"How old are you?" Ty asked as Tommy led him down the stairs.
"Fifteen." Tommy said simply, then asked, "How about you?"
"Twelve." Ty answered in an obligatory tone.
"So, do you not want to share a room with that other guy because you don't like him or because you don't want to share a room?" Tommy asked curiously.
"Jamiah's okay, I guess. I just hate it when me and Jamiah and Dax are automatically thrown together just because we're all sissies." Ty said frankly.
"How's that?" Tommy asked with surprise.
"You know, we're... girly. Don't tell me that you haven't noticed it!" Ty said irritably.
"Not really, but I haven't been around you guys that much. I guess I noticed it about Jamie when I first met him, but I try not to let what I think about people be set in stone by my first impressions of them." Tommy said consideringly.
"Yeah? Then what do you think about me?" Ty asked in a somewhat belligerent tone.
"I get the feeling that you're angry and really defensive, looking for a reason to be offended so you can attack." Tommy said thoughtfully.
"The priest at the mission I was staying at called me 'contrary'." Ty said cautiously.
As they reached the bottom of the stairs, Tommy motioned toward the side door before saying, "I told you that I had another option for you, for where you can sleep. My brother, Mikey, really wants to have someone share his room with him. He's close to your age and maybe you two could get along together."
"Is he a sissy, too?" Ty asked cautiously.
Tommy laughed, then said, "No. Mikey isn't a sissy. He's just a regular guy."
"And you're not worried that I'm going to mess around with him or make him a sissy if I stay with him?" Ty asked cautiously.
"No. Mikey won't do anything he doesn't want to do, and as far as making him a sissy, it's not like it's contagious." Tommy said as he barely restrained a chuckle.
Ty thought about the words, as they walked into the main house and Tommy led him directly to the stairs.
"Mikey's room is up here. We already put bunk beds in, just in case anyone wanted to stay with him or maybe have a sleepover." Tommy said seriously.
"I won't do anything to him." Ty said quietly.
"I didn't think you would." Tommy said honestly as they crested the stairs.
"Most people think that because I'm like this, that I'll... you know... do stuff." Ty said cautiously.
"I know that Mikey won't do anything he doesn't want to do." Tommy said again, then opened the door to his youngest brother's room.
Ty walked past Tommy to look around.
He was surprised by how large the room was. Even with the two sets of bunk beds, the room didn't feel the least bit crowded.
"I'm only doing this as a favor to Mikey, because he wanted someone to share his room. If you and Mikey don't get along for some reason, all you'll have to do is get with me and I'll find you another place." Tommy said seriously.
"People don't like me." Ty said as he turned to look Tommy in the eyes.
After a moment to consider, Tommy smiled as he said, "And I bet that you don't like them, right back."
Ty broke into a reluctant smile and nodded.
"Give it a try, and if it doesn't work out, just give me a yell and we'll come up with something else." Tommy said frankly.
Ty looked around the bedroom again, then slowly nodded.
"But for now, I think we'd better get down to the kitchen. From the sound of it, my mom and my nanny probably have some awesome treats waiting for us down there." Tommy said with a grin.
Ty looked at Tommy with surprise, then broke into a smile.
"Come on." Tommy said cheerfully as he led the way out of the room.
* * * * *
"Does everyone like their room?" Lucas asked as he met up with Gordon and the kids in the 'lounge' area of the second floor.
"I can't believe this place. If I were planning on us taking a vacation with the kids, I'd want for us to stay someplace just like this." Gordon said frankly.
"This place is awesome, Dad. The rooms are big and nice and I get my own bathroom, and with this room out here, it's like this is our own house, but even better." Lazlo said joyfully.
"Jay? How are you doing?" Lucas asked with concern.
"It's really nice. I never had my own room before." Jay said shyly.
Lucas smiled warmly at the boy, then asked, "Max?"
"It's nice." Max said simply.
Misti and Annie were whispering to each other and Lucas didn't want to interrupt their conversation. They were obviously happy, and that's all he wanted to know.
"Well, Mrs. Brown said that all the kids need to go downstairs to the kitchen for a surprise, so I guess we'd better do that next." Lucas said to the group in general.
"What kind of surprise do you think it is?" Lazlo asked excitedly.
"Well, being that it's in the kitchen, I imagine that it'll probably be some kind of food. Let's go find out." Lucas said as he put a hand around Lazlo's shoulders to give him a quick, casual hug.
Gordon had to get the girls' attention, but finally they got the whole group herded to the stairs.
* * * * *
"Is everything alright?" Ben asked as he walked out of his room and noticed that Brother Jacques and Zane were standing together outside the rooms.
"Yes. We're just waiting on Loquicia and Jamiah to finish looking at their rooms before we take them downstairs." Brother Jacques said seriously.
"I think I need to see if Carson is ready to talk to us. I really don't know what he could want to talk to us about." Zane said nervously.
"Since he called you by your Internet name, I'm guessing that he's going to ask you about the people you brought with you. At least, that makes the most sense to me." Brother Jacques said frankly.
Zane slowly nodded, then looked up as someone approached.
"I met Dr. Murten downstairs and he said that I had a room up here. Do you know where it is?" Walt asked quietly.
"Yeah. It's the room by the elevator, over there." Ben said as he pointed with the hand that wasn't holding Oleksandr.
"Thanks." Walt said, then walked directly to his room.
"My room is soooo pretty! I love it!" Loquicia said as she ran to Brother Jacques and hugged him.
"I'm glad you like it, Quicia." Brother Jacques said as he put an arm around her.
"It's like a dream." Jamiah said as he joined the rest of the group in the hall.
"All of this is like a dream to me." Zane said frankly.
Ben walked away from the group and gently knocked on a bedroom door before saying, "We're about to go down to the kitchen, if you want to join us."
A moment later, Dax opened his door and said, "Yeah. Thanks, Ben. I was just spacing out."
"It looks like you'll have plenty of time for spacing out, later. Right now, all the kids are expected in the kitchen, and I don't want Oleksandr to miss out on getting a treat." Ben said with a smile at the boy in his arms.
Oleksandr didn't seem to be the least bit interested in what Ben was saying. The expression on his face said clearly, that he was just enjoying holding Ben and being held.
* * * * *
"What is it, Ro? What's wrong?" Bax gently prodded.
"It's my dads... They... they won't let me do anything. It's like they're trying to control everything I do, or even think about doing, and they won't let me do anything that I want." Ro whispered, as tears still trickled down his cheeks. "I love them and I don't want to be mad at them but it's not fair."
Bax thought for a moment, then looked at Bug and the twins helplessly. He was obviously in over his head.
"Why don't you take Ro to the kitchen, and see what surprises they have for you there? I've got to meet with Studmuffin right now, but after that, maybe I can have a talk with Ro's dads and see if I can get them to lighten up a little." Bug said frankly.
Ro looked up at Bug with tear filled eyes and quietly said, "Thanks, Bug. I knew you'd do something. I'm so glad we found you."
"Well, duh! You're part of my family, now. Taking care of each other is what we do." Bug said with a grin.
Ro returned the smile, then looked down into Bax's eyes and whispered, "Thanks, Bax."
"I've always got your back. You know that." Bax said with a grin.
After a moment to consider, Ro responded, "Yeah. I do know that."
"Come on, guys. We've got things to do." Bug said suddenly, breaking the spell.
Reluctantly, Ro released his grip on Bax and seemed to be about to step away, but, instead, leaned in and gave Bax a quick kiss on the cheek.
Bax looked up at Ro with surprise at the action.
"I'm sorry. I don't know why I did that." Ro stammered.
"Don't be sorry. But next time, my mouth is over here. I can't kiss you back with my cheek." Bax said frankly as he pointed at his mouth.
Ro looked at Bax with surprise for a moment, then giggled as he said, "I'll remember that."
"We'll take the guys to the kitchen, if you want to go find Studmuffin." Ken said frankly.
"Thanks, guys." Bug said, then gave each of the twins a quick but firm kiss, before leaving the room.
* * * * *
As Bug walked out of the room, the sound of Roris' electric wheelchair immediately caught his attention.
"I was just going to find Studmuffin. Is that where you're headed?" Bug asked casually.
Roris said something that Bug didn't understand. Lawrence was right beside him and immediately said, "His name is Carson."
"Right. Is that where you guys are going?" Bug asked as he waited.
"Yes. Roris wants me to go along, so I can talk for him. He said that it'll be a big help." Lawrence said proudly.
"I bet that it will." Bug said with a smile at his brother, then added, "Let's look in the living room, first."
Ken and Kev walked out of Bug's room, followed by Ro and Bax.
"Hi, Lawrence. Hi Roris. Isn't this place great?" Bax asked cheerfully.
"Yeah. Nice." Roris said, loudly and clearly enough to be understood without Lawrence's help.
"I love it. I've never been someplace so nice before." Lawrence said happily.
"Let's go." Bug said as he started toward the doorway that connected the big house to the main house.
* * * * *
Once they were in the living room, Ken and Kev led the boys on through the archway and into the kitchen.
"I don't know where we should start looking for him." Bug said as he looked around the huge, empty living room.
"If you're looking for Carson, he's probably in his room." Tommy said as he and Ty walked down a staircase heading toward the kitchen.
"Where's that?" Bug asked curiously.
"Over there." Tommy pointed, before guiding Ty through the archway.
As Bug, Lawrence and Roris were starting to go that way, a large group of mostly kids walked into the room.
"Well, it looks like Blue Vulcan is here, so all that's left is to find Carson." Bug said frankly.
"We'll be in the kitchen if you need us." Brother Jacques whispered and seemed to be about to lean in and give Zane a kiss. Then a look of regret crossed his face as he looked around, then backed away.
"Tommy said that Carson's room is over here. Let's see if he's there." Bug said, trying to draw attention away from the timid couple.
It took a moment, but finally Bug, Zane, Roris and Lawrence were walking across the large living room to find out what it was that Carson wanted to talk to them about.
* * * * *
"Everyone! You need to wash your hands and then find a place at the table or the breakfast bar." An older woman said firmly.
"You can wash your hands over here." Mikey said quickly as he hurried to the kitchen sink.
Within seconds, a long line of children queued up behind Mikey to take their turns at handwashing.
As soon as Ty was finished washing his hands, Tommy led him over to Mikey and said, "Hey, Bro, I found someone who wants to stay in your room."
"Really!?" Mikey asked happily.
"Yeah. This is Ty. He's from Chicago." Tommy said in the same tone he used to introduce the executives who would visit them, then he continued, "Ty, this is my brother, Mikey."
"Wow. You got gray hair!" Mikey said suddenly.
Ty seemed to be fighting to keep from responding to Mikey.
"Yeah, and you got a big mouth." Tommy said to his brother.
Mikey looked at Tommy with surprise, then noticed Ty's angry glare directed at him.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like it was something bad. But I never met anyone our age with gray hair before. It's kinda weird... in a good way." Mikey stammered.
"Let's find seats, so Nanny will feed us." Tommy said with an exasperated look at his younger brother.
"Yeah! Come on!" Mikey said happily as he hurried away to the breakfast bar.
"He's really okay. He doesn't always think before he says stuff." Tommy said to Ty carefully.
"I guess that's better than someone who whispers behind your back." Ty said as he slowly followed Mikey.
"I'm saving this spot for Ty!" Mikey said seriously to Dax.
Dax looked at Ty approaching with surprise, then smiled as he stepped out of the way.
"Us old guys can sit over here." Tommy said and led Dax to the other end of the breakfast bar.
"Is everyone ready?" An older woman asked cheerfully.
A collective cheer went up from all the kids assembled.
She picked up a tray of desserts and carried them to the table as Deb, Carson's mother, carried another tray to the breakfast bar.
When the dessert was placed in front of Ty, he stared at it in horror.
It took a moment for him to get over the shock, then he looked around to find that everyone had the same thing as him.
He noticed Dax's bewildered expression at the other end of the breakfast bar, then turned and saw Loquicia and Jamiah staring at their desserts with wide, tear filled eyes.
"What's wrong? Don't you like ice cream sundaes?" The woman, Carson's grandmother, asked cautiously at the unusual reactions.
"But there's mouse poop on it!" Jamiah whined and sounded like he was about to burst into tears.
There was a brief moment of silence, then the sound of Jay choking.
Deb ran to Jay's side to see that he was going to be okay.
"That isn't mouse poop. Those are chocolate sprinkles." Carson's grandmother said, as she tried to restrain her chuckles.
Ty, Dax, Jamiah and Loquicia all seemed dubious.
Carson's grandmother walked to the countertop beside her and picked up a container, then walked to Ty, who was closest to her and held it out to him.
He read the label, then looked through the side of the plastic container.
"Open it up and smell it. It's chocolate, I promise." The woman said gently.
Ty cautiously opened the top and took a tentative sniff.
"Chocolate, right?" She asked softly.
Ty nodded, then handed the container back to her.
"Does anyone else want to see for themselves that this really is chocolate?" She asked as she looked around the kitchen.
Strangely enough, all the kids, even those who had already eaten more than half their sundae, felt the need to smell the container of chocolate sprinkles.
Finally, Ty took his first bite of the dessert. It never occurred to him that one ice cream might be different from another, but the creaminess and quality of the ingredients of the sundae made it far better than anything he had ever tasted before.
* * * * *
"Can we come in?" Bug asked hesitantly from Carson's door.
"Yeah. I'm sorry, I was going to meet you in the living room, but there's some stuff going on that's got me worried." Carson said as he glanced back at the six monitors.
"We can come back later, if you want us to." Zane offered quietly.
"No. That's not necessary. Hopefully this won't turn out to be anything." Carson said distractedly, then released his chair from its operations center, locked mode, and backed away from the computer alcove, so he could face his guests.
"I guess we should start off by introducing ourselves. I only know you by your Internet names. I'm Carson Brown, also known as Studmuffn."
Bug smiled at the unlikely name for the young teenager in the wheelchair, then said, "My name is Bug."
"Really?" Carson asked with surprise.
"Well, not quite; his name is really Vincent, but no one calls him that, ever." Lawrence said frankly.
"It's nice to meet you, Bug." Carson said with a big smile, then looked to the next person in line.
"Zane, that's easy to remember." Carson said with a smile.
"You already know Roris, and I'm Lawrence. I'm Bug's brother and Roris's boyfriend." Lawrence said happily.
"I didn't know that you had a boyfriend, Roris." Carson said to Roris with a smile.
Roris mumbled something that Carson couldn't make out, but Lawrence looked at Carson and cheerfully said, "He didn't, until he met me."
"Oh, that reminds me!" Carson said, as he wheeled his way down to the end of his work table. "I built this while I was working with you on the project. It was gonna be the next stage. When I knew you were coming, I updated the software on it, so it should work fine." Carson said as he grabbed a smallish box, a small microphone, and put them on his lap, before wheeling over to where Roris was.
He handed the box to Lawrence, smiled and said. "Can you please attach that to the arm of the chair?" As soon as Lawrence was finished, Carson reached forward, and attached the small lapel mic to Roris's shirt, and then hooked the other end into the small box. "Okay Roris. This is just like the one we did the other night. You should be able to speak normally now."
"Thank you, Carson." An obviously computerized voice said loudly and clearly from the box.
Carson smiled with triumph at how well his creation worked on the first try.
After a moment, Roris looked up at Lawrence and asked, "What do you think?"
Lawrence tried to fight down his giggles, but didn't do a very good job of it as he said, "You sound funny!"
Roris's expression fell at the declaration.
Lawrence didn't seem to notice as he continued, "I think it's nice that you can talk to everyone easier now, but when it's just you and me, I'd much rather talk to the real you."
There was a moment when Roris wasn't sure if Lawrence was sincere in his words, until he realized that one of Lawrence's most endearing qualities was that he was always sincere. Lawrence didn't have it in him to lie or deceive.
Finally, Roris looked Lawrence in the eyes and said, "It's a deal."
Carson smiled warmly at Lawrence and Roris, sensing the 'rightness' of them being together. Then he turned to the group and said, "The reason that I wanted to talk to all of you is that there's some bad stuff going on in the country. You guys already saw the signs, and knew that something was coming, just like I did, so I'd like it if you could kind of help me keep an eye on things, and maybe together we can spot other problems on the horizon and find ways that we can help people."
"I didn't figure out what was going on, at all. My cousin Ben did. I just knew how to get in touch with you." Zane said honestly, with a slight blush.
"Could you go get your cousin and ask him to come join us? If he had the foresight to see what's coming, I'd really like to have him on the team." Carson said frankly.
Zane nodded and hurried out of the room.
Roris was talking to Lawrence. Carson and Bug noticed and waited to see what Roris was thinking. Apparently, Roris had turned off his translator. It seemed that Roris wanted to talk to Lawrence privately for a moment.
"Roris says that he didn't see what was coming, either." Lawrence said, as he looked at Carson.
"I know. That wasn't the reason I wanted Roris here. From all the time that Roris and I have worked together, I've come to respect and value his opinions and his problem solving skills. I wanted Bug and Zane, and, now, I guess, Ben, to help me in predicting what's coming. I was hoping that Roris would help me in figuring out what to do about it." Carson said honestly.
"Zane said that you wanted to see me." Ben said, as he walked into the room carrying a blond boy, sporting a whipped cream moustache and beard.
Zane walked in next, looking to be uncertain of his welcome.
Carson had to fight down a chuckle as he went to his dresser and pulled a few tissues free from their box.
He rolled over to Ben and handed him the tissues before saying, "Yes, Zane said that you were the one who realized what was coming and decided to take action and get out of Chicago."
"Yeah... I guess so. I mean, I talked it over with everyone before we did anything, but I guess I was the first one to see what was going on." Ben said thoughtfully as he wiped the whipped cream off Oleksandr's face.
"Then, if you don't mind, I could really use your help in watching what's going on now, and trying to predict what's going to happen next. Things are heating..."
"Carson. Please pardon my interruption, but the situation appears to be escalating much more rapidly than we predicted." A young sounding voice said clearly, from Carson's computer alcove.
* * * * *
After a moment to see that all the children were enjoying their ice cream sundaes, Brother Jacques slowly walked the few steps to join the twins so he could speak to them privately.
"I'm sorry, guys. I don't know what happened. I got to talking with Zane and sort of got lost in myself. I didn't mean to hurt you and leave you alone." Brother Jacques said quietly.
"We weren't alone, Jake. We spent the night with that guy from last night, his name is Bug." Ken said frankly.
Jake looked at the twins with concern at the announcement.
"It's fine. Bug's a really good guy." Ken quietly assured him.
"I really like him." Kev added as he looked into Brother Jacques' eyes.
"You slept with a guy that you just met last night?" Brother Jacques confirmed.
"Yes. But all we did was sleep." Kev said seriously.
"That's none of my business." Brother Jacques said frankly.
"Sure it is." Ken said immediately. "You love us. That gives you the right to worry and care and stuff. I mean, you can't tell us what to do, but you're an important part of our lives and you deserve to be included."
"Me and Zane just slept, too." Brother Jacques said quietly.
"I figured." Kev said with a smile.
"So, this guy, Bug, he's really okay?" Brother Jacques asked cautiously.
"Yeah. He's strong, like you. He makes us feel safe." Kev said seriously.
Ken nodded and continued the thought, "Once Bug cares about you, you know that he'll move heaven and earth to protect you. There's no half-way with him."
"He sounds intense." Brother Jacques said hesitantly.
"Yeah. That's a good word for it." Ken said with a smile.
"If I had to describe Bug in just one word, that would be it." Kev chuckled.
Brother Jacques and the twins turned at a movement and saw Zane walk directly to Ben and speak to him seriously.
A moment later, Ben got up, with Oleksandr in his arms, then followed Zane out of the room.
"I wonder what's up with that." Brother Jacques said slowly.
"Whatever it is, I have a feeling that it isn't good." Ken said as he stared at the doorway.
* * * * *
"I'm Debra, and this is my mother, Madelyn. I'm sorry for interrupting, but we were curious about the young man carrying the boy. We got the sense that there's something wrong there and wanted to know if it's anything that we can help with." Debra said to Brother Jacques and the twins.
Looks flashed between Brother Jacques and the twins, but none of them knew how much they should reveal to their hosts.
Gordon and Lucas were close enough to overhear the question and moved closer, so that they could be included in the conversation.
Finally, Brother Jacques hesitantly said, "Oleksandr, that's the boy's name, stayed at our mission shelter for a while. I don't know much about it except that his adoptive parents fell onto hard times, and somehow he ended up with us."
"At first, they kept Oleksandr with them all the time. But over the course of a few weeks, we saw less and less of the parents and were left to care for Oleksandr most of the time. Before any of us knew what had happened, the parents were gone. We still don't know what happened to them." Ken said quietly.
"That was a few months ago. We notified Child and Family Services, and they took Oleksandr away. He was young enough, and white and blond and cute, so we figured that he'd probably end up getting put in a decent home."
Debra and Madelyn looked at Kev with surprise at the statement. Brother Jacques noticed and explained, "I know it's not fair, and it's not how it should be. But sadly, that's how it is. Kids that aren't white, usually don't get adopted. In fact, if Oleksandr hadn't been white, the Child and Family people probably would have just left him with us, since they wouldn't have much hope of placing him. I guess it makes them look bad if they have a kid that they can't place, so whenever they can, they just kind of look the other way when a non-white kid needs their help."
"Yeah. That's why we've had Ty, Loquicia and Jamiah for so long. Dax is white, but he's too old for anyone to want him." Ken said frankly.
Before Debra and Madelyn could respond to that, Brother Jacques continued, "Anyway, last night, Oleksandr showed up on the doorstep of our mission. He was in shock and, actually, I'm surprised he was able to find the mission, in the state that he was in."
"He couldn't tell us very much, except that his new foster father had beaten and raped him..." Kev said before he was interrupted by his twin.
"Of course, he didn't use those words, but that's what we were able to put together from what he told us."
"Oleksandr showed up at the same time that we were making plans to come here, so there wasn't much more that we could do but take him with us." Brother Jacques said frankly.
"If we'd taken him to a doctor, or called the cops, then none of us would have been able to get out of Chicago." Kev added seriously.
"So he hasn't seen a doctor, yet?" Madelyn asked with concern.
"No. We thought that it was more important to get him to a safe place, first." Brother Jacques said as he met her concerned gaze.
"When we got on the plane to leave Chicago, Ben volunteered to take care of Oleksandr, so we'd be free to take care of the rest of the kids." Ken interjected, hoping to keep the story moving.
"Yeah. And when Oleksandr woke up, I guess he felt safe, or something. After everything that had happened to him, he desperately needed to feel safe, so he's been clinging to Ben's side ever since." Kev finished with a smile.
"Ben doesn't seem to mind it at all. If I didn't know better, I'd be ready to swear that Oleksandr had been his son all along." Brother Jacques said frankly.
"From what I've seen of them since they arrived in Kansas City, Ben has focused nearly all his attention on the task of caring for the boy. I get the feeling that no matter how bad the boy was hurt physically, that the emotional trauma was far more severe. Ben seems to be just what Oleksandr needs to learn to feel safe again." Lucas said in a low tone.
Deb noticed that all the children seemed to have finished their desserts and were chatting, mostly quietly, amongst themselves.
"Tommy, Mikey, why don't you take the kids outside and show them the backyard? I'm betting that after being on the plane all morning, that they've got a good bit of energy to burn off." Debra said to her children.
"It's this way, come on!" Tommy said, and motioned for everyone to follow.
* * * * *
"What's going on?" Carson asked as he moved his wheelchair back into it's 'docking' position.
"A shot has been fired." Dizzy said simply.
"What are we looking at?" Bug asked curiously as he walked up behind Carson. He was immediately in awe of the highly advanced computer system.
"A school in Breckenridge, Texas. Some bullshit about a viral outbreak and all the kids in the area needing to go to this one high school, supposedly for 'testing'. It seemed weird, so we were keeping an eye on it..." Carson's voice faded away as what seemed like a hail of arms fire erupted. Parents were being shot at by the federal agents. Some of the parents, the ones who had firearms, started to return fire.
Seconds later, the front doors of the school burst open, and several older children could be seen rushing the federal agents, trying to get them to stop shooting their parents.
"They're shooting the kids!" Zane gasped, as the federal agents, spun and started to fire on the children.
"Lawrence." The computerized voice from Roris' wheelchair said in a flat tone.
After a moment, Lawrence turned his horrified gaze toward Roris.
"Don't look at it, Lawrence. Just hold me, please." Roris' computerized voice said tonelessly.
Ben held Oleksandr tightly to his chest as he witnessed the bloodbath on the screen.
"Dizzy! War mode! Push the live feed out to the kingdom! I don't want there to be any chance that they don't see this." Carson said as he started typing furiously on his keyboard.
Everyone watched in wonder as the monitors slightly retracted, then reorganized themselves into a pattern of eight displays in front of Carson.
"Bring up a replay of the first shot on monitor one. I want to see who started it." Carson said firmly.
"This game is stupid." Oleksandr said quietly, then cuddled into Ben's chest.
"Yes. It is." Ben whispered as he smoothed Oleksandr's slightly curly blond hair.
"What the fuck!? This is a setup!" Bug exclaimed. Dizzy had triangulated where the shot came from, and by the time they could see anything, all there saw a female agent, with a rifle slung over her shoulder, climbing down from her perch.
"Dizzy, clean that clip up as much as you can, then push it out to the kingdom, too."
"The fucking feds set it all up! Those motherfuckers got all the kids together, then had someone fire a shot from behind them, hitting the federal agent that was trying to keep the peace!" Bug ranted.
"Dizzy, would you go back ten minutes and show Bug what happened before. Put it on monitor five." Carson said, then pointed at the monitor, so Bug would know where to look.
Action on one of the other screens drew everyone's attention.
"Holy Jesus! Is that what I think it is? Troop transports, tanks... Wait! Are those helicopters fighting each other!?" Ben exclaimed in horror, drawing everyone's attention. All eyes were on the screen just in time to watch as one of the Osprey aircraft, maneuvered into position, then opened up on the front of the school, ripping through the concrete just as easily as the bullets ripped through the children who were still trying to protect their parents.
Just then, one of the helicopters went spiraling out of control, and fell directly into the school.
Everyone stared in silence at the horrific scene.
Finally, the silence was broken by Carson asking, "Dizzy! What is that?"
"Which 'that' are you talking about?" Dizzy asked in what seemed to be a hesitant voice.
"Upper left quadrant of screen four! That helicopter! Isn't that one of the ones that helped rescue President Bryce?" Carson asked.
A brief moment passed before Dizzy replied. "Yes, I think..." Dizzy started to reply before his voice rose an octave, simulating shock. "ROCKET FIRE!" He called out, just as the lead helicopter, a Huey, unleashed several rockets, a mere moment later, the Osprey that was firing on the front of the school blew up into a huge ball of fire. Federal Agents and parents alike had to jump for cover as the flaming debris started to rain down over the area.
Before the last of the debris hit the ground, the Huey was in the middle of fighting two Apache helicopters and two other Osprey. The Chinook came in low and fast, buzzing over the school at just over a hundred miles an hour, and no more than fifty feet off the ground. As the back of the Chinook came into sight, they watched in disbelief as a huge, fully armored figure, standing on the back of the lowered ramp, took two running steps and jumped out of the back of the helicopter, followed closely by a very young red headed boy. Just then the monitors went dead. "What happened to the feed?"
"We've been denied access to the video channel." Dizzy said, sounding to be as puzzled as Carson at the development.
"Oh no you didn't!" Carson said as he started typing furiously.
"Give me a second. Maybe I can help." Bug said before dashing out of the room.
"How you doin, buddy?" Ben asked Oleksandr, gently.
"I gotta pee." Oleksandr responded quietly.
"Carson, where's your bathroom?" Ben asked cautiously, regretting that he needed to interrupt.
"Over there." Carson pointed for only an instant before going back to typing. "Dizzy! I need you to reconfirm that satellite link while I establish the protocol."
"I'm on it, Carson." Dizzy said immediately.
"I feel like I should be doing something." Zane said in a small timid voice to Roris.
"Watch. Listen. Study what's happened and try to make sense of it." The computerized voice said from the box on Roris' wheelchair.
Lawrence was sitting on Roris' lap, holding him gently, but Roris had his full attention on the replay on the monitors.
Zane followed his gaze and began to watch the scene carefully, trying to find any glimmer of reason in the atrocity that they had just witnessed.
* * * * *
"How are you doing, Ty?" Tommy asked, interrupting something that his brother was saying.
"Does he ever shut up?" Ty asked Tommy curiously.
Mikey didn't seem to notice that neither of them were paying him the least little bit of attention.
"Yeah. Eventually. He's just excited right now. If you want to shut him up sooner, you can play some soccer or something with him. Once he's burned off his extra energy, he should be fine."
"I've never played soccer." Ty admitted shyly.
"Seriously!?" Tommy asked in wonder.
"The only ball game I ever been around is b-ball, and I'm too small to be any good at it." Ty said frankly.
"Being little and fast is just as good as being big and strong when it comes to soccer. It can be tough, but if you work hard, you CAN be good at it." Tommy said seriously.
"I wouldn't know what to do." Ty said cautiously.
"Mikey. Zip it for two seconds." Tommy said sternly to his brother.
It took a moment for Mikey to process the words, but finally he stopped talking.
"Ty doesn't know how to play soccer. I'm betting that some of the others don't either. What would you think about getting everyone together and teaching them the basics?" Tommy asked as he watched for his younger brother's reaction.
"Yeah! That'd be awesome! I can tell them what to do and you can show them how, since you're better at stuff than I am." Mikey said quickly.
"I've got some things that I need to do right now. But you're good enough to show them what they need to know. Get Ty to help you get enough balls out for everyone, so that they can get used to handling them." Tommy said seriously.
"Yeah! I can do that." Mikey said happily, then dashed away.
Ty looked up at Tommy with an uncertain grin before he heard, "Ty, come on! The balls are over here!"
"Have fun." Tommy chuckled as he watched Ty leave to follow Mikey, at a moderate speed.
* * * * *
"What'd I miss?" Bug asked as he hurried into Carson's bedroom, carrying his tote bag.
"I still can't get access. I just can't figure out why." Carson said as he studied his computer screens.
"Is there someplace where I can jack into your network?" Bug asked as he took out his laptop.
Carson glanced at Bug and was about to answer, but the ability to speak left him when he saw the ancient laptop with a duct tape battery cover.
Finally, Carson stammered, "Um, I, uh, yeah. But you can use that computer over past the closet if you want. It's already hooked up to the network and it's probably got a little more processing power."
"What OS are you running?" Bug asked hesitantly.
"All the computers here are multi-boot. You can select the OS that you want when you turn it on. If you don't select one, then it defaults to Apple." Carson said seriously, then started to turn his attention back to the monitors.
"Great. Thanks." Bug said happily as he began to sort through a collection of thumb drives on the computer desk.
"Is that a gun?" Zane asked cautiously.
Bug glanced at the gun in his tote bag, then nodded.
"Is it loaded?" Zane asked, even more slowly.
"Be kinda useless if it wasn't." Bug said simply.
"Why do you have a gun?" Zane asked carefully.
"To shoot anyone who tries to hurt my family." Bug said as he stopped to look Zane in the eyes.
Zane thought about it for a moment, then quietly said, "That's probably the only answer to that question that would make me feel okay with it."
Bug hit the button to start the computer as he said, "Being against guns is real easy when there's no one trying to hurt you or steal your shit. Unless I'm totally reading things wrong, a whole lot of people are about to gain a new appreciation for the second amendment."
Ben walked into the room, carrying Oleksandr, and looked around curiously before walking up to Zane's side.
"How's it going?" Ben asked in a whisper.
"Carson's trying to regain the video feed. Bug is getting on that other computer to try and help." Zane said frankly.
"Have you figured out what just happened, or why?" Ben asked quietly.
"No. None of it makes any sense to me right now. But I think Bug was right. From what little bit I do understand, this was a set-up."
"Damnit!" Carson screamed in frustration.
"What's wrong?" Ben asked immediately.
"Everywhere I turn, I'm hitting dead ends. It shouldn't be possible! No one's that good!" Carson growled.
"Yeah. Well you just keep banging on the front door like that, and I'm sure they're going to pop it open and let you right in." Bug said in a teasing tone.
Carson turned in his chair enough to give Bug a scathing glare.
"I just sent Studmffn a link that he might want to check out." Bug said with a grin.
Carson immediately turned and saw the link displayed on one of his screens.
"What the... how did you?..." Carson said in wonder as he stared at the renewed video feed.
The scene before him was horrific. Billowing clouds of smoke and streaks of flame were rising up from where the helicopter had crashed into the school. Dead mangled bodies, many of them children, were splayed out on the front steps of the school building. A small number of federal agents were firing at someone, but their opponent wasn't immediately identifiable as being from any particular military organization.
As suddenly as it had started, the feed stopped.
"No!" Bug said firmly, "No way!"
"Whoever is blocking us is good." Carson said as he went back to work trying to establish a video connection.
"I bounced that motherfucking signal about six times around the earth before it got to us. There's no fucking way that they could have traced it that fast. According to the laws of physics, it's NOT FUCKING POSSIBLE!" Bug bellowed.
"So, that means that they didn't trace it." Zane said simply.
Carson and Bug looked at Zane with matching expressions of question.
"They found you out some other way." Zane said as a statement of simple fact.
"Son-of-a-bitch! He's right!" Bug said as he started typing up a storm.
"Not good... not good..." Carson muttered as he worked his keyboard furiously.
As Bug and Carson both typed as fast as humanly possible, suddenly the video feed started back up, seemingly all on it's own.
"What happened, Dizzy?" Carson asked suddenly.
"All the video channels that I was trying to access suddenly became available." Dizzy said frankly.
Everyone stared at the screens in silent horror.
Lots and lots of bodies.
Carson was the first to break out of his astonishment, and he quickly looked at the video for any traces of the Chinook helicopter or the other fighters. As he zoomed in as best he was able, he could only find innocents and federal agents. From the look of what was before him, the opposing force had either taken their dead and wounded with them... or they hadn't had any casualties, at all.
From the skill and ruthless efficiency displayed by the unknown organization, Carson was inclined to believe it was the latter.
* * * * *
"Damn! You guys are good." A young voice said over the intercom in the room.
Everyone, even Carson stopped and looked around, trying to find the source of the voice.
"Dizzy?" Carson asked softly.
"The voice is coming from the intercom...." Dizzy replied.
"Yes... yes it is." The young voice said with a slight giggle. "We actually had to figure out where you guys were at, then try to hack into your system. We dropped that idea when we saw the security systems you have in place. Then I came up with the idea of figuring out your address, and cross referencing that with local security agencies. Once we figured out that your home was protected by KF Securities, we hacked their systems. It took a few minutes to break the admin passcode for all their accounts, but once we had that, we saw what you guys had installed in the house, then got both video and audio connections. I gotta say, it was some of the most fun I've had in a LONG time."
"I told you that they didn't trace you." Zane said smugly.
"Who are you?" Carson asked cautiously.
"And are the feds going to be showing up on our doorstep any minute?" Bug asked seriously.
"Maybe, but they'd have to get their heads outta their asses long enough to notice." The voice said with a bit of a giggle. "However, we ain't callin them."
"If they pulled their heads outta their asses, they wouldn't be feds anymore. It's a requirement of the job." Bug said frankly, then asked, "Who are you and who do you work for?"
"Well... the easy answer is... My name is Alvin." The boy said seriously. "Who I work for is not something I can really get into yet... not without knowing a lot more about you." He paused for a brief moment, and just as Bug was about to say something, he jumped in. "Which should only take about another 45 seconds."
"You don't seem to be lacking in confidence, but if what we've seen just now is any indication of what you can do, I guess you have good reason to believe in yourself." Bug said seriously.
"Yes, I do, Vincent Thomas Winters, age seventeen, nicknamed 'Bug'... By the way, I like that nickname... it shows character." Alvin said, then rushed on. "Carson, if you would be so good as to accept the incoming video link on port 342, I have been authorized to do a direct video feed."
"Dizzy? You got that?" Carson asked cautiously, feeling almost like he was in a dream.
"Got it, boss." Dizzy answered immediately.
The second screen lit up with the picture of a sandy blond haired boy. Even though everyone knew he would be young from the sound of his voice, they were still surprised at how young he actually was.
The camera was focused on him alone, not revealing anything behind him in the shot, but they could see that the boy was dressed in some kind of military fatigues, and seemed to be perfectly comfortable and at ease in them.
"He's pretty!" Oleksandr said as he pointed at the screen.
Ben smiled at the words and cuddled the boy quietly as he said, "Yes, he is."
"I think you mean that he's handsome." Carson said as he tried to restrain a grin.
"Nuh uh! He's pretty. Him and Lawrence and Bug are pretty. You and Zane and Ben are handsome." Oleksandr said with absolute certainty.
"What about Roris?" Lawrence asked from his place on Roris' lap.
"He's pretty, too." Oleksandr said frankly.
"Thank you, Oleksandr." Alvin said seriously. "That was very nice of you to say."
Oleksandr buried his face into Ben's shoulder.
"He's a shy guy, sometimes, but I'm sure he appreciates it." Ben said with a warm smile at the boy on the monitor.
"That's no problem, I have a lot of family members that can be that shy." Alvin said softly. Then turned more serious. "I'm sorry about cutting your access to the satellite earlier, but, at that point we didn't know who you were, and couldn't risk the operation by allowing others to see it. I hope you understand."
"We just wanted to get the news about what the feds were doing, out to the public, so they could understand what's happening right under their noses." Carson said with an urging look at the screen.
"Yeah. It's not like the news is doing anything but being Assweasle's hand puppets, these days." Bug said sourly.
"You do realize you guys are painting a pretty big target on your backs by doing that, right?" Alvin said seriously.
"If we just sit back and do nothing, then we deserve whatever happens to us." Carson said as he looked the boy in the eyes.
Bug nodded his wholehearted agreement.
Alvin smiled gently, while he nodded. "That is one of the few answers I would have believed." He looked off to his left for a moment before he nodded. Turning back to face the camera, he spoke again. "We have verified that no one on the planet could actually hack the connection we have right now. However, before I go any further, I need to ask you all a very serious question. Right now, you all know that there's some serious shit going down. And I'm sure you think it's pretty bad. But I want you to know that it's much worse than you are currently thinking. So, with that in mind... how much are you all willing to get involved. How far are you willing to go to fight what Ashwood is doing?"
"I don't know about anyone else, but my family comes first. The only reason that I'm here at all is to protect them. Now, if there's something else that I can do to make things better for everyone else, I'll step up. But only as long as I know that my family is safe." Bug said firmly.
"Before yesterday, I would have given you a totally different answer. But now I have Oleksandr and Dax who depend on me. So, I'm like Bug. I'll be willing to do whatever I can to help everyone else, but before anything, I have to be sure that Oleksandr and Dax are safe." Ben said seriously.
Without giving an indication as to what he was thinking, Alvin turned and looked at Carson. "Carson?"
Carson sighed as he took a few moments to think. Finally he nodded to himself, raised his eyes and met Alvin's. "My parents always tried to tell me to follow what I think is right. Deep down i know this is right, but. Well... I got a family to worry about, too. I mean, I'm only thirteen, but... hell, I don't want anyone else hurt."
Alvin nodded then looked over at Roris and Lawrence. "What about you two?"
"Lawrence and I have always had our families to protect us, and I don't think that either of us has ever seen ourselves as having anything of value to give to others." Roris paused for a moment for his computerized voice to catch up, then continued, "We want to help and protect those that helped and protected us."
Lawrence looked at Alvin from his place on Roris' lap and nodded his agreement with the words.
"Those who think they are the least important often show themselves to be invaluable, if by doing nothing else than reminding those that are fighting, WHY they are fighting so hard." Alvin said sagely, then took a few moments to consider.
"I've never had anyone who really helped or protected me until this week. Not just Ben, but all of you have become like the family that I always wished that I had had. I would do anything to protect you." Zane said firmly.
Ben smiled, then pulled Zane into a hug with the arm that wasn't holding Oleksandr.
Alvin nodded, and allowed himself to smile broadly. "You all just passed the first test, with flying colors. There is NOTHING more important than your family. NOTHING!"
"If you are all willing, we would like to bring you up to speed fully with what is going on, offer what protection we can, and work with you as much as you would like. What you do with the information that we give you, though, is up to you." Alvin said carefully.
Carson looked around at everyone, then said, "When I put my mind to it, I'm pretty good at getting things done. But this is something that I'm not going to be able to do by myself. I asked you all to come in here and talk to me so we could figure out some ways to help people... I guess it worked out that way, after all."
"What I'm trying to say is that this is what I wanted from the beginning, but I need help. That's not always easy for me to say, but I'm saying it now. I'm in, but only if you guys are with me."
"Fuck. Why not?" Bug said with a grin.
Ben looked at Zane with question.
"Yeah." Zane whispered.
"We're in... Oleksandr, too." Ben finished with a smile.
"Whatever we can do, we will do." The computerized voice said from the box on Roris' wheelchair.
"Okay." Alvin said with a large childlike grin. "Then I believe it is time to introduce you to some people."
The view widened and standing next to Alvin was an older boy, who looked to be in his early teens. Jet black hair and intense grey eyes. He was wearing a dress military uniform complete with a side arm, and four silver stars on his shoulders. "This is General Adam Casey, commanding officer of the U.N.I.T. He is in charge of all the military operations out of our base. I am sure you have seen us... twice so far." Alvin said with a smile.
"We haven't..." Carson started to say, then asked, "You're the ones with the helicopters?"
"Very good." Adam said with a smile. "We're the ones with the helicopters."
"Should I call you General or Sir or what?" Carson asked hesitantly.
Adam smiled warmly. "Only if you decide to join up. If not, just call me Adam."
"Oh, um, sure. Hi, Adam. I'm Carson and... wait. Do you already know who everyone is?" Carson asked cautiously.
"Yeah... I do." Adam said with a smile. "But it's nice to meet you all. The one thing I will say is this. What you all just said about family coming first, is the one thing I wanted to hear. As Alvin said, there really is nothing more important than family. Now... we don't have a lot of resources at the moment, but we will do what we can to help, and protect you guys. What do you guys need?"
"I guess the first thing is to know what just happened in Texas. I know as well as I know anything that the government is going to try to sweep the whole thing under the rug. Sending the video files to the underground net was a start, but I still don't know why it happened. Without some reason to explain 'why' so many people lost their lives, it'll be easy for people to believe that it's all some kind of hoax." Carson said thoughtfully.
Adam shook his head sadly. "The why is still an unknown, however I do have my suspicions. Unfortunately, some of my guys got a little overzealous when they got involved. From what I understand there were no survivors left to question. However, I am pretty sure that you all saw the same thing that we did. One of the federal agents took the first shot on her own forces, then high tailed it out of there to a waiting aircraft, and escaped before my guys got there. In other words, I doubt that the agents that got killed had any clue about what was really happening."
Adam paused as he gave a feral grin. "However, we have an ally that will help make sure that it's not swept under the rug." Adam held his arm out, and another face entered the screen. This was a face that almost all of them immediately recognized.
"Holy shit!" Bug gasped as he straightened his posture.
"President Bryce!" Carson said with amazement.
Zane, Ben and Roris all stared like deer caught in the headlights.
"Please, boys... It's okay, and call me Jack. I have a feeling we are going to be working closely in the future. What I have learned so far about what you boys have been able to do is nothing short of amazing. Each and every one of you, as well as those that are with you, but not in the room, have done a tremendous job so far." He laughed slightly, "You know, only a few days ago, I would never have guessed that people as young as you guys are, could do some of the things you have done. All of you have opened my eyes to what the younger generation can really do. Now, if you are going to help, thank you, but your first priority needs to be your family."
"Thank you, Sir." Bug said respectfully, then quietly added, "It would be an honor to work with you."
Zane and Ben looked at Bug with matching expressions of surprise. It was one of the few times that a family resemblance could be seen between the cousins.
"Bug! You didn't say 'fuck' at all!" Lawrence said in wonder.
Carson was the first to give in to the laughter, but one by one, the others followed suit.
When President Bryce could stop laughing, he got very serious. "Listen, boys, I want you guys to stay as safe as you can. I am going to ask Alvin here to send you some information that you might find useful; in that information will be some contact information. One of the numbers will connect you guys directly with me, or my staff. I will also make sure you have the number for the base commander of Fairchild Air Force Base, just down the road from you guys. If you get into any trouble, I want you to call him. WIthin 20 minutes, he will know about you guys, and know that you are a priority if you call. Do NOT hesitate to call him if you need anything at all, okay?"
As soon as Carson and Bug nodded, Adam jumped in. "Alvin will also be sending you some of the information that we have gathered. Carson, with the contacts you have, you might be able to figure some of it out better then we have been able to. See what you can find out. Right now, the big thing we need information on is something called Operation Starshine."
"Yes, Sir. We'll do anything that we can to help." Bug said seriously.
"And we'll gather as much information as we can. I know a few people with connections who can look deeper into things than I can." Carson added helpfully.
"Okay. You guys take care of yourselves, and do not hesitate to call." The President said, before the call terminated.
There was a long moment of silence before Bug cautiously said, "That was really the President."
"We got to talk to the President." Carson giggled.
"What information did we get? If we're supposed to be helping, shouldn't we get started?" Ben asked as he looked around.
After a moment to compose himself, Carson said, "Yeah. Let's do it."
* * * * *
"Carson, are you guys really busy, or do you have a minute?" Tommy asked as he walked into Carson's room.
"We've just got a lot of stuff to go through right now, what did you need?" Carson asked as he kept the majority of his attention on the screens before him.
"Well, I was in here, I wasn't snooping in your stuff or anything, but there was some stuff I didn't understand, so I asked Dizzy to help me." Tommy said in a rush.
"That's okay. Things are a little bit crazy right now. I hope Dizzy was able to help." Carson said as he devoted a little more of his attention to his older brother.
"Well, you see, it's like this. I kind of looked at some stuff and it really looks like some bad things are about to happen. So I kind of got the ball rolling, just so we'll be prepared if things go really, really bad." Tommy said nervously.
"What are you talking about?" Carson asked as he turned to face Tommy.
"There's this thing that I found when I was looking, this plan called 'Starshine'..."
"Hold on! What? Did you just say Starshine?" Carson asked cautiously.
"Yeah, um... Dizzy, can you show Carson that stuff that you showed me about Starshine?" Tommy asked hopefully.
"Of course, Tommy. It's on monitor seven." Dizzy said in a friendly tone.
After a moment of reading, Bug said, "This isn't the same as what they sent us."
"No. It's another piece of the puzzle." Carson said as he scanned through the information quickly.
"You really need to look at it on the city maps; it makes a whole lot more sense when you see it that way." Tommy said as he looked around the group.
"Dizzy, will you show me the maps, please?" Carson asked absently.
"Yes. Would you like them on all monitors?" Dizzy asked in his young teenage voice.
"Yeah. That would be good."
All eight monitors changed, each showing a different city map.
"No fucking way." Bug whispered.
"This is way bad." Carson said, as he looked from one monitor to the next.
"I figured that if they went ahead and did what they were planning, that there'd be a lot of people trying to get to someplace safe." Tommy said anxiously.
"I don't know if there is going to be someplace safe." Ben said as he held Oleksandr a little bit tighter to his side.
"I talked to Uncle Karl last night and he's been working on getting everything ready for the campgrounds." Tommy said hesitantly.
"Good thinking." Carson muttered absently as he studied the maps.
"Look at Chicago." Zane whispered.
"We need to find some way to get in touch with your dad." Ben said quietly, then added, "Maybe Brother Jacques or the twins know where he was going."
"Yeah. I need to talk to them anyway. There might be someone that they want to warn." Zane said as he looked at Ben with concern.
"Does anyone mind if I call a few people back home to warn them?" Bug asked as he pulled his headset out of his tote bag.
"Do what you need to do, Bug. Save as many as you can." Carson said as he finally tore his gaze away from the monitors.
Bug nodded as he keyed a phone number in on his ten-key.
Everyone watched and waited to hear what Bug was going to say.
"Something's not right." Bug said as he started typing on the keyboard.
"Your people aren't home?" Ben asked as he walked to stand behind Bug.
After a moment of listening, Bug shook his head and quietly said, "Orlando's not home."
"Maybe your VOIP is down. Try the land line." Carson said as he looked on with concern.
Bug reluctantly picked up the handset of the cordless phone from it's charging station by the monitor, then began to dial.
Everyone, even Lawrence and Roris were watching silently, waiting for Bug to make contact.
Finally, Bug looked around the room and quietly said, "All lines are down. Try again later."
"Let me try." Carson said, then started typing on his keyboard at lightning speed.
Bug put the phone back on it's charger, then walked up behind Carson to watch.
Long minutes passed as Bug's hopes fell lower and lower.
Finally, Carson turned and said, "There's nothing. No Internet, no phone... Orlando's completely blacked out."
"Guys, I think we need to tell everyone else about what's going on." Ben said slowly.
Everyone turned to look at him curiously.
"Up to now, we've all had an idea that something was going to happen. We've done what we can to prepare, but I think everyone here deserves to be kept up to date on what's really going on. They can't do anything to deal with it if they don't know." Ben said frankly.
"And it could be like what just happened with Tommy. One of them might have an important piece of the puzzle that we're looking for and not even know that we need it." Bug said as he looked around.
"You're right. They need to know." Carson said, but didn't sound happy.
"Does one of us need to stay in here to keep an eye on things?" Zane asked cautiously.
"No. There is no need to stay here; Dizzy will call me if anything comes up." Carson said with a smile at his computer, then seriously added, "Dizzy, please send all Tommy's Starshine information to Alvin, including the maps."
TO BE CONTINUED...
Well, it does seem that things are coming to a head. Orlando is blacked out completely. That is a very scary thought. That can't possibly be a good thing. We already know that the signs of trouble have been multiplying quickly, but to find out that a whole city and maybe more than one are completely blacked out makes things seem even more urgent.
Bug and Ben are both pretty smart, and they were both worried about what could happen.
I agree completely that it is time to compare notes with everyone, since this issue has never completely been discussed among the various people, it is time to see what everyone knows and doesn't know. Obviously, there are people in responsible positions in the company and the town that called people back to Kettle Falls. They must at least suspect something, and it is possible that they know some details that they haven't yet shared.
In case you are wondering why I didn't mention much about the beginning of the chapter, that's because most everything from back there has been mentioned, in one way or another, later on, as well.
Having said everything that I can think of to confuse you and give you headaches, trying to figure out what will happen next, I will mention that I align myself strongly with the EVIL authors, and thererfore it is my job to keep you wondering what is going to happen.
One more point, to think about is that all during this story, the action occurring in consecutive chapters, has little to do with the previous chapter. EVIL GRIN!
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher