UA7: New Hope

Chapter 36: After the Storms

"I just got a message for you." Lehman said as he bounced into the living room.

"From who?" Benny asked from his place on the floor.

"Captain Winters." Lehman said with a grin.

"You're kidding." Benny said slowly as he looked up.

"Just a little. Vincent said he was allowed to take command for about an hour as part of his training. He said something about writing more later. He had some stuff that he had to do first but he wanted to share the news with us." Lehman said as he took a seat on the floor by Benny.

Benny started to tighten a screw, but could feel Lehman watching his back.

"Where's Hailey?" Benny asked without looking up from his work.

"You're the babysitter, you should know better than me." Lehman said frankly.

Benny turned slowly to give Lehman 'the look'.

"She went with a bunch of other kids from her class to help do weeding and stuff in the fields. Mrs. Tengen is there and said she'd watch her. And Mycien is everywhere, so you should probably just ask him." Lehman finished indignantly.

"Mycien didn't promise my dad that he'd watch Hailey, I did." Benny said firmly, then his expression fell as he asked, "Did she tell me where she was going?"

Lehman nodded.

"Did I tell her it was okay with me?" Benny asked cautiously.

"You told her to have a good time." Lehman said frankly.

"How do parents do this? I feel like I'm going completely insane and I don't even have a real job or anything and I'm completely stressed out." Benny said in frustration.

"I know how to help, if you'll let me." Lehman said seriously.

"How?" Benny asked in defeat.

"I can ask Dad and Other Dad for help. They'll know how to make things better." Lehman said confidently.

"Yeah. Their solution is to send you over here so I can look after you while they're both working." Benny said flatly.

"I asked if I could come over. If I didn't want to be here they'd come up with something else." Lehman said frankly. "Dad and Other Dad are really smart and they know about everything that's going on in the whole colony. I bet if you talked to them, they could find someone to help you and probably someone that you could help in return."

"Hold that thought." Benny said as he stood and brushed the dust off his pants. "Mycien, would you look at this ramp and tell me if it will work?"

"You have assembled the parts according to my specifications, so it should function as desired." Mycien responded professionally.

"Will you help me carry this out?" Benny asked as he bent down to pick up one end of the ramp.

Lehman stood, then his arms lengthened until he had a firm grip on the other end.

"Should you really be doing that?" Benny asked with a wince at the sight of Lehman with arms that reached to the floor.

"Yeah. My shapeshifting abilities are just starting to come back, so I've got to relearn how to use them." Lehman said honestly.

"Is that what Nurse Willingham said?" Benny asked as he looked Lehman in the eyes.

"She doesn't know anything about Chameloids. But she contacted Dr. Perry about me and she said that I should just be careful not to try to do too much too soon." Lehman said honestly, then added, "Don't worry, I know what I'm doing. I'm being careful."

"I wish we had a real doctor here." Benny said as he lifted his end of the ramp.

"But we don't. They're supposed to be sending one with the first supply ship." Lehman said seriously.

"Tilt up one side until we're out the door." Benny said as they started walking.

"Why didn't you assemble this outside, you know, by the steps, where you'd be needing it?" Lehman asked as he twisted his head around unnaturally far to watch where he was going while walking backwards.

"Ouch! Don't do that! It hurts me just looking at you." Benny said as he cringed.

"Deal with it. I'm the one walking backwards." Lehman said unrepentantly.

"We're almost there." Benny said, then quickly added, "Watch for the steps."

"I can SEE them. That's why I have my head turned this way." Lehman said impatiently.

"You've still got quite a bit of Vincent in you, don't you?" Benny asked with a grin.

"Yeah. Probably more than I should. His imprint isn't fading." Lehman said, then stopped walking and faced forward as he asked, "Is here good?"

"It looks right. Let's lower it into place." Benny said as he squatted down.

"Bring it toward you, just a little." Lehman said in concentration.

"Yeah. I've got it." Benny said with effort, and was finally able to fit the ramp into place over the stairs.

"It looks good." Lehman said in an impressed voice.

"Want to give it a try?" Benny asked as he stood aside.

Lehman shrugged, then walked up the ramp and onto the porch.

"What do you think?" Benny asked hopefully.

"It seems nice and sturdy, but it's kinda steep. Do you think your dad will be able to push himself up there?" Lehman asked cautiously.

"He said he's going to have an electric wheelchair, so it shouldn't be a problem. But according to Mycien, this is a standard incline for a wheelchair ramp, so he should be able to handle it manually if he needs to." Benny said seriously.

"Then I guess it will work! What now?" Lehman asked curiously.

"As soon as I've taken a picture of this, I'm going to send the whole set off to my parents so they can see that everything's done."

"You mean that this was the last one?" Lehman asked with a smile.

"Yes. Their house and mine are both completely wheelchair accessible now." Benny said proudly.

"Then we should celebrate! Why don't you and Hailey come over to our house tonight for dinner? We can make it a real celebration!" Lehman asked hopefully.

Benny thought for a moment, then smiled as he said, "Yeah, okay. I think I've earned a night off."

"I'm going to go get started planning the party. How does six o'clock sound?" Lehman asked with a grin.

"It sounds great. We'll be there." Benny said warmly.

* * * * *

"Dad! Do you have a minute?" Lehman asked as he hurried into his father's office.

"Of course. I always have time for you." Cyril said warmly as he looked up from his work.

Lehman climbed onto Cyril's lap and gave him a firm hug.

"What have you been up to today?" Cyril asked gently as he held Lehman in his arms.

"I was over at Benny's house, mostly just hanging out with him, but helping him some, too." Lehman said honestly.

"How are the renovations going?" Cyril asked with interest.

"He just finished a few minutes ago. That's why I came here now, so I could ask if we could have a party." Lehman asked hopefully.

"Your Other Dad would probably know more about setting up a party than I would." Cyril said frankly.

Lehman rolled his eyes, then slowly said, "Yeah. But if I asked him, he'd tell me to come over here and ask you if it was okay first."

Cyril chuckled and said, "You're a cheeky little fellow, aren't you?"

"From what grandpa says, you were worse." Lehman said with a grin.

"Lies! Lies I tell you!" Cyril said in a theatrical voice as he hugged Lehman a little bit tighter.

"So, can we have a party?" Lehman asked hopefully.

"Yes. Provided that Roger can come up with some sort of food for our guests. We still need to be very cautious about such things until the supply ship arrives." Cyril warned.

"I know that! But it's just Benny and Hailey. They understand how things are. It doesn't have to be anything big and fancy, I just want to do something special since Benny's been working so hard. He needs to know that someone is noticing all the hard work he's doing." Lehman said seriously.

"I'm sure his parents are very appreciative of all his efforts." Cyril said honestly.

"Yeah. But they're not here to tell him. He's getting really stressed out about everything and I think this might help him feel better." Lehman said frankly.

"I think the only thing that would really help to put him at ease would be if he and JonJon could come to some sort of resolution. This impasse that they seem to have reached is causing them both stress." Cyril said as he looked Lehman in the eyes.

Lehman let out a sigh and said, "I know. I wish there was something I could do to help with that, but despite how I look, I'm not Vincent."

"What would Vincent do?" Cyril asked curiously.

"If I knew that, I'd do it and everything would be alright!" Lehman said with a grin, then added, "Vincent just has kind of a gift for looking at something and seeing what's wrong and how to fix it."

"Sometimes people need to figure out how to fix things for themselves. It can be painful, but it's part of living and growing." Cyril said frankly.

"I guess I knew that." Lehman said quietly, then added, "But JonJon had better hurry up and figure things out soon, because I'm not going to sit around watching everyone mope for very much longer."

"Maybe the party will help. Go talk to Roger and see what he can do." Cyril said warmly.

"Thanks, Dad!" Lehman said happily, then gave Cyril a firm kiss on the cheek.

"Remember that I love you, Lehman." Cyril said as he tried to restrain his tears.

"I know." Lehman said happily as he hopped off Cyril's lap. "And I love you, too."

Cyril smiled as he watched Lehman leave the room, knowing that his words, though casually spoken, were completely sincere.

* * * * *

As Lehman walked into Roger's office, he saw that Roger and JonJon were both focused on their work and Fizgig was asleep on a rug in front of the window.

"District seven reports that they have what appears to be twelve bushels of blue gourds. Do you know anything about that?" Roger asked as he studied his computer screen carefully.

"Yes. Someone took the wrong shipment. I've got a crew in District two that have been looking for them." JonJon said seriously.

"I can transport the shipment to the proper location, if you would like." Mycien said from above them.

"Yes, thank you, Mycien. That would be very helpful." Roger said with a smile toward the ceiling.

"Hi, JonJon." Lehman said as he walked to JonJon's side.

"Hi, Lehman. I wasn't expecting you. I thought you were visiting Benny." JonJon said as he stood and pulled Lehman into a hug.

After a moment to enjoy the embrace, Lehman said, "I was, but Benny finished the last ramp and I thought that maybe we could kind of have a party to celebrate."

Roger had been listening and a look of regret fell across his face.

"I'm sorry, but we don't have sufficient rations to be able to invite anyone over." Roger said regretfully.

"I guess we don't have to feed them. I mean, it's more about letting Benny know that we've noticed how hard he's been working." Lehman said frankly.

"Excuse me, but if you wouldn't mind my input, I have a suggestion that may be of help." Mycien said from above them.

"Of course, Mycien. We're always interested in what you have to contribute." Roger said frankly.

"Since the day the New Hope colony was established, Mr. Korrigon has been working very hard to make a success of his inn. If your intention is to have a celebration, you could contact Mr. Korrigon and reserve his private dining room for the occasion." Mycien said seriously.

"I wasn't aware that the inn was open for business." Roger said honestly.

"Currently, Mr. Korrigon's business is functioning primarily as a restaurant. However, that part of his business is flourishing." Mycien said informatively.

"With as busy as everyone has been trying to get the colony up and running, I don't know how anyone could find the time for that." Roger said in surprise.

"It's because they are busy. Rather than return to their homes after a long day of tiring work and face the prospect of having to prepare a meal from unfamiliar ingredients, Mr. Korrigon offers the colonists a place where they can go and sit down and relax with a meal that was prepared for them. He is also willing to accept either Starfleet credits or food rations as payment for his services." Mycien said frankly.

"That's brilliant!" Roger said with a smile.

"The New Hope Inn is becoming rather popular. I have observed that many people, especially those without families, have gravitated to the inn to experience a sense of community and share their experiences." Mycien said in a tone of voice that sounded almost tender.

"Even if we didn't have cause to celebrate, I think that visiting the inn sounds like a wonderful idea. Would you please contact Korrigon and ask if we may reserve his private dining room for..." Roger trailed off, then looked to Lehman and asked, "Did you tell Benny when the party would be?"

"I told him to be at our house at 6pm." Lehman said with a smile.

"Very well, then would you ask Mr. Korrigon if we can reserve his private dining room for 6:30pm? That way we can leave from the house and there won't be any need to rush." Roger said thoughtfully.

"The reservation has been made." Mycien said immediately, then added, "Mr. Korrigon finds it easier if I maintain the reservation schedule for him. That way you can call at any time from any location to make a reservation, even if Mr. Korrigon is occupied with other duties."

"It sounds like he's making good use of your services." Roger said with a smile.

"Yes. I find working with Mr. Korrigon to be very fulfilling." Mycien said in a voice that sounded to be at peace.

"I'm sure that others will follow his example and make use of your services, in time." Roger said assuringly.

"Yes. I look forward to that experience." Mycien said happily, then added, "You should be aware that we are scheduled to have rain at 6pm."

"Oh? What kind of rain will we be having?" Roger asked with interest.

"It will be a warm, misty rain. That should be most advantageous for the fields." Mycien said simply.

"We'll be sure to dress appropriately." Roger said with a smile upward.

"Would you let Benny know about the rain, so he and Hailey don't get caught by surprise?" Lehman asked hopefully.

"Yes, Lehman. I will tell him now." Mycien said tenderly.

Lehman smiled at the response, then walked over to Roger and pulled him into a hug.

"Thanks for doing this, Other Dad. I love you." Lehman said sincerely.

"I love you, too." Roger said as he returned the hug, then looked across the room to JonJon and added, "Both of you."

* * * * *

"Wow, this place is really busy!" Lehman said as they walked into the front door of the inn.

"When Mycien described the inn, I envisioned something a bit more intimate." Roger said honestly as he removed his raincoat.

"I love the energy. Can you feel it? This place is humming with excitement." Cyril said as he looked around the large dining room.

"Cyril, isn't it? I'm glad you decided to stop by." Korrigon said with an inviting smile.

"Well, Roger is actually the one who made the arrangements, but I'm very glad to be here. I'm astonished at how lively it is." Cyril said honestly.

"Are you, by chance, the one who reserved the dining room?" Korrigon asked with a smile

"Yes. We made reservations for 6:30. We're a bit early." Roger said quickly.

Korrigon gave a good natured smile, then motioned for the group to walk with him as he said, "Why don't I get you something to drink, then I'll take you to your dining room?"

The group followed Korrigon to a simple, yet elegant bar at the side of the room.

"If you'll tell Sherry what kind of drink you would like, she'll do her best to make something to suit your taste. She has an amazing talent." Korrigon said cheerfully, then added, "I'll be back to you once you have your drinks."

No one knew what to order and stood looking at each other for a moment, until Lehman said, "It's Benny's party, so he should get to order first."

Benny flashed him a withering, 'thanks a lot' look, then turned to Sherry and said, "Well, what I'd really like right now is a Coke."

"Sweet or SWEET sweet?" She asked with a grin.

"Sweet will be fine." Benny said timidly.

Sherry put ice in a glass, then quickly poured juice from three separate containers over the ice. After capping the glass and shaking it's contents, she poured it into another glass on the bar, then filled it the rest of the way with carbonated water.

"Tell me what you think." Sherry said as she pushed the drink toward Benny.

After a moment of hesitation, Benny took a cautious sip of the drink and his eyes went wide.

"Does it taste like Coke?" Hailey asked curiously.

"There's no way I could make a drink that tastes like Coke with the ingredients that I have here, but knowing that Benny likes the taste of Coke allowed me to put together something with the same general acidity and flavor undertones to appeal to his taste." Sherry said pleasantly to Hailey.

"It's great! What's in it?" Benny asked cheerfully.

"Sorry, that's a trade secret. If I told you, then you wouldn't have any reason to come in and order drinks from me." Sherry said in a playful tone.

Benny was surprised by the answer, but before he could respond, Sherry leaned down to Hailey and asked, "What are you thirsty for, honey?"

"Milk." Hailey said shyly.

Sherry smiled at the answer, then said, "I have something I think you'll really like."

Hailey watched as Sherry put two different types of fruit into the blender and then added water before turning it on.

"That's going to need to blend for a minute. What can I get for you?" Sherry asked Lehman pleasantly.

"I don't know too many Earth drinks, but the thing I've been missing since the Yorktown left is Hot Chocolate." Lehman said honestly.

"A man after my own heart." Sherry said with a grand smile, then turned back and shut off the blender.

She quickly poured the creamy beige blended mixture into a glass, then placed it in front of Hailey.

"Thank you." Hailey said quickly, then hurried to take a drink.

"How is it?" Lehman asked curiously.

Hailey thought for a moment, then slowly said, "I don't know... it's kind of... nutty. I really don't have a name for what it tastes like, but it's good."

Lehman's attention was drawn back to Sherry as she handed him a tall mug and said, "Careful, it's hot."

"Thanks." Lehman said as he accepted the mug.

"What would you like?" Sherry asked JonJon happily.

"Actually, for the last couple weeks, I've been thirsty for root beer." JonJon said shyly.

Sherry smiled and seemed to be on the verge of a laugh as she quickly poured ingredients into a glass, then shook them to combine them.

She did as she had done with Benny's drink and added carbonated water before placing it before him.

Lehman watched curiously as JonJon took a tentative sip.

JonJon's eyes went wide with surprise when the flavor registered.

"Is it good?" Lehman asked curiously.

"This is probably the best root beer I've ever tasted!" JonJon said in amazement.

"I think so too." Sherry said as she worked on making Roger's drink.

JonJon looked at Benny and asked, "Would you like to try it?"

"Sure, do you want to try mine?" Benny asked cautiously.

JonJon shyly smiled as he nodded and offered his glass.

Lehman smiled at the timid exchange.

"Wow. This is really fantastic." Benny said with surprise.

"I like yours, too. It's not too sweet and has a very full flavor." JonJon said slowly.

Benny nodded his agreement to the assessment.

"Does everyone have their drinks?" Korrigon asked as he approached the group.

As he was asking, Sherry was placing Cyril's drink in front of him.

"Your dining room is right this way." Korrigon said with a smile and made a grand gesture for everyone to follow.

* * * * *

"Do you already have something in mind for dinner or would you like some suggestions?" Korrigon asked as he waited for everyone to be seated.

"We've never been here before. What kind of food do you have?" Cyril asked curiously.

"We have the same rations to work with as everyone else. If you have a favorite, then I'll be happy to get that for you. Otherwise, I'd recommend a family platter. It's basically the chef's special with enough food for your entire party." Korrigon said happily.

"Yes. That sounds like a good idea. I'm interested to see what you've been able to make from the rations." Cyril said honestly.

"The cook has been working with Mycien since I opened this place to make the best use of the fruits and vegetables available to us. I think she's done a pretty good job." Korrigon said with a smile.

"If the talent of your bartender is any indication, I can hardly wait to try the food." Roger said frankly.

"I'm glad you're enjoying Sherry's efforts. Would you believe that she came to me wanting to be a waitress?" Korrigon asked with a laugh.

"Her talent is undeniable." Roger said before taking another sip of his drink.

Movement from the doorway drew everyone's attention and Korrigon stood aside to allow the two waiters free movement in the room.

"Now it looks like you'll be able to sample the talents of my chef." Korrigon said as he watched the waiters place heavily laden serving trays in the center of the table.

"Wow! That was fast!" Lehman said in wonder.

"It's dinner time and you ordered the chef's special, so she already had everything ready to go. When Mycien told her your order, all she had to do was put it on the platters." Korrigon said with a smile.

"Everything looks wonderful." Roger said as he looked over the bounty of roasted vegetables.

"I'll carve for you, then I'll leave you to enjoy your meal." Korrigon said as he started slicing something that looked like an enormous roasted soybean.

"Thank you, Korrigon. If the smell is any indication, I'm sure we're going to enjoy it." Cyril said as he watched Korrigon slicing the large oval vegetable as one would slice a roast.

"Since you haven't been here before, I'll show you how this works." Korrigon said, then took two small slices of the vegetable and put them on a plate, then ladled some black, oily looking thin liquid over it.

"It may look ugly as sin, but I swear, it tastes like heaven." Korrigon said as he scooped up a variety of the roasted vegetables from around the platter to place them on the plate.

Cyril accepted the plate from Korrigon, then, noticing everyone's stares, he cautiously took a bite.

After a moment to chew his food and savor the taste, Cyril carefully said, "Mr. Korrigon, please give my compliments to your chef. This has to be the best food that I've tasted since my arrival at New Hope."

"I'll be sure to tell her." Korrigon said happily at Cyril's words, then added, "If y'all need anything, just tell Mycien and he'll see that someone brings it to you. And be sure to save room for dessert."

Before anyone could ask, Korrigon hurried out of the room.

"Is it really good?" Roger asked curiously as he looked at the food on Cyril's plate.

"It's exceptional. Everyone, please, do help yourselves to the food." Cyril said as he looked around the table.

"Benny first, it's his party." Lehman said quickly.

"It's okay, Lehman. I know everyone's hungry." Benny said shyly as he stood so that he could reach everything.

"I just don't want anyone to forget why we're here. You worked really hard and you finished what you started. I think it's important that you know that we're all proud of you." Lehman said frankly.

"Everyone works hard." Benny mumbled as he tried to quickly fill his plate.

"Yeah. And when they finish their work, we should celebrate with them, too." Lehman said simply.

Benny took his seat before saying, "If we do that, we'll be having parties all the time."

"What's wrong with that?" Lehman asked seriously.

Benny couldn't think of an answer to that, so he carefully took a bite of his food.

"Oh man! Wow!" Benny said with astonishment.

"Exceptional, isn't it?" Cyril asked with a smile at Benny's reaction.

"This is great! And this... bean or whatever... it tastes like chicken!" Benny said in wonder.

"Really?" Roger asked with surprise.

* * * * *

As the dinner carried on, it became more and more of a celebration.

Being able to share good food and good company after so many weeks of hard work made the feeling that much more precious.

When the meal was finally over, Korrigon appeared in the doorway, carrying a cake.

"I hope everyone saved room for dessert." Korrigon said with a smile.

A pair of waiters walked in behind him and started clearing away the dinner dishes while Korrigon placed the cake on the table.

In bright yellow letters on top of the cake were the words, 'Congratulations Benny'.

"How did you know?" Benny asked with surprise.

"Mycien told me." Korrigon said with a smile.

"Now, since you're the guest of honor, why don't you cut the cake so everyone can enjoy it?" Korrigon asked with a smile.

"Yeah." Benny said quietly, then added, "Thanks."

"Enjoy your special day." Korrigon said warmly before withdrawing from the dining room.

As Benny cut the cake, he found that the waiters had left a stack of dessert plates beside him.

"Who wants cake?" Benny asked as he held out the first piece.

"I do!" Hailey said immediately.

Benny smiled at her as he handed her the cake.

"I'm sure I shouldn't eat any more, but that cake looks so good and it's been such a long time..." Roger said hesitantly.

"It's a celebration. Don't worry about what you should do. Just have fun." JonJon said with a concerned look at Roger.

"Yes. I will." Roger said gently.

"Benny. You've either got to learn to cook like this, or you're going to have to take me here all the time." Hailey said firmly.

"It costs money to eat here. We can do it now and then, for something special. But there's no way we can come here every day." Benny said seriously.

Hailey gave her brother a defiant look, but didn't respond otherwise.

"Excuse me for interrupting your celebration, but I have an incoming transmission from Jenn and it's coded as urgent." Mycien said seriously.

"Please put it through." Cyril said immediately.

A two foot tall hologram of Jenn appeared in the middle of their table.

"Please excuse me for interrupting your meal..." Jenn said as she looked around, then her gaze settled on JonJon.

"Don't worry about that, Jenn. Please, just tell us what we can do to help." Cyril said with concern.

"What I need help with is something personal..." Jenn said quietly.

"Would you like for us to leave so that you and JonJon may speak privately?" Roger asked cautiously.

"Oh, no. I didn't mean it like that. What I meant to say is that this isn't official Soleen-Avalla business. I'm here to ask for your help strickly of my own accord."

"I understand. Please, Jenn, just let us know what we can do to help." Cyril said gently.

"The ship that I'm traveling on has two stowaways. They haven't realized that the ship has an AI and believe that no one knows that they're aboard." Jenn said carefully.

"Are you in danger? Do you need a security force?" Cyril asked immediately.

"No, they're no threat, I promise. The reason I called you is to ask if you could give them shelter." Jenn said seriously.

"Are they political refugees or outcasts? I can't very well offer asylum to people without having any idea of their circumstances." Cyril said honestly.

Jenn slowly nodded, then said, "They're not refugees, they're runaway children."

"Children? How young?" Cyril asked cautiously.

"By your Federation measure of time, they are both four years old." Jenn said sadly.

"Two four year olds ran away from home and you want us to take them in?" Cyril asked to confirm.

"Yes. But only for as long as it takes to find out 'why' they chose to run away." Jenn said urgently, then quietly added, "I know that this is a lot to ask of you, and it's difficult to explain. But the truth of the matter is that the boys ran away, and if we take them back without finding out 'why' then they may run away again. And next time, it might not be under such controlled circumstances where we can see that they're safe."

"Very well. What is it that you would like for us to do?" Cyril asked cautiously.

"We were thinking that JonJon and Lehman could kind of 'accidentally' run into the boys and offer them a safe place to stay." Jenn said hopefully.

"Would you be willing?" Cyril asked his sons quietly.

JonJon and Lehman both nodded.

"Thank you." Jenn said with sincere relief, then seriously added, "When the ship arrives, I will give you each translator crystals so that you'll be able to communicate with the boys."

"I'm still not clear on what it is that you expect us to do." Cyril said honestly.

"All I'm really asking is that you keep them safe." Jenn said simply.

"When will your ship arrive?" Roger asked slowly.

"We will be landing at the spaceport in just over half an hour. At that time, if you agree, Lehman and JonJon could come aboard the ship to receive translation crystals and wait for Tern and Ko to sneak out of the cargo hold." Jenn said seriously.

"Can Benny come with us?" Lehman asked cautiously.

"It would be best if he didn't. I asked you two to help the boys since you're younger. I'm afraid that if Benny approached them at the initial meeting, they might be afraid of him since he's so much older than they are." Jenn said frankly.

"That's alright. I need to stay with Hailey, anyway." Benny said with a smile at Lehman, happy that Lehman had wanted to include him.

"I'm assuming that the boys aren't Human. Is there anything we need to be aware of as far as dietary restrictions or allergies?" Cyril asked thoughtfully.

"No. That shouldn't be a problem. But Mycien will be monitoring the boys at all times, so if some issue does arise, he can alert you as soon as it's recognized." Jenn said thoughtfully.

"Just let us know what we need to do. Neither of us has experience with younger children." Roger said with concern.

"We will. Thank you again for doing this." Jenn said softly, then looked down and said, "I appear to be standing in your cake. I'll see you in person, shortly. Please excuse my interruption."

"That's quite alright, Jenn. Please feel free to come to us whenever you are in need of assistance." Cyril said quietly.

"Yes. We're always glad to be of help." Roger said sincerely.

"Thank you." Jenn said quietly, then her image faded.

* * * * *

"It looks like you're going to be going on an adventure." Benny said as the group put on their rain gear to leave the restaurant.

"I wish you could come with us." Lehman said regretfully.

"You heard Jenn. An old geezer like me would scare them." Benny chuckled.

Lehman smiled at the words as he followed the group out of the inn.

* * * * *

When the teleportal beam cleared, Lehman and JonJon found themselves on the bridge of an alien ship.

"Welcome aboard." Jenn said with a warm smile.

Lehman and JonJon were frozen in place, both staring up at the nearly seven foot tall Saurian who was looking at them with solid black, inhuman eyes. Both flashed back on the fear they had felt during their brief visit to the Gorn vessel with Vincent.

"This is Captain Rasch. Please put on these crystals, so he can welcome you aboard his ship." Jenn said as she stepped forward and offered each of them a necklace with a crystal pendant.

"Thank you." Lehman said absently as he accepted the necklace with nerveless hands and automatically put it on over his head.

The large reptile started speaking in a series of growls and hisses, but the translator pendants that Lehman and JonJon were wearing immediately converted the sounds into easily understandable English. "Welcome aboard my ship, young Humans. I am Captain Rasch and it's a pleasure to meet you."

"Neither of us are Human, but thank you. It's a pleasure to meet you, too." JonJon said timidly.

Captain Rasch looked at the boys curiously for a moment, then broke into a low, booming delighted chuckle that made the hairs on Lehman's neck stand on end.

"Be that as it may, it's an honor to meet you. Jenn has spoken highly of you both. However, time is short. If you will direct your attention to the display in the center of the room, Ship is going to show you the boys. Once we've landed, we will try to arrange an 'accidental' way for you to meet them." Captain Rasch said as he indicated several holographic displays active in the center of the large room.

As soon as JonJon saw the boys, one reptilian and the other feathered, he gasped, "They're so small!"

A squawking sound drew Lehman and JonJon's attention to a horribly thin man covered in off-white feathers.

"They are small, but they are both good boys who have never caused their parents a moment of trouble. That is why this behaviour is of so much concern."

Jenn noticed JonJon and Lehman's curious expressions and said, "This is Treep. One of the boys, Tern, is his brother."

Treep turned his insanely huge eyes away from the holographic display and fixed his gaze on Lehman and JonJon as he said, "Thank you for helping us. I know it has to be an inconvenience for you and I appreciate your efforts."

Lehman smiled as he said, "It's really no problem. Things have settled down a lot from when we first got here. But even if we were busy, we'd still want to help out a couple of good kids who made a bad decision."

Treep smiled at Lehman's words and JonJon noticed that Treep's beak-like mouth was segmented, allowing him to make such a distinctively 'Human' expression.

"Mycien has confirmed and accepted our atmospheric entry and flight path for landing." A voice said from above them.

"Thank you, Ship." Captain Rasch said absently as he examined another holographic display, then added, "Proceed."

"They look so scared." JonJon whispered as he watched the holographic display with concern.

Everyone else turned their attention to the image and saw the two boys, huddled together between two large shipping containers.

"I'm sure the change in the engine output startled them." Captain Rasch said with a look of concern at Treep.

"Mycien has evacuated all the colonists from the landing area and arranged some shipping containers to provide an inviting place for the boys to hide once we've landed." Ship said seriously.

"Thank Mycien for his foresight." Jenn said with a smile upward, then glanced with concern at Treep.

Lehman followed her gaze, and noticed the worried expression on the young feathered man's face.

"We'll take good care of them. I promise." Lehman said quietly.

After a moment, Treep looked at Lehman and clucked, "Thank you."

* * * * *

As soon as the ship had landed, the cargo door opened and a loading ramp moved into place.

Everyone watched the holographic display silently, waiting to see if they were going to make their move.

After nearly five minutes, the boys made a mad dash, hand-in-hand, toward the loading ramp.

"Lehman and JonJon, please be prepared to transport. If the boys spot the hiding place that Mycien provided for them, it would be the best place for them to 'accidentally' meet you." Ship said seriously.

JonJon and Lehman automatically stood a little bit straighter, in the typical 'Federation' transport positions.

"They see it." Jenn whispered as she watched the holographic display closely.

Lehman got a considering look on his face for a moment, then a look of realization. Before he could say anything to JonJon, both of them were enveloped in fountains of multi-colored sparkles.

* * * * *

As soon as the transportal beam faded, Lehman immediately forced his body to become smaller and more compact.

"Is something wrong?" JonJon whispered as he noticed that Lehman was getting shorter.

"No. I just thought that it might be better if I was closer to their size." Lehman said honestly.

JonJon nodded, then they heard the sound of quiet little footsteps scampering nearby.

Lehman felt JonJon tap his shoulder and looked up at him.

JonJon was holding his hand out, palm up, offering it to him.

Lehman smiled and placed his much smaller hand into JonJon's.

There was a gasp that drew their attention and standing before them were the two younger boys, frozen in their tracks and also holding hands.

"Don't be afraid. We won't hurt you. This is my brother, JonJon and I'm Lehman."

As Lehman said the words, his pendant translated them into Captain Rasch's growling and hissing language.

"Are you running away, too?" Ko asked hesitantly just as Tern asked, "Is this a bad place?"

"No. It's a nice place. Me and my brother were just out walking. You could come with us if you wanted." Lehman said, trying to sound casual.

Tern looked at Ko anxiously and waited for what he was going to say.

"Do you know if there are any pirate ships here?" Ko asked cautiously.

Lehman was surprised by the question and didn't know what to say, but thankfully, JonJon had an answer. "This is the only ship that's here, right now. But we can check back later."

Ko looked at Tern with question and received a slight nod in response.

"Do you want to walk with us?" Lehman asked hopefully.

"Where are you going?" Ko asked cautiously.

"We're just walking around, but we'll end up going back to our house." Lehman said frankly.

"Will your mom get mad if we come with you? Will she call our moms and make us go home?" Ko asked anxiously.

"We don't have a mom. We have two dads and they're both really cool about stuff. They don't mind if we have company come over to visit sometimes." Lehman said simply.

"Can we..." Tern began to ask, then glanced down and away without finishing.

"What is it? We'll help if we can." JonJon said assuringly.

"He's hungry." Ko said quietly.

"That's no problem. We've got food at home." JonJon said, directing his statement mostly toward Tern.

"Tern heard his brother say that the people here didn't have very much food." Ko said as he looked into JonJon's eyes.

JonJon smiled and said, "We didn't have much when we first arrived, but your people gave us enough so that we can get by until our fields are ready to harvest."

Ko seemed to be thinking about JonJon's reply, so Lehman added, "We have plenty of food now and we'll be happy to share it with you if you're hungry."

Tern looked at Ko with a pleading expression.

"There's a transit station over that way. We can go right home if you guys would like something to eat right now." JonJon said as he started to walk.

As Lehman turned, he was surprised to feel a movement and a sudden cool breeze.

"Oops." Lehman said as he squatted and retrieved his pants from around his ankles. When he had made himself smaller, his clothes hadn't changed size.

Tern and Ko were standing a little bit behind them and were whispering back and forth.

JonJon stopped and waited for the boys to be done.

Finally, Ko looked up at JonJon hesitantly and said, "My mommy always said I'm not supposed to go anywhere with strangers. But we're really hungry, so I'm not sure what we're supposed to do."

Lehman thought for a moment, then said, "If you were over at Tern's house and didn't know what was the right thing to do, would you ask his mother?"

Ko hesitantly nodded.

"Then, if there's something that you're not sure about if it's right or wrong, you could ask our dads about it. They're really good at listening and helping." Lehman said quickly.

"And if you're just scared or feeling bad, they give really good hugs. They don't even have to know what they're for." JonJon said gently.

Ko and Tern were looking at each other, neither looking very sure about what they should do. Finally, Ko held out his claw-like, reptilian hand and Tern took it with his feathered, taloned hand and held it firmly.

"Come on." JonJon whispered gently, as he offered his hand to Lehman.

With a smile, Lehman took the offered hand and began to walk with his brother.

* * * * *

"Dads! We're home!" Lehman called as they walked into the entry room of their house.

"We're in the living room." A voice called in the distance.

"What did he say?" Ko asked quietly.

"He said that he's in the living room." JonJon said casually as he slowly led the way toward the center of the house.

"This is like our house." Tern said as he looked around.

"The same people who built your house probably built this one." Lehman said frankly as he walked into the central room, then called into the living room, "We brought some friends home with us. Is that okay?"

"Yes. That's just fine. Please, bring them in and introduce us." Cyril called in return.

"See? I told you that they wouldn't be mad." Lehman said with a smile, then ushered Tern and Ko past him and into the living room.

As JonJon walked up to him, Lehman automatically put an arm around his waist and hugged him firmly.

JonJon put an arm around Lehman's shoulders and returned the hug for a moment before stepping forward into the living room.

* * * * *

"What happened, Lehman?" Roger asked with concern.

It took a moment for Lehman to realize what Roger was talking about, but he finally said, "I made myself small so the guys won't be scared of me."

"Does it hurt?" Roger asked cautiously.

"No. I feel just fine." Lehman said with a smile at his fathers, loving the fact that they were concerned for him.

Roger nodded that he accepted the answer.

"Dads, this is Tern and Ko." Lehman said as he indicated each boy in turn.

"It's very nice to meet you." Cyril said gently.

Roger noticed that Tern was trembling and said, "You don't need to be afraid. We're happy to have you visiting. You can stay as long as you want."

Tern and Ko stood silently for a moment, then Ko turned to Lehman and said, "We don't know what he's saying."

"Sorry." Lehman said quickly, then hurried to add, "This is our dad, Cyril. He just said that it's nice to meet you. This is our other dad, Roger. And he said that you don't need to be afraid. We're all happy that you're here and you can stay as long as you want."

"Please. Tell them 'thank you'." Ko said in a slightly trembling voice.

"Really, you don't need to be scared. They're good dads." Lehman said gently.

"We're not afraid. We're cold." Ko said frankly.

"Oh!" Lehman said with surprise.

Cyril and Roger noticed Lehman's expression, but before they could ask about it, JonJon had walked to the couch and picked up the throw blankets that were draped over the back.

"They're cold." Lehman said quickly to his fathers, to explain JonJon's unusual actions.

"Wrap up in these and you'll feel better." JonJon said as he put a blanket around Tern's shoulders.

A holographic image of a computer screen appeared, floating in mid air just behind Tern and Ko. It held a text message that said, "The Soleen are cold blooded. A blanket will not warm Ko."

JonJon paused for a moment, then said, "Tern, scoot next to Ko."

Since the boys were never more than one step away from each other, it only took a slight movement for them to be standing shoulder to shoulder.

"Put your arm around Ko and I'll wrap the blanket around you both." JonJon said quietly.

Once Tern was holding Ko at his side, JonJon surrounded the two boys first in one of the throw blankets, then in the second.

"There, in a few minutes, you should start feeling warm." JonJon said as he stepped back to look at the two boys.

"Thank you." Ko said timidly.

"It's no problem. You can sit down if you want." JonJon said frankly.

Everyone watched as the two boys tried to walk to the couch and sit down without getting unwrapped from the blankets.

"Dads. Tern and Ko are hungry. Is there anything we can fix them to eat?" Lehman asked hopefully.

"I'll make something." Roger said as he got up from his chair.

"While you're doing that, I'll make sure the guest room is ready." Cyril said to Roger, then asked JonJon, "Have you invited your friends to spend the night?"

"No. I'll do that now." JonJon said quietly.

Cyril nodded, then left the room.

* * * * *

"Our dad asked us to invite you to spend the night." JonJon said as he sat on the couch by Tern and Ko.

"We should go back to see if there are any pirate ships yet." Ko said quietly.

"I don't think any pirate ships will land while it's dark. They won't be able to see where to land. We can go back to the spaceport in the morning. And I bet you two could use a good night of sleep."

"Yeah. If you go now, you'll probably fall asleep while you're waiting and miss it if a pirate ship does land." Lehman interjected.

After a moment, Ko reluctantly nodded his agreement.

"Other Dad is making some food for you now. Are you warm enough?" Lehman asked with concern.

"Yes. This is nice." Ko said with a timid smile as he cuddled closer to Tern.

* * * * *

"Please tell the boys to move off the couch and they can eat while sitting on the floor." Roger said as he walked into the living room with a small lap tray with two plates.

Lehman relayed the message, then watched as both boys looked at him with surprise.

Finally, Tern said, "You're allowed to eat indoors?"

Lehman smiled, then said, "Not usually. But since you two are cold and it's even colder outside, it's okay if you eat inside tonight."

Tern was the first to attempt to stand and urged Ko to stand up with him.

They stepped forward, then settled on the floor in front of the tray.

Ko looked up at Roger and very slowly and carefully said, "Ssssank oo."

Roger was surprised, but finally responded, "You're very welcome."

Ko smiled at the response, then joined Tern in eating the meal.

* * * * *

"I think we're going to leave you boys alone with your friends for a time. Just be sure that you're in bed before it gets too late. I know that tomorrow is Saturday and neither of you have to be up early, but you should still try to maintain something close to a normal schedule." Cyril said seriously.

"We won't stay up too late." Lehman said honestly.

"We won't be going to sleep right away, so feel free to come to us if you need anything at all." Roger said as he looked into JonJon's eyes.

"Okay. We'll let you know." JonJon said with a smile at his fathers.

"I love you. You know that, right?" Roger asked seriously.

"Yes. And I love you, too." JonJon responded past the lump in his throat.

Roger stepped forward and gave JonJon a hug and a firm kiss on the cheek.

As soon as Roger had moved away, Cyril took his place and did, move for move, the same thing.

Roger gave Lehman a firm hug and kiss, then moved to his two guests and said, "I don't know how things are in your culture, but since you're staying the night, I'd like very much to wish you a good night in the same way I do with my own sons."

"Other Dad wants to know if it's okay if he gives you a hug and a kiss before you go to bed." Lehman said honestly.

"Why?" Ko asked curiously.

"It's something Humans do. It's kind of a way to let you know that there's someone in the house who cares about you and that if you're scared, they'll be there to protect you and keep you safe." Lehman said thoughtfully.

Ko considered for a moment, then looked up at Roger and hesitantly nodded.

Roger squatted down and put his arms around the two boys wrapped in blankets, then kissed each of them in turn.

"Ssssank oo." Ko said as Roger released the boys.

On impulse, Roger leaned in and hugged the boys again.

A moment later, Cyril took Roger's place and gave the boys a long, warm hug and each one a gentle kiss.

* * * * *

"What did you mean about being smaller so you wouldn't scare us?" Ko asked Lehman curiously.

"I'm a Chameloid. I can make myself bigger or smaller if I want to." Lehman said frankly.

Ko looked at Lehman uncertainly, not entirely understanding.

"Don't be scared. I'm going to make myself grow so you'll see what I'm talking about." Lehman said slowly, then waited to see that both boys understood.

Finally, Lehman gave a little push and started to grow.

Ko and Tern looked at Lehman with wonder as he grew.

"This is how I usually look." Lehman said frankly.

"Can you do that too?" Tern asked JonJon curiously.

"No. Lehman is a Chameloid, I'm an Android." JonJon said frankly.

"My brother works with an Android, her name is Jenn." Tern said suddenly.

"Yes. I know Jenn. She helped us when we first arrived here at the colony. She's very nice." JonJon said honestly.

"And pretty." Tern interjected.

"Yes. She is." Lehman said with a smile.

Tern opened his mouth and Lehman waited for the translator to tell him what he was saying. It took a moment for him to realize that what he was seeing was Tern yawning.

"If you're tired, we have a room ready for you where you can sleep." JonJon offered gently.

Ko looked at Tern with question, obviously allowing him to make the decision for both of them.

Finally, Tern nodded and quietly chirped, "I'm sleepy."

Lehman smiled at the response and said, "Then you should go to bed. Come on."

* * * * *

Once they were in the spare room, Tern and Ko immediately took off all their clothes and climbed under the covers together.

JonJon was surprised to note that neither boy seemed to have any genitalia. Lehman noticed his surprised look and whispered, "I'll explain, later."

JonJon looked at him curiously, but rather than saying anything in response, he turned his attention back to the boys in the bed.

"Lehman's room is next door on that side and mine is the one past his. The room past mine is the toilet, if you need it during the night." JonJon said gently.

Both boys looked at each other suddenly, then, as one, they climbed out of the bed and raced out of the room, hand in hand.

As JonJon stared after them, Lehman said, "They're something like I used to be. Their penises are pouched. I guess it probably looks strange to you, but the way Humans are built seems strange to me."

After a long, thoughtful moment, JonJon said, "Yes. It does seem odd to me. But I suppose, when you think about it, that being 'pouched' makes a lot more sense than running around with your bits hanging out and flopping around all over the place."

Lehman chuckled, then said, "Yes. That's exactly what I thought when I first found out about how the Okudai and the Humans were built."

JonJon put an arm around Lehman's shoulders, then they watched as Tern and Ko scampered back into the bedroom and climbed beneath the covers.

"If you're scared or you need anything during the night, you can come to me or JonJon or the dads." Lehman said seriously.

"Ssssank oo, Eemawn." Ko said very carefully.

Lehman smiled at Ko's sincere attempt to speak English and couldn't resist the urge to lean in and hug him, and then Tern.

When Lehman was done, JonJon sat on the edge of the bed and took his turn hugging the boys.

"Sleep well and come and get us if you need us during the night. We're glad you're here." JonJon said gently.

"Ssssank oo, YawnYawn." Ko said from his place snuggled tightly with Tern.

"Your welcome." JonJon said warmly, then added, "Good night."

Lehman and JonJon stepped out of the room as Mycien automatically dimmed the lights. Both looked back one last time to see the two little boys, cuddled together and already sleeping soundly.

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

Well, it is really nice to see what has happened on the New Hope world after the Yorktown left. I mean it is wonderful to follow Vincent and the others' adventures, but I wanted to know what was happening to Benny and Jon-Jon, too.

I wonder what is with Ko and Tern's interest in pirates?

It was fun to see Lehman use his ability to morph into different shapes so he could more easily help carry the ramp. That must have been a bit startling to Benny.

I hope that Jon-Jon can work out the way he feels about Benny and Jenn.

I think he will probably come to some kind of decision soon, but that is just a guess on my part. I have my own preference as to what I would like to see happen, but I will keep that to myself until something is resolved. Grin.

Of course, I am already on pins and needles waiting for the next chapter. But, hey, that's what always happens with a MultiMapper story.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher