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"Carson, I'll be announcing dinner in just a few minutes. I expect to see you there." Deb's voice called over the intercom.
"Got it, Mom." Carson said with resignation.
"Max, Bax and Ro, we're about to have dinner here, so pack it in and take a break. If you want to invite any of your new gopher friends along, that'd be okay." Bug said seriously into his subvocal.
"It's good that you're watching out for them. I can imagine that they've probably been so busy and focused on their work that they might forget to take care of themselves." Roris said frankly.
"Yeah. Some people are like that." Bug said with a significant look at Carson.
When Carson noticed, he took his hands off his keyboard long enough to flip Bug off.
Bug laughed at the action, then turned his attention back to his laptop, trying to get as much accomplished as possible before dinner was officially announced.
* * * * *
"How are you doing, Max? I haven't seen you all day." Gordon asked when she approached the table.
"I'm fine. I ate lunch while I was in town. Gordon, this is Matt and Pat, they're new gophers. They're twins... but not like Bug's twins, they're the other kind." Max hurried to explain, then turned to her companions and quickly added, "This is Gordon, he's one of my dads."
Gordon was surprised by the introduction. It warmed his heart to hear Max claim him as a parent. Once he could talk past the lump in his throat, Gordon quietly said, "It's a pleasure to meet you, boys. Please, have a seat. It appears that they have nearly all the food put out on the steam tables, so we should be able to eat very soon."
"Thank you, Sir." Matt said respectfully.
Gordon's attention was drawn by another group of children walking into the room.
* * * * *
"Guys, I'd like for you to meet my dads, Reginald and Walter. Dads, these guys are two of the new gophers, they're Bobby and Zak." Ro said as he led them to take seats at the table, next in line after Max, Matt and Pat.
"It's very nice to meet you. How are you enjoying being gophers?" Reginald asked warmly.
"It's great! We were down at the skatepark, watching them set up things for the party and wanting to help out and be a part of it and when we asked Lazlo if there was anything we could do, he told us about the gophers. He made a call and a few minutes later, Bax was there, asking us if we were for real." Bobby said happily.
"How are things going at the skatepark?" Gordon asked from further down the table.
"That's one of Lazlo's dads." Ro quietly confided to his two friends.
"Oh, um. Everything's great there. There's all kinds of people stopping in and having fun for a little while, before they move on. There's good food and good music. It's really amazing." Bobby said frankly.
"Yeah. Nothin but a good time. People need that." Zak quietly agreed.
"I wish I could see it, but I need to be here..." Gordon trailed off with obvious worry.
Noticing the change in mood, Reginald quietly asked, "So, are you boys from the local area?"
"I lived here forever." Zak said simply.
"I moved here last year. My mom got a job working for Mr. Brown, but she doesn't talk about what she does. She's a scientist or something boring like that." Bobby said frankly.
"Scientists have changed the world in ways that you may not realize. Without them, we'd be living in a very different world." Gordon said slowly.
"Um, Pop, I don't think you really want to hang the world we're living in right now on the scientists. I don't think it's their fault." Ro said cautiously.
Gordon was surprised by the words, but finally nodded and said, "You may be right, Ronan."
Bobby and Zak smiled at Ro's true name.
* * * * *
"Do we have to do this? I wanna stay with Sammy." Brian urged his father to understand.
"Sammy's asleep and we need to eat. Eric's with him and as soon as he wakes up, someone will come down to get him some food." Mike assured his son.
"Do you smell that?" Scotty asked cautiously.
"No. What do you smell?" Mike asked curiously.
"Spaghetti! I thought they was going to be feeding us some more of that snooty rich people food, but they're having spaghetti! It smells great!" Scotty said happily.
"It appears that everything is in order for us to serve ourselves, so let's get into the serving line." Mike said with a smile, happy that such a simple thing as a spaghetti dinner was enough to lift his sons' spirits.
The boys didn't need to be told twice. As soon as the words were out of their father's mouth, they hurried to take their place in the serving line.
"Your highness, if you would rather not stand in line, we could have your food brought to you." Mike said reverently.
"No, thank you, Mr. Vice President. I appreciate your respect for my position, but it pleases me to be able to stand in a queue and serve myself alongside all those who are working so hard to minimize the tragedy of the past few days." Art said solemnly.
"I understand and expected as much. However, propriety dictates that I must at least make the offer." Mike said honestly.
"Yes. I am, unfortunately, quite familiar with the dictates of propriety."
* * * * *
"Mrs. Shoupe, how are you doing?" Gordon asked as he got up from the table and hurried to Oma Shoupe's side, to help her to a chair.
"I'm fine. But, truth be told, I do feel myself winding down a bit. It's been a long day." Oma Shoupe said frankly.
"I'm sorry that I didn't think to tell you to call me when the girls were ready to come home. It just didn't occur to me." Gordon said seriously.
"The girls were a tremendous help, no bother at all. And it was no more difficult to make arrangements to bring them here than it was for myself." Oma Shoupe said honestly, then started toward the chair at the Brown family table where she had sat the previous evening.
After being seated, she thought to add, "Baxter, bless his heart, came when I called for him and was the perfect little gentleman as he escorted me out to the all terrain vehicle. And while Baxter was attending to me and the twin girls, Jamiah took it upon himself to see to your girls and Loquicia."
"Please, just let me know if there's anything that you need." Gordon said with concern.
"Well, since you asked, there is one thing." Oma Shoupe said frankly.
"What can I do?" Gordon asked cautiously.
"As much of a joy as it's been to care for the children today, is there any way that you could watch after them for a while? They've been absolutely perfect little angels, but even so, I feel that I desperately need some quiet time." Oma Shoupe asked hopefully.
"Of course, Mrs. Shoupe. In fact, I'll see to them for the rest of the evening. From what Lucas has told me, you spent the entire day watching after children, including my children. You've more than earned a rest." Gordon told her honestly.
"You may, if you like, but I only need a wee bit of time to relax after a long day. If, later in the evening, the children would like to spend some time with me, I wouldn't object at all." Oma Shoupe said frankly.
"Very well, Mrs. Shoupe. Thank you again for watching after the girls." Gordon said sincerely.
"Just so you know, the two younger girls, Mindy and Mandy, are going to be staying with me, tonight. Their mother was taken to the hospital." Oma Shoupe said as she glanced toward the doorway where the girls had gathered into a tight little group.
"Nothing too serious, I hope." Gordon said cautiously.
"The last report that I heard said that she was in critical condition. I'll check back again later." Oma Shoupe said quietly.
"Would you like for me to get you something from the buffet line, Mrs. Shoupe?" Gordon asked gently.
"No. Thank you. I think I'd like to sit here for a few minutes and collect myself before I start thinking about dinner." Oma Shoupe said honestly.
"I'll just be down at the next table if you need anything." Gordon said uncertainly.
"I'll keep that in mind. Thank you."
* * * * *
Ryan and Ty walked into the dining room, looking as though they had been father and son all along.
Out of nowhere, Mikey appeared and gave his newest brother a joyful hug, which ended up scaring Ty half to death, since he had no indication that it was coming.
"How was it? Did you have a good time?" Mikey asked him quickly.
"Yeah. It was great. Mr... um, Dad, showed me exactly what he was planning to do, to get the factory ready to make the new parts. Then he took me down to the control room and showed me how to set the robots to do what they were supposed to do. He even let me help. It was wild!" Ty said happily.
As he was talking, Tommy walked up and gave him a quick hug that didn't scare him half as much as Mikey's sneak attack had.
"Last, but not least..." Ryan said with a chuckle as Carson approached the gathering, with Jay pushing his wheelchair.
"How's it going, Ty? Did you have fun?" Carson asked with a sincere smile.
"Yeah. It was great." Ty said timidly, feeling everyone's attention focused on him.
"Hold up, Car. What happened? Are you getting sick?" Tommy asked firmly.
"No. I'm just tired. It's nothing to worry about." Carson assured him.
"You don't get to decide what I worry about." Tommy said firmly, then continued, "You need to take a break."
"I know. Mom's already talked to me about it. I'm handling it." Carson said, a bit more sternly.
"Let us know if there's anything we can do to help." Ryan said as he looked Carson in the eyes.
"I will, Dad." Carson said sincerely.
"I suppose we'd better get to eating before all the good stuff is taken." Ryan said with a smile at 'his' boys.
Taking that as his cue, Jay moved Carson to his customary place at the table, the one without a chair, then he quietly asked, "Would you like for me to go ahead and get a plate for you?"
Carson thought for a moment, then smiled and said, "Yeah, if you want. Since it's spaghetti, there's nothing to pick and choose."
"How hungry are you?" Jay asked to be sure.
"If you take too long, I might just gnaw the leg off the table." Carson said with a grin.
Jay leaned in and gave Carson a brief, but meaningful kiss, before leaving for the serving line.
"It looks like things are going well for you, at least in one regard." Ryan observed.
"Yeah. Today, Jay let me know that he's not going to let me get away with being a stupid jerk. I think I needed to know that." Carson said frankly.
"That's good, Carson. Take it from one who knows. 'Yes men' are a dime a dozen. But when you find someone who'll look you in the eye and call you on your bullshit, you keep him close." Ryan said frankly.
"Yeah. I just figured that out." Carson said quietly.
"I'll be right back. I want to get to the garlic bread before the end pieces are gone. Those are my favorite." Ryan said with a smile at his son before hurrying away.
* * * * *
"Ben! Sit over here with us!" Danny (the elder) said when he saw Ben and Oleksandr leaving the serving line.
When Ben realized that it was the Vice President's table, he cautiously asked, "Are you sure it's okay?"
"If it weren't, the Secret Service would have stopped you before you got even this close." Mike said frankly, then gestured toward the open seats, just past General Adams and Max.
"Thanks." Ben said timidly as he sat down, then took Oleksandr's plate from him and set it on the table, allowing Oleksandr to get into his seat.
"Is this the Ben you were telling us about?" Danny (the younger) asked quietly.
"Yes. This is the legendary Ben who's been so prominently featured in the stories I've been telling you." Danny said happily.
"You've been telling stories about me?" Ben asked cautiously.
"Yeah. But mostly stories about up at the cabin." Danny assured him, then added, "Gerry and Myron have been telling the stories about when we were in high school."
"So, how are things going upstairs?" Ben asked in a not too subtle attempt to change the subject.
"Really good. Art and Euan walked us through everything we need to know to help all the people from that monster convoy that came in yesterday. It's been crazy, but things are starting to settle down, now." Danny said seriously.
"What are you going to do when everyone from the convoy is settled in?" Ben asked cautiously.
"I don't know. I guess our job will be done, then." Danny said honestly.
"What would you think about, maybe, doing the same thing for the Chicago 'fleet' that you've been doing for the 'convoy'?" Ben asked thoughtfully.
"How do you mean?" Danny asked cautiously.
"I don't know if you know this or not, but you guys helping out the Chicago 'convoy' has taken a lot of pressure off of us in the command center, so that we've been able to help everyone else. Maybe you guys could keep on doing what you're doing and focus on helping the massive groups when they arrive so that we don't lose track of the people who are still trickling in." Ben said seriously.
"That's kind of what Bug and Dax are doing with the Florida and Chicago people." Oleksandr added between bites of spaghetti.
"He's right. Having people to take care of specific groups has helped us be more available to the new arrivals." Ben said as he smiled down at Oleksandr at his side.
Danny turned to his side and asked, "What do you say, guys?"
"What do we say about what?" Brian asked cautiously.
"Do you want to tell them?" Danny asked his younger namesake, at his side.
"Ben was saying that we could help people, like we're doing now, but a whole new group of them." Danny (the younger) said to his brothers.
One by one, the boys turned their attention to Art, to see his reaction.
"It would be a shame for us to allow all that we've accomplished to go to waste once the people we arrived with are all settled in." Art said thoughtfully.
"To be honest, I don't know exactly what it is that you guys are doing to help people. I just know that it works. So, if you really want to take on the Chicago 'fleet', you should probably get in contact with Dax and tell him how you can make things easier for him." Ben said seriously.
"Thank you, once again, Ben. It pleases me to know that the work that we started will continue on to help others in their time of need." Art said sincerely.
* * * * *
Since arriving with Oma Shoupe, Bax had taken his customary place at the table with Mr. and Mrs. Brown. He didn't have any food in front of him and was turned in his seat, anxiously watching the door that led into the main house.
He jumped when a pair of arms wrapped around him from behind.
As soon as he could extricate himself from the surprise hug, he turned to find Bug and the twins looking at him with three matching smiles. They must have entered the dining room from the 'Big House' entrance.
"How are you doing, Bax?" Bug asked warmly.
"Everything's great. With all the new gophers, we were able to keep up with all the deliveries and everyone's been real happy with what we've been doing." Bax said in a rush, then added, "I was afraid, for a minute, that you wouldn't be able to get away from your work and have dinner with everyone else."
"Things started getting kind of crazy, so I decided that I needed more help. Now that I have my team on the job, I can do things like go to the bathroom and eat a meal whenever I need to." Bug said frankly, then looked across the table at Oma Shoupe and asked, "How was your day at the school?"
"It was more excitement than I'd usually have in a month of Sundays, but it was good excitement, for the most part. I really felt that I was able to do something to help people in need." Oma Shoupe said with a smile.
"So, are you done for the day?" Bug asked as he casually put an arm around Bax's shoulders and hugged him slightly.
"Yes. Although it was a remarkable day, I have to admit that I was relieved when a group of volunteers arrived to take over."
"I bet." Bug said with a grin, then asked, "How are the girls doing?"
"Thanks to Jamiah's efforts and encouragement, they've been included in doing things with the older girls. So far, they've been kept too busy to worry about their mother." Oma Shoupe said frankly.
"Where are the girls, now?" Bug asked as he looked around.
"When we came in, all the girls automatically took places at the table with Gordon and his family. Gordon's already said that he'll keep an eye on them to allow me some time to rest up after my long day."
"That's good. But just remember that if you need some help, all you have to do is ask." Bug said honestly, then broke into a smile as he added, "I do have some experience with twins."
"I doubt that the type of experience that you have is what the girls are needing." Oma Shoupe chuckled, then continued, "But I'll remember to ask if I need something."
"And we'll kind of keep an eye on things, from the background, in case Gordon gets overwhelmed by taking care of all the kids." Ken volunteered.
"Thank you. With this kind of support, I have no doubt that the girls will be well taken care of." Oma Shoupe said with a contented smile.
"We're going to get our food now. Would you like for me to make you a plate?" Bug asked casually.
"Yes. Thank you, Bug." Oma Shoupe said lovingly.
* * * * *
"Nice choice of food, Mom. Everyone seems to be loving it." Tommy said as he set his plate on the table.
"While I always want to do something special for guests, I feel that in a situation such as this, that people might be more comforted with things that are familiar, when so much in their lives has changed so drastically." Deb said seriously.
"I was just saying that it's a good day for spaghetti." Tommy said hesitantly.
"That, too." Deb said with a smile.
"Mom, can you tell me a little bit more about what they want to do with my legs?" Carson asked hopefully.
"I don't think that the dinner table is the appropriate setting to be discussing medical procedures. Ask me about it later, when you have time." Deb said with extra emphasis on the last words.
"You're not going to let me live that down, are you?" Carson asked in a pained voice.
"Not a chance." Deb said simply, then casually asked, "How are things going in regards to finding you help?"
"I'm still working on sorting out all the different things that I need for people to do. But as soon as I'm done with that part, finding people to do those things should be pretty easy, thanks to Bug."
Deb nodded with approval, then thought to ask, "Have you talked with Mr. Cronin lately?"
"No. I've been too busy with other things. I figured that if something came up that I needed to know about, that he'd contact me. I mean, that's why I have a business manager, isn't it?" Carson said honestly.
Deb gave him 'the look', then, in an overly patient, motherly voice, explained, "Mr. Cronin might not feel comfortable interrupting you when you have so many other things going on. But remember, if you're going to start accepting help, that you also need to keep up with the help that you already have."
"Yeah. It's easier to 'do it' than to follow behind other people and 'see that it's done'." Carson said frankly.
"It's a different skill. But once you become comfortable with it, it's not so bad." Deb said with a smile.
"I need to talk to him anyway. I've been thinking about starting a new business venture." Carson said seriously.
"Now?" Deb asked in surprise.
"Do you remember about that translator box that I've been working on, the one that Roris has been using?" Carson asked cautiously.
"Yes. Of course."
"I was thinking that, if we can find all the fabrication tools and the components that we need, that we might start into limited production." Carson said frankly.
"With the economy being as unstable as it is, are you planning on 'giving' them away?" Deb asked thoughtfully.
"For right now, yes. It's just the right thing to do. Later, after the economy stabilizes and things have returned to something like normal, then we'll start selling them." Carson said seriously.
"So, what are you going to need to get started?" Deb asked cautiously.
"I'll provide the seed investment, so all that I'm really going to need is one of Dad's lab techs." Carson said frankly.
"Which one?" Ryan asked immediately from Deb's other side, betraying the fact that he'd been listening in.
"Steven Mitchell. He managed a rush job for me today and I was impressed by the professional job that he did." Carson said seriously.
"You know, you could just take over a little corner of the lab and make them from there." Ryan told his son honestly.
"Once the power assist armor goes into production, you're going to need everyone you've got, working on that and nothing else. Besides, you're already going to get a percentage of the profits for allowing me to use your facilities and equipment for the R&D. I'm not going to pay you rent on top of that." Carson chuckled.
Ryan shrugged, then said, "A guy's gotta make a living."
* * * * *
"Excuse me, where are my children?"
Deb looked up with surprise into the worried eyes of Janet Hayes, the paralegal that she had interviewed earlier in the day.
Reluctant to admit that she actually didn't know, and that she had lost track of them after the incident with Kevin, she stood as her mind raced to come up with something to say that wouldn't make her sound like a completely irresponsible person.
"See? Here's mommy!" Jamey said as she walked into the room with Destiny perched on her hip and Aiden walking at her side, holding her hand.
"Oh, thank you. I can't believe how much I've missed them in just a few hours." Janet said with relief.
Deb noticed that, following Jamey were Kevin and the U.N.I.T. member, Bryan.
"Thank you so much for taking care of them." Janet told Jamey gratefully.
"It was our pleasure to watch after them." Jamey said sincerely, then added, "Remember, you can leave them with us anytime you want."
"Thank you, that's incredibly kind of you." Janet said with surprise.
"I have some chores that I need to do, right now. But remember to stop at the tents out front and ask if you need anything at all." Jamey said, then hurried away before Janet could respond.
"You haven't eaten yet, have you?" Deb asked casually.
"No. I just finished unpacking our things a few minutes ago and came right back here." Janet said quickly.
"Do you need some help getting plates for the kids?" Bryan asked as he approached, with Kevin following a step behind.
"Excuse me?" Janet asked cautiously.
"With two kids, it just seems that it would be easier to do the whole buffet line thing if Kevin and I helped you." Bryan explained seriously.
"Yes. Thank you. That would be incredibly helpful." Janet said happily.
"It looks like you're in good hands. Enjoy your dinner." Deb said with a smile.
"There is something you could do to help, too." Bryan said before Deb could walk away.
"Oh? What's that?" Deb asked curiously.
"You could tell her about your decision..." Bryan said quietly, in a leading tone.
"I suppose that might make her meal just that little bit more enjoyable." Deb said quietly, with a grin at the younger boy.
"Am I missing something?" Janet asked anxiously.
"No. I am. It seems that in all the confusion of... well, several things going on at once around here... the paralegal job is yours if you want it." Deb finally blurted out.
"Really?! Thank you!" Janet said happily.
"Now, why don't we get those little angels of yours fed. I think they're going to enjoy what we're having for dinner." Deb said with a fond smile at the two and three year old children.
* * * * *
Once Janet had made all of her selections, Bryan and Kevin took the children's plates to the far end of Deb's table and left the family there to enjoy their meal.
When Deb noticed Janet sitting there, looking out of place, she walked down the length of the table and said, "Doris, I didn't see you come in. I'd like to introduce you to Janet Hayes. I just hired her to work as a paralegal for me."
"Oh! Isn't that wonderful." Doris said happily, then asked, "So, Janet, where are you from?"
"We're from Denver." Janet answered while carefully watching to see that her children weren't making too big of a mess.
Deb smiled and quietly withdrew, assured that Doris would make Janet feel welcomed.
"I haven't heard anything about Denver, is it very bad there?" Doris asked with concern.
"People are really nervous, as you can imagine, but there hasn't been anything catastrophic, like some cities." Janet said frankly.
"So did you just come here to be on the safe side?" Doris asked curiously.
"My wife works in emergency services in Denver county. She said that all it would take is one good wind from Boulder and the whole city could be hit with a blister agent that's been released there, so she wanted me to take the kids to safety." Janet said seriously.
"So, how are you getting settled in?" Doris asked curiously.
"Thanks to the people here, I've been able to get all our things moved in and put away. Honestly, I never could have imagined that when I came here I'd find such nice people." Janet said honestly.
"I know what you mean. My son works for Carson Brown, and as soon as there was an indication that there might be a problem, Carson arranged for all of us to be brought here where it would be safe. I can't even express how grateful we are for all the help we've received."
"Oh, is this your son?" Janet asked as she looked across the table.
Doris smiled at the question, then said, "Oh, no. Where are my manners? I should have thought to introduce you. My daughter Corina and her husband Davis are sitting next to you."
Janet looked at the red haired woman and the incredibly thin young man at her side, then smiled at them.
"On this side of the table, we have my husband, Marcus and our granddaughter, Cheyenne. Next to them are Apollo and Jarrett, some wonderful young men that we've met since we've been here." Doris finished with a loving smile at the pair.
"It's a pleasure to meet all of you." Janet said as she looked at the group, then hesitantly asked, "You didn't have a son in there anywhere, did you?"
"Oh, no." Doris giggled, then quickly said, "Our son, Roris is in the first chair at the next table. He's sitting across from his boyfriend, Lawrence."
Due to his red hair, Janet was easily able to deduce that the young man in the wheelchair was Doris's son. She was pleasantly surprised by Doris's easy acknowledgement of their sexuality. But what she couldn't seem to get past was that both young men were strikingly handsome.
"So, you said that your wife works in emergency services. What does she do?" Doris asked curiously.
"In calmer times, Daelynn's job is some bureaucratic mess having to do with maintaining the federal standards of the local emergency services. But now, she's part of the team that's instituting Denver County's emergency plan and coordinating with the state government and the surrounding counties." Janet said proudly.
"I know it's got to make her job easier to know that you're away from there." Doris said gently.
"Yes. I was able to get a good signal at the house and was able to send her a text message. She doesn't know that I've got a job, yet. But she knows that we made it here and that we're safe." Janet said happily.
"Do you know, is she planning on joining you, here?" Doris asked curiously.
"It really depends on how things go. If this is all over in a matter of days, then she'll wait for us to come back to Denver. All it's going to take is one good rain to eliminate the blister agent threat. But if there's a major incident in Denver, or if it seems like the chaos is going to drag on, then she'll head this way and join up with us here." Janet said anxiously.
"Well, with things being like that, I guess it's good that you've been able to find a job and a place to stay. That way, no matter how it goes, your wife will have the peace of mind of knowing that you're safe and not too far away." Doris said warmly.
"Yes. We've been incredibly lucky." Janet slowly admitted.
"And your children might enjoy playing with Cheyenne. As I recall, when Roris and Corina were young, there were times that I felt the need to hear another adult voice, especially an adult who understood what I was going through. If you ever find yourself feeling like that, just come and find me. We can let the children play while we enjoy some 'grown up' conversation." Doris said gently.
"Thank you, Doris. I'll do that." Janet said with an honest smile.
* * * * *
"How are you doing, Kevin?" Mike asked down the table, across from him.
"Huh?" His son, at the opposite end of the table, asked as he looked up from his food.
"The other Kevin." Mike told his son with a smile.
When Mike turned his attention back toward the other end of the table, he saw Kevin looking at him like a deer caught in the headlights.
"Are you feeling any better?" Mike asked gently.
"My brother's dead. So, no. I'm not." Kevin said frankly.
Mike slowly nodded, then quietly said, "I'm sorry for your loss, Kevin. And I'm going to do my best to use the information your brother died for to help as many people as possible."
"So, was it something that will help you to make the fighting stop?" Kevin asked cautiously.
"My people are still going through what you brought us, but on the surface, it looks as though there might be things contained on that disk that will allow us to bring the fighting to a stop a lot sooner than we would have been able to, otherwise." Mike said carefully.
"So, it was worth it?" Kevin asked as tears started sliding down his cheeks.
"No, Kevin. No matter how much good we're able to do with the information you brought us, it will never be worth it. The price was too high. But all we can do at this point is do the most good we can with what we've got in front of us." Mike said seriously.
"Thank you, Sir." Kevin said as he tried to get himself back under emotional control.
* * * * *
When Bryan noticed that Kevin was looking across the table at a boy close to his own age, he quietly said, "That's Max. He's new here, just like you are."
At hearing his name, Max looked back at Kevin and Bryan and said, "Yeah. I know how it is to feel like an outsider here. If you're having any trouble, you can ask me and I'll try to help."
"Hi, Max. I'm Kevin."
"Hi. You don't need to be afraid, here. I was, at first, especially of all the military guys and Secret Service agents. But then something happened when I was walking around outside. There was some trouble, and a Secret Service agent pulled me into a little storage shed and... he protected me like I was someone special. I guess it's because my new dad's a general." Max said with a little pride showing through his voice.
Kevin glanced at General Adams at Max's side and nodded slightly.
"I guess, that's when I realized, I don't need to be afraid of the agents and stuff. Anyone who wants to hurt me or cause trouble needs to be afraid of them. They're on my side." Max said expressively. He was obviously still wound up about his experience.
Bryan nodded, then quietly said, "Remember what I showed you outside, Kevin. You don't need to be afraid of anyone. And by the time we're finished, 'anyone' will need to be afraid of you."
Kevin slowly nodded, beginning to feel that what Bryan was intending for him might actually make things better for him. The next time he was threatened, anyone who stood against him or tried to hurt the people he loved would have to be afraid.
A sudden, random thought crossed his mind and he looked up and down the dining room at all the people. Finally, he leaned close to Bryan and quietly asked, "What happened to Diego?"
"Don't worry about him. The Vice President's Secret Service guys had a long talk with him. I can't tell you about what he's going to be doing, but I can promise you that he's being put into place where he can help a lot of people." Bryan assured him.
"That's what I'm going to be doing, too, isn't it? I mean, when I'm trained." Kevin asked cautiously.
"When your training is done, you're going to have some choices. That's one of the possibilities." Bryan said honestly.
* * * * *
"I think most everyone is here now. If I may, could I have your attention for just a moment?" Deb asked as she stood by the serving line, roughly in the middle of the room, away from the dining table.
It took a moment, but people quieted and turned their attention to her.
"When we have guests, we do our best to have a dinner for everyone so that we can have a chance to enjoy each other's company. Thank you for being here." Deb said sincerely as she looked up and down the massive room.
"Let me take a moment to say that if anyone has dietary concerns and can't enjoy the pasta bar that we've set up, please let me know and we'll be happy to fix an alternative meal for you." Deb said, then looked around again.
"Also, Mr. Crante wanted me to let you know that he and the maids have made some purchases today, and I know that he's already spoken to some of you about it. Many of our younger guests arrived with little or no clothing besides what they were wearing. So, when you go back to your rooms, don't be surprised if you find some new clothes. It's not a mistake. It's a gift." Deb said frankly.
"That's it. Enjoy your meals." Deb said before walking back across the room to her place at the first table.
* * * * *
"I'm sorry we're so late. How is everything going here?" Lucas asked as he walked to Gordon's place at the table, with Jeremy and Hank following behind.
"Fine. With all the children away, I've been able to attend to all the little projects you've been throwing my way." Gordon said frankly as he stood to give his husband a hug.
"You have no idea how much help you've been. Things have been absolutely crazy and it's made all the difference to know that when I passed something on to you that I could be assured that it would be handled." Lucas said as he gave his beloved partner an extra squeeze to emphasize how much he appreciated him.
"Where's Lazlo?" Jay asked as he approached.
"He's still in town, at the skatepark." Lucas said as he finally released the hug.
At Jay's look of concern, Lucas continued, "He wanted to stay and watch over things. I felt a little strange about leaving him there, but then I realized that he doesn't need me hovering over him. He needs to know that I trust him."
"But what if he gets hungry? What if something happens to him?" Jay asked anxiously.
Lucas smiled in understanding, then quietly said, "There's a restaurant right there, so as soon as he realizes that he's hungry, he can get something to eat. Also, he's got a U.N.I.T. escort, standing off to the side, making sure that no one even tries to cause him any harm. On top of that, your brother has about fifty loyal teens and pre-teens who would absolutely destroy anyone who tried to harm him. Honestly, I can't think of anyplace that he could possibly be safer."
"Okay. I just hadn't heard anything from him in a while and I was starting to get worried, is all." Jay said repentantly.
"It's good that you worry for your brother. Thank you for that." Lucas said as he looked Jay in the eyes, then he quietly added, "But you'd better be ready for when he finally does get back home, because I have a feeling that he's going to want to tell you ALL about his experiences today."
Jay's uncertain look prompted Lucas to continue, "If there's one person in the world he'd want to share this with, it's his brother. If there's anyone that he's wanting to impress and receive approval from, it's you. So you'd better prepare yourself for when he gets home. Pack a snack if you need to because I have a feeling that it's going to be a long conversation."
Jay thought about that for a moment, then broke into a smile and said, "I can't wait."
"How are you doing, Jay?" Lucas asked quietly.
"I'm fine. I still feel like I'm not doing enough, or at least, I'm not doing as much as some other people." Jay said honestly.
"We're all going where we're needed and doing what needs to be done. That's the long and short of it." Lucas said honestly.
"Yeah. Thanks." Jay said sincerely, then moved forward and gave Lucas a very brief, but heartfelt hug.
* * * * *
"What's got you worried, Ben?" Danny asked cautiously.
"Huh? Oh, it's nothing. I was just a little bit concerned about how Dax is doing. I mean, I know he's got a good head on his shoulders and that he's doing his best, but all of this is just so BIG."
"He knows that he can call you if he needs you, right?" Danny asked calmly.
"Yeah." Ben reluctantly agreed.
"Do you think it would mess him up if you showed up and offered to help him?" Danny asked cautiously.
"I bet Dax would like it if Ben helped him. I bet he knows everything that needs done now and probably needs help doing it." Oleksandr interjected.
After a moment to consider, Ben finally said, "He's probably right."
"Well, since I've been working with the King on helping the 'convoy', I know what kinds of things we can do to help. Maybe, if I wouldn't be in the way, I could go with you to help you." Danny said cautiously.
"I'll get you a subvocal so you can call... what do you call your command center?" Oleksandr asked suddenly.
"I don't know." Danny said honestly, then turned to the younger Danny at his side and asked, "What should we call our command center?"
"I guess, since we know that Art and Euan are going to have to leave, soon, that it'd be good to name it after them, somehow. I mean, since they started it, and everything. How about we call it 'Monarch' or something like that?" Danny (the younger) said thoughtfully.
"Monarch Control, it is." Danny (the elder) said happily, then turned to Ben and continued, "So, if you want, I can go with you, representing Monarch Control so I can tell your friend, Dax, just what it is that we'll be able to do to help him."
"That sounds great. But before I can go, I'm going to need to see if the U.N.I.T. can cover monitoring the news for me, while I'm gone." Ben said thoughtfully.
"You're covered. Go." Bryan said from his seat, nearly across from Ben.
"What?" Ben asked, not certain that they were talking about the same thing.
"Courtney says that she's got you covered. Go and do what you need to do and anything that happens in the news will be catalogued for you to review when you get back." Bryan said seriously.
"Oh, um. Thanks." Ben said with surprise.
"Ben, do you have a minute?" Keil asked in nearly a whisper as he approached the table.
"Sure, there's an open chair, here. Sit down." Ben said quickly, then added, "These guys are Danny and Danny and... I'm sorry guys, I don't remember your names."
"This is Kevin and I'm Bryan."
"Hey! I'm a Brian, too. I just go by Ben."
"Why?" Bryan asked curiously.
"When I was a little bit older than you, I went through some major changes in my life, like an awakening, I guess. I have this friend, his real name is Jason, but he goes by Jack. He explained that changing your name can be like closing one chapter in your life and starting a new one. Looking back, I think he was right." Ben explained carefully.
"So it's not just because there's so many Brian's running around?" Danny (the younger) asked curiously.
"No. That didn't have anything to do with it." Ben said with a grin.
"I just wondered because his name is Brian, too." Danny said as he pointed to the boy in the chair past the older Danny, then added, "And there's another Kevin at the other end of this table."
"Well, we've got duplicate Brians, Dannys and Kevins, but there's only one Oleksandr." Ben said as he gave the boy beside him a quick cuddle.
"I never met anyone else with my name." Oleksandr said frankly, obviously enjoying Ben's attention.
All the Dannys, Brians, and Kevins watched with smiles at the scene before them.
"So, Keil, did you get a chance to pick up your printouts, yet?" Ben asked as he turned his attention back to his dinner.
"No. When dinner was called, Jake asked me to go ahead and have mine so that I could stay with Zane while he had his." Keil quietly explained.
"Well, just remember that you can call on me anytime that you need to. With everything else going on, I don't get to spend as much time with Zane as I want." Ben said honestly.
"I can tell that Zane is nearly overwhelmed with how everyone is stopping by to visit with him. He's got this idea in his head that he's not important and that no one cares about him. I guess that one of the good things about him having to go through this is that he's being forced to realize that he's not alone in the world." Keil said frankly.
"Given the way he grew up, that's a pretty big lesson for him to learn." Ben added regretfully, then seemed to snap out of his thoughts and quickly added, "When you're done with dinner, come with me and I'll get you all the information about your apartment and your job."
"Thank you, Ben. I guess that I'm like Zane, in that it's hard for me to believe that people can really care for me." Keil said timidly.
"We'll do our best to get you used to it." Ben said with a grin at the man he was quickly coming to admire.
* * * * *
"Bug, Carson, while I've got you both in the same place at the same time, I wanted to let you know that, with Ty's help, we should be ready to start production on fabricating the first power assist parts in the morning." Ryan said seriously.
"What's taking so long?" Carson asked playfully.
"I'm waiting on raw materials." Ryan said honestly.
"I was kidding, Dad." Carson said with a roll of his eyes.
"Oh. Right. Anyway, I've already got orders in for everything that we can buy prefabricated. I had to compromise security a little bit and let it slip that what we're working on is going to aid our troops. But once they knew that, they promised to put on extra shifts and get us the components ahead of schedule." Ryan said seriously.
"With all the different parts that we're going to have to fabricate, are we going to be able to keep up with them?" Carson asked cautiously.
"We talked to Zed about it and he said that we're going to be fine." Ty interjected.
"You talked to Zed?" Carson asked hesitantly.
"Of course he did. You don't think I'd take him to the factory without introducing him to Zed, do you?" Ryan asked incredulously.
"I thought you'd introduce him, but I didn't think you'd let him interact with him, not on his first day." Carson explained.
When he couldn't stand it any longer, Bug finally asked, "Who the fuck is Zed?"
"He's the VI that manages the robotics at the factory." Carson said simply.
"So, he's like Dizzy?" Bug asked cautiously.
"In terms of hardware, they're similar. But their programming is completely different." Ryan explained.
"Yeah. Zed is essentially a controller program for the robotics in the factory. He has some rudimentary decision making skills, and a basic verbal user interface. He doesn't really have any personality or anything like that. We just tell him what the factory needs to do and he sees that it's done." Carson said seriously.
"You guys have VIs running out of your ears around here." Bug said in astonishment.
"If you think about it, it makes sense. What's the point of having advanced robotics in a factory if you need a team of technicians to be there, constantly manning the equipment? Zed can watch over the whole thing and the one or two technicians on duty can resolve the issues that come up that Zed isn't programmed to deal with." Ryan said frankly.
"I guess I'm glad that I'm into the programming side of things. All the robots and stuff kind of creep me out a little." Bug said honestly.
"Speaking of the programming, how are things going in regards to the trinary operating system?" Ryan asked curiously.
"As soon as we've got the Chicago 'fleet' all settled in, I should have plenty of time to get down and dirty with it." Bug said easily.
"What are you going to need besides time?" Ryan asked cautiously.
"Sometime in the next day or two, I'm going to need the specs on the final designs with the new robotic components we'll be using, so I can make sure that all the motors and sensors and everything can be coordinated." Bug said thoughtfully.
"I can get you preliminary specifications, but when we actually put the parts together, things are likely going to change." Ryan said reluctantly.
Bug rolled his eyes and said, "That's what variables are for. I haven't hard coded values since I was in the third grade, and even then, I was called a dumbass for doing it."
"Ah! So that's where you gained your colorful vocabulary." Ryan said with a teasing smile.
"Yeah. Blame it on the schools." Bug said with a grin.
* * * * *
"Carson, do you have a minute?" Roris asked as he approached.
"Sure, what's up?" Carson asked pleasantly.
"I hate to bother you when you have so much else going on, and I know that you need to get your rest. But is there some way that you can fix my 'talkbox' so that it can communicate by radio or subvocal? I'd like to go back into town before the Chicago 'fleet' arrives, but I'd feel better if I were able to contact Dizzy or call for help, should the need arise." Roris said honestly.
"Yeah. Don't worry about it. I've got it all worked out in my head. It should only take me a few minutes. I can knock it out when we're done with dinner, before I take control back from Courtney."
"Thank you. I hate to ask, but if Lawrence and I were separated for some reason, or even worse, if something were to happen to him, I'd be completely helpless." Roris explained.
"Don't worry about it. I've got you covered." Carson said confidently, then quickly added, "I was telling Mom a little bit ago that I'm going to set up a little company to put the 'talkboxes' into production."
"That sounds like a wonderful idea. I can't wait to get back to town and see how the people are doing at the 'special needs' check-in since receiving theirs." Roris said with a smile of anticipation.
"You see, I was thinking, with me trying to delegate my responsibilities and all of that, I really can't take on another project. This needs to be done, but I don't think I'm the one who can do it." Carson finished regretfully, then quietly asked, "Interested?"
"In what?" Roris asked cautiously.
"If I can arrange things, would you oversee the company for me? Once everything's going, I'm going to back away and it'll be all yours." Carson asked seriously.
"You're giving me a company?" Roris asked disbelievingly.
"I'll be making an investment. When the company becomes profitable, I'll get my investment back. And, of course, I'm going to want shares in the company which will continue to pay dividends. So this isn't just out of the goodness of my heart. I'll be making money, too." Carson said honestly.
"And the company would just make 'talkboxes'?" Roris asked to confirm.
"For now, yeah. If we come up with some other wonderful thing to help people, you may decide to branch out." Carson said frankly.
"Yes. Thank you, Carson. I think that sounds like a wonderful idea." Roris said excitedly, even though his computerized voice seemed to be less than thrilled.
"Let me finish my dinner, then I'll get to work on the modification for your 'talkbox'." Carson said with a smile at his friend.
"Take all the time you need." Roris said happily before heading back to the table where Lawrence was waiting for him.
* * * * *
"Mom! I was just about to come looking for you!" Deb said when she spotted Mrs. Murten walking into the room.
"From the way it's looking, I'm going to have to rethink my semi-retirement. There's far too much that needs to be done in regards to the people who are passing through here. My docket has been completely filled and I'm even going to break with tradition and hold court sessions tomorrow." Madelyn said as she walked to the nearest open chair and took a seat.
"Let me know if there's anything I can do to help." Deb said with concern.
Madelyn laughed, then said, "Well, since you asked, I have about a hundred filings that are going to need to be proofed and categorized before court goes into session, tomorrow."
Deb looked down the table at Janet, then said, "That shouldn't be a problem."
"This is our grandma Murten." Annie said as she coaxed the twin girls to come closer.
"Who is this we have here?" Madelyn asked with delight.
"Mindy and Mandy. They're going to stay here with us until their mama gets better. She's sick." Annie said seriously.
"Unless I miss my guess, it looks like the two of you have been enjoying a spaghetti dinner." Madelyn said warmly.
The girls looked at each other for an instant, then looked back to Madelyn and nodded in unison.
Madelyn laughed with delight at the action, then said, "After we've all finished with our dinner, how about we go into the living room and you can tell me all about your day."
Deb smiled at her mother's ability to switch from 'Judge Murten' to 'Grandma' with such ease.
* * * * *
"Judge Murten, it's good to see you again. When you have a moment, there was something that I was wanting to discuss with you." Gordon said hesitantly, not wanting to interrupt her time with the girls.
"Once I've gotten a plate of that spaghetti, we can discuss whatever you'd like. I'm ravenous!" Madelyn said frankly.
"I can get that for you, if you like." Jeremy said quickly.
Madelyn looked at him curiously.
"It appears that you've had a long day. Spaghetti, bread and a salad?" Jeremy asked pleasantly.
"Yes. Thank you." Madelyn said with surprise.
"What dressing do you like?" Jeremy asked as he stood.
"Ranch will be fine." Madelyn said, then watched him go.
"After witnessing the adoptions that you did here last night, I was wondering what we would have to go through to officially adopt our foster children." Gordon said anxiously.
"We, as in, you and Lucas, I assume?" Madelyn asked to clarify.
"Yes, Ma'am." Gordon answered nervously.
"Every case stands on its own merits. I can't predict how much time or effort would have to go into it. But, I suppose that my first suggestion would be to talk to my daughter about it. She'll be able to walk you through all the paperwork and help you past any sticking points before the case is brought before me." Madelyn explained seriously.
"Yes. I'll do that." Gordon assured her.
"I notice that you have quite a few children here. Which of them were you planning on adopting?" Madelyn asked as she looked around.
"That's another matter that I'm uncertain of. If it were up to me, I'd be adopting all seven of them, but what they want needs to be considered, as well." Gordon said honestly.
"Which seven?" Madelyn asked, then smiled when Jeremy placed a plate of spaghetti and garlic bread before her and a bowl of salad to the side.
"Can I get you anything to drink?" Jeremy asked quietly.
"Oh, yes. Water. Thank you." Madelyn said with surprise.
"You already know Misti, Annie and Loquicia. And, of course, I'm sure you remember Jamiah." Gordon said as he glanced to the next chair past Lucas at Jamiah, who was listening, intently.
"Yes. I admire how he is so diligent in watching after his sister." Madelyn said with a smile at the boy.
"Then there's Max, who's sitting right next to you, Jay, who's currently sitting across from Carson, and then there's Lazlo, who isn't here at the moment." Gordon said frankly.
Madelyn turned to the girl at her side and quietly asked, "Would you like to be adopted by Lucas and Gordon?"
"I don't know. No one ever wanted to adopt me before. They mostly wanted to get rid of me." Max said honestly.
"Well, you don't need to decide anything right now. What I really wanted to know is if you can think of any reason, right now, that you wouldn't want for them to adopt you." Madelyn asked curiously.
"Well, they're nice and don't hit or yell or anything. So I like that about them. And if I need something, I know that they'll, you know, care and listen and stuff like that. And they let me hang around with my friends and don't freak out if we go and do stuff. So it's like they trust me or something. That's nice. I guess as long as they stayed being like that, it'd be okay if they adopted me." Max said thoughtfully.
"But you don't love them?" Madelyn asked to be sure.
"No. Not yet. Maybe someday." Max said frankly.
"Well, this isn't something that you'll have to worry about right away. Just think about it, and if everything goes well, then maybe we'll be having this discussion again one day in my courtroom, then I can ask you again." Madelyn said frankly.
"If you ever need anything delivered for your courtroom, you can call me and I'll take it wherever you need it to go. I'm one of the gophers." Max said proudly.
"Oh, my. Isn't that wonderful? If I should need anything delivered, I'll remember to call and ask for you specifically." Madelyn said warmly.
Max smiled happily at Madelyn's words.
* * * * *
"How are you doing, Davis?" Tommy asked curiously as he looked down the table.
"Good food." Davis said happily.
"That's not what I mean. I wanted to know how things are going at the warehouse. I haven't heard anything from you all day." Tommy explained.
"Oh, I've been working like crazy. The amount of trucks we've had coming and going is insane. But we're keeping up." Davis said frankly.
"How is the security working out?" Walt asked curiously.
"Who are you?" Davis asked cautiously.
"This is Walt. I hired him to oversee the security for my properties." Ryan said simply.
"Oh, okay. Um, okay. I mean, they told me what they were going to do and then got set up, but I haven't really noticed them besides that. I've just been too busy to really worry about what they're doing." Davis said honestly.
"Well, if you have any problems with them, let me know. I can't fix it if I don't know about it." Walt said frankly.
* * * * *
"Excuse me." Deb said quietly as she approached the Vice President's table. She stopped at Bryan's side and quietly said, "I know that you kids have made your own arrangements for food. But I thought that since we're having a spaghetti dinner, and we appear to have plenty, if you and your friends would care to have some, they can either come in or we can send it out to them."
"That's very nice of you, Mrs. Brown. But..." Bryan began to say, but stopped suddenly.
Deb looked on with concern and waited for him to come back to himself.
Finally, Bryan looked up at Deb and slightly smiled before saying, "What I meant to say was that, on behalf of Courtney and the rest of the U.N.I.T. members, I would like to accept your offer and give you our sincere thanks."
Deb looked at him cautiously for a moment, then quietly asked, "Did Courtney just tell you to say that?"
"No. She told me that if I screwed this up for them, that they would hunt me down." Bryan said frankly.
* * * * *
As Deb looked around to see that everyone was nearly finished with their meals, she noticed Mr. Crante walking into the room, pushing the first of three carts, heavily laden with plated desserts.
Deb discreetly motioned toward the table where she had been seated. Mr. Crante gave a slight nod that he had seen her signal, then changed his direction.
"I hope that everyone has enjoyed their meal. If you will please wait for just another moment, Mr. Crante and the maids are serving the desserts." Deb called out to the assembled crowd.
As Mr. Crante made his way down the table, Deb watched in anticipation of the coming reaction.
Everyone seemed to be pleased with the desserts they were receiving, although Mr. Crante seemed to be moving unusually slowly.
One of the maids, Marie, was on the other side of the table, and she seemed to be moving a little bit faster.
At almost the same moment, Mr. Crante reached Ken and Marie reached Kev. They presented their desserts at the same time.
The chocolate turtle cake, drizzled with salted caramel was enough of a treat to begin with, but Ken and Kev's portions were enormous, requiring a larger plate than the dessert plates that others were receiving.
There was a moment of silence at the table, until Bug finally said, "I remember her saying that you earned extra desserts, but what the fuck did you two do?"
To Be Continued...
Another wonderful chapter, Things are starting to move along quite well.
Quite a few connections have clicked and several people have had some serious improvements in their lives even after a lot of trauma has happened.
Once again, it seems we still have to wait to find what new developments will happen.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher