson asked seriously.
"I think I'm going to need some help here. This is going to get out of control if we don't do something quick." Tommy said anxiously.
"Tell me what you need and I'll try to get it for you." Carson quickly replied.
"First of all, I love the updates that you're doing on the organization plan. You're making things a lot easier for everyone as far as placement." Tommy said earnestly.
"That's more Bug than me. I've been keeping track of the changes he's been making, but frankly, some of what he's doing is beyond me. It's so bare bones and basic that I can't even follow... you know what? Nevermind, what was it that you were needing?" Carson asked distractedly.
"Well, what I need most is some people to help organize the volunteers so that we can help the most people possible. Right now, everyone is doing whatever they can to help out, and they're doing great, but we have about eight different people watching after kids in eight different places while the parents are being seen at the hospital or other serious stuff that the kids don't need to see. We've got it working for the moment, but when we start getting flooded, we're going to need to have this organized to handle large groups."
"We could talk to Mrs. Tedesco about using the school as a central location for childcare. And I bet that if you asked her, she'd be willing to ask a few of the teachers to come in and help out." Carson said thoughtfully.
"No. I mean, yeah, that's a good idea, and I'll get right on that. But what I'm saying is that when the tidal wave of people comes crashing down on us, there's probably going to be a million and one things that are going to pop up and need someone to handle them. I need a group of leaders and organizers that I can trust to make decisions without me watching over them." Tommy said seriously.
"Think of all the people like Uncle Karl and Mr. Kristoffson who you know can handle a huge organizational structure, and delegate a chunk of what you're doing to them. After that, look at the people who've arrived in the past few days and give them more specialized jobs that are suited to their knowledge and abilities." Carson said as he divided his attention to watch what was happening on his other screens.
"But I've barely met any of them. I have no idea what any of them can do and I don't have time to find out." Tommy said irritably.
"Well, I've had a chance to get to know some of them, but I'm really tied down here. But if you wanted, you could ask Nanny, Mom, Dad or Mikey to check people out. Then they could get back to you and help to see who fits best where. Once that's done, it should free you up to focus on other things." Carson said reasonably.
"I think I'll ask Mikey, first. He's been kinda chasing around after me, asking for something to do." Tommy said in a slow, considering voice.
"While I've got you, any word on the food deliveries? None of this is going to matter if we can't feed these people." Carson said frankly.
"I've got six trucks at the factory warehouse and... maybe six more on the way. The distributor I've been using is down to a skeleton crew, so the next shipment might be slow in coming, but he's promised me that he'll keep the dry goods coming for as long as he can." Tommy said seriously.
"That's good to hear. Up until the earthquake, I thought we had the supply problems handled, but with the way things are, it wouldn't take very much at all for the whole supply chain to come crashing down." Carson said gravely.
"Do you think I should get with Dad and use some of his contacts to try and get a supply line established from Canada?" Tommy asked thoughtfully.
"Yes. In fact, you should do that right now. I've got to get back with Alvin to find out if we have a place for our refugees to go once they've been fed and their cars are fit for travel."
"I got that text you sent asking about the fuel but I didn't get to work on it, yet. Did you already have someone in mind for me to talk to about that?" Tommy asked suddenly.
"Oh, right! I've already got that covered. You can just forget about it." Carson said absently as he typed.
"So it's completely done? I don't need to do anything?" Tommy asked in surprise.
"Yeah. I just got the confirmation a few minutes ago and I forgot to text you. As soon as I get a timetable for the expected arrival, I'll put it up on the network and send you a link." Carson said absently.
"Okay. Sounds good. Then I guess I need to talk to Dad, then track down Mikey and see if he wants to help me out." Tommy said slowly.
"That kid, Ty, is probably still with him. Make sure that you ask him to help you, too. I know he's feeling like he's just a tag-along, right now. I bet if you could find a way to give him a special job to do that it'd probably mean a lot to him." Carson said as he paused for a moment.
"I don't know him that well, but I'll see what I can do." Tommy said seriously.
"Give me a yell if you need any help with anything." Carson said as he turned back to his monitors.
"You're the one with the plan. I'm just trying to make it happen." Tommy said with a chuckle.
"Thanks, Tommy. I don't think we'd have any chance of pulling this off if you hadn't decided to take action when you did. However this ends up turning out, you're an important part of helping a lot of people." Carson said seriously.
"And so are you and everyone who's helping us. No matter how it goes, we're all in this together." Tommy said frankly.
* * * * *
"I thought you would be doing gory things in my 'clean room' by now. What are you guys doing?" Ryan Brown asked as he walked into the conference room where everyone was more or less watching Bug type.
"Dr. Murten said that he had to check on a few things before he could start." Brother Jacques said as he looked at Zane sympathetically.
Mr. Brown's attention was drawn by Bug's incessant typing.
"Are you working on a project, there?" He asked curiously as he made his way around the table.
"Yeah. I'm doing some mods on the refugee database." Bug said absently as he continued typing at a blinding speed.
When Mr. Brown got close enough, he was astonished to see that Bug's computer screen was like an old Commodore computer and that he was working entirely in text.
"Actually, from the amount of work he's been doing on it, he might be rewriting the whole thing." Zane said distractedly.
"Nah. I left one or two of Carson's things alone. But I have been able to integrate a whole new series of search capabilities. When I'm done, if you need a mechanic or a nurse or something, you can find who and where they are, so you can ask them if they want to stay here and help out." Bug said comfortably, showing no signs of slowing down in his typing.
"Is that C++?" Ryan asked cautiously.
"Sort of. But I built in a few shortcuts, mostly having to do with the object oriented stuff. It always feels like I'm taking the long way around when I use straight C++." Bug said absently.
"You rewrote C++?" Ryan asked in astonishment.
"Just a little. It compiles the same, so it's no big deal." Bug said frankly.
"I'm sorry that took so long." Dr. Murten said from the doorway.
"Is everything ready?" Brother Jacques asked anxiously.
"Well, I think I can safely say that, from a medical standpoint, we're as prepared as we're going to get. I'll have to leave it to my son-in-law to determine if the technology is working so that we can begin." Dr. Murten said with a smirk at Ryan.
"I suppose that I'd better go check on that." Ryan said with a smile at his father-in-law, then hurried out of the room.
Bug typed a few final commands, then closed his laptop and stood.
"You can stay in here and work on your stuff if you want to." Ken said quietly.
"No. This is what I came for. This is when you're probably going to need me." Bug said with a smile.
"Are you okay?" Brother Jacques asked Zane gently.
"I know this isn't any big deal, but I've been worrying about this for so long... I can't explain it. I guess I'm just scared." Zane said honestly.
"You have every right to be scared. But try to remember that I'm here if you need me." Brother Jacques said seriously.
"It shouldn't take Ryan very long to get his gizmos up and running. We can go in, now, if you like." Dr. Murten said with a smile.
* * * * *
"Since this is a relatively minor procedure, being done with a local anesthetic, I can allow you to be in here to reassure the patient, as long as all of you will stand back out of the surgical area." Dr. Murten said as they entered the RF Clean Room.
"Okay, Doctor, this officially creeps me out." Brother Jacques said as he looked around the room that looked like a handyman's garage with a surgical bed and two trays set up in the middle.
"It does remind me of those slasher movies the youngsters are so fond of today." Dr. Murten said with a considering look around.
"Not helping." Brother Jacques said as he held Zane a little bit tighter to his side.
"If you guys will hold on for just another few minutes, we're doing a few final tests to be one hundred percent sure that no signals can get out of this room." Ryan said as he rushed in.
"Do what you need to do. But realize that the longer you take, the bigger the lunch you're going to have to buy me when we leave." Dr. Murten said playfully.
"Oh, so that's how it works?" Ryan asked in mock surprise.
"Ready test one, ready test one." A voice said from an overhead speaker.
Ryan walked to one of the work benches and turned on a piece of equipment, then called out, "Test one, activate."
After a moment, the voice on the intercom said, "Ready test two, ready test two."
Ryan punched a few buttons, then said, "Test two, activate."
"This is what they pay you ungodly amounts of money to do?" Dr. Murten asked his son-in-law with a chuckle.
"Actually, I don't usually do this much. But we're running with a skeleton crew today because most everyone is at home, glued to their televisions and wouldn't be able to work productively anyway." Ryan said frankly.
The door opened and a man in a lab coat walked in. "It's confirmed. All the tests show no leakage. You're okay to proceed."
"Thanks, Allen." Ryan said as he reached over to turn off the equipment.
Bug felt a hand grab his arm, followed by a sudden weight pulling into his side.
"What's wrong, Ken?" Bug whispered.
In a barely audible voice, Ken gasped, "That's my Pop."
To Be Continued...
It looks as though a lot of things happened in this chapter. We have both Bryce and Mike sworn in, Infrastructure is being put into place.
Several personal relationships are becoming more solidified, and we are learning more about some of the skills that various people have. and finally, I had tears in my eyes when Ken recognized his pop.
I can hardly wait for the next five or six chapters to show up so I can finally see what will happen to resolve the cliffhanger here. Grin.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher