Paterson and Clyde continued to spend time chatting with, and getting to know Adam, Logan, Janet, and Joe in the conference room.
The more Paterson talked with Janet, the more she reminded him of his own mom who had died several years ago. Of course, Janet didn't look anything like his mom, but the same caring personality was there. In fact, although things got off to a bumpy start, out of his four new family members, Janet was the one he was really starting to feel the most comfortable around.
Clyde was feeling similar to Paterson, but for different reasons. Although it was fairly obvious that he had no relationship to Logan or any of the others, he was surprised at how willing everyone was to include him along with Paterson. It was almost as if, although he had just lost one family, he now had another.
As the group was talking, Clyde was starting to talk about something that involved Haden. When he turned to look to him, however, Haden was no where to be seen. "Where did Haden go?" he wondered.
"Haden left with Daileass about ten minutes ago," A voice on the monitor in the front of the room stated.
"Thanks, Misha," Adam replied.
"Where were we?" Jack wondered out lout.
"Who's Misha?" Paterson asked.
"You were all a bit busy talking with Paterson and Clyde. They actually mentioned they were leaving twice," The face on the screen smiled. "And to answer your question, Paterson. I'm Misha. I'm the A.I. that helps to run things here. It's nice to meet you."
"So you're like Daileass?" Clyde asked.
"In several ways, I am similar to Daileass, yes. But I am also different and unique," Misha replied.
"Will Haden be gone long?" Paterson asked with concern.
Logan thought for a few moments. "From the looks of things, it seems that way."
"Is there anything else you guys would like to do while we are waiting?" Adam asked.
Joe checked his watch. "It's nearly 10am here, so it has to be going for 11pm over at the Desert Division. Don't you think they might be tired?"
Before Adam could reply, Clyde jumped in. "Actually, before we came here, we just got back from another universe."
"Another universe?" Janet asked curiously.
Paterson nodded. "Yup, it was just suppose to be an overnight trip so we could rest up, and get to know each other better, but some big ball of slime ate Haden's GEAR and we were actually there for three days."
"A ball of slime?" Adam asked.
"Daileass sent the three of them to Archnania," Logan stated, which suddenly caused looks of understanding to appear on the faces of the others. "And from what I can gather, it was a fairly... educational trip for them."
"Right," Adam replied as he turned back toward the two boys. "Well guys, I guess you have two real options. We can send you back to Nevada and you can hang out there. Or, you can hang out here for a bit."
"Could we stay with mama Janet?" Paterson asked.
"Mom's a pretty busy person," Logan stated. "In addition to being one of the best doctors and geneticists ever, she also is mom to about 6000 other kids and likes to go around and visit with a bunch of them."
"Maybe we could help her?" Clyde asked hopefully with Paterson nodding in agreement.
"I'm not sure if that would be such a good idea," Adam offered.
"Why not?" Janet asked. "They are to kids out of their own time, they've been to Archnania, I think they should be able to survive making a few rounds with me, assuming it's something they really want to do. Besides, I think getting to know some of the other kids might be healthy for them."
Whether it was because they all truly agreed, or because none of them wanted to cross mama, Joe, Adam, and Logan each nodded in agreement.
Janet then turned to Paterson and Clyde. "If you two really want to stay with me for a bit, that's fine. But I will tell you up front, I'm going to be going to visit some pretty sad kids, so I can't say how fun it will be for you."
"That's okay, we're good at helping to cheer people up," Paterson stated with Clyde nodding in agreement.
"Great," Janet smiled as she stood up. "Then it's decided." She then walked behind where the two boys were standing and held out both of her hands. When she did this, the two younger boys stood up, each taking on of the offered hands.
"Misha?" Janet asked as she looked toward the screen. "Please take us to our next stop, please." Moments later, Janet, Paterson, and Clyde were gone.
"I wonder if they have any clue what they are in for," Adam smiled as he stood up to leave.
"I doubt it," Logan replied as he wrapped his arm around Adam. "But then again, I doubt Janet knows what she's in for either."
Joe simply shook his head as he followed Adam and Logan out of the conference room.
Although the air was crisp, it was a warmer than normal day. Not warm enough to melt any of the snow that was on the ground, but the combination of no wind, and no clouds made for a better than average day. As such, a large number of people were already in St. Petersburg's central park by the time Alvin, Simon and Theodore along with Haden and Edgar arrived.
Although Edgar seemed on guard for anything, and Haden appeared lost in thought, not really sure what to expect. The three chipmunks were soaking in every bit of the environment they could get.
"Hey look," Simon called out. "Slides! I haven't been on one of those in forever."
"Oh, and they have swings too," Alvin added with a mischievous grin. "Hey Edgar? You feel like pushing me on the swings?"
Edgar sighed. "Swings are for kids."
"But we are kids," Theodore jumped in with an innocent looking smile.
"I'm not pushing you guys on the swings," Edgar replied. "I think we have a slightly more important reason for being here."
"You're no fun," Simon voiced what all three chipmunks were thinking.
Feeling less nervous from the small distraction, Haden spotted an empty picnic table. "How about that table over there?" he pointed.
The other four agreed causing all five of them to make their way to the table in question.
"Alright, now what?" Edgar asked once they had all sat down on one side of the table.
"Well, first off, you and Haden need to smile more," Alvin offered. "It's a beautiful day out. Family are here having fun and enjoying themselves. If people start seeing a bunch of depressed looking kids sitting at a table, that's going to draw attention."
As Edgar nodded in understanding, Haden did his best to try to smile and at least look like he wasn't nervous. He wasn't sure how well he was doing since, truth be told, he hadn't been this nervous since he attended his first strike team commanders meeting.
"It's a nice day today, isn't it?" A Teen's voice asked pulling everyone's attention. Walking toward them was a thirteen or fourteen year old boy with long strawberry blond hair wearing a thin looking black coat with strange looking diagonal patterns on it. Behind him were four smaller boys.
"You!" Haden said with surprise as he immediately recognized the taller strawberry blond teen as the boy he had talked with late last night. "You're the Eryradain tech I talked with last night."
The boy grinned as he shook his head. "No, that's just what you assumed, and I failed to correct you," the boy replied.
"But you said..." Haden continued before he was cut off.
"I told you that is what my name tag said," the boy couldn't help but smile larger as he saw the realization hit the smaller boy. "I apologize for the omission, but at the time, we still were not sure if we wanted to reveal ourselves to you yet."
"You guys have to understand, over humanity's past, many groups have risen and fallen which would not be the best groups to associate with," a slightly smaller, twelve-year-old boy stated as he stood next to the taller boy's side.
"There are a lot of bad groups even now," Haden thought out load as he pictured both the FCC and the factions here in Russia that they were going against.
"Exactly," The strawberry-blond haired boy agreed. "I'm Anwern by the way. And this adorable brown haired guy next to me is Ardell. He is probably as close as we are going to get to a leader." the boy said as he looked at the twelve-year-old next to him.
Ardell shot Anwern a dirty look which quickly turned to a smile as he turned back to the new kids. "Don't pay any attention to Anwern. He's so old, I think he has too many cobwebs in that head of his," the boy grinned as he noticed the tension of both groups lower a little. "This red head next to me is Hac, the blond next to him is Wyatt, and the little guy is Kordel."
Where as both Hac and Wyatt looked to be around eleven, Kordel looked like he was closer to eight. Something else that all five clan kids immediately noticed about Kordel was the silver tint to both his face and his hair. "You're a Vifer?" Edgar asked the question that they were all thinking.
Kordel looked toward Ardell with surprise before he looked toward Edgar and nodded. "You know of us?"
"We've heard of Vifer, yeah," Alvin answered carefully for Edgar.
Ardell nodded in understanding as he and the other four with him sat down at the table on the opposite side of the clan kids. "If you don't mind me asking," Ardell began. "How do you guys know of Vifer."
The chipmunks shared a quick glance between the three of them before Simon answered. "We met them through ARK."
"Oh," Ardell replied in an understanding tone.
Seeing a break in the conversation, Haden decided that now would probably be a good time for him to start introducing his group.
"Well, I guess you guys probably already know that I'm Haden," the boy began. "Behind me is Edgar, and these three next to me are Alvin, Simon, and Theodore. If you want, you can call them the chipmunks, since that is what the rest of us call them.
"It's nice to meet you guys," Ardell politely stated as he shook each of their hands. When he was done, he looked over to the red-head boy who's face was filled with freckles. "So, what do you think, Hac?"
The red-head scrunched his face. "I don't get paid to think, sir. I'm just here to make sure your ass stays alive."
"I think I like that kid," Edgar said mostly to himself. "That's the same reason I'm here."
Ardell nodded toward Edgar, letting him know that he was overheard. "I hope you guys don't mind meeting like this. It's just that it's been a pretty long time since we approached any other groups. And let's just say, the last time we tried to work with a group like yours, things didn't turn out that well."
Haden nodded his understanding. Although he wasn't completely sure what Ardell was referring to, he could feel the hurt in his voice. Whatever it was, must have been pretty bad. "That's understandable, there are a lot of bad people in the world. So I can understand why you would have wanted to talk to me secretly before setting up this meeting."
"Actually," Anwern spoke up before Ardell could reply. "That wasn't the main reason I was there. You were just an unexpected bonus."
"Oh, so what was the main reason you were there?" Haden asked curiously.
"The Eryradain," Anwern replied.
Seeing that Anwern had no intentions of elaborating, Ardell jumped in. "A long time ago, the society here on earth was a lot more advanced than it is now. And well, let's just say that there was a lot of biological experimenting going on, and some pretty bad developments occurred as a result. We needed to make sure the Eryradain technology was not following that same path."
"Are they?" Haden asked with a small degree of concern.
Ardell shook his head. "From what we can tell, they are not. Anwern can probably give you the technical differences later on, if that's the sort of stuff you're interested in. But, I have to warn you, he's been known to give people headaches."
"Sounds like you two will make good friends," Edgar grinned as he looked toward Haden. Haden, for his part, shot a dirty look back.
"But to be honest, it did give us a wake-up call," Ardell continued. "As a race, Humans are re-learning technology at an ever-increasing rate. You are also constantly coming in contact with species from distant worlds. As such, we figured that now would probably be as good of a time as any to start establishing contact with you. At least a few of you to start with."
The chipmunks all nodded in agreement. "That sounds like a logical course of action," Simon spoke for all three of them.
"Okay, so here we are," Haden stated as he turned back toward the other group. "Where would you like to take things moving forward?"
"That's a good question," Ardell stated as he looked toward the blond haired boy. "Wyatt?"
Wyatt thought for a few moments before answering. "They are a little apprehensive, but I think that's to be expected in a situation like this. I don't feel any deception, malice, or anything else of the sort."
"An empath?" Simon asked.
"Yes," Ardell nodded before a more serious look came across his face. "Haden? I would like to explain more to you, but I would like to know if you can keep what I say in confidence without letting anyone else know. Are you willing to do that?"
Haden thought for a few moments as he tried to figure out why Ardell would ask such a question. Surely, he had to know that Daileass would be monitoring their comm channel even if he were to say yes. Finally, he nodded. "I believe that all five of us here could be trusted to agree to that, however, there is probably something you should know first."
"What's that?" Ardell asked curiously.
Haden took a moment to collect his thoughts, "First, audio from all five of our comm badges are being monitored by our A.I. Daileass, but he's good at keeping secrets. Second, depending on what you tell me, I may need to disclose it to my immediate superiors, which would be Adam and Logan, the heads of UNIT, but they are also good at keeping secrets. Finally, I'm part of a special group of about 12 brothers that are all mentally linked together. I can't tell you much more about it, but I can tell you that they are all just as trustworthy as Daileass, Adam, and Logan. If you can accept all of that, you can tell us whatever you would like."
Edgar looked toward Haden in surprise at just how much Haden had said, but remained silent.
Ardell sat back and inwardly grinned. He could see now why Anwern was so impressed with the little guy. And, he didn't even want to get into how shockingly close he reminded him of Barrett. Having passed the first part of his little test, Ardell nodded. "Thanks Haden, I have to admit you've impressed me with just how open and up front you were with me. First off, we are already aware of the clone link that four of the five of you here are a part of. That's fine. Secondly, we have no issues with Daileass or any of the rest of the upper clan leadership learning what I share. I just ask that it not be spread around beyond that."
Haden nodded. "Okay, in that case I can agree to that."
"I'm pretty sure Daileass has informed you that we have been around for awhile," Ardell smiled as he began. "The truth is, we've been around for nearly forty thousand years, or at least most of us have. A few among us have been around a lot longer. Anyway, over that time we've observed nations and great leaders rise and fall. Occasionally, we've tried to get involved with some of those groups to try to prevent really bad things from happening. But that has seldom worked out for us, so for the most part we tended to stick to ourselves."
"Okay," Haden began as he let Ardell's words sink in. "So what is different about us? What made you want to contact us?"
"There are a number of reasons, actually," Ardell answered. "Believe it or not, one of those reasons is you, Haden."
"Haden's one of the reasons?" Edgar asked in a surprised tone. "I'm guessing you are going to explain that one?"
"Yes," Ardell nodded. Before he could say anything else, Hac held up his hand and began sniffing the air. Moments later, the red-head jumped up and began running toward a group of trees. As he was leaving, he only said one word. "Fear."
Ardell looked at Hac running off, and then back toward the other group. "You guys will need to excuse us for a few moments. There is something I think we need to deal with real quick." Once he said this, he and the other three kids with him got up and started running toward Hac.
All thoughts of figuring out the reasons left Haden's head as he and the rest of his group were also in the process of standing up just as his comm badge chirped.
"Haden?" Daileass's voice began. "sensors are picking up some type of disturbance very close to you. It should be to the Northwest of where you are."
"Thanks Daileass," Haden replied as he, Edgar, and the chipmunks began to run after the other group. "I think the other group has already picked up on it as well."
By the time Haden and his group caught up with the others, they found them crouched behind a large group of shrubs. Looking behind, there was an old pickup truck parked in the small clearing ahead of them. Two men were working quickly to tie up a boy who could not have been more than seven or eight.
"Okay boss, dead or alive?" Hac asked as he glared toward Ardell. "And you know I don't do alive that well."
Instead of answering, Ardell looked down at the silverish eight-year old. "You want to handle this, Kordel?"
Before Haden or any of the others could object, the boy nodded and casually wandered right out into the open so that the two men could see him.
"What are you doing?" Kordel innocently asked in perfect Russian.
The two men looked toward each other. "Looks like we get a two for one special today," one of them commented as they both stood up.
Haden and the others watched as the eight-year-old took a step back in fear.
"It's alright kid," One of the men said as the other began to circle around the back of him. "We aren't going to hurt you... much."
Just as the man behind went to grab the boy, one of Kordel's legs kicked backward and landed squarely in the man's family jewels causing him to immediately wretch forward in pain. As he did this, Kordel reached behind him, and seemed to effortlessly flip the man over him, causing him to land on his back, knocking the breath out of him.
The other man turned and tried to run toward the truck. Before he managed to take his second step, he, too found himself lying on the ground with a fist landing squarely in his face.
Haden turned his head to make a comment to Alvin, but saw that the chipmunks were already in the process of rushing into the clearing as well.
"I like your style," Simon said cheerfully as he and Alvin ran to Kordel's side to help cover the two men, just in case either of them were foolish enough to try to stand up. At the same time, Theodore ran over to the partially tied-up, and now totally shocked and scared boy, and began to untie him.
Kordel, for his part, simply shrugged. "Those guys were nothing."
By this point, Haden, Ardell, and everyone else were also making their way into the clearing.
"Looks like we work well together," Haden observed.
"It would seem that way," Ardell agreed. "I heard your A.I. contacting you as we were leaving. If it weren't for Hac's nose giving us a heads up, I have no doubt that you guys would have been just as quick to jump in as we were."
Haden nodded. "A big part of what our clan does is centered around helping out kids that are in danger and can't help themselves."
Before Ardell could respond, Theodore called getting Haden's attention. "Haden?" he began as he motioned toward the now untied, but still scared boy. "This is Yuri. His father died a year ago, and he's been living on the streets ever since."
"That's why these creeps went after him," Simon added. "They saw this kid wandering around the park for the last few days on his own, and considered him easy pickings."
"Telepaths?" Ardell asked.
Haden nodded as he turned to Alvin. "I'm thinking we could take Yuri back to the palace to get some warmer clothes, and something to eat. And then maybe let the intel guys deal with these two creeps? What do you think?"
Alvin nodded. "Yuri's definitely under UNIT and clan protection now. I don't think there is going to be much for the intel guys to do with these two, but we can at least do our part to help clean up some of the trash on the streets."
Haden agreed as he looked toward Ardell. "Unless you guys want them?"
"We are well aware of Clan Short, and we know that you guys are a lot better equipped to handle this kind of thing," Ardell admitted. "However, there is something else I would like you to consider."
"What?" Haden asked curiously.
"Although I wasn't sure about this when we first arrived, I think I'm pretty sure about it now," Ardell began. "If you are willing, I would like to bring you and any of the rest of your group that is interested, to one of our installations to meet KLAUS and maybe some of our other guys as well. Who knows, if we are lucky, I might even get to finish answering your questions from earlier."
Haden glanced toward the chipmunks who were already wordlessly communicating with each other. In a way, Haden was also aware of all the chatter that was flying around in the link that he shared with Daileass and the other Logan clones. Although he still wasn't at the point of being able to follow along when things started to fly around as fast as they now were, he was able to catch enough of it to be aware that it was happening, and what the general topic of discussion was.
"Alright," Alvin answered for all of them. "Theodore is going to take Yuri and the trash back to the palace. While, if you are alright with it, Edgar, Simon, and myself will go with Haden to your place."
Ardell looked briefly toward Anwern who in turn nodded. "Okay, that works. You guys will need to let KLAUS teleport you though, since it is the only way you will be able to get through our shields."
Haden nodded. "Okay."
"You guys have fun," Theodore grinned as he gave a slight wave before he, Yuri, and the two men vanished.
Ardell touched a place under his ear, and then began to mouth something. A few moments later he looked back toward Haden. "Okay guys, everything is all set."
Haden nodded as Edgar and the two remaining chipmunks began to walk up to him. "What do we need to do?"
Ardell grinned. "Just try to not freak out."
"Freak out?" Haden asked as the entire group vanished leaving behind an empty clearing, save for an old pickup truck.
Captain Sal Lowery was sitting in conference room five, chatting with Base Commander Justin West when a rather tired looking Brent and Lance came through the door.
"Hey guys," Brent did his best to smile once he and Lance had a chance to sit down. "It's nice to see you again, Captain Lowery."
"Likewise," Sal agreed.
"Sorry to drag you guys over here at such a late hour," Justin began. "But Sal and his partner just took custody of a few kids that he feels might be better of here instead."
"Oh?" Brent asked while Lance reflected his curiosity.
"About an hour ago, Security from one of the local casinos contacted us in regards to a few juveniles that were picked up after curfew without any parents inside their establishment. My partner made contact with the boys, and determined that there was sufficient grounds to warrant an investigation of their foster father, given allegations of abuse on the youngest of the three, who was six."
"Ouch," Lance replied.
"Yeah," Sal agreed. "When the juveniles were brought back to the station, one of your telepaths did their scanning thing, or whatever it is they do, and well... let's just say that these three kids no longer have a foster home to go back to."
"And you are wanting to know if we would accept them or not?" Brent asked.
Captain Lowery nodded. "The alternative is for them to be placed under state foster care, back into the same system that had just failed them."
Brent nodded in understanding. "Since that's part of what the clan does, then I would say absolutely, we would be happy to give them a chance here. Where are they now?"
"Right now they are with my partner at the sub-station. Once you give the word, he will teleport here with them," Sal replied.
"Okay, Daileass, you want to teleport them in?" Brent asked.
"I'm sorry, Daileass isn't around right now, but maybe I can help instead?" A much younger sounded, seven or eight-year-old voice replied. "I'm pretty sure I know the right way to use the teleporters... Yeah, I'm certain I do."
"Who is this?" Brent asked.
"I'm Icarus," the voice replied cheerfully. "I guess I'm in charge of this place now or something? Daddy Daileass has shown me how to do almost everything."
"Daddy Daileass?" Lance replied with a slight grin on his face.
Justin shook his head. "This must be the new A.I. core that Haden and Daileass were working on bringing online earlier."
"Um, Icarus, are you sure you can teleport them here safely?" Brent asked.
"Absolutely positively yes... I think," Icarus replied. "I've run several simulations, and have looked over all twelve thousand nine hundred and eighty-six sub-functions involved in their use."
"Why do I feel I'm going to regret this?" Brent muttered to himself before speaking up. "Okay Icarus, please teleport them here."
"You got it, Brent, one group of kids coming up," Icarus stated. Moments later, a very large vase filled with flowers appeared in front of them.
"Opps, my bad.... that was is one of the test objects I was using to calibrate the new equipment with," Icarus stated as the vase and flowers quickly disappeared. "Here is the actual teleport you guys were wanting."
Brent and Lance both cringed as four kids appeared in front of them.
"Um, Icarus?" Lance continued. "You gave us four kids, and I think our order was only for three."
"Actually, the one in the middle is Miles, my partner," Sal stated as he pointed toward the fourteen-year-old boy who was wearing a LVPD uniform.
"See, I told ya I could do it," Icarus stated with pride.
"Good job?" Lance asked hesitantly.
"Hi guys, welcome to Clan Short's Desert Division," Brent stated as cheerfully as he could muster.
As soon as Haden asked his question, the world literally dissolved around him. For no more than a fraction of a second there was nothing. But, as quickly as everything went away, it came back.
"Whoa," Haden commented as he felt slightly disoriented from the different type of teleport. "That was a weird..." He never got a chance to finish his comment, however, as the sight in front of him caused him to stop in mid-sentence.
The entire group had appeared in a dimly lit room, in front of a large circular convex window rounded toward the outside. Through the window, they could see a dense underwater ocean-scape that had a timeless sense of beauty to it that demanded attention. From somewhere above, large underwater spot-lights provided just enough illumination to not only show several passing schools of different types of fish, but also several types of coral along with a multitude of other oddly shaped and colored plant life.
"Where are we?" Haden's voice was full of wonder as he took a few steps closer toward the large window.
"Right now we are about 4,500 meters below sea level in the Arctic Ocean, a few thousand meters shy of ninety degrees north latitude," Ardell stated with a smile as he watched the other three boys that had come with Haden have similar reactions.
"The North Pole?" Haden added with surprise as he glanced back at Ardell. "Your main base is located at the North Pole?"
Ardell shook his head. "Nah, this isn't our main base. At best, you could call this our production facilities." At seeing Haden's confusion, he continued. "Please don't take offense to this, but until we are able to get to know and trust each other more, I would rather not take you guys to any of our 'main' bases. Besides, I think this place has one of the best views."
"That's understandable," Haden replied as he looked around him and saw that they were actually in a large curved hallway with at least three more of the large dome windows visible on one side of the hall. "But still, this place can't be here. From what I can tell, this place is pretty big. Even with you being under a lot of shifting ice, some of the satellites or starships in orbit would have picked this place up."
"Are you sure about that?" a new, young sounding voice asked from behind Haden, causing him and the others to turn around. Standing a few feet away from them, they saw a slightly translucent seven-year-old boy. The boy's eyes were emerald green, and his light brown hair was accented with very small golden sparkles. If it weren't for the fact that you could partially see through him, he could easily have been mistaken for a typical boy.
"KLAUS?" Haden asked hesitantly as he looked the new arrival over.
The boy shook his head. "I guess you can say I'm a part of KLAUS now, but my name is Dalrus."
"Oh, okay," Haden replied still slightly confused. "But yeah, just with the thermal signatures and electromagnetic footprint this place has to have, I don't see how something like this could go un-noticed."
The seven-year-old grinned as he looked directly at Haden and pointed to his arm. "You have your GEAR with you, what does that tell you about this place?"
Haden nodded and quickly pressed the needed buttons to put his GEAR into scanning mode. As he did this, Edgar looked closer toward Haden. "That GEAR of yours looks like it has changed a little since I last saw it.
Haden looked toward Edgar with a grin and nodded. "Yeah, you could say it had a few upgrades."
A few moments later, the expression on Haden's face turned to one of disbelief. "That's not possible," he stated as he slowly turned himself around, trying to make sense of what he was seeing, or rather, not seeing from his GEAR.
"What is it saying?" Simon asked curiously.
Haden slowly shook his head. "I don't know how, but some how this place isn't here."
"Of course it's here. We are standing inside of it." Edgar countered.
Haden nodded. "Yeah, physically this place is here. Using active pulse waves, I can confirm the walls and such are physically here, but electromagnetically, radio, and all other frequency bands that this is able to scan, up to 100 Gigahertz, this place doesn't exist."
Dalrus grinned. "And the only reason your active particle density scans work is because you are inside. If you tried to preform the same scan outside of our shields, you wouldn't see that either."
"Okay, I'm impressed," Haden admitted as he turned off his GEAR.
"Damn," Edgar thought out loud. "I'm just impressed that Haden is impressed."
Simon's eyes went distant for a few moments. "Telepathic communications still work, what about mental locks on specific targets?"
Ardell sighed. "That's one of the very few things we can't really block yet. That's also why I don't really feel comfortable taking you guys to our more secure installations yet."
Haden agreed. "That's fine. Just the fact that you were willing to trust us enough to let us see this place shows a massive amount of trust on your part."
"I'm glad you are able to understand that," Ardell commented.
"Hey guys," Dalrus started, getting everyone's attention. "Hate to leave so soon after meeting all of you, but I need to run, but I'm sure we'll see a lot more of each other in the future."
"It was nice meeting you, Dalrus." Haden called out.
Dalrus was beginning to turn away as if to leave, but stopped short and looked back toward Haden with a mischievous grin on his face. "Oh, and Haden. I have to agree. I think you and Barrett are going to get along great together." With that, the small boy faded away.
"Thanks a lot, Dalrus," Ardell sighed.
"Barrett?" Haden asked as he looked toward Ardell.
"Yeah, that's a bit complicated," Ardell struggled to come up with a good answer. "If you don't mind, I would really rather not get into that just yet. When the time is right, I think you will be able to understand more about my hesitation on that."
Haden nodded. "Fair enough."
"Well, I hope you guys don't mind if I miss the rest of the tour," Anwern stated after a few moments of awkward silence. "But I have a few things that I need to get finished up."
"Alright. Thanks for the help earlier," Ardell called out as Anwern was leaving before he turned back to his guests. "Come on, guys, there's a lot more to see."
A boy looking nearly identical to Haden was sitting at one of the stations in the main command center, intensely watching the terminal in front of him. Half of the display appeared to be running through a series of genetic structural diagrams. However, the boy's focus was on the other half of the display which was showing a video feed of Ardell showing Haden and the rest of the newcomers around the public areas of their North Pole installation.
"Barrett, Barrett!" A small five-year-old boy with brownish-blue hair called out as he ran into the room holding a small cylindrical container in his hands. "I think something is wrong with Spinny." As soon as he reached Barrett's side, he held out the container to present it to the older boy.
As Ethros sat alone at the main ops station, he watched the dejected look on the small boy's face as Barrett seemed to all but ignore him. "Let me take a look at Spinny, Tunk," he finally offered. "Unca Barrett has a lot on his mind right now."
"Is Barrett mad at me?" Tunk asked as his bare feet pattered toward the ops station.
Ethros shook his head as he took the cylinder from the boy, and began to unscrew the top. "No, he's not mad at you Tunk. He's just trying to decide if he wants to meet someone or not."
"Oh," Tunk replied, still not really understanding what the older boy meant.
"He's not just someone," Barrett defensively shot back without taking his eyes off the display. "He's family... real family... the first real family of mine that I have ever found since I can remember."
"Isn't that all the more reason to meet him then, squirt?" Anwern asked seriously as he walked into the control center.
Barrett spun around in his chair to confront the new arrival. "You don't understand Anwern! What if... what if he doesn't like me?"
Anwern let out a chuckle. "Wow, I don't think I've ever seen you this wound up."
"Unca Barrett's not wound up," Tunk offered as Ethros allowed a small metallic looking spider to wobble its way out from the cylinder. "He just has a lot on his mind right now."
"You just don't understand," Barrett protested as he continued to stare at Anwern.
"You see, that's where you're wrong," Anwern replied. "Do you remember a few thousand years ago when me and my brothers thought we had found our father?" When Barrett hesitantly nodded, he continued. "Well, then you remember what we went through was a lot of what you are going through right now. And you know what we finally decided?"
Although Barrett knew the answer, he simply nodded.
"We decided that if we weren't willing to take the chance, we would never know, and that never knowing would be worse than trying and failing, because when you miss a chance, that will stay with you and nag you for the rest of your life." Anwern kept eye contact with Barrett for a few more moments before he turned back around and started pressing buttons on the science station terminal.
Barrett sat motionless for several minutes as he let Anwern's words mix together with all the other thoughts that were going through his head. As he did this, he also watched Ethros do his best to try to sift through the diagnostic coding of Tunk's micro-pet, he watched Anwern downlinking more of whatever he normally downlinks onto his hand-held, and he saw several other teens working away at their work stations doing what was needed to keep the rest of them safe.
With a decision finally reached, Barrett stood up and walked over to where Tunk and Ethros were standing. "Thanks for sticking up for me," he whispered into Tunk's ear before kissing the small boy on the forehead.
Barrett then took the hand-held from Ethros and began navigating through the large code segments on it. "Tunk let his Spinny spend too much time with Mural's duck again, Too much movement emulation drifted over to the secondary characteristic sets. Ah, there's the problem, The Internal G-6 functions need to be reset. One of these days I'll update the emulation filters to adjust for six legged creatures, but for now this should work." He then handed the device back to Ethros.
"How do you do that so fast?" Ethros asked as he shook his head.
Barrett smiled and turned around and made his way for the door. "KLAUS, transfer out my terminal please, I have someone I need to meet."
After introducing himself, to Brent, Lance, and Colonel West, Miles introduced the the boys that were with him. The youngest boy in the group, Terrence, was only six. The other two boys who looked to be around twelve or thirteen, were Carrol and Richie.
"Is this where we are going to live now?" Terrence asked hesitantly.
"That's up to you guys," Lance answered. "There are a bunch of other kids here who I'm sure would love for you to live here with us. We all try our best to help each other out as best as we can. However, you guys don't have to stay here if you decide it's not for you."
"Will the adults that are in charge here be mean?" Terrence asked.
"Actually, adults are not in charge here," Justin stated. "Those two guys over there are?"
"Yeah, right," Carrol challenged. "Clan Short might have a lot of kids that do a lot of things in it. But I'm pretty sure that legally, you guys need to have adults that are officially in charge."
"Normally, you would probably be right," Brent jumped in. "However, Clan Short is considered a family within a Vulcan House. As such, it's handled by Vulcan laws. In there society, adult status is determined more by logic rather than physical age. As such, Lance and I are technically considered adults."
"Seriously?" Richie asked in disbelief.
"If you guys want, I can send you more information to your terminal that will give you all the specific links to the various legal codes that cover that," Justin offered. "But in short, yes they are."
"Terminals?" Carrol inquired.
"Oh yeah, did we mention that each dorm room contains it's own desktop computer terminal in addition to laptops for each person sleeping in the room?" Brent grinned.
"Really?" Carrol and Richie asked in unison.
"Can I take that as a yes, as far as if you want to give these guys a try?" Miles smiled.
Immediately, all three heads bobbed up and down.
"Daileass, or Icarus, would you go ahead and make their transfer to clan status official?" Brent asked.
"Sure thing, right away," Icarus replied. "Let me find their files here... not in that database... or this one.. ah, there they are! Is that Richie with an 'e' or a 'y'?"
"An i-e," Richie answered. "That's r-i-c-h-i-e."
"Yuppidy skuppidy," Icarus replied. "Done and done... okay, they are all transferred."
"Thanks Icarus," Brent sighed. "Well, it's kind of late, so how would you guys like to go check out your dorm, and then tomorrow we will give you the official tour?"
"That's cool, I'm kinda tired," Carrol stated.
"Me too," Richie and Terrence echoed.
"Okay, well if you guys want to come with Lance and I, we'll head on over to them," Brent stated as he and Lance got up and made their way toward the door. "Thanks for bringing these guys over Sal and Miles. I hope we get to see more of each other."
"Something makes me think that we will," Miles replied.
"Good night guys," Sal waved.
"Oh, oh, oh! Would you like me to teleport you guys to the quads, Brent?" Icarus anxiously asked. "I did it good before, I'm sure I can do it good again, please?"
"Um, I think we will walk, it will help the new guys get a little use to the place, but thanks anyway," Brent answered with certainty as he quickly opened the door to leave.
"Oh," Icarus replied, slightly dejected.
"Hey Icarus?" Lance smiled just before he closed the door to the conference room. "I bet Captain Sal and Miles would love a teleport back to the station." The last thing Lance saw before the door was closed was an expression on Sal's face that promised paybacks for this.
Alvin, Simon, Haden, and Edgar stood in awe as they looked over the railing, down to what had to be one of the largest indoor play areas that they had ever seen. At least thirty to forty kids were playing together in a large grass themed area which included several multi-level linked climbing areas, slides, jungle-gyms, monkey bars, balance beams, rings, trampoline-like large leaves, and even a small pool of multi-colored balls.
"This is completely unreal," Alvin voiced what they were all thinking.
Simon agreed. "Yeah, this certainly puts any McDonald's play-land that I've ever seen to shame."
Ardell smiled as he stood a few feet behind his guests. "This is just one of a half dozen similar areas we have set up for the smaller guys to play at. Each one has a different theme. My personal favorite is the beach zone, but that's at the other end of the complex."
"It's also a great way for the little ones to socialize together, and build up friendships. Something a number of them would otherwise have a pretty hard time doing," Wyatt added.
Haden nodded as he watched a group of kids playing a game similar to tag in one of the multi-level forts. One of the first things that he noticed is that although most of the kids looked somewhat human, many of them had non-standard characteristics to them, whether it was unusually colored hair, eyes, or skin, or oddly shaped body parts, like shorter than normal hands. "Where did all these kids come from, and why are they here?"
Ardell took a deep breath as he thought of the best answer to give. "I think it would be best if I let KLAUS handle that one."
Before Haden could say anything else, both groups heard the voice of an eleven to twelve year old from somewhere in front of them. [Nearly all the children that you see in this room or anywhere else in this or my other complexes are here because there is no other safe place for them to live and grow in the outside world. Most are considered misfits, outcasts, or abominations of society simply because they are different. Many are the remnants of genetic manipulations and modifications from ages past of which the current global society is not yet ready to tolerate, let alone accept and nurture. As such, they have been brought here in the hopes that they will have the chances and opportunities that they otherwise would never have had elsewhere.]
Although Haden could see no speakers, computer terminals, or any other obvious places from which KLAUS's voice could come from, he decided to ignore that fact for now. "You found all of these kids? I thought our clan was good at rescuing kids, but this is just unreal."
[I haven't found them all on my own. I also have a large number of helpers around the world that keep an eye out for anyone that seems... out of place.]
"And as far as your clan goes, you guys have actually done an impressive job so far, given how long you have been in existence," Ardell added. "It's just that we have... well... let's just say that we had a little head start on you."
"Just a little head start?" Haden asked as he continued to look in awe at all the different kids that were playing below them.
"Yeah, a little, as in by about fourteen thousand years," Ardell grinned as he watched the shocked expressions appear on the faces of his guests.
"And that's just since we really started collecting them," Wyatt smiled. "Our society actually dates back about forty thousand years."
The three chipmunks looked at each other suspiciously. "That's a pretty long time," Alvin observed. "It's interesting that ARK never mentioned anything about you guys."
Ardell gave an understanding nod. "That is more by design than anything. I'm sure that ARK has the best of intentions in it's quest to document everything that happens anywhere on the planet. But back in the early days of our society, with everything else that was going on, and the people we were trying to protect, we felt it would be in everyone's best interest to be observed by as few prying eyes as possible."
"That could be a problem," Simon offered. "If you don't already know it, you probably need to know that ARK is fairly integrated with our clan A.I. system."
Ardell nodded. "We are aware of this. The world is a much different place now than it was before the fall. I doubt as many of us would see it as much of an issue for the archive of the recently emerged Founders to be aware of us again."
[Ardell, are you sure that you want to get into some of the historical topics that your comments may lead into?]
"I don't think learning about history is ever a bad thing," Ardell replied. "But you are right, this is probably not the best time or place to get into these discussion. Anyway, like I said, given that your clan hasn't even been around for two months yet, you guys are doing a remarkable job. In fact, that's one of the reasons we've decided to risk making ourselves known to you. A lot of our goals seem to be based on similar principles."
"Ardell, we appreciated that you have taken the risk to meet with us and show us this magnificent place," Alvin began. "And, although the clan and UNIT do focus a lot on helping and rescuing kids, you should probably know that we also do a lot more."
Simon nodded in agreement. "For example, we are all part of the UNIT, which is like the military arm of the clan."
"We're very aware of that as well," Ardell stated as he nodded uncomfortably. "Although there are those among us that might argue that you sometimes are too quick to jump to an aggressive solution in dealing with problems, most of us are able to understand the current state of the global society, and accept that sometimes the best solution might be an aggressive one."
"Are you saying that some of your people aren't as excited in seeing or dealing with us as you seem to be?" Edgar asked as he jumped into security assessment mode.
Ardell carefully nodded. "As I hinted at earlier. The community that we have created here has been around for a very long time. We have seen the worst of humanity and what it's aggressive and war-like nature can do, and I can assure you it is far worse than what any of you could probably imagine. So yes, there are those who do not like the thought of promoting behaviors which we have sought to discourage, behaviors which are at the core of why our community exists in the first place."
"I see," Edgar replied.
"However, if you are trying to figure out how much danger you might be in from others in our community, I can assure you that it will not become an issue. I know it may be hard for you to believe, but one of the underlying principles that we teach all of our young ones, and that our community as a whole is based off of is acceptance of diversity. Not only respecting the differences of others, but embracing them."
"Thanks Ardell, that was exactly the concern I had," Edgar admitted. "And you're right, that does seem hard to believe, because so much of our culture is based on teaching conformity while shunning or fearing anything that is different."
"I think I like the idea of this society a lot better," Simon offered which caused the other three to nod in agreement.
"Assuming that both of our groups decide to continue to associate with each other, I'm sure at some point we will sit down and discuss such matters further. But for now, there is still a lot more to be seen, if you are willing." Ardell stated.
As much as Haden enjoyed watching the care-free play of the younger children, and feeling the peaceful energy that seemed to radiate in the air, he was forced to nod in agreement with the others that they should continue their tour of this magnificent wonder.
Just as Ardell and the others were turning to lead the way out, everyone in both groups stopped dead at the sight of a new boy who was standing about twenty feet away from them, near the door that they had entered from. The boy was nearly the same size as Haden. He also had the same light skin tone and greenish-grey eyes. And, although the boy's black hair was almost twice as long as Haden's, it had that same mopish wild curly look to it. Even the features of the faces of the two boys seemed to closely resemble each other.
With as similar as the two boys looked, it was still possible to tell that they were not the same. For example, Haden seemed to be slightly leaner, while the other boy had more of a swimmers build to him. Also, the other boy had a small birth-mark on his right cheek near the bottom of his ear which Haden did not share.
While Haden and the new boy were stuck staring at each other, everyone else in both groups continued to look back and forth at not only the similarities that each shared, but to also curious as to the initial reaction that they would have to one another.
After several long moments had gone by with neither boy moving a muscle, Ardell cleared his throat. "Um, Haden? I would like you to meet Barrett. Barrett, this is Haden."
As Haden stood there with his mind racing at top speed, he was going through a roller coaster ride of emotions. When he first saw the other boy, he was surprised, which was quickly followed by curiosity. A few of his first thoughts were that he might have somehow been looking at a clone or copy of himself, or perhaps himself from the future or something. With as crazy as both UNIT and the clan could be at times, neither of possibilities seemed out of the question. As he continued to scrutinize the other boy, however, he quickly became aware that it was not him, but someone who looked very similar to him. It was at that moment that a truly impossible thought came to mind; a brother. But not just a brother, since Evan was his brother, this would be more than a brother, possibly a twin? As completely impossible and unlikely as that could seem, and defying everything Haden knew about his own past, the thought of a twin jumped to the top of his head.
As soon as the thought of a twin hit him, Haden's stomach leaped up into his throat. The feelings of surprise and curiosity were quickly replaced with a mixture of excitement and nervousness. Even as he looked at the impossible conundrum that stood before him; even as memories of his life from as far back as he could remember flashed threw his head showing himself, Evan, and his father with no hint of another; even with all the indisputable proof that screamed that it was impossible for him to have had a twin and never known about it; somehow deep inside of him, Haden knew it was true.
As Haden continued to stand there staring at the other boy, with his emotions flip-flopping back and forth, it was then that he noticed something else about the boy, something that caused his heart to melt. Looking deep into the boy's eyes, Haden could see fear and yearning being reflected back at him in a way that he had never seen before.
Barrett had known about Haden ever since Clan Short had first been brought to his attention about a week and a half ago. He had known that he was a near perfect genetic match with Haden ever since a few days later when KLAUS had managed to acquire a genetic sample from him. However, at the time there was no real discussion of them planning on having any interaction with this Clan Short anytime in the near future, so he had not let these facts bother him. It wasn't until a few days ago when talks became serious about considering meet with and possibly work with Clan Short, that the possibility of him actually being able to meet Haden not only became possible, but likely. Ever since that point, Barrett had been an emotional wreck.
Barrett's first memories were when he had been wandering around in the woods for who knows how long before he just happened to come across military installation where KLAUS was originally created on the very day that he had become truly sentient and rejected his orders to nearly wipe out the entire population of the world. From those earliest memories to now, over all those thousands of years of looking, searching, and hoping that he might find some clue as to who he was, or find someone from his family, by now he had all but given up hope. This was especially true when even with KLAUS's vast resources, other than the occasional false lead that popped up from time to time, nothing was ever found. And now, as impossible as it seemed, thousands of years later, he happens to run across someone who almost shares a perfect genetic match with him. A match close enough that the only possibility is that they were twins.
As time slowly ticked forward, leading up to this point, the fear within Barrett had continued to grow. Although nearly all of his friends in one way or the other had tried to tell him that he was probably over reacting, and that from everything they had observed in Haden's personality, the two of them would probably get along well together, he still couldn't push that feeling aside. Perhaps it was because of how many years he had hoped and prayed to find something with that never happening, and then how many more years he had spent convincing himself to stop looking and that he would never find anything, until now having that appear right in front of him; perhaps it was the fact that not only did it turn out that he found family, but his twin had something to do with it; perhaps it was any of a number of different factors; but for whatever the reason, his largest fear leading up to this moment was that this person, this boy, this Haden, would reject him, and he would once again be left with nothing. And now, the cumulation of all that fear, of all those days of worrying, of all those years of searching, was standing less than twenty feet away from him.
After several more long moments of neither boy making any noticeable movement at all, Haden finally managed to speak in a soft whisper. "Barrett?" he asked hesitantly, not really sure what to do, but knowing that one of them had to do something.
"Haden?" Barrett somehow managed to whisper back.
As if someone had released their grip on both boys at the same time, they each began to cautiously walk toward the other.
"How?" Haden asked as his mind still raced to provide some kind of explanation for what he was seeing before him.
As he continued to walk toward Haden, Barrett tried to answer, but the words were just not there. Finally, when they were less than a foot apart, they each hesitantly raised one of their hands to touch the other, almost as if to see if what they were seeing was real.
As soon as their hands touched each other, each boy felt something that could only be described as a jolt of energy which knocked them both backward causing them to stumble and land on their butts.
"Ouch," Haden said with a smile as he observed his fingers as if to see if there was anything visibly different about them.
"That was weird," Barrett added with a slight giggle. "KLAUS, was that you?"
[Although I did register a very minor EM spike when you two touched, I had nothing to do with its manifestation.]
Although the cause of the jolt remained a mystery, it seemed to be very effective in breaking the ice. Once both boys managed to stand back up, Barrett walked over to Haden and held out his hand. "It's good to meet you, Haden."
With a nod, Haden accepted Barrett's offered hand. "Yeah, it's good to meet you, too, Barrett."
The two boys seemed to wrestle for a few moments in regards to if their handshake should become anything else, but in the end the handshake broke and they each took a step back from the other.
"See, I told you it wouldn't be that bad," Wyatt stated with a smile as he watched both boys.
At first Barrett glared at the older boy, but within moments, a smile came across his face as well while he nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I guess you're right. I was just being silly getting all worried."
Haden quickly shook his head. "Don't worry about it, Barrett. That happens to me all the time. It's really hard for me to meet new people most of the time."
"Really?" Barrett asked as he looked at Haden in surprise.
Haden, for his part, simply nodded.
"Barrett?" Ardell asked seriously. "Now that you know he's not going to hate you, would you like to spend some time with Haden while we continue the tour so you can get to know each other some, or would you like to come along with us?"
Barrett glanced at Haden's confused look, but also somehow knew that Haden had lots of questions, and would not mind less of a crowd watching them. "I think we'll hang out a little and catch up with you guys later, if that's alright."
Ardell looked toward Edgar, as well as toward Alvin and Simon. It was Simon who answered for them. "Given what we have seen so far, and how highly Daileass speaks of KLAUS and your community, I think we can live with Haden having some personal time with his new brother," Although his voice was serious, Simon also ended what he said with a smile to show that he not only supported Haden staying with Barrett but was also proud of him. At the same time, Daileass and everyone else that was part of the clone link sent warm feelings and support to Haden.
After looking toward Haden, giving him a final chance to object, Ardell nodded. "Okay, we'll catch up with you two in a bit then," the boy said as he waved both groups toward the door. "Come on, guys, I think your going to like the next stop on our tour."
Haden watched Barrett intently for several moments after the others had left. "Are we really brothers?" he finally asked.
Barrett nodded his head as he walked over to the railing to watch the kids playing in the area below. "From what KLAUS has told me, given your genetic profile, and my original profile from when they first found me, it's a near perfect match. Which means we are either twins, or clones. The genetic drift markers would lean toward twins."
"But how?" Haden asked as he walked over to the railing as well. "The only brother I have is Evan, and he's two years older than me."
"I've been asking myself that same question the last few days, believe me," Barrett replied.
"How long ago did they find you?" Haden asked curiously.
"You're not going to believe this," Barrett began with a grin as he knew this question would come up. Seeing that Haden was not backing down from his question, he continued. "Thirty-nine thousand eight hundred and twenty-six years ago. I double checked the numbers myself yesterday."
"You've been here for nearly forty thousand years? But, how is that even possible?" Haden asked in disbelieve.
Barrett shrugged. "You guys know about Vifer, right?"
Haden nodded. "Yeah, they age like one year every four thousand years or something like that."
"Close enough. Well, between the metaphasic properties of our shields, and the operation KLAUS had to do to save my life the day I was found, I've only physically aged about 8 months during that time," Barrett stated as he watched Haden closely to see what his reaction would be.
"Wow," Haden replied after thinking for a few moments. As insane as Barrett's explanation sounded, somehow deep inside of him, he knew without a doubt that he was telling the truth. "I can't imagine some of the computer systems I could come up with if I had forty thousand years to work with."
Barrett smiled as he turned his attention back toward the play area below. He was still very much concerned that something would happen and Haden would reject him for some reason. The answer he just gave Haden would be a big test of that, since if Haden was going to laugh at him, or reject him, this would be the place to do it. To his surprise, however, Haden did not. In fact, although he didn't know how he knew this, he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Haden did believe him, and did accept him.
The two boys spent a few moments watching the kids playing as they each collected and processed the multitude of thoughts that were swimming around in their heads. Occasionally some of the kids would leave, usually along the side of older kids, but there always seemed to be a fresh group of new kids arriving to take their place.
"The play area looks pretty cool, doesn't it?" Barrett casually asked.
Haden nodded as he watched a few of the kids going down one of the largest spiral slides he had ever seen. "Yeah, it does. I don't think I've ever seen anything like it."
"We're small enough, you know?" Barrett commented.
"Small enough?" Haden asked curiously as he looked toward Barrett. Although, somehow he already knew what the other boy was going to suggest.
"To play in the play area," Barrett answered as he could feel both the interest and fear building up inside of Haden. "For as many years as we have had this place, I don't think I've ever really taken the time to test out any of the play areas. So maybe we could do that together?"
"Erm, nah," Haden began as he took a nervous step backward. "I never really learned how to play on stuff like that. I'll mess up or something and make everyone else laugh at us."
Barrett grinned as he could almost remember himself being this way back in the early days. With his mind now made up in regards to what he and his new-found brother would need to do, he reached out and gently took hold of Haden's arm. "Trust me, you'll be fine. All the kids you will meet here are really nice. Even if you do some how mess up on something, they won't laugh at you. If anything, I bet some of them will offer to help you."
Haden wasn't sure about throwing himself into a mob of kids the size of what he saw playing below them. He knew just how vicious younger kids could be sometimes. At the same time, however, their was something about Barrett's touch and in his voice that told him that Barrett was telling the truth, and that somehow everything would be fine. As such, he allowed his twin to lead him toward the stairs that went down into the play area.
"Now that's what I call a garden," Simon stated cheerfully as he looked at huge number of long vertical tubes with plants in various stages of growth coming out of them.
"So this place is able to feed everyone here?" Edgar asked as he also took in the sights of the large aeroponics setup.
"Pretty much," Ardell commented. "This and three other aeroponic bays like it provide nearly all of the vegetables that this and our other installations use."
"That would make sense," Alvin added. "If you guys have really been around for thousands of years, you would need some type of reliable self-sustained food source."
"Right, but why have them all on conveyers like that?" Edgar asked as he noticed that every two rows of vertical tubes that were hanging down from the ceiling were connected together on large tracks.
"That's an easy one," Wyatt jumped in after getting a nod from Ardell. "Depending on which vegetable is being grown, the growth cycle is anywhere from 60 to 75 days. So every hour or two, the tubes move one position so that the vegetables that are ready to be harvested are always up front."
Ardell nodded in agreement. "It makes it a lot easier than having to run up and down the rows."
"What kind of vegetable is this? I don't think I've seen it before," Edgar asked as he looked at a set of tubes where the planets had thick, long yellowish cucumber-like pods growing out of them.
"That's called a Trumble," Wyatt answered. "It is similar to a cucumber but sweeter."
"If you guys look, you will probably see a lot of vegetables that you are not familiar with," Ardell added. "That's because a number of them are back before the fall that we have maintained over the years, but never really took root across the rest of the planet."
"That makes sense," Edgar replied.
"Okay, come on, guys, there is still a lot more to see," Ardell informed everyone as they made their way out of the aeroponics bay.
Although things started out a bit slow at first, it didn't take long for Haden to get into playing in the large multi-level play area. In addition to being surprised at just how sturdy and well built everything seemed to be, he was also surprised at how, although it was a play area, a large number of elements appeared to be designed to help develop one or more physical skills.
For example, there were a few different types of balance beams to walk across that helped to build balance. There was a wall that had different chains hanging down where depending on which chain you pulled determined which steps would pop out to allow you to climb up higher, which helped increase memory. Also, there was a two person swing which required both riders to work together to make the swing go higher, which encouraged cooperation. This was just a small sample of some of the simple, yet effective skill enhancing areas he saw.
Something else that surprised Haden was just how quickly many of the other kids were at accepting both Haden and Barrett, even though that he had never met any of them before. At one point Haden got involved in a game of follow-the-leader which he really enjoyed since it involved things like going across the monkey bars, flipping over with the rings, and using a rope swing to swing across a pit which had foam at the bottom of it, all of these reminded him of some of the exercises he had done while at the training planet. As such, he very quickly became the leader, since he tended to mess up on things the least.
At one point after the game broke up, he decided to check out the chain wall when he heard a kid behind him call out for Barrett. Ignoring that fact since he was not Barrett, he was slightly surprised when he turned around and saw a six-year-old looking up at him. "Barrett?" the boy asked. "I think my bouncer is broken, can you fix it for me?"
"Huh?" Haden asked as he was not sure how to take the question the boy was asking him. "Um, I'm not Barrett."
"You look like Barrett," another boy said as he ran to the side of the first boy, "Except for that weird thing on your arm."
Haden glanced at his GEAR and then back at the other boy as he tried to figure out how to answer them. Fortunately, the real Barrett came to his aid.
"Hey Toben and Zeal," Barrett called out to catch the attention of the two boys as he walked up to Haden. "Actually, that's Haden. He's my brother."
Toben and Zeal looked back and forth at Haden and Barrett before they shot confused looks at each other. "You never said you had a brother," Toben began.
"And why do you two look so much alike?" Zeal added.
"I didn't know I had a brother until a few days ago," Barrett answered. "And the reason we look so much alike is that Haden is my twin brother."
"Effern!" both boys said together.
As Haden looked at Barret in confusion, Barrett grinned. "That's an old pre-fall saying that some of the kids around here have been picking up on. For the most part, it is the same as saying 'cool' or 'nice'."
"Ah," Haden nodded.
"Toben?" Barrett began by getting the younger boy's attention. "Is your brother keeping an eye on you today?"
Toben nodded. "Yeah, at least until class tonight."
Barrett nodded. "Okay, how about I meet up with you a little before class, and then I can take a look at Bouncer?"
Toben smiled. "Okay cool, thanks!" As he said this, he and the other boy turned and quickly made their way back to the play area.
"You seem to be pretty popular," Haden observed after the boys were gone.
Barrett shrugged. "I've done a lot of work with the micro-pets, so most of the kids come to me when they are having problems with them."
"Micro-pets?" Haden asked curiously.
Barrett nodded. "Yeah, I'll show you some of them later, but first I think there is something you might like to see. You like computers, right?"
Haden bobbed his head up and down. "Yeah, well, I guess I do."
Barrett grinned at Haden's excitement. "Cool. Hey KLAUS, could you send Haden and I to central, walkway J-10?"
[Ardell had mentioned that he would like our guests to stay at polar for now. Are you sure that is wise?]
"Haden is my brother, KLAUS, my twin. He's not going to do anything." Barrett defended.
"That's okay," Haden jumped in. "I don't want to do anything that will get you in trouble."
"You won't," Barrett stated to Haden. "KLAUS, I think you know what I want to show Haden, so can you ask Ardell if it's alright."
There was a brief pause before KLAUS responded. [Ardell says that is fine, but Haden is your responsibility.]
"Fine," Barrett replied defensively. "Walkway J-10 in central, please."
Without KLAUS saying another word, both boys disappeared."
Janet, Paterson, and Clyde appeared in the center of a rather large circular room that had several couches and chairs in the center of it, pointed toward a large flatscreen TV. A few kids were sitting at tables along the edges of the room, playing different board games. A girl with long sleek brown hair was sitting on one of the couches, but immediately stood when Janet arrived.
"Mama Janet," the fifteen-year-old girl stated. "You were able to make it."
"I always try to make it," Janet smiled warmly. "I'm guessing Stevie is in his room?"
The girl sighed and nodded. "He's been in there crying ever since we got back from dinner."
Janet nodded as she began to walk toward a spiral staircase with Paterson and Clyde following close behind.
"Attention," Daileass's voice came across the loud speakers. "This is a final reminder that the main cafeteria will be closing for the night in 15 minutes to undergo some remodeling. Anyone that needs any snacks from the main cafeteria should go there now."
"You two might want to hang back a little," Janet said gently, "I'm not sure how well things are going to go."
After getting nods of understanding from both eight-year-olds, Janet slowly opened the door that she was standing in front of. As soon as she did this, the soft sobs of someone crying could be heard from inside the room.
"Stevie?" Janet spoke in a warm, motherly voice.
"Go away," a ten-year-old boy cried out as he laid on his bed with his face pushed in his pillow.
"What's wrong, Stevie?" Janet asked with concern. "You were doing so good when I saw you yesterday.
"It doesn't matter," Stevie cried. "You're not my real mom anyway."
"Why is he so sad?" Paterson asked as he and Clyde slowly made their way into the room as well.
Janet sighed and slowly shook her head. "Both of Stevie's parents died in an accident last week."
"That's terrible," Paterson sighed.
"Stop laughing at me!" Stevie cried out as he made a half-hearted attempt to swing his hand toward the direction that Paterson was standing.
"He wasn't laughing at you, son." Janet replied softly.
"He was too," Stevie protested. "He was laughing inside, they all do."
"Both of my parents died too," Clyde offered, causing Janet to look toward the eight-year-old with surprise.
"I'm so sorry Clyde, I didn't know that," Janet replied.
Clyde shrugged his shoulders. "It's okay, it was a while ago. A nice family took me in and let me live with them."
"So you were taken away from your family to come here?" Janet asked with concern as she prepared to raise holy hell with the Mykivis if needed.
Clyde shook his head. "No. George, erm... Mr. Potter hurt his back really bad and couldn't work anymore. So they were not going to have enough money to support me."
"I see," Janet replied in an understanding tone.
"How... how did they die?" Stevie asked as he poked his head up from his pillow.
"He doesn't like talking about it," Paterson jumped in quickly.
"It's okay," Clyde replied. "You see, at our old house, there was this really big tree in our back yard. Then, one night, when I was real little, there was a big storm, and that tree fell onto our house. It crashed through the room my parents were sleeping in, and crushed them."
"Oh," Stevie replied as he sat up and looked toward the smaller eight-year-old. "Mine died when our house caught fire last week."
Paterson shivered. "I don't think I would ever want to die in a fire."
"Me either," Clyde agreed.
Janet sat silently comforting Stevie as all three boys began to quietly compare notes and share some of their past experiences. In many ways, she was surprised at how similar the life experiences of Stevie and Clyde were. Had she not already known, there is no way she ever would have guessed that two hundred years separated their experiences.
"I think you guys are going to like this next part," Ardell stated as he stopped in front of two large double doors. Once everyone had caught up to him, he opened them up allowing everyone to step inside.
As soon as they stepped in, Edgar, Alvin, and Simon stopped dead in their tracks. They had stepped into a large circular shaped room in which the center was a large open area from which two more floors could be seen above them, as well as three floors below them before the ground floor was reached.
Around the entire room on each of the floors there were shelves of various sizes. Each of the shelves contained an assortment of various toys such that as you looked around the room you saw nearly every toy imaginable, and then some that none of them had ever seen.
"Welcome to the hall of toys," Ardell smiled as he spoke. "Just about every toy that has ever been made over the last forty thousand years is represented here."
"Okay, now this is amazing," Edgar observed. "I know a few little guys that would just die to visit a place like this." As he said this, Edgar looked across from them at the large red spiral stairs that connected each of the levels. When viewed from a distance like he was viewing them, they resembled giant candy canes.
"What's down at the bottom?" Alvin asked as he looked over the railing at all the tables that were setup on the ground level.
"Ah, that's the work area where the ELF teams meet to either repair the existing toys, or to help assemble new ones," Ardell answered.
"Wait a minute," Edgar interrupted. "ELF Team?"
Ardell nodded. "Egregius Ludibrium Factorem. Roughly translated, they would be considered special toy makers. They meet here from time to time."
"Let me guess," Alvin jumped in. "They tend to meet near the end of the year?"
"Well, they actually meet at different times around the entire year. But yeah, they do tend to meet more often near the end of the year." Ardell answered.
"Okay, so we have KLAUS, we are at the north pole, and you have ELF teams... is there also a sleigh and magically flying reindeer that you use to deliver toys around the world?" Simon asked sarcastically.
Seeing that his guests were starting to catch on, Ardell grinned. "Well, we do have a small herd of reindeer, but the teleporters that KLAUS has work a lot better. But as you guys have probably started to guess. Yes, we might have had a small part to play in some of the modern legends."
"Small part?" Edgar asked seriously. "I don't think there is a kid alive that doesn't know about Santa Claus."
Ardell nodded. "Okay, maybe a little bigger than small. And to think, it all started by accident."
"Oh right, so now your probably going to tell me that you guys are Saint Nicholas as well?" Edgar asked seriously.
"Does anyone here really look like they were canonized by a Pope?" Hac replied mischievously.
Ardell burst out laughing. When he finally recovered, he looked seriously toward Hac. "No, but I hear you got run out of town a few times by a bishop."
"Hey!" Hac protested. "I only got ran out of town because mama put me on a low fat diet."
"Well, erm... Now that you mention it, you're probably not saints," Edgar stuttered.
"Exactly. Seriously though, I can tell you that Saint Nicholas basically does the same thing we do. Although the North Pole and the Elves part of the legends are all us," Ardell replied with a toothy grin. "I don't mind telling you guys the larger story sometime, but I don't think this is the best time to tell it. Maybe when more of your guys are around," Ardell grinned. "Besides, there is one more place I would like you guys to see."
The three boys grudgingly nodded. "Okay, lead the way," Edgar offered.
Once the teleport was complete, Haden immediately noticed a few things about his surroundings. First, they had appeared on a metal walkway which had metal railing on each side. Second, although there was very little light, going by acoustics and ambient feeling alone, he could tell they were in a much larger room than the walkway allowed for. Finally, he could hear a low humming sound coming from below him. Actually, he could hear a number of different humming sounds that combined together to create a rather unique oscillating humming sound.
"Out of everyone, I figured you would probably appreciate this place the most," Barrett said in a hopeful voice.
"Where are we?" Haden asked as he waited for his eyes to adjust to the lower light, most of which seemed to be coming from below them, over the railings, instead of above them.
"Have a look for yourself," Barrett replied as he looked over the railing.
Haden looked over the railing as Barrett suggested. When he did, he was so surprised at what he was seeing, at first he wasn't sure if the lower light was playing tricks on him. About thirty feet below them, were a number of large rectangular and square boxes that had various colored lights on top of them. Although many of the lights remained on or turned off for extended periods of time, a few of them were also blinking or flashing. The boxes also appeared to be grouped in clusters of 6 to 8 in a single area. Within a cluster, there were several blue, yellow, and orange glowing thin wires that connected each of boxes to what Haden could only assume was the main controller for that cluster, since the main controller boxes were linked to the main controllers of other clusters by thick glowly green cables.
"Are these... computers?" Haden asked as he continued to soak in everything he was seeing below him.
"You could probably get away with calling them that, but they are a considerably more powerful and efficient than anything that has been developed post-fall. They are also based on a technology that is probably closer to the biological based systems you were looking at from the Eryradain as opposed to the electronic systems that are being developed on the surface at the moment. Beyond that, you would probably need to ask Anwern or one of the other tech geeks around here," Barrett stated as he watched the excitement in Haden's eyes.
"So, is this... KLAUS?" Haden asked curiously.
"Yeah, or at least part of him," Barrett answered. "How would you describe it, KLAUS?"
[I'm sorry Barrett, but until we all have a chance to sit down and discuss this later, I do not feel comfortable giving out details of my inner functions right now.]
"That's mean, KLAUS." Barrett pouted.
"That's okay, I don't mind," Haden replied. "I doubt Daileass would feel that comfortable telling someone he just met about his inner cores either."
"So you're not mad?" Barrett asked hopefully.
Haden shook his head. "No way. Just being able to see this place has been beyond awesome... what did that kid say earlier? It's efren."
Barrett's concern was slowly replaced by a smile when he saw in Haden's eyes that he really was telling the truth. "Thanks Haden."
"KLAUS?" Barrett asked as he continued to watch Haden. "Could you send us back to the observation bubbles at the polar base?"
[That I can do.] KLAUS replied as the two boys disappeared.
Alvin, Simon, and Edgar followed Ardell and the others into what seemed to be a long, oddly shaped hallway. Angled observation windows lined both sides of the hall. However, while light was shining through the set of windows on the left, the windows on the right were completely pitch black.
As they walked down the hall, it became easier to look through the left-side windows. Each group of windows looked down into rooms that seemed to resemble large showers. Instead of knobs and shower heads, each room had two large robotic arms positioned on each side of a small raised platform.
By the time they reached the last set of windows looking into the last room, on the raised platform they could see a shimmering outline of a large square object. The shimmering effect continued to become more intense until finally it became a solid object and the shimmering faded away. A few moments later, one of the large robotic arms grabbed onto the object and turned it around to reveal that the object was actually a computer terminal that one might normally see sitting on a desk. A small moving platform came from somewhere under the window and stopped right next to the raised platform. As soon as the robotic arm placed the terminal on the new platform, it moved away and again disappeared to some place under the window.
"Did that just do what I think it did?" Alvin asked after the entire event had played out, and a new square outline began to form on the raised platform.
"I figured you guys would be interested in seeing this before you left," Ardell nodded with a smile. "Welcome to our manufacturing center."
"You're making stuff out of nothing?" Edgar asked curiously.
"Actually, they look like they are based off of something similar to the replicators that we have that turn energy into matter," Simon offered.
"That's close," Ardell answered. "They are actually molecular assemblers. If I were allowed to show you the rooms on the other side, one thing you would see are large piles of heavy matter bricks that are consumed by the assemblers while they work."
"I wonder how efficient these would be in comparison to something like Sarfleet's replicators," Alvin wondered.
"I haven't looked at the numbers for Starfleet's equipment specifically," Ardell admitted. "However, we have worked with our own energy to matter converters, and we have found the energy footprint to be a lot higher. Although it's not as much of an issue now, there was a point earlier in our history that available power was at a premium, so developing the most energy efficient solutions was important. Since then, we've just stuck with them for our large scale building."
As Ardell spoke, he slowly made his way to the end of the hall where there were much larger windows. Looking through those windows, they could see into a huge circular room that had to be at least 50 yards across. Going around the top of the room at evenly spaced out positions were 10 of the large robotic arms.
"And this is a slightly larger version of our assemblers which is capable of building rather large objects such as small vehicles. If we need to, the room can even be flooded, and the roof opened up so that we can build components of even larger objects."
"Okay, I don't think Starfleet has the technology to replicate entire ships yet." Simon admitted.
"Yeah, that would be some serious power." Alvin added.
Ardell agreed as he began to lead the group back down the hall toward the exit. "Depending on how things work out between our groups, perhaps one day we will be able to share some of this technology with you as partners."
"That sounds like it might be nice," Edgar nodded. "It would have to be done carefully though. Introducing new technology too quickly can sometimes be just as damaging as not having the technology at all."
Ardell smiled as they reached the end of the hall. "It's moments like this, when I hear comments like that from you guys, that are the most encouraging. Anyway, let's see if we can find Haden and Barrett."
With everyone nodding in agreement, the group made their way out of the hall leaving the assembly center behind.
Haden and Barrett reappeared a few feet away from the large bubble shaped observation window that Haden had seen when he first arrived. Only now it seemed that the lights from above and behind the bubble had been turned down a bit.
"This is where we appeared when we first arrived," Haden commented as he looked out the large window.
Barrett stood next to Haden and looked through the window as well. "Yeah, this is one of my favorite places to visit."
Haden nodded in agreement.
"That's kind of funny," Barrett giggled slightly as he looked down at Haden's arm. "Your GEAR thing."
Haden looked at his GEAR as well. Over the last several weeks, he had heard many people make different comments about his arm band, but he didn't think anyone had ever called it 'funny' before. "How is it funny?"
"Because of this," Barrett stated as he held out his right arm. At first, Haden didn't notice anything different about it. It looked very similar to his own arm, other than possibly being a little thicker. A few moments later, however, he could see a small distortion around his lower arm about an inch away from his wrist. Moments after that, a small grey slimy-looking creature with redish-orenge patches became visible. It had at least eight small tentacles that seemed to be linked directly into Barrett's arm.
"You have a phasenmorph?" Haden asked with surprise.
Barrett too seemed surprised. "You know about phasenmorphs?"
Haden nodded. "Yeah, some of the guys in our clan got them from ARK."
"Effe... cool! This is Danus, He's... well... he helps to protect me," Barrett stated as a means of introduction. "The reason I thought the GEAR you had was funny is that in a way, even though we didn't know about each other, you had ended up building your own phasenmorph."
Haden thought for a few moments and smiled. "You know, I never really thought of it that way, but I guess you're right. Your phasenmorph is on your arm and protects you, I wear my GEAR on my arm and it protects me."
Barrett nodded. "Yup."
"Okay, there is one thing that I read about that I just have to try," Haden grinned as he carefully reached out his hand toward Barrett's morph. Before the other boy had a chance to object, Haden slowly and gently began to rube two of his fingers down the back spine of small creature.
Before he knew what hit him, Barrett's eyes were rolling to the back of his head, as his knees began to buckle. "Hey! That's cheating!" Haden's twin squealed in a voice that clearly indicated he enjoyed the feeling.
"Sorry," Haden smiled as he helped to steady Barrett on his feet. "I never had a chance to test if that actually worked or not. I guess it does."
Barrett nodded. "Oh, it does. Danus is an older generation morph from what your clan guys got from the ARK complex, which means the bio-link is probably a lot stronger, which means the rubbing probably works a lot better."
"Opps," Haden answered as his attitude quickly changed to one of concern. "I didn't know that."
"It's okay, just don't do that when we are around anyone else, please." Barrett stated as he looked at his morph for a few seconds before it faded away.
"I won't, I promise," Haden replied seriously.
"KLAUS has already provided Daileass with everything he needs to know in order to contact us whenever you would like," Ardell stated as he led the group through one of the large hallways.
"Thanks, Ardell. I'm sure that will be useful," Edgar replied. "This is truly an incredible place you guys have here."
"We like to think so as well," Ardell grinned.
"Ardell, where do you see things going from here in regards to our two groups?" Alvin asked.
"That's a good question," Ardell pondered. "We've contacted other groups through the years as I have said, but we haven't really tried something quite like this before, so I guess for now we should play things by ear."
Alvin and Simon nodded in agreement.
As they were about to round one of the corners, they ran into a whitish-blond haired, blue eyed boy who looked to be about thirteen. The boy didn't notice them at first since he was preoccupied with something that was on the data pad he was holding.
"Marc? I mean, Doctor Furst?" Edgar said with surprise as he immediately recognized the A.I. division's medical director. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm sorry, I think you must have me confused with someone else." the boy replied as he looked into Edgar's eyes. "My name is Mike, not Marc Furst."
Edgar looked closer at the boy. "My apologizes, You look very similar to someone else I know."
Mike nodded. "No apologies are necessary. If you know Marc Furst, that is understandable since I am from the same production line that he was. He just happened to be the first."
"KLAUS has actually found a number of the M.A.R.C. Series androids, as well as androids from other series, and offered them a safe place to live and work here." Ardell offered.
"Really?" Alvin asked. "I bet Marc and Danny will be happy to hear that."
"Yea, they asked us to keep an eye out for any other Vision Industries androids that we might find, since a lot were still unaccounted for," Simon added. "But I was under the impression that each android from the M.A.R.C. Series looked different?"
"Normally, that was the case," Mike agreed. "However, my original owner specifically requested that I look like the original Marc."
"Makes sense," Simon stated.
"If you happen to see Doctor Furst, please let him know that we were not intentionally trying to hide from him, It was just that at the time it would not have been appropriate to inform him that we were here," Mike stated seriously.
"That's understandable. Thanks Mike." Edgar replied.
Mike gave Edgar a slight bow, glanced around at the rest of the group, and then continued on his way.
Edgar took a final look at Mike as he rounded the corner before looking back toward Ardell. "Any other surprises we should know about?"
A mischievous grin came across Ardell's face. "I'm sure there are plenty more surprises, but that's probably good for now."
The group continued down the hallway a little further until they came to another door. When the door opened, they could see that it lead into the darkened hallway that had the large observation bubbles looking outside. Haden and Barrett could be seen standing next to each other in front of the first large bubble.
"Hey guys," Haden called out cheerfully as he glanced toward the door.
"Okay, now this is a surprise, I figured you would be off somewhere tearing their computers apart or something," Edgar joked.
Haden grinned. "Nah, I still have a lot of learning to do before I start playing with their biotronic systems."
"Biotronic?" Edgar asked.
"Yup," Haden nodded. "The principles are relatively simply. Basically, they use..."
"No, no, no," Edgar interrupted as he held his hands up to stop Haden. "I don't need another headache."
"So, Haden gives you guys headaches like Barrett gives us headaches, eh?" Wyatt asked which caused everyone else to break out into giggles at the faces that both Haden and Barrett made.
"Seriously though, Haden I think it's about time for us to head back," Edgar offered.
Haden nodded in agreement as he looked toward Barrett and then toward Ardell. "Um, since you were nice and let us have a tour of your base, do you think it would be alright for Barrett to come see ours?"
"Really?" Barrett asked as his eyes looked up toward Ardell expectantly.
Ardell shrugged his shoulders. "That's up to Daileass and whoever else is in charge of where they are. But if it's alright with them, it's fine with me."
Suddenly, Daileass's voice came out of Haden's comm badge. "Barrett coming back with Haden is fine with us as well. Not only would it give the two of them some more time to be together and get to know each other better, But Haden was right, It would only be fair to return the favor of a tour."
"Well, in that case, Permission to accompany him?" Hac asked as he stepped forward. At seeing the look on Ardell's face, he continued. "What? Someone has to keep the little guy alive."
"Hac is welcome to return with Haden and Barrett as well," Daileass answered Ardell's unasked question. "In fact, I think there may be a few people here that would be rather interested in meeting with Hac."
A small grin came across Hac's face as Ardell nodded in agreement. "Okay, both of you can go. Just try to stay out of trouble. Remember, you are going there as guests."
Hac and Barrett both nodded as Barrett took a step closer to Haden.
'Haden?' Haden heard Daileass speaking inside of his head. 'I know that you are excited about possibly finding a brother that you were not aware of, and want to show him around and all. But, please remember we still know very little about him or his people. As such, I think at least to start with, it might be best to avoid any of the secure areas.'
'Okay,' Haden sent back.
"Okay, what?" Barrett asked as he looked toward Haden.
"Huh?" Haden seemed to be equally confused as he was sure he sent his reply back mentally without speaking it.
"Okay, KLAUS," Ardell continued. "Could you please send Barrett, Hack, and our guests back to where we found them?"
[Actually, Daileass was kind enough to give me the coordinates needed to send them directly back to their current base of operations.]
"That works," Ardell agreed. "Take care guys. I'm sure we will be in contact again soon."
Haden waved good bye along with Edgar, Alvin and Simon as all six boys vanished.
Barrett squinted his eyes as they struggled to adjust themselves to the bright sunlight that was reflecting off of the mostly snow-covered grounds. It had been a very long time since he had last visited the surface, and an even longer time since the sky was as clear as it was, allowing the sun to be seen in its full glory.
"Well, here we are," Haden stated cheerfully as he, Barret, Hac, Edgar, and the two chipmunks appeared on the less-crowded side of the fountains. "Our Russian base of operations."
"It's been fun, but I should probably go check in at command," Edgar announced as he excused himself from the group. "If you guys need anything, be sure to ask Daileass or any of the other UNIT guys you see around."
"This is your military base?" Barrett asked once his eyes began to adjust themselves, and he could start to look around at the elegant architecture of the large buildings that were in front of him.
"Actually, no. This is the palace of the Russian Tzar. We're just using it as a temporary base of operations," Haden corrected.
"Although, we have enough troops and equipment here that it could be considered a military base," Alvin offered.
"Yeah, it's probably protected a lot more than most other military bases in the region," Simon added.
Barrett looked around. "It has been a long time since I've been on the surface. Is that how all the modern architecture is?"
Haden shook his head. "Nah, the Tzar is considered royalty, so his palace is a lot more ornate than the typical structures you might see around the rest of the country."
Barrett nodded in understanding.
"Time for us to leave as well," Alvin spoke for both himself and Simon. "You know how to find us if you need us." After giving a wave, and getting a nod from Haden, Alvin and Simon vanished.
Once it was just himself, Barrett, and Hac, Haden looked around trying to figure out what they should do first. "I know," he began. "Would you like to meet your older brother? Erm. Well, younger older brother? Or whatever he would be called."
Barrett grinned. "Sure."
"Hey, Daileass? Where is Evan at?" Haden asked as he tapped his comm badge.
"He and Jimmy are out near the South-East corner of the compound helping with some fence repairs," Daileass replied.
"Daileass sounds nice," Barrett commented.
"Thanks Barrett," Daileass replied. "I think your voice sounds nice as well. But then again, I might be a bit partial to that."
"Huh?" Barrett asked curiously.
"Um, well," Haden's face began to glow red. "We uh... you see... It's like..."
"Let's just say, Haden and I have a special relationship with each other," Daileass blurted out causing a look of shock to appear on Haden's face.
"You guys do?" Barrett looked directly at Haden.
"Um... kinda... yeah," Haden replied with concern as he feared that Barrett might think that he was some kind of freak.
"Effern!" Barrett smiled. "In a way, I wish I could have a special relationship with KLAUS. Well, actually at one point I tried to, but it didn't work that well."
"Really?" Haden asked with surprise. "So you don't think that's weird that one of the people I care about the most is not a human?"
Barrett shook his head. "If Daileass is anything like KLAUS, he might have thermal reducing fluidic lines instead of blood and conductive baryon channels to carry data segments instead of nerve fibers, but the concepts are still the same. An AI can be just as much alive and real as any other life form."
"Wow," Haden commented as he thought about what Barrett had said. "I don't think I've ever heard anyone put it that way before."
Barrett smiled. "I've had a while to think about it."
Haden nodded in agreement. "Okay Daileass, can you take us to where Evan is at?"
Without a word, Haden, Barrett and Hac blinked away from where they were at to a new location that placed them on a small raised portion of a large open snow-covered courtyard. About twenty yards away from them was a rather long thick metal fence.
"Oh," Barrett stated as he grabbed his head. "That felt weird."
"Really?" Haden asked as he looked toward his twin with concern. "That's how Daileass's teleports normally work."
"If you say so," Barrett answered. "It just felt different I guess."
Haden nodded in understanding. "Another one of my friends mentioned that earlier, as well. Also, the first time KLAUS teleported us to your base, I thought his teleporter felt weird as well."
Barrett smiled before he looked down toward the fence, where he could see two eleven-year-old boys. The first boy had short black hair and was placing large metal rivets where some of the old rivets had clearly rusted out or were missing completely from the fence. The second boy had jet black hair, and was dressed in a pair of jeans and a T-Shirt. He was following behind the first boy and literally shooting searing flames out of his hands, flash welding the rivets into place.
"A pyrokinetic!" Barrett announced with surprise as he looked at the second boy.
"Nice control," Hac added in agreement.
"Uh huh. That's Jimmy, he can set his whole body on fire," Haden commented before he locked his sights on Evan and started running toward him. "Hey Evan, guess what!"
Evan looked up with surprise from the rivet he was placing, as he saw what appeared to be two Hadens standing next to a slightly older looking red-head with freckles. Before he know it, one of the Hadens was running toward him. "Hey bro. You didn't accidentally clone yourself, did you?"
"Nope," Haden grinned as he shook his head. At the same time Barrett cautiously made his way toward Haden and the older boy.
"Did one of the Mikyvis do some kind of weird time loop thing making it so there are two of you here at the same time?" Evan asked as he began to seriously look at the cautiously approaching second Haden. The red head, however, kept his distance.
"I don't think a Mikyvis was involved," Haden answered with less certainty.
"Okay, I give up," Evan stated.
"I found my twin brother, Barrett!" Haden stated with pride. "Barrett? This is our older brother, Evan."
"A twin? Seriously? But, how?" Evan gasped in surprise.
Haden nodded. "Uh huh. He's been living in the North Pole at the KLAUS base."
Evan blinked, not really sure how to respond.
"I told you Haden would have a cool surprise for you," Daileass's voice commented through Evan's comm badge.
"That's an understatement, Daileass," Evan replied in a shocked whisper. "Haden, how can this be? As far as I know, you are the only little brother I've ever had."
Haden shook his head. "I don't know, but KLAUS says it's a near perfect genetic match. Close enough that we really couldn't be anything other than twins."
"Claus? As in... Santa Claus?" Evan asked with skepticism.
"No," Haden giggled. "KLAUS as in a really old computer like ARK."
"It stands for Klystron Lateral Autonomous Ubiquitous Sentient," Barrett offered. "We actually have a number of different bases, the North Pole was just the one we took them to."
"Okay, That works," Evan agreed. "If you said Santa Claus, that would have been a bit harder to believe since that's not real."
Barrett grinned. "Actually, it might be more real than you think, but that's for a discussion another time."
"Right," Evan sighed still unable to believe what he was hearing.
"And that's not even the weirdest part," Haden continued. "Barrett has been living with KLAUS for almost forty thousand years."
"Okay, now I know that is not possible," Evan stated confidently.
"Believe it or not Evan, I've been able to cross-reference the genetic data that KLAUS has provided me, and the claim appears to be authentic," Daileass reported.
"We know Vifer only age like one year for ever four thousand years, so why not?" Jimmy offered.
Evan looked toward the boy who was quickly becoming a more important factor in his life and shook his head. "He only looks maybe an inch taller than Haden."
"Well, it's nice to meet you, I guess, Barrett," Evan finally replied after a flood of different emotions crossed his face. "I need to finish helping Jimmy with the wall." With that, he turned and began to jog several yards away.
"Evan?" Haden whispered as he watched in disbelief as his older brother ran off.
"He's been under a lot of stress lately," Jimmy said as he looked toward Evan and then back toward Haden and Barrett. "Wait here, guys." Once he said this, Jimmy quickly ran to catch up with Evan.
"I don't think he likes me," Barrett commented.
Haden shook his head. "I don't know, I've never seen him act like that before."
"Evan?" Jimmy spoke softly as he approached Evan, who had his face up against the fence.
"Leave me alone please," Evan replied in a shaky voice.
"If that's what you really want," Jimmy softly replied. "But I don't think that is."
"You don't know me," Evan challenged back in a hurt voice. "You don't know what I want."
"Alright, I'll leave," Jimmy answered. "But if you ever want to talk, I'll always be here to listen." He then turned to walk back toward the two nine-year-olds.
Jimmy hadn't managed to walk more than three or four feet away before Evan called out, "Wait,"
As he stopped, Jimmy turned back toward the boy he knew had to be hurting a lot inside. Without a word, he walked up behind Evan and waited patiently until he was ready to talk.
"I wish... I wish we never met the clan," Evan lightly cried.
"Why is that?" Jimmy asked with compassion.
"It's just... I don't know," Evan slowly shook his head in frustration. "I can handle my brother falling in love with a computer, and then being added into this special clone link thing he was added to. I think that could help him a lot. I can almost accept this, I-don't-know-how-many million year old entity living in him. But then for him to go off and become this big military master mind, and then even having some mysterious friend from some other universe appear, but now some kind of forty-thousand-year-old twin appearing from a base with an even larger super computer..."
"You think the clan is taking your little brother away from you?" Jimmy asked after letting Evan vent for a few minutes.
"Yes... well... no... or maybe," Evan replied in a way that showed he didn't know himself what to think. "Is that wrong of me to think?"
"Don't know," Jimmy shrugged. "From what it sounds like, for a long time it was just you and Haden. But now maybe you see the clan coming along and taking him away from you?"
Evan thought for a few moments before he nodded. "In a way... kind of... I guess,"
Jimmy shook his head. "There is no guessing about it, that's exactly what you see. The clan taking your brother away from you."
"Yea, but when you put it that way, that sounds so selfish," Evan sighed. "I don't want to sound ungrateful or anything for everything the clan gave us."
"It's not selfish if that's what's really happening," Jimmy stated firmly. "Because you're right, in a way, the clan is pulling him away from you."
"Really?" Evan asked slightly surprised that Jimmy was agreeing with him.
"Yeah. He's getting opportunities to do things that he never would have been able to do before, he's meeting new friends that he never would have met, just like all the rest of us, he's getting chances to grow beyond anything he previously was," Jimmy nodded. "But you know what?"
"What?" Evan asked.
"No matter how many new opportunities he gets, or new friends he meets, nothing will ever change the fact that you're his older brother. Nothing will change how many years you spent protecting him and watching out for him. And nothing will change how he looks up toward you," Jimmy stated softly. "If you don't believe me, just think back at how excited he was to be able to introduce his twin to you."
Evan wanted to disagree, but he couldn't. Instead, he stood there for several long moments just thinking about what Jimmy had said. "I guess I haven't thought of it like that."
"Excuse me," a soft voice asked from behind the two boys, causing them to turn around to see Barrett standing there. "Are you really Haden's older brother?"
Evan blinked as he nodded. "Yeah."
"Do you think... I mean... Well, I can't remember any of my past before the day I met KLAUS... And well, I've always wondered what it would be like to have an older brother and," Barrett struggled to find the right words, as he did, Evan listened patiently. "What I'm trying to ask is... If you are Haden's older brother... do you... do you think you could be mine, too?"
Seeing the look of sincere hope and desire in the smaller boy's eyes, Evan's heart melted. "You're Haden's twin, right?"
Barrett nodded his head. "Yeah,"
"Well, then that would make me your brother. I know you are a lot older than me, so I could see you calling me your younger brother, but I would also be honored to be your older brother if that is what you would prefer." Evan replied thoughtfully.
"Really? Without even knowing me, you would accept me?" Barrett asked with surprise.
"Definitely," Evan answered.
"Thanks," Barrett replied as he wrapped his arms around his new older brother. A few moments later, after being waved over by Jimmy, Haden hesitantly approached the other two boys, and was immediately dragged into the now three-way-hug.
After Haden, Barrett, and Evan had been hugging for about a minute, Haden heard Daileass's voice in his head. 'I'm sorry to interrupt you, especially during a time like this,' Daileass began. 'But when you have a few minutes free, there are a few things that Logan and I need to talk to you about in the mental-scape.'
'Okay,' Haden sent back as he sighed. "Um, something has come up and I need to attend a quick meeting with some of my brothers."
"Oh," Barrett replied slightly confused. "Where should I wait while you are gone?"
"Oh, um, it's not somewhere I have to go, it's more like a telepathic meeting that takes place in the mental-scape," Haden replied. "It shouldn't take that long, maybe a few seconds. I guess just make sure I don't fall over or anything."
"Erm, okay," Barrett answered hesitantly, not really sure what to expect.
Haden, for his part, closed his eyes and began to focus on the link. A few moments later, he could feel his consciousness being pulled away from where he was, and ending up somewhere else. When he opened his eyes, he was once again in the very familiar room that was Daileass's mental-scape.
About ten feet ahead of him, Haden could already see several of his other brothers already sitting at a large round table. Among those at the table were Daileass, Logan, Simon, Theodore, Tyce, Nathen, Kaden, Zed, and Rainer. Standing at the opposite side of the table was a tall boy with long dark-blond hair that Haden had not seen before. The boy had to be at least fifteen or sixteen years old, and had a slightly blurred face making most of his features difficult to make out.
"I got here as soon as I could," Haden stated as everyone at the table looked toward him.
"Barrett?" Tyce asked curiously.
"Um, no. I'm Haden," Haden replied before he realized that the others at the table were not looking at him, but past him. As he turned around, he could see a very confused looking Barrett standing a few feet behind him.
"Where am I?" Barrett asked with a voice full of concern.
"Oh crap," Haden began to panic as he feared that he had somehow messed up. "I didn't mean to do that, honest."
"It's okay, Haden. You didn't do anything wrong," Logan stated as he stood up and began to slowly approach Barrett. "More than likely, with the twin bond establishing itself between you two, he was pulled along when you focused on coming here."
"That felt weird," Barrett commented. "And where is here?"
"That's going to take a little explaining," Logan smiled. "Basically, you are in what we refer to as a mental-scape. In this case, we are all in Daileass's mind. You see, A special link exists between myself and the rest of my brothers that allow us to very quickly telepathically communicate with each other, and to be able to easily enter each other's minds, for lack of a better term."
Barrett tilted his head in confusion. "Isn't Daileass your computer A.I.?"
"He is," Haden answered. "But he's also a lot more than that."
Barrett nodded in understanding. "Sort of like KLAUS then."
"We could have met in my mind, or the mind of one of our other brothers, but given the nature of what needs to be discussed, meeting inside of Daileass can give us faster access to information resources if we need them," Logan continued.
"This is all kind of weird, but for some reason I get the feeling you are telling the truth," Barrett offered.
"That's a very good perception on your part," Logan smiled. "Since you didn't know what you were getting into, as soon as you entered the mental-scape, I have been shielding your mind from the others. But right now, you need to make a choice. You are welcome to stay here with Haden if you would like while we have our short meeting, but you need to know that everyone else here will have access to your thoughts, and you will not be able to hide anything from us. We will also be unable to hide things from you, just like you were able to tell that I was telling you the truth. Or if you want, I can push you back out of the mental-scape, and Haden should only be a few seconds behind you, since time in here flows a lot faster than it does in the real world."
Barrett looked at Haden and at the other kids sitting around the table. At thirteen, Logan seemed to be the oldest of the group, besides the strange figure standing on the other side of the table. The youngest seemed to be Simon, and the boy sitting right next to him. "If it's not a bother, I wouldn't mind staying here with Haden. I get the feeling that even if you do learn stuff about me, you won't abuse or misuse that information, and you will still respect my desires in regards to not sharing it with others."
Logan nodded and smiled. "That's right, we will not. Since I'm the one that makes this link possible, our minds are more closely linked. As such, I can already see that you are more than capable and willing to do the same for us, and not share anything you learn here or through your bond with Haden to others without us saying it's alright first."
Barrett nodded in agreement. "I promise not to."
"Great. In that case, welcome to the mental-scape Barrett," Logan stated cheerfully as he walked back to his seat at the table. As he did this, two more chairs appeared and everyone else's position seemed to shift slightly to make room for the new chairs. "Have a seat guys. Because of some other recent developments that have just come up, not everyone could make it, but I think this is more than enough of us to address what is needed to be addressed."
Haden and Barrett took the offered seats at the table. As they did, Haden could see Daileass looking directly toward him and smiling.
"Theodore, you want to get us started?" Logan asked as he looked toward the chipmunk.
The eight-year-old boy sitting next to Simon nodded. "As most of you know, while a few of us were meeting with some of the KLAUS guys, a situation developed and we ended up rescuing an eight-year-old Russian boy named Yuri."
After waiting for a few moments to make sure no one had any questions with his background information, Theodore continued. "After he was rescued, I brought him back here for a quick medical checkup before taking him to intake. While that was going on, he seemed to behave a bit strangely around some of the adults that were working in the medical area, so I did a standard telepathic scan. One of the interesting things I found out was that he escaped from a place known as Biggs Ranch about two weeks ago. The conditions there were... well... let's just say, less than desirable."
"As soon as Theodore mentioned this to me, I had Tyce do a quick search on the place," Logan added.
Taking that as his cue, Tyce took over. "Biggs Ranch is a somewhat small horse farm located about ten miles North of the park that Yuri was found in. Besides the fact that it's one of the only Horse ranches this far North, very little other information was available on it. From all public records, the place seemed to be legit with none of the standard warning flags that we would expect to find.
"That's where Dark Sun comes in," Logan jumped in as he motioned toward the mysterious boy standing on the other side of the table.
"Is there something wrong with the link?" Haden timidly asked. "I can't really see him that well."
"That would be because Dark Sun is one of my Death Knights," Logan offered.
"My apologizes," Dark Sun answered. "My mind is use to shielding itself at all times." As soon as the boy stopped speaking, his features became fully visible, including his emerald green eyes, and the small scar that ran across his left cheek.
"What's a Death Night?" Barrett whispered toward Haden. "We haven't heard anything about them."
"Barrett," Logan smiled letting Haden's twin know that he had heard him. "A Death Knight is a very special, highly trained special operative. They basically do the things that, for whatever reason, can't be done any other way."
Although he was slightly embarrassed for having been overheard, Barrett nodded in understanding.
"The reason you probably haven't heard anything about them is that they are very highly classified, and we try our best to keep them a secret from the rest of the world," Logan continued. "In fact, it would be very much appreciated if you did not mention anything about them to anyone else."
Again, Barrett nodded. "I won't."
"Thanks," Logan replied. "As most of you know, following the ambush yesterday, it was decided to bring several of our Knights to Russia to assist in operations. Dark Sun is the one who has been following a number of leads that we got from the slave group, with the Biggs Ranch being one of them."
Logan paused for a few moments. As he did this, Haden could see a glare develop in Logan's eyes that scared the crap out of him. "Let's just say that some of the activities that some of the kids there have been subjected to would not make me happy," Logan waited until he saw that Haden was following along. "Once I got confirmation from Dark Sun that what Yuri had been exposed to was factual, I was about to deal with this myself, since most of our other strike teams our out right now. However, Edgar brought up a valid point. Since you guys found Yuri, it should be your call if you want to handle it or not."
"Alright," Haden replied not really sure where Logan was going with this.
"I know you and your guys were told that you would have a week off, and I will completely understand if you don't want to deal with this," Logan continued. "However, I have to at least make the offer. If you accept this, I have one of the stand-by strike teams ready to go for you."
"Thanks," Haden nodded. "However still don't understand what could be so bad that you feel this needs to be dealt with now."
Logan tried to think of the best way to explain what was going on as Daileass walked over and began to whisper something into Haden's ear. As he did this, both Haden's and Barrett's eyes grew large in shock.
As soon as Daileass was done, Haden looked directly into Logan's eyes. "I want to do this, sir."
Logan looked toward Haden and saw the serious expression on his face. "Okay then, the mission is yours. Go ahead and get yourself ready. Edgar will meet you at the palace and I'll contact the strike team, and let you know where to meet them. You guys can leave as soon as everything is set."
Haden nodded in understanding.
"I would like to go, too," Barrett stated.
Logan looked toward Barrett with surprise. "Barrett, this isn't something to take lightly. Haden and his group will be going into an unsecured unknown situation. They have at least three years solid training behind them."
Barrett nodded. "I know. Look into my head if you have to. I have had training as well over the years. I know how to fight."
Logan nodded. "Okay, let Daileass and myself discuss that for a little bit. We will probably also want to contact KLAUS and make sure he's fine with you, and I'm assuming Hac, going along."
"Alright," Barrett replied seriously.
Logan stood up from the table. "Thanks guys for all your help. Let's go save some kids."
One by one, each person around the table stood up and voiced their agreement with Logan, including Haden and Barrett at the end. Once everyone was standing, the meeting was declared over and everyone began to fade away.
"Haden, Barrett, can you two stick around for a few moments?" Logan asked.
"Since I don't know how I'm going to get Barrett out of here, yeah," Haden stated.
"Don't worry, I'll take care of that," Logan smiled. "But that is part of what I wanted to talk to you about. The bond that is forming between the two of you is going to allow Barrett to learn a lot of what you know, and accompany you to places like this. However, right now I don't see an easy way to fully add him into the link."
"Because you don't trust him yet?" Haden asked seriously.
Logan shook his head. "It has nothing to do with trust. In fact, with him having been in the mental-scape during the meeting, I know enough about him to be able to say I trust him almost as much as I do you, Haden. The problem is most of the minds that are in this link are very fast posatronic based. You have Ordath helping your mind deal with the volume and speed of information."
Haden nodded. "Yeah, and when you guys get talking fast, I still can't keep up."
"Exactly," Logan agreed. "Barrett doesn't have an Ordath to help him."
"I've been genetically enhanced," Barrett offered.
Logan nodded. "You have, and I think that's what made it so easy for you to be able to follow Haden. But even the genetic enhancements you had are not enough to allow your brain to safely handle the entire force of the link."
"Oh," Barrett deflated. "That's okay, I understand."
"Don't get me wrong, Barrett, you are still going to be able to take part in some aspects of our link through Haden," Logan stated. "However, I just wanted to make sure you understood why we were not able to make you a full part of the link like we were able to for Haden. And that it has nothing to do with how much we do or don't trust you."
Barrett nodded. "Okay, I think I understand."
"Great," Logan smiled. "Okay, you two ready to head back?"
Both boys nodded. Moments later, they faded away out of view as their consciousness left the mental-scape. Shortly after that, Logan faded away as well.
When Haden and Barrett finally opened their eyes, they both saw Evan standing a few feet in front of them, with a concerned look in his eyes.
"I guess you decided to take Barrett with you?" Evan asked.
"Yeah, he kind of tagged along," Haden replied seriously. "We need to get ready for a mission to rescue a bunch of kids."
"You two go on," Evan answered Haden's unasked question. "Jimmy and I still have some work to get finished up before lunch."
"Thanks, Evan," Haden stated as he wrapped his arms around Evan briefly before starting to walk toward the Palace.
Barrett was about to follow Haden, but instead first walked over and gave Evan a similar hug before he ran to catch up with Haden. As he went, Hac fell in not far behind him.
"Don't tell me you're planning on going with him?" Hac asked as they walked.
"Maybe," Barrett replied. "Logan and Daileass need to talk to KLAUS about that."
"But, how did you guys go over all this so quickly? You were both only zoned out for a few seconds," Hac asked in confusion.
Barrett and Haden simply shared a knowing look with each other and smiled as the three of them made their way toward the Palace.
Thirty minutes later Haden, Barret, Edgar, Hac, and Yuri were walking down one of the palace hallways toward the staging area where they were going to meet up with Captain Summers and the rest of Strike Team Delta Charlie. Haden and Edgar had changed into their full unit gear. Although Logan was hesitant to allow Hac and Barrett to accompany them at first, after contacting KLAUS and Ardell and being assured that both Barrett and Hac would easily be able to handle their own in almost any type of combat situation, he relented and agreed to them going. Given that Yuri was the only one in the group that had actually been to the farm, and was aware of what was going on, it was decided that he could go along as well.
"Captain Summers?" Haden asked as he looked at the thirteen-year-old short brown haired female strke team commander.
Captain Summers quickly snapped to attention at the sight of Haden and Edgar. "Sir. Strike Team Delta Charlie awaiting your orders, sir."
Haden returned the salute. "At ease, Captain. And um, we don't have to be that formal if you don't want to be."
The girl nodded. "Very good sir. However, given the situation that we are about to enter, keeping things proper may be for the best."
"That works," Haden shrugged. "I'm guessing you and your team have already been briefed?"
Captain Summers nodded. "We've been given the basics. I'm also under orders to allow you to lead the team, unless you specifically turn control back to myself."
Haden sighed and nodded. "Okay, as soon as your team is ready to go, we'll head out."
The girl gave a slight nod to a thin-looking twelve-year-old boy that was standing next to her. The boy, for his part gave a hand signal, and the rest of the entire team had jumped to their feet and fell into a 5 by 2 formation. "We're ready to go now, sir."
"Nice," Haden smiled. "In that case, Daileass can you teleport us to the safe zone coordinates we had come up with earlier?"
"Stand by guys, need to make a small adjustment to the satellite that is covering that area," Daileass stated. "Okay, got her. Teleporting in three..."
Fifteen kids appeared in a small slightly-sloped wooded clearing. As soon as they appeared, after taking a brief moment to survey the immediate area to ensure that it was how they expected it to be, Haden hoped that this strike team was aware of the signals they had been trained with on the training planet, as he gave the signal for the team to spread out and secure the immediate area.
As the team was spreading out and taking positions around the clearing. Haden was motioning for Yuri to get down with him at one side of the clearing. Barrett, Hack, and Edgar instinctively took up positions next to Haden as well.
From their perspective, they were on a hill looking down. Through the trees, they could see what appeared to be a rather large ranch. There were a number of pastures that were all well maintained and fenced in with bright white fencing. In the center of the ranch was a three story house with two large horse barns. One to the side of the house, and another behind it. Four pick-up trucks were parked outside the house.
Near the house and barns themselves, Haden could see at least three men casually walking around holding semi-automatic guns. Around the perimeter of the ranch, he was able to spot at least four two-man teams evenly spaced out, patrolling the grounds.
"Do you get the feeling they don't want anyone entering?" Barrett asked.
Edgar shook his head. "No, the way they are positioned, they are keeping people in."
"You got away from this place?" Haden asked as he looked toward Yuri in surprise.
Yuri nodded. "I guess they thought it would be cool to tie me up to one of the horses and to let one of the studs mount it with me in the way."
Haden cringed with inner disgust.
"Fortunately, something spooked the horse I was tied to, and it got away from it's handler and jumped one of the electric fences, and just kept running. We were probably a good three miles away before my bindings were loose enough, and it finally slowed down enough for me to risk letting go."
"The entire area is secure," Captain Summers stated as she crouched down near Haden. "From this vantage point, it shouldn't be hard to target specific teleport points and for Daileass to port us in hot. I don't care how many guards they have, they won't be anything to my guys, especially with us having the element of surprise."
Both Haden and Edgar shook their heads. "There are way too many unknowns," Haden began. "Going by what Yuri has told us, they have armed goons inside as well. As soon as the first shots are fired outside, there is nothing to say they won't open fire on the kids inside."
The captain nodded her head. "Do you have a better idea?"
Haden thought for a few moments. "Daileass, can you get me thermal with the satellite you have watching us?"
"Negative," Daileass replied through Haden's comm badge. "A thermal equipped satellite with the resolution we would need will not be in a usable position for two hours and forty-eight minutes."
"Too long," Haden shook his head. "I'm guessing our suit cameras won't work."
"If you were standing directly outside of the house, I might be able to get limited thermal, but otherwise no." Daileass answered.
"Okay, that out," Haden sighed. "Somehow we need to get someone inside, but that's going to be next to impossible."
"Not necessarily," Hac stated, pulling Haden and the other's attention. "I could do it."
Haden shook his head. "Besides the fact that you don't have any gear, they are not going to let a geared up kid in there even if you did."
"Daileass?" Hac asked, "Are you able to interface with my sub-durmal communicator?"
"Stand by, Hac," Daileass replied. "Yes, KLAUS has given me the means to accomplish that."
"Then I have everything I need," Hac stated confidently.
Before Haden could say anything else, Barrett spoke up. "There are things about Hac that you guys are not aware of. If he says he can handle it, I believe him."
"Unless you happen to be bullet and knife proof, I don't see how..." Haden began to say before he saw just how serious of a look Barrett was giving him. "Okay fine, let's work with that. How do we get him in without raising too much suspicion. Given that we are out in the middle of no-where, I doubt they are just going to invite a random kid in that just happens to walk up to the gate."
"Actually, they might," Yuri commented, drawing Haden's attention. "Every now and then a van or a truck would drive up to the front gate and literally push out a kid or two before driving off."
"They would just push them out? They didn't collect any payment or anything?" Edgar asked.
Yuri shook his head, "Not that I've ever seen or any of the other kids that had been outside when it happened had seen."
"They may have had some pre-arrangements or something," Haden shrugged. "But that sounds like a good way to go. I'm sure Daileass being the incredibly awesome super intelligent computer that he is could find us a van somewhere."
"As a matter of fact, I already have one," Daileass replied.
"Can you tell us anything else about the likes of the guys that are running this?" Edgar asked.
"You mean besides their fascination with animals?" Yuri asked with a clear tone of disgust. "Well, sometimes they would dress some of the younger kids up in pink leotards. I guess one of the guys really has a thing for boys in pink, or something like that."
Haden, Barrett, and Edgar all looked at Hac at the same time. "Oh, hell no! There is no way you are getting me near one of those things!" Hac adamantly protested.
"I don't know Hac, I think a pink leotard would go great with that red hair of yours, and all those cute red freckles," Barrett said as a huge grin filled his face.
"Hey Daileass?" Haden asked with an equally large grin on his face.
Captain Summers, for her part, simply lowered her head while shaking it slowly. Silently she wondered what she had done to Logan that might have pissed him off enough to subject her and her team to this.
A few minutes later, Hac's face looked completely resentful as he stood dressed in a bright pink leotard, and a pair of loose white gym shorts.
"I hate to say this, but he actually looks pretty hot in that," Edgar commented with a smile.
Barrett nodded. "If I only knew how hot you looked in pink a few thousand years ago."
"Watch it... sir," Hac half-growled, but still gave a slight smile at seeing Barrett's reaction, just to let him know he was still fine with going through with this.
"Okay, you know what you need to do, right?" Haden asked seriously. "The only thing we need is to figure out where the kids are in relationship to any armed men so we can figure out the best way to isolate and protect them."
Hac nodded in understanding. "I'll try to remember that."
"Both Daileass and KLAUS will be keeping a lock on you and will be pulling you out at the first sign of trouble," Haden continued.
"KLAUS knows better than that," Hac replied. "And your Daileass better not either, unless I call for it."
Haden nodded as Captain Summers walked up. "Okay, I have four strike team members at the staging point with the van, they will drive up to the gate with it, push Hac out and drive back."
"That sounds perfect," Edgar jumped in. "After you've driven out of view, Daileass will teleport the van back to the palace."
As soon as the captain nodded her head in understanding, Haden looked back toward Hac. "Are you sure you are up to this?"
"Oh, the plan for the mission will be a walk in the park," Hac nodded. "But you better be sure that they will pay dearly for me having to wear this."
All the boys around, as well as Captain Summers smiled and nodded in understanding. Although he didn't look overly built for an eleven-year-old, something in Hac's voice lead them to believe that he was deadly serious.
"Okay, let's do this," Haden stated.