Revolutions Universe: Metamorphosis

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Chapter 8 - The Icing

It had only been an hour since Carson made his announcement to his brothers, and Tommy was lost in his own little world. Carson and their father were off in Ryan's study, going over flight plans, and things like that, while Mikey and Deb were in the guest house, getting things ready over there. Tommy was working in his room, and Mikey's room, bringing out the other beds, and setting Mikey's bunk beds back up. Mom said that some of the new people might be staying in the main house, while others may stay in the guest houses.

Already, Mr. Crante, the 'butler', that lived in the other part of the house, was busy getting that section ready. When Tommy was finished in the Main house, he would move over to the 'big house'. Ever since Tommy turned thirteen, his parents had given him the job of maintaining the 'big house'. It was what he did for money, and he learned a lot, doing it. All the staff reported to him, when there was staff there. Most of the staff only had to come in when someone was staying there. During the week, they didn't need to be there much.

Taking a break, Tommy wandered over to Carson's room, and stood there looking at the computer system that Carson had built. It was truly amazing, what Tommy had seen Carson doing in here, when they were both in the room, especially when Carson wanted to show off something he'd designed.

"Dizzy?" Tommy timidly asked. He'd interacted with Carson's computer before, but it had always felt kind of strange to him, doing so.

"Well, hello, Tommy." Dizzy's voice came from the speakers. "How are you doing this evening?"

"I'm fine." Tommy said.. then chuckled. "Well, actually I'm confused as hell!" Tommy said as he started pacing. "All the stuff that's going on, I just don't get it. I mean, how bad could it really be?"

Dizzy did a quick check of his permissions set, and found that Carson had given Tommy full clearance for almost everything that Carson had. With that clearance established, Dizzy undocked the monitors and opened up the normal six monitor setup, that Carson preferred. "Tommy, If you will bring Carson's spare wheelchair over, and have a seat, I will show you whatever you want to see. However, Carson believes that it really is bad."

Tommy grabbed the wheelchair, and locked it in place, before taking a seat. "Okay, Dizzy... what can you show me?" Tommy asked, waiting for the screens to light up.

"Please be more specific, I can show you many things, but you need to let me know what you want to see." Dizzy said, and Tommy had to sigh in frustration. Carson had kept reminding him that Dizzy was nothing more than a crude V. I., no matter how fancy he looked, or even acted. Dizzy couldn't make decisions, or do anything else like that. So Tommy had to be specific when talking to him.

"Okay, let's start out with why Carson thinks that things are bad enough that they had to rescue people from Orlando." Tommy said, and finally the screens started to light up.

For the next forty-five minutes, Tommy quizzed Dizzy on many things, several of which, Carson had never even looked at. What he was starting to see was a truly disturbing picture, even to a fifteen year old. One thing was very clear, though. The information that Tommy was putting together, meant that it was probably even worse than what Carson was thinking.

"Wait a minute!" Tommy said, as he looked over a report of military movements on the east coast. "Go back to what you showed me about Orlando Florida, please." Dizzy brought the text data back up, and Tommy started to re-read it. "Now, please bring up a map of the Orlando metro area, overlaying the coordinates that the orders gave with a red 'X'." He said, and a moment later, his mouth dropped open. "There's only one reason they would be doing that...." He muttered to himself.

He shook his head, and spoke again. "Now, please do the same thing with the Baltimore Metro area, and the orders given for there." Starting to put things together, he asked for Dizzy to do the same with a few other large Eastern Cities... They were all the same. He thought about calling Carson, or his dad and telling them what he had found. But before he could do that, he reasoned that he hadn't actually found anything. What he had was a hunch, a guess. His brother and his father were busy dealing with real things that were definitely happening and didn't need to be distracted by Tommy's speculations. He would leave them to attend to what is and, as much as he could, he would prepare for what might be. That decided, Tommy thought about the cell phone that he had sitting in his bedroom, and almost ran to go get it, but then thought better of it. "Dizzy, you can place phone calls, right?"

"Yes, I can." Dizzy said simply.

"Kewl, do you have Jared's number?" Tommy asked, thinking of his best friend, but more importantly, his best friend's dad.

"Yes. Would you like me to call him for you?" Dizzy asked, and Tommy smiled.

"Yes, please, and put it on speaker, please." Tommy said. Even though he knew, Dizzy was just a computer program, his parents had always taught him to be polite to everyone, so it was habit.

A moment later, Jared's voice came over the speaker. "Hello?"

"Hey Jared... It's Tommy."

"Oh, hey, Tommy. Sorry, I didn't recognize the number." His friend said.

"It's kewl, I'm using Carson's computer to call you." Tommy said by way of explanation.

"What?" Jared exclaimed, and Tommy couldn't help but giggle. "You mean the little freak let you use his computer?" Had it been almost anyone other than Jared who called Carson, that, Tommy would have probably hurt them, but Jared was almost like a brother to all three of them, so he was allowed. Not to mention that Carson would probably have called Jared something along the lines of a muscle bound freak. Jared's favorite hobby was weight lifting, and now that he was fourteen, his body was really filling out with muscles. Hell, he could already bench press more then most of the senior football players, unfortunately for them, Jared didn't like football.

"Yeah, well.... Things are a little bit crazy over here. Which leads me to why I called. Is your dad home?"

"Yeah...." Jared answered suspiciously.

"Okay... is there any way you and your dad could come over here?" Tommy asked, knowing that asking that question would be enough to make Jared really curious.

"Dude... we just got done with dinner..." Jared answered.

"I know, Jared... but, you know I wouldn't ask if it wasn't really important." Tommy responded imploringly.

Jared sighed deeply, then Tommy heard him put the phone down. Less than two minutes later, he came back to the phone. "We'll be there in about ten minutes... this had better be good, though, Tommy. We were just about to sit down and watch '300."

Tommy couldn't help but laugh. "Geez, Dude! How many times have you seen that movie!"

"It don't matter!" Jared replied with a laugh. "Those guys are so damned hot, it's just not right!" That was the other thing about Jared; He was gay. Most people didn't know it, and no one would ever guess, since he's got better muscles than most well toned adults. Tommy and his family knew, as did Jared's dad and little brother. No one had a problem with it, and, hell, he and Tommy had messed around a little bit.

"I'll make it up to you... but really, this is important." Tommy said, and heard Jared sigh again.

"Fine.. I'll see you in a little bit." Jared responded before Tommy heard the phone go dead.

Tommy chuckled as he sat back in the chair a bit, and started to think. "Dizzy, could you please pull up the floor plans of the house, both sections, as well as what we have in the attic. I wanna make sure we have enough stuff."

On the main screen, a picture of the entire house came up instantly. On the other screen, a list of extra supplies they had on hand came up. They often had to host different executives from all over the country, and even some from overseas, that wanted to get updates on Dad's work, but since they lived in an area well known for hiking and camping, those executives often brought their families with them, using the opportunity to have a working vacation.

The house was actually split into two sections, the main house, was where the Brown family lived. Then there was the 'big house'. It was attached to the main house, but functioned almost as a 'bed and breakfast' style home.

It was actually one huge house that they had remodeled into two houses. The side they lived in was a nice sized house, with four large bedrooms and a master bedroom, on the second floor, and a fully finished attic that they used as a game room. The first floor had Carson's room, a spare room, mainly for when their grandparents came to visit, a dinning room, which could be repurposed as a conference room, a living room, and kitchen as well as offices for both Mom and Dad.

The 'big house' was the impressive part, though. Each floor was set up like a, not so, mini home. Each of three floors had a kitchen, dining room, and living room. The first floor had three large 'master bedroom suites, each with their own large bathroom attached.

The second and third floor each had six large sized bedrooms, meant to house two, or maybe even three families. When Tommy's dad first told them about how he wanted to remodel everything, everyone thought he was nuts, wanting to make that many rooms, and that huge of a place. It came in handy a few times, though, as the operation grew.

They also had two individual guest houses close by, that they sometimes used when people wanted more privacy. They could easily fit all the people that Carson had on the way, however, there wouldn't be anywhere near enough room for what Tommy was now convinced was coming. That's where Jared's dad came into the picture.

In January, 'Brown Consulting' was opening a huge factory, to start mass producing some of the things that his dad had created. Tommy had seen the plans, and his dad had brought the entire family up to speed on what was going to happen. They were planning on bringing in close to a thousand employees, and their families, starting in January. They already had a thousand-home community, built on a very large section of land that the family owned. Jared's father was the main 'caretaker' of the entire community, at least until people started to move in. On top of that, Jared's father had another job that factored into Tommy's wanting to talk to him.

Almost directly across the Columbia River from their home, was Camp Trebier, or Camp Tree Beard, as most people called it. It was the second largest Boy Scout, High Adventure camp in the United States, covering just shy of 22 square miles. Of course, most of that was wilderness, but the camp, when full, housed over three thousand scouts, at one time. Jared's father was the Land Services Manager, in charge of, among other things, the campgrounds.

Tommy spent the next few minutes going over what they had in storage, and coming up with a comprehensive plan on how to set up all the rooms. When the doorbell went off, Tommy was up and out of his chair like a shot, and quickly ran to the front door. When he opened the door, he saw not only Jared and his dad, but also Seth, Jared's eleven year old little brother.

Tommy opened the door wide and with a grin bumped fists with both Jared and Seth, and actually hugged Jared's dad, Karl. The two families were just that close. "Thanks for coming, guys." Tommy said as he turned and walked toward the living room. When they got to the door, Tommy opened it, and motioned for Jared and Seth to go in, but put up a hand to hold up Karl. "Go on in, guys, I wanna talk to Uncle Karl for a minute."

When the other boys headed into the living room, Karl turned and looked at Tommy with a critical eye. "Okay, Kid, what's going on?" Karl was a huge man, standing well over six feet tall, and weighing probably around three hundred pounds. He could intimidate almost anyone. Well, at least anyone that didn't know him as well as Tommy did. Tommy knew that the man's heart was just as big, if not bigger than the man himself.

Tommy sighed while looking around. When he focused back on his mentor, he frowned deeply. "Have you been watching the news?"

"Yes..." Karl answered slowly.

"So, you know what's going on with the presidential stuff, right?" Tommy asked softly.

"A bit.... but what's that got to do with you." The man asked.

"Well... it all started a few hours ago." Tommy began. "See, well, I guess you should know. There's a bunch of people coming here from the East Coast, because of how bad things are getting, back there." Tommy started out in a rush, and barely breathed before he continued. "But here's the thing. I started looking at things online, and well. I think it's gonna be a lot worse than just rescuing a few people who want to get out of Dodge."

"Okay, and what do you think we can do about it?" Karl asked gently.

"We've got lots of room, here, lots of empty houses that Dad had built for when the factory opens up. We got ALL the campgrounds, including yours, we got room for lots of people here, people that are gonna need a place to go. We got everything we need here to bring in lots of supplies, food and stuff, so they can eat. I mean, it's just like you taught me for my Citizenship Merit Badge... you need to make sure you do everything you can, to help your neighbor, cause someday, it might be you needing the help. Plus, it's the American thing to do." He threw that last line in there, knowing full well, it was a low blow, but he really needed this man's help.

"Okay, Tommy, so far, you have me intrigued. Now, we need to get down to business. Let me see all this important information that has you so convinced that we will need to do something as big as you are thinking, and then we'll go from there, okay?"

Tommy led the man into Carson's room, and had Dizzy show Karl what he had come up with. While Karl was going through all the information, Tommy got Jared and Seth and asked them to help him start getting all the rooms set up.

It was almost thirty minutes later when Karl found the boys hard at work in the 'Big House' getting one of the master rooms on the first floor fixed up. The look on Karl's face immediately told Tommy that the man believed him. "Boys, I agree with Tommy, we definitely need to sit down and talk." He said as he walked into the room.

* * * * *

Almost an hour later, the four of them split up. Jared, Seth and Karl were going to start bringing in more furniture for the rooms. Tommy was going off to call in the staff that worked in the 'Big House'. It was late, but once Karl was convinced of what Tommy was saying, it gave Tommy the courage to really go into overdrive. All Tommy told the staff was that they were about to have a bunch of very important people coming into town, who could be arriving anytime between tonight to tomorrow. They all said they would be there as soon as they could. Of course, it didn't hurt that Tommy cut them each a good sized bonus check, for doing it.

Once those calls were made, Tommy sat down at his desk, and pulled up his 'business' files. Only a few people knew that Tommy was actually a businessman, even though he was only fifteen. When he was thirteen, his parents had given him the job of looking after the 'Big House', but even more so, looking after the guests that stayed there.

Tommy thought it would be a lot of fun, and would make him some good money, so he agreed. Of course, he really didn't understand what his parents had in mind. A few days later, Tommy went with his parents to their corporate lawyer's office, and signed a whole bunch of papers. By the end of it, Tommy was the CEO and owner of 'Kettle Falls Hospitality, LLC'.

What really blew him away, though, was when his parents actually signed over the 'Big House' to K.F.H., and gave him start up funding. Of course, they would always be there to help him if he asked, but one thing about the Brown family is that, both Ryan and Deb allowed the boys to do what they wanted to do, and only got involved if the boys asked for help, or if they saw that something really bad was going to happen.

Of course, it made Tommy grow up in certain areas, and take a lot more responsibility onto himself than he normally would have.

At first, he went to his parents about everything, but after a short while, he started to get a bit more confident with his decisions. One of the things they made Tommy do, though, was to sit down with the accountant, so he could learn how to go over the books, and make sure that everything was paid. It had been a lot of fun for Tommy, but also a lot of hard work. But he didn't mind the work.

But now wasn't the time to think about the past, now it was time to start working on the future... a future where life may be very much different than what he was used to.

When Karl walked into the room, Tommy glanced at the clock and was shocked to see it was after midnight. "How's it coming?" Karl asked as he sat down on Tommy's bed.

Tommy grabbed his notebook and looked it over. "I've contacted every campground, bed and breakfast, RV park, and hotel. I reserved everything they had, and basically put the fire under them, that we'd have people coming in for a 'conference', starting within two or three days. I also contacted the main warehouse in Spokane, and got the ball rolling on bringing up all the foodstuffs that we have in storage. Beyond that, I can't think of anything else to do, until the shit hits the fan, so to say."

Karl chuckled at the turn of phrase. "Okay, kiddo. It's time for you to get some sleep. Jared and Seth both crashed about an hour ago, in the room next door, and I am going to take the room across the hall. Mikey and Carson are both already asleep, and your parents are heading there shortly. We're gonna have a long day tomorrow, so you need to get some sleep."

Of course, the moment that sleep was mentioned, Tommy let out a huge yawn. "Yeah, I guess you're right." He said as he put the notebook down, and stood up. He moved over to the big man who also stood, and gave him a big hug. "Thanks for believing in me."

"Once you showed me the information you found, there was no other conclusion possible. Although, it scares the shit out of me, to be honest." Karl said.

Tommy just nodded. "Me, too. C'ya in the morning." He said as he walked to the bathroom to get ready for bed. When his head hit the pillow, he was out like a light. His sleep wasn't great, though, as his mind just wouldn't let go of what he knew was coming.

* * * * *

The next morning, everyone was up and working, early. They still had a lot to do, and the information coming in from the flight crew about their guests was being updated on an almost constant basis. By the time Fred and Madelyn Murten showed up, the number of guests was up to around 30, and the plane was just about to take off. Tommy had been told that the flight time would be about three hours, and that just made him shift into overdrive. His goal was to try and take the information that they were given, and assign the rooms in the big house.

Mikey had to make things difficult, by insisting that he have someone staying with him. He thought it would be cool to have another kid sharing his room. Tommy told him he would see what could be worked out, but it would also be up to the kids who were coming, if any of them wanted to room with someone they didn't know. "It's not like we don't have the room, here." That comment made Mikey pout for a moment before he nodded in agreement.

They went in search of Fred, their grandfather, and found him sitting behind the desk in Deb's office, working away on the computer. Even though the man didn't like to use computers, he did know how to, and he could type as fast as anyone Tommy had ever known. Fred was a semi retired doctor, who had spent time in both Chicago and the Military, before coming out to Kettle Falls. He was an old time doctor that actually still believed in house calls, instead of clinics. He was a big man who got his start on the streets of Chicago, then entered the military. He never lost the gruff exterior, he acquired in the Military, but everyone that knew him, knew he was a big softy inside.

He looked up when the boys walked in, and smiled at them. "I got the first draft of the room assignments figured out. However, with all the information coming in, I'm sure we'll have to rearrange some things."

Tommy smiled and took the list, and looked it over. "Thanks, Papa." Tommy said, as he went over and gave the man a big hug. "You're the greatest."

"I know I am." The man said with a grin. "Now, get out there, get a treat from your nanny, and then get back to work, pronto."

Both boys grinned and ran out of the room. Nanny's treats were always good. And she had been cooking up a storm since she got there. Madelyn had retired four years ago from being the county judge. She still had her law license, but only helped out if something big came up, or if she needed to fill in for someone's vacation. After she retired, she devoted herself to helping to build up the small towns of Kettle Falls and Colville. Her main focus was working for the kids. She would often substitute at the local school, and was actually the one who funded, and had, the local skate park built.

While she might have been some sort of hero to some kids, she was still Nanny to Tommy and Mikey. Nanny that always had treats ready for them, and this time, it was no different. She frowned when they walked in, but it was all for show, and the boys knew it. She didn't say a word, just pointed towards a covered dish on the table. The boys ran to it, and when they opened it up, they saw huge freshly baked chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies. They each took one, and only one, under Madelyn's careful watch, then ran from the room, intent on getting back to work. "Well, it was nice to talk to you boys..." Madelyn said as she watched their retreating backs. Of course, they probably couldn't say anything, since their mouths were stuffed full of cookie... but.

"Okay, guys!" Ryan called over the house wide intercom system. "The plane should be landing in about 30 minutes, it's time to get moving!"

"Shit!" Tommy said, as he looked at his watch, just after 12:30 in the afternoon. "SHIT!" He said, a bit louder. It was as if time flew by, over the last three hours. He looked down at the clipboard that he held, on it was papa's list. He made sure all the names had checkmarks next to them, and that everyone had room assignments. He was sure that things would change, but everything was set up as best he could, for now.

He tucked the clipboard under his arm and ran to the front of the main house. It took him a little longer than normal, since he was on the third floor of the big house, but he made it there just as Carson, Nanny and Papa made it there.

Sitting in front of the house were several of the All Terrain Vehicles that were the staple of the new community. When the plans for the new community were revealed, a large part of it was the fact that, for the most part, normal vehicles were not allowed to drive in the community. Instead, they had purchased several thousand ATV's of varying types and sizes, so those were used to travel from the several large parking lots at the edge of the peninsula, and the people would grab whatever type of ATV they needed, and drive those to their houses. It was something that Ryan thought would help to set them apart from the rest of the country, and help attract some of the best and brightest.

They also installed a monorail system that would allow people to ride to certain points spread out throughout the community and still allow kids to be safe to play anywhere.

When they loaded up, they had a somewhat long drive to get to where the airstrip was located. The land that the family owned was actually a peninsula about a mile or so from the town of Kettle Falls. Route 25 split the town's land from theirs. The peninsula was about 2.5 miles wide, and almost 4 long. Their house was on the southern part of it, near where Ryan's lab was located. The air strip, though, was near the top part. Of course it wasn't the main airstrip for the town, it was used for the small jets carrying people, instead of cargo.

As they drove through the community, Tommy couldn't help but marvel at the houses they used. When Dad had first brought up the idea, Tommy had imagined a bunch of 'Leave it to Beaver' style cookie cutter houses, all over the place. Instead, when Ryan showed him what they were actually putting up, he thought it was really cool.

As the ATV drove down the winding lanes, between the homes, Tommy enjoyed the light reflecting off the multi-paned windows, accented by rock and timber surfaces, rooting the buildings into the land; farm style two-story wood homes with deep porches; modest, cozy planked cabins and larger log cabins and then, the occasional large three story homes, with underneath storage areas, still decorated for Halloween. All had the steep roof lines necessary for the winter climate and the energy-efficiency elements had been disguised into traditional architecture.

There was no overhead wiring of any kind.

All of it had been buried in underground raceways, with access points every couple hundred feet, to allow for additional connectivity at any time. High Power AC, and low voltage DC, lines, as well as communications lines, both copper and fiber, were completely separated, to avoid interference from either direction.

When the place was still in the planning stage, every possible precaution was taken to insure the entire campus could be powered on its own, and would be isolated from any major spikes, even those from lightning, even if the main power grid failed, as often happened in rural areas.

Carson made sure, that he had access to satellite feeds, so he could keep in contact, even if they lost their hard wired connections.

Tommy could imagine what this place would look like, full of people, when the 'phase 2' houses were also occupied. As it was, small children were playing in the mini-playgrounds near each grouping of homes, sharing the space over ten or so families and couples. Some older folks were at the covered community pool, having been working out at the gym and now relaxing in the hot tub. Tommy noticed some of the parents in the community center, working through the glass-paned doors. Music could be heard drifting out.

Tommy noticed that one of the kids was being pulled behind a rather large, strong boxer dog, aimed at the pup relief patch; unless the dog was more interested in the ducks in the stream that wound through the community, along the walking/bike path.

No house had a similar design and lined up in rows. It was winding, nestled with groups that shared space but no one was too close or in direct alignment with another. Each home had a maximum of privacy.

Nothing could be further from cookie-cutter, tract housing. It was so cool the way it was designed, and Tommy couldn't wait to see the entire community full of people. Of course, if what he thought was going to come, does.... it's gonna be full a long time before anyone was thinking.

* * * * *

The large group stood there watching as the plane came in low, and then did a perfect landing. These guys were some of the best pilots that they had. Ryan was sure they could have landed on a dime if needed, hell one of them got their start landing on aircraft carriers, so he probably has landed on a dime before.

They watched as the large aircraft taxied to where they were all waiting. As soon as it stopped, the ground crew that was there went to work, and the first thing they did was pull out a wheelchair, and set it up at the bottom of the steps.

Tommy looked over at Carson, and noticed that he was really nervous. It made sense; he had set all this up, and no one knew who he was, now they would know, and who knows how they would take it.

It took a few minutes before the door was opened, and the steps extended for the people to get off. The first two off were an older middle-aged man and an elderly woman. The woman was holding onto the man's arm for support, as they slowly made their way down the steps.

The next to deplane was a young man, in his early 20s, carrying someone else. When they reached the bottom of the steps, the young man put the one he was carrying into the wheelchair. Tommy knew that had to be Rorris, the guy that Carson was working with. When the young man stood up, though, Tommy couldn't help but grin as he thought about what Jared would have thought about the man. He was certainly a hunk.

Next came a man and a woman. As they walked down, Carson softly whispered. "Those are Rory's parents." Everyone around him nodded in understanding.

After the adults came down, a large group of kids, with a few adults interspersed for good measure, came down, and started to mill around at the bottom of the steps. Once everyone was off the plane, Tommy watched as his father stepped forward a bit. "Hello, everyone. My name is Ryan Brown."

One of the older teens looked around, then at Ryan. He hesitated for only a moment before he cautiously asked. "Are you Studmffn?"

"My wife's always thought so, but you're the first guy who's noticed." Ryan said with a grin.

"Daaaad!" Carson cried out in horror. Tommy couldn't help but break down laughing, so did Mikey.

Carson maneuvered his chair till he was next to Ryan and said, somewhat hesitantly. "My name is Carson, and I'm Studmffn."

* * * * *

There was a long, awkward silence as the travelers realized that the boy in the wheelchair was the person responsible for all of them being there.

Finally, the silence was broken by Marcus Teeter saying, "It's a pleasure to finally meet you in person."

"Yeah. It's nice to meet you, too." Carson said shyly.

The group watched as Tommy walked up to his younger brother, then leaned in to whisper.

When the boys were done talking, Carson looked around at the people in front of him. Finally he looked at Bug and asked, "Where are the rest of you? We were expecting about thirty people. We seem to be quite a few short."

Bug looked to his right and left to confirm that everyone was there, then said, "I think this is all of us. Did you have people coming from somewhere besides Orlando and Chicago?"

After a moment to confer with his older brother, Carson asked, "Where are the Kansas City people?"

"They're still on the plane. Do you want them out here, too?" Bug asked uncertainly.

"Yes. They need to know what's going on." Carson answered immediately.

"Bax." Bug said, as he released the boy he had been holding, "Go."

After a quick grin at Bug, Bax dashed away, back toward the plane.

"While we're waiting, which of you is Y2Kbug?" Carson asked curiously, and seemed to be looking for a reaction from Walter or Reginald.

"That would be me." Bug said as he raised his hand slightly.

Carson looked at him with surprise, then broke into a smile.

Bug noticed the reaction and said, "Yeah. You don't look like what I expected, either."

"Where is Blue Vulcan?" Carson asked, as he looked around.

Zane hesitantly raised his hand from Loquicia's shoulder.

Lucas and Bax, approaching from the plane, drew everyone's attention.

Carson looked from Bug to Zane and quickly said, "I'd like to have a talk with you guys and Roris, later, when we get to the house."

Bug and Zane both nodded that they had heard.

"Bax said that you wanted us out here?" Lucas asked uncertainly.

"Yes. You and your family are just as displaced as everyone else, here. So we made sure to include you in our plans. That includes the flight crew, too."

"I thought we'd just stay at a hotel..." Lucas began to say, but was interrupted.

"...With three kids? You guys can do what you want, of course. But I'll bet that all of you will be a lot happier if you stay with us for a few days, until things settle down." Carson said frankly.

After a moment to consider, Lucas finally said, "I suppose that it would be nice if we could take some time to look at our options before we make any definite plans."

"Yeah. If you'll go get your family and the flight crew, I can tell everyone what's going to happen."

Lucas nodded, then dashed away.

Ryan leaned down and said something to Carson. After a shy nod, Carson looked around the group and his gaze stopped on a fifty or sixty year old man, supporting an elderly woman at his side.

"I've just been reminded of a few things. I guess not everyone brought their own chair, like I did. We've got some carts here for anyone who can't walk very far. I was also reminded that it's kinda chilly out here today and that some of you are from Florida." Carson said timidly.

"We can get everyone together and talk, when we get to the house." Ryan said from his son's side.

Lucas approached with his family following closely behind.

"Is this everyone?" Ryan asked, directing his question to Lucas.

"Yes. This is my family, and those two young men are Jeremy and Hank, our flight attendants. Our pilots live locally, so they won't need accommodations. Mrs. Peil and Mr. Nguyen have already made other arrangements.

"Well, I suppose we'd better get going, then. Everyone, as I said before, my name is Ryan Brown, beside me is my wife, Debra, and these are our sons, Tommy, Carson and... Mikey's around here somewhere." Ryan said as he looked around curiously.

"Here!" Mikey said from where he was seated behind the wheel of one of the bigger ATVs. This was a 6 passenger 'Gator', set up to be able to handle wheelchairs as well. In other words, it was huge. He started it, and slowly drove it down to where the group was waiting.

"Anyone who has difficulty walking can hop on. Debra and I will take you to the house. The luggage will be brought separately, when the plane is unloaded, so we can leave whenever you're ready. Everyone else can follow Tommy. He'll take you to the lot where you can pick up a Gator..." Ryan said before he was interrupted.

"Alligators!?" Ty squealed in terror.

Ryan, Carson and Tommy all broke into laughter at the reaction, but quickly quieted under Debra's disapproving glare. "No. A Gator is an all terrain vehicle. Just like the one Mikey was driving."

"This is a newly developed community, where cars don't go. Everyone that lives here will be using the gators, or the monorail to get around." Ryan said with a smile at the group.

"So, we can drive them, even if we're not old enough to drive a car?" Dax asked with increasing excitement.

"Yes. That is, if the adults approve. If your parent or guardian says it's okay, then I won't have any objection." Ryan said as he looked around the group.

"Dad! Can I?" Lazlo begged his father shamelessly.

"Wait until we get there, and I can see what we're talking about. I just hope they're smaller than that one." Lucas said seriously.

Bax looked up at Bug with a pleading expression.

"Let's wait until we see how big they are and if you can handle it." Bug said frankly.

"But if I'm big enough, then I can?" Bax asked hopefully.

"Sure, Bax." Bug grinned, then glanced over his shoulder to find that Ken and Kev were wearing matching smiles.

* * * * *

"It's not, too, far. This is what we do for most people who visit. Since cars aren't allowed, we make sure everyone has one to get around with. You just pick it up here, or in one of the car parking lots, use it while you're staying with us, then bring it back when you leave." Tommy said as he led the group of people away from the airfield.

"Do you have a lot of out of town visitors?" Zane asked curiously.

"Yeah. But not usually around this time of year. Most people come to visit during the summer, so they can visit the campgrounds and parks and stuff. Right now, it's too cold to do anything fun." Tommy said frankly, then pointed past an airplane hangar and said, "That's where we're going."

As they were walking, Tommy kept up the monologue. "Last month, the last of the community was certified finished, and ready for people to move in. Dad's gonna put up a huge factory for some of the things he's created, and the people that work for him will live here. There's just over a thousand new homes that were built, and everything's ready to go, starting January first."

Lucas and Gordon's girls didn't seem to be the least bit interested. Jay and Max followed along, not really knowing what to think about what was happening. But Lazlo was more than excited enough for all of them.

"Everyone, this is Lansing Durante. He's in charge of a lot of things around here, including the Gators." Tommy said, as he indicated a man around forty years old.

"Lance, these guys are going to be staying at our place for a while. Can you help me get them set up?" Tommy asked hopefully.

"We're all gassed up and ready to roll. We have two seat, four seat, six seat, and a few of the ten seat Gators, so just let me know what you'll be needing. Once you have your vehicle, Tommy can give you some basic instruction on how to operate it safely, then you can take it for a spin on the track, right over there, to get a feel for it." Lance said cheerfully as he motioned toward a well worn path in the grass.

"Right, and when everyone is ready, I'll lead the way to the house." Tommy said happily.

"Who's first?" Lance asked as he looked at the group that had gathered before him.

"I guess that's us." A thin young man said uncertainly.

The dark skinned boy at his side timidly asked, "Can I drive one?"

"You can try it out. But if it's too much for you to handle, I'll drive it for you." The young man said gently.

"Do you need a two or four seater?" Lance asked patiently.

"I don't know how to drive." A young man said timidly as he held a younger girl in a butterfly dress at his side.


Lance motioned for the group of four to follow, then gestured to a vehicle with four seats.

"What's your name?" Tommy asked the boy who wanted to drive.

"I'm Jamiah." He said shyly.

"Is it okay if I call you Jamie?" Tommy asked hopefully.

Jamiah smiled at the question and quietly said, "Yeah. I'd like that."

"Well, Jamie, get your passengers loaded, then I'll show you what to do." Tommy said with a grin at the shy boy.

"Who's next?" Lance asked as he looked back at the group.

"I guess that's us." A young man holding a blond boy on his hip said uncertainly.

"Two or four seats?" Lance asked with a smile.

"Four, I think. Oleksandr may want to sit on his own... someday."

"Can I drive?" The teenager at his side asked hopefully.

"Of course. I don't know if I would be able to drive with my little buddy, here, clinging to me." The young man said with a smile.

Conversation stopped as Jamiah started the first Gator.

Everyone watched as Tommy explained the basic controls.

After a moment, the Gator slowly inched out of it's parking place, then picked up speed as it made it's way to the track.

Tommy ran to Lance's side and asked, "Who's next?"

Lance gestured to the teenager before him.

"What's your name?" Tommy asked pleasantly.


"Is that it, or is it short for something?" Tommy asked curiously.

"It's short for Dakota." Dax said with a slight wince at saying his real name.

"I like Dakota. Can I call you that?" Tommy asked curiously.

"I'd really rather that you didn't. When people hear my real name they always think of a certain actress, and... I just don't want to be called that." Dax said honestly.

"Okay, Dax. You got it." Tommy said cheerfully, then looked at Lance with question.

"I finished my stuff and Mrs. Klemptor let me out early so I could help. Do you need me to do anything?" A young teenager asked as he ran up to Lance's side.

"Sure, Hobie. Why don't you take Dax, here, and get him into a four seater." Lance said cheerfully.

"Who's next?" Tommy asked as Hobie walked Dax's group to the lot.

"Is Bax too young to drive one?" An older teenager asked with a boy at his side.

"That depends. Are you going to be riding along, or will he be on his own?" Tommy asked curiously.

"I'll ride along this first time, just to be sure that he can handle it."

"Then he should be fine. Would you be wanting a two seater or a four seater?" Tommy asked. He had noticed that the twins behind the young man were obviously part of the same group.

"Two, I think. I get the feeling that the twins would enjoy having their own." Bug said with a glance behind him.

"We can do that, come on." Tommy said as he gestured for Bax to follow.

"Two seater?" Lance asked as he looked at the first twin.

"Yes. We'd each like one, if that's not a problem." The first twin said uncertainly.

"This time of year, it's no problem at all. We've got plenty." Lance said with a smile, then motioned toward the lot and said, "You can take those two. If you have any questions, just give a yell and I'll help you."

Once the twins had walked away, Lance noticed that the next person in line was a young teenage boy with mostly gray hair and blue/gray eyes. He seemed to be alone, which in itself wasn't all that strange, but something about the boy's expression or posture made Lance feel that 'alone' was something of an understatement when it came to this boy.

"Can I drive one, too?" The boy asked hopefully, but seemed to be poised for disappointment.

"I think we can do that." Lance said with a smile at the boy, then he looked over at the lot to see who was free.

He noticed that Hobie was watching how Dax was doing, driving around the track.

"Hobie. Are you ready for the next one?" Lance called out to get his attention.

"Sure." Hobie said suddenly, as he looked up at the sound of his name.

"What's your name, son?" Lance asked the boy gently.


"Is that short for something?" Lance asked curiously.


"That's a pretty good name. It's not common, but it's not too strange, either." Lance said as he watched Hobie approach.

"It's just the name some social worker gave me. No one knows my real name, or even if my mom cared enough about me to give me one, before she dropped me in the garbage, outside the 7-Eleven." Ty said bitterly.

"Wow, that sucks." Hobie said frankly, then added, "I bet driving one of these things will make you feel better."

Ty looked at Hobie with surprise for a moment. He obviously hadn't known that the boy was listening, but finally he said, "It won't hurt to try."

"That's the spirit." Lance said and pointed to a two seat Gator in the lot.

"Dad! C'mon. Can I PLEASE!" A boy begged as he approached with two men.

"No, Ronan. You may not. Once we get settled in, one of us will go with you and teach you how to drive." One of the men said firmly.

"But all the other kids are allowed to." Ro whined as he pointed to the track where the Gators were driving around and around at varying speeds.

"If other parents want to let their kids take the chance of breaking their necks, I suppose that's their prerogative, but you won't be allowed to drive until we're both certain that you can do so safely."

"I'm guessing that you guys will be needing a four seater." Lance said quietly, not wanting to get drawn into their discussion.

"Yes. If you wouldn't mind." The other adult said quietly.

"Right over there. If you can drive a car, you shouldn't have any problem. But if you have any questions, my son, Hobie, or I will be happy to help you." Lance said courteously.

"Thank you." The man said quietly, and Lance noticed that the young teenage boy had tears running down his cheeks.

"Can I, Dad? Please?" Another young teenage boy was asking as an entire family approached.

"Is it really safe for someone his age to drive one of these things?" The boy's father asked cautiously.

When Lance looked at him, he was surprised to find that he knew him.

"Lucas? What are you doing here?" Lance asked happily.

"That's kind of a long story." Lucas said honestly.

"Gordon, it's good to see you again." Lance said to the other adult, then looked around at the children and said, "I didn't know you guys had a family... and so many!"

"Yes. Well, we've been foster parents for quite a while, now, but as to the size of our family, that's a more recent development." Lucas said hesitantly.

"We'll have to get together so you can tell me all about it. But for right now, we should get your family outfitted with vehicles so you can be on your way." Lance said cheerfully.

"Would it be safe for Lazlo to drive one of these?" Lucas asked cautiously.

"Oh, sure. As long as he follows the instructions, I'm sure he'll be fine." Lance said assuringly.

Lucas and Gordon exchanged an uncertain look. Finally Lucas said, "Yes, Lazlo. You may drive one, as long as you promise to behave responsibly."

"I will, Dad. I promise! Can Jay come with me?" Lazlo asked hopefully.

"That depends on whether he would like to drive one for himself." Lucas said frankly.

"No. That's okay. I'd rather just ride." Jay said quietly.

Lucas looked at the other kids to see if any of them were interested in driving when he noticed the 'left out' look that Max was wearing.

"So, will that be a two seater for the boys?" Lance asked cautiously.

"No. A four seater. That way Max can go along, too." Lucas said decisively.

"And what about you two? Will you be wanting two two seaters or one four seater?" Lance asked as he looked at Lucas curiously.

"One four seater, I think. If Gordon and I end up having to go separate directions, we can just borrow the boys' vehicle." Lucas said thoughtfully.

"You can always drive back here and pick up another one, if you need to." Lance said with a smile, then noticed that both Tommy and Hobie were standing by the track, carefully watching how the drivers were handling their vehicles.

"Hobie, would you give Lazlo and his brothers a quick driving lesson?" Lance asked, just loudly enough to gain his son's attention.

"Um, yeah. Sure." Hobie said absently, then gestured for the boys to follow.

"You and Gordon can take the next one in line." Lance said with a gesture at the lot.

"Come on, girls." Gordon said and drew the girls toward the parking lot.

"Jeremy. I'm surprised to see you here. Every time you fly in here you usually turn around and fly right back out." Lance said somewhat playfully.

"Yeah. Well, that's because I'm usually anxious to get back home. We're here today because we've been warned to evacuate Kansas City." Jeremy said frankly.

"Evacuate? What's going on?" Lance asked with concern.

"I've only heard bits and pieces of it, but it was enough to let me know to take it seriously when I got a call from the office telling me that I should think about getting out of KC."

"I need to get with Ryan and see what's up. All Tommy told me was that we were going to be having visitors and that they'd be needing vehicles." Lance said thoughtfully.

"I don't know much more than what I just told you. But if the people in charge are this worried about it, then I think it's worth taking seriously."

"I suppose you're right. Well, here you go. Did you want one or two?" Lance finally thought to ask.

Jeremy looked to the young man at his side with question.

"I guess that since we're going the same place, that we could take one." The man said timidly.

"Lance, this is Hank. Lucas just hired him to work with me." Jeremy said with a smile.

"It's nice to meet you. I work for KF transport, too, so if you ever need anything, feel free to ask. We're all on the same team." Lance said as he met Hank's surprised gaze.

"Thanks. I will." Hank said with the beginning of a grin.

"You should probably go on. It looks like Tommy is anxious to get you on your way." Lance said as he looked at the boy staring back at him impatiently.

"Maybe we can get together and talk some other time." Jeremy said hopefully.

"Yes. I'll get with you once you're settled in and you two can come over for dinner or something." Lance said as Jeremy and Hank climbed into a two seat Gator.

"Yeah. Sounds good." Jeremy said before starting the engine.

Lance backed out of the way, then watched as Jeremy pulled the Gator out to the edge of the track.

* * * * *

Once Tommy got his own Gator going, he led the pack of vehicles down a slightly overgrown path, off into what seemed to be the deep woods.

For possibly the first time in his life, Jamiah felt like he was really part of a family. He was driving the Gator with Brother Jacques at his side. Zane and Loquicia were riding in the back seat. Jamiah was, in essence, taking his family, to their new home.

Bug was having almost as much fun watching Bax as he was enjoying the ride, itself. He was sure that no one had ever enjoyed driving as much as Bax was at that moment.

Dax was surprised to realize that he couldn't seem to wipe the smile off his face. Beside him, he had Ben, a person who cared for him and whom he could depend on. And Ben was holding Oleksandr, a person Dax cared for and who could depend on him. The fact that he was driving for the first time was just icing on the cake.

Ty was internally kicking himself for revealing so much of his past to a complete stranger. He knew without a doubt that no one cared about him. He had spent enough time on the streets to know that you don't give away parts of yourself like that without getting something in return. When the times get tough, what you are is all you got. And Ty was very aware that he didn't have much.

Walter and Reginald were nearly as heartbroken as Ro, who sat hunched in the back seat, embarrassed that he was the only one in his peer group who was being 'driven' by his fathers.

Lazlo was incredibly happy. He had the brother that he'd always wanted at his side. And in the back seat he sort of had the younger brother that he'd always wanted. Jay and Max were also enjoying the ride, but seemed more guarded, constantly afraid that the dream was about to become a nightmare.

Lucas and Gordon followed closely behind, always keeping Lazlo's vehicle in sight, but were careful not to crowd him. Misti and Annie were in the back seats, looking around curiously, but not especially excited about what was going on.

Jeremy and Hank followed behind, sharing both a sense of excitement as well as a sense of apprehension about the events of the day.

Following the pack was Hobie, making sure that no one stalled their vehicle or got stuck.

* * * * *

As they approached the large house, everyone could see that the other gators had already arrived.

Tommy led the way around the side of the house, then pulled his Gator to a stop.

When the next Gator approached, he gestured to show the next driver where to park. When it was all done, he had established a crude parking lot where everyone could easily get to their vehicle and pull it out when they needed to.

"The door's over here. I'm sure Mom and Dad are waiting on us." Tommy said as he led the way.

"Did you see me?" Bax asked Ro excitedly.

"Yeah. It looked like fun." Ro said miserably.

"Bug said that I drove so good that I can go by myself next time." Bax said joyfully.

"Yeah. Great." Ro choked out as he turned away to hide his tears.

Bax suddenly noticed that Ro was upset and let his steps lag until he was at Bug's side.

"What's wrong, Bax?" Bug asked curiously.

"I don't know. Ro's mad or something." Bax said slowly.

"That's tough. I know that you've kind of learned to depend on Ro since you left the group home." Bug said gently as he walked through the doorway into the house.

"No. It wasn't like that." Bax said frankly.

"How was it?" Bug asked curiously as they walked down a hallway.

"I took care of him. I'd already been in the group home for about a month when he showed up. I knew as soon as I saw him that Ro was a first timer, and he was scared to death, so I helped him." Bax said frankly as they came to a stop in a cavernous living room.

Bug smiled as he said, "That was the right thing to do. I'm very proud of you."

Bax was surprised by the words, but finally broke into a smile and whispered, "Thanks."

* * * * *

When the last of the guests had filed into the room, Ryan said, "Now that we're all here, I'd like to start by welcoming you into my home. Before anyone can become concerned, let me assure you that this is no inconvenience. We're in the habit of inviting several guests throughout the year and have everything that you'll need to be comfortable."

Debra stepped to her husband's side and said, "You'll see, when we show you to your rooms, that we're set up for this. There's plenty of room."

"I suppose with that said, that we should take all of you to your rooms so you can see where you'll be staying. That way, if you start feeling tired after your long trip, you'll know where you can go to take a nap." Ryan said frankly.

"But once you've seen your rooms, I'd like for the children to come to the kitchen, it's right over there." Debra said with a gesture to an archway. "I'm going to have a special surprise for all of you."

"Would you like me to stay behind to help with the luggage?" Lucas asked carefully.

"No. Please go with your family. We'll get the luggage situation sorted out later." Ryan said with a smile.

"Well, if he doesn't need you to do anything, you could help me." Tommy said, as he walked to his father's side.

Lucas was surprised, but quickly got over it and asked, "What can I do for you, Tommy?"

"I'm the one who was getting rooms ready for everyone. I've been using the list of people that you sent us. But there's more people here than I was expecting, I don't know who some of the names are and I'm totally lost by some of these descriptions." Tommy said honestly.

"I could show people to their rooms, if you want." Lucas offered carefully.

"Do you know where the rooms are?" Tommy asked challengingly.

"Oh. Well, then. I suppose it would make sense if I helped you conduct people to their rooms." Lucas said frankly.

Tommy gave Lucas one of those looks that only a teenager can give, then handed him the clipboard.

"Right. Well, this seems very well thought out." Lucas said as he looked it over.

"I take care of things whenever we have guests. I think we should start with the main floor." Tommy said seriously. Before Lucas could say anything, Tommy turned to the group and spoke loudly enough for everyone to hear. " Mr. Crante, the live in butler, is out right now, but he, and the rest of the staff will be here in the morning, and they will help see to your needs while you are here. I will show everyone how to use the phone system we have set up here, when we show you your rooms. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them. As my father said, we are used to accommodating high level executives, so I am sure anything you guys could come up with will be easy to deal with." He saw a few people chuckle, and the rest nod. He then turned to Lucas, "You ready?"

"Yes." Lucas agreed, then turned to the guests and said, "If everyone will follow me, it looks as though we have accommodations for all of you."

Those who were sitting stood and waited.

It took a moment for Oma Shoupe to get herself on her feet, but as soon as she was ready, Walt walked with her and waited for Lucas expectantly.

"The 'big house' is this way." Tommy said as he walked to a door at the side of the room.

"Come along, then. The first room appears to be yours, Mrs. Shoupe." Lucas said to her quietly as he walked.

The group moved slowly, matching Oma Shoupe's pace.

"There's an elevator over here, for anyone who wants to use it. But I know how Carson hates the things, so, in case any of you are the same way, I made sure to put anyone in a wheelchair or who has trouble with stairs on the first floor, so you shouldn't need it." Tommy said as they walked.

"This is beautiful." Doris Teeter said as she looked around, her gaze stopping at the far end of the huge open room where there were floor to ceiling windows.

"Yeah. Over there is the big kitchen, it's like this so everyone in the big house can get together and eat down here at once if they want. There are smaller kitchens on the other floors. I'm sure that by the end of the day, Mr. Crante will have all the kitchens stocked with just about anything that you could want."

"The dining room is over there. Of course, this one is bigger than the upstairs ones, but all of them are wired with outlets and drop-down screens so you can use them as conference rooms, in case any of you need something like that. The rest of this is kind of a great big lounge where you can gather or just hang out and relax, if you like. The weather isn't always great here, so it's nice to have a big open place where you can do stuff." Tommy explained, then stopped at the first room.

"Mrs. Shoupe, this room should be yours." Lucas said as he opened the door.

"I don't know who it is that you think I am, to be treating me so nicely, but I certainly do appreciate it." Oma Shoupe said sincerely.

"That's easy. You're our guest. If you want to go in and relax for a while after your trip, we can call you when it's time for dinner. Of course, if you want to follow along to see where everyone else is staying, you can do that, too." Tommy said with a smile at the elderly woman.

"I think some rest would be lovely right now. Thank you." Oma Shoupe said gratefully, then walked into the room with Walt's help. Tommy followed them into the room and walked over to where there was a phone on a stand, as well as a long printed out list of numbers. "This phone is not only able to call out like a normal phone, but it can also be used to call any room in the house. Tomorrow, when the maids come to tidy up the room, they will also have updated room lists, so you will know who is staying in what room. If you need anything at all, you can figure out who to call from this list. If you have any problems, simply dial zero, and it will ring to my cell phone. Also, please do not hesitate to call if you need anything, okay?"

Oma Shoupe was almost overwhelmed by everything. "Thank you." She said sincerely. "Thank you for everything."

"Think nothing of it. Consider this to be an all expenses paid resort for you and your family." Tommy said as he left her to look around the large master suite.

"Next, we have Bug, the twins and Bax." Lucas said to the group as soon as Tommy re-joined them.

"Wait, this room only has two beds. A king size and a twin." Tommy said hesitantly.

"Sounds perfect." Bug said with a grin.

"C'mon. Let's go check it out!" Bax said happily and pulled Bug into the room by his hand.

Ken and Kev wore identical smiles as they followed. Tommy stopped them and leaned into whisper with a smile. "If you would prefer for your young friend to spend the night elsewhere, my brother has a few spare beds in his room, and has already said he would like to meet some of the new guys. Even if it's only for a sleep over, sometime." Ken and Kev looked at each other then back to Tommy, and nodded.

"The phone..."

"We all heard you telling Oma Shoupe." Ken interrupted.

Tommy smiled and nodded.

"The last room on this level belongs to Roris and Lawrence." Lucas said as he looked around.

Lawrence had been leaning down, listening to Roris, but looked up when his name was called.

"This room is yours." Lucas said more quietly.

"Thank you." Lawrence said timidly.

Lucas watched as Roris moved his electric wheelchair to the door and Lawrence opened it for him.

"The next stop is on the second floor. The elevator is back there and the stairs are right here." Tommy said, then started climbing the stairs.

Marcus and Doris Teeter walked back toward the elevator, but everyone else followed Tommy.

* * * * *

As everyone made their way up the stairs, Tommy stood by the stairway door and waited for the last of them.

"I see a problem, here." Lucas said as he looked at the clipboard carefully.

"What did I miss?" Tommy asked curiously.

"It isn't you. I neglected to tell you that I received two more foster children this morning. We'll need to find beds for Jay and Max." Lucas said quietly as he indicated the children beside him.

"Give me a second. There's plenty of room..." Tommy said slowly as he scratched out and rewrote things on his clipboard.

"Jay and Max could stay in my room if you want. I wouldn't mind at all." Lazlo quickly offered.

"No need. Like I said, there's plenty of room." Tommy said as he finally looked up from his clipboard.

"Tell me if this sounds right..." Tommy said in prelude, then looked around to see that he had everyone's attention.

Lucas and Gordon seemed to be most interested in what he had to say, so he directed his comment toward them.

"If I'm understanding you right, then this level can be entirely for your family. There are six rooms, five for the kids and one for the parents." Tommy said with accomplishment.

"If it's not going to put anyone out..." Gordon began to hesitantly say when he was cut off.

"Like I said, plenty of room." Tommy said with a smile, then looked at the rest of the people and said, "Next stop, third floor."

"Thank you." Lucas said past his surprise.

"Go help Tommy and I'll get the kids settled in." Gordon said quietly.

Lucas nodded, then walked to Tommy's side with an admiring smile at him.

Tommy grinned at his sincere gratitude before hurrying up the stairs.

* * * * *

"First off, we have a room for Jeremy." Tommy said with a smile at the flight attendant.

"Did Lucas tell you about Hank?" Jeremy asked cautiously.

"No. Who's Hank?" Tommy asked slowly.

"I am." Hank said, as he raised his hand.

"Oh. I, um... Give me a minute and I'll find you a place." Tommy said as he studied his clipboard.

"Hank can stay with me. I just wanted you to know that he was here." Jeremy said quickly.

Tommy seemed to be about to say that it wasn't a problem, but when he saw the look in Jeremy's eyes, he asked, "Will you be needing a second bed?"

"No. I don't think that will be necessary." Jeremy said with a smile at Hank.

Tommy nodded, then made another note on his clipboard.

"The next room belongs to... Brother Jacques?" Tommy asked cautiously as he looked up.

"Yes. Brother Jacques and Zane." Lucas said with a smile.

Tommy looked at Brother Jacques curiously for a moment, then seemed to get his train of thought back on track.

"I got that the next rooms are supposed to be for their kids, but I couldn't make any sense of these descriptions. Can you point them out?" Tommy asked Lucas as he handed him the clipboard.

Lucas motioned to Loquicia, Jamiah and Ty.

"Oh. There's three of you." Tommy said with a grim look.

"Is there a problem?" Lucas asked with concern.

"No... I can make it work. But for now we may need for two of the kids to share one room." Tommy said with a look of apology at the three children that were looking at him.

"Jamiah and Ty." Brother Jacques said simply.

"Seriously?" Ty grumbled.

"You don't want to room with him?" Tommy asked cautiously.

"Would you?" Ty countered.

Tommy looked at Ty for a moment, then smiled. "I got an idea... stay with me till we get everyone else set, and I'll show you the other option, then you can decide. That work?"

As soon as Ty nodded, Tommy took the clipboard from Lucas and made another note on it.

"Who do we have next?" Lucas asked as he looked over Tommy's shoulder.

"You tell me. I'm not sure who you're talking about from these descriptions." Tommy said frankly.

Lucas looked around, then spotted Ben. "The next room is for you and Oleksandr. The room after that will be for..."

"...The boy with the 'brown' attitude?" Dax interrupted in a flat tone.

"I'm sorry about that. I couldn't think of another way to describe you to Gordon." Lucas said hesitantly.

"Well, I can think of a few ways to describe you, right now." Dax said in a low voice.

"Do you need a headlock?" Ben asked Dax with a teasing grin.

Dax looked up at Ben with surprise for a moment, then broke into a smile before saying, "No. I'm good."

"And the last room goes to Walt." Tommy said as he looked around.

"I think he stayed downstairs with Oma Shoupe." Ro said frankly.

"If he doesn't want his room, I'll take it!" Ty said quickly.

"Let's wait and see what he has to say about it, first." Tommy said with a grin, then noticed that two groups of people were looking at him anxiously.

"We have two guest houses out behind the house. You can see them from the window, right over there." Tommy said as he pointed.

"The first one is for the Teeters and the second one is for Walter, Reginald and Ro." Tommy said seriously.

"Can't I stay in the house with everyone else?" Ro asked as his eyes filled with tears.

"Sure. If you want to. Just give me some time to work it out." Tommy said as he looked over his clipboard.

"Ronan, we want you to stay with us." Walter said firmly.

"But Daaaaad!" Ro whined.

Walter gave Ro a firm, no nonsense, look, then slowly repeated, "We want you to stay with us."

"Since when? If you wanted me so bad, why did you let CPS take me away? You could have tried to hide me or you could have taken me somewhere else, but, NO, you just let them come and get me. You just stood there and watched. You didn't do anything to try and stop them." Ro said as his tears fell.

"Ronan, we'll talk about this later." Walter said seriously.

"Yeah. I just bet! You'll talk and talk and talk, but you won't do anything! Bug's more of a dad to me than either one of you! At least I know that he would've done something!" Ro said before running for the stairs.

Walter and Reginald were about to follow when Lucas held up his hand, indicating for them to stop.

"Give him some time to cool down. You know that he's probably tired from the trip and feeling a little bit raw from being uprooted and moved across the country." Lucas said gently.

"But he's right. We didn't fight for him. We did let the CPS take him away." Walter said as a tear fell down his cheek.

"That's all in the past, now. Help your son put it behind him and try to focus on the future." Lucas said gently.

"I suppose that you're right." Walter said quietly.

"I found a place in the house for him to stay." Tommy said as he looked Walter in the eyes. "Maybe it would help if he felt like he had a little freedom."

"He's changed so much since they took him away. It's like he's not our little boy anymore." Reginald said softly.

"He probably isn't. I don't know anything about it, except what you just said, but it sounds like he was probably forced to do some growing up. He's not like he was before, and trying to make him be like he was before is only going to cause more problems." Tommy said thoughtfully.

Lucas nodded, then said, "Maybe you could try to get to know the person that your son is now, instead of mourning the loss of who he used to be."

"I wouldn't know where to begin." Walter said with a helpless glance at Reginald.

"Try treating him like a teenager. Give him chances to earn your trust and make you proud. I bet that if you do that, it'll make all of you feel a lot better." Tommy said slowly, then looked at Lucas with question.

"And don't be surprised if your little boy still shows up from time to time. As he's struggling to grow up, he's also going to have times when he's afraid and will need to be reassured." Lucas said quietly.

"I suppose, while we have the chance, we should go look at our house... the second one, right?" Walter asked as he tried to get control of his emotions.

"Yes. You can go out the door at the bottom of the stairs." Tommy said quickly.

"Doris and I will go down with you. We never really had any issues with Roris, but our daughter, Corina, was a bit of a handful." Marcus said frankly.

"We could write a book." Doris interjected.

"But we survived her teenage years and lived to tell the tale. Maybe it would help if we shared some of our coping strategies with you." Marcus said with a smile.

"At this point, any help at all would be gratefully accepted." Reginald said, then walked with Walter and the Teeters down the stairs.

* * * * *

"What do you think, Bax? Is this going to be alright with you?" Bug asked with a smile, knowing that Bax was awestruck with the opulent luxury of the master suite.

"Night before last, me and Ro slept behind some bushes in the park. It was cold and some old drunk guy almost peed on us." Bax said frankly, then looked around the room one time before saying, "Yeah. I think I can stand it here."

Bug, Ken and Kev laughed at the answer, then turned in unison at the sound of a heavy handed knock on their door.

Before any of them could react, Bax dashed to the door and opened it.

Bax squeaked with surprise when he was immediately enveloped in a desperate hug.

It took a moment for him to process what was going on, but he quickly returned Ro's hug and gently asked, "What's wrong?"

Great heaving sobs were Ro's only answer, as he held Bax even more tightly.

Kev and Ken started toward the door, but Bug held them back and quietly said, "Let Bax handle it. He knows what he's doing."


Editor's notes:

Ro is devastated, and I think Bax is just the right person to help him cope with the situation Ro finds himself in. I mean, he has been through quite a lot in a short time, but now he has his dad's back, and somehow, he can't quite figure out why they are being so smothering and protective toward him. especially since, as he sees things, they just let CPS take him away without even trying to stop them.

I think, perhaps, his dads are not quite ready for a son who is willing to stand up for what he wants, and won't just sit there and follow instructions without at least questioning.

I think there needs to be some serious attitude adjustments on the part of the dads.

I have a feeling that the Teeters are just the ones to help that situation along, considering what they have been through.

Bax loves Ro, and he will do what he can to help Ro cope with his situation, and Bug and the twins will certainly do whatever they can to smooth things out, as well. At least, it seems, there will be time now for everyone to relax and settle into the new surroundings. No more plane trips for a while, at least. No more running away.

I don't honestly see much sense in my rehashing the trip to Kettle falls, and what was going on with the preparations for the guests.

That is just stuff that needed to be finished before the people got there.

As time goes by, we will get more details about the various people, and learn what their thoughts and feelings are.

I can hardly wait for the next chapter, to see what will happen next.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher