Universe Alpha 7:

New Hope

Copyright © 2010-2019 by MultiMapper
All Rights Reserved

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Chapter 40

"Mycien, will you call JonJon for me and ask him to come here please?"

"It appears that you are contorted in a mid-transitional state. Would you like for me to transport you to the medical facility for assistance?"

"No. Just ask JonJon to come here."

"My sensor readings indicate that you are in distress. In such a circumstance I am permitted to go against your wishes or even countermand a direct order from you if I believe that it is in your best interest to do so." Mycien said informatively.

"Listen. What's happening to me is something that sometimes happens to Chameloids. Even though it can be dangerous, I'm already past that part. But you see, once you get past the part where I could die, the next thing to worry about is that it's possible for me to sort of tie myself into a knot... like I've just done. When that happens, we usually call upon someone that we really trust to help us out, since it can be kind of embarrassing." Lehman said frankly.

When that didn't elicit an immediate response, Lehman continued, "And if you transport me without my permission, I'll tell Hart when he gets back and he'll make you sorry that you were ever activated."

"I have contacted JonJon on your behalf and he will arrive shortly."

"Thank you." Lehman said simply.

* * * * *

"Lehman?! Mycien said that you needed me. Where are you?" JonJon tentatively called out as he entered the main room of Lehman's house.

"I'm in the bedroom!" Lehman called as loudly as he could.

A moment later the accordian style door slid aside and JonJon called out, "Are you in here?"

"Yeah. I'm right here." Lehman said unenthusiastically, already anticipating his brother's reaction.

After a long frozen moment of horrified silence, JonJon hesitantly asked, "What happened to you?!"

"It's kind of a Chameloid thing. Sometimes, if we're sick or hurt or something and we don't use our abilities very much, they can kind of... spasm or seizure or something. I don't know all the medical stuff about it, I just know that it sometimes happens." Lehman awkwardly explained.

"Is there anything I can do to help you?" JonJon slowly asked as he attempted to make sense out of what he was seeing.

"Yeah, when this happened all of a sudden, my left arm ended up wedged behind my head and I can't resize myself or move it back to where I can bend it again. I'm kind of stuck this way." Lehman fought to say.

"I don't even know what I'm looking at here." JonJon said frankly.

"Walk around in front of me, then I'll be able to see you and I should be able to talk you through it."

"Okay. But... with what I'm seeing, I'm not sure where your front is."

"Well duh! If you're not already looking at it, try the other side." Lehman said curtly.

"You've still got some Vincent in you, don't you." JonJon said as he slowly moved around the periphery of the room, searching for a glimpse of anything familiar on the impossibly contorted lump of flesh on Lehman's bed.

"It is still possible for me to transport you or call for medical assistance, should you need it." Mycien cautiously offered.

"All I need is a little help from my big brother and I'll be fine." Lehman stated firmly.

"Oh. There you are." JonJon said With relief as he moved to where he could see Lehman's face.

"Yeah. I know I must look pretty gross like this, but if you'll just hold my arm in place, I should be able to untwist myself and get out of this knot." Lehman explained.

"Is that thing over there your arm?" JonJon slowly asked as he pointed.

"Yeah. It's kind of stuck between being a claw and a wing right now, but all I need for you to do is grab it with both hands and hold it in place for a couple minutes. Don't let go if you feel me pulling on it, that's me trying to twist myself back into shape."

After a moment of scooting around, JonJon was finally in position and took firm hold of the unidentifiable appendage. As he did so, he quietly asked, "How dangerous is this for you?"

"There's been people who've suffocated themselves when they've spasmed like this. I heard a story about one guy who ate his own face... but I'm pretty sure that was just one of those urban legends." Lehman said before beginning to strain against JonJon's grasp.

"Is there some way to stop this from happening again?" JonJon asked as he fought to maintain his grip.

"Maybe. But the thing is, since I can't fully shapeshift anymore, I don't know if I'll be able to do enough to keep it from happening... hold tight. I think I've just about got it." Lehman said before giving a burst of effort.

As JonJon continued to hold the arm-like appendage, Lehman turned and twisted himself half over to reveal that his form was even less humanoid than it had initially appeared.

"But if you can't shapeshift anymore, what's this?" JonJon finally asked.

"I don't know." Lehman quietly admitted, then gently added, "You can let go now."

JonJon released the arm, then watched as Lehman's body slowly began to constrict and morph itself Into a vaguely humanoid form.

"Are you okay?" JonJon asked with concern at just how slow the transformation was.

"I think so. That just stretched some things that haven't been stretched in a very long time." Lehman said as his body continued to return to its usual shape.

"Is there anything I can do for you?" JonJon asked as his attention was drawn to Lehman's ample endowments.

Lehman followed his gaze and was amused by his brother's reluctant expression.

"Now that I'm not tied in a knot anymore, I should be alright. I'll probably just be sore for a few days." Lehman said wearily.

"Since you changed so much... does that mean that you've got your full shapeshifting ability back?" JonJon asked cautiously.

"I don't know." Lehman admitted, then his body began to change itself, more quickly than before.

In less than a minute, Lehman had reformed himself to become an exact duplicate of JonJon, in every detail, clothing and all.

"Can you be you again?" JonJon asked hopefully.

"I don't understand why some people get creeped out by looking at themselves." Lehman said with a chuckle as he easily transformed back to his resting form.

"I didn't mean for you to look like Vincent. I just wanted to know if you can go back to looking like your real self?" JonJon hurried to explain.

"I can go back to how I used to look and I can age myself up a little bit from there..." Lehman said as his body reformed again. His skin became blue and his eyes transitioned from brown to yellow.

"But this isn't the real you?" JonJon asked to be sure.

"It's probably pretty close. This is what I imagine that I would have looked like if I'd never left my homeworld. But since I've been locked into Vincent's form, that's who I really am now. It doesn't matter what I grew up looking like. I'll probably never be like that again." Lehman said honestly.

"Do you miss your home?" JonJon asked quietly as he sat on the edge of the bed where Lehman had been transformed.

"No. It's a miracle that I survived the time that I lived there. I'd never want to go back there again." Lehman said as he scooted to JonJon's side and hugged him.

"I won't ask you any more about it then." JonJon said quietly, then gently added, "But if you ever want to talk about it, I'll be here to listen."

"I know. That's part of why you're the one that I call when I need help." Lehman said frankly.

"So, does this mean that you can shapeshift again? And if you can, does that mean that you're all healed up from what those Okudai doctors did to you?" JonJon asked with concern.

"I don't know everything, but from the way I understand it, what they did was surgically change me so that I could hold someone else's form for a long time. If that's true, then what they did to me worked exactly the way it was supposed to, since I've been locked into Vincent's form ever since." Lehman carefully explained.

"But when Dr. Perry saved you, she put implants and things inside you to help you cope with what they did to you. I guess I was just wondering if you still need all the things that she did to you." JonJon quietly suggested.

"I don't know about that. If my body has healed up enough to take over some of those functions, then I probably need to have those things removed." Lehman said thoughtfully.

"Dr. Rudy could probably do that without too much trouble." JonJon quietly offered.

Lehman winced at the suggestion, then said, "It probably wouldn't be too bad to just leave the pumps and pacemakers right where they are. I mean, they're not hurting anything."

"We can't be sure that they didn't play some part in you being tied into a knot just now. And besides, even if it weren't for the implants, it'd probably still be a good idea for you to go and see the doctor, just to get checked out." JonJon said frankly.

"If I say no, are you going to tell the dads?" Lehman asked cautiously.

"I think it's better if you take responsibility for your own well being. The only way I'd tell anyone is if I thought that putting it off might cause you to permanently hurt yourself."

"Okay. Yeah. I'll do it, but you're going to have to go with me. I can be brave and force myself to do things that I don't want to do, but Dr. Rudy totally creeps me out." Lehman said honestly.

"He's never been anything but nice to Cheh and Hailey." JonJon reminded him.

"This doesn't have anything to do with facts, it's one hundred percent about feelings. He's condescending and creepy. If you won't go with me, then I'll ask the dads."

"You might think about asking them anyway. I know you might feel a little bit more comfortable with me there with you, but they don't really ask that much of us and it'd probably make them feel a lot better if we included them in stuff like this." JonJon said seriously.

"We're really lucky that they let us have as much freedom as they do. Just about anyone else that I can think of who agreed to be a parent would always try to be in the center of things and trying to control or 'protect' the kids from everything in the world. Cyril and Roger are just there when we need them."

"I'm not the best judge of how Humans think and feel, but it seems to me that because they allow us to make our own decisions so often that the times when we do ask for their help are that much more special to them." JonJon said thoughtfully.

"Yeah. Even though I know that I've thanked them a bunch of times for volunteering to be my dads, showing them that I appreciate them is probably the best thanks that I can give."

"Do you want to go and talk to them right now? I'll go with you." JonJon prompted.

"I guess there's no reason to put it off. Just give me a minute to change."

"Into who?" JonJon asked with a grin.

Lehman rolled his yellow eyes as they morphed to brown. Within a few seconds he was standing before JonJon, stark naked, looking like the mirror image of Vincent on the day that they had first met. Of course, his 'endowments' were as adult sized as ever, and like always, seemed out of place on his young body.

"Are you never going to get older?" JonJon asked with concern as he averted his gaze.

"Of course I'll get older, I just won't show it. I'm permanently locked into one form and as far as I know, it will be my resting form until the day that I die." Lehman said as he dressed in his regular clothes.

"So even when Vincent gets older, you'll still look this age?" JonJon asked to confirm.

"Yeah. That was the whole reason why those Okudai guys bought me from the orphanage and operated on me. They expected me to be locked into the Okudai Holy One's form and look like him for the rest of my life... which probably wouldn't have been more than a year or two from the way they had things planned." Lehman said as he took a moment to spread up his bed and generally tidy his room.

"Are you ready?"

"Yeah. I guess. I hope I don't regret this." Lehman said as he walked to JonJon's side.

"Have you received any messages from Hart lately?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"No matter how things turn out with Dr. Rudy, you can tell me all about all the exciting adventures that Hart's having and take your mind off of things here. You always seem to feel better when you read his messages." JonJon finished with a smile.

"He's not my boyfriend." Lehman said firmly.

"I never said that he was." JonJon responded.

"It's just the way that you said that, like thinking about Hart makes me happy or something, it's not like that. Well, I mean, it does make me happy, but we're just friends." Lehman tried to explain as they walked out of Lehman's house toward the street.

"Friends is good. I'm not saying anything bad about it." JonJon said slowly.

"Okay. I mean, I admire Hart for going and doing something instead of just dreaming about it. So there's that too." Lehman quickly added.

"Of course." JonJon easily agreed.

Lehman looked at his brother and smiled with accomplishment that he had been able to successfully get his point across.

"Besides. Who'd want to date a goofy looking guy like that anyway?" JonJon asked in a neutral tone as he fought to hide a smile.

"Goofy? Do you really think so?" Lehman asked with surprise, then explained, "Being able to change myself, I pay a lot of attention to people's shapes and coloring. Hart has a good masculine build and his dark hair and eyes in combination with his naturally tan skin is a generally pleasing combination."

"Maybe. But he's got those weird eyebrows..." JonJon began to say.

"His eyebrows stand out a little, but that's just because his hair's so dark. That's what gives him character." Lehman explained.

"I guess so. Maybe it's his snaggled teeth that put me off a little." JonJon said as he turned away from his brother to hide the fact that he was smiling.

"Snaggled teeth? His teeth are perfect! I mean, I guess to an android they might not look that way because they aren't all exactly lined up perfectly. But when he smiles, it's a real smile. It's not like the kind of smile that they use to sell you sugar puff cereal." Lehman said firmly.

"Okay. You win. Hart is cute." JonJon said as they approached the front of Roger and Cyril's house.

"I didn't say that!" Lehman barked.

"You totally did!" JonJon said with a laugh.

"No I did not! I was saying that his coloring... his eyebrows... his smile..."

"I told you." JonJon said as he led the way through the kitchen area toward the dining room.

"Well... we're still not boyfriends." Lehman said with a note of finality.

"No. But maybe when Hart comes back that will change. It might not hurt to be on the lookout for it." JonJon said frankly, then smiled when he saw Roger and Cyril sitting at the dining room table.

"Mycien said that you two were on your way. Roger made us breakfast sandwiches and pan fried Jushu chips." Cyril said as he spared a loving glance for his partner.

"I think your breakfast sandwiches are better than Korrigon's." Lehman said as he served himself from the platter in the middle of the table.

"For you to say that any of my cooking is on par with Mr. Korrigon's is quite a compliment. Thank you." Roger said sincerely.

"Do we not have any glurrah juice?" JonJon asked as he looked around.

"I forgot to grab it. It's in the refrigerated drawer." Roger said as he looked toward the kitchen area.

"Lehman? Do you want some too?" JonJon asked to be sure.

"Yeah. Thanks." Lehman said before popping another of the fried Jushu chips into his mouth.

"Anyone else?" JonJon asked as he started toward the kitchen.

"I think we're good with coffee, but thanks." Cyril said for both of them.

"So what have you boys been up to this morning?" Roger asked curiously.

Lehman looked up from his eating like a deer caught in the headlights.

It took him a moment to finish chewing his food and swallow, Lehman finally said, "I had a little problem this morning, kind of a muscle spasm."

"Was it a cramp?" Roger asked with concern.

"No. I don't think there's really a Human term for what happened to me." Lehman slowly answered.

"A seizure." JonJon said as he walked back into the dining area, carrying the juice and two glasses.

"You had a seizure?" Cyril anxiously asked Lehman to confirm his understanding.

"Something like that. It wasn't that bad, it's just a Chameloid thing." Lehman said uncomfortably.

"We were talking and Lehman said that he'd go to the doctor to see if the Federation implants that he has need to be adjusted or removed, since he's getting better." JonJon said seriously.

"I'm ashamed to say, that hadn't even occurred to me." Roger said remorsefully toward the boys.

"We didn't think about it either, at least, until he had his seizure thing." JonJon said frankly.

"The thing is, I don't want to go and see Dr. Rudy all by myself so I was wondering if one of you could go with me." Lehman hesitantly asked.

"I would be honored to go with you." Roger said without hesitation.

"There's probably not going to be that much to it, but I'll feel a lot better if you're there with me." Lehman said honestly.

"If it wouldn't be too upsetting for you, I would like to go with you as well." Cyril said seriously.

"But don't you have to be there to run the colony?" Lehman asked hesitantly.

"It's the weekend so officially I should have the day off. Besides that, Tor and the others can handle things for a while without me so that I can see to the well-being of my son." Cyril said simply.

"Thanks." Lehman choked out as he fought to keep his welling tears from spilling.

"Would you like to go with us, JonJon?" Roger asked hopefully.

"I can if you need me to, but I promised Benny that I'd help him in the Glurrah vineyard today." JonJon said honestly.

"No. That's fine. Thanks for being there when I needed you." Lehman said sincerely.

Although neither Roger nor Cyril asked what had happened, their concerned expressions prompted Lehman to explain, "When I had my 'seizure' or 'cramp' or whatever you call it, I kind of got twisted around and couldn't move. Mycien called JonJon for me and he helped me get untwisted."

"I'm so glad that you were able to call for help when you needed to. Thank you Mycien for taking such good care of us." Roger called upward.

"I feel honored to be allowed to play some small part in your families. It serves to offset some of the more mundane aspects of my job." Mycien said warmly.

"Rest assured that you are not only part of our families, but also an important part of our community, something that we have in common that keeps us similarly motivated and working for the common good." Cyril said firmly.

"Thank you, Cyril. I don't know that I've heard the sentiment articulated so concisely before. It pleases me not only to know that I have such a purpose, but also that my purpose is valued." Mycien said warmly.

"Does anyone have anything that they need to do before we go to the medical facility?" Roger asked as he looked around.

"Mycien, would you let Tor and the other council members know that I'm not going to be stopping in until later?" Cyril asked upward.

"Yes. Of course. Should they ask, would you like for me to tell them that it is a personal matter?" Mycien asked hesitantly.

"Let them know that I'm taking Lehman to the doctor for a checkup. I'm sure they'll understand." Cyril finished with a smile at Lehman.

"I plan to be working with Benny all day, so I'll see you at dinner." JonJon said as he stood from the table and gathered his dishes.

"Do you have your pendant?" Lehman asked curiously.

"Yes. I always wear it when I'm going to be in the vineyards. Do you have yours?" JonJon asked curiously.

"Not yet, but it's in my room here. I'm going to wear it so that if anything goes bad at the doctor's I can call you right away." Lehman said firmly.

"I think everything's going to be fine, but it will be good to know that if I start worrying, I'll be able to reach you, no matter where you are." JonJon said warmly to his brother.

"Yeah." Lehman said as he moved in for a hug.

JonJon was fighting not to drop the dishes he was holding when Roger rescued him and took the dishes away so that he could properly return his brother's hug.

* * * * *

"How can a doctor with one patient on the entire planet still have you sit forever in his waiting room?" Roger asked curiously.

"Mycien? Can you give us an idea of how much longer it will be before the doctor can see us?" Cyril asked hopefully.

"I'm afraid that I cannot reveal information about other patients." Mycien said regretfully.

"We're not asking who it is or what's wrong with them. We'd just like to know if it will be five minutes or five hours before the doctor can see us." Cyril explained.

"Although I am not qualified to make any manner of prediction I would nonetheless speculate that they will be finished in less than fifteen minutes." Mycien said very carefully.

"Thank you. That's all I needed to know." Cyril said as he settled back into his chair.

"Is it still just Dr. Rudy and Nurse Willingham working here?" Lehman asked curiously.

"Yes. Although additional medical personnel are scheduled to arrive on the Federation supply ship, due in later today." Mycien explained.

"That's excellent news. We've been worried that the colony might face a plague or some other catastrophic event and not have adequate medical staff for the task." Cyril said frankly.

"Hold on, Dad." Lehman said quickly to his side, then looked upward and asked, "Mycien, can you make holograms here, like you did at the restaurant?"

"Yes. Of course. Would you like for me to make a hologram of something for you?" Mycien asked curiously.

"Yeah, but not yet." Lehman quickly said to Mycien, then turned to his fathers and continued, "Don't do anything! I'll be back in just a second!"

"We're here for you to visit the doctor. I doubt very seriously that we're going to start without you." Cyril said after him as he dashed out of the waiting room.

"What do you suppose that's all about?" Roger asked cautiously.

"No telling. I'm just glad that he's not worried about seeing the doctor." Cyril said frankly.

"I'm not so certain. Him asking us to accompany him may mean that he is worried to some degree." Roger said thoughtfully.

"I'm glad that he asked. With both the boys being so independent, I sometimes worry that they might not feel comfortable asking for our help." Cyril said frankly.

"If you look back, you'll see that not only do they call upon us when they need our help, but they also choose to include us in potentially important events in their lives. That may be what's happening right now." Roger said quietly, then looked up with surprise when a tall lanky blue skinned boy with long auburn hair walked into the waiting room.

"So, what I was thinking was that when people like us come in and are waiting for someone to help them that maybe Mycien could do a hologram and talk to them, like person to person and maybe make them feel better about having to wait."

"Lehman?" Roger asked uncertainly.

"Yeah." Lehman confirmed.

"Why do you look like that?" Roger cautiously asked.

"I figured that Dr. Rudy was going to make me undress anyway, so I took off my 'real' clothes and put on these simulated clothes instead." Lehman explained.

"But why are you blue?" Roger asked, even more hesitantly.

"Because I wanted to show Mycien what I thought a good receptionist would look like. I just thought that if Mycien did a hologram like this, then it wouldn't feel fake, like he's pretending to be their species or something like that." Lehman said frankly.

"What do you think about that Mycien?" Roger asked curiously.

"I am not a biological being. I believe that I would feel disingenuous if I were to try and comfort or sympathize with patients in distress. I don't feel their pain or fear mortality." Mycien quietly explained.

"Yeah. And I can tell just how much that bothers you. Those people that you're worried about, they'll be able to tell too. But you don't have to pretend, just be honest. This way you could keep them company instead of letting them sit here alone with no way to know what's going on and no one to go through it with them." Lehman explained.

"Perhaps there will be someone to fill that position on the medical staff on the incoming transport ship." Cyril cautiously suggested.

"Maybe. But then again maybe there isn't. A low level job like that might not be filled for a long time, until things got so bad that you absolutely had to fix it. What I'm talking about isn't forever. I'm just saying that this seems like the right thing to do for now, maybe until someone better comes along to do it instead." Lehman said passionately.

"Why is this so important to you?" Roger asked with concern.

"I just... I know what it's like to be alone... I mean, really alone. I just want to help keep other people from going through that if I can." Lehman quietly explained.

"If we grant that for a moment, perhaps you could tell us why you are suggesting that Mycien replicate your current form as opposed to some other." Roger cautiously suggested.

"It's just so it wouldn't look like he was trying to be something that he's not. Looking like someone who's a whole other species makes it easier for people to talk about things, it makes them want to explain more because they know that you're not the same as each other." Lehman said honestly.

"I really hadn't thought about it, but that does sound reasonable." Roger admitted.

"If I copy your current appearance, wouldn't I still be pretending that I'm something I'm not?" Mycien asked curiously.

"I don't think so. I picked this form because it reminds me of someone who was kind to me when I was afraid. I don't think I ever knew his name, but this is what the face of kindness looks like to me. I guess I just thought that it could bring the same comfort to someone else that it brought to me." Lehman carefully explained.

"How is this?" A familiar voice asked from the doorway to the waiting room.

Everyone was stunned for a moment, but it was Lehman who finally said, "Mycien? You look great!"

"I hope you won't mind that I'm not adopting your mannerisms. I thought it would be better if I were to determine my behavior on a situational basis." Mycien explained.

"No. That's great! In fact, I think that's what us flesh and blood people do all the time. At least, that's how I do things." Lehman said happily.

Mycien's blue-skinned avatar looked upward for a moment, as if he were listening, then he turned to the others and said, "Doctor Rudy will be with you in just a moment. If you'll follow me, I will take you to an examination room."

Lehman began to shrink into his resting form, albeit in a clothed state.

"Does Dr. Rudy know about your holographic assistant yet?" Roger asked curiously.

"No. He has been occupied and I haven't wanted to interrupt."

"Do you think that giving your 'assistant' form a distinct name might make it easier for Dr. Rudy and Nurse Willingham to interact with you?" Cyril asked as they walked.

"How so?"

"That way they can let you know in what capacity they will be needing your help by which name they address you." Cyril said thoughtfully.

"Yes. That might be a good idea." Mycien's avatar said slowly, then turned to Lehman and asked, "Do you have any suggestions of a name?"

"Aldo." Lehman answered without hesitation.

"May I ask why you chose the name Aldo?" Roger cautiously asked.

"He looks like an Aldo, doesn't he?" Lehman asked his fathers seriously.

Neither man could dispute Lehman's assertion and followed along silently as they walked into the examination room.

* * * * *

"What do we have going on here today?" Dr. Rudy asked as he hurried into the room where the family were waiting.

"Do you want to explain?" Cyril asked his son gently.

Lehman appeared to be less than thrilled, but nonetheless began to explain the reason for his visit.

"I'm a Chameloid. I haven't been able to use my full shapeshifting abilities for three or four months. Last night I shapeshifted in my sleep without wanting to. I just wanted to get you to check me out to be sure that it's nothing to worry about." Lehman explained.

"Chameloid?" Dr. Rudy asked hesitantly.

"This could take a while." Cyril whispered to Roger conspiratorially.

Without giving any warning, Lehman shapeshifted to his blue-skinned form and let the illusion of clothing disappear.

"If nothing had ever been done to me, this is probably how I would have looked." Lehman explained.

"Speaking of which, Lehman underwent some rather intensive and experimental surgical procedures to try and reverse the effects of other barbaric surgeries that were performed on him. It would probably be a good idea if you familiarized yourself with his file before you start trying to determine what, if anything, is wrong with him."

"It sounds like this could take some time." Dr. Rudy said slowly.

"Oh, yeah, that reminds me." Lehman said quickly, apparently unaware that he was naked. "Since we had to wait in your waiting room and it was so boring, we kinda hired someone to help people when you can't get to them right away."

"You hired someone to work for me?" Dr. Rudy asked incredulously.

"To say we hired him is a bit of an exaggeration, but we did recruit someone." Cyril explained.

"Aldo? Do you want to show Dr. Rudy?" Lehman called toward the doorway.

A moment later the door opened and the holographic form of Aldo cautiously entered the room.

"Aldo can let your patients know how long they can expect to wait and schedule visits for you and all kinds of stuff like that." Lehman explained.

"You're another Chameloid?" Dr. Rudy asked cautiously.

"No. I'm a hologram. I am a physical manifestation of the colony AI." Aldo explained.

"You're Mycien?" Dr. Rudy asked confusedly.

"Yes. At least I am when I'm dealing with the business of the colony. When you need me in the capacity of a personal assistant and receptionist, I can manifest as Aldo and help you to help the people of the colony when they are most in need."

"So you're going to pretend that you're a person?" Dr. Rudy asked cautiously.

"No. I'm simply going to try to help people in the best way that I can. Lehman suggested that people might be more comfortable asking questions and receiving answers from someone that they can talk to and look in the eye." Aldo carefully explained.

"Yes. And besides that, many people are uncomfortable around AIs. This might serve to put them more at ease." Dr. Rudy said thoughtfully.

"I'm glad you think so." Aldo said sincerely, then asked, "Are you ready to examine Lehman now?"

Dr. Rudy looked at Lehman and quietly said, "You might want to put something on. It may be a little while before I'm ready."

Without a word, Lehman's body transformed back to his resting form and appeared to have 'grown' clothes.

"If nobody needs me for anything right now I'm going to step out." Aldo said to the group.

"Will you automatically appear if someone visits the lobby unannounced?" Dr. Rudy asked curiously.

"Yes. And if you have need of me for anything before that, my name is Aldo. Call my name and I will be here to help you." Aldo finished with a smile.

"Yes. I will. Thank you." Dr. Rudy said in astonishment as he watched Aldo walk out of the examination room.

"Is there anything that you need for us to be doing while you study Lehman's medical history?" Roger asked cautiously.

"If you'll bear with me for a moment, I'm probably going to be asking for your verification on certain points and perhaps some basic facts about the physiology, as well as cultural norms of the Chameloid people." Dr. Rudy said

Lehman lifted Cyril's arm and draped it over his shoulder. After a moment to snuggle into place Lehman smiled as he said, "Okay. I'm ready."

* * * * *

"How was the exam? Did everything go alright?" JonJon asked as he pulled Lehman into a hug.

"I guess so. You know how doctors are. They poke and prod, peek and probe, then they tell you that they have to wait for tests to come back before they know anything." Lehman said wearily.

"So he said that you're okay?" JonJon asked hopefully.

"No doctor has ever told someone that they were okay on their first visit." Lehman said frankly.

"So he said that he doesn't know?" JonJon cautiously asked.

"No doctor would ever say that either. They always know everything about everything except that they can't tell it to you until they've done tests and treatments and screwed around for a few months first."

"So how did it end up going with Dr. Rudy?" JonJon finally asked.

"I told him what was wrong with me, then I told him how I was feeling. After that, Dr. Rudy did some research, then told me what he thought was wrong with me and how he thought I was feeling." Lehman said sourly.

"So he didn't help you at all?" JonJon asked with concern.

"He listened and pretended to care. I guess that's something." Lehman finished with a shrug.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah. I didn't really expect him to do anything. I guess I just wanted to do it in case I wasn't healing right and in case what happened last night was a warning sign."

"You're really worried aren't you?"

"No. I'm just trying to be real. Things won't turn out a particular way just because I want them to. I think I'm probably okay, but there's a chance that I'm not. That's where I am. I guess if I had to name it, I'd call it being a little bit worried."

"Did having the dads there help?"

"Yeah. I mean, I don't think I worried any less, but for a little bit I kinda forgot to worry. That was nice."

"I bet that was nice. I'm sorry that I wasn't there for you."

"I know that if I needed you to be there all I'd have to do is call. Besides, it was nice to have the dads to myself for a little bit. It worked out great."

"Good. I felt a little guilty about it but I'd already promised Benny that I'd help him." JonJon said frankly.

"Is there still a lot to do? Maybe I could help you." Lehman suggested.

"We're going to have to wait and see. There are things to do, but Mycien called us in because Benny had an important message. That probably means that it's about his family. We'll need to wait and see what's happening before deciding what we're going to do next." JonJon explained.

"We're probably done for the day. Every time Benny gets a call from his dad he usually shuts himself down for a day or two." Lehman said thoughtfully.

"Let's see how things turn out. If it's really bad, we'll make sure to invite Cheh and Hailey over so we can feed them and cheer them up." JonJon said seriously.

"Just don't leave me alone with Hailey too much. I don't know why she thinks that she's my girlfriend, but she's always trying to hug me and hold me. It's really creepy." Lehman said frankly.

"Maybe in a year or two you'll change your mind and think it's nice." JonJon said with a grin.

"I don't know. I think that if I had to choose someone to date right now, it'd probably be Hart." Lehman said seriously.

"Do you think you're gay?" JonJon asked curiously.

"It's different for Chameloids. Male and female are just suits that you can put on. When we want to find someone to date, we look at who they are inside and decide if that's someone that we can enjoy spending time with."

"And you feel that way about Hart?" JonJon asked cautiously.

"Yeah. I think so. I'm not crazy in love or anything like that. But if Hart asked me if I wanted to be his boyfriend, I'd probably say yes." Lehman said frankly.

"And if Hailey asked?" JonJon asked with a grin, already knowing the answer.

"If she asked? She's already decided it and tells everyone she meets that I'm her boyfriend." Lehman said exasperatedly.

JonJon laughed, then said, "Just try not to be too hard on her, she's got some growing up to do. With her parents being in the hospital, she's got a lot going on in her life right now."

"I know. But she doesn't seem to pick up on subtle hints... or blatant ones. In fact, she's pretty good at ignoring anything that she doesn't want to hear."

"I suppose that as far as coping strategies go, that one might serve her well until her parents come home." JonJon said thoughtfully.

"Well, they'd better hurry up." Lehman grumbled.

* * * * *

A holographic viewscreen appeared in the room as a gentle tone sounded.

JonJon saw the silent image of Benny waiting for him to respond.

"Go ahead." JonJon said, prompting Mycien to connect the video call.

"JonJon, do you have time to come over?" Benny asked quickly.

"Are we going back to the vineyards?"

"No. I need your help to get things cleaned up." Benny said anxiously.

"You're always such a neat freak, I can't imagine your house ever being dirty." JonJon said frankly.

"Not my house, my parents' house." Benny quietly explained.

"Why? What's going on?" JonJon asked with the beginning of concern.

"My dad and my sister Callie are on the supply ship that will be arriving later today." Benny said in a small, hollow voice.

JonJon was stunned into silence, but finally recovered enough to say, "Lehman and I will be over in a few minutes to help you. Where do you want to meet?"

"My dad's main house. I need to get them food and make the beds..."

"We'll be right there. Don't worry. We'll help you." JonJon interrupted.

"I don't want for it to sound like I don't want them here, but I'm not ready. I thought that I'd have more warning." Benny fought to explain.

"Benny. Take a deep breath and try to relax. Maybe get Cheh and Hailey ready to help us." JonJon calmly suggested.

"But Mrs. Tengen said that she'd watch them for me..."

"Don't deny your younger sisters the opportunity to do something special for your dad and your big sister. Let them be part of this." JonJon said firmly.

Benny's holographic image froze long enough that JonJon was tempted to ask Mycien if he were having technical difficulties.

"Thanks JonJon. I'll go get them and we'll meet you at my dad's blue house." Benny said, considerably more calmly.

"We'll be there in a few minutes." JonJon assured him before hurrying away from the hologram.

* * * * *

"Lehman? Are you here?" JonJon called out as he knocked on the doorframe. It was something of a tradition when entering a house of Avalla design to announce oneself at the entry door of the public room, then if no one answered, to call again at the central hub.

"I'm in my bedroom... the blue bedroom. Come on in." Lehman called in return.

"Benny just called me. That call that he got was from his dad. I guess him and Benny's older sister, Callie, are going to be arriving on the supply ship later today." JonJon said as he walked into the bedroom.

"His dad didn't let him know that they were coming?" Lehman asked while attempting to evenly spread the comforter on his bed.

JonJon automatically moved to the other side of the bed to help him as he weakly said, "Maybe he was trying to surprise him."

"Sounds like a dick move to me." Lehman muttered as he looked over their handiwork.

"Way to call it like you see it, Vincent." JonJon said with a teasing grin.

Before Lehman could respond a little tuft of fur bounded onto the bed that Lehman had just finished spreading.

"Fizgig? What are you doing here?" Lehman asked as he immediately scooped the little dog into his arms and fussed over him.

"He was left on his own all morning while I was helping Benny, so I thought that I would bring him along while we're helping Benny get things ready for his dad's arrival." JonJon said honestly.

"It'll be great to have him along... but I don't know how much help he'll be..." Lehman trailed off with an apologetic expression.

"Hailey and Cheh are going to be helping too." JonJon added.

Lehman thought for a moment as he cuddled the dog, then said, "Yeah. Good call. Not just to give them a reason to leave me alone, but also because with their dad arriving, they might be nervous and Fizgig will be excellent at helping to distract them."

"That's what I was thinking." JonJon said honestly, then thought to ask, "Did you have anything else that you wanted to do here before we go to help Benny?"

"I was going to do my laundry, but I can do it when I get back or put it off until tomorrow." Lehman answered, then looked upward and asked, "Mycien? If I don't do my laundry tonight, will you remind me in the morning?"

"Yes, Lehman. I will be certain to do so." Mycien said formally.

"Thanks." Lehman said toward the ceiling, then in an apparent burst of inspiration asked, "Mycien, are either of the dads not busy right now and able to take a call?"

"While I am certain that neither would be bothered if you were to call them, both are engaged in activities at the moment." Mycien answered.

"I won't bother them then. Just leave a message for them to let them know that Benny's dad and older sister will be arriving later today. That way if something comes up later that we need their help for something, they'll have some idea of what's going on." Lehman said thoughtfully.

"Is that everything? Are we ready to go?" JonJon asked cautiously.

"Are you ready?" Lehman asked the dog in his arms.

Fizgig gave a decisive 'yip' in response.

"Then let's go." Lehman chuckled.

* * * * *

"Benny?" JonJon called into the main room of the house.

"Don't walk on the floor!" Benny called in panic.

"Do you want for us to cling to the ceiling or leave?" JonJon asked as he stopped in his tracks and waited.

"I just mopped the floor..." Benny said as he rushed into the room, then looked around for a moment before quietly continuing, "...it's dry."

"Yeah. It looks fine. Where do you need us?" JonJon asked cautiously.

"Um, Hailey and Cheh are working on getting the beds made right now and I've been making sure that all the rooms are clean. Maybe, if you wanted, you could go and buy some food. No one's been living here, so there's no food at all." Benny said anxiously.

"We don't cook. We wouldn't know what foods to buy." JonJon said reasonably.

"Actually, I usually just get what Mycien tells me to. Unless Hailey sees a cake that she wants or something, I buy what Mycien tells me to and then cook it according to his instructions." Benny said frankly.

"What about soaps and towels and stuff like that?" Lehman asked curiously.

"I didn't even think of that." Benny said in a stunned whisper.

"Mycien? Do you think you can help us buy the things that Benny's dad and sister are going to need when they get here?" JonJon asked seriously.

"I would be happy to help you." Mycien immediately answered.

"Good." JonJon said contentedly, then turned to Benny and said, "Don't even worry about it. You get the house all clean and ready for them and we'll see that they have food."

"Fizgig, you can't go shopping with us, so stay here and watch over things for us." Lehman said as he looked the little dog in the eyes, at least as much as he could with the dog's long hair.

Fizgig gave a bark of confirmation saying that the message had been received.

* * * * *

"Do you think it matters which store we go to?" Lehman asked as they walked toward the nearest transportal station.

"We'll need to go to the market for produce and to the bakery for bread. For most of the dry goods, we'll probably have to go to the different shops to see what they have." JonJon said slowly.

"If you tell me what you're looking for, I would be happy to tell you where to find it." Mycien's voice said from the pendants they were both wearing.

"We'll do that for some things, but I'm sure that while we're shopping we'll see other things that we need to get for them that we didn't think of before." JonJon said thoughtfully.

"Are we going to have any problem paying for this?" Lehman asked curiously.

"I'm not sure. I mean, they need the stuff and someone's going to have to buy it. But I don't know if we should ask Benny for the money or pay for it ourselves and talk to Benny about it later." JonJon said in a conflicted tone.

"If you would like, I could make some inquiries on your behalf." Mycien gently offered.

"Yeah. I think we might make some different decisions about what to buy when we know who's paying for it." Lehman said honestly.

"I am curious to know, do you think that you will buy more expensive or better quality products if you know that you are spending your own money as opposed to Benny's?" Mycien asked curiously.

"Maybe, yeah. If it was my money, I'd buy the things that I like. If it's someone else's money, then I'll try to buy stuff that's worth what you paid for it. Stuff that's just cute or nice they can buy for themselves." Lehman said thoughtfully.

"May I suggest that you purchase the practical items that will be needed regardless of personal taste, and if you find extraneous items that you believe they will enjoy, select them and ask that they be categorized separately so that you may purchase them... perhaps as a housewarming gift." Mycien carefully suggested.

"You know, I like the sound of that." JonJon said slowly.

"Yeah. Except that I don't have a job, so I don't make any money." Lehman said grumpily.

"As far as the Federation and the New Hope colony are concerned, you're looked upon as a child. You're not expected to earn money or to have your own accounts. If you want to buy something special for Benny and his family, your family will buy it on your behalf or help you to pay for it."

"But that doesn't seem right." Lehman complained.

"I know, but just stay with me." JonJon encouraged.

Lehman considered for a moment, then finally nodded his acceptance.

"You see, I've been working with Cyril ever since we were all on the Yorktown together."

"Yeah. Because you're older than you look and you don't have to go to school." Lehman said to verify his understanding of the reasoning.

"Right." JonJon agreed, then added more quietly, "Cyril and Roger provide everything for us. I don't have anything to spend my money on. I think I have every credit that I've ever earned, set aside, just waiting for me to do something with it."

"I'm not going to take your money." Lehman said firmly.

JonJon rolled his eyes, then slowly said, "I wasn't going to give it to you."

"Then what are you talking about?" Lehman asked cautiously.

"I was just saying that Benny or his family or the dads can pay for the regular stuff that we'll be buying. After that, you and I can pick out one or two special things as gifts from the two of us." JonJon said simply as they arrived at the transportal station.

"But you'd pay for it?" Lehman asked to confirm.

"Yes. And you'd help me pick out what we're getting them." JonJon said simply.

"What should we get?" Lehman asked eagerly, then pressed his destination coordinates in the transportal controls.

"I don't know. Whatever it is needs to be something for their enjoyment, some kind of a special treat." JonJon said thoughtfully.

Before Lehman could respond, they winked out of existence in a shower of rainbow sparkles.

* * * * *

Once the shower of sparkles faded to reveal another part of the colony, Lehman quietly asked, "You knew Benny and his family before New Hope, didn't you?"

"I don't remember anything from back then. From what little I've been able to piece together I think that Benny and I knew of each other at Kimber IV, but we weren't really friends or anything back then." JonJon said slowly as he started leading them away from the transportal station.

"Oh, right. I should have known that. I just asked because I've never met Benny's dad or his sister before, so I don't know what kind of things they'd like." Lehman said anxiously.

"I don't know either. But I guess that you can figure that they're humans so they'll probably appreciate the usual things that humans do." JonJon said weakly, apparently not fully believing his own words.

"The Android and the Chameloid are going to buy gifts for humans that they never met... What could go wrong with that?" Lehman finished with a giggle.

"You know how grateful Benny is when someone goes out of their way to help him. These people are probably the ones who taught him that." JonJon reasoned.

"Excuse me, but I thought that you would like to know before you begin shopping, that the purchase of essential items will be funded by the trust formed to care for Benny and his family." Mycien announced from both their pendants.

"Oh. Good. I wasn't sure how that worked." Lehman said honestly, then quickly asked, "Do you want to go in here first?"

JonJon looked at the shop that they were approaching, then said, "Let's get the dry goods first. We can pick up produce and baked goods last thing so that they'll be freshest and so that we can make a special trip for them if we've got too much to carry."

"If you have a large number of purchases I can either transport them for you or send a drone vehicle to gather your items and deliver them to the Summers' house." Mycien offered.

"Yeah. We'll probably end up doing that." JonJon said thoughtfully, then quickly added, "But I still want to do the baked goods last."

Lehman slowly nodded his agreement as they walked into a shop specializing in various and sundry hand-crafted household essentials.

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes: OH Goodie, a new chapter in New Hope.

It is so nice to hear from the folks at New Hope.

Well, in all honesty, I enjoy getting new chapters of any of MM's stories, so that shouldn't come as much of a surprise.

I didn't know about Lehman's spasm situation. Hope he's all right.

Thanks, MM for another awesome chapter. I can hardly wait for more chapters, whenever you can bring them to us.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher.