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Since Zane had awakened, they had enjoyed a pleasant conversation. But Ben could tell that Keil's anxiety about his own situation was becoming an increasing worry for him.
"I tell you what, I need to get back downstairs and get back to work. I'll check on a few things about a job and housing and call you in a few minutes." Ben said frankly.
"You don't need to go to a lot of trouble for me." Keil said quietly.
As Ben walked toward the door, he laughed, then said, "Don't worry about it. This is what I do."
* * * * *
"Hey Jingo, I know I'm a little late... sorry." Trav said repentantly, as he walked up to her, with Father Kinsey following a step behind.
"A little late? It's after noon." Jingo said bluntly.
"I ain't been sleepin. Me an Malcolm's been workin since this s'mornin, cookin an servin food." Trav hurried to explain.
"That ain't what the boss sent us here to do. The only reason we're not back in Chicago, fightin our asses off is 'cause of Dax. He needs us." Jingo said firmly.
Trav looked around quickly, then quietly asked, "Is he here?"
"No. He went back to their home base to get supplies and shit set up for us. But we've got us a hell of a lot of work to do before those supplies gets here." Jingo said seriously.
"What've we gotta do?" Trav asked, then glanced at Father Kinsey, at his side.
"We need to get anyone with the skills to make homemade shit and let them know we need their help to make their shit and to teach other people what they know. We also gotta find out what kind of supplies and equipment and shit they need to do their stuff and like that." Jingo said thoughtfully.
"Why are we doin' all that?" Trav asked slowly.
Jingo stopped and considered for a moment before saying, "Here's the deal. Pretty soon, the stores are gonna get empty. With Marshall Law and bombs and shit, the factories ain't gonna be making the stuff to fill the stores back up. Even if we can get stuff brought in from other countries, the roads ain't gonna be safe much longer. We've gotta remember how to make shit and do for ourselves. We need to find bakers and butchers and quilters and dressmakers and get them fired up to do their shit. Here. Dax gave us these ultra high tech radios you can use to call it in."
Trav looked at the slip of paper she was handing him with confusion.
"Put the squarish one on your throat and the round one behind your ear. When you're ready, tap the one on your throat and say your name and Dax's computer will do the rest." Jingo said carefully, but it was clear that the thread of her patience was wearing thin.
"Yeah. Okay." Trav said as he carefully peeled the throat piece off the paper, then cautiously asked, "Can Malcolm help?"
"I don't know, can he?" Jingo asked as she looked at Father Kinsey appraisingly.
Feeling the weight of Jingo and Trav's combined attention directed at him, Father Kinsey quietly said, "It's possible that some of the people we encounter may be frightened or in need of some sort of consolation. I might be of help in that regard."
Jingo shrugged, then said, "Give it a try. I'm gonna be scouting locations for shops. The way they have these houses dotted around with spaces between 'em, I'm thinking we can set up, like, roadside stands right next to the houses where the people live who make the stuff."
"Where do you want us to start?" Trav asked cautiously.
"How the fuck should I know? Walk around, talk to people. Hell, knock on doors if you want to. Just, whoever you talk to, make sure you tell 'em to pass it on and spread the word. I got the feelin' that we're runnin outta time." Jingo said gravely.
"Then we should begin." Father Kinsey said decisively, then started walking to where some people were carrying boxes, apparently moving into their new home.
As Trav was about to follow, Jingo quietly asked, "You're not getting in too deep, are you?"
"I found me someone I like that's good, and he likes me back. I'm not just in too deep, if things work out, I'm plannin on going 'all in'." Trav said seriously, then started to peel the earpiece of his subvocal off the paper as he walked away to join Father Kinsey.
Jingo looked after him with surprise, then remembered that she had a lot of people depending on her.
* * * * *
"I'm so sorry that I'm late! I was with a customer. Is everything alright?" Melanie asked as she rushed up to Margaret's side.
"Everything's fine. The boys are right over there, skateboarding." Margaret said as she pointed to the bowl shaped skateboard run.
"How's Frankie? I'm always afraid that he's going to fall down when he's here." Melanie said anxiously as she finally spotted her son.
"He's probably fallen down at least a dozen times. I'm sure he's going to have quite a few scrapes and bruises before it's all over. But just look at him, he's having a wonderful time." Margaret said with a smile.
"He's going to break his neck!" Melanie exclaimed.
Margaret laughed, then said, "I made sure that all the boys are wearing their protective gear and I made them promise not to horse around. They know that I'm watching, so they'll behave. As long as they follow the rules, the worst that will happen are some bumps and bruises."
Melanie stopped and watched for a long anxious moment as her son rode his skateboard down a valley and right up to the edge of the other side before changing direction to do the same in reverse.
"It's okay. He's doing fine." Margaret assured her.
As soon as Frankie had arrived at the lip of the ramp and stepped off his skateboard, he spotted his mother watching and called out, "Did you see?! Did you see what I just did?!"
When Melanie heard her son's pride in his accomplishment, the fear she had been feeling finally disbursed and gave way to an equal amount of pride for him.
"Yes. I saw it! That was incredible!" Melanie said happily.
Frankie beamed a glorious smile at his mother, then turned to watch as Cody made an attempt at the same run.
* * * * *
Although Colton needed a lot of attention, Father Doherty found himself standing in the living room doorway with the twins, just watching.
Nick, Jody, and Jorry were all helping in their own ways as Emo went through the process of changing Colton's diaper and fixing a bottle.
Colton didn't seem to mind all the attention that was being focused on him, but Father Doherty got the feeling that Colton was most content when he was being held in Emo's arms.
Finally, when it seemed that all the baby care needs had been attended to, Father Doherty quietly said, "We need to think about going back to the house now."
"My brother said that he wanted for all of us to go into town and check out the restaurants and stuff. Do you guys wanna do that, first?" Jody asked quickly.
"Although that does sound tempting, I'm afraid that it's too cold for Colton to be out for any length of time." Father Doherty said regretfully.
"That's okay. JD said that if I call, they could come over here to get us and we can all go together." Jody said frankly.
"Good. From what I saw while I was in town, there are a number of things going on, and I've even heard tell that there is an event scheduled at a skatepark later today that you might find interesting." Father Doherty said with a smile.
"Skatepark?" Jorry asked with sudden interest.
"I'll call JD." Jody said with a chuckle.
* * * * *
"This is Roris. Are David or Joe available?" Roris typed onto his laptop.
After a moment, a response came, "This is Joe, what can I do for you, Roris?"
"I just wanted to check in to see how things are going. Are you having any problems?" Roris asked curiously.
"Everything is great! Bonnita, Juanita and Adrian are training their talkboxes and everyone's really excited about them being able to talk like normal people again." Joe responded.
"How are things going at the desk? Have you had any trouble helping the customers?" Roris asked seriously.
"No big problems. There were a few times I couldn't understand someone, but David and Amber helped me and everyone was taken care of, they all left happy."
"Good. Remember that if any of you have any problems, you can contact me at any time. I'm taking care of a lot of other things, but only for as long as you don't need me there. We're responsible for the most vulnerable of all the people who are coming to Kettle Falls for help." Roris slowly typed.
"I promise that our customers will get the best service of anyone here. We're all really happy to have real jobs that are important. We won't let you down." Joe responded sincerely.
"Let everyone know that we've got a report that there are going to be several busses arriving in a few hours. I don't know how many 'special needs' people will be with them, but we need to be prepared."
"I'll tell everyone. We'll be ready." Joe promised.
As Roris closed down his instant message window, he felt that he had been very fortunate to encounter such enthusiastic and capable people.
* * * * *
"How's that computer setup working for you?" Mal asked as he stopped in the dining room.
"While you were unpacking, I had a conference call with Bug. He's gathering a team to help him coordinate things for the refugee effort." Steven said without looking away from his screens.
"It looks like you're going to be the breadwinner for the family." Mal said with a smile.
Steven stopped and turned in his chair to look at Mal curiously.
"What?" Mal asked at Steven's reaction.
"You called us a family." Steven said in wonder.
Mal thought about his words, then slowly explained, "I guess we are. There've been about a hundred times that each of us has had a reason to go out on his own, but we've always stuck together. When one of us loses his job or something else goes wrong, the rest of us kept him going until things got better and he could get back on his feet. That's a family, isn't it?"
"I wouldn't know." Steven said as he turned back to face his computer screens.
"Yeah. Well, I wouldn't either. We're all just making this up as we go along." Mal said frankly.
"I'm afraid, Mal. I'm afraid that I'll let Bug down and that people will suffer because of me." Steven said frankly.
"Just remember, we've got your back." Mal said reassuringly.
"I know I'm pathetic, sometimes. I try not to be." Steven mumbled.
"Snap out of it! Did you look at all those cars we passed on the way here? You've got the chance to help thousands of people! You! You're the guy! None of the rest of us can do what you do on the computer. Not even Arlan, and he's brilliant." Mal implored him to understand.
Steven reluctantly nodded.
"Listen, I know you're not used to feeling good about yourself. I get that. But out of all of us, you're the one that has a real job, that matters. Try to let that sink in." Mal said firmly.
"Yeah. Okay... thanks." Steven said quietly, then turned suddenly at the sound of a knock on the door.
"If it's the Mormon's, I'm kicking some ass." Mal said as he walked toward the front door.
"Who's here?" Ron asked as he stepped out of the bedroom, where he had been unpacking.
"I don't know." Steven said as he raised up off his chair a little to see over the breakfast bar and through the kitchen.
After a moment, Steven was surprised to see Mal leading an extremely handsome young man into the house.
"Guys, this is Jeremy. He's here to interview us... well, me and Ron, anyway." Mal said cheerfully.
"You're going to interview us now?" Ron asked incredulously, then looked down at his grubby jeans and sweatshirt.
"Yeah. But don't worry. You get extra points because I showed up without warning. Actually, I was in the neighborhood and Lucas suggested that I stop by." Jeremy said casually.
"Jeremy, the guy at the computer is Steven and this is Ron. Arlan is around here somewhere, probably in his bedroom, setting up his computer." Mal said frankly.
"Well, here's the deal. We've got an event that's going to be happening this afternoon... actually, some of it has already started, but the part that we need help with will be coming later. Since Bug referred you to us, Lucas wanted me to see if you'd be interested in starting to work right away." Jeremy said frankly.
"What kind of job?" Mal asked cautiously.
"It's sort of a teen and tween party that they're having at the skatepark. We've arranged for a live band to show up later and thought that it would be good to have someone on hand to act as a DJ or master of ceremonies." Jeremy said seriously.
"I'm a bartender, what would I be doing there?" Ron asked cautiously.
"Just making sure that everyone is having a good time. You guys can work it out." Jeremy said simply, then asked, "Interested?"
"Let me see if I understand how this works. Me and Ron are going to be doing jobs like this for you in exchange for a place to live and food?" Mal asked cautiously.
"Yes. At least, for now. When the situation stabilizes a little more and we know what currency we'll be using and how much it buys, then we'll probably start issuing paychecks and stuff like that. But for now, the people who work for us are paid with room and board." Jeremy confirmed.
"I don't know how much help I'll be around a bunch of kids, but I'm willing to try." Ron said uncertainly.
"Yeah. A job's a job. We'll do it." Mal agreed.
"Good. That's what I'd hoped." Jeremy said happily, then continued, "The skatepark is on the main street in town, you can't miss it. If you could, just try to show up sometime before six. That's when the band is scheduled to start playing. If you could get there earlier, it would be better and help you survey the situation and ease into it. Right now they're playing some CDs that some of the girls brought from home."
"And you just want us to be sure that everyone is having a good time." Mal cautiously confirmed.
"That's it!" Jeremy said with a smile.
"We'll be there." Ron said firmly.
* * * * *
"Hello?" Brother Jacques answered hesitantly.
"Jacques? It's Ben. Can I talk to your dad for a minute? I've got some questions to ask him." Ben asked hopefully.
"Did you find something for him?" Brother Jacques asked hopefully.
"Maybe. I'll need to ask him a few things before I know for sure." Ben said seriously.
"Dad, it's Ben. It sounds like he's got something." Brother Jacques said happily as he handed the phone to his father.
Keil hesitantly took the phone and cautiously said, "Hello?"
"Keil. I just needed to confirm a few things before I finalize them. You want to stay in Kettle Falls, don't you?" Ben asked seriously.
After a glance at his son, Keil quietly answered, "Yeah. I really do."
"Good. I didn't want to assume anything. Okay, next thing. You used to be a sanitation engineer, didn't you?" Ben asked carefully.
"You mean a garbage man?" Keil asked to confirm.
Ben chuckled, then said, "Yeah. That's what I mean. I'm just used to being politically correct... I'm overcompensating for Bug, I suppose. Anyway, are you interested in working for the Kettle Falls Public Works? With all the people pouring through here, they need help, and I'm pretty sure that since you have experience, you'll probably do well there."
"Do you really think you could arrange that?" Keil asked in wonder.
"Arrange it? They're practically begging for experienced help. But first, would you have any objection to living in an apartment? If you don't want to live alone, we can set you up with a roommate in a two bedroom house." Ben asked seriously.
"An apartment would be fine. Actually, it would be like a dream come true." Keil said frankly.
"Okay. That's confirmed. Make sure that before you leave the house that you have the map to your apartment. Along with that, you'll have all the details about your new job. You'll start on Monday." Ben said professionally.
"I don't have any clothes except what I'm wearing." Keil said cautiously.
"Give me a few minutes to find out all that you're going to need for the job. Once I've got that, I'll print it out for you and you can take it to the stadium in town, whenever you're ready. They'll be able to direct you where to go to get everything you need." Ben said confidently.
"I don't have any money." Keil said hesitantly.
"You won't need it. That's why you'll be going to the stadium instead of just going directly to the stores. They'll give you vouchers for whatever you need." Ben said seriously.
"I don't know how to thank you for everything you're doing for me, Ben. I never expected anyone to even care if I live or die, much less try to help me." Keil said honestly.
After a long moment of silence, Ben quietly asked, "Would you be interested in taking on kind of a part-time job, besides the job at Public Works?"
"What kind of job?" Keil asked cautiously at the sudden change in mood.
"Give me a little time to talk to Roris about it. I think that with what he's already got going on, maybe he'd be the best one to set something like this up. But if we can find a way to do it, maybe we could fix it so that people like ex-cons, who have extra challenges because of their pasts, could have someone on the inside to help them get good, honest work." Ben said thoughtfully.
"If there's something I can do to help people, of course, I'd want to. But I don't know what I'd do for them." Keil said frankly.
"You'd be honest with them. You'd talk to them as a person who knows what they're going through and what their needs are. Like I said, I'll have to talk to Roris and get things set up, but I think that if we do this right, we might be able to give some people some second chances." Ben said frankly.
"Yeah. Count me in." Keil said seriously.
"I've got to get to work. Remember to get your map and things before you leave." Ben said happily.
"I will. Thanks."
* * * * *
"Is everything alright?" Artimus asked as Father Doherty walked in the door and held it open for Emo to pass.
"Yes. Everything is fine. I'm sorry that took so long." Father Doherty said as he closed the door.
"That's no problem. As soon as Jim signed onto his radio, he was recruited to work for a local computer shop. He's there now." Artimus said quickly.
"That's good to hear. I'm sure that after the time that he spent at the shelter in Chicago, he'll be happy to go back to work." Father Doherty said as he walked into the living room.
"He couldn't stop smiling." Artimus said with a grin.
"Did you find out anything about what the rest of us can do?" Arthur asked cautiously.
"No. I was occupied with other things. But I believe that we should have all that we need to help innumerable people, just using these radios." Father Doherty said frankly.
"I was able to get in touch with my sister-in-law and found out that they're all alright. Well, except that, from what she said, St Louis isn't a really good place to be at the moment. I told them that, if they want, they can come here. I said that if they can let me know that they're coming, I'll get a place set up for them." Artimus said carefully.
"I found out that my ex-wife and my son are safe in Boise." Greg interjected.
"I'm glad everyone received good news." Father Doherty said warmly.
"Not everyone." Father Franklin said timidly.
"Oh? What happened?" Father Doherty asked with immediate concern.
"Nothing. At least, not yet. But I spoke with Emmogene and she said that they're talking about continuing on to Canada." Father Franklin said quietly.
"I'm sorry to hear that. Are you considering going with them?" Father Doherty asked cautiously.
"The thought has crossed my mind." Father Franklin reluctantly admitted.
"Please keep in mind that you're under no obligation to remain here with us. You've more than fulfilled any promise that you might have made by following through and getting everyone in your charge to safety. Of course, if you choose to stay, we'll be appreciative. But if you decide to go, it will be with our blessings and best wishes." Father Doherty said sincerely.
"They haven't decided anything, yet. So far, Keith is being kept busy with Lesbian Gravy performances. They're just concerned that when the demand for live performers dwindles, that they may need to make other arrangements." Father Franklin explained.
"Colton's asleep." Emo said as he walked into the living room.
"Do you think you have everything you need to take care of him for a little while?" Father Doherty asked seriously.
"Yeah. I've got diapers, formula and all the diaper bag stuff. We should be good." Emo said thoughtfully.
"I'm itching to get into town and start helping people. Who wants to go with me?" Father Doherty asked assertively.
"Do you know what we're doing, yet?" Greg asked cautiously.
"I've been thinking about it and decided that the best course of action might be for us to go to the stadium and offer to help. As we help people, we can get an idea of what needs the people have and the resources at our disposal. And, thanks to having these radios, if one of us runs into a situation they don't know how to handle, we'll be able to work collectively to find an answer." Father Doherty said seriously.
"I know that I won't be able to go out and walk in the cold. But is there something that I'll be able to do from here?" Harry asked cautiously.
"Yes. You and Ahmid can work as our 'home base', so to speak. If one of us needs something researched, or something that involves using the phone, you could handle that from here." Father Doherty said with a smile.
"Yes. And it would be good for us to be here for Emo and the baby. They don't need to be left alone." Ahmid interjected.
"Good idea." Father Doherty agreed, then thought to ask, "Has anyone heard anything from Father Kinsey?"
"I went out to get lunch for everyone and found him with Trav at one of the pop-up kitchens. He seems to be... content." Father Franklin said slowly.
Father Doherty considered for a moment, then quietly said, "Give him some time. When the 'new' wears off, he may come back. Just, don't make it too hard on him if he does."
"I'm just worried about him." Father Franklin said honestly.
"Trav won't let anything happen to him." Father Doherty said with certainty.
"I'm afraid that Trav is the one who's going to hurt him." Father Franklin said seriously.
"No. From what I've seen of them, it's Trav who's running the greater risk of being hurt." Father Doherty said regretfully.
* * * * *
"Bug, what would you think if we had a meeting of all the people from 'The Kingdom'?" Carson asked seriously.
Bug looked up from his laptop with surprise.
They had been sitting in silence for quite a while, except for the occasional chatter of clicking keyboards.
"Do you mean, like, a conference call, like what I did?" Bug asked slowly.
"No. Like in the dining room. We could get everyone together so that they can all meet face to face." Carson said seriously.
"I think that as bad ideas go, that's probably right up there with one of the fucking worst ever, like, of all time." Bug said simply.
Carson looked at Bug with surprise.
"Why did you become a hacker?" Bug asked seriously.
"I don't know. I guess because after the accident, there wasn't much I could do but sit in front of a computer." Carson said cautiously.
"Now, think about the rest of them, what reasons do you think they might have for being hackers." Bug said in a leading tone.
"I don't see what you're getting at." Carson said slowly.
"There was an Internet cafe close to my house, so I got to see it a few times. Hackers, I mean, the real, hardcore hackers, are usually selfish, awkward, defensive or just oblivious as fuck. They don't have social skills and the last fucking thing you ever want to have is a group of those assholes together in one place." Bug said seriously.
Carson looked at Bug uncertainly, not sure of his reasoning.
"You want to get them together? Open an 'invitation only' chat room. Trust me, you don't want to meet a bunch of them in person, all at once." Bug said firmly.
"Okay. Since you seem so sure, I won't invite them over." Carson said cautiously, then smiled when Jay swooped in to give him an unexpected cuddle.
Bug smiled, then said, "I've just sent a shitload of work off to my team. Do you think you could cover things for a little bit? There's some shit I need to do."
"It'd help if I had a clue about what you've been working on over there. How long do you think you'll be gone?" Carson asked cautiously.
"I don't know, but I'll be back before the Chicago busses get here. I've got my subvocal on, if you need me for something before that." Bug said as he closed his laptop.
"Go on. I've got you covered." Carson said confidently.
"Do you plan on going anywhere near the stadium?" Roris asked hopefully.
"Yeah. I'll probably go by there. Did you need something?" Bug asked curiously.
"If you could just go to the special needs desk... you don't need to stop and talk to them or anything, just look and see that they're doing okay." Roris said anxiously.
"Yeah. I was going to stop by and check on Amber, so that won't be any problem." Bug said casually.
"I need rubbers." Lawrence said seriously.
Bug smiled at his brother, then said, "I'll be sure to stop by and pick some up for you."
Lawrence walked to Bug and gave him a firm hug.
"How about you Ben? Do you or Oleksandr need anything?" Bug asked as he returned his brother's hug.
Ben seemed to be considering when Oleksandr said, "French fries!"
"They'll probably be all cold and gross before I can get them back here, but I'll see what I can do." Bug said as Lawrence finally released him.
"How about you guys?" Bug asked as he looked at Seth and Hobie.
"If you're already getting condoms..." Seth trailed off with a blush rising up his face.
"What size?" Bug asked simply.
"They have sizes?" Seth asked in astonishment.
Bug nodded and waited expectantly.
Seth and Hobie looked nervously at each other with matching blazing blushes.
"I ain't got all fucking day. I'll pick something out. It'll work or it won't." Bug said seriously. When he looked away, he saw Ben fighting to restrain his laughter. Bug flashed him a grin and a wink before leaving the room.
* * * * *
Allen led the procession of boys into the house from the gator parking lot at the side.
"Is this a hotel or something?" Christian asked in a whisper as they walked through the common area on the first floor of the 'Big House'.
"Mr. Brown has visitors from all over the world. He had this house built so they'd have a comfortable place to stay. The family residence is down that hallway."
One of the bedroom doors opened and all the boys stopped, as though they'd been caught doing something that they weren't supposed to.
"Hello, Bug. How are you doing today?" Allen asked cheerfully.
"I'm good. I was just getting my coat. What're you guys doing here?" Bug asked curiously.
"Some of the boys were here to help watch after the baby. Now that the baby's gone home, we're all going into town to check out the restaurants and bands that we've been hearing about on the Internet." Allen said frankly.
"I'm going into town, too. Do you mind if I tag along?" Bug asked cautiously.
"Sure. If you don't mind waiting for just a minute so we can get Jody, Nick and Jorry." Allen said cheerfully.
"They're in the living room, this way." Bug said as he started down the hallway.
* * * * *
As they were walking toward the living room, a door opened and Deb stepped out of her office.
"Hello, Allen. How are you doing today?" Deb asked happily.
"Just fine. Deb, I'd like to introduce you to Collin, Christian and JD. These are three of the guys staying at my house for a while, until things settle down." Allen said with a smile.
"Are you here looking for the other boys?" Deb asked curiously.
"That's right." Allen confirmed.
"They're right through here." Deb said as she led the way.
* * * * *
When they walked into the living room, all the teens and young adults seemed to have their attention focused on two young children.
"Bug? I thought you were still in Carson's room." Kev said as he got up from one of the couches and hurried to his side.
"I had to get out of there for a few minutes. I was getting cabin fever." Bug said frankly.
Kev gave Bug a firm hug, then said, "If you need something to take your mind off things, I bet Ken and I could think of something."
Bug laughed, then said, "I bet you could."
"How are you doing, Kevin?" Allen asked with a tender smile.
"I'm great, Pop." Kev said cheerfully, then thought to ask, "It's okay if I call you Pop, isn't it?"
"I can't think of anything I'd like more." Allen said warmly, then noticed Ken approaching.
"I was thinking about going into town for a little bit. Would you guys like to go with me?" Bug asked loudly enough so that he was sure that Ken could hear.
Ken's happy smile faded as he said, "That'd be really great, but we kinda promised to stay here and watch the kids."
"No you didn't." Jamey said as she approached.
Ken looked at her uncertainly.
"You said you'd watch the baby. We said that we'd watch after Destiny and Aiden." She said firmly.
"She's right." Deb said simply.
"Are you sure?" Ken asked her cautiously.
"Don't worry. You earned your extra desserts. Go have fun." Deb said with a smile.
"Come on, let's get your coats." Bug said to the twins, then turned to Allen and continued, "We'll meet you out at the gators."
"Sounds good." Allen said, then watched as Bug and the twins headed back toward the 'Big House'.
* * * * *
Even though Allen had to wait on Jody, Nick and Jorry to locate where their coats had been stored, they still ended up arriving at the gators before Bug and the twins.
"I just thought of something. Before we go, I wanted to ask you about it." Bug said to Allen seriously as he left the house.
"What was that?" Allen asked curiously.
"I've got this guy who just arrived and he looks like someone that you could use at the lab." Bug said frankly.
"Send me his information and I'll look it over on Monday, when I get to work." Allen said simply.
"I've already sent it to you. But, one of the things I was wanting to do while I was out was to check on one of my hacker guys. Arlan is his roommate, so I thought that you might want to go with me." Bug said frankly.
After a moment to consider, Allen finally said, "Sure, I guess. The guys are old enough that they don't need me watching after them."
"I'm your escort." A young teenage voice said from beside Bug.
"Who the fuck are you?" Bug asked sourly.
"Your escort." The boy said flatly.
"You got a name? Or am I just supposed to call you 'Escort'?" Bug asked irritably.
"I'm First Sergeant Kyle Lapp. I drew the short straw, so I'm here. Let's not get all gooey and sentimental about it." The young teenager said seriously.
"I'll try not to get too attached." Bug said before turning his attention back to the others.
"So, what do you say we go into town and see what exciting things are going on, then Bug and I can go run some errands while the rest of you are enjoying that?" Allen asked pleasantly.
Bug looked at the twins and received nods of agreement before saying, "Sounds like a plan."
* * * * *
"Apollo! What a surprise to see you! And Jarrett, how are you two doing today?" Marcus asked delightedly, then hurried to add, "Come in out of the cold."
"We're fine. I hope that you don't mind that we came to visit. Jarrett wanted to stop by and, honestly, I don't like being cooped up inside all day. It makes me nervous." Apollo said weakly.
"I know what you mean. Doris and Corina have been back and forth to town, getting ingredients and cooking up a storm while I've been left here with nothing to do." Marcus said frankly.
"Do you want to do something with us? We've heard that there's all kinds of stuff to do in town!" Jarrett said excitedly.
"I feel as if there's some reason that I shouldn't... although, for the life of me, I can't think of what it is." Marcus said thoughtfully.
"It'll be fun! Come on!" Jarrett said with a grand smile.
Marcus smiled at him, then said, "Yes. I wouldn't want to get into the habit of being antisocial, just because we've found ourselves in a new place. Give me a minute to talk with Doris and Corina, then we can be on our way."
Jarrett hugged Apollo excitedly.
Apollo glanced at Marcus uncertainly and received a smile of acceptance.
* * * * *
"Are you guys having a good time?"
"Yeah! This is great!"
"Can you think of anything else that we need to make it better?"
"No way! We've got skateboarding, BMX, great music and awesome food!"
"There's a place for dancing, too, if you guys like that."
The three boys looked at each other, obviously not knowing how to respond to that.
"You don't have to. I was just saying that it's there if you want to. My name's Lazlo. If you guys think of anything else that we can do to make this party better, just let me know."
"Are you the one who set this up?"
"Yeah. Well, I had a lot of help, but it was my idea." Lazlo said frankly.
"You're awesome! This is great! I wish I could do something like this!"
"If you guys want, you can help me." Lazlo said slowly.
"What can we do?"
"I've been watching you for a few minutes. I can tell that you know what you're doing. If you wanted, maybe you could get some of the people who are watching and help them learn how to skateboard the right way." Lazlo said seriously.
One boy looked at the other two for a moment, then cautiously said, "We're not really that good."
"Yeah. But, like I said, I've been watching. Maybe you can't do all the flashy tricks and stunts, but you're all wearing your protective gear and you're out here, doing things the right way. If you can show other people how to do that, I bet a lot more people will be able to have fun." Lazlo said simply.
"Yeah. But we'll have to ask my mom."
"I can go with you to ask, if you want. That way if she has any questions about what you'll be doing, I can explain it." Lazlo said seriously.
"Okay. She's right over there."
"By the way, what are your names?" Lazlo asked cautiously.
"Oh, I'm Frankie and these are my friends, Cody and Jody."
"It's nice to meet you. Let's go talk to your mom." Lazlo said with a smile.
* * * * *
"How's he doing?"
Christina whirled at the sound and automatically threw a punch.
Lee easily deflected it and smiled at her reaction.
"Asshole." Christina muttered, glad to know that it was another U.N.I.T. member that had been able to sneak up on her and not just a civilian.
"I'm here to relieve you. How's he doing?" Lee asked with an irritating grin.
"I showed up here following an insecure little kid and in just a few hours I've watched him develop into a confident young man. It's been amazing." Christina said frankly.
"We had some excitement at the house. Some ex-cons tried to storm the place." Lee said seriously.
"Were there any casualties?" Christina asked with concern.
Lee chuckled, then said, "There weren't even any shots fired. We took them down in about a minute, flat."
"Why didn't you call me?" Christina asked cautiously.
"We would have if the situation had called for it." Lee said frankly.
Christina seemed to want to ask something, but was fighting to hold it back.
"He's fine. He's just been dispatched for escort duty." Lee said as he answered her unasked question.
"So they're calling me in when they're sending him out?" Christina asked cautiously.
"He's only expected to be out for a few hours. Trust me, it's not personal. Kyle was just the next one up on the rotation." Lee said seriously.
"I can't help but worry. It's what I do." Christina said with a sigh.
Lee grinned at her response, then said, "I can take over, if you're ready to go."
"I need to introduce you, first. He knows that I'm here if he runs into trouble. I don't want for him to think that I abandoned him." Christina said frankly.
"This guy's really gotten to you, hasn't he?" Lee asked curiously.
"Talk to me about it later, when you've had a chance to watch him for a while." Christina said knowingly.
"Mrs. Brown, a call for you." Mr. Crante said as he offered her the cordless phone handset.
"Thank you." Deb said sincerely, then unmuted the phone before saying, "Hello, this is Debra Brown."
"Mrs. Brown, this is Alvin Casey. I was at your house yesterday, with the helicopters."
"Yes. I remember you. What can I do for you, Alvin?"
"Okay. Do you remember Juan?"
"Yes. He'd be difficult to forget."
"He'll be happy to hear that. Anyway, he asked me to call you to set things up. He wants to have a video conference with you and your husband and your father. It's about Carson." Alvin said seriously.
"What about Carson? Is there a problem?" Deb asked with concern.
"No. It's nothing like that. All I know about it is that when Juan got back here, he did some checking and figured out that there might be a way that they can maybe help Carson with his legs." Alvin said seriously.
"We've already tried everything. What else can be done?" Deb asked in wonder.
"You'll have to talk to them about that. I'm just calling to set up the meeting. Do you know when you'll all be available for a video conference?" Alvin asked seriously.
"I really don't know. Ryan's at the lab and Dad's at the hospital. The best I can do is call them and see when they'll be free. Is there a number where I can call you back?" Deb asked hopefully.
"I'll send it to you in an email, along with the link for the video conference. Get back with us as soon as possible, so we'll have everyone we need on hand at the same time." Alvin said professionally.
"Yes. It should just take me a few minutes to contact them. You asked for Ryan and my dad. Do you want for Carson to be there, too?" Deb asked cautiously.
"No. You need to hear us out and decide what's best for Carson, first. Then, depending on how that goes, you guys can talk to him about what choices he has." Alvin said slowly.
Deb thought for a moment, then answered, "That's probably the best way to proceed. I'd hate to give him false hope if it turns out to be something too risky."
"Good. I'll let everyone know that you'll be calling back." Alvin said pleasantly.
"Thank you for trying to help Carson." Deb said sincerely.
"Well, you're welcome, but I just made the call. If I could do more, I would. But this is all I can do to help him."
"I understand, Alvin. And thank you for doing your part." Deb said gratefully.
* * * * *
"How are you doing, Oma Shoupe? Did you get your meds?" Bug asked quietly as he walked into the classroom where most of the younger children were lying on mats, asleep. The older children were sitting quietly, with Jamiah reading to them in a low voice.
"Yes. Baxter brought them to me. He's such a little gentleman. And I'm doing just fine. But I'm glad that you're here. I've gotten myself into something of a situation and I was hoping that you could help me determine what's the right thing to do." Oma Shoupe said seriously.
When Bug noticed her looking past him, he quickly said, "This is Allen, he works for Mr. Brown. He's going with me while I do some errands. What did you need help with?"
Oma Shoupe leaned forward in her chair a little and quietly said, "The twin girls over there with Jamiah, their mother was taken to the hospital with what looked to me to be a stroke. I promised the mother that I'd care for them, and I will. But I'm not sure how to manage watching after the children and all the things that I'm going to need to do if they end up staying with me."
"Don't worry about it, Oma. I should be able to take care of everything." Bug said reassuringly, then thought to ask, "Do you happen to know the mother's name?"
"Mrs. Evans. I don't think she ever told us her first name. You can probably get it from Mrs. Rand at the desk, if you need to." Oma Shoupe said thoughtfully.
"That should be enough. I'll check in with the hospital and see what I can find out, and if Mrs. Evans won't be released tonight, I'll make arrangements for the girls to stay with you at the house." Bug said confidently.
"Let me know what the hospital says. Mrs. Evans didn't look very good when they took her out of here." Oma Shoupe said with concern.
"I don't know how much they'll tell me, but I have other ways of getting information if they don't want to talk." Bug finished with a smile.
"You certainly do know how to work those inter-webs, don't you." Oma Shoupe chuckled.
"I know a few tricks." Bug said with a smile, then started walking toward the door.
At Allen's uncertain look, Bug gave a tilt of his head, inviting him to come along.
* * * * *
As soon as they were in the hallway, outside the classroom, Bug tapped his throat and said, "Dizzy, I need to find the condition of Mrs. Evans in the local hospital."
Allen looked strangely at Bug. He could tell that Bug had some sort of communication device, but could see no evidence of it.
"Oh, crap." Bug said gravely and Allen immediately forgot about his wonder at whatever technology Bug was using.
"Yeah, okay. Can I speak to Tommy, please?" Bug asked thoughtfully.
Bug tapped his throat again, then quietly said, "According to Dizzy, Mrs. Evans' condition is listed as 'critical'. A specialist is being flown in from Spokane."
"What are you..." Allen began to say when Bug held up his hand in a 'stop' motion. As soon as Allen had stopped, Bug quickly tapped his throat.
"Tommy, this is Bug. My Oma is going to be taking care of two little girls whose mother had to go to the hospital. Is there any way you could set something up in my Oma's room so they'll have places to sleep?" Bug asked hopefully.
After a moment, Bug smiled, then gave Allen a 'thumbs up'.
"Thanks. I owe you one... actually, I owe you a whole bunch for all you've done for us." Bug said frankly.
He chuckled, then tapped his throat again.
"So, they'll have a place to sleep." Bug said thoughtfully, then looked to Allen and said, "One more thing."
Allen watched as Bug tapped his throat yet again, then said, "Dizzy. Would you put a note in Mrs. Evans' hospital records that her daughters are being taken care of by Geraldine Shoupe? Also, if they need to get in contact, they should call Ryan Brown's house."
After a moment, Bug nodded, then said, "Thank you, Dizzy."
Allen waited a moment to be sure that Bug was done talking then quietly asked, "What type of communication device are you using?"
"It's called a subvocal. You'll really need to talk to Carson if you want to know more than that. I'm more into the programming than the electronics of technology." Bug said frankly.
"Whatever it is, it's amazing." Allen said frankly.
"Yeah. It's about the sixth most amazing thing I've seen since I've been here." Bug said with a grin.
Bug nodded, then led the way back into the classroom.
* * * * *
"What were you able to find out?" Oma Shoupe asked quietly as Bug and Allen returned.
"Not as much as I wanted. All I could get about Mrs. Evans' medical condition is that she's listed as being 'critical' and that they're waiting on a specialist to look at her. I went ahead and set things up so that the girls will be able to stay in your room, they'll have beds or something." Bug said seriously.
"Maybe we should find out where Mrs. Evans is staying so that we can get the girls their clothes and some personal things." Oma Shoupe said thoughtfully.
"Yeah. Um, let's wait on that until we know how their mom's doing. I'd feel funny about going through their stuff. Give me a few minutes and I'll get someone to help you get them some pajamas and clothes for tomorrow." Bug said thoughtfully.
"I can do that." Jamiah said quietly.
All the adults turned and looked at Jamiah with question.
"I help Loquicia with stuff like that all the time. I'd really like to help, if I can." Jamiah said hopefully.
Oma Shoupe smiled at him, then gently said, "Thank you very much, Jamiah. I think that would be very helpful."
"I'm about to go across the street to the stadium. If you want to come with me, I'll get you the vouchers you'll need to get whatever you want for the girls." Bug offered casually.
"Will you be okay here with Oma Shoupe?" Jamiah asked his sister quietly.
"Yeah. We'll help Oma take care of the kids when they wake up." Loquicia said confidently.
"I won't be gone long." Jamiah assured her, then walked to join Bug and Allen by the door.
* * * * *
"How old are you, Jamiah?" Allen asked curiously.
"Fourteen." Jamiah answered simply.
"I think it's wonderful that you're helping out at the school. That's very responsible of you." Allen said with a smile.
"Loquicia and the girls wanted to help out, I just wanted to make sure that Loquicia was okay." Jamiah said seriously, then waited for traffic to clear before crossing the street.
* * * * *
"Here you go, Jamiah. You can go to the different stores and get what you need for the girls. You should have enough vouchers here to get them three outfits each, of course, one of those should be pajamas." Bug said as he handed the freshly printed papers to Jamiah.
"Do you need for us to go with you?" Allen asked with concern.
Jamiah had to fight down a chuckle before saying, "I'm black, gay, fourteen and I've been living in one of the bad parts of Chicago. After all of that, I'm still alive. I think I can handle this."
"Well, if you have any trouble, just ask any volunteer or anyone working with a computer to contact 'Bug'. I'll be right there if you need me." Bug said earnestly.
Jamiah seemed to be surprised by the offer and it took a moment for him to respond, "Yeah. Thanks."
As Jamiah was walking away, Allen slowly shook his head in wonder.
"There's Amber. C'mon. This won't take long." Bug said as he started walking.
* * * * *
Bug was only able to talk to Amber for a minute, but left the stadium feeling assured that she was doing well.
As Allen and Bug were walking back toward the skatepark, Bug got a call on his subvocal.
He casually tapped on his throat and said, "This is Bug."
Allen stopped and looked at Bug with question, then realized that he was talking to someone else.
"Yeah. Give me a minute. I'll call you right back." Bug said before tapping his throat again.
"Is there a problem?" Allen asked quietly.
"No. Mr. Brown wants to have a conference call with a few of us. Why don't you go on ahead? I'm going to find a place to sit down so I can concentrate on what we'll be talking about." Bug said frankly.
"I'll let the twins know what's going on." Allen said with a nod.
"Thanks." Bug said with a smile, then spotted a pop-up restaurant across the street, where he'd be able to sit in reasonable quiet.
* * * * *
"This is Bug, I'm here."
"We're waiting on one more, thank you, everyone, for being here. I'll try to keep this brief."
"Hello? Mr. Brown?"
"Is that you, Allen?"
"Yes. Sorry, I had to find a quiet place."
"That's fine. Everyone's here now, so we can begin. Just so everyone is aware, this meeting is being recorded. When I call on you, please state your name and position for the record, then we'll get started. I'm Ryan Brown, head of Brown Industries. Allen?"
"I'm Allen Thompson, senior project manager."
"Carson Brown, project manager."
"I don't know what to say. Do I have a title or some shit like that?"
"Let the record show that that was Bug, and for the purposes of this meeting, he's a software engineer." Ryan said seriously, then continued, "The reason I called us together is so we can develop a strategy on how to replicate the power assist body armor that Juan brought us. Allen, have you had a chance to look over the schematics that I sent you?"
"Yes. At least I've had a chance to skim through them. Frankly, it was all I could do to tell myself that it wasn't some sort of a joke."
"No joke. I have the fully functioning model in my office. My question for you is, do you think that we'll be able to replicate the technology?"
"In short, no. There is no conceivable way we can duplicate the tech or exactly mimic the functions. But, I think that using the schematics as a framework, we can do our best to do a pretty good estimation of the most important functions." Allen said carefully.
"Which functions are you thinking that we'll lose?" Ryan asked cautiously.
"I don't see any practical way of duplicating the glide suit capability. The jury's still out on the underwater functions... we can probably get that to work. As far as the helmet functions, I think we can duplicate the hardware for most of that, it's the programming that's going to be the issue." Allen said carefully.
"We'll get to that." Ryan assured him, then continued, "Carson? What can you tell me about the power assist? Can we do it?"
"Well... yes and no. I'll tell you right off, the final product isn't going to look anywhere near as nice and smooth as the one in your office. But I've been looking at the specs and I think that we can mimic the functions using kevlar and some of our mini-robotic multi-joints. My guess is that we're going to end up adding about... forty or fifty pounds to the overall suit." Carson said thoughtfully.
"Does that take into account the advanced computer hardware?" Ryan asked cautiously.
"Yes, at least, my best guess at it. But that's assuming that we'll be able to replicate the chips... and that's a pretty big 'if'." Carson said frankly.
"I've got that covered. I practically had to promise Isaac my first born to get him to agree to shut down one of his production lines for me, but he said as soon as we've committed to the project, that he'll do it." Ryan said seriously.
"Tommy's gonna be pissed." Carson chuckled.
"Isaac's a good dad. Tommy'll be fine." Ryan said jokingly, then got more serious as he continued, "So that only leaves us with the elephant in the room. Even if we can duplicate everything else, none of it's going to matter if the power assist can't react properly. Bug, how are you doing with the trinary?"
"Well, I gotta tell you upfront that it's not as fucking easy as it looks." Bug said frankly.
"Actually, it didn't look easy at all, but go on." Ryan said cautiously.
"Well, here's the deal. If you're talking about writing a whole goddamned new control system, it's outta the fucking question. Ain't gonna happen. But, if you're talking about taking the motherfucking program that they already use and modifying that little cocksucker to work with our parts, I'm pretty sure I can do it." Bug said seriously.
"With all the modifications that will be required, are we going to have a problem with spaghetti code?" Ryan asked hesitantly.
"With trinary you don't get spaghetti, you get fucking spiderweb, but... yeah. That could happen. I'm usually pretty fucking tight with my code, so as long as I have the time to do it right, I should be able to keep it together."
"I really don't like putting all my eggs in one basket, do you think there's any possibility that you'll be able to teach one or two other people at least the basics of how to work with trinary?" Ryan asked hopefully.
"One. Maybe. I know an old-school programmer who could probably wrap his head around it. But I wouldn't want to try to teach it to anyone who doesn't know what the fuck the zeros and ones are for. 'Cause when you throw in the minus ones, it's a total mind fuck." Bug said frankly.
"Okay. It sounds like we've got more than a few 'ifs' and 'maybes' at work here, but I'm willing to press on. Is everyone on board?" Ryan asked hopefully.
"I'd really like to have a few more engineers on this project for the robotic aspects." Allen said frankly.
"As soon as we're done with this fucking meeting, I'll take you over to talk to one." Bug said simply.
"Right. I forgot." Allen muttered.
"I think, on that note, we'll call this to an end. I'm due in a video conference in a few minutes. Remember, Allen's going to be coordinating the overall project, so if any of you have any questions or concerns, be sure to talk to him." Ryan said professionally.
"Allen, where the fuck are you? I'm almost to the fucking skatepark and I can't see you!" Bug asked belligerently.
At the feeling of a hand on his shoulder, Bug jumped nearly a foot in the air.
"What the sweet pulsating fuck are you doing, sneaking up behind me like that?!"
Both Bug and Allen heard Ryan and Carson's laughter before the connection terminated.
* * * * *
"Yeah?" A young man asked as he opened the door slightly.
"Are you Mal?" Bug asked cautiously.
"Yeah. Who are you?" Mal asked suspiciously.
"Bug. You called me when you first got to town." Bug said frankly.
"Oh, right. Um, I didn't expect you to stop by. Please, come in." Mal said as he opened the door fully.
"Thanks, this is Allen. He's here to talk to Arlan, if he's available." Bug said politely.
"Yeah. I think so, he's in his room. I'll go get him." Mal said quickly.
As Bug and Allen walked slowly past the kitchen, Bug saw someone working on a computer in the dining room.
"Are you Steven?" Bug asked cautiously.
The blond young man turned in his seat and looked at Bug with more than a little fear in his big blue eyes.
"I'm Bug. If you've got a few minutes, I'd like to talk to you about a few things." Bug said honestly and made a point of keeping his distance.
"I was just looking at all the stuff you sent me. I've never even heard of some of these hacks and I can't believe how many backdoors you have." Steven said seriously.
"I just wanted to give you the tools to do the job that I'm going to be asking of you." Bug said honestly.
"What are you going to have me do?" Steven asked cautiously.
"Allen and Bug, this is Arlan." Mal said as he led a thin young man into the room.
"You're Bug? But... from what they said at the stadium, you're running this whole thing." Arlan said in amazement.
"I do a job. If you talk to Allen for a minute or two, you might be doing a job, too." Bug said frankly.
"Is there someplace where we can talk without disturbing Bug and Steven?" Allen asked cautiously.
"Yeah. We can go back to my room. I was just getting my plotter set up." Arlan said seriously.
"Plotter? Well, that's a good sign." Allen said as he followed Arlan down the hallway.
Bug expected Mal to go back to whatever he had been doing before their arrival, but soon realized that Mal was going to remain in the room with him and Steven, presumably so that Steven would feel safe.
"Okay. You know about all the shit that's going on, all over the country. It's some pretty fucking gruesome shit. What I want for you to do is use the tools I gave you to try and find whatever you can that might help us to help people. I've got connections with someone who can put the information to good use." Bug said frankly.
After a moment to consider, Steven quietly asked, "With the tools you gave me, you could do all of this by yourself. Why do you need me?"
"Just because I've got the tools doesn't mean I used them that much. Up until this week, I only used them when I needed to get into something that was inaccessible. Besides that, I ain't got the fucking time to do it myself, or I would. What I need is someone who's working on this and nothing else." Bug said seriously.
Steven glanced at Mal, then cautiously said, "My life on the computer is pretty much the only life that I have. At least this way, I'd be doing something to help someone else."
"How dangerous is this going to be for him?" Mal asked firmly.
Bug looked at him and was less than a second from unleashing a verbal barrage when he realized that Mal was simply doing his best to protect his vulnerable friend.
Finally, Bug calmly answered, "I guess it depends on how you look at it. I checked you out when you called me. All four of you are on Ashwood's list. So, that means that if Ashwood's goons get you, you're dead. It's possible that while Steven's working for me, that Ashwood's goons might figure out who he is and what he's doing. But, the way I see it, they're not going to make him any more dead than they would have before."
"That doesn't make me feel a whole lot better." Mal said honestly.
"Like my Grandma Winters used to say, 'You're fucked if you do and you're fucked if you don't.'" Bug said with a shrug.
"Still not helping." Mal said weakly.
Bug smiled, then said, "The only winning move in this game is the one where Ashwood loses and is thrown completely out of power. Steven working with us might help accomplish that. I'm sorry. I wish it could be more, but that's all I've got."
"I'll do it." Steven said quietly.
"Good. You know how to get in touch with me if you need anything. And remember, that includes your friends, too." Bug finished as he looked at Mal to confirm that he understood what he was saying.
"We've been on the road for most of the past four days. How bad are things, really?" Mal asked cautiously.
"If you're asking about the whole country... pretty fucking bad. If you're asking about here in Kettle Falls... we're determined to get through this and help as many people as possible while we do. I think we're alright." Bug said seriously.
* * * * *
"Come in." Deb said as she looked up from her monitor, at her office door.
When she recognized the girl, she cautiously asked, "Jamey, isn't it?"
"Yes ma'am." Jamey said as she came into the room, then gently shut the door.
"Please, call me Deb." She said with a smile, then continued, "I have a conference call in just a minute, so I don't have long. But what can I do for you?"
"Actually, I was asked by our Chief Medical Officer to attend the conference with you so I can answer any questions if you have them later." Jamey said timidly.
"Oh? Well then, I suppose that I'd better get this started." Deb said as she clicked on the link in her email to connect to the video conference.
As Deb waited for the call to connect, she quietly asked, "Do you know what it is that they're thinking of doing for Carson?"
"No ma'am, I don't. But since they're talking to you by video conference, I think it's probably something good." Jamey said honestly.
Deb looked strangely at the screen when it asked for a security code.
"May I?" Jamey asked.
When Deb scooted the keyboard over to her, Jamey typed in the twenty-four digit code.
As Jamey stepped back from the computer, she quietly said, "Dr. Hayes will be on in just a moment."
"My husband and my father won't have any way of knowing what code to enter." Deb said with concern.
"It's been taken care of." Jamey assured her.
A moment later, Deb saw her husband and her father in separate windows of the video conference. Each of them had a young teenager standing over their shoulder. Deb looked back over her shoulder to find that Jamey was in position, just like the others.
"Hey there Aunt Deb!" Juan said cheerfully as he waved dramatically.
Deb couldn't help but smile at the gesture.
"Doc Brown, you got a spare flux capacitor I can borrow?" Juan asked with a big grin.
Ryan lowered his head and shook it in amusement.
"Doctor M, find any more bombs in people? You know, my brother Jory was kinda pissed... He's the bomb guy, and I was the one that got to play with the one you found! He's never found a bomb inside someone before!" Juan said excitedly.
Rather than play along, Dr. Murten seriously answered, "I am sure your brother will get his chance, as I am sure the... person, for lack of a better term... who implanted that in Zane probably did it to others."
Juan's eyes went wide as he grinned and said, "I hadn't thought about that! I'll have to let him know!"
"I'm sure he will be happy to hear that." Janet said with a deep sigh, then continued, "However, let's try and focus on what this conference is about."
"Yes, Alvin implied that there might be something you can do to help Carson." Deb said in a rush.
"I am sure you have figured out by now that our technology is slightly advanced from what is currently available."
Both Fred and Deb nodded while Ryan remained still and wore an expression of astonishment at the understatement.
"We are not going to be using our advanced tech outside of our group much, since I am sure you know the dangers that could come from that. However, Juan has explained to me what is going on in Kettle Falls and the critical part that Carson plays in it. He has also explained the injuries that Carson suffered. He also did a full medical scan on Carson while he was there."
"He did?" Fred asked in surprise. "I didn't know that."
"You wouldn't." Janet said softly as she reached into her desk and pulled out a small handheld scanner. "This tricorder is all he needed, and Juan, as a fully certified doctor, carries one." She then looked at Victor and spoke. "Victor, would you be so kind?"
"Of course, Dr. Hayes." The boy standing by Dr. Murten's shoulder said formally as he reached into his pocket and pulled out another handheld scanner.
"Dr. Murten, if you would just sit still for a moment." He said as he opened it up, pressed a few keys, and then 'scanned' Dr. Murten with it. After a few seconds he smiled. "For a man of your age, you are in remarkable health. Although I would strongly suggest you address your raised triglyceride levels. Also, there is a 14% weakening of the abdominal aorta that you may wish to have looked at." He turned the scanner around and held it out to Dr. Murten. Fred took it and looked it over with a critical eye.
"This is... amazing." Fred said in a quiet tone, but otherwise there was no outward reaction.
"Dr. Murten, I have authorized Victor to allow you to have that one, as well as spend the time to make sure you know how to work it properly. It will not be able to do much as far as healing people, but it will make your diagnostic skills much better." Janet said with a smile.
"Thank you." Fred said in amazement.
"Now, let's focus on Carson." Janet said smiling as she leaned forward. "Victor if you would please show Dr. Murten how to pull up the scan that Juan did of Carson, he will be able to see the same thing that we saw."
"Of course, Dr. Hayes." Victor said then leaned over and began to explain how to pull up other scans. After a moment, Dr. Murten was looking at the scan.
"I am sure most of this you already knew, but to make sure we are all on the same page, as you can see Carson's femurs were crushed, 12.2 centimeters below the Intertrochanteric line for the left one, and 13.6 on the right. Above those points, the femur is pretty much intact. Also, even though the doctors have done a tremendous job of repairing what they could, as you can see the vasculature of the legs was damaged greatly. The area of concern for me is the right posterior tibial artery. From the scans you can see that there is a 76% chance that a clot would end up forming there, even with the thinners that he is currently on."
Dr. Murten was nodding as Janet spoke.
"That was something that I was worried about." He said then looked up. "Are you saying you have a solution to these problems? The only option we had, and this was something that I hadn't even talked to Deb about yet, but I was sure that at some point in the future we would need to amputate to make sure that nothing further happened."
Ryan's eyes went wider and wider and he seemed to pale at the last statement.
Deb, however, remained impassive through all of this, following along as the medical people spoke. She didn't even react when Fred spoke about the amputation, other than to raise an eyebrow.
"As a matter of fact, I do." Janet said with a grin. "As I said before, our technology is rather advanced from what is currently available. While we do not have the ability to heal his legs in the conventional sense, what we can do is grow replacement limbs; from the femoral head down, including the bones below, the vasculature, and most of the damaged muscles."
"When you say grow..." Fred asked as he struggled to make his mind cope with what he was hearing. "Do you mean transplant? We don't do that since the chance of rejection is so great."
"Yes Dr. Murten, we would grow the limbs and then transplant them into place. However, there would be no risk of rejection, since we would be using Carson's DNA to clone matches. This would also give us the advantage of allowing the new limbs to grow properly. They would, for all intents and purposes be as if they were his original."
"How long would this take? The growing and the procedure to replace them?" Deb asked after a moment of thought. Jamey was grinning in the background, and couldn't help but send a message off to Juan.
'Do not ever play poker with this lady. She's got no clue what's actually being discussed, but she is DAMNED good at hiding the fact.' Jamey sent, and got back a chuckle and a 'sweet' from Juan.
"The growth of the limbs would only take about two or three days, the procedure itself, that would take me about five to six hours per leg. Of course I would ask you, Dr. Murten, to assist, since you will be handling most of the post op and the rest of the recovery yourself."
"Thank you, yes. I would very much like to see how this would work." Dr. Murten nodded with a smile, as he went back to looking at things on the scanner.
"I think the next step would be for you to discuss it as a family, and decide if you want to do it. Carson's recovery from this would be rather quick, in comparison to other procedures, but he will still have to re-learn how to walk, as well as exercise the muscles. There will be some pain involved. I have been briefed on what Juan was able to do to help Carson's pain level. However, that would have to be undone for the surgery, and for at least several days after, so we can see if there are any complications."
"I understand." Deb said after a moment. "I assume I can speak to Jamey and she can get word back to you when a decision has been made."
"Of course." Janet said with a smile.
"Thank you very much Dr. Hayes. We will discuss what you've said and let you know what has been decided. No matter what happens, I would like to thank you for offering to help."
"It's my pleasure Mrs. Brown. Carson, and your entire family has impressed my kids, which is not something easily done."
"Thank you again." Deb said with a smile.
When the video conference had disconnected, Jamey quietly said, "That was our mom, Dr. Janet Hayes."
"She's why you wanted me to hire Mrs. Hayes, Destiny and Aiden's mom." Deb said speculatively.
"I know it seems silly, but it also seems right, somehow. At least, it makes us feel better to help her." Jamey said honestly.
"I'm sure Dr. Hayes is very proud of you." Deb said sincerely.
To Be Continued...
Wow, I wonder what Carson is going to say when he hears about this.
I am sure there will be some pain, but the results would most likely outweigh any discomfort he might have.
Boy, Bug sure has a mouth on him. I wonder what he uses to get all that filth out of it before he eats.
I think it is really cool that the kids are being allowed to use whatever skills they have, to help other people. Not only are they able to help others, but it will give them more confidence in their own abilities.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher