"Can I get you anything?" Lucas asked gently.
"No. I'm fine." Jay quietly responded.
Jamiah looked up curiously at the response then cautiously said, "We've been here a couple hours. Maybe we should go to the cafeteria and get something to eat. If Lucas promises to stay here and call us if anything happens, then you'll know that you aren't going to miss anything."
"I'm fine." Jay repeated, then wearily smiled at Jamiah before saying, "You should probably get used to calling him 'Dad'."
"No. Not until the judge says the words over us."
"How many days until your hearing?"
"Seventy-eight." Jamiah answered immediately, then quietly asked, "Are you sure that you don't want to get adopted, too?"
"No. Lucas and Gordon have already said that I could keep on being their foster son. I'm in a good place right now. I don't want to change anything."
"I guess I can understand that. Most of why I want to get adopted has to do with Loquicia. She needs 'real' parents. I've done as much as I can but... well, she deserves more."
Lucas overheard their conversation and quietly interjected, "You've done a good job watching out for her. Now, I think it's time for you to relax and allow someone else to take care of things."
"I'm here with you while Loquicia is at home with Gordon. That never would have happened two weeks ago."
"Yes. You're right. You've come a long way. Thank you for trusting us."
Jay closed his eyes as a fresh wave of concern washed over him. He fought to understand within himself how Carson had become such an important part of his life so quickly.
As he opened his eyes and looked across the room, he saw Carson's family gathered together and felt just a little bit better, knowing that he wasn't the only one who was consumed with worry.
* * * * *
Oleksandr was listening to the Chicago news broadcast while simultaneously skimming through news reports from various sources, looking for any keywords to alert him to possible information that they had not yet catalogued.
Most times Ben was at his side, researching and cross-referencing to be sure that no detail escaped their notice. However, with Thanksgiving upon them, Dax had asked for Ben's help to provide the best Thanksgiving possible for the people that his father had entrusted to his care.
Every time Oleksandr had visited 'Little Chicago' in the past few weeks, he had been amazed at how much they had been able to accomplish.
It didn't bear the slightest resemblance to the suburban community that it had started as. No matter which way you turned, every street had shops and displays of merchandise. All of Kettle Falls and Colville had come to depend on the artisans and craftsmen of 'Little Chicago'.
"Excuse me, Oleksandr. I have an incoming audio message for 'Mr. Rodchenko'." Dizzy said quietly as he automatically muted the radio stream.
"Did you tell them that they need to text their questions to me?" Oleksandr asked without looking away from the computer screen.
"Yes. But he said that he doesn't have a keyboard, he is contacting you by radio. He also mentioned that he spoke to you in person yesterday, in front of the school."
"Did he give his name?"
"I'll talk to him. Put him through." Oleksandr said as he minimized the text window that he had been working on.
"Mr. Rodchenko?" Colonel Kuznetsov asked uncertainly. The audio was muffled and staticy. Oleksandr had to strain to be able to hear.
"Yes. But please call me Oleksandr. How can I help you, Colonel?" Oleksandr responded in Russian, knowing that Colonel Kuznetsov was uncomfortable speaking English.
"I should explain, we have been informed about the proper procedure to follow when encountering refugees in need of aid. We were told to report their location and move on. But I fear that there are members of this group who may not be able to wait for aid to be dispatched in the customary manner. I was hoping that, given your notable position, you might be able to use your influence to have medical aid dispatched sooner."
"Go ahead and tell me what's wrong."
"Three members of their party have suffered gunshot wounds. Their party has also been without food for over a week and some are suffering from dysentery."
"Can you give me your location?" Oleksandr asked as he opened another window.
"I collected that information before connecting you. The coordinates are on your screen." Dizzy interjected.
"Never mind, Colonel. I have it. Go ahead, how big is the group?" Oleksandr asked as he began to type.
"Thirteen; Five adults and eight children."
"We can handle that. Tell me about the ones who were shot. I need to know their names and what injuries they have."
"A moment. I will need to ask."
Oleksandr finished typing his message to his contact at Fairchild Air Force Base and sent it, along with a note that more information would be forthcoming.
"The injured adult is identified as Sergeant Cooper of your United States Army. He has two bullet wounds to his upper chest and one in his lower right leg. He is weak and barely conscious."
"Can you give me his first name or his ID number, if he's wearing dog tags?" Oleksandr asked as he brought up Dizzy's main interface so that he could more easily perform searches.
"His first name is Darin. He is not in uniform, nor does he appear to have any identification. His cousin is present and although he does not know Sergeant Cooper's ID number, he is willing to provide any information that he has."
"What's his cousin's name? That might be all I need to know." Oleksandr asked as he watched Dizzy filling in the information on his screen as Colonel Kuznetsov disclosed it.
"The cousin's name is Doctor Ronald Cooper. Neither he nor the other doctor present are medical doctors. Both are academic doctors of psychology."
"Thank you, Colonel. That was enough to identify both of them. What was the name of the other doctor?"
"Dr. Michael David Galindo-Ortiz Junior."
"Yes. They are all from Tallahassee."
"Okay. I've got that. Would you go ahead and tell me about the others who are injured?."
"Excuse me, but would it be possible to dispatch aid for them before we continue?"
"I'm waiting on Fairchild Air Force Base to reply to me. They have the coordinates and should have a team in the air in the next few minutes. While they're doing that, I'd like to get as much information as I can so that the medics will be prepared to give aid as soon as they arrive."
"Forgive me. Of course, you are familiar with such things. I am simply concerned for their wellbeing."
"There's nothing wrong with that. Now, will you go ahead and tell me about the next injured person? I need full names and ages and I need to know how bad they're hurt."
"The first is Brian Wilson Grant, age 12. He has one gunshot wound to his right leg. The bullet passed through and the leg has been bandaged. Although I believe that he would benefit from medical care, I would not classify his condition as being 'critical'."
Oleksandr watched as Dizzy filled the name in on the screen, then the rest of the boy's personal information filled in after it.
"Got it. Go ahead."
"The remaining victim is Dianne Marchand, age 15. She has a gunshot wound to her upper left arm. I have been told that she, too, had the bullet pass through. However, in her case it was necessary for them to use a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. From what little I know of such things, it may not be possible for the doctors to save the arm."
This time Dizzy had the information filling the screen before Colonel Kuznetsov was finished speaking.
As Oleksandr was about to respond, he saw a text message come up on his screen.
"Colonel Kuznetsov, I've just been notified that an air rescue unit has been dispatched to your location. Expect it in about eighteen minutes."
"Just a moment. I will inform them."
While he was waiting, Oleksandr quickly composed a text message for the Kettle Falls hospital, alerting them that they had incoming patients and giving a brief overview of the injuries.
"Thank you, Mr. Rodchenko. They are relieved to know that their rescue is close at hand."
"Before you go, can you tell me about the other people? That way I can try to set up places for them to stay."
"Allow me a moment to ask."
Oleksandr opened the housing menu, then waited for Colonel Kuznetsov to return.
"Next we have Emily Jane Fields, Age 15... apparently she prefers to be called 'Dog'."
The screen filled with her biographical information and Oleksandr dryly said, "She sounds like fun."
"No. Not by any definition of the word that I am familiar with." Colonel Kuznetsov responded dryly, also in Russian, then continued, "Andrew Lee Hendrix, Age 14, who goes by 'Hendrix'."
Oleksandr watched the screen fill with information, then said, "Next?"
"Daniel Emerit Pratt, Age 12."
The entire screen filled in with information which scrolled off the page as soon as Colonel Kuznetsov finished saying the name.
"Kevin Martin, Age 16."
"Michael Lavelle Sampson, Age 13, wishes to be called 'Mike'."
"And the last is Princess Todd, Age 14."
"Princess? Is that her real name?" Oleksandr asked, but before Colonel Kuznetsov could answer, the screen before him filled with information.
"Never mind. It is. Wow. What a name to hang on a kid." Oleksandr said with a shake of his head.
"I believe it suits her."
"Didn't you say that there were five adults? I've only got three."
"Oh yes. Forgive me. The remaining two adults are Andrew Holiday and Agnes Usher."
"What are their ages... never mind. I've got it."
"I will await the arrival of the air rescue team before continuing on with my mission. Thank you for your help, Mr. Rodchenko."
"If you come back through Kettle Falls, make sure that you stop in and talk to me. That way I can fill you in on how your rescuees are doing."
"Thank you. I will look forward to that time."
"Now I'd better get to work finding places for these people to live and stuff. Be sure to call me if you need anything else."
"Yes. You can be assured of that. Kuznetsov, out."
"Rodchenko, out." Oleksandr responded, then started going through the files before making any decisions about what to do next.
* * * * *
"Deb, why don't you go back to the house? I can wait here and call you as soon as there's any news." Ryan asked as he looked at his wife with concern.
"There's no way that I'm going to be able to focus on anything except worrying about Carson."
"I understand that, but I'm just concerned that it might not be good for the boys to be here for eight or ten hours, in a constant state of tension."
Deb glanced at Tommy, Mikey and Ty before saying, "You're right. Maybe helping with the Thanksgiving preparations will take their minds off of it for a while."
"Even if it doesn't, I still think that it will be healthier for them to be at home where they can be active and feel free to verbalize their feelings."
Deb smiled at her husband. Although he seemed to be carefree and oblivious most of the time, she knew that it was mostly an act. He analyzed things, both professional and personal, very carefully and made the conscious decision to tackle only those things that actually mattered to him. The rest he would disregard and leave for others to worry about. From the outside, it looked as though he didn't care. In actuality, he cared deeply, but only devoted his energy to the things that he could affect and the things he believed would be worthy of his attention.
"Come on, boys. We're going back to the house." Deb said as she stood.
Tommy, Mikey and Ty all looked up with matching expressions of surprise.
"There's nothing that we can do to help Carson and we've got guests at the house expecting a Thanksgiving dinner."
"Can't I stay here? I never had a brother to worry about before and I want to be here for Carson." Ty asked urgently as he looked at Ryan, begging with his eyes.
As Deb tried to formulate an explanation of why that wouldn't be a good idea, Ryan quietly said, "I don't see any problem with that."
Deb looked at Ryan uncertainly.
"I might need the emotional support."
Deb glanced at Ty, then seemed to accept the explanation.
"Will you ask Nanny to save me some Thanksgiving dinner?" Ty asked Deb hopefully.
"We'll be sure to have a full dinner saved for you both and another set aside for Carson to enjoy as soon as he's able to come home." Deb gently assured him, then gathered him into a hug and gave him a kiss on the cheek before leading Tommy and Mikey out of the waiting room.
* * * * *
"Oleksandr, it appears that I have multiple hits regarding a member of the party that is being rescued." Dizzy announced.
"Yeah. I just saw that. Have you contacted them yet?" Oleksandr asked as he quickly read through the listing of people who had submitted the requests.
"I have attempted to do so. However, I have not received a response from any of their residences."
"Would you go ahead and place a call to Allen Thompson's house?" Oleksandr asked as he quickly scanned the latest news developments to be sure that there wasn't anything urgent needing his attention.
"Thompson residence. Jorry speaking."
"Hi Jorry, this is Oleksandr. Do you know if Ben or JD or Jody are there?"
"JD's in the kitchen, but he's probably up to his elbows in the turkey right now. I'll get you Ben." Jorry answered, then there was a clatter as he put down the phone.
Oleksandr smiled at the action as he waited for a text response from the hospital, letting him know that they would be ready to receive incoming patients.
"Oleksandr? This is Ben. What can I do for you?"
"You asked Dizzy to keep watch for a friend of yours, in case he came to Kettle Falls. I just called to let you know that Dr. Ronald Cooper is on his way here."
"Really!? That's great! How is he?"
Before Oleksandr could respond, he heard Ben calling out, "Boys! I just got word! Mr. Cooper's on his way here!"
"Some members of his group were injured, but from what I've been told, Mr. Cooper is fine."
"Oh my God! Were any of the kids hurt?"
"Yes. I don't know how bad, but they're being airlifted directly to the hospital, just to be safe."
"Ron's going to be a wreck if the kids are hurt."
"All of this just happened a couple minutes ago, so I haven't had time to look anything up. All the kids have different last names. Can you tell me about what's going on? I need to find a good place for them when everyone's out of the hospital."
"Ron is in charge of a children's home in Tallahassee. If he's here, then he must be trying to get the kids to someplace safe."
"A children's home? Is that something like an orphanage?"
"Yes. Something like that. They work with the Child Protective Services to house children until they can find foster parents for them. Ron's a child psychologist... did you hear anything about Junior? Is he alright?"
Oleksandr switched windows on his screen then carefully said, "The only Junior I've heard about is Dr. Michael Galindo-Ortiz Junior."
"Yes. That's him! Is he alright?"
"As far as I know, he is."
"What are you going to do? Ron's going to want to have a place where he can take care of all the kids."
"I don't think we have any thirteen bedroom houses. Let me ask around and see what I can do."
"Where should we go to meet them? I bet they're going to be hungry."
"Well, it's really up to the Air Force to decide that, but I think all of them are going to the hospital so that even the ones who aren't hurt can get checked out. That would probably be the best place to meet up with them."
"Cliff and Jerry are both working at the hospital right now. I can call them and ask them to let us know when they get there. And between Allen and the rest of us, I'm sure that we'll be able to find places for everyone to sleep. Once everyone's been fed and has had a chance to catch up on their sleep, I'll have Ron get in touch with you about finding a place for him and his kids."
"That sounds good. That'll give me a chance to check on a few things."
"I'm going to go and let everyone know. Thanks for calling me, Oleksandr. You just gave us a whole lot more to be thankful for." Ben said happily before hanging up the phone.
Oleksandr thought for a moment then said, "Dizzy, I'm going downstairs to talk to Bug for a few minutes. I've got my subvocal on if you need to get in touch with me."
"You got it, Olex."
Oleksandr smiled at the response, then said, "You seem to be a lot happier now that you're officially an AI."
"I'm almost happy."
"Do you think Carson's going to be alright?"
"Yeah. I really think he is. Do you know if he's still in surgery?"
"There hasn't been an update on his condition in one hour and thirty-seven minutes."
"He'll be fine. Trust me."
* * * * *
"Hey, Bug. Do you have a minute?" Oleksandr asked as he approached. He was surprised to find more or less the whole family present as Bug sat in a cushioned chair, working on his laptop.
"A whole minute? That's a lot to ask." Bug answered without looking away from his work.
To Oleksandr, it looked like the twins were cooking breakfast and that Max, Bax and Ro were present in the kitchen, ostensibly to help. In the short time that Oleksandr was there, he caught two instances of the Gophers sneaking bites of food when the twins weren't watching.
Oleksandr looked around the room before cautiously asking, "Why aren't you working at the table?"
"Because they're going to be using it for Thanksgiving dinner. If I set things up over there, I'd just have to tear it right back down." Bug answered simply, then asked, "What did you need?"
"We've got some people coming in, thirteen of them, and I was hoping that you could help me find a place for them."
"Did Seth turn his radio off? That's his department." Bug asked as he continued to type, read and talk at the same time.
"No. I mean, I don't know. I haven't tried calling him, yet. See, the thing is, there's this guy, he runs a children's home. There's five adults and eight kids and I'd really like to find a place where they can all stay together and take care of that many."
"Shit!" Bug said abruptly.
Oleksandr reflexively stepped back and glanced at Bug's laptop screen to see if he could identify the problem.
"Not you." Bug said when he noticed, then muttered, "Some goddamned motherfucking people don't know how to take a fucking day off."
Oleksandr tried to restrain a grin at the irony of Bug's statement.
Bug opened a streaming video window on his laptop, then said, "Marc, you and Galen need to lay the fuck off. All we needed was for the heads-up display to be able to show 'miles per hour' and inches and shit like that so that everyone wouldn't have to know metrics. You already did that. All the extra conversions are bullshit. No one needs to know how fast something is moving in 'furlongs per fortnight'. Take the fucking day off and spend some goddamned time with your motherfucking family!"
"Alright. You have a Happy Thanksgiving too, Bug." Marc responded with a grin.
Oleksandr waited as Bug closed the video window. Then he watched as Bug clicked on a text messaging window to check for any messages that might have come in. When Bug was done, he glanced at Oleksandr and asked, "What did you need?"
"Five adults, eight kids, children's home."
"That's right." Bug said as he started typing again. As he was typing, he quietly asked, "Do you remember back when all this started?"
Oleksandr wasn't entirely sure that Bug was talking to him, but took a chance and reluctantly answered, "Yeah."
"One of the things that we did that made all of this work was to be sure that we didn't limit ourselves."
"Yeah." Oleksandr said quietly, mostly to confirm that he was still listening. He had no idea of what Bug was trying to make him understand.
Bug glanced over and saw Oleksandr's confused expression. He then turned to where Oma Shoupe was sitting, several feet away, and asked, "Oma? How many abandoned or orphaned kids do you think we have in Kettle Falls right now?"
She regretfully looked at Mindy and Mandy, who were quietly playing together, then said, "I'd estimate about sixty."
"And how are we helping those kids?"
"So far as I know, they're being placed with families who've agreed to take care of them. I'm afraid that many of those children are suffering from the rag-tag system that we've developed. As soon as they start forming attachments, either they're being moved away by their foster families, or their foster families are leaving them here when they decide to move on to Canada."
"Right. It's like having a really simple computer program that just does one or two things, then adding more and more features to it, making it grow into something huge that it was never meant to be. Instead of doing one or two things decently well, it ends up doing lots and lots of things, really badly."
Although Oleksandr was following along with what Bug was saying, he still didn't know how it related to what he was doing. Finally, Oleksandr cautiously asked, "So, what do you want me to do?"
"Build an orphanage."
"Talk to Seth and his dad and see what they can come up with for you. Make it bigger than you need and put it somewhere that you can add on to it or put up more buildings if you need to."
"But I don't know if these people will be interested in staying in Kettle Falls and running an orphanage for us."
"That doesn't matter. Whether they agree to it or not, we need this. Your people get first crack at it, but if they refuse, then they can move on and we'll just get someone else to run it."
"Working at the school, I've met several people who I know would be willing to help, if they're needed." Oma Shoupe added helpfully.
Oleksandr slowly nodded, then said, "I'll call Seth right now."
"Breakfast is going to be ready in a few minutes, why don't you join us?" Bug asked with a smile.
"I had breakfast with Ben and Dax, about an hour ago."
"Yeah? So? This'll probably be the Gophers' third or fourth breakfast this morning."
Oleksandr thought about going back upstairs and staying there by himself and compared it to having breakfast with Bug and his family.
"I'll need to get my laptop."
"Bring your power cord, too."
* * * * *
"Can't Mr. Crante take care of everything?" Tommy asked his mother quietly as he kept the majority of his attention on his driving.
"Yes. I'm sure that he would do a very good job without us. But providing this Thanksgiving dinner is something that we're doing to show our guests that we're happy that they're here with us. We're trying to make this occasion something special so that everyone can take a day to appreciate what they're thankful for, even if it's something as simple as celebrating the fact that they've survived."
"It just seems wrong to be celebrating anything when Carson's in the hospital having surgery."
"I know. I feel the same way. In a perfect world, we'd be able to stay at the hospital, right by Carson's bedside until he opened his eyes. But in the real world, the most we might be able to do is continue to sit and wait for the surgery to be finished and hope that all goes well. We wouldn't be allowed to see Carson until he's in recovery. Your father and Ty will call us as soon as the surgery's over, then we'll hurry to the hospital so that we can be there when Carson opens his eyes."
"I understand. I know in my head that what you're saying is right, but my heart is still saying that I should be staying in the waiting room in case there's something that I can do."
"Yours and mine, both." Deb admitted, then added, "We're almost home. I know that we're all worried about Carson, but try not to let that cast a gloom on everything else. In the past few weeks, several of our guests have become almost as close as family. Let's do our best for them."
"But when Dad calls, we're going back to the hospital, right?"
"Yes. I promise."
"Okay. Then Mikey and I will help you make sure that our guests have a good time."
* * * * *
"I talked to Seth while I was upstairs. He doesn't know of any place that's big enough, but he's going to ask his dad and do some checking around." Oleksandr said as he carried his laptop and power cord into the living room area.
"Breakfast is ready. Leave that here. No laptops at the table at mealtime." Bug said as he stood.
"I need to be able to talk to the hospital so that when my people arrive, I can find out how they're doing. I want to get as much as I can set up before they have a chance to make other plans." Oleksandr said as he placed his laptop on the coffee table.
"If we've learned anything in the past few weeks, it's that when it comes to the hospital, it's all a big game of hurry up and wait. You'll have time to eat."
Oleksandr reluctantly dragged himself away from his laptop and took a seat at the table.
It seemed somewhat strange to him that the wall had been removed, allowing Bug's dining room to merge with the massive dining room in the 'Main House'.
"Do you know what Ben's doing right now?" Bug asked as he prepared to take his first bite of food.
"Yeah. He's with Dax in 'Little Chicago', helping to organize their Thanksgiving dinner for everyone."
"Why's he doing that?"
"Because he wants to help Dax, I guess."
"No. I mean, why is Ben helping the Chicago people? He's not from there, but whenever anything happens that has to do with Chicago, he's right on top of it. Why is that?"
"We came here with the Chicago group and since Ben knew what was going on with them and he was working in Carson's Command Center, he kind of adopted them as 'his'."
"Right. I was there when that happened. Even when Dax was put in charge of 'Little Chicago', Ben still went out of his way to pay extra attention to the Chicago people and make sure that they had everything that they needed."
"Yeah. I guess so."
"I think that maybe it's time for 'Mr. Rodchenko' to step out of the shadows and adopt his own group to help."
"I don't hide in the shadows. I got up and talked in front of a whole school full of people yesterday."
"Oleksandr did that. Mr. Rodchenko was still hiding out behind computer screens and text messages, so that no one would know that he's really an eight-year-old boy."
"I only do that so that I can do my job. If the people at Fairchild knew that I was a kid, they probably wouldn't listen to me when I asked them for help."
"I understand that. What I'm saying is that by hiding who you are, you're limiting what you can do to help people. If you really want to help these people at the hospital, I think that you're going to need to do it without holding back."
Oleksandr sat quietly as he considered the words.
"What do you feel like you should be doing, right now?"
"Part of me feels like I should be at the hospital, checking on them and getting to know them and seeing what kind of help they really need. But another part says that I should be here, doing the work that Ben is counting on me to do."
"You know as well as I do that Dizzy can monitor things and contact you if something comes up that you need to deal with. Besides that, you can always hand off to Courtney or Monarch Command and let them watch things for a little bit, if you want to be able to talk to people without being interrupted."
"So, what are you going to do?"
"I guess I'd better go to the hospital so that 'my' people will know that there's someone in Kettle Falls who's on their side."
"Eat your breakfast first." Bug said with a smile, then a strange look came over his face. "Hang on."
Bug keyed the subvocal button on his throat then said, "Go ahead."
Oleksandr looked around the table at Ken, Kev, Oma Shoupe, Mindy, Mandy and the Gophers, all eating as though Bug holding a conversation with someone who wasn't there was nothing out of the ordinary. In the end, he supposed that it probably wasn't.
"Yeah. You can't reach him, I think he's probably at the hospital with Carson. What did you need?"
Oleksandr absently took a bite of the food that had been placed before him and was surprised at just how good it was.
"Have you met Karl Francer? Even if you talked to Mr. Brown, I bet he wouldn't do anything but tell you to talk to Karl about it."
Oleksandr continued to eat as he speculated on what Bug was talking about.
"Yeah. No problem. Later." Bug said, then tapped the button on his throat.
Oleksandr considered for a moment, then activated his own subvocal before saying, "Courtney, this is Oleksandr. I'm going to need an escort in about five minutes. I'm on the first floor of the big house."
"Acknowledged." Courtney's voice immediately responded.
"Five minutes?" Bug asked as he looked at the plate of food in front of Oleksandr.
"I can do it."
* * * * *
"Mr. Brown? How is Carson doing?" A young-looking Asian man asked cautiously as he walked into the waiting room.
"He's doing alright, as far as we know. We haven't heard anything since about six this morning." Ryan quietly admitted, then noticed that the new arrival was looking at Ty strangely. "I guess you haven't been by the house since all the chaos erupted. Erin, I'd like for you to meet my new son, Tyrell Brown. Ty, this is Erin Tu, he's Carson's physical therapist."
"It's nice to meet you, Ty." Erin said to the boy, then turned to Ryan and said, "I'm sorry that I haven't been by to work with Carson. The hospital's been so busy that I haven't had... no, there's no excuse. I should have remembered my commitment."
"Don't beat yourself up, Erin. All of us have been overwhelmed. And if we had needed you, I would have called."
"Thank you, sir. How is Carson? I mean, when I checked in this morning, I noticed that he was slated for surgery, but... did they end up having to 'take' the legs'?" Erin finished in a whisper as tears filled his eyes at the thought.
"No. It's nothing like that. We've had the good fortune to have encountered a medical professional with an experimental procedure which has a very good chance of restoring Carson's legs completely."
"Really? How is that even possible?"
"You know me. I'm not one to worry too much about 'how' things work, just as long as they do. It's our hope that when the surgery is complete, that Carson will have two fully functioning legs. Of course, once we've crossed that hurdle, then it's going to be up to Carson to learn how to use them again."
"Do you think that I'll be able to help with that?"
"I can't think of anyone that Carson would rather have helping him. I suppose the question is, are you going to be able to devote a significant amount of time to just one patient? I wouldn't want for others to be neglected for Carson's sake. But I also wouldn't want for Carson to be neglected because his physical therapist is being pulled in too many directions at once."
"Things have settled down in the past week or so. I still have a lot to do, but most of it is new patients who only need a few sessions and some simple instruction. Barring another catastrophic event, I think I could safely commit to helping Carson."
"As soon as the surgery is done, I'll talk to my father-in-law about the timetable for Carson's physical therapy. Expect to be getting a call from him in the next few days."
"Thank you, sir. I promise that I won't let my other duties get in the way of helping Carson."
"If you find yourself being overwhelmed, just tell me. Believe it or not, I do have some influence."
Erin laughed at the understatement, then noticed the others in the room, looking at him with anguish.
"Sorry." Erin whispered as he reigned in his emotions, then quickly added, "I have to get to work, now. Be sure to call on me if there's anything that I can do."
"We haven't heard anything about Carson for hours. If you find out anything, would you stop by and tell us?"
"I'm just a physical therapist, they don't tell me much. But if I run across anything, I'll let you know."
* * * * *
"Are you okay, Mom? Do you want to go back?" Tommy asked as he pulled the Gator to a stop in the parking lot outside the back door of the 'Big House'.
"No. This is where we need to be."
"There's Aiden and Destiny! Who's that with them?" Mikey asked from the back seat.
"Janet said that her wife might be able to join us today. That must be her." Deb said speculatively.
"I didn't realize that Janet was a lesbian." Tommy said as he got out of the Gator.
"Now that you know, does it make you look at her differently?" Deb asked curiously.
After a moment to consider, Tommy said, "Not really. I mean, since I didn't know any different, I just figured that she had a husband. I'm a little bit surprised that she has a wife, but that's about it."
"I'm sure that by the end of the day, you won't even think about it." Deb said as she guided Tommy and Mikey to walk with her to where Janet and her wife were trying to herd their children into the house.
* * * * *
Breakfast finished, Bug took his customary place at the sinks to help with the dishes. Although all of them knew that he wanted to get back to work on his laptop, cleaning up after a meal was one last vestige of his former life that he refused to let go of.
"Holy fucking shit!" Bug exclaimed as his legs were suddenly seized.
"Bug! Not in front of the children." Oma Shoupe scolded.
"They started it." Bug said as he squatted down so that he could hug Destiny and Aiden in return.
Janet looked around and noticed Deb, Tommy and Mikey walking into the room.
"Everyone, I'd like to introduce my wife, Daelynn." Janet said loudly, then said to Daelynn, "This is my boss, Deb and her sons, Tommy and Mikey."
"It's a pleasure to meet you." Daelynn said shyly.
"It's wonderful to finally get to meet you. I know that Janet's been missing you. I'm so glad that you're here." Deb said warmly.
"How's Carson?" Janet asked with concern.
"He's still in surgery, we haven't heard anything, yet."
"Did they say how long it's going to take?"
"Three or four more hours, at least."
A bark of laughter drew their attention.
All of them turned to see Bug collapsed on the floor with Destiny and Aiden mercilessly tickling him.
"Stop! Stop!" Bug called out between bouts of laughter.
Janet and Daelynn shared a considering look, then moved in unison to retrieve their children.
It took a moment for Bug to catch his breath and make his way to the nearest chair.
"Bug, I was hoping that when you have some time that you and Daelynn might be able to talk about the possibility of her finding a job here, in Kettle Falls." Janet said hopefully.
"You work with Dizzy every day, don't you? Why don't you just ask him?"
"See. I knew they wouldn't want to help a gay couple." Daelynn said darkly.
Bug rolled his eyes, then motioned behind him toward the sink as he said, "Try again. These are my boyfriends, Ken and Kev."
Daelynn looked with surprise from one twin to the other.
"I wasn't saying that I wouldn't help. I was just saying that Janet can query Dizzy just as easily as I can. You don't need for me to help."
"Daelynn has some very specialized skills. It's not something that Dizzy tracks." Janet quickly explained.
"You could'a just said that." Bug said with a grin.
"Janet, Daelynn, why don't I take you to the main house so that I can introduce you around? Once you've met everyone, you can come back here and visit with Bug as much as you want." Deb suggested.
"Gonna go see Courtney?!" Aiden asked hopefully.
"That sounds like a very good idea. With any luck, Courtney and Trevor will want to visit with the kids for a while so that the parents can have a little 'adult' time." Deb said with a smile down at the three-year-old boy.
"That sounds wonderful." Janet said with a relieved smile.
"Jan has mentioned that a group of kids in tents on your front lawn have grown very attached to Destiny and Aiden." Daelynn said in a leading tone, obviously uncertain about their motives.
"Attached? They've all but adopted them." Deb chuckled as she led the way out of the room.
* * * * *
"Why are you going to the hospital? Are you giving another talk?" Lee asked curiously as he drove.
"I've got a group of kids from an orphanage in Florida who are being brought to the hospital by helicopter. A couple of them have been shot." Oleksandr explained.
"So, are you a doctor, too?" Lee asked, half-jokingly.
"No. But when they're done seeing the doctors, they're going to need a place to stay. So I want to go to the hospital to talk to them and get to know them so that I can be sure that they'll end up getting the help that they really need."
"There have been thousands of people coming through here and you never did this for any of them. What makes this bunch different?"
"I don't know. When Colonel Kuznetsov told me about them, something inside me 'clicked'. All of a sudden I remembered what it's like to be a foster kid and what it's like to be scared and hurt... I don't know why I feel that way now, but I really want to help them however I can."
"You can probably help them better than almost anyone else. Not only are you friends with the most important and influential people in Kettle Falls, but you also know how everything works, so you know who to go to to get things done."
"Yeah. I guess so. I don't know why it feels like, by helping them that I'll be helping me... you know, like I was before I got here. It doesn't make any sense."
"Not everything has to make sense. Just do what you feel that you need to do. If helping them helps to fix something that feels broken inside you, then everyone comes out ahead."
"But I feel like I should be helping them to help them, not to help me. Something about it feels wrong."
"Why do you work in Carson's Command Center?"
"I help Ben to keep track of what's going on outside of Kettle Falls."
"No. I'm not asking what you do. I'm asking why you do it."
"Oh, um... At first it was to help Ben. But then, I guess later it was because people needed help and I wanted to help them."
"So you're not in it for the money?"
"Are you in it to become famous?"
"Are you doing it just because Ben does it?"
"Maybe at first, but not anymore."
"Then why do you do it?"
"Because I can. Because it needs to be done."
"Because it's the right thing to do?" Lee suggested.
"Yeah. I guess."
"Is helping these people at the hospital the right thing to do?"
"How sure are you?"
"I know it's the right thing."
"Helping them may help you or it may not. But you'll do your best to help them either way because you know it's the right thing to do. As long as you keep doing what you know to be right, then you don't have to worry about the rest."
"You know, if I had a big brother, I'd want him to be just like you."
"If I had a little brother, I'd want for him to be like you, too."
* * * * *
"Marc, what are you doing?" JD asked curiously as he mixed a huge bowl of stuffing with his bare hands.
"I'm just seasoning the turkey." Marc said from the back porch, a few feet away.
"I already did that!" JD yelped and had to fight not to step away from the stuffing.
"Don't worry. I didn't touch your turkey. The project that I was working on was unexpectedly cancelled, so I decided to make this up so that we'll be sure to have plenty of leftovers."
"I don't mean to be an oven hog, but I've already got plans for every square inch of oven space for the rest of the day."
"That's not a problem. I'm cooking the turkeys in a roaster on the back porch."
"Turkeys?! As in multiple turkeys?"
"Well, yeah. We ended up with a glut of turkeys since so many truckers were hauling them when everything went crazy. And since there was enough room to fit two in the roaster, I figured, what the hell?"
"You haven't had Thanksgiving until you've had it with Marc." Collin said as he walked into the kitchen.
"Yeah. His Thanksgiving dinners are legendary." Christian added as he followed.
After a moment to consider, JD finally said, "Well, good. I've never cooked for this many people before so it'll be good to have help from someone more experienced."
"If Marc's helping you, you won't have to worry about running short of food. Trust me.".
* * * * *
As Deb had hoped, the UNIT kids on the front lawn were excited about the prospect of spending some time with Destiny and Aiden. Beyond that, they welcomed Daelynn so warmly that she could barely believe it.
When Deb showed Janet and Daelynn into the living room, Madelyn was there and quickly asked, "How is Carson?"
"He was still in surgery when I left. Ryan promised to call if there were any news at all." Deb said frankly, then thought to say, "I'd like for you to meet Janet's wife, Daelynn."
"It's a pleasure to meet you." Madelyn said formally.
"Daelynn, I'd like to present my mother, the Honorable Madelyn Murten, Superior Court Justice of Stevens County."
"So you're a judge and your daughter's a lawyer. You've got to be proud."
"More than I can say." Madelyn admitted, then turned to her daughter and said, "I was thinking of going to the hospital. I know that there's nothing I can do but... I just feel like I need to."
"I understand. I'd probably still be there if Ryan hadn't reminded me about our guests. Besides, it was really hard for the boys to be sitting there under stress for that long."
"Did you need any help with anything here, before I leave?"
"No. Nothing that I can think of. But make sure that you call for an escort."
"Yes. Yes. As much as I dislike it, I see the necessity." Madelyn said wearily, then thought to ask, "Do you think that Ryan needs me to bring him anything?"
"No. He has Ty for moral support. I'm sure that the hospital will provide anything else that he might need." Deb assured her, then smiled warmly as she added, "Ty asked me to ask you to save him some Thanksgiving dinner. I promised him that you would."
"Of course I will. He's my sweet, special boy. By the way, I talked to Mr. Crante about the meal and he seems to have everything under control. Everyone knows that you're taking the day off, so you should be free to enjoy spending time with your guests."
"Did Olufemi ever say if he was going to be able to attend?" Janet asked suddenly.
"Yes. But it won't be until later. His mother and sister both work at the Ferguson Truck Stop Diner. They're going to make sure that they have Thanksgiving dinner prepared for all the truckers before they come here." Deb responded.
"Jan told me about the truck stop. Did truckers from all over the country really form their own town?" Daelynn asked curiously.
"Yes. But from what I hear, they weren't planning to. At first, it was just restrooms and a washing station with a pop-up restaurant to accommodate the truckers who had been displaced. But as time went on, both a full-fledged restaurant and a recreation hall were built. Then, when they received word that a prominent truck stop owner and his wife had nearly been killed, the truckers decided that their little loosely formed community would officially be named 'Ferguson'." Deb explained.
"Yes. And Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson's children have even gone to work at the restaurant, using some of Mrs. Ferguson's recipes, that all the truckers know and love." Madelyn added.
"Along with all the horror in the past few weeks, there have also been some incredible acts of kindness and generosity." Daelynn said quietly.
"If you decide to stay in Kettle Falls, you'll see a lot of that." Deb said with a somber smile.
* * * * *
"Excuse me. Can you tell me where I can go to find out about the people who were just brought in by helicopter?" Oleksandr asked at the reception desk.
"We're busy here, kid. Go find your mother." The nurse behind the desk said irritably, then looked past him to the next person in line and asked, "May I help you?"
Oleksandr looked at her with surprise. He had been surrounded by people who respected him and took him seriously for so long that he had forgotten what it was like to be treated like a child.
Even so, he had a job to do and he wouldn't allow one dismissive hospital worker to divert him from his cause.
Oleksandr tapped the subvocal on his throat and said, "Dizzy, would you send a message to the hospital from Mr. Rodchenko? Ask for someone to take me to the Tallahassee people we just brought in. Tell them that I need to interview the people so that I can find them somewhere to live."
"I'll do it if you need me to, but I don't understand why I'm doing it, since you're already there."
"I bet that there's a lot of things that you used to do when you were just a computer program that seem really strange to you now."
"Yes. Before I had a series of commands to follow. I did what I was told and reacted as I was expected to. Now, I have the ability to question every action that I take... and for every single action, there is the possibility that I'm wrong."
"I guess the only thing that will make it easier is if you trust us to ask for things that we really need. And the reason I'm asking for you to send the message is because the people at the hospital see that I'm young and make judgements about me based on that."
"Is there a problem?" Lee asked as he approached.
"Only that the hospital people don't know who I am."
"Do you need for me to talk to them?"
"No. I've got it covered."
"The message has been sent. Someone should be with you shortly."
"Thank you, Dizzy." Oleksandr said sincerely, then tapped his subvocal to disconnect the call.
Less than a minute later, a man in a lab coat rushed into the reception area and asked, "Is there a Mr. Rodchenko here?"
* * * * *
"What's going on?" Brother Jacques asked as he slowly walked off the elevator with Zane at his side.
"Not much." Ken said as he raced over to them, then quickly asked, "Zane, do you need to sit down?"
"Yeah. I'm still not good at the whole walking around thing." Zane said in a pained voice.
"Come over here. Have you had breakfast? We have plenty of everything if you're hungry." Ken said as he walked closely by Zane's side in case he had an unsteady moment.
"No. Jake made me a wonderful breakfast. I just decided that I was ready to leave the third floor. I've been trapped up there since the surgery." Zane said, then sat in one of the cushioned chairs as Brother Jacques and Ken helped to ease him down.
"If I knew that you were feeling trapped, I could have brought a wheelchair up and you could have gone anywhere you wanted to." Kev said seriously as he stood by, in case he could help.
"It wasn't a problem, really. I've mostly been focused on being able to walk to the bathroom and back to the bed on my own. Today, I just felt like it was time." Zane said as he closed his eyes after what seemed to be a monumental effort.
"Whether you've been able to move around or not, you guys have been doing some good work. Thanks to you following up on special requests, I don't think that anyone passing through Kettle Falls has felt like they've been forgotten." Bug said from the neighboring chair.
"Yeah. Thanks for finding us something that we could do from the bedroom. It's been nice to do a real job." Brother Jacques said honestly.
"Where are Roris and Lawrence? I expected for them to be here." Zane asked as he looked around.
"They left early and went over to Roris' parents' house. I think that they're going to be spending Thanksgiving with them." Bug replied.
"What did Dr. Murten say about Lawrence? I remember Lawrence saying something about having an appointment last week, but I never heard about how it went." Zane asked curiously.
"Well, the doctor did a bunch of scans and said that Lawrence has some scar tissue and shit deep in his brain. From the way he described it, it's a real mess in there."
"Is there anything he can do?"
"Yeah. There's one thing. He said that there's this surgery that he can do that will make it so that Lawrence isn't as likely to have a stroke. I didn't get all the medical jargon, but it sounded to me like he wants to go in there and replace some veins or arteries or some shit like that."
"If he does that, is it going to fix Lawrence's brain damage?"
"No. Dr. Murten said that even if they went deep into Lawrence's brain and tried to fix everything that was messed up in there, that the surgery would probably kill him. But if it didn't, chances are that it wouldn't make him any better. When he was beaten, part of his brain died. There's nothing that the doctor can do to bring it back."
"But there is something that he can do to help Lawrence?" Brother Jacques asked to confirm.
"Yeah. He can do a surgery to make it less likely that Lawrence is going to have a stroke. He said that it's a pretty simple surgery... as brain surgeries go. They probably could have done it back when Lawrence was first in the hospital and then he wouldn't have had to take the drugs for all these years, but someone was just too lazy or cheap to do it."
"When I talked to the doctors, when we first found Lawrence, it was never even suggested that there might be something more that could be done to help him." Oma Shoupe interjected.
"Found him? Was he lost?" Brother Jacques asked curiously.
"My dad was a real homophobic piece of shit..." Bug began to say, then looked at his grandmother and quietly said, "Sorry, Oma."
"Don't worry about it, Bug. Your father WAS a homophobic piece of shit." Oma Shoupe stated simply.
Bug nodded, then continued, "Well, one night my dad caught Lawrence wearing girls' clothes or something and he beat the shit out of Lawrence and threw him out of the house."
"Lawrence dressed like a girl?" Ken asked with surprise.
"Yeah. And since Lawrence hasn't ever talked about wanting to dress like a girl since then, I'm guessing that whatever made him want to do that was in the part of his brain that died." Bug said past the lump in his throat.
Since Bug seemed to be choked up, Oma Shoupe continued the narrative, "Some months later, Bug's father killed his mother, and then himself. That's when I was called, since I was Bug's only living relative. I had been out of contact with the family for a while and was unaware of what had happened to Lawrence. When I found out, Bug and I started searching for him."
Oma Shoupe took a tissue from the side table beside her, then dabbed the tears from her eyes before continuing, "We searched for weeks, but to no avail. It wasn't until we started visiting hospitals, asking if they had any unidentified teenage boys that we stumbled upon him."
There was a long silence, and it was Bug who finally continued, "When we found him, they told us that he had been brutally raped and nearly beaten to death. We talked to the cops about it, but they seemed to be annoyed that we were even there. I guess that they had already closed the case and stuck it up on a shelf somewhere and forgot about it. They didn't even know who Lawrence was and when we told them, they didn't care."
Oma Shoupe nodded, then said, "When we were finally able to take Lawrence home, he was completely helpless. It was like taking care of a six foot tall toddler."
"Yeah. A toddler with some major temper tantrums." Bug added.
"He could have been worse." Oma Shoupe said in Lawrence's defense.
Bug considered for a moment, then said, "Yeah. I guess so. I guess it's because I was so little, back then. Lawrence was bigger and stronger than I was, so when he'd sit on the floor and refuse to move, I couldn't make him move."
Oma Shoupe slightly smiled, then distantly said, "Looking back, it's remarkable that we were able to manage. The finances were strained. Lawrence needed constant care and supervision and the child protective services seemed intent on putting Bug into foster care."
"Don't get me started on CPS." Bug growled.
"But we survived." Oma Shoupe quickly continued, to preclude Bug's impending tirade. "Eventually we were able to get Lawrence to a point of stability where he could maintain relationships with people besides us and was even able to hold down a part-time job."
"To be honest, the job was a work program for the mentally disabled." Bug interjected, then continued, "But it gave him the experience of being able to leave the house and go to work each day. He got the chance to earn money and feel pride in his accomplishments."
"Now Lawrence is in an adult relationship that looks like it has a chance of lasting. There were times when such an outcome was beyond hope." Oma Shoupe said with a weary smile.
Bug slowly nodded his agreement to his grandmother's sentiment.
"So, has Dr. Murten said when he wants to do the surgery?" Brother Jacques asked curiously.
"Yeah. He said that as soon as Carson's surgery is done and he's sure that he's recovering, then he'll set it up." Bug answered.
"So, it's not an emergency or anything." Brother Jacques concluded.
"No. He's been like this for eight years, a few more weeks shouldn't make any difference."
* * * * *
"How are you doing? Do you need anything?" Madelyn asked as she walked into the waiting room.
"We're fine, Madelyn. There hasn't been any news, yet." Ryan said wearily.
"Do you need a break? I can sit vigil while you get some coffee, if you need to."
"I've had so much coffee today that I probably won't sleep again until next summer."
"How are you doing, Ty?"
"I'm worried about Carson."
"We all are." Madelyn assured him in a whisper, then asked in a normal voice, "Why don't you come over here and give me a hug and see if that doesn't help?"
Ty smiled at the suggestion, then moved into her arms and hugged her firmly.
* * * * *
"You're Mr. Rodchenko?"
"Yeah. That's me."
"I've met you before. Your first name is Alexander, isn't it?"
"Oleksandr, you can call me Olex, if you want."
"That's right! I met you at Mr. Brown's house. You're Ben's son, aren't you?"
"Yeah. At least I'm going to be. We're waiting on the adoption to be finalized."
"Well, it's nice to meet you again, Olex. I'm Dr. Parish, but you can call me Jerry. I received a message that someone out here needed to talk to our new patients." Dr. Parish said as he glanced at Lee, who was hovering nearby.
"Yeah. That's me. I work in Carson's Command Center and I wanted to talk to them so I'd know what kind of stuff they're going to need when they get out of the hospital."
"To be honest, I don't know anything about their conditions. I'm a dermatologist, so unless one of them has a rash, I probably won't be treating them. I was free when your call came in, so they sent me to help you. If you'd like, I can take you back to the treatment area and let you talk to whoever's waiting in the waiting room." Dr. Parish said as he turned and gestured for Oleksandr to walk with him.
Oleksandr looked back at Lee inquiringly.
"It looks like you're all set up. Call if you need me. I'll be around." Lee said as he subtly pointed at the subvocal button on his throat.
"I will." Oleksandr promised, then followed Dr. Parish around the reception desk and into the back hallway.
To Be Continued...
Actually several things come to mind, one of the first is that I think it is interesting to hear Lawrence's back story.
Of course, I knew him from another timeline/universe, and things happened differently, there. As happens a lot when I read a story or even just a chapter from MultiMapper, I find myself sitting here wiping tears from my eyes. It happened several times in this chapter.
By the way, I hope that wasn't really a spoiler. You might not realise it, but some of the people in this story have versions of themselves in some of MultiMapper's other stories, set in alternate Universes.
Thank you, MM for another heartwarming chapter.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher