And here we are again, back for the continuing adventures of Jonny, Jessie, Hadji and their friends and family. But for the first time, things are really different. Life has moved on for everyone since that fateful day in mid-May when Jonny and Jessie left the Quest Compound in Maine and moved to Boston to begin building their own lives together. This tale picks up about five months after the close of Growing Pains I: Choices and we will find out how everyone is coping with all the changes in their lives.

I will say up front that this story will not be short, but it will serve to wrap up a number of story threads that have been building almost since I first wrote Jealousy. And by the time I'm done, I hope I will have managed to answer a lot of the questions I've gotten about what is going on.

As always, I owe an unending debt of gratitude to Suze Howe who has patiently beta read and offered constructive criticism on more versions of this thing than I care to count. Thanks must be offered to Donna Tucker, as well. Donna served as a sounding board and offered a fresh eye on continuity, plot, and characterizations at a time when both Suze and I had been looking at this thing for way too long. Her enthusiasm and notes asking, "Where's the next part?!?" also acted as a spur to keep me at it when I stalled. Ladies, there aren't enough words for me to thank you properly. Just know how much I really appreciate it.

And, as always, love and gratitude go out to my husband, Chuck. He's the sunshine of my life and for that I will be eternally grateful.

I don't think I have anything else left to say, so I'll just offer you the latest installment in the on-going Jealousy Saga. Like I've said before, I hope you enjoy the ride . . .



Debbie Kluge

Sipahi \si-'fahee\ n. [Hindi] : In the 18th Century Ottoman Empire, horsemen who served as chief defenders and warriors of the Sultan's army.

Sipahigiri \ si-fahee-'zhee-ree\ n. [Hindi, Siphai calvary + giri hill] 1: defenders of the hill 2: protectors or defenders, as in a war.

Chapter One

"Look, I understand all of that," Jonny Quest said, with as much patience as he could manage. "We've been over all of this before. It doesn't change things."

"At least talk to him."

"No!" Jonny said sharply in irritation. He shifted uncomfortably in the stiff, straight-backed chair and moved the phone to his other ear. "Damn it, Hadji, all trying to talk with him does is get both of us angry, and the next thing you know, we're yelling at each other again."

"Then you must hold your temper," his brother advised him. "Father is only trying to get you to do what he feels is in your best interests. You must remember that much of his anger and frustration stem from the knowledge that his actions triggered this problem."

"His actions are still the problem," Jonny replied bitterly.

Hadji Singh sighed softly. He had been trying for months to help mend the rift that had torn Benton and Jonny Quest apart last March. Their father's discovery of the extent of his youngest son's involvement with his best friend's daughter had come at a particularly bad time. The attack on his family and the partial destruction of their home by Richard Baxter and his associates, coupled with the release of his emotional ties to his dead wife, had left Benton Quest emotionally spent. Subsequent months of reconstruction on the house in Maine and the constant demands of prior commitments had afforded him little opportunity to rest and recover and he was ill-prepared to deal with another major change in his life.

"You can try to take the moral high ground," Hadji suggested. "You said that he admitted that the way he acted back in March was wrong. Forgive him for that and go on from there."

"Moral high ground?" Jonny replied incredulously. "You honestly think he's gonna give me that? You know how he's been about Jessie and I. He's giving us enough grief about living together already. I make any mention of taking the moral high ground and it's going to get ten times worse." Then Jonny sighed. "Furthermore, I forgave him for that months ago." A sound at the front door caused him to look up just in time to see Jessie come staggering in. She had been balancing a stack of books, a loaded book bag, and her purse while struggling with the dual lock. Just as she got the door open, everything slipped and cascaded to the floor with a resounding crash. The noise had no more died away than a violent series of bangs and the deep, thundering bark of a large dog caused the floor to vibrate. Jessie gazed heavenward beseechingly as Jonny chuckled and said to her, "You set Magnus off again."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah . . ." she muttered as she turned and shoved the book bag clear of the door so she could shut it. Then she stomped three times on the floor and yelled, "Shut up, Magnus!" The barking immediately stilled.

"What was that?" Hadji demanded.

"Jess just got home."

"What did she do, break down the door to get in?" Hadji asked dryly.

"No," he replied, grinning at her. "Just dropped everything as she came in."

"Tell her we say hello."

"Hadji and Kefira say hi," Jonny said to his girlfriend, then continued on the earlier subject. "It really isn't the business about M.I.T. any longer, you know. I mean, what's the point of beating a dead horse? It's that he just won't let up. He harps about our living arrangements every time he calls. And if it isn't that, then he's back on the topic of my not being in school. Over and over and over. I get so sick of it! You know what his latest campaign is?"

"No, what?"

"He's taken to having universities from all over the world send me application materials, catalogs, and brochures." He picked one up from the stack of mail on the white, claw-footed coffee table in front of him and stared at it in disgust. "I got one today from the University of Western Australia."

Hadji chuckled. "Well, that is a new approach, I will admit."

"It's not funny."

"It is, actually," Jessie said, walking past with an armload of books. "Hi, Hadji!"

The laughter in Hadji's voice died away as he said seriously, "Jonny, I know it is difficult, but if you do not at least try this will never be resolved. It has been almost seven months since you found out what he had done . . . five months since you and father met the first time to try to find a solution. At that time, you both promised Dr. Mason that you would continue to try to work out your differences. You must keep trying to talk with him about it."

Jonny sighed. "I know," he admitted reluctantly. "And I have been trying, Hadji. I even went so far as to make an outline before I called home the last time. I was determined to keep my temper and to steer clear of subjects that were likely to lead us into an argument."

"And?" Hadji prompted.

"It didn't work. We still argued."

"About what?"

"We argued about the fact that I wouldn't argue with him." Hadji sighed. For a long time, neither one of them spoke. Finally, Jonny said tentatively, "Have you been home recently?"

"Kefira and I were there last weekend."

"How is he?"

"He is still distressed . . ."

"That's not what I meant and you know it. Is he still refusing to listen to Dr. Mason?"

"Yes," Hadji agreed glumly. "He says that he has gotten some rest and is feeling fine so he sees no reason to go to some specialist he does not know and let himself be poked and prodded. He is certain that if there really was anything wrong that Dr. Mason would have found it already."

"Not if he won't let her do the tests!" Jonny said in frustration. "The last time I talked to her she was trying desperately to get him to agree to a stress test and a cardiac screen, but he just refuses!"

"She thinks he may have heart problems?" Hadji said, sounding seriously alarmed.

"She doesn't know, but she's convinced that something's wrong. She's tried and tried and tried, but he just won't listen!"

"Have you talked with Race?"

"Not recently, but Jess has and she says that he isn't having any better luck than the rest of us."

"I know that Kefira and I are supposed to come to Boston for the weekend, but I am thinking that it might be better if all four of us went home to Maine. You and Jessie have not been back since you left in May, so your return would emphasize how seriously you take this. Perhaps if we all face him in a united front and insist that he do something, he will listen. Do you know if he is still suffering from the spells of weakness?"

Jonny shifted in the chair again, trying to find a more comfortable position. "According to Race, he isn't, but I don't know that I believe that. I think he may have had them and is just being really careful to hide them from everyone."

"But why?" Hadji demanded, bewildered. "It is unlike him not to confront a problem and deal with it. Why is he taking such risks with his health?"

"I don't know. I'd be in favor of going home and trying to get him to do something about it, too, but it would be a wasted trip. He's not there."

"Where is he?"

"Race told Jessie the other day that the two of them were taking off for Britain today. Something about being a guest lecturer at Oxford."

"How long is he going to be away?"

"Don't know. Hang on . . . " Raising his voice, he called, "Hey, Jess!"

"What?" a distant, disembodied voice called back.

"How long were Race and Dad supposed to be in Britain?"

"Don't know. Dad didn't say."

"Jess doesn't know, either," he told his brother.

"He should not be traveling," Hadji replied fretfully.

"We both know that, but try telling Dad . . ." A sudden beeping in his ear interrupted him. "Hang on, Hadji. I've got another call coming in." He pressed a quick sequence of keys and then said, "Hello?"

"Hey . . . Jon . . . it's Blake . . ."

"NO!" Jonny replied in a loud voice.

"Look, bro', I'm really sorry, but . . ."

"I just got home!"

"I know . . . I know. I'm really sorry," the voice replied desperately. "You know I wouldn't call if it weren't important, but the 5700's crashed. We've tried everything and nothing is working!"

"Well, try it again!"

"We did . . . twice. We just can't . . ."

"Then call Michael. The 5700 is his responsibility, not mine."

"We tried. He's not home, he left his pager in his desk, and he's not answering his cell phone."

"Oh, that's just great!" Jonny said in disgust. "All right, give me the bad news. What's it doing?"

"It ran about two-thirds of trial and then gave an abort/failure code and just stopped. So we tried a reset from the abort code. It didn't just reset the program . . . it reset the entire system! We had to sit there and wait for it to do a full system restart. And when we tried running it again, the same thing happened."

"Did you try an override on the abort code rather than a reset?"

"Yes. That just locked all the terminals up and we ended up having to reboot and go through a full system restart then, too."

"The damned thing was running fine when I left. I checked it."

"Yeah, I know. We just can't . . ."

"All right, all right." He glanced at the clock . . . 7:25 . . . "Give me about half an hour and I'll be there."

"Thanks, man . . . " the other said gratefully.

"Yeah, yeah. I'll be there . . ." Jonny punched in another quick transfer sequence. "Hadji, you still there?"

"Here," his brother replied.

"Look, I gotta hang up . . . there's an emergency at work and I've got to go in for a while. You and Kefira gonna be able to make it down this weekend?"

"As far as I know."

"Make it a point, okay? We've lived here almost five months and you still haven't managed to visit yet."

"That is not entirely my fault," Hadji pointed out. "We have had plans to come twice before but you ended up having to work both times."

"I know, and that's why I'm going to endure Jess' wrath tonight and go back in to work . . . to make sure that the problem is fixed so I won't have to work this weekend!"

Hadji laughed. "All right, Jonny. We will be there day after tomorrow. Shall we drive or take the train?"

"Drive. That gives us a car to run around in while you're here. I'll warn Mrs. Taylor that we're gonna be using the garage space this weekend."

"You really need to think about getting a car."

"Another expense we don't need right now," Jonny replied. "We do okay using mass transit. Look, I better go. I'll see you Friday evening. You have the directions for how to get here?"

"Yes. We will see you at about 5:30."

"Cool. Say 'hey' to Kefira for me and we'll see you both later." Hanging up the phone, he stood and took a deep breath, steeling himself for the confrontation he just knew was in store. Walking quickly to the kitchen, he stepped over the threshold and stopped. Jessie stood at the stove, stirring something in a skillet. The aroma caused his mouth to water. Hesitantly, he said, "Jess . . ."

She looked over her shoulder and smiled at him quickly. "All done? How's Hadji?"

"He's fine. He and Kefira will be here about 5:30 on Friday . . ."

"Cool. This is almost done. You want to get plates?"

"Uh, Jess . . . look, I'm sorry, but Blake just called . . . "

Her smile disappeared abruptly. "NO!!!"

"I know it's . . ."

"You haven't been home any night this week! Jonny, you promised!"

"I know I did," he said desperately. "But they can't get it running again . . ."

"We were going to spend an evening together tonight. I even canceled a study session to be with you. You said you'd see to it that everything was running smoothly so they wouldn't bother us."

"I did! And everything was fine when I left, but . . ."

"Just tell them no!"

"I can't," he replied, his voice rising in spite of his efforts to stay calm. "It's the damned payroll program. If I don't get it running again, no one's going to get paid on Friday."

"Payroll isn't even your responsibility! You're in web development!"

"I can't help it that I'm the only one who seems to understand their computer systems!" he yelled, finally losing his temper. "What do you want me to do . . . threaten to quit if they don't let me stay home nights?"

"I want you to spend at least one evening with me every so often!" she retorted in anger. "Is that so much to ask? All you ever do is work, work, work. You haven't been home one full evening in the last month. You either don't get home until nine or ten, or you do get home, only to have them call you and you disappear again until midnight or later!"

"You think I like it?!?" he demanded fiercely.

"Yes!" she replied, taking the skillet and throwing it into the sink, food and all. Tears of anger and frustration glittered on her eyelashes as she spun and glared at him. "Yes, I think you love it! Everyone needing you and relying on you like this. I think it's an ego rush and you get off on it!" She shoved past him and disappeared into the other room. A moment later Jonny heard the bedroom door slam forcefully. The sound of a large dog barking followed almost immediately.

Still angry, Jonny strode into the living room. He stopped in the middle of the room and stomped three times on the floor. "Shut up, Magnus!" he yelled. Then, he finished crossing the room, jerked open the closet door, grabbed his jacket, and left the apartment, slamming both closet door and front door violently on his way out. In the distance, he could hear Magnus begin barking once more.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Thirty minutes later Jonny ran his company I.D. card through the swipe reader on the employee access door and entered the Garrett J. Blackman Corporate Plaza downtown. He was still steaming from his argument with Jessie and crossed the huge marble reception area with a belligerent stride. A middle-aged man with swarthy skin and wary, dark eyes looked up as he approached the main reception desk. He relaxed slightly when he saw who it was.

"Evening, Jon. I thought you'd called it a night."

Jonny snorted. "Me? Go home before midnight and actually stay there? You know me better than that, Marco. What would I do with myself if I couldn't spend every waking hour in this place?"

Marco Giardello, the night security man, laughed as he shoved the sign-in sheet toward Jonny. "Glutton for punishment, that's what you are. Tell you what, I'll even release the elevator lockdown so you don't have to climb the stairs."

A few minutes later, Jonny exited the elevator on the 27th floor into a large, high-ceilinged room. Normally brightly lit and bustling with activity, at 8:15 in the evening the lights had cycled to subdued dimness, and the only perceptible sounds were a low hum of machinery and the muted murmur of soft voices. Swerving into a work cubicle not far from the elevator, he tossed his jacket across the chair and then headed toward the sound of voices at the far end of the room.

Approaching the source of the voices, Jonny noted that the usual gang was out in force. Jonny grinned to himself. The Network Lords - that's what everyone called them. The Mage, The High Priestess, The Wizard, The Knight, and The Boy King. It had started out as a joke within the department, but a couple of near miraculous saves for departments outside their own had caused the name to spread. Now, whenever a problem developed, the word would spread -- the Network Lords were being called out. Within the last month, they'd even started getting calls from other Divisions, including some from overseas. The name had become more or less official just last week when the five of them had received an e-mail note from Garrett Blackman, the president of the company himself, via a Network Lords distribution list someone had added to the e-mail system.

And the best part of it all was that not only were they great co-workers, but they were rapidly becoming good friends, too. He slowed slightly, watching them as the four of them fought with the current problem.

Rapidly entering commands into the keyboard was Ted Larson, Network Engineer for the Corporate Division. Known as The Mage, Ted was a rather nondescript young man of medium height in his late-20s. His mousy brown hair, gray eyes and thick glasses disguised a lightning quick mind and a genius for configuring hardware in new and incredibly productive ways.

The Knight was Kyle Desmond. At the moment, Kyle lounged beside Ted with his feet up on the desk, twirling a rubber band between his fingers. He was a tall, gangly young man in his mid-20s with faded green eyes and long, white-blonde hair tied back into a neat ponytail. His technical title was Optics Software Systems Analyst, but what it really came down to was that he was capable of making optical media of almost any form accomplish things most people hadn't even dreamed of.

Lin-Su Chen, The High Priestess. was currently seated across from Ted and Kyle, frowning over some computer printouts. She was a slightly plump, dark-haired Asian girl, with a now-absent dimpled smile. Smart and funny, she enjoyed being the only female in this select little group. As Database Applications Supervisor, she was responsible for the maintenance of all the corporate-wide database programs, as well as writing much of the new database application software for the company. Of the five of them, she was the only one who had her own staff - three people who supported her here in Boston, as well as at least one person in each of the other twelve Divisions throughout the world. Jonny had been shocked to learn, about two weeks after he started work at the company, that she was only 25 years old. But Lin-Su had just laughed at his astonishment and said that Mr. Blackman liked to hire his staff young, before they burned out or learned a bunch of bad habits. That revelation had made all the difference for him . . . and he had suddenly felt at home in his new job..

Lounging against the cubicle wall next to Lin-Su was the last member of their group - The Wizard. His name was Blake Fearday, a 24-year-old Senior Mainframe Software Programmer. He was a good-looking African-American of medium height with broad shoulders, a barrel chest, and an infectious grin. His friendly demeanor and easy familiarity were just two of the reasons that he was Jonny's closest friend at work - despite frequent late-night distress calls like the one that had brought him in tonight. Blake was an outstanding programmer with a quick mind, and as a result, was constantly contacted by recruiters from other companies who desperately wanted to lure him away from Blackman Telecommunications. But as far as Jonny could tell, Blake was perfectly happy right where he was.

And that left Jonny himself . . . The Boy King. To this day, he still wasn't quite sure how he had come by that nickname . . . he assumed it was because he was the newest addition, but he'd decided shortly after it had been bestowed on him that he wasn't going to think about it too closely. Jonny had originally been hired as a web designer assigned to develop the global company's worldwide website. But a month after he started, his immediate supervisor had quit and Jonny's job had quickly been upgraded to that of a Web Development Analyst. He grimaced to himself. What that meant was that not only did he keep all the responsibilities of his old job, but they added in-house intranet to it, as well. Stan Knight, the head of the entire I.S. Department, had assured him that they would be hiring additional help eventually, but that at least for a while, they would ask him to work on his own while they decided what they wanted to do about allocation of work. Well, it's job security, I guess, Jonny thought ruefully as he neared the cubicle. Hearing his footsteps, the four young people looked up from their tasks expectantly, relief easily apparent in each and every face.

Blake was the first to approach. "Jon! Man, are we glad you're here!" He reached out and caught Jonny's hand in a complicated handshake that Jonny returned deftly.

"Well, don't expect me to say the same, Blake. Okay, you outlaws, what have you done to it now?" A chorus of protests greeted that comment as they made way and allowed him to settle in front of the terminal.

"We didn't touch it," Ted replied.

"I was at home when Marco called," Blake commented, leaning over Jonny's shoulder to watch what he was doing. "Said he was getting an alarm on the 5700 and he couldn't reach Michael. I called around and no one knew where he was, so we all ended up down here to check on it. What you see is what we found when we got here."

"Damn it, Blake, I checked this system right before I left at 6:00 and it was running perfectly!"

Blake spread his hands with a shrug. "What can I say?"

"Was there a power outage of any kind?"

"Not that we know of," Kyle answered.

Jonny sighed. "All right, let's see if we can find the problem . . . " The other four snared chairs and gathered around, prepared to watch Jonny work his magic. They had seen him do it numerous times over the last five months, but they still never tired of watching him.

Time faded away as Jonny worked, running code and testing subroutines while the others watched, offered suggestions, and shook their heads in bewilderment at his speed. Throughout the entire process, Jonny kept up a steady running commentary on what he was doing and answered any question the others posed. Finally, almost six hours later, Jonny sat back wearily and shook his head. "That was seriously weird. I have no clue where that series of small file corruptions came from. Hopefully, that will fix it. Now we recompile the program and try it again." A few quick commands and a final keystroke and they all sat back and stretched.

"How long do you figure it will take?" Blake asked.

Jonny glanced at the screen again and then at his watch. "The whole program's going to have to recompile, so probably at least thirty to forty minutes."

Kyle yawned mightily as he stood up. "I need some caffeine. I'm off to the vending machines. Anyone else want anything?" A chorus of voices replied and the young man disappeared into the dimness.

Jonny propped his feet up on the corner of the desk and leaned against the wall with a sigh. "I am beat," he said.

"You got a right," Blake replied. "When was the last time you had an undisturbed evening at home?"

"I have no idea. You'd need to ask my girlfriend. She's the one who keeps track."

"You got a girlfriend?" Ted said incredulously. "With the hours you work? How do you keep her?"

"Got me," Jonny said, his eyes closed. Then he opened them slightly and glared at Blake. "Of course, I may not have her after tonight. She was seriously pissed at me when I left. I'd promised her a quiet evening together . . . just the two of us."

Blake contemplated the blonde young man speculatively. "You know, Jon, you've worked here for five months now, and we don't know much of anything about you. I've never met anyone as friendly and yet closed mouthed about themselves as you are. I mean, I think this is the first time any of us even knew you had a girlfriend!"

Jonny laughed sleepily. "I do have a life outside this building, believe it or not."

"So who are you, Jon Quest?" Lin-Su inquired pointedly. "Now that you've broken my heart by telling me you aren't available, the least you can do is tell us about yourself."

Jonny rolled his head to one side and looked at her. "I'm just a guy trying to make a living, Lin-Su. Nothing too exciting about it."

The girl shook her head. "Uh uh. I don't buy it. You're a whole lot more than that." The others nodded in agreement. Kyle returned and handed Jonny a Coke, then dropped down onto the floor nearby.

"Thanks, Kyle," Jonny said and popped the top. Looking back at Lin-Su, he asked, "What makes you say that?"

Lin-Su just shook her head and glanced at the others. "Avoidance. He sure is good at it." Looking back at Jonny, she said, "So will you answer some direct questions?"

"Maybe," he replied cautiously.

"How long have you been programming?" she asked promptly.

Jonny contemplated the question. "Since I was about seven or eight, I guess," he finally replied. "At least, that's the earliest I can remember." He smiled slightly. "My brother and I used to write games to play on the computers at home."

"Yeow! No wonder you're so good at it!" Blake exclaimed. "It's like you think in code."

"Sometimes I do," Jonny acknowledged. At their startled looks, he shrugged. "Why is that so surprising? Programming languages are no different than French or Spanish or Japanese. To become really fluent you have to learn to think in the language when you use it."

"Okay . . . " Ted said doubtfully. Then he brightened. "Speaking of languages, how many do you speak? I know you speak more than one 'cause I heard you on the phone to one of the foreign offices the other day, and whatever language you were speaking, it sure wasn't English."

Jonny grinned lazily. "I don't even remember who I was talking to. Let's see . . . languages. I'm fluent in Spanish, Hindu, Arabic, and Japanese and I can hold my own in Mandarin Chinese, French, Polish, Russian, Greek and German. I can read all of those, as well as Latin, and I know enough to make an idiot of myself in several others including Farsi, Portuguese and a couple of Native American dialects."

"Geezus!" Blake exclaimed. "How did you manage that?"

"I'm good at languages . . . pick 'em up pretty readily. Both of my parents spoke several languages and they started to teach them to me from the day I was born. That's where my French, German, and Russian come from. I also have an adopted brother who was born in India, which is where I learned Hindu. He also spoke fluent Arabic so I picked that up, too. And my girlfriend's mother is Colombian so Jess speaks Spanish as readily as she speaks English. Portuguese, too . . . her Portuguese is a lot better than mine. The others I've just picked up along the way because I like learning languages." Jonny shrugged. "No biggie. I just had the opportunity, that's all."

Blake shook his head in amazement. "I don't believe this guy."

"So with all of the languages you know, you get the chance to use 'em much? Do a lot of traveling?" Kyle asked.

"Not as much as I used to. My parents used to travel a lot and they would take me with them. It's been a while, though."

They were all quiet for a bit and then Lin-Su asked idly, "So who taught you to program?"

"My dad."

"He's a computer programmer?"

"Among other things."

"Who's your dad?" Kyle asked. "Anyone we might know?"

Blake was looking directly at Jonny and saw the way he tensed up. Recognizing that they had just hit a question that Jonny didn't really want to answer, he interrupted smoothly, "How's the compiling coming?"

Grateful for the interruption, Jonny sat up and peered at the screen. "More than halfway done." He looked at the group surrounding him. "You guys don't have to stay. Why don't you head home? I can wait this out and get it running again. After all, we really should have at least a few of us awake for the weekly staff meeting."

Lin-Su looked resigned and then wagged a finger at him. "We're going to get it out of you, one way or the other, you know." Jonny grinned at her without saying a word. After looking at him for a long time, she sighed. "Okay, if that's the way you want it. Come on, Ted, you can give me a lift home. I'm not in the mood to ride the T at this hour."

"Sure thing. How about you, Kyle? Blake?"

"I'll take a lift," Kyle agreed, standing. "You sure you don't want us to stick around?" he asked Jonny.

"Naw. You go ahead. This shouldn't be much longer anyway."


Blake shook his head. "I got my car. Thanks for the offer, though." With that, the others waved and left.

"Why don't you go on?" Jonny repeated. "I can finish up."

Blake shook his head. "No, I'll hang until everything's done and then give you a lift home."

"Thanks, but it really isn't necessary. I can . . ."

"No, you can't," Blake said flatly. "Two in the morning is not the best time in the world to be takin' the T. I'm surprised you haven't been mugged already. I don't mind giving you a lift."

"I'm over in Somerville," Jonny warned.

"Not a problem." Jonny finally gave up, and the two of them lounged in companionable silence for a while.

"So what's her name?" Blake finally asked.


"Your girlfriend. Did I hear you say 'Jess'?"

"Oh. Yeah. Jessica."

"Nice. You known her long?"

"Since I was about eight."

"Long time. What you guys have must be pretty special to have lasted that long."

"Yeah, it is," Jonny agreed, drowsing again.

"She was really pissed tonight, huh?"

Jonny rolled his head and looked at his companion. "Yeah, she was, and she had a right. I don't even remember the last time we had the chance to have a meal together, let alone a decent conversation. She's generally ready to go to bed by the time I get home, and she has a 7:00 a.m. class this term so we're lucky to even get a passing good morning as we head out the door. We'd both shuffled schedules and commitments around to get this evening together and then I had to walk out on her. I don't blame her for being angry."

"You live together, then." Jonny nodded. "Where's she going to school?"

"M.I.T. She's trying to choose between environmental engineering and computer science."

"Tough curriculum. She a programmer, too?"

"Yeah. A good one."

"Your dad teach her, too?" Jonny nodded again. Blake regarded Jonny thoughtfully for a long time. Finally, he said softly, "I know who your dad is, you know."

Jonny's head snapped up and he stared at his companion. "What do you mean?"

"I mean I know who your dad is, Jon. You'd left an HR form on your desk one day. Your name was at the top . . . Jonathan B. Quest . . . former address Rockport, Maine. I've visited that area once or twice . . . they like to play up their celebrities for the tourists. Benton Quest . . . world famous scientist and Renaissance man . . . home address . . . Rockport, Maine. It wasn't hard to put it together."

Jonny sighed. "No, I suppose not." There was a perceptible pause. "Who have you told?"

"No one," Blake replied. "I figured if you wanted people to know, you'd tell them. Since you hadn't, I didn't think it was any of my business."

"Thanks," Jonny said gratefully.

"Answer a question for me?"

"Sure. I owe you one."

"Why does it make a difference?"

Jonny thought about that for a while. "I guess because all of my life I've pretty much lived in my dad's shadow. When Jess and I came here, for the first time in my life no one knew who I was. I wasn't having to live up to being Benton Quest's son all the time." He shot a quick glance at his companion. "Don't get me wrong. I love my dad. But do you have any idea what it's like to have grown up with that? Everyone always expected great things from both of us."

"Both of you? You mean you and Jessica?"

"Well, her too, but I really meant my brother and I. Hadji never had a problem with it, I don't think, but then he and Jess are a whole lot more like my father than I am. They like the same stuff . . . all the cutting edge research and that sort of thing. That's just not me. I was always the 'dumb' one of the crowd."

Blake snorted. "Bro', if you were the dumb one, I don't even want to think about what that would make me."

Jonny stared at the ceiling thoughtfully. "You know, it's funny. I don't know that I even realized that it bugged me until I didn't have to deal with it any more. Getting away from home and coming to work here . . . it was like suddenly being set free." He shook his head ruefully. "When we argued tonight, Jess accused me of getting a rush out of this job . . . of being so in demand and needed. It ticked me off at the time, but you know, she's right. It feels good to be the one that has something really valuable to contribute, for a change. I guess that's why I haven't said anything about who my dad is. For once, I'm actually making my own mark and I kinda want to keep it that way."

"I can see that. Don't worry. I won't say anything to anyone."


"So how do you and your famous father get along?"

Jonny snorted. "Let's just say that we've seen better days."

Blake laughed. "I think parent/child wars go with the territory. I didn't always get along with my folks, either."

"We did really well up until about seven months ago. Then it all went to hell."

"What happened?"


"He didn't like your girlfriend?"

"No, he liked Jess well enough. He didn't like our . . . let's see, how did he put it? Oh, yeah, I remember. He didn't like our 'extracurricular activities' and he decided to do something about it. I objected to the tactics he used and things got really nasty."

"And you ended up here."

"Pretty much."

"Can I ask you another one?"

"Yeah, I guess. As long as you don't get offended if I refuse to answer, you're welcome to ask whatever you like. Just don't repeat anything I tell you, okay?"

"Fair deal," Blake agreed. "So, how old are you?"

"Why do you want to know?" Jonny hedged.

"Because I've got a bet going with myself. Everyone around here figures that you're about 23 or 24 . . . on the young side of their age, basically. Me, I think you're younger than that." Seeing Jonny's expression, Blake added hastily, "It doesn't matter to me, you know. It's more curiosity than anything else."

Jonny contemplated him for a minute and then said, "I'm 18."

"Shit, and you're this good now? Geez, I hope you'll let me hang with you for a long time, my man, because the amount I can learn from you is downright scary."

Jonny laughed and smacked him on the back as he sat up. "I hope you're around for a long time, too, bro'. You're a good time, and you make a homesick kid from downeast Maine feel a whole lot better about being in the big city." Blake chuckled and gave him a thumbs up. "Looks like this sucker is finished. Let's see if it will run so that we can go home and I can find out if I'm going to be sleeping in the guest room tonight . . ."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The clock on the mantel was just chiming 3:00 a.m. as Jonny closed the apartment door. He sighed wearily and leaned against it, letting the quiet soak into his bones. After almost five months, he had finally become accustomed to thinking of this place as home. He knew part of the trouble of adjusting was due to the atmosphere of the place. With a few exceptions, none of the furniture belonged to him and Jess . . . the place had come furnished . . . and the stuff wasn't exactly what the two of them would have chosen on their own. But having a place to call their own pretty much made up for that. And they did enjoy their neighbors . . . particularly elderly Mrs. Taylor downstairs, and her giant Irish wolfhound, Magnus.

It's been a lot harder than I expected, though, Jonny mused. When he first took the job with Blackman Telecommunications, the salary had seemed like a huge amount of money. He hadn't anticipated that they'd have a problem, particularly since Jess was going to work until she started in at school. And she'd found a job easily enough, and at good money, too. But neither of them had anticipated the host of expenses they now had to face, especially living in the city.

Rents were outrageous and even with the deal they had on their place, it took a major chunk out of the monthly budget. Then there was electricity, water, trash pickup, phone, cable, internet access, cellular service, food, transportation . . . the list seemed endless. Not to mention the purchases that they had to make when they first moved in. They had to completely stock up on essentials like dishes, cookware, cleaning supplies, trashcans, towels, bed linens, and the day-to-day expenses just kept mounting.

Then there were the big purchases. When they moved out of the Compound, both of them had been angry with his father. Jessie less so than he, Jonny admitted, but still . . . And in their bullheaded determination to prove that they could manage on their own, they had refused to take with them a lot of the things Race and Estella kept insisting were theirs to keep. Jonny shook his head and shoved himself away from the door. They had been seriously shortsighted and naïve on that score. They should have accepted Race's offer with grace. They definitely would have been a lot better off today if they had. Within the first month, they had dropped over fifteen thousand dollars on computer equipment alone - two desktop systems, a couple of laptops, a file server, a color laser printer, and a host of other peripherals and software - all on credit, of course. Now it was another bill they had to pay every month, and an extremely high one, at that. And ever since Jessie had returned to school full-time, money was extremely tight, as they had to rely on his salary alone.

Live and learn, I guess, Jonny thought, as he crossed the living room silently. When he reached the rear of the apartment, he found the bedroom door standing open invitingly. Well, at least he wouldn't have to sleep in the guest room - or worse, on their uncomfortable, stiff-backed couch.

He undressed in the dark, listening to Jessie's soft, even breathing. Just having her to come home to made it all worthwhile, even if all they ever managed to do together these days was sleep to in the same bed for a few hours at a time. He slid in next to her carefully, trying not to wake her, and lay there staring into the darkness. After a minute, she stirred and rolled over, cuddling against him intimately. Her intense warmth against his side was reassuring and he nestled in, drawing her close.

"I'm sorry, Jonny." Her voice was soft and repentant. "I shouldn't have gotten angry. I know it wasn't your fault."

"Shhhh. You had the right to be mad, love. I'm the one who should apologize. I did promise you. I'm sorry."

"Let's just forget it, okay?"

"Forgotten," he agreed and kissed her.

"So did you get it fixed?"

"Yeah," he replied, sounding very tired. "Blake helped, and so did Ted, Kyle and Lin-Su."

"I sure hope they appreciate you at that place," she said into his ear. "They don't know how lucky they really are."

He kissed her again gently. "I'm the lucky one," he murmured softly against her lips. He could feel her smile. Her arms tightened around him briefly, drawing him close, as she murmured,

"Go to sleep, angel. Tomorrow is another day . . ."