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"Good morning, guys. How are you doing?" Ryan asked when he noticed Ty and Mikey walking into the room.
"Everything went so well last night, I can't wait to get started again." Mikey said happily.
Ryan noticed the beaming smile on Ty's face and quietly asked, "How are you doing this morning, Ty?"
"I'm good." Ty shyly said as he fought to restrain his smile.
"He's all excited about being adopted." Mikey supplied with a grin at his newest brother.
Ty gave a sudden, offended look at Mikey, but it only lasted a moment before the smile took over his face again.
"Are we too late?" Tommy asked as he hurried into the room with Jared trailing a few steps behind.
"You're just in time. How are you doing this morning, Jared?" Ryan asked pleasantly.
"Great! Tommy's been telling me about all the stuff everyone's been doing." Jared said quickly, then turned to face Ty and said, "You're the one that got adopted, right?"
"Yeah." Ty said timidly.
"That's awesome. Tommy told me about how you and Mikey have been doing some amazing stuff." Jared said frankly.
"All we did was make sure that things were going the way they were supposed to go. It was really all the volunteers that did all the work." Mikey said honestly.
Jared then turned to Carson and said, "And everyone's talking about how you're running this whole show. But I can't believe you asked Seth to help you instead of me. Aren't we best buds anymore?"
Carson recognized his best friend's teasing tone and said, "There's no heavy lifting jobs in the command center. If you were working with me, all your pretty muscles would go to waste."
Jared made a show of considering that for a moment, then said, "Yeah. I guess it would be a shame for me to be shut inside. And being out there helping Dad is kinda cool."
"Both of you boys are doing a great job." Karl said proudly.
Carson turned and saw that Karl and Seth had also joined them.
"Please, Karl, you and the boys have a seat. Breakfast should be on it's way any minute." Ryan said happily.
"If you're sure we're not going to be intruding." Karl said cautiously.
"You're family!" Ryan chuckled.
As Deb walked into the dining room, she smiled and said, "Okay, now that you're here, all we're waiting on is Dad."
"Thanks, Deb." Karl said with a tender smile at her before gesturing for his sons to take seats at the table.
"We adopted Ty to be our brother last night." Mikey happily announced.
"You did?" Karl asked in surprise, looking to Ryan for confirmation.
Before Ryan could answer, his father-in-law walked into the room and took a seat at the table.
Madelyn walked into the room a moment later, carrying plates of food, placing one before her husband and the other at the place next to his, which was Ty's.
"Thank you, Mrs. Murten." Ty said respectfully.
"You're my grandson, now. So I expect you to call me Nanny, just like all my other grandchildren do." Madelyn said warmly, then leaned in to give Ty a quick cuddle and a kiss before rushing back to the kitchen.
Before anyone could say anything, Deb hurried into the room with plates of food, and before she was done placing them on the table, Madelyn was back, carrying more.
"Is Mr. Crante off today?" Tommy asked his mother curiously.
"With all the guests, he has quite a bit more work than usual. I told him that we'd take care of breakfast this morning so he would be free to attend to the Vice President's party." Deb said before disappearing through the doorway.
"What kind of day do you think you'll be having, Fred?" Ryan asked curiously before taking a sip of coffee.
"I checked in with the hospital before I came to breakfast. Although there has been a significant influx of patients with the arrival of all those people last night, they've assured me that they're not overwhelmed. So, after making my rounds, it is my intention to seek out a number of people that I've promised to examine in the past few days. I'm sure that some of them think that I've forgotten them." Dr. Murten said seriously.
"From what I've heard, everyone thinks that you're some kind of miracle worker after what you did for Brother Jacques." Carson said frankly.
"Perhaps. But I simply tried a likely treatment and received good results." Dr. Murten said regretfully.
"Oh. I didn't know that. Do you think he's going to get better?" Carson asked quietly.
"I have reason to be optimistic." Dr. Murten said seriously.
"Good. I like Brother Jacques. I'm glad you're able to help him." Carson said with a smile, then looked up when his mother placed a plate of food before him.
"I think that's everyone. Dig in." Deb said as she took her seat.
Conversation lagged as everyone started enjoying their meal.
* * * * *
"There's so many other things that you need to be doing. You shouldn't be spending all your time with me." Zane said regretfully, then took a sip of his fruit juice.
"I'm being selfish right now, doing what I want to instead of what I'm supposed to. There's nothing I want more than to be right here while you're recovering." Brother Jacques said seriously between bites of scrambled eggs.
"I just feel like the kids are being neglected because of me." Zane said quietly as he carefully sat his juice cup back on the tray table.
"The kids are fine. The twins and Dax have been doing a great job taking care of them. And besides, your dad's here now. So if they need something, they'll probably call him first." Brother Jacques said confidently, then took a quick bite of toast.
"My dad's here, in Kettle Falls?" Zane asked cautiously.
"Yes. He stopped by here to visit you first thing when he got here. But I guess you were pretty out of it at that point." Brother Jacques said honestly.
"I thought I dreamed it." Zane said weakly, then carefully took a bite of his gelatin.
"If it will make you feel better, I can call the house and make sure the kids are alright." Brother Jacques offered with a smile.
Once Zane had swallowed his gelatin, he quietly said, "Yeah. That'd make me feel better."
Brother Jacques moved his tray table aside and walked to the phone.
He dialed the, now familiar, number and waited for it to be answered.
"Carson's command center. Lee speaking." A teenage boy's voice answered professionally.
Brother Jacques puzzled over that, trying to remember if he'd met anyone named Lee. Finally he cautiously asked, "May I speak to Carson, please?"
"Carson's having breakfast right now, is it something important? Or can you call him back in a few minutes?"
"No. It's not important. I can call back." Brother Jacques hurried to assure him, then quietly asked, "Who are you?"
"My name is Lee. I'm one of the guys camping out on the front lawn. We're kind of the night shift. We take care of things for Carson, so he can sleep and eat without worrying that someone who needs him is going without help."
"Oh. That sounds like a really good idea. I can call back later. I just wanted to be sure that the kids are doing alright." Brother Jacques hurried to explain.
"Everyone here is fine. People are just waking up and having breakfast." Lee assured him.
"Thanks." Brother Jacques said gratefully.
"No problem." Lee responded, then disconnected.
* * * * *
Emo walked into the kitchen to find everyone just starting on their breakfast.
"How are you doing this morning?" Father Doherty asked pleasantly.
"Colton slept all night. He's a really good baby." Emo said as he looked down at the baby in his arms.
"Considering that you fed him when we got in this morning, I imagine that he should be just about due for a feeding." Father Doherty said consideringly.
"Yeah. Would you mind holding him while I make his formula?" Emo asked hopefully.
"Of course. Let me sit down and I'll be happy to hold him for as long as you want." Father Doherty said as he walked to the table.
"Thanks." Emo said as he transferred Colton into Father Doherty's waiting arms.
Colton seemed to be aware that someone else was holding him, and got an indecisive look, like he wasn't sure if he liked it or not.
As Emo walked back toward the kitchen, he quietly said, "I'm going to need to get some more formula and diapers for Colton today."
"Yes. We've been very lucky on that account, so far." Father Doherty agreed.
"Colt's also going to need a lot of other stuff." Emo said anxiously as he carefully measured the formula powder.
"I suppose that he will." Father Doherty said thoughtfully.
"I mean, he needs a crib and a car seat and... I can think of about a hundred things and I know that there's a lot more that I haven't thought about." Emo said as he shook the bottle to mix the formula.
Father Doherty could tell that Emo was on the verge of being overwhelmed and gently said, "I can't honestly say that I know either. But I happen to know where there are some experienced mothers who've already proven that they care very much for Colton. I'm sure that if I ask Mrs. Brown or Mrs. Murten, that they'll be able to direct me to someone who will be willing to help."
Emo considered that for a moment, then carried the prepared bottle to the dining room table.
"Do you want me to feed him?" Emo asked as he stopped at Father Doherty's side.
"No. Why don't you sit down and eat. I think that I would enjoy feeding Colton." Father Doherty said warmly.
Once Emo had taken his seat at the table, Father Doherty looked around and asked, "Does anyone have anything that they need to accomplish today?"
Looks flashed around the table, then Artimus said, "I think that if you can find out about our families, like you were talking about, that all of us would like to do the volunteer work. The more I think about it, the better it sounds to me."
"As soon as we're done with breakfast, I think Emo and I will go to the Brown's house. Once I've talked with them, we should be able to begin." Father Doherty said frankly.
"While you're doing that, I think that I'll take Ahmid and Harry to the hospital to be checked out. Hopefully, we'll be done with that and back by the time you know what we're doing." Artimus said seriously.
"I don't need to go to the hospital." Harry said quickly.
"You need to let them check out your back and see if there's anything they can give you for your pain. They may not be able to do anything to help you. But it won't hurt anything to try." Artimus said reasonably.
Harry seemed to be about to argue, but finally gave in and nodded his acceptance.
"Emo, would you get me a towel? I think Colton has just about finished." Father Doherty asked as he watched Colton finish the last of his formula.
"Right. I should have thought of that." Emo said as he got up from the table and dashed away.
"Your Daddy Emo is going to take really good care of you." Father Doherty said gently as he placed the empty bottle on the table.
"I'll burp him. You need to eat your breakfast." Emo said as he stopped at Father Doherty's side with a towel draped over his shoulder.
"Thank you, Emo." Father Doherty said as he carefully handed the baby over.
* * * * *
"What's the occasion? Why are you all dressed up?" Bug asked as he watched Oma Shoupe walk from her room.
"I just felt like dressing up this morning." Oma Shoupe said as she walked to her place at the table and sat down without any sign of weakness.
"You look really pretty." Lawrence said honestly.
"Thank you." Oma Shoupe said timidly, then added, "Your brother did an amazing job of packing an emergency bag for me. I had everything I needed."
"I'm just glad that everything fits. I packed almost a year ago, so we'd have stuff if there was a hurricane or something." Bug said honestly.
Oma Shoupe looked around the table and said, "This breakfast looks wonderful. You've put on quite a production here."
"The twins and I decided to combine our skills and see what we come up with." Bug said with a grin.
"Pass me some of that fruit salad, it looks lovely." Oma Shoupe said with a smile.
As Lawrence passed it to her, Bug said, "I don't know if you remember Jeremy and Hank. They were part of the flight crew that brought us here."
Oma Shoupe looked at the two men and smiled before saying, "Yes. Of course I remember them. I'm glad we're getting the chance to share a meal with you after the wonderful hospitality you've shown us."
"Thank you, Ma'am." Jeremy said warmly.
"Are we too late?" Ro asked as he rushed into the room, followed by Max and Bax.
"Almost. You're cutting it awfully close." Bug said as he watched them rush to take their places at the table.
"Ro's dads never shut up. They just talked and talked and we couldn't get out of there any faster." Bax explained seriously.
"You weren't rude to them when you left, were you?" Bug asked cautiously.
After a moment to consider, Bax finally said, "I don't think so."
"Everything's ready. Dig in." Bug said with a chuckle.
At that, a flurry of motion overtook the table.
"Just so you guys know, when you're done with breakfast and ready to start working, just get on your radios and let Dizzy know, and he'll give you your first assignments." Bug said casually.
"Okay. I wasn't really sure that all of that really happened last night. It was so awesome that I thought it might have been a dream." Bax said enthusiastically.
Bug noticed that Hank and Jeremy were looking at him with question, so he quietly said, "The guys are helping out the volunteers by going and getting things for them when they need it."
"Yeah. We're called the 'Gophers'." Max said proudly.
Jeremy smiled at the announcement and said, "I can imagine that you're helping a lot of people by doing that."
Bax and Max both nodded earnestly at the statement, as Ro had all his attention focused on his eating.
"Just remember, guys, that things might get crazy today. Don't be afraid to get on your radios and ask for help if you need it. And if you find anyone that might make a good Gopher, go ahead and recruit them. Before long you're going to need all the help you can get." Bug said seriously.
"Yeah. We remember." Bax said, equally as serious.
Bug saw his own expression looking back at him in Bax's eyes and, for the first time, felt what he imagined what it must be like to be a proud father.
* * * * *
"So, I heard that you guys managed a group of people halfway across the country." Eric said as he took his seat at a massive dining room table.
Euan looked to Art to see if he wanted to respond. When he didn't, Euan quietly said, "Father Doherty, a priest from a mission in Chicago, was the one who actually managed everything. Art and I just used the CB radio to make sure that everyone was staying together and we tried to keep people calm after they saw the missiles overhead."
"You actually saw missiles fly over you?" Scotty asked in wonder.
Euan looked around and saw that all the boys, and most of the young adults were awaiting his answer with rapt attention.
"Yes. We were on the bus. The previous night we had stopped early to give our drivers a chance to rest up and get everything they needed together before a long drive. I think that one of the priests on our bus was making breakfast..." Euan trailed off as he looked to Art for confirmation.
"So, all of a sudden, there was a call on the CB radio screaming about how there were missiles headed our way and that we needed to get moving. I think we were all frozen for a few minutes, or maybe it only felt like that long. But what snapped us out of it was the same announcement being made over the public address speakers at the truck stop we were at." Euan said distantly.
"And Father Doherty wasn't on the bus. He was in the truck stop." Art added quietly.
"That's right. Then, right after the announcement, Father Doherty had these two boys with him, running toward the bus. As soon as they were on, we took off as fast as we could go. It was a few minutes later, when we were out on the open road, that we saw the missiles streak by overhead." Euan said seriously.
"Everyone must have been terrified." Eric said thoughtfully.
"Everyone was. But we talked to people on the radio, telling people that the missiles were pointed to someplace behind us, where we'd already been. And we reminded people that we need to focus on taking care of each other and making sure that no one got left behind." Euan said frankly.
Eric nodded slowly, then said, "I believe that you did a lot more than you realize. You not only helped all those people find safety, but you also inspired them to be their best. I can imagine that in such an atmosphere of fear and confusion, that the worst traits of people might come forward. But you encouraged them to be strong and to behave admirably."
Euan considered Eric's words for a moment, then noticed a man standing about three feet away.
"Good morning. I am Mr. Crante. Pardon me if I interrupted your conversation, but breakfast will be served in just a moment. Coffee and juice are available on the sideboard if you would care to make your selections."
"Oh, thank you, Mr. Crante." Eric said in surprise.
The man bowed slightly, then withdrew.
"He's, like, a butler, isn't he?" Kevin asked as he watched the man walk away.
"I believe so." Eric said uncertainly as he got up from his chair and walked toward the sideboard, which was stocked with coffee, hot water and a variety of hot tea selections, and various juices.
Within a minute of everyone making their selections and returning to their seats, Mr. Crante and two maids walked into the formal dining room with carts, laden with prepared plates of food.
"We need to get a setup like this when we get home." Randy told his dad frankly as he watched them starting to serve.
"Don't I take good care of you?" Eric asked playfully.
"Yeah. But this is way cool!" Randy said honestly.
Eric smiled at his son and said, "I suppose it is."
"Thank you." Randy said with a broad smile as his food was placed before him.
"Could you possibly bring me two plates to take up to my son and my husband? I'd like to serve them first, before having my own breakfast." Eric asked Mr. Crante hopefully as he approached.
"Of course, sir. I'll have that for you in just a moment, and I'll serve your plate when you return." Mr. Crante said efficiently as he bypassed Eric and placed the next plate of food before Scotty, who was sitting beside him.
"Boys, remember your manners." Eric cautioned as his little eating machines dug into their plates.
"But no one's watching." Brian said in his defense.
"No. But we're being served in a formal setting, so it's appropriate to behave in a civilized manner." Eric said calmly.
"Okay. Let's not do this when we get home." Randy said decisively.
Eric smiled at the response, and was pleased when the boys slowed down and began to behave more formally.
Mr. Crante walked into the dining room, carrying a serving tray with two plates covered with silver cloches. Beside them were silverware sets, contained in folded linen napkins.
"You may wish to make drink selections before you go." Mr. Crante quietly suggested as he waited for Eric to take the tray from him.
"Thank you. I really appreciate your efforts." Eric said sincerely, then carried the tray to the sideboard so he could get Mike and Sammy something to drink with their meals.
* * * * *
"Are we too late?" Max asked as he walked into the room with General Adams following close behind.
"No. We just started. Grab yourselves some drinks from that side-thingy over there and I'm pretty sure that butler guy will be in with your food in just a minute. He's really on top of things." Gerry said casually.
"Thanks." Max said shyly as he followed his father to the sideboard.
Art looked at Euan anxiously, but fought to keep his expression neutral when General Adams approached, carrying a cup of coffee.
Max took the seat beside Apollo, the other side from Jarritt, and caught Apollo's attention.
He couldn't put his finger on exactly what it was that caused him to notice, but somewhere, deep inside, he felt that he knew what the boy was feeling.
"Don't I know you?" General Adams asked as he looked at Art curiously.
"I don't believe so." Art responded quietly, and avoided meeting the man's eyes.
General Adams considered for a moment as he looked carefully at Art, then seemed to dismiss it.
"Good morning, gentlemen. I am Mr. Crante. I see that you've already made your drink selections, so I will return with your meals in just a moment. If you have need of anything further, please let me know." Mr. Crante said simply, then withdrew from the room.
"He called me a gentleman." Max giggled quietly to General Adams at his other side.
"Then, I suppose, you should do your best to live up to that title." General Adams said affectionately.
"How are you doing, Max?" Apollo asked carefully.
Max was startled by being asked, but quickly responded, "I'm fine."
Apollo very nearly left it at that, but felt compelled to carry on.
"If you'll look at everyone else here, you'll notice that I don't look like them." Apollo said quietly.
Max slowly nodded.
"If you ever feel that way, like you're different from everyone else around you, just remember that I know how it feels. I can help, if you ever need it." Apollo offered in almost a whisper.
Max considered for a moment, then said, "I'm just not used to everyone being so nice. I don't know how to act."
Apollo smiled at the response and said, "If you figure it out, let me know. Because I'm right there with you on that one."
Max was surprised by the answer, but was also, somehow, reassured. Apollo might not be able to answer his question, but at least he seemed to understand the question.
"Did I miss too much?" Eric asked as he returned to the dining room.
"Just some incredible food." Danny, the elder, said with a grin.
"I heard the same thing upstairs." Eric chuckled as he took his seat.
Just then, Mr. Crante walked into the room, pushing a cart with three plates.
As he placed the full plates of breakfast before Eric, General Adams and Max, he casually said, "It was suggested that some of our younger guests might appreciate some cinnamon rolls, following their breakfast."
All the boys around the table fought to maintain their formal decorum.
"Yes. I think they might enjoy that." Eric said with a smile of pride at his boys.
Mr. Crante gave a slight bow toward Eric, then from under the cart he picked up a tray of already plated cinnamon rolls, drenched in icing.
All the boys were nearly bouncing with anticipation as the sweet treats were handed out.
* * * * *
"This is really, REALLY good." Misti said happily.
"I'm glad you like it. I was in a mood to do something special this morning." Gordon said with a smile at his daughter.
"Could you show me how to make this? I've never had it before and Loquicia and I both really like it." Jamiah asked hopefully.
"I'd be happy to show you. Do you cook?" Gordon asked with interest.
"I used to cook a lot, before our mom left. She didn't really cook much." Jamiah said quietly.
"Or eat." Loquicia added, not noticing her brother's pensive mood.
At Gordon's inquisitive expression, Jamiah carefully added, "She used to take a lot of stuff that made her not care about things like eating or taking care of herself. Finally, she took so much that she stopped caring about us, too."
"Sometimes people make bad decisions. That doesn't mean that they're bad people." Gordon quietly explained.
Jamiah slowly nodded his agreement, then quietly said, "She wasn't mean to us, like, she didn't beat us or anything, like some kids' moms do. She just kind of stopped caring about us and ended up forgetting all about us."
"She left us at Father Doherty's mission and never came back for us." Loquicia said simply, and didn't seem to be the least bit bothered by the fact.
"Well, I suppose that might mean that she cared enough to find you a good place where she knew that you'd be taken care of." Gordon said gently.
"I guess so." Jamiah said noncommittally.
"I wish my folks would have done that." Jay said frankly.
Gordon glanced at Jay, but didn't want to get too deeply into that topic in front of the other children.
"My parents did some bad stuff and got sent to jail. They were always nice to me, but since they were in jail, there wasn't anyone else to take care of me, so the Social Services Child Division sent me to live with Gordon and Lucas." Lazlo said frankly.
"Me too." Misti said simply.
At Jamiah's curious look, Gordon explained, "Misti came to be with us under basically the same circumstances as Lazlo."
"They're really lucky that they got good foster parents on the first try. I've never had any foster parents that I wanted to stay with." Jay said darkly.
"Until now." Lazlo interjected.
Jay thought about it for a moment, then smiled at Lazlo as he quietly said, "Yeah. Until now."
"What is this that we're eating, anyway?" Jamiah asked as he looked at his last bite of food.
"Eggs Benedict." Gordon said with a smile at the boy.
"Well, I love it." Jamiah said before eating the last piece.
* * * * *
"Can I get you boys anything?" Allen asked as he looked around the table.
"No. This is great. Sit down and eat with us." Jorry said between bites of food.
Allen smiled at the response and took his seat at the table.
"What would you guys like to do today? Do you have any plans?" Allen asked curiously as he started to fill his plate from the diminishing supply in the middle of the table.
"If there's a way to do it, I'd like to find out where Emo and Colton are. They may need our help." Jody said honestly.
"Oh? Who is that? If you don't mind me asking." Allen asked curiously.
"Well, yesterday things got really crazy all of a sudden and we ended up on this bus with this guy named Emo, who had a baby who was just a few weeks old. From what he said, the baby's mother took off, and he looked like he was really lost. Since Nick used to take care of his sister a lot, he knew how to do some stuff to help." Jody said frankly.
"It's good that you were there to help out." Allen said with a smile.
"But Emo's, like, fifteen. I'd really like to be sure that they're doing okay." Jody said anxiously.
"Wow. Fifteen and taking care of a newborn. That can't be easy." Allen said sympathetically.
"Yeah. But he loves that kid so much it's crazy." Jody said frankly.
"Well, from what I know of Carson's program, we should be able to find them fairly easily. I don't know if it will be able to search for a nickname like Emo, but we should be able to find Colton without any problem." Allen said confidently.
"Could you really do that?" Jody asked hopefully.
"Sure. In fact, if you'll give me just a second, I'll grab my laptop and do it right now." Allen said as he got up from the table.
"It can wait until you've had your breakfast." Jody rushed to tell him.
"Nonsense. This will just take me a minute, then we'll all be able to relax while we finish our breakfast." Allen said before leaving the room.
* * * * *
"Christian, your dad's friend is awesome." Jody said frankly.
"Yeah. He is." Christian agreed.
"I thought that since Allen works for Ryan Brown, that he'd have a huge mansion or something like that. But this place is like... actually, it's kinda like Grandma Nora's house. But it's really comfortable. He lives like real people, not some stuck up snobby rich person." Collin said seriously.
"Ryan Brown? Who's that?" JD asked curiously.
"He was one of the big guys in computers about a thousand years ago, when it was all new. I guess he made tons of money on that. Now, he's all about robotics. I don't know much about that, except that he's pretty much the top guy when it comes to that stuff." Christian said seriously.
Allen hurried back into the dining room with his laptop already open.
"Do you think you can use that thing to check on our dads?" Jody asked cautiously.
"They're already flagged in the system. As soon as they check in, I'll be notified that they're on their way." Allen said as he quickly typed on his computer.
"Oh, good. With as many people as we saw coming through here yesterday, I wasn't sure they'd be able to find us." Jody said honestly.
"They'll be able to find you just as easily as you found me." Allen assured him, then a look of concern crossed his face.
"Is something wrong?" Christian asked cautiously.
"No. It's from Mr. Brown. He sent me some schematics that he wants me to look over. I'll look at that after breakfast."
Jody waited anxiously as Allen typed on the computer.
"There we go! I found Colton and his guardian, a Father Brian Doherty." Allen said happily.
"Yeah. Father Doherty is the one who took us onto the bus. He was helping Emo take care of Colton." Jody said quickly.
"Well, I have an address for them and a phone number, if you'd like to call." Allen said simply.
"Should we?" Jody asked Nick uncertainly.
"I think Emo and Colton are going to need us." Nick said quietly.
"Yeah. I'll call them." Jody said decisively.
* * * * *
"Father Doherty? Is that you?"
"Yes. To whom am I speaking?"
"It's Jody, from the bus, yesterday."
"Oh, yes. It's wonderful to hear from you. How is Nick doing? Did you find your brothers?"
"Yeah. Nick's fine, JD's fine. Everything's great."
"Well, I'm glad to hear that."
"I just called because I wanted to know how Emo and Colton are doing."
"They're both doing very well."
"Okay. Yesterday it seemed like Emo might need some help and me and Nick wanted to be sure that Emo wasn't, like, stuck or something."
"Well, as a matter of fact, some things got settled last night and it was decided that Colton is going to continue to stay with us. So, this morning, Emo was rather concerned that he only has the contents of Colton's diaper bag to care for him."
"Yeah. I guess you need a lot of stuff to take care of babies."
"We were planning to go over to the Brown's house after breakfast to ask if they might be willing to assist us in finding the supplies that Emo and Colton will be needing."
"We could help you with that, if you want. I know that Nick would want to help."
"If you would like to meet us over there, we'll get whatever advice that they have to offer, then you could accompany us."
"Yeah! That sounds great. The guy we're staying with works for Mr. Brown, so he'll know just where we need to go!"
"We'll be sure to wait there for you, if we arrive before you."
"Thanks for letting us help, Father Doherty."
"Thank you for offering to help."
* * * * *
"It's seemed like you've been busy since you got here. What do you do?" Ben asked Walt curiously.
"Security." Walt said simply, letting it be known with his curt response that he didn't want to elaborate.
Ben nodded, then said, "I've been helping Carson, down in his command center."
"I'm curious to know what you're doing in there. It seems inconceivable that a group of children and young adults could actually be coordinating such a massive relief effort." Walt said cautiously.
Ben chuckled as he said, "Yeah. I know. And even though I'm one of the oldest ones in there, I feel like I'm probably the most inept one in the group."
"You're there because Carson trusts your instincts. You belong there." Dax said firmly.
"Thanks, Dax. I guess you're right. It just seems that with Carson and Bug being so brilliant when it comes to the computer stuff, that I'm kind of a dim bulb." Ben said honestly.
"Your smarts don't come from knowing how to make a computer do stuff. You look at things and predict what's going to happen next. Then you prepare for it." Dax said seriously.
"You're right, Dax. My job is important, too." Ben said with an appreciative smile at him.
Walt had been quietly listening to the exchange, but he finally said, "You may be the guy that I need to talk to about something that's been bothering me."
"What's that? I'll help however I can." Ben said as he turned his full attention to Walt.
"Well, I've just been looking at things, trying to see just how many ways things could go wrong. While I was doing that, it occurred to me that we might have one, fairly obvious, weak point." Walt said slowly.
"Actually, we've got a few. But so far as I know, we have everything covered or contingency plans if something goes wrong." Ben said seriously.
"Just think about it. All the food for the entire refugee effort is being coordinated through one warehouse. If someone really wanted to throw a wrench into our works, that'd be a really tempting target." Walt said thoughtfully.
"Are you talking about sabotage?" Ben asked slowly.
Walt nodded grimly.
After a moment of thought, Ben carefully said, "Even though we've got volunteers to spare, I think that something like this should be handled by the professionals."
Walt soberly nodded his agreement.
"I don't know if you know this, but not too long ago we were contacted directly by President Bryce. He told us that if we needed some help, that we could ask the Fairchild Air Force Base. I think maybe it's time we took him up on his offer." Ben said thoughtfully.
"Some of their Security Police could probably do the job fairly well. They're good." Walt agreed.
"Yeah. And I'll let the other people in the command center know what's going on." Ben said seriously.
"Right. But keep it to your inner circle. The less people know, the more effective the security measures." Walt said professionally.
"The only other person who might need to know would be Davis Gray, he's the warehouse supervisor." Ben said as he looked at Walt, seeking his confirmation.
"He's Roris' brother-in-law, too." Oleksandr interjected.
"That's right, Olex." Ben said with a smile at the boy.
Walt chuckled, then said, "When it crossed my mind that the warehouse might be vulnerable, I didn't know what kind of hoops I'd have to jump through to resolve the issue. Who would have thought that all I'd have to do is sit down to breakfast."
"Well, if anything else comes up, just let me know. If I can't fix it for you, I happen to know some absolutely brilliant people who probably can." Ben said seriously, then turned to Dax and Oleksandr and said, "Yes. I'm talking about you two."
Both boys smiled as Walt broke into chuckles again.
* * * * *
"Dad, I don't know if you've thought about this, but if things keep going the way they look like they're going, pretty soon United States currency might not be worth the paper it's printed on." Carson said seriously.
"Well, I don't think we're quite to that point, yet. But if it helps you to know, I haven't had my money in United States currency since before you were born." Ryan said seriously.
"Offshore accounts?" Carson guessed.
"No. Most of it's invested. Money that's sitting there, doing nothing, has no real value. Unfortunately, the most promising investments are international. Although, there have been some recent advances here in the states that might make me consider bringing some of my money back home." Ryan said frankly.
"Well, that's really good to know. But the real reason that I was asking was because that if the dollar crashes, the people who are coming to us for help are going to be destitute... all of them. It's bad enough that they're going to be fleeing their homes. But when they find out that their life savings have been wiped out, I don't know how we're going to handle it." Carson said honestly.
"I have some friends that are working on that. I can't really say more at this point except to ask you to trust me. When anyone arrives in Kettle Falls with United States currency, we'll continue to honor it." Ryan said seriously.
"But how? If the dollar becomes worthless, how can we do that?" Carson asked curiously.
"The dollar only has any value because it's guaranteed by the United States government. Locally, the dollar will be guaranteed by me... well, me and a few of my business partners." Ryan said honestly.
"If you'll all excuse me, I have to get to the hospital." Dr. Murten said as he stood, breaking the contemplative mood that had fallen over the room.
"Of course, have a good day, Dad." Deb said as she walked to her father and gave him a quick hug.
"A long day is more like it." Dr. Murten said as he returned his daughter's hug.
"If you're going to the hospital, can we go with you? We need to get into town and get to work." Tommy asked quickly.
"Sure. Grab a gator and you guys can follow me." Dr. Murten said as he walked to his wife and also gave her a kiss.
"Come on, Jared. Do you still want to help me before you and your dad get to work?" Tommy asked quickly.
"Yeah." Jared said as he stood, then he turned and said, "I'll see you later, Car."
"Ryan, if you've got a few minutes, there are a few things that I'd like to discuss with you before I head into town." Karl said seriously.
"Yes. I'll be finished here in a minute or two." Ryan agreed.
"Good, then I'll have time for another cup of coffee." Karl said with a smile.
* * * * *
"You guys remember Hank and Jeremy from the plane don't you?" Bug asked Max, Bax and Ro as they started eating.
Bax glanced up from his food for a moment before going back to eating.
"Were you the pilots or something?" Max asked between bites of food.
Jeremy turned to Bug and chuckled as he said, "It's no fair asking them questions while they're eating."
"I guess not." Bug said with a smile, then turned to the hungry trio and said, "These are the guys who brought you your popcorn and hot dogs on the plane."
"You guys are awesome." Ro said quickly.
Ken and Kev both smiled at the reaction.
"Works for me." Jeremy said fondly.
"So, have you guys thought about what you'd like to do?" Bug asked Hank and Jeremy curiously.
"Like how?" Hank asked in confusion.
"Well, we've got thousands of people coming to Kettle Falls, scared and hungry, not knowing what to do next. People all over the place are helping out. I just thought you guys might want to join in." Bug said frankly.
"I don't know what we could do." Jeremy said thoughtfully.
"I know what you mean. As nice as it is here, I can't help but feel that while everyone else is working hard, I'm not doing anything to contribute. This morning I was thinking about what I might be able to do to help out." Oma Shoupe said seriously.
"That's wonderful, Oma! I saw how you've been with the kids. What would you think about helping out at the school? That's where we're telling people that they can take their kids while they're doing other stuff." Bug explained happily.
"Yes. Being around the children..." Oma Shoupe started, then smiled at the Gophers before she continued, "...has reminded me how much I've been missing in the past few years. As far as I'm concerned, this is settled. I suppose that all I'm going to need is a ride into town."
"We can drive you into town! You can go with us!" Max said happily.
"Is that alright with you, Oma?" Bug asked cautiously.
"If they'll agree to slow down and be careful with me. Although I'm feeling much better, I don't know if I'm up to trekking across the wilderness at high speeds." Oma Shoupe said frankly.
"We'll go slow. I promise." Bax said earnestly as he hopped up out of his chair.
"Are you done with your breakfast already? I thought you were hungry." Bug said quickly, trying to keep a straight face.
All three Gophers were out of their chairs by the time Bug's words had registered.
As one, they turned and hurried back to their seats.
"Jeremy, if you would like, I have a suggestion of how you might be able to help out." Roris said helpfully.
"Sure. We'd really like to help, I just don't know what we can do." Jeremy said frankly.
"I don't know either. But I'm thinking that Lucas might. He's in charge of keeping people from wallowing in their troubles. I think that if you get with him, he might be able to use your help." Roris said frankly.
"Lucas is great. I didn't know he was helping out, too." Jeremy said happily.
"Yes. And since he only just started helping yesterday, he'll probably be glad to put you to work." Roris said honestly.
"If you'll excuse me, I'm going to get my purse and my coat." Oma Shoupe said as she got up from the table.
All three Gophers hurried to wolf down their last few bites of food.
"Bax, before you go, could I talk to you for a minute?" Bug asked as he stood.
"Did I do something wrong?" Bax asked suddenly.
Bug smiled at the question and responded, "No. Just come with me."
* * * * *
Bax's enthusiasm was clearly a thing of the past by the time he meandered to join Bug in the bedroom.
"Am I in trouble?" Bax asked cautiously.
"No. You're not in trouble at all." Bug said as he stepped forward and pulled Bax into a hug.
Bax accepted the hug, but didn't seem to be sure.
"I just wanted to take a minute to see how you're doing." Bug said gently.
"I'm fine." Bax said automatically.
"That's good." Bug said quietly, then continued, "If you ever need me for anything, you know you can call me, right?"
"Yeah. You gave us radios." Bax answered as he continued the hug.
"That's not what I mean. I just wanted to be sure that you know that if you need me, I'll have time. I mean, yeah, I'm busy with stuff. But I don't want you to feel like I'm too busy to listen if you need to talk or anything." Bug said sincerely.
"I don't think anybody ever said that to me before. I mean, that they had time for me." Bax said quietly.
"Yeah. Well, some people just ain't got their shit straight." Bug said frankly.
"I love you, Bug." Bax said as he tightened his hug.
"Yeah. I love you, too, Bax." Bug said warmly, then added, "Now you'd better get out there before the other Gophers take off without you."
"Okay." Bax said as he released his hug and tried to discreetly wipe the tears from his eyes.
"And you be sure to go nice and slow with Oma Shoupe." Bug warned.
"I promise that we won't scare her." Bax said earnestly.
"You'd better not. She may be a sweet little old grandmother, but if you piss her off, she'll rip you a new asshole." Bug warned seriously.
Bax looked at Bug with wide eyes of surprise for a moment, then quietly said, "I'll remember that."
* * * * *
As the boys were finishing their larger than average cinnamon rolls, Danny, the younger, asked, "Would you guys like to go upstairs and hang out with us?"
It took a moment for Art and Euan to realize that Danny was talking to them. It was Euan who finally said, "Thank you for inviting us, but we have a lot of people depending on us to help them."
"What are you doing?" Danny asked curiously.
Euan could see that all the boys (and most of the adults) were interested in his answer. "Art and I were at a rescue mission in Chicago. The priest who ran the mission received a warning that some danger was coming and that he and his people should relocate to someplace safe. He gathered those of us who were at the mission and we started travelling west. As we travelled, more and more people started joining us. When that happened, Father Doherty asked Art and me if we would help him by talking to the others on the CB radio. By the time we arrived here, there were around five hundred vehicles in our convoy. Since Art and I were in contact with so many people on the trip here, it seems only right that we continue to help those people until we're sure that they've all found food and shelter and whatever else they might need."
"Wow. Who would have thought that a couple shelter kids from Chicago could do something like that?" Danny, the elder, said in honest amazement.
"All it takes is being willing to help out." Euan said simply.
"I think that if you have been sharing that philosophy with the members of your convoy, I can understand why they would want for you to continue your work." Eric said with an admiring smile at the boys.
"If you'll excuse us, I believe that it is time for us to return to our work." Art interjected.
"Yes. If you will all please excuse us, there are people depending on us." Euan said as he stood.
"Please let us know if there's any way we can be of help to you." Eric said quickly, as the boys walked away.
"We will. Thank you." Euan said before going through the door.
* * * * *
Seth and Carson were approaching the bedroom door just as Art and Euan arrived.
"Good morning. Did you two sleep well?" Carson asked pleasantly as he led the way.
"Yes. After sleeping on the bus, it was nice to sleep in a real bed again." Euan answered happily.
"Good. Well, I don't remember if I told you last night, but the people camped out on the front lawn have been watching over things for us while we've been sleeping. So when you sign on, you should get a report about anything that came up and how they handled it. If it was something that could be put off, then they would have left it for you to decide what is best to do." Carson said as he went directly to his computer alcove and docked his chair.
"Thank you. I felt a bit neglectful, leaving last night before everyone had been settled." Art admitted quietly as he took a seat in front of the computer he was using.
"Yeah. Me too. But we can't be everywhere at once and we can't do it all ourselves. It's tough, but that's the way it is." Carson explained as his screens all came to life.
"Good morning, guys... why don't we ever have any girls in here, anyway?" Ben asked playfully as he walked into the room with Oleksandr on his hip and Dax following a step behind.
"As soon as a girl shows up with the skills we need, we'll make her part of the team. I promise." Carson said absently as he read through his screens.
"If one shows up, I'm going to remind you of that." Ben said as he let Oleksandr down, then took his seat.
"After I've looked over stuff here and got caught up, I really need to get into town." Dax said quietly.
"I'll split the screen, just like yesterday. Just let me know when you need to 'page'." Ben said as he opened another window.
"And I'm going to need to get some of those subvocal things for the people my father sent." Dax said in nearly a whisper.
"Good idea. If they're here to help you, they need to be able to contact you." Ben said cheerily, then turned toward Carson and asked, "Where'd you put the radios last night?"
"They're over by the bathroom door. Help yourself." Carson said without looking away from his screens.
"Carson! I got adopted last night!" Oleksandr exclaimed happily, without warning.
"I know, I was there. I saw you." Carson said as he glanced away from his monitors for an instant.
"How does it feel, having a new dad?" Seth asked with a smile at the boy.
"It's the best. None of the other parents that I had wanted to keep me. But Ben does. I know he does." Oleksandr said with certainty.
"Hold on, Oleksandr. Come over here. It looks like I've got something here that might interest you." Carson said with a smile.
Oleksandr momentarily left Ben's side to see what Carson had found.
"Hello, Olex. I didn't expect to see you this morning." Alvin said from one of Carson's screens.
"You asked me to call you, and since Oleksandr was here, I thought you two might enjoy the chance to talk." Carson said with a grand smile.
"I got adopted last night. Ben adopted me!" Oleksandr said joyfully.
"That's great news! Fantastic!" Alvin said happily.
"I wish you coulda been here. But Ben says that we're going to have the 'real' adoption when the judge says that we can. Maybe you can be here for that?" Oleksandr asked hopefully.
"Just let me know where and when and I'll move heaven and earth to be there." Alvin said warmly.
"I'm sorry I didn't get to send you a picture, like you wanted. But I got yours. It's really great!" Oleksandr finished with a grin.
"Is Ben there with you?" Alvin asked curiously.
"Yeah. He's over at his computer." Oleksandr said as he looked to be sure that Ben was still there.
"Then why don't you get him to stand beside you, then I can do a screen cap and have the picture that I wanted?" Alvin asked hopefully.
"Yeah! Ben! Come over here!" Oleksandr called out, then hurriedly added, "You, too, Dax!"
Dax had been watching and listening. It warmed his heart beyond words that Oleksandr had thought to include him.
"Okay, guys. Just hold still for a second. I don't want this to be blurry." Alvin said in concentration, then smiled as he continued, "I got it. The perfect picture."
"Thanks, Alvin. I wish you was here." Oleksandr said honestly.
"I know, Olex. I wish that, too. But I'm needed here, just like you're needed there. We'll be together again as soon as we can. I promise, I'm not going to pass up any chance to visit Kettle Falls." Alvin said frankly.
"He spends half his time trying to figure out if there's something you guys absolutely need, so he can be the one to bring it to you." Simon said as he poked his head into view on the screen.
"I do not." Alvin said to his brother.
"It's true! I swear!" Simon exclaimed before Alvin playfully pushed him off the screen.
"I'm sorry, Olex, but I need to talk to Carson for a few minutes. It's geek stuff." Alvin said apologetically.
"That's okay. I need to help Ben, anyway." Oleksandr said, as he fought to keep a smile on his face.
"Yeah. We'd better get back to work." Ben said as he put an arm around Oleksandr's shoulder and guided him to walk away.
"I'd better be going. I got the subvocals." Dax said as he started walking toward the door.
"Have a good day, and remember to call us if you need anything at all." Ben said seriously.
"Yeah. I will. Thanks, Ben." Dax said with a smile before withdrawing from the room.
* * * * *
"Good morning. I was told that you were asking for me." Dr. Murten said as he entered the hospital room.
"Jake's hands started trembling again. Can you give him another one of those pills?" Zane asked him hopefully.
"Yes. As a matter of fact, I can. Now that we know how long a single dose of the beta blocker is effective on you, I can give you a prescription so that you can take one every morning. After a week, I'll adjust the dosage and we'll see how that goes." Dr. Murten said frankly.
"That sounds great. I already feel better than I have in years. All those AIDS drugs really messed with me."
"You're very fortunate. Many people would be going through withdrawal, having been on so many medications. It was just good luck that none of the drugs that you were taking were addictive." Dr. Murten said honestly.
"Yeah. I feel great!" Brother Jacques said happily, but his smile fell away when he focused on Zane, laying in the bed.
"Zane's going to be fine. In fact, it's very likely that I may be sending him home today. That is, if you'll promise to help him." Dr. Murten said with a restrained smile.
"Of course! I'll do anything. Just tell me what I can do." Brother Jacques hurried to say.
"Let me explain. With all the refugees showing up in Kettle Falls, the hospital is becoming quite busy. If it weren't for that, I'd probably keep Zane here for another day or two. But if you'd be willing to stay with Zane and take care of him, I think I could release him to home care. That will free a bed here for someone who needs it. At the same time, I believe that both you and Zane will be more comfortable at home." Dr. Murten said with a smile.
"That sounds great! When can we do it?" Brother Jacques asked hopefully.
"Give me some time to get Carson's old hospital bed moved into your room and for me to arrange for one of the nurses to stop by and check on you. Once that's all settled, I'll arrange for an ambulance to transport you to the house. Zane still isn't in any condition to be riding a gator." Dr. Murten finished with a grin.
"Thank you, Doctor. Thank you for everything." Brother Jacques said sincerely.
"You're very welcome. Now, if you'll excuse me for a moment, I'm going to get your prescription so you can start on your treatment." Dr. Murten said before hurrying out of the room.
"I'll take good care of you. I promise." Brother Jacques said quietly as he took hold of Zane's hand.
"I don't know why you love me." Zane said as he squeezed the hand in his.
Brother Jacques laughed, then said, "I don't know either. But I do. I really do."
* * * * *
"I'm sorry we're late. Lucas and Gordon did this really big, fancy breakfast and we couldn't get away any faster." Jay hurried to explain as he and Lazlo rushed into the bedroom.
"We've only been here a few minutes. It's fine." Carson said warmly.
Jay moved automatically to Carson's side and gave him a firm hug.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Lazlo asked as he looked around.
"Sure. I know that Lucas has some stuff going on if you'd like to work with him. You could also check with Roris and Lawrence when they get here, I bet they could use another pair of hands. And if you can catch up to him, you might even be able to help Dax." Carson said pleasantly as he returned Jay's hug with one arm.
"Yeah. If you want me to. I just thought from what Jay was saying that maybe there's something I could do... you know, to really help people." Lazlo said cautiously.
"Did you have something in mind?" Carson asked as he looked up at Jay.
"Sort of. I was thinking that if Lazlo was in town, that he could tell us what he's seeing. That way we could make adjustments and figure out what kind of things people are needing that we didn't think of." Jay said timidly.
"I don't know why I didn't think of that. That's a great idea." Carson said happily.
"You want me to go... all by myself?" Lazlo asked cautiously.
"No. Not by yourself. I found out last night that anyone from the command center that goes into town is going to have an escort. It's a security thing. All I have to do is call Courtney and she'll send someone in to go with you." Carson said with a smile, then moved away from Jay enough to type something quickly on his keyboard.
"And you want me to walk around and tell you what I see?" Lazlo asked to verify.
"Walk around and talk to people, find out how they're doing and if they need anything. Do you still have your subvocal?" Carson asked curiously.
"Yeah. I put it back on, first thing this morning." Lazlo said happily.
"Then, you talk to people and if you find out that they need help, you can call and tell us and we'll tell you how to help them. And if you end up finding something that we haven't thought of, we'll all brainstorm and find a way to help your people." Carson said frankly.
"Did someone need an escort into town?" A girl asked as she walked into the room.
"Yes. I'm sorry, I don't remember your name." Carson said timidly.
"I'm Christina. I didn't expect you to remember." She said with a smile.
"That's good." Carson laughed, then continued, "Christina, this is Lazlo. He's going into town to do some reconnaissance for us. Do you have time to go with him?"
"That's what I'm here to do." Christina responded with a smile.
"Thank you." Lazlo said timidly, then looked to Jay and Carson inquisitively.
"All that's left is for you to grab your coat and go. Call us if you need anything." Carson said happily.
Jay stepped forward and pulled Lazlo into a hug as he quietly said, "I know that you're going to help lots and lots of people. Remember that you can call me if you need anything at all."
"Yeah. Thanks." Lazlo said as he returned the hug.
* * * * *
The air was cold and Father Doherty was concerned that it might be too cold for Colton, until he looked over and saw the way that Emo had Colton bundled and held close to his chest.
When he turned his attention forward again, he very nearly wrecked the gator when he saw another gator approaching from the side and coming straight for them.
"Father Doherty!" The front seat passenger called out as he waved.
Although he didn't know the driver, the passenger was a welcome sight. "Jody!"
"This is Nick's brother, Jorry!" Jody called out as they pulled alongside him and matched his speed.
"Nice to meet you!" Father Doherty called in return, then he noticed Nick sitting in the back seat.
"How far is it?!" Jody screamed to be heard.
"Just up ahead!" Father Doherty replied just as the Brown's house came into view.
To Be Continued...