Memories Part 3: And A Child Shall Lead Them

Chapter 13: Intermission One:

Note from AC:

Note: This chapter takes a small break from the Alligator Alley rescue series. Orlando is not immune to the post-battle shockwaves, and it seems fitting that we get to see their side at this point.

Orlando: Teri's house:

"Aunt Helen?" George asked over the dining room speakers. "Did Momma Teri tell you that she was expecting company?"

"No, why?" Helen replied as she finished prepping the pot roast for later that night.

"I just allowed her brother Mitch, his wife, and eight kids through the front gate." George explained. "I directed them to the main entry of Momma Teri's house."

"Thank you, George, I'll take it from here!" Helen said as she tore off her apron. "Have your Uncle Austin meet me at the front door."


Mitch Kearney gave a low whistle as the rented van rounded the last corner and he got his first view of his sister's new house. "She wasn't joking about it being huge!" he commented to his wife Harriet.

"From the way she's explained things, since Cory recovered she needs it!" Harriet smiled. "Boys, wake up, we're at Aunt Teri's house."

The grumbles, whines, and moans from the back seats told them their young passengers were untangling from each other and returning to reality. Mitch pulled around the circular drive, coming to a stop in front of what was obviously the main entry. By the time the van was turned off, half of the occupants were already outside, rubbing sleep from their eyes and squinting at the house in front of them.

"Dad, that's bigger than the hotel we stayed at last night!" fifteen-year old Harold, who preferred the nickname 'Hal', commented.

"I hope there's better food." nine-year-old Foster muttered.

"Lots better!" Alec McCarthy said as he came out the front door of the house. "Hi Uncle Mitch and Aunt Harriet, I'm Alec. Aunt Teri's having tea with the Queen over at Windsor Castle, so my Mom's gonna help y'all get settled while we let Aunt Teri and Grandma Lizzy know all y'alls here."

Mitch barely withheld his chuckle as all eight boys fell silent, their mouths hanging open in shock. "Nice to meet you, Alec. Once we get the necessities out of the van, where should I park it?"

"Don't worry about that," Alec grinned. "Everything's gonna be put up in the family wing until you pick your suites. The van'll be parked in the garages by Aunt Teri's new Duisenberg. You own it now; I called the rental company and made the arrangements on my way out. Has everyone got everything they want right away from the van?"

"I need to grab my purse," Harriet responded as she turned to the van. The boys quickly scrambled for their iPods and iPads, then re-formed into a group.

"I think we're set," Mitch said, inwardly chuckling at the thought of this boy calling a rental company and buying a vehicle from them. After counting heads three times, he added "Looks like the natives are all accounted for."

"Okay," Alec grinned as he tapped his commbadge. "George, could you please park the van? Ask Andy to help you make sure you've got everything upstairs."

"On it, boss!" George replied as the van vanished from behind the group. Mitch noticed it out of the corner of his eye, and spun around in shock. "WHAT...?"

The universal shock on everyone's faces as they realized the van had just vanished told Alec that he'd accomplished his intent. "Now that y'all's seen an example, I can give you a heads-up on some stuff and you'll believe me," he said seriously.

Mitch nodded his head. "I think that made a point. I'm not sure exactly what kind of point, but it sure made one. What just happened?"

"Since the last time you visited, Cory and Sean have made friends with some really advanced people," Alec explained. "This isn't just our home, this is the central Headquarters for Family Clan Short of Vulcan. You just heard me talking to George, he's our base AI; he's just as human as the rest of us, but his body is an advanced computer instead of flesh and blood."

"Yeah, and I'm still trying to decide if the troublemaker talking to you is my little brother or my big brother!" George interrupted, using the outdoor speakers on the front of Teri's house to be heard.

"Definitely your big brother, brat!" Alec giggled before continuing. "Before you were fifteen feet inside the gate, George had already ran the vehicle tags and verified the identity of all of the occupants. He just teleported the van into the garage, and as Andy gets it unloaded he'll put your things upstairs the same way. By the time you go to bed tonight, you'll have met kids who have been abused, kids who have been genetically manipulated, and even possibly kids from other planets. Like I said before, not only is this home, but it's the heart of Clan Short. Everyone that lives here is multi-lingual, the wild animals that you'll see wandering around are all safe, and even the youngest kids have the authority to step in to protect a child from harm. George monitors everywhere on the base, so if you have questions or need assistance all you have to do is say his name. If he can't help you, he'll grab one of us who can. If he doesn't, I'll find a ferret to visit his core."

"Hey! No need to get nasty!" George whined.

"I was just reminding you who has seniority, brat." Alec grinned. "Anyone have any questions?"

"Is there anyplace off-limits?" Harriet asked.

"Just Cory and Sean's bedroom!" Alec giggled. "Seriously, if there's something happening that you're not cleared for, George will tell you where to avoid. He controls access into secure areas, so if you're not on the list you just won't get in. Later on, Andy and me'll give y'all a tour and make sure you're entered into the system."

The explanation was interrupted by Foster exclaiming "Mom! Look! KITTENS!".

Alec looked down, and saw a mother cat being followed by eight little kittens. "Hi Fuzzy! You drew the 'welcome wagon' straw?" he giggled.

"Meeow wrwawwarr purrrrrr," Fuzzy replied. (Translation: It is time for my children to chose their pet human.)

Alec grinned as he purred permission to proceed, not that his opinion actually mattered to a feline. As the kittens evaluated the boys, Alec commented "Strange things like this happen too; the boys are about to get kittens. More accurately, the kittens are choosing their pet boy"

"Did you TALK to her?" Mitch asked in shock, pointing at Fuzzy.

"Yep; multi-lingual applies to quite a few animal species!" Alec replied. "It comes in handy, too; nobody expects an animal to be able to catch somebody in the act of abuse. We had a kid just over a week ago that had issues with adults and was blackmailing them. One of the deer that visits here stumbled on the kid setting up his scout leader; the deer tipped us off, and now the kid is serving mandatory rehabilitation. We managed to clear all but one of the adults from any possible charges; the one adult that did go to court went on charges that weren't related to kids."

Mitch nodded. "That makes sense, now." He glanced over and chuckled as he found all eight boys now holding kittens. Some of the kittens were playing 'swat' with their new friends while laying in the crook of their arms, while the rest were content to lay there while their boy petted them.

Fuzzy came over to Alec, getting his attention by firmly swatting his leg. Figuring the next swat might include claws, Alec quickly knelt down and had a quick conversation with Fuzzy. Once she was satisfied that he understood, she rubbed her head on his knee then darted into the bushes by the door.

"What was all that about?" Harriet asked.

"Instructions for me to give Mom on their dinner tonight." Alec replied with a half-smile. "Steamed salmon soaked in warm milk for the kittens, and she wants fresh salmon on the back deck." 

 "Expensive tastes, I see!" Mitch laughed.

"Not really," Alec shrugged. "We've got a cellular map of Timmy's pet salmon, Waldo, stored in the replicator. Since salmon are a popular food with the meat-eating animals, it makes sense to be able to give them something healthy while they visit."

Mitch shook his head in wonder. Alec grinned back, and said "Follow me, Mom's gonna meet us in Aunt Teri's family room."

The group followed Alec, making it as far as the main entry foyer before once again coming to a halt. The reason this time was the response to what they found in the center of the room; the glass sculpture of Teri, Cory, and Sean that Josiah had made.

"AWESOME!" eight-year-old Lenny exclaimed as he examined the artwork. "Look! You can even see the holes under the shoelaces!"

"I see that Josiah's artwork got its usual reception!" Doc Austin chuckled as he walked in from the house side of the foyer. "Hello, I'm Doctor Austin Michaels. I'm Teri's Medical Director, and the resident token sane parent. I've heard a lot about you, but Teri never said anything about you having this many kids. Is it a genetic thing with your family to collect strays?"

Mitch shook his head. "Nice to meet you, Doctor Michaels. I'm not to sure what's going to happen with some of this mob; right now I'm just waiting for things to calm down enough for the local social services to be able to check on them."

Before Doc Austin could reply, Alec shifted gears, his tone giving no doubt as to his authority as he stated "George, interface with Ark and pull genetic trace. Also, who's next in the leech pool?"

"Yist, and he says that you'll pay for that later," George replied. "He'll meet you in the family room, and Ark is processing the genetic traces. My initial reports suggest that at least one adoption proceeding will be required."

"Thanks, George," Alec replied. He turned to Doc Austin, and in a very bad British accent added "Lead the way, kind Sir."

"You still have time to run if you want to," Austin quipped to Mitch and Harriet. "Otherwise, follow me, please."

The youngest of the group didn't follow the doctor. Jolee instead went to investigate a noise he had heard from a door to the side of where they all were. His little five year old curiosity had been aroused. Then, once the door was open, his wonder kicked in. "WOW!" he yelled, standing stock still in the doorway. "DDDDAAAAAADDDDDD! LOOKIT!"

He moved back slightly, and mist crept around his feet as a golden filly colt with a shining horn between her eyes poked her head around the door to look at them all. A soft whinny came from her, and she pawed at the ground with her fore-hoof as she turned back to look at the little boy.

Harriet stared first at the golden creature, then at Austin. "Unicorns? Can you...?"

"Explain?" the doctor finished. "In short, these guys turned up at the Battle of London. They are now revealed to the world again, and we're getting the message out as fast as possible, for telling these beauties what not to do is harder than stopping Cory and Sean from keeping everyone awake at night." Grinning, he then looked over at the Alanakon. "Come on out, sweetie. Let them all..."

He couldn't finish, for the filly had decided to pick Jolee as her own boy, and simply did what her kind did. She thrust her horn through the boy's heart.

Mitch, Harriet and the others (bar Austin, who had had this happen to himself not 10 minutes before they had arrived) screamed or yelled and started forward to rescue the little boy.

They need not have worried, for, with tears streaming down his face, Jolee was none-the-worse-for-wear once the horn was removed. Instead, he looped his arms around the filly, whispered, "Daisy", and sobbed into her neck. "My Daisy!" he cried.

As the filly nuzzled the boy she looked at the rest, and pictures and images filled their minds. It was as if she was telling them that 1) she had only been born an hour ago and 2) if they hurt HER BOY she would call the Lonely One to sit on them and 3) They REALLY REALLY REALLY didn't want that. Oh, and she loved the boy, and thought they were nice, and could she have a sugar lump, please?

"And so the insanity begins..." Austin quipped with a grin. "Daisy, please bring your boy with us, and we'll get comfortable in the family room."

"What just happened?" Mitch exclaimed, trying to get his heartbeat down into the three-digit range.

"Your son was just chosen to bond with a member of a species that predates all of known history, including the history of most of the Federation's member planets." Austin explained. "For the rest of his life, he'll share that bond with Daisy. We won't discuss what will happen if someone tries to abuse him... the Alanakon do not take kindly to their charges being injured."

"Ain't that the truth!" Alec giggled as he passed Jolee some sugar lumps he'd requested from George. "Take the legends of unicorns and pegasus, throw them in a pile, and pull out the believable stuff. What's left is probably pretty close to the truth!"

The stunned group followed Alec and Austin down the hall into a large room. The room was the size of a small house, with leather couches and overstuffed chairs spread throughout. The television on the wall could have easily doubled as a starship viewscreen. (Probably because that's what it actually was!) Shelves on the walls contained various knick-knacks, art projects obviously created by multiple youth, and a selection of movies, games, and music. One wall was nothing but pictures of those that Teri called family, with various musical instruments stored near one of the corners.

As Austin motioned for the family to take seats, Helen and Yist joined them, Helen smiling as she saw Daisy nuzzling Jolee.

"Good morning, everyone. I'm Teri's housekeeper, Helen McCarthy," Helen stated. "Please relax; Yist here is handling your questions about Social Services right now. Teri said to tell you she'll be here as fast as possible."

"Aunt Helen, I am to tell you that if Aunt Teri finds her sister calling herself a housekeeper again, that you will be required to teach Sean to cook." Yist injected with a straight face.

"Is that even possible?" Harriet chuckled.

"NO!" Alec, Austin, Yist, Mitch, and half of the rest of the group yelled.

Helen shook her head with a smile. "That boy is the only person I know that needs pre-sweetened cereal because he'll screw up adding sugar."

"I'll second that!" Cory's voice suddenly announced. Everyone turned towards it, and saw what had appeared to be a decorative arch between two windows was now glowing. Cory was now standing just this side of it, while they could see a group of people assembling to join him just inside the archway. The room they were coming from appeared to be very ornate; almost as if it was the private chambers of royalty.

"CORY!" the blond seven-year-old twins Martin and Walter exclaimed as they launched themselves over the back of a couch and tackled their favorite cousin. The smiles on all three faces made it clear to those who didn't already know that Cory and the twins were extremely close.

"Hey Twerps!" Cory giggled as he wrestled the twins into a cuddle. His giggles turned into laughter as two little kittens pounced him once it was safe to do so.

Teri led the rest of the group through the arch, muttering "some things never change" as she made her way around the pile on the floor. Jamie and Jacob were with her, and as soon as she sat down they both took places on her lap. "Please excuse me for not greeting everyone normally; right now this trio of angels needs my support." As she spoke, Beau joined his boyfriends on her lap.

Before Mitch or Harriet could reply, Yist interjected a thought that had just hit him. "Three brothers who are one, listen to the words of the Great Spirit. Those you love as Fathers were called to the Happy Hunting Grounds to places of Honor at the Great Spirit's right hand. Honor that which was given you by them by ensuring others feel the Love that was given you. Grieve but do not fall to despair; by the Promise made by the Mother of the Nexus you three shall take your rightful place in the Nexus as will your brother. Know that you rest in the Arms of the Great Spirit as you honor your parents."

Beau looked up, obviously speaking for the three of them. "We understand and shall follow your vision, Shaman. We thank you for your wisdom."

Yist nodded, knowing words were not needed. He then turned to Cory, who had just regained his feet. "Patriarch, once all are seated I shall perform introductions and report on the status of those needing help."

"That will be acceptable, Yist." Cory replied, the tone of Yist's voice telling him things were about to get interesting... again.

Everyone found seats, except Yist, then he began. "For those who know me not, I am Yist, son of Antonio and Byron, Shaman of the Tribe Short of the Seminole Nation. By the Gifts of my birth, I know of you all and shall introduce you."

Pointing to the person referred to as he spoke, Yist started with the visiting family. "This is Mitch Kearney, son of Franklin Kearney and Wilma, Brother of Teri and Fawn. His wife is Harriet Kearney, daughter of James Hatch and Mira, sister of Julie and Nancy. Their sons are Harold, known as Hal, age fifteen, Martin and Walter, age seven, and Jolee, age five. With them are their cousins Foster Watkin, age nine, son of Jack Lane and Julie, and Lenny Klaus, age eight, son of Horace Reid and Fawn. Accompanying them are the friends of Martin and Walter. The first is Franklin Harris, age seven, son of Terrance Harris and Fatina. The second is Dwight Jones Jr., age seven, son of Dwight Jones Sr. and Patricia."

Cory could feel his muscles tense at the detail Yist was providing. This wasn't a normal introduction, which meant he was more than likely going to be showing his hand to his family before he'd really like to. The tone of Yist's voice and his posture said more to those who knew the signs than a flashing neon sign could; Yist had found information that was about to turn somebody's life upside-down, and he wasn't happy about what he'd found.

Turning to the group that had just came through the arch, Yist continued. "This is Her Royal Cuddliness, Grandma Lizzy." His introductions were interrupted by a forced cuddle / tickle session by Grandma Lizzy for his 'cheeky' introduction.

Once suitably tickled, he continued with a grin. "This is Princess Aunt Teri, and on her lap is Prince Jamie, Jacob, and Beau. Buried under the little ones next to Aunt Teri is Cory, Patriarch of Family Clan Short. The redhead on his shoulders is his son Timmy, and the eagle helping Timmy spike his daddy's hair is William. Next to Cory is his husband Sean and their son Pauly. The big kitten washing Sean's face is Wacko. Trying to find a safe spot are Doc Austin, Aunt Helen and her son Alec. The cute unicorn is Daisy, Bonded of Jolee."

Before another word was said, the Triple Terror scrambled off of Teri's lap, ominous growls issuing from deep within their throats. With a war-screech, Timmy hopped off of Cory's shoulder, and Alec ran out of the room. "Intel Condition Yellow. Stand by for extraction." Jamie, Jacob, and Beau stated in perfect unison.

Following his gut instincts by the reactions of those who obviously knew the facts, Cory immediately stated "Command Override. Headquarters to Condition Orange, all departments. Medical stand by for emergency deployment."

"Acknowledged, Patriarch," George replied. "Headquarters, Set Condition Orange! This is not a drill, stand by for emergency extraction assistance. Medical prepare for emergency transport as needed."

Jamie, Jacob and Beau locked eyes with Cory, asking without words why he just upgraded the alert.

Cory gave them a small smile. "Like Julio says, 'no Butterflies' little bros. Things are really unstable still; be careful and come back home in the same condition you left in."

Jamie nodded. "So you upgraded to keep us safe?"

Cory nodded. "Yep, I love all three of you; I will NOT let anything happen to you if I can stop it. You're my favorite triple-threat."

"Why?" all three asked in perfect unison, the tone showing the emotional needs all three felt as one.

"Because 'I' ... 'LOVE' ... 'YOU'!" Cory stated with assurance, emphasizing every word as he kept his eyes locked on the trio. Despite the promise that all the empaths had made to the trio to not use their empathic skills to help, Cory sent his love out to all three to prove his point.

Jacob spoke as all three smiled. "I'm tellin' Ty that you cheated. I guess we were wrong, we do kinda need to feel you empaths. We love you too, bro."

"Told ya!" Cory stated with a grin. "You gotta swear, no Butterflies, or you stay here."

"Okay, I swear, no butterflies!" all three said in unison, their voices sincere.

"You can go, thanks bros," Cory said as he nodded, knowing that all three were sincere in their promise.

Seconds later, Alec returned with Mark Owens. Alec was now in a green-black skinsuit with a hooded green cloak. In his hand was a phaser that bore no resemblance to any issued by Starfleet. Mark was in solid black, all but his face being covered. His waist contained a small armory, and the VSO emblem on his uniform clearly sent the message that someone was about to regret living. Once they came to a stop, Timmy joined them, William landing on his shoulder. Timmy seemed to flicker for a second, then stabilized in full Seminole war-dress with war-paint coming online.

"Oh shit!" Cory and Teri exclaimed in unison. Timmy's little group had been recognized by Chief Tecumseh as being organized enough to form their own Tribe within the Seminole Nation. Based on his actions in Montana and during the Battle of Earth, Chief Tecumseh had officially installed Timmy as Chief of his own Tribe while visiting to establish what assistance Camp Little Eagle would need to provide in the U.K. post-attack. The war-dress they now saw made it clear that Timmy was taking whatever was happening very seriously.

The group preparing to leave seemed to concentrate for a minute, then Mark turned to Timmy and William on his shoulder. "Intel briefing complete. We are ready to deploy, Chief Soaring Eagle."

"The order is given." Timmy stated seconds before the group vanished.

Outside 19 Flower Lane, Greenwich, CT:

"Power up, Red." Timmy ordered as soon as they appeared. The house was fairly isolated, considering the area. "Alec, you have rear cover, take William. Mark, take the front. Jamie, Jacob, and Beau stay behind me until we've neuterized any threats."

Alec nodded before having George transfer him into the back yard behind a shed. William flew over the house, keeping Timmy updated mentally.

At Timmy's nod, Mark led the group to the front door. He rang the bell, just on the chance things would go easy. Seconds later, the door was opened by a man built like a pro football lineman. "Hello, boys. Can I help you?"

Mark smiled a very fake smile. "Hello, Mr. Jones. I am Venus, Vulcan Special Operations. I require a conversation with your son Dustin immediately."

"He's not here..." the man started to reply before collapsing on the floor, screaming as he grabbed his head.

"It's not nice to lie to the VSO." Mark noted. "You got it, Prince?"

"Yeah, incoming." Beau stated.

Both Timmy and Mark got the dump. Timmy looked at Mark with fire in his eyes. "I'll tell Marjur to espact lunch. You can prepare the appytizer."

Mark nodded. "Dwight Jones Senior, I find you guilty of being a self-serving, sadistic, overbearing child-raping prick in violation of the Safe Haven Act and sentence you to death." Before the words had finished sounding, Mark detached a dagger from his toolbelt and sent it home in the defendant's heart.

The last thought that went through Dwight Jones' mind as he stared at the hilt sticking out of his chest was 'What is that red stuff?'. Seconds later, his tattered mind, destroyed by the complete extraction done by Jamie and Jacob, went numb as the Sehlat-friendly nerve agent that was released by the dagger's impact shut down his neural pathways.

As soon as Mark retrieved his dagger, wiping it clean on the man's clothes, Timmy ordered George to pick-up the body and deliver it for a Sehlat snack. Once Jamie, Jacob, and Beau indicated their was no indication of higher life-signs inside the house, the team made quick work of checking all of the rooms for any evidence that might be useful. Once they were all satisfied, Mark got Timmy's permission to have the house sealed by George until the rescuees could claim any belongings they wanted. All five headed out the kitchen door, unsure at what they would find next due to the intel the Tripe-Threat had got from the former head-of-house.

Out in back of the house, Alec had stunned the rather large woman who ran out of the back door when the invasion started. When the rest of the group joined him, he was keeping himself occupied by bouncing pebbles from the path off of her ample stomach. "I got the all-clear from Jamie." he stated with a grin at the look Mark was giving him.

"I'll accept that." Mark grinned. "Anything in there we don't already know, guys?"

"Add murder times six." Jamie growled. "Sehlat main course, bro."

Timmy nodded at Mark, who simply reached down and twisted her neck into a position it wasn't designed to go to. "George, another tagged for Marjur's lunch. Take it away."

The body in front of them vanished, just as the smell of the body releasing waste matter post-death reached their noses. Timmy, Jamie, Jacob, and Beau took off at a trot, following up on something Beau had picked up on.

"Got them both delivered." George replied. "I've got satellite on your location now. I'll handle outside security while you handle recovery."

"Acknowledged." Mark replied. He motioned to Alec, and both of them hurried to catch up with Timmy and the triple-terror, who were almost to the shed. Just as they caught up, Timmy vaporized the door to the shed, a grim look on his face.

The next thing to go was a steel plate on the shed floor, which had been concealing a wood staircase. The group went down the stairs and found a wet room under the shed, with one lone living occupant. Four bodies in the corner gave a grim clue as to the chances of that occupant surviving.

Mark had to use all of his VSO training to avoid getting sick. Strapped to a wooden bench was a small twelve-year-old boy, stripped nude with obvious signs of forced sex and whipping.

"Get out! If they catch you, they'll kill you!" the boy croaked.

"Kinda hard to do when they both just got sent to their final Judgement." Alec said calmly as he started cutting off locks with his phaser. "Take any movement slow until we can get you some medical help, Dustin."

Dustin stared at Alec in shock. Mark turned on his camera, mouthing to his subvocal "Ark, please try to identify these four bodies. Let George know anything you find, he'll handle notifying the proper people."

<I have the samples. Thank you, Mark.>

Timmy turned to the threesome. "Unca Jamie and Unca Jacob, you fix his head an' I'll help Beau fix his ouchies."

Jamie and Jacob went to work on their own version of a 'Healing', while Beau began tracing the welts and open sores on Dustin. All three N-Gens eyes glowed blue, and the halo around Timmy's arm made it clear that his contact with Beau was feeding energy from Red to assist in the healing.

After a few minutes of work, the outside of Dustin's body looked much better. Admitting to himself that there were some things he couldn't do, and following his gut feeling that even Antonio would be overwhelmed, Beau tapped his commbadge. "Ark, may I please have a Medbot for a consultation? I'll need Antonio here too."

<Both of them will arrive shortly.>

Antonio arrived first, his tricorder active the second he spotted Dustin. "Good job, Beau, you stabilized him better than I could," Antonio commented a few seconds later. "Wait until I get my hands on whoever did this...."

"They's Sehlat munchies already, Unca 'Tonio. Marjur is snackin'." Timmy stated.

"Poor Sehlat. Send him to me so I can give him something for the indigestion." Antonio grumbled. "Septic contamination, liver and spleen over seventy percent destroyed, and resistant toxins in the bone marrow. Please tell me he's an only child."

The Medbot had appeared while Antonio was rambling, and stated "I detect the same. Doctor, this patient needs to be transferred to the Archnanian Medical Center. Any siblings should also be tested."

"He has a brother at Headquarters." Alec informed the pair.

Antonio nodded. "Ark, notify Cam that I am extending Condition Orange to Archnanian Medical Services. Once acknowledged, please activate CSNIC protocol with Archnania. Medical priority, Dimensional Loop authorized. When active, please take all of us and this boy's brother directly to the Medical Center."

<I have upgraded alert status for all involved parties. CSNIC was already activated since I thought you would say that. I have invited Klaus into the network. He has access to some modifications to medical procedures that I have not incorporated into the Medbot Database.>

"Thanks, Ark," Antonio replied. "Teleport as soon as everything is ready."

Seconds later, the group vanished from the shed. In their place, three Dragon Division operatives appeared, and immediately began the task of collecting all evidence to insure that every person involved was dealt with.

Teri's house:

Cory and Teri had just finished explaining what happened when Ark's voice came over the room speakers.

<Cory, Antonio has activated CSNIC protocol for a medical emergency. He has requested Dwight be delivered for medical examination. Archnanian Medical and my medical are mirroring the Headquarters Condition Orange.>

"Give me a second, Ark. Thanks!" Cory replied, the news that Archnania was now at elevated security causing a knot to form in his stomach. He turned to the group sitting across from him. "Antonio's our Clan doctor, and he doesn't ask for exams like this without good reason. Uncle Mitch, you can stop worrying, Dwight will be with the rest of the guys that left here. Dwight, I think you're gonna get to visit a place that very few humans ever get to see."

"Is Dusty gonna be okay?" Dwight asked.

"I think so; Antonio doesn't call in the big guns unless he's sure." Cory replied honestly. "You'll get to see yourself, since he asked for you to join them."

"Whadda I gotta do?"

"Just stand up," Cory replied, "Ark will take you where you need to go."

Dwight stood, and then vanished. Once he was gone, Ark spoke up. <Cory, the group will join you once Dustin has his new clothes. They have experienced a week, and both boys were healed successfully.>

"Ark? Have you been taking lessons from Dilly?" Cory giggled with relief.

<We have compared notes. I find him fascinating.>

Cory bowed his head, shaking it in disbelief. "Tyne's gonna kill me!"

<Doubtful. Tyne has developed a dislike for swimming in the North Atlantic for some reason.>

Deciding that ignorance was the best defense, Cory just grinned. "Thank you, Ark."

"I'd better get those cookies I baked earlier!" Helen chuckled. "Heaven knows what shape those boys are in with no cookies for a week."

"Please have George check on flavors for shakes, Aunt Helen. I think all of us kids could use one about now." Cory said, his face daring the adults to argue. "Could you do up a couple of specials for the birthday twerps here? Yesterday was their seventh birthday."

Helen smiled as the twins responded by snuggling in tighter to Cory's side. It was obvious that they thought their older cousin could walk on water, and Cory's face clearly said that he had no intent of releasing them anytime soon. "I'll be right back." Helen said with a smile. "Tell George what flavors you want, I promise any flavor you ask for I can make. You want the usual, Cory and Sean?"

"Yes please!" both boys replied in unison.

As the assembled group started yelling out their order, Mitch looked at his crew. "I don't know if that's...."

"Stop right there, dear overprotective brother of mine!" Teri chuckled. "First off, once the twins have satisfied themselves that their favorite cousin is safe, I can promise that the entire group is going to be burning calories as fast as they get them. Cory's got himself quite a sizable kingdom going, and I know he's going to show it off. Second is the fact that Dr. McCoy of Starfleet personally reviews the treats we serve to make sure they taste great to the youth while giving them things that support healthy growth. At last count there were over two thousand malnourished kids taken under the wings of Clan Short; every single one of them is recovering and enjoying life as a normal kid due to extra steps like this."

Harriet gave her husband a smug grin. "Teri and I have been exchanging recipes, Mitch. All of you have been eating things developed for her boys since early September. Trust us womenfolk to worry about feeding you animals; you've got your hands full keeping our sons out of trouble."

Noticing the defeated look that flickered across Mitch's face, Doc Austin chuckled. "The Clan Fathers Club meets at ten every night in my office, Mitch. I'll show you where when I give the tour to you and Harriet later; I think you'll appreciate some pointers from those of us that've been where you are right now."

All conversation stopped as the group that had went on the rescue, with a few additions, walked through the doorway. Seeing the look on Cory's face, Antonio escorted the ten-year-old blond holding his hand over to the couch. "Cory, this is one of my new brothers, Dad's biological son Chris. Chris, this is Cory, our Patriarch and one of my best friends."

Unsure as to how to greet the larger-than-life hero he had heard so much about, Chris stuttered "Nice to meet you, Patriarch, Sir."

"Forget the 'Sir'; you're family just like 'Tonio is, Chris. You're becoming a legend yourself; it takes a lot to keep up with your bro there." Cory said with a smile. "I've been waiting to meet you! Once you and the Elf fill us in on your latest successes, both of you park it next to Sean for some kid time."

"He even sounds like a Dad!" Chris giggled to 'Tonio. "Yes, SIR!" he added with a smirk as he sloppily saluted Cory.

Before Cory could reach out to tickle the little imp, Jacob and Jamie got everyone's attention. "Uncle Mitch, Aunt Harriet? It is standard security practice to scan the surface thoughts of any visitors to a Clan installation. We have verified the status of Foster, Lenny, and Franklin. Dwight and his brother Dustin are now under Clan protection after execution of their biological parents under the Safe Haven Act. We have contacted Foster and Lenny's parents on Andoria, and both sets of parents have requested that the Clan proceed with instituting shared custody of their sons. Due to the damage caused by a wide-beam disrupter strike on their workplace, the parents of Franklin are confirmed deceased and have taken up Guardian Angel status over their son. They have requested that you assume custody."

"What?" Mitch exclaimed.

"You really shouldn't sleep through sermons, Uncle Mitch." Mikey said as he appeared in full regalia. "You mighta heard that I'm a Saint now if you'd been awake!"

"BUSTED!" Harry, Jolee, Martin, and Walter giggled in unison.

Mikey smiled at his cousins, then sat down. With a flick of Mikey's wrist, Franklin found himself floating over to land on Mikey's lap.

"Showoff!" Cory and Sean laughed.

Mikey just smiled as his wings wrapped around Franklin, sealing him off from the rest of the room.

At Mitch's still-confused look, Harriet filled him in. "The Archbishop announced this months ago, hun. Saint Mikey of Urbandale, Protector of Gay and Abandoned Youth. I can't believe you missed the fact our sons became instant heroes in Sunday School due to their cousin being a Saint."

Seeing the opportunity, Sean added "Uncle Mitch? Pastor Mills has been certified by the Pope to take confession. You might wanna see him really soon!"

Cory added "He's multi-denominational. Due to the diversity of the Clan, he is certified by multiple denominations to act in a position of authority. It's just like the setup used on the Starfleet ships."

"Why is it that every time I visit, the two of you cause something that requires me to request confession?" Mitch asked.

"We're just that good!" Cory giggled. "I think Pastor Mills even has a 'Frequent Confessor' program for people like you!"

Just then, Mikey's wings opened. Franklin gave Mikey a quick hug, then climbed down with a small smile on his face. "They didn't hurt," he whispered. "They still love me and ain't gonna ever leave me. They said I can love my new family and not lose the love I got for them." Without another word, Franklin walked over to Harriet and quietly took a seat on her lap, cuddling into her as she wrapped her arms around him.

Mikey smiled as he placed a hand on Jamie and Jacob's shoulders. "You're doing awesome, little brothers. I've done what was Needed, the rest is all yours."

"Thanks, bro." they replied in unison as Mikey started to fade.

"You're welcome." Mikey's voice replied.

Before they could start, however, Grandma Lizzy came over and stood in front of them. After looking into their eyes, she stated "I see that Franklin is not the only one Prince Michael has helped. I believe you would be much more effective if you continued this from within a Royal Cuddle along with your Bonded."

For the first time since the battle, Jamie, Jacob, and Beau gave a reply in their favorite annoying way.

"That's..." Jamie started.

"cheating..." Jacob added.

"Grandma." Beau finished.

Despite the lack of giggles that normally followed the display, those that knew the three boys internally sighed with relief. Cory, Sean, and Teri all heard in their heads a message from Mikey; he had diffused the suicidal thoughts of the three boys while they were away, and would be keeping a close watch on them as their brothers helped them heal.

Picking up on the Queen's suggestion, Mitch moved a chair to just behind the two boys. Grandma Lizzy gave him a knowing smile in thanks, then took a seat while motioning for the three boys to join her. Once all three were comfortable, she stated "You may continue, Prince."

Taking her literally, all three boys spoke in unison. "Due to the nature of the placements, Family Clan Short claims full jurisdiction. Due to the seriousness of the situation in regards to two of the boys, it is required that the prospective parents submit to a full telepathic scan, the results of which are to be provided to the Patriarch or his designated representative. This is done not only for the children's safety, but also to identify areas where the prospective parent will require assistance adjusting to the needs of an abused youth. Due to the situation with two of your prospective adoptees, failure to agree to the scan will automatically terminate the process for all involved. Note that all information is confidential unless criminal conduct under the purview of Clan Short is discovered. May we have your permission to begin?"

Before Mitch or Harriet could reply, Teri added "I work under a subset of the laws these boys enforce as Director of Federation Youth Services. They're under direct orders from the Federation Council to handle placements which I would have trouble doing for one reason or another, as well as doing direct interventions. When it comes to placing a child with a family, they follow the rules to the letter, no more and no less. All three of them are certified to Vulcan standards as instructors; their word in court overrides a signed confession throughout the Federation. You can trust them."

"I wasn't going to argue, Sis," Mitch grinned. "Clan Short has been a hot topic at our Knights of Columbus meetings; we even have standing orders from Headquarters to assist whenever possible. Every K of C member has been ordered to involve their family in assisting the Clan. It would have been nice for you to tell us our nephews ran it though; all we knew is that you said they were collecting brothers. That's why I've been shocked every two minutes since we arrived."

"Just how many families with the surname 'Short' have kids named Sean and Cory?" Cory teased.

"Seventy-six." George offered over the speakers. "An interesting note is that all male births since the Battle of Montana to families with the surname 'Short' have either been Sean or Cory unless both names are already given. In all those cases, the male child was named 'Michael'. In one instance, a set of triplets was given all three names."

"I wonder if that constitutes abuse under the SHA?" Antonio quipped with a smirk.

"Don't pick on Cory!" Martin and Walter exclaimed as they pounced from Cory's side and began tickling Antonio. To make things fair, Chris jumped in, turning the pile into a four-way tickle war.

"Please, scan me while I still have sanity!" Mitch said with a shake of his head.

"I agree as well." Harriet added. "Boys, watch out for the table!"

Deciding that they'd restrained themselves long enough to appear innocent, Pauly, Timmy and Wacko joined the tickle war. Figuring his brothers were outnumbered, Jolee jumped in, followed quickly by Foster and Lenny.

"It's less messy than a pillow fight at least." George stated as a padded ring appeared around the wrestling boys and panther.

Finished with both scans, the triple terrors looked over at Cory. Cory shook his head quickly. "That's my Uncle and Aunt! There ain't no way I wanna see whats in their heads! Alec, you're on-deck."

"And you're a chicken!" Alec shot back. "Give me a second." Once he was ready, Alec said "You may proceed, Prince."

After the transfer was completed, Alec reviewed the information. Once done, he announced "You may continue; I detect no outstanding issues."

Jamie and Jacob nodded, leaning back to cuddle their grandma until the tickle war was over. It took almost five minutes to wind down, but shortly there were nine grinning boys and one grinning panther leaning on the walls of their pen, their arms over each other's shoulders. The rest of the room decided it best not to ask how a panther was managing to imitate the rest of the boys.

"We already asked all the boys their wishes while they were having fun." Jamie announced. "All of them are willing to join together as a family, so it's time to make this official. Dustin and Dwight want to wait until Antonio explains their situation, but I'm going to do the rest now. Franklin, do you want Mitch and Harriet to become your new parents?"

"Yeah; Mommy and Daddy already like them." Franklin replied from his perch on Harriet.

"Hal, Jolee, Walter, and Martin? Do you accept Franklin as your brother, equal to each of you?"

"Yep!" all four replied with grins.

"Mitch and Harriet, are you willing to take Franklin into your family and raise him as one of your own?"

"Absolutely." both adults replied in unison.

Beau spoke up. "Franklin, you have the choice of changing your name if you want. You don't have to, but you can."

Franklin nodded. "Daddy told me since I don't have a middle name, I can use my old last name. He said that would make me Franklin Harris Kearney. I like that, I'd have both of my families."

Beau nodded. "George; please update the Family Archive to note the placement of Franklin with his new family and update his name records."

"Done." George replied. "Congratulations Franklin!"

Jacob took over the proceedings. "Foster and Lenny. Both of your families have requested that your Uncle and Aunt be registered as your caregivers under the regulations for offspring of colonists who are unable to live at the colony. We have been informed that your bodies had unfavorable reactions to the climate of Andoria, and failed to acclimate over an extended period of time. If you accept, you will legally have four parents, all equal in the eyes of all Federation worlds."

Both boys nodded. Foster went first. "I'm good; Mom and Dad kinda explained it before they sent me back to Earth."

"Me too." Lenny added. "The doctors there said something about our bodies couldn't regulate in the cold."

"Does anyone have any problems?" Jacob asked.

Everyone shook their heads 'No', so Jacob made it official. Once done, he looked at Antonio. "You're up, Doc."

Antonio stood up, and looked Cory in the eyes. "Before I start, you need to know the Dragon is on the warpath, and they've invited their Starfleet 'friends' to join the party. This is out of your hands, Cor."

Cory nodded as his face paled. The fire in Antonio's eyes could only mean one thing; something happened that made him resort to some advanced procedure for at least one of the boys.

Confident that he'd made his point, Antonio began. "Timmy's squad called me and a Medbot in after they found Dustin. Beau had completed everything he could do to assist Dustin, accelerating his healing to the point of him not bearing any physical scars from the torture he endured. Multiple major internal organs were damaged to the point of non-recovery. In addition, a compound was detected in his bone marrow which degenerates the DNA helix slowly in the core nerve bundles, ultimately leading to a slow death. It was non-detectable by even Federation scanners; Dragon Division has been designated point-of-contact to remedy that situation immediately. This compound has no legitimate use on Earth, and has been added to the Federation banned substance list. The distributers will cease doing business shortly."

As Antonio spoke, Doc Austin began quickly looking up what Antonio was describing by the hints he gave. "HOLY MOTHER OF GOD!" he yelled as he reviewed the data his search had brought up. "WHAT KIND OF SICK SADISTIC BASTARD THOUGHT UP THIS SHIT!"

"The dead kind." Antonio stated flatly. "Never piss off an Elf, it's bad karma."

"It's double-bad when you piss off his brother too." Chris added. "Ark and our new friend Klaus compared notes, and settled on a solution to the issue from about the same timeframe as the procedure that saved Adam. It seems that a learning-enhancement agent from that period had a rare fatal side-effect, one which Klaus had to save his first friend from. Even though the procedure he settled on is still considered experimental, the odds of a fatal rejection are now less than five thousandths of a percent. Using the same scale as was used back then, Dustin was already beginning Stage Three of three in the nerve degeneration; Dwight was being poisoned as well, and was crossing over into Stage Two."

Antonio pulled Chris into a hug, then took over. "The procedure is classified as XR-415. For Dwight, it was all that was needed to undo the damage from the poison. A second procedure neutralized the remaining poison, with the only side-effect being his skeletal structure is now more resilient. Dustin required more extreme measures; there was no one procedure that could repair the damage to his body. After an hour of three of the most powerful AIs known to us running scenarios, we decided to use a procedure we've tagged XR-V-415. I believe everyone that is cleared for the information knows what the 'V' stands for."

Antonio motioned for Dustin and Dwight to join him while he waited for half the room to finish requesting full details over their subvocals. 

Once the shocked faces told him they were up-to-date, he turned to Mitch and Harriet. "Due to the procedures used to save the lives of these two boys, Clan Short will require their adoptive parents to commit to living at one of the Clan Compounds. If you are willing to make that commitment, I will review the unique needs of the boys with you. If not, I will help them find parents who can adapt to their needs."

Mitch exchanged glances with Teri. "Sis, before I put my foot in my mouth, you're giving me 'that look' for some reason. Spill."

"Congratulations, Harriet; you're finally getting him domesticated," Teri quipped. "Mitch, you're getting your first lesson in how my life has changed. Every single youth here is more than they appear; and when it comes to new additions to the group they have no issues putting their foot down. The only one here who can override what Antonio just said is Cory, and I know him well enough to say he agrees totally with what Antonio just stated."

"So the inmates run the asylum? Sounds just like home!" Mitch chuckled. "Seriously, most of the way down here we were discussing the possibility of looking for a place with more room for the boys to run around. The Northeast seems to be getting more crowded every year. I wouldn't feel right imposing on you for the time it'd take to build a house large enough for this group, though."

Mitch was interrupted by Quint suddenly appearing on Cory's lap. "You called?" he asked as the lion cub he was holding pounced Timmy.

Cory shook his head with a grin. "You're supposed to wait until AFTER I think about calling you, little brother!"

"Details, details!" Quint muttered. "Fourteen bedrooms should get them through until Josiah gets back. I handled it last night; the house is next to the Unit barracks. Wheres my cookie?" 

"Special delivery from Aunt Janet!" George announced as a valium bottle the size of a telephone booth appeared in the middle of the room.

"George! Wrong base!" Alden giggled. "That one's for the Hundsers!"

"Ooops!" George giggled as the bottle vanished.

"Aunt Helen should be back with munchies any time now, bro." Cory told Quint. "Thanks for hooking Uncle Mitch and Aunt Harriet up."

Teri smiled. "It looks like one of your new nephews solved that problem, Mitch. I think you need to make your decision, like right now, before Antonio decides you need a physical."

Taking note of the sadistic grin on the miniature doctor, Mitch quickly spoke up. "It looks like I need to start searching for a job here. You haven't changed a bit, Sis; you still get your way one way or another. Yes, we're moving here."

"You already did." Quint stated. "I see which side of the family Sean inherited being thick-headed from."

"Sean's not nearly as bad as Mitch is, Quint," Teri observed with a smirk.

"Teri, your new son is frighteningly observant!" Harriet chuckled. "I like your style, Quint!"

Ignoring the glares from Sean and Mitch, Quint commented "Once I verify your cookie making skills, I'll decide if the feeling's mutual, Aunt Harriet."

"How come he gets away with talking to people like that?" Hal whined.

"Because he's a lot older than you." Teri replied. "After Antonio finishes expanding your family, I'll find out how much Quint wants me to share and how much he wants to keep hidden to screw with your head."

"Mom's been taking lessons from Dad!" Quint semi-whispered to Cory.

Antonio giggled as he turned to Dustin and Dwight. "We already talked about the future; what do you guys think?"

"I think Mitch heads the sane side of the family!" Dwight replied with a grin.

Dustin rolled his eyes. "Way to make an impression, bro. Mitch and Harriet took a chance with the twerp here and ended up saving my life. As long as they can deal with the little guy over there being a grandparent before this twerp grows his first peach fuzz, I'm good to go."

Antonio was glad humans hadn't developed the ability to shoot lasers from their eyes, because Dwight could have easily undone all of the recent hard work with the look he was giving Dustin. "On that subject, I'll give all of you the quick version. Aunt Teri will sit down with anyone who needs details later. Both boys have enhanced nervous systems, including expanded memory and a much larger portion of their brains being available for processing. A side-effect is increased lifespan; this particular procedure has resulted in anywhere from a five-fold increase to a still-counting increase. Nobody has isolated what exactly makes that choice; every person responds differently."

Surprisingly, Mitch and Hal were the only ones in their family not shocked. Mitch looked Antonio in the eyes and asked "How many years have you really been alive, Doctor?" 

Antonio shaded his eyes from the glare of the stack of halos that appeared above Quint's head. "Thirty-six. Why?"

"You're obvious to anyone who knows somebody with your condition." Mitch stated. "You switch ages too much to be android, yet you obviously know more than even a Vulcan nine-year-old could absorb."

Antonio tilted his head, prompting Mitch to continue.

"While you're finalizing our next two sons joining the family, Hal needs to make a call." Turning to Alec, Mitch asked "Is there someplace you can take Hal to call someone who is possibly related to Antonio?"

Alec nodded. "George, authorize Hal for Level Two access. Take us to CIC, assemble an away team for possible pickup."

"Yes, Sir." George replied as both Alec and Hal vanished.

"What am I missing?" Harriet asked. "I'm in agreement on adopting, but what are you and Hal on about?"

"This isn't the first time Hal or me have been involved with extended aging," Mitch explained. "Due to the issues caused in the general public, if you know somebody out in the world that is human but ages very slow, you don't discuss it with anyone. Not even your own family. Both Hal and I have been friends with the same person, under different names. When Sis commented about Quint being older than he looks, a few things that didn't add up about Antonio fell into place. Since Quint's aging, or lack thereof, is an open topic, that told me this is the one place where apparent age is not the definition of skills. We've got a lot of adjusting to do, but Teri's managed to create a little utopia to raise a family in."

"Blame those two!" Teri chuckled as she pointed at Cory and Sean. "I just hang around for the cuddles. They've set the standard for what they want a family to be like."

Before Cory or Sean could protest, Quint clapped his hands. "Bravo, Uncle Mitch! I think I'm going to enjoy testing you."

"And I'm going to enjoy making it difficult on you." Mitch shot back with a grin.

"Even better!" Quint laughed. "Dad's going to be so pissed that I beat him to you!"

Martin and Walter both giggled. "I hope Aunt Teri's got lots of popcorn!" they said in unison. "This'll be fun to watch!"

Quint snapped his fingers, and the couch turned into a huge bucket of popcorn, with him, Cory, and the twins sitting in the middle. "Fresh from the Rimmer's concert hall!" Quint explained as he grabbed a handful and started munching.

Mitch shook his head, deciding it was best not to ask. He got up, then walked over and put a hand on Dwight and Dustin's shoulders. "Dwight, Dustin? You've got two of us in your new family who understand the good side and the bad side of growing slow from knowing someone in your situation. Hal and I are going to help all of the family adjust to some of the differences in how you'll look at things. Mattering on how Hal's call goes, you might have someone else to talk to if Antonio or Quint are not around to help you adjust."

Dustin shook his head like he was trying to clear out cobwebs. "If anybody wakes me up from this dream, I'm gonna kill them."

"Speaking of waking up, you might notice a silverish tint to Dustin's skin occasionally." Antonio noted. "It's normal, as is the silver color of his blood if he gets cut. Dwight will heal faster than normal, and Dustin will heal even faster than Dwight. The internal non-public designation of the human sub-species that Dustin has become is 'Vifer'. There are a few others running around who are Vifer as well, and I'm sure they'll hook up with him as soon as they can."

"Actually," George interrupted, "Nyo has given us all standing orders to notify all Clan Vifers when there is a conversion done. The XR-415 procedure has been added to that requirement, and at least one of the Vifer Clan officers will contact both of the boys tomorrow. They all agree that tonight is for the new family."

"Tell them thanks from all of us," Mitch replied. "I don't want to dwell on differences today, I want to bond with my new sons."

"Good answer, Uncle Mitch!" Cory giggled from the popcorn fight that him, Quint, Mitch, and Walter were in the middle of.

Yist walked over, and notified them "The custody procedure is completed, except for the name decision. I'll get with you tomorrow to sort it out after you have relaxed."

"Just one question, Dustin." Mitch asked. "Guessing how bad you had it by what was done to save you, I would expect you to be really jumpy around adults. Is there something we're doing different that is letting you be more comfortable?"

Dustin grinned. "None of you are butt-ugly, and none of you smell like a dead pig that's been left in the sun for two days. So as long as you take showers and stay away from plastic surgery, you're fine."

"That's what I get for asking!" Mitch chuckled. "You sound just like your Aunt Teri over there did at your age; you tell it like it is no matter what anyone thinks. Watch how she does it now, and don't be afraid to ask her for pointers on how to be more effective with it. Something tells me that skill might come in handy living here."

"You have no idea..." Teri teased.

As Mitch gathered all of his family in the room that were not throwing popcorn to discuss how the sudden growth would affect them, Timmy and Pauly walked over and knocked on the side of the popcorn tub.

"Daddy?" Timmy asked, "Can Pauly an' me do our practicin'?"

"Sure." Cory replied as the other three tried to see how much popcorn his shirt would hold. "If you guys want, you could even play something; the rest of our family ain't heard you. Oh, yeah, since the warpaint is gone, does that mean I can cancel the Condition Orange?"

After giving Cory their patented 'Duhh, parents are stupid' stare, Timmy and Pauly giggled. "Okay Daddy," both munchkins replied, "we can do that."

Cory grinned as he took the hint, ordering "George, stand down from Condition Orange."

Mitch looked over curiously as he saw the two boys heading for some instruments stored along the picture wall out of the corner of his eye. He fully expected someone to yell as the little redhead picked up a very expensive-looking Taylor Custom and put the strap over his tiny shoulder.

Noticing their dad was distracted, the boys looked over at the kid that they heard calling their cousin 'daddy'. He had a tricorder sitting on a stool in front of him, and seemed to be checking the tuning of the guitar. The little blond Vulcan boy was seriously arranging some bongos and tweaking adjustments on an electric drum set. After five minutes, the two munchkins nodded at each other, then Timmy began running scales to warm up.

Once it was obvious that they were not about to have to suffer through a six-year-old playing an off-key version of 'Mary Had A Little Lamb', the new arrivals migrated over to watch the two boys. After fifteen minutes of Timmy running chords and scales with Pauly keeping tempo on the electronic drums, the pair stopped and quietly discussed what they would practice. They both nodded, and Timmy turned to the watching family.

Without introduction, Timmy began strumming the guitar, with Pauly keeping a soft beat on the bongos. As the lyrics began, Pauly softly sang background while Timmy sang lead.

(Verses in {...} are Pauly.)

"Mother, mother;
there's too many of you crying.
Brother, brother, brother;
there's far to many of you dyin'.
You know we've got to find a way,
To bring some lovin', here today, yeahhhahhh.

Father, father;
we don't need to escalate.
You see, war is not the answer,
for only Love can conquer hate.
You know we've got to find a way,
To bring some lovin', here today, ohhhhhh.

Picket lines,
 and picket signs.
Don't punish me,
with brutality.
Talk to me,
so you can see.
Ohhh, what's going on?
{What's goin' on?}
What's going on?
{What's goin' on?}
Ahhh, what's going on?
{What's goin' on?}
Ohhh, what's going on?
{What's goin' on?}

(Right on, brother!)

Mother, mother,
everybody thinks we're wrong.
Ohh, but who are they to judge us?
Simply 'cause our hair is long.
Oh, you know, we've got to find a way;
to bring some understanding here today.
Ohhh woah ohh.

Picket lines,
 and picket signs.
Don't punish me,
with brutality.
C'mon, talk to me,
so you can see.
Ohhh, what's going on?
{What's goin' on?}
Yeah what's going on?
{What's goin' on?}
Tell me, what's going on?
{What's goin' on?}
I'll tell you, what's going on?
{What's goin' on?}
Ohhh, ohhh ohh oh ohhh."

(Marvin Gaye - "What's going on" - 1971 from the album of the same name)

Mitch tried to hide his concern as he joined everyone else in applauding the performance. As the two boys immediately began 'Stairway to Heaven', he pondered how two young tykes could have put such understanding into their vocals, never-mind the fact the Vulcan was definitely singing with feeling.

His thoughts were interrupted as a newly-teen Timmy look-a-like appeared next to the popcorn bucket along with another boy of the same age. The blond of the pair shook his head. "Popcorn? You're weird, Dad! I'm goin' to join the punkettes, they need another guitar."

"Bite me, KC!" Cory laughed.

"Jerry told me to cut down on butter." KC sniggered as he picked up a Taylor twelve-string acoustic. He waited until the next bridge, then joined in with Timmy.

"What about you, Austin?" Cory asked. "You gonna grab a seat?"

Austin grinned. "Nope, I'm gonna warm up a sax. Maybe I can talk these nuts into some old blues."

While KC, Pauly, and Timmy played their song, Austin put on a set of headphones and began warming up on a tenor sax. A sound-canceling dampener was fitted to the bell, so he heard his notes but nobody else heard him.

The three boys went directly into 'Wish You Were Here', with KC taking over on vocals. The fact that Austin was telepathically helping the trio adjust their practice set was unnoticed by all except Jamie, Jacob, and Beau, who had actually chosen this song.

Once the song finished, both KC and Timmy changed guitars while Pauly set up his cajon and added a foot tambourine. Austin switched dampeners from the warmup unit to a practice unit. After checking the tuning of their guitars, Timmy and KC nodded that they were ready. Timmy quietly announced "This last song we ain't played for nobody but our brothers. We's taking it and makin' it more blues, 'cuz we think it fits better."

Austin started it off with a long sax note that seemed to pull at the heart of all listening. Timmy slowly strummed the opening chords, with KC coming in and picking the low notes that identified the song to all who knew it. Timmy took the opening vocals, the emotion in his voice bringing tears to the eyes of the adults.

"They cry in the dark,
so you can't see their tears.
They hide in the light,
 so you can't see their fears. 
Forgive and forget,
all the while.
Love and pain become one and the same;
in the eyes of a wounded child."

KC harmonized the chorus with Timmy, Austin adding a haunting background sax.

"Because Hell;
Hell is for Children.
And you know that their little lives
can become such a mess.
Hell is for Children."

Both KC and Timmy took on dangerous tones for the last chorus lines.

"And you shouldn't have to pay for your love
with your bones and your flesh!"

A wail from the sax accentuated the last statement, then Austin softened his notes as KC led the bridge, bending notes as he played to accentuate the sad tone they were trying for. When the time came, Timmy once again took lead vocals.

"It's all so confusin',
this brutal abusin'.
They blacken your eyes,
then 'pologize."

The disgust was clear in Timmy's voice as he sang the second half of the stanza, mimicking an adult speaking as only a child can.

"Be Daddy's good girl,
and don't tell Mommy a thing.
Be a good little boy,
and you'll get a new toy;
tell Grandma you fell off the swing."

They sang the second chorus, with Pauly adding his voice. Instead of the tempo picking up at the end of it, however, KC and Austin worked together to build a more appropriate bridge to the song's finale. As they reached the end, Austin's sax added the needed punch to the three voices singing in unison.

Hell is for,
hell is for,
 hell is for children.

Hell is for,
hell is for,
hell is for children."

Austin filled in the last bridge with a heartrending sax solo, then joined in on the final vocals.

Hell is for,
hell is for,
hell is for children.

Hell is for children
Hell is for children."

('Hell is for Children' - Pat Benatar)

The only person not wiping tears from their eyes in the room was Quint, instead he popped over to give each of the boys a hug. "That version is going to be a hit on the Inter-Dimensional charts. Don't change a thing." he told the four boys seriously. "I took the liberty of recording it for you, Russ is doing the final mix later."

"That was just a practice, Uncle Quint." Timmy protested softly.

"Sometimes the practice version should be the final, little bro," Austin explained. "That is one of the reasons Russ records us when we're working on songs that are new for Alpha Prime."

"Okay." Timmy said with understanding.

Quint nodded. "So androids do get wiser after five million, six hundred and twenty nine thousand, four hundred and two years of meditation and alien probes."

"Wise-ass!" Austin sniggered.

"I'm staying outta this one!" KC laughed. "Austin, you got these punks while I go keep their cohort from waking up China playing with his skins."

Not in the least bit offended by KC's 'punk' nickname for them, Timmy and Pauly came over and gave him a quick hug. After Austin collected one as well, KC signaled to be teleported back home.

 While Timmy and Pauly handled introducing Austin to everyone, Mitch went over to talk to Teri. "Sis, something worries me. When you're listening to music, you can tell if the musician feels what he or she is singing. Timmy is way too young to even have an idea of what he was singing about, yet I could swear he was singing from experience."

All humor vanished from Teri's voice as she replied bluntly. "Mitch, that boy was six seconds from death when his birth father's car was bombed three months ago. Since then, he has killed at least three people who tried to hurt his family, one of which tried to kill Cory in Montana. He is the first of Cory and Sean's sons, and has helped either save his other brothers or helped them recover from abuse. That boy he's introducing almost died on the operating table; Timmy is directly responsible for him making it that far. Forget everything you 'know' about childhood; there is not a single child in this compound who knows that experience."

"My Adun'a is correct." Spock stated as he walked into the room, Justy effortlessly being carried on his hip. "Once I see to the children who saw action earlier, I shall ensure that you and your family are made aware of the information that you should know as my family. Teri thinks well of you, brother, so I am awaiting the chance to know you more fully."

As Spock was speaking, Hal stuck his head in the doorway. As he looked for Antonio, he noticed the popcorn tub was now gone, and the pile of popcorn seemed to be un-popping, then jumping into bags being held by Cory, Martin, Sean, and Walter. "Antonio?" he yelled before the view in front of him won the fight to run for sanity. "Someone wants to see you before they meet the clowns! Meet me in the Control Room!"

Antonio giggled as he grabbed Chris' hand. "We'll be right back for the poker game in my head, Uncle Spock! We playing for cookies as usual?"

"I find your willingness to lose cookies very illogical, Antonio." Spock replied. "Despite that, I shall look forward to replenishing Sa'ren's supply with your losses."

"Dream on!" Antonio giggled as him and his brother ran from the room.

Ignoring the jab, Spock noticed Quint 'cleaning up' the popcorn. "My son, if you are awaiting treats, Helen will provide them momentarily. She is preparing to resume the interrupted celebration of your twin cousin's birthdays. The attack on Earth disrupted the first attempt."

"A Clan birthday party?" Quint grinned. "Those are more fun than the time Levi and I played pool with an occupied asteroid belt!"

For the first time in his life, Spock fully understood the meaning of 'I really don't want to know what my kid meant by that'.

Teri, on the other hand, gave Quint the inter-dimensionally-recognized 'mother glare' that wordlessly warned of eons in the corner if the next few words were not acceptable. Deciding that he had better chances with Teri than he would with Q, Quint quickly added "We made sure nobody got hurt and we put it mostly away when we were done; Leev said the stuff we left made their timeline better."

Teri nodded. "That's settled. If anyone tries to punish you, send them to me and I'll deal with them. I've got a few contacts that trump the people who might try to control you."

"Yes, Mom," Quint replied with a smile, pretty sure that Teri had no idea of just what the mention of her name would do. She was well-known as the acknowledged mother of the first members of two High Races, mother to the son of the first member of a third, mother to the Shaper and the Nexus, with being the mother of a Saint thrown in for good measure. One of the more stuck-up members of the Q council had tried to bar Quint from interacting with the Clan; Quint thought it was funny watching the Q lose control of bodily functions not used by any Q in millennia after Quint threatened Teri's wrath. Needless to say, the Council for some reason decided that Quint was no longer their problem, and pretty much ignored him from that point onward. That made everything easier, as Quint knew his father was counting on him being the key Q presence in the newly-developing High-race community.

Not that the Council had concerned Quint, however. In fact, their fright made his life easier. Now he could concentrate on more important things, things like the human custom to give gifts to celebrate one's birth. Only the Tardis or the Clan's computers could calculate the small amount of humanity that he'd even give the time of day to; but the twin cousins of Cory had a spark that intrigued him. Unlike that captain in the other timeline that his father had decided to help, these two were young enough to not have to unlearn things. Kyle's experiment of living with those he came from was working for the first time in history, so maybe it would work bringing a couple of young-race from the same group into Q'dom life. The party sounded like a perfect test; if they passed he would allow the spark of friendship they instigated to grow. Now what to get them?

Blissfully unaware of the scheming Quint was up to, Spock made quick work of helping the rescue team and the boys that were rescued by the team, as well as the rest adopted by Mitch and Harriet. After being praised for paying attention to what he was taught after Montana, Timmy grabbed Pauly for important Tribe business. First they made sure, to the relief of William, that Mufasa, the new lion cub, was instructed on how to get food in the Clan and what not to eat. The next order of business was inducting Jolee into the Tribe, with the initiation shower postponed until after the party. The remaining kids gathered around Cory and Sean to either catch up with or get to know their cousins, while the adults mobbed Teri for answers.

A few minutes after Spock finished, George announced that Helen had everything ready in the CIC rec room. Quint vanished before the words registered with anyone else; seconds later Cory ordered George to teleport the rest of them directly to the party.

Meanwhile - CIC Main Control:

Hal shook his head with a smirk as Antonio and Chris finally appeared in the control room. "I've lived here less than two hours, and I already know to ask for teleport instead of running across the compound!"

"You wouldn't be so smug if you knew who wrote George's program!" Antonio panted.

"It's not like Sean could program anything." Hal giggled. "I'm not worried."

"It was Cory," Antonio said as he finally began to breathe normally. "He was the lead on the software and hardware teams. Or is that he's gonna be? Or is he doing it right now? Either way, it's safer to walk."

Hal laughed. "I'm not worried! Dad's still trying to figure out what Cory did to his computer three years ago. He's replaced everything but the mainboard, and it still sounds like a long wet fart whenever it boots or comes out of sleep."

"NICE!" Antonio and Chris chorused. "Must be a PC... he woulda had a Mac be more polite," Antonio added with a giggle as he noticed their dad was in the room.

From over by the console, Seth could be overheard introducing Antonio and Chris to the two new faces standing with the Barnes family. "... you've heard of the seven dwarves? Those two are the ones Disney had to cut to please the censors. The smart-aleck is number eight, Horny, and his sidekick is number nine, Pervy."

"DAAAADDD! Seth's pickin on us!" Antonio and Chris announced midway through their pounce of Matt.

Matt laughed as he was knocked to the ground. "Must be Elf Time!" he observed as he wrapped his arms around two of his sons. "Let's find a seat, Elven Princes, and we'll give Antonio his surprise."

The group moved over to the lounge area, taking seats on the couches. Matt was happily squashed by Chris and Antonio on his lap. Sharing the couch was the rest of his family; Byron on his right, helping cuddle Antonio, with Noah, Caleb, and their sons Hunter and Ron next to him. On the other side, Sam and Ty took up their 'guard' positions.

Alec and his boyfriend Andrew took one of the loveseats with Hal, while the two new faces took the one of the others. Once settled, Alec began the introductions. "Even though some of us know each other already, I'll start the official introductions. Our guests are Phillip DeVille and his son Orin. Phillip's official age is thirty-five, while Orin's official age is fourteen."

Before Alec could continue, he was interrupted by Yist appearing on Matt's shoulders. "Grandfather, you should know better than to have a party without me." the little Shaman giggled as he started applying orange wash-out dye to Matt's hair.

Barely containing his laughter, Alec continued. "The old guy getting orange hair is Matt Barnes. The blond ten-year-old on his lap is Matt's son Chris, the blond to his left is Matt's eleven-year-old son Sam, and the blond to Sam's left is Matt's twelve-year-old son Ty. The auburn-haired elf on Matt's lap is his son Doctor Antonio Barnes, whose official age is nine. The brown-haired guy to his right is Antonio's fiancé Byron Tecumseh, who is twelve. The nine-year-old brown-haired imp on Matt's shoulders is Antonio and Byron's son, Yist. To Byron's right, the light-brown-haired twelve-year-old is Noah; the blond cuddled into his side is his fiancé, twelve-year-old Caleb. The seven-year-old redhead on Noah's lap is him and Caleb's son Ron; the seven-year-old brown-haired angel on Caleb's lap is their son Hunter. I'm Alec McCarthy, the cute carrot-top cuddled up with me is my fiancé Andy Evans, and the blond fifteen-year-old with us is the cousin of Patriarch Short, Hal Kearney."

Introductions done, Andy spoke up. "Just to get us all on the same page, Phillip was born in 1759, Orin was born in 1920, and 'Tonio was born in 1968. Obviously, there are differences in how each of you age."

"Duhhh!" Antonio and Orin groaned as they rolled their eyes.

"Hey cutie?" Andy asked as he poked Alec, "Remind me later to ask Klaus and Ark to research if sarcasm can be genetic."

Antonio seemed to mutter, then suddenly he had a snowball in his hand. Seconds later, said snowball splattered on Andy's chest. "Leave the comedy to people who are funny!" Antonio giggled.

After blowing a raspberry at Antonio, Andy continued while brushing the melting snow onto Alec. "We'll go into more detail once Ranger gets here; right now he's trying to calm down his husband Jackie. Something about it seeming everyone waits to call until he's taking a leak."

"I thought the boy was going to bite your head off!" Phillip chuckled. "According to that Klaus young man, you are a very distant cousin, Antonio. My grandfather's sister ran off with a snake-oil salesman, and your family descended from there. Everything I'm about to say is based on the history Klaus provided. Fortunately, your family didn't produce any more than one female that lived to give birth each generation, otherwise things would get messy. For now, I'll just say our genetic tag can only be passed by a female that had one of us longer-life males as a father. Females are immune to the effects of it, for some odd reason."

"It's because guys are awesome and girls are icky!" Chris offered helpfully.

Ron joked, “They gotsta squat to pee. If ya can’t whiz and write your name in the dirt, then what’s da point?”

"Yeah!" most of the boys cheered. Harry and Orin were the only exceptions, but their grins gave away the fact they thought Ron's comment was amusing.

"You see what happens when you become a grandfather before you turn thirty?" Matt quipped. "My grandkids are learning my bad habits!"

Alec grinned. "I'm still trying to figure out how one of your sons is nine years older than you with HIS son being one thousand one hundred and forty six years older than you."

"I'm just that good!" Matt chuckled as he went to blow on his fingernails.

"Stay still so we can orange out yer gray, ol’ man!" Hunter giggled, now helping Yist with the spots he couldn't see from his shoulder perch.

"You're a rare man, Matt," Phillip commented. "It's surprising to see any adult, especially one your age, who can be so patient with children."

"They earned it," Matt smiled. "All of my boys and their sons have earned the right to be kids whenever they feel like it. If I've got any gray hairs, it's from hearing some of the things these guys lived through. Some of it makes losing part of one of my legs seem minor in comparison."

Phillip's eyebrows raised as he took a closer look at the boys he was talking with. As he studied each of their faces, he began to understand what Matt was hinting at, and why the Clan had formed. Each face told a story, the eyes and reactions to his gaze telling him more than a thousand words could convey. After living two hundred and forty-five years, he'd seen a lot of pain, but never so much in one group. Making a decision, he reached for his phone. "No signal?" he muttered as he saw the display.

Recognizing the expression on Phillip's face as he had finished looking around, Alec ordered "George, firewall relay is authorized for Phillip's communication device."

"Security override confirmed." George replied. "Relay is now active."

Phillip looked again, and found he now had a full-scale signal. "Thanks, Alec." he acknowledged before dialing a number from memory.

After waiting for an answer, he immediately said "Who dat?"

He nodded, then replied "Belle-age ame. Mon alder avec canaille Americane ami." He paused, then added "Faire serment!" Another pause, then "Antonio Barnes monde devient de maison Clan Short."

A long pause occurred as he listened, then he said "Orphelins soigner jeune Acadiens." After one more pause, he smiled as he said "Au revior, ami."

After Phillip hung up, Alec stated with a smirk "You know all of us know Cajun French, don't you?"

"Since you have a Cajun Division, I expected it. The other end of the call speaks American as well as I speak Andorian." Phillip replied. "In other words, he doesn't. I guess you get set in your ways when you're over three hundred years old. Clan Short has just been designated a Safe Haven for all native Acadians."

Breaking his silence, Orin rolled his eyes. "Since it'll take Dad twenty years to explain it, I'll tell you. I heard both side of the call, and it's all good. 'Tonio, you being accepted by Matt as a son no matter how you age is the big thing Dad was looking for; he was ready to pull you outta here if things didn't look right. We are all Acadiens, and our Clan settled in the Big Easy around the time Dad was in diapers. He just called the head of our council, and now they're going to pass the word that those of us with long lives should come to the Clan to help out or find safety. We've been looking for someplace on Earth that we didn't have to hide our ages besides the bayou since the government started with identification cards. Y'all have just gained a lot of family, thanks to 'Tonio." 

Hearing that they just declared themselves family, Chris' eyes lit up. "George, I need my tricorder! I gotta do the new Clan member physicals!"

"I'll apologize in advance, Phillip and Orin." George giggled as the tricorder landed on Chris' lap.

Chris jumped up, and first went to scan Phillip. After a minute, he stated "Nutritional levels low. You're to start with one McCoy shake a day and see either me or my brother next week."

Without waiting for a reply, he turned to Orin and began. Once done, he stated seriously "Same for you; also masturbate more, it's not good to let it build up like that at your age."

Orin did a very good impression of a blushing trout gasping for air at being told that by a ten-year-old. Phillip, on the other hand, almost choked trying not to laugh.

"If you want, O, I can help!" Hal giggled. "Maybe the gene works if administered orally!"

"Yep, you're related to Cory and Sean!" Matt chuckled as the rest of the kids grabbed their sides in laughter. "Orin, forget about the aging difference; that don't count here for relationships either."

Hal's eyes lit up, and he decided to take advantage of Orin's current inability to speak. Standing up quickly, he pounced Orin and laid a lip-lock on him before he could realize what was happening.

Phillip had seen it coming, and managed to vacate his seat just in time. He watched as Orin recovered from his shock enough to respond, which basically consisted of pulling Hal even closer and returning the increasingly passionate kiss. Sure that there wouldn't be a bad response, Phillip turned to Matt and shook his head with a grin. "Now that is persistence; it took two generations for that family to get him to admit he was interested in the other person."

Matt's response was delayed by two barely muffled groans. Ron quickly commented "Uncle Hal helped Uncle Orin make spermies like Uncle Chris told him to! Timmy told me all about it! George, get Timmy! We gotta take them to be showered an' get them clothes!"

Andy smiled as he went over to the two teens, who were now trying to hide in the cushions. "Guys, over half of the Clan have been sexually abused. You're not the first or the last to unintentionally hold a public display, and a lot of the little guys have more experience than both of you put together in some areas. Timmy's Cory's first son, and he's organized the little ones into a Tribe that looks out for new guys. They have a unique way of disarming the fears and worries of new guys, usually starting with a shower where they teach by example what it really means to be brothers. It's totally innocent, and really fun once they force you to relax."

Orin and Hal chanced a look around; both were shocked to see nobody was laughing at them or mad. "Thanks, Andy." Orin replied.

Timmy came running in with Mufada, stopping by Andy. As Ron joined him, Timmy wiggled his little nose, then grinned. "Uncle Hal, you's as bad as Daddy and Poppa! They's always trying to make babies! George, take them, me, Mufada, an' Ron to my bathroom before their spermies get sticky!"

"Okay, Chief Soaring Eagle!" George sniggered as all four vanished.

"Just how does a six-year-old sound so knowledgeable?" Phillip asked Andy. "And what was that Chief comment about?"

"You've proven that you're Cajun, so this will make sense, I hope," Andy replied. "In reverse order, Timmy is a Spirit Guide for the Seminole Tribe; chances are you'll meet his eagle William sometime soon. His group has been recognized as it's own sub-tribe by Chief Tecumseh across the street, which gives Timmy the right to be called Chief. On that point, you need to know that the animals that you see wandering around the Compound are all Timmy's friends; they're safe unless a kid is being hurt."

Andy paused as a huge alligator wearing the fuzzy hat of the Coldstream Guard and a collar with Captain's insignia wandered into the room. "Hey Allie. You looking for Timmy?"

Allie replied with a series of growls and snorts.

"Oh," Andy replied. "He had to take Cory's cousin Hal and Phillip's son Orin for an emergency shower. I'll tell him you said to bring Mufada by for introductions to the rest of the Animal Brigade as soon as he gets back."

Allie grunted with a smile, then turned and left the room after Andy replied "You're welcome."

Phillip warily watched the proud alligator leave the room. "I didn't just see that." he muttered.

"Yes, you did!" Andy giggled. "Grandma Lizzy commissioned Allie due to Allie's performance in the battle against the Romulan bastards. She's the first four-legged member of the Guard other than horses and dogs in history. Oh, your other question? Besides Timmy catching his parents, he has accidentally caused a few of us to go off when he decided to wake us up by pouncing and wrestling. Add to that the fact he was witness to the rescue of his little brother, who was in the middle of being raped by a dog while his former father beat off over the pair. He's also a willing ear for other kids who are afraid of anyone over ten, and has heard things that give me nightmares."

"No kid his age should have to do that." Phillip stated firmly.

"No kid should be six seconds from death when some bastard put two bombs in his birth father's car." Andy shot back seriously. "No kid should take multiple lives because some religious group decides to try to kill his family; at least one was trying to kill the very person that saved his life and adopted him. No kid should have to watch that same adoptive father almost die from depression over feeling responsible for not protecting his brothers good enough. No kid should see his future big brother in the back seat of a car, suffering from a botched castration, with the windows up and the heat on high in the middle of August. No kid should need to lie on a biobed with another future brother while the starship they are on travels at maximum speed to get the new kid to the only known person who can help him. No kid should know what the eyes of someone who has been brainwashed look like. No kid should have all of that in just over three months time. Timmy's security and innocence was stolen from him in August when the first bomb went off and threw the SUV he was in across the highway in Des Moines. He won't ever get that back, but just like all of us he's gonna make damn sure the assholes of the universe get the message that we ain't taking it any more."

Phillip contemplated the red-faced redhead in front of him. This wasn't some kid throwing a temper tantrum; it was obvious that this young man had his own experiences to make his statements stick. He quickly revised his evaluation of the Clan; the postures of the rest of the room told him that Andy spoke for all of them. This group wasn't going to grow up and move on, they had committed themselves for life, and recently welcomed Orin into that fold. Even though it wasn't stated, Andy's glare told him that he needed to choose now; either commit to the Clan, or go home. For the first time in his life, Phillip found himself faced with a decision to make a commitment that he might not see come to its conclusion; even if he avoided accidents, disease, and the other hazards of living. With a rejuvenating sense of purpose, he stated "You're right; what has happened can't be undone. What could happen can be prevented, and I'm sure as hell going to make sure Timmy's the last kid to go through that."

"Good choice." Andy replied. "Matt's got the most experience working alongside us, get with him after the birthday party to get a feel for how you can help."

"Hey guys?" Alec interrupted, knowing that at this point Andy needed a cool-down. "Ranger just let me know that him and Jackie will catch up to us during the party. They're trying to convince a family of crawdads to let go of their son's clothing. Why don't we head on out to the Rec Room to chill for a bit?"

The rest of the boys agreed, and quickly followed Alec and Andy out. Phillip went over to Matt, who now had a mirror and was checking his hair. "They're getting better at it." Matt said as he shook his head in wonder.

"I think I just made an enemy," Phillip stated.

"You mean Andy?" Matt asked as he put the mirror down. "No; if he didn't like you or trust you, you would have found yourself outside the gate without warning. Andy is a lot like Alec's brother Kelly, who put two FBI agents in Federation prisons for getting in his way on a rescue. You just saw him in Clan Officer mode; when any of the boys shift into that gear, the best thing to do is let them do their job. He read from your comment that you needed a reality check, and he's not afraid to write a big one. His official job is Assistant Youth Coordinator, and he takes what each of the little guys goes through personally at times. He was irritated at your comment, but any time he talks or hears about Timmy's life he gets really pissed. He loves Timmy like a blood brother, and it shows. Alec knows how to calm him, it just takes some time when this happens."

"I see," Phillip replied. "How many of these youth are as passionate about this as Andy is?"

"Every one of them," Matt replied seriously. "Every single one of them."

To Be Continued...