Eric 382

Book 2

Near the end of Chapter 15 ...

Haden nodded as Captain Summers walked up. "Okay, I have four strike team members at the staging point with the van, they will drive up to the gate with it, push Hac out and drive back."

"That sounds perfect," Edgar jumped in. "After you've driven out of view, Daileass will teleport the van back to the palace."

As soon as the captain nodded her head in understanding, Haden looked back toward Hac. "Are you sure you are up to this?"

"Oh, the plan for the mission will be a walk in the park," Hac nodded. "But you better be sure that they will pay dearly for me having to wear this."

All the boys around, as well as Captain Summers smiled and nodded in understanding. Although he didn't look overly built for an eleven-year-old, something in Hac's voice lead them to believe that he was deadly serious.

"Okay, let's do this," Haden stated.

Chapter 16

11:45am RST - Wednesday, November 3rd, 2004 (12:45pm PST)

"You sure took your sweet ass time getting out here," Clifford commented as he watched Derum casually make his way toward the gate. Derum was slightly older than him, perhaps in his early 30's, but not as well built as he was. He also knew that he could run circles around the guy in marksmanship, if it ever came to that. But more importantly, Derum was guy who was going to be relieving him from his guard post at the front gate.

"Keep your britches on, Cliffy boy," Derum replied in a scruff voice. "The boss man wanted to have a little chat with me. It looks like this will be the last time you will see me out here."

"No shit, really?" Clifford asked with a slight degree of envy as Derum unlocked the gate with his key.

"Damn straight. It's inside for me. Finally this damn job might finally start to pay off," Derum grinned.

Clifford couldn't believe what he was hearing. Yet another peon that started after him was getting promoted before him. As all the guards knew, outside guard duties were for the new bucks, a trial period if you will, before being moved inside where the 'good stuff' was at. Right now he was starting to feel pissed off enough that he could just deck the guy.

"Hey man," Derum motioned behind Clifford, causing the younger man to swivel around. Driving down the dirt road toward them was a white van. Temporarily forgetting his aggression toward Derum, Clifford placed his hand on his semi-automatic as he watched the van slowly approach.

As it got closer, it became clear that the van had tinted windows, making it impossible to see inside. This, of course, caused both men to be on their guard that much more. When it was about fifty meters away, the van made a sharp turn to it's side and came to a halt. The side door of the van slid open, and two masked men forcefully rolled a young eleven-year-old boy out of the van and onto the dirt road. Without a word being said, the side door was slid shut, and the van took off back down the road.

"Oh hell," Derum grinned evilly as he looked at the gagged and tied boy laying in the road. "It looks like my promotion gift might have come early."

"Who do you think you're kidding?" Clifford asked as he walked toward the kid. "Look at him, a runt in a pink leotard. He's probably a special delivery for the boss man himself." Clifford reached down to drag the kid to his feet and groaned. "Holy fuck, this kid weighs a ton."

Derum laughted. "Can't lift up little runt? No wonder you keep getting passed up for promotion."

Clifford glared toward the older man. "Shut your damn mouth, and get over here and help me. It will be both of our asses if we don't get him into the boss man."

Derum shook his head and walked over to the kid and tried to lift him up. To his surprise, the kid was almost impossible to lift. With both men working together, however, they managed to get the boy to his feet, which fortunately were not bound.

"No funny shit kid, if you know what's good for ya," Derum stated as he held the boy in place to give clifford a chance to get the gate unlocked. It wasn't long until the kid was being pushed through the gate, toward the large white farm house.

Instead of walking him up to the front door, however, they led him to the side of the house and opened up a small diagonal side door that led into the cellar. This is where they shoved him down the cold stone steps, and slammed the door shut behind him.

"He's in," Edgar commented as he lowered the pair of binoculars he was using, and looked up toward Haden.

"So far so good," Haden agreed. "Daileass, do you still have a lock on him?"

"KLAUS and I both have good locks," Daileass replied through Haden's comm badge.

"Right then, on to stage two," Haden commented.

It only took a few moments for Hac's eyes to adjust to the darkness that was around him. It took even less time for his nose tell him what he had feared he might find the most. It was the smell of blood, youngling blood. A smell so sound that it nearly overwhelmed him. There was lots of death very near him, but at the same time he couldn't smell the fear. This could only mean one thing, by the time the bodies were brought down here, they were already dead.

"I'm in," the muffled yet still understandable sound of Hac's pre-teen voice came across Haden's comm badge. "They've thrown me into the cellar of the main house."

"We saw you," Haden said as Barrett moved closer to him. "Are you alright?"

"No, I'm not alright. I'm far from being alright," Hac replied. "But I'm not injured if that's what you mean."

"That's not good," Barrett whispered.

"Both Daileass and KLAUS have locks on you if you need us to pull you out," Haden replied.

"Oh no, you guys ain't pulling me out until I say I'm ready," Hac's voice replied in a serious tone. "The smell of youngling blood is nearly overwhelming, boss. Both fresh and old youngling blood. Someone will answer for that before I leave this place."

Hearing the seriousness of the pre-teen's voice, Haden thought about the answer he should give just as Barrett leaned closer to him. "I know I'm not part of your command structure or anything here, but just a word of caution. You might want to think twice before pulling him out before he says to pull him. Devin, one of Ardell's assistant commanders, made the mistake of pulling him out when he was on the hunt for those that spilt youngling blood. Hac made his life very miserable for the next 10 years."

"Ouch," Haden softly replied. "What's youngling blood?"

"Kids. He's talking about the blood of human kids," Barrett stated coldly.

Haden nodded in understanding.

"Someone's coming," Hac warned.

"Daileass, keep his comm channel open so we can hear," Haden ordered.

As the inside cellar door opened, there was a brief instant in which Hac was blinded as his eyes quickly adjusted to the light. A large Russian man made his way down the steps. I worn an old western cowboy hat, a western style button down shirt, and hard leather pants. In his right hand, he held a long black horse whip. Following directly behind the man with the whip was Derum, and then another short stubby man behind him, who was had a holstered revolver at his side with golden grips.

"Well, well, what have we here, friends?" The man with the whip asked as he began to look Hac up and down with approving eyes. "It looks like our friends up North have really come through for us this time, no?"

"You see, I told you that you would like him, Mr. Biggs," Derum announced pridefully.

"Daileass, get me any information on that name that you can," Haden commented as he listened to the conversation.

Mr. Biggs as he was called, turned his head to look toward Derum. "Yes indeed. Perhaps I shall not have your head after all, for interrupting me. But I assure you Mr. Derum, if you make that mistake again, it will not matter what prize you have waiting for me."

Derum nodded in understanding but said nothing.

"The name is not a standard Russian name," Daileass reported. "Although I have been able to find a few trace records, the name is more commonly used as an alias especially among the crime families that have western connections."

"Okay, I didn't think it would get us anywhere, but was still worth a try," Haden nodded.

"And as for you," Mr. Biggs commented as he turned his attention back toward Hac and continued to walk down the steps toward him. "You have certainly come dressed for the part, now haven't you, boy?"

Hac reflexively tried to pull himself back as the man's stench filled free hand reached out to touch the soft material of his leotard. The smell of both youngling blood and youngling fear was strong on the creature he saw before him. It would take only a small fraction of his strength to easily break free of the thin ropes that found his hands. It took nearly all his will to stop himself from shifting right then and there, and plunging his hand deep into the creature's chest. Instead, he simply spat on the creature, marking his prey to be claimed later. At the same time, he promised himself that the creature in front of him would not see the dawn of another day.

"Feisty, are we?" The man grinned. "I like feisty and spunk in my new toys, at least in the beginning." The man then used his free hand to pull out a knife and held it close to Hac's face. With a single fluid motion, the man used it to cut free the bindings around Hac's hands.

Mr. Biggs then sheathed the knife, and turned his back toward Hac so that he could walk back up the stairs. "Bring him. We'll let him meet the rest of his collection."

'That's right Sordes, free me and then turn your back on me,' Hac thought to himself as he continued to struggle against his instinctive urge to end this creatures suffering here and now. However, he was about to be led to the other younglings that were here, so he had to keep his cool, at least for now.

Hac was led up the stairs and into a trash filled, bug infested kitchen. Walking out of the kitchen, then entered a small hallway where he passed another man with a semi-automatic at his side. As he walked past a few smaller rooms, he could spot a number of younglings that ranged anywhere from six to fourteen years old. They were all in various states of dress, if you could call the rags they were wearing cloths. Although some of the kids had nothing more than a thin cloth belt, none of them were completely nude. While nearly all of them were clearly malnourished, and most of them were male, every single one of them had the smell of intense fear. All around him, the soft sounds of whimpers of hurt and hunger could be heard from them.

As they stepped into what seemed to pass as a front room where several of the kids were huddled on two filthy old couches, they were met by another man who tightly gripped the arm of a bone-thin nine-year-old. The boy was also one of those that had nothing more than a thin cloth belt that did next to nothing to hide those parts of him that were personal.

As soon as Mr. Biggs stopped, the man holding the boy spoke up and displayed a small slice of bread. "He was caught sneaking a slice of bread, Mr. Biggs."

Immediately, the boy began to shake his head. "No, no, I didn't, I promise."

"Lonto, Lonto," Mr. Biggs sighed as he slowly shook his head. "You were once one of my favorites."

"It wasn't me, I swear, I promise, please no!" The boy weakly protested.

Mr. Biggs drew his knife with his free hand and approached the small boy, "I'm sorry Lonto, but you know the rules, there can be no exceptions."

"No!" the boy squeaked as Mr. Biggs moved his knife toward the boys bone-thin hips.

'If I see a single drop of blood from that youngling, I swear I will tear you apart right here,' Hac promised himself as he could feel his blood beginning to boil.

Mr. Biggs made a single swift motion, but instead of touching the boy, he effortlessly cut through the boy's cloth belt. Within moments, the belt fell silently to the floor. As it did, the room itself became dead silent. Hac could smell a fear beyond fear coming from the boy, as a look of death crossed his face.

"What's your name, boy?" Mr. Biggs surprised Hac by turning and speaking to him.

"Hac," he managed to cough out.

"Well Hac, you're in luck. You will get to see first hand what the price of disobedience is around here," Mr. Biggs stated coldly as he turned to the man that was standing behind Derum. "Get all the brats out front. Lonto will be leaving us."

It was in that moment that the pieces fell together in Hac's head. The reason for the various states of clothing, why none of the younglings were completely nude, and what it must have meant when one of them lost their last scrap of cloth.

"These sick twisted bastards," Hac's voice came across Haden's comm badge. "I'm going to do it boss, I'm going to make them all suffer. I swear this."

"Shh," Haden sounded with concern. "Someone is going to hear you if your not careful."

"I don't care who hears me," Hac replied. "This is worse than some of the pre-fall rescues we've gone on boss. Now I know why I haven't returned to the surface in so long."

<<Hac is in no danger of being overheard. He is using a sub-durmal implant that allows him to mouth and sub-vocalize what he wishes to say without making a sound.>> KLAUS's voice informed them as he came across Haden's comm badge.

Haden looked toward Barrett with concern. "Can he really do what he is threatening?"

Barrett nodded. "Have you ever seen the television show called The Incredible Hulk?"

"Yeah," Haden answered. "You mean when he get's mad he becomes big, green, and angry?"

"Something like that," Barrett replied. "Just replace the green skin with red fur."

"Oh hell, I really hope you are not meaning what I think you are meaning," Haden cringed. "Daileass, they are starting to bring the kids outside, I need you to get locks on all of them and be ready to get them all out of there at a moment's notice."

"All ready working on it," Daileass replied.

By the time all the kids were outside, nearly thirty of them stood herded together. In front of them stood Mr. Biggs with his oversized leather pants and horse whip in hand. He stood next to a large wooden post which had a pair of furry hand-cuffs chained to it. Already in the hand-cuffs with his hands over his head, and his chest toward the post stood Lonto. The small boy's shoulder blades easily poked out through his back.

Behind the group of kids stood four of the men that had also been in the house. One of the men held a small video camera in his hand and was pointed toward where Mr. Biggs and the nine-year-old were standing.

Hac looked in disgust at the sight of Lonto being handcuffed to the post. "Hey boss man," he mouthed. "Lonto is my blood now... Let KLAUS know,"

<<Acknowledged.>> KLAUS replied to both Hac and through Haden's comm badge.

"His blood?" Haden looked toward Barrett with concern. "He's not going to..."

Barrett stopped his twin before he had a chance to finish. "No. Hac just made it official that Lonto has just been adopted by Tribus Hacerth," At seeing the confusion in Haden's eyes, Barrett continued. "Basically, it means that Lonto will be looked after... by Hac,"

Haden nodded in understanding. He wanted to know more about what Tribus were, and how they were organized, but he also knew that now was not the time.

"As you all know, I deeply love each of you," Mr. Biggs began. "I have gone through great lengths and troubles to provide a place for you all to live, and I ask for so little in return."

Not a sound was made as the kids stood and watched what was unfolding before them. From what Hac was smelling, he could tell that not a single one of the kids believed a word the man was saying, but were instead too afraid for their own lives to make a sound.

After a few moments, Mr. Biggs continued. "It is for that reason that it is always a sad occurrence when one of you continuously breaks the rules to the point that we have no choice other than to say our goodbyes, and let you leave this place of protection and sanctuary as we all most do today to dear dear friend Lonto."

"If he does what I think he's going to do to that youngling, I'm going to loose it, I swear I am," Hac's voice came across Haden's comm badge.

Haden looked toward Barrett who nodded in conformation. "Daileass, please tell me you are ready?"

"I'm establishing locks on them as quickly as the sub-standard Russian satellites that I have access to will allow me. Estimating another ten to fifteen seconds to complete the process," Daileass reported.

"Fine," Haden answered. "There is a boy chained to a post, he's our highest priority, so try to focus on him if you can."

"Acknowledged," Daileass replied.

"Hac?" Haden spoke up, "I know you want to tear Mr. Biggs apart, but we need him to stay alive long enough for one of our telepaths to get a good scan of him. My guess is he has some pretty valuable information we could use."

"Not going to happen, boss man," Hac replied. "When I loose it, there ain't going to be any stopping me."

Haden sighed as he looked toward Captain Summers, "Just how fast are your telepaths?"

"Pretty fast, as long as your guy can leave the head attached." The captain replied.

"Lonto, your sacrifice and service shall always be remembered," Mr. Biggs finally stated as he raised up his whip as if to strike. Without a thought, he went to sharply lower has hand, only to have it stopped in mid-motion by Hac's smaller eleven-year-old hand.

"Not this one," Hac Growled.

"Back off, boy, or you'll be next," Mr. Biggs hissed as he tried to break free of Hac's grip.

Hac looked deep into the man's eyes as he shook his head. "How does it feel to be dead?" he whispered so only the man could hear him.

"Big mistake, kid," Mr. Biggs grinned as he grabbed his knife and went to shove it's blade deep into the eleven-year-old's side. The man's hand never made it, however, before it was grabbed by Hac's free hand. The older man's eyes opened wide in shock and pain as the sounds of the bone's in the man's knife hand could be heard breaking.

"Daileass, we need them out now!" Haden nearly shouted.

"Locks complete," Daileass replied back. "Executing."

"You've just hurt your last youngling," Hac hissed as he let go of the man's knife hand and moved his hand up under the man's neck.

"Kill 'em," Mr. Biggs managed to squeak out.

In that instant, several things happened all at once. First, Lonto along with the other thirty kids that were watching, appeared to instantly vanish in thin air. Second, At different locations around the immediate area, heavily armored kids appeared and immediately began taking out all the guards that they saw in the area. Finally, Mr. Biggs's feet began to lift off the ground as in a matter of seconds, the sweet innocent eleven-year-old began to grow as his deep red fur began to sprout out of his pale skin.

Just before Hac's transformation was complete. The white gym shorts that he was wearing shredded and fell to the ground. Moments after that, the pink leotard that he was wearing torn itself into several pieces as it had been stretched well beyond it's breaking point.

"You freak," Mr. Biggs grunted through clenched teeth as his only good hand tried unsuccessfully to grab at the now thick furry hand that was securely around the man's neck. "You ruined a perfectly good video for my collection."

"Argh!" Hac cried out in what sounded more like a low roar as his hand clamped hard around the man's neck in anger. Before he snapped the man's neck, the now seven foot tall were-wolf turned and threw the big man towards the house. The bulk of the man's body smashed through the front door, leaving it in nothing but splinters.

Hac started to stalk towards the house when he saw one of the strike team members rushing towards the ruined doorway. "The fat man is mine. If anyone touches him, they will answer to ME!"

Immediately, the strike team member stopped in his tracks, threw his hands up and backed away from the door. When Hac entered the house, the door being big enough now to where he didn't have to duck to get in, he saw the man getting to his feet. The man looked quickly to his left where there was a sword hanging on the wall, and Hac couldn't help but laugh out loud. "Go ahead and grab the toy if you wish. It will make your death more amusing."

Mr. Biggs mad a rush over to the sword on the wall and frantically tried to get it down, then pull the sheath off. Hac just stood there laughing the whole time. When the man finally faced him with the sword out, Hac started to move back out the door way, while calling to Klaus. "Make sure the younglings are watching this. They deserve to see justice being served."

Hac continued to slowly back step and lead the man out to the front yard. He saw Mr. Biggs glance around nervously at the Strike team members who were all standing there, and Hac started to get pissed. "Put you little toys away. This piece of surface trash is mine, and if ANYONE gets in the way, they will pay for it... with their lives."

Everyone backed off, and either holstered or shouldered their weapons. With a toothy grin, Hac looked directly at Mr. Biggs and spoke, "You may have the first move fat man." Hac stopped back pedaling, and then to everyone astonishment, began to shrink down until he was back in his human form, all be it a naked human form. "Perhaps this will make you braver. Scum like you can only hurt little kids."

With a cry of anger, Mr. Biggs raised the sword high, and charged at Hac. It was almost pathetic to Hac. This man had no idea how to really fight someone. When he got close to Hac, the small boy simply took two steps forward, and one step to the right, and stuck out his foot. The man was so committed to his charge, that he couldn't stop himself in time to go flying over Hac's outstretched foot.

Laughter came from many of the strike team members as the big man tried to get back to his feet, while Hac just stood there waiting. As soon as he got back to his feet, the man charged Hac again, only this time a bit more cautiously. He made a mighty down swing with the sword, intent on cutting the boy in half, but Hac reached up and grabbed the mans wrists with both of his, and stopped the sword in mid fall. "You do realize I am simply playing with you before I kill you right?"

WIth a solid kick, Hac took the man down at the knees, and caught the sword as it fell to the ground. He took a step back, the sword in his hands as the man screamed in agony on the ground. Hac waited for several moments till the man looked up at him, then he took the sword, one hand on the blade, and one on the hilt. With out showing any of the strain it caused him, Hac started to bend the blade until it snapped. Had it be a quality sword, Hac wouldn't have been able to do that, but the wide eyed look of terror on Mr. Biggs face, made it worth the effort.

The terror grew as Mr. Biggs watched as the small boy in front of him slowly grew back into the seven foot tall were-wolf he was before. Hac threw his head back and howled a long angry howl, warning all the demons in hell that another was about to join their number, then pounced on the man. Mr. Biggs screamed his last scream as Hac's large jaws wrapped around the mans neck, and with a vicious shake, literally tore the man's head off.

Hac looked up and over towards Barrett and Haden. "Normally i would eat the heart of my foes, so i can gain some of their strength, but i want nothing to do with this filth."

Haden nodded. "I think I can understand that."

"Don't mind him," Barrett grinned "Hac is just a big showoff sometimes."

"It sounds like Hac will fit in great with some of the other showoffs that we have," Haden replied as he turned his attention toward Captain Summers. "Were your intel guys able to get anything?"

Instead of answering him, the captain turned to the twelve-year-old boy standing next to her. "Lieutenant?"

"Oh, we had more than enough time," the boy sighed. "Although I don't think you are going to like some of the stuff we found."

"Haden?" Daileass's voice came across Haden's comm badge. "In addition to Lonto, twenty-one of the other thirty kids are being re-routed to the main medical center at our Utah base as several of them are suffering from multiple broken bones, and severe starvation."

"Thanks Daileass," Haden answered grimly as he looked back toward the captain. "I want this place completely torn apart. Mr. Biggs mentioned videos. From the sounds of it, he was into making snuff films. If that's the case, I want to know everything possible about how many were made, and who his clients are, as well as where his kids are supplied from."

Captain Summers nodded.

"You okay, Haden?" Barrett asked. Although Haden had perfected his cold, outward appearance that he wore in times like this, Barrett could feel the hurt and disgust that Haden was feeling through their newly established twin link, almost as if it were him feeling them.

Haden shook his head. "How can places like this exist?"

"It's human nature," Barrett replied without thinking.

Still shaking his head, Haden sighed. "If that's true, then we've already lost." With that, he began to walk toward the large farm house.

As he walked through the house, Haden tried his hardest to keep his emotionless, cold mask on, but he was not having that much luck at it. Nothing in his training could have ever possibly prepared him for things like this. Just the thought of kids having to live here nearly made him loose it.

In addition to the urine and blood stained mattresses that were found in some of the smaller rooms, the amount of trash, junk, and bugs that he saw made his skin crawl. Of course, there was also the foul stench that filled the entire house.

"How do you prepare yourself for stuff like this?" Haden asked as he, Barrett, Hac, and Edgar made their way up to the second floor.

"Honestly, I don't think you really can," Edgar answered seriously.

"Why would we want to, in the first place?" Barrett asked which caused both Haden and Edgar to look toward him. "I mean, isn't our reaction to stuff like this what makes and keeps us human? Who would we become if things like this didn't bother us?"

Edgar thought for a few moments and nodded. "That's actually a good point."

Haden agreed as they stepped into a small room that Mr. Biggs had apparently used as his personal office. Two members of the strike team were already in there and flipping through a few hand written journals and ledgers, using their suit cameras to allow Daileass to scan and record the contents of the pages.

"Finding anything useful?" Haden asked.

One of the boys going through the ledgers shook his head. "To be honest, I stopped paying attention to what was written in here a while back. It's some sick stuff, that's all I can say."

The other boy nodded in agreement.

"Don't worry, I've been getting good scans of everything," Daileass reported through Haden's comm badge. "Between the information found here, and from what Lieutenant Hayes was able to scan from Mr. Biggs, I think we will have a lot to talk about during the debriefing."

"Sir?" Captain Summers reported as she walked into the small room. "The property and all the buildings on it have been secured."

"Thanks, Captain," Haden answered. "I'm afraid to ask what else you found."

Captain Summers nodded her head. "Fortunately, not a lot. For the most part, the two horse barns were actually barns. We did find a small cellar in one of them which seemed to be a cross between a video studio, and torture chamber."

"Alright," Haden replied. "I think we are going to head back to the palace then. Go ahead and finish up and get your guys back as well."

The captain agreed. "Will do, sir."

<<Barrett, Hac?>> KLAUS's young voice came out of Haden's comm badge. <<While you were finishing up with the operation, a few developments have occurred back home. In short, a circle meeting has been called, and is due to start shortly. Both of you will probably want to return as soon as possible.>>

"Thanks KLAUS, I think we are done here," Barrett replied. "But why are you contacting us through Haden's communicator? Is something wrong with our sub-vocals?"

<<As far as I can tell, your sub-vocals are fine. I'm using Haden's comm badge because I believe it would be appropriate for him to return with you. Perhaps the two of you can spend a little time getting to know each other better without having to run off on rescues every ten minutes.>>

"We don't go on rescues every ten minutes," Haden protested.

<<It's close enough. This is your second one today.>>

Haden sighed not really having anything to reply with. "Daileass, are you listening?"

"Sure am Haden," Daileass replied. "If you would like to spend some time with Barrett, that's cool. We can handle the debriefing later when you get back. If anything really important comes up, I can let you know about it through the link."

Haden nodded as he looked toward Barrett. "I guess that means I'm all yours."

Barrett grinned from ear to ear, but made no reply. "Um, KLAUS, take the three of us to central please."

Without a word, the three boys vanished from the room.

Half expecting to appear in the nice peaceful underwater observation room that they had both arrived in and left from on their earlier visit, Haden was rather surprised when they instead appeared in a busy train-station-like environment.

The room itself was an enormous oval shaped two-floor area. They were standing on a small, raised square platform that had a soft yellowish glow to it. A few feet away from the platform were stairs leading down to the main floor where lots of people were socializing with each other. A number of small fountains, floral arrangements, and the occasional statue were mixed together with an ample number of benches, tables, and chairs to create a surprisingly relaxing atmosphere.

Along the edges of the room were a number of stairs leading up to more platforms. Although a few of them lead to platforms similar to the one they were standing on, most of them went to platforms that had a set of large metallic rings that people would periodically walk in or out of. In the center of the room was a large tower of monitors that ran all the way up to the ceiling. Although most of the monitors were off, the ones closer to the ground were showing information written in different languages that people would walk up to look at.

"Whoa," Haden commented as he stood there, taking in the sights. "This place is huge."

"Welcome to the Central Nexus," Barrett began, drawing Haden's attention. "This is where people go to socialize or catch up on the latest gossip, in addition to attending public meetings and events. There are also portals that connect this base to all of our other common bases."

As Barrett was talking, Haden also saw Hac mouthing something into his sub-vocal, but he was unable to tell what he was saying.

"Well, it's been an interesting morning," Hac stated a few moments later. "But the circle meeting is set to begin soon, so I should probably start getting ready for that."

Barrett nodded. "Thanks for tagging along this morning."

"Hey, someone has to make sure your sorry ass stays out of trouble," Hac replied with a toothy grin moments before he vanished.

"How many people live here?" Haden asked as he turned his attention back toward the busy room below.

"Lots," Barrett giggled as he began to walk down the steps causing Haden to quickly follow behind him. "KLAUS can probably give you the exact number if you are really interested. Stick close to me so you don't get lost. Right now, there are more people here than normal because of the circle meeting that is going to be starting."

"You broadcast your circle meetings?" Haden asked as they made their way out of the large Nexus Center and into a long hallway.

"Yeah, we have an open government system here, so most meetings and activities are accessible to the general population," Barrett answered. "Sometimes meetings cover classified stuff so those meetings are not open, but most of the time they are."

"Either way, it sounds like a pretty cool system," Haden commented. "I think the rest of the world could probably learn a thing or two from here."

Barrett shrugged. "It still has it's problems, but yeah, it's worked pretty well for us."

After making their way through what seemed to be a maze of hallways, they finally arrived at a door. Placing his hand on a small grey panel that was a few inches away from the door, it slid open. "Okay, first order of business is for us to get out of these terribly smelly clothes and grab showers."

As the door opened, Haden stepped into a surprisingly nice looking room. At one end of the room was a large bed, a number of dressers, and a good sized desk with two computer terminals on it. On the side of the room that was closest to the door that they entered from were three comfortable looking couches arranged in a U shape with a well crafted coffee table in the middle. What really set the room apart, however, were all the small shelves that were arranged around the room, and all the small pictures or crafts that were placed on them.

After taking a few moments to look around the room, Barrett's words finally registered. "Oh, I didn't bring any other clothes with me."

<<That's not a problem, Haden. I'm sure either Barrett won't mind letting you borrow some of his, or Daileass can grab some of your own for you.>>

Haden thought for a few moments before looking toward his twin. "Do you think it would be weird if I wanted to try some of your clothes?"

Barrett grinned and shook his head. "Nope, I think it would be cool."

Haden nodded. "Okay, I think I'll do that then."

"Great," Barrett pointed toward a door on the other side of the room. "The restroom and shower is right through there. I need to check my mail real quick, so you can take your shower first if you want, and I'll find some clothes for you to wear that I think you'll like."

Haden smiled as he was a little surprised at just how nice Barrett was being toward him. "Thanks." As he walked toward the door, it slid open revealing a small white-tiled room behind it.

At first, the room seemed to resemble a normal looking bathroom. As Haden stepped in, and the door closed behind him, he noticed it was far from normal. First off, what he assumed had to be the toilet looked nothing like a normal toilet. "How would someone even sit on something like that?" Haden thought to himself as he looked next toward the sink, which at least seemed to have things that resembled facets. On the wall opposite the sink was a small raised bench built into the wall which he figured would work great for holding his equipment and uniform.

A few minutes later once he had removed all his clothes, and safely placed his GEAR next to them, he stepped through a small archway to the right which he assumed had to be the shower. The small box-like room had three shower heads sticking out from each of the other three walls, but besides a small odd-looking blue and white striped panel under the center shower head, he couldn't see any means to turn the shower on.

After taking a few more moments to try to figure things out and getting nowhere, Haden made his way out of the shower, and through the bathroom to look out into the bedroom where he saw Barrett sitting at his desk using one of the computer terminals.

"Barrett?" Barrett heard a voice behind him and turned to see Haden's head sticking out from around the corner of the bathroom. "Um, how do I work this thing?"

"Oh no!" Barrett exclaimed after it took a few moments for him to figure out exactly what Haden might have been referring to. "I'm sorry, Haden, I completely forgot that you wouldn't know how to work things here."

Barrett pressed a key to lock his terminal, and quickly made his way to the bathroom. If it hadn't been for the fact that Haden had just spent the last three years taking showers with other guys, he might have been concerned about Barrett walking toward him. As it was, Barrett didn't seem to be phased at all by the fact that Haden was naked, and instead made his way into the shower.

"This is the shower control panel," Barrett began as he pointed toward the blue and white striped panel. "When you are ready, you take one of your fingers, start at the bottom of this first white bar, and move your finger up to start the water. The further up you go, the more water is used. This second bar is used to control the temperature. When you start the shower, it will default to a position in the middle which is at room temperature. Move it higher to make it hotter or lower to make it colder. This bar here is for force. Moving down will make it more like a mist, and up will make it more like pellets. The last two further refine how the shower heads work. You'll have to experiment around with them to figure out the settings you like the best."

Haden nodded in understanding. "Okay, this actually sounds pretty cool."

"It is," Barrett agreed before he turned and left. "Just try to not spend all day, I would like to grab a shower too before the circle starts."

"Alright," Haden called back as he began to experiment with the shower controls.

Barrett couldn't stop himself from giggling a few times at the sounds Haden would occasionally make as he experimented with the different shower options.

About ten minutes later, the shower finally turned off and a steam cleaned Haden took a step out. He was just about to call out to his twin to ask about towels when he noticed that all of his clothes and equipment other than his GEAR had been taken away and replaced with a large fluffy white towel and a clean set of clothes.

Haden was rather pleased with what Barrett had picked out for him as they including a pair of loose fitting soft black pants, a light blue short-sleeve shirt, and surprisingly comfortable shoes. "These fit great," he commented as he stepped out of the bathroom catching Barrett's attention.

Barrett nodded in agreement. "Yup, you look good in those."

"Where did you put all my other clothes?" Haden asked as he quickly glanced around the room unable to find them.

<<I teleported them back to Daileass so that he could start the decontamination process on them.>>

Haden grinned. "Thanks KLAUS."

<<You're welcome, Haden.>>

"Also, I set the terminal up in public mode for you," Barrett pulled Haden's attention back. "So if you want, you can look through stuff while I grab my own shower."

Haden nodded and smiled at the idea of getting a chance to play with one of the terminals. "Okay, thanks."

Ten minutes later, Barrett walked back into the room to find Haden still at the computer terminal. "It's amazing just how good showers can be sometimes."

"Especially after being in places like we were at earlier," Haden agreed as he turned around to see a still-nude Barrett walking toward one of his dressers to pull out some clothes.

"Having fun?" Barrett asked as he noticed Haden starring.

"Oh, um, yeah," Haden replied as he quickly turned back toward the terminal. "I was just poking around in a few of the public databases you have."

Barrett nodded as he sat on the bed closest to the desk. "Find anything interesting?"

"Actually, yeah," Haden replied as he looked toward his twin and back toward the terminal. "A lot of stuff in here keeps referring to pre-fall and post-fall. But I can't actually find the event that it's referring to."

"You like starting big, don't you?" Barrett asked with a smile as he pulled a light green shirt over his head.

Haden shrugged. "I guess it's habit. Whenever I'm looking at something new that I don't understand I start at the biggest things and work my way down."

"Right," A weird look flashed across Barrett's face for a few moments before it was replaced with a more serious look. "You know how you mentioned earlier the discrepancy between modern history, and the fact that we've been around with KLAUS for nearly 40,000 years?"

Haden nodded.

"Well, that's because for the first 28,000 years, the nations of the world were at constant odds with each other. War after war broke out, each seeming to be worse than the last. Over time, the strain of the wars made society get worse and worse, until finally about 13,000 years ago things have boiled down to most of the world being divided into two super-factions. Each faction had a large stock-pile of weapons, including nuclear and biological," Barrett explained. "And well, when you get that many weapons floating around, and you have that much anger, you don't have to be a genius to see where that's going to lead."

"They blew each other up?" Haden asked in shock.

Barrett slowly nodded. "It happened amazingly quickly. Within just a handful of minutes, between the multitudes of nuclear explosions going off around the world, nearly all life was wiped out. I guess you could say that humanity was literally knocked back to the stone age."

"That doesn't sound right," Haden thought out loud. "In theory, nuclear weapons would spread mass amounts of radioactive isotopes throughout the atmosphere. With that much radiation, wouldn't it take hundreds of thousands of years before places became livable again?"

"If left to itself, you're right," Barrett agreed. "However, with most of our bases either under water, or deep under ground, we were able to survive the wars as well as the nuclear winter relatively unscathed. So using the technology that we had available, along with a whole crap load of incredible luck, we managed to get rid of all the radiation, and re-seed most of the ecosystems in just a few hundred years. Of course, it meant clearing the surface of all metal or any other material that had been contaminated. So quite literally, the world would have to start over."

Haden nodded. "And now the nations of the world are starting to bicker and fight again?"

Barrett sighed. "Yeah. We had really hoped that humanity would have learned it's lesson. But it would seem that we were wrong."

"How can you expect humanity to be able to learn from a history that it has forgotten?" Haden asked seriously.

Barrett thought for a few moments. "That's actually a good point. I think the idea was that if we let humanity re-grow and re-build on it's own without the knowledge of all the high technology of the past, that things would be different. Maybe that was our mistake. By letting society forget the lessons of the past, they are forced to relive them."

Haden shrugged. "Maybe, but even now, we have plenty of history that shows how bad wars and aggression can be, yet they still happen."

"Perhaps," Barrett agreed. "Anyway, I think that's enough of that. Do you have any other questions about what you've been finding? If not, I have another really cool place I would like to show you."

Haden shook his head. "Nah, I think I've gotten myself depressed enough for now."

Barrett reached over and flipped off the terminal as both he and Haden left the room.

With the newness of the interior design starting to wear off, Haden was paying closer attention to the smaller details as he followed Barrett through the maze of halls. One of the things he noticed was that every so often they would pass a small black panel built into the wall.

"Are those public terminals?" Haden asked after he passed one that had some kind of message flashing on it.

Barrett nodded. "They are network access points which can kind of act like public terminals in that anyone can use them. But you usually can't log into a personal account or anything with them. KLAUS will use them sometimes to help lead new people around if they get lost."

"I can imagine getting lost in this place pretty easily," Haden agreed just as they rounded a corner and nearly ran into light brown haired, purple-eyed fourteen-year-old teen who was dressed in an ornate looking flower robe.

"Elder Rainer," Barrett spoke in a surprised tone. "I thought you would be getting ready for the circle meeting."

"I'm on my way there now," The teen replied as he looked back and forth between Haden and Barrett. "So, this must be your long lost brother, from what was it? Clan Short?"

Haden nodded. "Yup. Barrett has been showing me around." As he spoke, a rather unease feeeling came over him.

"Indeed, I'm sure he has," The teen agreed.

Not really sure what the uneasy feeling was about, Haden decided to not say anything else. "Only the public areas, of course." Barrett added.

"Of course," Rainer repeated with a small smile. "Then I shall not detain you two any longer."

Barrett gave a small, polite bow before gently pulling Haden down the hall with him.

"What was that all about?" Haden asked after he was sure the older boy was out of earshot.

"That was Elder Rainer, head of the Fettuccine," Barrett began in low voice. "I guess the best way to put it is that they are concerned about Clan Short's association with the Founder Council."

"Fettuccine?" Haden asked curiously.

"Sorry, I've been hanging around the younglings too much," Barrett said as he slapped his forehead. "He's actually the elder of House Presella, which has a sizable group of Faldirans that make it up. A bunch of the younglings have started calling them Fettuccine instead of Faldirans."

"I almost like Fettuccine instead of Faldirans as well," Haden smiled. "So what do they have against the Founders?"

"I'm not sure how much of the Founders history that you are aware of," Barrett began as he stopped outside a door. "But originally, Founders were called Faldirans. Then, at one point most of them agreed to change their name from Faldirans to Founders of Peace because how much good the rest of the nations of the world thought they were doing. A small group of Faldirans refused to take the new name, however, and insisted that at least their group continue to be referred to as Falirans."

"I know of the Founders," Haden admitted. "But I wasn't aware of any of their history."

Barrett nodded as he opened the door to the room they were standing in front of. "It actually gets a lot more involved than that. I just gave you the quick summary. You can find a lot of info in the historical databases if it's something your interested in."

"Okay," Haden replied as he was already more interested in looking at the large pieces of equipment that were in the room instead. "What are these things?"

"Imager Arrays," Barrett replied as he walked to one of the consoles. "If you stand in this circle over here, KLAUS will be able to create a detailed image of you for the network."

Haden walked over to the circle Barrett had pointed to. "Why does the network need an image that detailed?"

"Most of our circle meetings and other large events happen in V.R., virtual reality, on the network. So this creates the avatar that you will use, and what everyone else will see you as," Barrett stated as he pressed a few more buttons. Moments later, three green beams of light shot out from the top of the device and slowly began to circle around Haden.

Less than a minute later, the process was complete, and the beams of light were gone. "Pretty easy, huh?"

Haden nodded. "Yeah, and definitely cool. So how do we use V.R.?"

"If you are going to be using it much, we will get you your own headset, but I have a spare in my room that you can use. KLAUS will automatically link your avatar to the headset."

"Nice," Haden replied as Barrett shut the machine down and lead Haden back out of the room. "So when does this meeting thing start?"

"Now that's a good question," Barrett replied. "KLAUS?"

<<We are probably about twelve to fourteen minutes out from getting started.>>

"Do we know what the meeting is about, and would it be possible for me to speak?" Barrett asked as he and Haden walked down the hall.

<<Initially, the meeting was called by one of the Elves. However, it has since grown into a lot more. Let me check with the other Ternios in regards to getting you speaking time, but I don't think it will be an issue, since I'm assuming this will be in regards to Clan Short?>>

"It will be," Barrett stated, "And thanks."

"KLAUS has Elves?" Haden asked as he tried to prevent himself from giggling.

"Um, yeah," Barrett smiled. "They are not really Elves, but that is how we refer to those of us who have chosen to live on the surface, and function as our eyes and ears in modern surface society."

"Cool," Haden replied as the two boys reached the door to Barrett's room and walked in.

As soon as the door closed behind them, Barrett walked over to the desk. Opening one of the drawers, he pulled out a small metallic headset. "KLAUS, could you temporarily link and assign this headset to Haden?"

Before KLAUS replied, a small red light on the headset flashed twice. <<Headset linked. If I might also suggest, you might want to show him how it works before the meeting starts.>>

"Oh yeah, good idea." Barrett grinned before he motioned for his twin to join him. "Come here, Haden. Let me show you a few things about this."

Barrett pulled up a second chair and began to explain how the headsets worked, what Haden should expect when he started using it, and how to quickly disconnect if he had to. After all the basics were out of the way, the discussion moved to the specific hardware that made up the headsets which Haden began to come up with all kinds of various ideas as to how it might be pulled off. The two boys continued to talk for about ten minutes before they were interrupted by KLAUS.

<<Sorry to interrupt your conversation, guys, but I figured you would want to know that the circle is about to begin.>>

"Thanks KLAUS," Barrett answered as he looked toward Haden. "Ready?"

"I guess," Haden replied in as confident of a voice as he could muster. Truth be told, the idea of 'jacking-in' to the V.R. network scared him more than the idea of his consciousness being pushed back and forth into mental-scapes. Perhaps it was because of his strong knowledge in electronics and the fact that he knew just how little of a mistake it would take to literally fry someone's brain.

Seeing Barrett lower his headset's small black visor, Haden figured that it was time for him to do the same. As soon as his visor snapped into position, he pressed the small button that was on the right side of the headset, just as Barrett had showed him.

There was a momentary flash of green interconnected squares as the headset initialized, and tuned itself into the correct network. Moments after that, Haden found that he was no longer sitting in front of the terminal in Barrett's room, but was instead standing in front of two large ornately decorated doors. Behind him was a long hallway that seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see with smaller doors going up and down the sides.

"Pretty cool, huh?" Barrett asked from next to him.

"Yeah," Haden nodded as he looked toward Barrett and noticed that not only did his hair seem to be a lot longer, but he was just a tad bit shorter.

Having a good idea as to why Haden was looking at him the he was, Barrett grinned. "I haven't updated my avatar in awhile." After getting a nod of understanding from his twin, Barrett walked a few steps forward.

Pushing on one of the large doors, it silently opened revealing a much larger, circular room. Several large lights shined down from a high ceiling onto a long rectangular table with a light grey marble surface. A number of people ranging in age from pre-teen to older adults were sitting in comfortable looking chairs around the table.

Barrett looked behind him as he began to walk into the room, and saw that Haden wasn't moving. "Remember what I told you, just think about walking forward and you will."

Haden scrunched his nose, and a few moments later he began to walk forward. "You're right, this isn't that hard at all," he smiled.

At one end of the table sat three people; KLAUS's avatar of an eleven-year-old boy with short golden hair that occasionally sparkled at the tips as he head moved, sat on the right, Ardell sat in the middle, and an older man in his late 40's with distinguished looking dark grey hair sat on the left. Although there were three chairs at the other end of the table, the chairs were empty. Sitting along the sides of the table were Hac along with eight other people with the youngest appearing to be ten, and the oldest in his early thirties. All except for two were male.

The floors and walls of the room were black. About half way up the walls, a ring of large video displays circled the room. In all, about twenty of them, with the video displays directly behind the two ends of the table being about twice as large as all the others. Most of the displays, including the two large ones were dark. A few of the side displays showed screens of various, seemingly unimportant information.

As Barrett led Haden around the edge of the room, he pointed out how the entire area where the table stood was surrounded by a large circle of light, and that anything that was within that circle was transmitted for the rest of their nation to see, and that anything outside the circle wasn't shown. As Barrett was explaining this and leading them to a spot at the other side of the table, Haden noticed several other people standing in the shadows with them.

"Are those the other people that are watching this?" Haden whispered toward his twin, and used his head to motion toward a few of the other near-by people who were standing in the shadow area with them.

Barrett shook his head. "Nah, those are other people that have active mode unlocked, which means they can interact with the circle meeting as they see fit. You can't really see all the people that are watching since there are usually thousands of them, and not all of them are in V.R. However, they usually have one of the monitors showing viewing statistics, which can give you a good idea of how many others are watching."

A few moments later, Ardell stood up. "Elders?" He began and waited for the room to become quiet before he continued. "Elders? Ladies and Gentlemen, those who are watching from near and afar, I would like to welcome you all to our circle chambers for this emergency circle meeting. We actually have a lot on the agenda to cover today, so without any further ado, I will turn the meeting over to Ternios Klaus to preform the roll call."

Once Ardell sat down, the golden-haired boy stood up and glanced around the table. "Let it be recorded that all three Ternios, and all nine Elders are present and accounted for. A sufficient quorum exists to conduct circle business."

As soon as Klaus sat down, Ardell continued to speak. "Very well. As it is the custom of this circle to begin such meetings by first recognizing the one responsible for it's calling, the Ternios shall first recognize Samual Washington in Faldiric of Presella, son of Elder Rainer in Faldriic of Presella, Dux of Gildus Planicia Adiutor, to speak before the Circle of Elders."

A few moments after Ardell ha finished speaking, a distinguished looking tall, bald black man stepped into the light, and approached the end of the table opposite to where the Ternios were sitting.

"Whoa," Haden gasped as soon as he got a good look at the man. "I've seen that guy before. That's Sam. He and his wife have helped out a lot at the main UNIT base. He's your Elf?"

Barrett nodded. "He's one of them, yeah."

"Ternios, Elders," Sam began as he gave a polite bow toward the other side of the table. "I would like to thank each of you for being willing to take the time to hear me. I understand each of you have very busy schedules so I'll try to make this as brief as possible. I stand before you this day not as the son of an Elder, but as the Dux of the the Surface Helpers Guild, or the Surface Elves as some like to call us. I believe the matter that I have to speak to you on is of the highest importance, especially given the recent events of the last few days. This is a matter that I see as not only having a very high impact on the entire Surface Helpers Guild, but also on our society as a whole, as it may very well signify a pivotal point that many of us have been hoping to see for a very long time. As such, I appreciate the consideration of each of you in regards to it."

After getting several nods of understanding, or at least acceptance, from the Ternios as well as from several of the Elders, and with the initial pleasantries out of the way, Sam paused as he looked around at the Circle. Ever since he had contacted KLAUS about The Unit, and then The Clan, he had been preparing for this moment, but damn if he wasn't as nervous as a school girl on prom night.

"The reason I have called this Circle together is simple. From the very first time I set foot on the surface as an 'elf' I have always espoused making contact at some point in the future, but that surface people were not ready for a full reveal of our society. In my opinion the time has come for us to come out of hiding completely and throw the entire weight of our culture behind the surface group called Clan Short." Sam knew that was going to cause an outrage, so he waited to see who the first one to respond would be.

To Sam's surprise, however, there wasn't the outrage that he had thought there would be, but the only person who spoke was not a surprise. His father. "I am sure one such as yourself, who knows better then most what the surface world is like, and why we have kept ourselves hidden would have some very strong reasons to say something that is contradictory to the policies that have kept us safe for the last ten thousand plus years. If I recall properly you were there the day that our Father was killed and we saw just how hopelessly violent the surface world really is."

Sam knew his father was baiting him, but this situation was too important to allow someone to get him off track. His eyes met those of his father. Most people would not understand the fact that Sam was a man that looked seventy, but his father barely looked like he was in his twenties. But in their society, that was not a big shock. "I know what has happened in the past, but given the situation going on right now, I truly believe that now is the best time for us to get more involved."

"And I am sure you have some very good reasons that would make you say this?" Elder Rainer said in a rather dismissive tone.

This is when Sam smirked. "Actually I do. The one that will mean the most to you, I will get to in a bit. But the most important reasons are simple. This is a group who has done so much in such a short amount of time, that is very much within what we have been doing. As all of you know, the biggest reason I have always supported the idea of waiting is because I wanted to see the surface cultures become more tolerant, more accepting and understanding of things that are different. While as a society that are more open and understanding than they have been in any time post fall, they were not open enough for my tastes. However, Clan Short is."

Sam started to pace in front of the table as he spoke. "As many of you know, my wife Martha and I have been Elves for almost one hundred years. If I may, let me tell you of the first meeting we had with members of Clan short." He didn't wait, but launched right into the story. "Over a surface year ago, Martha and I were following some leads that Klaus had given us, when we ran into a group of homeless kids. They were living in an abandoned building, and doing what they needed to to survive. Included in this group was a young girl with a small child of her own. Both Martha and I did what we could with the money we had, and made sure they had food, clothing and other necessities. It took a few months before they would trust us enough to open up to us. When that happened, we began considering bringing them down here. However, before we could find out how they would react to the truth, another group showed up and took them in, no questions asked."

"At the time, this group, known as The UNIT, didn't have any affiliation with the Clan, as a matter of fact, this was before the Clan even existed. But, walking around the base they had created, there were several times that Martha and I both wondered if we were still on the surface. This small group of people exploded into a huge group, but one thing that never changed was that no matter what, they accepted people. It didn't matter what skin color they had, what hair, or eye color, who they chose to bring to their bed, or if they wanted to dress as the opposite gender might. What mattered to them was the person."

"We thought that was really impressive. Then there was an attack on members of their family. See they look at family just like we do. Love is more important then blood. Anyways, when members of their family got attacked, there was no hesitation, no reluctance... they went. And they went in with everything they had. Even the youngsters, the ones who didn't know how to fight, did what they could to help out." Sam stopped and laid his full gaze on the Circle of Elders, while not bothering to hide the tears that slid down his face. "And they paid the price for it too. Many of their family died that day. Many of them not much older than most of the Fosters that come back after their first years on the surface. Those that died would have made any one of us proud to call them our own."

"That was the first time that the Unit met Clan short, and the two groups became one. That day they laid down the gauntlet. They would help any and all children that needed it. With the limited resources that they have, they have done a job that is just short of miraculous. In less then a week they have taken in and began the healing process on over ten thousand children."

Sam smiled broadly then delivered the punch line. "Personally I am beginning to see that I was wrong on how I looked at the surface cultures. Yes, there are a lot of people up there that only care for themselves, and how much they can obtain. However, they are actually the minority, although they have the loudest voices. What I have found is that most of the surface people can be good, kind, caring people, if they are given the chance."

Once Sam had finished speaking, several moments of silence had gone by before Elder Rainer spoke up. "I do not believe that any of us have ever questioned the exceptionally difficult task that the surface helpers have accepted and preform on a daily basis on behalf of not only our own nation, but the world as a whole. I have no doubt that as leader of the surface helpers guild, my son understands those difficulties more than any. However, I fear that it may be possible that he has fallen into the same trap that many of our young have a tendency of falling into. That being, they hope for something so much that they will look for any excuse, no matter how small, to justify that hope."

After glancing around the table to take a quick read of the expressions of the other Elders, Rainer continued. "First, I think I can safely say that I speak for the majority of us when I say that no one among us is proud or pleased of the fact that we are in the position that we are in, isolated from those on the surface. Second, I do not believe that anyone here is questioning whether or not humanity as a race has the potential to be a good, kind, and caring people. In fact, it is for that very reason that the surface helpers exist at all. However, I feel that it is also important to show how, even just looking at the last one to two thousand years we have been disappointed time and time again by the continued self-destructive nature that humanity has shown. The countless wars, slavery, segregation, religions, crusades that all of us have sat here and watched with deep sorrow."

"Is the problem that those on the surface do not have the ability to be good, kind and caring?" Rainer asked as he slowly made eye contact with each of the other Elders. "No, of course not. Just like we have found a small group of children that may demonstrate those ideals now, have have found such individuals throughout history. The real problem is not only what these children will grow up to become, but also how government and society as a whole looks and treats things. You can have fifty thousand children in this group for all I care, and that will not change a thing as long as the true leaders of the nations of the world continue to have the close minded, bigoted, viewpoints that they continue to this day to demonstrate that they have, which prevents them from accepting that which is different from them."

Sam gave a slight nod toward his father after he had finished speaking. "Elder Rainer has made several good points, many of which I can not fault him for pointing out. However, as he has said I may have fallen into a trap that many of the youngest of us have fallen into, please watch out for the trap that blinds one from being able to see anything different then they have seen in the past. This group of kids, this group known as Clan Short, has been able to accomplish more in a few weeks then any other group has been able to. But there is one thing that has allowed them to actually make the changes that they have made stick. They are not bound by any government on the surface. Their authority comes from the Federation of Planets, which supersedes any Earth law. Their leader, Cory Short, is one of those visionaries that does not accept that something can not be done. They have proven time and again that they will not be intimidated by anyone, that they will do what they feel is right, and no one can stop them." Sam paused and looked directly at the Circle. "What I am about to say, not even I would believe had I not seen it with my own eyes, and I would welcome a Truth Seer to verify what I say."

"I do not believe that will be necessary," Ardell spoke from his seat.

Sam nodded to him and continued. "There is one thing that I have witnessed with my own eyes, that tells me that the Clan can not help but succeed in their fight. I have witnessed that they count among their number, several of the Angelous!"

After allowing the slight murmurs from the Elders around the table to die down, Sam continued. "There is another boy that I have met, his name is Dawson Sheridan. Before he had even heard of the Clan he was working on the creation of a homeless shelter in the city he lives in. He was not someone who was out to change the world, but because of hearing about his fathers sad past, Dawson felt the need to do this. He convinced over 400 people to help him, and raised many millions of dollars. Because of what he did, the Clan approached him with an offer of membership. Which I am glad to say he accepted. But I was curious about something, so one night during dinner time, I sat down at the table he was at, and started up a conversation."

"What he said shocked me, but the reaction from everyone around, shocked me even more. I had asked him if he was out to try and change the world. His answer to me is something I never will forget, and showed a wisdom that very few of the longest lived people I have ever met have. He said 'no, you can't change the world unless your willing to be the change. I asked what he meant, and noticed that all conversation around us have stopped, and everyone was listening. He took a moment to gather his thoughts, then he really floored me. He said, 'how hypocritical is it to want, no need the world to change, if your not willing to change yourself. In order to try and change something, you have to change yourself first. That's what I mean about 'being' the change. How can you expect someone else to do something, that your not willing to do yourself. Get out there, do something, and then you can expect others to help. But you can't expect everyone else around you to change, just because you think they should. You can't teach people how to behave if your not willing to behave that way yourself. That's why I love the Clan so much, and why I am willing to be a part of it. You guys are willing to get out there and 'be' the change."

Sam paused for a few moments, then looked directly at his father. "That is what we have been doing wrong. We have been hoping the world would magically become a better place just because we want it, yet we've never been willing to take a leadership role in that. I know you are worried about falling into the same trap that the founders did, but with all the people we have here, all the people that know the faults of the past, don't you think it's time that we stop hiding, don't you think it's time for US to become the Change that we have always been looking for?"

"If I may interject," Elder Kentan, a young adult asked. "I think I will have to agree with Elder Rainer that you have indeed prepared a very elegant, and in many areas, convincing speech for us today. It is clear that this is a topic that has concerned you for some time now. However, I am still a bit confused. When you first started your speech, you stated that you sought to have the entire weight of our culture pushed in support of this Clan Short. However, I have yet to figure out what it is specifically that you are looking for. Would you have us hand over the keys to our archives and vaults and allow this Clan Short and UNIT to do what they will with it, regardless of the possible consequences?"

"Of course not. I do not believe anyone here would be that stupid. What I am suggesting is that we take the same role that Suasors Anwern, Cole and Braseon, have done for us, over the past forty thousand years. As all three have said time and again, there are still things that they have access to, that they have not shown us... and how many of us trust those three with out lives. No, I am not saying that we should open up our vaults and allow the Clan to have unrestricted access to everything that we have, but I am saying that we should open up our hearts and minds to helping these kids. What I am saying is that it is time to stop hiding ourselves away, and HELP." Sam paused then looked at Klaus. "Klaus. In your opinion, where is the Clan in regards to their level of technology?"

The golden haired eleven-year-old boy closed his eyes for a few moments before he answered. "As I'm sure you are aware, there are many different models and methods we have come up with over the years to measure technology levels of societies and cultures. There are also many different categories in which such technology can be measured. For example, in the field of electronics, and miniaturization, several scales would place them at around a level 4. However, in the field of bio engineering and genetic manipulation, their technology is still very immature with most scales giving them a rating of 2. If you were to ask overall, from what we have observed of Clan Short, in general, their technology level would probably average out to around a 3."

Sam nodded his head, then looked back out around the crowd. "Then I would put forth a proposal for the Circle to consider, of revealing ourselves to the Clan, but not allowing them to have access to anything over level four tech. I would also suggest that we assign someone who is knowledgeable about our technology, and allow them to give them access to level five tech if they feel it is proper. I would also suggest giving them access only to some of the higher technology like our matter replicators and our medical technology, so that they could better do the jobs that they have taken onto themselves. Just to be clear, I do not mean give that tech to them, but let them have access to it."

Sam paused to let what he said sink in then continued. "These are decisions that only the Circle can make, but you now have my recommendations, and the reasons behind them. Thank you for your time, and I will respond to any questions you may have."

As soon as Sam finished speaking, an immediate uproar could be heard both inside and outside the circle. Several of the elders could be seen talking to each other as well as talking to unseen people outside of the circle.

After this had continued for several seconds, a large banging sound could be heard as Ardell hit a small gavel onto the table. "Call to order... Elders?" Ardell hit the table a second time and waited for the conversation to die down before he continued. "A recommendation has been placed before this circle. Are there any objections?"

Immediately, four of the nine Elders stood up, although three of them quickly sat back down leaving only a very young looking silver-haired, silver-skinned boy standing.

"Elder Sylus," Ardell motioned toward the young boy.

Elder Sylus nodded at the recognition. "House Fundo recognizes the importance of our culture stepping up and taking a leading rule in assisting the surface cultures to move into what we have all hoped would one day occur, as for better or worse that commitment was made twelve thousand years ago when we aided in the re-seeding of the planet. However, we as a culture have also learned the value of patients and not running head first into a hasty decision. We have spent years considering groups in the past for this very same purpose, yet we have only been aware of Clan Short for the last few weeks. I am not against considering to work with them, but I fear the time may be far too soon."

As soon as Elder Sylus sat down, Elder Rainer stood back up. "I must agree with the Elder of Gens Fundo. Although my son has certainly made a strong case for them, I do not believe that our decision should be based on word-craft alone. In reality we know very little of these people. Further, we shouldn't even be interacting with this Clan Short if it weren't for one of our Ternios taking it upon themselves to push this meeting, which in my opinion brings into question some much larger concerns."

Several of the other Elders nodded and began to whisper amongst themselves. Ardell hit the gavel on the table again, but said nothing until several moments had gone by, and the room was once again silent. "Elder Rainer," Ardell began. "Surely you are not questioning the authority I have to make decisions that I feel are in the best interest of our people when the circle is not assembled?"

Elder Rainer shook his head. "Certainly not, Ternios Ardell. I would never question a right we have all acknowledged many times that you have. However, the circle is now assembled, and I believe those decisions should at the least be reviewed. But this too is still mild in comparison to some much larger concerns I feel need to be addressed. Not only has interaction between us and Clan Short and UNIT been pushed, but I have learned that one of the surface dwellers has not only been given access to our facilities, but is indeed right here, right now, as an active participant here in the circle chambers, the very heart of our societies government structure." Once he said this, Rainer pointed in the shadows toward where Haden had been standing.

Several gasps could be heard from those in the inner circle as well as the outer circle. "This is an outrage!" someone could be heard saying amongst the chatter.

"Call to order!" Ardell was forced to call out several times before the conversation died down enough so that he could be heard without needing to shout. "Given the nature of what was to be discussed in this meeting, Haden Rothwood was asked to attend as a guest of the Ternios. Beyond that, Haden has been found to be the genetic twin of Barrett Klystron in Adigo of Klystron. As such, by right of blood, until openly rejected, he has just as much a part of our society as Barrett."

There was more hushed discussion that could be heard, but not as loud as it has been in the past. After a few moments, the young Vifer boy, Sylus, stood back up. "If this Haden is here in our circle chambers, does that mean that he is prepared to address the circle to speak in his defense?"

"To what do you suggest that he speak in defense of, Elder Sylus?" Ardell asked. Seeing the Elder sit back down, he continued. "To my knowledge, Haden has not been accused of anything. Was it not just a few minutes ago that the statement was made that we should not be too hasty with our reactions?"

As soon as Ardell had finished speaking, a man emerged from the shadows and approached Elder Rainer's side. After spending a few moments whispering into the Elder's ear, he walked back into the shadows.

A few moments later, Rainer himself stood back up. "Those words were indeed spoken, Ternios Ardell. However, with all due respect to our Ternios, it was you that forced the situation by your actions this morning. In any event, I believe that I may have a solution that should be acceptable to all involved. As one of my Auxilius has just pointed out to me, it is very possible that we could be in a unique situation in that with the twin of Barrett being here in the chambers with us, traditional procedure would permit this Haden to speak on behalf of his clan and allow us to learn first hand just how advanced and how ready this group of kids may be to work with us."

"I refuse to make this a spectacle by putting Haden on trial here," Ardell quickly replied.

"Don't you think it's too late for that?" Elder Rainer replied, as his temper slowly began to build. "Again, with all due respect to the Ternios, this became a spectacle the moment you decided to throw tradition out the window, and took it upon yourself to force the meeting with Clan Short. If he's not prepared to speak for his kind then why have him here?"

"You are missing the point, and you are out of order, Elder Rainer," Ardell shot back. "Haden knows nothing at all of our rules and customs."

"My point exactly," Rainer shot back.

"I'll do it," Haden timidly, yet firmly called out causing both Ardel and Rainer to shift their focus toward the shadows.

"Haden, no," Barrett replied.

"If it means stopping this argument, and helping you guys move forward, I'll do it," Haden stated and then in a slightly quieter voice continued. "Although, I'm not really sure what I need to do."

"Haden Rothwood, please step forward into the light," Ardell called out. A few moments later once Haden did as he was asked, Ardell continued. "What is being asked of you is that you be willing to answer questions before this circle in regards to both yourself as an individual and as a representative of Clan Short and the UNIT. This is in no way something that is required or expected of you."

Haden nodded. "I understand."

Ardell stood there for several long moments before he continued speaking. "How far have we fallen?" As he spoke, Ardell looked around the table. "How far have we fallen when a child who knows nothing about our society must step in to help solve our own issues?"

Ardell paused to allow time for any of the Elders that felt they needed to jump in to do so. Seeing that none were willing to speak, he continued. "I recommend that this circle stand in recess for thirty minutes to allow all of us time to reflect on what has been discussed up to this point, and where we shall go from here. Any objections?"

Again, Ardell waited several long moments to see if any objections would be raised. Seeing none, he sat back down and hit the gavel on the table. "Seeing none, this circle is in recess for the next thirty minutes."

Moments later, the entire virtual world dissolved around Haden leaving only a grid of green squares. Another moment after that, there was darkness.

It was only a few moments that Haden was sitting in darkness before his visor slid up, and he could see Barrett looking back him with concern. "Are you alright?", Barrett's voice was full of concern.

Haden blinked a few times as his eyes re-adjusted to the light. "I think so."

"You really know how to jump into things with both feet, don't you?" Barrett asked as he gently lifted the headset off of Haden's head.

Haden shrugged. "It's better than having everyone start a war over me or something."

"They wouldn't have started a war over you," Barrett replied as he took his own headset off. "Sometimes discussions in the circle chambers can get a bit... heated. However, in the end they usually end up working things out. I can only remember two or three times over the last several thousand years where things got way out of hand."

"That Rainer guy didn't seem that interested in staying calm about things," Haden countered.

"Oh yeah, him," Barrett said almost as an afterthought. "I wouldn't worry about him that much. He's usually rather reserved. It's just, with all the stuff that has been going on over the last few weeks with the Founder council being re-established and with some other things, he's been a bit more on edge than normal."

<<Sorry to interrupt you guys, but Ardell has asked to speak to both of you as soon as possible in his office.>>

"Alright KLAUS, thanks. We'll head over there now," Barrett replied as he and Haden stood up.

<<Actually, if you don't mind, I think it will be faster if I teleport you over. There is only a small amount of time before the circle reconvenes.>>

Barrett looked toward Haden, and after getting a nod, answered for both of them. "Okay, we're ready."

As soon as Barrett finished speaking, Haden watched as the room he was standing in faded into darkness, only to return a few moments later. Only now, they were in a completely different place.

A few feet ahead of him, Haden could see two empty, comfortable looking chairs that were placed in front of a large desk. Behind the desk sat Ardell who was quickly scrolling through screens of information on the terminal that was on his desk. Also scattered around the surface of the desk were several small, thin, metallic rectangular objects. Each of the metallic pieces had a small label on it that was color coded with three colors and a few letters and numbers.

The room itself seemed rather large for an office. Behind him, Haden could see a two good sized couches and a few extra chairs as well as a large ornate looking vase that was sitting on a tall pedestal in the corner, with a light shining down on it from the ceiling.

At the point that Haden's eyes fell onto the vase, he heard Ordath speaking inside of his head. 'So THAT'S where that went.'

'Where what went?' Haden sent back. 'The strange looking vase?'

'Oh, don't worry about it right now. I'll tell you about it later.' Ordath replied.

As soon as Ardell noticed that they had arrived, he motioned toward the empty seats. "Thanks for stopping by so quickly guys. Please, have a seat and make yourselves at home."

Barrett and Haden both nodded and took the offered seats.

Once both boys were seated Ardell continued. "I was wanting to talk to you guys a little bit more about the circle meeting. But, before I do, would either of you like anything to drink?"

Barrett's eyes lit up. "Actually, I wouldn't mind a Spartan right about now."

Ardell's eyes crossed before he looked toward Haden. "How about you?"

Haden thought for a few moments, "I'll take a Spartan as well, I guess."

"Okay..." Ardell replied hesitantly as he turned around in his chair and accessed a small panel that was behind him. A few moments later, he turned back around holding a small tray with two glasses of red bubbly liquid in them.

Barrett immediately took one of the glasses, and began to drink it. Haden was slightly more hesitant when he took his. Smelling it first, it had a rather nice sweet smell to it. Having passed the smell test, he took a small sip. Almost immediately he dramatically spit it back out as he tasted one of the sourest drinks he had ever tasted in his life. This, of course, caused both Barrett and Ardell to giggle.

"Wow, what is that stuff?" Haden gasped.

"It's yum, that's what it is," Barrett smiled as he took another sip.

Seeing Haden's confused look, Ardell decided to provide Haden with a slightly better answer. "Personally, Haden, I'm with you. However, it's a drink that a lot of the younger kids seem to have taken to lately. When you first taste it, it is really sour, but once it's been in your mouth for a few seconds, it turns sweet."

"Right," Haden replied as he narrowed his eyes while looking at the glass closer.

"Anyway guys, I do have a few serious things I would like to talk to you about before the circle goes back into session," Ardell stated in a more serious tone.

<<Ardell, I believe it would be best if you held off on that for a few moments.>>

Ardell looked up toward the ceiling, which was where KLAUS's voice was coming from. "Oh, what's up KLAUS?"

<<Daileass has just informed me that Logan has requested to be allowed to sit in on this discussion as well, if that is something you are in agreement with.>>

Ardell thought for a few moments before he nodded his head. "From what you have told me about Logan earlier, I think that's probably a good idea. Go ahead and teleport him directly to my office."

A few moments later, Logan appeared a few feet behind where Barrett and Haden were sitting.

"Logan!" Haden said with surprise.

"Hey Logan," Barrett smiled as well.

"Hey, guys," Logan replied as he quickly allowed his eyes to skim the room he was in. As soon as his eyes fell on the vase, he immediately walked over to it. Tilting his head, he intensely stared at it for several moments before he slowly began to nod his head.

"That's so fuckin' awesome!" Logan said as he turned with a big grin on his face to look at Ardell. "You know I don't get to say that very often and mean it. There is very little that ever truly impresses me these days," Logan shook his head slowly and let out what could only be called an whimper as his body gave an involuntary shudder. It was almost orgasmic in nature. "But this, REALLY impresses me."

Ardell sat back in his chair and grinned, saying nothing.

Turning around, Logan walked toward Ardell's desk and held out his hand. "Logan Hayes, it's great to meet you."

Ardell nodded as he stood up and took the offered hand. "Ardell Klaystron, and the privilege is mine. I just wish it were under better circumstance."

"Agreed," Logan replied as he took a few steps back. "I know you are working with a limited amount of time here, so let me see if I can help things out a little. First, you need to know that Haden is a part of a very special link that exists between myself, Daileass, and several of my other brothers. Among other things, this sometimes allows me to see through Haden's eyes, and listen to what he is hearing. So I already have a pretty good idea of what you are probably going to be talking about."

Once Logan saw Ardell nod, he continued. "Second, I am willing to offer you another option for this meeting if you are willing to go along with it. I have the ability to pull all of you into my head to a place we generally refer to as a mental-scape or mind-scape. Conversations and discussions can take place much faster there, since minutes in the mental-scape translate to only seconds in real time."

"Oh yeah, the mental-scape is really effern Ardell, I think you will like it," Barrett quickly replied as his eyes lit up. "I got pulled into by accident earlier with Haden. It's kind of like V.R., only it seems a lot more realistic."

Logan nodded toward Barrett. "That pretty much sums it up. However, there is something I need to warn you about before you accept my offer. Since this will be mind-to-mind communication, given the nature of the link it will not be possible for us to hide anything from each other. You will be able to tell if myself or anyone else is lying to you, just as we will be able to tell if you are lying to us."

Ardell looked toward Barrett with concern. "You were part of this mental mind thing and didn't mention any of this to us?"

Barrett shrugged. "It happened right before we went to rescue all those kids at the farm. I was going to tell you about it when I got back, but all this other stuff happened and I didn't really have a chance to yet."

"Okay, it's not a problem," Ardell agreed before he looked back toward Logan. "I have no issues with being up front and honest with you, so I accept your offer of bringing us all into your head for this meeting."

"Great," Logan nodded. Moments later, everyone in the room felt an odd sensation as the world around them went out of focus and dissolved around them.

"Okay, this is... different," Ardell observed as he looked around at the rather large room that they had appeared in. There was a visible ceiling perhaps a hundred feet above them, but no sign of the walls could be seen in any direction.

"Actually, your right," Barrett agreed. "This looks really different from how it looked earlier."

"That's because we are in Logan's head this time, and not Daileass's," Haden replied.

"Hey guys," Daileass called out as he appeared a few feet away from the rest of the group. "Sorry for being late, but I'm still working out a few last minute details with Klaus."

"What are you having to work out with Klaus?" Ardell asked curiously.

"See for yourself," Daileass replied as he motioned toward an empty space. Within moments, a blurred object begin to fade in and out. A few moments later, the object became fully solid and quickly came into focus to reveal an eleven-year-old boy with golden-hair and sparkling emerald green eyes.

"Klaus!" Ardell called out with surprise. "How?"

Once he was fully formed, Klaus held his hands out in front of him and smiled. "Daileass gave me a few pointers in regards to interfacing with mental links." After spending a few more moments looking himself over, he turned toward Ardell. "I hate to say this, but I think Clan Short and UNIT might have a bit more technology at their disposal than we are not aware of."

"Well actually, I hate to say it like this, but all of this," Logan motioned to everything around him, "has nothing to do with technology."

Ardell seemed lost in looking around as well. "Technology based or not, this looks like some pretty cool stuff."

"And just think, you guys haven't even seen the really cool stuff yet," Alvin stated as he and the other two chipmunks appeared.

"Who invited you guys?" Logan asked as he glanced toward the chipmunks.

"We heard about the meeting you were holding," Theodore begin.

"So we decided we would stop by to show our support for our brother," Simon added.

"That works for me," Logan nodded. "Ardell, do you guys want to stand, or would you prefer to sit. I can make tables, chairs, couches, or anything else you can think of here."

"I'm fine with standing, what about you guys?" Ardell answered as he looked toward Barrett.

"I'm good," Barrett replied.

As Ardell looked toward Klaus, he saw him deep in a conversation with Daileass. Although none of the boys couldn't hear what was being said, they could see that they were each pointing to different body parts.

"Would you guys like to join us, or do you need your own special room?" Ardell asked with a grin.

"Huh?" Klaus asked as he looked toward Ardell. "Oh, no, it's not that. Daileass was just giving me some pointers on how to do things inside of the mental-scape."

"Uh huh, right," Ardell grinned causing the other boys to snigger.

With Daileass and Klaus being sufficiently embarrassed enough to have their attention back, Logan decided that it would be best to get things started. "Okay, although it would be cool to just goof off all day, I think we have a few important things we should talk about."

Ardell nodded and became serious as well. "Agreed."

"First off, please let me know if I'm seeing things wrong, but from what I heard, it seems like you are going to be putting Haden on trial, and to be honest, I'm not sure how much I like that idea," Logan began.

Ardell sighed. "Yeah, I guess looking at things from your perspective, it might certainly appear that way, but I can assure you that it's not. Haden has not done anything wrong, he does not face being punished for anything, or have anything else bad happen to him."

"You're right, Haden personally is not on trial," Logan admitted. "However, it is the Clan and the UNIT that I see being put on trial, and Haden being forced to answer for them. Based on his answers, your circle will decide whether or not to pursue a relationship with the clan. To me that seems like a pretty huge weight to put on a kid's shoulders, and a pretty large punishment for failure."

Ardell nodded slowly. "I know, that's exactly why in the circle chambers I was initially of the opinion to not have Haden subjected to this. You're right, it's not fair to put such a huge burden on the shoulder's of someone so young. But when he volunteered, there was very little I could say."

Seeing that Logan was not immediately replying, Ardell continued. "One of the reasons I called for the recess, and wanted to speak to Haden directly was to explain a little better about what he was actually agreeing to. It's not too late for him to back out from the questioning, and the circle will just have to find its answers elsewhere."

Logan stood there for a few moments thinking before he nodded in agreement. "I can tell you are not lying about this, and that you really do have Haden's best interests at heart."

"Of course I'm not lying," Ardell replied. "Is that why you wanted to have this meeting in this mental-scape, to use it as a lie detector?"

"That's part of it," Logan admitted. "But you have to understand, that works both ways. If you stop and think about it, you can just as easily tell if me or anyone else, including Haden is lying to you. No offense Ardell, but Daileass and I didn't know you existed before KLAUS contacted him a few days ago, and today is the first day any of us have met face-to-face, so it's going to take a little bit for us to really be able to get to know and trust you guys."

Ardell sighed. "You're right, Logan. I apologize for my remark. I've spent so much time looking at things from the perspective of our own nation, I've allowed myself to completely overlook the fact that trust is a two-way street, and you guys are going to have to learn to trust us just as much as we are going to have to learn to trust you."

Logan was glad at how willing Ardell seemed to catch himself and admit when he was perceiving things differently, as it was a good sign in regards to the future potential of the relationship that might form between the two groups. "Don't worry about it. It's an easy trap to fall in. Trust me, I've learned that the hard way several times myself."

After getting a nod of understanding from Ardell, Logan turned his focus to Haden. "That brings us to you. What made you decide to do this in the first place?"

"I don't know," Haden replied with a shrug. Seeing that Logan was not going to let him off the hook that easily, he thought for a few moments before replying. "When I was going through my training at Camp Casey, one of the things we learned as part of the officer training is that any time we act whether in uniform or not, we represent both UNIT and the Clan. So, I guess when I saw everyone in the circle chambers fighting over us, and the chance came up to do something about it, and to represent my family... I don't know, I guess I just thought it was the right thing to do."

Daileass smiled toward Haden. "Haden, I can't begin to say just how proud I am of you, to hear you say something like that. I think that shows just how much you have grown." Once he finished saying this, he then turned toward Logan. "With that being said, if the UNIT and the Clan are to be put on trial here, wouldn't it be better to have someone like you or Adam or even myself there answering those questions?"

Logan thought for a few moments. "Besides the fact that this is not something I would really feel comfortable with taking away from Haden if he feels this strongly about it, from what I got from the conversation, it seems like Haden might be the only person in the clan who could take part in the circle meeting to answer those questions."

"Well, technically Haden's older brother Evan could, since both Haden and Evan are Barrett's brothers by blood," Ardell replied. "In theory it would be possible to get one of you other guys before the circle, however the situation and mechanics behind it would be completely different. It would also have to be more of a one way discussion where you would only be able to answer questions from the circle or the Ternios."

"Wait, so you mean I would be able to ask questions to the circle?" Haden asked curiously.

Ardell nodded. "Going by the sections of policy that are being used here, yes, the question and answering is technically two way. However, those being questioned usually tend to be too nervous or thrown off guard to ask many questions of their own."

"Count on that being thrown out the window," Daileass grinned.

"That's assuming I come up with any good questions to ask," Haden replied.

"If you do or you don't, that will entirely be up to you," Logan added. "Just keep in mind, while the circle is trying to get a feel for if they can trust the UNIT and the clan, we also have to figure out if we can trust them."

Haden nodded.

"Ardell, is there anything else about this questioning, or your government system in general that would be helpful for us know about?" Logan asked seriously.

"Actually yes," Ardell nodded. "First a little background on our general government structure. At the top of our nation's governmental system are three Ternios. They manage the day-to-day operations of top-level governmental decisions, and they sit at the head of the table in circle meetings. Those three would be KLAUS, myself and Geoff, a man who has proven time and time again to be wise beyond his years, and very instrumental in the shaping of our society."

"He certainly sounds like he's a pretty important person," Haden commented.

"Oh, he is, and he's really nice too," Barrett replied. "When this is all over, I'm going to have to introduce you to him. I think you two would get along well together."

Haden smiled. "Cool."

Seeing that no one else had any other comments, Ardell continued. "The next thing you need to know is that our nation is divided into a number of different Gentes, which you would call Clans or Houses. Right now, there are nine major Gentes. Each Clan has an Elder, and all of these Elders together form the Circle of Elders. For the non day-to-day governmental matters, we have an open circle system in which the Ternios and Elders combine to form the inner circle."

"What do you mean by an open circle system?" Logan asked curiously.

"It means everyone get's to watch," Haden offered. "It is actually pretty cool."

"To a degree, Haden is right," Ardell admitted. "However, it's more than just watching. Any citizen of our nation is both allowed and encouraged to take part in our government system. Either through the Clan Hierarchy which further sub-divides into tribes and families, or through a parallel activity based Gildus or Guild system. When circle meetings are in session, Guild leaders and their assistants as well as most Tribe leaders from the Clans, and then anyone else who has earned the respect of a significant portion of either side of the structure will form the outer circle. Those in the outer circle may step into the inner circle at any point during the meeting to make their opinions known. However, as a matter of protocol and tradition, this usually only happens when a matter that is being discussed directly effects that Guild or Tribe or individual."

"Sounds like a rather interesting structure," Logan commented.

"It might not be perfect," Ardell admitted. "But it has worked for us pretty well."

"How do you guys ever get that many people to agree on things?" Alvin asked.

"Believe me, it can get interesting at times," Klaus jumped in.

Ardell nodded. "Yeah. However, for most situations, only a simple vote is needed. In these cases, the circle of elders collectively has one vote, and the Ternios each have a vote."

"So as long as all three Ternios agree on something, you can always trump the elders?" Haden asked.

"In theory, yes," Ardell answered. "But not only are things a lot more complicated than that, in that certain types of votes and decisions have different policies in how many voices the Elders get, and when other groups get a say, such as the outer circle, but it would also be bad form on the Ternios. Our nation is in a rather unique position in that many of us are fairly long lived. Over the time that this structure has existed, there has only been two changes to the Ternios, one of those changes happened twelve thousand years ago, and the other change, happened about two weeks ago. Our system heavily relies on trust, and our nation has put a lot of trust in myself and the other two Ternios. If we as Ternios suddenly began to mis-use our authority and abuse our powers, the enter system would break down very quickly."

"Okay, I think I understand everything that you have mentioned so far," Logan stated. "How does all this fit in with the questions that Haden is going to be answering?"

"Basically, we are in one of those grey areas," Ardell admitted. "You see, you have to understand that because many of us are so long lived, our nation is not accustom to making quick, hasty decisions. Discussion over whether or not to open a dialog with UNIT and Clan Short could easily have taken another month or two of discussion before we started to reach an answer. For a large number of reasons, a few of which involve just how quickly and far you guys have gone just in the last two weeks, I made a judgement call to push forward with our groups meeting. Technically, the authority is mine unless one of the other two Ternios object, which neither Geoff nor KLAUS did."

"I think I get it," Logon jumped in. "Some of the Elders felt their feathers were ruffled in that they did not get the normal amount of time to discuss and mull over things that they are usually accustom to."

"That's not exactly how I was going to put it," Ardell replied. "However, now that I think about it, your answer is probably a lot closer to the truth than anything I could have said."

"So you think that having Haden answer questions could help the Elders feel more comfortable with the fact that their timeline got rushed?" Daileass asked.

Ardell nodded. "Pretty much. It will trim out a lot of the empty time the discussions are usually halted for research or investigation. There will be a person right there in front of them that can answer any question that any of them might have right then."

"And after hearing everything that Ardell has said, this is something you are still comfortable with doing, Haden?" Logan asked seriously.

"Comfortable? Not really," Haden admitted. "But another thing I learned at Camp Casey is that we don't always get the luxury of being able to pick comfortable. This is something I'm willing to do if it will help. And from what I've heard, it sounds like it might be able to go along way to getting the Elders to be willing to give us a chance."

Daileass looked like he wanted to jump in and say something, but he remained silent.

Logan stood there for several long seconds looking at Haden before he finally nodded. "Okay, as long as this is a decision you have made and feel strongly about, I'm willing to go along with it."

Haden nodded.

"If you don't mind, let's talk security for a few moments," Logan continued as he looked toward Ardell and Klaus. "I know this is all taking place in virtual reality, but what if anything goes wrong, or something happens where we feel Haden is in danger and we need to get him out of there?"

"Nothing can go wrong," Ardell replied. "The V.R. technology is something we have been using for tens of thousands of years. It's very sound stuff."

"I'm sure it is," Logan agreed. "But if there is anything that the UNIT has learned over the last year is to expect the unexpected. So if you don't mind, please humor me on this."

"Well, I wouldn't suggest trying to teleport him out, that's for sure," Klaus jumped in. "From what I can tell, our shields will prevent you guys from locking on and pulling Haden out. However, just in case you have higher tech in this area and can get around our shields, you need to understand it would be very dangerous."

"Why is that?" Logan asked as he was quickly not liking the direction this was going in.

"The V.R. gear that we use is some very advanced technology. It directly interfaces with the brain and nervous system of the user," Klaus answered. "If a person were to suddenly become disconnected from the device without it properly being in a 'safe' mode or shut down, you could literally fry a persons brain."

Logan frowned. "Daileass?"

Daileass nodded. "KLAUS provided me with the specs to the various models of V.R. headsets that they use. There is no easy way to have the degree of interaction that they have without the direct interfacing with the user that the headsets preform. And from the simulations I've run, What Klaus has said is exactly correct, while the headset is in use, the body's brain and CNS develop a co-dependence on the headset. To suddenly remove that would shock both of those systems, and could very easily 'turn off' someone's brain permanently."

"There are a number of fail safes built into the system, however," Klaus jumped in. "In addition to the user being able to turn off the headset at any time, or me being able to turn if off remotely at any time. If somehow connection with the UMP network is lost, it will automatically safe and turn itself off. Or, if the headset is moved more than a half of inch from the person's head, it will safe itself. The only thing we can't really account for is an instant teleport to a location that is outside the network."

"I'm guessing the outside of the network issue would also prevent the headsets from being usable at say, our base in Russia or in America?" Logan asked.

"Given the bandwidth and degree of interaction that the headsets require, unless we installed a Point of Presence and a UMP booster as well as probably a control hub at either or both of those locations, probably not," Klaus replied.

"And unfortunately, until our groups get on better terms, all of that is highly restricted tech. It generally does not get installed anywhere other than heavily protected KLAUS installations," Ardell added.

"Alright, we do things your way on this one," Logan sighed. "The last thing I will say is this. Haden is important to not only myself, Daileass, and the rest of our brothers, but to many others in the UNIT and the clan. If any harm should ever come to him... I will not be happy."

Ardell nodded. "I can both understand and respect that. In fact, our people would feel the same exact way in regards to Barrett if anything would ever happen to him while under your care."

Logan tilted his head as he looked toward Ardell. If he wanted to, he could every easily have taken his last statement as a challenge, but he decided that he had gotten his point across and that it would probably be best to drop it. "Great. So, does anyone else have any questions or comments before we wrap things up here?"

Logan took a few moments to look at each of the others. When his eyes fell on Haden, he sighed. "Haden? I know why you are doing this, and I support your decision. Just remember that if at any time you feel you can't handle things anymore, just give the word and one way or the other, we'll find a way to stop it."

Once Haden nodded in understanding, Logan looked toward Ardell. For a moment, it seemed like Ardell was wanting to say something, but he didn't. Although he knew that Ardell had to keep what was best for his society at the forefront of his mind, Logan also knew that Ardell had a great deal of concern for Haden, and would himself step in if he felt things were getting too far out of hand. It was primarily for that reason that he made the final decision to let things move forward.

Seeing that no one else had any comments, Logan nodded. "Okay, in that case, I think we are done here."

Moments later, everyone faded away.

"Let's see, that would be a 10 to 15 minute meeting that we just had in just under 5 seconds," Logan grinned.

"Okay, now that was pretty impressive," Ardell replied as he checked the time on his terminal just to make sure. "We have telepaths and people that can talk mind-to-mind with each other, but I have never heard of anything like that."

"In that case, I'm glad that I could show you something new," Logan smiled. "Anyway, I'm guessing that you still have other things you need to get done before your meeting resumes, and I need to run so I can start filling Adam in on the latest news."

Ardell nodded. "Thanks for stopping in, Logan. I hope this is just the first of many meetings to come."

"You bet," Logan smiled. "Hey KLAUS, how about you show Daileass up and see how quickly you can get me back to where you found me."

"Hey!" Daileass's voice immediately replied through the speakers. Unfortunately, Logan was gone before he began to speak, which caused both Barrett and Haden to giggle.

With Logan gone, Ardell took a few moments to collect his thoughts. "I think we covered things pretty well in the mind-scape place, but do either of you have any other questions as far as what to expect when the circle meeting resumes?" Seeing both boys shaking there heads, Ardell continued. "Okay, in that case I have a few things I need to check on before the meeting resumes. If you two don't mind, I think it would be best if you jumped into V.R. from here. I'm not expecting any problems to exist, but Logan was right, we probably don't want to take any chances, and I can't think of anywhere safer than here."

Barrett and Haden both nodded. "How much time do we have?" Barrett asked.

"Let's say be back here within twenty minutes," Ardell answered.

"Cool," Barrett smiled. "I was thinking about taking Haden to meet Caedin. I think his group is at Fon today. Then we can swing by and grab our headsets on the way back."

"That sounds like a cool idea. I think both Haden and Caedin would like that," Ardell replied. "Although, I'm not sure if you have enough time to really get much swimming in."

"I wasn't thinking of going swimming, we can do that later if Haden wants," Barrett grinned.

Ardell stood up from his desk. "Okay guys, I'll see you in twenty," He stated as he began to walk out of his office. At the last moment, he stopped and looked back. "Oh yeah, go ahead and use KLAUS to get yourselves around. At least until the meeting is over, I would rather you guys not have to go through the nexus."

"I like swimming," Haden offered after Ardell had left.

"Really?... cool!" Barrett replied between gulps of his Spartan drink. "In that case... I really think... you're going to like... Fons Base." Slamming his glass down on the desk, he had a very strange look on his face for a few moments. "Wow, that stuff's good. Are you going to drink that?"

Haden looked toward his still mostly-filled glass and then toward Barrett as he shook his head.

"In that case, I would hate to see good Spartan go to waste," Barrett grinned as he took Haden's glass and began to quickly guzzle it as well.

Haden watched in amazement as the glass quickly emptied. "How do you drink that stuff?"

Barrett shrugged as he put the empty glass on the table. "It's good."

"It's terrible," Haden countered

"I guess it just kind of grows on you," Barrett replied. "KLAUS, can you teleport us to the South Shore's lower entrance in Fons? I think that should put us near Caedin."

<<Stand by.>>

As the world dissolved and re-appeared around Haden, at first he thought he was outside. They appeared standing on a sidewalk in front of a grassy area, in a rather bright, open environment. Looking up, however, he could see a dome-shaped roof high above them, and a single large, bright sun-like light shining down on them from near the center-top of the doom.

Ahead of them, past the grassy area was a brightly-colored, building that seemed to be built from different geometric shapes. Between them and the building ran a channel of water about 10 feet wide. A short distance away, the channel curved and split off at a Y interaction, with one channel going off in the distance, and the other apparently disappearing into the building itself.

"Wow, this looks pretty cool," Haden commented as he continued to look around.

"I figured you would like this," Barrett replied as he began to lead Haden toward the entrance of the building. "This building is South Shore, it's one of our learning centers that we've build for our younglings."

"What's with the... what are they... rivers?" Haden asked as he looked toward the channel and saw a large dark greyish-blue object swim by, a few feet under the surface.

"That's one of the waterways. You can think of them as sidewalks of water, they run throughout the base, and connect with all the major areas," Barrett answered as he opened the door to the building and led Haden down one of the halls.

"For boats?" Haden asked curiously as they walked down the hall. The hall itself was filled with doors on both sides. Each door had two large ornately decorated circular windows in them, one at the top and one at the bottom. Through the windows, he could tell that the rooms were like small classrooms, and several of the rooms were filled with kids of different ages.

"Some of the younglings have little floating rafts or toys they play with in the waterways, but for the most part, they are for the Delphinus," Barrett answered. "You can think of them as an intelligent sub-species of dolphin."

"Dolphins?" Haden asked in surprise, his attention being pulled from the classrooms back to Barrett.

"Yup, come on," Barrett stated as he turned a corner and led Haden down another short hall which emptied out into a much larger room. The room was shaped in a half-circle theater-like arrangement with picnic benches looking down toward the center of the room, sloping downward.

Down at the center, instead of a stage, he saw a large pool of water. Although there was a large white divider toward the back of the pool, judging from the pool itself, Haden guessed that another large room similar to this room was on the other side of the divider, and took up the second half of the circular pool.

The pool itself seemed pretty deep, however, there was a small platform in the center of the stage area where the water was less than a foot deep. It was on this platform that about 10 kids were hanging around, drying themselves off with towels. Moments after the two boys entered the room, one of the smaller kids who couldn't have been any older than five, began to wave one of his arms toward them. "Barrett! Barrett! Down here!"

Barrett smiled at the thought that he would have needed assistance in finding where the kids were at as he led Haden down toward the center platform.

As the approached, Haden could see that the boy drawing their attention worn only a light swimsuit and a pair of sandles. His skin was nicely tan which complimented the younger boy's dark brown hair, and dark green eyes nicely.

"Barrett!" The boy called out again as he splattered his way out of the small wading area and approached the rail to the stairs that would lead up to the platform. "Taltinic taught us how dolphins say hello to dolphins in other pods."

"Really?" Barrett smiled as he caught the leaping boy in mid air. As soon as Caedin was in Barrett's arms, he pushed himself up so that he could rub his cheek against Barrett's.

"They do it like that," Caedin squealed. It wasn't until after he was done that the boy first noticed Haden standing a foot or two behing Barrett. Almost instantly, the boy began to look back and forth between Haden and Barrett. "You look a lot like my Barrett."

"That's because he's my brother, I just met him for the first time today," Barrett answered.

"Your bruder?" Caedin asked with surprise.

"That's right," Barrett grinned. "Caedin I would like you to meet Haden. Haden, this is my friend, Caedin."

"Do you like the Delphinus?" Caedin asked as he looked at Haden. "I do."

Haden did his best to smile. "I guess so. I've never really met any before."

"Praeces Tarrow," Barrett said with surprise as he looked up toward a man in his early twenties walking toward the railing. "I hope I did not interrupt your class too much. I wanted to let Caedin meet my twin brother, Haden."

The man nodded with a smile. "We were just finishing up and getting ready to take the little ones to lunch, so you did not interrupt anything, Barrett."

"That's good," Barrett nodded. "We won't be here that long."

"I know," the man replied. "We've been keeping up on the circle meeting. It's a pleasure to meet you, Haden. I'm glad that you and Barrett have been able to find each other. It pains me, however, that you have to go through what you are about to, on your first visit here."

"It's okay," Haden nodded politely. "This is a pretty amazing place you have here."

"It is indeed," Tarrow agreed. "We are truly blessed to have a place like this to teach the little ones. It provides plenty of diverse learning opportunities."

From the edge of the pool, one of the dolphins popped his head out of the water and began making a series of clicking and squealing sounds. This immediately caused the teacher to turn toward it. Once the clicking stopped, the teacher made a gesture with his hands, "Only visiting," he stated and then made a downward wiggling motion. "Can't swim."

A moment later, the clicking and squealing began again, this time a little louder.

"What's going on?" Haden asked curiously.

Tarrow turned back toward Barrett and Haden. "Well, it seems that Taltinic seems set on having Haden swim with him. I tried to tell him that you don't have that long here, but he seems pretty insistent."

"Oh," Haden replied taking a step backward. "I've never swam with giant fish, or rather dolphins before. I don't know anything about them."

"It's fun," Caedin jumped in. "Taltinic is really gentle, you just hold his sides."

From his position in the water, Taltinic made a few more clicks and then a squeal that went from low to high and back to low.

"I don't know," Haden continued. He really wasn't feeling that good about going swimming, especially with needing to go to the meeting soon. But at the same time, he got the feeling inside of him that this was something he needed to do. "I don't have a swimsuit or anything with me."

"Ha," Barrett nearly giggled. "We've been watching the clan long enough to know you guys hardly ever wear swimsuits."

Haden made no reply, but the fact that he was beginning to glow bright red was all the reply that was needed.

"Barrett?" The teacher scolded.

"What?" Barrett asked with a grin. "It's true."

"I don't want to interfere with Mr. Tarrow's class or anything," Haden replied after he managed to recover a little.

"The Delphinus are treated just like any other sentient being around here. Assuming you are willing, it is not really my place to step in if Taltinic feels you need to swim with him. Besides, they are usually very perceptive about these types of things. My guess is he knows it is important that you do this right now, before going back to your meeting."

"Wow, that does sound pretty smart," Haden agreed.

Caedin wiggled out of Barrett's arms, and grabbed hold of Haden's arm. "Come on, I'll take you to meet Taltinic, then you can see he's really nice."

Looking up toward Tarrow, and getting a nod, Haden allowed himself to be led up the stairs by the five-year-old. They walked to the edge of the water where Taltinic slowly and gently pushed his head up and out of the water.

"See? This is Taltinic, he's really nice," Caedin stated as he began to rub a place on the dolphin's head. "He likes his melon being rubbed right like this." After giving the dolphin a few rubs, Caedin backed up and motioned for Haden to try.

Hesitantly, Haden moved his hand to the spot that Caedin was rubbing. It was then that he first felt the silky smooth skin. "Wow, he feels soft," Haden observed which caused the smaller boy to nod in agreement. It was at that same time that Haden also felt both a feeling of gratitude and of safety coming from the dolphin. Haden didn't know how, but he was pretty sure that the dolphin would not let any harm come to him.

"He's really soft," Caedin agreed. "And he loves giving rides. So you ready to swim with him now?"

Haden nodded and tapped his comm badge. "Hey KLAUS or Daileass? How long do we have until we need to be back at Ardell's office?"

<<About fourteen minutes.>>

"Okay, thanks KLAUS," Haden replied as he begin to strip out of his clothes.

"Woohoo! Haden's going to go with Taltinic!" Caedin excitedly called out, pulling the attention of both Barrett and Tarrow.

"Really? That's cool Haden," Barrett replied as he walked up the stairs to stand on the platform next to Tarrow.

Tarrow for his part, already saw the five year old eyeing up the water. "Caedin, you just got dried off, don't even think about..." It was too late. Before the teacher got close to finishing, Caedin had slid into the water next to the dolphin.

Once Haden had removed all his clothing except for his GEAR, he took the small comm badge from his shirt, and placed it firmly on his bare chest. "Okay, what do I need to do?"

"First, ya need to be in the wader," Caedin instructed. "It's okay, it feels nice."

Haden carefully stuck one of his feet into the water and realized that Caedin was right, it felt luke-warm to the touch. Copying what Caedin did, Haden sat down at the edge and slipped into the water as to not make that much of a splash.

As soon as he was in, Caedin began to show Haden where to place his hands, and how to best hold onto Taltinic. As he did this, Haden felt feelings of safety and comfort wash over him. They were so strong, they almost made Haden want to melt and just hug his new dolphin friend.

Once he was holding on at the right places, Taltinic threw his head up and made some cheerful clicking sounds.

"Look's like you're a natural," Barrett observed from where he was standing next to the teacher.

"Thanks," Haden called out from his position behind the dolphin. "What do I do now?"

As if on cue, Taltinic pushed himself away from the side, made a sharp turn and then begin to swim a wide circle around the room.

"Whoa," Haden said in shock as they started moving. But within seconds, any fears he might have had seemed to dissolve away, causing him to cheerfully smile.

Seeing his twin really smile for the first time since they have been here, Barrett smiled as well. "Looking good, bro!"

After making a single lap around the pool, Taltinic let out another squeal, and then changed directions and quickly made his way out of the room down on of the two waterway exits that connected the room's pool with the rest of the city.

Barrett gasped as he watched Taltinic disappear down the waterway passage with Haden. "Um, do they normally do that?"

Tarrow shook his head. "He's never done that with any of the kids."

"KLAUS?" Barrett asked with concern.

<<Don't worry guys, I have a good lock on both of them, and I can teleport them back here if needed. My guess is that there is something that Taltinic is wanting Haden to see.>>

Haden became nervous as well, when he felt Taltinic speed up slightly, and head down the long narrow, slightly darker waterway. However, within moments of that, Haden also began to feel a feeling of safety again. At the same time, he got the feeling that he wouldn't be gone long.

"You can tell what I'm thinking, can't you?" Haden asked as they turned a corner. Taltinic let out a cheerful squeal which Haden could only interpret as a 'yes'."

Within moments, they entered another large room, and began to make a slow pass around the pool. At the edge of the pool was another group of 10 kids, all who were in the water. Haden could also count five other dolphins who were mingling between the kids. As they circled, Taltinic let out a few clicks and squeals. After hearing some squeals from the other dolphins in response, they made their way back down the waterway, and out of the room.

Taltinic swam through another open room which resembled a gym of some sort. There were several large water slides and kids happily playing on them. Haden didn't get the chance to look around long, since they were there just long enough to swim to the other side of the room and go down another waterway.

"This place is huge, but it looks really fun here," Haden commented as Taltinic bobbed his head up and down.

A short time later, after making another turn, Haden suddenly got the feeling that he should take a deep breath and hold it. He did this just in time before both he and Taltinic plunged under water and quickly swam downward. Haden could feel jets of water push past him. A few moments later, they leveled out, and then shortly after that re-surfaced into another waterway. Only now the waterway was more like a tunnel. Although he wasn't sure how it happened, somehow they had gone down at least a floor or two, but at the same time the water level was such that there was still an area to breath.

Swimming a little further, the tunnel opened up into another large room. This time, it was a rectangular room, and instead of opening into a large pool, the path split off into several different directions and connected a number of smaller wading pools. Each of the wading pools seemed to have two partially submerged cots in them. Although the room had the normal bright color scheme to it, the atmosphere was much more somber.

"What is this place?" Haden thought out loud.

Taltinic navigated through the different channels and came to a wading pool where a young boy with short dark-blond hair, no older than eight or nine, lazily rested on one of the cots. His hand was casually outstretched from his side, as if he had meant to reach out for something, but just left his hand their instead.

Taltinic swam up next to the boy so his head was in reach of the boy's hand. The boy's eyes immediately opened, and a smile grew across his face. Although the boy said nothing, he gently pet the dolphin's melon until his hand moved toward Haden's. As soon as the two boy's touched, the new boy gasped. "Ordath?" the boy whispered. "You didn't.... forget.... me," with that, the boy's entire body went limp and he fell back onto his bed.

'Ordath? What was that about?' Haden asked inside of him.

'It's a long story,' Ordath answered back. 'In short, that was a boy who's spirit I touched about a hundred years ago as I was starting to look for someone to blend with. Unfortunately, there was too much damage to the boy's mind. I tried to help him the best I could, but it was not enough. I'm glad he was able to find help here.'

'So this is like a hospital?' Haden asked.

'Not really,' Ordath answered. 'You can think of it as an extended care area. Seriously traumatized kids whom technology can not fix there problems are sometimes brought here. That way, they can still get some stimulation and help from the dolphins who are often able to help people in ways that even the more advanced forms of modern science can not.'

Before Haden had a chance to ask anything else, he realized that not only were they moving again, but they were on their way out of the room and back into one of the tunnel passages. Like before he got the feeling that he should hold his breath. But this time, the feeling of squinting his eyes shut came along with it.

As soon as Haden did this, just like the last time, Haden and Taltinic dived under water. Instead of gradually swimming up as he was expecting that they would follow the same path back, he could feel Taltinic swimming straight up vertically. They were going a lot further up than they had gone down. Just as Haden felt he was about loose his grip, they leveled out and popped up from the water, and out of the building completely.

Haden looked to his side where he could see that they were a good thirty or forty feet above the ground which provided a great view of the surrounding areas of the city below them. Not only could he see a bunch of different building, and waterways weaving in, out, and around them. But he also saw a number of people playing in the waterways. Every few hundred feet, there was usually a small wading pool that made it easy for people to climb in and out.

As Taltinic had slowed down a little to allow Haden time to take in the sights of the area below them, several other dolphins quickly swam under them, racing to somewhere up ahead. Turning a corner, Haden became aware of what they were racing toward. Apparently they were about to go down a huge dolphin water-slide, which also served as rapids for a few people in inner-tubes.

As Taltinic and Haden began to pick up speed as they made their way down the slide, several of the kids they passed looked at Haden strangely.

"Weee!" Haden called out with glee as the wind began to blow through his hair. "This is awesome, Taltinic!" As the slide leveled out, Taltinic bobbed his head and let out a happy squeal.

As they made their way through the waterway now at ground level, Haden passed a small park area where several adults were working on painting or sculpting with clay. Haden looked at them with interest. A little past that, they came to an open-air restaurant where several chefs were cooking things that Haden had never smelt before, but still smelt very appealing.

"Why are you showing me all of this?" Haden asked. Almost instantly, he ended up answering his own question. "You are wanting me to see some of the better parts of your society. So that I don't think everything is just like what I see in the circle chambers?"

Taltinic bobbed his head in agreement as they passed a small park where kids were playing on swings and something that resembled monkey-bars, only they were going diagonally up and down.

Within moments of passing the park, Haden could see the brightly colored South Shores school building. It wasn't long after that when Haden found himself going back through the inside waterways and eventually back into the large room where his ride had started from.

As soon as he entered the room, Haden could see a very concerned look on Barrett's face while Caedin excitedly jumped up and down at Barrett's side. "By the gods, Haden! Are you alright?" Barrett asked with concern.

Haden enthusiastically bobbed his head. "That was amazing! Truly amazing."

"Really?" Barrett tilted his head in confusion. "I got scared to death when KLAUS told us some of the places Taltinic was taking you. There are very few of the expert swimmers that will dive through the shafts with the dolphins, let alone up the verticals. I can't believe he took you through those.

As Haden let go of Taltinic, and made his way to the side where a very excited Caedin was waiting for him, the dolphin made a series of clicks and squeals.

"I don't care about the time," Tarrow nearly scolded. "He has never ridden before, he could have been seriously hurt, especially if he lost his grip in the vertical or the shaft.

"It was fine," Haden defended. "I felt safe the entire time. I get the feeling that Taltinic knew we were short on time and only took the path he did because there were several things about your culture here he was wanting me to see. And to be honest, I do think I have a completely different impression of you guys now than before when I had just seen the nexus and the council chambers."

Tarrow sighed and nodded. "You're right, it's just... while... I'm glad you enjoyed yourself Haden."

Haden nodded as he pulled himself up and out of the water.

"Here is a towel for you, Haden," Caedin stated as he offered a towel to his newest friend. As soon as Haden began to dry himself off, Caedin knelt down next to the dolphin. "Can Taltinic take me up through the vertical next?"

"No!" Both Barrett and Tarrow strongly replied, causing Haden to smile.

Once he was dried off and dressed, he walked back toward the edge of the water where Taltinic was still keeping a close eye on him. Kneeling down in front of the dolphin, he arched himself forward so that his own forehead could touch Taltinic's melon. "Thank you," Haden whispered. Almost immediately he felt a warm 'your-welcome' feeling in response.

Once Haden stood back up, Barrett looked down at Caedin. "Sorry little guy, but Haden and I should probably head out. I think we interrupted your class long enough.

"Nonsense," Tarrow countered. "It's great heaving visitors. I'm glad Haden will be able to walk away from here with a little more knowledge than he had walking in."

"Thanks," Barrett bowed slightly. With that, both he and Haden waved as they made their way out of the classroom, down the hall, and out of the building.

Once they were outside, Haden pointed toward the large dolphin water slide. "Now, that was fun."

Barrett shook his head. "I still can't believe you went up one of the verticals."

Barrett was just about to ask KLAUS to transport them when someone approached them. Haden immediately picked up on the fact that the young, maybe ten or eleven year old boy was different. He had dark red hair, and a lot of freckles spread across his face. The hair was long, and worn so it covered up his left eye. Hayden also noticed that the boy kept his eyes downcast as he walked up to them.

In his mind he heard Barrett speak in a low voice. 'Thats Brudei Ni, he's the only Lupine left from the original pack that Hac brought with him. He has basically became Hac's right hand man, but he is intensely shy, and very quiet. Just a word of warning though. Don't mention the scar above his eye, he is very sensitive about it.'

Several things immediately caught Haden's attention. For now, he decided to ignore the fact that somehow Barrett had learned to talk mind-to-mind with him. Since it wasn't really important, he also ignored the bit about the scar. That left him with why Hac would be sending his XO to meet with them. Hac must have been tied up with other circle stuff, and so he sent Brudei Ni to deliver some kind of message to thim. 'Okay, thanks,' Haden sent back to Barrett. 'I hope we are not in trouble or anything for coming here.'

When the boy got up to the two of them, Brudei spoke in a very soft voice. First he nodded at Barrett, "Zon Pri...", he then turned his attention towards Hayden and nodded, "Colonel..."

"Brudei, I am guessing by your tone, you are hear on official business.?" Barrett asked.

"Yes I am. My Alpha wished me to pass a message on to Colonel Rothwood, if I may."

"Um, okay," Haden replied with a nod. "But, um, you don't have to call me Colonel if you don't want to. Haden is fine, especially since I'm not really here as a member of UNIT, but just a guest of Barrett."

Hayden was greeted with the barest hint of a smile. "As you wish Haden. My Alpha simply wanted you to know, that, while at times his questions to you may be harsh, they are reasoned, and he is firmly in your corner. He was very impressed with how you handled the surface mission, and is an ally to you in the Circle."

Haden blinked a few times as he let Brudei's words sink into him. This was clearly getting deep into whatever political structure they had here, and he always hated politics. For the most part however, the message was clear. As one of the elders that sat on the circle, Hac was planning on playing his role of Elder as best as he could, but at the same time he was not wanting Haden to think that he was not in support of him. Since it would not have been appropriate for Hac to tell this to him directly, he had to send somehow who Hac probably trusted the most. Once again, Haden reminded himself just how much he hated politics.

"Thanks, Brudei Ni," Haden replied a few moments later while giving the boy a small bow. "I greatly appreciate your Alpha being considerate enough to send me this message. I got to see him in action a few hours ago, and I would hate to ever be on the other side of his wrath."

Brudei actually grinned at Hayden's words. "That is why he is Alpha." The smallish boy then turned and began to walk away.

"Hey Brudei?" Haden called out, causing the boy to stop and glance back toward him. "I was able to thank your Alpha, and his XO. But I also wanted to thank Brudei the person. You could have gotten that message to us any number of ways, but you choose to track us down and deliver it personally. That says a lot about you. And well... I don't know... you seem like you would make a good friend... so if you ever want to hang out sometime..." Not really sure what he was saying or why, Haden let his sentence drop as he felt he had probably made a big enough fool of himself already in front of both Brudei and Barrett.

Brudei fully turned toward Haden for a few moments as a larger smile crept across his face. And then, with a nod, the boy turned back around and continued on his way.

"Wow," Barrett whispered.

"Yeah, I guess I really messed that last part up," Haden sighed.

"What do you mean?" Barrett asked shaking his head. "I don't think I've seen him smile that many times since... well, since for ages."

"Oh," Haden replied somewhat confused. "Alright."

"Don't worry about it for now," Barrett stated. "We have to be getting low on time, so we should probably be getting back." After getting a nod of agreement from his twin, Barrett called out for KLAUS.

Given that they were running short on time, as soon as Haden and Barrett appeared back in Barrett's room, he ran over to the desk and quickly grabbed both of their headsets.

"Okay, KLAUS," Barrett stated as he ran back to Haden's side. "Send us over to Ardell's office, please."

<<You got it.>>

To Barrett's surprise, the office was completely empty when they arrived. "Wow, I guess Ardell is running a little late too."

Haden shrugged and sat back down in the same chair he was sitting in earlier. Almost immediately he noticed the two empty glasses that the Spartan had been in, were gone. Seeing his twin sit down in the other chair, Haden looked toward him. "You mind if I see one of those headsets?"

Barrett nodded. "Just don't take it apart before the meeting."

Haden smirked. "I'll try not to.

While Haden was busy looking over the headset, Barrett pulled out the small hand-held that he kept in a small pouch attached to his belt, and used it to quickly log into this account to do a quick mail check.

'Haden?' Haden heard Daileass speak in his head. 'If it's not too much of a problem, could you join me in my mental-scape for a few moments?'

'Sure, will be right there,' Haden sent back before he looked over toward his twin. "Daileass wants to talk to me in the mental-scape for a few seconds."

With a better understanding of what Haden was actually referring to, Barrett nodded. "Talk to you when your done."

Haden smiled and began to focus on pushing himself into Daileass's mental-scape. After only a few moments, Barrett and the rest of the world around him faded into darkness, only to be replaced a few moments later by Daileass's large room.

Looking around, Haden noticed that the only other person there was Daileass. "Where's everyone else?"

"It's just you and me, this time," Daileass replied.

Haden nodded. A few moments later he literally ran to Daileass and threw his arms around him. Daileass in turn, immediately wrapped his arms around Haden. "I wish I was really as strong as everyone thought I was," Haden mumbled.

"You are," Daileass replied with a light squeeze. "You just don't realize it yet. And until you do, the rest of us will always be here for you."

Haden nodded his head. After a few more moments of hugging, he gently pushed himself away and looked up into Daileass's eyes. "So, what were you wanting to talk about?"

"Well, let's see," Daileass begin. "I hear you had fun with dolphins a few minutes ago?"

Haden bobbed his head up and down. "At first I was scared and didn't want to do it. But in the end, I think it was the most fun I've had in a long time."

Daileass smiled. "That's great to hear, Haden."

Haden agreed. "I think it has also given me a new perspective on their culture."

"Yeah, about that," Daileass began. "I know you are trying to look big and important, and be the great military leader everyone thinks you are from everything you went through on the training planet. However, another part of being a great leader is to know what your limits are, and to know when it is or isn't right to cross them."

"What are you saying?" Haden asked curiously. "That you don't want me to go through with this?"

"Not at all," Daileass shook his head. "I'm just saying, If you are only doing this to prove that you are the great leader that everyone thinks you are, maybe that's not the best reason to do something. You can still back out of this, and no one will think any less of you."

"Yes they will," Haden countered. "They will feel that I'm weak."

Daileass sighed. "That's not true, Haden. Adam declines to do things all the time that he knows he doesn't have the skill set to do. You don't see people walking around saying he's weak, do you?"

"That's different, he's Adam," Haden countered.

"How's that different? You're both leaders." Daileass asked.

Haden thought about what Daileass said for a few moments. "Okay, you might have a point there. But still, this is something I really think I need to do."

Daileass nodded. "Okay, I can accept that. You can't blame me for trying to give you one last chance to back out."

"Nope," Haden replied as he wrapped his arms around Daileass again. "That just shows me that you really care about me, and are trying to watch out for me."

"I will always care and watch out for you, Haden. No matter what." Daileass added.

"Thanks," Haden replied as he gave Daileass another squeeze as the two continued to stand there, holding each other for what seemed like minutes.

"You ready for this?" Daileass asked seriously as he brushed back some of Haden's hair.

After thinking for a few moments, Haden gently pushed himself back, looked up into Daileass's eyes, and nodded. "Yeah, I think so."

"Okay, good luck." Daileass stated. Unable to really think of anything else to say or add, he then allowed the link to drop, and for Haden to fade away.

"That looked weird," Barrett commented as Haden opened his eyes to see his twin staring right at him.

"Huh?" Haden asked, feeling a bit disoriented.

"Well, maybe not weird, perhaps more like a cool kind of weird," Barrett continued. "I mean how your eyes fluttered for a few moments before they closed, and the floating feeling I think I got from you. Although, that really didn't seem that long to have a conversation in."

Haden smiled. "But when you're talking mind to mind, it is. That's about how long our conversation was in earlier."

"I know, but still it messes with your head a bit," Barrett replied. "So, was it another big meeting?"

Haden shook his head. "Nah, It was just with Daileass. He wanted to make sure I was really sure about going through with this meeting thing."

Barrett nodded in understanding. "It can be a really nice feeling when you know someone cares about you that much to always be thinking about you."

"Yeah, I just wish..." Haden began before he stopped himself.

"You just wish what?" Barrett asked, trying to get his twin to finish his thought.

"It doesn't really matter, it's not like it can happen anyway," Haden deflated. Seeing that Barrett wasn't going to let this slide, he decided to finish his statement. "I was just going to say that I wished that Daileass could be here. I mean really be here. But he just got his body, and it's still in Beta Test mode, so he doesn't want to tax it too much.

"You mean his Avatar just came online?" Barrett asked in confusion.

"Yeah I guess..." Haden replied still kind of down. "I mean, don't get me wrong," Haden continued. "There are lots of ways that Daileass has found to support me. The mental link we share with the rest of his brothers is awesome, and when we are in the mental-scape..."

"It feels more real than in virtual reality," Barrett finished which caused Haden to nod in agreement.

<<Hey guys, just to let you know, you have visitors inbound.>>

Barrett thought for a moment before he replied. "Thanks KLAUS, but who would be wanting to visit me right now, especially with the circle meeting about to resume."

<<The visitors are not for you, Barrett. They are for Haden.>>

"Me?" Haden asked with surprise. "Who would be coming to visit me?"

Haden didn't have long to ponder this thought before two boys. The first one was Logan, wearing a big grin, but it was the second one that had Haden's attention. "Daileass?" Haden whispered as he stood up from his chair to face the new arrivals. The boy managed to smile and nod before a strange sounding alarm began to sound, and a blue light began to brightly pulse on and off from a small box mounted to the ceiling in the back corner of the room.

"What's going on?" Ardell called out as he ran into his office with a panicked look on his face.

Almost immediately, the alarm and the flashing light stopped. <<False alarm. Sorry about that. Someone failed to mention that they would be bringing something that tore into the fabrics of sub-space with them.>>

"What?" Ardell asked, clearly confused.

"It's not that bad," Daileassprotested. "It's just a micro wormhole that is used for realtime communications."

<<Whatever it is, you failed to mention that little detail, and that is what set off some very old internal sensors that have almost never been used before.>>

"Well then, you see, you should be thanking me," Daileass countered. "How else would you have been able to test to make sure those sensors were still working? Besides, Sub-space rip detection sensors were not on the list of sensors and defenses you told me to watch out for."

<<That's because generally people do not go and bring things that will tear apart sub-space when they go to a place for a visit.>>

"Would someone like to explain what in the world is going on here?" Anwern called out with concern as he ran into the room with his hand-held already out.

"Sorry Anwern," Ardell began. "It was a false alarm. It seems that Daileass neglected to mention to KLAUS about a micro wormhole or something."

"A what?" Anwern asked with surprise as he pressed a few buttons on his hand-held. "That's not possible."

"I'm pretty sure it is possible," Daileass countered.

Anwern preformed a few quick scans with his hand-held and pressed a few more buttons to view the results. Moments later, his eyes nearly popped out. "By the gods, that's not just any micro-wormhole, but it seems to be a stable, free-floating micro wormhole."

"Is that a good thing?" Ardell asked, having no clue what Anwern was going on about.

Anwern grinned as he clipped his hand-held back onto his belt. "Let's put it this way. I think it's pretty clear that we have not been the only ones holding back technology."

Logan nodded in agreement. "Indeed."

It was then that Anwern's eyes locked on Logan. The two boys stared at each other for a very long moment. "You and I will need to have a talk... soon." Anwern said, the tension is his voice clearly evident.

Logan, who was also looking very intense slowly nodded. "I think you may be right."

"But Daileass?" Haden asked, completely oblivious to the tension between Anwern and Logan, as he took a step toward Daileass. "Why are you here? I thought you couldn't tax you're body..."

"Well, you see, I contacted KLAUS and asked him to teleport me," Daileass grinned.

"That's not what I meant," Haden replied seriously.

Daileass looked Hayden in the eyes and spoke softly. "You made the comment that you wished I could be here physically. I know how much this means to you. So I took this body off of Beta test mode, and threw it fully online. It really is kinda cool to be here and Utah, and our 'other' place all at the same time."

<<Um, excuse me but, you mean to say that's not just a slaved avatar body? How is that even possible?>>

Daileass looked directly toward the camera that he knew KLAUS was using as his primary video feed and winked. "Yes it is possible, but we'll talk about that later."

Anwern nodded. "I wouldn't mind being in that discussion as well. I know for a fact you guys don't have the tech to get that much processing power inside a small avatar shell."

Daileass only giggled before he responded. "Normally you would be right... however, I am sure you have noticed that the Clan and the Unit are anything but normal."

"Isn't that the truth," Anwern shook his head as he made his left Ardell's office. "Just try not to destroy the base, we put a lot of hard work into it." When he got to the door, he turned and looked at Logan. "Expect a call from me soon." To which Logan simply nodded.

Haden walked over to Daileass and wrapped his arms around the boy who was now barely an inch taller than he was. "Wow, you feel so... warm... so real."

"Why wouldn't I?" Daileass smiled as he returned the hug. "Although I guess I could almost say the same thing about you, and how warm you are."

"Me?" Haden asked with surprise.

"Well, yeah," Daileass continued. "Analyzing thermal data from a heat sensitive video feed is one thing, but it doesn't even come close to actually feeling the warmth of someone as you wrap your arms around them."

"I guess that makes sense," Haden replied softly, still unable to really believe that Daileass was there.

<<Okay you guys, you are really starting to make me jealous. If you are going to keep up all that mushy stuff, would you mind doing it somewhere I can't monitor?>>

Daileass grinned as he broke the hug with Haden. "Sorry KLAUS, but I haven't really tested teleporting to the moon yet, and I don't think we really have time to get Haden in a space suit to make the trip."

Both Barrett and Haden smiled at the comment, but Ardell remained serious. "Actually, you are right about the time. Everyone is already assembling in the circle chambers. We are going to have to get things going pretty quickly."

"Are you going to be joining us in V.R?" Haden asked as he looked toward Daileass, still not really wanting to let go of him.

"Not this time," Daileass replied softly. "I'll be monitoring everything that is going on, but since there really isn't enough time for me to get my V.R. avatar scanned into the system, I'll keep an eye on you out here."

"Alright," Haden nodded as Barrett handed him his headset.

Daileass walked Haden over the chair, and as soon as Haden was sitting, sat down next to him since the chair was just big enough to hold both of them.

"I'll see you guys in there," Ardell stated as he slid down the visor to his own headset and activated it.

Barrett and Haden shared a glance with each other as they both put their headsets on. "Ready?" Barrett asked.

"Yup," Haden replied which caused Barrett to nod and slide down his visor and activate the headset.

"Good luck in there, Haden. I know you will do great," Daileass whispered as he kissed the side of Haden's cheek, causing Haden to smile. After Haden nodded a few times, Daileass reached up and gently pushed the visor down before he pressed the button on the side of the visor to activate it.

Moments later, Daileass sighed as he could feel Haden's entire body stiffen as the visor kicked in.

<<Hey Daileass? All joking aside, you know it wouldn't be that hard to go get a scan made for your... body... real quick. I'll give you access to the room's video feed so you can keep an eye on Haden while you are gone.>>

"Really?" Daileass asked with a small degree of excitement.

Haden found himself standing next to Barrett, outside in the large hallway leading into the circle chambers. At the same time, several other people were appearing and making there way inside.

"Is it just me, or does this place seem a little more crowded than earlier?" Haden asked as they made their own way into the large circular room.

"It's not just you," Barrett answered as they looked for a good place to stand. "By now everyone has heard what is going to be going on, so just about everyone that has the ability to be in active mode is probably using it right now."

"Is what happens between Clan Short and your society really that big of a deal?" Haden asked curiously as he spotted Sam and Martha across the room.

"I know you probably don't fully understand the significance of this," Barrett replied. "But this is the first time that we have seriously discussed getting involved with any major surface group since father's death."

"Is father another A.I. like KLAUS?" Haden asked as they found a good place to stop.

Barrett shook his head. "No. Father was the one who programmed the original system that became KLAUS, and taught KLAUS a lot in the early days. He's also a person who had one of the largest hearts I've ever seen. He was always willing to accept new people into his heart and love them just as if they were his own, no matter how many of us there seemed to be."

"He sounds really nice," Haden commented.

"He was," Barrett agreed.

Moments later, the outer circle areas went dark. With all nine elders sitting around the table, Klaus, Ardell, and Geoff were each standing in front of their chairs as Ardell began to speak. "I now officially call this meeting of the Circle of Elders to be back in session." As soon as Ardell had finished speaking, he hit his gavel on the table as he and the other two Ternios took their seats.

"It's great to see such a large crowd here. I believe it may be a testament to just how potentially important to our entire society the matters that we are about to discuss could be," Ardell stated as he looked around the table. "With that being said, let us get right to the first item on our agenda."

Just as Ardell finished speaking, an older man, perhaps in his early fifties, stepped out from the shadows into the circle of light.

Although he was slightly surprised by this, Ardell did not miss a beat. "For what reason does the leader to the Guild of Internal Protectors stand before the circle?"

"Ternios Ardell, As Dux of Gildus Interno Vindex I stand to bring forth a matter of great importance," The man stated. Although he seemed to be as polite as possible, the fact that he rejected Ardell's usage of the translated name of his guild, and instead identified his position with the old style name gave Ardell all the clues he needed in regards to what to expect. "It has come to our attention that it is the intent of this circle to question a surface dweller by the name of Haden Rothwood. I stand to offer my advise and council to this Circle to the extent of blocking this questioning at this time."

"I see," Ardell replied. "And for what reasons do you block discovery of knowledge from a lawful citizen of our nation?"

The man thought for a few moments before he replied. "Ternios, We in no way dispute the legitimacy of this boy's claim to right of citizenship by blood through Barrett Klystron. However, it is also a well known fact that he still has very strong ties to the society above. Given the nature of this questioning, we feel it is a very strong possibility that certain material... certain sensitive material could inadvertently be shared with entities to whom they were not intended to be shared with."

"Are you trying to say that Haden can not be trusted?" Ardell asked.

"Not at all, Ternios," the man replied. "We make no such claims. However, as it is the responsibility of Gildus Interno Vindex to look after the well being and safety of every citizen in our nation in regards to such matters, we feel obligated to at least bring such possibilities to the attention of the circle and leave it in your hands to decide."

"Very well. Thank you," Ardell stated with a sigh as he knew there was no easy way to get around this particular piece of protocol. "Will any elder stand in support of this motion?"

Almost immediately, Elder Sylus stood. "The Elder of Gens Fundo stands in support of the Dux's motion. We too recognize the potential dangers and risks in rushing into potentially sensitive discussions prematurely."

'So was this their plan?' Ardell thought to himself. 'They would try to stop the discussion from even having the chance to start?' This in some ways surprised Ardell as he wouldn't have expected Sylus to be so obstructive. At least this showed that whatever opposition existed was split, as it was Elder Rainer that suggested the questioning happen in the first place. Either way, as much as he hated it, unless he was going to throw away the entire integrity of the circle, he would have to let this continue to play out.

"The Elder of Gens Fundo has stood in support of this motion," Ardell stated aloud. "Will any elder stand in opposition of this motion?"

Before Ardell had fully finished speaking, Hac was already in the process of standing. Once Ardell had finished, Hac began. "The Elder of Gens Tutella stands in opposition of the Dux's motion."

"What?" Sylus stated with surprise as he looked toward Hac. "Hac my friend, you were the last I would have expected to stand against me. I know you of all people have just as much reason to distrust the surface dwellers as I.

"You would be correct, Elder Sylus," Hac replied. "However, when I was asked to sit as Elder at this circle, I was also asked to bring the lessons and expertise that I have learned from the battle field. One of those lessons is that the best way to discredit a possible threat is not under the cover of darkness, but in the light for all to see. Since this is also one of the founding principles from which our society is based on, even if I were to disagree establishing relationships with Clan Short, I would never be able to agree to silently making the issue disappear under the cover of darkness."

Ardell pressed a button on his seat that created a loop so only the other two Ternios could here him. "Okay guys, I need to know how each of you feel on this issue."

"You already know my position," Klaus replied. "I am in favor of moving forward with the questioning. I don't believe that Haden represents the potential security risk that this is trying to make him out as being."

"I have reservations about where the questioning will lead us," Geoff replied. "However, I also know how important this is to the two of you. So for now, I shall support it."

Ardell nodded toward Geoff as he turned off the loop and stood up. "With the Elders of the circle clearly being divided, no consensus can be reached. With that in mind the decision falls onto the Ternios. It is unanimously decided among all three Ternios that although a potentially valid concern, we do not believe that Haden Rothwood represents the degree of potential threat that the motion suggests. As such, we unanimously reject the motion at this time."

"Thank you for your consideration," The guild leader who started this discussion stated as he gave a polite bow before stepping back into the shadows.

Moments later, Ardell stood back up. "Now, is there anyone else that would like to step forward with a motion designed to further delay or suspend these proceedings. As you decide, I will ask that you also consider this, we have a group of potential new friend that are watching our system of government at work for the first time. Think about what message we will be sending to them when we gloat about how open our system is, and how we allow all of our citizens to not only know about, but also take part in that system. Yet, the very first example they get of that system at work is us trying to cover up or prevent a vital topic from even having a chance to be discussed. Now, with that in mind, who will step forward with the next objection designed to block this discussion?"

Once he was done speaking, Ardell sat back down and glanced around the edges of the room to see if anyone else would step forward. Seeing none, he continued. "Seeing no further objections, The Ternios call for Haden Rothwood in Adigo of Klystron to approach the circle."

"Here goes nothing," Haden said to himself as he took a deep breath and stepped into the circle. To Haden's surprise, Barrett stepped into the circle with him.

"Barrett Klystron," Ardell called out. "For what reason to you step into the circle?"

"I stand beside my brother," Barrett replied confidently. "Haden knows very little of our people or customs. I wish to only stand by him as moral support."

Ardell looked toward Klaus and Geoff before he nodded. "Do any of the elders have any objections to Barrett standing beside Haden for... moral support? Seeing no objections, let it be so."

It wasn't much, but for some reason, having Barrett fighting to stand next to him like that meant a lot to Haden. As he and Barrett approached the empty chairs at the table, he had a thought that perhaps this might not be that bad after all.

As soon as both boys were seated, Ardell continued to speak. "Haden Rothwood, I would like to thank you for being willing to join us this day. Before I begin, I would like to make sure that all of us are clear on a few matters."

"I appreciate being given the opportunity as the first member of Family Clan Short to be able to speak before you and your circle," Haden replied.

Ardell gave a slight smile toward Haden's response. With a nod of acknowledgment, he continued. "First, this is in no way a trial, nor have you or your clan been accused of any wrong doing, as such, you may end this discussion at any time that you no longer feel comfortable with the questions." Ardell waited until he saw Haden nod before he continued. "Second, this is a two way discussion for the purpose of our two groups getting to know each other better. This means that in addition to us asking you questions, you may also ask us questions. Do you understand this?"

Haden nodded. "Yes, Sirs,"

"Ternios," Barrett whispered.

"Yes, Ternios," Haden called out, correcting himself.

Ardell allowed a slight smile to creep across his face. "Before I open up the floor and invite some of our Elders to ask questions, how about we start with the basics? Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you came to be a part of Clan Short?"

"Well," Haden began. "There really isn't a whole lot to tell. I was born and grew up in Summerlin, that's right near Las Vegas... In Navada... In the United States. I didn't really have much of a childhood because... well... my father didn't really care for me that much. About six weeks ago, things got so bad at home that my brother and I decided that we needed to run away. You see, back then I was a completely different kid. And well, things didn't work out that well. About two days later, we ended up in the middle of the desert. In fact, if it weren't for some of the kids from Clan Short finding us, we would probably have died."

"I'm not really sure how much detail you want me to get into," Haden continued. "But Evan and I were pretty much adopted by the Clan, and we lived with Brent, Lance and a few of the other guys at their house in Las Vegas."

"I think that's a good enough start, thanks," Ardell stated. "With that, I would like to go ahead and offer any of the elders that have questions of their own to present them."

Before anyone else could say anything, Hac stood up and looked toward Ardell.

"Hac of Gens Tutella," Ardell called out.

"Thank you," Hac nodded as he turned toward Haden. "Can you please explain to all of us what Clan Short is?"

"Okay," Haden stated as he took a few moments to think about his answer. "Well, initially Clan Short started out as a group of kids that were brought together by unique circumstances. You see, each of them had problems that alone, they couldn't really solve on their own. But working together, they quickly figured out that not only could they help each other solve those problems, but they could help each other become a lot more. As time went on, they began to meet other kids and continued to spread the idea of kids helping kids. As they continued to grow, the slowly collected more and more resources since I guess some adults became pretty impressed by what they were accomplishing on their own. So I guess, if I had to give a short answer to this, I would say that Clan Short is a group of kids who have made it one of their main goals in life to watch out for, and help other kids to the furthest extent possible."

"How are you able to do this? What backing do you have?" Hac asked.

"Well, I guess that depends on what you mean by backing," Haden replied. "In the UNIT we all help to back each other in whatever objective or goal that we are working on. Then usually Adam or Logan will back any of us that need it. But if you mean backing as in political backing, I guess you can take your pick on that one. There's the Vulcan high council, or the Federation of Planets, or even a number of States in the United States have declared themselves to be safe-haven states, and have thrown their backing and support behind the clan. Now, if you mean financial support, well I think the clan get's something like 0.03% of all the money the Federation collects from all of it's member planets which comes out to.... well, enough that we have never come close to starting to use it all."

Hac nodded. "Okay. this might be a bit personal, and i do apologize if it is, but why do you do what you do? What made you want to help out the children in the ranch that we 'visited' earlier today?"

"Why wouldn't I?" Haden challenged back. "When we learned that the kids there were being hurt, abused, and subjected to things that no child should ever hear about, let alone be subjected to, why wouldn't I want to do everything I could to help get them out of that environment? I guess in this case I was fortunate enough to have the resources available to me, as well as great friends who could help me pull it off."

Hac nodded in understanding as a slight smiled appeared on his face. "Good answer. As the one who leads the military group here, I understand exactly what you mean. But i have to wonder, you are but nine years old, you do not have the thousands of years of military experience that i do. How is it that you have been given so much authority and responsibility in the Unit?"

"Actually, I'm still trying to figure that out myself," Haden replied honestly. "Personally, I don't really think that I'm all that great. Especially compared to people like Adam or Logan. But I was given the chance to attend some special UNIT training not long ago, and for some reason a lot of people think that I am, because I'm usually able to look at a situation and think of good solutions a lot faster than most others."

Hac knew that he didn't have much more time to throw the 'soft ball' questions, so he started on the line of questioning that he knew people would care about. "So you would say that you are fairly high up in the chain of command, but you also have a special relationship with some of the highest people in your Military?"

"Not sure what you mean by chain of command, I'm not in the main chain of command at all besides heading up the company I've been assigned, but there are lots of those in the UNIT," Haden answered. "As far as special relationships go, I'm not sure if you would call them special or not, but I do know Adam, Logan, and all their brothers, and I like to think of them as my friends."

"So in your opinion... what would be their stance on weapons of mass destruction"

'Hum, that's a tough one," Haden thought for a few moments. "I don't ever think I've heard any of them talking about weapons of mass destruction before. So I'm not really sure. Everything in our training has been centered around precision strikes, and using just enough force to get a job done while guaranteeing as small of a civilian casualties as possible. Basically, if there is a chance innocents may be hurt in an operational plan that we are viewing, then that plan usually gets thrown out, and we start on a different one."

Hac tilted his head. "That's a very noble sentiment. But surely, you must have some weapons of mass destruction of some sort on stand by, just in case the worst happens. And I would guess you have some type of policy as to when and where it is acceptable to use them?"

Haden thought for a moment. "I don't think so, sorry. I've heard Adam say several times in the past that he hates the idea of weapons of mass destruction, and never wants them, and he's about as high up as things go on the military side of things.

Hac took a long look at Haden, as if trying to decide if he was lying or not. Finally he let out a small grunt and turned toward Ardell. "Gens Tutella has no further questions at the time, Ternios. However, I would like to reserve the opportunity to ask additional questions later should the need arise.

As soon as Hac sat down, a well-tan distinguished-looking woman in her early twenties stood and turned toward Ardell.

"Myra of Gens Aperire shall be heard next," Ardell called out.

"Thank you,Ternios," Myra nodded as she turned toward Haden. "First, I would like to personally thank you, Haden, for being wiling to take the time to endure all of the questions that we will be throwing at you today."

Haden nodded. "Your welcome."

"I would like to change the direction of questions if I may," Myra began. "As I'm sure you are aware. We have established a rather old and large society here. It was formed over time by people from many different cultures and walks of life coming together, setting aside their differences, and learning to work together. A concept that many of the surface societies seem to have difficulties in embracing. So, my first question to you is this, what would you say the general societal and racial makeup is your clan comprised of, and how do you handle those that are different from you?"

"If I remember my clan history right, the clan started out with a group of gay american boys," Haden replied. "You see, in america gays are socially shunned by most, and looked down on by many others. So from the very start, the leadership of the clan has always been very mindful of including anyone no matter what their social, racial, ethical, political, or sexual orientations are. For example, right now one of my boy friend is a synthetic," As he said this, he blushed slightly before continuing. "We also have androids, human/animal hybrids, and even races from other planets that are a part of the our clan. So I guess just about anyone would be accepted. I mean, we even have a vampire or two."

"A Mori?" Myra asked with surprise. "I thought the Founders were against Mori?"

"I don't know if they are or not," Haden stated. "But, we're not Founders."

"I see, that's rather impressive," Myra admitted. "But surely, there must be 'some' groups that your clan is against, or will not allow to be apart of it?"

"Oh, there is." Haden agreed. "We will not allow any group that is against the well-being of children, or in any way pro child exploitation. We do not ally ourselves with any group that exists to berate or denigrate any other group simply because they are different or have different beliefs. For example, we have recently had a number of confrontations with a group known as the FCC, or Fundamentalist Christian Church.... I mean, to be honest, I don't see a lot of differences between you guys and us."

"Okay, how about this?" Myra continued. "You mentioned the original leadership of your clan were mostly gay males. With this in mind, hypothetically speaking, how difficult do you feel it would be for a straight female to join your clan?"

"It wouldn't be difficult at all," Haden answered. "In fact, we have a number of straight girls in our clan. I know one who is a General in the UNIT, her name is Emily, and she is really good.

"Thank you for your answers, Haden," Myra stated as she turned back toward Ardell. "Gens Aperire has no additional questions at this time."

"Very well," Ardell nodded as he glanced around the table to see how would be next. To his surprise, a young man in his early twenties stood up. "Kentan of Gens Fabri shall be the next to be heard."

The young man nodded. "My thanks, Trernios."

A moment later, Kentan turned toward Haden. "Haden, I know you probably are not aware of our clans, so let me take a moment to explain that each of the major clans in our society is responsible for the management, operations, and up-keep of at least one of our major outposts. Clan Fabri is responsible for the Main underwater fabrication facilities at the polar base. As such, we are very mindful of the technology that exists and how it is being applied."

Haden nodded. "I think that was the base we visited earlier this morning. It's a very nice place, especially the large play areas that you have."

"Thanks," Kentan replied and then took a moment to re-compose himself. "My first question to you is this. From a technology perspective, what specific technologies is Clan Short looking for from us, and how can you assure us that they will be protected, and not mis-used?"

"Technologies?" Haden asked. "Um, as far as I know, we are not looking for any technology from you guys. Our clan has some fairly high technology of our own, and we are very much aware of the dangers or providing technology to a group of people before they are ready to handle it. So if you guys really do have a lot higher technology than us, as you say you do, then I think it would be more appropriate for you guys to decide what you feel comfortable with sharing with us, when you think it's time to share it."

"Okay, and the part about protecting technology?" Kentan replied.

"Oh," Haden thought for a moment. "There are already a lot of technological secrets that that UNIT and Clan already have to keep. Not only from the general population of the world, but in some cases, even from our own members. So depending on what a given piece of technology was, and who would be appropriate to use it, I don't think there would be any problems at all in keeping that technology secret along with the other secrets we are keeping."

"So, let me get this straight, if we were to offer a new technology to you, you would not accept it?" Kentan asked.

Haden shook his head. "No. If you guys felt we were ready for a particular technology, we probably would not mind accepting it. What I said was that we would not beg you guys for technologies that you didn't feel we were ready for."

"Fair enough," Kentan admitted. "In that case, I have one more question. We have heard hints that Clan Short may have access to some technologies that we are not familiar with yet. If we were to decide to move forward with establishing relationships with your clan, would you be willing to make these available to us?"

"Maybe some of them," Haden answered.

"Only some?" Kentan asked. "Why not all of them? Do you not trust us?"

"Trust is a two way street, just like you guys will need time to get to know and trust us, we will need time to get to know and trust you," Haden stated. "But I don't think it's just a trust issue. It's probably more of a question of what people are ready for. I don't really see Adam, Cory, and the other Clan leaders sacrificing their morals just to gain favor in establishing a relationship with a new group.

"Thanks," Kentan smiled toward Haden before he turned toward Ardell. "Gens Fabri has no further questions at this time."

"Very well," Ardell nodded as Kentan sat down. "Are there any other Elders who have questions for Haden?"

Several moments of silence went by. Ardell was almost about to think that they might get through this without Rainer stepping in. Just as he was starting to think this, however, the fourteen-year-old Faldiran stood up. "Elder Rainer of Gens Presella is recognized."

Before Rainer stood up, someone from the shadows ran out, and whispered something into his ear for a few moments before he ran back into the shadows. Standing up, Rainer turned toward Ardell. "I would like to thank the Ternios for this opportunity. I would also like to thank my fellow Elder colleagues for getting the preliminary questions out of the way. This means that we will be able to get right into the real questions."

Ardell nodded.

Rainer looked toward the shadows before he turned back to face Ardell. "I think it's important that we take a moment to reflect on what it is that we are really doing today. For the last forty thousand years, we have been working under a system of government that has proven to work very well for us. For the last twelve thousand years, we have, for the most part, made the choice to stay out of the affairs of the surface societies. Again, this seems to have worked out very well for us. Now today, we are at a cross-roads. We must decide if we wish to break with tradition, if we wish to go against what has proven time and time again to work remarkably well for us, and risk messing all of that up by perusing relations with a surface group."

Seeing a few heads turning, Rainer continued. "I for one say yes," Immediately several heads turned back toward him. "We can not be afraid of change, we can not be afraid of the future, so I for one say that this is something we must seriously and responsibly look into. And, I'm pleased to say that this is exactly what we are doing right now. Only by asking serious questions that get at the core of the issues that we are all concerned about do we have any true chance of being able to decide if this is the group that we have waited the last twelve thousand years to associate ourselves with."

"Elder Rainer," Ardell interrupted. "I can't say that I do not appreciate the speech, as it seems very well written. However, do you have any actual questions that you wish to ask, or are you just looking for spotlight time?"

Rainer looked shocked and seemed like he wanted to say something, but he didn't. Instead, he glanced behind him again for a few moments. "I must apologize. We do have questions, but we need to beg the Ternios for a few moments while we finish up gathering the questions that we would like to ask."

Ardell sighed. "Very well."

After two minutes went by, and three more people emerged from the shadows to whisper in Rainer's ear, Ardell stood up. "Elder Rainer?"

"We are almost ready," Rainer replied. "We just need a little more time."

Ardell sighed louder. "Are there any other elders that have questions they wish to present while we are waiting for our seemingly ill-prepared Elder?" Seeing no one standing up, Ardell sat back down.

After another five minutes went by, and several more visitors came and left for Rainer, Ardell stood up. "I'm sorry Elder Rainer, but at this time I have to..."

"I'm ready, Ternios," Rainer interrupted. "I'm ready now."

"Very well," Ardell replied in a clearly annoyed voice. "You have 15 seconds to began, should you fail to start, this questioning session shall be over."

Rainers eyes narrowed at Ardell before he turned toward Haden. "Haden Rothwood, I would like to begin by thanking you for joining us today, and giving us the opportunity to truly expose what exactly Clan Short and the UNIT represent."

Not really being sure how to respond to Rainer's comment, Haden simply nodded.

"To begin with, I would like to ask a few follow-up questions to the questions a few of my colleagues asked earlier," Rainer began. "To start with, is it true that earlier you mentioned that you didn't feel your father cared that much for you, and that things had gotten so bad that you had to run away?"

Haden nodded. "That sounds about right."

"Is it not true, however, that the fact of the matter is that your father beat you? And not just once, but on a number of occasions, many times for no real reason at all, other than the fact that you existed?" Rainer asked.

A small shudder went through Haden's body as he nodded. "Yes, that's true."

"I see," Rainer continued. "So then you ran away and were found by the clan. Were they able to learn about your past, including what your father had done to you?"

Haden nodded. "I'm pretty sure they did. They had some pretty good telepaths, even back then."

"So, I'm assuming that once they found out about this, they went and dealt with the bastard, and made sure he wouldn't hurt anyone ever again?" Rainer asked.

Haden shook his head, but didn't answer.

"No?" Rainer asked with surprise. "Then what did the clan do about him?"

"Nothing," Haden whispered.

"What was that?" Rainer replied.

"Nothing," Haden repeated louder. "At the time, they didn't do anything because they knew that I would need to do it."

"That's right," Rainer agreed. "The clan did absolutely nothing at all to Haden's father, until over a month later, Haden was forced to deal with the situation himself."

Haden's eyes burned with anger as he leaned forward in his chair. "Elder Rainer.... you are a Faliran correct?"

Rainer was surprised by Haden actually asking a question this quick, but quickly regained his composure. "Yes I am."

"Which means that you have a limited ability to see possible futures, if I remember what I was told about Faldirans correctly." Haden asked now having controlled his anger.

"Yes..." Rainer answered confused as to where this was going.

"So then tell me. If you knew of a situation that needed to be dealt with, but also knew that it would be best for someone under your care to deal with it themselves, so that they could break the chains that someone had on them, would it not be best to watch the person that needed dealing with, to make sure that they did not hurt anyone, and allow the person under your care, to work through their issues, and be able to face down their father on their own terms, as a way to help them grow past, and deal with the abuse that was done to them? Would that not make more sense then to just go in there and take care of the bastard yourself?" Haden asked.

"I believe that I'm the one currently asking the questions here," Rainer snapped back.

"The Ternios shall remind the elders that this is not a trial, but a discussion. Haden's question is valid," Ardell called out from his chair.

"Alright, fine, you might have a point there," Rainer swallowed. "but let's look at something more important, shall we? Earlier you were asked about why you had the authority and responsibilities that you did, and when you answered you stated you weren't sure yourself and you didn't feel you deserved those responsibilities. Tell me, Haden, in your opinion, do you feel it's wrong for a group to force young kids to take on responsibilities that they are not mentally or physically prepared to handle? What does that say about such a group?"

Haden sighed. "To start with, I never said that I was unable to handle it. I believe that my response was that I didn't think I deserved it, and that was mostly out of self-esteem. You see, because of how most of my life has been, it's really hard for me to accept praise and stuff sometimes, because I always have this little feeling that I'm never good enough. But in reality, I've had over three years worth of training, and time over time I've been not only able to prove to others, but also prove to myself that I really do have the abilities that others feel I have. So in the end, I guess you can say it was mostly out of low self esteem born out of years of someone questioning if I'm actually able to handle something I'm doing."

A look of annoyance briefly flashed across Rainer's face, but it was quickly replaced with a small smile. "About that three years of training, how exactly did you say that happened again? We have been tracking you pretty closely over the last week, and at the start you were certainly not this big military leader that you seem to be now. We have not lost track of you for more than a few hours at any given time."

Haden thought for a few moments before he carefully worded his answer. "With all due respect to you, Elder Rainer, and the others here, I can't really answer that, as it has been classified."

"Are you saying you don't trust us with the answer?" Rainer snapped back.

"No Elder, I"m simply saying that it is classified. It has nothing to do with trust," Haden replied.

"I see," Rainer replied with a look of disappointment on his face. "So tell me Haden, how exactly is it that you expect us to be open with and trusting of you if you plan on keeping secrets like this from us?"

"Well," Haden began. "I guess that if we do decide to pursue this relationship as you said, just as it would be unwise for you to hand us everything, I believe the same would go for us. But initially, as we are still getting to know each other, I'm sure there will be things that both of our groups are not fully comfortable sharing with the other."

Rainer shook his head. "That's not acceptable. If you want this to move forward, I demand you tell us."

Ardell held up his hand and prevented Haden from answering. "The Ternios shall remind the Gens Persella Elder that this decision does not rest in his hands alone, and that we are asking questions, not issuing demands."

"I apologize, Ternios," Rainer replied as he turned from Ardell back toward Haden. "So tell me, Haden, what other secrets are you keeping from us?"

Haden smirked in a way that only a child could. "Well duh, if I told you that, they wouldn't be secrets anymore, now would they?"

A few chuckles could be heard from around the table. Elder Rainer, however, was not amused. "That's a pretty cute remark coming from a kid. It must be really hard being a group of kids, isn't it?"

Haden tilted his head. "Not really."

"Of course it must be," Rainer continued. "I mean, you are a group of kids in a society of adults. What type of real authority could such a group possibly hold in that society."

"Believe it or not, we hold a lot of authority," Haden countered. "Not only do we have full authority from Several Local governments and Starfleet, but we also have official Family status in Vulcan Society."

"I'm sure you feel you do," Rainer agreed. "Just as I'm sure all of these groups must play a pretty sizable role in your decision making process."

Haden shook his head. "Cory will always listen to suggestions that anyone has. But none of those groups have any decision making power within the clan."

"None at all? That's doubtful." Rainer challenged. "Cory sits on the Founder Council, so at the least, the Founders must have a huge say in clan policies and decisions."

Haden shook his head again, "Nope, not even the Founders. In fact, that was something that Cory insisted be understood from the beginning when he accepted the position of Founder Council Crafter, that it in no way meant the Founders had any control over the clan. At the same time, the clan has no control over the Founders. As far as Cory is concerned, they are two completely different entities."

"If that turns out to be true, I'll be surprised. However, I'll leave that alone for now," Rainer continued. "I think what this really boils down to is that if you are going to be keeping all of your secrets, then what technology are you specifically offering that would convince us to consider this relationship with you?"

Haden thought for a moment. "Actually, the best thing that I can think of that anyone could offer someone else is their friendship. I mean, technology is great and all, but it eventually breaks. Money fades away or can get stolen. True friendship? That is something that can last forever. What's more valuable than that? I hadn't thought that your society would expect some type of payment for your friendship."

"Very touching words," Rainer clapped. "Too bad it's complete crap. What do you think this is? Primary School? The universe does not run on friendship and feeling good alone. If we are going to take a risk on your kind, then do you not feel it would be responsible for us to get something a bit more tangible in return than friendship?"

"Elder Rainer, do you mind if I ask you an off-topic question?" Haden asked. "How old are you?"

Rainer was taken back slightly by the question. "Excuse me?"

"It's a simple question, I think," Haden replied. "How many years have you been alive?"

"Nearly six hundred and ninety years," Rainer replied hesitantly.

Haden nodded. "Okay, so tell me this, is it customary in this culture for someone your age to be bullying a nine-year-old?"

A look of shock appeared in Rainer's eyes. For the first time, he wasn't really sure how to answer the question. "If that's how you really feel, then why don't you just leave? It's clear you are not seriously interested in us considering this relationship."

Muttering could be heard around the table as Haden tried to think of his reply. By this point in the questioning, he was pretty sure that he had messed things up beyond repair, so what harm would going a little further be? Besides, at this point, he didn't really care. If these were the types of people that this society represented, would the clan really want to be friends with them?

"Maybe I will, because maybe the clan doesn't need new friends like you," Haden shot back. "And even though I've probably completely ruined things for the clan at this point, I don't really care. I've just spent the last hour being interrogated by you guys, and yes, it was an interrogation and not a discussion or whatever else you called it. And basically, you have been trying to force me to justify why we should have the privilege of being your friends."

"Haden?" Ardell said softly from his seat.

"Well you know what? You can keep your stupid friendship. What makes you guys think that the clan would even want to be friends with a society like this? What makes you think that the clan would ever trust a closed-minded, xenophobic society like this? You can keep all your questions, you can keep all your demands, you can keep all your expectations of proof, because you know what. I'm done with all this."

"Haden," Ardell called out again, this time a little louder. "You need to understand that Elder Rainer's questions are his alone. They do not reflect the opinions of the rest of us."

"No?" Haden asked defiantly. "They must reflect some elements of your society, because he's sitting here as an elder in your circle. So how can you say he doesn't?"

Ardell thought for a few moments and was just about to reply when the large doors to the circle chambers loudly slammed open immediately pulling everyone's attention. Standing at the entrance of the door was a nine-year-old boy with long shoulder length blond hair, and bright sparkling blue eyes. The look on his face was one of determination. It was not him, however, that nearly everyone was looking at. Instead, it was the person standing next to him.

Next to Daileass's side stood a woman of unsurpassed beauty. Standing slightly taller than the nine-year-old next to her, she had long brown hair with slightly accented golden sparkles, and the same emerald green eyes that Klaus possessed. The dress that she wore was light in color, and seemed to fit remarkably well with her prescience. Although her face seemed to be filled with the wisdom that only time could provide, she had an expression of deep caring and concern. An expression that would cause someone to get a warm feeling in their heart just from her gaze alone.

At the sight of the woman, Rainer took a step backward, nearly falling into his seat.

"Mother?" Ardell spoke in shock. "I thought you were..."

"Away?" the woman spoke in a very stately yet compassion filled voice as only a true mother could, causing Ardell to nodd.

"Who's that?" Haden whispered to Barrett.

"Mother Gaea," he answered in a hushed, yet concerned voice.

"Who's Mother Gaea?" Haden asked, but Barrett didn't answer.

Daileass and the woman took a few steps into the room before the woman called out in a strong, yet soft voice. "Permission to enter the circle chambers."

The room became quiet as everyone waited to see how Ardell would respond.

"Yes... of course mother... you of all people should know that you never need to ask for such permission," Ardell fumbled with his words. Once he finished a series of excited yet hushed murmurs began to echo around the room.

Daileass walked around the side of the table and held out his hand toward Haden. "I figured you could use a little company, so I decided to drop in and see how things were going."

Haden immediately jumped out of his chair and ran toward Daileass practically running into him. "I'm sorry for messing things up so bad," he cried.

Daileass wrapped his arms around Haden. "You didn't mess anything up. You were brilliant."

Gaea stepped further into the circle, and stood patiently for several long moments until the chatting and murmuring died down to the point that it could no longer be heard. "For three days I have left you," she began as she slowly began to make eye contact with each person sitting at the table. "For three days I have been gone to address matters that are not only of grave importance to this society, but also to the surface dwellers as well."

By this point, the room was totally silent as the woman continued. "Now, what is it that I find happening when I return? For ages, I have called all of you my children with pride. You were the ones that I felt were different from those on the surface. You were the ones that I felt, among everyone else, would be of the most willing to accept and embrace those who might be different from you. Have I truly been so blind as to allow the festering of pure hatred and contempt for the surface dwellers to grow to such a degree that you would do THIS to a youngling?"

As Gaea finished speaking and turned her gaze toward Haden, Haden's entire body stiffened as he felt a massive wave of love and compassion flow through him.

After looking at Haden, Gaea turned her gaze toward Elder Rainer, causing the man to literally wilt into his chair. "Have I not always taught that those who live on the surface are my children too?"

After several long moments of silence, feeling that she had made her point, Gaea turned next toward Ardell. "I think that you were just about to issue an apology before my arrival interrupted things?"

Ardell sighed. Only mama Gaea could be as loving as she was, and still turn a situation like this into a lesson of learning. But the fact was, she was right, he owed someone a huge apology. "Haden Rothwood," he called out from where he was standing getting both Haden's and Daileass's attention. "On behalf of myself, the other Ternios, and the entire Circle of Elders, please accept my most humble of apologies. The questioning did not turn out at all the way that I had hoped it would, and I should have not allowed it to continue as long as I did. Elder Rainer's opinions and view points in no way reflect what the Ternios or any of the other Elders with to have reflected as our society views."

"Ternios?" Elder Rainer angrily called out, only to be stopped by Ardell holding up his hand.

Before Ardell had a chance to speak Gaea spoke with her normal compassionate yet authoritative voice. "Elder Rainer, you are out of order."

Rainer looked like he was about to argue the point, but instead he slouched back down into his chair.

"With the questioning session complete, I believe there is only one other order of business to be conducted." Ardell sat down, causing Klaus and Geoff to each sit down as well. "The matter of officially and openly establishing a relationship of friendship with Family Clan Short and the UNIT."

"I'm sorry, but this is not the time to be making this decision, Ardell," Rainer stated as he stood up from his chair.

"I beg to differ with you, this was the next item on our agenda," Ardell replied. "Unless you wish to interrogate the boy more?"

"This is clearly a highly emotional time for everyone involved," Rainer stated. "Let's wait a few days and allow things to cool down. If you insist on making this hasty decision now, I would have no choice but to resign my position as Elder to Gens Presella."

Ardell took a few moments to look seriously at Rainer, "Agreed."

"Agreed?" Rainer asked. "So you will hold off on making this decision?"

Ardell shook his head. "No, I've agreed to accept your resignation as Gens Presella Elder. I believe you have made it clear through your interrogation of our guest that you have lost sight of several of the key concepts and ideals that our society has been founded on. Had it not been for the timely arrival of Daileass with mama... I would hate to think how bad the relationships between our two groups may have been permanently damaged. Actually, for all I know, they still might be."

"I'm not the only one, you know," Rainer stated defiantly as he stood up. "There are other elders that feel the same as I do. You are making a big mistake by trying to force this."

"I see," Ardell replied. "Are there any other elders that will stand by Rainer? Are there any other among you that agree with his vision and way of handling things with new potential friends?"

Several moments of silence went by with no one else standing.

"Are you all cowards?" Rainer asked angrily. "Sylus? Surely you agree with me, right?"

The young Vifer Elder shook his head. "Sorry, Rainer, but you have gone way over the line this time."

"This entire circle is a joke. I'll have no part of it." Rainer proclaimed as he raised his hands to his head. A few moments later, his image flickered and disappeared.

A few seconds after Rainer disappeared, Ardell sighed. "Are there any elders who shall stand in support of establishing an open relationship of friendship with Family Clan Short?"

One-by-one, over the next several seconds, all eight remaining elders stood up in support.

"Very well, let it be known that the vote of all currently active Elders and Ternios have unanimously voted in support of Clan Short," Ardell stated as he turned toward where Daileass was still holding onto Haden. "Daileass, will Clan Short ever be able to forgive us for this?"

"I'm not the one who has been hurt by this, so I'm not the one you should be asking," Daileass replied seriously as he looked up toward Ardell. "I think Haden will have to make that decision. But right now, I really do not like his vitals, and I would like to get him out of V.R."

Ardell looked toward Klaus, who nodded. "Agreed."

Moments later, Daileass and Haden flickered and disappeared. This caused Barrett to stand up.

"You can join them as well if you want Barrett," Ardell replied in a softer tone as he saw a fire in Barrett's eyes that he had rarely seen before. "I think we are just about ready to wrap things up anyway."

Barrett nodded and lifted his hands to his head. Moments later he too flickered and disappeared.