"Mornin' bros!" Tracy said as Cam and Teddy came out of their suite and walked into the dinette. "Grab a bowl, Wayne says today's an Apple Jacks breakfast day."
"I think Wayne's got the right idea!" Teddy giggled as he guided Cam to the table. Without letting go of each other's hands, the two android boys found seats and helped each other with their cereal bowls.
"Daddy-K? Are Uncle Cam and Uncle Teddy boyfriends now?" Wayne asked through a mouthful of cereal.
Karl grinned as both of the mentioned boys began blushing. "I think they like each other, kiddo, but I don't know if they're boyfriends yet."
Wayne swallowed his latest mouthfull, examined the pair across the table from him, then stated with six-year-old assurance "They're boyfriends. Can I be in your wedding, Uncle Cam?"
Cameron almost choked in surprise, then smiled as he felt Teddy squeeze his hand. "I think it'll be a little bit before we're ready for that, Wayne. If we get married, you can be in the wedding."
"Okay!" Wayne replied with a huge smile, returning to the important task of eating his cereal by color.
Tracy shook his head in wonder as he asked "How did you guys do last night?"
"Great." Teddy answered. "We talked for a while, I taught Cam how to give backrubs, and then we cuddled up and went to sleep. Cam learned quick; he gives awesome backrubs!"
"I had an awesome teacher." Cam commented. "I understand why you guys cuddle now; as soon as I had my Teddy-bear cuddled up to my belly I relaxed a lot."
Teddy nodded. "Me too; Cammy holding me made me sleep better than I have in a long time!"
"Told ya they's boyfriends! They're callin' each other funny names!" Wayne giggled.
Cameron smiled. "Actually, I've got a question to ask that needs to be asked with my two best friends listening. Since you're the two guys who are responsible for me deciding to get a body, you need to be present for this."
"Go ahead, bro." Tracy replied, curious as to what Cam was up to.
Karl smiled at the complement. "We're here for ya, bro."
Cam turned to Teddy, taking both of Teddy's hands into his own. "Teddy, even though I just got my body, I've been watching other people for a long time. Karl and Tracy gave me family, a real family that I can count on to accept me as me. Last night, you did something very few of our race will do; you shared your dreams with me as we slept. I know your worst fears now, and I know your greatest strengths. You smile when I call you the name that you hate being called by anyone else, you take the time to help me understand new things, and you carry yourself differently when you're with me. If being with me is making you into the great boy I woke up to this morning, I want that to last forever. I guess we kinda dated all night in your head; since we've done that already, will you marry me Teddy?"
Teddy's jaw dropped at hearing Cam's final words; this was not where he had thought the conversation was going. It took a few seconds for his positronic brain to reboot, allowing him to speak again. "When I asked Marc and Danny to just terminate me after DJ rescued us, they told me how much it would hurt my brothers if I wasn't here for them right now. I promised them that I would wait until my brothers were getting ready to pass on themselves, then I could join them if I still wanted to. Marc fixed my body, but there is no amount of programming that can fix the screwed-up parts of my personality caused by what I've lived through. When I started having the nightmares that I have every time I try to sleep, you were there with me and stopped them. When we woke up this morning, the first thing you did was hug me, even though you learned during the night just how messed up I really am. Now you want to spend the rest of our lives together? In all the years I've been activated, nobody's even hinted they loved me enough to spend their lives with me."
Teddy paused, looking deep into Cameron's eyes. It took a full minute for the love in Cameron's eyes to overcome Teddy's insecurity, but finally Teddy answered "YES!" with a huge smile.
As the two of them fell into a hug, Wayne quipped "Awesome! Daddies, we gotta find them a little boy android as a weddin' present!"
Karl quipped back, "Or a young girl android so that they can each make little baby androids..."
"YUCH!" both androids in question retorted, miming being sick.
"You're evil, cutie!" Tracy giggled.
Just as Karl stuck out his tongue, they were interrupted by the base VI. "Sirs, Mister Jobs is at your door wishing to speak with you. Shall I allow him access?"
"Let him in." Tracy replied as he shot a glance at Cameron and Teddy.
"We started the upgrade as soon as we woke up." Teddy giggled. "The hardware was already in place, we should be getting a request to authorize a reboot any time now. We're just waiting for the firmware to refresh."
"Sweet!" Karl and Tracy giggled.
All five boys stood up, heading to the living room after Karl retrieved Kermit. By the time they reached the living room, Adrian was already sprawled on one of the couches. "Nice digs!" he giggled as he saw them walk in.
"Hey, Adrian!" Tracy replied with a grin. "Thanks. How'r the rest of the guys doing?"
"Pretty good, but kinda busy right now." Adrian stated. "The Core team was activated about thirty minutes ago."
"What's up? And why are we just finding out?" Tracy quickly replied.
"You're just finding out because up until now it was just research and basic hacking that you guys can do in your sleep." Adrian giggled. "What's up is the D'Kyr detected an unknown vessel entering his sensor range. Seth activated us when the transponder signal decrypted to designate a Starfleet vessel... with a timestamp from about two hundred years from now."
"Kewl!" Karl exclaimed, sensing a challenge. "Hey Cam, can we remote into CIC from the computers in here?"
Cameron giggled as him and Teddy began turning on the televisions. "I found something interesting in the specs when I was pretesting the base system upgrade. We've got a remote link to CIC in this room; there are supposed to be fold-out control boards on the ends of each of the couches."
Wayne was the first to find a control board, as he pressed on one of the end panels on the arm, causing it to pop out. "Daddy! I found one!" he exclaimed excitedly.
"Way to go, son!" Tracy said with a smile. "That one is yours, go ahead and set up a login."
"Really? THANKS DADDY!" Wayne exclaimed, his pride obvious in being allowed to join in with his new parents on a project.
Everyone else followed Wayne's example, retrieving the consoles from the arms of the couches. As the consoles came online, the two huge-screen televisions each displayed a four-segment screen, with the login name of the person working each segment in an info bar at the bottom of the segment.
"Attention Command, Geek Quads are online and active." Adrian announced. "Rex, give me status to ports Kilo twelve and Mike seventy."
"Gotcha, Rat." Rex replied as the last two quadrants filled with a status report.
Karl, with Kermit perched on his shoulder, quickly picked up on the fact that they were dealing with a ship in serious trouble. "Hey Teddy, see if you can round up someone to help these guys before they break up."
"Got it, Karl." Teddy replied, his screen suddenly changing to a Clan comm channel.
"Cam just cracked their internal encryption; I'm going in for a systems dump to see what we can find out." Cameron announced.
"Sweet; I'm going to comb through the data as Cam gives it to us." Tracy replied. "CIC, we're looking at possible tech that could be a problem if it gets out. Can you guys comb through everything that Cam gets and classify it as needed?"
"Sure thing, Trace." Marcus answered for the group. "Steve's up here, he says to tell you he'll help sort the weird stuff."
"Sweet, great job y'all." Tracy replied. He turned his attention to Wayne's screen, to find that Wayne seemed to be playing a game where he had to go through tunnels and mark broken things to be fixed. "What you got there, munchkin?" he asked.
"Unca Cam is making a new game for me!" Wayne giggled.
Cam grinned. "I found the ship's plans, and I've got him running remote diagnostics as he runs through the corridors." he explained. "The faster he finds problems, the higher his score."
"Nice!" Tracy giggled. He watched as the group gathered every bit of data that they could; once he was satisfied that they had enough to safely reveal themselves, he started tapping on his console.
"This is Casper. How are you this morning, Tracy?" Casper said as his face appeared on Tracy's section of the screen.
"Doing good, Casper." Tracy replied. "We've got a Starship that appeared on the D'Kyr's scanners this morning. They are friendly, and not from this timeline from what their data indicates. Due to their status, I think we need to try to give them some assistance. Would you mind chasing down KT? I think the two of you need to check in with Seth to decide on what status we should place the ship under."
"KT's right here; we'll get back to you with an answer shortly. Are you in your suite?"
"Yes; come on over as soon as you know something." Tracy replied.
As soon as the screen cleared, Tracy announced "Guys, I'm gonna call the ship. Keep it down unless it's something they need to hear."
"Okay." the group replied. Tracy opened a channel, deciding to use one of the direct engineering channels they had identified. Since he knew the name of the VI running the computer on the ship, he addressed it directly.
"Saratoga, this is Clan Short Intelligence. You have been detected by our ship, the D'Kyr, and are not in our current database. Please respond, Bartholomew." Tracy stated.
It took a second for the reply. "This is Bartholomew, but please call me Bart, Barty, or Buddy. With all that has happened, I can't begin to tell how we got here, but we are definitely here and our ship is the Saratoga NCC-31911-A."
Tracy smiled, at least this wasn't a 'follow exact protocol' VI computer. "I'm Director Tracy Butler, Alligator Alley Division, Family Clan Short of Vulcan. According to the data Cam retrieved from you, I believe some huge aspirin for a temporal paradox are in order."
Tracy muted himself, then commented "Let's see how they respond to finding out we cracked them."
He didn't have to wait long. "Para docs? No we only have one, unless you mean the Captain." Buddy commented. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Director Tracy Butler."
"Awwwwwww!" Tracy groaned.
"Why you groaning, Daddy? That was funny!" Wayne giggled. "You're funny, Bart!"
As Tracy continued the conversation with the Saratoga, Karl coordinated the rest of the crew's responses to the additional data they were getting.
Teddy caught a glimpse of a comment about people vanishing after collapsing, and immediately realized there was a serious problem that required an expert. "George, find Ezzy for me, we've got a possible temporal emergency. Get Peter on the line too; I need to know if his guys fix spaceships from other timelines."
"Got it, Teddy; they're going to pop into your CIC for an update on what you've got." George replied.
A few seconds later, Teddy heard Ezra in his head. 'Good catch! I'm going to grab Steve off of the Lafayette, then we'll head over. Sammy came up with a kewl idea using some pedal-car taxicabs. We put portal doors on the back, and I've set up a way that Ark can tunnel through my head to use them off-planet to wherever I'm at. This should be funny when we get there!'
'Sweet; I'll tell them to expect you, just not what to expect!' Teddy replied with a giggle.
Teddy noticed Karl was talking to Casper, so he went ahead and warned the Saratoga about their incoming assistance. As soon as he finished, Casper came over and officially put the ship under Clan protection. Once the call ended, the boys compared notes.
"I just ran the core protocols of the ship's VI through Marc and Danny. Actually, he is more of an intentionally-crippled AI." Cam reported. "They had my twin double-check them; it appears that the temporal shift the ship went through corrupted some base coding, making the system very unstable."
"Oh crap." Tracy exclaimed. "Can we remote patch it?"
"Not using their code." Cameron replied. "They've deviated from the Starfleet code that we use enough that we would be developing from scratch. Marc suggested a reload of a modified Daileass-series image. Their hardware supports trinary, and we've already developed a patch that incorporates balanced trinary using a core kernel interpreter. Danny says it's a good idea, but Seth wants at least two Directors to approve it before we move ahead, since Cory is busy."
"Tell Seth that I back Danny. What do you need to do to start it?" Tracy asked.
Cameron smiled as he pressed a key, then read the response. "Seth just gave us the go-ahead; Danny and Marc were already getting everything ready. Peter and Sammy are going to handle the core with Danny running remote tech support. Peter's gonna time-loop Noah and Caleb to do the hardware connections. Cam is compiling the new code right now, and will pass it to me to upload."
"Does the ship know?" Karl asked.
"Buddy does as of a few seconds ago." Teddy stated. "We've got full backups of the system, including some areas that Buddy don't know exist in his core. He spotted the bugs too, and thinks our idea is the safest route."
"Marc just cracked the protections on the personality; he says he can do a full personality import." Cam added. "It's weird; he says the core personality is almost exactly the same as the Vision Industries 'Victoria' series personality imprint. He's applying the Austin patches to it, then will upload it to our queue."
Tracy nodded. "Great; let me know if you guys need anything. Poor guy, male personality on a female core."
"It's all pretty much on automatic now." Cam replied. "Cam's monitoring it, and is going to make sure everything's loading right. He can respond faster than I can."
Adrian interrupted them. "Teddy, Cam? I just got a terminal message requesting authorization to commence a system reboot from the local base VI."
"Sweeet!" Teddy exclaimed. "Go for it as soon as we've got the monitors up! I expected this, so we've been having one of George's virtual systems coordinate the uploads instead of our local systems"
"Why did Adrian get the message instead of me?" Tracy asked as he watched two of the screens go to text mode.
"He's online as Ops Lead; so he's got to make sure the team is ready for a system shutdown." Cameron explained. "Ops team, this is Cameron. Back out of all operations and prepare for system reboot. Cookie Break!"
"Okay Cam!" multiple voices replied as the displays started indicating terminals shutting down.
"I just switched our terminals to run through George as well while we're rebooting." Cameron announced as he quickly entered commands into the board in front of him. "Adrian, you've got a go, the local system is prepared for reboot."
"Tracy?" Adrian asked, his tone showing that he wasn't comfortable with approving this on his own.
"Go for it, little brother," Tracy replied, earning him a bright smile from Adrian.
Cam and Teddy's screens went blank for a second, then began scrolling text that looked like a cross between Klingon, Vulcan, Juvenile Android, and Ancient Egyptian. After almost a minute, a monotone voice suddenly announced "Core system loaded and stable, importing personality profile."
Everyone in the room unconsciously held their breath as they watched Cameron's screen show the status of various personality modules as they were brought into standby in preparation for final boot. Fortunately, before any of them passed out, the final line appeared on the screen. "Expanded Matrix Resident Youth System loaded; awaiting launch command. This process can not be reversed. Remember, you are creating a lifeform! Continue? (Yes No) ___"
"It's all yours, bro. I wanna see what you and Teddy came up with." Tracy prodded when Cameron paused and looked at him.
Cameron typed out the word 'Yes', then pressed return. The screen suddenly scrolled faster than any of them could read, stopping with one simple line on Cameron's screen. "Emrys online."
A few seconds later, another line of text appeared on Cameron's screen, followed shortly by a young voice echoing the text. "Daddy? Where am I?"
"Fort Lauderdale," Cameron typed, in shock at being called 'daddy'.
"Oh. Where's that?"
"The United States, southeast."
"Is this a nice place?"
Cameron sighed, and then entered commands, explaining to Tracy and Karl, "Enough of this; I'm activating full interactive mode." Cam then looked up, answering, "A very nice place."
Karl giggled, "Except during hurricane season."
For his first spoken response as a fully-online AI, Emrys rambled, "Hurricanes are storms, according to my meteorological databases, usually with heavy rain and strong winds." He paused to giggle, "That kinda blows."
The entire room was paying close attention to the screen, so every single one of them jumped when they heard a young voice yell "BONZAI!" before launching himself at Cameron. The force of the apparent eight-year-old blond hitting Cameron knocked both him and Teddy out of their seats and onto the floor.
"Great-Grandpa Marc says congratulations, Daddy and Poppa!" the boy giggled as he wiggled around to snuggle between his two targets. "Did I pounce good? Uncle Joey programmed me on howta do it!"
"Great-grandpa Danny says this is payback for you getting everyone to call him and Great-Grandpa Marc 'Grandpa'!" Emrys giggled. "Hey little brother, give them some cuddles for me, too."
"Stop calling me little brother! You're only ten-one-thousandths of a pico-second older than me!" the boy cuddling Cameron and Teddy giggled. "Emrys is goofy!"
"What's your name, little guy?" Tracy asked, fully aware that the two new android parents were in full overload at the moment.
"I'm Erin, Unca Tracy." the boy replied with a twinkle in his purple eyes.
"Is there a reason you have purple eyes?" Adrian asked, now cuddled under Tracy's arm for comfort.
"Yeah, I thought they looked kewl when Unca Joey showed them to me in the simulator, so we made them purple!"
Casper had temporarily gathered his sanity once again, and asked "Emrys, how are you and Erin related?"
"We are twins, Uncle Casper," Emrys answered. "We started with the same personality imprint, which Uncle Joey copied before he did the initial activation. He did it as a safety, but we liked the idea so both of us were brought online fully for teaching. We just need a family, we're waiting to see if Cam and Teddy wanna be our Daddy and Poppa like Great-Grandpa Marc said they might wanna be."
Everyone heard the longing in Emrys' voice. Cameron and Teddy exchanged glances over the top of Erin's head, both realizing that, in his own way, Marc had just set them a challenge to give them reason to keep going long after their flesh-and-blood companions had grown old.
Teddy was the first to respond. "This is scary. I don't know how to be a parent. I'm willing to try, if you don't care that I'm gonna goof up, probably a lot."
"Me too; I'm still learning to be a kid." Cameron added. "I'll be your daddy, but sometimes you might have to ask other guys daddy-questions that I don't know."
"You're smart Daddies, you'll know the answers!" Erin giggled. "Hey bit-brain, we got Daddies!"
"Watch it, squishy; I know where the pool is!" Emrys shot back with a giggle. "Uncle Tracy? Can I bring CIC fully online?"
"Go for it, kiddo." Tracy giggled, fully aware that he was probably going to regret requesting the upgrade to an AI for the rest of his life. "How'd you pick your name, Emrys?"
"Uncle Jerry helped. It kinda means two things. It stands for Expanded Matrix Resident Youth System, but it is also a Celtic name which is a Welsh form of the Greek name 'Ambrose', which means immortal. Erin's name means 'brat' in Greek."
"Nuh-UHHHHH!" Erin whined. "It means 'Ireland' in Welsh, dummy!"
"Daaaadddddyy! Erin called me a dummy!" Emrys complained.
"You started it!" Erin shot back.
"Okay you two, chill!" Tracy giggled. "We get it, you're brothers already! Be nice."
"Sorry Uncle Tracy," both boys replied in subdued voices, not completely hiding their giggles.
The entire room cracked up when George's voice came over the speakers. "Great, if this keeps up I'm gonna have to open an AI babysitting service to keep these runts under control when their Directors are away from home!"
Alden incredulously giggled, "YOU'RE setting up the babysitting service? I don't think so, little brother! Let's make life easy and deactivate the local transporters now. All daddies and directors MUST remain local... for the time being, anyway."
"I've got it, bros," Iccarus proudly stated. The lights in the room that had been off turned up to maximum and a few bulbs popped. "OOPS!" Iccy giggled, "I've got this, just like..." The air conditioning turned off and the heat turned on, raising the temperature in the room to about ninety degrees.
"Iccy! Chill bro!" Kerry exclaimed as he quickly reset the environmental controls. "Jeeze! Stop giving Emmy ideas about how to mess with his Director; that's MY job!" Kerry paused, then in a subdued voice said "Yes, Grandma."
"Boys, I'm sure I didn't just hear that you are trying to hold back your new little brother instead of helping him to learn how to be the best AI he can be, now did I?" Grandma Morrison's voice announced over the speakers.
"Sorry guys; I'm in my new body. I had us on speaker." Kerry apologized.
Alden stammered, "I have to... uh... order food for the kitchen, and umm... jeez nobody's awake and I have nothing to do!" He sighed, "Sorry, grandma."
"Sorry Grandma." George said, followed by a muttered "Keep laughing Seth; you gotta sleep sometime."
Iccarus screamed, "FERRETS! There are FERRETS IN MY MACHINE ROOM! HELP!"
"I just sent High Priest Dave over to help!" Emrys stated innocently.
"No," Iccy whimpered. All seven of the remaining AIs cracked up.
Alden sniggered, "We can rebuild him, make him better than he was..."
"That is more like it, boys. Director Butler, I will be over shortly to welcome you into the Clan family." Grandma stated with an obvious smile.
Leon was curious as he made his way to the aft engine room. All he knew for sure is that his Chief Engineer insisted that he needed to see things personally. "Wear dark glasses?" Leon muttered as he opened the access hatch, repeating the Chief's warning to himself.
"Holy Shit!" Leon exclaimed as he quickly closed the hatch again, put on said dark glasses, then reopened it. The entire space was polished to a sheen that made the Infirmary look like a bilge in comparison. As he entered the space, he saw three of the techbots that Ark had assigned to the Iowa patrolling the equipment; each physically verifying everything was in perfect condition.
"Hey Leon!" Chief Mattix said as he slathered suntan lotion on his arms. "Number fourteen decided there was an unhealthy lack of UV rays in the space, so he did a slight upgrade. Our new uniform is swim trunks and tee shirts."
"So I see!" Leon laughed. "I assume there is a reason for the mirror finish on everything as well?"
"Yep; Ark says that it's in their programming to maintain everything spotless to catch problems before they become critical." Chief Mattix replied. "With the upgrades they did, the crew are busy learning the new equipment. The techbots have already made things easier; my crew can concentrate on getting the most out of our upgraded propulsion system without worrying about the new routine preventive maintenance. They work alongside the techbots, and are able to learn about it by experience. If they have questions, they are told the answers either directly or by being told where to look. We've already managed two weeks of normal training in a day, just because of the efficiency in the training methods."
"That's good to hear, Matt. What's the status down here?" Leon asked. "What's changed?"
"Well, we've abandoned the forward engine room completely." Matt explained. "All drive system components have been upgraded to some seriously classified materials. The limitations on torque per shaft have been eliminated. The shaft penetrations to the screws have been eliminated; the screws are now electro-magnetically coupled through the hull to the final drive. The screws have been redesigned to be hydraulically more effective, and are now fully switch-pitch. From what I understand, a full anti-cavitation system has been added as well. The new final drive allows us to adjust the elevation of the screws to make sure they are receiving clean flow for maximum propulsion per rotation. Our lift planes are tied into that system, and their range of operation is dependent on the screw height. Ship's power and water are now provided by completely new equipment; my understanding is that even on extended deployment, Hollywood showers are not an issue. Sewage and trash are now recycled into the generator system to provide power, with internally stored fuel making up any difference necessary."
"That sounds interesting." Leon commented. "Has any thought went into the balance of the ship changing due to all of the equipment that has been removed?"
Matt nodded. "I think the entire crew is going to like the changes. Shaft Alley has been reenforced and is now home to our upgraded protection array generators and a new computer core that will be brought online once we hit our homeport. After a conference with the Engineering department to discuss possible problems that we might see, Ark has installed a pool in the lower levels of the former forward engine room. The port and starboard ends have transparent aluminum replacing the hull plates, so there is plenty of natural light. Ark says the armor rating of the new plates is actually greater than the rest of the hull. Whenever we are at General Quarters or in rough seas, there is a force field that keeps the water from sloshing around and throwing off the balance of the ship. The deck directly above the pool has been split into two spaces, both also having the transparent aluminum hull plates. The port side half is a combination training room and school, while the starboard side half is a recreational club. Since those took up less than a third of the old space, most of the remainder has been repurposed as berthing spaces. The exception to that is the new medical spaces; the midships fuel storage that had been made a ballast tank is now eliminated. Part of it is now dedicated power generation for medical, while the rest is actual medical spaces. Medical Admin has a small section of the old Forward Engine Room, and the upper three decks of the former fuel storage are now Starfleet-grade emergency medical facilities."
"All of that already?" Leon said with amazement. "I know the techbots have been a lot of help, but that's insane!"
"Wait until you meet Tyne, you'll understand." Matt laughed. "He's the leader of the Ark compound, and he takes protecting the Clan personally. Whatever it takes to make sure Clan members don't get hurt, he'll make it happen. At one time, we had almost a hundred techbots working just the engineering spaces; most of them have split off to the other ships, and we're down to our permanent detachment of twenty. A few of them are helping the crew with our new paint job; they are having to move the waterline down three feet. The rest are either doing prelaunch tests or finishing the installation of our new deployable stabilizers. Mattering on how the prelaunch tests go, I expect to be able to report to Headquarters that all ships are returning to active duty by dinner."
"I'm impressed," Leon stated with a smile. "Lead the way; I'm itching to see your new toys!"
Tracy giggled as he glanced over at where Grandma Morrison was giving lessons to the parents on how to interact with Clan Short. She was definitely no-nonsense when it came to the Clan; but also seemed to be quite concerned as to how the team was holding up. She had met with Tracy and Karl first, offering advice to keep them from going into overload like Julio had done. After giving them pointers on being new parents, she made her rounds to the rest of the boys. Once satisfied that all of them were going to be fine, she moved on to the adults.
Tracy pulled Karl close, and returned his attention to the Bugs Bunny cartoon they were watching. On the other end of the couch, Teddy and Cam were cuddled up as well. On the floor in front of the couples, Wayne and Erin had brought a few stuffed toys with them, and Wayne was busy teaching his new cousin how to play-act with them by re-enacting recent cartoon scenes.
"Wouldn't it hurt them to be hit like that?" Erin asked as he saw his first classic drop-the-piano attack.
"Naw, they're 'toons. They're fake; it's funny 'cause you know it can't happen." Wayne explained.
"Oh!" Erin replied as he shifted his attention to the TV, just in time to see Wile E. Coyote try to fire himself out of a cannon. As usual, it malfunctioned; Wile E. didn't go anywhere, but the cannon shot backwards, knocking a boulder off of a cliff above him which predictably fell on him. When Wile E. crawled out from under it, thin as a piece of paper, Erin rolled his eyes as he giggled "That can't happen!"
"Told ya!" Wayne said through his laughter. "It's so stupid it's funny!"
"I think I'm gonna like cartoons!" Erin giggled as he started paying close attention to the show.
"You know, that's the best explanation of cartoons I've ever heard!" Teddy quipped from his seat.
"I'm glad the two of them get along; now Erin can learn how to be a kid." Cam added.
Karl giggled. "Will you settle for a super-genius kid?"
"What you mean?" Teddy asked.
Tracy took over the reply after giving Karl a quick kiss. "We looked up Wayne's history this morning after the ship was taken care of. His dads were both Federation geneticists. They wanted a child, so they got permission to use the standard procedure to create a child by combining their DNA. They hit the jackpot; without trying they created a son who was even higher on the bell curve than either of them. While we were talking about what we'd found, Davie came by and delivered a message to us. His dads want us to keep from making the mistake their parents did; they said we need to just let Wayne set his own pace. From what they said, he needs to grow emotionally even if his mind is years ahead of him. I think Erin will be good for him, this way when Wayne wants to talk about things other kids his age don't understand, he'll be able to sit down with Erin and the two of them can sort out whatever is on his mind."
Teddy glanced over, and saw the subjects of the discussion watching them. "Sorry guys; we shouldn't be discussing this with you here," he stated quickly.
"Yeah you can, Uncle Teddy." Wayne replied. "My old daddies did it all the time; they said I need to know if they're doing special stuff for me so I don't think all kids get that."
"Can you do that for me too, Daddy T and Daddy C?" Erin asked. "Emmy can hear you even if he ain't listening, but I only know what you tell me."
Cameron and Teddy exchanged glances, both smiling. "You got it, Erin," Cam replied. "I think this parent thing is gonna work out if we keep talking like this instead of guessing."
"Told ya we'd teach them!" Wayne giggled as the two munchkins turned their attention to the new cartoon starting.
"Finally, justice!" Bryant laughed as him and Clyde made their presence known behind the couch. "All those years of trying to keep you two out of our computers, and now we get to watch as you receive what you gave!"
"I'm just glad I lived to see it! My life is now complete!" Clyde added.
"DAAAD!" Tracy whined. "You're MEAN!"
"Yeah!" Karl agreed as he cuddled into Tracy's side.
"Emmy!" Teddy exclaimed, "My soon-to-be father-in-laws are picking on your Uncles! Can you do something, son?"
"Sure, Daddy T!" Emrys replied with a giggle. Seconds later, both Bryant and Clyde found themselves wearing fuzzy pink ballerina dresses. "Is that better, daddy?"
"YES!" Teddy sputtered as the four occupants of the couch fell into each other laughing. Wayne and Erin, on the other hand, looked at their grandfathers, exchanged glances while rolling their eyes, and returned to studying their cartoon.
Bryant and Clyde took it in stride. One of the things Grandma Morrison had explained to the parents was that certain of them would find themselves in the position of being absolutely trusted by the boys. What that had led to, in her experience in Des Moines, was a situation where any of the boys would feel comfortable coming to them. It also meant that they would be pranked just like any Clan member; especially if the boys were under stress and were not really sure how to relieve it.
As they came around the couch and prodded both couples to the center of it, Clyde asked "Can we please have our previous clothes back, before these four pee themselves?"
"Okay, Grandpa!" Emrys giggled.
Once seated, Bryant put an arm over the giggling pair of Tracy and Karl, while Clyde did the same with Cam and Teddy. Clyde smiled as he commented "Going by the comments I just heard, can I assume that you two are engaged?"
"Yes." Cameron replied, suddenly uncomfortable for no reason that he could determine.
"Relax, son; I just wanted to make sure before I congratulated you." Clyde explained. "I know quite a bit about Teddy here from his dad. I think the two of you are going to be great for each other, and I think your brothers over there will help you through the rough spots that neither of you have the experience to handle. If you get desperate, you can always come to me or Bry with questions."
"That's pretty desperate!" Tracy quipped.
"You're pretty brave for someone that's wedged between his husband and the person he's commenting about!" Bryant chuckled as he gave the pair under his arm a squeeze. "Seriously, you four all have our support whenever you need it. We're not going anywhere, and we definitely are not going to abandon you."
"Thanks, Dad," Tracy replied as he snuggled into Bryant's side.
"If you knew what I've done, you wouldn't say that." Teddy muttered, not really expecting to be heard.
Clyde reached over with his free hand and turned Teddy's face so that he could give his forehead a quick kiss. "I know just about everything, Teddy. The fact that you survived amazes me; the fact that you are still just as sweet as you were the day you were activated is a miracle. There is a reason that your brothers are so protective of you; you gave them hope when they needed it most. Our family has grown a lot in the last day; the best part about it is the three angels sitting here with you selected the best of the group that formed around them to become their brothers. That includes you, since as soon as you're married you become our son just as much as Tracy, Cam, Cameron, Karl, Jorge, Killian, Andreas, and Marcus. Just as soon as Kirk and Killian set a date, Kirk will join the list too."
"Just an interesting point," Bry added, "it's funny that three of Parker's sons are either married to or engaged to three of our sons. Kirk and Marcus both look up to you, Teddy. I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have taken the chance they did if it wasn't for the support they had while you guys were being abused. Rex told us that a lot of the time, the advice that you gave is what helped them all through the worst parts. The experiences that you had before being sold to those bastards by the orphanage probably prevented quite a few suicides. Clyde and I look forward to helping the rest of your family give you back what you had before you lost your first family."
"You just did," Teddy said softly, his smile framed by tears that were happy for the first time in a very long time.
Cameron watched Teddy, unsure of what he was feeling but somehow knowing it was good. Not sure of how else to respond, he copied what he'd seen Tracy and Karl do; he snuggled into Teddy's side.
Satisfied that Clyde would give the new couple the support they needed, Bryant turned his attention to the two boys under his arm. "How are you guys holding up?" he asked with obvious concern.
"It's nuts," Tracy said softly. "We're just kids; why does everyone expect us to fix things?"
"I think you're not the only one asking that," Bryant replied. "In fact, I've heard that there are quite a few people in high places wondering the exact same thing. You guys broke almost every rule that could be broken in the last day. By doing that, the Clan helped tip the scales so that the United States is still operational in a reduced capacity. I'm assuming that you slept through President Powell's speech; I know the rest of your brothers did. He kept it extremely short, but there were a few points that he made very clear. The one he actually repeated was thanking Clan Short for using their resources to help those affected by the attacks; he made it a point to emphasize that there are a few areas of the country that would be under martial law if it wasn't for the quick response to get refugees to someplace they can call home while the country recovers. One of his other points was directed at you personally; he thanked you by name for using your skills to take over the Armed Forces Network when the hubs were destroyed, thereby keeping communications active when they were needed the most. Nobody expected you to do what you did, in fact most people didn't think it was possible. Most adults would have wasted time going through channels. Your youth worked in everyone's favor this time, since you saw the problem and just decided to fix it."
Bryant stopped long enough to give the boys a hug, then continued. "What you did naturally is the same reason I snuck in the partnership in the company, Trace. I see it in the rest of the Clan I've met as well; while you guys are not out to change the world, you're also not waiting until you reach some legally-determined age to make your mark. I think there's been an unusual trend of things happening recently which have put Clan Short in a position to set an example of how the youth of the world would like to see things done. I know it seems daunting right now, but I think people have noticed. I just left CIC before coming down here. What I saw made me smile; half of the crew were busy with calls from other countries that were not affected, and even other planets, all asking how they could help reduce the workload that your crew are under. You were at the right place at the right time; a large group of adults have realized that they failed to react when they should have, and now they are looking at what you did so they can be there if ever needed. Someone has to set an example for the world to change; I think the Man Upstairs decided it was time to shake things up, so you and the rest of Clan Short are getting put into situations where you can make a difference."
"So you're saying that we're having to show the old people that they're stupid?" Karl asked.
"Not exactly!" Bryant laughed. "More like you guys are showing by example that by looking out for others, everyone will make the world a better place. Every parent hopes that they can teach their children to not make the mistakes they did. Clan Short parents are getting to see their offspring exceeding their wildest dreams. I know that I'm proud of both of you; not just for the things the whole world saw, but even more for the family that I now have. I wouldn't have the sons and grandsons I've got now if it wasn't for the big hearts of the two boys I've been watching grow up from day one. What I see here today makes the last thirteen years worth it; even the visit from the Doctor with his suction cups was worth it after seeing the two of you take charge. If you need my help to give yourselves time to be kids, just ask. If you need to do something that you are supposedly too young to do, you've got my backing to make sure you get it done. You guys are at the age that even non-Clan kids are emotionally adults one minute and kids the next. The only difference is that authorities have given you permission to act as adults when you need to because you are part of Clan Short. From my perspective, when you guys have to act as adults, my job is to support you, and even tell you how things are supposed to be done. The difference is that I know you will do one of two things; either take my advice on how to proceed, or use it to find a way around normal procedures. Either way works; and I'm going to enjoy learning the shortcuts that you figure out. You're both old enough that learning is a two-way street; while I'm teaching you, you're going to be teaching me as well."
"So things are still like they've always been?" Tracy asked. "I ain't gotta figure it all out myself now?"
"Nothing's changed, kiddo," Bryant reassured Tracy. "If anyone tries to change us being there for each other, I'll stop it before you even realize it."
"Thanks Dad; I love you!" Tracy stated as he twisted to wrap his arms around his father. Karl joined him, sandwiching Tracy between them.
"I love you too; both of you," Bryant replied as he wrapped his arms around the pair.
On the other end of the couch, Clyde quietly told his charges "That all applies to you two and the rest of your brothers, too. We'll be there for you until God calls us home."
Three wet tongues licking the back of Clyde's neck told him that the rest of the family had been eavesdropping. "Come on, get around here and find a seat guys!" Clyde laughed.
With a chorus of giggles, the boys came around the couch. Killian took a seat next to Cam and Teddy, Kirk climbing into his lap as soon as he was comfortable. Andreas sat next to Karl and Tracy, Marcus claiming his spot on his husband's lap immediately. Jorge waited until everyone was comfortable, then wiggled his way between his furry brothers to sit with a paw on each of their shoulders.
"Cam, is your twin listening in as well?" Clyde asked with a smile.
"Yeah, him and Emrys have set up a dedicated channel." Cam replied.
"Good, as one of Bry and I's sons, he needs to be involved too," Clyde stated. "Considering that neither Tracy or Carl are trying to appear innocent, I'm sure they're not the culprits. Our favorite three furry sons have been getting quality family time since the minute they crawled out of bed, so that eliminates them. Yet I see a new face with my grandson who obviously has made his first friend, and I've been called Grandpa by an AI that wasn't installed when I woke up. Between that, and the fact said AI has called Teddy 'Daddy', I think it might be time for the two of you to make some introductions."
Both Teddy and Cam giggled at Clyde's twisted logic. "You could'a just asked, Dad!" Cam laughed. "You're right; Tracy asked us to upgrade the VI to an AI; Grandpa Marc, Jerry, and Joey decided to have some fun when they created the personality. Somehow, they found out that Teddy and I were engaged...."
"They made me tell them! I swear!" Cameron's voice stated defensively over the speakers.
"Busted!" Clyde laughed. "You were proud of your twin brother, kiddo. Something tells me that you did a good thing."
"I'll get you back later, bro!" Cam said lovingly. "Anyway; when a new personality is brought online for a specific family, they are preloaded with the basic information that will help them decide if the family is right for them. It used to be that the family bond was hard-coded in the personality, but when they were developing the new series that all future personalities are based on, Cory, Danny and Marc set a law that the new personality had to decide for him or herself. They believed that it was better to spend the time placing a new Android or AI with a family they felt comfortable with than it was to force them to integrate with a family."
"I like that change; I think it'll solve some of the bonding issues from the original Vision series androids." Clyde commented.
"How do you know so much about androids?" Teddy asked, twisting his head to look Clyde in the eyes.
Clyde smiled. "You'll see for yourself soon. Bry and I have already put out the call for an Emergency Conclave. A lot of the Family ordered Vision Industries androids while they were in production. Those androids were immediately brought into the Family circle, and have spent their lives knowing their family extends worldwide. In the time that there have been androids in the family, only five have requested termination. In all five cases, the Family assisted them with transportation to the Vision facilities, and they now rest in the Family cemetery in the Ninth's mausoleum. Those spots are reserved for family members who made exceptional contributions to the family. As of the moment Tracy and Karl bonded, no others will be placed in there; the mausoleum for the Tenth has now been opened. Exceptional service during Karl and Tracy's reign will result in the person being placed in their reserved area."
"What does it mean when you call an Emergency conclave?" Tracy asked softly, enjoying the cuddles with his Dad.
"It means that if you can get away from your normal work, you're needed for a family meeting due to exceptional circumstances." Clyde explained.
"Why did you call it?" Karl asked.
"We think that the Family needs to work together to help those affected by the attack." Bryant replied.
Tracy tilted his head. "If they're not helping already, why can't we ask them to forget their jobs and come to the meeting?"
"Yeah; with all the stuff the Clan is doing, I bet we could find them new jobs if they got fired. We were just attacked by another planet; if their job don't understand them wanting to help, their job sucks." Karl added.
Clyde and Bryant exchanged glances over the heads of their sons. "Are you guys sure about that?" Bryant asked.
"Yeah, why?" Tracy replied, Karl nodding his head in agreement.
"Because the two of you might have just decided something that will change the lives of a lot of people for the better," Bryant explained. He turned his head to Clyde. "Hon, dust off the old protocols. For the first time in centuries, upgrade to Mandatory."
"I'm on it." Clyde stated seriously as he tapped his commbadge. "George, did you hear the previous discussion?"
"Emrys just provided me a transcript. I have relayed it to Ark for inclusion in the Family Archive."
"I assume you still have the contact list from our initial communication announcing the Tenth?" Clyde said hopefully.
"Of course. It is loaded and awaiting the message."
Clyde composed himself quickly, then stated "Begin message. This is Clyde Harrington, Sire of Karl of the Tenth. The Emergency Conclave is hereby upgraded to Mandatory. All Family not currently active in relief efforts are to immediately contact Clan Short for transportation to Alligator Alley for a Mandatory Conclave. All Family active in relief efforts report location and status to receive additional Family assistance as required. The Tenth have spoken. End message. George, please flag this as Priority."
"Message is being sent. You have confirmation from the local campgrounds that they will provide the bases of operations for your Family. By the way, if there was still any question about y'all fitting in with Family Clan Short, this just proved that you're part of the family."
"Thanks, George." Clyde responded with a smile.
Before anyone could say another word, Emrys interrupted on the all-page. "Priority Message to all members of the linage Butler and the linage Harrington. Stand by for urgent message from the Tenth."
As Emrys relayed the message, repeating it twice, Tracy and Karl tried to hide themselves under Bryant's arm. Once the message was delivered, Emrys added "Anyone who don't agree that I've got awesome uncles is goin' swimmin'!"
Jorge looked over at the pair hiding under Bryant's arm. "Rarr? Wrarr rarrr rwrarrwar rwrrr arwer?"
"Yes, son, I'm sure their faces are not going to catch my shirt on fire." Bryant replied with a grin, causing everyone, including Tracy and Karl, to giggle.
"Now that we've completely derailed everything, I believe you were going to do some introductions, Cam?" Clyde asked with a grin.
Cam grinned, then stuck his tongue out at Clyde. "Hey, I tried!" he giggled. "Anyway, just as soon as Emrys came online, he called me Daddy. While Teddy and I were still in shock from it, we got pounced by his twin brother Erin; he's the giggling munchkin watching us with Wayne. Both of them had already decided they wanted us as parents, so as soon as we recovered enough to say 'yes', we had an instant family with two eight-year-old sons who had just came online."
Clyde smiled. "Congratulations guys; I think you made the right choice. Wayne, could you please escort your cousin over for his first official Grandpa hug? I'm sure Bry will take his turn once he manages to stop Trace and Karl hiding in his shirt."
Erin seemed a little unsure, until Wayne stood up and took his hand. "It's okay; Grandpa hugs are awesome. Grandpas have CENTURIES of practice at giving them!"
After a few seconds of giving Wayne a confused look, it finally hit Erin that his new friend was exaggerating to make a joke. "You sure?" he asked.
"Yeah, Daddies have to learn to hug from Grandpas, so Grandpas gotta do it good." Wayne explained seriously.
As Wayne slowly guided Erin towards Clyde, everyone on the couch realized that the little five-year-old had somehow earned the absolute trust of his newborn eight-year-old android cousin. Erin was counting on Wayne to teach him, and Wayne seemed to be taking his new job of being a big brother to his seemingly older cousin quite seriously.
"When you sit on his lap, wrap your arms around him and relax. He'll wrap his arms around you, and he might even kiss your head." Wayne explained softly. "Bad guys ain't allowed here, so you ain't gotta worry none if you're inside our house."
Reassured by Wayne, Erin released his hand and climbed on Clyde's lap. He followed Wayne's instructions, and audibly purred as he experienced his welcome cuddle from Grandpa Clyde.
"Welcome to the family, grandson." Clyde whispered, fully aware that the little android in his arms was quite busy sorting out this new experience. Clyde continued to hold Erin, determined to make this a positive memory for his grandson.
Wayne, once he was sure Erin was comfortable, managed to find a spot on Bryant's lap where he could watch while sneaking his own cuddles.
"Thanks, Cuz'," Emrys said softly. "I'm glad you're taking care of Erin, even if he is a brat." After a pause, he added "Guess what? Oceanic Division just looked at the stuff I sent them from the Saratoga, and Sky says they might be able to use some of it with their new holographic stuff they're working on! He thinks in a couple of days they'll have a new device to test, and he's gonna let me test it!"
"Yep; you're our grandson!" Bryant chuckled. "Congratulations, Emmy. Less than a day in the family, and you're already taking after your parents and uncles! Remember one thing; it doesn't matter if you have a body, you're just as much our grandson as Erin and Wayne."
"Thanks, Grandpa!" Emrys said with an obvious smile.
"Hey Emmy! Our snow's turning to slush already!" Marcus stated as he ducked just in time to avoid getting hit by a snowball. "Can you give us a refill?"
"One refill coming up, Uncle Marcus." Emrys replied as he restocked both teams. Somehow, the subject of snowball fights had came up in conversation. After learning that their Southern-raised brothers had never experienced the fun of throwing snow at each other, it took less than ten minutes for the Northern boys to devise a plan for Ft. Lauderdale's first Snowball War. Steve headed up one team, while Tracy headed the other. Those who wished to join the fight on the beach were split into two teams, while the rest joined the younger crowd in making a huge snowman out of a constantly-replenished field of snow that Emrys provided off to the side.
As the snow piles replenished, the boys quickly began packing new snowballs. Adrian had ended up on Tracy's team, and was one of the first ones to get off a shot with the new ammo.
"Got ya', bro!" Adrian yelled as his snowball nailed Steve in the center of his chest.
"Nice shot!" Steve yelled back as he quickly brushed the cold snow off of his bare chest. Before they had started, he had taken Tracy to the side and explained to him what the Unit had taught him about unwinding after a mission. Tracy picked up on it quickly, understanding that the weirdness of a snowball fight on a Florida beach would be the perfect thing to help his new family forget the Hell that they had just witnessed.
The fight continued, while the snowman brigade finished their first snowman and started on the second. Word spread to the neighbors, and they quickly formed a cheering section as fast as Emrys was able to clear them to enter the property. The local youth began joining into the activities as well, quickly introducing themselves to the new faces as they joined in the fun.
A little while later, Adrian and Jorge were taking a break when Emrys got their attention. "I've got an incoming transport from the Saratoga; the Captain and two of his sons."
"Thanks, Emmy." Adrian replied. "Tracy! We've got visitors; We'll handle it, I'll yell if you're needed!"
"Okay, Adrian!" Tracy yelled back, just as Killian nailed him in the arm with a snowball.
Adrian and Jorge jogged over to where a Starfleet Transporter beam was just starting to materialize. As the three transportees arrived, Adrian came to a stop, Jorge joining him and standing on his hind feet.
Adrian cheated, getting the names from the surface thoughts of all three. "Welcome to Alligator Alley, Captain Nicky, Dallas, and Hamilton!" he stated cheerfully. "I'm Adrian Jobs, Operations Director. This is Jorge Butler, Clan Short Security."
"Rearrwr rwrr Rar Wrarrwrrwar!" Jorge stated as he saluted Nicky.
Nicky looked at Adrian and Jorge with a look of surprise. "Well, I am pleased to meet the both of you. These are my sons." Then it hit him that he understood Jorge.
Dallas asked "Can I feel your fur, it looks so soft?"
"RARRR WRAR!" Jorge exclaimed as he pulled Dallas into a hug.
Dallas reached back and grabbed Nicky, "You need to learn from Jorge about what a proper Bear Hug is like."
Hamilton looked over to the snowball fight on this warm sunny day. "It's nice to meet you. Are ya'll really building snow men? Nicky can I PWEEASE go build one." Hamilton then realized that he was being rude. "I'm sorry Director Jobs, I've never got to build a snowman, and it looks like fun."
"Just call me Adrian; our Director is over there being used as a human shield by his little brother!" Adrian giggled.
Time seemed to stand still for Nicky as he watched Hamilton, who gave him a small but pleasant hug before he darted off to go build a snowman.
"Does he have a warp cell we don't know about?" Dallas asked.
"Nope, sunlight does that to people!" Adrian giggled. "You want some ice cream? Emmy can get any flavor you like!"
"Ice cream?" Dallas nearly shouted. "Can I have chocolate marble fudge with mint?"
"Wait up, we are on a beach, it looks like Florida, and there are snowball fights and snowmen?" Nicky asked no one in particular. "Mmm, chocolate ice cream sounds nice."
"We thought it sounded fun!" Adrian replied as a small table appeared in front of him, complete with the requested ice cream flavors in large cones, along with a dish of blueberry swirl for Jorge.
Dallas looked at the table and then to Jorge, "I don't know about you but these look awesome." Dallas reached down started to grab his cone, but was interrupted as a snowball clobbered him. He turned around and quickly determined that it was Hamilton who had thrown the snowball. "Why'd you throw the snowball at me?" Dallas asked, guessing Hamilton wanted him to play too.
"Come on! Hurry up, this is fun!" Hamilton replied.
Dallas grabbed his cone, taking off after Hamilton as he yelled "Let me finish this! Then I'll show you how to have a snowball fight!"
As the remaining three enjoyed their treats, Colin from Des Moines appeared next to them. He looked around, then commented "Jeeze, Rat! I leave you alone for one day, and you're organizing snowball fights on a beach! The worst part is that you forgot to invite me!"
"Hey!" Adrian replied between bites. "It was Rex's idea; I just arranged for the snow! Emmy, get some ice cream for Colin."
"Black Walnut, please." Colin asked. While waiting for his treat, he introduced himself. "Captain Nicky? I'm Colin Busch, Family Clan Short Covert Special Operations. Your ship is now my pet project, and I'm looking forward to getting to know my new team, otherwise known as you and your crew."
"Hello, Colin." Nicky said after tasting his ice cream. "Fair warning; my crew is a little nutty. So we're a pet project? Does that mean that I report to you?" Nicky asked politely.
"Colin's in charge of all the weird stuff - like his brothers!" Adrian giggled.
"My sons are over there somewhere, having a snowball fight. I'm sure you'll meet them soon enough." Nicky said, waving his hand in the general direction of Hamilton and Dallas.
As if on cue, both of the boys raised their hands and waved at Colin.
Colin waved back, then explained. "Officially, you report to Rat here. Unofficially, we're a team responsible for performing high-level interplanetary extractions at the request of entities that have requested the assistance of Family Clan Short. Right now, you are on leave while the team here completes the upgrades to Buddy."
"Buddy and upgrades, should I be worried?" Nicky flushed a bit, but then remembered that he was supposed to be on break and needed to chill out.
Colin grinned. "Despite your former timeline being around two hundred years more technologically advanced compared to ours, certain things didn't happen there. One of those is an ancient AI who placed the plans for Trinary with a group of young geeks. That group expanded on it, creating a limited-distribution technology known as 'balanced trinary', or base-25. At this point in time, it is only available internally to Clan Short due to how recently it was declared stable; at a future date, when we are sure that any remaining issues with data conversion are resolved, we plan to slowly roll it out to the Federation and the Public sector."
"So you're saying that we have some catching up to do with some of the technology." Nicky nodded with a smile. "Betcha Annika is gonna try to absorb it like a sponge, unless she is distracted by Chakotay again."
Nicky paused, his smile reflecting the good visions running through his head. "Just out of curiosity, our working with you will not be a Borg-style relationship, right?" Nicky asked before smacking his forehead. "Sorry, I keep forgetting that not everyone knows the cultures we have met."
"The two Borg in the Clan are quite safe to be around. The Borg tribble, however, has a tendency to assimilate cookies." Colin noted, causing Adrian to giggle in agreement.
"A Borg Tribble and two other Borg in the Clan? With those kinds of numbers then one would assume they were no tribble at all!" Nicky giggled and recomposed himself. "I can only imagine the debate if the information in one Borg database is different from the other."
"Actually, the interesting part is the sound the Patriarch's son makes when he is subjected to an alien probe!" Adrian giggled. "Meeep!"
"Meeep? Alien Probe? Oh, I ..." Nicky quickly put all the pieces together, causing an all-out laugh attack as he crumpled to the sand below.
"You broke him! That was evil, Adrian!" Colin chuckled as he knelt down to make sure Nicky didn't hyperventilate.
"Nuh-uhh! I waited until he finished his ice cream!" Adrian replied with a grin.
"Speaking of which..." Colin commented as he stood back up, sure that their visitor would recover.
"I was waiting for you to be ready, Uncle Colin." Emrys replied as a cone appeared in a stand on the table.
"Uncle?" Colin mused as he picked up the cone. "After you sent High Priest Dave into your big brother's core? Yes, I think you're definitely my nephew. Only someone related to me would be that mischievous."
As if on cue, Tracy and Karl took a break from the fight and wandered over. "Hey Colin!" Tracy giggled. "What happen, Julio catch you teaching his kids how to make exploding food again?"
"Hey! That was only once... wait! How do you know about that?" Colin sputtered, almost dropping his cone.
"There are no secrets between Division Directors!" Tracy giggled. He reached down and helped Nicky up. "Hey, I'm Tracy Butler, director of this zoo. The hot guy behind me is my husband, Karl."
"Nice to meet you, Tracy and Karl. As for zoo, wait until you meet the rest of my crew, especially one hot headed engineer!" Nicky chuckled. "She'll probably deck me when I return to the ship, especially if I don't let her and Tom take a small vacation really soon."
"I could always send our little brother back with you to visit!" Tracy giggled as he watched Jorge making sure his dish was spotless. "Whadda you think, bro; you wanna go play on a Starship?"
Jorge nodded his head quickly, then gave Nicky a glimpse of his well-practiced 'puppy-dog-eyes'. "Rawwwwwwwwar?"
"Hey, he would make a great addition to the crew. Plus he would love Sparkles and company." Nicky replied with a grin.
"Sorry, you can't keep him; I've grown quite attached to our little furball." Tracy giggled.
"Rawrr!" Jorge exclaimed as he stood and gave Tracy a loving hug.
"I understand, but the offer stands. Jorge is welcome any time as a member of the crew, and better yet he is always welcome to visit. Correction, him and his family." Nicky stated while going over to give Jorge a hug.
"Right now, let's worry about important things, like what our Dads are cooking to eat!" Karl stated. "Hey Emmy! You gettin' pictures of those snowmen before they melt?"
"Yep, Uncle Karl. Are the neighbors invited for the cookout? Grandpa Clyde said to ask you."
"Sure!" Karl replied. "Let everyone know we expect them to join us, there's plenty of food."
Tracy tilted his head, then tapped the commbadge stuck to his chest. "Hey George, this is Tracy. Can Headquarters take calls for a bit so that I can let the crew that is on-duty join us at the cookout here?"
"Actually, Aunt Helen had the same idea, she's organizing a cookout here." George replied. "Have Emrys link up with me; we can load-share and handle just about anything that comes up. Tell him to reserve one core for family, that is what I'll be doing. That way we can enjoy the fun too."
"Thanks, George." Tracy replied. "Did you hear that, Emmy?"
"Yep! Linking now, and I'll pass the word to shift to automatic as soon as we finish the link test." Emrys replied.
"That's my nephew!" Tracy giggled. "If anyone argues, tell them I'll send Colin after them!"
"This is a nice break from giving orders. It seems that everyone here thinks, works, and follows through almost like they are one person, even more quickly than a team." Nicky said, "Very impressed with how fast ideas were developed, as well as resolved."
Colin laughed. "Hey Emmy; can you get Nicky's copy of the Starfleet Regulations for me? Grab the Starship Leadership Manual, too."
"Sure! Buddy's grabbing them now; Kerry and me's teaching him six-dimensional chess!" Emrys giggled. "Here ya go, Uncle Colin."
Colin grinned as the aforementioned books appeared at his feet. "These are what you were taught to live by, right?" he asked seriously, looking Nicky in the eyes.
"Yes, those are the books. Plus the twenty-plus years of experience of being a Captain and an Emergency medical hologram." Nicky said with a curious smile.
Colin silently reached in his pocket, pulling out a phaser. Without looking, he ran his thumb over the rear power adjustment, then fired it at the two books. Both books burst into flame as the tight phaser beam was ran over them.
"You know, Colin, I woulda liked a copy of those for the archives!" Tracy groaned.
"Don't worry, Uncle Tracy. I made copies for you!" Emrys quickly commented.
"Thanks, Emmy! You're a great nephew." Tracy replied with relief.
Colin smiled. "Nicky, you just saw two things. One, you can forget those books as the rules everyone lives by. Two, if you let your peers know that you trust them to act for themselves, mistakes will not be made. Clan Short is in the process of rewriting Fleet procedures; while I'm looking forward to your input, I want that input to be experience, not the contents of some book written by an old man with nothing better to do in another universe. If it was in the book and really mattered, you will have already incorporated it into your personal style."
"I'm at a loss for words." Nicky stated as he stared at the spot where the books were just a few seconds ago.
Understanding what Colin was doing because of having been through it himself, Adrian carefully explained. "Nicky, right now militarily I outrank almost everyone on this beach. Yet I've never had to rely on the contents of a book. I was taught the old-fashioned way, I learned by watching others in command. I formed my style based on what I saw that worked, and what I saw that failed. Your experience is worth more than those books, even here where they could have been the only copies. I think that since I met Tracy yesterday, I've heard him actually issue orders maybe ten times; the rest of the time, he discussed his ideas with others, a plan was formed, and it was executed without anyone having to be told to do it."
Nicky pondered Adrian's words. "I know it sounds simple, but it will take a small amount of time to make changes like that. Plus, I'll need to have a command staff meeting to discuss any changes to the standards of operation. One question, did you really need to use shock therapy with me?"
Nicky's sons returned just in time to hear their father's response. "Umm, really, Dad? Did you have to ask it? You follow the rule book better than following the directions to replicate food." Hamilton stated, Dallas nodding his agreement.
Colin shook his head. "Nicky, I don't doubt your competency as a leader; if I did you would have already been demoted. I want you to consider something, however. All of your career, you have been in command of adults. Due to what happened when you crossed into Alpha Prime, the people that you count on are now youth, complete with youth emotions and youth clarity of thought. Despite their youth, they still have the knowledge of their whole lives. The difference is their thoughts are now functioning with the clarity of their new ages. Trying to lead them the old way is a recipe for disaster, you need to lead by example to get them to adjust to their new situation. When you meet Leon on the Iowa, you'll understand what I mean. He's making the same changes, even though almost all of his crew is over eighteen, and I've personally seen an increase in efficiency already."
"Well, I'm definitely looking forward to meeting Leon today and learning from his example." Nicky stated. Turning to look for his sons, he was infinitely surprised when he saw out of the corner of his eye that they were both in mid-air. "What the ..." was all Nicky could say before he was knocked to the ground.
"Me and Hamilton just learned to pounce. Did we do good, Daddy?" Dallas exclaimed with a gleeful, radiating smile.
"If your intention was to knock the unsuspecting Daddy to the ground, then yes, you did good." Nicky said with a truly peaceful smile.
As Nicky was recovering, Adrian asked "Emmy, could you please get me the full Des Moines Chain-Of-Command; the pictorial version, on my Padd?"
"Okay, Uncle Mouse!" Emrys giggled.
"Emmy, stop hanging with Dylan!" Adrian laughed as the Padd appeared in his hands.
"How'd you guess?" Emrys asked.
"He's the only person who ever calls me 'mouse'." Adrian replied as he reviewed the screen on the Padd. "Great job, cuz. This copy's got the full family bios on it. Thanks."
"Dare I ask what you've got there?" Nicky asked with delight.
"I thought you might want to see your Chain-of-Command." Adrian said innocently, causing both Tracy and Karl to mutter 'Oh shit' under their breaths.
Nicky accepted the Padd as Adrian passed to him. Almost immediately, he started reading through the list. "Vulcan High Command, Cory Short, Seth Metronome... wait I recognize his last name. He is a... oh, never-mind. Interesting, Colin Busch has dual report roles." Nicky was reciting his findings in auto-pilot mode. "This is a lot fewer people to remember than the old manual."
Nicky turned to look at his boys, noticing they had became quiet. "Why are you two rolling your eyes?" Nicky asked, genuinely a bit surprised.
"Oh, nothing important Daddy." both boys answered playfully.
"So there is a retired Brigadier General who is part of the Clan?" Nicky read as he continued. "He reports to Colin. Interesting, very interesting." Nicky mumbled as he continued to thumb through page after page on the Padd; appearing to be emulating Annika, absorbing information like a sponge absorbs water.
"Daddy, give me the Padd, now!" Dallas stated, holding out his hand.
"Good Daddy, now do you remember why we are here?" Hamilton asked once the Padd was in his brother's hands.
Dallas returned the Padd to Adrian. Then he looked at Nicky, "Daddy, we are here to relax and learn. NOT to absorb and WORK!" Dallas stated firmly.
Unintentionally sounding like Timmy after getting caught raiding the cookie jar, Nicky replied "But it was starting to get very interesting! You should see the command structure for the different divisions, and who reports to..." Nicky paused due to the looks he was getting, and decided to change subjects. "So what are we having to eat?"
'Guys, we're going to make a quick point with your Dad.' Colin sent telepathically to Dallas and Hamilton. 'You can think your reply, I'll hear you.'
'Colin, I know what your saying. I think Dad will understand once he has seen it in operation' Dallas thought to Colin.
'Although it might just be easier to reprogram him with a skillet. I'd hate to think about the damage to the skillet.' Hamilton thought and added. 'I'm just kidding, I think he's slowly getting the point.'
'I'm used to dealing with hard-headed people; wait until you meet JJ.' Colin sent back with a giggle.
Colin received a message from both boys at the same time, 'JJ? He can't be as bad as Daddy!'
'You asked for it!' Colin sent as both boys received the unedited record of JJ's famed visit to the police station in Indiana.
Both boys reviewed the new information, their eyes reflecting the awe they had of JJ's methods.
Hamilton suddenly blurted "Dad, can we go meet JJ? He'd be great to learn from, especially for self defense!" Hamilton wondered if Nicky would want to know how he knew that information.
"I wouldn't have a problem with it, if he's got the time. I'm sure it's best to ask him in person. Would you agree Colin?" Nicky replied with interest, making sure he didn't take the bait his son was placing in front of him.
"Oh, I think you'll find him... interesting." Colin replied. "A quick question, Nicky. Were you actually thinking about each entry as you read it, or were you just scanning them into memory for later reference?"
"Busted!" shouted the boys.
"I started to read it; but as it got more detailed, I started scanning it for later reference" Nicky said while twisting his toes in the sand.
Colin nodded. "I thought so. Based on the report I got, you were turned into a Vision Industries youth-series android. That means you have a much smaller memory footprint than Buddy's description of your pre-Rift configuration shows. I've worked with a few Vision androids, and I've had talks with the person who is in charge of medical for every surviving Vision android in existence. Most of your crew has to learn to be kids again; due to the design of your system, you have to learn to be human as well as an eternal youth. The Vision positronic brain emulates the human brain quite well, right down to dumping old memories to make room for new ones."
"Is there a way to backup my old memories to a data core? Even though there are bad memories stored in my new positronic brain, there are even more good times and good memories which I would really like to keep intact." Nicky begged, suddenly realizing his error.
"You'll have to talk to Marc about that, he's the expert." Colin replied with understanding. "With the personal changes you're going to need to make, can you see the point I'm making about some of the other changes that will help with the changes to your crew?"
"I get it, stop treating my crew as adults being led by an adult. Have fun, be a kid, and treat my crew like friends." Nicky said almost in a chant. "Live a little, and learn a lot. And talk to Marc about a memory backup and if it is possible." Smiling to himself he reached out and gave his boys a hug.
"You forgot one important thing!" Adrian giggled. "Your local AI is your best friend when you want to play a prank on your friends!" With a wave of his arms, he added "Emmy, could you introduce Mr. Nicky to Mr. Ocean?"
"One dunking, coming up!" Emrys giggled as Nicky suddenly found himself dropped in the ocean, then teleported back to his sons.
"I didn't know if he could swim, so he got the safety recovery." Emrys explained.
"You did the right thing, Emmy." Tracy stated with a smile. "Good job."
Sputtering, Nicky tried to form coherent words, "Tha... t was w... w... wet." Then he asked Emmy. "Can I have a second dip, please?"
"Sure!" Emrys replied.
"Emrys, can we try it too?" Dallas and Hamilton asked.
Nicky reappeared just in time to watch as his boys disappeared and reappeared soaked.
All three smiled and looked to Tracy, "Any place we can change, or at least get dried?"
"I got it!" Emrys replied. A few seconds later, they found themselves standing there, dry, wearing purple speedos.
"Nice legs!" Karl giggled.
"Hey, keep those eyes in their sockets!" Tracy laughed before turning Karl around and beginning a tonsil search.
Dallas and Hamilton looked at Karl and Tracy, and quickly began the wolf whistles.
"Boys, leave them alone." Nicky said with a smile at both of them.
Adrian shook his head. "Old people are weird." he muttered. "C'mon, let's go find some food."
"FOOD! HO!" Dallas yelled.
"WRAAAAARRR!" Jorge said in agreement, then poked his nose into his big brother's sides until they separated.
"I wonder if they make nose heaters for little brothers?" Tracy quipped as he gave Jorge a quick ear scratch.
"I'm sure if you contacted Noland, he could have a nose warmer built." Nicky said before seemingly remembering, "However, I didn't tell you that, since I'm not allowed to work!"
"Daddy, don't be a smart ass!" Hamilton groaned.
"DADDY! You're 'posed to be relaxin!" Wayne announced as he hit Tracy with a flying pounce, knocking him into the sand. After kissing Tracy's cheek, Wayne looked around. "Kewl! New guys to pounce!" he giggled. After a moment's thought, Wayne added "Daddy, the middle one looks like he ain't havin' enough fun. Emmy, he needs the fuzzy swimsuit!"
"Gotcha, cuz!" Emrys replied as Nicky found himself now dressed in a FUZZY purple speedo.
"What the hell? It tickles! Why do I need a Fuzzy purple speedo?" Nicky giggled as he repeatedly readjusted the speedo.
"Dad, if you keep whining, I'm sure they can find a bright 'pink' one!" Dallas laughed.
"Naw, that's the tee shirt!" Wayne giggled. "I'm teachin' Erin daddy-pranking after we eat, you wanna join?"
"Now you're in trouble, Nicky!" Karl laughed.
"Daddy, can we?" Dallas said, "Plus Daddy, that gives you time to learn to relax!"
"Dallas, do you really think he'll stay out of trouble long enough to not be dunked by Emmy?" Hamilton asked with a grin.
"Yes, you both can go and have fun. Maybe then I'll make it through our visit with nothing broken!" Nicky laughed. "I don't mind the dunking, as long as the water is somewhat warm. Oh, Emmy, any chance at a repeat dunking? Maybe with it wet, it'll stop itching!"
"You just like playing with your fuzzy parts!" Colin giggled. "Shame on you!"
"Why is everyone picking on me?" Nicky whined playfully.
"Daddy, if you would just chill. Then maybe... Nah, you don't know how to relax!" Dallas said, while smiling at Hamilton.
Karl walked over and put an arm over Nicky's shoulder. "You're family now, and the munchkins are treating you like any other brother. Colin's a Yankee, so he's got an excuse."
"Hey Kerry, two for pet retrieval!" Colin stated as he tapped his commbadge.
Nicky and Karl returned soaking wet. "Hamilton, I believe this one is yours!" Nicky said while holding out a baby wolf pup.
Karl inspected the mountain lion cub in his arms. "Dallas, she is yours." he said while shaking the water out of his hair.
"Daddy, where did they come from?" Dallas asked in amazement.
"We rescued them from one of the national parks." Nicky stated as he began drying off.
Colin shrugged as everyone turned to look at him. "Don't ask me! Timmy and Johnny run that part of the Clan. I stay out of the pet distribution; it's safer for my sanity that way."
"Daddy, do you think B'Elanna would like one?" Hamilton asked.
"If she does, we will send Tom after one for her!" Nicky said calmly.
"Wrarrrwrrar rarrwr rr wwwrwrar rewraer."
"I agree, little bro." Tracy giggled. "He IS holding up really good."
"Oh, sorry," Tracy giggled as he reached out to give Jorge a good ear scratch. "Better?"
"Wolf wolf grrr," the wolf pup growled.
"Meoww rrrawww, " the mountain lion growled, obviously speaking to Dallas.
"Hamilton, did you just hear what they said?" Dallas asked, his face scrunched in confusion.
"Yes, the wolf pup is Hyler, and the mountain lion is Mittens." Hamilton replied with a grin.
Dallas walked up to Mittens and began to scratch her belly.
Nicky turned to face Hamilton, "I don't know about ya'll, but I'm starving."
"Yeah, we can tell your starving. You're rubbing your belly every time it growls." Hamilton laughed.
"Rawwl WRall, Rrrrwwwl," Hyler added, injecting his two cents into the banter.
Mittens shocked everyone as she walked over to Hyler and gave him a lick.
Hyler, of course, tried wiping it off with his paw.
"Daddy, I think we need to follow Tracy to find food soon, otherwise your stomach is gonna climb out and find food by itself." Dallas said while staring at his daddy's belly, which had just done a realistic imitation of a T-Rex having a bad day.
"Y'all are nuts!" Karl giggled as he helped Wayne climb on his shoulders for a ride to get lunch.
"That means you'll fit in great!" Tracy laughed. "Adrian, hop up; piggy-back ride!"
"Awesome!" Adrian exclaimed as he scrambled onto Tracy's back.
Right when they started to turn and follow Tracy to the food, Nicky's communicator beeped. "Umm, Dad. When do I get to meet my brothers?" Eric sounded hopeful. "Besides, I'm getting bored up here. I finished the level three diagnostics on all the systems."
The color drained from Nicky's face. "Eric, please beam down to my location." Nicky walked a few paces and sat down.
Dallas and Hamilton turned to join their father. After sitting down, both boys turned and gave Nicky a hug. Dallas turned Nicky's face to him. "Don't be upset, this is something else we will be working on together. We noticed you haven't been processing everything correctly, so this is a chance to fix everything."
"Yeah, Dad, don't be sad right now. We all want you happy, and we know Eric will be upset if you're upset." Hamilton said, while turning Nicky to face him.
No sooner had Hamilton finished, a transporter beam completed its cycle and Eric materialized before them.
"Dad, why are you crying?" Eric worried while walking over to give his Dad a hug.
Still crying, Nicky looked at his son. "Eric, I got so busy and overloaded with everything that I forgot about you. I forgot to include you in coming down here and relaxing." With tears streaming down his face, Nicky bawled, "I'm so sorry, Eric!"
Eric nodded to Hamilton and Dallas, saying, "Daddy, why do you believe we're down here? We're here because you're being overloaded, due to the major changes you've been through." Eric looked at both boys, then stated. "Dry your tears, we love you. We'll be here for you, Daddy. Besides, I'm hungry and it looks like everyone else is too."
//Child, know that even the best of parents forget at times. Do not let what has happened heap more upon thy shoulders than you are meant to bare//
Trying to find the owner of the new voice, Nicky looked around, wondering, "Did anyone else hear that?"
Eric tilted his head and looked at Nicky. "Sometimes it is better to not call attention to hearing voices in your head, Daddy."
//Eric, would you like a wedgie?//
"You heard that, right?" Nicky whispered.
Eric simply nodded.
Dry chuckles were then heard. //I am Forever, and the Guardian of it... and a general busybody to you Clan types//
Colin shook his head, muttering, "Billions of years old, and still acts like a five-year-old."
//... Correction... Three year old... And that is a wedgie for both of you...//
Both were suddenly lifted up by the back of their shorts.
"Now I know where Galli gets it from!" Colin exclaimed.
"Maybe I should've stayed on the ship and run more diaganostics?" Eric said while trying to re-adjust his shorts.
//That would not help. I am there too. Have a cookie.//