Revolutions Universe: Metamorphosis

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Chapter 22 - Twilight's Last Gleaming

"How are the preparations coming?" Deb asked her son gently.

"Everything is fine, so far. But I'm just worried that we might miss something, and the people that we invited here might end up suffering because of it." Carson said anxiously.

"Son, when this is all over and you look back at today, I have no doubt that you will spot some things that you should have thought to do, and other things that you'll wish that you'd done differently. And I feel safe in saying that some people will suffer because of those decisions." Deb said regretfully.

After a moment of stunned silence, Carson was finally able to say, "Way to give a pep talk, Mom!"

Deb sadly smiled, then said, "Just keep in mind that those things will likely happen, no matter what you do. You need to accept that, and resolve yourself to not giving up. There's nothing wrong with trying to save everyone, except when you let isolated unfortunate incidents frustrate your efforts."

"So, you're saying no matter how hard I try, some people are probably still going to suffer?" Carson asked rhetorically.

"Yes, unfortunately. And some may even die, not as a result of your actions or decisions, but just because in an operation of this scale, things naturally happen. You have to not let that stop you from helping all the others." Deb said imploringly.

"I see what you're trying to say, and I won't quit." Carson said firmly.

"I didn't really think that you would. But I wanted to tell you this now, before things get even more frantic. So you would be prepared if something were to go wrong. You've taken on a tremendous responsibility, and your father and I are very proud of you. Do your best and don't be afraid to ask for help." Deb said honestly.

"Got it. Thanks, Mom." Carson said quietly and reached over to squeeze his mother's hand.

* * * * *

Carson was distracted as he pondered his mother's words. As he ate his dinner, his mind continually flashing back to the masses of people approaching Kettle Falls from all directions.

After finishing his meal, with only a glance at Jay to relay his intention, Carson and Jay returned to Carson's room without a word spoken between them.

As Carson and Jay entered the room, they saw Alvin and Simon working diligently to maintain as much of a watch as possible on the approaching groups.

"There's nothing new going on. Dizzy's been taking care of things for the most part." Alvin said as he undocked Carson's spare wheelchair.

"Thanks for watching it." Carson said as he automatically moved to take Alvin's place.

"No problem. But right now, I need to have that talk with Zane that I've been putting off." Alvin said grimly.

"Are you sure that he's really not a security risk?" Carson asked as he turned to look at Alvin with concern.

"No more than anyone else. But considering what he remembers about his time in the 'camp', I can see why he would think that he is." Alvin said thoughtfully.

Carson looked at Alvin curiously, silently asking for more of an explanation.

"He can tell you, if he wants you to know. It's not for me to tell." Alvin said seriously.

"I get that, but... Camp?" Carson asked hesitantly.

After a moment of staring at Carson, Alvin quietly said, "You have an idea of what I'm talking about, but what he remembers of it is about twelve times worse than what you're imagining."

Carson nodded, knowing that Alvin wasn't going to reveal any more.

Before he could ask another question, Seth and Hobie walked into the room together.

"No one has decided exactly when we'll be leaving, so we have to be prepared to go at a moment's notice. If we have time, we'll stop in again with you before we go." Simon said as he got up from the laptop by the door.

"I can't thank you guys enough for everything you're doing to help us." Carson said sincerely.

"I think we could say the same to you." Alvin said with a quick grin.

At Carson's confused look, he continued, "With everything going on, of course we'd want to do whatever we could to help the general population through this nightmare. But the fact is that we have limited manpower and resources. You're doing what we wish that we could do ourselves. Knowing that you're taking care of people allows us the freedom to focus on the bigger picture so that, hopefully, we'll be able to find some way to bring an end to this before even more people have to suffer."

"Just let us know if there's anything that any of us can do to help you." Carson said seriously.

"We will if you will." Simon said with a playful smirk.

"It's a deal." Carson responded quietly.

After one final look at the people in Carson's room, Alvin and Simon hurried away with purpose.

* * * * *

"Alvin!" Oleksandr crowed excitedly as he hopped up from his place at Ben's side at the enormous dinner table.

"It's good to see you, too, Olex." Alvin said tenderly as he returned a heartfelt hug.

"Would you like to join us? We still have a few empty seats." Ben asked Alvin hopefully.

"I'd really like to. But I actually have some business that I need to take care of right now." Alvin said regretfully.

"Why don't you spend some time with Olex and his family? I can handle it." Simon said quietly to his brother.

Alvin looked at Simon with surprise.

"Remember what we're fighting for, bro."

Alvin looked torn with indecision.

Finally, with an irritating smirk, Simon looked into his brother's eyes and firmly said, "Simon says."

Alvin chuckled and nodded.

Realizing that it had been settled, Oleksandr took firm hold of Alvin's arm and guided him to the serving line.

Simon smiled at the scene before him, then turned his attention toward his intended target. His smile fell away as he focused on Zane.

* * * * *

After standing and quietly waiting for a break in their conversation, Simon realized that there probably wasn't going to be one. Finally, he quietly said, "Excuse me, may I talk to Zane for a few minutes?"

"What's wrong?" Brother Jacques asked anxiously.

"I have some information that he needs to know. I promise that it won't take very long." Simon said to Brother Jacques, then looked at Zane with an urging expression.

"Can Brother Jacques come with me?" Zane asked hesitantly.

"What I have to tell you is very personal. Please let me tell you in private, then you can share as much as you want with Brother Jacques when it's all done." Simon said imploringly.

After a moment of contemplation, Zane reluctantly stood.

"I'll be right here." Brother Jacques said warmly as he took firm hold of Zane's hand and gave it a squeeze.

Zane took the trembling hand to his lips and gave it a kiss before saying, "Take your pill. I'll be right back."

"Okay." Brother Jacques said quietly and reluctantly released Zane's hand.

* * * * *

The large, cavernous living room was empty when they entered. Simon led Zane to the far side of the room so they could sit comfortably while they had their conversation.

"Are you sure that I'm not going to betray them?" Zane asked as he was sitting down.

"No. But I'm sure that you haven't been programmed to betray them." Simon answered honestly.

Zane looked at Simon warily at receiving an answer other than the one he wanted.

"You're a person with your own free will. I can't make any promises to you about what actions you'll take in the future. I can only tell you what we've been able to discover about what has been done to you." Simon said frankly.

Zane slowly nodded, then quietly said, "I know that I was in there for over two years, but I hardly remember anything."

Simon let out a long sigh of frustration, then slowly said, "That's not the worst of it."

Zane looked at Simon with fresh apprehension.

"The memories that you do have from that time are mostly false." Simon said regretfully as he looked into Zane's eyes.

"What?" Zane asked in confusion.

"Your grandfather has been pioneering techniques in behavior modification and mind control. As part of his experimentation, he suppressed your memories of what actually happened to you, and suggested new memories to your subconscious mind. Based on those suggestions, your conscious mind created very detailed and realistic memories that were completely false." Simon said sadly.

"So all that stuff that I remember never really happened?" Zane asked cautiously.

"That's right, Zane. The rape and torture that you remember being ordered to commit, never happened. You never hurt anyone." Simon assured him.

Tears of relief were sliding down Zane's cheeks at the announcement.

"Your grandfather filled your mind with all those memories of sadism and torture so that he could watch your reaction. He wanted to see just how much horror a person could believe he had committed before he would give up and resign himself to the fact that he was powerless to disobey. It was just one step in a more lengthy process of perfecting his mind control." Simon said seriously.

"So, what really happened to me?" Zane asked in a trembling voice.

"At the 'camp', not much, really. You were given different drug treatments and behavioral tests, for the most part, but your every move and reaction was recorded and studied. Although the confinement was unpleasant, it's nothing like the torture chamber that you remember." Simon said hesitantly.

Zane slowly nodded, trying to accept the new information.

"But when you got back to your grandfather's house, where there were no other researchers or cameras recording what was being done to you... let's just say that that's the part that I didn't want Brother Jacques here for." Simon said reluctantly.

Zane silently thought for a moment, then finally looked at Simon with question.

"Your grandfather is one sick puppy. By this time he had already perfected the method to put you into a hypnotic state and control what you did and didn't remember. Although I have the ability to restore those memories to you, I wouldn't be doing you any favors if I did that. Just accept that the old man had you all to himself in his home, and used you to live out every sick, perverted fantasy that he ever had in his entire pathetic waste of a life."

Zane slowly nodded, but was surprised to find that he didn't have any fresh tears for this revelation.

"That's it. Although your grandfather had the means to make you into a mole agent or an assassin, all he did was use you to live out some creepy sexual fantasies. So, as horrible as that is, it's nowhere near as bad as it could be. Your future can be whatever you make of it. Nothing from the past has to hold you back." Simon said frankly.

Zane felt a moment of relief, then cautiously asked, "What about the others... The kids that I remember from that place?"

"I don't know, Zane. So many of your memories are false or drastically altered, that it's hard to know how many of them actually ever existed. I promise, we'll keep looking and let you know as soon as we find out anything about any of them." Simon said firmly.

"Thanks. Whether they're real or not, in my memories of them, they all existed and were suffering. It would help me a lot to know for sure what happened to them." Zane said seriously.

"I keep my promises. Now, you'd better get back to Brother Jacques before he worries himself sick about you." Simon said as he stood.

As Zane got up, he noticed that there were now a few other people in the living room with them, although they were on the other side of the room.

* * * * *

"Roris. I have a message for you." Hobie said quietly, over his shoulder.

"Is there a problem?" Roris asked, using the computerized voice box on his wheelchair.

"I guess that depends on whether or not you want to visit with some people named Corina and Davis."

"That's my sister and her husband. Are they on their way here?" Roris asked hopefully, although his computer voice sounded less than thrilled.

"They crossed through the highway 20 checkpoint while we were eating. They should probably be here within the hour." Hobie said cautiously, not sure if Roris was happy or not about the announcement.

"Thank you, Hobie. I need to find my parents and let them know that they're coming." Roris said as he turned his chair to leave.

Hobie watched Roris and Lawrence as they left the living room, and still didn't know if he had given Roris good or bad news.

* * * * *

Bug had watched as Zane and Brother Jacques talked quietly for a few minutes before ending up held firmly together in a cuddle.

Reluctantly, Bug finally said, "I think I need to check with Carson to see if there's anything I can do to help out."

Ken and Kev both looked at Bug regretfully, but said nothing.

"I don't want to go, but they've only asked us for one thing for all the help they're giving us..." Bug said reluctantly.

"Go ahead. And before you start worrying about it, we'll keep an eye on Oma Shoupe and the boys." Ken said with a loving smile.

"And we'll come and get you if anyone needs anything at all." Kev assured him.

Bug stepped forward and pulled both twins into a tight hug.

Ken and Kev shared a smile at each other as they enjoyed the feeling of being held so lovingly.

When he finally released the twins, he gave first Ken, then Kev a firm kiss.

The twins watched silently as Bug reluctantly walked away.

* * * * *

"How's it going, Carson? Do you have anything for me to do?" Bug asked as he walked to Carson's side.

"Right now, I think the best thing you could do is get up-to-date on all the groups that are headed this way, so you can put your plan into action." Carson said seriously.

Bug saw that Seth was using Carson's spare computer and quietly said, "Just let me get my laptop, then I'll be ready."

"Remember that Alvin brought in a laptop for you to use? He seemed to think that it would be a better fit for you than my spare computer." Carson said with distraction as he watched his screens carefully.

Bug looked around, then asked, "The one on your work table?"

Carson glanced over and said, "Yeah. That's it. He left it there for you."

Bug pulled a chair over to the work table and looked at the closed laptop for a moment before moving to open it. The laptop looked common enough, although he couldn't identify the model or generation. In fact, it didn't have any logo to identify what type of laptop it was at all.

'Excuse me, Bug. But there are some things you need to know about this laptop before you start, otherwise it might self destruct before you get a chance to use it.' Alvin's voice said inside his head.

Bug slowly withdrew his hand, then felt a strange sensation wash over him as a large amount of detailed information flooded his mind.

"Whoah." Bug gasped as he sat wide eyed, frozen in place.

"Something wrong?" Seth asked as he looked up from his computer.

"No. But now I know how a computer feels when a flash drive is plugged in." Bug said as he felt the new information falling into place in his head.

Cautiously, Bug reached forward again and opened the lid of the laptop.

Less than a second after pressing the power button, the screen came alive and a pleasant female voice said, "Identification process beginning. Physical biometric identification... within parameters. Authorized user. Biometrics complete. Retinal pattern identification... complete. Proceed with voice wave verification... please state your name."

After an uncertain moment, he quietly said, "Bug."

"User... Bug... Accepted. Keyboard and voice commands are available to complete initial setup, Bug. Proceed with customization." The voice said pleasantly.

Bug knew from the information that had been fed into his mind that the next step was to set the default mode of operation, display properties and outputs so the computer would look and 'behave' as he expected.

After a moment to consider his options, Bug carefully said, "I want to use my own operating system. It's on this flash drive."

Bug fished the thumb drive from his pocket and plugged it in. He only had to wait a moment before the computer voice said, "Bug-Zapper installed. All functions available. Specify preferred screen output display."

Bug smiled as he said, "Set output to Commodore 64 with G.E.O.S. functionality available, but not default enabled."

The screen immediately changed to a blue on blue text-only screen.

Bug smiled at the display, then leaned forward and began to type.

One by one, the others in the room looked up from what they were doing and watched Bug typing on the keyboard faster than any of them had thought possible.

After about two minutes of staring at Bug, the others went back to their own tasks, accepting that Bug was completely absorbed in what he was doing and probably wouldn't be interacting with them again anytime soon.

* * * * *

"Where's Dad?" Mike and Eric's Danny asked suddenly, drawing all the other boys' attention.

"He took some food upstairs to your brother." Kurt said softly.

Glances zinged from brother to brother to brother, then, as if the floor had suddenly given way, all the boys ducked under the table at once and emerged from the other side in a dead run.

"I would say something, but..." Kurt trailed off.

"I know. The single thought in their minds right this minute is their concern for their brother. Nothing else matters." Lana said tenderly.

Kurt looked at where the boys had gone and smiled, grateful for the fact that the brother they loved so much was upstairs and expected to make a full recovery.

* * * * *

"How are you guys doing?" Ken asked casually as he approached the inseparable trio with Kev at his side.

"I can't believe all the food they have here! And it's all great! I wish I woulda come here a long time ago. I haven't had food like this since... ever!" Bax said enthusiastically.

"Was the food bad, back at your home?" Ken asked cautiously.

"No... Not bad. It just wasn't as good as this." Bax said with considerably less energy.

Kev sat down on the living room floor with the boys, then quietly said, "When I was growing up, I hardly had any food at all. My mom..."

"...She didn't feed him. He was nothing but skin and bones when I first met him." Ken said as he also took a seat.

"But you're twins... you didn't grow up together?" Max asked curiously.

"Our parents divorced when we were babies. Mom got Kev, Dad got me. I was twelve when my Dad died. That's when I went to Chicago and met Kev for the first time." Ken said distantly.

"I didn't even know I had a brother until the day that Kenny showed up. Mom never told me about him." Kev said with a smile at his brother.

"It's funny. To this day, I've never seen my mom in person. The day I arrived, she skipped town and abandoned us." Ken said darkly.

"Some scary stuff was happening then, too. A turf war. If it wasn't for Jake, me and Ken would both be dead right now." Kev said frankly.

Ken nodded his agreement, then looked at three pairs of eyes, wide with wonder, hanging on their every word.

"The three of us were homeless after that. It was too dangerous for us to try to go back to Kev's apartment." Ken said quietly.

"There wasn't nothin for us there anyway... never was." Kev said sadly.

"It was October, and it was getting dark. It was really getting cold out and we didn't know what we were going to do, when Jake remembered hearing about a homeless shelter with a priest running it. Places like that get full really fast when it's cold, and once they're full, that's it, they don't let you in. But Jake had heard that this one priest was different, and that if he didn't have a place, that he'd try to find you one. So, even though it wasn't the closest shelter, we took a chance and hurried over there as fast as we could." Ken said distantly.

"Jake made us wait for him outside while he went in to talk to the priest. I think he was also checking it out, to make sure it was safe for us." Kev said frankly.

"The priest said he could find a room for us, if we wouldn't mind the three of us sharing a bed. I wouldn't have admitted it back then, but I was so scared, I don't think I could have slept by myself if I had to." Ken finished with a chuckle.

"I think all three of us were asleep before our heads hit the pillow." Kev said with a smile.

"Later on, we realized that the bed that Father Doherty gave us that night was his. I don't know where he slept that night, or if he slept. But he let the three of us use his bed so we wouldn't be out in the cold." Ken said softly.

"We stayed there, at that mission, ever since. The day that they closed the mission, we left to come here." Kev said honestly.

"Wow." Bax said in amazement.

"So you lived there since you were twelve?" Ro asked in wonder.

"Yes. And Father Doherty fixed it so we could go to school, and he helped Jake with... some problems he was having. And it was as good as any home that you could wish for." Ken said seriously.

"Even though it wasn't a mansion with great food, like this place, it was a place where we felt loved and wanted and needed. I'm going to miss it." Kev said frankly.

"It sounds nice." Bax said in a small voice.

"What was your home like, Bax?" Ken asked gently.

"Just normal, I guess." Bax said evasively.

"If it was normal, then why aren't you still there?" Kev asked quietly.

"Cause my parents left me and never came back." Bax said as his eyes started to fill with tears.

"What happened?" Ken asked as he scooted closer to Bax to put an arm around him.

"My mom set it up so I stayed over at this guy's house. He was a few years younger than me and we weren't friends or anything. But sometimes her and my dad would have to go out and do stuff and they'd have me stay over at someone's house. But when I got home from school the next day, no one was there." Bax said as his tears started to fall.

"Was that the last time you saw your parents?" Kev asked gently.

"Yeah. After a few days, I started getting scared. I went to school like I was supposed to, and I guess I started telling people that my parents didn't come home and I didn't know what to do. So one day the CPS finally got me out of class and asked me a lot of questions. Then they stuck me in the group home." Bax finished angrily.

"How bad was it?" Kev asked cautiously.

"It was scary. The first day, a couple of the bigger guys tried to back me into a corner. I didn't know if they was gonna beat me up or rape me or what, so I started punching and biting and kicking and whatever else I could do to get them off me. They tried it a couple more times, but I guess they didn't try too hard. I stayed outta their way and they mostly left me alone. There was plenty of other guys... and girls, who'd just roll over and let them do whatever they wanted to them, so I guess messing with me was too much trouble." Bax said frankly.

"When I got there, Bax told me who to watch out for and made sure no one messed with me." Ro said with a grateful smile at Bax.

"Even though that place was horrible, at least it had a roof and beds and food on the table... as lousy as it was. They kept getting more and more kids and the place was getting full, so one day they just threw us out. They didn't even let us get our clothes and stuff, they just tossed us out the door and locked it behind us." Bax said angrily.

"We wandered around, looking for someplace to stay the night, but we couldn't find anyplace. We ended up sleeping in the park." Ro said distantly.

"And we got so hungry, that we started hanging around outside a grocery store and begging people for food as they were leaving." Bax added quietly.

"The second day of doing that is when we met Bug." Ro said as he looked into Kev's eyes.

There was a long silence, then Max quietly said, "I got taken away from my parents because they used to hit me. One time, they did it where some other people could see it and someone called the cops. After that, I went from one foster home to another. I never stayed anywhere too long. There was this one, they'd be reading the bible all the time and they always sounded really angry. That was the worst. No matter what I'd do or say around them, they'd always call me a sinner and tell me I'm going to hell and read those damned bible verses at me. They were mean to all us kids, but they really hated me. I don't know why. I never did anything to them. I didn't even hate them, at least, not back then."

"It's better here, though, isn't it?" Bax asked cautiously.

"Besides the bible beaters, I've had creepy, touchy-feely foster parents. I've had fat, lazy, mean foster parents, and I've had a welfare mom foster parent, complete with the six inch professionally done fingernails. Gordon and Lucas give me a little hug now and then and ask me how I'm doing and if I need anything, then they leave me be. I know it sounds funny, but they're the best foster parents that I've ever had." Max said with conviction, then thoughtfully added, "They're a lot better than my real parents, even if you don't count the hitting."

"I'm glad to hear it." Ken said with a smile at her.

"Let's stay at your place tonight." Bax said with a smile at Max.

"How about we stay out in the living room, where those really big windows are?" Max asked happily.

"Yeah, but tomorrow night, we need to stay at my dads' house. I don't want them to feel left out." Ro said seriously.

"Okay. In fact, you can ask them while you're asking if we can stay at Max's tonight. That way they'll know that you still want to spend time with them, just not tonight." Bax said quickly.

"Guys. Bug's probably going to be busy helping Carson for a while. So if any of you need anything, just come to us." Kev said seriously.

Bax quickly gave Ken a kiss on the cheek, then scurried over to Kev and did the same before saying, "You guys are awesome!"

Max went to Kev to give him a quick hug as she said, "You really are."

At the same time, Ro went to Ken and hugged him as he said, "I think so, too."

Ken and Kev were smiling as they watched the three bundles of energy launch themselves toward the hallway to the Big House.

* * * * *

"So, from the sound of it, Danny and the guys are going to be rooming upstairs with the Vice President." Ben said to Mr. Reed, but kept a close watch on Danny for his reaction to the statement.

"We may be as well." Kurt said frankly.

"Do you need a room?" Ben asked with concern.

"No, no. The boys already made us a room. But we're going to be moving on at some point, but no one seems to know when that will be. For the moment we're planning on spending the night, but we'll have to be ready to leave at a moment's notice." Kurt said unenthusiastically.

"To visit your daughter and your grandkids?" Danny asked quietly.

Lana locked eyes with him and sadly nodded.

Ben knew that he was missing something, but also knew that Danny would fill him in if he needed to know.

"A lot of things seem to be up in the air right now for all of us." Ben said, trying to steer the conversation onto more comfortable ground.

"Considering what's going on in the country right now, I can't even imagine how many people are feeling the same way, and worse." Kurt said honestly.

After a moment to consider the words, Ben quietly said, "I should really be helping Carson right now."

"Who's that?" Gerry asked curiously.

"He lives here. He's the little kid in the wheelchair. Roris is the redheaded guy in a wheelchair. Anyway, Carson's got a few of us helping him. He said that because we saw what was about to happen, that he wanted us to help him help the people who are trying to get to someplace safe." Ben said thoughtfully.

"Do you think that's why Eric and Mike decided to stay here?" Kurt asked curiously.

"It's possible. A message went out on the underground net telling people that Kettle Falls was a safe place. They might have got the message and decided that they could do more good here than hiding in a hole somewhere." Ben said thoughtfully.

"So people from all over the country are going to be coming here?" Myron asked cautiously.

"Yeah. And from what I've seen so far, they've done a pretty good job of preparing for it. I know we've already got a few people showing up in town, but sometime tomorrow it's probably going to start getting totally crazy around here." Ben said honestly.

"And you're in it? I mean, you're one of the leaders?" Danny asked cautiously.

"I've been called the leader of the Chicago group." Ben said with a smile.

"But you're from Orlando." Myron said hesitantly.

"Yeah. But I came here with the Chicago group." Ben said happily.

"Ben's a really good person. I think that that's all the qualification he needs." Dax said softly, speaking for the first time.

"I hope so, Dax." Ben said as he draped an arm around Dax and gave him a reassuring hug.

"Paul-o's a good person, too. But I don't think he believes me when I say it." Jarritt said to the group.

"Don't worry, honey. With all of us telling him, he'll eventually believe it." Lana said tenderly as she looked at Jarritt with Paul-o held close to his side.

Danny's first impulse was to 'rescue' Paul-o from Jarritt's attention. But one look at Paul-o's contented smile told him that the mysterious young man that they had brought with them was soaking in every bit of Jarritt's affection, and happy to do so.

* * * * *

As Carson was pointing out to Jay what he needed to watch for Seth and Hobie, Lawrence walked into the room with Roris at his side and said, "Roris wants to know if there's anything we can do to help."

"I think we've got everything covered at the moment. But, if you'd like, you can look things over and get yourselves up-to-date on what everyone's doing and the most recent information on the incoming refugees. Then, when your family arrives, you can be free to go and spend time with them." Carson said pleasantly, and finished with a smile at the pair.

"If you're really sure you don't need us." Roris' computerized voice said slowly.

"From the way things are looking, I think I can safely promise that soon I'm going to need your help. And I'm going to need it more and more, as people start flooding in. But we can spare you right now, so feel free to spend some time with your family." Carson said honestly.

"Thank you. By the way, before I start seeing what everyone is doing, it would help if I knew what my job was going to be." Roris droned in a monotone.

"Didn't I tell you already?" Carson asked with surprise, then after a moment to think about it, he confirmed, "No, I guess I didn't. I'm counting on you and Lawrence to be our quality control experts. While the rest of us are trying to get large groups of people settled as quickly and efficiently as possible, your jobs will be to watch and listen for signs that individuals are being overlooked. Some of that may involve people with special needs, which you obviously know something about. You'll also get any text messages or emails from people who need someone on the inside of the decision making process to help them out."

"We get to help people!? That's the best kind of job to have!" Lawrence said happily.

"I think you two will be great at it. If you'll come over here and look at monitor six, I'll have Dizzy give you an overview of what's happened so far. That way, you'll be caught up to this point whenever the tidal wave of people washes in and we need for you to get to work." Carson said, then pointed at the lower right monitor.

Roris nodded as he looked where Carson was pointing.

"After that, Jay can walk you around and tell you who is doing what, so you'll know who to go to when someone needs help." Carson said with a loving smile at Jay, who was currently beside Seth, talking to him quietly.

"Sit with me." Roris' computer voice said flatly.

Roris then reached over with his twisted hand and turned off the switch on the computer voice box while Lawrence climbed onto his lap.

* * * * *

"Sonofabitch!" Bug crowed suddenly, causing everyone in the room to jump.

"What? Is something wrong?" Carson asked anxiously.

"This laptop is abso-FUCKING-lutely awesome!" Bug said with boyish excitement.

Carson smiled, then said, "Alvin seemed certain that it would be a good fit for you."

"I just sent you the file. Check it out. I just wrote the location matrix with an ODBC interface that will automatically plug in all the information into your database." Bug said as he rushed to Carson's side, then looked over his shoulder at Dizzy's screens.

Carson looked at the coding job that Bug had done and was frankly impressed. "Nice. This is tight." He said absently as he tried to follow along with what the code was trying to do.

"I can't stand sloppy code. It pisses me right the fuck off." Bug said as he read through his code carefully, to be sure that he hadn't missed anything.

"Is this right? It looks funny." Carson asked as he pointed at one of the lines of code.

Bug followed his finger, then chuckled as he said, "Yeah, it works. That's just kind of a shorthand notation that not many people use. The question mark acts like an 'if', the first comma is a then, the second comma is an else. Doing it that way, I crammed about a paragraph of code into that one sentence."

"I think I've heard of that, but I don't think I ever used it before." Carson said slowly, then his finger dropped to another line of code that he was reading slowly as he absently muttered, "What..."

"Bitwise operators... so I can query just a single bit, rather than work with an entire field of data." Bug offered helpfully as he answered the unvoiced question, then absently added, "It's more efficient."

Carson shook his head in wonder and said, "I've come across bitwise operators being mentioned one time, in a footnote in a textbook, just mentioning that they exist. I've never seen anyone use them."

"Well, to be honest, I usually don't use them much either. But, this time, it was the right tool to use to get the job done." Bug said happily.

"Dizzy, can you put Bug's program into 'test mode' and verify it's output?" Carson asked as he continued to read through the code.

"You got it, Boss." Dizzy said immediately.

Bug's attention went to another screen where a table of data appeared, then a corresponding empty table for output results.

Bug watched with concern as the result totals appeared one at a time.

"Why is it running so slow? Did I get a Cartesian product in one of my queries?" Bug asked in puzzlement.

"No. I have the output set to run slowly so I can take the time to read the results." Carson said frankly, then said into the air, "Dizzy, run the test again with real time output."

"Here you go, Carson." Dizzy responded verbally, then the first table appeared on the screen again. Almost as soon as the second table appeared, it was filled with numerical values.

"That's more like it." Bug said happily.

"Smooth." Carson said with a smile and a nod.

"I'm just getting warmed up, here. You should see what I can do with COBOL." Bug said with a grin as he walked back to his laptop.

* * * * *

"Roris, I just got a text message from town. Your family should be arriving at the monorail station in a few minutes. They've been given instructions on how to get here from the station, so they should be pulling in, up front, in about ten minutes or so." Carson said over his shoulder.

Lawrence put his ear close to Roris' mouth and listened for a moment before saying, "We'd better go, now. We're going to go get his mom and dad, so they can be out front to meet Corina when she gets here."

"Just let me know if there's anything we can do to make your family feel welcome here." Carson said with a smile at Roris.

"Rory never told them that he's gay. So he's afraid that they're gonna be mad at him and maybe not let him spend time with his niece." Lawrence said frankly.

Carson noticed the pained look on Roris' face and gently said, "I think that's one of those things that Roris told you, but didn't want for you to repeat."

"Oh? Sorry, Rory." Lawrence said sheepishly as he leaned in to give Roris a kiss.

"I'll never tell anyone about it, so no harm done. You guys go on. We've got this covered." Carson said with a smile at the couple

* * * * *

"Are you sure he said that we should wait out here? We should have gone to meet them. They'll never find us." Doris Teeter fretted.

"I've seen the map of the area. There is only one road near the monorail station. It leads here, then on to a lab facility. The only wrong turn they could possibly make would take them back to town, where they started." Roris said reasonably, his computer voice sounding appropriately confident.

Just then, the sound of a gator approaching caused everyone to stop talking and look to the road.

Roris discretely patted Lawrence's leg until he looked down, then held out his hand, hopefully.

Lawrence took Roris' hand into both of his and held it like it was something precious.

As the sound of the gator got louder, Doris excitedly said, "There they are."

The gator drove up the lane and pulled right up beside them before stopping.

"I'm so glad you're here! I was so worried! I tried to call, but the phone lines were down and then I couldn't get an answer." Doris said as she hugged her daughter furiously.

As Doris was doing that, her son-in-law got out of the driver's seat, then helped a young girl out of the back.

"Ganpa!" The girl exclaimed as soon as she saw Marcus.

"How's my little Cheyenne?" Marcus asked as he squatted and held open his arms to her, welcoming her into a hug.

"Lawrence, this is my brother-in-law, Davis." Roris said, exceptionally robotically.

"You can talk now? Nice toy you got there. I like it." Davis said with a smile at Roris.

"Thanks. Davis, this is my boyfriend, Lawrence." Roris' computerized voice said as he looked at Davis anxiously.

Davis slowly looked Lawrence over from head to toe and back before saying, "Ever since I've known you, you've always been so competitive with Corina, always trying to prove that you're smarter and better than her. Now you have to go and find a guy cuter than hers, just to show her up."

Lawrence looked on in confusion as Roris broke into a smile.

"It's nice to meet you Lawrence. I'm glad Rory's finally found him someone." Davis said as he offered his hand.

Lawrence broke into a warm, friendly smile as he shook hands with Davis.

"Oh Lord! A guy that cute could make me think about switching teams." Davis said with playful delight.

"You've lost more weight." Roris said, his computer voice sounding flat.

"About ten pounds since the last time I saw you." Davis quietly admitted.

"Have the doctors come up with anything to help you? Roris asked with concern showing in his eyes, if not his voice.

"No. But I personally think that all I need is some of your mom's home cooking." Davis finished with a smile.

Before Roris could respond, Doris walked up with Corina held tightly to her side and said, "I'm sure you must need to freshen up after your long drive."

"Should we have brought a tent with us?" Davis asked as he looked at the series of tents and picnic tables in the front yard.

"Those belong to some kids who were caught in the earthquake. They're a little nervous about staying inside a building." Roris explained seriously.

"We have a nice little cottage behind the house. We have plenty of room for you." Doris said happily.

"Oh, well then, would someone mind helping me with the luggage?" Davis asked cautiously.

"Sure, I'll help." Lawrence said immediately.

"You can stack some luggage on my lap. I don't mind helping." Roris offered quickly, although the voice was as slow as ever.

"Or, you guys could walk to the cottage while Cheyenne and her grandpa drive the luggage over." Marcus said with a smile as he carried his granddaughter to the gator.

Davis looked at Roris and said, "Now I see where you get it."

* * * * *

"Hi. I'm Courtney." A teenaged girl said as she approached the group of people walking toward the house.

"Courtney, I'd like for you to meet my sister Corina and her husband, Davis." Roris said as he stopped his wheelchair.

"It's nice to meet you. Welcome to Kettle Falls." Courtney said happily as her gaze lingered on Davis for an extra moment.

"Rory told us that some of you were caught in the earthquake. I hope that no one was hurt." Davis said slowly.

"Quite a few people were hurt where we were, but none of us kids were hurt badly. It's mostly just jangled nerves." Courtney said assuringly.

"Oh, I'm glad to hear that. Let us know if there's anything we can do." Davis offered weakly.

"Actually, there is one thing you might be able to do to help us out. If you think about it, could you come back out here when you're done getting settled in and talk with me about it?" Courtney asked hopefully.

"Sure. I guess." Davis said hesitantly at the odd request, then quickly added, "I'll talk to you later."

Courtney smiled and nodded before going back into the tent she was standing in front of.

* * * * *

"Doris! This has to be the daughter you've been telling us about." Madelyn Murten said as she walked up to the group entering the house with her husband in tow .

"Madelyn and Fred Murten, I'd like for you to meet our daughter, Corina, and her husband, Davis." Doris said with delight.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, but where is that wonderful granddaughter of yours that you were telling me about?" Madelyn asked with a smile.

"Helping her grandfather drive the luggage around to the guest house. We were just taking a shortcut through the house to meet them there. Would you care to join us?" Doris asked hopefully.

Madelyn glanced to her husband and found him looking at Davis with concern.

"We'd love to." Madelyn said for both of them.

* * * * *

"My name is Fred Murten, and I'm a doctor."

"I know what you're going to ask." Davis said wearily, then continued, "I know that I look like I'm anorexic, but really I just have food allergies... to almost everything."

"Have you seen a doctor about it?" Dr. Murten asked sympathetically.

"All of them. I've had so many scratch tests that I could probably perform the tests myself." Davis said wearily.

"Have they said anything about a treatment?" Dr. Murten asked cautiously.

"Everything's been tried. I've been in every clinical trial that might even have half a chance of helping. No medication that I've tried has had any positive effect. My diet has been strictly vegan for years, but I've recently started having trouble with fruits and some vegetables. Just about anything that comes from a flower. Certain leaves bother me now, but I can still eat most stalks and roots... that's about all I've got left." Davis said soberly.

"If times were different, I'd be asking your permission to consult with your primary physician about your case, but things being as they are, I don't know what I can do but offer to help however I can." Dr. Murten said regretfully.

Davis pulled a necklace out of his shirt and held up the pendant for Dr. Murten to see. "This has my complete medical history on it. That way, if I have an allergic reaction to something and get knocked unconscious, the doctor will have some clue about what he's dealing with."

"If you wouldn't mind, I'd really like to have a look at that. I can't promise that I'll be able to help, but it wouldn't hurt for you to have a doctor close at hand who's familiar with your case history." Dr. Murten said frankly.

"Sure. Once I see that Corina and Cheyenne are settled in, I'll get with you." Davis said pleasantly.

Dr. Murten nodded as he tried to recall all that he'd ever learned about allergies during his years of medical practice.

* * * * *

"Ben, I hate to bother you, but I've kinda got a problem."

"What's up, Dax?"

"I just noticed that I'm starting to get... um, a pimple. I didn't think about it before, but I didn't bring any pimple stuff. I mean, I ran out, and didn't have a chance to get more."

"I'll see what I can do about finding out where the nearest store is, then I'll get you and we can go."

"Thanks, Ben."

"Anytime, Dax." Ben said to the boy at his side, then looked to Danny and said, "I need to check in with Carson right now and let him know what's going on."

"The kid in the wheelchair?" Gerry asked to confirm.

"Right. He's kind of running the whole 'rescue effort' deal. I'm helping him, so I need to see if he can spare me for a little bit. From what he was saying earlier, I don't think it'll be a problem." Ben said honestly.

"Would you mind if I went with you? I'd kinda like to meet the person behind all of this." Danny asked hopefully.

"Sure. Come on." Ben said with a smile, then looked at the rest of his friends and said, "We should be back in a few minutes, then I'll give you the grand tour."

* * * * *

"Look!" A voice called from the doorway.

Everyone in Carson's room looked up simultaneously at the sound.

"They're busy. We shouldn't interrupt them." Brother Jacques said shyly.

"What is it, Zane?" Bug asked curiously as he looked up from his laptop for an instant.

"Show them!" Zane said as he urged Brother Jacques to walk into the room.

"What is it? Is something wrong?" Carson asked anxiously.

"He stopped shaking." Zane said joyfully.

All eyes turned to Brother Jacques and found him standing perfectly still without a hint of a tremor.

"Dr. Murten gave Jake a pill and it made him better!" Zane said with an ebullient smile.

"That's great! I'm really happy for you, Jacques." Bug said sincerely.

"Thanks. It's like a dream." Brother Jacques whispered in an awestruck voice.

"Hey guys! I'd like for all of you to meet Danny. He's a friend of mine from back home." Ben said as he walked into the room with Danny at his side.

Carson was about to offer a greeting when a movement on one of his screens drew his attention.

"I've just got confirmation, the first major group from Seattle just arrived in Colville." Carson said seriously.

"Is everything set up for them?" Bug asked as he turned.

"I think so... I wish one of us could be there to supervise so we could see if there was anything more we could do for them." Carson said anxiously.

"We can go." Brother Jacques said quickly.

"No. You have a group of kids that you're responsible for. We'll figure something out." Carson said regretfully.

"Why don't you ask the twins to watch them for you? The kids already know and trust them and I bet that they'd love to do something to help." Bug said reasonably.

Brother Jacques smiled at Bug and said, "Thank you for being so cool about us, Bug. Considering our history, I'd really understand it if you were worried about me being around them. And I think it means the world to them to know that you trust them."

"I figure that if something was gonna happen with you guys, it would've already happened by now. So I'm not worried." Bug said frankly.

"Let's go find the twins, so we can get going." Brother Jacques said enthusiastically.

"Come over here and I'll show you where you need to go." Carson said quickly.

Ben watched for a moment, then suddenly said, "If you're going into town, could you pick up some acne medicine for Dax? He's getting a pimple and said that he ran out."

"I don't know how much that stuff really helps, but I'll be glad to pick it up for him." Brother Jacques said with a smile.

"If you're going to the store anyway, could you pick up some condoms for Lawrence? He said that he's nearly out." Bug asked hopefully.

"I guess." Brother Jacques said, less enthusiastically.

"I can go get them if you feel funny about it. I just thought that since you were already..."

"It's fine. Don't worry about it." Brother Jacques assured him.

"Let me give you some money." Ben hurried to say.

"Save your money, Ben." Carson said as he undocked his wheelchair. "Brother Jacques, let me give you a credit card so that you can put it on the household account."

"Carson, I was wanting to ask if you could spare me for a little bit so I can introduce Danny and the guys around before I dig in and get back to work." Ben asked hopefully.

"Yeah. We've got this. I'll page for you if things start picking up." Carson said as he handed a credit card to Brother Jacques.

"Is anyone going to have a problem with me using this?" Brother Jacques asked curiously.

"It's on the household account, so I doubt that anyone will think twice about it, but if they have a problem, they can call me and I'll approve it." Carson said casually.

"Thanks." Brother Jacques said uncertainly.

"Come on, Danny. Let's get the guys and I'll give you the grand tour." Ben said to his friend.

Danny looked around the room one last time before following Ben out of the room.

* * * * *

"This will be your room, and Cheyenne's room will be next to ours." Doris said happily to her daughter, then smiled at Madelyn who was holding Cheyenne in an adoring hug.

"Where's your room, Rory?" Corina asked curiously.

"Lawrence and I have a room in the big house." Roris said in his robotic voice.

"It's really nice and pretty." Lawrence added enthusiastically.

"Oh, really? So, how is it being away from Mom and Dad for the first time?" Corina asked her brother with a knowing smile.

Roris looked at his parents, then said, "It's perfect. I can be alone with Lawrence, but I know that Mom and Dad are right here if I need them."

Dr. Murten had been silently watching, but finally said, "Roris, if you wouldn't mind, I'd like to examine you when you have some free time. That way, if anything happens, I'll know what's normal for you."

"Oma Shoupe said that I should get you to examine me, too." Lawrence interjected cheerfully.

"Yes. Geraldine mentioned that you were severely beaten several years ago, and that you've been taking medication to prevent seizures since that time. She's concerned that you are being overmedicated, as she has been." Dr. Murten said carefully.

Lawrence shrugged, then said, "I just take my meds when Bug tells me to. That's all I know about it."

"Let us know when it's convenient for you and we'll both come in for exams." Roris said robotically with a loving glance at Lawrence.

"Make that all three of us." Davis said with a tender smile at the couple, then added, "Dr. Murten wants to examine me, too."

"I have something scheduled for the morning, but I'll try to set something up for tomorrow afternoon." Dr. Murten said to the three young men before him.

"Davis, you look like you could do with a good meal. Why don't you get settled in while I fix you something?" Doris asked gently.

"That's okay, Mama Doris. I've been snacking since we left Portland. I'll be fine." Davis said shyly.

"Nonsense. You need a good solid meal and that's all there is to it." Doris said firmly.

"Thanks, Mama Doris, that sounds great. I've really missed your cooking."

* * * * *

"How is everything going in here?" Alvin asked as he walked into the room with Oleksandr at his side.

"I can see everyone heading this way, and we're doing our best to prepare. But I still feel like there's more that we should be doing." Carson said frankly.

"We're all making it up as we go along. I think we're all in uncharted territory with the events of the past few days." Alvin said frankly.

"There was one other thing we were thinking of, but it might not be possible..." Carson trailed off uncertainly.

"What were you thinking?" Alvin asked curiously.

"Well, we were thinking that, once people start arriving, it might be good if we had a place for them to move on to from here. Otherwise, we're going to fill up and run out of resources before we've even begun to start helping people." Carson said seriously.

"Yes, that's occurred to some of us, too." Alvin said thoughtfully.

"Bug suggested that you might be able to talk to the Canadian government about allowing our refugees to cross into Canada and on to places where they might be more likely to be safe."

"It could take some time to arrange that, but it sounds doable. We'll get right on it." Alvin said confidently, then slowly added, "Considering all the housing and facilities that you have here, you might also think about recruiting people who can help you in your efforts to aid the refugees."

"You mean, like, doctors and mechanics and people like that?" Carson asked curiously.

"Yeah. You could even make a list of people you need, then recruit them as they check in." Alvin said slowly.

"I'll get Bug on that. I think he should be able to work it into his distribution program." Carson said decisively.

"What about me?" Bug asked as he looked up from his laptop.

"We were just thinking that we could check for people like doctors and mechanics in the incoming refugees and ask them to stay and help incoming people. Do you think you could work that into your program?" Carson asked hopefully.

Bug thought for a moment, then started typing furiously.

"I'll take that as a 'yes'." Carson said with a grin.

"Would you mind if I go check in with Gordon and Lucas? I don't want them getting the idea that I'm off sulking somewhere." Jay asked hesitantly.

"That's fine. In fact, if you wouldn't mind, would you ask one of them to come and talk with me when they have time? I think it would be great if they would help out making our guests comfortable. I bet they'd have all kinds of good ideas about how to make people feel more relaxed and secure." Carson said thoughtfully.

"What about Jeremy and Hank? They're both really friendly and might be able to help." Ben asked suddenly.

After a moment of thought, Carson shook his head and said, "If you could have seen the look in Hank's eyes when he heard about Kansas City, you'd know that he's going to need some time to deal with things."

"I didn't think of that." Ben muttered quietly.

"When they're ready, we'll ask them for help. Just, right now, I think it''s too soon." Carson said regretfully.

"I'll be right back." Jay said quietly, then left the room.

"It looks like you two are getting close." Ben said to Carson gently.

"Yeah. And to tell you the truth, it scares the hell out of me." Carson said frankly.

"Love'll do that." Bug said simply, never looking up from his laptop.

Carson smiled at the response and said, "Yeah. I guess so."

* * * * *

When Jay crested the stairs, he saw that Lucas and Gordon were sitting together on a couch in the living area, watching television.

"What's going on?" Jay asked as he approached.

"Nothing new. In fact, the news people are still trying to put things together. We know a lot more about what's going on than they do." Lucas said frankly.

"How are you doing, Jay?" Gordon asked with concern.

"I'm fine. I just thought I'd check in with you and let you know that I'm doing alright." Jay said honestly.

"Thanks for that. I'm sorry that we haven't spent time with you. I know that you must be feeling adrift in this new place around nothing but strangers. But you seemed to be content in Carson's company." Gordon said gently.

"Yeah. Helping Carson has kept my mind off of everything else. I'm really doing fine." Jay said frankly.

"I noticed how you were holding him in the living room. You two seem to be getting close." Gordon said cautiously.

"It's weird. He's so smart and so strong, but at the same time, he seems so fragile. All I really do is hold him and tell him that it'll be okay. But I feel like if I didn't do that, he'd fall apart." Jay said quietly.

"I can't even imagine what he's going through, seeing the first reports of all this tragedy, then working to make a safe place for people to go." Lucas said thoughtfully.

"He's got lots of help, not only here, but in the community. But I think the thing that's scaring him is that everyone is listening to him and expecting him to tell them what to do." Jay said with a pained look at Lucas.

"Then it's good that he has someone to turn to when it seems to be too much." Gordon said with a smile at Jay.

Jay gratefully returned the smile, then thought to say, "Carson asked me to ask if one of you would talk to him. He thinks that you might have some good ideas about how to keep people from being too freaked out when they arrive."

"You go. I want to be available in case the kids need anything." Gordon said quietly.

As Lucas nodded, Jay asked, "Where is everyone?"

"The girls are downstairs playing with Loquicia. Last we heard, Max was going with the other two musketeers to talk with Ro's dads. I'm sure that by now they're off somewhere having another adventure." Lucas said with a smile.

"And Lazlo is in his room... resting, I suppose." Gordon said as he glanced toward Lazlo's closed bedroom door.

"Do you think it'd be okay if I interrupted him?" Jay asked cautiously.

Lucas chuckled, then said, "Lazlo is so happy to finally have a brother that I doubt that there's anything that you could possibly do that would upset him."

Jay was surprised by the response, but took a moment to consider before doing anything. Finally he said, "I've been a foster brother lots of times. But I don't remember anyone ever being happy about it before."

As Lucas and Gordon watched, Jay walked over and quietly knocked on the closed bedroom door.

* * * * *

"Can I come in?" Jay asked quietly after knocking.

It took a moment, but Lazlo finally opened the door to reveal the fresh tears in his eyes.

Jay stepped forward and pulled Lazlo into a hug as he whispered, "It's going to be alright."

"I know." Lazlo quietly responded, then explained, "I was just thinking about the people back home. Everyone I ever knew. They're all dead... all of them."

"I'm sorry, Lazlo. I wish there was something I could do to make it better." Jay said as his eyes filled with tears.

"Yeah. But there's nothing we can do but wait for what happens next." Lazlo said regretfully.

"Actually, there is something more that we can do." Jay said gently.

"What?" Lazlo asked hopefully as he pulled away enough to look Jay in the eyes.

"I've been helping Carson make plans to help the people who need a safe place to stay. There's nothing we can do to help the people who were killed, but we can do our best to help the survivors." Jay said seriously.

"Like what? Are you making food boxes or something?" Lazlo asked cautiously.

"Something like that. Do you want to help me?" Jay asked with an encouraging smile.

"Could I really?" Lazlo asked hopefully.

"Sure. People are just starting to arrive. As more and more show up, we're going to need all kinds of help to make sure that everyone is being taken care of." Jay said frankly.

"That sounds great! If you'll tell me what I need to do, I'll do it!" Lazlo said with a grand smile.

Jay was about to accept what Lazlo had said, but stopped as he really thought about the words.

"There are lots of people who can follow orders. What we really need are people who can give orders. If you really want to help, I think that that's the best help you could give."

"I don't know if I can." Lazlo said uncertainly.

"I'll help you get started." Jay assured him as he put an arm around his foster brother.

* * * * *

"Here you go, Davis. Make sure you save room for dessert. I'll have a nice sweet potato pudding ready before you're finished with that." Doris said delightedly as she placed a plate of food before Davis.

"Mom, you don't have to do that! You're going to spoil him!" Corina chuckled to her mother.

"You get to spoil Davis all the time. I haven't had a chance to spoil him since you moved to Oregon. Let me have my fun." Doris said warmly.

"Okay. But only if you'll show me how you do it. I've been following your recipes exactly, and even though Davis would never say it, I know that my cooking doesn't compare to yours." Corina said honestly.

"I'd always hoped that someday you'd want to join me in the kitchen. But I'll let you in on a little secret. The recipe is only to set the stage. It's after that when the cooking really begins."

* * * * *

A knock on the door caused everyone to look up in surprise.

"Who in the world could that be?" Marcus asked as he got up from the table, where Davis was still eating.

Roris looked at the door with concern, not able to imagine any possible way that it could be good news.

"Good evening, can I help you with something?" Marcus asked cautiously.

"Good evening. I know that we haven't been introduced, but my name is Courtney. Please excuse me for visiting this late, but I spoke to Davis earlier tonight, and had planned to talk with him sometime later. Unfortunately, it's turned out that I'm going to need his help sooner than expected. Is there any way I could talk to him for a few minutes?"

"Yes. Please, come in. Davis is in the kitchen, right over there." Marcus said as he ushered the teenage girl into the house.

As soon as Courtney saw Davis, she quickly said, "I'm so sorry for interrupting you while you're eating. But if you're the same Davis Gray who used to work for the Boise-Pearl company, I have an important favor to ask you."

Davis was stunned by the statement, but hurried to respond, "I don't know how you know who I am, but I did used to work for Boise-Pearl."

"I don't know if you're aware of it, but the Brown family, particularly Carson, are working very hard to help a large number of people find safety."

"Although I'm sure we don't know everything, my family and I are only here thanks to Carson and his family." Marcus said seriously.

Courtney nodded, then continued, "In an effort to help Carson, some of us volunteered to help him when he needs it, so he can have a meal or get some rest without having to worry about missing something important. When we receive word that someone is coming here, to the house, we find out some basic information about them, to see if they might have some valuable skills."

"But I'm nobody. I mean, I used to be a warehouse manager but now I can't even do that." Davis said cautiously.

Courtney looked him directly in the eyes and said, "There are truckloads of food on their way here as we speak. And, in a very short time, there are going to be thousands, maybe even tens of thousands, of hungry people arriving in the area. Mr. Brown has a great big, brand new, completely empty warehouse, but no one staffing it yet, since his company hasn't started production. We spotted the problem just before you arrived, and that's when I told you that I'd want to talk to you later. Since then, we've done some more checking and begun to realize what an enormous mess this could turn into if we don't have an organizing force in that warehouse from the beginning."

"But my last job let me go because of my health. I mean, look at me." Davis said regretfully.

"If you want to take this job, Corina and I will make sure that you will have the meals that you'll need to keep you strong and healthy." Doris said with conviction.

"If you'll have me, I'd like to consider myself your personal physician. And, to that end, I'd be keeping a close watch on your health, so we can be aware of any potential problems before they manifest." Dr. Murten said seriously.

"You'll be helping us to help tens of thousands of people." Roris interjected.

Davis' eyes began to fill with tears as he looked to Courtney and asked, "Are you serious? You really need me?"

Courtney nodded.

Davis worked to gain emotional control of himself as he quietly asked, "What do I need to do?"

"Come with me right now and we'll have a little talk with Ryan Brown and his son, Tommy."

* * * * *

Ryan and Tommy were both surprised when Courtney pointed out the flaw in their plans. Fortunately, they were equally grateful when she, just as quickly, offered them a solution to the problem.

Davis was hired on the spot and given directions where to report and who would be meeting him the next morning for his first day of work.

Lazlo went to Carson's room with Jay, and quietly watched what everyone was doing. The few times that he spoke, he asked relevant questions to verify his understanding. Carson was mostly oblivious to all of this, but Jay couldn't have been more proud of his newly adopted foster brother.

Brother Jacques and Zane returned and told about everything they saw from the 'street level' about how the new guests had been received. After some discussion amongst all of them, a few modifications were decided upon to make the process more inviting to the newcomers.

As the night progressed, different guests began drifting back to their rooms to turn in for the night.

Although Carson was reluctant to do so, he took an extra pain pill because he knew that he had stayed sitting up too long and wouldn't be able to sleep due to the resulting pain.

He was somewhat anxious about all the people who were due to converge on them the following day, but felt some sense of relief that Courtney and her group were keeping an eye on things while he slept.

After Seth and Hobie had gone home, Jay and Lazlo stayed behind. Once Carson had finished getting ready for bed, Jay curled up next to him, on top of the covers, and waited until Carson was fully asleep.

Lazlo tried to look like he wasn't paying attention to them by watching the laptop which was giving updates about the different approaching groups of people. As soon as Jay was sure that Carson was sleeping soundly, he walked to Lazlo's side and silently indicated for them to leave.

Once they were well away from Carson's room, Lazlo timidly asked Jay if they could have a sleepover in his room.

After a moment of hesitation, Jay finally agreed. The smile he received from Lazlo warmed his heart in a way that he hadn't known was possible.

When they arrived on the second floor, they were surprised to find Max, Bax and Ro asleep in the living area of the common room. They quickly went to Lazlo's room and quietly closed the door, so as not to disturb the sleeping children.

* * * * *

A knocking on the door woke Bug and the twins from a much needed and well deserved sleep.

"Who the fuck could that be? It's after motherfucking midnight!" Bug snarled.

"I'll get it." Ken said gently and hurried to answer the door, dressed in only his underwear.

Bug had almost fallen back asleep when the sound of Roris' electric wheelchair entering the room caught his attention and caused him to sit up suddenly.

"Is something wrong with Lawrence?" Bug asked in panic.

"Yes. But I don't know what it is. He won't talk to me." Roris said, looking far more concerned than his computerized voice sounded.

"What's he doing?" Bug asked as he got out of the bed and hurried to the dresser.

"I think he's depressed... but I really don't know about what. I've tried talking to him and holding him, but he shrugs me off. He wouldn't even help me out of my wheelchair to get ready for bed." Roris said robotically, but his eyes were welled with tears.

Bug stopped in mid motion as he was pulling on a t shirt. Then started taking it back off.

Roris had a glimmer of hope as he could see that Bug seemed to know what was going on.

"I'm sorry, Roris. I should have warned you that this might happen. Sometimes Lawrence gets like this. It's nothing you did. He's not mad at you or anything like that. Every now and then he gets one of these dark moods and there's nothing you can do but wait till it passes." Bug said as he walked to where a collection of empty backpacks were located and picked up a battered cardboard box.

Roris smiled with relief that Lawrence wasn't having a serious problem.

Bug opened the box and took out a very old and obviously well-loved teddy bear.

"This is Mr. Thornton. Give him to Lawrence and give him a few minutes." Bug said as he placed the teddy bear in Roris' lap.

"Thank you, Bug. I was really worried. I hatrack seeing him so depressed." Roris said earnestly, then looked up in surprise.

"Hatrack?" Ken asked with a barely suppressed grin.

"I think my computer voice needs to get some sleep, too." Roris said with a reluctant smile.

"Come back and get me if you need any more help with Lawrence." Bug said sincerely.

"I will. Thank you, Bug. Good night." Roris said before leaving the room.

Ken, Kev and Bug looked at each other. Now all feeling completely awake and unsure of what to do next.

"Wanna fuck?" Bug asked as he looked from one twin to the other.

Ken and Kev shared a look, then broke into identical smiles.

* * * * *

Vivid images assaulted his mind as invisible hands restrained him.

He struggled and fought as much as he could, but knew within himself that his attackers would eventually overpower him, just like they always did.

Even so, he continued to fight. The only thread of dignity that he had left to hold on to was that he didn't give in.

As his struggle intensified and the sense of violation rose within him, a soft low voice whispered into his ear.

"Don't worry. I'll protect you."

Apollo felt his bed shift as someone climbed in behind him. Then, large arms closed around him, completely surrounding him.

Where the same sensation might have caused him to erupt with panic the day before, the sound of Jarritt's voice and the feeling of his protective embrace gave Apollo such a sense of safety and security that he was able to drift into a relaxing and dreamless sleep.

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

Well, this is certainly a busy chapter.

As so often happens when I read a chapter from MultiMapper, my eyes started leaking.

It seems things are really starting to come into motion, in Kettle Falls.

The thing I notice most is that for whatever reason, it seems there is a place and purpose for just about everyone. It makes a skeptic like me begin to wonder if there really is someone of a higher power looking down and making whatever adjustments he can, to improve things as much as possible. I don't care if you call him God, or call it Karma, or whatever, it seems that things happen for a reason.

A good example is the relationship between Apollo and Jarritt.

Apollo had been badly treated, and has just about given up hope of having anything good happen to him. And Jarritt, has never felt he could contribute very much to anyone else. Danny has always looked out for him, and been there for him whenever he needed someone, but now, Jarritt has someone he can help and protect, the way Danny has done for him. He is beginning to feel needed, and it is a very good feeling indeed. It is a perfect match. They each have just the right person in their lives.

Laslo had never had anything really bad happen to him, at least not that he can remember. He was never abused, yet he never really felt as though he mattered much, either. He had grown up in the foster care system, going mostly unnoticed, until Lucas and Gordon took him in.

Now with all the trauma going on all around him, his emotions are really becoming overstressed. All the people he had ever known seemed to have died, for no reason he could come up with.

Then just as he was feeling things had gotten as bad as they possibly could, his new foster brother came in and actually seemed to care about him. Someone actually cared about HIM.

Jay and Carson are becoming very close, and it is not as if Jay feels pity for Carson. In fact, Jay admires Carson, and sees Carson as a very capable person, but he can tell that this situation is really overwhelming Carson. It seems that Jay is just the right person to help Carson cope with everything, and they make quite a team.

I don't know what's going to happen next, but I suspect we will find out eventually.

I'm ready for the next installment.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher