"Hello? This is Father Brian Doherty." He said cautiously.
"Welcome, Father. As I told the young man, earlier, this is the first checkpoint on this route to Kettle Falls. There is some basic information that we would like to pass on to you so that we can streamline the registration process and get your group settled as quickly as possible." A man's voice said professionally.
Before Father Doherty could respond, another voice came over the radio."Father Doherty, my name is Carson Brown. I believe I answered the phone when you called to speak to your son."
"How is Zane? Is he there? Can I talk to him?" Father Doherty asked anxiously.
"He isn't here right now. Something came up... he's in the hospital right now... but he's fine." Carson stumbled to explain.
"In the hospital? What's wrong?" Father Doherty asked in panic.
"Like I said, he's fine. He had to have a minor surgery, but it's all taken care of. He can explain everything to you when you get here." Carson said slowly.
"Way to freak the guy out, Carson. You're talking about his fuckin kid, remember?" A voice said in the background.
"Excuse me. But you need to hear this before you arrive at the checkpoint." The man at the checkpoint interjected. "We need for your lead vehicle to stop and take on one of our volunteers so that while you're driving, he can gather as much information as possible before you arrive at Kettle Falls. The more information we can collect, the faster and easier it will be to get your people settled."
"Yes. We'll do that." Father Doherty said quickly, then glanced at Artimus to be sure that he had heard the message.
A nod from Artimus assured him that he wouldn't have to explain.
"Father Doherty, this is Carson, again. I'm sorry I couldn't find a better way to tell you about Zane, but I promise, he's really going to be fine."
"Quite alright. I was just taken a bit off guard." Father Doherty said, quite a bit more calmly.
"Hey, Father. My name's Bug. If you'll hang on for just a minute. I'm gonna go get the guy who's gonna be in charge of all the Chicago people. That way you and him can make plans for when you arrive." A voice, that sounded to be in the background, said quickly.
"Yes. I'll do that. Thank you, Bug." Father Doherty said cautiously.
"He's already gone. Bug's like that." Carson said fondly.
"How are Brother Jacques and the children?" Father Doherty asked anxiously.
"Brother Jacques is at the hospital with Zane. Dax and the twins have been watching out for the kids, and as far as I know, they're all doing fine." Carson said frankly.
"Did you say that Dax is helping?" Father Doherty asked cautiously.
"Yeah. Hang on, he just walked in. You can talk to him about it, yourself." Carson said quickly.
"Father Doherty? Where are you? Are you still coming here?" Dax asked quickly.
"Yes, Dax. In fact, I'm talking to you now because we've just reached the first checkpoint for Kettle Falls. By our estimates, we should be arriving in three to four hours." Father Doherty said with a smile, then thought to ask, "How is everyone getting along there?"
"Well, Brother Jacques is making sure that Zane isn't worried or stuff. Me and the twins have been checking on the kids, and all of them are doing fine. I think all the kids have made new friends since they've been here. They're too busy having fun to be worried about anything." Dax said with consideration to how Father Doherty must be feeling.
"I can't wait to hear all about it, when we arrive." Father Doherty said happily, then added, "But I suppose that I need to attend to business matters, just now. I'm supposed to talk to the person in charge of receiving the Chicago group, so that we can make arrangements."
There was a giggle on the radio that took Father Doherty by surprise, then Dax said, "Actually, I'm the one that you need to talk to. When you reach the checkpoint, a volunteer should get on your lead vehicle and gather information about your group while you're travelling to Kettle Falls. He or she will enter all the information into a program that will let us set up housing and whatever else you need when you get here." Dax said professionally.
"One of our people, his name is Ahmid, was shot before we left Chicago and only just recently had the bullet removed. He needs to see a doctor." Father Doherty said anxiously.
"Is he going to need an ambulance? We can have one standing by when you arrive." Dax asked cautiously.
"No. He's doing much better. I just wanted to be sure that he could be seen by a doctor as soon as possible." Father Doherty explained.
"I've made a note. As soon as you arrive and check in, someone will be there to escort Ahmid to the hospital." Dax said seriously.
"Thank you, Dax. How is it that you were given this responsibility?" Father Doherty asked curiously.
"It was Ben's job, at first. But he thought I could help a lot of people by doing this. He promised to help me if I needed it, so I said 'yes'." Dax said happily.
"You seem to be doing a fine job." Father Doherty said pleasantly, then quickly said, "There's a man with a flashlight ahead, motioning for us to stop. I'll talk to you again when we arrive, if not before."
"Just call on the radio if you need anything. If you ask for me, Dizzy will call me, wherever I am." Dax said in a rush.
"Who is Dizzy?" Father Doherty asked cautiously.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you. You'll just have to see when you get here."
* * * * *
"You can start driving again. I'll introduce myself once we're on our way." A thirtyish man said as he climbed aboard.
A nod from Father Doherty was all it took for Artimus to close the door and get them moving again.
"My name is Alton, and if you'll be willing to tolerate a few questions, I'll get the information we need to get everyone settled as quickly as possible."
"It's nice to meet you, Alton. My name is Father Brian Doherty, you may call me Father or Brian, whichever is most comfortable for you." Father Doherty said pleasantly as he ushered the man back through the bus and offered him a seat.
"Thank you, Father. I already saw the note about one of your people needing to see a doctor. Are there any other immediate needs that I need to be aware of?" Alton asked seriously.
"No. Not that I can think of." Father Doherty said thoughtfully.
"Good. Then we can start with the number of people in your group."
"I have no idea."
"Do you know about how many vehicles?"
"The last estimate I heard was about five hundred, but I don't know how accurate that is." Father Doherty said honestly.
"I can work with that." Alton said as he typed on his touch screen.
Father Doherty watched silently.
"Can you estimate how many vehicles are from the Chicago area?"
"No. There were only two of us who made it out our way. I suppose that there might be others that have joined us who were from Chicago."
"Are you aware of any other significant groups that have joined you on your journey?"
"I believe that groups from Wisconsin and Michigan have joined with us, but I have no idea how many."
"Not to worry, as soon as we're done here, we're going to get on the radio to ask if anyone from those groups has any idea."
"Good. I was beginning to feel that you weren't going to get any useful information at all from me."
"From what I've seen of this program, it can take very little information and somehow discover information on it's own. It's really remarkable."
"Thank you. That makes me feel a lot better."
"I'm glad. Now, if you're ready, we can start into the next part."
* * * * *
"Anything I need to know?" Ben asked as he carried Oleksandr into the room.
"The Chicago convoy is somehow about half a day early. Besides that, you're up to date." Carson said distractedly.
"You okay, Dax?" Ben asked as he took his seat and booted his computer.
"Yeah. I think." Dax said as he read over what he had been working on earlier.
"I've put the alert out to all our volunteers. Unless they turned off their computers, they'll know that we'll need everyone on their jobs." Carson said seriously.
"I need to be in town. I'm not going to be any good for them here." Dax said anxiously.
"They need someone to coordinate things." Ben offered quietly.
"Can't one of you handle dispatch for me? I need to be there, seeing what's going on. I won't know what needs to be done unless I can see it." Dax asked as he looked at the others in the room.
"I got your back, Dax. Put on a subvocal and get going." Bug said seriously
"Can you help me with that? I don't get how to use it." Dax said timidly.
"Come here. We'll get you signed in so you can go." Bug said with a smile.
"I think Oleksandr and I should go with you." Ben said seriously.
"I don't need for you to babysit me! I can do this!" Dax said indignantly.
"Headlock?" Ben asked simply.
Dax's anger immediately faded and he broke into a reluctant smile before he shook his head.
"Last I heard, there are HUNDREDS of vehicles in that convoy. I think you're right that you need to be there to oversee things. But I also think that it might be more than one person can handle. I don't want to babysit you, Dax. I want to help you." Ben said firmly.
"Shut up and put these on. We need to get them logged in to Dizzy so you can stay in touch with us." Bug said as he approached.
"Can you help me?" Dax asked timidly.
Bug looked at Oleksandr in Ben's arms and asked, "Can I put this on you to show these two how it's done?"
"Okay." Oleksandr said shyly.
Bug couldn't help but smile at the boy's timid response.
"You peel it off, the strip goes on the throat and the button goes behind the ear. Gently tap it to key it." Bug said as he stuck the two flesh colored tags on Oleksandr's skin.
"Oleksandr, would you tap the strip on your throat and say 'Hi' to Dizzy, so he knows which subvocal you're using?" Bug asked simply.
"Hi Dizzy. This is Oleksandr, can you hear me?" Oleksandr asked happily.
"Yes, Oleksandr. I can hear you very well. If you ever want to talk to someone else wearing a subvocal or a radio, just tap the strip on your neck and say their name, and I'll be sure that they can hear your message." Dizzy said pleasantly through the subvocal earpiece, so only Oleksandr could hear it.
"Okay! Ben, hurry up and put yours on so I can talk to you!" Oleksandr said excitedly.
"You're with me every minute of the day. I don't think we need radios to talk to each other." Ben chuckled.
"Come on! Dax, make him do it!" Oleksandr whined.
"We'll both do it. Come on, Dax, so we can get going." Ben said with a fond smile at the boy at his side.
"Dizzy, this is Dax."
"Through the use of the subvocal unit, you will be able to stay in contact with me, to request information, or contact any person carrying a radio or subvocal device. Should the need arise, I can also patch you into the phone system." Dizzy said courteously.
"Thank you, Dizzy." Dax said in surprise.
"Dizzy, it's me, Ben."
"Hello, Ben. The subvocal and radio units are both patched through me, so I can connect you when you begin your transmission by naming who you want to speak with. I can also answer questions or retrieve any information that you might need." Dizzy said professionally.
"Hey, that's really great. I could hear you like you were standing right next to me." Ben said happily.
"Is that everything we need? Because I'd like to get into Kettle Falls and check things out before they arrive." Dax asked anxiously.
"Yeah. That's all we need here. You guys be sure to call if you need anything. We'll be right here if you need us." Carson said confidently.
"Will do. All we need to do is stop by our rooms and get our coats, then we'll be ready to go." Ben said energetically.
When the trio had finally left the room, Bug turned to Carson and asked, "How can anyone be so fucking upbeat all the time?"
"I wouldn't know." Carson said honestly, then went back to look at his screens to see if he could find any detail in their preparations that they might have missed.
* * * * *
"Hey guys. Hang on." Courtney said as Ben, Dax and Oleksandr hurried out the side door of the 'Big House', that opened nearest the gators.
"Hey. What's up?" Ben asked as he stopped.
"Are you guys planning on going into town?" Courtney asked casually.
"She's telepathic, like Alvin, so she already knows where we're going." Oleksandr said seriously.
Ben looked at Oleksandr at his side, then at Courtney and said, "Olex made a good point. Did you need something?"
"Yes. He's right. I know where you're going and what you're planning to do. The reason I'm out here is to let you know that I'm sending one of my guys to accompany you, as security." Courtney said seriously, letting her casual facade fall away.
"Um, okay. You guys have any problem with that?" Ben asked as he looked from Dax to Oleksandr.
"As long as it doesn't slow us down, it's fine with me." Dax said simply.
"How long is this going to take?" Ben asked seriously.
"Bruce, you can come out of hiding. They're willing to take you along." Courtney called into the dark.
"I still think I should'a tailed 'em without 'em knowing. I would've kept 'em safe." Bruce said grumpily as he slowly approached the gators.
"These guys are on our side. We need to show a little trust and respect. Besides, we're probably going to have lots of chances to do covert ops before this is all over. So just go and enjoy an easy escort job, for once." Courtney said to the young boy.
"Enjoy. Yeah. I'm sure that's what I'll do." Bruce said as he walked to the nearest gator and flopped himself into the back seat.
"You'll probably see some of our other people there. We're going to be doing telepathic scans on the incoming people to be sure that we aren't getting a lot of mole agents or covert operatives coming in with the refugees." Courtney said seriously.
"None of that's going to change what we're doing, is it?" Dax asked curiously.
"No. You go do your thing, and we'll do ours. I just didn't want you to think that we're spying on everybody if you saw some of us in town." Courtney said pleasantly.
"But you are." Oleksandr said simply.
Courtney gave a slight shrug, then started to walk away.
"Is that it? Can we go?" Dax asked impatiently.
"Sure. Do you want to drive?" Ben asked with a smile.
Dax's impatience gave way to excitement at the thought of getting to drive the gator again.
"I can drive." Bruce called out from the back seat.
"Maybe on the way back." Ben said with a smile as he sat down with Oleksandr held close to his side.
* * * * *
"What do we need to do?" Lawrence asked from Roris' side as they hurried into Carson's room.
"I haven't had any special needs requests since you guys left, so I really don't know what you can do to help right now. But we wanted to call everyone in because the convoy from Chicago just hit the first checkpoint and we need everyone ready to help them get settled." Carson said seriously.
"It's too soon. We're not ready." Roris said with concern.
"What else do you need to do?" Carson asked curiously.
"I wanted to go through the whole arrival process in my wheelchair, so I could figure out what might cause trouble for people with mobility issues." Roris carefully explained.
"Well, there's still about three and a half or four hours before they're scheduled to arrive. You could probably go and do that now, if you wanted to." Carson said uncertainly.
"I already asked my dad to take me in the morning. I don't want to wake him and Mom up, if they're already asleep." Roris said anxiously.
"Let me get Mikey. He can drive you over. No problem." Carson said quickly as he typed.
"No. Please don't bother him. It's late and he may already be asleep." Roris said with some concern.
"Too late. I've already sent him a text." Carson said with a grin.
Roris gave him a dangerous, warning look.
"I've got two brothers, a younger one and an older one. Save your dirty looks, I'm immune." Carson said with a chuckle in his voice.
"Did you guys get radios, when you were in here before?" Bug asked without looking up from his laptop.
"No. I didn't think we'd need them." Roris responded.
"If you're going into town, I think it would be best if you had radios. But, unfortunately, I don't see any quick and easy way to make your voice box work with the radio system. So, what we can do for now, if you guys want, is give you both subvocals, then I can instruct Dizzy to transmit Lawrence's receiver signal to both devices. Then, if you don't mind, Lawrence can speak for both of you. As soon as I have a spare thirty or forty minutes, I'll rig up the voice box so it can interface with the radios." Carson said seriously.
"That will be fine." Roris said simply.
While Carson was making sure that Lawrence and Roris' subvocals were working properly, Mikey rushed into the room and quickly asked, "What did you need me to do?"
"Roris needs a ride into town. You're used to driving the chair-lift gator, so I figured you'd be best to help him." Carson said in a serious, professional tone.
"Okay, sure." Mikey responded immediately, then turned as Ty rushed into the room behind him.
"Do you both have your subvocals on?" Carson asked to be sure.
Mikey glared at his brother for a moment before rolling his eyes and saying, "Yes, Mom."
Carson turned to Roris and asked, "Do you see what I mean."
Roris gave him an unwilling smile as he crossed the room to join Mikey and Ty at the door.
* * * * *
"Father Doherty said that you might be willing to help me talk with the other vehicles in the convoy so we can gather as much information as possible before we arrive in Kettle Falls." Alton said as he stopped at the front of the bus.
"Yes. We would be happy to assist you." Art said pleasantly.
"Good. Before we start on that, I just need a little information about you two." Alton said as he turned his attention to the tablet in his hands.
"My name is Art and my companion is Euan. That is all the information that I am prepared to disclose." Art said simply, but firmly enough that there was no doubt that he wouldn't be swayed.
"As you like..." Alton said as he typed in their first names.
"If you will let us know the information you require from the convoy, we will probably know who to ask." Euan supplied helpfully.
"Yes. Just a moment..." Alton said as he looked curiously at his tablet.
Art and Euan waited as they watched Alton's eyes go wide.
"Um... Okay... You don't have to say anything. But would you just look at this?" Alton asked as he held out the tablet to them.
Art hesitantly accepted the tablet, fairly certain about what he would find.
Euan moved close so he could see from Art's side.
"There's an option to make the information unsearchable. The way I understand it, that way you're in the system so that we can provide you food and shelter, but no one will be able to query where you are or even if you've checked in." Alton said cautiously.
"Please do so, for both of us." Art said shortly as he handed the tablet back to Alton.
"Then, that's you?" Alton asked to be sure.
"What information did you need to collect from the other vehicles? There are quite a few people traveling with us. We should begin." Art said calmly.
Alton was dumbstruck and stared at Art for a long moment before he finally snapped out of it. "If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to start with the Michigan group."
Art nodded once, then picked up the CB microphone and said, "Wolverine Bard, this is Monarch, you got your ears on? Come back."
* * * * *
"This should be it." Ben said as Dax drove the gator up the unfamiliar road.
"It's a lot closer to Carson's house than I thought it would be." Dax said as he looked around as best he could in the yellow illumination from the LED streetlights.
"That was Bug's idea, I think. He wanted to station the people we were most worried about closeby so we can go and check on them if we want. I know it sounds kinda selfish, doing it that way. But they all have to go somewhere, and I can't think of any better way of doing it." Ben said frankly.
"I'm just glad that he set it up so that people from the same place can stay together. I know a lot of people are going to feel completely uprooted and this might give them another way of dealing with that." Dax said thoughtfully.
"Do you think my old foster dad is going to come here?" Oleksandr asked quietly.
"I don't know, Olex. But you don't need to worry. You're safe with me. If he shows up, I'll protect you, just like you protected Alvin." Ben said gently.
He felt Oleksandr snuggle a little bit closer into his side.
Dax tapped the subvocal to activate it, then asked, "Dizzy, how much longer until the convoy arrives?"
"Given their current rate of travel, their arrival is expected in three hours and twelve minutes." Dizzy said pleasantly.
"Thank you, Dizzy." Dax said thoughtfully, then turned to Ben and said, "It looks like we have plenty of time. I'd like to go into one of the houses to look around so we have an idea of what they'll already have waiting for them and what they'll need."
"Is that okay with you, Bruce?" Ben asked into the back of the gator.
"Yeah. Fine." Bruce said gruffly, then glanced at Oleksandr before saying, "But if his foster father shows up, you won't have to worry about him. It would be my pleasure to deal with him."
Ben felt Oleksandr clinging to his side and saw the fierce determination in Bruce's eyes. Finally, he said, "Go for it."
* * * * *
"How's it going, Bug? You're being awfully quiet over there." Carson said seriously.
"I'm just watching the status as more and more users sign on. So far, everything's stable." Bug said cautiously.
"It looks like everyone's been doing what they need to do as far as the supply situation goes. In fact, that guy, Davis, somehow he's managed to enter the invoices of just about every truck that's come anywhere near the warehouse. So if what the truck is carrying is refrigerated food, the entire invoice is already logged into the system before it reaches the grocery store where they're storing it." Carson said in an impressed voice.
"I guess that means that you got the right guy for the job." Bug said without looking away from his laptop screen.
"Not me. Tommy and my dad are the ones who hired Davis. But from what I'm seeing here, I wish that I could claim him as 'my' find." Carson said frankly.
"How's that other guy doing, Ro's dad?" Bug asked curiously.
"Oh, Walter? He's great. I think that because of what Davis has taken on as far as logging everything into the system, it's allowed Walter to devote more attention to the warehousing aspect of the dry goods so that they'll be staged for allocation." Carson said seriously.
"Dizzy, would you remind me of something, later?" Bug asked into the air.
"Yes, Bug, what would you like for me to remind you?" Dizzy asked pleasantly.
"Tomorrow morning, around eight o'clock, would you remind me that we need to tell Davis and Walter what a good job they're doing?" Bug asked with a smile.
"Yes, Bug. I will do so."
"Why don't you just tell them, now?" Carson asked curiously.
"Because if they're not working right now, I wouldn't want them to think that there's an important message while they're trying to rest. And if they are working, I wouldn't want to interrupt them." Bug said honestly.
"That's very considerate of you." Carson said with a grin.
"Yeah. I'm just that kind of a guy." Bug said a little bit timidly as he continued to watch his laptop screen.
* * * * *
"No. You don't need to back into this one. Just drive on and then you can turn your wheelchair and face forward while I'm driving." Mikey said quickly.
"Hey, guys. Do you have room for another passenger?" A young teenage boy asked as he approached.
"Yeah. But you can grab another gator for yourself, if you want. There's plenty." Mikey said pleasantly.
"I'm supposed to ride along with you guys in case there's any kind of trouble." The boy said frankly.
"Do you think there's going to be a problem?" Roris asked as he maneuvered his wheelchair into place.
"I don't know if there will be. But the folks in charge think that it's best to be prepared, just in case."
"I'm Lawrence. I help Rory." Lawrence said happily.
Mikey quickly secured Roris' wheelchair, then said, "We got enough room, so come on."
The boy smiled at the casual invitation, then said as he climbed onto the gator, "By the way, my name is Victor."
"Nice to meet you. I'm Mikey, this is Ty. Lawrence is the cutie and Roris is on wheels." Mikey said to Victor as he moved to the front, then called out to everyone, "Hang on!"
Before anyone could respond, Mikey started up the gator and they were on their way.
* * * * *
"I received a message on my terminal. Did you need for me to do anything to help?" Lucas asked cautiously as he walked into Carson's room.
"Bug, I'm kind of tied up, here. Can you help him?" Carson asked as he tried to maintain his focus on what he was typing.
"Got it." Bug said as he dragged his attention away from his laptop screen.
Lucas tried not to let his attention be drawn to the multiple monitors displaying various types of information in Carson's alcove.
"The convoy that we were expecting to arrive tomorrow will be here in a few hours. I don't know what you were planning to do for them, but you've got, maybe, three hours to do it, now." Bug said seriously.
"I need to go into town and check on the portable kitchens to be sure that they are fully manned and prepped for a large influx of people." Lucas said anxiously.
"Fine. Here, we were given some radios. You need to take this one so we can call you if something comes up, or in case you need anything."
Lucas accepted the radio from Bug and clipped it on his belt, then put the earpiece into his ear.
"Key the mic and say your name, so Carson's computer can log the radio in for you. If you need to talk to any of us, just key the mic and say our names and the call will be directed to us." Bug said seriously.
After keying the mic, Lucas said, "This is Lucas DeLong."
"I have your radio logged in, under your name. If you should need any information, I will be happy to assist you, my name is Dizzy." A young teenage voice said pleasantly.
"Who was that?" Lucas asked as he looked around.
"Carson's computer, Dizzy. He can answer most questions about the incoming people or about the supplies, since he has access to those databases. If he can't answer a question for you, then you can ask for me or Carson." Bug said seriously.
"This technology is astounding." Lucas said as he looked at Carson's alcove, again.
"It don't mean shit if we don't put it to good use." Bug said, then walked back to his laptop.
"Lucas?" A teenage boy asked from the doorway.
"Yes?" Lucas said cautiously to the unfamiliar boy.
"My name is Bryan. I'm supposed to be your escort if you're going into town." Bryan said seriously.
"I don't need an escort..." Lucas said hesitantly.
"The people in charge think you do." Bryan said simply.
"Remember who's living upstairs." Carson said over his shoulder.
After a moment, Lucas looked to Bryan and nodded his acceptance.
"I'm ready to go when you are." Bryan said simply.
"Then, I suppose that we'd better go. For each minute that we delay, there are probably one or two things that we won't be able to do to make our guests more comfortable." Lucas said frankly, then walked for the door.
After he had left, Bug quietly said, "He takes the whole 'hospitality' thing really seriously, doesn't he?"
"That's why we hired him." Carson said with a slight shrug.
* * * * *
"What do you think?" Ben asked as he looked around downtown Kettle Falls.
"We need to go over to the stadium, that's where the primary receiving is going to be done." Dax said seriously.
"How about we loop around to where they're going to come into town, then drive the route they're going to be taking, so we can see what they're going to see?" Ben asked thoughtfully.
"I don't know if we have time." Dax said slowly.
"If we run out of time to do stuff, I can help you, Dax." Oleksandr said quickly.
Dax smiled at the boy, then said, "Thanks, Olex. I know with you guys helping, everything's going to be fine."
* * * * *
"What's wrong?" Bug asked with concern.
"What do you mean?" Carson asked distractedly.
"I mean, what's wrong? You've been sitting there for five minutes, staring at those screens. Do you need to get some sleep? Because I can cover for you if you do." Bug said seriously.
"No. It's not that. I just..." Carson trailed off.
"Will you spit it the fuck out?! I'm not a motherfuckin mind reader! Do I need to go out to the tents and drag one of them in here to tell me what the fuck your problem is? 'Cause, I will. I'm not too fuckin shy to do it." Bug ranted.
"They were right about me. Just now... well really, for the last half hour... I've been wanting a pill." Carson admitted as he fought down his tears of humiliation at admitting it.
"Dizzy, enact code four." Bug said into the air.
"Code four?" Carson asked cautiously as he started typing.
"You'll never fucking find it. So don't even try." Bug said smugly.
"What does it do?" Carson asked as he looked at Bug with aggravation.
"Jesus fuck! What the fuck do you think it does? Seriously! You can at least try to figure it out before you ask me stupid fucking questions!" Bug ranted.
"I suppose you made an automated call to let my mom know that I'm craving a pill." Carson said grudgingly.
"That's code one." Bug said with an irritating grin.
"Oh, God." Carson said as he looked down.
"No, I didn't have a way of reaching him. But if I did, he'd be code five." Bug said playfully.
"My dad?" Carson asked cautiously.
"Code two." Bug said with a nod.
After a moment to consider, Carson cautiously asked, "My grandfather?"
"Code three." Bug said with a grin.
"So, who's code four?" Carson asked anxiously.
"Dizzy called me and said that you needed me. How bad is it?" Jay asked as he walked into Carson's room, looking to still be half asleep.
Carson looked at Jay with surprise for a moment, then glanced over at Bug and quietly said, "You asshole."
Bug shrugged without concern, then turned his attention back to his work.
* * * * *
"I didn't miss it, did I?" Juan asked as he sauntered up to where Roris, Lawrence, Ben and Oleksandr, Dax, and Lucas were waiting impatiently.
"No. But they should be here any minute." Ben said seriously.
"Just keep watch for a bus with priests on it." Dax added quickly.
"From what I gathered, the lead bus has 'Lesbian Gravy' written across the side of it." Roris added helpfully.
Juan looked at Roris with a completely serious expression. "Wait a minute, I think I've heard this one before. 'There are these three priests on the Lesbian Gravy tour busâ€™..."
Before he could finish the thought, a set of approaching headlights heralded the arrival they had all been waiting for.
All the men present, plus many volunteers waited anxiously as the bus approached them and finally came to a stop.
"Father Doherty!" Dax exclaimed as he ran to the bus and hugged the man who was just emerging.
"Dax, it's so good to see you. No matter how many times I talked to you, I still couldn't really believe it until I could see you with my own two eyes." Father Doherty said quietly as he held the boy.
"I'm sorry, Father. I'm sorry how I was before." Dax hurried to explain.
"I know, Dax. And you have nothing at all to be sorry about. The only thing you were guilty of is being a teenager." Father Doherty said with a gentle smile.
"I'm so glad you're here. So much has happened. Brother Jacques has taken really good care of everyone." Dax rushed to say.
"Before I forget, I was told to give you this." Father Doherty said as he took the satellite phone, complete with charger, out of his pocket and handed it to Dax.
"Thank you, Father." Dax whispered.
"Is that Dax?" A man, dressed like a street punk asked as he stepped up to Dax and Father Doherty.
"Yes. Dax, this is Trav. He came with us from Chicago and has been a tremendous help to us." Father Doherty said with a smile at the man.
"Just doin like tha boss tole me. An now that we's here. I s'pose it's time fer me ta be doin tha next part'a my job. We needs ta talk, but first we needs ta find Jingo." Trav said seriously.
"Dax, I'm going to be busy for a few minutes, making sure that everyone is being cared for. Then, I need to accompany one of our people, who is injured, to the hospital. From what I understand, I should be able to get back in touch with you simply by asking any of the volunteers." Father Doherty said slowly.
"Yeah. Anyone with a 'volunteer' sash on or pretty much anyone who's telling people what to do will be able to get in touch with me, no matter where I am." Dax reassured him.
"Perhaps you would know, I have a young man on the bus who is taking care of an infant. The infant's mother is in another vehicle, but it sounds as though it could be some time before she checks in. Are there facilities where he could wait comfortably? I'm concerned about the baby being out in this cold." Father Doherty explained quietly.
Dax looked around and Roris caught his eye.
"You see that guy in the wheelchair over there? His name is Roris and he's in charge of special accommodations. If you'll tell him what you need, he'll do whatever he can to take care of it for you." Dax said confidently.
"Yes. I'll tell Emo to talk to him. I also have two boys who were separated from their brothers, who are in a vehicle at the back of the convoy. Should I have them speak to the man in the wheelchair, too?" Father Doherty asked uncertainly.
"Get Ben. He's over there waitin for somethin ta do." Juan interjected.
Dax glanced over to where Ben was standing, holding Oleksandr, looking at people passing him by as they walked into the stadium.
Rather than scream across the parking lot, Dax keyed the sub-vocal and quietly said, "Ben, would you come over to the bus to help out some kids who got separated from their families?"
"Sure. Be right there." Ben responded immediately.
Dax looked back at Father Doherty and said, "Ben will be right over to help the boys. Do you have anyone else that needs help?"
"Just Ahmid. But let me talk with the other priests for a moment to let them know where I'm going." Father Doherty said quickly.
As a boy stepped off the bus and looked around, Juan seemed to be surprised. Then he walked directly to him and said, "There you are!"
"I'm afraid you must have mistaken me for someone else." Art said carefully.
"Nope. You're him. The one everyone's lookin for." Juan said simply.
"Please, there's too much for me to do here. There are too many people depending on my help. Can't you just pretend that you never saw me?" Art asked hopefully.
Juan stared at Art for a moment, then carefully said, "There is no way that I'm leaving you here. None. But, I tell you what I'll do for you. The whole rescue effort is being coordinated from a secure location. If you want, I can take you there. I won't tell anyone who you are. As far as anyone will know, you're just there to help out. So, if you want to keep on helping people, you can still do it."
"How can I know that you aren't someone who has been sent to abduct me?" Art asked cautiously.
Juan seemed to consider the question for a moment, before he said, "I guess there's nothin I can tell you to prove it. And it's a little too public for me to show you. My people want to keep our presence quiet."
"Your people?" Art asked hesitantly.
Juan nodded, then moved in closer to quietly say, "Some government assholes thought it'd be really neat to get some psycho scientists together and pay them to do a huge cut and paste job on human genetics. Me and my people are the result. It's a whole long story, but all you need to know right now is that all the government and scientist creeps that cooked this shit up have been dealt with. Me and my team have decided to throw our lot in on the side of the angels, meaning that we help the kind of people who'd never consider doing the things like those other guys have done."
"I had no idea the Americans had such a program in place." Art said thoughtfully.
"Yeah. We don't like to advertise. But since I'm working with the good guys, it's part of my job to keep important people safe. That means you." Juan said firmly.
"But you said that you won't tell." Art said to confirm.
"Nope. Not unless there's a reason that I absolutely have to." Juan said seriously.
"What's going on?" Euan asked Art cautiously as he stepped to his side.
"It looks like we're going to have to go with him." Art said regretfully.
"But Father Doherty needs for us to stay here." Euan said anxiously.
"You can do a lot more good from the command center." Juan said seriously.
"We need to gather a few things, before we can go." Art said as he looked back toward the bus.
"I'll get someone to take care of that..." Juan trailed off as he suddenly looked away, then smiled, "It looks like we got some people needin a ride to where we're heading, so let's get goin. We don't want the baby to get cold."
Without further explanation, Juan started walking away.
Art and Euan exchanged an anxious look, then reluctantly followed.
* * * * *
"If you'll go inside and wait for a few minutes, I'm going to call someone so that they can drive you somewhere that you can take care of the baby." Roris said carefully.
"You don't need to do that. We're heading up to the house, so we can take 'em." Juan hurried to say.
"Emo, this is Juan. Since he's going back to the house anyway, you can ride along with him, if you want." Roris said seriously.
"Sure. I don't want Colton to be out in the cold for too long. Would you guys help me get his things?" Emo asked as he looked at Art and Euan.
"Yes. We need to gather our own things, as well. We would be happy to help." Art said quickly, then hurried away with Euan at his side.
"Thank you, Juan." Roris said gratefully.
"I just wanted to be here so I could see the security layout for the new arrivals. Everything seems to be right, so it's time for me to leave. I don't mind taking these guys with me, that's where I parked." Juan said dismissively.
"Excuse me, but I was trying to help these young men, and I'm not sure what we can do for them." Lucas said as he led two boys to join Juan, Roris and Lawrence.
"It's simple. Get on that radio on your belt, there. Then tell Dizzy that we've got these two guys, then tell him who they're looking for. When your guys show up, Dizzy will let you know and you can get them back together." Juan said seriously, then noticed that Art, Euan and Emo were all approaching with their arms loaded.
"Looks like we're going. Good luck finding your brothers, guys." Juan said before stepping away to join the others.
* * * * *
A tractor trailer came driving up the street as Dax and Trav watched.
"Your friend, Jingo, should be on that one." Bruce said as he approached.
"How'd you know we was lookin fer Jingo?" Trav asked suspiciously.
"He's with me, Trav. You don't need to worry about him. He's alright." Dax assured him.
"Sorry, I overheard you talking, so I called in to the command center and they told me where your friend was. I was only trying to help." Bruce said in his most timid, nonthreatening voice.
Dax had been present when Courtney had explained that the members of her team were all telepathic, but he didn't see any reason why he should share that information with Trav. It made him feel better to know that Bruce was aware of what was going on with him and hadn't warned him away from Trav.
"Thanks for the ride, Big Guy." Jingo said as she climbed down from the passenger side of the rig.
"Big Noise." The driver corrected with a smile.
"It was a hell of a ride, anyway. Thanks." Jingo giggled, then spotted Trav waiting for her.
"What'd I miss?" Jingo asked with a smile as she approached.
"Git yer pipes cleaned?" Trav asked with a mischievous grin.
"I'm gonna be walkin funny for a week. But it was damned well worth it." Jingo said with a shrug, then looked at Dax and asked, "This him?"
"Yeah. Dax, this is Jingo. We's here ta help ya set up a place fer tha Chicago people that the boss is gonna be sendin here." Trav said seriously.
"Is everything okay?" Ben asked as he approached with Oleksandr walking at his side, holding his hand.
"Yeah. Jingo and Trav just need to talk to me for a few minutes. Did you need me inside for something?" Dax asked slowly.
"No. Everything's running smoothly, right now. I just wanted you to know that Oleksandr and I are going inside to the Chicago check-in, just in case anyone needs anything." Ben said seriously.
"I'll be in when we're done talking. Don't worry, Ben. Everything's fine." Dax finished with a smile.
Ben reluctantly nodded, then slowly walked away, leading Oleksandr by the hand.
* * * * *
"Are you gentlemen Father Doherty and Ahmid Harrish?" The nurse behind the reception desk asked pleasantly as they approached.
"Why, yes. I was told that you would be expecting us. But I didn't expect this." Father Doherty said hesitantly.
The woman smiled, then said, "The doctor has been awaiting your arrival. If you'll follow me, I'll take you right in to the examination room."
"Are you sure we aren't still asleep on the bus? I've never been in any hospital that operated such as this." Ahmid asked cautiously.
"When you have a spare moment, I have a few forms that you'll need to fill out." The nurse said as she walked them into the examination room.
"Ah, that's more familiar." Father Doherty said as he accepted a clipboard from her.
* * * * *
"Do you think it's too cold for Colton?" Emo asked anxiously as he held the bundled baby tight to his chest.
"Naw. He's fine. You got him wrapped up enough and we're almost there."
"Why do we have to go here? Shouldn't we have stayed in town, so Angela could find us easier?" Emo asked as he cuddled Colton a little bit tighter.
"That kid you're holdin is gonna need ta be changed and fed and stuff. There's no way you could'a taken good care of that kid at the arrival post in the stadium. When we get to the Brown house, there's probably gonna be people lined up to help you take care of that little guy." Juan said absently as he maintained the majority of his focus on the road ahead.
"Art and I will be there to help you, as well, should you need us." Euan offered gently.
Emo smiled and said, "Thanks, guys. I felt alone for so long, sometimes I don't even think that someone might want to help me with things."
"I have a feeling that no matter what twists and turns lie ahead, that Colton is going to be well taken care of." Art said with a smile at Emo holding Colton so tenderly.
* * * * *
"So, I guess tha first thing is gonna be findin a place fer our people, soes they can be together." Trav said slowly.
"I've already got that covered. When the people from Chicago show up, they'll check in and the program will automatically put them in an area that we've set aside specifically for them. As much as we can, we're going to try to put people from the same neighborhoods together." Dax said seriously.
"Good. That'll be real good." Trav said thoughtfully.
"Your dad also wanted for us to see that you're going to be the one in charge. How hard is it going to be to arrange that, do you think?" Jingo asked slowly.
"Already done. As far as anyone around here is concerned, I'm the one they go to if anyone from Chicago needs anything." Dax said as he turned his attention to her.
"Okay. Sounds like you been busy. What about food and stuff like that?" Trav asked in an impressed tone.
"From what the others have told me, that's handled. I haven't looked into it too much, I've just trusted what they've told me. But if you want to check into the details, all I'll need to do is get to a computer and I should be able to find out whatever you want to know."
"Are you ready to take this on? From what your dad was telling us, this is all kind of hitting you out of the blue." Jingo asked cautiously.
"Honestly, I don't know if I can do it. My dad said that being a leader is in my blood. But... I just don't know." Dax said quietly.
"I don't think you'll have to worry 'bout that, none. You got 'em food and houses. I don't think they's gonna have no problem listenin ta what you gotta say." Trav said frankly.
"He's right. And if anyone gets out of line and needs their heads knocked, we'll take care of that part for you." Jingo said firmly.
From the dangerous look in her eyes, Dax had no problem believing her.
"Sides, all tha gang bangers is bein told ta listen to ya. If they knows whats good fer 'em, they best do as they's told." Trav said with a nod.
"I don't know much about all of that. I mean, yeah, I grew up in Chicago, so I know about the gangs. But I've never been a part of anything like that or known anyone who was really into it." Dax said nervously.
"That's why you got us. You handle keepin our peeps housed and fed and we'll make sure they's kept in line." Trav said seriously.
"Dax. Ben is really worried about you being with those strangers. Are you really okay?" Oleksandr asked over the subvocal.
"Excuse me." Dax said to Jingo and Trav timidly, then turned away as he keyed his subvocal mic. "Ben and Oleksandr, I'm fine. These guys were sent here by my dad and they're just seeing that I'm alright."
"Dax. I was just worried because I didn't know them. Please, let us know if you need us for anything." Ben said quietly.
"I will. Thanks for worrying. I probably won't be too much longer." Dax said, then turned back to find Jingo and Trav looking at him cautiously.
"My friends, Ben and Olex, were worried about me and just checking to see that I'm alright." Dax timidly explained.
"Do you have a radio?" Trav asked cautiously.
"Yeah. It's an ultra high tech thing that I really don't understand. When I get back to the house, I'll get one for each of you. I'd like it if we were able to get in touch, no matter where we are." Dax said seriously.
"From the looks of it, you got things under control here. Ain't gone be much fer us ta do." Trav said with a questioning look at Jingo.
"Fine with me. I wouldn't mind taking another ride on that big rig, tonight." Jingo said with a smile.
Trav rolled his eyes in exasperation.
"And there's a certain priest that you might be able to trip into bed, if you play your cards right." Jingo said with an unrepentant smile.
"Malcom ain't like that." Trav immediately defended.
"Trust me, Trav. Fix it so you two are alone and he's gonna have your pants around your ankles before you know what happened." Jingo giggled.
"If there's nothing else you two need me for, I'm going to get back to making sure that the people who are arriving in this convoy are all getting everything they need." Dax said with a smile.
"You gonna be here if we need you?" Jingo asked as she looked at the stadium.
"Yes. But if I'm not, you can ask anyone wearing one of these 'volunteer' sashes and they'll be able to get in touch with me, no matter where I am." Dax said seriously.
"Got it. You go let yer friends know that you's safe and that tha nasty gang bangers didn't do nothin to yas." Trav said fondly.
Dax nodded, then hurried back to the stadium, where he knew that Ben and Oleksandr were waiting for him.
* * * * *
"Hello? May I come in?" Father Doherty asked from the doorway.
"Father! How are you?" Brother Jacques asked as he ran from Zane's bedside to pull Father Doherty into a firm hug.
"I'm doing very well. How is my son?" Father Doherty asked with concern.
"He's going to be fine. He's asleep right now, but he should be able to leave the hospital in a few days." Brother Jacques said quietly.
"How about the children? Where are they?" Father Doherty asked anxiously.
"They're at the Brown residence. I've been checking in with the twins and they're taking good care of them." Brother Jacques said assuringly.
"And how are you, Jake?" Father Doherty asked gently.
Brother Jacques smiled, then pulled out of the hug and presented his steady, unshaking hands.
"The tremors have stopped!?" Father Doherty said in astonishment.
"That's only the beginning of it. Dr. Murten did a blood test on me and figured out that the AIDS test that I took back in Chicago gave a false positive result. All these years we've been treating a disease that I didn't even have." Brother Jacques said happily.
"This is so wonderful. I'm so happy for you." Father Doherty said as he moved in to hug Brother Jacques again.
After a moment, a quiet voice asked, "Is your son well?"
"Yes Ahmid. Brother Jacques, this is Ahmid. He's one of the people from my new mission." Father Doherty said quietly.
"It's nice to meet you, Ahmid." Brother Jacques said, as he released Father Doherty from the hug.
"And according to what Brother Jacques has told me, after some time to recuperate, Zane is going to be just fine." Father Doherty said peacefully.
"I am glad to hear that." Ahmid said quietly.
"How about you, Ahmid? What did the doctor say?" Father Doherty asked with concern.
"The doctor seems to think that I am healing well. Although he still wants to perform many blood tests." Ahmid said in a low voice.
"Yeah. They always do that. I guess if they didn't, they wouldn't have anything to put on your bill." Brother Jacques said with a shrug.
"When do you think Zane will be awake again, so that I may visit with him?" Father Doherty asked as he looked at his son in the bed.
"He only stayed awake for a few minutes at a time today, but I think that mostly had to do with the anesthetic that they used. I bet that he'll be able to talk to you for a long time, tomorrow." Brother Jacques said seriously.
"Then I'd like to go and check on the children... If I can find where they are and how to get there." Father Doherty said as he continued to stare at Zane.
Brother Jacques walked to the phone at Zane's bedside and quickly dialed a number.
Father Doherty watched him curiously.
"Hi, Kev. It's me. Father Doherty is here with me at the hospital. Do you think you could find someone to come over here and pick him up? He needs to see for himself that the kids are alright." Brother Jacques said and glanced at Father Doherty with a smile.
"Good, we'll see you in a little bit, then. Bye." Brother Jacques said before hanging up the phone.
"Is Kev on his way over to pick me up?" Father Doherty asked cautiously.
"No. He wants to stay there for the kids. He's going to send a Gopher for you."
* * * * *
"Come on. This is the shortcut." Juan said as he led the way into the Big House.
Art, Euan and Emo were hesitant when they seemed to be walking into what appeared to be someone's living room.
"How's it goin, guys?" Juan asked when he noticed Bax, Max and Ro gathered at the dining room table.
"From what Dizzy said, the Chicago people are here. So we're just waiting for someone to need us to do something." Bax said seriously.
"From the look of what I saw down there, it shouldn't take long. It's going to take a few hours, at least, to get everyone checked in and tucked in for the night." Juan said seriously, then smiled as he turned to his companions and said, "These guys are the gophers. If you ever need anything from the store or something like that, just let 'em know and they'll go and get it for you."
Before anyone could respond to that, Juan continued, "Gophers, I'd like for you to meet Art and Euan, the communications guys from the lead Chicago bus. They're gonna be working with Carson, so you'll probably be hearing a lot from them. This other guy is Emo, and the bundle in his arms is Colton. I imagine that you'll be making a few trips into town for baby supplies for the little guy."
"Just let us know what you need and we'll be happy to go and get it for you." Bax said with a smile at the bundle in Emo's arms.
"Yeah. Don't worry about asking us. It's our job." Max said seriously.
"Okay. If Colt needs anything, I'll be sure to call you." Emo said timidly.
"Come on, guys. Let's get you set up in the main house." Juan said as he started to walk.
Art, Euan and Emo followed immediately behind.
* * * * *
"Excuse me if we're interrupting. I was just looking for a good place where Emo could settle in and take care of his baby." Juan said as he restrained his smile. He knew what reaction was coming, but was trying to play it cool.
"You have a baby? Can I see?" Misti asked as she ran up to Emo.
Annie and Loquicia joined her as she tried to get a look into the bundle.
"Where can we put these things?" Art asked as he indicated the diaper bag that he was carrying.
"Just put the baby things over here, by me. My name is Madelyn Murten. I don't believe we've met before." She said uncertainly.
"The guy with the baby is Emo. I'm gonna leave him here with you, if you wouldn't mind helping him with the baby." Juan said mostly seriously, then broke into a smile as he looked at Misti, Annie and Loquicia vying for Colton's attention, "It looks like you'll have plenty of help."
"Yes. Of course I'd be happy to supervise." Madelyn said with a tender smile at the girls.
"These other two are Art and Euan. They're going to be helping Carson." Juan said simply.
"It's a pleasure to meet you. If you're going to be working with Carson, I'm sure that I'll be seeing you around. Should you find that you're needing anything, please just seek me out and let me know." Madelyn said kindly.
Art and Euan gave identical nods of confirmation.
"Come on, guys. Next stop is the refugee command center." Juan said as he started walking toward the door.
Art and Euan each gathered up the few possessions they had collected since meeting Father Doherty and followed Juan out of the living room.
* * * * *
"Carson! I've got some new volunteers for you." Juan said as he led the way into Carson's bedroom.
"It's great that you've found people who want to help, but this is my bedroom, I'm not sure there's enough room for anyone else." Carson said honestly.
Juan shrugged dismissively, then said, "Maybe these guys can be the second shift and take over when Seth and Hobie have gone home... like now."
"I'm never going to get to sleep again, am I?" Carson whimpered.
Jay chuckled at the words and leaned in to give Carson a much needed hug.
"So, is that a 'yes', you got room for 'em?" Juan asked to be sure.
"Yes, of course. You guys can set up over there by the door.
"Where might we be able to place our belongings?" Art asked cautiously.
"Wait! You're Monarch!" Bug said with delight.
Art cautiously nodded.
"He's the guy who was taking care of, like, the entire convoy. I mean, there were about five hundred vehicles, and he kept them all together and made sure that everyone was doing okay." Bug hurried to explain.
"How did you know about that?" Euan asked cautiously.
"We've been keeping tabs on your convoy all the way across the country. Carson's computer has been keeping track of news reports and stuff, telling us all about what you've been doing. You guys are awesome." Bug said admiringly.
"Yeah. Hold that thought. I just wanted to introduce these guys to you. I'm gonna take 'em upstairs, now, and find 'em a place to sleep." Juan said seriously.
"Whenever you're ready to work, just jump on those computers and I'll help you however I can." Bug said quickly.
"Looks like you guys have a fan club." Juan smirked as he led Art and Euan out of the room.
* * * * *
"Father Doherty, your ride is here." The nurse from the front desk said as she poked her head into the room.
"I'm half afraid to go out there. I've been told that a 'gopher' is going to be driving me." Father Doherty said to the nurse, then looked back at Brother Jacques inquiringly.
"It could be." Brother Jacques said with a mischievous grin.
"Would you like to come along, Ahmid? Remember, there is strength in numbers." Father Doherty asked the man at his side.
"I will go. However, I hope that this will not take a long time. I am quite tired." Ahmid responded.
"Just tell your Gopher that you want to go home and they'll take you there." Brother Jacques said quickly.
"I will ask you once again, what is a 'gopher'?" Father Doherty asked seriously.
"Only one way to find out." Brother Jacques chuckled.
* * * * *
"Were you guys needing a ride?" The child asked when Father Doherty and Ahmid approached.
"Are you the 'gopher'?" Father Doherty asked cautiously.
"Yeah. My name is Max. I'm parked out front if you're ready to go." She said cheerfully.
Father Doherty shared a look with Ahmid, then followed Max out through the front door.
* * * * *
"Brother Jacques said that if I asked you to take me home, you would do so. However, I don't know what arrangements, if any, have been made for me." Ahmid said cautiously.
"What's your name?" Max asked as she climbed into the driver's seat of the gator.
"I am Ahmid Harrish."
"Dizzy, I have Ahmid Harrish, here. Where is he going to be staying tonight?" Max asked into the mic on her radio cord.
After a moment, Max responded, "Okay. Could you give me a map? I haven't been there before."
Father Doherty and Ahmid watched as Max held up a tablet and looked at it as a map filled the screen.
"Thanks, Dizzy. I've got it." Max said, then started the gator.
"If it's going to be too much trouble, I can go with Father Doherty." Ahmid quietly explained.
"Don't worry. It's on our way." Max said as she started driving the gator away from the hospital.
* * * * *
As they pulled up to the front of the house, they saw the Lesbian Gravy tour bus parked in the driveway.
"This is where I will be staying?" Ahmid asked in surprise when he saw the respectable upper-middle class style house.
"Yep. You wanna go in and see it before we take off?" Max asked pleasantly.
"If you wouldn't mind, I would like to go in and see how everyone is doing." Father Doherty said cautiously.
"Yeah. No problem. But can I come in, too? It's a little chilly out here." Max asked hopefully.
"Of course." Father Doherty said with a smile, then led the way to the front door.
* * * * *
"Excuse me." Juan said as he knocked on the doorframe of an open door.
Everyone looked up at the interruption.
Art and Euan looked with concern at the collection of boys and young adults surrounding a bed with an injured boy sleeping in it.
Art was startled for a moment when he realized that he knew the injured boy.
"These guys need a place to stay, and I was thinking that you have that room where Mr. and Mrs. Reed were staying." Juan said quietly, so as not to disturb Sammy.
"Yeah. There's only one bed in there. Is that gonna be okay?" Danny, the younger, asked seriously.
"That will be fine. After sleeping on the bus, having a real bed to sleep in will be akin to extravagance." Art said frankly.
"Are you English or something?" Max asked curiously.
"Yes. Something like that." Art said with an indulgent smile at the boy.
"These guys are going to be working with Carson, downstairs. I just wanted to be sure that it'd be okay if they used the Reeds' room so they could stow their gear." Juan said with a grin.
"Yes. That's fine. And if you guys need anything at all, please feel free to ask. Most likely, you'll find us in here." Danny, the elder, said warmly.
"Thank you. We will do that." Art confirmed before following Juan out of the room.
* * * * *
"Okay. I think you guys are pretty well set up, now. You've got those guys across the hall to help you if you need anything up here, and you've got Carson and Bug downstairs to help you with whatever you need to do to help the convoy. Be sure that you stay clear of the main room at the end of the hall. You've got a few people in there who will know you by sight." Juan said seriously.
"Thank you for helping us." Art said sincerely.
"We're all on the same team here, guys. Now, keep yourselves safe. I have to go talk to Mike about some business, then I have to go. There's gonna be a guy named Adrian hanging around here, overseeing security. If you're ever in any trouble, or if you need to get in contact with me for some reason, he's your 'go to' guy."
"We'll keep that in mind." Art said quietly, then glanced at Euan to find him nodding his agreement.
"You guys, stay safe." Juan said before quickly leaving the room.
* * * * *
"He's such an adorable baby." Madelyn said as she looked into the bundle in Emo's arms.
"Yes. I fell in love with Colton at first sight." Emo whispered.
"Can I hold him?" Misti begged.
"Okay. But you have to be very careful. Go and sit down on the couch and I'll place him in your arms." Emo said gently.
Misti immediately hurried over to the couch and sat down.
It took Emo a minute to get Colton settled and to be sure that his head was being properly supported, but finally he left Colton alone in Misti's arms.
"You're very good with him. Is he your son?" Madelyn asked gently as Emo took a seat in the chair next to hers.
"No. I wish he was. I met his mom on the trip here and Colton seemed to take a liking to me. I was happy to take care of him and his mom... Angela was around less and less until, this morning, when we were warned that there were missiles coming... she left without him." Emo said regretfully.
"Do you know where his mother is now?" Madelyn asked curiously.
"Not exactly. I know she's in one of the cars in the convoy, but I don't know how long it'll be before she checks in. A guy at the check-in place said that when she does, that someone will bring her here." Emo said regretfully.
"Are you afraid that she's going to take him away?" Madelyn asked quietly.
Emo nodded as his gaze was fixed on the baby in Misti's arms.
"The twins fell asleep." Jamiah said as he walked into the living room.
"You must have worn them out." Madelyn said warmly to the young teenager.
"Lookit! Misti's got a baby!" Loquicia told her brother excitedly.
"Shhhh. You don't want to startle the baby and make him fuss." Madelyn gently scolded.
"Where'd the baby come from?" Jamiah asked cautiously as he looked at the bundle in Misti's arms.
"Well, when a mommy and a daddy love each other very very much..." Madelyn began to say in a playful tone.
Jamiah rolled his eyes, and though he fought it, he slightly chuckled, before saying, "Who does the baby belong to?"
"Emo is taking care of Colton while his mother is... otherwise occupied." Madelyn said delicately.
Jamiah nodded knowingly, then said, "She skipped out, huh?"
Emo was about to correct Jamiah's assumption, then thought better of it and said, "Mostly, yeah."
"And it's not your kid?" Jamiah asked slowly.
"No. I met Angela on the trip out here." Emo quietly explained.
Jamiah nodded again, then said, "Brother Jacques and the twins did that for me and Quicia when our mom skipped out on us."
"I'm so glad to know that they were there when you needed them." Madelyn said gently.
"That's what Father Doherty and Brother Jacques do. They step up and take care of kids, when the people who're supposed to love them, end up dumping them." Jamiah said frankly.
"It's tragic that such things sometimes happen, but it's also good to know that there are still decent, caring people in the world." Madelyn said with a smile at Jamiah, then turned a considering look on Emo.
"So, what's going to happen when the baby's mother comes back, Brother Emo?" Jamiah asked frankly.
Emo looked curiously at Jamiah's name for him, but finally answered, "That's really going to be up to Angela. Father Doherty already talked to her a little bit about it, he said that if she can't handle being a mom, that he could take care of Colton for her... well, him and me."
"Why don't you adopt him?" Jamiah asked seriously.
"Because I'm fifteen." Emo answered simply.
"Yeah. But fifteen year old guys are dads, sometimes." Jamiah countered.
"I'd really like to take care of Colton, and be like a dad to him. But there's no way I could get a job and provide a good future for him... I probably won't be able to provide a good future for myself. But, if Angela and Father Doherty are willing to let me, then I'd like to take care of Colton and be there to help him while he's growing up." Emo said quietly.
"Brother Emo? Can I hold Colton, next?" Annie asked hopefully.
Emo was a little bit surprised that Jamiah's name for him was catching on. But at the same time, he understood that it was a title of respect that Jamiah was conferring upon him. He didn't know if he was worthy of it, but he was determined to do his best.
"Sure. Get comfortable and I'll move Colton into your arms." Emo said gently.
* * * * *
Father Doherty knocked on the door and only had to wait a moment before it was answered.
"Hello, Jim. How is everyone doing?" Father Doherty asked warmly.
"We're all doing fine... except, um... we sort of lost Art and Euan." Jim said nervously.
"Excuse me? What do you mean you lost them?" Father Doherty asked in surprise.
"I don't know what happened. No one knows where they went." Jim said and seemed to be on the verge of tears.
"Dizzy, I'm looking for two guys named Art and Euan, can you see if they're checked in?" Max asked into her radio.
Jim shook his head as he said, "We've already tried that."
"Okay, let me talk to Bug." Max said firmly.
Father Doherty, Ahmid, Jim and Greg, who had just joined them, all stood and listened to her side of the conversation.
"Bug, I'm here with Father Doherty and we're looking for two of his people, named Art and Euan. They're missing and no one can find..."
Max listened for a moment, then turned to Father Doherty and said, "They're at the Brown house, where we were going, anyway. If you want to check on them, we can go whenever you're ready."
"Yes. I think I would like that." Father Doherty said with relief, then looked to Jim and asked, "Is everyone here doing alright?"
"Yes. Emo was taken somewhere so that the baby could be watched after. Those other two boys were waiting with a volunteer until their brothers arrive. I think everything's fine here." Jim said seriously.
"I will be back once I've checked on the children. Thank you for keeping an eye on things for me..." Father Doherty trailed off, then thought to ask, "Where are Father Franklin and Father Kinsey?"
Jim chuckled, then said, "Where do you think? As soon as they got their things unpacked, they were off to volunteer to help in the kitchens, back in town."
"I hope they're having a good time." Father Doherty said with a smile, then turned to Max and said, "Whenever you're ready."
Max gave a single nod, then led the way back to the door.
* * * * *
"Who did you want to see first?" Max asked casually as she drove.
"I don't know. I suppose that I would like to check on the children from the mission, first. I imagine that they've been somewhat traumatized by being uprooted from their usual lives and so abruptly transplanted here." Father Doherty said distantly.
"Okay, would that be Ty and Jamiah and them?" Max asked cautiously.
"Yes. How are they doing?" Father Doherty asked quickly.
"I think they were a little freaked out at first. We all were. I joined up with them when they passed through Kansas City." Max said seriously.
"Oh. I didn't realize. I assumed from how comfortable you were with driving, that you lived here." Father Doherty explained.
"Nah, but anyway, I think all us kids were freaked out a little bit when we got here, but as far as I know, everyone's made new friends and they're all getting along great now." Max said happily.
"Well, that's good to hear." Father Doherty said softly.
"I've heard them talk about you. They think you're great." Max said with a smile.
"I think the world of them, as well." Father Doherty said gently.
"See that, up there. That's where we're living, now." Max said as the Brown house came into view.
To Be Continued...
This was a wonderful chapter. I think I only added two commas. At this rate, i'm going to lose my comma commission credentials, I am not at all used to so little need to get everything in order.
Of course my eyes started leaking, I think I used at least half a box of tissues.
It seems as though a lot of coincidences managed to appear, and that sort of thing is always interesting.
Thanks, MM and probably Roland; very well conceived.
It looks like people are finally being reunited and making new connections as well.
I want more!
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher