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After hugging for a moment, Madelyn noticed the tablet computer that Ty seemed to have been engrossed in when she had first entered.
"What's this that you're working on?" Madelyn asked as she released Ty to hold him at her side.
"Mr... um, Dad was showing me how to use Zed to design robots."
"What's this, Ryan? Are you planning on putting another of my grandsons to work for you? Don't you have enough money to hire people instead of putting your children to work?"
"You save money where you can." Ryan said with a weak grin at her, then seriously added, "Ty's shown an interest in robotics, so I'm doing what I can to show him the realities of the field."
"Realities? By creating fantasy 3D models?"
"Although these are 3D models, they're being generated by Zed, back at the factory. Everything that Ty's inputting on his tablet is able to be fabricated. He can add utility and mobility systems without having to bother with all the small details. That will allow him to proceed with the development at a realistic pace without getting bogged down in minutiae."
"Yeah. Dad says that I can make my robot have legs or wheels or whatever I want." Ty added happily.
Madelyn could see that Ty was excited about the project and gently said, "It's wonderful that your father has these tools available for you to use."
"He still has a way to go before his design is complete, but once he's finished, Zed has a dedicated production line that is used exclusively for prototypes." Ryan said with a smile at Ty.
"Dad says that when that's all done, that I'm going to need Carson's help to make the robots be something more than remote controlled toys."
"That's right. Although we can install some rudimentary verbal commands for mobility and the like, the bulk of the programming really needs to be tailored to the design of the individual robot and its purpose."
"I think that it's wonderful that you're going to have a project to work on with your brother. Considering what's going on right now, I'm sure that he's going to be incapacitated for quite some time and it will be good for him to have a diversion." Madelyn said thoughtfully.
Ryan nodded his agreement to her words and from his expression, Madelyn suddenly realized that that had been Ryan's intention all along. Her respect for her son-in-law ratcheted up another notch as she realized how he was discreetly orchestrating events to provide the best possible outcome for everyone involved.
* * * * *
"Did you need for me to stay with you?" Dr. Parish asked as they walked into the small waiting room.
"No. I'll be okay. Thanks for helping me." Oleksandr said appreciatively.
"If you need anything else, be sure to call on me."
"Yes. I will. Thank you." Oleksandr responded, then watched as Dr. Parish walked away.
There were only two people in the waiting room. One was a man who appeared to be in his late thirties, although his haggard appearance might be deceptive. The boy with him appeared to be a young teen and seemed to be in a state of shock, staring vacantly at nothing.
"Do you mind if I talk to you for a few minutes?" Oleksandr asked quietly, reluctant to intrude on the man's silent contemplation.
It took a moment, but the man finally looked up and asked, "What can I do for you?"
"My name is Oleksandr Rodchenko."
"Are you related to the Rodchenko that Colonel Kuznetsov was talking to?"
"Yeah. Sort of. That's kind of a lot to explain. I need to ask you a few questions right now and I can tell you about me later." Oleksandr said frankly, then asked, "What was your name?"
"I'm Ron Cooper. What did you need to ask me?"
"I guess the first, biggest thing that I need to know is if you're planning on staying in Kettle Falls or not."
"That really depends."
"A lot of different things. I suppose that instead of sitting here, basking in the feeling of being safe, I should find someone to talk to so that I can find out what the possibilities are."
"Actually, that's what I'm here for. I can probably answer most of your questions, and if I can't, I know who to ask to get the answers."
"Let me tell you upfront that my cousin, Darin, has been badly hurt. From the extent of his injuries, he's probably going to need to stay in the hospital for quite a while. So, from a personal perspective, I'd like to stay here at least for as long as Darin needs me."
"Okay. Hang on for just a second." Oleksandr said, then keyed the subvocal on his throat and said, "Dizzy? Will you monitor Darin Cooper's medical condition for me? Let me know how he's doing and when they're expecting him to be released."
"I currently have only admission information on Sergeant Cooper. I will notify you as soon as his file has been updated." Dizzy responded professionally.
"Thank's Dizzy." Oleksandr said before tapping the button on his throat.
"Who were you talking to?" Ron asked cautiously.
"Dizzy. He's the AI computer... well, one of them. Dizzy helps us keep things organized." Oleksandr explained, then continued, "As soon as I know anything about your cousin, I'll tell you about it. While we're waiting for that, we can try and figure out some of the rest."
"Okay. I don't know if you know about this, but I'm in charge of a children's home in Tallahassee..." Ron began to say, but was interrupted.
"I know everything that Colonel Kuznetsov reported on the radio."
"He was speaking Russian, so I don't know exactly what he told you... it was you that he was talking to, wasn't it?"
"Yeah. That's right." Oleksandr confirmed, then said, "By the way, some of your friends from Tallahassee asked that we keep a look out for you, in case you decided to come to Kettle Falls. I've already called Ben and let him know that you're here. Right now they're probably waiting for word from the hospital that you can have visitors."
"Ben? He made it here safely? How are JD and Jody?"
"They're fine. I don't know too much about what all they went through to get here, but it's best if they tell you about that anyway. Let's see how much we can get decided before everyone else gets here."
"I need to go to the bathroom." The boy beside Ron said quietly.
"It's right there. Go on. I'll be right here."
"Will you go with me?"
"No. But I promise that I won't leave you, Danny. You go and do what you need to do and I'll be right here when you get back."
It seemed to take a moment, but the boy, Danny, finally reluctantly began to walk away.
Oleksandr noticed that Danny stopped twice and looked anxiously back at Mr. Cooper before finally entering the bathroom.
At Oleksandr's concerned look, Ron quietly volunteered, "All the kids have been traumatized to varying degrees by our experience."
"What happened to you?"
"We fell for probably the most obvious trick in the book. We stopped to help some stranded motorists." Ron said distantly, then added, "It was an ambush."
"Yes. We're doing our best to stop people like that. In fact, that's a big part of what Colonel Kuznetsov and his people are doing."
"When we realized that it was a trap, Darin tried to stop them so that we could get away, but they shot him. One of the others started randomly shooting the kids. The only reason that we're not all dead right now is because they were more worried about saving their bullets than killing us. They took all our food and water and our vehicles and left us in the middle of nowhere to die." Ron said gravely.
Oleksandr turned at a movement and saw Danny hurrying back from the bathroom.
The boy took the seat beside Ron and tucked himself securely under Ron's arm.
Oleksandr watched for a moment, then said, "Let me tell you about the arrangements that I've made so far and you can let me know if there's anything that won't work."
Ron silently nodded his agreement as he cuddled the terrified boy close to him.
"There are kids here, in Kettle Falls, who've been orphaned or abandoned. So far, we've been doing our best to find places for them to stay but that's really the only help they're getting. A lot of them have been traumatized like your kids and some have been through even worse things. We were hoping that once you get everything worked out, that maybe you'd choose to stay here in Kettle Falls and help us to help them."
"Help them how?"
"Right now there are some people working on building a children's home. That's the easy part. There are a lot of kids who've either seen their families die all around them or who've just been abandoned. We're seeing to it that they're getting food and shelter and I guess that some of them are being accepted into new families. But there are some who are just getting passed around from family to family and aren't really getting any help dealing with everything that they've been through."
"I understand what you're saying. I've been fighting that battle in Tallahassee for all of my professional life."
"We probably should have done something before this, but the hard part is finding good people to staff the home who are used to working with kids and know what kinds of help they really need."
"Considering that two of the kids in my care have been shot, I don't know why anyone would trust me to care for children ever again."
"I'll make you a deal. If you'll say that you'll help us with this, I'll promise that we won't ask you to take any kids on field trips across the desolate hellscape to the east of us."
"We've been without food or clean water for almost a week. I don't think I'm in a state of mind to be making important decisions right now."
"That's fair enough. Like I said, we've already got people building the new children's home. It'll take some time for them to finish that, so you've got plenty of time to think about things and make your decision. I just wanted to let you know about this before you started making other plans."
"Thank you for that. I promise that I'll seriously consider what you're offering."
"Mr. Cooper, I can watch things here if you're ready to go to the cafeteria and get something to eat. Everyone's worried about you." A young man said as he approached.
"Thank you, Junior. But Danny and I are going to wait here for when the next free doctor is ready to see him."
"I can wait here with Danny. You really need to go and eat something before you pass out."
"No!" Danny said in panic as he clutched closer to Ron's side.
Oleksandr could tell that Junior was firm in his resolve but also that Ron wasn't likely to back down.
"Excuse me, but do you think that it would be possible to get something from the cafeteria and bring it back here for them?" Oleksandr hesitantly suggested.
"Who the hell are you?" Junior asked as he turned his angry gaze on Oleksandr.
"I'm Oleksandr Rodchenko. And I'm guessing that you're Michael Galindo-Ortiz, or do you expect me to call you doctor?"
Junior was shocked by the young boy's words but was finally able to say, "Why don't you just call me Junior."
"Alright, Junior." Oleksandr said with a smile, then added, "I don't think anyone will mind if you bring some food back here, but if they do, let me know and I'll get you special permission."
"Why would they listen to what a little kid says?"
"Because I've helped a lot of people, I guess." Oleksandr said thoughtfully, then quickly added, "Or maybe because they know that I work in Carson's Command Center and that with one word from me they'll get sandpaper instead of toilet paper every time they order supplies, from now on."
"I'll just go get that food... now..." Junior said in a diminishing voice, then hurried away.
"Ron?" A voice said from behind Oleksandr, surprising him.
"Cliff? What are you doing here?!" Ron asked with surprise as he quickly stood.
"I work here. Actually, they've put me in charge of pediatrics."
"Have you seen Darin? Do you know how he's doing?"
"Darin? Oh yes. I saw him when he was admitted, but when I saw his full name, I didn't make the association and realize that he was related to you. I'm sorry, but I don't know anything about his condition. I've been working on a young lady named Dianne."
"How is she?"
"Well, there's good news and some not quite as good news."
Before Ron could ask, Cliff continued, "The good news is that although Dianne is weak from dehydration and starvation, her blood loss wasn't so severe as to endanger her life and there aren't any signs of infection. The less good news is that the jury's still out on whether or not we'll be able to save the arm."
"We couldn't control her bleeding with anything less than a tourniquet. I knew when we first administered the treatment that it might lead to amputation." Ron regretfully admitted, then weakly added, "It was all we could think to do to try and save her life."
"From what I understand of the situation that you were in, I can't think of what more you could have done." Dr. Grant said frankly, then continued, "And thanks to you regularly releasing the tourniquet, there was at least some blood flow. I can't make any promises on that account, but under the circumstances, inconclusive is actually the very best that we could possibly hope for at this stage."
"Do you have any idea of how long Dianne is going to need to stay in the hospital?"
"There are too many things still up in the air for us to make any decisions about that. My best guess is that in three to five days I'll know enough to be able to give you some sort of an estimate."
"Thanks Cliff. I understand." Ron said quietly, then thought to ask, "Have you heard anything about a boy named Brian Grant?"
"Yes. I'm listed as his attending physician. I evaluated him when he first arrived and asked one of the resident doctors to treat him. As soon as I'm done here with you, I'll go and see how he's doing."
"What about my cousin Darin? Is there any way you can find out about him, too?"
"Yes. I'll see what I can find out for you." Cliff promised, then thought to add, "By the way, Ben called and asked me to tell you that you need to call him at Allen Thompson's house as soon as those who won't be staying in the hospital are ready to leave. From what I hear, they're planning a rather spectacular Thanksgiving dinner."
"Oleksandr, the medical status of Sergeant Darin Cooper has just been updated in the hospital's computer. His condition has been listed as stable." Dizzy said in Oleksandr's subvocal.
After a tap on the button on his throat, Oleksandr said, "Thanks Dizzy."
When he noticed that everyone was looking at him, he continued, "Dizzy just told me that Sergeant Cooper is in stable condition."
"That's the AI computer you were telling me about, right?" Ron asked uncertainly.
"Yeah. If you need to know something or if you need to get in touch with anyone, you can get on any computer or you can call 'information' on any phone and Dizzy will do his best to help you. And if you don't know someone's phone number, Dizzy can help you with that, too."
"That's right." Cliff agreed, then added, "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go and check on the condition of the other child that you brought in."
"Thanks Cliff. I'll be right here." Ron said with a smile of relief.
Oleksandr felt that it was a perfect time for him to leave, but then noticed the terrified boy clutched to Ron's side.
"Danny?" Oleksandr asked cautiously, not knowing if the boy was even aware of his presence.
"What?" The boy whispered, although Oleksandr could tell that Danny's attention span was a tenuous thread, at best.
"Before I came here, some really bad stuff happened to me. I was scared of everything and everyone and I didn't want to be a part of this world anymore. But I found someone to hold on to and trust and let him make things better. It looks like you did that too. I just wanted you to know that what you're doing right now is the right thing. It helps. It makes things better. Hold on to Mr. Cooper and be safe and let him handle things for a while. It's okay."
The vacant look in Danny's eyes didn't give any indication if he had heard or not.
Oleksandr turned his attention to Ron and said, "If he needs to talk to someone, I think I might be able to help."
"It may be a while before he's ready, but when he is, I'll be sure to remind him that there's someone here who understands." Ron said as he slightly increased his hug around Danny's shoulders.
"If you or any of the kids need anything at all, be sure to call me." Oleksandr said firmly, then added more gently, "I'll be in the cafeteria for a little while if you think of anything. After that, you can call me any time with Dizzy."
"If anything comes up, I'll call you. I promise."
* * * * *
Assured that Ty and Ryan were dealing with their situation, Madelyn turned and saw Lucas, Jamiah and Jay sitting silently and watching.
"How are you holding up?" Madelyn asked gently as she walked across the room.
"Have you heard anything about Carson?" Jay asked hopefully.
"No. I just arrived and wanted to stop in to see how everyone is doing."
"I wish that there was something that we could do."
"Regardless of how things go with Carson's surgery, I feel safe in saying that there is going to be more than enough for you to do in the coming days. Stay strong and prepare yourself for what's to come."
"Thank you. I feel so helpless right now. It's good to know that there's going to be something that I can do to help."
Madelyn smiled at the declaration, then turned her attention to Lucas and asked, "Do you still think that you're up to the challenge of taking on so many children? Although Carson's situation is a bit extreme, you need to be aware that other situations are likely to emerge, sometimes many of them at once."
"Gordon and I were discussing that just last night. Taking care of the kids through the good times is something that anyone can do. Being a parent means helping to guide the children through the hard times so that they can develop the skills to someday deal with the ordeals of life on their own."
Madelyn smiled at the words, then looked to Jamiah and asked, "How do you feel about that?"
"I'm here without Loquicia. I think that proves that both of us are stronger than we used to be."
"Yes. You've come a long way from where you were when I first met you." Madelyn said with a smile, then turned to Lucas and said, "Once Carson is on the mend and other matters have settled down, I'll schedule a hearing to finalize the adoption. I've seen all that I need to."
"Just let us know when you're ready and we'll be there." Lucas said with a smile at Jamiah at his side.
"Is that okay with you, Jamiah?" Madelyn asked knowingly.
"Yeah. Even if Loquicia didn't need a dad, I'd still want to do this." Jamiah confirmed.
Lucas smiled, then said, "Thank you, Jamiah. And as soon as things have stabilized a bit more in Kettle Falls, I think that we'll start looking for a house of our own. As nice as it's been to stay with Ryan and Deb, I think that it's only right that our new family should start off with a clean slate."
Madelyn smiled warmly at the family, then said, "Yes. That sounds like a very good idea."
* * * * *
"Am I too early?"
"Not at all. You're always welcome here, Keil. Please come in and sit down." Oma Shoupe said warmly.
"How are things going, Dad?" Brother Jacques asked with concern.
"I'm sorry that I haven't been very good about keeping in touch. I've been so busy with my job that it's been hard to do much of anything else."
"Try not to worry about it. That's part of what Thanksgiving is all about, remembering why we do what we do." Zane said quietly.
"Thank you, Zane. Is your father going to be joining us for Thanksgiving dinner?"
"No. They're having a large Thanksgiving dinner for the whole community over at Reverend Wallace's church. I was invited, but I had to decline. It's all I can do to come downstairs. My dad said that he'll try to stop by here and visit later this afternoon."
"It's good to see that you're out of the bedroom. How are you feeling?"
"I'm tired, but good otherwise."
Keil nodded, then turned to his son and asked, "How are you, Jake?"
"I'm doing fine. We've had a lot of work to keep us occupied, so it hasn't been nearly as bad as it could have been."
"And now that Carson's going to be out of action for a little while, all of us are probably going to have more than enough to do to keep us busy." Zane interjected.
"I'm done." Bug announced as he closed the lid of his laptop.
There was a long moment of silence as all in attendance looked at him disbelievingly.
"What?" Bug asked defensively.
"I didn't think you ever completely finished working." Kev said honestly.
"Well, I'm still on call if something big comes up. But I've talked to everyone and it looks like things are under control for a while. All I'm planning on doing for the next few hours is spending time with all of you."
"Me first!" Bax crowed, then hurried to claim a seat on Bug's lap.
Bug was obviously surprised by the action, but made no complaint. Instead, he held Bax close and said, "I'm sorry if I haven't been around enough when you needed me."
"Don't beat yourself up about it, Bug. I work too. I know that if I needed you for something important that you'd be there. I just don't want to miss out on a chance like this."
"Okay, Bax. I get what you're saying. And to tell you the truth, I probably need this just as much as you do."
"Did you know that Max is a girl?"
"Yeah. I knew that."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"Does it matter?"
Bax thought about it for a moment before answering, "No, I guess not."
"Is anyone teasing Max or causing her any trouble since you found out?"
"No. We're too busy for stuff like that."
"Good." Bug said sincerely, then added, "You need to remember that Max is still the same person she was before."
"I just don't know why she didn't tell us."
"Maybe it's because she didn't want to be treated like she was different."
"Yeah. I guess I can understand that. But it just feels like she was lying to us the whole time that she knew us."
"I think she was being herself and letting you know who she was so you wouldn't think that you had to treat her special. Maybe she was proving herself to you."
"Yeah. Well, she did that. Working with her all this time, I know that I can trust her to do her job."
"You didn't say anything too stupid when you found out, did you?"
"Yeah. When I found out, I thought it was a joke or a mistake or something so I asked her if she was really sure she was a girl."
"What did she say?"
"She said that she double-checked that morning."
"Do you think that she's mad at you?"
"I didn't notice how she was acting when it was happening, but I guess now, looking back at it, she was a little bit scared. I'm glad I didn't make a bigger deal of it. We had lots of jobs to do right then so I just kinda said 'okay' and went back to work."
"Good for you." Bug said with a smile, then asked, "How's Ro handling it?"
"I think he's disappointed. I get the feeling that he thought that me and him and Max was gonna end up being boyfriends like you and the twins."
"So, now that he knows that Max is a girl he's not interested in her anymore?"
"I don't know. It's hard to know what Ro really thinks about things sometimes. He tells you what he thinks you want to hear instead of what he's really feeling."
"Some people are like that. Don't hold it against him. I doubt that he even knows that he's doing it."
"Yeah. That's what I think, too. He's just like his dads, that way. I guess that I'm more like you. I say what I'm feeling so no one has to try and figure out what I mean that I'm not saying."
"Being honest and letting people know what you're feeling will make some people uncomfortable around you. They'll try to make you be 'polite' or even worse 'politically correct'. I can't tell you how to handle it, but I want you to know that some people will work very hard to make you fit into their little box of what's 'proper'."
"Well, I don't usually do it when I'm with the tutor doing my school work. She can give me failing grades for being honest with her. But most of the rest of the time I try to be like you."
"Being like me isn't always an easy thing to be. But if you have any problems, let me know and I'll do my best to help you."
"You wouldn't ask for help, would you?"
"Maybe not as much now, but when I was your age, if I got stuck on something I'd talk to Oma Shoupe about it. Everyone needs help sometimes."
"Okay. If I start having a problem, I'll ask you or Oma Shoupe for help."
"Where are Max and Ro?"
"They went over to Ro's dads' house. I think Reginald is making some special stuffing to bring to Thanksgiving dinner and Ro said that it's really good, so they're going to try and get a taste."
"Well, I'm glad that you stayed here for a little bit. It's nice to be able to spend some time with you."
"Yeah. I think so too. Besides, I can just wait on them to bring the special stuffing over here."
Bug laughed and hugged Bax a little tighter.
* * * * *
As Oleksandr walked into the cafeteria, it was easy for him to locate the group from Tallahassee.
Not only did they look haggard and dirty but it was obvious that they were all ravenously hungry.
Although Oleksandr was reluctant to intrude on their meal, he was determined to introduce himself to his chosen people and find out if there were anything that they needed beyond the obvious.
"Do you mind if I join you?"
"You don't have any food." A blond boy said cautiously.
"I'm not here for the food, I just wanted to talk to you guys for a minute."
"Knock yourself out." The boy said before digging back into his mounded plate of food.
"My name is Oleksandr Rodchenko. I just wanted to be sure that you guys have everything that you're going to need when you leave the hospital."
A man in his early to mid forties quietly said, "I'm Andy and this young man is Hendrix. You should probably talk to Mr. Cooper about that. He's the one making most of the decisions for us."
"I just talked to him but I don't know if he's decided anything yet. Some friends of his are making arrangements so you'll have food and somewhere to sleep for the next few days, so you won't have to worry about that. What I'm really wanting to know is if you need anything besides food and shelter."
"Like what?" A husky girl asked from beside an elderly woman.
"I don't know; music, games... knitting supplies. Everyone's different, so I don't know what kind of things you might need so that you'll be able to relax and recover from everything that you've been through."
"Right now I think we're all more focused on feeling full for the first time in a very long time." Andy said before taking another bite.
"Fair enough." Oleksandr said with a smile, then added, "But just remember my name and call me if you think of anything that you need. There's a computer program called Dizzy that's coordinating pretty much everything that's going on in Kettle Falls. If you get on any computer and open Dizzy's program or call information on any phone, Dizzy will be able to answer whatever questions you might have. He can also call me, no matter where I am."
"Who are you?" Hendrix asked curiously.
"No. I mean, why are you here offering to help us? It's nice that you're willing to help us, but I don't know why some random kid would just walk up to our table and start talking to us."
"Back when everything blew up at the start of the war, there was a group of us who started working together to try and help people. It started out small, but now we're in charge of the biggest refugee center in the country. Every now and then, one of us decides that we're going to pay special attention to help out one group and see that they have everything that they need." Oleksandr said frankly, then smiled slightly before adding, "I chose you."
"Are you telling us that a child of your age is helping to coordinate the refugee effort?" The elderly woman asked dubiously.
"I'm part of the team that's doing that. There are adults and teenagers, too. I'm the youngest, but I still want to help you if I can. Instead of you having to go to the stadium in town and get things set up that way, I can get you help from the top, so you won't have to bother with it."
"Well, thank you, young man. I was just understandably surprised at your young age." The woman explained.
"I get that a lot." Oleksandr said with a smile, then asked, "Are you Mrs. Usher?"
"Yes. How did you know that?"
"I'm the one that the Russian soldier was talking to on the radio. He told me all about all of you."
"You're the one who called the Army with the helicopters and stuff to come and get us?" Hendrix asked with surprise.
"It was the Air Force, but yeah. That was me."
"You really are one of the people in charge here, aren't you?" Andy asked in amazement.
"I do a job. Once you guys get settled in, maybe you'll be able to do a job, too."
"I have to use the bathroom. Come on, Princess." The husky girl said firmly.
"I don't need to go." The younger girl slightly whined.
"Yes you do. Come on."
Oleksandr watched as the two girls got up from the table and hurried away.
"Have all of you seen the doctors already?" Oleksandr asked as he looked around the group.
"They looked us over when we first arrived, but then they said that the best thing for us would be to get something to eat and drink." Mrs. Usher said simply, then added, "We're supposed to go back to the waiting room with Mr. Cooper when we're done here."
"I think this food is going to go a long way to make all of us feel better." Andy added.
"Remember to call me if you find out that you need any help at all." Oleksandr said as he stood to leave.
"Count on it." Andy responded earnestly.
* * * * *
"Do you have a minute?" Allen asked cautiously.
"Sure. What do you need?" Ben asked in return.
"You've been running around like a headless chicken since you got that call. Is there anything I can do to help?"
"I don't know. I want to go to the hospital and see how everyone is doing, but I was told that the whole group needs to be checked out by the doctors before anyone can leave."
"Well, it sounds like there's not much that you can do until they're ready. So what are you freaking out about?"
"I'm trying to find places for all of them. There's five adults and eight kids, although, from the sound of it, one adult and at least one of the kids will probably be staying in the hospital."
"So, how are the preparations going?"
"Not as well as I had hoped. What I really wanted was to have all of them stay at our house, but there just isn't enough room. Marc and Galen already said that they'd help, but we're still likely to end up with more people than beds."
"Why don't you have some of them stay here? I have three spare bedrooms that aren't being used."
"I don't know any of the kids or what relationships they have with the adults. But if you're really serious about accepting house guests, I'll see if Junior and Mrs. Usher would like to stay with you. I don't know how many, if any, of the kids will be with them."
"However it turns out, we'll make it work. If I run out of beds, I have couches and sleeping bags. We'll make do."
"Okay. As soon as I get the call, Collin, Christian and I are going to the hospital to pick them up. I anticipate needing several drivers."
"I had the feeling that JD and Jody would be going."
"Under other circumstances, they would. But JD takes his cooking very seriously."
"I never would have imagined hosting a Thanksgiving dinner and not having anything to do, but whenever I set foot in the kitchen I get the feeling that I'm just in the way."
"You're our host. Please allow JD to do this for you so that you can spend time with your guests." Ben said sincerely, then added, "As far as Jody is concerned, he's over at Big Bubba's Auto Shop helping them with a project."
"Why would an auto mechanic need a child to help him?"
"It's because Jody is one of the few people in Kettle Falls who has a working knowledge of biodiesel engines. Apparently, there must have been an issue and they needed his help."
"All by himself?"
"No. Jorry and Nick went with him. Don't worry. They'll be back before dinner's ready. Usually Jody would be in the kitchen with JD, helping him to cook."
"You should have seen the look on JD's face when I told him that I was planning to serve instant stuffing with Thanksgiving dinner. I think that that's what made him volunteer to take over cooking."
"It also might be the reason that he hasn't tried to conscript you as a sous chef."
"No. He has Marc for that." Allen said with a grin, then thought to ask, "Do you think we should go into the kitchen and offer to help?"
"Have you got everything lined up for when your friends can leave the hospital?"
"I think everything's done that can be done at this stage of things."
"Then let's go see if our masterchef needs some help. It's usually at about this stage of things that JD realizes that reality doesn't always move as quickly and smoothly as the meal he plans out in his head."
* * * * *
As Oleksandr walked out of the cafeteria, he was surprised to see Lee approaching him.
"Were you in my head watching what I was doing?"
"I was aware of when you decided that you were done, but I wasn't watching what you were thinking." Lee said simply, then added, "But I was on my way to get you, anyway. There's someone that I think you should meet while you're here."
"Oh, okay." Oleksandr said with surprise as he followed Lee down the hallway.
"I heard this guy trying to get the doctor to understand what was wrong with him. He has trouble with English when he gets excited. Anyway, I helped him communicate with the doctor, but I got the sense that he would appreciate meeting another person who speaks his native language."
"I just barely remember coming to this country. My new parents only spoke English and it took me a long time to learn it. I think I can understand how someone would feel who was here and didn't speak the language well."
"He's in here." Lee said as he turned the corner and walked into a treatment room.
Oleksandr followed and was filled with concern when he saw the young man who was obviously in pain with a wounded shoulder.
"Mark, this is the guy that I was telling you about." Lee said in Russian as he approached.
The soldier looked at Oleksandr with surprise, then said to Lee, "He is younger than I expected."
"Even though he's young, Oleksandr is responsible for an incredible number of things. I thought you should meet him, in case you're ever needing help of some kind."
"Are you saying that he has more influence than you?"
"If I knew that you needed help, I'd do as much as I could. But Oleksandr is a civilian who works in the command center in Kettle Falls. He has access to resources that I do not."
"If you can tell me what you need, I'll know the people to call to help you." Oleksandr said confidently.
"And these people are not cautious of you because you are Russian?"
"No one cares about that. The only thing they care about is if I can do the job that needs to be done." Oleksandr said seriously, then asked, "What happened to you?"
"As I was performing my duty, protecting someone, I was knifed." Mark said cautiously, obviously unwilling to divulge too much.
"Whoever did this to you, did he get away?"
"No. He is quite dead now."
"Good." Oleksandr said, then noticed a doctor entering the room.
"You can't be in here." The doctor said firmly.
"Should I pretend that I don't speak English?" Oleksandr asked with an impish grin.
Mark gave a pained smile, then said, "No need. If I understood correctly, they have just examined the scans, so now they will know the proper treatment for my injury."
"Good. Remember that if you need anything at all while you're in Kettle Falls, ask for Oleksandr Rodchenko."
"I will remember."
The doctor looked from Mark to Oleksandr, obviously not understanding a word that they were saying.
"Yeah. We're going." Oleksandr said to the doctor when he noticed.
"Take good care of him." Lee added as he followed Oleksandr out of the room.
* * * * *
"Grammy Oma!" A young voice called, announcing a little boy, barely more than a toddler, as he raced into the room.
Bug and Bax turned as one to watch the boy hurry to Oma Shoupe and scramble onto her lap.
"Is this a friend of yours?" Bug asked with a grin.
"This young man is Roman. And unless I miss my guess, his mother should be arriving sometime soon." Oma Shoupe said as she hugged Roman close to her.
"I hope we're not interrupting anything." A young man said in a surprisingly deep voice.
Bug stared for a moment at the stranger. Saying that he was attractive was an understatement. If the young man weren't already a model, it was a serious waste of his potential.
"Thank you for inviting us, Mrs. Shoupe. Roman's been excited about coming to visit you since he found out about it this morning." A lovely brown haired woman said as she walked into the room, carrying a large bag of supplies.
"Actually, it was Mrs. Brown who invited you. Although I will admit that while in her presence I might have mentioned that you didn't have any other Thanksgiving plans." Oma Shoupe said as she continued to cuddle the boy on her lap.
A young woman walked into the room and Bug immediately noticed that she had the same blond hair and blue eyes as the young man.
"I've heard such wonderful things about the Brown family since we've been here that I can hardly believe that we're really here." The blond girl said enthusiastically.
"Introductions?" Bug asked his grandmother hopefully, then noticed that the twins had moved to stand on either side of his chair and were watching carefully for his reactions.
"I work with Hope and Erika at the school. I'm assuming that this young man with them is Erika's twin brother, Erik. And, of course, I think you've already met Hope's son, Roman." Oma Shoupe said before leaning down to give the boy a kiss on the top of his head.
Everyone watched the tender scene with matching smiles.
"Bug, would you continue the introductions? I think Roman needs my full attention for a moment." Oma Shoupe asked hopefully.
"Um, yeah. This guy sitting here with me is Bax. The twins are Ken and Kev, they're my boyfriends. The guy in the chair is Zane. His boyfriend, Brother Jacques, is on this end of the couch and Brother Jacques' father, Keil, is on the other end." Bug said easily.
"Don't forget Mindy and Mandy." Oma Shoupe reminded him.
"Oh yeah. More twins... Hey, did anyone else notice how many twins there seem to be running around this place?" Bug asked rhetorically.
"Are you complaining?" Ken asked cautiously.
"Not at all." Bug said with a grin at his twins, then glanced over to the new arrivals and said, "Come on in and have a seat. Dinner won't be for a little while."
"Good. That will give us a chance to visit." Oma Shoupe said happily.
Bug seemed to be about to say something, but then got a distracted look on his face.
"I know that look. Don't answer it. You're off duty." Kev said firmly.
"They don't need for me to do anything. It was just an update."
"You're really the one who's coordinating everything with the refugee effort, aren't you?" Erik asked cautiously.
"I'm part of the team. But since I handle so much of the operations stuff, my name comes up more often than most of the others. I guess that because of that, people kind of think that I'm the only one doing anything. Ken, Kev, Zane and Brother Jacques are all part of the team, too."
"Everyone at the camp talks about how amazing it is that you've been able to help so many people." Erik said frankly.
"Yeah? Well I'm just as impressed with you guys at Camp Trebier. When someone comes into Kettle Falls with an RV or camping equipment, we know that we don't have to worry, you guys will take good care of them."
"The others will be glad to hear that. We've all been working as hard as we can, but we couldn't tell if it was really helping or not."
"Karl Francer kind of keeps us up to date with what's going on over there. But if you notice your people needing anything to help keep their spirits up, let me know."
"I think that, right now, everyone is feeling a little bit better because of Thanksgiving. Having a reason to celebrate something is helping to give a lot of people hope."
"From the way your sister has spoken about the bonds that you've formed with the people you work with, I'm surprised that you've chosen to have Thanksgiving dinner with us." Oma Shoupe said honestly.
"To me, Thanksgiving is about family. That means that I'm going to spend it with Erika."
"The two of you don't have any other family?"
"We might have a brother, if he's still alive. We haven't seen or heard from him in almost ten years. Besides that, there's our parents, but we've kind of fallen out of touch with them." Erika quietly explained.
"When we decided to move away from Tallahassee, our parents had a fit. Every time we talk to them they harp on us and nag us about what a big mistake we're making and how we should move back there with them." Erik regretfully added.
"Just what do you think you're doing?' Kev asked when he noticed Bug opening his laptop.
"Don't worry. This isn't business." Bug assured him, then turned to Erik and asked, "What are your last names?"
Bug slowly nodded as he typed on his keyboard.
"What's he doing?" Erik asked Kev curiously.
"I think that when you mentioned that you were from Tallahassee, Bug must have remembered something." Kev said speculatively, then added more assuringly, "He's going to help you."
"Help us, how?" Erika asked cautiously.
"I can't even begin to guess."
"No fucking way." Bug muttered as his fingers moved across the keyboard at lightning speed.
"What's wrong?" Ken asked with sudden concern.
Bug stopped typing and looked at Erik before asking, "Did you say that Erika was your only family?"
"Yes. It's just been the two of us for the past three years."
"Okay. Let me see if I've got this right. Do you know if you have some cousins named JD and Jody in Tallahassee?"
"Yeah. They used to come to our parents' house for holidays. We haven't seen them in years."
"What about Jorry and Nick from Orlando? Are they related to you too?"
"Yes. But I haven't seen or heard from them since we were all kids."
"What about your Uncles Ben and Cliff?"
"Yes. I remember them."
"Marc and Galen?"
"Collin and Christian?"
"Yes. I remember all of them. Why are you asking?"
"Because they're all here in Kettle Falls."
Erik and Erika looked at each other with matching looks of surprise.
"You said it yourself, Thanksgiving is about family. I can't think of anything better than letting your family know that you're here so that you can reconnect with them."
"All of them are here?" Erika asked in a small voice.
"Yeah. And once you talk to them, you might find out that there's even more. That's all I was able to come up with doing a simple search with Dizzy."
"Do you want to?" Erik asked his sister uncertainly.
"I think we should."
"Phone's right over there." Bug said with a smile as he pointed.
* * * * *
"Did you get everything done that you wanted to?" Lee asked as he walked with Oleksandr to the hospital's main entrance.
"I didn't get as much done as I wanted to, but I introduced myself and let them know to call me if they need anything. I hope that's enough."
"I think that's what's most important. You probably can't do much more until they realize that they need something."
"Yeah." Oleksandr reluctantly agreed, then quickly added, "I need to check in with Dizzy to see if I missed anything while I was here."
"Are we going back to the Brown's house?"
"Yeah. As far as I know." Oleksandr said before keying his subvocal and saying, "Dizzy? What's happened since I've been at the hospital?"
Lee had taken two steps before he noticed that Oleksandr had stopped to listen.
When it was obvious that Oleksandr was finished, Lee cautiously asked, "Is there a problem?"
"Yeah. Well, not with my stuff. But there's a big fire in Colville. Dizzy says that they'll have it contained soon, but the fire chief is treating it as arson. The task force has already been called and they're on their way to investigate."
"So, you think this is another case of released prisoners or foreign covert ops causing havoc to make our lives more difficult?"
"Yeah. Just as soon as people start feeling safe, they do things to make everyone afraid again."
"That's why we're on Bryce's side. He tries to make things so that everyone can feel secure and live their lives to their fullest. Ashwood wants to rule everyone by fear, taking away their rights and civil liberties with a promise that he'll keep them safe from all the scary things that he created."
"We'd better get back to the house. Even though nothing big has happened, I need to get back to work so that Ben won't have a ton of stuff to catch up on when he gets back." Oleksandr said frankly as he started walking again.
"Aren't you going to have Thanksgiving dinner with the Brown family?"
"I'll probably stop to eat when I reach a good stopping point."
"How bad do you think it would be if we went to 'Little Chicago' right now and you spent Thanksgiving with Dax and Ben? Do you think that it would cause anyone any trouble? Do you think that anyone would be mad at you for not working while everyone else is spending time with their families?"
"I don't really feel like it."
"What do you think Ben feels?"
"I don't know."
"Ben and Dax are your family. If they're too busy to realize that, then it's your job to remind them. Thanksgiving is about family and if you let them do nothing but work to help others, then all of you are going to regret this missed opportunity." Lee said as he stopped beside the gator.
"But Ben is counting on me to take care of things while he's gone."
"Bullshit. You know as well as I do that the UNIT and Monarch Command can watch things for a little while. All of you have been working like crazy. You need this. They need this. And if they don't realize it, then you need to pull them aside and make them see what's really important. This is your first Thanksgiving together as a family. That's special."
"What are you going to do for Thanksgiving?"
"I'm going to spend it with my family, the UNIT."
"Okay. I guess you're right."
"Then should I drive you over to Little Chicago?"
"Hop in." Lee said with a smile as he climbed into the Gator.
"Thanks." Oleksandr said quietly as he got into the passenger seat.
"When we get there, I'm going to drop you off. Ben's escort will know to watch over you, too."
"So then you'll go and have Thanksgiving with your family?"
"Maybe not right away. I might have other duties to perform first. But I will eventually."
* * * * *
"Mr. Bug, you have visitors." A dignified voice said from the hallway leading to the main house.
"Mr. Crante, my name is just Bug, not Mr. Bug."
"As you say, Sir. May I present Mr. and Mrs. Farmer and Miss Clawson."
"Geoduck. You invited us here, didn't you?" The older man asked reluctantly as he walked into the room.
"Yeah. I'm just not used to your last names. If he would have called you Harold, I would have known who he was talking about. Is this your family?"
"Yes. This is my wife Rose and her sister Anabelle."
"It's nice to meet you. There's still a few seats. Grab 'em. Dinner won't be ready for a little while, so we can hang out here until it's ready."
"Aren't you going to introduce them around?" Oma Shoupe asked disapprovingly.
"Sure, I guess. But I don't think it'll do any good." Bug said as he stood. He looked around the gathering then pointed to each person as he said, "Bax, Ken, Kev, Zane, Brother Jacques, Keil, Hope, Roman, Mindy, Mandy and Oma Shoupe. You just missed Erik and Erika, but they said that they might stop back later. They just found out that a lot of their family are here in Kettle Falls and they never knew about it."
"It's nice to meet all of you." Harold said timidly.
"Please excuse my grandson's method of introductions. I promise, I taught him better than this. He's just impatient." Oma Shoupe said graciously.
"That's quite alright. From what Harold's told us about your grandson, he sounds like a remarkable young man. With all the good that he's done, I think we can forgive a little social impropriety." Rose said warmly.
"If you guys will just sit down, I'm pretty sure that everyone will let you know who they are and what they're doing here." Bug said as he took his seat again.
"Mr. Bug, you have another guest. May I present Ms. Peete." Mr. Crante said from the entrance to the hallway.
"Now you're just doing it out of spite." Bug said under his breath, then smiled when he saw who it was and said, "Lonnie, I'm glad that you could make it. Harold just got here, so at least there's going to be somebody else here that you know."
"That wouldn't have been a problem. I brought someone with me." Lonnie said as she held up a small tablet computer.
Bug laughed before saying, "It's good to see you, Steven. I'm glad you could make it."
"That's thanks to Lonnie. She's the one who talked me into it."
"Thank you, Lonnie. I really wanted to do something special for my team today. Even though Steven isn't going to get to have any of the turkey with us, having him here seems right."
"I'm probably going to be having a turkey dinner, too." Steven quickly interjected.
"Arlan is going to try and cook it and he's a little... well, you'd just have to see the algorithm that he came up with to figure out how long to cook the turkey and at what temperature. I think he has it timed down to the millisecond. It might turn out to be wonderful... or more likely we'll all be munching on instant stuffing and canned yams while Arlan tries to figure out what went wrong."
"Well, if it turns out too bad, you can let us know and one of us will bring some food over to you."
"Actually, I'm interested to see how this experiment of his turns out."
Bug turned to the others in the room and loudly said, "Everyone. This is Lonnie and Steven. They work with me."
Several greetings and waves came from the assembly of people.
"Lonnie and Steven, this is everyone."
* * * * *
When the door swung open, everyone went silent.
The nurse looked around and when she spotted Ryan, she took a few steps toward him, then quietly asked, "Mr. Brown, could I talk to you for a moment?"
"Nurse Nakahara, right?" Ryan strained to remember.
"Yes. That's right. I'm surprised that you remember me."
"It's not every day that someone goes to my lab to have an explosive device surgically removed from his chest. It was a memorable day." Ryan said honestly, then hopefully asked, "Do you have any news about Carson?"
"Yes. Although, technically, Carson's still in surgery, I've been sent to give you an update. Doctor Hayes has completed the attachment of the limbs and has left Dr. Murten to finish closing."
"Where's Dr. Hayes?" Ryan asked cautiously, suspecting that something wasn't quite right.
"She's been called away. Dr. Murten told me to tell you that everything is proceeding normally, and that Carson will likely be moved into recovery within the next two hours. Carson won't be conscious, but you'll be allowed to go in for a brief time and see for yourselves that he's alive and well."
"Were you in there, in the surgery?"
"Yes. I only just left when Dr. Murten asked me to bring you this message."
"Do you think everything's really alright?" Ryan asked cautiously, obviously afraid of the answer.
"Dr. Hayes used surgical techniques that are beyond my ability to comprehend or describe. All I can tell you is that I have no doubt whatsoever that Dr. Hayes was confident, competent and comfortable with the surgery she was doing. I've seen a lot of surgeries over the years and I can tell you that that woman knew what she was doing. I'm not qualified to give a medical prognosis, but in my personal opinion, I think your son got the absolute best help available for his condition."
"I think he's going to be alright. Really."
"I hope you're right."
To Be Continued...