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Myself... In Shattered Reflection

Book 3: Bacaidhean

By MultiMapper
Copyright ©2002-2018 MultiMapper.
All Rights Reserved.
For full disclaimer and Copyright information visit Copyright/Disclaimer Page. Continuation of viewing this document is deemed acceptance of all terms on the preceding link. While these stories are provided for free, I would appreciate it if those who were able would consider contributing to this artist via my Patreon.

Chapter 12

When Agent Roberts arrived at the school, he still had no earthly idea of what his mission was.

As he walked down the hallway, he considered what possible reason a private school would have for requesting the presence of an FBI agent and furthermore, why he would be flown in, all the way from Kentucky, to investigate a case without being given any advance information of what it was about.

"Agent Roberts?" The woman behind the reception desk asked as he entered.

"Yes. I'm a little early. I hope that's okay."

"Of course. If you'll follow me, you'll be meeting in the conference room right over here. Please feel free to help yourself to refreshments. Someone will be joining you in just a minute."

"Thank you." Agent Roberts said as she conducted him to the meeting room.

* * * * *

Agent Roberts had been somewhat scattered trying to get everything done in time for his meeting and hadn't had the chance to get anything to eat. Fortunately, he had found the time to collect his luggage and rent a car before he had to be at his scheduled meeting.

After getting a cup of coffee and selecting a danish from the platter in the middle of the table, Agent Roberts took a seat and waited for whatever was going to happen next.

* * * * *

"Agent Roberts?" A man asked as he walked into the conference room carrying a briefcase.

"Yes." Agent Roberts confirmed as he stood.

"Please don't bother standing. Give me a second to get some coffee and I'll join you over there."

Agent Roberts took the man at his word and sat back down.

"By the way, I'm Aloysius Darroch. I'm the person you're supposed to be meeting with this morning." The man said as he poured himself a cup of coffee.

"I thought it was a little bit odd that I wasn't told who I would be meeting when I got here."

Mr. Darroch took the seat at the head of the table, to Agent Roberts' left, then said, "We felt that it would be better not to tell you what we were planning until a few more things had been finalized. Fortunately, in the interim, things seem to have come together so that now I should be able to fill you in on everything that you need to know."

Agent Roberts sipped his coffee and waited for the details of his mysterious assignment to be revealed.

"As you are aware, the South Seid barrier has recently been breached. That has brought to light the need to update and reinforce the barrier to prevent a repeat of such incidents."

"Excuse me Mr. Darroch, but I was under the impression that it was such a big secret that I would probably never hear about it again. I'm surprised to hear you speaking of it so casually."

"It is a secret. That's one of the reasons that you weren't told why you were coming here and who you'd be meeting with."

"Okay. I suppose that I can see the necessity of it, although I can't imagine why you'd want for me to be involved in anything to do with it."

"I'll get to that." Mr. Darroch promised, then continued, "At first we were simply intending to assemble a team to evaluate and reinforce the South Seid barrier. However, when we attempted to compose a list of prospective team members, we became aware of the serious lack of qualified practitioners in the necessary magical disciplines."

Agent Roberts nodded to indicate that he was following along.

"That's when we decided that since we have this opportunity before us, we should use it to our advantage. To that end, we've asked the administration of this school to recommend students with the best aptitude, power and emotional stability, to be invited to participate in this endeavor and learn these valuable skills."

"I still don't know what that has to do with me."

"Conrad didn't mention how impatient you are."

Agent Roberts couldn't help but notice the obvious name drop and decided to use it to fish for information. "I'm guessing that you're the 'mutual acquaintance' that Lowell mentioned to me."

"I'm acquainted with both Conrad and Lowell." Mr. Darroch confirmed, then continued, "But as to your part in our plans, we were hoping that you could go along as an impartial observer to assure that 'non magical' interests are represented in the decision making."

"Wouldn't Agent Fastbeck be a better choice? I mean, you've known him longer and you already know that you can trust him."

"His 'cursed' state makes him an undesirable candidate for this particular job. As much as we would like to include him, his role in things will have to be severely limited. "

"I'm still not buying it. There's nothing special about me, so the only reason I can think of that you'd want me along would be in my capacity as an FBI agent. If I agree to participate, what do you expect of me in that regard?"

Mr. Darroch smiled, then said, "You underestimate your own importance in the grand scheme of things."

"How's that?"

"From what I hear, you're a non magical person who knows about the Shadesiders, The Brynns and The Wudewas. There aren't many people who can say that."

Although what Mr. Darroch said was true, Agent Roberts couldn't help but feel that it still didn't add up. Something was still missing to tip the scale in his favor and make including him seem like a good idea.

"You've also been through the full course of military and FBI training, so you're aware of the legalities involved, should that become an issue while we're dealing with non magical people."

Agent Roberts slowly nodded, since he couldn't deny that he was familiar with such things.

"On top of all that, you've demonstrated that you're a decent and trustworthy person. Any one of those traits would make you worthy of consideration, but all of them combined make you the only real choice. To put it bluntly, there is no other non magical person that I'm aware of who could do this job."

"Okay. What is the job, again?"

"Basically, you're going to be there to keep an eye on the big picture and inject your 'non magical' point of view when you feel it's needed. One of the things you have to watch out for with using magic is that you can get lost in it. The joy of employing your craft and demonstrating your artistry can cause one to lose sight of the mundane side-effects when there's a great expression of magical power."

"So someone could become so fixated on creating their masterpiece, that they might lose sight of what the original purpose of the project was supposed to be?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.

"Yes. It's not something that we generally have to watch out for in our daily lives, but it can sometimes be a problem when we work on extremely big projects."

"Okay. Although I still don't know what you expect me to do about it, I understand needing someone along for the express purpose of maintaining a certain level of perspective."

"You'll be acting primarily as a liaison between your FBI office and our group. You're essential to this project because you can see things from all sides. All we're asking of you is to keep an eye on things and if you see something that seems like it's not right, question it."

A knock on the door caused both men to look in that direction.

The school's administrative assistant poked her head in and said, "The teachers are here, if you're ready for them."

"Yes. Thank you Janice. Please show them in." Mr. Darroch said pleasantly.

The woman withdrew, then three people walked in, two men and a woman.

One of the men was older, probably nearing sixty years old. The other two were probably closer to their early thirties.

"Please help yourselves to refreshments while I make introductions. This is Agent Roberts from the FBI. He's going to be joining your team for the upcoming project."

"Why do we need an FBI agent going with us?" The woman asked cautiously.

"He's stationed in the local area where you'll be working, so if nothing else, he can serve as a guide while you're there. But if the local authorities have questions about what a group of strangers are doing out in the middle of nowhere, he can exert his authority to help keep you from having to answer too many inconvenient questions." Mr. Darroch carefully explained.

The woman seemed to accept the answer as she waited for her turn at the coffee carafe.

"Agent Roberts, may I present Professor Everstone, Miss Oaken and Mr. Hansen." Mr. Darroch said as he indicated each in turn, then continued, "They're going to be responsible for the reinforcement and modification of the barrier."

"It's a pleasure to meet you." Agent Roberts said obligatorily.

As the group of teachers finished serving themselves, they settled into seats around the table and waited for the meeting to begin.

"All of you have been briefed on what we're going to be doing. Now that you've had time to think about it, have you decided on which students you think would benefit most from accompanying you on this project?" Mr. Darroch asked seriously.

Miss Oaken and Mr. Hansen looked to Professor Everstone to answer, since he was the eldest and most senior of the teachers present.

"I'm afraid that I've run into something of a problem with my selection of students." Professor Everstone said gravely.

"What might that be?" Mr. Darroch asked cautiously.

"To attempt a project of this scale, we're going to need students proficient in Sorcery, Wizardry, Thaumaturgy and adept at Natural Magic specializing in the Earth element." Professor Everstone said carefully.

"When I initiated this project, I was assured that we had an abundance of both teachers and students adept at those disciplines."

"Yes. That's true. We do."

"So, what's the problem?"

"It turns out that both of your sons ranked highly on the list of preferred candidates."

"But how can that be? Paul and G aren't even seniors yet."

"That's true. And while we have many promising students at the senior level, none of them have shown the adaptability that your sons have. To put it bluntly, the seniors would probably outperform both of them on any given exercise from the textbooks. But, given the choice, I would rather have your sons with me out in the 'real world', solving real problems."

"Paul is a demon summoner. I can't see his specialty being of any use to you in reinforcing a magical barrier."

"He may be a demon summoner, but that's not all that he is. He has demonstrated a variety of other talents including the ability to manipulate multiple spells simultaneously. That coupled with his specialized study of Alchemy makes him an ideal candidate for the team."

"As I'm sure you understand, I'm reluctant to allow Paul to participate in an activity where he might be endangered. He hasn't been my son that long. We're still getting to know each other." Mr. Darroch said quietly, then continued, "But if you honestly think he's the best candidate for the project, I won't object."

"Given what little I know of Paul, I would expect him not only to rise to the challenge, but to thrive as a consequence." Professor Everstone said frankly.

"Yes. That does sound like Paul." Mr. Darroch said with a smile of pride.

"As to the fitness of your other son, he has a remarkable natural talent for Sorcery and a strong work ethic. His illusions are, without exception, the best in his class. For this project, we are going to need someone who is dependable and can consistently produce satisfactory results."

"I get the feeling that G looks at his illusions as being of less value than Paul's achievements because they aren't tangible. There's no way I'd stand in the way of him being able to use his illusions for something that really matters."

"As to the other positions, I believe that the Wizardry component can best be filled by Miss Oaken's star pupil, Corabeth Knawld. Of all the high school students we have currently attending, she's the only one who has gained a level of proficiency in manipulating psionic force."

Agent Roberts noticed that Miss Oaken was nodding her agreement.

"Although Paul has many talents, he unfortunately does not have a talent for Thaumaturgy. While there are more advanced Thaumaturgy students in the senior year, I feel that it would be best for the project to include Filipe Pena on this journey to fill that role. By all accounts, he and Paul are used to working together and combining their talents. Where one falls short, the other seems to excel."

"Yes. Filipe has been over to our house several times. I've seen how he and Paul seem to inspire and energize each other."

"That leaves us to find students to manipulate Natural Magic and tap into the Earth Element." Professor Everstone said seriously.

"Do you have someone in mind for that?" Mr. Darroch prompted.

"I have to admit that I don't normally have cause to follow the goings on of the students of those disciplines. I believe that, in this instance, I should defer to my colleague, Mr. Hansen."

The expression of surprise on Mr. Hansen's face nearly made Agent Roberts break into a smile.

Before the silence could stretch on too long, Mr. Hansen said, "The manipulation of natural and elemental magic isn't usually seen as being financially viable in the modern world, so not many people choose to specialize in it. Zanner Sands is the only student that I have who actively seeks to master his practice of Natural Magic. All the others just do what they have to do to get a grade. As for the Earth Element, Dexter Mulryan is an Oriad. He was born with his elemental affinity. There really is no other choice."

"Dex is an Oriad?" Mr. Darroch asked with surprise.

"Do you know him?" Professor Everstone asked curiously.

"Yes. He's a friend of my sons'."

"That would explain his improved mood recently. I've been worried about him for quite a while now." Mr. Hansen said slowly.

"He seems like a good kid... a little quiet." Mr. Darroch added.

"I think it will do him a world of good to know that his specialty will be able to help people." Mr. Hansen said with satisfaction.

"Are we ready to call this the finalized list?" Professor Everstone asked as he looked around.

"We can discuss alternates if any of the named students can't accompany us." Mr. Darroch said decisively.

All those gathered seemed to be in agreement.

"Then I suppose that the next step should be to request parental approval for the students to be included in the project." Mr. Darroch said, mostly to Professor Everstone.

"Are we going to call this a field trip?" Miss Oaken asked cautiously.

"No. This will be presented as a 'Work Study' opportunity. If all goes to plan, the students will gain practical experience in using their various skills in real life situations." Professor Everstone told her frankly, then turned and asked, "Mr. Hansen, would you compose a list of students and ask Janice to contact their parents as soon as possible to gain their permission?"

"Yes Professor. I'll do that right away. Can I assume that I won't need to include Paul and G on that list?"

"They should be included on the list." Professor Everstone said consideringly, then added, "But also make sure that they're checked off as having received the required permission."

"Yes Professor." Mr. Hansen said as he began to write.

"So, the next order of business will be to determine when we'll be doing this." Mr. Darroch said professionally.

"Considering the supplies that will need to be gathered, I would think that we could be ready to leave as soon as day after tomorrow." Professor Everstone said speculatively.

"Pending parental approval." Miss Oaken interjected.

"That shouldn't be much of an issue." Mr. Darroch said thoughtfully, then explained, "As a parent, even though I'm reluctant to allow my sons to travel outside my sphere of influence, I appreciate that they have achieved enough to be considered for this special opportunity. I think that any parent will want to do what's best for their children."

"Excuse me if I'm speaking out of turn here..." Agent Roberts cautiously interjected. "...but what are you going to tell the parents that their children will be doing on this 'Work Study' project?"

"The truth... we're just going to leave out one inconsequential detail."

"Which is?"

"Who's living inside the colony that we will be securing."

"Are the kids going to be sworn to secrecy about it?"

"Of course. But you have to understand that our children have been raised to keep secrets. They attend school with non-magical students every single day. One more secret isn't likely to be much of a problem."

"I hope you're right, because you might be endangering the futures of the people you're trying to help... possibly even their survival."

"Tell me, Agent Roberts, before encountering us, in all your military experience and FBI training, did you ever come across anything that would indicate that 'real' witches exist?"

"Well, no."

"We can keep secrets."

"So you don't feel like you need to be careful?"

"We're as careful as we need to be and we know who we can trust." Mr. Darroch said simply.

"If everything's settled, perhaps we should invite Mrs. Bright to join us." Professor Everstone suggested.

"Yes. I think that's a good idea. She's been very accommodating and should be included in as much of the planning as possible." Mr. Darroch agreed.

"I'll get her." Mr. Hansen said as he stood, carrying his list of students.

Agent Roberts watched him go and wondered, not for the first time, just what he had gotten himself into.

* * * * *

"Marsha, you know everyone else. Allow me to present Agent Roberts from the FBI."

"It's a pleasure to meet you." Marsha said cautiously.

Mr. Darroch smiled at her reaction, then continued, "Thank you for setting all this up for us. We appreciate all the trouble you went to."

"Since you've asked me to join your meeting, can I assume that you've come to some decisions?"

"Yes. As I explained earlier, we've discovered that a hidden site has been compromised, so we're recruiting some of your staff to help us secure it. It turns out that there are very few people available with the necessary experience, so we would like to take a group of students with us to teach those important skills to a new generation."

"I don't think that will be a problem. That's our mission statement, practically word-for-word. What can I do to help you?"

"I've already discussed this with your staff and they've given their recommendations as to which students have the skills and training to make use of what we're going to attempt to teach them. Janice is probably calling parents right now to get their permission for their children to participate in the work study project. We still need to arrange travel, lodgings and transportation for when the group arrives in Waxell."

"Excuse me." Agent Roberts quietly interrupted. As soon as he was sure that he had their attention, he continued, "There aren't any hotels or motels anywhere near Waxell. You can rent rooms in Gooseneck or Grover's Station but then travel time to the location will nearly double and may be an issue."

"I didn't have to rent a room when I was there, so I never had to deal with that." Mr. Darroch said slowly.

"There's a boarding house, but I doubt that Mrs. Shumlin could take in so many at once. I have several unused bedrooms at my house that you'd be welcome to. The only problem is that the rooms haven't been used for a number of years and I have nowhere near enough bedding for everyone."

"We could ask everyone to bring sleeping bags with them, if you think that would work."

"The rooms are plenty big enough. If people won't mind sharing, I should have enough room."

"I'll be sure to get in touch with everyone and let them know before we leave."

"Be sure that everyone brings hiking gear. It's a challenging hike to the location."

"I'll let everyone know..." Mr. Darroch was saying when his phone began to ring.

Mr. Darroch looked at the caller ID before saying, "Jai, this is D, what can I do for you?"

Agent Roberts listened for a moment, then heard Mr. Darroch say, "Actually, I do know about that. Both my sons have also been chosen for the work study."

During the pause in Mr. Darroch's conversation, Mr. Hansen made his way back into the room and quietly took his seat.

Mr. Darroch then continued, "I think that this might be good for him. Maybe being able to accomplish something on his own will help him to build his self confidence."

"I understand your concern, but Paul and G won't allow anyone to treat him badly."

"No. I haven't talked to them about it yet, but I'm sure that they'll be interested. Listen, I'm in a meeting right now. Why don't you and Pam bring Dex over to the house for dinner tonight? If you have any questions, I'll do my best to answer them at that time."

After a brief silence, Mr. Darroch smiled, then said, "I'll see you then. Goodbye."

As Mr. Darroch disconnected the call, he looked around the room and explained, "That was Dex's father. He's a little overprotective."

"Should we consider an alternate for Dex?" Professor Everstone asked thoughtfully.

"I'm reasonably sure that Jai will let Dex go with us, but it wouldn't hurt to have someone else in mind, just in case." Mr. Darroch said frankly.

"If it comes down to it, I have the necessary skill and knowledge to do his part of the spell myself. Just understand that me doing it will take considerably more time. But, if possible, I would much rather use this unprecedented opportunity as a teaching experience for Dex." Mr. Hansen said earnestly, then explained, "He might not ever get another chance to use his earth affinity to it's full benefit."

"For now, let's just plan on Dex attending. I think that if I can assure Mr. Mulryan that Dex will be kept safe, that he'll let Dex be included."

"If we have no other pressing matters that require my attention, I need to get back to my students." Mr. Everstone said seriously.

"What I'd like to do next is bring the students in and briefly explain what we're intending to do, so that they'll be able to share that information with their parents. You can stay for that if you're interested, but I think that I can handle it myself if you have other duties."

"As much as I would like to stay for that, I also have other things that I need to be doing right now." Miss Oaken said regretfully as she stood.

"While there are other things that I could be doing, I don't want to miss it when you tell Dex about this opportunity." Mr. Hansen said with a smile.

"I'll call the students to the office. It shouldn't take long for me to track them down." Marsha said as she got up from her chair.

Agent Roberts watched as everyone but Mr. Hansen and Mr. Darroch left the room.

Once they were gone, Agent Roberts turned to Mr. Darroch and quietly asked, "Is there any reason for me to be here right now?"

"If you have something else that you need to be doing, I'll understand. But if not, I would appreciate having you present as a witness to these events."

"Why would you need a witness?"

"Sometimes life is messy and things refuse to go to plan. If things end up going that way, I'd like to have an impartial observer present who is aware of everything that's going on at each stage of things. If nothing else, you'll be witness to what was promised and what was agreed to."

"I was only told to come here for this meeting. Do you know if I'm supposed to fly right back to Kentucky or if there's something else for me to do here?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.

"If you're talking about your 'official' job, this meeting was the only event scheduled. You can return to Waxell right away if you feel the need to, but I was hoping that you might be willing to delay that and go with the group to serve as their guide." Mr. Darroch said carefully.

"But I can go back now and act as their guide when they arrive." Agent Roberts said simply, then slowly asked, "What else are you hoping that I'll do between now and the time the 'Work Study' group leaves?"

"I can see why you're with the FBI." Mr. Darroch said with a grin, then continued, "As much as I would like to go with you, I have other commitments that require my presence. It was my hope that you could function as a stabilizing influence for the group.

"While the teachers are all excellent role models, they also have a particular mindset when it comes to magic. I can see you being the perfect counterbalance, not only for the project, but also for the children. They'll be able to look at you and see someone who can stay focused on the job without getting lost in the spectacle of it."

"So you want me to be a babysitter?" Agent Roberts ventured.

"No!" Mr. Darroch laughed, then explained, "I just want for you to stay focused on the job at hand. And if, at some point along the way, some of the children notice what you're doing, maybe you could help them understand the importance of maintaining focus and seeing a job through to its conclusion."

"So you want for me to be a role model?"

"Yes. I suppose that's part of it." Mr. Darroch said consideringly.

"Why would you want for a normal human to be a role model for a witch?"

"Because you have admirable character traits. I noticed the same thing with Conrad. Maybe it comes with the FBI training, I'm not really sure. But all I'm really asking is for you to be yourself and do your job."

"That would be a lot easier if I had a job to do. You just want for me to stay here and wait around for however long it takes to get your 'Work Study' project ready to go?"

"I suppose that's true on the surface, but during that time you can also be getting to know the different members of the group and observe how they work together. The better you understand the individuals and how they can best function as a team, the better our chance for success."

"You talk almost like I'm going to be in charge of things." Agent Roberts said cautiously.

"No. Professor Everstone will be in charge. He's the one who will be coordinating all the work on the barrier. But when it comes to things like lodgings, food, transportation, hiking to the location and probably a dozen other things that I'm just not thinking of, it's going to fall to you to take charge. You have the knowledge of the area as well as a level head and the organizational skills to make the project a success. If you'll take a moment to look at it, I think you'll agree that you will be able to make a significant contribution."

"So you're saying that I'll be in charge of everything except the magic. Is that right?"

"I can't predict how things will go when you're actually out there. But I can't imagine things going nearly as well sending a team from here into rural Kentucky without someone from the local area to help them with the practical matters."

"And why is it that you chose me instead of Agent Fastbeck, again?" Agent Roberts asked cautiously.

"He's cursed. But beyond that, he carries the ability to bestow a curse. I wouldn't want to have him anywhere near the barrier site when a massive magical enchantment is being cast. It's impossible to predict what might happen if somehow the magic being used were to interact with him."

"Okay. That makes a lot more sense."

"When you arrive, Conrad will need to explain your mission to the Wudewas elders. But after that, it would probably be best if he's involved as little as possible."

"Is the curse something that I need to worry about when I'm around Agent Fastbeck?"

"No. It's only an issue under very specific conditions. It just so happens that those conditions are likely to be present when the barrier is reconfigured."

"Are you ready to talk to the students?" Marsha asked from the doorway.

"Yes. Thank you. Please send them in." Mr. Darroch answered.

Agent Roberts watched as a group of young teenagers filed into the conference room.

"I had a feeling that it was you." A skinny boy with dark hair and eyes said with a grin.

Even if Agent Roberts hadn't been told that Mr. Darroch's sons were among the chosen few, he would have made the connection. The skinny boy's coloring and features were virtually identical to those of Mr. Darroch. However, if one of the others were his other son, there wasn't enough of a family resemblance to make it obvious.

"Psionic force, Sorcery, Thaumaturgy... and Nature Magic?" A boy with medium brown hair and eyes said speculatively as he looked around, then thoughtfully continued, "It's a barrier problem, isn't it?"

Agent Roberts was frankly impressed by the boy's deductive reasoning skills.

"That's right." Mr. Darroch confirmed, then continued, "We were hoping that if you're willing, you could work as a group to help us fix it."

"Are Cain and Deimos alright?" Mr. Darroch's son asked suddenly.

"They're fine. You don't need to worry about them. This is something else." Mr. Darroch immediately assured him.

"Something's not right here. If there's a barrier failing, why would you get a bunch of kids together to try and fix it? What's really going on?" The medium brown haired boy asked suspiciously.

"If you'll hold on for one minute, I'll tell you." Mr. Darroch said indulgently to the boy, then said more toward the whole group, "Everyone, I'd like for you to meet Agent Roberts from the FBI."

"Another FBI agent?" The boy asked cautiously.

Mr. Darroch let the question go without comment and continued, "Agent Roberts, may I present your prospective team. I assume that this young lady is Corabeth, she will be performing the necessary Wizardry. Next to her is my son, G, who will be providing the needed Sorcery."

Agent Roberts was not at all surprised to confirm that the dark haired boy was indeed Mr. Darroch's son.

"Next to G is Filipe, who will serve as our Thaumaturge. Assisting Filipe will be my son, Paul, who may have the opportunity to use some of the Alchemy that he's been studying."

Agent Roberts took a good long look at Paul. He still couldn't see any family resemblance, but when he considered the quick wit and dominant personality that the boy appeared to have, he couldn't deny that he seemed to be the perfect son for Mr. Darroch.

"I'm assuming that the platinum blond is Zanner, our specialist in Natural Magic and last but not least, the redhead is Dex, our expert in the Earth Element."

"So what's the story? If there's a barrier failing somewhere, why would you ask us to take care of it?" Paul asked firmly.

"Who would you rather I ask?" Mr. Darroch asked in return.

"There's probably about a dozen or so teachers just here at the school who could do it." Paul said immediately.

"I suppose that's true, if you're only looking at magical ability. But if you narrow it down to those with the specialized knowledge and training, you end up with less than ten. And mind you, not all of those are physically able to make the trip to the remote location to enact the ritual."

Paul seemed to be at a loss to refute Mr. Darroch's explanation.

"As Paul has rightly deduced, there is a barrier that is in need of upgrading and reinforcement. When we attempted to gather a team to rectify the situation, we came to the realization that we are disturbingly low on qualified personnel to deal with such a circumstance. It is for that reason that we've assembled your group so that we can take you into the real world to do a real job. Of course you'll have teachers with you to guide you, but they won't do the job for you. We're depending on you... an entire colony of people will be depending on you to protect them." Mr. Darroch finished gravely.

After a moment to process what Mr. Darroch had said, Paul slowly asked, "What about the FBI agent? I don't get why he's going along."

"Agent Roberts is one of the main reasons that the colony still exists. He and Agent Fastbeck were instrumental in preventing outsiders from exposing or destroying the colony. It's thanks to their work that we were even notified that there was a problem."

Paul's appraising glance seemed to peer right through Agent Roberts' soul.

"There are several more reasons that I'd rather not get into right now, but suffice it to say that Agent Roberts has an important part to play in this endeavour.

Agent Roberts noticed that the redhead, Dex, had moved past Zanner to say something to Paul quietly.

"Is there a problem?" Mr. Darroch asked cautiously.

"Dex doesn't think that his parents will let him go." Paul said simply.

"I invited Dex's family to dinner at our house tonight. Maybe with your help, we can convince his parents that he'll be kept safe."

"When are we going to be doing this?" Filipe asked cautiously.

Agent Roberts looked at the Hispanic boy and realized that he appeared to be a year or two younger than all the rest in attendance.

"We're still making those arrangements; probably in the next day or two. I'll see that everyone is emailed as soon as we're committed to a time and date."

Agent Roberts was impressed as he realized that all of the students were taking the meeting very seriously.

"In the meantime, it's been suggested that everyone might want to be sure that they have sleeping bags and hiking gear."

"We're going to be camping?" Corabeth asked with a look of obvious distaste.

"No. At least, we're not planning on it. But Agent Roberts has offered to allow you all to stay at his house during this project. While he has enough rooms for everyone, he doesn't have enough bedding... hence the need for sleeping bags."

"And the hiking gear?" Corabeth asked slowly.

"You'll have to hike to get to the location. It would kind of defeat the purpose of having a hidden compound if there were a road running right up to it." Mr. Darroch said frankly.

"But there's a road that runs..." G began to say, but was stopped by a quelling glance from his father.

"There's just one more thing. What we're going to be doing is a secret. I'm sure that if you tell your parents that you're going to be included in a Work Study program at school and that you won't be able to talk about it, that they'll understand. These things occasionally happen. It's one of those things that everyone knows, but nobody talks about."

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes: This is really exciting. Talk about tying things together, this is so cool. I can hardly wait to see what will happen. If somehow this is your first time reading in this series of stories, I do suggest you check back and start at the beginning. This story arc seems to be bringing things together and knitting the various elements into a more inclusive container for all the separate factors.

This is going to be great.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher!