Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, a car pulled off the road at a crossroads.
A young man stopped the engine, then took out a map to verify that he was in the right place. After a look around, he checked his watch to see that it was nearly the right time.
As he looked at the map again, trying to see if there were any way he could have misinterpreted the instructions, a rapping on the window nearly made him jump out of his skin.
While he was lowering his window, he looked ahead and behind, trying to see where the stranger might have come from.
"Are you Brian?" The dark haired young man asked hesitantly.
"Yeah, officially, that's me. But in real life, everyone calls me Ben. Are you Zane?" He cautiously ventured.
The dark haired man gave a quick nod, then asked, "Can we go? It's really not safe for me here."
"Oh, sure. Get in." Ben said quickly.
Zane walked around the car and put a backpack onto the floorboard before climbing into his seat.
"You can put that in the back seat, if you want." Ben said as he started the car and pulled onto the road.
Zane seemed to consider for a moment, then slowly, almost reluctantly, relocated the backpack to the back seat.
"It's nice to finally meet you in person. You don't look anything like what I imagined." Ben said frankly.
Zane stared at Ben with dark, nearly black eyes, but didn't make any kind of a response.
After a moment, Ben reluctantly said, "I'm guessing from what you said back there, that our grandfather isn't going to be too happy when he finds out that you're gone."
"No." Zane said quietly, then added, "I doubt that he'll be overly bothered by it. But he sees me as his property, and he's very possessive. So he'll probably tell one of his associates to 'deal' with it."
"'Deal with it', how?" Ben asked cautiously.
"I don't know. There are a lot of different things that they could do. But what I do know is that if they catch me, no one will ever see me or hear from me again." Zane said frankly.
"From what my mom told me, Grandpa is a rich and powerful man who is always trying to find ways to be even more rich and more powerful. And she said that it's gone to his head and that he feels entitled to have anything that he wants, no matter what it costs or who it hurts." Ben said as he concentrated on his driving.
"He's a monster." Zane whispered.
"Kennon told me a little about the camp Grandpa sent you to, but did he do worse than that?" Ben asked hesitantly, not sure that he really wanted to know.
"It wasn't a camp, it was a prison, a torture chamber. They did things... I don't think I'll ever be able to forget what they did to me, but I'm determined to spend the rest of my life trying." Zane said in a low voice.
"I just don't get why grandpa would send you there." Ben said quietly.
After a long silent moment, Zane said in a cold, emotionless voice, "He called me an abomination. He said that giving birth to a vile bastard like me is what caused God to punish my mother with the disease that killed her."
"That's just nuts! Kennon told me that she died from the same thing that he had. It was genetic, so if anyone's to blame for her death, it's probably your grandfather for passing along his crap genes." Ben said firmly.
Zane looked at Ben with surprise, then his gaze became distant as he seemed to be considering Ben's words.
* * * * *
"There is something else that you should know." Zane said, startling Ben, since they had been riding in silence for so long.
"What's that?" Ben asked cautiously.
"While I was at...that place... grandfather stopped in to check on my 'progress' a few times. During one of his visits, he had me sedated, and when I woke up, I found an incision on my chest." Zane said quietly.
"What?... Why would he do that?" Ben asked in confusion.
Zane was quiet for a moment and seemed to be gathering his courage. Finally, he quietly said, "It took some time, but I was finally able to find out what was done to me. I was implanted with a transmitter so that if I ever tried to escape, Grandfather could find me without having to go to too much trouble."
"So, you mean, he might be after us already?" Ben asked as he looked into the rearview mirror.
"No. I just wanted you to be aware, so you would understand when you saw this." Zane said, then lifted up the bottom of his hoodie to reveal what looked something like a remote control hanging on Zane's belt."
"Okay. What is it?" Ben asked slowly.
"Simply put, this is a battery powered signal jammer. I am wearing a wire mesh vest that generates a low power frequency that can block any signal inside it from escaping." Zane said carefully.
"So, while you're wearing that vest, they'll have to look for you the old fashioned way." Ben said speculatively.
"Yes. Although, they probably won't be aware that I am missing until dinner time tonight. It is common for me to avoid seeing grandfather all day, but he insists that all members of the household attend the evening meal." Zane said frankly.
"So we've got a few hours to put as much distance as we can between them and us." Ben said firmly.
"Yes. Although, if we are returning to your house, I suspect that he might know to look there." Zane said hesitantly.
"Nope. Look at the sky. We're heading West, away from my home." Ben said happily.
"Where are we going?" Zane asked cautiously.
Ben turned to smile at his cousin and saw the wary gaze fixed on him.
"I was going to surprise you with this, but I guess, now that I think about it, you've had more than enough surprises in your life." Ben said gently.
Zane's apprehension seemed to have eased somewhat, but he was still waiting expectantly for Ben to tell of their destination.
"Well, I remember you telling me about how you never knew your dad and all of that. So I talked to my mom and she was able to tell me a few things. After that, I did some checking around, you know, public records and stuff like that and I'm pretty sure that I found him." Ben said happily.
"You found my father?" Zane asked in astonishment.
"Yeah, I'm about ninety-five percent sure that it's him." Ben said frankly.
"Does he know that we're coming?" Zane asked cautiously.
"No. I kinda thought that this might be one of those things that should be done face-to-face. It'll be a lot harder for him to deny you if you're standing there, looking him in the eye." Ben said seriously.
"But... what if he doesn't want me." Zane asked in a whisper.
"If that happens, then it's his problem." Ben said honestly, then continued, "You're twenty years old. It's time for you to be out on your own. I'm not taking you to meet him so you can move in with him and have him take care of you. I just thought we could go on up, and if all goes well, we could have a nice visit for a couple days, or even a couple weeks. We can get to know your dad, and then, when the time is right... we'll see where the road takes us next."
* * * * *
After a long stretch of silence, Ben finally felt the need to ask, "How are your batteries?"
"Sufficient." Zane said distantly.
"Come on, Mr. Spock. What kind of an answer is that? I need to know if we're going to need to stop so you can buy new batteries."
"These are rechargeable. I think that we can make it to midnight, if we need to."
"I'd rather not need to. We'll probably start looking for a place to stop at around ten."
"Thank you for coming to get me, Ben. I know that we don't know each other that well and I really appreciate that you offered to help."
"You're my cousin, Zane. Since Kennon's death, you and I are all that's left of our generation."
"I miss him. He was a good friend." Zane said quietly.
"I'm sorry that I never got to meet him face to face. From the way he seemed online, he was a great guy."
"He was the best."
* * * * *
They rode in silence for a few minutes before Zane quietly asked, "Did he blame me?"
"For his condition? Of course not! It was genetic. It had nothing to do with you." Ben said immediately.
"No. For not being there." Zane said in a whisper.
"No, Zane. He knew that you had no choice. I know that he wished you had been there with him, but he understood that you didn't choose to be sent to that place. He even told me that your grandfather... our grandfather... was working with those 're-education camp' people. Kennon was all upset one night when he overheard our grandfather talking about some new drug cocktail he came up with and how he wanted to see what it did to you." Ben finished with disgust.
"I don't want to talk about this anymore." Zane said in a quaking voice.
"Then we won't." Ben said simply.
Zane slightly nodded to indicate that he had heard.
"But, if you ever do want to talk, I'll be here to listen." Ben said quietly as he kept his eyes focused on the road.
Zane turned his head slightly to look out the window as the miles passed by.
* * * * *
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Zane asked, breaking nearly an hour of silence between them.
"You'll have to be a little bit more specific. Is what a good idea?" Ben asked frankly.
When Zane didn't respond, Ben quietly said, "If you're asking if taking you away from that evil bastard of a grandfather of ours is a good idea, then the answer is 'yes', without a doubt."
"If you're asking if taking a road trip halfway across the country is a good idea, then I guess I'd have to say 'yes' to that one, too."
"But as much as I appreciate you doing this, it isn't fair to you. You have your own life. What about your girlfriend?" Zane asked cautiously.
"Her family suddenly wanted for all of them to go on this big European vacation. I mean, it was kind of freaky because the first that Melissa or I heard about it was yesterday morning and they left last night. Since I don't have a passport, I couldn't have gone along, even if I wanted to, which I didn't. Her folks are a little bit too snooty for me." Ben said frankly.
When Ben glanced away from the road for an instant, he found Zane's dark, almost black eyes staring at him intently.
"What?" Ben asked cautiously.
"What aren't you saying? There's more that you're not telling me." Zane said slowly.
Ben thought for a moment, then said, "Yeah, but I didn't tell you because I didn't want to worry you for nothing. It's just rumors and stuff."
When Zane made no response, Ben felt compelled to continue, "Yesterday, Cam and Jack invited me and my family up to the cabin."
"What's so strange about that? I remember you telling me in the chat room that your family and Jack's family have become really close and that you go up to the cabin several times a year." Zane asked curiously.
"Okay, the thing is, Cam and his dad, Grandpa Dave, and my Grandpa Andy have been really worried about some stuff for a while now. They think that some really bad things are coming and that it might be a really good idea to be up at the cabin where no one can find them until it all blows over." Ben said slowly.
"But since you had already committed yourself to coming to get me, you told them you couldn't go with them?" Zane asked cautiously.
"No. Actually, I told them that since everyone was going to be gone at once, that this would be the perfect time for me to come get you. That's when I got online and waited for you to join the chat to ask you if you were ready to get out of there." Ben said with a smile.
"You should have gone with your family." Zane said as his gaze drifted to his feet.
"You are my family, Zane. Besides, no one was upset by it. Cam, Jack and my dad each gave me some money for the trip. How much more proof do you need that they're alright with this?" Ben asked frankly.
"I just don't know what I'm doing or why." Zane said helplessly as he turned to face Ben.
"What we're doing is going on a roadtrip to find your biological father. And why? How about because the old bastard who raised you after your mom died sent you off to some freaked out 'Jesus Camp' torture chamber and kept you there for almost two years? How about because you've been living as a prisoner in your own home and pretending to be his obedient slave until someone, namely me, gave you a way out?" Ben asked with barely restrained anger.
"I still don't want to talk about that. But... I guess you're right." Zane said reluctantly.
"How's your battery?" Ben asked cautiously.
After a moment to check the indicator on his belt, Zane said, "It still looks like I'll be fine until we can stop and I can recharge."
"I can't believe that sick fucker actually cut you open and put a TRACKING DEVICE inside you!" Ben growled without warning.
Zane shrank back a little in fear at the angry tone of Ben's voice.
When Ben noticed, he calmed himself and said, "I'm not mad at you, Zane. I'm mad at what was done to you."
Zane looked away, but Ben could tell that he was still listening.
"I guess now that we're alone and I know that no one can overhear us, I should be completely honest with you." Ben said in prelude.
When Zane didn't react, he continued, "I know a little more about what happened to you than I've told you. I talked to Kennon about it after you were taken away. With Kennon's condition being like it was, your grandfather and his flunkies would ignore him, like he was a piece of furniture and sometimes they would say things in front of him that they probably wouldn't if it were anyone else."
Zane cautiously turned and looked at Ben with thinly disguised interest.
"It seems that our grandfather, the renowned Dr. Werner, was working with some group, developing and refining different brainwashing techniques. Kennon thought that the plan was to lay low until they had a few successes, then get someone high up in the government to give his 'treatment for troubled youth' an official endorsement. After that, they would start opening 'clinics' or 'camps' all over the country and judges could sentence any kid who even looked like they might think about getting into trouble to 'treatment'." Ben said as he fought to keep the majority of his attention on his driving.
"Oh God, no. They can't... No one should ever..." Zane trailed off with a shake of his head, then went silent as he turned his gaze out the window.
"Anyway, that was the plan back then. I'd be willing to bet that President Assbag would probably sign off on the plan personally. If that happens, then the old man will make lots and lots of money, and the nutjobs who thought this crap up will have an army of mindless little drones willing to follow their every order." Ben said seriously.
Zane thought about what Ben had said, then quietly asked, "Shouldn't we tell someone?"
"Yeah." Ben snorted, then asked, "Who'd believe us?"
"Perhaps we could find a news reporter..." Zane speculated.
Ben shook his head and said, "From what Cam and his dad have been saying, any actual reporter is scared for their life right now. Remember what happened to Lily Manning? She asked a question that pissed someone off and they tried to kill her and her kids! She's not the only one, she's just one of the few that lived to tell about it. All the real reporters are keeping their mouths shut. The rest, all they're doing is spouting the propaganda that they're being told to."
"Are you saying that you want to let this happen without trying to stop it?" Zane asked cautiously.
"No. Of course not. I'm just not sure what to do, yet. I mean, maybe we could get it out on the Internet. But, I'm afraid that it'll be stopped before anyone can see it and then, the next minute, there'll be Federal Agents breaking down our door." Ben said anxiously.
"I may know someone..." Zane said slowly.
Ben glanced away from his driving for a moment to give Zane a questioning look.
"As you know, for the past few years I haven't been able to leave the estate. So I spent much of my time online. While I was there, I lurked in chat rooms quite a bit and I found someone who seemed to be very knowledgeable on several subjects. After a while, I took a chance and talked directly to him." Zane said quietly.
"What did he tell you?" Ben asked curiously.
"At first, I just talked to him about ways to evade parental lockouts and to avoid being eavesdropped on while I was online. But later, I started talking to him, in a strictly theoretical sense, about how to mask the signal of a tracking device." Zane said carefully.
"So this guy was able to help you come up with the signal blocker?" Ben asked with surprise.
"Yes. He came up with most of the design in just a day or two. Unfortunately, it took me nearly a year to find all the components that I needed to make it work." Zane said regretfully.
"And I was all impressed because I thought you came up with it all on your own." Ben chuckled.
"No. I didn't know enough about electronics at the time to do it myself. Now, with all that I've learned while building this, I might be able to build something else, all on my own." Zane said frankly.
"I'm just glad that you've found a way to get around what the old bastard did to you."
"Ben." Zane said hesitantly.
"What?" Ben asked curiously.
"I don't know if you've thought about this, but it's possible that they might have... programmed me. It's possible that somewhere in all the conditioning that they gave me, they might have done something to make me betray you." Zane said fearfully.
There was a long moment of silence, then Ben quietly said, "I knew that."
Zane looked at Ben with surprise.
"That's the main reason I'm not taking you to the cabin." Ben said honestly.
"You..." Zane started to say, then stopped, not knowing what he wanted to ask.
"Before I came to get you, I knew some of what you'd been through. I didn't know about the tracking device, but I realized that it was possible that you might have been given a mission of some sort and been allowed to escape." Ben said frankly.
"Then... why are you here with me?" Zane asked cautiously.
"Because you're my cousin." Ben said simply.
Zane stared at him uncertainly.
"I want you to be happy, Zane. I want for you to have a life of your own. I'm willing to take a risk if there's any way we can make up for some of what that old bastard did to you." Ben said sincerely.
After a moment, Zane whispered, "Thank you."
Ben nodded, then worked up the courage to say, "I know that you don't want to talk about what was done to you at 'that place'. But there's one thing that I'd really like to know, if you wouldn't mind telling me."
Zane looked at Ben cautiously and waited for his question.
"I guess what I want to know is why they let you go. Did grandfather get you out or did you do something?" Ben asked cautiously.
Zane was silent for a moment, then quietly said, "What I did was give in to them. No matter what disgusting perverted thing they asked of me, I did it without hesitation or question. There was no way to judge the passage of time in there, but after what I thought was about two months of being completely compliant, they drugged me and I woke up in my room at Grandfather's house."
Ben could see how much telling the brief story had cost Zane and resisted the urge to question him further.
* * * * *
The conversation between them was sparse and on general 'safe' topics after that. The pair stopped for a surprisingly good meal at a truck stop before continuing on to find a motel for the night.
"All that driving wiped me out. It sure will feel good to get a shower and then crawl into bed." Ben said as he opened the door to their motel room.
"I'm sorry I couldn't help. I never learned how to drive." Zane said quietly.
Ben smiled, then said, "It's not like it was going to happen anyway. I won't even let Melissa drive my car."
Zane actually seemed to be a little bit relieved by the admission.
"Do you need the bathroom before I start my shower?" Ben asked as he flopped his suitcase onto the nearest bed.
"Yes. Thank you. I'll only be a minute." Zane said quietly as he walked toward the bathroom door.
Ben nodded, then took out some blue sweatpants and a plain white t shirt to change into after his shower.
* * * * *
When Zane walked out of the bathroom, Ben got his first look at the wire mesh vest that Zane had been wearing under his hoodie all day.
"Is that thing uncomfortable?" Ben asked cautiously.
"A little. But I'm getting used to it." Zane said as he walked to the second bed and sat down to take off his shoes.
"From the look of your backpack, you didn't bring many clothes. Would you like to borrow something of mine so you can get a shower when I'm done?" Ben asked cautiously.
"I won't be able to remove the vest to take a shower. I'll be fine for tonight and I'll clean up in the morning. I have fresh clothes for tomorrow, but if you have some loose fitting shorts or sweatpants for me to sleep in, I'd appreciate it." Zane said timidly.
"Yeah. No problem." Ben said with a smile, then took a pair of gym shorts out of his suitcase.
"I'll say goodnight now, in case I'm asleep before you're finished." Zane said as he looked into Ben's eyes.
"Yeah. Goodnight, Zane." Ben said warmly, then picked up his clean clothes and contact lens supplies before walking into the bathroom.
Zane changed into the gym shorts, then took a power cord out of his hoodie pocket and plugged it into the box on his belt. He carefully laid back on the bed and checked one last time to see that his powerpack was charging before closing his eyes.
Ben walked into the bedroom and found Zane seemingly asleep. His body was arranged very precisely and he was still as a corpse.
He tried to put the uneasy thoughts of torture camps and their grandfather out of his head and focus on the adventure that lay ahead.
* * * * *
Several hours later, Ben awoke to the sound of vigorous lovemaking in the next room. The bumps against the wall and wails of ecstasy caused Ben to come fully awake.
He absently stroked himself through his sweatpants as he thought of his girlfriend... fiancÃ©e... Melissa.
As things started heating up, Ben remembered that he wasn't alone in the room. Feeling that he was past the point where it could be ignored, Ben walked to the bathroom to 'take matters in hand'.
When he turned on the bathroom light, Ben turned to be sure that Zane wasn't aware of his activities.
What he saw froze him in place.
Zane was still lying, in exactly the same position as when they had gone to bed. Ben would be willing to swear that he hadn't moved a muscle the entire night.
Seeing Zane in that state disturbed Ben and all thoughts of a sexual nature were now banished from his mind. After a moment more of watching Zane, Ben went in to relieve his bladder before returning to bed to try and get some more sleep.
* * * * *
"Ben. You need to see this." Zane said quietly.
"Jack?" Ben asked groggily.
"No. It's Zane. You need to see the news." Zane said urgently.
Ben finally opened his eyes and saw the look of concern on Zane's face.
"What is it?" Ben asked cautiously.
"President Bryce has been killed." Zane whispered, then dashed back to the television where President Ashwood was making an announcement.
Ben scrambled out of bed as he said, "Turn it up."
Just as Zane increased the volume, President Ashwood turned and left the room.
"What did he say? What happened?" Ben asked as his mind whirled.
"He said that President Bryce and his entire family..." Zane started to say, then stopped when he saw what was on the screen.
"My fellow Americans, as you've just seen, I'm supposedly dead. At approximately 2:15am President Ashwood launched a medium scale covert attack with U.S. Military forces against another U.S. Military Base in which I, Mike and our families had taken refuge, due to the threats against us..."
"This is what they were worried about." Ben muttered to himself.
"That President Ashwood would try to kill President Bryce?" Zane asked cautiously.
"Not that exactly, but more about what is going to happen because of it." Ben said distantly as he absently noticed the blood covered clothing that President Bryce was wearing.
"I don't understand what you mean." Zane said thoughtfully.
"Look at him, Zane. Up to now this has all been politics. Some of it dirty, but still there were certain rules that everyone understood. Now, it's personal."
As if in response to Ben's words, President Bryce paused for a moment to collect his emotions, then said, "What his attack on our families did accomplish was...was the shooting of my nine year old son, Chris, and the shooting of my eight month pregnant wife Linda."
"Oh Jesus!" Ben gasped.
"What?" Zane asked cautiously.
"Zane, this is going to get bad. Really, really bad." Ben said as he walked to his side of the room and took out some clothes to change into.
"I don't understand why you're worried. Of course I'm worried for President Bryce and his family, but I don't see what that has to do with us." Zane said carefully.
"Listen, Zane. Ashwood is an insecure douchebag who loves making people hate each other and fight for his amusement. Bryce seems to be a basically good man who is sincere in his convictions. The two were going to fight, no matter what. But what just happened took it to a whole other level. Ashwood's going to switch from his usual dickishness to being an out and out asshole. And Bryce is going to stand firm for what he believes, and now he's fighting to protect or avenge his family. Trust me. We need to get moving." Ben said while quickly skinning out of his sweats and pulling on some jeans and a t shirt.
Zane seemed to suddenly realize what he was doing and started to change.
"I have to put my contacts in. So we have time for you to clean up, if you need to." Ben said as he zipped his suitcase closed.
"I attended to that earlier, while you were sleeping. We can leave as soon as you're ready." Zane said quietly.
"Are your batteries good?" Ben asked as he walked into the bathroom.
"Yes. Although we may need to stop earlier tonight if we're going to drive through the entire day." Zane said frankly.
"No. We've got about six or seven hours of driving left, depending on traffic." Ben said loudly from the bathroom.
"Where are we going?" Zane asked cautiously.
* * * * *
As soon as they were out on the road, Ben tuned the radio to a news station that was replaying both President Ashwood and President Bryce's announcement.
"At least President Bryce's wife and son aren't dead." Zane finally said.
"No. But I don't think, from the sound of it, that they're completely out of the woods yet." Ben said darkly, then muttered, "I wish I could call Jack."
"What would he do?" Zane asked curiously.'
Ben looked at Zane with surprise, then realized that he had spoken his internal thought aloud.
Finally, Ben said, "Jack would just calm me down and help me to make sense of things. He's really good at that. Whenever I get stressed out about something, he helps me through it."
"If I knew how, I would try to do that for you." Zane said apologetically.
"That's alright, Zane. I don't want you to be him. Just be you. That's all I need for you to be right now." Ben said frankly.
"But, I don't remember how to be me... I'm not sure I've ever been me." Zane said thoughtfully.
"There was a time when I was like that. In fact, that's when I met Jack. He's the one who helped me through it." Ben finished with a smile.
"What did he do? How did he help you?" Zane asked cautiously.
"I guess the most important thing was that he talked to me. And he listened. He paid attention to me when no one else in my life really did." Ben said distantly.
"Like what you're doing for me now?" Zane asked uncertainly.
"I guess, in a way. I'll be here to help you however you need me. No strings. No conditions. If you want to talk, I'll listen. If you have questions, I'll answer them as well as I can. If you need more than that... well, I'll do that, too." Ben finished hesitantly.
"I don't know what you mean." Zane said uneasily.
"Well, when Jack and I met, I had some problems with shyness and how I saw myself. One of the things that Jack did for me, was to make me face my fears. He got naked in front of me and convinced me to get naked in front of him." Ben said distantly.
"What did he make you do?" Zane asked slowly.
"Nothing. In fact, I think that's what really did me the most good. When I found out that I could get naked with him and that he wouldn't do or say anything to hurt me, I realized that I had someone who I could really trust."
"So you just took off your clothes and everything was okay?" Zane asked suspiciously.
Ben chuckled, then said, "No. We did other stuff, like hiking and running. We just did the naked stuff until I got to the point where it didn't bother me anymore. My anxiety and shyness had been holding me back in other things in my life and Jack helped me get past it."
"When you said that you'd do more, what did that mean?" Zane asked seriously.
"Sorry if that creeped you out. I was just meaning that if you needed some type of physical comfort, that I'd be okay with that, too."
"I don't know. Maybe something like a hug or a kiss. I don't really want to put it into words because that's like me putting limits on it, and I want you to know that you can ask me for anything." Ben said frankly.
"You'll do anything I ask?"
"No. You can ask for anything that you want. It may be something that I'm not willing to do, but I won't be angry or tease you because you asked it."
Zane thought for a moment, then slowly nodded his comprehension.
"I'll just say one more thing, then we can let the subject drop for a while." Ben said gently, then continued more firmly, "I'm not a mindreader. I don't know you well enough to guess at what's going on inside your head. If you want something, if you want to know something, if you're just not happy for some reason, tell me. I can't help if you won't share with me what the problem is."
"But what if I don't know." Zane asked helplessly.
"Then share what you do know, then maybe we can figure it out together."
Zane's look became distant as he thought about the words.
"But for now, I think I could use some help navigating. There's a map and some printouts in the glove compartment. Would you get them out?" Ben asked hopefully.
Zane's posture visibly eased as he leaned forward to open the glove box.
* * * * *
After over an hour of driving on unfamiliar streets, Zane finally said, "Yes! Turn right at the next intersection and it should be the first building past the corner on the right."
"Good! I was beginning to feel like we were never going to get here. What a rat maze!" Ben said as he took the turn.
Zane and Ben stared in astonishment when they saw the building.
"Are you sure you read it right?" Ben asked as he pulled to the curb and stopped the engine.
"Yes. The number is over the door." Zane said as he pointed.
Ben was quiet for a moment, then said, "I'm sorry, Zane. I should have checked more closely and found out what your father was like before we made this trip. All I did was get his most recent address."
"Well, we're here, we might as well go in." Zane said quietly and some of the nervousness he was feeling came out in his voice.
Ben nodded his agreement, then watched for oncoming traffic before quickly getting out of the car.
With matching expressions of apprehension, the two cousins walked toward the rundown inner city shelter for the homeless.
* * * * *
When they walked up to the door, they were surprised to find it locked.
Ben walked to the barred window a few feet away and peeked inside.
Although the light was such that he couldn't make out any details, he definitely saw movement.
Ben walked back to Zane's side and said, "Someone's in there. You need to knock."
Zane seemed hesitant, but finally raised his hand and rapped gently on the door.
It took a minute, but finally a young man, about their same age, opened the door a crack and said, "The mission's been closed. Go down to eighth, or fourteenth if they're full."
"We're not here for that. We're looking for someone and maybe you know him." Ben said quickly.
"No one's here. Fuck off." The young man said, then started to close the door.
"Please, we've driven halfway across the country." Ben rushed to say before the door was closed.
When the young man stopped, Ben quickly continued, "Can you just tell us if you know where we can find Brian Doherty. This is his son."
The young man looked at Zane for a moment, then seemed to be considering. He whispered something to someone behind him, then finally said, "You should come inside. You two are gonna get your asses kicked coming here, looking like that."
"Looking like what?" Ben asked cautiously.
"Like you got more than two pennies to rub together. Anyone thinks you got money, you'll be stripped bare and left to bleed-out in the gutter." The young man said as he ushered them inside and firmly closed the door behind them.
"Do you know where Brian Doherty is?" Ben asked hopefully as he looked around. He was sure that he had seen the young man whisper to someone else, but there was no one else in the room.
"I never heard him called Brian, but Father Doherty is in back, packing stuff up." The young man said as he led the way.
As they walked, Ben noticed that the young man's hands seemed to be trembling uncontrollably.
* * * * *
"Father. You have some visitors." The young man said as he stopped just inside the room.
"Visitors? How nice!" The priest said with delight, then said to the young man, "Brother Jacques, it's nearly dinner time. Why don't you gather everyone into the dining hall and we'll meet you there."
"Yes, Father." The young man, Brother Jacques, said gently, then withdrew from the room.
"Since the mission has been closed, I'm interested to know what brings you here." The priest said as he gestured for them to follow him out of the room.
"Well, my cousin Zane grew up never knowing his father..." Ben began to say, but was interrupted.
"Yes. It's a tragic state that this country has fallen into. Promiscuity followed by the abdication of responsibility. It's rampant. The men who sow their seed and walk away from their progeny should be ashamed, no, reviled and cast out of decent society!" The priest said passionately.
"Yeah. Well... Um, you see." Ben stammered.
"I'm sorry my boy. I've seen so much in the years that I've been at this mission. I can't help but speak out, even though no one listens." Father Doherty said regretfully as he slowly walked through the meandering hallways filled with countless doorless rooms.
"I'm your son." Zane said, seemingly out of nowhere.
The priest stopped in the hallway and looked at Zane with surprise, then gave a smile and slightly shook his head.
"His mother's name was Mariah Elaine Werner." Ben said simply.
The priest's eyes went wide as he gasped, "Mariah?"
"I was born January 2nd, 1992." Zane said carefully.
The priest seemed to be lost in thought for a moment, then he cautiously said, "Yes, that would be about the time..."
Their conversation was interrupted by two children, a boy and a girl, running down the hall at breakneck speed.
"Jamiah! Loquicia!" Father Doherty barked.
Both children froze in their tracks and turned to look at the priest with a spark of fear in their eyes.
"What have I told you about running in the halls?" Father Doherty asked firmly.
"Not to." The boy, Jamiah, said timidly.
"That's right. Now go on into the dining hall. Dinner should be ready in just a minute." Father Doherty said more gently.
"Thank you, Father." Both children said before briskly walking away.
Father Doherty looked Zane over very carefully for a moment, then seemed to come to a decision. "What was your name, again?"
"Zane, Zane Edwin Werner."
"Come and have dinner with us, Zane. And you, you said you were cousins, but I didn't catch your name." Father Doherty said as he motioned for them to follow.
"I didn't throw it." Ben said quietly with a grin at Zane, then said more loudly, "My real name is Brian Weston, but everyone calls me Ben."
"So, does that mean that you're Annette's son?" Father Doherty asked curiously.
"Yes. That's right." Ben said with a smile.
"So, you really are my father?" Zane asked cautiously.
"Looking at you is like looking at a picture of my younger self. Your mother and I were very close for a time, until a serpent arrived in our perfect garden and destroyed our paradise." Father Doherty said distantly.
"Let me guess. Grandpa Werner didn't welcome you into the family." Ben said simply.
"That would be putting it mildly. I've always thought that that man was some of Lucifer's most masterful handiwork." Father Doherty said as he looked at Ben.
"Yeah. The more I get to know about him, the more I think you're right." Ben said frankly.
Father Doherty turned to look at Zane and quietly asked, "How is Mariah doing?"
"She died a long time ago, when I was three years old." Zane said sadly.
Father Doherty nodded regretfully.
There was a long moment of silence, then Father Doherty quietly said, "Come. Have dinner with us."
* * * * *
There was a group of people gathered around the single table in the massive, empty room.
"Everyone, may I have your attention?" Father Doherty asked as he walked up to the table.
All the people turned their attention to the priest except for a young man with long brown hair that was tied into a long braid down his back. His attention was turned toward something off to the side.
Ben followed his gaze in time to see an identical young man with the same long braid poke his head out of a doorway.
"Everyone, I'd like to introduce you to my son, his name is Zane. And this other young man is my nephew, Zane's cousin, Ben." Father Doherty said to the group.
There was a long silence, then a boy who seemed to be around fifteen years old said, "It looks like the Father is a father. I thought you guys couldn't do that."
"I wasn't a priest, then." Father Doherty said simply, then turned to Zane and Ben and said, "This young man is Dax. He's a wonderful boy, although a bit hot headed at times."
Ben couldn't place what it was, about the young man, but something about his manner of speech or his posture caused Ben's seldom used 'gaydar' to bury the needle.
"You've somewhat met Jamiah and Loquicia. They are brother and sister." Father Doherty said with a smile at the older looking boy and younger looking girl from the hallway earlier.
The boy gave a dainty wave and a shy smile. And for the second time that day, Ben's gaydar reacted vigorously.
As Ben automatically looked to the next person at the table, he had to blink to be sure that his eyes weren't playing tricks on him. The eleven or twelve year old boy's brown hair seemed to have turned mostly gray.
"Next we have Ty. And before he has the chance to offend you, he's a contrary one. If he talks back to you, it's just because he likes you." Father Doherty said with a warm smile at the boy.
"I don't do that!" Ty grumbled.
Father Doherty smiled at the response, then said, "You've already met Brother Jacques, the other two are his companions, Ken and Kev.
Before Ben could say anything, the twin beside Brother Jacques got up and walked to join his brother in the doorway.
"Since the church closed this mission, we're all that's left." Father Doherty said in a weary voice, then motioned for Ben and Zane to take seats at the table.
"Why did they close the mission?" Zane asked his father curiously.
"The fundamentalist faction of the church were finally able to convince the cardinal that we shouldn't be providing succor to those that they find undesirable. As a consequence, those services that the church provides to the homeless and needy will no longer be offered to homosexuals or others that the church has deemed deviant." Father Doherty said regretfully.
"What he means is that they expect these gay kids to just go somewhere and quietly die!" Brother Jacques said with disgust.
"The church has called for us to encourage such people to repent." Father Doherty said half-heartedly.
"As if anyone would believe me if I said I was straight!" Dax said with a slight lisp.
Father Doherty appeared to ignore the comment as he continued, "To my eternal shame, I've told our people, many of them children, to hide their orientation... essentially, to lie, so that they can receive food and shelter until they can find a way to provide for themselves."
"But what about the rest of you? What are you going to do?" Zane asked as he looked around.
"Father Doherty has been reassigned. He'll be working at another rescue mission. The rest of us... we're still working on that." Brother Jacques said with a nervous look at Father Doherty.
"Not to worry. We're going to be sending them on their way to a new place where they'll be accepted for who they are... just as soon as we can find out where that might be." Father Doherty said as he revealed some of the worry that he was feeling.
Before anyone could say more, the twins walked into the room each carrying a large pan of food.
"Guys, can you get us some plates and silverware?" Brother Jacques asked as he looked at the younger people around the table.
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than all the kids got up and ran for the kitchen.
"It doesn't make sense to set up the serving line for this few people." Father Doherty explained to Ben and Zane.
"Is there anything we can do to help?" Ben asked as he looked around.
"Not unless you have a place where seven people can be safe and accepted for who they are." Father Doherty said frankly.
"I was actually talking about helping with dinner." Ben said quietly, then regretfully added, "We don't even know where we're going next. We just came here to find you."
"I know. I suppose it was too much to ask that the Lord might have sent you in answer to my prayers." Father Doherty said quietly.
"How bad is it?" Zane asked in a whisper.
"We have to be out of here by the end of the night. The workmen will be here tomorrow to board up this place." Father Doherty said darkly.
"But if there's so many homeless people, I don't get why they're closing this place down." Ben said thoughtfully.
"There are only so many priests that the church trusts to carry out their orders without regard to their own personal feelings on the matter. In short, this mission is being closed because they believe, and rightly so, that I wouldn't refuse aid to any homeless or hungry person on a cold and snowy Chicago night."
"Then why aren't you coming with us?" Brother Jacques asked in an anguished voice.
"Because, even with the constraints that they will put upon me, there will still be much good that I can do and many people that I can help. I firmly believe that I will be able to do much more good from within the church than on the outside." Father Doherty replied regretfully.
Ben looked up as a plate was handed to him.
A moment later, he was handed silverware and then a glass of water.
After the clatter of silverware and dishes had subsided, everyone went silent and waited for Father Doherty to bless their food.
"Bless us O Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive, through Christ's bounty, And once again, I pray that you provide a place where these, your children, will be allowed to grow in safety and love. Amen."
"Amen." Ben whispered, feeling unusually moved by the brief prayer. He had never been a religious person, but he felt the sincerity behind the priest's words.
"Did you get their car in?" Brother Jacques asked the twin to his right.
The twin to his left answered, "Yeah. Another minute or two and it would have been stolen or stripped."
Ben looked up and asked, "Are you talking about my car?"
"Don't worry. I brought it inside." One of the twins said quietly.
Ben took out his car keys to prove to himself that he still had them, then looked at the young man with question.
The smirk and snort of laughter he received in return told him that he didn't need to give his question voice.
After a moment to consider, Ben looked at the twin and quietly said, "Thanks. I didn't even think that my car might not be safe.
"Jake's the one who told me to bring it in." The twin said dismissively.
"Jake?" Ben asked as he looked at Brother Jacques curiously.
"Only the twins are allowed to call me that. It's from my old life." Brother Jacques said grimly as he reached one of his trembling hands toward the dish of food in the middle of the table.
"And so are we." One of the twins said seriously.
"I got it." The other twin whispered to Brother Jacques and quickly dished some beef and noodle casserole onto his plate.
Ben realized by watching the three of them together that the twins weren't just in love with Brother Jacques, they were absolutely devoted to him.
"Do you two have everything that you're going to need, to leave tonight?" Father Doherty asked with concern, mostly directing his question toward Zane.
"I think we have everything we need, except a destination." Zane said slowly, then looked at Ben with question.
"That's right. We were kind of hoping to stay here with you... well, I don't mean with you. We'd stay in a hotel or something. But we were hoping to stay in Chicago for a while so we could figure out where to go next. Until things settle down from the attack on President Bryce, I don't think it'd be a good idea to go back home." Ben said thoughtfully.
"Wait! What attack?" Brother Jacques asked quickly.
"This morning, I don't know, it was around 3am President Ashwood sent forces to attack the military base where President Bryce and his family were hiding out. One of President Bryce's kids and his wife were shot." Ben said quickly.
"Holy shit!" Brother Jacques gasped.
"Brother." Father Doherty said in a slightly scolding tone.
"I'm sorry, Father." Brother Jacques said immediately, then turned to Ben and asked, "What did President Asswipe do next?"
"Nothing. At least, he hadn't done anything when we got here. I think he was kinda... totally shocked that they survived."
"Father. We've got to go right now." Brother Jacques said firmly.
"Where?" Father Doherty asked simply.
"I can take the van and drive West until we run out of gas. After that... God will provide. Please, we've got to get the kids out of here before he thinks up something even more horrible to do to them." Brother Jacques said desperately.
"I'd help if I could, but everyone I know who might have a way to help is already in hiding..." Ben trailed off sadly.
"Is there any way I can get access to the Internet? I might know someone who can help." Zane said thoughtfully.
"The guy who helped you with the jammer?" Ben asked curiously.
"Yes. From what I've seen, he knows a lot of people. He might know someone who can shelter these guys. Even if it's only for a few days, it would be better than them driving until they run out of gas." Zane said seriously.
"I have my phone, if that will help." Ben said as he took it out of his back pocket.
"It might be possible, but I wouldn't know how to do it." Zane said honestly.
"I have a computer in my office. It isn't much, but it does have Internet access." Father Doherty said as he stood from his place.
Everyone else followed his lead, but when the Father noticed, he said, "Brother Jacques? Would you show our guests the way? The rest of us will stay and enjoy this wonderful meal."
As everyone else was settling back into their places, one of the twins urgently said, "Father?"
After a moment of consideration, Father Doherty gave a single nod and the twin stood and rushed to Brother Jacques' side.
"Come on." Brother Jacques said as he hurried to the door.
* * * * *
"If you look in the accessories submenu, you might find what you're looking for." The twin at Brother Jacques' side said quietly.
Zane opened the shortcut to the accessories folder and found a surprising number of the programs that he used at home.
"Are you a hacker?" Zane asked curiously as he opened the program that he needed.
"No. Not really. I'm more of a gamer than anything else."
"I'm sorry for asking, but which twin are you?" Zane asked as he looked through a long menu of available chat rooms.
"Don't feel bad, Zane. I sleep with these guys every night and there's times even I can't tell them apart. But I know for sure that this one is Ken, because Kev doesn't have any interest in computers at all." Brother Jacques said as he put an arm around Ken and hugged him gently.
Ben looked from Brother Jacques to Ken and could once again see the absolute devotion. He couldn't be sure what their relationship was, but it was beyond anything he had witnessed before.
As Ben was watching, Ken gently took one of Brother Jacques' constantly trembling hands and brought it to his lips, kissing it gently.
"I found him!" Zane said from in front of the computer.
Ben, Ken and Brother Jacques crowded behind Zane's chair so they could read as he typed.
BlueVulcan: Studmffn, pvt?
A private chat request came up on the screen, which Zane immediately accepted.
Studmffn: Wt up?
BlueVulcan: In Chicago. Help or 4 kidz wl B on street 2nite. Need 2 get them 2 A safe place.
Studmffn: U know some1 named Y2Kbug?
BlueVulcan: Seen name. Don't know him. Y?
Studmffn: never mind. airstrip south of town called FBM company landing strip in University Park. about an hour South of Chicago.
BlueVulcan: We'll find it.
Studmffn: how many in ur group?
BlueVulcan: 7 to 10. That too many?
Studmffn: fine. just making sure.
BlueVulcan: What time?
Studmffn: plane picking U up just left 2 get other group. B @ airstrip B4 12:30. earlier=better
"There's a problem in the dining hall. We need to get in there." Ken said urgently.
Ben turned to look at him in time to see him and Brother Jacques running for the door.
"We'd better go and see what's up." Ben said to Zane quietly.
"I'll need a minute to get the directions to the airstrip." Zane said as he opened another window on the screen.
* * * * *
When Ben and Zane walked into the dining hall, they found the twins, Ken and Kev, holding a crying boy between them.
"What happened?" Ben asked as he walked up to Brother Jacques.
"Oleksandr was one of the kids who used to live here. Child and Family Services placed him in a home. His foster father beat and raped him last night and Oleksandr has been roaming the streets since then, trying to find his way back here." Brother Jacques said quietly.
"Shouldn't we call the police?" Ben asked slowly.
"No. That would be the worst thing we could do. Child and Family would label Oleksandr as a troublemaker or a juvenile sexual predator, then he'd be sent someplace worse than you could imagine. We're taking him with us." Brother Jacques said firmly.
Ben looked at the crying boy and any desire to question the decision further, left him.
* * * * *
"Does he need to see a doctor?" Zane asked as he watched the twins holding Oleksandr, who had finally cried himself into an exhausted sleep.
"It would be the same as calling the cops. Homeless kids know that if they go to a doctor that they'll end up someplace worse than the streets." Brother Jacques said quietly.
"But I'm not sure that he'll be better off with us. We don't even know where we're going." Ben said frankly.
"We'll see that he'll have food in his belly and a roof over his head. He'll have someone who cares about what he's feeling and he'll have a bed where he can sleep securely, knowing that no one is going to try to hurt him or rape him in the middle of the night." Brother Jacques said softly.
"I've had that all my life and never realized that other people didn't." Ben said sadly as he turned his gaze to Oleksandr and the twins.
"If you and your cousin are going to leave, you should probably leave soon." Brother Jacques said quietly.
"We're going with you." Ben said in confusion.
"This isn't your problem, Ben. You come from a world where meals are served at regular intervals. In your world, if you get hurt, you go to a doctor. If someone hurts you, you call the police. You and your cousin can get in your car and drive away from all this and go back to the life that you understand."
Ben was ashamed to admit to himself that he was tempted.
"You did your good deed. You found us a place to go. You two are already our heroes, you don't have to do anything else for us. Okay?" Brother Jacques said gently.
"A really good friend of mine once told me that 'Many times, the right thing isn't the popular thing and it's certainly not the easy thing. But you know, deep down inside, that it needs to be done.' That's what this is. Deep down, I know that the right thing for us to do is to go with you." Ben said seriously.
Brother Jacques seemed to consider for a moment, then asked, "Do you need to get anything out of your car?"
"This place is getting boarded up in the morning, so I'm driving my car to the airfield. I'll park it out of the way and take my chances with leaving it there." Ben said frankly.
* * * * *
Father Doherty stood on the front stoop of the mission as Brother Jacques pulled the van up to the curb.
"I'm sorry I have to leave you so soon after meeting you." Zane said as he walked up to his father and gave him a firm hug.
"This is a time of endings and beginnings. Considering that we've only just met today, I'll count this as the beginning of the rest of my life, which now includes my son."
"I never thought it would be possible to ever meet you. I'm so proud of what you do. I'm proud to be your son." Zane said as he finally released his father.
After a moment to wipe the tears from his eyes, Ben held out his hand and said, "I didn't know what Zane's father would be like when we went in search of him. Now, I can't imagine anyone better."
"Thank you, Ben. It was an honor to meet you as well." Father Doherty said as he shook Ben's hand.
"Are we going, or what?" Brother Jacques called from the van.
"Yes. There's no time to waste." Father Doherty said as concern filled his eyes.
Ben and Zane turned in unison at the sound of a car speeding up the street. There was a screech of tires as Ben's car skidded to a stop about four inches from the back bumper of the van.
One of the twins got out of the driver's side and the other out of the passenger side, both grinning like Cheshire cats.
Ben took the keys out of his pocket and chuckled as he passed the twins on the way to his car.
Brother Jacques pulled away first, waving to Father Doherty as he went.
Ben pulled out next, also waving at the kind, gentle man who was standing alone on the front step, dimly lit by streetlights, in front of what used to be a haven for the helpless.
* * * * *
"Ready to go?" Ben asked as he got back into the car at the gas station.
Brother Jacques waved with a smile as he pulled out in front of them.
"It was good of you to buy them gas." Zane said quietly.
"We're all in this together. And it wouldn't make sense for us to do all of this, and then run out of gas on the way to the airport." Ben said frankly.
"It was still nice to see the looks on their faces. It's like they can't believe that anyone would be nice to them." Zane said distantly.
Ben nodded, then thought to ask, "How are we doing for time?"
"According to the maps that I looked up, we should have about an hour to wait before the plane will arrive." Zane said frankly.
"How about your batteries?" Ben asked cautiously.
Zane held up two packs of Energizer batteries.
Ben smiled as he said, "I can't wait to see if you sprout pink ears and cymbals when you put those in."
"I don't care what else they do, just as long as they keep the jammer working." Zane said with a restrained smile.
"Do you mind that I volunteered us to go with them?" Ben asked cautiously.
"No. Every minute that I'm away from Grandfather is a gift. A gift that you gave me. I have a feeling that something bigger than us is at work here. After all these years, we showed up exactly when they were needing to find a safe place for the kids... It just seems to be too much to be coincidence." Zane said speculatively.
"Now that you know your father is a priest, you're all theosophical, huh?" Ben asked with a grin.
"Well, I don't think I'll be following in dad's footsteps. But, I suppose that after meeting you and him, I have less of a problem believing in a benevolent almighty being." Zane said thoughtfully.
"Rather than argue, I'll just accept that as the compliment that it is." Ben said with a smile.
"Of course, by the same token, Grandfather's existence would seem to be proof that Satan is also an active force in this world." Zane said frankly.
"I can't disagree with that, either." Ben said with a chuckle.
"Here. Once we get on this onramp, you need to pull ahead of them, since I have the directions to the airfield." Zane said quickly.
* * * * *
"How are you guys doing?" Ben asked as he got out of his car that was pulled close to an old dilapidated outbuilding by the airfield.
The buildings were in disrepair and the grass was overgrown. The site might be unusable except that the runway itself seemed to be clear and the power was on, providing adequate light.
"Are you sure that this is the right place? It looks like this place has been abandoned." Brother Jacques said as he looked around.
"That's probably why he chose this place. We don't want to draw attention to ourselves." Zane said frankly.
"Yeah. If what Jack and Cam were telling me is right, they're probably already watching the major airports, so that they can stop certain people from getting away." Ben said with a nod.
Brother Jacques seemed to think about it for a moment, then said, "And a plane full of fags would be the kind of thing that they could play with for hours, maybe days."
"I don't even want to imagine what they'd do." Ben said frankly.
"Me either. And after all I've seen and done, that's kind of impressive." Brother Jacques said frankly.
Ben put an arm around Brother Jacque's shoulders and said, "I don't know what you've been through, but if it made you the person you are today, I think it was all worth it."
Brother Jacque's eyes went wide with surprise at the statement, then he quietly said, "Thank you, no one, not even the twins, ever said anything like that to me."
"All you have to do is look in their eyes to know that they believe it, even if they never found a way to put it into words. Father Doherty, too. That man loves and respects you." Ben said frankly.
"Um, Ben. You might want to let go of the Brother and slowly back away. I see a set of twins who have noticed you touching him." Zane said cautiously as he looked at the van.
"Don't worry about Ken and Kev, they're just making sure that you're not hurting me. They're very protective." Brother Jacques said without concern.
"So, they wouldn't freak out if you two kissed or something like that?" Zane asked curiously.
"Not as long as it's consensual. We love and protect each other. In that way, we're closer than brothers. But if I fell in love with someone else, they'd be happy for me... well, as long as they knew he wouldn't hurt me." Brother Jacques said consideringly.
"And what if the twins found another, um, set of twins or something. Would you really be okay with that?" Zane asked curiously.
"Sure. As long as I knew they were with someone who would care for them and treat them right, I'd be completely fine with it." Brother Jacques said with a smile.
"I don't know, I guess I thought you guys were romantically involved." Ben said honestly.
"We sleep together. But that's more about protecting each other and being able to feel safe while we're sleeping than anything else. We fool around a little bit, now and then, but it's just fun among friends. Since I'm HIV positive, I have to be really careful about that kind of stuff, anyway." Brother Jacques said frankly.
Zane seemed to be stunned by the revelation, but Ben wasn't at all phased by it and asked, "Is that what causes the tremble in your hands?"
"No. That's from long term drug abuse. I'm clean now, but I still have the tremor to remind me of how stupid I used to be." Brother Jacques said casually.
"What about the HIV? Do you have any problems with that?" Ben asked curiously.
Zane looked like he wanted to throw Ben on the ground and strangle him for asking Jacques such personal questions.
"No. The standard medications have been doing their jobs and I haven't had any problems at all. Other than having to pop some pills a few times a day, it really isn't bad." Brother Jacques said honestly.
"Well, I really don't know much about it, but you'll let me know if there's anything you need or can't do or whatever, right?" Ben asked hopefully.
"Sure. Now that I know that you're cool about it, I won't feel funny asking if something comes up." Brother Jacques said happily, then glanced at Zane and said, "Him, I'd probably feel uncomfortable asking for help."
"Give Zane a break. He's been held captive at his grandfather's house all his life. He's been really sheltered in some ways." Ben said simply.
Brother Jacques looked at Zane, then said, "I'm sorry you were locked away from the world. If there's anything I can do to help you discover what life is like outside, be sure to let me know."
"I... I... will... thank you." Zane stammered.
Ben looked at Zane curiously, not understanding his sudden nervousness, then he looked at Brother Jacques and the pieces fell into place.
"I think I'll go wait with the van for a while. I'm sure the twins need some help with all the kids by now." Ben said as he walked away.
As he looked back, he could see that Brother Jacques and Zane weren't aware that he had left... or that he had ever been there at all.
* * * * *
The sound of a plane caused everyone to look to the sky.
"Everyone, grab your things. Anything we leave here is probably gone forever." Brother Jacques said as he rushed to the van.
Loquicia burst out into tears as Kev gave Brother Jacques a stern look.
Ken walked to Brother Jacques and said, "We just got her calmed down when she realized that we were leaving and Father Doherty wasn't going with us."
"Sorry." Brother Jacques said with a wince at his mistake.
Ken looked past Brother Jacques at Zane slowly approaching.
"You hurt Jake in any way, and we're gonna rip your nuts off. Got it?" Ken said firmly.
Zane slowly nodded.
"Fine. Just so we're clear on that." Ken said before walking back to the van.
"Here." Ben said as he handed Zane his backpack, then quietly added, "Check your batteries."
Zane quickly looked at the battery indicator, then wilted with relief.
"They're still good. I'll change them when we get on the plane." Zane said assuringly.
Just then, the plane taxied down the runway and came to a stop just a few feet away from the group of young adults and children.
The door of the plane opened and a set of stairs folded down into place.
As soon as the stairs were on the ground, a man in a dark navy suit stepped out of the plane and said, "Everyone, if I may have your attention. Please leave your luggage by the stairway and we'll get it stowed as soon as everyone's aboard. Now please, come aboard and take your seats."
"Is there a problem? Is someone after us?" Ben asked cautiously.
"Not that I'm aware of, but let's be honest. You wouldn't be here if you weren't aware of the very real possibility. Let's not tempt fate, shall we?" The man asked urgently.
"Right." Ben said decisively, then called back to the group and said, "Whoever has the cutest butt needs to get on first, then next cutest and so on, after that."
There was a moment of hesitation, then a mad scramble to be one of the first onboard.
The man in the dark navy suit looked at Ben and smiled before saying, "You certainly seem to know how to motivate them."
Ben shrugged, then said, "Know your audience."
The man watched as Ben got aboard, then went about the business of evenly distributing the small amount of luggage that they had brought into the cargo holds.
TO BE CONTINUED...
As is always the case, MultiMapper has brought us into contact with some very interesting people. Having read the first chapter of this new story, I was a bit surprised to discover that this chapter seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with the first one.
I mean, in chapter one, we got some people safely on a plane, and then the chapter ended. Then we start this chapter and none of them are anywhere to be seen.
I was surprised to find out that Zane's father was named Brian. I have to wonder what connection Brian has to Zane's father.
The scene where they had to leave Father Daugherty was very emotional for me. I mean, after all, Zane had just met his dad, and then had to rush away, taking all the children with him.
Then you have to wonder just where this plane is going to take them. Are bug and his companions already on the plane, or is there another plane that picked them up.
These and many other questions might be answered in the next chapter, but to be honest, considering that this chapter didn't answer any of the questions that were left at the end of the first one, something keeps nagging at me, telling me that the next chapter won't answer my questions, either.
All in all, this was a very good chapter.
If you have been reading MultiMapper's stories, you might recognize some of the people we have met in these two chapters, and if you haven't read his other stories, i would have to say that doing so would give you some excellent things to read.
I suggest you get busy and find them.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher