Sa'ren Part I

Chapter 1

NOTE: Please read the following stories before this Chapter:

"Memories Part 2, Chapter 16" – By ACFan
"Be Careful What You Ask For..." Chapter 5 – by D&B

If you don't, you'll get spoilers!

Place: 'Forever World', Multidimensional Planet
Time: Forever
Federation and Starfleet Codename: Planet 'Gateway' **Classified**

Movement. Space. Time.

Meaningless concepts. This was all NOW and HERE to the Guardian of Forever. He twisted his thoughts and fixed the Point of himself at a small, blue-green world in orbit around a G2V Spectral Class star. The star was Sol. The world, Terra... more commonly called 'Earth' by its indigenous life-forms.

Such a small world in an out of the way segment of one of this galaxy's spiral arms.

Such a very small world... yet it was here that Time was twisting, shaping, reforming: Possibilities lay here that did not occur anywhere else in Creation. Events already in motion, and more waiting to spring forth.

All due to the actions of a small group of people. No, a small group of boys.

//Not so small a group. You will grow, and have grown, in Time. I would know...//

The Guardian, the one given Mandate to preserve Time, was now about to set a new ripple in Time's Fabric: A lost child, a lonely boy, was going home.

//Now...// and the Guardian opened his portal on Terra... and chaos ensued!

Monday, 25th October, 2004
CIC Building – Recreation Room - 3.30pm

Cory and Sean were cuddled together and quietly watched their kids, brothers and friends. They watched them play, talk and generally chill out in the Rec Room, as they should all have been able to do all along. It had been a long time since Cory had been able to just simply sit together with Sean, or so it seemed, and that day itself had been unusual with the appearance of a man and four boys from an alternate universe.

The story they had told defied belief: they had known all about the Clan up to the time that Vincent had left on the Yorktown. Cory shook his head with a smile. Well, at least things could not get much more unbelievable.

Since Kurt and the boys were now with Allen Thompson for the afternoon, and things in CIC were returning to near normal, Cory decided that he should obey Grandfather Sarek's orders to the letter. He relaxed, and then pulled Sean in tighter to give him a gentle kiss, just trying to regain a sense of peace that had been so cruelly torn from them all two days before.


"Daddy! Poppa! What's happening?! Look!" Timmy yelled out and pointed at the far wall that stood between the Rec Room and Main CIC.

Cory jerked his head up from the kiss with Sean, and they both stared with jaws dropping at the sight: the wall seemed to shift and change, become liquid and started to reform. The effect branched sideways by ten feet and got to seven feet in height. As the wall became more and more liquid, a mist started to take on form within it.

As he and Sean jumped up to get between the 'portal' and the boys, Cory yelled, "Set Condition Red, Security to the Rec Room. Mom, get the kids out of here, NOW!"

Sirens started to sound as Teri ran in from the dinning room, followed closely by Dan and Doc Austin. They glanced quickly at the forming 'portal', then herded the smaller boys out, but Timmy alone refused and ran to stand by his parents, eyes glinting fiercely. The older boys started to gather with Cory and Sean as well, especially those armed with Phasenmorphs.

William and Duke, however, looked down from their perch on a bookshelf. They both seemed to be amused by all this activity as if knowing that it was a good thing that was about to happen.

Security ran in just as Teri, Dan, the Doc and the kids ran out, and JJ and Adam stood with them, all aiming at the growing 'portal' in the wall. "Phasers to stun only," JJ ordered.

As the Mists parted in the 'portal' a tall figure could be seen walking towards them from out of an alien, barren and blasted world. He had bright gold wings and seemed to be carrying something...

"Hold! Stand down Condition Red!" Cory called in sudden relief, and motioned at the security team to holster their phasers. JJ and Adam quickly lowered their aim away from Mikey, and nodded to the security team who then filed back out of the Rec Room. Teri, Doc Austin, and Dan came back in through the door as Security left, leading back in all the smaller boys. They all stopped when they saw Mikey standing there, a wing covering something in his arms, and the portal in the wall closing behind him.

Cory lowered his own hand as he turned back to his oldest brother. "Mikey! You tryin' to scare the crap outta us, bro?" he admonished.

Joel, now covered almost completely by Mikey's wing, shook. The shouting and raised voices had terrified him. He pulled his face in tighter to Mikey's neck, his little body trembling as if threatening to shake apart. Mikey's left hand was pressed to the back of Joel's head, stroking his hair trying to sooth him, "Sorry guys, there was no real graceful way for me to get here, and I needed to bring this little one straight inside." He lowered his wing enough so that Joel was seen clearly by the others.

Joel felt the back of his head being uncovered and a small sob of fear escaped. Tyler seemed to rock backwards into Kyle, for the burst of fear was palpable to him. He moved forward and reached out with his power, siphoning away part of that fear and grounding it. Joel slowly began to tremble less, and started to relax into Mikey's embrace.

Sean, looking at the terrified kid, asked softly "Who's this, bro?"

"This is Joel," Mikey shifted his head slightly and kissed the frightened boy on the top of his head, "Joel? It's fine, kiddo, you can look up now."

Trustingly, Joel slowly looked up into Mikey's eyes. Seeing reassurance, he then looked about the room and at the boys and adults there. The split lip and bruises on his face were not new things for the Clan to see and elicited only compassion, but the barcode that was clearly visible on his forehead brought a gasp from a number of boys. The sudden sound they made caused him to cringe back fearfully into Mikey.

"It's okay, Joel, don't worry," Mikey soothed softly, then he turned back to his brother. "I'll explain everything later, Tigger; but Joel is going to need a few things right now. A shower, some clothes and a hot drink; in that order. Do you think the Clan can manage that?" A few of the boys giggled quietly.

"Sure thing, Mikey," Cory said with a tight, sad smile as he looked about the room, "I think we can just manage that." Seeing that Joel seemed very skittish, he selected the two boys who seemed best suited, "Babe, Ty? Can y'all hook Joel up with a shower and clothes, please?"

After getting nods from them, Cory turned back to Mikey. "Okay, Mikey, they'll take him from here. I'll talk with you and Mom while we wait for them."

Acknowledging Cory, Mikey said to Joel, "These guys will look after you now, little one. I'm staying right here as I need to explain a few things to my brother and mother."

Forcing the words past his lips, Joel stuttered quietly "Is…is this my n…new"

With a small nod, Mikey replied "Yes. Whatever happens, this is your family now." He had, however, misunderstood Joel's meaning.

Joel started to try and get down from Mikey's arms, and his eyes widened in panic as Mikey did not release him straight away. "Please… p…please, Mikey," he started to sob. "L…let me d...down! I'll be b…beat, if I d…don't!"

Mikey quickly lowered Joel to the floor before the panicking boy fell from his arms. He looked on in amazement and horror as Joel first looked about the room, and then seeing that Teri and Dan were the nearest adults, approached them and stood quickly to attention. His hands were rigid at his side, and he kept his fear filled eyes staring at the ground before Dan's feet. He made no move to cover his nakedness, nor did he show any outward signs of embarrassment. He seemed just a little taller than Kyle and looking not much older, but all skin and bone. His ribs were painfully easy to see through his skin; the many scars showing through the dirt and blood covering him gave mute explanation to what Joel had referred to by 'I'll be beat.' Everyone just looked at him in sorrow.

Cory felt compassion rise in him and his eyes started to moisten, but they suddenly blazed in anger at what Joel's next words implied. Joel trembled, "Master. Please f…forgive me f...or…"

Cory rushed forward with Sean on his heels. He placed his hand softly over Joel's mouth to silence him, and then started to lift his chin while Sean turned him to face them properly. Dan was just standing there looking at the scarred skin on this trembling boy, not believing what had just happened, and Teri had her hand covering her mouth at the sight of Joel's tortured, beaten body.

"Look at me, Joel," Cory whispered as he and Sean crouched down before him. Joel did as he was told. He saw Cory was close to tears and gasped in astonishment. Cory asked, still in a soft whisper, "Why did you call Dan 'master'?"

Joel answered quickly, yet with puzzlement, "I am a s...slave. are I...I must serve"

Cory just stared at him for a long moment and then looked back towards Mikey. Mikey nodded sadly, "He was a slave, bro. I should have seen this reaction coming. I'm sorry."

Turning back to Joel, Cory spoke with quiet conviction, "We are not your masters. You do not serve us. You never need to serve us, nor anyone else, ever again! You are free, Joel." Sean just nodded firmly, and gently squeezed Joel's shoulder.

Free? Joel had held little hope of freedom as it was a dream impossible to make true. His eyes just darted from Cory's to Sean's and back in disbelief and mistrust. He was looking into their eyes to seek the lie. He could not find it. He turned his head to look directly at Mikey, an unformed question hovering on his lips.

Mikey moved in close and spoke quietly into Joel's ear, "These boys are telling you the truth, Joel. You can trust them, really you can; you are free."

Joel blinked at him, still not entirely sure of the truthfulness in the answer, so Mikey added a nod and a kiss to Joel's head to emphasise his statement. Joel turned back to the two boys kneeling before him. His heart came suddenly to his eyes and tears began to trace lines down his cheeks. A huge sob burst from his lips and he started to tremble violently; it caused Cory to reach out without thinking to pull him in for a hug and without hesitation, Joel started to hug him back for all he was worth.

His slight frame was not a burden as he wrapped himself around Cory, his legs hooked about Cory's waist. The realization of what had been said began to slowly sink in. 'Free? I'm... I'm free?!' He tucked his face into Cory's neck and began to openly cry, letting loose all the pain he had carried within him for so long. His sobs of anguish seemed very loud in the sudden silence that had fallen upon the room and Sean, unable to hold back his own tears, began to cry as well. He pulled both Cory and Joel into his own arms, thus keeping Joel between them in a tight hug. Cory did nothing other than to hold Joel protectively while muttering soothing words; his own feelings also bringing him close to tears due to the obvious need projected from the hurting boy. Everyone else was just quietly watching as Joel was cuddled by the two kneeling teens.

Joel's feelings rolled within him; never before had he felt protected, felt safe. Now he was. He kept his face hidden in the nape of Cory's neck and Cory was gently stroking the soft curls of his hair soothingly. He was surrounded by two pairs of strong arms, and his back seemed guarded by Sean's chest. The back of his neck started to get wet as Sean's tears fell in response to his own. He could feel Cory's heart beating against his chest as he tightened his grip on the blond-haired teen.

He cried until his tears dried up, salted lines sparkled in the lights of the room as they ran down his face and upon Cory's neck. His sobs quietened, and he was just sniffing and hiccuping slightly as he absorbed the attention from both his new protectors.

Once the child's sobs had lessened, Sean pulled back slightly and helped Cory to slowly stand up, bringing the trembling, distraught youngster up with them. Even though Joel was slightly bigger than Kyle, he weighed so much less that Cory had no problems holding him to his side and cradled over his left hip. He looked down at the dirt and blood that had transferred to him from Joel, before he stated quietly, "I think I'll shower with you guys too." Facing Mikey he asked, "Will you wait with Mom, bro?"

"Sure thing, Cor."

Turning and motioning with his eyes, Cory led Tyler and Sean into the bathroom just off from the Rec Room. A murmuring started as soon as they had left as the boys began to whisper among each other, as well as to start throwing questions at Mikey.

Teri watched the bathroom door close, then she turned to the boys and stilled them, "Okay, can you grab some of CD's clothes for Joel, Tommy? Joel seems to be about his size. Also, go grab some for Cory and Sean too, as I think they'll need clean clothes after hugging Joel." The boy nodded and darted off quickly. Teri continued, this time with a slight hardening to her voice, "Mike, you come with me to the kitchen right now and start explaining what's going on."

"Okay Mom," He led his mother and the other adults out of the door, whilst the rest of the room went back to talking excitedly about what just happened.

As they left the room, Teri asked seriously, "First, why didn't you clean and clothe him yourself, Mike?"

"Trust me, Mom. That poor kid needs healing. Let my brothers work their magic and watch them when they come back."

Teri simply smiled and nodded with understanding as they entered the kitchen and found seats, and then the questions really began.

Once they were in the bathroom and the door was closed, the boys started to disrobe, piling their clothes in random areas. Cory was still holding Joel securely in a tight embrace; the child's trembling had stilled and his tears had stopped. Once Sean was ready, he approached Cory and Joel.

"Joel, is it okay if I hold you while Cory gets ready?" he asked gently.

Joel turned to look at Sean and saw only concern. He looked back into the encouraging eyes of Cory, then back and nodded silently. Reaching out, he was transferred from one to the other, and then was settled over Sean's hip, with his head resting lightly on Sean's shoulder. Touched by this show of trust, Sean kissed the top of Joel's head, then giggled slightly, "You are as light as Timmy, Joel! You need fattening up!"

Raising his head, Joel just looked at him, and a very small, sad smile tugged at his mouth. He then rested his head back on Sean's shoulder and watched as Cory stripped off. Safety and contentment, both so new to feel and only barely recognisable to him, filled his heart. He absorbed the warmth from his contact with Sean and relaxed fully into his arms.

"I'm ready, let's go," Cory announced, and the boys moved into the big shower, Tyler bringing shampoo and soap with him. After turning on the water and getting it to the right temperature, they got under the stream and Sean lowered Joel to stand in between them. Cory spoke softly, "We'll help you shower, if you want, or you can just clean yourself. It's up to you, Joel."

Joel had never showered before. He was looking at the boys around him, biting his lower lip. "I… I don't kn…know what to…" he whispered fearfully, believing that he would get punished for his lack of knowledge.

Tyler simply took the initiative, guided him directly under the water, and started cleaning off the dirt and dried blood with Sean moving to help, while Cory set to work on Joel's hair. "You've never had a shower before?" he asked softly, as he worked in the shampoo.

"N…no. I wasn't al...allowed to g…get clean. At l…least not v…very often." Joel mumbled as he looked back over his shoulder at Tyler. Ty just smiled at him with compassion, so he relaxed more into Ty's hands that gently soaped and washed his sore tender back. The light, gentle touch was easing his pains and he suddenly realised that he felt... felt good! For the first time that he could remember, he had people around him that were making him feel better, not worse. Tyler was continuously siphoning off the fear and mistrust that was rising like a never ending tide in Joel. He projected into the battered kid as much reassurance as he felt Joel could handle.

"Never mind, bro, that's all over with now. It will never happen again." Sean said, as he got more soap to work into the boy's chest and stomach. At this, Joel started to relax even more, a small smile played upon his face, and he very nearly started to purr at this unaccustomed affectionate attention. He grunted sharply with pain, however, when Sean brushed a hand over some of his ribs. "Sore there, bro?" Joel nodded mutely. "Okay, I'm sorry. I'll be careful."

As the accumulated ingrained dirt from years of neglect was being washed away, large bruises were clearly seen upon his back, stomach and even more across his chest. Scars old and new traced his upper torso, buttocks, arms and legs. There appeared to even be old burn marks, as if from a car cigarette lighter, or even cigarette ends that had been cruelly pressed into his flesh The boys said nothing; they just looked with pity and horror at Joel, then at each other.

As Tyler was gently soaping up Joel's back, he asked, "Where did this blood come from, dude? You have no open cuts back here."

"Yesterday m…morning, sir… I... I failed to wake in t…time, so I was punished," came the stammered reply. "I think Mikey t... took care of th...the cuts last n…night."

Tyler nodded, but Cory then squatted down in front of Joel and looked directly up into his eyes. "Joel, I'm Cory. This is Sean and he's Tyler. Please," he pleaded softly, "please don't call us 'sir'."

Joel stared at him, and then at the other two and saw that they were asking him the same thing with their eyes. An order was an order. He turned back, nodded and whispered, "Cory." Cory pulled him into a quick hug which he accepted eagerly.

As Cory pulled away and started washing him again, Joel started to wonder. Why did these boys want to hold him this way? Why did they bother cleaning a slave such as he? And why did he feel safe? What was going to happen now, and was all this just a cruel joke? No matter how much safety he felt, those nagging terrible doubts lingered. Freedom? Was Mikey joking?

"Where did Mikey rescue you from?" Cory asked, while applying yet more shampoo to Joel's hair.

"F...from my m...master's house. Wales."

"Wales? I've never heard of there being a problem with slavery there," Cory said, as he looked at Sean. Sean shook his own head and shrugged. Cory asked Joel, "Where was this exactly? We have to deal with this, if there's child slavery going on in the UK."

Joel looked up into Cory's eyes, "Not I w...was lost th...there. It w...was another, another universe, a...and it's a lot different i...if there is slavery here."

Tyler looked past Joel's back and into Sean's shocked face, "That sounds like what happened to Kurt and the others; maybe Kyle and I need to check into what's happening."

"Maybe," Cory said. "It's okay, Joel. You're really safe here, and there is no slavery with us." He hugged Joel briefly again then went back to washing him down.

It took a further ten minutes to fully clean up the battered boy, to make sure they did not hurt him, especially his tender, sore ribs. As they finished and left the shower, they finally noticed that Tommy was waiting just inside the door. He was holding fresh towels for each of them, and had three new piles of clothes for Joel, Sean and Cory laying on the bench behind him. They each took a towel to dry off with, but Cory took two, in order to wrap one around himself and use the other to dry Joel.

Joel had never felt anything as soft and nice on his skin as this, before. Stuff like this was never given to or even used on slaves. Maybe he really was free? But could he truly believe it yet? He did reach to help Cory at first, but the whispered "Don't worry, bro." just made him relax. Joel gave in and allowed himself to be cared and loved by the older teen who was now gently drying him down. His eyes never left Cory's face at first, but when the concern and compassion neither changed nor wavered, he finally just closed his eyes, in trust, and for the first time in his life, he surrendered totally to another person and just let Cory dry him; just as if he were a little child. One single tear made it's way down his face, only to be gently wiped away by Cory's thumb.

Cory's heart was breaking. This boy was so trusting, even after all the hell he had obviously been through. He stopped drying Joel and just pulled him in to hug him again before continuing.

After he had dried himself, Sean grabbed another towel and moved over to Joel to help with his hair. Cory, having finished patting Joel down, wrapped the towel he had been using around Joel's waist, and then started drying himself. As the change over took place, Joel looked towards Tommy in question. Tyler piped up with a smile, "This is my brother Tommy. Don't worry, Joel, he's cool."

"Ya clean up real good, Joel!" said Tommy, as he smiled at the cute pixie face that was just visible under the towel. Joel replied with a small, uncertain smile of his own, his head moving back and forth as Sean attacked it briskly. Tommy grinned more at him, and then moved over to replace Sean in drying Joel. Joel now looked at him with his blue eyes filled with doubt and fear at the unexpected movement. He faced Sean and Cory quickly in question, but they just nodded and winked at him in answer. He turned back and he let Tommy help him dry his hair, but not before allowing Tommy to pull him in for a nice quick hug.

Once they were done, they began to get dressed. Joel marvelled at the wonderful clothes presented to him; blue shorts and a loose white tee-shirt that were so soft and comfortable. This was beyond his wildest dreams, and nothing he had ever experienced could relate to it. It must be a mistake. He stood there fingering the soft material of the tee-shirt, making no move to dress himself. He looked uncertainly at Cory and Sean. Sean understood quickly, "Yes, Joel, they're for you."

He started with the tee-shirt, and pulled it over his head. He smiled at no-one in particular as he stood there in just that shirt, slowly running his hands down it, still in wonder. It did not itch? It was warm and comfortable, if maybe a little baggy; but it did not itch? He looked so cherubic with the joy radiating from his pixie-like features that Tyler and Tommy could not resist hugging him yet again. Another feeling coursed through him, but this one he knew. He had rarely felt happy in his life, nor contented, but it had occurred on very rare, special occasions; and he knew, he was very happy now. After being released from the three-way hug, he pulled on the underwear and shorts. His smile beamed out brightly, as his joy showed clearly.

Cory watched the emotions play on Joel's face and grinned to himself. He asked, "So, Joel, how old are you?"

Joel's entire demeanour changed in an instant. "I'm t... twelve, si… err, Cory. I'll be th… thirteen on the 28th of O...October," he stated without inflection, waiting for the rejection he was sure was about to come. There was a stunned silence for a moment as they looked at him. Joel felt the silence building and he looked down at his unclad feet in shame. They thought he was a freak, now.

Cory recovered first, and cleared his throat. He said with a smile, "Well, your birthday's on Thursday; we'd best have a party!" He kept his voice clear of his concern, and thereby warned the others to do the same. They started agreeing with Cory, while Joel just stood there looking perplexed and a little lost.

" Y… ya want me to s... stay? But... but I… I'm a freak! I'm never gonna g… grow up…" he choked out before clamming up fearfully. He should not have questioned them; he should have remained silent. He closed his eyes and waited for the blows to fall. Feeling Sean's arms come about his shoulders in a hug, and a gentle kiss placed on the top of his head, he opened his eyes in astonishment and looked up into the pair of hazel eyes that were gazing at him in compassion.

"You are not a freak; you just need a check up, bud. We'll get you fixed up real good, we promise." Sean felt everything in him just wanting to cuddle all the hurt out of the kid in his arms, and so he pulled Joel in even tighter to him, and carefully rubbed his back. Joel melted into his chest, nodded his head and sighed in relief. Sean's hands seemed to find each of the sorest spots on his back, and as they rubbed over them, his aches seemed to ease. Sean held him safe for a moment, and then whispered, "Shall we go for that hot drink now, bro?"

Not believing that anyone would be concerned if he had wanted to just keep cuddling, Joel nodded into Sean's chest again, to agree to the drink, and then released him. As he stepped away, Cory took one hand while Sean took his other, and the five boys made their way out of the bathroom and back into the Rec Room.

Tyler came up behind Joel as they were walking and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Don't worry about your growth bro; one of your new brothers is over fifty thousand years old and he looks fourteen. I'm never gonna look older than I do now; so it really don't matter." Joel turned his head briefly and stared at Ty with his eyes wide as he tried to figure out if he was being lied to or not. Tyler simply smiled at him and nodded.

As they made their way through to the Dining Room and kitchen, the boys there started to crowd around Joel. Kyle and Levi moved to stand near Tyler, while Tommy rushed ahead to the kitchens to ask for the drinks, obviously wanting them for everyone, judging by the anticipatory grin spread upon his face. Joel started to tremble at the number of strange boys getting closer, all looking at him curiously.

Sean spoke up with a smile on his face, "Guys, can you back off just a bit; give Joel a little room, will you? Bro," he turned to address Joel, "I'll just give you a quick introduction for now. This little redhead is our son, Timmy, and that's Ricky attached to his side. That's his little brother Paul, cuddled with his jaguar kitten Wacko, next to him are the rest of their brothers; DJ, Tanner, Brandon, Calen, CD and Austin. The two kids cuddled with Austin are his sons, Conner and Leo." With each name, the boys waved at Joel with welcoming smiles, "Over there is Josiah and Gavin…

Joel followed the names and fixed them and the boys' faces into his memory, and wondered at how many of these kids had kids of their own. However, when he spotted the last boy Sean had introduced, those thoughts all left him. He gasped and his eyes grew wide. He ignored everyone else, pulled away from Cory and Sean and started slowly towards the boy he had failed to notice earlier. Gavin curiously watched him approach with a slight smile on his face.

Once he was face to face with Gavin, Joel slowly reached up and with trembling hands, ran his fingers over the heavy brow and cheek bones on the boy's face. Gavin held very still, instinctively knowing that this was important for the poor kid touching him. Joel's eyes grew even wider as he realised that this was no boy in make up! "Mikey!!" he yelled, a grin spread widely on his angelic face, and his eyes came alight.

Mikey flashed in, looking prepared for the worst, but he relaxed when he saw Joel's smile. Teri and Dan came around the door seconds later, also looking concerned, but they too relaxed as they saw the scene before them: Joel excitedly exploring Gavin's features with gentle fingers and with a joyous smile on his face. He turned to Mikey, all his hesitance forgotten, and bubbled, "Rigelian!! He's Rigelian?? Oh God! Does this mean?… Mikey? The Federation, and Starfleet?… is this…" Mikey just nodded at the questions, both asked and unspoken, with a smile forming on his lips. "When? What ships, I mean? Sovereign Class? Constitution Class?"

Cory shot a look at Sean and mouthed, "Sovereign Class?!" Sean shrugged and they both continued to look on with interest.

Mikey just said, "NCC-1701-A" and waited for the explosion.

Joel's mouth dropped open again in shock and his legs started to shake, "You don't mean… I… Kirk?… Spock?!… NO WAY!" Mikey giggled, and most of the boys started laughing softly. Gavin grinned at Joel and pulled him into a brief hug, which he returned without hesitance nor resistance.

Mikey suddenly stopped giggling and tilted his head as if listening to something only he could hear, before moving over to Joel.

"Kiddo, I have to leave now." He said quietly, "I have some other kids to help. I will be back often to check on you, though, and you can always pray and talk to me at any time."

He picked Joel up and hugged him tightly, "Just stick close to these guys. They'll all be there for you." Mikey then kissed Joel softly on his forehead, right where the slave-mark was. "I'm so happy I found you, Joel. You're going to be doing great here, now."

Joel just gripped onto Mikey with all his strength, his excitement ebbing at the thought of being without his rescuer, "I don't w...w...want ya to go. B...but I promise... I'll good for C...Cory and Sean. I p...promise!" he mumbled, suddenly close to tears. He buried his head into Mikey's shoulder for a moment, and then sighed out "Go, Mikey... g...go save some o...other kids." Mikey kissed him again, then placed him back on his feet. Mikey smiled at him once more before flashing out of the room, and golden sparkles fell gently down and around Joel.

Cory and Sean moved up to Joel, hugged him between them for a moment, before leading the now muted lad through to the Dinning Room and on towards the kitchen. The others followed, the smell of cookies and hot chocolate drew them automatically.

"You know Kirk and Spock, Joel?" Cory asked with interest.

Joel nodded his head slightly, "I…I kn…know of them. F...from 'Star Trek'. I n…never th...thought they'd be r…real." Sean and Cory shared a look, and smiled slightly, realization dawning in their eyes at hearing the term 'Star Trek'.

As they entered the kitchen, Helen had just finished making the boys' drinks. She turned to see Joel and then walked slowly over to him. "Here you go, sweetheart; some nice hot chocolate." Joel froze in place and stood ramrod straight with his eyes turned away from her face. He gingerly took the large mug from her and then nervously watched her turn and leave. Once she was a safe distance away, he looked at the dark brown liquid in the mug. He took a sniff, and, smelling an aroma that set his mouth to watering, he cautiously sipped the hot drink. His eyes popped open, and he started trembling. Looking back towards Helen with fear in his eyes, he started to place the mug down on the kitchen table.

"What's wrong, bro?" Cory asked, "Too hot?"

Joel shook his head, "No. It's… it's too g...good for me. I can't drink! M...must have b...been a mis...mistake!"

Cory firmly stopped him from putting the mug down, "Sure you can. You get nothing less than the rest of us."

Joel began to smile, then his face froze again as Teri walked over carrying two more mugs. She handed one to Cory and the other to Sean, all the while smiling calmly at him. Joel started shaking badly, her smile terrified him beyond all measure and reason. Sean quickly pulled the boy back into his chest as Teri realised it was her he was scared off. She backed away quickly, looking slightly upset that any child would be that afraid of her.

"Don't be scared of Mom, Joel. She won't hurt you." Cory stated while squeezing his shoulder. Joel tried to believe him, but could only manage a very weak nod of his head. "I'm going for some cookies. I'll send Timmy over with some for you two," and he then moved off.

Joel, now beginning to relax again, looked back to the mug he held and carried on drinking it slowly, taking his time to savour each sip. Sean just stood behind him for a moment, gently rubbing his shoulders with encouragement while watching this scared kid enjoyed hot chocolate for the first time in his life. He then led Joel to some kitchen chairs and sat down with Joel pulled onto his lap. He thought to himself, 'What was so bad, what happened that was so awful, that he is that afraid of Mom and Helen?'

It was not long before Timmy and Paul walked over with a plate of cookies between them, and sat next to them both. "Joel, you want a cookie? They're really really good!" Timmy asked, with a firm nod. He held out a toffee covered cookie towards Joel, who cautiously accepted it.

"Th…thanks, Timmy," he took a small nibble and his eyes grew wide. "Wow!" The rest of the cookie disappeared in a blink, and even the crumbs that fell seemed to be gathered up and eaten. Timmy giggled and Paul quickly offered another one, this time chocolate chip. That too vanished in record time. The two little boys started talking to Joel, who answered them reluctantly at first, but they had him mellowed in no time. Safely held by Sean, he relaxed and continued to accept the offered cookies as Wacko placed his head in Joel's lap.

"Wacko likes you; he says you can scratch his ears if you wanna!" Paul told Joel with a huge grin.

Joel smiled slowly and, once he had finished his latest cookie, he started petting and scratching Wacko behind his ears.

While Joel was being fed and looked after by the munchkins and Wacko, Doc Austin walked up to Cory and Teri, "I think I need to have Joel examined, if Mikey's story is anything to go by," he stated. "He probably has many things that need checking over, his malnourishment is just one of them."

"I agree," Teri confirmed, with a look of total sadness.

Cory looked at both sharply, "What did I miss?"

"We'll tell you after, let's just get him into the Infirmary and settled down first. We'll go through everything later. Oh, but Mikey says that what he told us is just the little that was told him. Only Joel can reveal more… if he even wants too, poor child." Teri looked sadly towards Joel, who was still held firmly on Sean's lap while alternating between sipping his chocolate, petting Wacko and happily munching on the cookies being handed to him by Paul and Timmy. The sweet smile that was plastered on his face captured her heart.

Sean was running his fingers gently through Joel's curly hair, while holding him close with his other arm. He looked ready to cry, or even to kill whoever had caused pain to Joel; such was the intensity in his eyes when he looked up at Cory briefly.

"Okay," Cory acceded, also touched by the sight, "let him finish his drink, then we'll take him to the infirmary for his check up. And Doc? That tattoo is gone; one way or the other."

Doc Austin nodded in agreement, "Should be simple enough, but it will probably leave a scar." He trailed off, also watching as the lad tipped the last of the chocolate into his mouth.

Joel pulled away from Sean and stood. He walked slowly to the sink and automatically prepared to wash the mug, pouring the hot water into the sink and looking around for the wash cloth. Sean just sat and watched this, puzzlement and sadness in his face as he thought, 'This kid doesn't know how to just be a kid.'. He motioned to Helen and pointed at Joel.

Helen noticed what Sean was pointing at, and moved over to the little boy. Joel saw her approach from out of the corner of his eye, and turned quickly. He lowered his gaze to her feet as he had been taught to do, and waited with trepidation for his punishment. He should know where everything was, and now these people had to waste their time teaching him. This was going to hurt bad.

"What are you doing, sweetheart?" she asked gently. He looked up at her quickly before averting his eyes again. This was not as expected.

"C…cleaning up, ma'am," he replied softly.

No answer, no blows.

He looked back up at her with puzzlement and saw her smiling face. He forced out through his fear, "If that is the r…right thing to do?"

"Sweet of you to offer, little one, but don't you worry none. Just leave it in the sink, and I'll deal with the washing up after," she answered him gently, and once he'd put down the mug, she drew him into a quick hug.

He stiffened in fear at this, and closed his eyes, preparing for the horror he knew was coming. 'No! Please, God... not again...' Tyler looked up quickly at the echo of fear he suddenly felt. His face grew grim, and he started siphoning off the emotion. Joel felt some of the fear leave him, yet he didn't relax. He couldn't. He started shaking again; badly.

Whilst this was happening, Cory had moved to Sean to ask him to gather up Kyle and Tyler, and then he approached Joel. Helen was looking sadly at the poor boy she had just released, but moved away when she saw his discomfort was not decreasing.

Cory put his arm over the boy's shoulders, "Joel, we need to have you checked out. Doc Austin wants to see if he can help with that tattoo and the rest," he said encouragingly, "and we'll be right there with you."

Joel looked a little unsure at the idea of seeing a doctor, but nodded his head, and surprisingly reached out to hesitantly put an arm about Cory's waist. Cory smiled and drew him close before leading him up to Doc Austin and wait for the others.

Sean quietly approached Kyle "Bro, can you and Tyler come to the Infirmary with us? We might need you both there with Joel."

"Sure thing, dude. I'll ask Levi to stay with Timmy for now." Kyle walked off quickly and spoke to the other two. Sean watched as Levi nodded his agreement to stay, before walking out after Cory and Joel, with Kyle and Tyler quickly following.

Camp Little Eagle Infirmary - 5pm

"Joel, jump up on the biobed, please, and we'll start the tests," Doc Austin said as he pointed to the bed, and Sean helped Joel up onto it. The Doc started pressing a few buttons and the bed came to life, causing Joel's eyes to darting everywhere, recognizing many of the items around him, and finally settled on the monitor above his head. The markers were starting to move as the bed scanned him and kept track of his vital readings. "Well, at first glance, everything is reading as they should, considering. Your heart rate's a little high, though. How are you feeling, Joel?"

Joel looked from the monitor towards Doc Austin with mistrust. However, his training automatically took over and he replied, "A l…little scared, sir. I...I don't kn...know what you're gonna to me..." Tyler again started to 'ground' some more of Joel's fear and started to project reassurance into him again.

"No need to be, Son. I'm not going to hurt you," he assured him with a smile, then he noticed something change. "Well, heart rate now dropping; still high, but within limits; adrenaline is also high, but that's understandable too. Everything else is fair." He moved to another monitor a few feet away, "Think I'll run a more detailed test on you, just so we know what to do to make you a bit healthier. That sound okay, Joel?"

Joel looked at Cory and Sean seeking their approval of the request. They nodded slowly, so he in turn did. He watched Dr Michaels work the controls and heard the hum from the bed in response.

Tyler and Kyle, standing just past the foot of the bed, reached over together to pat Joel comfortingly on his lower legs. The boy flashed them a quick smile. "How easy will it be for you to get rid of that tattoo, Doc?" questioned Tyler, turning from the bed. An idea was already forming in his mind.

Doc Austin looked up for a moment and replied carefully, "It will take a bit of work, but I'll manage," he looked quickly at Joel and winked, "I'll make sure all that handsome face will be seen clearly, soon."

Joel's eyes widened slightly and a slow blush mounted his cheeks as he mumbled "Th…thanks."

The boys started chatting between themselves as Doc Austin worked. Joel remained fairly quiet at first, but with easy questioning, they got him to start talking about some of the books and stories he had read. He answered the questions put to him, sometimes fearfully, as he knew he was not meant to know about these books and stories. He refused, though, to ask any questions himself, even though he frequently cast questioning looks at some of the things the others said. Tyler eventually asked him, "Joel, why don't you ask questions too? We won't bite, you know."

"I… 'a slave sh...should not speak unless s...spoken too'," Joel recited, then looked down at his chest with more fear building, "If I ever s…spoke out of turn, I'd be b…beat bad." Were they going to punish him for not asking questions? Sean rubbed gently over his right arm, then took his hand and squeezed it to comfort him. His fear receded.

Tyler looked quickly at Kyle before starting to ask Joel about his favourite stories, and the boy quickly responded with a brief explanation of 'Dragon Earl'. Kyle projected into Cory's mind, 'Tyler and I can help him overcome this problem he has with asking questions, by placing temporary prompts in his mind. What do you think, bro?'

'How 'temporary' will they be, and how will it help?' he thought back.

'Will last a day or so, but they will allow him to ask questions easier, and to loosen up a bit. Once he sees that he can speak freely without getting hurt, then he will just continue, once the prompts have faded. It will just build his self-confidence about his place here.'

'We'll have to ask him. If he's for it, give it a go.' Cory looked at Joel directly and waited for him to finish answering Tyler, before speaking. "Joel, Kyle has just asked me if he and Tyler can help you, but it's something that only you can decide for yourself." Joel looked quizzically at him as he had not seen Kyle talking to Cory at all.

Catching the look, Kyle started to explain briefly. "I can read thoughts and project them, amongst other things. There are many who have powers here: some of us are Telepaths; others are Empaths; even some with things like telekinesis. Then there are those with different powers again, but we'll explain fully later about that. For now, there is something I'd like to help you with." Joel just looked at Kyle, and nodded even though he felt unsure. Tyler nodded at him that he could trust Kyle too, so he smiled up at Kyle as he spoke. "Tyler and I would like to place some temporary mental 'prompts' and 'shields' into your mind, to allow you to speak freely without being so afraid. They would last for a day or so, but they would give you the confidence to ask questions and spend time with us, without your feeling that you will get hurt. Once they have faded, you will remember that you could speak freely and ask questions without being 'beat' and then you'd be able to continue doing so. Would you like us to do that?"

Joel nodded quickly.

"However, I need to let you know that we would be exposed to your memories while implanting these 'prompts' but we promise, we will not speak to anyone about your past, unless you want us to. Do you still want us to do this?" Tyler finished, with a smile on his face.

Joel thought about this. The ability to choose for himself: somehow it felt really good, it felt like he was respected enough to be asked. He struggled with himself, but finally started to reply, "I th...think I'd like that. I don't w…w…want to be afraid no more…" he trailed off, and just looked with pleading, moist eyes at them both. "I do…don't c…care if you see what happened. You c...can tell anyone… can ya really h…help me?"

They walked around the bed to him and held out their hands for him to take. He trustingly reached out and they took his left hand in theirs, linking the three of them together. "Yes, we'll help you, bro," stated Ty firmly. Both he and Kyle closed their eyes as they started, and a strange look came over Joel's face as he felt a gentle tickling warmth in his mind. In a little under a minute, both the others had opened their eyes and smiled at Joel. "How do you feel now?" asked Tyler.

"I'm fine. Is it done? Have you… Wow!" Joel's jaw dropped open. He had felt a twinge of fear, more like nervousness, yet he had talked freely! In shear wonder, he looked between the two on his left and Cory and Sean on his right, who were all smiling happily down at him, "I'm speaking?! Wow! This is so wicked! Damn, I can ask questions too? YES!!" All four boys reached in to hug the ecstatic Joel. They formed a massive, giggling pile on the biobed, which of course, caused the readings to go all haywire.

Doc Austin, still over by the other monitors, said laughingly, "Great work guys, but you are messing up the readings. Can you back away for a second?" The boys backed off and the scans continued as normal.

Cory spoke up softly, "Cool, Joel. Just remember, you can ask anything at any time. No one will hurt you. Also, try not to think of yourself as a slave any more. I meant what I said earlier. You're free, now. Please believe that." Joel just looked at him, and nodded while a small smile crept to his lips.

After checking the readouts again, the Doc said, "This is showing you've not had much nutrition. What have you been eating mostly, Joel?"

"Bread and butter for the most part, and some chicken on occasion. Maybe some apples, if I did my work well. I've always been hungry, though," was the thoughtful response. He looked to Kyle and smiled his thanks. Being able to talk freely without fear felt so good, and he hoped that they were right about what would happen when the 'prompts' faded.

"That figures. Now, for a blood test and DNA scan. This won't hurt at all, I promise," the Doc said with assurance as he picked up a hypospray and moved to stand by Kyle and Tyler. Joel stiffened at his approach, but as soon as Cory took his hand, he felt safe enough and lifted up his left arm to allow the blood to be taken. The 'spray activated with a small hiss and the vial filled with Joel's blood. Once Doc Austin had moved away, the boys started chatting again.

After a few moments, Doc Austin's attention was drawn to a variance in the readings of Joel's DNA. As much as could be seen, it looked normal, but at least half of it was, for want of a better word, shifting about. It seemed to be trying to mask itself as human, but then it phased between human and blanked out DNA. It made no sense. He hit a few buttons and the biobed started running a more in-depth scan on Joel. Within moments, a series of beeps sounded from the bed, and the computer's voice stated flatly, "Foreign object located." Cory moved over quickly to stand next to the Doc to examine the readings.

"What the hell is that?" Doc Austin started to focus the scan at the top of Joel's spine where it joins the skull. A black spot on the monitor started to resolve slightly, but still seemed phased, much like the DNA he had been checking. The readings continued to confirm the presence of an object there, but refused to yield any more useful information.

"I wonder if Ark could help with this." Cory mused, "I'll call now and ask her to link in with these scans."

<I am already monitoring them, Crafter, and once again, I am not female.> Ark's voice came from the view screen on the wall.

Sean giggled and smirked at his partner. Cory sighed and continued, "What do you think, Ark?"

<These readings seem familiar to me, and I think I can find the relevant information; please give me a moment.>

Joel was watching from the bed, looking totally lost. "That is something new. Never heard any computer in 'Star Trek' sound or talk like that." he mused out loud.

Tyler said, "Ark is very old. He was made over sixty thousand years ago by the Founders, to gather all the knowledge of mankind and wait for the day that we'd stop killing each other."


"Long story... very long story. We'll tell ya later, bro." giggled Kyle.

"Cool!" With brightening eyes, Joel turned his attention back to the monitor to listen in.

<I am not male either, Tyler.> Ark suddenly said, <Crafter, I can recall only one possible connection and it is regarding something that happened recently. About fifteen years ago, in March of 1989AD, Gregorian Calender, Starfleet Covert Operations started working on a Bio-Phase Chip to aid them against possible attack from such foes as the Romulans, and at the time, the Klingons. The B.P.C, as it was more commonly called, was designed to suppress the DNA of one species, and cloak it with the DNA of another. This would change the subject via metamorphosis to look and read to any scan as a member of another species. The research was discontinued on Earth in 1990 when the Vulcans were asked to participate and at that point, all testing was shifted off-world to Vulcan. I lost track of the project at that point.>

<While this 'chip' in Joel's neck does not read as per the information I have on the first Starfleet trials, the current state of Joel's DNA is, however, within the hypothesized results of using a B.P.C. during the first stages of testing. The fact that half of his DNA is showing as normal for humans, yet the other half is phasing between human and blanked out, points to the chip being a test version. The desired result of a fully functioning B.P.C would, of course, leave no traces or clues what so ever that anything was amiss. We can also know that Joel is at least half human. There is no point in using this B.P.C. unless there was something to hide.>

Doc Austin and Cory were stunned and just stared at the monitor before them. Research files appeared on the screen, showing the first few years of testing before the project was taken off-world. Very advanced stuff, even more so, as this data was nearly fifteen years old. "Ark, are you able to tell us how to deactivate this chip?" Cory asked.

<No, I am sorry, Crafter. Unlike the original plans, this object in Joel's neck does not read as human technology. The current scans give us that much at least. It does not read as Vulcan either, but that could be due to the phasing it is going through. If it is Vulcan, then I would need to be in contact with it, or have contact information relayed from your end, to determine the level of sophistication, in order to safely deactivate it. If it is not of Vulcan origin, then Starfleet will be most interested in this item.>

"What is the likely result of simply removing it?" asked the Doc.

<Joel would enter system wide, neural shock and would in all likelihood die from the result...>

"NO! Don't take it out, then! I'd rather..." Joel started to panic.

Sean immediately reached back in to cuddle him, while Tyler stilled his emotions. Ark continued, <Do not worry, Joel. Nothing bad will happen to you. Dr Michaels, to remove this chip, you would need to activate the shut-down protocols, either by operating there, with me monitoring, or to relocate here. However, the current status here is between busy and chaotic. Unless the operation starts to go badly, I would recommend deactivation and removal there. I will take as much time as I need to study the contact readings before starting the shut-down, and if it is Vulcan technology, I should have very little problems with it.>

"What if it's not, though!" Joel was still worked up, "What if it's totally alien! Please, Ark, I don't wanna die!"

<We will not proceed with this unless I am sure it can be done with no harm to you. I will not permit anyone or anything to harm you, Joel, I promise.>

Cory turned to the wide eyed Joel and went over to him. "Bro, this is your choice. Do you want us to remove the chip?"

Although scared at the prospect of being operated on, Joel turned to look at Cory and Sean. He reached out to hold both their hands before turning to Doc Austin. "Yes. If this isn't really me, then I want to become me." He looked back to Cory and asked, "I'm half human? Do you have any idea what the other half is?"

"No, bro, we don't, but we'll be here for you no matter what."

<I cannot tell what your other racial heritage is either, Joel. We will have to wait and see what happens after the B.P.C. is deactivated and removed. Doctor Michaels, I recommend sedation as these changes are likely to cause at least some discomfort. Depending on which species DNA the hidden half belongs to, it could vary from a simple itch to severe pain.>

Joel looked a little scared again at that, "Sleep? No, please don't! I don't wanna dream! Please, Ark…"

Before he could tear up, Kyle and Tyler moved over to him. Tyler said, "It's okay, bro. We'll keep you from having bad dreams. Just relax and it'll all work out." Joel did as he was told and again felt a warm, tickling sensation in his mind as both boys reached out with their power, stilling his fear and organising his memories.

Doc Austin pressed the comm. and called for Antonio to come to the Infirmary. Turning back to the room he said, "Guys, 'Tonio will help me here, but I can't have too many people standing around." Looking to Joel he continued, "They will be here with you, once you wake up, I promise." Joel nodded. Doc Austin then continued, "Sean, please show Joel where the bathroom is. He might need to go before he goes to sleep for the night."

Joel started to nod again, looking sheepish, "Yes, please, I really need to go!" He hopped down from the bed and followed Sean out of the room quickly. It did not take long before he was running back in and being helped back onto the bed.

About five minutes later, Antonio entered and went to Doc Austin who gave him the brief run down of what was going on. Cory spoke to Joel, "Antonio is going to help the Doc for a while, Bro. He's cool, so don't be scared, okay?"

Joel nodded at him, then watched as Antonio came over to him and took his hand. "Hi. I'm Antonio, but most everybody calls me 'Tonio," he began with a warm, friendly smile. Joel liked him immediately. "I'll be staying here with you and keep you company."

"Hi, 'Tonio," Joel squeezed Antonio's hand as he saw Doc Austin approach with another hypo spray. He heard the hiss as it was depressed into his arm, then, just as everything faded out, his last mumbled words were, "I just hope I don't wake up a Klingon..."

Cory led the others from the room once Joel's eyes had closed, leaving the other two free to work. Once out, he glanced at Kyle and Tyler, and with the unasked question being answered, all four boys vanished...

CIC Building – Kitchen – 6pm

Back in the kitchen area of CIC, Teri was speaking quietly with Helen and Dan. Cory and the others suddenly popped into the room, and began to seat themselves near to the others. Tyler was gently holding Kyle, and Sean was watching them both with concern evident on his face as they were both beginning to look a little sick. Teri looked between them, "Okay, spill. What's going on? Where is Joel?"

"Doc found something unusual, Mom," Sean said, as he reached for some cookies on the table before them. "Joel isn't entirely human, and there's some chip in his neck that is hiding his DNA. Ark is going to help him and 'Tonio remove it."

Teri's eyes went wide at that, then she looked at the two upset boys, "What else?"

Cory sighed, moved from his chair to the counter and started filling a few glasses with orange juice. He said, "Seems like Joel's past is very bad. Kyle and Tyler said they could help him with the problem he has with talking, but doing so meant that they would know all his memories. I think they're a bit darker than most, going by their reaction."

"It's mainly hopelessness and fear, bro, almost unending. He has suffered a lot, but the worst of it is that where he was, there was little to no chance of it ever changing," was the soft response from Kyle.

"Can you tell us what Mikey told you now?" Cory asked, as he sat, handing the drinks to the others. "We know he's from another universe, but Joel didn't explain anything else."

"Well," Teri settled back in the chair, "First off, Mike said that Joel was born here, in our Universe, but had somehow gotten lost in time and space. He's not from another universe, he just got lost there. He mainly told us about the universe Joel was trapped in. It was supposed to be cut off from all the others; a sort of test-realm, or something. No-one was meant to go there, no matter what powers they had. From what Mike said, there are a few of these 'test-realms' out there, but travel to them is totally restricted. They can be classed as other universes, rather than time-lines, as time-line would suggest that they branched from ours at some point. The one Joel was in never did; it was very similar to ours, yet at no point intersecting ours. It seems like Joel ending up there was a total accident."

"In that Universe, only earth had life. That was the test, I would say, but they got so bad... well Mike said that place has now been purged, and thankfully so. Joel was about to be raped by his master when Mike intervened. The world, there, was built on slavery and a totalitarian regime. Now that he's home, as it were, he can find his family, if any live."

Cory nodded to himself and muttered, "Figures. He looks like he's been through a war. I agree about that place being 'purged'. What a hell-hole."

Kyle spoke up, "It also seems like the place Joel was is very similar, in some respects only, to the place Kurt and the others are from. They grew up with TV shows called Star Trek, and it seems that Joel managed to find and watch them on some 'underground resistance internet'. Mikey told Joel that he was trapped in the late 2040s. He has more 'Trek' knowledge than any of those guys."

Sean said with a smile, "I wonder, though. He doesn't seem to recognise us, just Starfleet and Kirk. Those stories about us they mentioned might not have been in that universe."

Kyle shook his head, "No. From what I gathered from Kurt, Galen and the others, those stories were labelled as 'Clan Short Universe' stories, or CSU for short. Joel had found an old reference to them on the underground internet he'd accessed, but they had been pulled from the 'net years before Joel got onto it. He never found any 'illegal' site that hosted them. He would only vaguely recognise the term 'CSU', not even 'Clan Short'."

Sean then asked "What was that portal thing they came through? Never seen or heard about anything like that."

Teri said, "Mikey wouldn't explain it. He said Joel could and would if asked, but Mikey wasn't allowed to."

"That's a minor issue, though. We'll deal with that later." Cory then turned to Kyle and asked, "Do you and Ty think you can tell us any more about Joel? As much as he'd be happy us knowing?"

Kyle nodded, but it was Ty who spoke first, "I'll start, bro, and Joel was being totally truthful; he don't care who knows most of this stuff. First, his full name would be Joel Williams, although he was only ever know as Joel. Since his master was Williams, that name will do for now."

"Okay, as for everything else? He's a real mess emotionally: never known love, comfort, safety, nothing. He seems to be dead inside in some ways, but deep inside, I sense a longing for those things. On another level, I have never felt as much mistrust and doubt from anyone. He knows he is not a slave any more, but he still doesn't believe that yet. You could say he's waiting for 'the other shoe to drop'."

Kyle broke in with disgust in his voice, "He was in an 'orphanage', if you could call that shit-hole that. Sorry, Aunt Teri, but it's the best way to describe that place. They trained him to obey and remain silent. To accept whatever they did to him. Once he was sold, the only 'good' thing was that he was never raped. His master was a homophobic bigot of the highest order. Other slaves would be raped and sexually used with the full support of the world order, but Joel never was. And that is what confuses me. Slaves could be used for sex by their masters, yet homosexuality was forbidden, and under a death penalty. It's messed up. Thankfully, Joel never had to bear that. His mistress, though… No, that's for Joel to tell you. I can't..."

He trailed off and looked down at his hands before continuing softly, "He's lost his entire childhood. He's what Ricky would have been if he'd not been saved." He started to tear up, and hung his head.

"He has a fear of adults," Tyler picked up, moving in closer to Kyle to hold him in a hug, "A massive fear. When he was hugged by you, Helen, the fear racing off him hurt me, and he barely trusted the Doc. Just something for y'all to keep in mind."

Helen nodded her head, "I felt him stiffen in my arms and I knew real fast, I'd made a mistake. I think he needs to come to us, rather than us offer hugs to him."

Teri patted Helen's hand, "Don't feel bad, I felt like cuddling him too." She turned to Tyler, "Where is this fear of adults from? His being beaten?"

"Not totally. That counted to it, but there is something else. I can't tell what it is, though. Kyle?"

"Nor me. It was confusing at first, as when I read another's mind I learn everything at once. There are dark parts to his memories, however, as if there's nothing there. I'll tell you this, though; even if that 'chip' had not been discovered, I'd have known something was alien about him. He doesn't think like a human at all, and... and I think that's what these blank bits in his memory are; deleted or repressed memories, just done in an alien way. I don't even know if he remembers what's there, just that he should be afraid. Very afraid." He choked up again slightly and stopped.

"He does seem to totally trust Mikey, Sean and Cory, though. He feels safest of all around you," Tyler said, trying to lighten the mood. "But as for the rest of us? He's okay with 'Tonio, Tommy, Kyle and myself; Gavin he accepts as one who wouldn't hurt him, and he feels no threat at all from the little kids. Timmy and Paul had little trouble feeding him, earlier."

Dan looked towards Tyler, "Why Gavin? What caused the trust there?"

Kyle gathered himself a bit and spoke instead, "Gavin is right out of fiction, as far as Joel is concerned. He is an 'alien species' from his favourite TV shows on the Underground Internet. Rigelians never hurt him, so he doesn't fear them. He'd likely treat Xain the same way."

"What about Sean and Cory? How did he trust them so quick? Mikey, I can understand, but not Sean and Cory."

"Trust transference." Tyler simply stated.

Sean blinked at that, but then understood, "When Mikey told him he was safe with us, Joel was looking at both me and Cor... the trust he gave to Mikey just spilled onto us!"

"And that is what makes your job so much harder, guys," Tyler warned, "as if you do anything to break that trust, you might well shatter any hopes we have of healing him."

They all stayed silent for a few minutes, weighing up the situation.

"Also, regarding his conditioning to obey without question," continued Ty, feeling the silence too heavy, "I get the strong feeling that if we were to jokingly tell him to strip and run around the outside of the Compound naked, he would. He would do anything, even if it involves pain, to avoid greater pain…" Ty trailed off, his eyes elsewhere.

Kyle then said, "Most amazing of all is his mind. He is more than just intelligent; photographic memory, multi-tasking, fast thinking, analytical. He would give Xain a run for his money, I'd say. And his knowledge…" He shook his head in wonder but relapsed back into a contemplative state as he went back over Joel's memories again.

Sean asked softly "Kyle, in many ways, the 'Safe Haven Act' does not truly apply here, as an alternate universe would be outside it's jurisdiction, but going by the SHA, what codes have been broken?"

Kyle closed his eyes in thought, "Okay, some of this stuff is recent, some life long. Give me a moment to think and sort them into order."

He opened his eyes and started reciting in formal Vulcan mode, "From a baby: 17.1: Employment Abuse 17.1(a): Slavery - All points. 10.3(a): No dedicated washing or bathing facilities. 11.1: Signs of beating, strangulation, physical restraints. 11.2: Threats of beating, strangulation or physical restraint. 11.3: Behaviour which is indicative of such abuse: 11.3(a): Cowering, withdrawal, hiding behind people, or other behaviours known to be present in victims of abuse. 12.2: Isolation of children from their peers and normal socialization. 12.2(a): Deliberate isolation for purposes of depriving children of necessary social skills. 14.2: Failure to provide necessary medical care. 14.3: Neglecting to provide necessary medications for survival of youth. 17.10: Consistent exposure of children to content or environments inappropriate for someone of their age group. 17.16: Failure to provide adequate external garments for environment. 17.21: Punishment of children for normal developmental stages, and 17.22: Unreasonable incarceration."

"In part, attempted '12.1: Brainwashing or mentally programming children to believe that there is only one religious or social belief system contrary to the actual status of same in the predominant societal structure of the local area'. I say 'in part' as it would seem to apply, yet not totally as the law allowed such, and promoted it, and the 'predominant societal structure' was based on slavery and coercion in any case. Also, since his mind is very powerful, they failed to change his thinking and belief, but they did achieve the desired results as he will obey in order to not get hurt."

"From the age of eleven, '13.1: Use of minor children to provide sexual gratification' applies, but very loosely. More like 'Use of minor children to provide sadistic pleasure through sexual torment'."

"Almost getting raped?" Cory questioned.

Kyle hesitated, but then shook his head, "Not really, but that does fit it slightly as well. However, like I said, what really happened is something for Joel to tell, not me. All I can say is that it's not as bad, on the surface, as some of the stuff we've been through, but it did leave scars in his mind. That's it, Cor. That's basically what he went through… all his life and with no hope of escape what so ever. If anything, that is the worst part of his story. We had hope that things could get better. Joel knew it never would and that he was trapped. He lived knowing that was all he'd ever have." He finished, once again looking upset.

Sean looked up from the table he's been staring at, and said quietly, "He is going to be a lot of work, Cory. We're going to have to tell the guys to keep him off the 'prank' list; he's going to have major trust issues, and I have a feeling it's gonna fall to us two mostly. Will the others cope with this? Will we? It's going to be like walking on egg-shells for a long time."

Eyes closed, Cory considered that. After a moment, he looked Sean directly in the eyes, "Yes, I'm sure they will. We'll talk to them after, but I can't see anyone not going along with this. Besides, no-one here has ever given up on anyone, and I doubt they'll start now." Cory thought again, then continued, "As for the two of us, I will do anything to keep those smiles on his face. God, Sean, he's so little and just trusts so much, once you win it. I don't care if it falls to me and you, I'm going to just help him anyway..."

Sean nodded, "I feel the same way. No worries about us not handling it, guys. I just hope everyone else can too."

Teri had remained silent through all of this, quietly musing on the idea she had, had from the moment Joel arrived. As Sean finished, she spoke up firmly. "He is going to need a family. Mike said this is his true place, true universe, and that he may still have relatives here. However, until we find them, and determine if they are suitable, I am hereby placing Joel in my custody pending consultation with Joel himself."

Sean looked between her and Cory, then started laughing softly, "I think you just beat Cory to that, Mom!"

Cory laughed shortly with him, "Yup, I was about to ask Sean if he wanted another son!" Then he became formal "Clan Short agrees with this decision. Upon agreement from Joel, he shall be under the care of Teri Short until such time, if it comes, that his blood family is found and prove suitable for placement."

"Kewl, another brother!" exclaimed Tyler, "will he be Short too? He's gotta have our last name, Mom!"

Teri smiled, "If he wants to be, yes, he'll be another 'Short'."

"Oh, Mom? Joel's birthday is on Thursday. He'll be thirteen and we need to have a party for him. I don't think he's ever had one, so I want him to have a great surprise for a change. That okay?" Sean requested seriously.

Teri just nodded with a smile, then rolled her eyes, "One Teenage Party coming up; it might do everyone here some good."

Cory then started to rattle off orders, "Okay: Ty, Kyle, can you go around and tell everyone in the Compound there's a Clan Meeting at seven, please? Sean, go find Seth and ask him to contact Southcrest. I think we'll get the guys over from there. I'll go ask Tommy to prepare a relay between here and the Thompson house. That covers the most likely guys to have immediate contact with Joel. Tomorrow, we'll send out a recording of the meeting to the other Divisions. Ark?"

<Yes, Crafter?> came the reply over the Sub-Vocal communication device in his ear.

"Just wondering, how's Joel doing?"

<Doctor Michaels has not started on the operation to remove the B.P.C. as he is healing a few cracked ribs and various minor problems he has discovered. He did mention that he will inform you when we begin deactivation and removal of the 'chip'.>

Cory nodded his head in acknowledgement, "Cool, thanks Ark."

Sean then turned to the guys, "Okay, let's start rounding up the Clan. And Cor? Stop giving orders! You're resting, just like Grandfather Sarek told you!" Cory pouted playfully, then sighed and walked off with Sean, arm in arm.

CIC Building - Main CIC - 7pm

The boys were all assembled and Sean started by telling everyone what had been revealed so far, followed by Tyler and a summery of Joel's emotional state and likely actions that would result from it. As a picture of Joel from the Security system was shown to those at the Thompson residence, Tyler finished with, "His trust is totally shot, basically. He is going to fixate on those whom he trusts, especially Cory and Sean. Take your time and don't push him. Also, he's not going to act thirteen very often at first. He'll either be very young, or very old in what he does and says. It's all emotional, though. He'll settle and grow soon enough, I hope."

Most of the guys simply shrugged at that. "No sweat, dude," Adam said, speaking for them all, "Just another brother to love and take care of as far as I'm concerned." The others nodded emphatically at that statement.

Ty continued, "However, and this is really serious. Do not just walk up to him and hug him. Be friendly, be loving and talk to him, yet do not make any sudden moves at him until he trusts you. You know the signs, just as we know with Timmy, for example. We know when you want to be picked up and hugged, don't we, Gizmo?" Timmy grinned and nodded. "Do the same with Joel. If you think he'd like a hug, then offer to hug him, and then let him come to you. If he trusts you, he will."

Kyle, sitting on the ground with Levi pulled onto his lap, also spoke up, "It wouldn't be a good idea to pull any pranks on him or tease him as we do each other. He'd take what you say and do at face value and act on it, believing he would get punished or worse for not doing so. Also, he's never played before, not with others or with toys. He's going to find much of our stuff, games and toys fascinating, so will probably play with whatever and whoever is near."

"He'd play with our toys with us too, Unca Kyle?" asked Timmy excitedly. Paul and Ricky also looked on expectantly.

"Yes, I'd say so," he smiled at the kids. "He'd love to be invited to play with you, and especially as he doesn't fear you munchkins, Gizmo." He then addressed everyone again, "Just don't tease him until he starts teasing first and then only return the teasing to the level that he does. As for the pranks? Same... if he pranks you, then return them to the level he uses. Go no further. If you do, you could break the trust you've gained."

Everyone again nodded in agreement, while Justy turned to Cory, "Do we know how Joel is right now? Can we call in to see how things are going?"

"I was about to," Cory got up and went to the terminal, where Kurt's boys, the Thompson boys, Lawrence, Lehman, Vincent and Deacon were watching. "I was told that the Doc would tell us when he'd began removal of the chip, but I've heard nothing yet." He hit a button to split the screen into two, and started to connect a call to the infirmary. "Doc, do you have a moment?"

After a few seconds the Doc appeared, "Yes, Cory. I was just about to call you anyway."

"How are things with Joel?"

"We've dealt with all the minor things like bruises and cracked ribs. We did open up the area where the chip is so that Ark could take readings and run a few reverse engineering protocols on it. Just waiting on Ark to say what to do next. The 'chip' is still unidentified, but the readings show it's at least twelve years old. If it is Vulcan, then it's unlike any Vulcan Tech I've ever seen."

Xain, watching with interest, asked, "Doctor, can you send your current findings to me, please? I will send the files onto my father for analysis. He may be able to find out if it is of Vulcan origin or not."

"Sure, Xain. Files will be sent in a few moments, and thanks."

Cory saw Antonio come up behind Doc Austin and tap him on the arm, "I think Ark has things ready. Shall I ask him to proceed? He thinks he can do the shut down by remote."


"Hush, Ark," was the giggled response.

Doc Austin laughed, "Okay Ark, if you're sure, go for it. I'll get to the monitor here." He moved away from the view screen, totally forgetting he'd left it on, and Antonio went to Joel's side with a tricorder in hand and started scanning. Due to the position of the view screen, Joel was just out of sight.

After a few minutes the Doc said, "Things are looking good. There was a brief flush of enzymes for a moment… wait… oh God, 'Tonio, grab that hypospray quick!" Alarms started sounding from the biobed and the monitors scattered about.

<Joel's nutrient reserves are dropping at an alarming rate. I recommend connecting him to an IV with the following supplements.>

A nearby screen started to fill with instructions that Antonio was quick to study. Doc Austin used the hypospray that had been handed to him, then turned back to the monitor with Joel's readings. He then noticed that the view screen was still active and filled with concerned boys faces.

He rushed over, "Sorry guys. I'll call when I can." And the screen went blank. Kyle and Ty looked quickly at each other, then 'ported out of CIC in the blink of an eye, taking Levi with them.

Sean was holding Cory's hand tightly as he had moved to the screen while this had been happening. Cory looked at him, concern evident in both their faces, before they turned to the rest. "Guys, I'm sure everything will be okay, and Ark is watching over them in there," Cory assured them, trying to get the image of the worry he had seen in the doctor's eyes out of his mind. "Let's get to the kitchen and our snack. Doc will keep us updated." The Clan got to their feet and made their way out of CIC, leaving Justy, Sean and Cory talking to those on the view screen.

Xain formally stated, "Patriarch, the files I asked the Doctor to send have arrived. Shall I relay them onto 'he who is my father' with your approval?"

"Please, Xain, and thank him for us, no matter the result." He responded with a small smile, "Oh, Mom asked that I invite y'all over for breakfast tomorrow. Can you check with Allen and Billy and get back to her?"

"I'll go ask now!" Grinning, Kevin rushed away from the screen, to the puzzled looks from the others. Kenny just rolled his eyes.

A few moments later, he came running back in, "Sure thing, Cory! Billy don't know yet, but Poppa said we'll be there; he'll tell you what time we'll be there later," he then turned, hugged his startled twin quickly and kissed him before rushing back out of the room again.

"What the hell's gotten into Kev?" wondered Jake. Kenny shrugged, still looking at the doorway Kevin had just sped through. Jake then turned back to the screen, "Dad is bringing these guys back later, so I'm sure he'll let ya know what time we'll be there then, Cory."

Cory waved and said while shaking his head at Kev's behaviour, "Okay, thanks. Seeya then, guys. CIC out."

"Thompson Residence out." Xain replied with a hint of a smile.

The connection terminated, and Cory quietly led the others towards the kitchen. Sean walked close to him and Justy came up to his other side and spoke. "I've asked Pop if we can stay here tonight and he's said its okay, if Teri gives us the all clear."

Pleased, yet now slightly abstracted by worry for Joel, Cory and Sean nodded their heads in acknowledgement. They entered the kitchen and helped themselves to the snacks.

Tuesday, 26th October
Cory and Sean's House - Just after 6.30am

It was very early, but movement was heard nonetheless from the upstairs of Cory and Sean's house. Both boys appeared, looking tired and sandy eyed, and came down quietly from their room and made for the kitchen. Making a bee-line for the coffee machine, they started pouring themselves exceptionally strong mugs. They both stopped dead in the doorway of the living room, however, when they saw Kyle pacing to and fro and Tyler in an armchair with Levi half asleep on his lap. They all looked totally beat.

"What the…" Cory started. He and Sean moved into the room further, and Sean seated himself on another chair. Cory addressed the others, "Couldn't sleep either, bros?"

Tyler and Kyle tiredly shook their heads, and Tyler said, "We didn't stay long with Doc. Just helped stabilize Joel, then left the other two to get on with it. We did heal those scars he has, though. And remove that tattoo. No scars either!"

"What with everything else that's happened, we didn't want worry for Joel to add to that," Kyle picked up. "So we didn't even try to sleep. We've spent the rest of the night keeping as many as we could calm enough to sleep, stopping the bad dreams from that crap on Saturday and tried to stop the worry about Joel, but some of y'all were harder to help than others." He looked at Sean and Cory with a small smile.

Sean giggled, "That seems to be more than true. This one here kept shifting about all night!" He pulled Cory onto his lap before picking up his coffee for another long drink.

Cory sighed and relaxed back against Sean. "Like you were still, either." he said before he turned and kissed Sean contentedly.

The others giggled weakly for a moment before Sean asked, "One thing puzzles me, though. Why didn't you heal Joel when he first arrived? In the shower? Ty?"

Tyler closed his eyes briefly, "It... it just felt the wrong time. I dunno... Kyle and I both felt that we should wait."

"Okay," Sean replied, then they all settled down and chatted quietly for a while, trying to keep themselves awake.

Tyler suddenly spoke up with a grin, having remembered something "Oh, didn't have time to mention last night. Someone at that meeting seemed more than a little 'interested' when the images of Joel were shown around. Joel might have a 'good friend' if he's lucky..." He finished as a yawn silenced him.

"And you are not gonna tell us, are you?" Kyle giggled.

Tyler simply shook his head 'no', a big grin on his face, and a softly chuckling Levi on his lap. "I know too, but I ain't gonna tell you!" Levi said tiredly in a sing song voice.

Cory smiled at the trio but then he remembered something. He asked curiously, "Kyle, you said last night that you knew Joel's mind seemed alien, even before we found out he is at least half alien. What race do you think he might be?"

Kyle stopped pacing for a moment as he thought back over the events of last night, "Not sure, bro. He felt familiar, yet a bit off. The 'chip' might be the cause for that, but if I had to guess, I'd say…"

He stopped as Antonio suddenly came in through the front door looking dead on his feet. He nearly tripped over Ty's legs and practically fell onto the couch. "Oh God, what a night," he leaned his head back and closed his eyes. At his appearance, the others came out of their lethargy. "I could sleep forever..."

"Hey! Sleep later, what's happening?" Kyle said as he went to Antonio and cuddled in next to him, "Come on, spill, before you're out for the count, dude!"

He mumbled, "Not got the energy… Doc says you can go see him... Glad I don't have to wake you guys up... can't climb stairs right now...." he trailed off with a yawn as sleep took him. Kyle gently got up and laid the boy down on the couch.

Cory climbed off Sean's lap and said, "You three stay here with our boys, Sean and I will go see Joel. And no arguments! Once Austin is up, ask him to get the kids moving to the CIC kitchen for breakfast, then y'all are going to bed. Take our room, or one of the boys', and ask Austin to carry 'Tonio up with you. Sleep 'til lunch, that's an order!"

He looked at them, daring them to object, but they just seemed too tired. They nodded with a smile. "Yes, Uncle Cory, sir!" Levi said, giggling quietly. Cory and Sean smiled at him and shook their heads before heading out towards Camp Little Eagle.

Camp Little Eagle Infirmary – 7.15am

As they entered the Camp Infirmary, they saw another 'walking dead'. Doc Austin was leaning against the door to Joel's room, coffee mug in hand, and rubbing his eyes with tired fingers. He looked towards the approaching pair and sighed. "Good, I'm going to sleep for a few hours, but I've enough go in me to last a short while longer. Is 'Tonio in bed yet?"

Cory shook his head no, "He's flaked out in our living room. We've left instructions for our Austin to put him to bed at our place once the kids are up. How's Joel, Doc?"

The Doc nodded, "Very well, I'm happy to say. Those boys were great, and they healed what we couldn't and left Joel with nothing more than faint lines and pale marks on his skin where the scars were. Once they left, Ark also told us how to take some advantage of the metamorphosis back to his true biological form in order to accelerate his growth. Still looking too young, but it's a good improvement."

He paused, picking his words carefully, "His current state does raise a few concerns, however, and will have some unpredictable problems. We'll just have to talk about it after I get some rest. Then we'll work out how to help him integrate as best we can. Let's go in now and I'll wake him up."

Cory and Sean shared a nervous look. Doc Austin turned and opened the door, and beckoned them both to follow him to Joel's bed. He just watched silently as they looked down at the peacefully sleeping boy. "Wow... didn't expect..." started Sean, wonder rising in his eyes, but quickly became concern as he realised what some of the problems the Doc was hinting at could be.

Cory just looked at Joel with his mouth hanging open, then he said, "Oh my... you're right, Doc. Things could get very messy..."

To be continued…

Author's Note:

Sorry, sorry, sorry... Str8mayb made me do it!!

No? Not convinced? Boo! Okay, he DID say it was a good idea though!
Well, what did you all expect? First story, first chapter... first cliffhanger! Well, two, in fact. But the clue to the other one is in there somewhere... hehehe!

Seriously, my thanks goes out to ACFan, MultiMapper, and Akeentia for the help and assistance they have rendered to make these guys true to life. Also, to all the other Author's who's kids I've mentioned and who've given advise: Thanks!

Last but not least, to The Phone, John Hollingway, Darryl and The Story Lover. My Editing and Sound-boarding team!

Hope you enjoy!

God Bless and Hugs,


Editor's Notes:

Well, this was certainly one amazing roller coaster ride. I loved it. I agree with Ilú that one of the cliffhangers is actually resolved, if you were paying close enough attention. You really should be able to answer that question. I hope everyone enjoyed this chapter. We have found out some interesting things and there is plenty more to learn in the next several chapters, though. Joel is a very special person and I already love him. I want to know more about him.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher

Clan Archivist Review Notes:

Having been working with this story since early in its creation I can still say that the finished product is amazing. Ilúvantír has done an amazing job giving his characters depth and life and the integration with the other stories in the CSU is top notch also.

Hopefully somewhere, sometime children won't have to live like Joel did and unfortunately like many children in the real world. Until then all we can do is give our love and care to those who are in need and continually hope for a better world for all.

This chapter has indeed lived up to the promise shown in the prologue and has actually surpassed it; now on to Chapter Two. Wait I don't have it yet! Ilú?????????????????

'Goos' says thanks also and he can't wait to read more about his new cousin.

Hmmmm Str8mayb is in JAIL yet he is still teaching how???

The Story Lover AKA TSL