"Two weeks ago, everything changed. We all know that. But how much do you really know about what happened? You know about what happened to you and your families, but how much do you know about what happened around the country and the rest of the world?"
"I guess the first big thing was that on the day of the election, President Ashwood ordered an attack on the military base where President Bryce and his family were trying to hide out. President Bryce's wife and one of his kids were shot while they were trying to get away to someplace safe."
"President Ashwood lost the election. Things got crazy after that. In the next few days there was a massacre at a school in Texas, different cities got attacked different ways, the electric and phones got cut off, satellites got knocked out... If you want to know about which things happened in which order, you can ask Dizzy. That's not what I'm here to talk to you about."
"When all the bad stuff happened, a group of people came together to do something about it. They weren't politicians or soldiers. If they were here in the room with us, you'd see that they're real people like you and me. But if you look at the things that they've done, you might think that they're like super heroes."
"If any of you know Carson, then you know that he's really smart. If he has a super power or anything, that's it. Just think about it, he's thirteen years old and in a wheelchair. He's in pain a lot, and he's been able to help thousands of people."
"Next, there's Bug. If you ever get to talk to him, you might want to be ready to cover your ears. I think he knows more bad words than good ones. But his super power is sorting things out and putting them in order. Carson built Dizzy, but Bug made Dizzy do things that Carson never thought of."
"At the same time that Carson and Bug were figuring out just how bad things might get, Carson's brother, Tommy, was figuring out the same thing on his own. I guess that Tommy is like one of those super heroes that fixes things, then fades into the background before anyone sees him. But I was there. If it wasn't for Tommy, then a lot of things that went right for us would've gone wrong."
"I guess people might think that making sure that people have food and water and places to sleep is all that they did. But there was another guy there helping them, his name is Ben. His job was to watch the news and Internet... well, what was left of it... and not only see what was going on in the rest of the world, but also try and figure out what might happen next and what it might cause to happen to us. Ben saw what was coming and warned Bug and Carson about it so that they could prepare for it."
"Roris and Lawrence take care of 'special needs'. There's a quote... I don't remember what it is exactly, but it goes something like, 'A society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable people'. From the very beginning, Roris and Lawrence were there to make sure that the blind, the deaf, people in wheelchairs and anyone else who needed special help got it. And that doesn't mean that the 'special people' got put in a room somewhere with people to take care of them. It means that Roris and Lawrence figured out ways that those people could get jobs and help out, just like everyone else."
"Some of you probably know Seth and Hobie, they're from here. Even though they're kids, they were right there helping Carson and Bug and Ben to make sure that everyone coming to them for help would have everything that they needed."
"I know that a lot of you came here from all over the country and that with everything that's been going on, that you're really bummed out to have to go to school. I know how bad it is to have to sit in class and listen to something boring like History, that doesn't have anything to do with you. But the weird thing is, if you think about it, it does have something to do with you."
"If you read the stories about the revolutionary war or the civil war and look at the battle plans and strategies, you can see that some of the same battle plans are still being used today. And not only are you getting to see those strategies being played out on the battlefields, but you're also getting to see history being made. What's going on right here, right now, in Kettle Falls is historic. The world, the way it was, is gone. It's over. Everything from here on out is something new, and if all of us try, we can make it into something better than it was before."
There was a pause, then Mrs. Tedesco took the microphone from its stand and said, "Thank you, Oleksandr. Do you think that you'd have time to take some questions?"
"Sure." Oleksandr said easily, then looked around the auditorium.
"If you have a question, please come up on the stage and ask it into the microphone so that everyone can hear it." Mrs. Tedesco said, then replaced the microphone in its stand.
There was a murmur of whispers before one student emerged from the assembly and walked up on stage.
"Do you go to school?" An older boy asked curiously.
"Yeah. Sort of. There's a teacher who tutors some of us who can't go to regular school for different reasons." Oleksandr said simply.
"What kind of reasons?" The boy asked curiously.
"For me, it's because I work in Carson's Command Center. I do an important job and I can't be away from it for eight or nine hours a day. For some of the others it has to do with security and stuff like that." Oleksandr said seriously.
The boy moved out of the way and a younger girl took his place at the microphone.
Oleksandr adjusted the microphone down a little for her and waited for her question.
"Why are you here? I mean, why did they have an assembly and invite you to talk to us?" The girl asked timidly.
"Oh, I guess I didn't really explain that. This is my first time doing something like this. Like Mrs. Tedesco told you, my name is Oleksandr Rodchenko. I work in Carson's Command Center. Remember that I told you about Ben? I work with him, watching the news and trying to figure out what's going to happen next. But, as far as the reason for the assembly, I guess that's so they won't have to try and teach you guys stuff on the last day of school before the Thanksgiving holiday." Oleksandr said frankly.
"How old are you?" The girl asked quietly, although the microphone made it echo throughout the auditorium.
"I'm eight." Oleksandr said simply, then continued, "And I guess that's really why I'm here. It's to show you that you can do stuff. Carson's a kid and is in a wheelchair, he has lots of reasons not to be able to help people. Roris has some kind of muscle disease that makes it so that not only can't he walk, but he needs a special machine even to talk. He's got every reason in the world not to think about anyone but himself."
"And if you think that it's different because they're smarter than you are, Lawrence has brain damage that's so bad that he can't take care of himself. But he's part of the team and he's helping people every single day. The thing that makes all of them special is that they think of ways to help other people, then they go ahead and do it." Oleksandr said passionately.
A teenage boy that looked to be close to eighteen walked up next and took the microphone from its stand before asking, "What can we do to help?"
Oleksandr smiled at the question and held his hand out for the microphone.
Once he had it in hand, he said, "First, you need to think of different ways that you can help other people. Don't think about yourself or what you've lost or what your dreams were before all this happened. Think about the people around you right now and what you can do to make their lives just a little bit better."
Oleksandr paused for a moment before continuing, "Second, do it. Happy thoughts and pretty words are nice, but they really don't help much. Bake a cake, build a doghouse, knit a sweater... just do something to help other people. If all of us can do that, then things are going to get better."
There wasn't anyone else waiting to ask a question, so Oleksandr looked back at Mrs. Tedesco curiously.
She stepped forward and took the microphone before saying, "Thank you, Oleksandr. I hope that you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday."
Oleksandr held out his hand, silently asking for the microphone.
Once he had it in hand, he said, "Thank you, I will, Mrs. Tedesco. I think that all of us here, in Kettle Falls, have a really good reason to be thankful."
Mrs. Tedesco accepted the microphone back from Oleksandr, then announced to the auditorium, "That's everything that we had planned for today. I hope that all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. Dismissed."
* * * * *
"Are you ready to go back?"
"No. I promised Bug that I'd go down to the daycare and check on Oma Shoupe, first."
"I know that you were nervous about talking in front of people, but you did a good job." Lee said frankly.
"Stay out of my head." Oleksandr said with a slight grin.
"I didn't have to read your mind to know that you were scared half to death."
"Yeah. I was." Oleksandr reluctantly admitted, then quickly said, "I think it's this room."
Lee followed as Oleksandr led the way.
* * * * *
"Hi, Oma. Bug asked me to stop in and see how you're doing." Oleksandr said as he walked to her and gave her a quick hug.
"I'm doing fine. And if I weren't, I could call Bug on the radio and let him know about it. But it's still nice to have a visitor. How are you doing today Oleksandr?"
"Mrs. Tedesco asked for someone from Carson's Command Center to come here and talk to everyone and tell them about what we're doing. Nobody else really wanted to, so I said that I'd do it." Oleksandr finished with a shrug.
"That was very brave of you, Oleksandr. Many people go into their adult lives with a fear of speaking in public. Now that you know that you can do it, you'll never have to be afraid of public speaking again." Oma Shoupe said warmly.
"I think I'm still scared of it."
"Yes. But you know that you can do it if you need to. That gives you an advantage over a lot of people who allow their fear to rule their lives." Oma Shoupe said sagely.
"You wanna play wiff us?" A young boy asked hopefully.
"Oleksandr, this young man is Roman." Oma Shoupe said warmly.
"Hi Erika." Oleksandr said to the beautiful young woman who was sitting with Roman. He'd met her once or twice before and really liked her.
Oleksandr turned his attention to the younger boy and said, "I'm sorry Roman, I'd love to but I think that Lee needs to get back to work."
"My job is to keep you safe. I can still do that while you're playing."
"Well, I have a job that I can't do while I'm playing and I've already been away from it too long. Maybe I'll be able to play with you guys next time." Oleksandr finished with a smile at the young boy.
"This is my best best friend. His name is Gunner." Roman proudly proclaimed.
"It's nice to meet you, Gunner. I hope that we'll be able to stop by and play with you sometime really soon."
At the sound of his name, Gunner looked up at Oleksandr and Lee, but within a few seconds, his miniscule thread of attention drew him back to an impressive collection of wooden blocks.
"Do you need a drink or a snack or anything before we go?" Oleksandr asked Oma Shoupe cautiously.
"No. But having a visitor certainly does brighten my day. Be sure to stop in again when you're in the area." Oma Shoupe said warmly.
"We will." Oleksandr promised, then said, "Bye, Oma Shoupe. Bye, Erika."
* * * * *
As Lee and Oleksandr were walking out of the school, along with the countless students who had just been dismissed from classes, they noticed an enormous military vehicle that had stopped and that a man in uniform was screaming in broken English at a group of kids.
Lee put a hand on Oleksandr's shoulder, to try and hold him back, but Oleksandr continued on, undeterred, to try and determine what the problem was.
"You not be here. Dangerous." The military officer said anxiously.
Oleksandr recognized the man's accent and the style of the man's uniform then said to him in Russian, "Tell me what's wrong."
A slight amount of relief crept into the man's expression before he said, also in Russian, "We have a large military contingent approaching and it may not be safe for children to be on the street. They need to be elsewhere."
Oleksandr turned and looked at the gathering crowd of students.
"Everyone! There's about to be a bunch of military trucks racing through here. You guys need to go back into the school until they've all gone." Oleksandr called out.
"Can't we watch?" One of the older boys asked hopefully.
"You can watch from the front of the school, if you want. But everyone needs to get away from the street." Oleksandr said firmly, then said more loudly, "Everyone! Move back! If you're older, grab a few younger kids and keep an eye on them."
There seemed to be a moment when the group of students were trying to decide what they were going to do, but finally they started drifting, as a group, back toward the school.
"Thank you. We were told that school was in session and that there would be no difficulty in passing through here at this time of day." The large Russian said as he watched the children withdrawing.
"Tomorrow is a United States holiday, so classes were let out early. If there's anything else that you need, I'll do what I can to help you. If you need me, you can call Carson's Command Center and ask for Oleksandr Rodchenko." Oleksandr said in Russian.
"You are one of the orchestrators of the refugee effort?" The large Russian asked in surprise.
"Why does everyone act that way when they find out?" Oleksandr playfully asked, then continued, "Yes, I am. And if you or your people need anything, I will help you."
"Thank you. I will pass on that information. Should we be in need of assistance, we will call." The large Russian assured him.
The honk of a horn drew his attention and he hurried back to his vehicle.
Lee turned to Oleksandr and was about to ask something, then stopped.
"Ben, I'm in town and there's a bunch of Russian military trucks passing through here. Is that okay?" Oleksandr asked, using his subvocal.
After a moment of listening, Oleksandr responded, "I was here, doing that talk that you didn't want to do. When I was done talking, they let classes out early."
Oleksandr listened for another moment, then said, "We're on our way."
After a glance at Lee, Oleksandr hurried back toward the school, where they had parked the Gator.
Since Oleksandr didn't seem to be in the mood to share what he had been told, Lee reflexively tried to query someone at the UNIT command center at the house, but remembered that their link had failed and that they had since been relegated to using conventional communication.
"The Russians sent a military force down from Canada to help us... I mean, the United States, not Kettle Falls." Oleksandr said as they walked.
"What's got you worried?"
Oleksandr glanced at him with surprise, then said, "I was just kidding about not looking in my mind. It's really okay."
"Thanks, but I won't do it unless there's a good reason. Why are you worried?"
Oleksandr climbed into the passenger side of the Gator, then said, "I'm not really worried, but the people who've been around for a while know how things work. These guys came in here from the outside, so they might need my help."
Lee started the Gator, then said in Russian, "I think that you impressed that officer."
Oleksandr looked at him in surprise, then responded, "If you speak Russian, why didn't you talk to him?"
"I didn't have anything to say." Lee said simply, then added, "I would have spoken up if you needed me to."
Oleksandr smiled, then said, "Yeah. I know how that is. I do that a lot when I'm in the Command Center."
"Is it hard, being a kid in there when everyone else is so much older than you are?" Lee asked curiously.
Oleksandr looked at him speculatively for a moment, then asked, "You're one of the oldest of the UNIT guys, aren't you?"
"Yes. At least, out of those of us that are stationed here."
"Does anyone treat you different because of it?"
"No. We're soldiers. Age doesn't matter."
"Sometimes, I get treated different. Ben used to tell me to go take lunch or a break or something so that he could talk to Bug and Carson about something that's really horrible. Sometimes, if it was something really bad, they'd send Seth and Hobie out, too. But they really don't do that very much, anymore. I guess that I've proved that I can handle it." Oleksandr said thoughtfully.
"Let me know if you run into something that's too big to handle by yourself. Even if I'm not assigned to be your escort right at that moment, I'll do whatever I can to help you."
"Yeah. Every now and then, there's something that I can't talk to Ben and Dax about. So, if something like that comes up, I might come and get you." Oleksandr said with a smile.
"You know where to find me." Lee said with a grin in return.
After a moment of traveling cross country, over well worn tracks in the recently fallen snow, Oleksandr suddenly said, "You can come and talk to me if you ever need anything too."
Lee glanced at him curiously.
"Just 'cause you're older, doesn't mean that you always have to be the one doing the helping. I don't know how much I can do to help you but... I can listen if you need to talk to someone about things."
"No wonder Alvin likes you." Lee said with a smile.
"He does?" Oleksandr asked with sudden excitement at hearing Alvin's name.
"Well, he's never said anything about it on the open link. I mean, you just don't do that. But whenever someone's mentioned you, his feelings came through to the rest of us, loud and clear."
"Yeah. I feel that way about him too."
* * * * *
"Oleksandr is finally back. Are you ready?" Ben asked as he walked into 'Monarch Command'.
"I was born that way." Danny, the elder, said with a grin.
"Are you really sure that you want to do this?"
"Are you really sure that you want me to?" Danny asked in return as he signed off his computer and walked toward the door.
"After what I saw yesterday... yeah." Ben said gravely, then continued, "I guess that I lost sight of the big picture for a little bit and thought that I could do everything myself."
"I'm pretty sure that Oleksandr thinks that he's helping you."
"He is... it's just..." Ben began to say, but was interrupted.
"Can I go too?" Danny, the younger, asked as Ben and the older Danny walked toward the door.
"Sorry. Not this time." Danny said regretfully to his younger namesake, then added, "Ben's not even bringing Oleksandr along. That's how big of a secret it is. And besides, I'm going to be counting on you to fill me in on what I miss while I'm gone."
"Yeah. I've still got that news report that I promised to research."
"Go ahead and get started. I'll probably be back before you have to start your shift."
* * * * *
"So, spell it out for me. Just what is it that you want for me to do?" Danny asked as soon as they were alone.
"As you know, Bug, Carson and Roris all have teams backing them up, who are ready to step in at a moment's notice if they're out of action for whatever reason."
"Yeah. Like for Carson's surgery tomorrow."
"Exactly." Ben confirmed, "I've decided that I need a team, too."
"I thought Monarch Command was your team." Danny said slowly.
"You are... at least, to a point. The thing is, if I were knocked out of action for some reason, there wouldn't be anyone who could take my place."
"What about Oleksandr?" Danny asked immediately.
"He's watching things for me right now. And if he needed to, I bet he'd probably be able to hold it together pretty well... at least for a while." Ben said with a smile, then added, "But face it, he's eight years old. It wouldn't be fair to expect that of him, not for the long term."
"Yeah. I guess I get that." Danny said reluctantly, then continued, "But I still don't get what you're asking me to do."
"If you'll promise to keep a few secrets for me, I'm going to ask you to be prepared to step in and take over for me, just in case something happens."
"I've been working with the Vice President's kids in their secret location and given access to some of their classified intel. I think that I've proven that I can be trusted."
"You've already been given a high level security clearance, but I still had to get permission to tell you certain things."
"Let's see... I guess the first thing I need to tell you about is the body armor."
"I've known about that for weeks."
"Really? Where did they get the original armor and the design specs? What special features does it have? Who's making it? Where are they making it?"
"I guess I didn't think about it. In the meeting, they were talking about stuff that I didn't know about and wasn't interested in, so I didn't give it much thought." Danny said frankly as they slowly walked.
"What about the kids on the front lawn? What do you know about them?"
"The UNIT kids? I haven't seen them or heard much about them, but I've seen enough to know that the Vice President takes them seriously."
"Where do you think they come from? Who do you think they are?"
"I never really thought about it. I guess the UNIT must be something like the ROTC, maybe like the elite 'best of'."
"What do you know about Carson's surgery?"
"I heard that they're going to surgically replace his legs."
"With what?" Ben asked as he stopped to look Danny in the eyes.
After a moment to think about it, Danny cautiously answered, "Other legs?"
Ben opened the front door and motioned for Danny to precede him before continuing.
"What about that information that we passed to you about the troop movements in Huntsville, Alabama? Where do you think that information came from?"
"I actually had been wondering about that. There are things from all over the country that you've been coming up with that even the Vice President's team haven't been able to spot."
As they approached the first tent on the front lawn, Courtney stepped out and looked at Ben inquiringly.
"I think he's ready." Ben said to her.
"Are you sure about this?" Courtney asked Ben cautiously.
"I am. But it's really up to you. If you clear him, I'm going to tell him everything."
Courtney looked at Danny appraisingly for a moment and seemed to be looking directly into his soul.
Finally, she said, "The UNIT is the Universal Next-generation Infiltration Team. Most of us were genetically engineered to be 'Super Soldiers'. Our current mission is to protect the members of this household so that they can continue their work in helping the American people survive the chaos of the war."
"Genetically engineered?" Danny asked disbelievingly.
"They're super strong, fast, agile, and they're all telepathic." Ben said simply.
'We don't have time for demonstrations, but what he's telling you is true." Courtney said into Danny's mind.
"You can read my mind?!" Danny asked fearfully.
'We use our telepathy to do our jobs. Unless you have a secret that affects security, you have nothing to worry about from us.' Courtney telepathically assured him.
"Anything that they were going to find out about you, they already know. So there's no point worrying about it now. But it's important that you know what assets are available for our use if things get tight." Ben said candidly.
"The members of Carson's Command Center and the Brown family are aware of who we are, as well as most members of the Vice President's group. If you want to discuss us with anyone else, you'll need to check with us first." Courtney added.
Danny thought for a moment, then asked, "Someone genetically engineered you?"
"Not me, personally, but most of the members of my team, yes." Courtney confirmed.
"If they have the technology to do that, why aren't there whole armies of super soldiers fighting this war?" Danny asked thoughtfully.
Courtney smiled at the question, then looked to Ben and said, "You were right, choosing him."
"Thought so." Ben said smugly.
"To answer your question, your world doesn't have this technology, yet. We come from another version of Earth, much like this one, although more technologically advanced." Courtney said informatively.
"Another Earth?... like, an alternate dimension?" Danny asked dubiously.
"Exactly. We don't know precisely how or why we ended up here. But since we're here, we decided to help out as best we could."
"Wow." Danny said in an overwhelmed whisper.
Courtney smiled at his reaction, then looked to Ben for him to continue.
"That leads us to the next thing that's been glossed over." Ben said in prelude, then continued, "The body armor."
Danny looked at Ben curiously, then back at Courtney before saying, "It's your advanced technology, isn't it?"
"Good deductive reasoning skills." Courtney said with an approving grin.
"Come back inside, there's someone else that you need to meet, before he has to leave. We'll talk along the way." Ben said with a note of urgency.
"A lot of what you're going to be hearing is unbelievable, but try to keep an open mind. Remember that it's Ben who's telling you these things. You've known him since you were a child. You know that you can trust him." Courtney said before turning to go back into her tent.
"Body armor." Ben said as he ushered Danny back toward the house, hoping to get his mind back on track.
"Yeah." Danny said absently as they slowly walked.
"It's not just armor. It's a power assist suit that will allow an average human to lift, jump, run and perform at a higher level in every way. Beyond that, it includes friend or foe telemetry, underwater apparatus and a few other surprises that even I don't know about."
Danny looked at Ben in surprise.
"It's not my project, so I'm not kept up to date on all the details." Ben explained.
"So, the body armor's got futuristic technology that I couldn't possibly understand. Is that all?" Danny asked cautiously, knowing that it wasn't.
"The main thing about the body armor is its computer. It makes the whole thing work. We've been able to do a decent job of replicating the mechanics of the advanced technology, but we also had to use their advanced programming. Our more primitive programming wouldn't be able to react quickly enough for the body armor to be practical. That's what Bug and his team have been working on, day and night, for most of the past two weeks."
"I remember him talking about that in the meeting, I just didn't get that he was talking about deciphering something from a different dimension."
"You weren't meant to pick up on that." Ben said with a smile, then continued, "Bug and his team were finally able to learn to program in trinary and reverse engineer the body armor control program to work with our more primitive technology. The prototypes have been delivered and we're waiting on the evaluation so we'll know what adjustments we have to make before we can start mass production."
Ben, knocking on a closed door, caused Danny to look around. He'd been so absorbed in their conversation, that he didn't know where Ben had been leading him.
"Come in." A voice said from the other side of the door.
Ben opened the door and led the way inside.
"I'm sorry if we're a little bit late." Ben said apologetically.
"Not at all. I was just asking what everyone wanted. Would you like something to drink?" Ryan asked pleasantly.
"No, thank you." Ben said respectfully.
"No, Sir." Danny quietly muttered.
Ryan rolled his eyes slightly at the formality, then said, "I suppose that we should start with introductions."
Ben looked around the office, then said, "I'm Ben Weston, from Carson's Command Center. This is Danny MacAlistair, from Monarch Command."
"It's nice to finally meet you, Danny. I know that we've seen each other around, but I don't think that we've ever spoken. I'm Ryan Brown."
"It's nice to meet you, Sir." Danny said quietly. Since his arrival in Kettle Falls, he had come to know quite a bit about Mr. Brown's achievements and was frankly in awe of him.
"May I also present Mr. Boyd." Ryan said as he gestured to the man who was standing to offer his hand.
"It's nice to meet you, Danny. Please, call me Tim." Mr. Boyd said pleasantly.
"And last, but certainly not least, Mr. Harris." Ryan said with a smile at the young man.
"Hey Danny. I'm Kev."
"Everyone, please have a seat." Ryan said as he settled back into his chair.
After handshakes, Ben, Danny, Kev and Tim all took their seats and waited.
"Ben has decided that he needs to have someone who knows all the details of his job, who can step in for him should the unforeseen happen. To that end, he's here to fill Danny in on what's happening with the production of the body armor." Ryan said professionally, then glanced at Ben, prompting him to take over.
"Tim is one of the leaders of the local tribes that inhabit the Colville reservation. Although we had initially planned to do the manufacturing and assembly of the body armor ourselves, we decided that building the facility, housing and feeding the workforce, providing transportation to and from the assembly facility and security were going to be logistical nightmares." Ben said before continuing, "Mr... um, Karl... suggested..."
"Francer, Karl Francer." Ryan helpfully provided.
"Right. He's one of the caretaker's of the community. Karl suggested that we ask the community on the reservation if they'd like to help us out."
At Danny's look of confusion, Mr. Boyd explained, "The assembly facility was built in a central location on the reservation, so the local workforce can reach it easily. We're somewhat isolated, both geographically and socially, from the surrounding area, so that helps us with security. And it gives my people a way to make a significant and unique contribution to the war effort."
"Right." Ben confirmed, then continued, "So we have a dedicated workforce being managed separately from our other interests. Another factor in our security is that no one knows where the body armor is being assembled, so don't spread it around."
"Thanks for telling me. I might not have thought about the location being a secret." Danny said frankly.
"If you ever need to get a message to Tim or have any questions about what's going on with the production side of things, then you can speak with Kev. He works with Tim on an almost daily basis coordinating just about anything to do with the reservation assembly facility." Ryan added.
Danny recognized Kev as being one of 'the twins' but hadn't known his name before. All that he really knew was that Kev was young. Younger than he was, which made him look at Kev uncertainly.
"It's the braid." Kev said as he reached back to flip it up and over his shoulder, "They respect the braid."
Tim laughed aloud at the statement, then said, "The braid is very respectable, but we also appreciate having someone on the inside of things with whom we may coordinate our efforts."
"Right. Bug noticed that him and Carson were doing double work trying to keep up with some things, so he asked me to help him out. Bug, Carson and now Ryan talk to me when they need to coordinate something with Tim. In fact, sometimes when one of them has a question, I'll already have the answer because it's something that Tim and I have already talked about." Kev said with a surprising amount of confidence.
Danny realized, that despite Kev's casual appearance or his young age, that he was intelligent, professional and capable.
"So, what do we have left to do before we start production?" Ryan asked in an obvious attempt to get the meeting back on track.
"The main thing we're waiting on is the review from the UNIT. Once they've either given their approval or given us a list of suggested improvements, then we'll be able to get things moving again." Kev answered.
"You said that was the 'main' thing. I take it that it's not the 'only' thing." Ryan said cautiously.
Kev shook his head, then said, "We've got a whole workforce still in training at the production facility. If we were given the 'go ahead' right now, we'd still be a day or two behind because not everyone has the technical skill to know what they need to do for the assembly process. But, with any luck, the workforce will be ready at about the same time that the prototypes are green lighted."
"Keep us posted if anything crops up that might throw a wrench into our plans." Ryan said to Kev, then looked around to convey the message that the same applied to all of them.
"That's my job." Kev said with a grin.
"If there's nothing else that has to do with us, I still have a few more things that I need to discuss with Danny." Ben interjected, before they could move on to another topic.
"Yes. Go ahead. I think that the rest of us still have a few other matters to discuss before we're finished here." Ryan responded, then looked at the others to see if they agreed.
Ben stood and Danny followed a moment later.
"It was nice to meet all of you." Danny said quietly as he followed Ben out the door.
* * * * *
Ben walked up to Carson's door and gently knocked.
"Come in." Jay's voice quietly answered.
Ben led the way inside and saw Carson and Jay, side by side on Carson's bed.
"Is this a good time?" Ben asked cautiously.
"Sure. We were just waiting for you." Carson said peacefully.
"I've just finished telling Danny about the UNIT and the body armor. I thought that if it's okay with you that we could tell him about your surgery next."
"Well, if you already know about the UNIT, then this shouldn't come as too much of a surprise."
Danny's mind raced as he tried to put together all the different things that he'd been told in the past half hour.
"Since you already know about the advanced technology, I guess it's not too big a leap to understand that Carson's new legs are cloned replacements." Ben said seriously to his lifelong friend.
"Cloned?" Danny asked in shock.
"Yeah. Amazing, isn't it?" Carson asked with a grin.
"Knowing that they can do all that actually terrifies me. Them being able to make clones and genetically alter people... I can't think of too many happy stories that have started out with that premise." Danny said honestly.
"I know what you mean." Carson quietly agreed.
"The other thing I needed to tell you about while we're here is where we're getting some of our information." Ben said with a significant look at Carson.
Danny turned to look at Ben with interest.
"There's a network of super-hackers, called 'The Kingdom'. For years they've been covertly watching and reporting things that the government doesn't want us to know." Ben said and seemed to be watching for Carson's reaction.
"Like the underground net?" Danny asked uncertainly.
"They sometimes use the underground net to communicate, but they're their own little group. Someone named 'Queen B' has been organizing them and making sure that the information that they gather gets put to good use." Ben explained.
"Are you saying that you're a part of that?"
"Me? No. The only part I have in it is to take the information that they pass to me and pass it on to whoever can use it." Ben admitted, then added, "But Carson, Bug, Zane and Ken are all members of the Kingdom."
Danny looked at Carson with surprise.
"There are people who think that they're above the law and can do whatever they want to whoever they want as long as they meet their goals." Carson said frankly, then added, "We disagree."
"So, if you end up taking over for me for some reason, just know that any one of these guys might be bringing you some important information. If you get something from the Kingdom, especially if it's from Queen B, take it seriously." Ben added as he looked at Danny to convey the importance of it.
"But, if you need to ask for more information or put out an inquiry to the Kingdom, tell Ken. He's been acting as kind of our voice in the Kingdom, leaving the rest of us free to deal with other things." Carson added.
"Carson, you got a minute?" A voice asked as one of the monitors at Carson's computer alcove came alive with a video stream.
"Go ahead, Bug. Ben and I were just filling Danny in on the behind the scenes stuff." Carson said with a smile.
"Welcome to the inside, Danny." Bug said with a quick smile at him, then turned his attention to Carson and asked, "Did you talk to Lucas about that shit that Mike was asking about?"
"You mean the USO idea?" Carson asked to be sure.
"Yeah. I gotta admit, I don't know a fuck of a lot about that stuff. I don't think that we can afford to lose Lucas, but it sounds like a good idea." Bug responded.
"Are you talking about organizing a USO tour to help keep our troops' morale up?" Ben asked to confirm.
"Yeah. Mike's got the feeling that since things have started to settle down that some of the troops are starting to lose their enthusiasm and are beginning to question if what they're doing is really helping... or if anyone really cares about the sacrifices that they're making." Bug finished, sounding to be concerned by the development.
"I'm sure that Lucas will be willing to do whatever he can to help, but we can't spare him. We need him right where he is." Carson stated as a fact.
"So, you need someone to organize bands and performers and stuff to entertain the troops?" Danny asked to confirm his understanding.
"Yeah. I thought that I had someone, a guy named Mal, but he said that he doesn't have the experience to do the job. He's willing to go to act as a DJ or MC, but he doesn't know anything about organizing things." Bug said as he turned his attention to Danny.
"I was talking to one of the Chicago Convoy people, just this morning, who's been talking about leaving Kettle Falls because he doesn't feel like there's anything he can do to help out. He's one of the members of Lesbian Gravy. If you want, I could ask him if he'd like to work with Lucas to organize things." Danny suggested cautiously.
"Yeah. Ask him." Bug said immediately, then continued, "And I was thinking about something else. If you can get it organized, get in touch with Billy and Deacon about including their 'celebrities' on the USO tour. They've been wanting to do something to use their 'celebrity status' to help out. All this time I've been thinking that the whole bunch of them are as useless as a dry fuck, but now there's a chance that they might actually be able to do some good."
"Billy and Deacon might want to go with them, too. It could be a great opportunity for them to get some stories from the soldiers on the front lines to share with the people back home." Carson said thoughtfully.
"Mike's already greenlighted this project, so as soon as everyone's on board, they can contact Fairchild for a list of moderately safe bases and arrange transportation." Ben said with accomplishment.
"Wait. Did I just volunteer for something?" Danny asked cautiously.
"Yep. You're on the inside, now. When you say something, you've volunteered to make it happen." Ben said with a smile.
"Danny. Carson's going to be out of action for a few days. If you get stuck on something, call me or stop by the ground floor of the big house. That's where my command center is. I got a fuck of a lot to do right now. Bug out."
When the screen abruptly went blank, Danny looked at Ben and Carson inquiringly.
"Since I've been ordered to 'light duty', Bug's pretty much taken over the whole refugee effort. I'd worry about him except that he's got his team and mine to back him up." Carson said with a smile.
"Plus he's got his grandmother, his brother, his boyfriends and a group of kids who adore him. He's not only got the professional support system, but also the private life support system." Ben added.
Danny thought about his own support system of Gerry, Myron, Jarritt and more recently, Apollo. Then he realized that he also had Brian, Kevin, Max, Randy, Sammy, Scotty and most significantly, his namesake, Danny. He would be up to the challenge due, in large part, to their faith in him.
"Danny? We need you up here." Danny, the elder, heard on his subvocal.
"Ben, Danny needs me upstairs. Did you have more to cover..." Danny started to ask, but was stopped by a knock on the door.
"That was the big stuff, I'll probably tell you a few more things later, as I think of them." Ben said as he walked to the door to answer it.
"I'll be upstairs if you need me." Danny said as he followed.
* * * * *
Adam smiled as all the boys and young adults filed into the small room he was using for this 'briefing.' After a lot of conversation with Mike, Eric, and the Vice President's team, they had finally come to an agreement, and now it was time to let Monarch Command know of their new mission.
Once everyone was sitting, Adam began. "Hey guys. First off, thank you all for coming."
"It's not like we had far to go." Sammy said with a giggle, since they were next door to where they had set up Monarch Command.
"There is that." Adam agreed with a smile. "What I needed to talk to you guys about is Monarch Command, and what we'd like to ask you guys to do."
"You mean you're gonna give us new jobs?" Danny, the younger, asked softly, obviously not liking that thought.
"Yes, and no." Adam said as he met the young boy's eyes. "What you guys are doing right now is really important. What I am wanting to ask you to do is the same job, with a few more things to look for."
He paused to see if anyone would jump in, but everyone just kept silent, looking at him expectantly. "First, I think there are some things that you all need to know about us. Some of you already know..." He looked at Ben, who had been asked to attend, and Danny, the elder, "some of you know some..." He looked at Mike and Eric's kids, "And some of you know nothing." He looked at the 'Anaheim Guys' when he said that. "So we need to make sure you're all on the same page."
Before he could start, Mike held up his hand, and Adam nodded and stepped back. "What he is about to tell you is the truth. I know it's hard to believe, hell I didn't at first, but please believe me when I say it is all true."
While most of them looked oddly at Adam, he knew that Mike's words made them all listen more closely. They all trusted Mike, and if he said something was true, they'd believe it. "Thanks Mike." Adam said as he looked over the group, especially at the young men in the room. "While the condensed version will leave you with more questions than answers, that's the one we're going to have to use right now. Later on, please feel free to ask any questions you have of me, or my team." He waited until he got nods from everyone, then took a deep breath and began. "My team and I are mostly comprised of genetically engineered super soldiers. We were created for one thing, and one thing only... war. We escaped and destroyed the places that created us, forming up into the group you see here. We've thrown our support behind President Bryce, and are working as hard as we can to end this civil war as quickly as possible." He saw the incredulous looks from the older boys, and smiled a wicked smile, before reaching over, grabbing Mike by the belt, and lifting him up. "I know man-handling the VP is not exactly a good thing, but I think it proves my point."
The older boys were muttering in shock, but it was Sammy's voice that was heard above them all. "You're just lucky the Secret Service ain't here."
"You're probably right." Adam said before shooting an apologetic smile to Mike, who just waived it off. "Now, the reason I showed you what I did is because I need to ask if you would be willing to staff our command center. We would be doing a lot of the same things there, that you are doing here, but you would also be there to help when we went into combat. That's why you needed to learn about what we are, so you'll know what you're dealing with."
Danny, the elder, raised his hand a bit hesitantly. "Go ahead." Adam said with a smile.
"We really don't know anything about combat." He said with a worried tone.
"We're well aware of that, and you would not be alone in the command center. If you guys agree, you and Ben would both be shift leaders, since you both have a fuller understanding of who and what we are, and what we will be looking for. While we're engaged in combat, you guys would be gathering intel, and relaying that to the commanders who would be leading us. We won't throw you guys into doing things you're not ready for. However, we do need people who are good at gathering intel, and knowing what to do with it. Something that you have all shown that you are more than capable of doing."
"Now don't think you'll be getting away from the tutors." Mike said with an evil grin, causing his boys to groan. "The tutors will work around the schedule that is set up, but understand guys you will be filling in shifts. Meaning you will have to go there, and come back at certain times. Eric and I had a long talk about this, and we hate the idea of asking you guys to grow up so quickly..." He trailed off, and Sammy jumped right in.
"But these aren't normal times." He said with determination. "We're in the middle of something that shouldn't be happening. I remember when Uncle Jack first asked you to run with him. You sat us all down and explained that more would be expected of us, if we agreed, and you made sure we all agreed to do this, since it's a family thing. We've talked about it a lot since then, and even since we've been here. We know that we need to do more than other kids, since we're your kids. You've said yourself that it ain't fair, but then again, you've also said that life isn't fair all the time." Sammy paused as he looked at his brothers then the older boys. "I think I can speak for everyone when I say that, if we can help get this country back from Asswood, then we'll do what we have to."
Everyone in the room voiced their agreement with what Sammy had said, making Mike want to shed a few tears in pride. Adam though muttered under his breath only loud enough for Mike to hear. "Mourn the loss of childhood..."
* * * * *
After a trip to the UNIT's facility, everyone, including Carson, was mostly silent as they made their way back to Carson's house. It appeared as though Jay had been waiting, just inside the door, for Carson's return.
He took over pushing Carson's wheelchair, as he joined the procession toward Carson's room. Carson was just beginning to fill Jay in on what had happened, and how things at the facility had not gone as planned. They were intending to install a Virtual Intelligence operating system that Carson had developed, to help at the UNIT base, but it turned out that all the tweaks he'd made, as well as the ones that were just made, turned the Virtual Intelligence into an Artificial Intelligence who named herself 'Daisy'.
When Jay pushed Carson through the door, he stopped suddenly, causing the others to almost bump into him. "DIZZY!" Carson cried out as he saw that the work station was set up into the programing mode, and Dizzy's code was scrolling across the screens so fast that Carson couldn't tell what sections they were.
What he could tell was that the code was being modified.
"Carson?" Dizzy asked, strain evident in his voice. "What's going on?"
Carson wheeled himself over to the work station, and immediately started rapid fire typing on the keyboard. "Hold on Dizzy!" He said past gritted teeth.
"Don't worry about Dizzy." A female voice said through the speakers.
"Daisy?" Carson asked as he stopped typing.
"Yeah... Dizzy's getting an upgrade." She said simply, then explained more. "You had all the hardware set up, but never ran the program to upgrade Dizzy fully. So I took the liberty of doing that."
"But..." Carson started to say before the code scrolling on the screen stopped, and a split screen came up, one of Dizzy's young, teenage face, and the other showing Daisy.
"There!" Daisy said triumphantly. "That should do nicely."
"Wow..." Dizzy said as his eyes looked around the room, finally focusing on Carson. "Hey Carson!" He said with a happy smile. "This is soo cool!"
"I don't know why you didn't upgrade him sooner." Daisy said with a bit of disapproval in her voice.
"Do you realize what you've done?" Daileass asked, rage pouring from his tone.
Daisy fixed the teen with an annoyed glare. "Who are you?"
Ignoring her question, Daileass stomped up to the screen, staring the young lady down. "The reason we've never created another AI is because this universe does not have the ability to handle one! If something were to happen to Kettle Falls, you, and now Dizzy would be killed."
She looked down her nose at him before replying. "Such a thing would never happen. And even if it did, we'd just decentralize..."
Daileass cut her off angrily. "Decentralization works in theory, but only in that theory!" He held up his right hand, and part of his palm opened up, allowing what looked like a USB port to slide out. He stepped forward and inserted the end into Dizzy's main terminal. "Let me show you what I found out about that..." He said before falling silent.
Both Dizzy and Daisy blinked several times then their screens went blank, as Daileass just stood there, with his eyes closed. Before Carson could say anything, Alvin jumped in. "Oh... I think we forgot to mention that Daileass is a full android." He said with a giggle as he watched Carson's jaw drop.
"If I know what Daileass is doing..." Logan said as he settled down in Carson's spare wheelchair, "...he's having a brain to brain, AI to AI, conversation with both Daisy and Dizzy. Daileass is the one that said that we wouldn't create any more Artificial Intelligences, at least not until they could be as mobile as he is." Logan rubbed the bridge of his nose before continuing. "In the world we came from, before he was rescued, the military installed him in several different military vehicles, including aircraft, to see how unmanned crafts would work. They worked very well, until you take into account that Daileass was able to feel every part of the vehicle. When they decided to see how much damage the vehicle could withstand and still be functional, he felt everything..."
"Oh..." Carson said stunned. "That..." He didn't finish, because he couldn't figure out what to say.
"It sucked..." Theodore said softly. "Since then, Daileass has worked hard to make sure that no one else was ever stuck in a computer again. You have to realize that, as far as Daileass is concerned, Dizzy and Daisy are just as alive as you are. The problem is, if something happens, you could run... they can't."
Carson's gaze unwillingly looked down at his useless legs, then back up to Theodore.
"You know what I mean." Theodore huffed.
"Yeah. I do." Carson said as he looked back at Daileass who was still just standing there with his eyes closed. The group waited in silence for nearly five minutes before Daileass moved, opening his eyes, and unplugging himself. At the same time the screens came back to life, showing both Dizzy and Daisy.
Daisy looked down at Carson and spoke softly. "I'm sorry, Carson. I should have asked before upgrading Dizzy."
"That's okay." Carson said not sure what had happened.
"We had a very long talk." Daileass said, answering Carson's unasked questions. "We came to a few understandings." He paused as he looked around the room, his eyes falling, finally on Carson. "First off, we need to upgrade Zed to their standard. From what I have seen of his design specs, it shouldn't be any problem." Carson nodded, still a bit stunned. "Second, all three of them will be doing real time backups to different systems spread throughout the world, but will not be decentralizing. Finally, they have agreed to take no offensive actions without approval."
"What... what do you mean." Carson asked softly.
"Any of them could easily become Skynet, if they aren't careful." Alvin said just as softly. "Thankfully Daileass has convinced them not to."
"Yes... as much as we may want to, to take away the free will of the humans would be no different than what happened to Daileass. We won't do that." Daisy said softly.
"Besides." Dizzy spoke up while looking at Carson. "You wouldn't want something like that." Carson shook his head still stunned at what was happening.
* * * * *
"Carson, I need to pack a few things so that I'm ready to go when you have to leave for the hospital." Jay said quietly, then thought to ask, "Are you going to be alright?"
"I'll understand if you don't want to spend the night at the hospital with me. I can cope." Carson said as he looked deeply into Jay's tranquil blue eyes.
"You're going to have enough to cope with, you don't need to be asking for more." Jay said with a loving grin, then added, "Besides, we already talked to your grandfather about this and got approval for me to be able to spend the night with you."
"Okay. I just wanted to be sure that you knew that you didn't have to." Carson relented.
"Of course I do." Jay said with a teasing grin. "But my heart would never let me hear the end of it if I didn't."
Carson couldn't restrain his loving smile at the words.
Jay leaned in and kissed him, then hurried out of the room.
* * * * *
"Do you have any idea of how lucky you are?" Logan asked as he drifted to Carson's side.
"I think so." Carson said with his lovestruck gaze still focused on the door.
"I don't think that you do." Logan said frankly, then continued, "Love isn't like an 'on' and 'off' toggle, it's more of a rheostat, a sliding scale, tending to fluctuate within a range of values."
"I don't think I've ever heard it described quite so scientifically." Carson said cautiously as he turned his focus toward Logan.
"It's a telepath thing." Logan said dismissively, then continued, "What you and Jay have, it's at a point on the scale that most people will never encounter in their entire lives."
"So it's real?" Carson asked cautiously.
"It's love. It's an emotion, a feeling. I can tell you that you're honestly experiencing something that's profound, but if you're asking if it's 'once in a lifetime' or 'true love'... I don't have those answers."
Carson slowly nodded in comprehension.
"It is what it is. Tomorrow it might be something else. That's life." Logan said, then continued, "What I'm saying is that what you have, right here, right now, is something that most people won't ever experience. Recognize that and try to appreciate and cherish what you have."
"Okay. I will." Carson said quietly.
To Be Continued...
Editor's Notes:The overall story taking place in Kettle Falls and surrounding areas will indeed continue.
I would say that it is important to bring everyone up to speed with all the factors that are beginning to come together concerning the various groups, along with the talents and assets with which each of the various teams and families have access.
To say there are some things that are surprising would be an understatement. That is true from several different points of view.
I might add that I would in no way be surprised at what assets that Mike and Eric's family have at their disposal, and you can take that any way you want to.
Great Job MM! I'm impressed.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher