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Carson's eyes snapped open.
He was drenched in sweat and felt as though his heart were trying to beat its way out of his chest.
"Dizzy." He fought to say, but found that he was having difficulty breathing.
"Good morning, Carson. Would you like the overview of events that transpired while you were sleeping?" Dizzy asked courteously.
Carson fought to calm himself, finally recognizing that what he was feeling was a panic attack. He used the meditation training that he had received in his pain management to begin to slow his erratic breathing and rapid heartbeat.
When he was finally to a point where he felt that he could form more than one coherent word, Carson finally said, "Dizzy. Enact 'Code four'."
* * * * *
Time seemed to stand still as Carson continued to fight against his own mind, trying not to be overcome by the effects of adrenaline coursing through him.
"Carson? What's wrong?" Jay asked in a panic as he rushed into Carson's room.
"I just woke up like this. Will you hold me?" Carson asked hopefully.
"You're all sweaty. You need a bath." Jay said as he sat on the edge of the bed and brushed Carson's sweat damp hair aside.
"I can do that later." Carson said as he felt his anxiety rising again. "Right now, please just hold me."
Jay could see the fragile state that Carson was in and scooted onto the bed and pulled Carson into his arms.
"What's wrong?" Jay asked gently as he held Carson close and could feel that he was trembling.
"I don't know. Maybe I'm needing one of my pain pills." Carson said as he held Jay tightly.
"Are you in pain?" Jay asked with concern.
"No. But I feel like I'm going to die if I don't get a pill." Carson reluctantly admitted.
"Do you want me to call your grandfather?" Jay asked softly.
"No. Not yet. Just hold me right now. If you can help me get through this, I should be alright." Carson said quietly.
"I'll be here for as long as you need me." Jay gently soothed.
"I'm always going to need you." Carson said softly.
Jay smiled at the words, then quietly responded, "Always is a very long time. I think that it's a lot longer than either of us can promise."
"I've never felt as close to anyone as I feel to you." Carson said as he shifted slightly so that his head was resting on Jay's shoulder.
"It's the same for me, Carson." Jay quietly admitted, then continued, "But we're thirteen years old. Let's not worry about forever and just focus on right now."
Carson thought about it for a moment, then finally said, "Okay. Right now's pretty good. But it'd be even better if you'd kiss me."
Even though they were tangled in sweat soaked sheets and the atmosphere was something less than romantic, the kiss that followed was epic.
* * * * *
"Carson, it is seven o'clock in the morning. You asked for me to wake you at this time." Dizzy said calmly.
It was unusual for Carson to wake with a smile on his face.
But he could still feel Jay in his arms, snuggled tight against him.
"Does he do that every morning?" Jay asked groggily.
"Only when I ask him to." Carson responded as he took a moment to appreciate Jay's beauty.
"Why do you need to be up at seven in the morning on a Sunday? Don't you ever get a chance to sleep in?" Jay asked curiously.
"Yeah. Before the world turned upside down I'd only ask Dizzy to wake me up when I had to get ready for school. But since everything happened, it feels like the whole time I'm laying around, doing nothing, that there are people suffering and doing without stuff because of it." Carson said seriously.
"Then, does that mean that you need to get to work right now?" Jay asked cautiously.
"No. Unless there's something that I need to deal with right away, I'll wake up, shower, get dressed and have breakfast before I start working."
"I'd better go back up to my room. I'm still in my pajamas." Jay said quietly.
"Why don't you go up and get the clothes you'll be wearing today, then come back down here and we can shower together?" Carson asked with a grin.
"I can't even imagine how you can shower yourself, I mean, with the wheelchair." Jay said honestly.
"It's a little tricky, but it's not too bad once you get used to it." Carson said honestly, then tried to conceal a smile as he said, "But there's something that I'd like your help with."
"Yeah. I'll go upstairs and get my clothes." Jay said immediately.
As he was about to walk away, Carson stopped him with a touch on his arm and said, "And while you're helping me with mine, I can help you with yours, too. That is, if you want to."
Jay's eyes went wide in realization and a trace of fear found its way into his expression.
"Seriously. It's only if you want to." Carson reiterated.
"I may not be able to. Alright?" Jay said as he looked deeply into Carson's eyes.
"Alright." Carson whispered.
"I want to try. But just in case I can't... I don't want you to be mad or... disappointed or... anything." Jay tried to explain.
"We'll only do as much as you're comfortable with." Carson assured him.
"I'll be right back." Jay whispered, then leaned in to give Carson a quick kiss.
* * * * *
After a long and very satisfying shower for both Carson and Jay, they got dressed and slowly made their way into breakfast.
As Jay was pushing Carson's wheelchair into place at the table, Carson said, "Mom? You look like you've been up all night."
"I can always count on my sons to say such sweet things." Deb muttered as she kept the majority of her attention focused on a tablet computer in her hand.
"Seriously, Mom, did you sleep at all?" Carson asked quietly.
"I got a few hours, but I couldn't sleep because there was too much needing to be done to prepare for court this morning." Deb said absently as she continued to read.
"Yeah." Carson said distantly as he thought about all the things that he needed to get done.
"How are things going with reducing your workload?" Deb asked as she glanced away from her tablet.
"I put together a list last night. I'll start talking to people today to get my team together." Carson said seriously.
"Good. You need to get that going. I don't like seeing you like this." Deb said frankly.
"I don't like seeing you like this, either." Carson countered.
Deb paused for a moment, then said, "Point taken. But things are going to ease up as soon as Mom and I can get a few more people hired on to help us."
"How are your paralegals working out?" Carson asked as Lydia walked into the room and sat plates of food down in front of Deb, Jay and Carson.
"Janet helped me a lot last night. Both Olufemi and Janet should be here within the hour, so I need to get these briefs reviewed before they get here." Deb said anxiously.
"Where is everyone else?" Carson asked as he looked around the dining room.
"Your father's been gone for hours. But since it's Sunday morning, I'm letting everyone else sleep in as much as they can." Deb said simply.
Carson nodded as he absently started to eat his breakfast.
"What's got you worried, Carson?" Jay asked quietly from his side.
"I've just got the feeling that I'm missing something important." Carson said frankly.
"Your pills!" Deb said suddenly, then raced out of the room.
"Was that it?" Jay asked curiously.
"No... It's something to do with the refugee effort. I'm missing something." Carson said thoughtfully.
"Maybe if you stop thinking about it while you eat, it'll come to you." Jay suggested carefully.
"Yeah. Maybe." Carson said distantly.
When Jay could tell that Carson was more focused on his thoughts than his food, he quietly asked, "Do you know what it has to do with?"
"No." Carson said absently, then added, "Maybe it's just the whole thing. With everyone taking care of different things, I think that I'm starting to lose sight of the big picture."
"Shouldn't Dizzy be able to fill you in on what everyone's doing?" Jay asked seriously.
"Yeah. That's what I've been doing up to now. But I feel like maybe there are things that I'm not being told because I've never thought to ask." Carson said frankly.
"Well, if you don't know what to ask, how do you plan on getting those answers?" Jay asked curiously.
"Good question." Carson muttered thoughtfully.
"Here you go, Carson." Deb said as she hurried back into the dining room with a glass of water and a handful of pills.
"Thanks, Mom." Carson said as he automatically took the pills from her.
Jay watched as Carson took the pills and washed them down.
"Maybe you need to do something like what you do in the command center." Jay said slowly.
"How do you mean?" Carson asked curiously.
"Well, you know how it is with everyone there at once, if one of us has a problem or wants to know something, we can bounce ideas off each other and sometimes we come up with things that none of us would have thought of on our own." Jay said carefully.
"Yeah." Carson said hesitantly.
Jay smiled, realizing that he had been able to capture Carson's interest. Then he continued, "Well, what if we got all the major players together in one big massive meeting? That way everyone can find out what everyone else is doing..."
"...And all of us could brainstorm about what we're going to do next. It would be like a chance to get everyone on the same page and pointed in the same direction." Carson said with escalating excitement.
"Yeah. And it would also help to get the people who just joined us up-to-date on what's going on with everything, not just their little part." Jay added with a smile.
"That's a fantastic idea." Carson said happily, then his smile faded as he asked, "But when can we do it?"
"Now." Jay said simply.
"Now?" Carson asked cautiously.
"Well, after you've finished breakfast." Jay said with a smile, then continued, "But then you figure out how long it's going to take to get everyone here and schedule the meeting for that time."
"That could work..." Carson trailed off in thought.
"And there's probably a few people who won't be able to make it, so you could set up laptops with the video streaming program so they could sit in on the meeting from their remote locations." Jay said seriously.
"The dining room has a big, drop-down screen with a webcam. We can hook it up to a laptop and have as many remote attendees as we need." Carson said informatively.
"Great! Then what else do we need to do?" Jay asked before taking another bite of his briefly forgotten breakfast.
"Just invite people..." Carson said simply, then looked to his mother and asked, "Can you attend a meeting at ten o'clock?"
"I'm going to be in court with your Nanny. If you can record the meeting, I'll watch it later." Deb said seriously as she kept most of her focus on the tablet in her hand.
"Okay. You got it, Mom." Carson said with an indulgent smile at her.
"Are you ready to get started?" Jay asked with a grin.
Carson looked down at his plate and was surprised to find that he had eaten all of his food. He quickly gulped down the last of his juice, then turned to Jay and said, "Yeah. Let's get started."
* * * * *
"Tommy? You weren't at breakfast. Where are you?" Carson asked curiously.
"We're in town. I had to check to be sure that they didn't leave a huge mess after the party at the skatepark, yesterday." Tommy said honestly.
"How was it?" Carson asked cautiously.
"Not bad. I'm not sure who it was, but it looks like someone went out of their way to clean up." Tommy said appreciatively.
"Do you think that you could come to the house for a meeting at ten o'clock this morning?" Carson asked cautiously.
"Yeah. Sure. Do you want Jared there, too?" Tommy asked casually.
"If he has the time." Carson said simply.
"What's the meeting about?" Tommy asked curiously.
"I'm just wanting to get everyone together so we can tell about what we've been doing and what we plan to do next... you know. Stuff like that." Carson said frankly.
"I'll start thinking about what we need to say. We'll see you at ten." Tommy said, then the audio stream ended.
"Bye." Carson chuckled before initiating the next call.
* * * * *
"Mikey? Did I wake you up?" Carson asked cautiously.
"Yeah. What time is it?... Oh crap! We missed breakfast!" Mikey exclaimed.
"Mom said that she was letting us sleep in this morning. Sorry I woke you up. Do you think that you'd be able to come to a meeting at ten o'clock this morning in the dining room?"
"Oh, um... yeah. I guess. Ty, too?"
"Yes. Unless he's got something more important to do."
"No. I think breakfast is the only plan that we've got right now." Mikey said frankly.
"Go ahead and get yourselves awake and I'll see you at ten."
"Yeah. Ten." Mikey said, then the audio stream ended.
"I've really got to talk to my brothers about the courteous way to end a call." Carson said over his shoulder to Jay before moving on to his next call.
* * * * *
"What? Yes. Oh, Carson, what do you need?" Ryan asked distractedly.
"I was wanting to have a strategy meeting with all the key people at ten this morning in the dining room. Can you be there?" Carson asked curiously.
After a moment, Ryan answered, "Yes. That will work out. I've been studying these schematics since about five this morning and kind of got lost in them."
"The body armor?" Carson guessed.
"The engineering is incredible. Once this is all over, we should be able to apply some of these principles to the oceanic suits and increase their function and cut their weight nearly in half." Ryan said frankly.
"I haven't looked at it as much as you have, but from what I've seen, I can believe it." Carson said with a smile at his dad's excitement.
"Meeting at ten. I'll be there." Ryan said, then the audio stream ended.
Carson heard Jay's laugh from behind him and turned to look at him, wondering what was so amusing.
"Now I see where your brothers get it."
* * * * *
As Carson was about to initiate the next call, Bug, Ben and Oleksandr walked into the room as a group.
"Hey guys. How are things going this morning?" Carson asked casually.
"Kids are cute and shit. And for a minute there I thought that I wanted some of my own..." Bug trailed off with a shake of his head.
"Something wrong?" Carson asked curiously.
"Oma Shoupe is taking care of six year old twin girls. By the time I was done making breakfast I was so fucking ready to get out of there that I was ready to strangle someone." Bug said as he opened his laptop.
"Were they acting up?" Carson asked as he noticed Roris and Lawrence entering the room.
"They didn't shut their fucking mouths for two seconds from the minute that they woke up. When one would stop to take a bite of food, the other one would jump in and take over. I don't think that Max, Bax and Ro even got to say a single word the entire morning." Bug said frankly.
"Well, you're here now. Sit back and enjoy the peace and quiet." Carson said with a smile at Bug.
"Fuckin' A." Bug said before signing into his laptop.
"Guys, before we..." Carson began to say when Seth and Hobie walked into the room.
"Before we get too deeply into our work, I was thinking that we should have a meeting." Carson said seriously.
"Okay. Go ahead." Bug said as he turned to look at Carson.
"No. I mean a mass meeting of all the key people. I'd like to have it in the dining room at ten o'clock." Carson said frankly.
There was a long moment of silence which was broken by Bug saying, "Good idea."
Carson smiled at his reaction.
"Have you already decided who you're going to invite?" Bug asked thoughtfully.
"I had some ideas, but I'm sure that each of you can think of people who should be there." Carson said honestly.
"Is this going to be like a brainstorming thing?" Ben asked cautiously.
"Yes. Where we are and where we're going." Carson confirmed.
"Zane should be there." Lawrence said seriously.
"I'd like it if he could be there, but he's been hurt and can't get out of bed." Roris gently explained.
"But I know what it feels like to be in a bed for a long long time. If he keeps laying there not doing anything, he's going to start feeling like he can't help people. He needs to know that he can do stuff." Lawrence implored Roris to understand.
"Actually, it might be a good thing for him, and for Jacques, too." Ben said thoughtfully.
"If you can get a laptop or a tablet up to them, they could attend by video conference. I was already expecting that a few people wouldn't be able to attend in person." Carson said frankly.
"That sounds good. Thanks." Ben said with a smile.
* * * * *
"Good morning, everyone. I hope that you all slept well. I know that this was probably a lot of trouble for most of you, but I thought that it was important for us to all get together and discuss what we've been doing and what we're going to do next." Carson said loudly, so his voice would carry to the people at the far end of the dining room.
"Do you think you could hang on for just a minute? The video feed's being a bitch." Bug asked seriously as he typed on his laptop.
"I thought you had that taken care of." Carson said cautiously.
"I did. Now I don't. Just chill." Bug said irritably.
"Since you're going to be talking, do you need a drink or anything?" Jay asked quietly.
Carson smiled, then answered, "Yeah. Some juice, if you wouldn't mind."
Jay hurried to the sideboard to get drinks for them both.
"Dizzy, can you get this motherfucker going?" Bug asked in frustration.
To which 'motherfucker' are you referring, Bug? Dizzy asked in return.
"The Vice President's video feed, I can't get it to integrate with the other video inputs, it keeps kicking them out." Bug said frankly.
The encryption protocol requires that all concurrent video signals be likewise encrypted. Dizzy said simply.
"You coulda just told me that to begin with." Bug said indignantly.
You did not ask. Dizzy said, somewhat primly.
"Asshole." Bug muttered as he typed.
Douchebag. Dizzy responded simply.
"Okay guys, you're going to lose the video link for a few seconds while we switch protocols, then we should be good to go." Bug said seriously.
"Just tell me what I have to do." Zane's voice said from Bug's laptop.
"You don't have to do anything. I just didn't want you to think that you lost us." Bug said simply.
A moment later, the large drop down screen in the dining room came alive to display four separate video windows.
"Okay, Carson. We're ready." Bug said seriously.
"Thank you, Bug." Carson said with a smile, then addressed the rest of the people in the dining room, "Like I was saying, the reason I called all of you is so that we can take stock of what we've done and decide what we're going to do next. I know that some of this isn't going to apply to everyone, but it was either do this or have a dozen meetings with smaller groups of you."
"Some of us got shit to do. Can you just get to it?" Bug asked hopefully.
Carson looked toward his father and asked, "Is this what you have to put up with in board meetings?"
"Not usually." Ryan said with a smile.
"Anyway..." Carson said with a huff, "Mr. Crante has set out drinks and pastries on the side board. If you want to help yourselves to that, I'm going to ask Tommy to start us off."
"For those of you who don't know, I'm Tommy Brown, Carson's brother. Jared and I have been working on a lot of 'Big Picture' things, doing our best to see that all the hotels and motels and the campground have all the supplies that they need to stay in business and that the new homes are ready and waiting for people when they need them." Tommy said seriously.
"Any problems?" Carson asked carefully.
Tommy and Jared looked at Carson with matching expressions of disbelief before Jared quietly asked, "You haven't been out there, have you?"
"Obviously." Carson said flatly.
"Maybe you should." Tommy said seriously.
"What are you saying?" Carson asked cautiously.
"There are THOUSANDS of people flowing into town. Everything is filling up. Even though some people are passing through, a lot of them are staying, even if it's only for a few days. We're burning through the food and other essential supplies faster than I thought was possible." Tommy said honestly.
"What are we running out of?" Carson asked seriously.
"Like I said, I'm looking mostly at the big picture and letting everyone else handle their own things. I only hear about it when there's a big problem. From what I can see, everyone's got most of what they need, or they're figuring out how to work around it. What I'm saying is that the scale of this thing is incredible. It's so big and it's moving so fast that if one little thing goes wrong, we could lose it all." Tommy said anxiously.
Carson nodded that he understood.
"Dizzy's been a big help coordinating things so that we can spread people out between Kettle Falls, Colville and Camp Trebier, so that no one's completely overloaded." Tommy said seriously.
"So, what do you need from me?" Carson asked calmly.
"For this to be over." Tommy said simply.
"Not my department." Carson said with a smile at his older brother, then looked to the video screen and asked, "Mr. Vice President? Any word on if or when this will be coming to an end?"
Mike flashed Carson a regretful look, then quietly said, "I can't tell you anything officially. But if I were you, I wouldn't hold my breath."
Carson nodded that he understood, then asked, "Mikey? How are things going for you?"
"Actually, from the sound of it, just about like with Tommy." Mikey said as he stood, then thought to add, "Everyone, in case you haven't met us, I'm Mikey Brown and this is my new brother, Ty."
Carson smiled at the pride and enthusiasm with which Mikey introduced their newest brother.
"But, like I was saying, this thing is big. Mr. Crante, Marie and Lydia have been working their butts off trying to keep up with things, but it's too much for them. Having the caterers come in every day has been a big help, but we can't do that all the time. Me and Ty have been helping where we can. Mom and Nanny have been helping out a lot, too. But now they're getting swamped with their legal stuff." Mikey said seriously, then added, "Mr. Crante needs more help. I told him to hire as many people as he needs."
"Good idea." Carson said with a nod, then continued, "I know that you were doing some things in town, too. What about that?"
"We were just helping Tommy where we could when someone got bogged down with too much. Everything's fine." Mikey said simply.
"Good. Let us know if you get stuck on anything." Carson said seriously.
Mikey nodded that he would as he and Ty took their seats.
"What about you, Dad?"
Ryan stood and looked around the room, stopping with his focus on the large video screen. "I'm Ryan Brown. And, for the most part, I've been focused on the body armor project."
"For those of you who don't know, we've been presented with a suit of body armor and the specifications for how to make more. Dad's been doing his best to replicate the body armor using the supplies that we can gather." Carson said seriously, then looked to his father and asked, "How's it going?"
"I suppose that it could be worse." Ryan said in prelude, then continued, "We've placed orders and received firm commitments from a number of suppliers for the things that we can buy prefabricated. That's not to say that everything will come in, but it's as much as we can do at this point."
Carson slowly nodded his understanding.
"The things that we can't buy, we're going to have to fabricate ourselves. As soon as the raw materials arrive for each component, we'll start production on it. Once we've been able to fabricate and purchase all the components, then we're going to need a skilled workforce to assemble the parts to produce the final product. Along with that, we're going to need a facility tailored for the production."
"What about the new factory? I know it isn't completely ready, but it shouldn't take too much to get a few crews in there to finish it off." Carson asked thoughtfully.
"That was my first thought, too. The facility could probably be adapted for the production of additional components, if we needed them. But for assembly, it would be completely inadequate. We'd basically have to demolish the existing structure and rebuild it to new specifications before we could consider using that site. It would actually be faster and easier to build a new assembly facility than try to repurpose the factory." Ryan said frankly.
"How long are we talking about until you need it?" Karl asked cautiously.
"A week at the earliest." Ryan said as he turned and looked at his longtime friend.
"Seth, do you have any more big projects on the horizon for me?" Karl asked his son.
"We have about a thousand little storefronts for 'Little Chicago', but nothing big that I can think of." Seth said thoughtfully.
"I should be able to hire on enough people to get the job done for you. If you can get me the specs and help me find the building materials, I should be able to get you set up in time." Karl said seriously.
"Just let me know what you need and you'll have it." Ryan said gratefully.
"So, if all goes to plan, when do you think you'll have completed body armor, ready for use?" Mike asked cautiously from the video screen.
"There's still a lot up in the air, but I think the earliest that we could conceivably have the finished product coming off the assembly line would be... two weeks. We might have a few prototypes ready for you to test in as little as a week and a half. But, again, that's assuming that everything goes as planned." Ryan said cautiously.
Mike glanced at General Adams before saying, "Keep us posted. And be sure to let us know if there's anything you're needing to move things along faster."
"The only other thing that might hold us up is the programming. Without the power assist, the body armor is going to be more of a hinderance than a help." Ryan said frankly, then turned to Bug and continued, "But we've got one of our best people on that."
"Yeah. No pressure." Bug muttered under his breath.
"It's not just you, Bug. Allen, how are your project teams shaping up?" Carson asked as he turned to look at the video screens again.
"I have some good people already committed to the project. On top of that, I've taken Bug's advice and been able to recruit some promising people from the refugees passing through. And I was even able to find one 'diamond in the rough' working at one of the checkpoints." Allen said pleasantly.
"That sounds good. Is there anything you're going to need?" Carson asked carefully.
"Time to do our work. I think we've got everything else." Allen said seriously.
Carson nodded, then said, "Another reason that I wanted to call this meeting is to let all of you know that I'm going to be taking a step back from coordinating things."
Looks of uncertainty and indecision flashed around the room at the announcement.
"If I do this right, this isn't going to change how things are already working. The only real difference might be that when you have a question or need something, you might end up talking to a member of my team instead of to me." Carson said frankly.
"Have you got your team together, yet?" Bug asked cautiously.
"I've got a list of candidates to contact. I'll be doing that right after this meeting." Carson said seriously, then looked around to see if anyone had any questions before he continued, "Bug? How are things going with you?"
"I've already got my team organized. As soon as we're done here, I'm going to talk to them for a few minutes to let them know that they're going to be handling things for a while, then I'm going to dig into the trinary and see if I can make sense of it." Bug said honestly.
Carson nodded, then looked down the table and asked, "Roris and Lawrence, how are your things going?"
"Being in charge of 'Special Needs' is a bigger job than it sounds. Things have worked out well at the check-in at the stadium. I've got a great crew. Also, it turns out that no one thought to station any volunteers at the hospital to help the new arrivals. My people stepped up to help out there and I've already told them to go ahead and recruit more help if they find someone who looks like they'll work out." Roris said seriously.
"Juanita and Adrian helped all the people at the hospital, all by themselves." Lawrence interjected.
Roris smiled at Lawrence, then continued, "As far as the other 'Special Needs' concerns, so far we've been able to accommodate everyone as well as we can within reason. But there are some things that we're going to need and I don't know if we'll be able to get them." Roris said with concern.
"What things?" Ben asked with interest.
"Bed shakers, strobing doorbells, brailers and other specialty products to help people with special needs to function and be productive." Roris said seriously.
"We can try to get you those things, but I don't know how much luck we'll have." Bug said thoughtfully.
"Well, here's a thought..." Carson said slowly, "...Once we get things set up to start mass production of the 'talk-boxes', maybe you could look at making the items that you can't buy."
"Do you think that we could do that?" Roris asked in surprise.
"I think it's worth looking into. Let's see what Bug can come up with, first. Then we'll do the best we can with what's left." Carson said seriously, then looked across the table from Roris and asked, "Ben? How are things going in the news-gathering department?"
"Besides being depressing, I think we're doing alright." Ben said frankly.
"I haven't been able to look at much more than the summaries. What's got you worried?" Carson asked carefully.
"Last night, Olex, Danny and I went to 'Little Chicago' to help Dax with the new arrivals. We got to talk to some people and it sounds like things are getting really bad on the way here. I know that we're already doing what we need to be doing, but I wish that there were more that we could do to help the people who haven't made it to our checkpoints, yet. It sounds like it's a post-apocalyptic nightmare out there." Ben said frankly.
"Tommy was right. This thing is already so big and moving so fast, that it's going to take everything that we can do to keep it from spiraling out of control. We can't spread ourselves any thinner." Carson said seriously.
Ben nodded regretfully, knowing that what Carson was saying was true.
"But still, if any of you can come up with a way to help the incoming people... just do what you can." Carson finished with a helpless shrug.
Ben was surprised when an arm wrapped around him and gave him a firm hug.
"Thanks, Olex." Ben whispered with appreciation.
"Hobie, can you think of anything that you or your dad might need for everyone to know?" Carson asked simply as he shifted his gaze back across the table, just past Roris.
"No. I think everything's alright." Hobie said slowly, then quietly added, "But after working with Seth at my house last night... do you really need us to be in the command center?"
"Well, having you guys there, coordinating with your dads, made us able to help everyone as quickly as they were flooding in. But now that everything's been set up, I can't think of any reason you need to be in the same room with us." Carson said thoughtfully, then looked at Bug and Ben for their confirmation.
"We can conference with you through Dizzy, so we'll still kinda be there with you, just not there with you." Seth explained.
"Yeah. But you guys remember that whether you're showing up every day or not, that you're still part of the team. Right? No thinking that you aren't wanted or needed or some shit like that." Bug said firmly.
"Yeah. We got it, Bug. And if you need us at the command center, we'll be right there for you. But we figured out last night that we can do everything that we need to, just the same from Hobie's house as we can from Carson's room, but we can also listen to music or pop popcorn if we want to..." Seth finished with a shrug.
"Just let us know if you need anything." Carson said with a smile at the boys, then he looked across the table from Hobie and asked, "Dax, how are things going in 'Little Chicago'?"
Dax shyly stood and looked around nervously before saying, "Well, with everyone flooding in all at once, it was tight for a little bit, but it looks like we pulled it off. The thing is, that was the easy part. The big scary thing that we've got to face is what's going to happen next."
A glance around the room told him more than words that everyone in attendance knew what he was talking about.
"I talked about this with some people last night and we figured out a few things. I'm sure most of you already know this, but it seems like such a big thing that I want to say it, in case I missed something." Dax said seriously.
He glanced at Ben and saw an expression of pride directed at him.
"People need certain things, and we're trying to give them what they need. First off, we're giving everyone who shows up here food, clean drinking water, clothes, shelter and medical care. Along with all those things, we're also giving them a place where they can feel safe." Dax said seriously.
Everyone seemed to be following along, so he continued.
"Right this minute, that's exactly what we need to be doing, but with the Chicago people staying, I have to keep in mind what they're going to need next. What we've come up with is helping to give our people a sense of community, belonging and hope for the future. I guess, whether I want to or not, I've kind of been made a symbol, showing them that their mayor is watching over them and keeping them safe. So not only are we getting things set up so that we can produce the things that we might need, but we're also giving our people a chance to actually do something to help out and make a difference." Dax said passionately.
"That sounds like a great idea, Dax. But it also sounds like quite a bit to take on." Carson said honestly.
"Yeah." Dax chuckled at the understatement, then continued more seriously, "If it was just me, there's no way I could make it work. But thankfully, my dad sent me some help. While I'm here, doing this, Reuben is taking care of things and making decisions for me. Jingo and Trav are working with certain groups of people and making sure that they're working with each other, so that they're on target to accomplish our goals. And we've recruited Councilman Becker to act as our go-between with the regular people. He's going to be their voice in our decision making and he's also going to keep everyone working together."
"It sounds like something that the rest of us should be doing." Ben said frankly.
Dax smiled at him, then responded, "You're already sort of doing that. Except that what your people are working on is hospitality and humanitarian aid. What my people are working on is preparing for what's coming next."
"What do you need from us to make this work?" Carson asked seriously.
"Mainly, we're going to need ingredients, raw materials and some hardware. No matter how hard we work or how much we prepare, it's not going to matter a bit if we don't have what we need to start making the things that people are going to need." Dax said frankly.
"I'll do what I can for you, but... supplies are kind of hit and miss, right now." Carson said honestly.
"Get us a list of the essential supplies that you need and we'll talk to a few of our foreign allies about getting them shipped here as quickly as possible." Mike said from the video screen.
"Thank you, Mr. Vice President." Dax said timidly, yet respectfully.
Carson smiled at Dax's expression, then decided to let him off the hook. "Father Doherty, did you have anything that you'd like to say, while we've got everyone here?"
After flashing a look of pride and admiration at Dax, Father Doherty stood and said, "Yes. Thank you, Carson. Yesterday I was able to speak at some length with Reverend Wallace, from the local Unitarian church. I'm not entirely sure of what I'm asking, but it seems as though the people passing through aren't being given the opportunity to receive spiritual support. Only those in the most desperate need have taken the time and effort to seek us out. I was hoping that there might be a way that we could make the offer at some point during the arrival process so that all who wish to, may speak with a member of the clergy."
"That shouldn't be a problem. I think that we could just flash a message to all the check-ins and checkpoints and ask them to notify people that spiritual support is available on request." Carson said thoughtfully.
"Father Doherty." Dax said timidly to gain his attention, "Jingo and I were talking last night and we were wondering if there would be any way that we could have our own church in the 'Little Chicago' area."
"Others would know better than I, but it seems that at this point in time, the resources might be needed for other ventures." Father Doherty said cautiously.
"If everyone agrees, we're going to set it up at the community center in 'Little Chicago'. Later on, if people feel like they need it, they can build an actual church building. But I just wanted to be sure that it wouldn't cause a problem if we decided to do it." Dax said seriously.
"I can't see any problem, except possibly in securing a pastor to oversee it." Father Doherty said thoughtfully.
"Actually, we were thinking of asking Father Kinsey... that is, if it's not going to cause a problem with anyone else. I've noticed that a lot of religious people get bent out of shape about the littlest things." Dax said frankly.
"Present company excepted." Ben added with a smile.
Dax realized what he had said and quickly confirmed, "Yeah."
"If Father Kinsey is interested, I believe that it would be an amazing experience for him. Please go ahead with your plans and if Father Kinsey decides to proceed, I'll let Reverend Wallace know what's going on." Father Doherty said warmly.
"Thanks." Dax said shyly.
"Danny, right?" Carson asked as he looked at the young man beside Dax and Ben.
"One of them, yeah." Danny said as he stood, then encouraged the boy at his side to stand with him.
"Can you fill us in on what's happening in Monarch Command?" Carson asked carefully.
"Sure. I'm Danny MacAlistair and this is Danny Carlson." Danny said with a smile.
"Can you tell us what you're doing and what you're planning as we go forward?" Carson prompted.
"Yeah. Monarch Command has been working to help the large groups that have been coming to us, mainly those from Chicago. Just like Carson's Command Center, we're working on seeing that everyone has everything that they need. But we also work to make sure that families and communities are being kept together and we're doing our best to make sure that no one gets overlooked in the flood." Danny said seriously.
The younger Danny then said, "But unless you guys have heard about another group heading this way, all we've got to do right now is try and help the people who are already here. Once they're all taken care of, it looks like our job might be done."
The elder Danny nodded his agreement to the assessment.
"Well, if your work runs out, you could always jump in and help us with our news gathering." Ben said seriously.
"Do you need help?" Danny, the elder, asked curiously.
"Olexandr and I have been keeping up pretty well, but we've been depending on the Canadian bloggers and the Chicago radio station a little too much and we haven't had the time to really dig in and verify all the reports that we've been receiving." Ben said frankly.
"Actually, that could work out well for us, too." Mike said thoughtfully from the screen.
"How can we help you, Mr... um, Mike?" Danny, the elder, asked curiously.
"Although we have a fine intelligence team, who have access to classified intel, we have also been keeping track of the news provided by Carson's Command Center, so that we have an idea of what the populace can deduce from the publically available intel. That way we know if we're tipping our hand or even if some strategy is being employed against us that we haven't recognized. Helping the Command Center team will also be helping us in our work." Mike said seriously.
"We'll do it!" Danny, the younger, proclaimed.
"Just let us know what you need for us to do, Ben. We'll be happy to help." Danny, the elder, said with a smile.
As Carson was about to call on the next person, he saw Brother Jacques and Zane talking to each other in another window of the large video screen.
"Brother Jacques, is Zane having pain? Do you guys need to drop out?" Carson asked with concern.
"No. It's nothing like that. We were just kind of wondering why you invited us. We aren't doing anything to help anyone." Brother Jacques said frankly.
"Actually, you can thank Lawrence for that." Carson said with a smile in his direction.
"What did I do?" Lawrence asked as he looked around in puzzlement.
"You asked me if there was any way that Zane could help us, so he wouldn't be bored while he's recovering." Carson said to Lawrence, then turned toward the screen and continued, "Believe me, I know what it's like to be flat on your back with nothing to do. I was hoping that, if you wouldn't mind, you guys could kind of keep an eye on things from a distance to see how they're going."
"I don't get it." Brother Jacques said honestly.
"I'm just saying that you can sit in on the meetings, like this, and get an idea of what we're planning to do. Then, once we've done it, you could kind of see if things turned out the way we were planning and if we helped the people that we were trying to help, and stuff like that." Carson said a little disjointedly.
"So, you're worried that it's going to be like back home, when they'd sometimes announce some big thing that's supposed to help the poor or the homeless or something and it ends up not helping anyone?" Brother Jacques asked speculatively.
"That's right. There's just too much going on at once for us to be able to follow up on every single thing. If you can just kind of keep an eye on how things are going and let us know if you notice any unintended consequences, we'd really appreciate it." Carson said frankly.
After a moment to consider, Zane quietly said, "Yeah. I think we can do that."
"Good. Then you're our quality control team." Carson said happily, then looked down the table and said, "Deacon and Billy, I know that you haven't even been here a full day, yet. But have you noticed anything that we're doing that we shouldn't or that we're not doing and should be?"
"There's so much, I don't think we've really wrapped our minds around all of it." Deacon said frankly.
"We've been to a lot of refugee camps, all over the world, and I don't think I've ever seen one organized this well." Billy added.
"Good. But still, keep your eyes open and let us know. We can't take steps to make things right if we don't know that there's a problem." Carson said firmly.
"We'll tell you right away if we spot anything." Deacon promised.
"I had an email from Lucas waiting for me when I woke up this morning. I'll wait until he's had a chance to speak, but if you guys think that you'll have the time, there might be something else that you can do to help out." Carson said honestly.
"Just let us know what we can do." Deacon volunteered immediately.
"Bax, can you fill us in on how things are going with the Gophers?" Carson asked as he leaned slightly to see around the Dannys.
It took a moment for him to get to his feet, but Bax was finally standing and said, "We've got about twenty Gophers, now. Thanks to Dizzy, we've been doing good. I made a few runs to Camp Tree Beard yesterday and they got a few of their guys to be Gophers for them. The thing is, me and Max and Ro were talking, and I think that they're going to need Gophers in Colville, too. Is there any way we can set something up for them?"
"That's a good idea, Bax. Do you think you can handle it? Or would you like for me to get someone else to take care of it?" Carson asked seriously.
"I think I can do it if you can get someone to take me there. It's too far for me to go on a gator." Bax said frankly.
"True. And besides, you aren't allowed to ride the gators on the public highways." Ryan said seriously.
"Tommy, do you think you can get someone to drive him over?" Carson asked hopefully.
"I'll have him on his way, right after the meeting." Tommy assured him.
"Let us know if you need any help setting up the Colville Gophers." Carson said to Bax seriously.
"As long as we can still use Dizzy there, that should be all I'll need." Bax said thoughtfully.
"That shouldn't be a problem." Carson said simply, then looked across the table and asked, "Walt? I know that we haven't really had a chance to talk before, but Ben has told me about you. Do you have any security concerns to discuss with us?"
"Yes. As most of you are aware, the house was recently targeted by some felons who were released by President Ashwood and given instructions to come here, specifically to Kettle Falls, and find ways to wreak havoc. The Secret Service, the U.N.I.T., the Security Police from Fairchild and the local law enforcement from Kettle Falls, Colville and Camp Trebier have all been notified. Sixteen individuals have been detained thus far." Walt said seriously.
"Sixteen? I hadn't heard anything about anyone being detained!" Carson said in surprise.
"We don't like to advertise." Walt said with a grin in his direction, then continued, "Our interviews with the detainees haven't revealed any pertinent information, but the one thing we can be sure of is that these aren't the only people who are working to infiltrate and cause chaos. If they thought to send their released felons our way, the covert ops can't be far behind. We need to remain vigilant."
"Just tell us if there's anything else you can think of that we need to be doing." Carson said somberly, then looked to the video screen and asked, "Davis, do you have anything to add?"
"What? Oh, sorry. I've got a million things going on right now. All the manifests have been loaded into Dizzy, so you should have easy access to everything that's available. The only problem that I'm having right now is that I have hundreds of trucks parked here. Even after they're unloaded or have dropped their trailers, most of them don't have anyplace else to go. The drivers are living in their trucks. Don't get me wrong, the truckers are great and have bent over backwards not to get in our way. But we're not set up for this. They need better access to food, fresh water and restroom facilities." Davis said frankly.
"Seth? Do you think your dad's got a place for that many at Camp Trebier?" Carson asked thoughtfully.
"Hundreds? Maybe last week he could, but not now." Seth said frankly.
"Honestly, if you could just hook into our utilities and set something up for them, I wouldn't have a problem with that. But when you have hundreds of truckers and six toilets..." Davis trailed off with a pained look.
"I'll have a crew out there later today. I can't promise anything fancy, but we'll fix your truckers up a nice rest area with toilets, showers and laundry facilities." Karl said seriously.
"These truckers are really good people. If you'll just send someone out who knows what needs to be done, I bet that you'll have dozens of volunteers to help you." Davis said quickly.
"Even better. I'll look through the designs that we have on hand and come up with something that will work." Karl said with a smile.
"If, while you're at it, you could make accommodations, I could arrange for a pop up restaurant to set up by your new facility." Lucas said quickly.
"I'll be sure that they have water and electricity available." Karl assured him.
"Let me know if you need anything from us." Carson interjected.
"I think I've got this." Karl said with a grin in his direction.
"Good." Carson said happily, then looked at Lucas and asked, "How are things going with 'hospitality'?"
"Very well. In fact, the gathering that Lazlo instigated last night was a resounding success." Lucas said proudly, then continued, "As a whole, it seems that we've been able to make our guests feel welcome and give them some relief from their worries, as well as a sense of security. Although the entertainments might seem frivolous on the surface, I believe that the people coming to us needed very much to be able to release in a positive way the tensions that they've been storing."
"What do you think that you're going to need, going forward?" Carson asked seriously.
"It's still early days. Although I'd like to scale back on the 'festive' atmosphere that we've been promoting, I believe that we should give it a few more days, perhaps a week." Lucas said thoughtfully.
"What about the other thing... that you emailed me about?" Carson asked as he glanced at Billy and Deacon.
"Oh, yes. It seems that there was a group of celebrities in Oregon at the time of the San Francisco earthquake. They found their way here and have asked if there's something that they can do to contribute." Lucas said carefully.
"Is it anyone we've heard of?" Danny, the younger, asked with interest.
"No." Lucas said frankly, then quietly added, "In fact, I've honestly never heard of any of them. From what I gathered, they're a group of D list reality TV stars from some years back who were in Oregon to do a new reality TV show, in hopes of rebooting their careers."
"If they're wanting to help, can't they just go to the stadium and volunteer?" Ben asked carefully.
"They seem to have the idea that they should be using their 'celebrity status' to help people in these troubling times." Lucas said with a mostly straight face.
"That's just what we need." Danny, the elder, said with an eyeroll.
"Go ahead, Lucas. Tell Billy and Deacon your plan." Carson said with a barely concealed grin.
Lucas looked at them regretfully, then slowly said, "I know this might be an imposition for you, but I honestly believe that it might work out."
"What do you want from us?" Deacon asked darkly.
"Well, considering that you're a reporter and a photographer, I thought that you might take our celebrities along with you as you visit with people in the hospital or talk with new arrivals. As I see it, one of two things is likely to happen. Either our 'reality' stars might get a dose of actual reality. Or, I suppose it's theoretically possible that someone might recognize them and their celebrity status might actually be able to do someone some good." Lucas said seriously.
"Why don't you just send them to the stadium and let them get real fucking jobs?" Bug asked seriously.
"It's hard to explain. They're so... deluded. They're so convinced that they're special. And they're really not. I just can't bring myself to break it to them." Lucas said honestly.
"Give me five minutes with them..." Bug said with a predatory grin.
"No. It's okay. We'll do it." Deacon said quietly.
"What about three minutes? I just won't enjoy it as much." Bug said quickly.
"They may be deluded, pseudo-celebrities, but it sounds like they're trying to do the right thing. I'll give them a chance." Deacon said thoughtfully, then smiled at Bug and added, "But if it doesn't work out, I'll bring them to have a talk with you."
"Good. I have a few words that I've been wanting to try out." Bug said with a grin.
Carson smiled, then said, "Well, if no one has anything else, I guess that's it."
Oh Boy, here we go again, those two hideous words. MultiMapper likes to use those to scare the s^*% out of us every so often.
Don't worry too much, I'll have a little talk with Bug, and I'm pretty sure he will be able to convince MM to find a few more words to present to us.
Anyway, It looks as though there has been quite a lot of progress being made. Cooperation seems to be the word of the day.
Let's hope that the various people can form some communications interaction with one another and be able to coordinate their individual activities so they aren't causing each other problems, and are helping each other, instead.
I'm ready for the next chapter.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher