Memories Part 3: And A Child Shall Lead Them

Chapter 15: "Has anyone seen my...." Part Five

Note from AC:

Note: As Orlando prepares to celebrate a birthday, we'll check in on Alligator Alley's ongoing party. Tracy's in for a few surprises!

"All holdings of the creature that appeared in this room are to be liquidated immediately with the proceeds placed in an account for Corbin as retribution for the crimes committed against him." Tracy ordered as he returned to his seat.

"Acknowledged, Director." Emrys replied.

After looking around the group, Tracy spoke once again. "If any of you are thinking 'These boys can't affect me', take note of what just happened. This is the second termination since lunch for the young men under my watch, and it's putting me in a very bad mood. The first you knew as Yulonda; her ashes were last seen enroute to the Sun. Krane Senior is in holding, pending transfer to a prison planet due to actions in which she included him. Mr. Thomas Shaw has been designated by the new owners as Chairman for this meeting. Mr. Shaw, you may begin."

"I hereby call this meeting to order." Tommy stated as he stood. "The owners have informed me that they don't give a flying crap about any previous business pending that was instigated by the witch, so we will move on to current business. Any objections will be dutifully ignored."

Tommy paused, almost daring someone to test him. When there were no takers, he smiled. "I see that you understand the situation quite well. Our first order of business is to officially remove the late Victor Fenway from the Board roster. Mr. Jobs, would you please review the telepathic evidence of the infractions Mr. Fenway was found guilty of?"

Adrian stood and addressed the board. "Fenway Farms was one of the oldest maple syrup manufacturers in the United States," Adran began. "From 1789 until 1951, the maple syrup was their primary business. In 1951, a bolt of lightning started a fire that destroyed two-thirds of the trees. The family sold as lumber the destroyed trees, and planted new trees. When Mr. Fenway took over the business, he began tapping trees that were far too young to produce quality syrup, thus they died young and he had young maple to sell off as lumber. In under twenty-years, Fenway Farms has gone from the best to the worst, due to his decisions. The maple used by Glenwood that he provided is from young growth trees, which certainly does not have the tight grain for quality tonewood in musical instrument manufacturing. We've all seen how Fenway spends his dwindling fortune."

"He conveniently neglected to mark the wood in accordance with industry practice, and billed it as mature wood." Emrys added.

Tommy nodded. "The Chair moves to strike the name of Victor Fenway from the roll due to conduct not becoming of an officer of the Company."

"SECOND!" Maury Flanigan and Paul Green exclaimed in unison, both having their eyes fixed on their children.

"Moved and seconded." Tommy stated. "All in agreement with the motion signal with a raise of your hand."

Tommy couldn't help but chuckle as every hand, and one paw, in the room was raised. "Emrys, I counted a unanimous 'Aye' vote."

"Verified and logged, Mr. Shaw." Emrys replied.

"Thank you," Tommy said as he looked around. "Gentlemen, the next order of business will not require a vote on your behalf. On the request of in excess of fifty percent of the stockholders in Glennwood Guitars, you have been invited to a SEC investigation. I believe that you'll find the new streamlined process invigorating. Mr. Taggert, I yield the floor to you."

Carson nodded as he stood. "In case you were not aware of it, a recent operation by the Pacific Rim Division of Clan Short caused quite a stir in the world markets. Based on the results of the operation, and the speed at which Clan Short's Intelligence personnel were able to resolve issues which could have caused serious damage to the markets, a recommendation was issued by the President. The Commission has acted on the recommendation, and we now accept the testimony of the Vulcan Certified Telepaths within Clan Short as equal to the existing statutes of acceptance of a Vulcan Mind Meld as testimony. Based on information uncovered during a criminal investigation, Clan Short has provided the Commission with information that requires clarification to determine if sanctions or charges are necessary."

"I'm not letting no telepathic twerp dig around in my head!" Mitchell exploded.

"Ahh, Mr. Nimus," Carson said with a smile, "It is so nice of you to volunteer! You see, there is this little issue; it's called jurisdiction. Right now, your actions are under my jurisdiction. I can't force you to submit, but based on what I've seen for evidence, I can transfer your case to the criminal level. At that point, you are at the mercy of the Federal court system, and have to stand before Judge Hollingsworth. It is my understanding that he has much greater latitude than I for requirements of evidence."

"You haven't got anything," Mitchell stated confidently. "Go ahead and try me. I want my lawyer!"

"One lawyer, coming up!" DB giggled. Seconds later, a man in his early fifties, wearing full motorcycle leathers, appeared at the far end of the room, his Harley next to him.

"Hey Matt!" Tracy said as he gave the man a wave. "Gentlemen, this is Matt Granger."

"Hello Tracy, nice to see you finally pulled your eyes from the computer and decided to do some legwork!" Matt replied. "I'll be by to visit later; somehow I've started hearing giggling voices telling me I'm about to do strange things."

"You know him?" Mitchell asked in shock.

"Yes," Matt replied as he turned, "him and his father own Butler Investigations in South Florida. We've worked together on a few cases. That little voice said that you requested me here, could you fill me in?"

Mitchell shook his head. "The SEC Commissioner over there is threatening to turn over some trumped-up evidence to the Federal Judge sitting there to get me to allow a telepathic scan by these little brats."

Matt turned to Carson. "Sir, may I please request a stay while I review the evidence?"

"All of the evidence has been provided by Vulcan-Certified telepaths," Carson replied. "Are you willing to accept delivery via telepathic transfer?"

"Yes, Sir." Matt replied, his face reflecting the 'Oh SHIT!' that suddenly bounced through his head.

A minute later, Matt's face turned red. "Who do I talk to about being scanned?"

Judge Hollingsworth stood. "Clan Short has assigned the telepaths to me for the duration of this investigation."

"Your Honor, I respectfully request a full scan of myself." Matt stated formally.

"Your request is approved. Mr. Butler, Prince Casey, would you please examine the defense attorney?"

"Yes, Your Honor." Jory replied for both of them. After a minute, Jory announced "Scan is complete, are you prepared to receive, Your Honor?"

"Proceed." the Judge stated. Once he had reviewed the information, he announced "Testimony has shown that Counsel has no prior knowledge of the transgressions of his client. How do you wish to proceed, Mr. Granger?"

Matt cast a glance at Mitchell that would freeze the Sun. "I hereby remove myself from representation now and in the future of the person known as Mitchell Nimus."

"Noted and approved." the Judge replied. "A written transcript of the circumstances will be provided to the Bar to dismiss any possible consequences. Client-Attorney privilege has been maintained."

Mitchell stared incredulously. "Just what am I supposed to do?"

Matt shook his head. "I'd suggest a speed-yoga class so you don't throw your back out kissing your ass goodbye, shithead."

"You can't do this, I've got you on a permanent retainer!" Mitchell screamed.

"I'll make sure I refund the difference to your next-of-kin." Matt shot back. "Never lie to a lawyer, it's really bad karma."

Adrian heard the surface thought the Judge directed at him, and offered "Matt, would you like to go see Tracy's dad now? We can arrange that, and you two can catch up."

Matt nodded. "Sounds like an idea. Go for it, thanks."

Adrian glanced at DB, who nodded before making Matt and his ride vanish.

Carson turned his gaze back to Mitchell. "Mitchell Nimus, as this is a SEC investigation, the privilege of a lawyer is not guaranteed. This will be the last time I ask this question. Are you willing to be scanned to determine the validity of the reports as filed, or am I to proceed based on available evidence?"

"You'll have to force me before anyone goes inside my brain." Mitchell spat.

Carson turned to Judge Hollingsworth. "Your Honor, what is the established precedent?"

The Judge explained. "The Supreme Court has determined that Federal-level cases where telepathic evidence shows a guilty verdict on charges is warranted requires equal-level testimony from the accused to verify guilt or innocence. In such cases, the Court is required to gather said evidence in the same manner as the evidence which brought the case to trial."

"Thank you, Your Honor." Carson replied. "The evidence presented presents in excess of a reasonable doubt of guilt, so at this time I order a scan on the accused be performed to assess his innocence. Jory, Jorge, you may proceed."

"Like HELL you do!" Mitchell exclaimed as he jumped up and ran towards the front door.

A grinning Jorge dropped to all fours and trotted off after him, while Jory sat down at the end of the table and began field-stripping his .45. "We're scanning him while he gets his exercise." Jory informed the occupants of the table. "Jorge is gonna give him three laps around the house, then he'll escort him back in."

"One!" Tracy giggled as he pointed at the window. Mitchell was running at full tilt, with Jorge comfortably loping along behind him.

"Obviously he knows nothing about wildlife." Karl observed. "Humans can't outrun a bear, especially a healthy one."

"Speaking of which..." Tracy laughed, "I think our little brother is getting bored."

Jorge and Mitchell were outside the window on lap two, or something like that. Jorge had decided he'd seen enough of the house, and was now herding Mitchell so that he was running in a figure-eight outside the windows.

As they watched, the pattern got tighter, until Jorge was literally jogging in circles around Mitchell, with Mitchell spinning to keep his eyes on the bear. As would be expected, he shortly became dizzy and fell to the ground.

DB giggled, "Incoming!" as Mitchell and Jorge vanished from outside and appeared inside on the floor. Jorge immediately took a seat on the disorientated man, a grin on his face.

"Someone do something about this beast before it eats me!" Mitchell panted.

"Don't worry, our little brother likes his meat lean, you'd need a lot more than a couple of laps around the house to qualify as edible," Karl stated. "If you call him a beast again, I'm gonna let Jory show us how to kill someone with C-4 without making a mess. If you think I'm joking, just try me!"

"Please do, I'm overdue to give an explosive enema!" Jory said hopefully.

"RAWR!" Jorge complained, "Rrrawr awrr wrrawr! Rwarr awrr rwar rrawrr wraaaarrr!" (translation: "No! That's just wrong! Let me get away first!")

Mitchell looked at Jory, to see him reaching into his pockets, pulling out detonators, a clay-like substance, wiring, and a portable control box. At this point, his brain engaged just long enough to tell him that he was screwed, then immediately gave up.

Carson shook his head in wonder. "Jorge, thank you for your care in making sure Mitchell returned in one piece. Since he has caught his breath, I believe I am ready for the evidence."

Jorge and Jory quickly transferred the information to Carson, who then motioned for the Judge to get it as well. Once everything was understood, Carson began. "Jorge, please let him up. If he tries to run again, there is no need to be gentle with restraining him."

"Rowar!" Jorge replied, getting up. He did fart on the man, however: just to make his feelings really well known.

Commissioner Carson began, "Mitchell Nimus, you are guilty of five counts of conflict of interest. You are the sole owner of Sumin Musical Instrument Corporation and own one-fifth of Glennwood Guitar Company. With the leverage of 20% stock ownership in Glennwood, you began implementing changes, with the intention of driving down the quality of Glennwood products, and thus driving down the value of the stock. The lesser quality wood was going to Sumin, but with the stroke of a pen, those materials were sent to Glennwood while Sumin got the higher quality woods. Similarly, the quality electronic components of Glennwood made their way to Sumin, while the poor quality components were delivered to Glennwood, including pickups, potentiometers, capacitors and integrated circuit preamplifiers. The same can be said of the aluminum fret wire that Sumin purchased, which was swapped for the higher quality stainless steel fret wire of Glennwood. The tuner mechanisms were also swapped. As Sumin grew and Glennwood shrank, it became more cost effective for Glennwood to continue purchasing the lesser quality components, while at the same time, Sumin was able to fill orders for more quality components, making the quality components unavailable to Glennwood.

"What you have done, individually, is similar to what other large corporations were doing," Carson continued. "Multiple corporate business partners owned stock in Zorro Communications, such that when their stock was hit hard by Thursday's news, they all suffered. Due to this insider trading, world markets were severely impacted, almost pushing the planet into a worldwide recession. Following plans put forth by President Powell and Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, all such insider trading will cease and desist immediately."

"As for you, Mister Nimus," Commissioner Carson firmly stated, "your obvious intention was to take advantage and drive Glennwood out of the marketplace and out of business."

Judge Hollingsworth stated, "Mitchell Nimus, you are guilty of five counts of conflict of interest, substantiated by the insider trading, and the telepathic evidence gathered. You are sentenced to five consecutive twenty-year terms in Florida's Federal Penitentiary. As damages to Glennwood, Sumin Musical Instrument Corporation will be liquidated and the assets thereof awarded to Glennwood Guitars."

Tommy stood up. "Commissioner, Glennwood Guitars formally requests immediate recall of the stock of our company owned by Mr. Nimus and transfer of same into the possession of the owners for assignment."

"Granted," Carson grunted, and then growled, "Someone get this greedy shit-stain out of my sight."

"I think I'll leave him in the flowered robe..." Emrys announced as Mitchell vanished. "He's in a holding cell now with a man named Bubba, and the prison has been notified of how to proceed."

"I'll tell Cory to expect another 'thank-you' card," Cody commented with a smirk. "I think this'll take him over a hundred!"

"Most of which are signed 'Bubba'!" Adrian giggled.

Carson shook his head at the antics of the two boys, then turned to see why Maury's son Shane was suddenly giggling. He couldn't help laughing when he saw Jorge 'helping' the five-year-old clean up the spaghetti mess on his face and hands. "Mr. Flanigan, I believe that you've been selected to be reviewed next."

Maury tore his gaze from watching the grizzly boy, who previously proved just how dangerous he could be, treating his son like a little bear cub. "I'm ready whenever the telepaths are."

As Shane decided to check out his new furry friend, Jory and Jorge took care of getting Maury's side of the events concerning him. Once done, they transferred the information to three people; Carson, the judge, and Tracy. Carson's eyebrows shot up as he reviewed the results; once done, he began.

"This is interesting. It seems that there have been quite a few documents passed through you that have been modified after you signed them, Mr. Flanigan, so many that I would venture to say all of them regarding your actions on this board. At this point, I am ordering a third-party audit of Foothills Custom Electronics for both quality control and internal records. As Clan Short is providing this service in regards to the ZCC meltdown, they will be assigned to your company as well."

"Alden, you hear that?" Tracy interrupted.

"Yep, records frozen, and starting detailed review. Any bets I can finish before the Commissioner?" Alden replied.

"No, you'll cheat!" Tracy giggled. "Go ahead, Commissioner."

Carson shook his head. "I've found that during the reviews, the Clan tends to consult with experts to get ideas for improvement. Assuming that you follow their recommendations, you should come out of this in better shape than you are now. Evidence shows that the defective, mismarked, and inferior equipment supplied by your company to Glennwood Guitars is either a direct result of outside interference or caused by items that will be addressed in the audit. I suspect the entity the current owners refer to as 'the witch' had a mole inside your company; if true, Clan Short is instructed to turn him or her over for Federal prosecution. To comply with the regulations coming into effect, I strongly suggest you arrange with the current owners of Glennwood Guitars a mutually acceptable swap of the stock which you presently own in each other's company to prevent future charges being pressed."

"The translation of all of that is you get to go on the shuttle ride with your son." Jory stated. "Congratulations for surviving a SEC investigation, I was beginning to think I'd need to order more ammo."

Figuring his guardian angel was on a roll, Maury smiled. "Thank you, Commissioner; after the previous events of this meeting, I have a feeling I'll be seeing a lot of the new owners." Pausing, he then turned to Jory, since Shane had decided now was a good time for a nap, and Jorge was a nice pillow. "Is it a violation of protocol to give a general a hug in appreciation of his assistance?"

Jory tilted his head as he considered the offer. After some thought, he replied with a straight face "The hug is accepted, but it'll cost you a dozen fresh cookies to let go."

"I'm pretty sure if I ask nicely, one of the fine young gentlemen recording this can assist with the ransom." Maury grinned as he held out his arm.

Jory joined Maury to get his hug, then decided a cuddle sounded much more appropriate. As he got comfortable on Maury's lap, each of the divisional AI's sent a platter piled high with fresh-baked cookies.

Thinking they were not being watched, Paul's son and daughter looked around then began to lean across the table. Both of them turned pale as an invisible hand grabbed their shoulders and pulled them back into their chairs.

"Excuse the interruption, Commissioner." Adrian said as he dropped the projection of himself at the head of the table and allowed his real body to be seen. "I need to handle some Clan business before we can continue."

Carson nodded his head, curious as to what was about to happen. "Go ahead, Mr. Jobs."

"Thank you," Adrian replied. "You two, out of your seats and backs against the wall, now!"

Realizing that they were outnumbered, Paul's kids complied quickly. Adrian looked back and forth at them for a full minute, his face a blank mask as he held in his emotions. When he finally spoke, his disgust was obvious. "Norris and Sonya Green, the both of you are examples of why rich kids got a bad rep."

"What makes you think you know anything about having money, shrimp?" Norris sneered.

The sneer vanished off of the eleven-year-old boy's face when Adrian quickly grabbed his belt and slid him up the wall, lifting him a foot off the floor. "You see, PUNK, if you had paid attention you'd know that answer. My Dad is Steve Jobs, THE Steve Jobs. I could buy out your father's company outta my savings account and still take a tour of Europe. I'm here because Dad saw what the Clan was doing, talked it over with me, then I volunteered to join them. You're on the road to joining Mr. Nimus in his jail cell, and you're dragging your little sister along with you." Adrian released his hold on Norris' belt, allowing him to fall to the floor.

Adrian looked to make sure Paul was paying attention, then continued. "One thing the news has wrong is that Clan Short's just for kids. We're for families too, and sometimes we have to step in to protect parents. This is one of those times, everyone'll know why once Paul's been reviewed. The two of you won't find out what happens with your parents for at least a month; you're going to be too busy learning to be human." Adrian paused, tapping his commbadge. "Daileass, stand by for operational orders."

"Standing by, Commander Jobs." Daileass' voice answered over the speakers.

"Record official orders." After a pause, Adrian continued. "Norris Green and Sonya Green are to immediately report to UNIT Headquarters for evaluation and indoctrination for Training Planet entry. Both are to complete the full training cycle for the doctrines that are assigned by the evaluation. Modifications by Training Medical to their training are permitted, but all washout requests are denied. Acknowledge."

"Acknowledged and recorded in service records, Commander." Daileass replied. "Standing by for transfer."

"Proceed." Adrian ordered.

After the two vanished, he turned to Paul. "Mr. Green, thanks to a unique gift of one of the Clan members present, your wife has been watching the proceedings. She also has voluntarily presented to us a complete scan. After review of the scan, I had the Clan member act as a relay between me and her. Your children are guilty of Class One mental abuse of their mother; a point which is already noted in their records. Their training program will break them of that trait; the instructors are quite efficient in working the bad habits out of their trainees, trust me. What seems like a month to you is going to seem like years to them due to a spatial flux, so if things work out today you'll get to see a major change in both of them. If things don't go in your favor, the UNIT will care for them until adulthood."

"You know, that explains a lot of things I attributed to other causes." Paul responded. "Is Carol joining us?"

Adrian nodded. "She's on her way; we figured it was best for her to not be here physically while your children were present."

As promised, Carol appeared next to Adrian. Paul was out of his chair instantly, pulling his wife into a hug. "I didn't know..." he began to say.

"Stop right there," Carol stated. "I just spent some time with a shrink from Hawaii who explained that family is usually the last to notice mental abuse. Let's have a seat and let the Commissioner over there do what he needs to do."

"Okay," Paul replied, "but I think we both need to sit down with that shrink."

"I'll warn you, his couch has three horns and likes eating foliage." Carol said seriously as they sat down.

Adrian looked at DB, who just grinned back. After rolling his eyes and shaking his head, Adrian rejoined the group at the head of the table. "Go ahead, Commissioner."

Carson nodded, mentally noting that he definitely wanted to stay on the Clan's good side. "Mr. Green, are you prepared for a telepathic scan?"

Paul nodded. "Proceed."

Jory and Jorge began without prompting, quickly updating all parties once completed. Before Carson could speak, however, Tracy stood up again. "Commissioner, due to circumstances involved which would normally have no bearing on your decision, Clan Short moves to have jurisdiction ceded to our organization for final sentence."

"Judge Hollingsworth?" Carson said. "As I find the transgressions to fall into the criminal sector, I hereby request transfer of jurisdiction to the Federal Level. Clan Short has requested sentencing rights."

"Transfer accepted." the Judge stated as he stood. "Director Butler, your motion is granted. Paul Yanny Green, rise to receive judgement."

Paul stood, suddenly sweating.

"Mister Green, it has been determined that you willingly and actively conspired with the former Victor Fenway to not only defraud Glennwood Guitars, but other customers of both companies. In addition, you have collected funds from other uncouth business owners to 'assist' them in presenting substandard merchandise as premium. You are hereby found guilty of twenty counts of racketeering, extortion, conspiracy, and fraud. For your information, the minimum sentence for your transgressions would be thirty sequential life sentences in a maximum security institution. As requested, I hereby cede sentencing to Clan Short."

"Thank you, Your Honor." Tracy said as he turned to Paul. "Mr. Green, as of right now, your company is seized by Clan Short and will be liquidated to compensate those who you defrauded. As I am not limited by the laws separating corporations from personal holdings, at this time all personal holdings of yourself are also seized to be liquidated for retribution."

Paul almost choked on the lump in his throat; Things didn't look good with the way Tracy started.

After exchanging glances with Jory, Tracy continued. "Our Legal department has been in contact with the Federation Chief Prosecutor, and we have been granted jurisdiction in this situation due to circumstances. You are hereby sentenced to the rest of your life on a Class One Federation Prison Planet, said sentence suspended unless you repeat any of these offenses, or commit any other felony. Due to your actions being either directly or indirectly attributable to the actions of your offspring, this Court has entertained the request of General Jory Casey. It is his opinion that your knowledge gained in performing the acts that you are guilty of would be an asset to the Federation Youth Services branch investigative section. As such, part of your sentence requires you to report to the Fort Lauderdale FYS office for possible employment upon conclusion of this proceeding."

Paul almost collapsed, surprised at the mercy in Tracy's final decision. After what he'd seen earlier, mercy was the last thing he expected.

"Paul," Tracy said softly, "You're going to need a lot of support to recover from what happened in your family. You're losing everything because of what you did, but you're getting a chance to rebuild your life as long as you take the help we're willing to provide. I'm confident that you'll do fine based on your history."

"Thank you." Paul replied weakly as he sat down without asking.

"You may continue, Commissioner." Tracy stated as he sat down, happy that he was able to intervene enough to spare Paul from suffering excessively for actions brought on by his children.

"John Garvey, are you prepared to submit to telepathic examination?" Carson asked.

"Yes, Sir." John replied with an unexpected grin.

Jorge and Jory performed the scan, Jorge's "Rwuh?" after finishing making everyone wonder what was up.

Both the Commissioner and the Judge raised their eyebrows as they investigated the information that was provided. "General, please pass this to Director Butler and Mr. Shaw." Carson stated as he shook his head in wonder.

As soon as he had the information, Tracy began giggling. "That's CLASSIC!"

Tommy had to brace himself to prevent his body falling out of the chair. "I would have never guessed!" he sputtered.

Carson looked at John. "Mister Garvey, I am ceding jurisdiction to Clan Short whether they want it or not!"

"Gee, thanks!" Tracy snickered. "John, I find you guilty of the most creative deception in the history of business. You purposely relabeled high-quality cedar and spruce as young growth, then shipped it through the channels the Witch set up to be relabeled as what it actually was. You made use of the same accountant that Krane used to keep his multiple identities legal, and funneled the kickbacks and skimming that was presented to you right back into the very company they came from. You even went so far as to create a shell corporation for your fellow board members to invest in, unaware that they were actually returning the money they had just stolen to the very place they stole it from!"

"Guilty as charged, Director!" John said with a smirk.

Before Tracy could control his giggles enough to respond, Tommy spoke up after a quick whispered conference with his nephews. "John Garvey, I hereby sentence you to the rest of your natural life as the Director of Operations for the Glennwood Guitar family of companies. We hope it'll be a family after negotiations we are planning for the near future."

"Sounds good to me!" Tracy giggled. "I think that covers almost everything!"

"Close." Tommy added. "Carson, due to the majority of our board being found unsuitable, at this time we request dissolution of the Board of Directors. The need to re-form a Board will be determined after we complete a Corporate restructure."

"I recognize the situation and approve the stated restructure plan." Carson replied. "You have thirty business days, allowing for down time due to the recent attack, to provide the SEC with a written statement of intention."

Thirty minutes later:

DB grinned as he brought Glenn, Liam, Tommy, and Jerry to the hospital in South Carolina. As his first outing without anyone watching, coming here to make sure the two boys were healed was something right up his alley.

"CRAP!" Marc Furst exclaimed as he almost dropped his cup of coffee. "Can't we put bells around you guy's necks or something for warning?"

"Hi Uncle Marc!" DB giggled. "I'm DB, Daddy and Poppa said to tell you you're welcome for the addition that you're gonna ask for tomorrow that they'll finish tonight!"

"You're definitely Peter's kid, that's for sure!" Marc giggled as he picked up his tricorder. "You want to introduce me to my victims?"

"You're silly Uncle Marc!" DB laughed. "This is Liam, and this is Glenn. Their old witch useta hit them with cast iron stuff, and they need fixed. Uncle Jory says I'm 'posed to fix what you can't. This is Jerry, and this is their Uncle Tommy. They are just here to make sure the other two are okay."

"In case your parents forgot to tell you, speech has commas and periods!" Marc sniggered. "You first, Liam. I've already been told the basics, so I'm just verifying the damage myself."

Liam smiled as he stepped forward, Marc's teasing making him feel comfortable around the teenaged doctor. Marc performed a quick scan, then another, then a third, his face getting more serious with each scan. "I'm not putting this boy through replacement of his hip; there's too much repeat damage to promise it won't give him issues when he hits his growth spurt as a teen. DB, you get the bones, a biobed can handle the muscles and tendons."

"Yes Sir!" DB replied as he stepped forward. "This might tickle," he warned before putting his hands over Liam's hips.

As DB worked, Marc turned to Glenn. "You're next."

"Why am I suddenly worried?" Glenn quipped as he made a show of sticking his butt towards Marc.

"Because being a smart-ass before an exam is a good way to get a full manual physical!" Marc evilly sniggered.

"Ohhh baby!" Glenn giggled.

Rolling his eyes, Marc performed multiple scans of Glenn as well. "You're staying overnight on a biobed. After that, we'll see how you look, I think that'll handle it."

"All done, Uncle Marc!" DB crowed. "He's good as new on the stuff you let me fix!"

"Thanks, munchkin." Marc replied as he turned to Jerry and Tommy. "Both of you are getting physicals while you're here. Especially you, Mister Shaw; with some of the equipment you've slung on your shoulder you definitely are due for a biobed scan."

"That has to be the weirdest thing I've heard from someone who recognized me!" Tommy laughed.

"When celebrities wander around all the time, the wow factor kinda dies." Marc sniggered. "You ain't got nothin' on Grandma Lizzy, she likes dropping in for random hugs as much as Peter."

Back at the house:

"I just told DB to time bubble the guys," Ezzy informed the group, now all gathered in the entertainment room. "Things look good, but I think they really need to spend tonight at home."

Rex tilted his head. "What's gonna happen that they need to be here?"

Ezra shrugged. "Nothin'. I just think it'd be nice for all the family to be together after the month they've had today."

"I give up!" Rex snickered. "Just when I think I've got all you Mikyvis kids figured out, you do something off-the-wall just because you think it'd be nice! I'm gonna go get lost in Tracy's head for a few decades until you guys figure yourselves out!"

"What we do would become expected," Ezra giggled, "where's the fun in that?"

"I think I need some sanity," Tracy stated with a shake of his head. "Gary, I hate to do this to you, but I'm leaving Ezzy in charge here until Glenn and the guys get back. Ezzy, I'm taking your boyfriends with me. Behave, or your Dad says he'll help me hide them from you right in front of your eyes!"

Ezzy just grinned, not really worried about the threat. "I've got it under control, Tracy. I'll get everyone up-to-speed on Clan life, you and your guys go on home with your families. Adrian, I'll pop over when it's time to meet your Dad."

The group made their rounds, thanking Greta for the dinner and assuring the adults that the worst of the constant insanity was over. Once ready, Rex and most of the group had Ezzy send them back, leaving Tracy, Adrian, Cody, and Jorge.

"We're gonna walk home." Tracy explained. "I need to unwind a little before I find out what Karl did to the poor starship captain I left him with."

"I'm sure your husband did fine, especially if he's anything like you." Gary said as he put an arm over Tracy's shoulder and escorted the group to the door. "You guys relax, we'll catch up tomorrow."

"Thanks, Gary." Tracy replied. "I'm glad things seem to be working out. See ya' later!"

"Take a break already!" Gary chuckled as he sent them on their way.

Tracy and his group began their trek, all feeling the stress of the madness they just endured. Looking around, Cody gave a low whistle. "They did this good; the house looks like its always been here!"

"Yeah," Tracy replied as he actually took the time to look. "Remind me to thank Peter next time I see him."

Hearing the tone in Tracy's voice, Cody quickly snuggled into his side. "The official stuff sucks, Tracy, but it's not always like this." he advised softly. "Cory hangs with his family and close friends as much as possible, letting the other guys do most of this stuff. Since now you've been on a major operation, next time you'll be able to have a large group handle the things that are too much for one guy."

Adrian and Jorge had stayed just far enough away to give Tracy his space, yet close enough to hear. "Trace, remember telling Steve that I was goin' to be a kid if I wanted to or not?" Adrian asked. "That goes both ways, bro. You did the job, learned some things, now it's time to be the Tracy we all love."

"WarrRarr!" Jorge agreed, mid-pounce.

Tracy never had a chance; neither did Cody. Adrian, while not hit, couldn't resist joining the fun. For the next ten minutes, all four were occupied in a free-for-all wrestling match on the grass.

Finally, Tracy found himself sitting on Jorge's chest while Adrian and Cody restrained Jorge's arms - barely. "See, this is why you don't pounce big brothers!" Tracy giggled.

Jorge just grinned before quickly leaning his head forward and tickling Tracy's stomach with his tongue.

"Cheater!" Tracy laughed as he wiggled around and fell off.

"Wrrrrrerr!" Jorge giggled as he rolled free of his captors.

Tracy stood up, and went over to put Jorge in a friendly brotherly headlock. "Thanks lil' bro, I needed that."

"Wur rreerem!" Jorge replied as he stood up and wrapped his arms around Tracy.

Cody tilted his head thoughtfully. "You know, I think I'm figuring out why Cory seems to pick on me sometimes. Big brothers show love in weird ways."

"Yeah," Adrian agreed, "But it's a heck of a lot better than no brothers."

"Definitely." Cody agreed as he decided he was overdue for Adrian-cuddles.

Once he was finished receiving his bear-hug, Tracy giggled at the couple. "C'mon guys, no free shows for the old people!"

"Yeah, they might have heart attacks!" Cody giggled.

The foursome began walking again, reaching the street and turning left to head home. The first thing they all noticed at once was a line of go-karts parked along the edge of the street in front of the next five houses.

"Okay, where did Karl get all these carts?" Tracy wondered. "There's gotta be at least fifty of them!"

"You're welcome!" Kyle giggled in Tracy's head.

"Okay Kyle, get your skinny butt over here and explain where YOU got them!" Tracy said aloud, his grin giving away his not really expecting a reply.

"You rang?" Kyle giggled as he appeared in front of Tracy, half-way through pulling a pair of shorts over his speedos. Noticing Cody, he added "Hey Cody! Cory let you off your leash?"

"Yeah, he got tired of me nibbling on his ankles!" Cody quipped. "How you doing, bro?"

"Better," Kyle replied. "Tracy and Jackie have helped me with dealing with the family we lost during the battle. Prez just kept throwing eggs at me until I smiled, so he wasn't a lotta help."

"You needta' let everyone know that, Cory's worried about you." Cody semi-scolded.

"Cor and I had a talk before I came over." Kyle replied. "It's gettin' to be a habit of him chewing my butt about tryin' to keep from overloadin' him with my problems. I got inta' some bad habits when he was recoverin', and now he's makin' me break them."

"That's what big brothers do best." Tracy interrupted. "Listen to him, Kyle. You can get help from the rest of us too, but don't leave Cory out of the loop. He needs you to trust him with your problems more than you need him to help you with them."

Kyle tilted his head. "I guess I never thought of it that way. He's always been there since the day I walked into the old home, and I've stopped sharing everything with him because his head was messin' up."

"Go tell him that; we'll wait for you." Adrian ordered. "He needs to hear it from your mouth."

Kyle nodded and then vanished. A few seconds later, he returned, smiling. "Thanks, guys. Cor and I got a few things sorted that's been buggin' him." He then walked over and gave Tracy an unexpected hug, muttering. "Cory says you're good people, so I can add you to my list."

In an area of his head that even Kyle couldn't hear, Tracy heard Tyler's voice explaining just what Kyle's statement meant. "C'mon lil' bro." Tracy said softly as he managed to lift Kyle onto his hip.

Not to be outdone, Jorge decided to stand up and put his big brother AND his Intel boss into a gentle bear hug. "Rarwrwr!" Jorge giggled.

"Yeah," Kyle giggled, "you're DEFINITELY Tracy's little bro with cuddles like that, Jorge! The cold nose under my armpit kinda tickles though!"

Jorge nodded rapidly, causing Kyle to squirm and giggle madly. Barely holding on to Kyle, Tracy giggled "Careful bro, I don't want to drop him!"

Jorge stopped, turned his head to give Tracy's cheek a lick, then dropped to all fours while obviously giggling.

Wanting a change of subject, Kyle asked "You really wanna know where I got those carts?"

"Yeah!" Tracy giggled. "I expected a few old used carts, not somewhere around fifty new ones!"

"Actually, sixty-three." Kyle laughed. "The rest should be here tomorrow. I sent the other trucks to New York so the National Guard could use them for patrols. The factory sent out replacements as soon as they heard."

"How'd you..." Tracy started to ask.

"I'm sneakier than Seth!" Kyle interrupted. "That's why he's only Command while I'm running Intel. Tyler and me approved you guys before Seth even knew you were trying to hack into the servers. Trav and Gabe were in on it too, we had them watching you guys to make sure you didn't get into trouble before we were ready to ask you to join us."

"Weren't you guys future-blind?" Adrian asked curiously.

"Yep!" Kyle replied. "Our kids gotta learn to use their gut feelings; a lot of the stuff Ty an' me do is just that, no superman stuff."

"Why is Prez screaming something about 'gut dumping' and 'wild surf' in the Director's Room?" Tracy giggled.

Kyle laughed. "One little time where Ty an' me miscommunicated, and he won't let me forget it. It was just a couple of little waves!"

Alden giggled over their commbadges, "Little waves?"

"TWENTY-FEET TALL WAVES!" Prez ranted loudly in Tracy's head. "Our entire leadership team screamed in horror; Pacific Rim Division was almost destroyed a few hours after it was created!"

Tracy barely managed to repeat Prez's rant for the amusement of the rest of the group. Kyle's giggles grew as he sputtered "Don't be a baby, Prez! We made sure nobody got hurt, and the security guys want us to come back for a repeat!"

Prez imagined a hundred multi-colored Pissed Off Chicken eggs flying at Kyle and sniggered, "DUCK SEASON!"

Feeling silly, Kyle's presence in Tracy's head shouted "RABBIT SEASON!" as Kyle imagined a bunch of 'adult' toys and sent them back towards Prez.

Tracy's eyes grew wide at the playing in his head. "When I decide which one of you two are more nuts I'll let you know!" he laughed.

Kyle giggled. "Prez is fun. Betcha I can make him say 'Rabbit Season' before you get home!"

"Go for it!" Tracy giggled. "Can you fill me in on the carts while you're torturing him?"

"Sure!" Kyle grinned. "I'll do one better; let's go see the guy I get them from."

Karl Chevrolet, Des Moines, IA

Tracy's reply turned into a groan as the entire group suddenly found themselves standing in a large showroom. His eyes grew wide as he spotted the twin tracks from a serious burnout heading towards one of the glass walls.

"Dang!" Cody giggled. "Cory wasn't kiddin' about him burnin' the tires off! The pictures ain't nothin' like seeing it in person!"

"CORY did that?" Tracy exclaimed in shock. "What was he driving?"

"His new 'Vette." Cody replied. "It was his first test drive."

They were interrupted by a man walking up to them. Kyle noticed him first, and waved as he said "Hi Karl!"

Karl waved back. "Hello, Kyle. You here to decimate my profit margin again already?"

"It's Karl Season!" Prez giggled in Tracy's head.

Ignoring his obviously demented fellow Director, barely, Tracy turned to the man. "Hello, Sir; I'm Tracy Butler, Director of Clan Short Alligator Alley."

"Good evening, Mr. Butler; I'm Karl Meyer, owner of this dealership. At least I will be until the cherub you're holding bargains me into bankruptcy!"

"He actually has fun bargaining with me!" Kyle giggled into Tracy's ear. Turning his head, he said "Thanks for the help getting those electric cars lined up for the refugee islands, Karl. Cory had a little discussion with the Federation guys; I think he talked them into a bonus for the quick response."

Karl shook his head. "I really wish you guys would stop doing that; I'm just doing my part to help out."

"Nope!" Kyle giggled. He pointed as he introduced the rest of the group. "These other guys are Jorge Butler, Adrian Jobs and Cody Short. Before you ask, their last names all make them directly related to the people that you think they could be related to."

"Gee, thanks Kyle!" Adrian groaned with a roll of his eyes.

Karl's face became serious, and he purposely addressed Adrian informally. "Adrian, with the company you're keeping, I feel safe in assuming that you're a Clan member. The fact that you're holding hands with someone who could only be Cory's brother, despite my knowing the family personally yet having never met him, means that even if you are not Clan, you get the same treatment that any Clan member gets. You can ask Kyle if I'm good at my word."

"He means it." Kyle added. "Chill, Rat, he's one of us."

"Sir, yes Sir!" Adrian quipped as he reached out and poked Kyle in the ribs.

His eyes landing on Jorge, Karl smiled. "You must be Tracy's little brother, Jorge. You might want to give the 'innocent bear act' a little more work, I can tell that you're not a bear, and the way you're watching Tracy makes you being his brother obvious."

Jorge tilted his head. "Rawwwr arrrer werarewrrr?"

Karl nodded. "Yes, you're obviously human to anyone who looks. If you're not in Security already, think about doing it. The fools who don't pay attention will think twice before messing with your brother when you're with him."

Jorge stood up, and within seconds was giving Karl a hug of thanks. Kyle answered the curious looks with "Language dump. He needs it to help all of us."

"Dang it!" Tracy pouted, "I was looking forward to bartering in Klingon! Now he'll understand me!"

"Trace, leave the pouting to us littler guys, it looks goofy on a big kid!" Adrian quipped as both him and Cody turned on pouts so convincing that Karl and Jorge had to divert three passing parents. All three had suddenly felt the urge to cuddle these two boys, whoever they are.

"No wonder those commercials a couple of years ago were so successful!" Karl chuckled.

"Little brothers, can't take them anywhere!" Tracy quipped as he grabbed the hem of both of their shirts and pulled it up and over the top of their heads. "Jorge, look! Belly Buttons!" Tracy prodded.

Never one to pass up opportunity, Jorge sprinted over and began alternating between the two bare bellies, quickly driving his laughing victims to the floor curled up in a ball.

"They're still kinda new," Kyle informed Karl. "They'll loosen up and stop being so quiet in a week or two."

"I can tell!" Karl sniggered. "You know, some of the new guys I've hired over in the Adaptive Technologies building haven't met you yet. What you think about you taking Jorge over there to make your rounds? While you're there, get him measured up for dune buggy seats."

"Ohhh, I getta break in new guys!" Kyle squealed as his eyes lit up. "C'mon Jorge, this is FUN!"

Jorge tilted his head at Tracy; once Tracy nodded his permission, Jorge grinned and bounded over to Kyle's side.

"Follow me, bro!" Kyle giggled as he sprinted towards the door. Jorge took off at a comfortable lope, easily keeping pace with Kyle.

Once the two of them were out the door, Karl turned to his three remaining visitors. "That'll keep Kyle occupied for a while; he loves talking with the guys and asking questions. Cory asked me to find things like that when Kyle visits so he can be a curious random kid for a while."

"Sweeet, he needs a break." Tracy replied. "What are we gonna be doing though?"

"Shopping." Karl stated with a grin. "Patriarch's orders, ALL Division Heads are to be provided with transportation as fast as Kyle can con them into a trip here."

"Cory's evil like that." Cody giggled.

"So am I." Karl said, not explaining further.

"But I don't even have a learners permit yet, I can't get one for a couple of years!" Tracy exclaimed.

"I signed you up for offensive driving classes while Danny was visiting!" Adrian giggled. "You start Wednesday."

"We'll be in the same class, all three of us." Cody added. Giggling at Adrian's shocked expression, Cody added "I called Danny after you fell asleep under the tree. Cory's not the only Short kid who can be sneaky."

"Get used to it, Cory likes surprising people." Karl advised. "If you'll come with me, I think I just figured out a vague order that Tyler placed a couple of days ago."

"Now I'm scared." Tracy muttered, motioning for Karl to lead the way.

Smiling knowingly, Karl led the boys through the showroom. After taking a shortcut through the offices, they came out in the parts department. Karl then took them through a door labelled 'Employees Only', bringing them into the body shop. Looking around, Karl spotted one of the painters and waved him over.

"Can I help you, Mr. Meyer?" the painter asked as he jogged over.

"Jack, these young men are visiting from the new Clan Short Alligator Alley Division." Karl replied. "How is that project Tyler Short requested coming?"

"I was just going into the booth to unmask it." Jack replied. "Would you young gentlemen like to help?"

All three boys nodded their head rapidly, the idea of getting to be involved in something new to them irresistible. As Karl followed behind wearing a big smile, Jack led his new 'crew' over to one of the paint booths.

As they went to enter the booth, Jack stopped long enough to give basic instructions. "Guys, the paint's still going to be slightly soft, so try not to lean on it or scratch it."

"Okay!" all three chimed, anxious to see what they were about to help with. Mile-wide grins sprouted as they entered the booth. Despite being almost completely covered in paper, there was no mistaking the lines of a Camaro. Not much of the car could be seen due to it being taped off for side stripes. Chuckling at the expected reaction, Jack patiently explained to the boys how to properly de-mask the car, then stood back and watched as the three of them began the process of revealing the reason the car was being painted.

Tracy concentrated fully on what he was doing, not really paying attention to the actual car. Even the fact that both Adrian and Cody stepped back when all but the driver's side was done didn't register; Tracy wasn't going to be the one who messed up Jack's work. As he took the last piece of tape off, he finally stepped back to look at the car.

"Whoah!" Tracy gushed as his eyes traced the lines of the Camaro they had uncovered. It was a fifth-generation 2005 Camaro ZL/1, but nothing like what the fliers said was available. First was the color; the entire car was black with a forest-green pearl overlay, offset by a single forest green stripe running down each side, following the body lines. As Tracy walked around the car, his eyes picked up on a unique feature; Jack had created 'ghost' racing stripes by taping them off when he applied the pearl overlay, making a stripe that only appeared when the angle of the light was just right.

As Tracy walked around the car, Cody and Adrian on his heels, he reached the back and had to stop. The taillights had been replaced with authentic 1969 Camaro lights, and the retro rear spoiler proudly stated in green script lettering "DANGER! ALLIGATOR CROSSING!"

"Dude! Whoever owns this car is nuts!" Tracy giggled. He continued around the car, this time noticing the functional rear brake cooling ducts bore a striking resemblance to a yawning 'gator, complete with teeth.

As Tracy got back to the driver's door, Jack asked "Would you like to sit in it?"

"Can I?" Tracy asked in awe. "You won't get in trouble, will you?"

Jack smiled. "I'm sure the owner of the car isn't going to mind. Go ahead, hop in!"

With a grin that threatened to wrap around his head, Tracy stuck his hand into the slot for the hidden latch. He didn't think anything of it when the door immediately popped open, allowing him access.

As Tracy was climbing in, Adrian was muttering in his subvocal. As a camera appeared in his hands, he said "Hey bro, why don't you adjust the stuff like you were gonna drive it. I'll get a picture for ya!"

After getting an approving nod from Jack, Tracy carefully figured out how to adjust the seat and the steering wheel. As Adrian started snapping pictures, Tracy placed his hands on the wheel and his left foot on the brake pedal. What happened next was recorded for eternity by Adrian's quick shutter finger, much to Tracy's horror.

"Positive identification as Tracy Butler, biometrics confirmed." a mechanical voice announced from the center console. "Initializing post-delivery configuration."

"HOLY SHIT!" Tracy screamed. "WHAT DID I DO WRONG?"

"You impressed my big brother," Cody offered helpfully.

"You got out of bed this morning?" Adrian asked, continuing to capture the expressions on Tracy's face.

"You're no help!" Tracy pleaded. "What's happening here!"

"I think you're being adopted, Tracy!" Karl chuckled as he came in. "Don't worry, this is all good. just go with the flow."

"SURE, YOU can say that, you're not sitting in a car that just decided it wants to keep you!" Tracy stated. "Dad's gonna KILL me if I come home with a car!"

"Don't worry, Tracy," Adrian giggled from behind the camera, "you've got security now; they'll protect you from insane parents!"

Fortunately for Adrian's ears, Tracy was cut off before he could reply. "Director?" the car asked, "I am completed with initialization. A Clan-registered AI named Emrys wishes to initiate a secure connection with me. Do you wish for me to accept the connection?"

Tossing his hands in the air as he slumped back into the driver's seat, Tracy replied "Why not? At least Emmy can log the details before my Dad strangles me!"

"Connection established."

A minute later, Emmy's voice came across the speaker. "Hey Uncle Tracy! Grandpa says stop being a worrywart! He says Uncle Parker warned him already, so shaddup and take possession already!"

The super-pharmacy arrived, in the form of a six-foot tall by six feet in circumference bottle of Valium. Alden giggled, "Now is clearly the time for parental medication."

"Emmy, deal with your brother!" Tracy said in exasperation.

"I already have ferrets in my machine room," Alden giggled. "I have the shiniest, most polished hard disks in the Pacific Rim."

About halfway through his reply, Alden's voice changed so that he sounded like a smurf. Emmy's giggles told everyone who was responsible without asking.

Alden squeaked, "Jeez, leave one subsystem a little less secure."

Tracy cracked a smile at Emmy's revenge. "That was cute. Why'd you need to log into this car, Emmy?"

"Thanks, Uncle Tracy!" Emmy giggled. "Uncle Cory's Corvette, Ray, has some program upgrades that he needed me to install on your new car. It's stuff that him and Fife developed that's higher security than what Chevy can get access to. I'm almost done with the upgrades, give me another minute or so."

"Does everybody but me know this is supposedly my car?" Tracy exclaimed as he cradled his head in his hands.

"I didn't know until it talked to you, I was guessing when I saw the rear spoiler!" Cody offered. "I've rode in Ray with Cory, since Ray's doing upgrades, this is for real, Trace. When we were out driving around, Cory told me that he wanted all of his directors to have cars like Ray, that way they could get away from things and still be safe. I'm betting that Emmy's unlocking the AI potential in the car's computer and loading the pre-personality that will turn into a friend as it gets to know you."

"Finally, at least someone can explain this!" Tracy acknowledged. "Since the rest of these clowns thought it'd be funny to let me suffer, you get to be the first one to sit in the passenger seat. Get your butt in here."

"That's okay, I've got the blackmail pictures!" Adrian giggled as he watched Cody run around the car and climb inside.

"And I've got the master key to sneak into your bedroom and get even while you're sleeping." Tracy shot back with a smile. "Be very careful, little brother!"

Adrian lowered the camera just long enough to stick his tongue out at Tracy, then went back to documenting the delivery. Both Jack and Karl stood back out of the line of fire, both chuckling at the interactions between the boys.

Just as Cody managed to get his seat adjusted, the car spoke again, this time sounding a lot less formal. "Tracy, Emrys has completed the upgrades and I have rebooted. Are you ready to begin initial configuration? He told me you have never driven a car before, so if you want I can step you through what a driver needs to do whenever they climb into a different vehicle."

"Since Cory's the one who decided freaking out Division Heads is fun, I better do it right." Tracy acknowledged. "What do I need to do?"

"This part is easy!" the car replied. "First, we need to adjust your seat. I'm fitted with extended-adjustment seats, so we're not going to have to settle for almost-right. I'm going to move the steering wheel so that I don't accidentally pinch you, then we'll work on height adjustment. You need to be high enough that you can see my entire hood up front while sitting normally; that will automatically have you good for the side windows. If we're too high, you'll hit your knees under my dashboard, so it's best to find the right spot."

"Okay, that makes sense." Tracy replied, now actually getting into the new-car experience.

With the car doing the adjustments based on Tracy's verbal instructions, it took only a few minutes to get the height set right. Once that was done, the car moved on. "The next part is adjusting for the pedals. Right now, you are too close to the dashboard, so I'm going to move you backwards until you are at the minimum safe distance defined in my programming for your age and weight. I am able to relocate the pedals once we've got the seat right."

"Okay." Tracy said, surprised that a car could be this adjustable.

Once the seat stopped moving, the car said "Tracy, please look at the driver information center in the center of my dashboard. My seatbelts are the street-approved versions of the ones used in race cars, and I need to show you a video of how to properly put them on."

"No wonder they look weird!" Tracy giggled as he shifted his attention. "I'm ready."

"Me too!" Cody added. "I think these are the new ones that Ray's been talking about putting in!"

Both boys followed along with the video, the onlookers huddled around the door to learn as well. Once Tracy and Cody were satisfied they understood the way the belts worked, the car continued. "Okay Tracy, could you please reach out and select the furthest control on the information center?"

"Sure," Tracy replied. "Okay, I pressed it, but nothing happened."

"I have it disabled," the car replied. "I needed to verify your reach for the controls. It appears that the seat is able to be positioned three inches further back due to your longer arms. Please try again once I've moved the seat."

"Got it." Tracy stated. Once the seat was moved, he tried again, still having no issue reaching the control.

"That appears to be the optimum location." the car announced. "Please press on the brake pedal with your right foot as hard as you can."

Tracy complied, finding that his leg was completely extended. As he kept pressing, he felt the pedal begin to move towards him, finally stopping when his leg was bent enough to have a four-inch gap between it and the front edge of the seat. The same procedure was followed for the accelerator pedal, except for the large gap. Finally, the car had Tracy quickly go back and forth between the two, adjusting side-to-side gap until he consistently landed his foot on the center of both pedals without catching it on the edge of the brake.

Next was the mirrors, with Tracy being reminded that the only head movement he should be making is a slight turn. Finally, the angle and distance for the steering wheel was adjusted, not only for comfort but also to ensure a clear view of all gauges and displays. Once that was done, the car announced "Configuration is complete and saved. Emrys has informed me that you are about to be sent to Archnania for driving lessons from Director Page. The estimated time until you return is less than one second."

"I'm ready!" Tracy stated, now excited about the new car and looking forward to driving.

Tracy flickered, his face changing to a look of shock. "Don't EVER ride in a car being piloted by Danny!" he exclaimed. "All the trees ran off to the next county!"

"I know!" Cody laughed. "He scares Cory, and Cory scares Sean. Sean scares anyone within ten miles of him when flying a shuttle!"

Their banter was interrupted by Karl passing something to Tracy. "I think this is for you, I found it in a Cracker Jacks box." Karl quipped.

Tracy took the item, and found himself looking at a Florida drivers license bearing his picture and the word 'DIPLOMATIC' in large letters. "Holy crap!" he exclaimed as he stared at it.

"He should get a medal for surviving Danny, too." Cody giggled. "Does this mean we get to take the car for a spin or three?"

"Do me a favor." Tracy groaned. "Don't use the words 'spin' and 'car' in the same sentence until I've had a few decades to recover from Danny's driving 'demonstration'."

"Wait until the next time I see him." Cody stated with a mischievous grin.

For a split second, Tracy almost felt sorry for Danny, but he quickly recovered. "Karl, where do we need to go so I can start on the paperwork?"

"Right here is fine, I brought it with me." Karl replied with a smile as he retrieved an envelope from the inside pocket of his suit jacket.

From previous experience watching his Dad, Tracy was expecting a pile of forms, not the six pages he found when he opened the envelope. Adrian managed to get a few more classic photos at the expressions that crossed Tracy's face while he read every word on all six pages.

As he reached the last of the forms. Tracy tapped his commbadge. "Emmy, what is Amendment F-28409237 to the US Tax Code?"

It took a few seconds, but then Emmy responded. "That's a Special Exemptions amendment, Uncle Tracy. Pretty much it says that any US company or individual who produces something which is given to a Federation-based population services entity without compensation has a special deduction of the full posted retail price and/or their pay for labor involved. Employees of corporations which provide the item are paid their normal pay, with a tax-exempt flag set, and still receive the full deduction for their pay that an individual would receive. Clan Short is entry number seventeen thousand, four hundred and thirty-six on the approved agencies list for the company or individual to receive the exemption."

"Thanks, Emmy." Tracy acknowledged. "Tell your Dad and Pop I said they need to figure out a way we can give you cookies."

"OHHH!" Emmy giggled. "Thanks Uncle Tracy! You're a Director, so that means they gotta do it! Oh, DADDY...."

Realizing that he'd pay for what he'd told Emmy to do later, Tracy giggled as he finished reading. Once done, he thought about everything he'd seen, then asked "Can I borrow a pen, Karl?"

"Here you go." Karl said as he handed a pen to Tracy.

Tracy flipped back to page two, which was the itemization of charges being claimed under the exemption. After some thought, he remembered the wording he'd seen before while researching cases; specific language that would invoke a little-known loophole in tax code. In the box under the total labeled "Post-Delivery Addendums:" he wrote "Non-compensentory performance bonus: 10%" then signed his name and position under it.

Having picked up on Tracy's surface thoughts, Adrian had Emmy send his field cam and then came over to Tracy. "Pass those over here, bro. I'll take it from here. Emmy's gonna need to see these so he can start sending out the bonuses."

"Thanks, bro." Tracy smiled as he passed the first two pages over. He signed the appropriate spots on the rest of the forms, passing them along as well.

Once Karl had all six forms back, he accepted the large folder that Jack retrieved from his toolchest outside the booth. Handing the package to Tracy, Karl said with a smile "One more signature to go. The Clan provides your insurance, so this is all but done."

Tracy opened it up, finding a registration and what could only be license plates in a brown envelope. He easily figured out where to sign, and then pulled one of the plates out. His eyes went wide as he saw the plate, the words 'Iowa Diplomatic' large enough to clearly indicate the vehicle was not just any car. Next to the Clan Crest, the plate number 'CSV-GATR1' told Tracy that someone had cheated and pre-ordered the plate before Tracy even considered joining the Clan. "Awesome!" Tracy whispered as he ran his fingers over the lettering.

After suitable time for Tracy to absorb the fact this was for real, Jack offered "Would you like me to put those on for you, Tracy?"

"What? Oh yeah, I guess they won't do much good in here!" Tracy giggled as he blushed slightly. As he handed the plates to Jack, he kept muttering "I've got a car!" over and over with a huge smile.

Overhearing Tracy, the car announced "Delivery completed, initializing final post-delivery configuration."

After a few flashes of the dashboard displays, the car spoke again, its new voice seemingly the voice of a thirteen-year-old boy. "Hello Tracy, I am fully online. What name would you like me to go by?"

Tracy's eyes had been focusing on the 'ghost stripes' running down the hood, and without really thinking he replied "Shadow".

"Awesome!" the newly-named Shadow replied. "I like that, it means my name is as sneaky as me! My cousin Ray says he's already called the State Police to set it up for you to do a test drive like Cory did with him, so I'm ready when you are to go have some fun."

Tracy's smile grew even bigger. "You gonna be able to tell me where to go? This is the first time I've ever been to Iowa."

"Sure," Shadow replied, "I've got maps of every street on Earth, Ray just gave me the latest update. Is it okay if I turn on the active accident avoidance system before we pull out? I HATE door frames, they hurt!"

"Go for it!" Tracy laughed.

Just then, Kyle spoke up in Tracy's head. 'Hey Tracy, load up the rat and meet us out in front! We found a kewl new toy to play with, and we're gonna test-drive it with ya'!'

Not sure he really wanted to know, Tracy replied, 'Okay, see you in a few'.

"Adrian, hop in back and strap in, Kyle's gonna test drive something with us." Tracy stated.

"Sweeet!" Adrian giggled as he quickly scrambled through the door and across Tracy's lap. He then dove between the front seats, twisting around to land in the rear seat behind Cody. After taking a few seconds to strap in, he announced "Are we there yet?"

"Smart-aleck!" Tracy laughed. "Shadow, are we ready?"

"As soon as your door is closed and the booth doors are open, I'll start pre-launch." Shadow replied. "The first time takes the longest; after today, most of the systems will remain online unless taken down for repairs."

The first indication that Tracy had that Shadow was unusual was both Jack and Karl donning military-grade hearing protection as they began opening the drive-through doors on the booth. His next clue was the sudden start of a barely-audible 'hum' from behind the back seat, followed by the activation of skillfully hidden red, blue, and green flashing lights on all sides of the vehicle. As the lights turned off, Shadow stated "All systems passed, Tracy. I'm ready for you to put your thumb on the ignition switch to start my engine after you close your door."

Grinning, Tracy quickly closed the driver's door and put his thumb on the ignition. As the engine began to turn over, he barely heard the whine of the supercharger; once it caught, the reason for hearing protection outside the car became obvious. It seemed that Chevy decided mufflers were not needed in this case, so the booth was vibrated by the 'thump-thump' of 376 cubic inches of supercharged V8 making its presence known through dual straight pipes to the back of Shadow.

Tracy looked down at the shifter, and cracked up when he saw the now-visible labels.

Going nowhere
Warp Speed
Too Fast

"Those were NOT the labels Danny taught me!" Tracy sputtered. He looked to make sure everyone was clear, then put his foot on the brake and shifted to 'Crawl'. Slowly, he crept out of the booth into the body shop, where all of the employees were lined up to watch their latest Clan-specific vehicle making its way outside for its maiden voyage.

Once outside, Tracy headed towards where Kyle said they would meet. Sure enough, he spotted a dune buggy near the entrance that wasn't there before, with Kyle and Jorge standing in the seats to watch as Tracy headed towards them.

As Tracy pulled alongside, Shadow asked "Could you please leave me running so that I can fine-tune a few things while you talk?"

"Sure!" Tracy replied as he came to a stop and put the shifter into 'Parked'. Turning his head, the grins of his passengers told him they were staying put, not wanting to take the chance of being left behind. Tracy climbed out and walked over to join Kyle and Jorge. "Nice buggy!" Tracy stated as he got a closer look.

"Thanks!" Kyle and Jorge said in unison. "That paint job came out awesome!" Kyle added.

"Dude, I KNOW you had something to do with this!" Tracy laughed. "You probably saw it long before I knew you!"

"Nope!" Kyle replied with a grin. "This one was all Ty; we're taking turns. You can tell too, the car has more 'feel' to it than if I'd done it."

"Yeah, Shadow's already surprised me a few times!" Tracy laughed.

"Rawaawer? Awarrerarewr reer we rewrwar?" Jorge asked.

Tracy nodded. "Yep, I think the back seat's gonna be more comfortable for you too, little bro. You going with Kyle this time, or with me?"

"Rawwa!" Jorge snickered as he pointed at Kyle.

Tracy grinned. "Okay, you guys ready to have fun?"

"Let's hit it!" Kyle cheered as he dropped into the driver's seat and reached for his helmet. Jorge dropped down as well, and started putting on his own bear-face-specific helmet.

Shaking his head with a grin, Tracy turned to get back into Shadow. "How is it I'm having flashbacks even though I've never done drugs?" he muttered to himself.

'Blame Galli, I do!' Kyle giggled in his head.

'Sounds good to me!' Tracy replied mentally as he opened the door and climbed in. Just as he was re-fastening his safety harness, a State Police officer walked up to his window.

"Can I help you, Sir?" Tracy asked with butterflies in his stomach as he was rolling the window down.

"Relax." the officer replied with a knowing smile. "I just wanted to let you know that we've set up the same traffic precautions as when Patriarch Short took his test drive. You're driving a registered interceptor, so we fully expect speeds well in excess of the posted speed limit. Have fun, a few of us will be failing at keeping up with you."

"Thanks, Officer!" Tracy replied with a sigh of relief.

"Tracy?" Shadow asked to get his attention. "Just so you know, 'interceptor mode' is automatically selected if you put the shifter into the 'Warp' position. Lights and sirens can be controlled vocally. By default the lights are on and the siren is off as soon as interceptor mode engages."

"Thanks, Shadow." Tracy replied. "You ready, bros?"

"YEAH!" Cody and Adrian exclaimed loudly.

Figuring 'what the heck', Tracy put his foot on the brake and shifted into Warp. After a two-second delay, the lights started flashing and the engine's idle developed more of a lope. "Siren on, Shadow!" Tracy ordered as his body flooded with adrenaline.

Finding his way to the interstate did not prove difficult, since the police had stopped traffic. Remembering a comment Cory had made about Ray when they talked earlier in the day, Tracy asked "Shadow, could you set stability control to maximum?"

"Sure thing, Tracy." Shadow replied as the car seemed to lower itself. "Stability control and incident avoidance now maximized."

Just reaching the bottom of the onramp, Tracy announced "LIFTOFF!" as he slammed the accelerator pedal all the way down.

Instantly a heads-up display activated, displaying necessary info for Tracy so he could keep his eyes on the road. The transmission shifted down three gears, and the exhaust tone turned into an angry roar. The speed digits on the HUD became a blur, finally settling on 'Who Cares?' somewhere past 190.

"Ray's gonna be JELL-OUS!" Cody giggled as he, unsuccessfully, tried to count police cruisers they were passing. "Shadow, you're AWESOME!"

Tracy smiled while keeping his attention on the road. Less than ten minutes after they started, Shadow announced "We are coming up on the exit, it is a 25 mile-per-hour ramp. Would you like for me to handle speed control, Tracy?"

"Go for it, Shadow!" Tracy replied. Seconds later, the HUD flashed 'Auto Speed Engaged', and Tracy lifted his foot from the accelerator pedal.

Less than a minute later, they came up to the exit, Shadow testing his brakes as he slowed them down before reaching the ramp. As they came off the bottom of the tight cloverleaf, Tracy spotted an ice cream shop and decided to take a break while they waited for Kyle and Jorge to catch up. "Manual control, Shadow." Tracy requested as he waved at one of the State Police cruisers to follow him.

Tracy's first clue that his new car's AI was more advanced than he thought came as they pulled into the parking lot. "Ohhhh, nice tailpipe!" Shadow commented as they passed a new Charger.

As Tracy tried not to stare at the center console, Cody quipped "Keep your driveshaft in its tunnel, perv!"

"You can't call me a perv!" Shadow shot back. "Ray told me what you and Ezzy were doing in the garage this morning!"

"Just find us somewhere to park where I don't gotta worry about coming out and finding a bunch of pedal cars sitting there calling you 'daddy', Shadow!" Tracy giggled, actually feeling the heat from Cody blushing.

"I'm only looking, I'd never date outside of GM." Shadow explained with a giggle. "Chryslers always have attitudes, and Fords are sooooo high maintenance!"

Shaking his head at the latest weirdness, Tracy pulled into an empty spot and put Shadow in park. "We're going to grab some ice cream; you need anything, Shadow?"

"Could you get me one of those pineapple smelly thingies to hang on the mirror from the convenience store?" Shadow asked hopefully. "One of the cars that got into a wreck had one when it came into the body shop, and it smelled NICE!"

"Sure thing, bro!" Tracy giggled. "C'mon guys, ice cream time!"

Neither Cody nor Adrian were about to argue, as both quickly scrambled out and joined Tracy. They followed him into the store, playfully pushing each other to claim their place in line. Once at the counter, Tracy informed the girl behind it; "I'm paying for all three of us; anything these two brats want is okay."

"You gotta love little brothers!" the girl giggled as she observed their antics. "They're such a pain at times, but life wouldn't be the same without them." Turning her attention to Adrian and Cody, she said "Do you two want to place orders before your big brother comes to his senses?"

It wasn't really clear who appreciated being treated like normal kids more; Cody, who had only recently been shoved into the Clan limelight, or Adrian, who pretty much never had much opportunity to escape the limelight of his dad. In both cases, however, the smiles on their faces would melt the heart of Scrooge instantly. Pushing Adrian forward, Cody giggled "You first!"

Adrian quickly looked over the menu, then asked "Could I please have a banana split, with extra nuts?"

"Sure thing, cutie," the girl replied with a smile. "Do you want cherries?"

"Yes, please!" Adrian replied as he nodded his head quickly.

"You've got it!" she replied before turning to Cody. "You're gonna have to work to out-cute your brother, are you up for it?"

"I don't fight losing battles!" Cody giggled. "He's a pro! Could I please have one of those double-chocolate fudge brownie towers?"

"You'll be bouncing off the walls the rest of the night!" the girl advised Cody.

"That's going to be nothing new." Tracy quipped under his breath.

"That's what makes it fun!" Cody giggled.

Seeing that Tracy wasn't going to veto the choice, she wrote it on the order and directed her attention at him. "What would you like?"

"A double strawberry sundae, and a club to knock these two out, please!" Tracy replied with a grin.

"Let me check to see if I have any clubs left, the sundae is no problem!" the girl replied. She took Tracy's card, ran the payment, then said "Please have a seat, I'll bring your orders out in just a minute."

"Thank-you." Tracy replied. "C'mon you two."

They grabbed a table near the window, and settled in to wait for their order. A couple of minutes later, the girl from behind the counter came out with a late-teen boy assisting her. After giving all three their ice cream, she opened one end of the box the teen boy was carrying and pulled out a four-foot long, one foot diameter yellow foam baseball bat, emblazoned with 'Smitty's Ice Cream Emporium' in red letters. "We had one left!" she exclaimed as she handed it to Tracy. "They're durable too; my little brother and I each have one and we've not broke them yet."

"Thanks a lot!" Tracy said as he smirked at Cody and Adrian, who were both busy quadrupling their blood sugar. "I'm going to need it, I think!"

Tracy sat the bat next to him, and started on his sundae. As he watched the two boys across the table, he pondered the thought of how they could be breathing with as fast as they were eating. His more leisurely pace proved wise, as almost in unison both Adrian and Cody got pained looks on their faces as they suddenly stopped eating.

"Brain freeze?" Tracy giggled.

"Uh huh!" Adrian nodded as he vainly tried to find something warm.

"This sucks!" Cody muttered, also obviously in pain.

Tracy was tempted to let them suffer, but thought better of it. As he started to turn to go get relief, the girl from behind the counter came over with two glasses of water, with no ice.

"Next time you'll pay attention to how your brother's eating!" she stated as she handed each of them a glass. "Drink it slow, let it absorb the cold."

"I wasn't sure if they were turning blue from the cold or from not breathing while eating!" Tracy quipped.

"Just wait until we get home," Adrian warned Tracy between drinks. "You're sooo gonna get it!"

"Pack a lunch, Rat!" Tracy giggled.

"He ain't gonna need it; we're gonna BOTH get you!" Cody stated assuredly.

"Good, I could use a light workout." Tracy grinned.

Tracy ignored the twin glares being directed his way, and went back to eating. He glanced up occasionally, and smiled as Adrian and Cody were both now eating at a more sensible pace.

Once finished with his sundae, Tracy watched as Cody and Adrian struggled to finish their much-larger portions. Adrian finished first, sitting back with a grin of accomplishment. Cody seemed to have to force himself to eat the last few spoonfuls, but he finally did it. All three were surprised when a flash of light told them they had suddenly become the subjects of a photograph.

"Congratulations!" the familiar voice of the girl from behind the counter announced as she headed towards them with a package in her hand. As she handed the package to Cody, she explained "You're the youngest person to beat 'The Tower Challenge'!"

"What's that?" Tracy asked with a puzzled look.

"If you can eat it within fifteen minutes without getting up or having anything but one glass of water to wash it down, you get added to our Wall of Fame. Very few people can handle that much fudge, brownie, and chocolate ice cream in one sitting. He managed it in thirteen minutes and twelve seconds."

"Way to go, Cody!" Tracy said, now understanding. "What's in your package?"

"Awesome!" Cody exclaimed as he finally got the package open. "There's a tee shirt, a hat, and something inna box!" he pulled the shirt out first. As he unfolded the black shirt, the first thing that the rest saw was a cartoonish representation of the treat he'd just finished. One fully unfolded, the words "I beat The Tower!" stood out in bright yellow letters. Cody quickly pulled the shirt over his head, putting it on over the shirt he was already wearing. The hat matched the shirt, and after a few tries at adjusting it, Cody placed it on his head. With his face lit up like it was Christmas, he opened the box to reveal an eight-inch trophy. The trophy has a brass representation of the Tower. and a blank plate on the base.

"We have a laser etcher in back," the girl explained. "Usually we'd take a picture for the 'Wall of Fame', but due to his age we'd need a parent's permission."

"Give me one minute," Tracy said as he pulled out the cell phone he hadn't used since becoming a Director. Mindful of the warnings Cory had given him about how to address Teri Short, he dialed the phone number he'd recently memorized.

'Don't worry, I just made sure Momma Teri knows it's you calling!' Kyle's voice assured Tracy in his mind.

'Thanks!' Tracy thought back as the phone started ringing.

"Hello, Tracy. Who did what, and which police department is involved?" Teri said as she answered the phone.

"Hi Mom!" Tracy giggled, suddenly feeling very comfortable with Teri. "Cody just beat a challenge at an ice cream place, and they need a parent to okay putting his picture on their wall of fame. They said he's the youngest person to ever beat the challenge!" Tracy reported, his pride obvious.

"You'd think people would realize that challenging one of my boys is fruitless." Teri replied with a chuckle. "Pass the phone over, Tracy, I'll handle it from here."

"Okay!" Tracy replied. "Here she is."

The girl took the phone, stating "This is Darcie" after putting it to her ear.

"Hello, Darcie. This is Cody's mom, Teri Short. Tracy tells me the bottomless pit inhaled another galaxy, again."

Figuring the name was just coincidence due to none of the three boys in front of her being the famous Cory or Sean, Darcie replied "He accomplished something few adults can handle, and he's probably going to be on a major sugar rush for the next few days. He completed our double-chocolate fudge brownie tower challenge with just under two minutes to spare, which earns him a spot on our wall of fame. Due to his age, though, I need parental permission in writing on file to take that picture and post it. The complimentary picture of him right after finishing is being printed right now for him to bring home."

"If you can electronically send me the form, I'll have it back to you in five minutes. If you just need a note, tell me where to send it and I'll get it to you." Teri replied. "It's hard for Cody to find things he can get recognized for that his brothers can't do; I want him to get all the recognition he deserves."

Darcie and Teri exchanged the necessary information, then Darcie passed the phone back to Tracy, stating "Your Mom wants to say something before you hang up."

"Yeah, Mom?" Tracy asked as he took the phone.

"I'll be waiting with Karl when you guys get back." Teri replied, keeping things vague since she figured the boys were still not recognized as Clan and not sure if they could be overheard. "Let's keep the police out of the picture, you've managed it so far!"

"Okay! See ya inna bit!" Tracy giggled before ending the call.

To Be Continued...