Revolutions Universe: Metamorphosis

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Chapter 18 - Dukes and Dauphins

"Prisoner transfer." The uniformed man said in a bored tone as he approached. He had a nametag that said 'T. Clements' on the right side of his chest, opposite the shiny silver badge on the left. His companion remained silent and had a nametag that said 'W. Hale'.

One of the guards behind the desk looked up and growled, "'Bout fuckin' time!"

"I'm comin' off a double as soon as I dump this load. Can I just have these prisoners so I can get some sleep before I have to be back?" Officer Clements asked wearily as he handed over a piece of paper.

"Yeah. We're all tired..." the officer behind the desk began, then suddenly stopped as he read the paper in his hands. "We got thirty or forty of 'em processed and ready to go... This says you're only takin' TWO?"

"Yeah. I guess so. If that's what it says. I just go where they tell me, pick up what they tell me and deliver it wherever the fuck they want it. Can I have my prisoners now, PLEASE?"

"These orders say that you're taking them to the 'camp' in Orlando. Since you're heading that way anyway, why not take a full load?"

"Yeah. I guess. But look. We only got a van. So we can take six..."


"No way! I'd have to stack 'em on top of each other to get ten into that van."

"Most of 'em's fuckin' faggots. They'd probably like that."

"Listen. I get where you're comin' from. Eight's the most I can do. Even then, it's gonna be a bitch of a ride with that many in the van."

"So? You thump 'em enough times and they eventually shut up." The man behind the desk said as he quickly gathered some papers, then stood and said, "Eight. Oh well, it's better'n nothin', I s'pose."

"Just make sure I get the two that I was sent for. The drive to Orlando is a killer. I don't want to have to make another trip up here." Officer Clements said wearily.

"That's up to you... Like I can tell 'em apart." the guard snorted, then opened the door to the cell block.

Officer Clements followed and did his best to keep his eyes forward and not look at any of the prisoners in the cells they were passing.

Every cell was packed far beyond capacity, some of them with barely enough room for everyone to stand. The smell was horrendous as they walked deeper into the county jail.

"They should be in this one. It's up to you to figure out which ones they are." The guard said frankly.

"The one's I'm needing are a doctor and a historian. I guess someone up top needs 'em for somethin'." Officer Clements said slowly as he looked around at the men in the tightly packed cell. He could only see the ones in front and knew that none of them were the ones that he was looking for.

"I'm a doctor." A man said as he pushed his way between two other prisoners and pressed himself against the bars to be seen.

"Name?" The duty officer asked coldly.

"Doctor Jerry Parish." The man said in a rush.

"Wrong answer." Officer Clements said coldly, then asked, "Do we have any other doctors in here?"

After a moment, a man slowly walked forward, supporting another man at his side, more or less carrying him. In contrast to the way Doctor Parish had to fight his way to the front, the other prisoners in the cell seemed to part and clear the way for these two.

"Name?" The duty officer asked shortly and seemed to be annoyed.

"Doctor Clifton Grant." The man said quietly.

"Who's that you're carrying?" Officer Clements asked as he glanced at the duty officer.

"Benjamin Stone." Dr. Grant slowly answered.

"Yup. They're the ones we're here for." Officer Clements said simply.

"What about the others?"

"Give me that Parish guy and whichever other ones you want to. I can't see that it matters."

The guard unlocked the door as he looked at Jerry Parish and said, "You prolly should'a kept your faggot mouth shut. Where you're goin', don't no one come back."

"Hurry 'em up. But I ain't takin' 'em if they can't walk. I don't have all fuckin' day." Officer Clements said as he ushered the doctor and the historian out of the cell.

"Come on. We need to get you signed out and ready to travel. And if any of you are thinkin' 'bout causin' trouble...Bring it on. Just give me a reason." The guard finished with a predatory smile as he laid a hand on his baton.

* * * * *

As soon as the side door of the county jail opened, two uniformed officers got out of the waiting van and hurried to Officer Clements and Officer Hale.

"We got stuck with a few extras." Officer Clements said irritably.

"Better to have too many than too few." One of the men said, then helped to usher their handcuffed and shackled prisoners into the van.

* * * * *

As soon as the door of the van was closed, Officer Clements let out a huge gust of breath in relief.

"How you guys doing, back there?" Officer Hale asked into the back as he fought to get comfortable, trying to share a single bucket seat with Officer Clements.

"Oh my God, Wil! I can't believe it's you! Thank you!" Dr. Grant said past his tears of relief.

"We're not anywhere near out of this yet, guys. There's still about a thousand ways it could still go wrong. You all had better hang on." The driver of the van said nervously.

"Wait. You guys aren't really cops?" Doctor Parish asked cautiously.

"Nope. Welcome to our jailbreak." Officer Clements said with a grin.

"I'm Wil and this is Todd." Officer Hale said as he looked into the back, then continued, "Our driver, here, is Marc and the 'guard' back there with you is Galen.

"Where are the boys?" The man at Dr. Grant's side asked in a pained voice.

"Don't worry, Ben. On their way to safety." Galen said quietly, then regretfully amended, "We hope."

"They're not here?" Dr. Grant asked in panic.

"Cliff, think about what we just did. We broke you out of jail. There were about a dozen different things that could have gone wrong with that and any of them would have gotten all of us executed." Marc said as he tried to keep his focus on his driving.

"It still might." Galen added quietly.

All the men jammed into the van were listening to the conversation with rapt attention.

"Think about it. With the danger of what we were planning to do, it wouldn't have been safe for the boys to stay and wait for us. Right now, all six of the boys are on their way to Allen's house, in Kettle Falls, Washington." Marc said in an urging tone, willing Cliff to understand their decision.

"Where are we going?" Doctor Parish asked cautiously.

"We're going to be driving for about half an hour or so. I know it's going to be uncomfortable, but we're going to need to leave you in the shackles for now, in case we get stopped. We've got the paperwork to prove that we're supposed to be transporting prisoners, so we have to look like that's what we're doing." Galen said seriously.

"I think Ben has a few cracked ribs, I need to get him something for the pain." Cliff said in an anguished tone.

"I'm sorry, Cliff. There's no way that we can chance stopping, right now. If anyone realizes that you guys are missing, or that we're not who we say we are, then they'll be looking for us. We need to get where we're going and ditch this van as quickly as possible." Marc said regretfully.

"When we get where we're going, what's going to happen to the rest of us?" Jerry asked cautiously and seemed to be afraid of the answer.

"I can't give you too many details, mostly because I don't know exactly what's going to happen. But we're going to be stopping to see a friend. She's expecting us. Todd and Wil used to work for her, and she promised that she could help. I suppose that when we get there, that you'll have to decide where you want to go and what you want to do next." Galen said frankly.

"So, you're going to let us go?" Jerry asked to be sure.

"Yeah. We'd pull over and let you go right now except that it would jeopardize the rest of us if one of you got recaptured. But we're going to turn all of you loose as soon as we're on our way out of town." Galen said as he looked around at all the nervous faces.

"Is there someone that you're worried about and need to check on?" Cliff asked gently as he held Ben close to his side.

"No. I've got no one. I never found Mr. Right." Jerry said weakly.

"Me either." Todd said as he looked back at the man with sympathy.

"Hang in there, guys. I know it's miserable being crammed in this van, but just keep telling yourselves that in less than an hour, you'll be 'free'." Marc said seriously.

* * * * *

"What happened to the boys?" Ben asked in a pained voice as he held tightly to Cliff's side.

"JD told us that you two pushed them out the back door and told them to run while you kept the cops busy. The boys were able to make it ten or so blocks, you know, cutting through yards and ducking behind bushes, when they saw us driving down the road. We were on our way to get you when they ran out into the street and stopped us." Galen said distantly.

"Once we got the story from them and calmed them down, we took a few minutes to decide what we needed to do. It was hard to convince the boys, but somehow we got them to see reason. Since Jorry was following us in his car, we decided that it would be best if the boys went on ahead while we went back to try and rescue you. That way, no matter what happened to us, we would at least know that they were safe." Marc said wearily.

"That was night before last. It took us all this time to come up with a plan and get all the fake ID's and uniforms and stuff." Galen added, then smiled as he continued, "Todd and Wil were even able to get us this van."

"You shouldn't have... I mean, I'm grateful that you came for us, but you should've gone with the boys." Ben said as tears ran down his cheeks and he fought the urge to break into full sobbing.

"You've got to stop thinking of them as helpless little boys. Collin, Christian and Jorry are all legally adults. They're completely devoted to the younger boys and will do anything to protect them. Besides, it's out of our hands, now. We just have to trust them. We have no other choice."

* * * * *

"We're supposed to go to the back door." Marc said as they pulled into the alley, then added, "I should probably go alone. I'm the one who arranged this with her."

"No chance. What happens to you, happens to me." Galen said firmly.

A protest seemed to be perched on Marc's lips, but finally he nodded and got out of the van.

Marc had to open the door and help Galen out, but finally they made their way to the nondescript metal door.

Marc knocked, then stood back so that he could clearly be seen through the peephole.

The sound of rattling chains drew their attention, then the door slowly opened.

"Marc? Is that you?" A woman's voice asked from the darkness.

"Yes, Ma'am. And this is my husband, Galen." Marc said quickly.

"I'm glad you made it. I was just about to leave. We can't stay here. I think I've been spotted. We need to move. RIGHT NOW!" She said firmly as she hurried out the door and slammed it behind her.

Galen took a step back when he saw how tall the woman was.

He wasn't especially tall, but still, it was unusual for him to stand eye-to-eye with a woman. So, naturally, it surprised him when he found himself looking this woman directly in the chin.

"I don't think we have room for you. The van is packed." Marc said quickly.

"Don't worry about it. My hog is right over there. You guys follow me. The cops could be here any second." The woman said before she dashed away.

"Let's hurry." Marc said as he bolted for the van.

* * * * *

By the time both Marc and Galen were in the van, the woman had the motorcycle started and was pulling away.

Marc did his best to keep up with her as she wound down backstreets and alleys through an impoverished part of town. The city had been in chaos since the blackout started, and the military had been cracking down hard on anyone they found on the streets.

However, it seemed that they hadn't been paying too much attention to the low-income areas so far. The consensus amongst Marc, Galen, Todd and Wil was that they were 'sweeping' across the city. Anyone trying to escape was being pushed ahead of them and eventually, the military would close in and capture all the 'undesirables' in one last offensive.

"Can you slow down? All these bumps are hurting Ben." Cliff asked as he cradled his lover in his arms.

"I wish I could, but Mona's driving like a bat outta hell. It's all I can do to keep up with her." Marc said frankly, completely lost in the maze of alleyways, trusting that Mona knew where she was leading them.

Suddenly, they pulled onto a gravel road that wound it's way through dense underbrush and low scraggly trees. The place they were driving wasn't but a few minutes outside the city, but seemed to be complete wilderness. When they finally emerged from the dense foliage, they were pulling into an enormous, apparently abandoned, junkyard.

"Why do I feel like our situation just got worse?" Galen asked cautiously as he looked around at the eerie sight of crushed cars and discarded appliances with weeds and small trees growing wildly amongst them.

"I trust Mona. She won't steer us wrong." Marc said in a mostly confident voice.

* * * * *

"Guys, I hate to do this, but until we know what we're doing and where we're going, we can't have any of you wandering off and maybe tipping off the police. I'm going to talk to Mona right now, and as soon as we know what's going on, I'll be back to release you." Galen said regretfully.

"We'll stay here with them. You go and make plans." Todd said with a smile at Galen.

"I'll be as quick as I can." Galen said before leaving the van.

* * * * *

"Okay, guys. I know when you first talked to me, that you were planning to go to Allen's place, in Washington. Is that still your plan?" Mona asked urgently.

"Yes. We sent the boys ahead, and that's where they're planning to meet up with us." Marc said seriously.

"Well, that's where I'm headed, too. I was going to try to help people get out, you know, like an underground railroad, but now I'm pretty sure that the cops are on to me. I know about a place in Alabama where we can stay for a while, that is, if we can make it there. But it ain't gonna be easy. The roads are pretty much closed."

"We'll walk, if we have to." Galen said firmly.

"Listen, I know the state and county roads between here and there pretty well, so I might be able to get us through. But you gotta realize that this could be really dangerous. You might have a better chance of survival if you stayed here and laid low until the worst of this blows over." Mona said frankly.

"The boys need us." Marc said simply, and no further discussion on the point was needed.

"What about the guys in the van? I know that they're probably not going to want to go with us. What do we do about them?" Galen asked cautiously. He didn't know Mona that well. He knew that Wil and Todd spoke highly of her and that Marc trusted her, but he was still afraid of her answer.

"Since they don't know where we're going, I think we can just leave them here to find their own way." Marc said with a questioning look at Mona.

"I've got a friend not too far from here; his name is Morris. If they show up at his place and mention my name, he'll see that they get to someplace safe... well, as safe as anyplace is, these days." She said frankly.

"I'm worried about taking the van. We just used it to break the guys out of jail..." Marc started, but was interrupted.

"...and it's stolen." Galen finished.

Mona looked from one man to the other, then said, "You two aren't nearly as yuppie as you look, are you?"

"We'll do anything to protect our boys." Marc said seriously.

"That I understand." Mona said with a nod.

"Do you know where we can get another vehicle?" Galen asked anxiously.

Mona grinned, then motioned for the men to follow.

* * * * *

"How the FUCK did you end up with a new... make that two new cars?" Wil asked as he relaxed into the comfortable seat.

"You can thank your old boss, Mona, for that. When we told her that we needed a car, she took us back to the 'shop' at the middle of the junkyard... Although, I think the proper term for a place like that would be 'chop-shop'." Marc said with a quick grin into the rearview mirror at Wil.

"I'd better watch out, hanging around you two. I think that maybe you guys are being a bad influence on me." Wil chuckled.

Marc smiled at the words, then cautiously said, "Actually, I am surprised that you wanted to ride with us. I mean, Todd's your best friend. I always thought that road-trips were something that you guys really enjoyed doing together."

"Yeah. But I'd just be in the way. I could tell by the look in Todd's eyes, that he wants to get into Doctor Jerry's pants." Wil said frankly.

"What about you, Wil? When are you going to find someone else?" Marc asked with concern.

"I'm not." Wil said simply.

Marc glanced away from the road long enough to look at Wil in the mirror with concern.

"Zeb and I aren't finished. He just went away to college. I promised him that I would be here waiting for him when he got back." Wil said seriously.

"When was the last time you heard from him?" Marc asked gently.

"I got a letter about two weeks ago. He mostly talked about how tough his classes are. And he still can't get over being in an entirely different country. I wish I could have gone with him, but what would I do in Hong Kong? But this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for him, there's no way I'd do anything to stand in his way." Wil said with a tender smile at the thought of his lover.

"Something's going on up ahead." Galen warned.

Marc watched carefully, then slowed as the motorcycle pulled onto a dirt road.

He was sure that the little Honda he was driving wasn't really designed with dirt roads in mind, but it handled well enough.

"Do you think there's trouble?" Wil asked as he looked behind them, watching to see if they were being followed.

"You'd have to ask Mona. All we can do right now is follow her." Marc said anxiously.

"I hope these rough roads aren't hurting Ben too badly." Galen said as he held the dashboard firmly.

"Cliff was able to improvise a bandage to wrap his chest, that seemed to help. But I suppose that even if he's in pain right now, it's still better than being a captive." Marc said quietly.

"I can't believe that the guards did that to him just for telling them that they were violating his civil rights." Galen said with a shake of his head.

"You ever wonder what happened to the bullies from high school? They end up in jobs like that. From what I saw of them, those knuckle draggers were just itching to beat on someone. If it hadn't been Ben, it would've been someone else." Wil said frankly.

"I'll never be able to thank you and Todd enough for going in there and doing that. I would have done it myself..."

"You don't look the part. It's that simple. Todd and I could pull it off, you and Marc couldn't. I'm just glad that there was something that I could do to help."

"You saved their lives." Marc said simply.

"You're being a little bit dramatic there, aren't you Uncle Marc?" Wil asked playfully.

"No. I really don't think I am." Marc said frankly, then turned his full attention to driving as Mona started leading them across an open field.

* * * * *

As the motorcycle and two cars pulled around the back of a warehouse, they were stopped by a man with a rifle who suddenly appeared from the shadow at the side of the building.

Marc felt his heart skip a beat at the sight, but was relieved when he saw Mona pulling ahead and the man with the rifle motioning for them to pull in.

"Pull the cars in! Park them inside!" An elderly man barked as he glanced nervously at the sky. A younger man was struggling to manually roll up the heavy steel door at the back of the building.

As soon as the door was open enough, Mona pulled under it, ducking her head as she went.

Marc followed immediately behind, sure that there couldn't be more than a couple inches of clearance above the top of the car. He gritted his teeth, expecting to hear a scraping sound any moment.

A second later, Todd pulled the other Honda in behind him.

Before Todd's car had completely cleared the doorway, the door was being lowered.

"Shit! Mona, I'm sorry as hell to see you here." The elderly man said as he walked up to her and pulled her into a firm hug.

"Me, too. Tallahassee is theirs, now, unfortunately. I hung on as long as I could, but it was just a matter of time." Mona said as she returned the hug.

"What about R.E.? Did you stop by there on your way up? Is he comin'?"

"I'm sorry. I got word yesterday that R.E.'s dead. From what I hear, he was resisting arrest... from about thirty feet away, with his back turned, at a full run." Mona said frankly.

"Sons-a-bitches! R.E. never hurt no one! He was a good boy!" The man said as angry tears started to fall.

Mona nodded regretfully, then quietly said, "Jefferson, these guys came to me for help, just before it all went to shit. This here's Marc, he's a friend of my son's. Those two by the blue Accord are Todd and Wil, they used to work for me. Everyone else is friends and relations of theirs, near as I can tell."

Marc smiled at the introduction, then said, "It's nice to meet you, Jefferson. I'm Marc..."

"No time. Gas up and git movin'." Jefferson interrupted sternly.

"Do you think you've been spotted?" Mona asked cautiously.

"Not that I know of, but ain't nothin' good can come from you guys stayin'. Keep movin' west. Veer north as much as you can. I've been hearin' 'bout bridges bein' taken down, but most of what I've heard was in the south. It sounds like, up north there's still some you can get across."

"When did the bridges start coming down?" Galen asked quickly.

"Our boys, they left a day ahead of us. Do you think they had a chance?" Marc asked anxiously.

"The first I heard about them guv'ment sons-a-bitches blowin' up bridges was today, probly after noon. If your boys took out yesterday, then they's a good chance that they got across in time." Jefferson said seriously.

"I think he's right. We need to get going." Galen said firmly to Marc.

"We rigged up a hand pump for the gas. Y'all fill up so's you can get on your way." Jefferson said as he pointed to where the gas pump was located.

"What are we doing?" Todd asked as he approached.

"Gassing up and leaving." Marc said frankly.

"We really need to find some aspirin or something for Ben, for the pain. Cliff says that he's going to be alright, but it's hurting him to ride on these back roads." Todd said with concern.

"What's a matter with 'im?" Jefferson asked curiously.

"The cops in Tallahassee did a number on him, Cliff thinks they cracked a few ribs." Todd said as he looked at the man hopefully.

"Get to gassin' up. I can spare one or two of my back pills to help out someone who got away from them sons-a-bitches." Jefferson said as he tottered away.

Todd immediately hopped into the green Honda and drove up beside the pump.

* * * * *

"I hope we don't need to go too much further. Driving these back roads in the dark is making me a nervous wreck." Marc said as he maintained a white knuckled grip on the steering wheel.

"As soon as Mona stops, I can switch places with you, if you want." Galen offered gently.

"Yeah. Let's do that. My arms are starting to cramp up from sitting like this for so long." Marc said tensely.

"I know of something that might relax you." Galen said seductively as he gently placed a hand on Marc's thigh.

"As nice as that feels, I'm pretty sure that it would distract me from driving." Marc said in a low voice, filled with desire.

"Trust me. I've figured out how to push your buttons by now. I know just what you need to relieve your tension." Galen said as he moved his hand up to Marc's fly.

"Excuse me, guys! Did you forget that I was back here?" Wil called out suddenly.

"Yes, I... um... did, for just a minute." Galen said with a blush as he scooted back to his own seat.

* * * * *

Eventually, they ended up on some paved roads. They were so smooth and even that they were making it increasingly difficult for Marc to keep his eyes open. Suddenly, Mona turned her motorcycle off the paved road and down a lane that looked to be the drive to someone's house.

"Guys, I think we're here." Marc said loudly.

Galen snorted awake, then said, "I'm sorry. I must have drifted off."

"That's okay. It's nearly three in the morning. We should all be asleep right now." Marc said as he carefully followed Mona down the long drive.

"Where are we?" Galen asked as he looked around.

"Alabama, maybe. I really haven't been able to keep track with all the twists and turns on these back roads." Marc said honestly.

Before Galen could think of anything to say to respond, Mona pulled up to the front of a very large house, or what some might call a mansion.

Marc pulled up behind Mona and brought the car to a stop.

"Wil. You need to get up." Galen said gently into the back seat.

"I don't have to work today." Wil said groggily.

Galen chuckled, then said, "No. You don't, Wil. But you still need to get up."

"But I don't want to." Wil whined as he opened his eyes, then looked around curiously.

"I don't know where Mona led us, but wherever it is, we're here." Marc said as he opened his door.

* * * * *

"Mona! I'm so glad that you made it." A woman said as she pulled on a housecoat while she ran out the front door.

"I'm so sorry to wake you at this time of night, Suzette." Mona said as she pulled the woman into a hug.

"Oh, don't worry about that, Hon. We'll all have plenty of time to sleep when we're dead. Right now there are things that need to be done. I'm just glad that you made it here safely. Come inside..." She said, then seemed to notice the men getting out of the cars. "You and all your friends, please come in."

"Where are we?" Ben asked groggily, from his seat through the open car door.

"Honey, you're just outside Wetumpka, Alabama. Now y'all come on inside and get somethin' to eat." Suzette said cheerfully.

"You guys go on. I'm comfortable right now, I really don't want to move." Ben said, then closed his eyes.

The men exchanged looks, but Mona seemed to have made the decision for the rest of them when she followed Suzette inside.

* * * * *

As they walked into the house, the first thing that was obvious was that there was no power. Suzette carried a kerosene lantern as she led the way down the hallway. Everyone was surprised to see that there were people asleep in every room that Suzette peeked into as they continued on the way to the kitchen.

"How many people do you have here, Suzette?" Mona asked cautiously.

"Just now, about fifty. I'm doing my best to find places for all of them." Suzette said as she walked to the sink and started filling an old fashioned percolator coffee pot from a plastic jug of water.

"Are they all heading west?" Galen asked cautiously.

"Most of them are just looking for someplace safe." Suzette replied softly, then added, "Since the attacks... it's hard to feel safe anywhere."

"Wait. What are you talking about?" Marc asked quickly.

"Haven't you heard? No, of course you haven't. The only reason I know is from what people have told me when they arrived." Suzette said as she set up a series of coffee cups.

"Please, tell us." Galen said softly.

"I hardly know where to begin..." Suzette said as she carried her lantern to the cabinet, then searched through the cans that were there, one-handed, as she held the light with the other.

"Well, you know about the blackout, of course. But what you may not know is that it covers half the country. Everything from the East Coast to the Mississippi went black." Suzette said thoughtfully.

"Do you know what caused it?" Galen asked cautiously.

Suzette shook her head, then said, "From what I heard, Ashwood is blaming Bryce, Bryce is blaming Ashwood... I don't really know that it matters. But what no one seems to be arguing about is that it was intentional. While they're sitting up in their mansions, playing their political games, regular people are suffering and dying. It sickens me."

After a minute or so for her to get some cans opened and emptied into a saucepan, Suzette walked to the large kitchen table and took a seat.

"Let's see, I don't know for sure what order things happened in, and I don't know that it matters, but from what I heard, early this morning... I suppose it would be yesterday morning, now, President Ashwood declared the election null and void. He claimed that Bryce cheated... I don't claim to be the best judge of character. Look at any of my ex-husbands, and you'll see what I mean. But still, Bryce doesn't strike me as the type that would stoop to cheating. He's a politician, so I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him. But I still have the feeling that, down deep, he has some honor." Suzette said thoughtfully, then seemed to realize that she was rambling.

"Excuse me, it's been a long day." She sighed, then continued, "Texas seceded and declared war on the United States."

"War?" Galen asked in shock.

"I don't know how much of a war it's going to be. The US fired missiles on Austin, nerve gas, from what I hear. The war might already be over. That's all I've heard about it."

"Oh my God." Marc whispered in amazement.

"That's not the worst of it." Suzette said regretfully.

Everyone around the table looked at her anxiously, waiting for what was coming next.

"Again, I'm just passing on what I was told by the people who have been showing up all day. It's possible that some of them misunderstood what they were hearing or got it wrong somehow. But, I've heard the same thing from more than one person, so I'm beginning to believe it's true.

"What is it, Suze?" Mona asked as she placed a hand over Suzette's.

Suzette looked down at the hand and smiled briefly before continuing, "From what I hear, Kansas City is mostly gone. Blown off the face of the Earth."

"No. It couldn't be." Doctor Parish gasped.

"I'm just passing on what I was told." Suzette said to him sympathetically, then looked around the table before continuing, "Oklahoma City was also bombed, but it wasn't nearly as bad... at least in blast damage. In a way, it may be worse. There's talk of radiation at the site."

"Dear God, how could we let this happen?" Marc asked as he shook his head.

"San Francisco... I'm still not sure. Some say it was a nuclear bomb, others are saying that it's the biggest earthquake that San Francisco has ever seen..." Suzette trailed off as she stood and walked to the stove where the percolator was perking vigorously.

"How bad is San Francisco?" Galen asked cautiously.

"From what I hear, there is no more San Francisco." Suzette said as she placed the first two steaming cups of coffee on the table.

Everyone was stunned into silence as Suzette busied herself, serving coffee to her unexpected guests.

"Is that all?" Marc finally asked.

"There's more, but it's all just bits and pieces. Most of it don't make sense to me." Suzette said frankly.

"Like what?" Galen asked cautiously.

"A few of the people have told me that they've heard about riots in the streets in the major cities." Suzette said quietly.

"How are the boys going to handle all of this? We need to be with them. They need us." Marc said anxiously.

"We've got to trust them..." Galen said gently.

"I do trust them. But the rest of the world has gone completely insane! They NEED us. NOW." Marc said as he looked around the room.

Galen slowly nodded, then looked at Marc and said, "You're right. Sitting here, sipping coffee, isn't helping our boys."

"But what about Ben? He's in pain. He should probably rest for a day or two." Wil said as he looked around the table.

"Cliff and Ben are big boys. They'll need to make their own decision, and we'll support them no matter what they decide. But Marc is right, we need to be going." Galen said seriously.

"Do you want me to go out to the car and ask them?" Todd asked cautiously.

"We'll all go." Galen said decisively.

"Before you go, we have a few tanks of gas in the lawn shed, for the groundskeepers. If you're going to be leaving this morning, you need to fill up. With the blackout, I can't predict when you'll come across the next working gas station." Suzette said quietly.

"Thank you. I don't have words enough to express how much we appreciate you doing this for us." Galen said gratefully.

"Go and talk to your friends. It sounds like you need to be on your way." Suzette said as she stood, then added, "I had planned on feeding you, but if you'll stop by before you leave, I'll have some food packed for you to take with you."

"Thank you, again. There's no way we can repay you for your kindness." Marc said as he looked Suzette in the eyes.

"Don't worry about thanking me. Go to your boys. That's what's most important right now." Suzette said firmly.

Looks traveled around the kitchen, and everyone seemed united in their resolve.

* * * * *

"How's he doing?" Galen asked with concern as he stood by the open door of the blue Honda. He could barely see Cliff and Ben in the light from the kerosene lantern.

"He seems to be resting comfortably. Those back pills seem to have done the trick." Cliff said gently.

"We've been talking, and we've decided that we need to get back on the road right away." Galen said regretfully.

"Yes. The boys need us." Cliff said in nearly a whisper.

"Cliff, we know that Ben's in pain. If you want, the rest of us can go on ahead and when we find the boys, we'll let them know that you're safe and we'll protect them the same as if they were our own." Galen said firmly.

"No." Ben whispered as he fought to open his eyes.

"You've been hurt. You need your rest." Marc gently said to his cousin.

"We're going. Period." Ben said as he matched Marc's gaze.

After a moment, Marc said, "I guess that settles it."

"Wil, would you mind getting the food while the rest of us work on gassing up the vehicles?" Galen asked hopefully.

"Yeah. Let's get moving." Wil said as he started walking back toward the house slowly, barely able to see in the meager moonlight.

Galen and Marc walked around the side of the house to a small building, which in other circumstances might be thought of as a house of it's own. But guided by the light of the kerosene lantern, they were able to find the lawn equipment and several cans of gasoline.

* * * * *

"Before we go, all of you should know that I'm not as familiar with the roads north of here. I still have an idea of where we need to go and how to get us there, but I'm not as sure as I was bringing you here." Mona said to the men.

"Do your best, Mona. You're all we've got." Todd said seriously.

After a long moment of silence, Dr. Parish quietly asked, "You guys don't mind me going with you, do you?"

"We don't mind at all, Jerry. As long as you want to go, we're happy to have you." Wil said with a smile.

"I can't say that I really want to go as much as I feel like it's what I need to do. I feel like I belong with you guys... well, as long as you don't mind me being here." Dr. Parish said nervously.

"You belong." Todd said quietly as he placed a hand on Jerry's shoulder.

* * * * *

Although the preparations seemed to have taken a long time, it was actually just over an hour since their arrival before the group was back on the road.

"This could go wrong so many ways. What happens if we get separated?" Marc asked as he strained to see anything in the light of the headlights.

"It's just the same as with the boys. If Mona or the other car end up getting diverted, we'll all meet up at Allen's house in Kettle Falls. I know it's not much of a plan, but it's all we've got." Galen said as he focused on driving.

"I'm just so worried. I wish there was something more that we could do to protect everyone." Marc said helplessly.

"We all want that, Marc. But what we really need to do right now is focus on what's most important." Galen said, a lot more calmly.

"We need to focus on reaching the boys. This is all for them. Ben is enduring his pain, Cliff is watching his lover suffer, we're trying to get across a country that's under martial law, all to get to our boys so we can protect them. Nothing is more important than that." Marc said assuredly.

"When either of us have doubts, all we need to do is refocus on our single objective. None of the rest matters." Galen smiled peacefully.

* * * * *

"How does Mona find these roads? We were almost on it before I could see any indication that there was even a path." Jerry said as he carefully followed Mona's lead.

Galen and Marc's car followed closely behind.

"How are you guys doing back there?" Todd asked into the back seat.

"Ben's resting. I think that he's able to relax now that he knows that we're not stopping. I know that, medically, he'll be able to heal without problems. But emotionally, I think it means the world to him that everyone respected his decision to continue on."

"We all love the boys and we'd do anything in the world for them." Todd said frankly.

"I can't wait to meet them. They sound amazing." Jerry said as he focused on driving.

"You have no idea." Todd chuckled.

"Then tell me." Jerry said, with a smile at Todd, beside him.

"You'd better be sure about that, Jerry. When you get Cliff and Ben talking about their kids, it can go on for hours." Todd said with a warm smile directed at the men in the back seat.

"Like I told you before, I've got no one. When I hear you guys talking about your boys, I can feel the love you have for them, and for each other. It gives me hope to know that love like that exists. It means that there's still hope for me." Jerry said honestly.

"Well, you can't say that you haven't been warned." Todd chuckled.

"Bring it on!" Jerry said as he flashed a warm smile at Todd.

"I guess it all started when Ben and I decided that we wanted to become foster parents. We had been fighting and struggling with the system that seemed built to deny us when one day, we finally got called in for an interview. That must have been about... almost ten years ago now." Cliff said distantly.

Todd snuggled down into his seat and looked over at Jerry, who was driving, to see him soaking in every detail of Cliff and Ben's story.

* * * * *

Mona motioned for the men who were following her to pull off to the side of the road. Since they were on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, none of them could imagine what Mona could suddenly be wanting.

Todd and Jerry both got out of the first car. Galen got out of the second and walked forward to talk to Mona.

"I want you guys to stay here while I scout ahead. I have a friend that lives up ahead, he might be able to let me know how things are in Memphis and if we need to change our course." Mona said seriously.

"Okay. We'll wait right here for you." Todd said immediately.

"No. If I'm not back in one hour, you guys need to move on and avoid Memphis." Mona said firmly.

"No. Mona, please don't do this." Wil said as tears filled his eyes.

"I'm just doing what needs to be done." Mona said dismissively, then looked back and said, "One hour."

Todd nodded and watched as she pulled away on her motorcycle.

* * * * *

The men were nervous and said very little during the next fifty minutes.

Wil was the first to look up, but the others soon followed his lead as they heard a motorcycle approaching.

All of them waited impatiently as Mona approached the cars.

She brought the bike to a complete stop, but left it running.

"It's worse than I expected." Mona said as the men ran up to her.

"What is it? What's wrong?" Galen asked as he approached.

"I was trying to find out if there's any way for us to go through Memphis, but the government has the city locked down. If we go anywhere near Memphis, we'll be arrested before we know what hit us." Mona said frankly.

"So what are we going to do?" Marc asked anxiously.

"Well, Memphis was my first choice, Little Rock was my second... unfortunately, it's completely sealed. But the good news is that my contact knew a way around the roadblocks on the backroads. The bad news... gas might end up being a concern. We might have enough to get us to the Missouri state line... we might not. But we're going to need to do something before the gas runs completely out."

"Something, like what?" Jerry asked as he looked around.

"I'm talking about stealing, honey." Mona said sweetly.

"You don't think that anyone would sell us gas?" Galen asked cautiously.

"For barter, maybe. That is, if we had anything that they'd be interested in having. For cash... I wouldn't count on it. I don't know how much value people are placing in those little slips of paper these days." Mona said honestly.

"So, if we find gas, we're going to take it." Jerry confirmed as he looked around.

"Yes. I'm afraid that's our only option, right now." Marc said regretfully.

"I bet that last week, you couldn't have imagined how dramatically your life could change in such a short time." Todd said with a teasing smile at Jerry.

"Actually, just last week, I made the mistake of saying that my life was boring and I wished that something exciting would happen." Jerry said with barely restrained nervous laughter.

"Happy to help." Mona chuckled, then said to the group, "Let's move out. Sitting here ain't getting us any closer to your boys."

"Right." Galen said, then put his arm around Marc to walk with him back to their car.

* * * * *

"Marc, I'm just wondering, who is this 'Allen' guy that's going to take all of us in, and why haven't I heard about him before?" Wil asked casually.

"I'm sure that you probably have heard about him, just not from me. Allen used to be my boss, about ten years ago. But he's also Mona's son." Marc said with a smile.

"Mona has a son?" Wil asked with surprise.

"Yes. But from what I've seen of Allen, they have a different sort of mother-son relationship than most. I've only ever heard him refer to his mother as 'Mona', and that was on the one or two occasions over the past ten years that he's spoken of her at all." Marc said as he kept the majority of his attention on Mona's tail light ahead of him in the darkness.

"Do they not get along?" Wil asked curiously.

"I can't really say. But from the affectionate way that he says her name, I'd guess that they get along fine, their relationship just isn't... typical. Allen's a very private person. I worked with him ten years and I doubt that we spoke ten words to each other during that time that weren't strictly business related. I don't mean for it to sound like he was strict or rude or anything like that. He's got to be one of the nicest people I've ever worked with. But when it came to his private life, it was like there was an impenetrable barrier." Marc said thoughtfully as he drove.

"I guess Mona's sort of the same way. I mean, I worked for her for over five years and didn't even know she had a kid." Wil said frankly.

"So now I know where he gets it." Marc chuckled. He spoke more quietly when he continued, "Nine or ten years ago, Allen's partner, Carl, died of AIDS. I don't know all of what he went through, he's never talked about it. All I know is that he went through it by himself. He never reached out to any of us at work, and so far as I know, he didn't have anyone in his personal life to help him either. I can't imagine what he went through."

"That sucks." Wil said with downcast eyes.

Marc nodded, then said, "We had been working together for nearly ten years when we got the official news that our project was nearly complete. Everyone started getting really depressed and... I'm sure you can imagine."

Wil nodded.

"I suppose we did what anyone would do in that situation. We got all nostalgic about things and promised each other that we'd keep in touch. I had just about everyone else's personal contact information, but didn't get Allen's until just a few weeks before our project team was disbanded. I never would have guessed that of all the people that I'd worked with, I'd end up talking to Allen the most." Marc chuckled.

"I can see how that could happen." Wil said consideringly.

"It wasn't too long before Allen told me that he had found a new job at a lab in Washington state. He was going to work directly for Ryan Brown." Marc said in an impressed voice.

"Who's that?" Wil asked cautiously, feeling that from Marc's intonation, he should already know.

"If you were into computers, you wouldn't have to ask. Of all the big dogs in computing, he's one of the biggest." Marc said frankly.

Wil didn't have anything to say to that. He could honestly say that he'd never heard the man's name before in his life.

"So Allen got the dream job, moved to Washington, and we've been good friends all these years." Marc finished with a smile.

"And you never talked about him because..." Wil said in a leading tone.

"I guess the subject never came up." Marc said simply.

Wil considered for a moment, then said, "Yeah. I can see that. But how did we end up getting invited up to his place?"

"Before the blackout, I was chatting with him online, telling him how bad things were getting. He told me that Mona had called him and said pretty much the same thing and was talking about heading west. He suggested that I call Mona, pack up the family, and hit the road. Of course, I couldn't do that without Galen's support, so I talked to him and it took us about an hour to think it through and decide to do it."

"Wow. Ben called me and Todd and said, 'Pack your stuff. We're heading to Washington.' So we did." Wil chuckled.

Marc smiled, then said, "When we told the boys about what we were planning, they insisted on calling Jorry and Nick. I guess their dad, my brother Nolan, started drinking again, and the boys were already talking about taking off."

"I thought he had that under control." Wil said with concern.

"He does, then he doesn't. Since the divorce, he's been falling off the wagon about once a year. It lasts about four to six weeks, then he's regretful and swearing that he'll never do it again. Jorry and Nick have been through it enough times to know what to expect. But I guess that since Jorry's an adult now, he feels like he doesn't have to put up with it anymore." Marc said honestly.

"I know how it is to have to give up on your parents. It hurts like nothing else." Wil said sadly.

"Yeah. It sucks."

* * * * *

Mona turned onto a small dirt road that appeared to lead to nowhere.

As soon as they were away from the road enough not to be seen, she stopped her motorcycle and motioned for the cars to stop.

"What's wrong?" Marc asked as he and wil ran up to her.

"Unless I miss my guess, you guys are going to be running out of gas soon." Mona said frankly.

Marc had been carefully monitoring his gas gauge and nodded his agreement.

When Jerry and Todd had joined them, Mona continued, "I had hoped that something would have come up before now, but it's getting to the point where we're going to need to take action. You guys stay here and try to get some rest. I'm going to scout ahead and see what I can find for us. Besides, it's too dangerous for us to be travelling during the day. Get some sleep, and if I'm not back before dark, make your way to the west and find gas anyway that you can."

"I hate this, Mona. You shouldn't have to risk yourself for us." Wil said as he looked at her with watery eyes.

A tender smile crossed Mona's face for an instant, then it fell away as she quietly said, "Just listen to what I've said. If I'm not back by sundown, get out of here. I'll be at peace with whatever happens if I know that you and your friends are on your way to safety."

"We will. I promise." Wil said as he sniffed back his tears.

"Get lots of sleep. If I can find us gas, we're going to be driving all night." Mona said before starting her motorcycle again.

All the men watched as Mona turned the motorcycle and headed back the way they had come.

* * * * *

What sleep they got was restless.

None of the men could shake the feeling of apprehension and underlying sorrow, knowing that they might be forced to continue on without Mona.

Just after noon, Wil woke to the familiar sound of Mona's motorcycle.

He scrambled out of the car, waking Marc and Galen as he did so.

"How are you? Did you have any trouble?" Wil asked as he ran up to her.

Mona smiled at his concern and said, "I'm fine."

Marc and Galen arrived a moment later and waited to hear what she had found.

"Wil, go get the guys from the other car. I'm going to need the doctors." Mona said seriously.

Marc and Galen exchanged looks and watched as Wil rushed away.

* * * * *

"Wil said that you needed us." Cliff said as he walked up to Mona.

"There's a town up ahead. I was doing a little scouting on the outskirts, hoping to find an unattended gas tank in a warehouse or something like that, when a van came racing up the road. I watched it careen off one side of the road, then turn and cross to the other. Before I knew what happened, the thing ran smack dab into a utility pole." Mona said as she looked at the group of men.

"I was undercover and didn't really want to go out and take the chance of being seen, when I saw a man come out of a house and run to the van. I stayed hidden until I saw him pull someone out of the van... it was a kid. As soon as I saw that, I helped him. There were four kids in the van. They were all in handcuffs and had their mouths taped shut." Mona said darkly.

"Were they hurt?" Cliff asked with immediate concern.

"As near as I could tell, one of the boys has a broken arm and wrist and a pretty big bump on his head. I think the girl has a broken leg and all the kids are pretty banged up. We really need a doctor to look at them to see if it's anything more serious." Mona said as she looked Cliff in the eyes.

"Yes. Of course. Anything I can do." Cliff said in a rush.

"The guy who helped the kids, he said that he should be able to get us some gas. The only problem is that we'll need to take the cars into town, and they seem to be taking martial law pretty seriously." Mona said darkly.

"We'll worry about the gas later. The kids are more important." Cliff said firmly.

"I thought you'd feel that way." Mona said with a satisfied smile, then added, "We're not helping those kids by standing around here."

All the men scrambled back to their cars as Mona started her motorcycle.

* * * * *

"What a hellhole." Galen whispered as he followed Mona down a street that ran parallel to some railroad tracks.

"Not the most scenic neighborhood." Marc said weakly as he looked around.

Ahead of them, Mona turned and went half a block before darting down a dirt alley.

Galen followed carefully and watched his rearview mirror to see that Todd was still with them.

* * * * *

"How are they doing?" Mona asked as they were met in the backyard by a woman in her mid-twenties.

"The little girl seems to be coming to her senses. The boys are mostly just crying."

"Guys, this is Kara. Her husband is the one who rescued the kids." Mona said as they followed Kara into the house.

* * * * *

"Is one of you a doctor?" A young man, holding two crying boys, asked desperately.

"Two of us are. Who needs us first?" Cliff asked as he stepped forward.

"This boy. He hasn't woken up yet. I think his arm is broken in at least two places. I did my best to make a splint... I hope that's okay." The man said with tears running down his cheeks as he looked at the boy lying on the floor.

Cliff looked over the splint for a moment, then said, "Given what you have to work with, I think you did a fine job."

"Who else needs a doctor?" Jerry asked timidly as he moved forward from behind the other men.

"This little girl, her name is Lisa. She's being very brave, right now, but I think she has a broken leg." Kara said as she knelt at the girl's side.

Jerry noticed that the girl was also wearing a splint that had been crudely made from slats from a wooden packing crate. As he looked around, he could see the remains of the packing crate as well as a collection of scattered CDs on the living room floor. Apparently, the crate had been used as sort of a bookcase or as storage.

"You. I need you to hold him still while I remove the splint." Cliff said firmly as he looked at the young man.

"I'm Marlon." The young man said as he released the two crying boys in his arms and guided them to hold on to each other.

As soon as he was free, he knelt on the floor and held the boy's shoulders.

"It's nice to meet you, Marlon. I'm Cliff, and regardless of how primitive this seems, you don't need to worry. I'm a pediatrician." Cliff said as he untied the slats of wood and let the arm loose.

The boy on the floor began to whimper and thrash at the pain.

"Hold him." Cliff said as he gently probed the arm to assess the injury.

"Yeeeeeeahhh!" The boy cried out when Cliff gently pressed on his wrist with his thumb.

"I'm sorry for hurting you. I just have to see what's wrong so I'll know how to help you." Cliff said in a soothing voice to the youngster as he carefully tied the splint back in place.

"How bad is it?" Marlon asked in a terrified whisper.

"A fracture in his forearm. At least one, possibly more fractures in his wrist and It wouldn't surprise me to find that he has one or two broken bones in his hand." Cliff said frankly.

"When I found him, he was wearing handcuffs and had the chain wrapped around the driver's neck." Marlon said frankly.

"What happened to the driver?" Marc asked suddenly.

"The driver and the adult passenger both died in the wreck. I can't say that I'm sorry, considering that they were transporting bound and gagged children." Marlon finished angrily.

"Well, I'm glad you were able to get the handcuffs off. I would have hated to have to work around them." Cliff said as he lifted the boy's bangs to examine the bump on his forehead.

"Actually, Mona did that." Marlon said with a glance across the room at her.

"Cliff, would you mind looking at this? I'm a dermatologist and I don't get much of a chance to set broken bones." Jerry asked hopefully.

After a moment to look over Jerry's work, Cliff smiled as he said, "Considering that we don't have access to an x-ray or any real medical supplies, I think you've done as well as anyone could."

"He's waking up." Marlon said as he pointed at the little boy, whose eyes were fluttering open.

"Can you hear me?" Cliff gently asked as he sat at the boy's side.

"It hurts." The boy whispered in return.

"I know. I wish I had something to give you for that." Cliff said frankly as he took the boy's good hand and held it in both of his.

A tear slid down the boy's cheek, then he quietly asked, "Are you the guys that those men were going to sell us to?"

"What? No. We're good guys, I promise." Cliff said as he started smoothing down the boy's unruly hair, then thought to ask, "By the way, what's your name?"

"I'm Brody."

Cliff could see that the boy was in terrible pain, and quietly said, "I'm sorry that I don't have anything to give you to make it stop hurting."

"It's all my fault. So I probably should be hurting." Brody said as tears started to fall.

"What's your fault?" Cliff asked gently as he wiped the tears away with his fingertips.

"Doesn't matter. It hurts, but I promise that I won't whine about it." Brody said bravely as he fought down his tears.

Cliff looked around at the other adults and settled on Marlon. "I really need to get him something for the pain. Do you know of anywhere that we might be able to get something like that?"

"Look, man. This martial law stuff, it's real bad. They're shooting people if they catch them on the streets. And yesterday, I saw some Army guys come and get one of my neighbors. They dragged him and his whole family out of their house, kicking and screaming. I don't know where there's anyone who can help, and if I did, I'd tell you not to risk it." Marlon said frankly.

"Maybe we should just leave." Marc said cautiously.

Cliff looked around the little house with an appraising eye. It was neat, he'd give them that. But everything around him spoke of desperate poverty. "If we leave, are you going to have enough food for yourselves and these kids, too?"

Kara and Marlon exchanged a look and it was finally Kara who answered, "We ain't got much. But that's not the big problem. This whole place is electric. Without the electricity, we've got no light, heat, hot water, refrigerator... there's no way for me to cook the little bit of food that we've got."

"I see..." Cliff said with a downcast look.

"Can't we take them with us?" Wil asked hopefully.

Cliff seemed to be about to answer, then shook his head. "It's bad enough that Ben's had to travel in his condition. There's no way that I'd do that to Brody and Lisa, too."

"You mean, because they're in pain?" Marlon asked slowly.

"Yes. It's going to be a nightmare for Brody as it is. There's no way I want him to be jostled and jarred on the back roads with his injuries." Cliff said firmly.

Marlon nodded and seemed to be lost in thought.

"What you thinkin', baby?" Kara asked as she walked up to him and put an arm around him.

"We need to get out of here. If we stay, we're just marking time until it's our turn for the Army or police or whoever to come and take us away." Marlon said softly.

"But we haven't done anything wrong." Kara whispered.

"You know as well as I do that Jesse and Lola are good people. But they still got dragged out of their house in broad daylight. We're no better than them, not one bit." Marlon said frankly.

Kara nodded as her tears started to fall.

"That doesn't change the fact that two of these kids can't travel. It would be nothing less than torture." Cliff said seriously.

"Yeah. I think I can help with that. That is, if you guys can help me with something, too." Marlon said as he returned Kara's hug.

"What do you need help with?" Cliff asked cautiously.

"Mona told us that you guys needed some gas. Well, I can get that for you. But, if you guys help me, I might be able to get you something even better." Marlon said with the beginning of a smile.

Everyone waited expectantly for him to reveal what he had come up with.

"I work in the city school's bus barn. Not only can I get gas, I can get us a BUS. I was thinking that if you guys would help me with a little paint job, we might be able to drive out of here without anyone even trying to stop us." Marlon said with a grin.

"Do you think you could do that?" Wil asked excitedly.

"Yeah. I know where the paint is. I know where the keys are. All I need is a little help to get it done."

"That doesn't help with Brody's pain. He's still in no condition to travel." Cliff said with an anguished look at the suffering boy.

"If you guys can help me, Kara can deal with the pain." Marlon said with certainty.

Kara looked at Marlon strangely, then a smile of understanding lit up her face.

Marlon gave Kara a quick kiss, then looked around and asked, "Who's helping me?"

"I'm in." Wil said immediately.

"Me too." Todd said with a smile.

"If I'm not needed here, I can go." Jerry said uncertainly.

"Do you think a couple old men will be able to help you?" Marc asked with a grin.

Galen flashed him a disapproving glare.

"If I see any, I'll let you know. Come on. I'd like to get this done before dark." Marlon said as he motioned for the men to follow.

* * * * *

As soon as they were alone, Cliff quietly asked, "What do you propose we do to deal with Brody's pain?"

"I'm pretty sure that this is what Marlon had in mind." Kara said as she opened the door under one of the end tables and took out a blue tin of butter cookies.

"Cookies?" Cliff asked incredulously.

Kara giggled, then opened the tin.

"Oh... And this would be..."

"Dr. Cliff, may I introduce Miss Mary Jane."

"Oh, Miss Mary Jane and I became well acquainted many, many years ago, although I haven't visited with her in quite a while."

"Do you think that this might make it easier for Brody to travel?" Kara asked with a smile.

"Depending on how good it is, he might be able to fly there on his own." Cliff chuckled.

"If that's what I think it is, how about passing some over this way?" Ben asked from his place on the couch.

"I thought you were asleep. How are you feeling?" Cliff asked with concern.

"I'd be feeling a lot better if you'd pass that over here." Ben said honestly.

Cliff smiled at him, then turned to Kara and said, "I think this may work."

To Be Continued...

More Notes:

Here we go again. I'm not the editor, and I don't play one on Television, but I do still try to catch mistakes.

I want to thank Str8mayb for agreeing to be an editor for this story. He has always been a great deal of help to me, whenever I delve into writing a story or chapter.

I was very glad to see that Brody has been rescued, and in fact, Brody was most likely responsible for putting the situation in place to get them rescued. He is a brave and caring person.

I hope we get to know him better.

I will give you a hint. Those of you who have read some of MultiMapper's stories earlier, might recognize some of the people you will meet in this story, or you may not. We'll just have to wait and see who is new and who has made appearances in one or more MM stories from the past.

I can hardly wait for the next chapter.


Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher

Editor's Notes:

Very nice chapter. Now, we have yet another location to jump back and forth to. Mona has the talent to attract more to the migration to Kettle Falls. I wonder how they will paint the bus to help it get out of town. I guess the standard yellow might be too easy to follow. Camo might help if they are traveling overgrown back roads.

Thanks MM for such a nice chapter and bringing in even more of your characters both old and new. You weave such a web it is good to have Spider here now, too.