"Seth? KT just issued a command override and I am attempting to recover survivors, despite standing restrictions due to the inconsistencies with the transport and teleport systems." George announced.
"I was about to order the same thing; you're fine George." Seth replied. "Cory wanted me to watch for something that really grabbed KT's attention. I think we've found his calling. From this point on, treat his orders as equal to a Division Head; I'm sure he'll figure out a title for himself soon enough."
"Got it, Seth. I've let the kids know that as well."
"You know, your AI brothers are going to get you for calling them kids." Seth stated with a shake of his head.
"When they start acting older than Pauly, then I'll stop calling them kids." George replied with a chuckle.
"That'll take a few centuries." Seth sniggered.
Adrian let loose a JJ-quality stream of expletives, mapping the parentage of the occupants of the Romulan ship clear back to the creation of the universe, before commenting "Just great! Rex, Scott? Drop what you're doing, you've got interface with the med teams on the Iowa. Give them anything they need."
"On it!" both boys yelled as they quickly switched screens and made arrangements for direct links.
"Tracy, do I have permission to see if we can get some help for the Iowa on shielding?" Adrian asked.
Tracy had almost forgot that he was actually in charge, Adrian had been doing that good on keeping him free to take in the whole picture without being bugged on details. "Sure, see what you can do. I'm gonna see if I can find a place that we can safely have the Iowa drop off her passengers."
"Thanks." Adrian replied. "Check Hampton Roads; it might be good to have a shipyard check out the Iowa after this is done. If she don't suffer damage, it's a miracle."
"Great idea, thanks!" Tracy replied.
Adrian contacted Ark, figuring it best to seek the help of the archive with the most information. Tracy hijacked one of the Armed Forces channels they were controlling.
"Hampton Roads Command, this is Clan Short Headquarters Intel, Director Tracy Butler." Tracy said as he electronically sent his credentials.
"This is Hampton Roads. Lt. Commander Revere. You are on a secure ... nevermind, I just received your credentials and verified. How may I assist you, Sir?"
"I need to speak to someone in the shipyards about looking over our flagship, the Iowa, once this asshole attacking us is dealt with." Tracy replied. "Also, it looks like we're taking on survivors from that cruise ship that was hit, so I'd like to arrange for a proper area for them to make landfall."
"Medical evac facilities are notified to expect incoming. I'll get the six boomers moved out so we have a dock near medical that's large enough to support the Iowa. Engineering teams are on alert and will be standing by prepped for your arrival."
"Thanks! That was quick!" Tracy replied, surprise obvious in his voice.
"Senior staff forewarned us of the possibility of your call. My job is communications, so I've communicated your requirements. No doubt a few boomer captains are pitching a fit about now. C’est la vie! Norfolk will contact us directly when Iowa is inbound."
"Thanks! We have staff onboard who should be able to assist you with anything you need. If you need anything they can't handle, you can call me directly. Until instructed otherwise by the President, we are routing all Armed Forces communications, so you will be routed to me immediately."
"That has been logged, Sir. I'll extend my shift for the Iowa, if necessary, so there will be no stumbling blocks."
"Thank you, Commander Revere. Please let me know when you are receiving the Iowa, I wish to be present when she is docked."
"I will do so, Director. God willing, I will be calling you soon with the good news that she is inbound. Hampton Roads out."
"Thanks again, Clan Short out." Tracy replied. Once the connection was closed, he sat back with relief. "That went pretty good!"
Adrian giggled. "You did good for a first time. Just so you know, I had Seth on standby if they gave you any trouble. Any time you need to do official stuff, we'll make sure you've got backup. Speaking of which, did you say that you plan on being there when she pulls in?"
"Yeah. Is that a problem?" Tracy asked.
"Nope, you haven't had security assigned to you officially yet, so let me see how Seth wants it handled when you're in public. Based on previous experience, we try not to make directors have to take care of themselves if a situation arises."
"You talk like being a director is dangerous." Tracy observed.
"It can be; just ask Prez, he's the Director at the Pacific Rim Division. He's recovering from toasting his buns as we speak."
"Shit, that sucks," Tracy replied. "Where's the fun part of the job?"
"That's when you get to see some kid's parent's faces when they find out their ten-year-old son just made them grandparents of an eight-year-old." Adrian replied with a laugh.
"Hey, Rat; I'll save you a call." Gabe announced. "Gregg and Nick are already certified as the normals I'm assigning to Tracy and Karl. Daivik is certified as primary enhanced for both until we have the backups available."
Steve interrupted. "Jax, I want you to shadow these two until their permanent enhanced guards are available."
"Got it, Steve. I think I know just the pair to relieve me." Jax replied. "Let me check on their status."
Noticing that it seemed that his husband was about to get involved in something that would possibly affect all of them in some way, Karl interrupted. "Trace? If you guys wanna take this to the conference room, I've got a handle on everything here. I'll give a yell if I need y'all; there's a direct comm circuit from this chair to the room."
"Thanks, Hot Stuff. I think a chance to clear my head might do some good," Tracy replied. "You're gonna take a break too when I get back; could you start working up a break rotation for the rest of the guys?"
"I'll get it set up; I think all of us could use a stretch." Karl replied with a smile. "Now go, or no playing tonight!"
"I'm going already!" Tracy laughed as he led Steve, Adrian, and Jax to one of the lower rooms that doubled as an overnight room and a conference room.
Just as soon as they entered the room and sat on the chairs and couches along the wall, Steve spoke up. "Jax, give me a minute, then you can make that call. Tracy, I need to say something, will you hear me out before you comment?"
"Sure." Tracy replied, curious as to what had instigated this.
Steve took a few seconds to compose his thoughts, then began. "When Seth sent us over here, it was with the idea that we would form a sub-Division that combined Intel and Rapid Response. Despite the fact that he fully expected you guys to decide to join up with the Clan, you were only slightly more prepared than any of the other new Directors. After the events that hit us after we arrived, I understand why; I'm thinking Seth's original plan was to have me work with you. After the last couple of hours, I've been comparing notes with my little bro here and we've agreed on a few things. The first is that we are accepting permanent assignment here; if you want Adrian to take the Ops Head position, I'm good with it as long as he can still go out on missions with me as well."
"That works great for me," Tracy responded.
Steve nodded with a smile. "Thanks. The second thing is that while you obviously didn't really want to be put in a leadership position when the shit hit the fan, you seem to have a natural knack for organizing without micromanaging. In fact, a lot of the reason that we were able to be at full capacity so quick is that you just assigned general areas and let people concentrate on what was hot at the moment. Just before we came in here, you took Karl's break suggestion and applied it to the entire team. I've been trained as a team leader, and I didn't pick up on just how long all of us have been running full-tilt. You instantly thought of the entire group, and began the process to let everyone take a breather. Most guys put in your position wouldn't have thought like that or handled things like you have, which in my opinion means that you've already earned the title of Division Director. Thing is, I'm considering telling Seth to trash the sub-Division idea and just allow us to be a specialty Division like Charleston is. You'll be Director, I'll answer to you but run the more military side of things, and from the sounds of it I'm guessing that KT is gonna put his foot in his mouth and put himself in charge of the Naval branch based here. You don't need Seth to babysit you, that I'm sure of."
"Thanks, but can you really get away with telling Seth that?" Tracy asked in amazement.
"He made one small mistake," Steve laughed, "he asked me for my opinions about this setup before sending me here. He'll never learn; don't give me wide discretion then toss me into a second project while asking my opinion."
"I'll have to remember that!" Tracy giggled. "To get even with him, you can also say I've authorized you to speak for me."
"Just this time?" Steve asked with a tilt of his head.
"No, consider it standing orders that are to be used at your discretion," Tracy replied. "I'm counting on my gut feeling that you will not abuse it; you've earned my trust by how you responded since you got here."
Steve nodded. "Thank-you. I've worked with a lot of different guys, and I think we're building the roots for one hell of a team here."
"Speaking of teams, when did our cohorts lose their voices?" Tracy giggled.
Both boys turned, and their grins turned into soft smiles at what they found. Adrian and Jax had settled in the same chair, and now the little nine-year-old blond was sound asleep against the eleven-year-old cheetah hybrid's chest.
"You okay with taking care of my little bro until the break's over?" Steve asked softly.
Jax nodded with a grin, obviously trying not to wake his new cuddle partner.
"You're both on break until he wakes up." Tracy stated. "We can keep things under control until he's recovered."
Jax gave Tracy a thumbs-up with his free paw.
"Were you thinking of the teddy bear twins?" Steve asked.
Jax gave another thumbs-up.
"Okay, I'll make the call. If any of the other little guys look like they need to take a nap, I'll send them in here." Steve replied. "Tracy, what do you say to us grabbing some munchies while I see about your permanent security?"
Tracy nodded. As they turned and headed for the door, Tracy turned his head. "Thanks for taking care of him, Jax. You've got my permission to do whatever you need to when he wakes up to remind him that he's a kid just like all of us, and he's gonna take time to be a kid even if we have to order it."
Out of the corner of his eye, Tracy saw Jax mouth something. Figuring he'd find out later, he headed out the door with Steve right behind him.
"You're gonna regret telling him that!" Steve giggled after the door closed behind them. "Did you see what he had teleported in?"
"No. Is that what he was doing?"
Steve laughed. "The room now contains a four-foot ball of yarn, and a case of hairbrushes! You just ordered a cheetah to make sure the kids play, which means he's going to teach them to play cheetah-style."
"What about the brushes?" Tracy asked.
"They're so the kids can learn to groom the cat hybrids. He'll be giving them cat-type tongue baths, and since their tongues ain't rough enough, he'll teach them grooming with the brushes. No matter how it looks at first, it's perfectly innocent. All of the groups that have cats with them do it, and it's really relaxing for all concerned."
"I like that idea; I think some of the little guys are kinda scared by how he looks." Tracy replied.
"I think he'll handle it pretty quick." Steve observed as he dialed up a half-pound hamburger with all the trimmings for a snack. "Hmmm, not sure that'll hold me long," he added as he punched in a large order of chili-cheese fries.
Tracy giggled as he removed a fourteen-inch pizza with everything but the funky fish... double everything... from his replicator. "Dad'd gain ten pounds just seeing this!"
They made their way to a table. Once they were seated, Tracy asked the question that he'd been musing over. "Hey Steve? I know from the data I found while trying to hack Clan systems that the Unit has been training kids who are interested in support instead of military operations...."
Steve interrupted. "I think I know where you're going. There's no way that we can keep this up forever, and we're useless if we're having to shut down to eat, sleep, and do something besides stare at screens. You're right, even though I really wanna know which system you cracked to find that!"
"I'll show you sometime." Tracy giggled. "We'll have to go in the legal way though; I left a few hundred traps behind me as I was burrowing."
"You're evil, I love it!" Steve laughed. "One sec, I think I can handle things with one call."
Steve keyed his communicator. "Unit Command, this is the Beach Patrol."
"This is Sgt. Gabe Hayes. Go ahead, Lt. Mercer."
"Gabe, I'm making this request on orders from the Director of the Fort Lauderdale Intel Division. At this time, the Division is extremely understaffed. I need three dozen of the civvy intel console trainees, preferably ones that have just completed training or are about to."
"You're in luck; a class just graduated. None of them have been assigned until now, you're getting all fifty. Daileass just filled me in on how many you need for immediate relief. Expect the first wave in five minutes, along with their instructor. He was standing here, and just ran off to pack."
"I won't argue; I know how things build up around here." Steve replied. "The other half of my request is as the newly-assigned Security Chief for the Division. Are the Teddy Bears hibernating?"
"No, just normal naps. The rest of their team is in New York, but you know how those two get in close quarters. We figured it best not to have them turning the city's inhabitants into mush."
"Yeah, I've got a much more suitable duty station for them. On recommendation from Jax, I request immediate transfer to our division as security for our Director and his husband."
"You've got them; they've been even grouchier than normal since Lucas and Logan transferred. Once we get done cleaning the shit off the fan, you're gonna get the rest of the team."
"Get them here ASAP; the Director has a scheduled road trip. He's already got a set of certified squishies, so this will clear him for travel."
"You've got it. By the way, congrats on the new duty station. I knew that you had it in ya."
"Yeah, I'll thank you once I find out what normal is down here. Alligator Alley, out."
"Unit Command, out."
Without pausing, Steve started another call. "Headquarters, this is Alligator Alley."
"This is Seth. Go ahead, Steve."
"Just a heads up, Sir." Steve replied professionally. "Alligator Alley is hereby assuming status as a full specialty division, and will be at full staffing within the next hour. Senior personnel are Director Tracy Butler, Assistant Director Karl Butler, Operations Comptroller Adrian Jobs, and Lieutenant Steven Mercer as Head of Security."
Before Seth could respond, another voice interrupted. "This is Acting Security Director Gabriel Michaels. I certify Alligator Alley as Division-ready and hereby activate them fully."
"Ahead of schedule? Way to go, guys! You're now logged as active with full status pending Patriarch approval. Just pray that Cory's the Patriarch that approves you."
"If he's not, the invaders we're dealing with right now are gonna be the least of the Universe's worries." Steve growled. "They ain't seen any of us REALLY pissed... YET."
"Trust me, I know; I've got some brothers who are vowing to come out of retirement if anything happens to Cory. All we can do is wait and hope. Finish your break, Daileass just warned me to expect large amounts of incoming at your location."
"Sounds like an idea. Alligator Alley, out." Steve replied. He was surprised, though, to find Gabe joining them.
"Hey Steve, just so you know, I wasn't tryin' to steal your thunder. I figured it'd save time to beat Seth to the punch." Gabe said with a grin. "Since JJ's off the net, anything like this he'd have to run through me to make sure I thought there was enough protection for the staff."
"Actually, it sounded more like you ordered him to do it." Steve replied, a small grin on his face. "Has anyone ever told you that the Clan Headquarters chain-of-command resembles a plate of spaghetti during a magnitude six earthquake?"
"It's that organized?" Gabe laughed.
"Good point," Steve said as he joined the laugh.
"Am I missing something?" Tracy asked, trying to decide if he should be pissed or not.
Steve grinned. "It's actually one of the reasons that you fit so well as a Division Director. The chain of command starts with Cory, then it changes at a moments notice depending on what's happening. Perfect example; Seth is in charge right now, but the second I mentioned that I was declaring us a Division, Gabe was able to step in and approve it. Right now, the only person who can reverse it is Cory himself; and you're so much like him that he wouldn't reverse the decision no matter what anyone said."
As if making the point, Tracy's communicator went off. "Alligator Alley, Director Butler," He answered, seeing that it was on the Divisional Command Channel.
"Hey Tracy; Danny Page. Marc kicked me outta the hospital, you mind if I join you for a few?"
"Sure, come on down." Tracy replied, his face showing his confusion as to why Danny would want to visit.
"I'll be right there." Danny replied.
Before Tracy had a chance to reply, Danny was sitting next to them. "Hey guys!" he laughed at their shocked faces. "Don't ever overwork yourself around Marc! One little incident during the Battle of Montana, and he won't ever let me forget about it! I close my eyes for five seconds before moving on to the next patient, and he's kicking me outta the building until I've relaxed somewhere."
"Now you know how I feel, Gran'pa Danny!" Teddy laughed from his seat, having overheard Danny's complaint.
Danny just rolled his eyes as Tracy, Steve and Gabe giggled over Teddy's comment. "On to another, more serious subject." Danny said, this time in a normal voice. "Welcome to the Director's Club, Tracy. Cory's looking forward to meeting you."
"How does he know about me?" Tracy asked. "None of us have talked to him!"
Gabe and Steve just stared at Danny, obviously wondering the same thing.
Danny grinned. "Time loops. We got back from seeing you on Archnania well before things went nutty in London. Kyle worked relay, and I showed Cory what I knew about you, and expressed my opinion that you would end up directing a division. Before you ask, Marc really did kick me out; but instead of resting, I'm doing what Cory asked since he's out-of-country for a bit."
While Steve and Tracy seemed unsure about what Danny meant, Gabe picked up on it immediately. "So since you're the senior Division head, and Cory, Jace, and Joel are out of communication, you're officially Acting Patriarch?"
"Cory didn't say that, he just said that if I thought that Tracy had a viable Division I could approve it." Danny replied.
"And WHO is the ONLY person in the Clan who can make a Division officially part of the family?" Gabe prodded.
"Cory, or Jace, or Joel going by what happened at Pacific Rim."
"What do ALL THREE have in common? Remember, Joel was in a leadership role while Cory was on vacation." Gabe said with a roll of his eyes.
"Okay... Cory and Jace are Patriarchs, and Joel was Acting Patriarch." Danny admitted.
"And WHAT does that make YOU since Cory told you what he did?"
"Isn't that kinda a stretch?" Danny grinned, realizing this was turning into another logic war, only without the commentary on the side.
Gabe shook his head. "Cory would never leave his family without a leader that he trusts, and all of us know that he trusts your leadership skills a lot. Stop being so thick-headed; step up and do what you know Cory wants you to do if he and Jace are not available."
Danny sighed and opened his communicator. "Seth, if you tell me you were not listening, I'll call you a liar."
"How'd you guess? Are you ready for me to open a channel to all Divisions and UNIT installations?"
"Go for it." Danny sighed.
"All Divisions, this is Director Page, AI Division. Based on Kylegram conversations with Patriarch Short immediately prior to the start of the current problems, and considering the duration of the blackout that we have already experienced as well as now Jason Evans going dark, as Senior Director I have been asked to assume the role of Acting Patriarch until such time as contact is resumed. All Divisions are asked to give their input as to the need for me to take on this role; I will not call it official until I have a consensus that it is needed."
"This is Julio in Des Moines. Is being thick-headed a requirement for being Patriarch? If so, you've got the job. Des Moines out."
"Hey Danny, Noah. I agree with Julio, you're definitely thick headed. Go for it, bro; remember that Cory don't tell us his gut feelings about stuff, but he puts things in place just in case his feelings are right."
"All UNIT installations, this is General Jory Casey. UNIT Command affirms the situational requirement for Director Page to assume the duties of Acting Patriarch of Family Clan Short. All installations are to treat his requests as if they come from Patriarch Short directly."
From the comm-link, several utterances were heard, starting with "OH SHIT!", and then"Who's Danny Page?" and lastly, "Does it really matter? Prez sure as hell can't do it from a tub."
The second voice asked, "Nathan, is your only comment, OH SHIT?"
Nathan sighed, "Oh what the hell, who better to take responsibility when the whole world is in the toilet. Give the go ahead Kaleo."
"WHY ME?" Kaleo shouted.
Giggling, Nathan and Tory reminded, "Prez put Drew in charge, who then put YOU in charge."
Kaleo huffed, "Pacific Rim Division gives their okey-dokey. Now, will someone PLEASE get some fucking furniture in the houses at Kaho'olawe before refugees move in?"
"Damn! they got the spaghetti down GOOD over there!" Steve giggled.
"Is it Friday now?"
"PIZZA TONIGHT!" all the boys in the Rimmer Command Center cheered.
<It has been determined that you are getting what you deserve, Patriarch Page. Tyne adds that it is better you than him.>
All of a sudden everyone heard Jackie at the Gulf Coast mumbling, "Can't I even take a piss in peace," then the sounds of the toilet flushing as he started the water running in the sink and washed his hands.
Jackie's voice became clearer as he tapped his comm badge. "Jackie at the Gulf Coast Division here, since it seems like we're using rubber bands for the chain of command, hearing Jory and Nathan say all is good makes it all sound good to me."
Danny grumbled, "The confidence you've all put in me is overwhelming."
Tracy giggled. "Chill! I think that's a lot of confidence, considering the fact they took the time to poke fun despite all of us still being semi-swamped. I'm sure happy that you're stepping up."
There was a crackling sound over the speakers. "Hello?" a squeaky voice was barely heard over the static. "No, no, Isidro, turn the big shiny knob back!" the squeaky voice ordered. "The Shiny warriors cannot hear our words. Shiny fine adjust, now. Yes, yes, just a shiny bit more." Clearly, the gathered group heard, "Hello?"
Slouching, Danny sighed, "God help us."
"It's too late," Seth muttered, and then everyone heard rapping sounds, like that of a forehead repeatedly dropping onto a hard surface.
Widely grinning at the responses this new voice had already instigated, Tracy giggled, "Hello! Alligator Alley here."
"This is The Don," the squeaky voice announced. "We have had visions of this Shiny Day, oh yes, we have! Our flock has dispersed through our city and are keeping order, under the Great Shiny Banner, we fight Dull Lovers, yes we do! Shiny Haters be damned, we shall fight…"
"Sir?" a teen boy's voice carefully interrupted. The rapping sounds continued in the background.
The Don queried, "Yes, Weer?"
"Your purpose, Sir," the teen boy prompted.
"Yes, yes!" The Don acknowledged, "The Great Shiny has shown us visions of the Ancient One. We find him lustrous and gleaming; capable is he to lead the Shiny Warriors. Las Vegas approves, yes we do!" After a momentary pause, The Don ordered, "Bring an ice pack to the Shiny Commander in the Sunshiny State."
Weer offered, "We are transmitting video and audio to Orlando, Sir."
The rapping sounds ceased. The Don said, "Las Vegas is secured, Shiny Commander. The Hoover Dam is also secured, as is the California Aqueduct, delivering blessed Shiny Water to the desert. We await your orders."
"Aspirin," Seth dizzily requested.
"Ice pack and aspirin to the Shiny Commander, now!" The Don loudly ordered. Squeaking affirmations and shuffling paws were heard. Two ferrets appeared in Orlando HQ; one offered Seth aspirin, and the other handed over an ice pack. They vanished and reported their mission complete to The Don.
After Seth took the aspirin dry and placed the icepack against his forehead, Sammy pointed at the screen The Don's image was displayed on, giggling, "Your orders, Shiny Commander?"
"WHY MEEEEEEE!" Seth cried.
"PAYBACKS!" almost every Division responded in unison.
"Report on the results of those phone calls that were routed to you from Naples." Seth responded as he tried to think of a duty in another Galaxy he could assign the Don and his crew to.
"Yes, yes," The Don cheerfully acknowledged, baring a toothy ferret smile. "We will transmit the Dull Lover's transcripts and summary to you immediately."
Many moments of silence passed. Muted giggling passed over the comm-link, waking Seth out of his ferret induced coma. He simply ordered, "Then do as you deem necessary and appropriate…" He gulped and coughed, "under the Shiny Banner."
Watching Seth roll his wheelchair away from the camera, no doubt toward the nearest toilet he could vomit into, The Don cheered, "UNDER THE SHINY BANNER! We are out." The communications link ended.
With his wheelchair in high gear, Seth sped thru the command center, repeatedly muttering, "Way, way out."
Once he returned, Seth chuckled as he added his input on Danny's status. "Patriarch, Starfleet has been informed of your status and has acknowledged. I have logged the appointment. Is there anyone at Intel that can bring Danny up-to-speed?"
"I've got it, Seth." Gabe replied.
"Seth, get some furniture for the Rimmers before they come after your ass with wire brushes!" Danny stated as his first order as Patriarch. "I'll straighten the rest out as soon as I'm aware of it."
The comm channel was swamped with much-needed laughter and crude but accurate comments. Once it settled down to a dull roar, Danny said loudly "Alright you clowns! Alligator Alley Division is now official; all other Division heads are asked to refrain from the standard terrorizing until after the shit is done hitting the fan. Any Division AI caught performing welcome pranks before their Division Head can perform their own will get a visit from High Priest Dave to their core room!"
"Damn! That's harsh!" Steve commented with a whistle. "You coulda just settled for banning them from IBM's catalogue or something similarly drastic!
"I know their weaknesses," Danny responded with a grin. "They know I'd do it, too."
"Who did what to Daileass?" a new voice asked as two boys appeared behind Danny. "He's mumbling something about an overbearing tyrant who needs to take some Ex-Lax so that he's not so crabby."
"Danny, he's the one right in front of you, is now Acting Patriarch," Steve explained. "He just made really sure the AIs don't prank the new Division Head while we're mid-action. He promised a visit from High Priest Dave to their cores if they tried anything."
"Ohhhhh! No wonder he's whining!" the pair sniggered.
Just then, Daileass interrupted. "Director Butler, the first wave of your new staff have been briefed on the current status. They are ready to deploy to relieve your current watch on your request."
Tracy grinned. "Chill Daileass; I think I can tell the difference between your normal self and a prank. Send them on over, have the lead check in with Karl to transfer everything smoothly. Grandpa Danny ain't gonna punish you for making this a little easier to deal with."
"Thanks, Tracy. They're on their way." Daileass said with relief.
"Grandpa Danny?" Danny asked with raised eyebrows.
"Yep. You forgot already that my bro is Cam, and Teddy is one of the key members of Alligator Alley?" Tracy giggled. "I got your number!"
"Just wait until this is over!" Danny stated with a grin. "Stevie, Marc, and me are gonna REALLY welcome you!"
"A challenge? I like this; the Geek Squad lives for challenges!" Tracy laughed.
"I'm glad I'm on Tracy's side; this is gonna be fun!" Steve added, realizing the prank war could easily stretch for months.
"I'm glad I was listening in!" Karl stated as he joined them. "Jack Linden has accepted relief; Daileass briefed him really good. He's second to Adrian now for internal ops, and pretty kewl for a grown-up."
"Jack's a really good guy." Steve added. "He don't care about age, just that you do your best and ask for help. He's one of the top planetside instructors; our team just scored big time by him deciding to join us."
"And before you say it, he said the official meeting with the Director can wait until we stand down from Condition Red." Karl added with a grin. "He has only been awake about an hour, so he's requested that we take plenty of time to recover. He's ordered the second wave to take a siesta before coming over, that way they are fresh and can relieve the current watch."
"Are we even gonna be needed?" Tracy commented quietly.
"Yes, a lot," Steve assured Tracy. "In normal operation, we'll be able to concentrate on the specific stuff while they handle the day-to-day stuff. I'm guessing that once we're wound down, normal ops will only be using about half of this room, which leaves plenty of space to work on the specialty stuff that only the core guys can handle."
Tracy's mood brightened, realizing he wasn't about to become a figurehead.
Danny helped, by adding "Trust me, I've been a Director longer than anyone. You'll have plenty of high-end stuff that only the core team can handle. These guys just help keep you guys free for your stuff, by doing the general legwork that Intel needs. Otherwise you'll get buried under stealing sealed police records."
"Yeah, that ain't no challenge." Allen giggled as Arron split a plate of cookies with him. The twin nine-year-olds looked around as Arron added "We cracked seven of them in the last five minutes!"
"Where's Adrian? We wanna get to know him, and see what kinda games he knows." Allen asked.
Steve smiled, hearing that his little brother was being welcomed with open arms. "He kinda fell asleep on Jax. He's in the conference room."
Allen grinned. "Okay. Arron, grab another plate of cookies and we'll kick back in there until he wakes up."
The twins waved for Peter to join them, and vanished into the room after stocking up on extra cookies and milk.
Steve turned to the two new boys, who were watching the antics with pointy-toothed grins. "Congrats, guys. You've been promoted to Division Head Security."
Tracy and Karl both focused on the boys. By their faces, they appeared eleven. Their bodies, however, would make a high school lineman green with envy. Their upper arms were the diameter of the calves of a normal eleven-year-old, and obviously all muscle. Both of them were wearing large adult tee-shirts, which barely fit their large chests. They both were wearing adult cargo shorts as well, going by the fact they looked like three-quarter length pants on their short bodies. Both had short brown hair, which seemed to also contain black hair with grey tips mixed in.
"Hey guys, I'm Tracy, and this is my husband Karl."
"We're the Teddy Bears." one of the boys replied, his pointed teeth more obvious as he talked.
Anticipating the question in Tracy's eyes, the other one stated "We don't have any other names. The asswipes considered us a failed experiment just because we hate crowded areas and like to get a little sleep when it gets chilly outside. We suffered through six months of them screwing with our genes, trying to mix us with grizzly bears, then got tossed in the reject bin. One of the doctors snuck us out, along with a few other rejects. We used to have other names, but since we ain't human, we don't deserve names."
"Oh shit!" Danny exclaimed under his breath as he quickly made sure he wasn't between the Teddy Bears and the heads of Alligator Alley.
Danny's exclamation was proven accurate a few seconds later.
Tracy quickly wound up. "You didn't just say that you're not human! Whoever put that crap in your head needs to have a warp drive shoved up their ass then a core dump initiated! You're part of the Alligator Alley team, which means you're one of my brothers. Every single person in this room is just as human as the rest of us. We've even got a Vulcan and an Archnanian here, and they are equal to the rest of us."
"But look at us! how much of us looks human?"
"Are you saying that Danny's not human? Or that my new brother Cameron isn't? Or our eleven-year-old Youth Team Coordinator Teddy? If the answer is yes, you're about to find out that no matter what you've got in your genes, the people that you're here to protect can kick your ass into next week. Come up with names that you wanna be called, and make it quick. The next person that even hints that you're not human is gonna find out if they can breath in space without a suit."
"Stevie? Could I borrow that name book that you found?" Danny quickly asked over his subvocal.
"Awww, you ruin all the fun!" Stevie replied as the book appeared in front of Danny. "I won the bet though as to how long it'd take Tracy to go through the roof; I beat Kerry by three microseconds."
The Teddy Bear brothers were staring at Tracy in shock, neither believing what they'd just heard. Steve was in shock as well, having not ever seen Tracy on the warpath. He recovered quickly though, turning to the brothers. "Guys, I hate to tell you this, but Momma Janet will back him up."
"Cory's guards are lion hybrids, and they are just as much family to him as Timmy is," Danny added. "Tracy and Karl are just like Cory and Sean in that regard, no matter what was done to you, you're still people and still have all the rights and privileges that everyone else in the Clan has. I've been on the receiving end of a lecture from these two as to the rights of Artificial Intelligence beings; you guys got the light version. Just so you know, I fully agree with these two; you two are just as human as they are, and should expect to be treated as such."
"Was that an order, Patriarch?" the twins asked.
Ignoring Steve's sniggers, Danny replied seriously. "Yes, it was. Cory would say the same thing."
The boy nearest the table picked up the book, then handed it to Tracy. "Sir, would you please help us pick out some names?"
Tracy smiled. "You guys can call me Tracy, and call Karl by his name too. You are family. Come on over to the couch, and the four of us will pick out a first name for both of you. Your last name is going to be Butler, just like Karl, Cam and me."
"Why do you want us to use your last name?"
"Because you guys are my new little brothers," Tracy said with a smile. "Our parents just don't know it yet."
"Are you sure you're not Cory's twin?" Danny quipped. "That's usually his line!"
"Thanks, I think," Tracy replied before leading the two bear-boys over to the couch, with Karl following behind them. After some discussion, the boys agreed to sit between Karl and Tracy. After a little playful poking, which Tracy and Karl were both sure was going to leave bruises, they were seated and waiting expectantly to find a name.
"Guys, why don't you let your Guardian Angel pick the page, then you each pick the name you like from wherever the book opens to?" Karl suggested, sensing they might be overwhelmed.
Both boys nodded their approval with tight smiles. The one closet to Karl went first, letting the book fall open to a random page. He quickly scanned the choices, before stating confidently "I'm going to be Andreas!"
"Sweet!" Karl responded with a grin. "I like that name; I think it fits you!" He paused, then announced "Hey Y'all, Andreas is my new guard!"
Andreas' eyes went wide, shocked that Karl picked him without consulting with Tracy. When he noticed that Tracy wasn't smelling like it agitated him at all, Andreas grinned and twisted to give Karl a light hug, just enough to not break any ribs.
Tracy retrieved the book, and handed it to his side of the twins. "Karl and I already discussed which one of you was going to be assigned to each of us; you're not that hard to tell apart," he explained.
"How can you tell us apart?" the boy asked as he let the book fall open on his lap.
"You both have slightly different coloration on your hair," Tracy replied. "By the way, do both of you shave?"
"Yeah, twice a day. We wanna try to look normal, even though we're not," the boy replied, trying to avoid setting Tracy off again.
"Stop shaving, be proud of yourself little brother." Tracy replied seriously. "Normal is for people who have no imagination and no drive to figure out who they really are. I'm friends with over half of my school because I'm NOT normal; that is why they like me."
"I never though of it that way. Do you like Killian as a name?"
"I only like it if you do." Tracy replied seriously.
After a minute of thought, Killian announced "I'm now Killian Butler!"
"You heard him; my new guard is Killian!" Tracy announced. "Cam, get over here and welcome our new little brothers!"
"Hey, I got little brothers I can sit on without them complaining?" Cameron giggled as he joined them. Andreas and Killian put an arm over each other's shoulder, visually daring Cameron to try it.
Not one to pass up the opportunity, Cameron plopped himself down on their laps in such a way as to be sitting on both of them. Both of the younger boys were now feeling playful after getting their new names, so they began tickling their now-captive third older brother.
Absorbed in watching, and occasionally helping, Andreas and Killian torture Cameron, neither Tracy or Karl noticed Daivik start to walk their way before getting a weird look on his face and vanishing. They didn't see him return either, but a few seconds later they were fully aware of what he came back with. It was really hard to ignore a youthful grizzly bear who ambled over, lifted himself up, put a paw on each of the twin's exposed shoulders, then took turns repeatedly licking Killian and Andreas' faces.
Tracy and Karl were all giggles as they watched Cameron. Instead of being frightened, he was trying to inspect the grizzly bear inches from his face. After a few tentative pokes resulted in the bear giving his face one long lick from chin to forehead, he was grinning as he took the chance to do a close-up inspection of this large Earth creature.
"Director?" Daivik interrupted. "Once Jorge is done reuniting with his half-brothers, Doctor Page and I need to discuss an urgent matter with you."
"Killian, keep your brothers under control while I go talk with Danny and Daivik." Tracy replied quickly.
"Fill me in when you get back, this is fun to watch!" Karl giggled.
"Okay!" Tracy replied as he followed Danny and Daivik into an empty room.
"THOSE BASTARDS DID WHAT?" Tracy yelled loud enough to be heard by most of the occupants of the break area.
"What the Hell?" Steve exclaimed as he ran into the room a few seconds later, the door slamming behind him. "I think they heard you in Hawaii, Tracy. What's wrong?"
"Sit. Take notes if you need to; I want these bastard's balls hanging from the doorway in the entry ramp by next week." Tracy exclaimed, obviously beyond pissed. "As soon as he's ready, repeat what you told me, Daivik."
Knowing what he did already about the Genesis Project and its methods, Steve quickly took a seat, prepared to hear another horror story much like the dozens he had already heard.
Seeing that Steve was ready, Daivik began again. "As you probably guessed, Andreas and Killian are crossed with grizzly bear. Jorge's mother was the donor. Jorge actually has been enhanced with some genetic material from both boys; his lifespan has increased to near-human and his intelligence is near human levels. Other than that, he has no issues that I can detect. The boys, on the other hand, did not end up so lucky. The two genetic engineers responsible for their project were very careless. While most of the intended attributes took successfully, no thought was given to other effects of the splicing. Both boys have already experienced their 'animal puberty; and that has went fairly well. Out of curiosity, I ran a projection of their next few years, due to the body mass difference between the two species. In all cases without intervention, they will die shortly after their human teenage growth spurt begins. The cardiovascular system will not be able to keep up with the sudden increase of body mass, and they will suffer heart failure."
"I want their names... NOW!" Steve growled. This was nothing like any story that he'd heard before; the discussions he'd heard pretty much showed a wish by the project management to extend the usefulness of their creations as long as possible. While the methods were atrocious, they paled in comparison to the total neglect shown in modifying these two boys.
"Unfortunately, one of the gorilla hybrids in Hawaii beat you to the termination." Daivik stated. "Body parts are still being found inserted into various holes and hidden spaces in the building. Their testicles have been bronzed and are in a display case in the gorilla hybrid's new apartment."
Having seen numerous human boys and teens, Daivik scowled, "They're rather small and unobtrusive, comparatively speaking. Also, from what I saw, they were bronzed while still attached and the targets still conscious."
"DAMN!" Steve squeaked as both hands shot between his legs.
"Now that we know that problem was appropriately dealt with, back to our main issue." Danny inserted. "The genetic enhancements affected the skeletal system, growing denser and larger bones. I called Janet Hayes, and we discussed these issues. She was aware of the possibility of the cardiovascular problem, but had not found a suitable method of preventing it without putting the boys at a higher risk. Her main concern was giving the boys a quality life during what time they did have. Based on my conclusions regarding the bone structure being unable to support their mass at full adult growth, she is in agreement that we should attempt an unconventional approach using the technology that has recently become available to the Clan."
"Define 'unconventional'," Tracy stated protectively.
"Well, I think most of the medical community considers a High Race being like, say Daivik, selectively aging or regressing individual glands and organs within a patient unconventional." Danny replied with a small smile. "If not, the importing of android cellular regeneration units and hormonal control units definitely qualifies."
"How long until you can do it, and how long until I get my little brothers back?" Tracy asked.
"I've already had the necessary hardware transferred to Archnania. I've got the authority to order a medical override if I need to due to the critical nature of the problem. They will be back within five seconds of my taking them."
"I'll be right back." Tracy stated as he marched to the door.
As soon as he exited the room, he saw Andreas and Killian heading towards him, each one taking a side of Cameron and holding his hand. Jorge was behind them, giving them nudges with his nose to keep them moving.
"Cam filled me in, and I've already briefed them on the basics." Cameron explained as the group reached Tracy. "One of the things that Danny forgot to mention due to his contempt for what was done to them is that they're not going to be able to age without increasing their risk for problems."
"We understand that, but are you going to want little kids as security when you get old? Do you want little brothers that never grow up?" Killian asked softly, well at least as softly as a grizzly hybrid could.
"Yes and yes." Tracy replied immediately. "As long as I know that you are alive and healthy, it doesn't matter what age my little brothers are."
"And I second that." Karl added as he joined them. "Gregg and Nick will be right in, they want to meet their partners officially."
Jorge growled something, causing both brothers to raise their eyebrows.
"You know, our little brother is getting really pushy." Killian commented.
"Yeah, I think he's overdue for a friendly wrestling match." Andreas replied.
"After you get back!" Tracy, Karl, and Cameron added in unison.
"Deal!" the twins exclaimed. They bolted for the room, giggling "We gotta hurry!" Unfortunately, they forgot to open the door in their rush, and turned it into a floormat as they passed through the doorway.
<A techbot is enroute to replace the door. It seems that Peter left you approximately one hundred twenty spares.> Ark informed Tracy.
"Thanks, Ark. By any chance can we keep the techbot? I have a feeling this is going to become a habit." Tracy replied.
<Of course you may. I have also provided a remote replication station for the techbot to repair other items damaged by those two boys. I believe you have just found two individuals who are more dangerous than Timmy and Dmitry put together.>
"I don't know either of them, but I think you're right!" Tracy giggled as him and Karl walked ON the door to the room.
<Nyo has requested that Gregg and Nick report to the Phasenmorph pools for issuance of their Phasenmorphs as soon as hostilities cease. Nyo plans on using the remote training site on Archnania, so they will be unavailable for approximately two hours. Once Nyo has had a conference with Galli, you will be notified if you are capable of supporting a phasenmorph due to your interuniversal genetic makeup.>
"I'll make sure they know to show up. I understand needing to check things out." Tracy replied. "Thanks, Ark."
<You're welcome, Tracy.>
They entered the room to find Danny and Daivik hiding behind chairs, trying to protect themselves from the two excited boys. From the wreckage on the floor, it was obvious this was the second or third set of chairs being sacrificed. Tracy giggled. "Hey little bros! Calm down a little, they can't help you if they're in the hospital!"
"Oh!" Andreas playfully growled.
"We just wanted to give them a thank-you hug!" Killian added innocently.
"First thing we check is their thyroids!" Danny quipped.
Karl laughed. "C'mon, I like having playful little brothers!"
"And I like the set of ribs that Marc gave me!" Danny replied. "Is it safe now?"
Gregg and Nick entered the room, both whistling with appreciation at the damage done to the door. "Nice!" Gregg commented. "Hey babe, look at the chairs. I didn't know plastisteel bent like that!"
Nick nodded. "Yeah, I think I'm gonna like working with these two!"
"It's your ribs!" Danny quipped as the twin's attention shifted to the two new arrivals.
Figuring introductions before the hospital visits for bone repair would be good, Tracy quickly made sure all four knew each other's names.
"You don't care that we're weird?" Killian asked, still not secure in the welcome they had received.
"One of my little brothers is an android, and you guys are just as normal as him and the rest of our brothers," Gregg replied. "If you want to talk about weird, our Dad is a teacher. There's nothing weirder than that!"
"Tell me about it; he makes Karl's talking frog look normal!" Nick added with a giggle.
Jorge padded over to the new arrivals, giving both a sniff before issuing a modulated growl.
Nick tilted his head, then growled back. Jorge nodded his head, then went back over to his brothers and nudged them towards Danny.
"I think you're being told to get going so that you're healthy." Karl observed. "It's only going to be a few seconds for us, bros, so don't worry, take whatever time you need to be the best you can be."
"Okay, Karl." Andreas and Killian replied in unison. "We promise to only tweak one or two ribs!" Andreas added with a giggle.
"They're taking after their big brothers already!" Nick observed candidly as Daivik, Danny, Andreas, Killian, and Jorge vanished.
The words were barely out of his mouth before Killian, Andreas, and Jorge re-appeared. Their condition was not easily checked, as they were in the middle of a three-way grizzly wrestling match. Daivik appeared as well, a safe distance from the madness. "Done!" Daivik commented. "You know, it's funny watching the grass move out of the way so those three can burn off excess energy!"
"How'd it go? Were there any issues?" Tracy asked.
"Not really. I balanced out their endocrine system so that they are stable, then Danny got the hardware in place to control the genetics and supplement them where needed to put them at the optimum levels for their stage in life. Their pulmonary system has been aged to a point which places it's capacity in line with their body mass and activity level."
"Where is Danny?" Karl asked.
"He chickened out and went back to Charleston." Daivik giggled. "He has no sense of adventure."
Tracy was watching the wrestling match, and noticed Gregg and Nick approaching too late to stop them. Seconds later, the match turned into a five-way, with Gregg and Nick fully engaged in the madness.
"Did anyone bother to warn them that the twins are stronger than fifty percent of the adult population on earth?" Daivik observed.
"I think they'll figure it out soon enough." Steve commented. "How are your medical skills?"
"Danny and Prince Dylan made sure I was fully up to speed before I came back. For some reason, they think it'll be needed, and they wanted me to learn the human ways so I wasn't doing miracles all the time."
Steve nodded. "I think you're gonna make a great Division medic. Now you've got a way to be helpful while you're learning about humans."
"Thanks!" Daivik replied. "It's interesting to learn all the little details about how a human body operates. I can't wait until I can get with Antonio to learn the proper language to use while healing Clan members; Danny says that he is the expert on it."
"Dude, my ears hurt just thinking about that!" Steve laughed. "Get with Daileass to get a full medical update on the Genesis Project differences, you might need it. Give me a second, I'll make sure that you have access."
Steve paused, then said, "Hey Daileass, we've got a new medic here. It's Daivik, so who do I need to talk to so that he has full Genesis access to medical data?"
"I can do that, Steve." Daileass replied. "He's Archnanian, so all I needed was a legit reason to allow access to the sealed data. I have standing orders from Logan that I can determine and set clearances for any Archnanian that needs to access data in performance of their duties." After a few seconds pause, Daileass continued. "Access is set, and his medical tricorder is updated for direct link."
"Thanks, bro." Steve replied.
The wrestling match finally began winding down, and a minute later all five of the participants were standing in front of Tracy. Gregg, Nick, Andreas, and Killian were all nude, their clothes turned to rags scattered over the floor. All five were grinning, which in the case of three of them would scare most normal people. There were obvious fresh bruises forming on Gregg and Nick, but it did not seem to faze either of them.
"Sweet! I get to try out my dermal regenerator!" Daivik exclaimed as he rushed over.
"You know, Gabe never told me he was assigning two insane guards to us." Tracy commented with a grin.
"Hey, if we're gonna be partners with Andreas, Killian, and Jorge, we've got to know what they're doing in a hand-to-paw confrontation!" Nick grinned.
"Besides, it was a fun workout!" Gregg added. "I learned a few tricks already!"
"You guys did really good for squishies!" Andreas interjected. "You weren't afraid of any of us; I think we're gonna make an awesome team."
"Yep, totally bonkers!" Tracy giggled. He then took the chance to actually look at the security team. The twins had followed his instructions, not shaving while on Archnania. Their faces now had fur in the pattern of an adult human's normal facial hair. The body hair was interesting; it was what you'd expect on a late teen human, yet instead of the follicles producing the fine hair that humans have, they produced the coarser and longer bear hair. It produced an interesting effect; while they definitely came nowhere near the coat that Jorge carried, the hair that did grow was enough to give the illusion that their already-huge arms and legs were even larger. Interestingly, the pubic patch had hair closer to what was on their faces.
Karl noticed the embarrassment starting to creep in on the twins from Tracy's inspection, and commented "Hey guys, you've got nothing to be ashamed of. I've seen Scott nude, he's fourteen and your somewhere near him for development. All the hair you've got adults get anyway; you just got longer hair that makes it so you are scarier to people that cross you."
Just then, Kirk and Marcus wandered in. "Kewl! Cute bare bear butts!" Kirk giggled.
"I wonder if they cuddle as good as they look?" Marcus added. "You take left, I've got right... CUDDLE TEST!"
Even Jorge began a bear-version of laughing at the looks on Andreas and Killian's faces as Kirk and Marcus performed a record-time stripping of the clothes and rushed over to cuddle their chosen hybrid. Killian and Andreas took their cues from the two eleven-year-olds now attached to their chests, and were shortly engaged in their first nude cuddle with a normal human.
After about a minute, Kirk pulled his head back long enough to kiss the tip of Killian's nose. "I like you, I wanna keep you! You wanna go find a private spot so we can cuddle better and make ourselves boyfriends?"
Killian's eyes got wide. "Really? Why me?"
"You're cute, you're strong, you're cute, you'll make sure I never have to worry about bad guys taking me ever again, you're cute, you cuddle nice, oh, and you're cute!" Kirk replied.
Before Killian could form a reply, Kirk wrapped his arms around Killian's neck and lifted himself just enough to wrap his legs around the back of Killian's calves. "Carry me please, cutie?"
"Last room on the left, and use the doorknob this time!" Steve prodded. "Listen to each other, and try not to break everything in the room!"
Taking the hint, and trying to process the new feelings that he was experiencing, Killian wordlessly turned and carried Kirk out of the room.
Marcus, on the other hand, wasn't being quite as shy as his brother. "Andreas, I want you to check out me while I check out you." he stated as he began using one of his hands to feel the hair growing on Andreas' left arm.
Andreas was just as confused as his brother at the new feelings he was experiencing, but was calmed by the assuredness of the boy who was causing them. Once they had explored each other's arms right down to the fingertips, they started on each other's head and face. Taking his cue from the soft comments of appreciation that Marcus was making, Andreas began softly telling Marcus how soft his hair was, then commenting on his skin and features as he made his way across Marcus' face.
They were halfway down each other's upper torso when the sensory overload caused their bodies to react. Almost in unison, they pulled against each other, with Marcus pulling Andreas' face to his and locking lips. Seconds later, the combination of a muffled growl and a muffled groan told everyone what had just happened, even though they had all stopped watching as it started out of respect for the two boy's privacy.
Gregg was the first to turn around and look, his concern for his little brother stronger than any reason to give him privacy. What he saw made him smile; they were standing there holding each other close, chins resting on each other's shoulders. The pair were softly caressing each other while trying to maintain maximum body contact, and Andreas' face, which was the only one Gregg could see, had a peaceful expression that would melt the hardest heart.
"I love you. Marry me?" Marcus said just loud enough to be heard.
"Yes." Andreas replied peacefully.
"Now?" Marcus purred.
"Do we have to stop cuddling?"
"No. Never wanna stop." Marcus replied.
"Yes. Now. Love you more."
"You're my favorite silly teddy bear. Love you more than more. You think Tracy heard?"
"He heard, I think he's in shock. Love you to infinity."
"Why ain't we married yet then? Love you past infinity."
"PLEASE marry them and get it over with! You're a Director now, it's all legal!" Gregg groaned.
Tracy nodded. "Do you, Andreas Butler... ahh, shit, screw it! You're married, go find a room! Any AI that's listening, log it!"
"Logged!" four voices announced at once over the room's speakers.
A second later, Ark inserted its observations. <Congratulations, Director. Along with holding the record for the shortest duration between the forming of a Division and the first marriage, you now also hold the Clan record for the shortest duration between initial meeting and commitment, as well as the shortest ceremony. You have set the bar high, I believe you will hold these records for quite a long time.>
Tracy laughed as he watched his husband's security team exit the room to find some privacy. "Thanks, Ark. That kind of record I like holding!"
The entire room cracked up as Jorge stood up and gave Tracy's face a thank-you lick, then padded over to the door to go mingle with the rest of the kids.
"Good idea!" Steve giggled. "Should we see how Jax is holding up?"
"Yeah; we'll catch up with you guys in a minute." Tracy replied with a grin.
The pair headed over to the room next door while everyone else went out to spread the latest news. They had to grab the door frame for support as soon as they saw what was going on inside the room; Jax and all four nine-year-olds were happily batting the huge ball of yarn around the room.
"I thought you guys were relaxing!" Tracy giggled.
"We were; if we weren't in a secure area I'd swear someone was breaking down doors!" Jax replied as he batted the ball towards Adrian.
"You know how excited the teddy bears get; Andreas and Killian kinda forgot to use the doorknob!" Steve chuckled.
"Maybe Marcus and Kirk can teach them how to use one; but who's gonna teach Jorge?" Tracy giggled.
"Hold up!" Jax said as he stopped the ball. "Did you just say the teddy bears took names?"
"Yep; I like my little brothers to answer to a real name instead of 'hey you'." Tracy replied.
Steve was unable to get out of the way as Jax pounced Tracy without warning, his four nine-year-old cohorts almost immediately behind him. "You gave them FAMILY! I KNEW you'd be perfect for them!" he exclaimed as he hugged the stuffing out of Tracy.
Tracy's reply was cut off by the building-wide announcement system coming online. "Attention all personnel! We have just received confirmation, the CSSF Iowa is being credited as delivering the kill shot on the Romulan ship. I say again, the final score is CSSF Iowa one, Romulans zero!"
Tracy took one more quick look at his group as they exited the Federation Security shuttle. Steve and Adrian were in full dress uniforms, and carrying themselves accordingly. Karl was dressed like Tracy; wearing black dress pants, a green Clan polo shirt, and a black hooded cloak bearing insignia showing his status. All five of the bodyguards, including Jorge, were in black bodysuits. Jorge was a walking weapon, so he was the only one not armed to the teeth. The other four carried phasers and pistols, with Gregg and Nick having their newly-issued Phasenmorphs as equalizers. Marcus and Kirk had joined them as well, and were dressed similar to Tracy and Karl. There hadn't really been much to cause Tracy to argue their joining the group, not after Killian and Andreas had 'requested' that both boys be issued phasenmorphs immediately. All of the team had the new Division logo on their uniforms; the Clan logo with crossed lightning bolts superimposed over a silhouette of the CSSF Iowa.
As they approached the main gate, a Master Chief Petty Officer, in full dress uniform, exited the building and walked towards the group, stopping at a respectful distance away from them. He locked eyes with Tracy, then saluted him. "Master Chief Watson reporting for escort duty, Sir."
Having been briefed by Steve as to military protocol, Tracy returned the salute. "At ease, Master Chief. Please revert to informal protocols as a courtesy to my security force; strict formality tends to distract them."
"As you wish, Director." Master Chief Watson replied. "Federation Security has already verified your identities, so we can bypass the normal security checks and I can get you out to the pier to see the Iowa coming in. I have already called ahead and advised Shore Patrol and the Quarterdecks that an armed unit will be transversing the base."
"Thanks, Master Chief." Tracy replied. "We're ready when you are."
The group followed the Master Chief through the gate, and he led them to a group of four-seat golf carts, all bearing Clan Short flags on the front right corner. He smiled as he told them "I figured the normal transportation for official visits would be unsuitable, so I procured these to allow you a better view. I'm just waiting for my retirement chit to be processed, so I'm not really worried about the brass raising a stink."
"How'd you like to retire to Fort Lauderdale, all expenses paid?" Karl half-joked.
"Son, if you're offering me a job with Clan Short, you've got a deal," the Master Chief replied.
Tracy turned to Steve. "Lieutenant?"
"Already on it, Sir," Steve replied professionally. "Clearances are clean, Base is accelerating retirement review. Correction, review has been accepted. Estimated time for processing of exit paperwork is thirty minutes. I really hate all this red tape. We should be able to schedule the official ceremony to happen on the deck of the Iowa within the next two hours."
"Welcome to Clan Short, Master Chief." Tracy grinned. "Sorry for the delay, but red tape takes a little bit to wade through."
"You're accomplishing in two HOURS what usually takes at least two MONTHS, and you're apologizing?" the Master Chief asked in shock. "Sir, I have no idea what strings you're pulling, but I am looking forward to working with your team!"
"OUR team, Master Chief; you're already logged as on the roster." Tracy replied with a grin. "The rest of this paperwork is just a minor pain to keep the paper-pushers happy."
Master Chief Watson shook his head with a grin. "I see I've got a lot to learn!" he muttered as the group dispersed throughout the four carts.
With the Master Chief in the lead, and Steve, Adrian, and Jorge at the tail, the line of carts took off. It took fifteen minutes for them to reach the berths that had been reserved for the Clan Task Group. As they turned onto the road leading to the pier's gate, they found a huge crowd that slowly parted to allow them through.
"These are all volunteers to help with the civilians the Iowa rescued." Master Chief Watson explained over the inter-cart radio.
"Stop the carts." Tracy ordered. As soon as his cart was stopped, he stood up on the seat. "Everyone, can I have your attention!" he yelled.
The word had already quickly passed through the crowd that the carts carried Clan Short flags, so it didn't take long for the crowd to quiet down, still staying a respectful distance away due to Jorge joining Tracy.
"I am Director Tracy Butler, Alligator Alley Division. I have just been informed that all of you have dropped what you were doing to assist with the survivors from the 'Atlantic Son'. Your assistance is greatly appreciated, and I am going to make any resources that you need available to you. Any member of the crew of the Iowa will be able to assist you; if they are not able to, they are going to be instructed to contact me directly to get you what you need. I'm sure I speak for all of the families of the survivors when I say thank you from the bottom of my heart!"
Tracy climbed down, and as the crowd cheered it's response they made their way to the gate, Jorge now jogging along next to Tracy's cart.
As Master Chief Watson checked in with the pier sentry, Tracy and the rest of the boys looked down the pier. The Jesse L. Brown was just finishing getting moored, with the brow in the process of being dropped. Her bow was pointed towards the channel, so they had a clear view of her damage. Tracy shook his head, and walked over to the guard shack. "Master Chief, what do I gotta do to visit the Brown?"
Seeing the look in Tracy's eyes, Master Chief Watson turned to the sentry. "Petty Officer Harding, notify the Brown's OOD to stand by for a diplomatic visit from Clan Short. Director Tracy Butler, Alligator Alley Division."
"Aye, Master Chief." Petty Officer Harding replied as he turned and ducked into the shack. A minute later, he came back out. "The Captain sends his regards and is awaiting the visit."
"Thank-you." Tracy and the Master Chief said in unison. As they turned to return to the rest of the group, Petty Officer Harding began opening the gate to allow them in.
The Brown had just shifted colors, transferring the quarterdeck to it's in-port location, when the pier echoed with the sound of the bos'n's whistle. "All hands, attention to Port!"
Tracy wasn't really sure what was going on, so he just went with the flow. They left the carts at the main gate, and walked towards the brow of the Brown. The realization hit him just as they reached the foot of the brow, as the Petty Officer of the Watch rang a bell four times. "Director, Clan Short Alligator Alley, Arriving." he announced over the 1MC.
"Now you know how I feel!" Steve whispered to Tracy.
"Watch it, or I'll get you promoted!" Tracy shot back before composing himself.
Killian and Andreas took the lead going up the brow, each of them stepping off to the side as soon as they reached the quarterdeck and coming to attention. Gregg escorted Tracy, with Nick and Karl directly behind him. Kirk and Marcus paired up next, Master Chief Watson directly behind them. Jorge brought up the rear, making sure nobody chickened out.
Tracy stepped onto the Quarterdeck, and immediately noticed the Captain was waiting off to the side. As he'd been instructed, he turned to the OOD and came to attention. "Permission for myself and my team to come aboard, Sir?"
"Permission granted, Director Butler. Welcome to the Jesse L. Brown, Sir."
"Thank you, Lieutenant Cain." Tracy replied, having read the name-tag on the OOD's uniform.
With the initial formalities now completed, the group made their way over to the Captain.
"Hello Captain, I'm Director Tracy Butler." Tracy said as he held out his hand.
"Hello, Tracy. I'm Captain James Monroe. Welcome aboard, I'm appreciative of all the assistance that the Clan has already provided; with the way repairs are progressing, this ship will go into mothballs in better condition than new."
"Mothballs? We'll see about that." Tracy said with a grin. "Let me introduce my team."
Tracy made the introductions of everyone but Jorge, then began looking around for the wayward grizzly. He finally spotted him, obviously trying to 'talk' one of the sailors out of his sailor's hat.
"Jorge, get over here and stop trying to steal the poor guys hat!" Tracy laughed. "We'll buy you one in the ship's store before we leave!"
Jorge complied after giving the sailor a lick. He padded his way back over, an innocent expression on his face.
"Captain Monroe, this is Jorge Butler, Clan Security." Tracy said with a shake of his head at the mischievous grizzly. Jorge, for his part, was quite polite; he stood on his hind legs and extended a paw to shake hands with the Captain.
Captain Monroe's eyebrows raised as he shook the extended paw. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Jorge."
"Rarrwwwrrrrw rrrwrrr rwrrrarar." Jorge replied.
"Hey lil' bro, he don't know Grizzly, yet!" Andreas giggled.
Jorge turned his head and stuck out his tongue, then blew a fair approximation of a raspberry at his big brother.
"I think I figured it out!" Captain Monroe laughed. "Going by the puddles on the deck, can I assume that you would be more comfortable if we went more informal?"
"Yes, please!" Tracy giggled.
"In that case, please call me Jim." Captain Monroe said with a grin. "Follow me, I believe we have an appointment in the Ship's Store."
The entire group began laughing as Jorge bounded over to the nearest hatch, used his nose to lift the dogging bar, then pawed the hatch open. "Okay, but don't run ahead!" Jim laughed as Jorge wiggled his way through the hatch.
Tracy almost lost it when they went down the ladder to the next deck down. Jorge put a paw on each rail, then slid down. The funny part was that it took five minutes for Jim, with the twins translating, to talk Jorge out of spending the rest of the day repeating the new game over and over.
Once they got Jorge moving again, in no time they were at the tiny space which passed for a ship's store. The crew members outside the store made way for the excited grizzly, watching in wonder as him and the Captain managed to squeeze in the room. The passageways rang with much-needed laughter when, a few minutes later, Jorge wiggled back out of the room. He had a sailor's hat perched on top of his head, and was carrying a ship's cup by the handle in his mouth.
"C'mere, goofball!" Marcus giggled as he opened the supplies bag that he was carrying. "Put it in here, I'll get it back out for you when we get home!"
"Rrrrrrraraarr rrar" Jorge replied as he padded over and sat the cup gently into the bag. "Rarrr."
Jim shook his head as he watched. "That is the most intelligent bear I have ever seen!" he laughed.
"He just complimented our little brother..." Andreas began.
"He must want cuddles..." Killian continued.
"We can't let him go without..." Andreas stated as they began moving into position.
"So we cuddle test NOW!" Killian finished as they launched themselves for the 'kill'.
After Jim recovered, he led them to the crew's mess deck. "Normally we'd go to the Officer's mess, but I think Jorge might find it a bit cramped." he explained as they walked. It only took a few minutes, and they were in one of the largest non-sleeping / non-weapons-related compartments on the ship. Noticing as soon as they cleared the hatch that lunch was being served, Jorge stood on his hind legs and got in line with the rest of the sailors.
The nearest sailor turned to Jorge, pointed at the steaks on the grill and growled.
Jorge nodded and ordered, "Rrrrraaaarrr."
Sputtering, the server plopped an extra rare steak down on a plate and passed it over, repeating "Rrrrraaaarrr."
Jorge gave him a thumb-claws up then pointed at a bowl of fruit being prepped off to the side. "Arrwrrr?" he asked as he held his paws out and moved them closer together.
The server recovered quickly. "Sure, one small bowl of fruit coming up!" he replied as he grabbed a cereal bowl and filled it to almost overflowing. "Go ahead and pick a table; I'll bring it right out."
"Awr rrar!" Jorge said with a nod as he hooked his claws over the plate's edges to stabilize it and then carried his main course to an open table.
Finally recovering from the sight of a grizzly bear in a bodysuit, wearing a sailor's hat, ordering and getting food from the mess line, Jim told the boys "Feel free to grab some chow, guys. We can talk after eating."
"Thanks, Jim!" Tracy replied for the group as they lined up behind him. It was obvious by the cook's reactions that their Captain was a regular visitor to the crew's mess, as none of them were in the least bit surprised to see him. The teddy-bear twins, on the other hand, caused some jaw-dropping.
"We'll have what our little brother's having, please!" Andreas stated for both of them, while pointing at Jorge.
"Rrrrraaaarrr?" the server asked incredulously.
"Rrrrraaaarrr!" both boys replied with slight grins as they nodded their heads rapidly.
"Okay, two mooing steaks coming right up!" the server responded. "Fruit bowls are on their way out."
"Thanks!" the twins replied in unison as they retrieved their plates and joined the rest of the group.
Jim watched in fascination as Jorge looked around the mess deck, realized that the sailors eating had removed their hats, then reached up and carefully removed his own and set it on the table. As the rest of the team found seats around him, Jorge put his paws together, softly growled a blessing, then lifted his head and waited for everyone to be ready.
Noticing that neither Jorge nor the twins has grabbed silverware, just napkins, Tracy made some quick guesses and warned everyone ahead of time by directing his comments at Jim. "Jim, just so you know, the twins and Jorge can't use silverware due to the nature of their diet. Normally, their food is still moving, so knives, spoons, and forks are kinda useless."
Andreas and Killian both gave Tracy a quick smile of thanks, realizing that their big brother had just covered for them not doing what was considered normal. Up to this point, they had both refused to learn things like using silverware due to their belief they weren't human; but now, with the supportive statements Tracy had made, they started to reconsider that decision. Both of them came to the same conclusion; their new partners had taught them love, so that is who they would turn to to teach them to be human.
Just as they were starting to eat, Master Chief Watson caught back up with them, having slipped off to tell his family to start packing for a move. He ended up sitting across from the twins and their partners, and watched them eat for a full minute before commenting. "Boys, you are making my dear old Grandpappy proud. He always said, 'if you ain't gotta chase it around the plate, it is overcooked'. He also always told us 'if you can hold it in your hand, there's no reason to use anything but the teeth God gave you to cut it'. He wasn't too popular at social gatherings, but with family we learned a lot of things that polite society has forgotten. My Daddy learned from him, and I learned from both of them. These 'wanna be Yankees' 'round here are trying to strip three generations of learning from my sons; I really hope you become friends with them, so they can learn from you and you can learn from them."
Andreas and Killian were speechless, not really sure if they had just been complimented or reprimanded. They got their answer as the Master Chief used his knife to score the bone, then effortlessly split his rare steak (he had told the cook 'Only enough time on the grill to singe any hair') into two pieces. Now a more manageable size, he proceeded to eat just like the boys and Jorge were.
Jim shook his head. "That, boys, is why Master Chiefs are considered the smartest and most dangerous sailors in the entire Fleet."
The entire group grinned at Jim's comment, then went back to the important task of eating. Jim was glad of one thing; Tracy's family seemed to have taught him to never discuss business during a meal, so it gave him a chance to observe the Clan representatives when they were being themselves.
Jim had spent a fair amount of his off-duty free time working with disadvantaged kids over his career, and had learned a few things which told him what their lives were really like. As he ate, he made mental notes about each of the boys.
His first notes were about Tracy, Karl, and Adrian. They were obviously from well-off families; little mannerisms that are only observed to impress others were exhibited by all three, and they ate their meal at a leisurely pace. This told him they were Clan because they wanted to help, not because something happened to them.
Next was Steve. He had the signs of a well-off family as well, but his portions going into his mouth were larger and his pace quicker; he had been born to a higher class family, but Jim guessed that this boy had seen time on the streets.
Kirk and Marcus, besides being obviously lovestruck with Andreas and Killian, ate smaller than normal bites and seemed to chew and savor them for an extended period. Those two Jim was certain had spent their lives with food available in small quantities, which meant either poor families or unusual circumstances. Jim was pretty sure it was a combination of both, and he was also pretty sure he would not be happy if he found out the details.
Without knowing why, Jim grouped Andreas, Killian, and Jorge into the last category. As he studied them, he came to a realization; the scuttlebutt was true, someone had messed with the genes of kids. With that possibility added into the equation, things began to fall in place. The twins, and that he was sure of, had progressed quite well on the human development scale, integrating their animal tendencies in a way that just seemed to fit. They were boys, definitely human boys, but unique in their humanity. With that, Jorge made sense. It wasn't kids joking when they called him their little brother; he really was blood relation. Based on the changes to the boys, Jim guessed that most likely Jorge was carrying human genes as well as his own in that furry body. That explained a lot of the unusual mannerisms of the bear, as well as the actual conversations which seemed to occur randomly.
Steve interrupted Jim's musings. "Captain, all three of us telepaths need to tell you that you think too loud! Expect a twin-hug after lunch; they couldn't hear you, so Jorge passed it on."
At Jim's shocked look, Master Chief Watson chuckled. "With all due respect, Captain, I figured it out by the way Jorge was exchanging glances with Steve outside the gate! When did they stop teaching observation in OCS?"
"About the same time as the Fleet stopped teaching Master Chiefs how to be wrong." Jim responded. "I wasn't being observant when I should have been."
Tracy watched the two adults, and made a mental note. As soon as he saw Adrian trip his subvocal, Tracy knew the ball was rolling. They finished their meal in relative peace, except for the short break where Kirk was 'helping' Killian try to catch a chunk of meat that supposedly wouldn't stop moving. The fact that Kirk was 'accidentally' scooting it to the other side of the plate with his fork as he play-stabbed at it just made the show more amusing.
The crowning moment, however, was when the Master Chief stood up and loudly threatened the meat with a transfer to the Coast Guard if it didn't stay still. That particular event had everyone on the Mess Deck rolling in laughter for a full five minutes.
Once things had calmed down, Tracy turned to Jim, since both of them had finished eating. "Jim, in case you didn't notice, we've been observing you more than you've been observing us. Before I get to why, I need to know if any sailors were lost when your ship took damage."
Surprised by the sudden shift in Tracy's manner, Jim replied. "There were twelve fatalities, and five more are getting emergency medical attention on the Iowa." he stated seriously.
"That's all I needed to hear." Tracy replied. He tapped his communicator, his face stone-serious.
"Starfleet Headquarters, Ensign Fink. How may I direct your call?"
"This is Director Butler, Clan Short Intelligence. I require a connection to Admiral Morrow."
"Acknowledged, Director. One minute please."
After a short pause, Admiral Morrow came on. "Hello Tracy; please tell me you have some good news?"
"Actually, I have a request as the Director of the homeport of the CSSF Iowa." Tracy replied. "I am presently onboard one of the ships which assisted in the destruction of the Romulan ship that attacked Washington. I believe that it would only be logical due to the fact Earth military vessels engaged invaders from outside our planetary sphere that the Federation extend full honors and full survivors benefits to those who sacrificed their lives in the protection of the planet. Suitable awards as would be issued to a Starfleet vessel which had engaged in a similar action are also logical."
"Just great; Cory's got a twin, and he's been made a Director." Admiral Morrow quipped. "Just like your twin, you're right on all points. Going by your tone, I will assume this is an official request. I'll start the wheels rolling in between emergencies."
"Your cooperation is appreciated, Admiral." Tracy replied. "Live long and prosper."
The call ended, and Adrian broke into giggles. "Bro, you took those Vulcan lessons Steve gave you, added lawyer from your Dad, and blew him away!"
"Just wait; that was just the warm-up!" Tracy replied. "Thanks for the intel, Adrian; now you get to see me at my best, this is more fun than tapping a Congressman's office!"
Even Master Chief Watson watched with raised eyebrows as Tracy started his next call. Jim had a funny feeling that he was looking at a boy who got what he wanted once he put his mind to it, and he'd set his sights on some very large targets.
"George, this is Tracy. Connect me to Mister Powell, the highest security he can receive."
"Connecting, Director. I saved your call to the Admiral for Cory; Seth said he will love it."A few seconds later, Colin Powell came on the call. "Director Butler, we speak again. Thank you for the communications assistance, I've been told that you're actually achieving better reliability than our standard systems."
"You're welcome, Mr. Powell." Tracy replied. "While the timing of what I wish to request might at first seem improper, I am looking forward in case of additional need for us to mobilize the CSSF Iowa."
"In other words, you don't think we're out of the shitstorm yet." Colin stated. "Go ahead, I'm listening."
"It has come to my attention that the Atlantic Fleet intends to remove from active service the two vessels designated Jesse L. Brown and O'Bannon. Both vessels have received damage, and Clan Short is assisting with repairs. While we are actively assisting any damaged vessel which requests our assistance, the logic of removing from service two ships who were part of the fleet which downed a Romulan invader escapes me. I am prepared to accept the immediate transfer of both vessels to Clan Short for immediate upgrade to Clan Standards. Due to the unavailability of training time, it would be logical for the crews which are familiar with the vessel to remain onboard once they pass standard Clan Short screening."
"Where's that damn seal? Someone give me a pen that works, dammit! Print the damn transcript already! I don't give a flying fuck if it's not official; Congress can kiss my ass if they don't like it! Oh shit - what dumbass turned on voice activation on the terminal?" The call suddenly went quiet, as the other end was muted.
A minute later, Colin came back on. "Director, I agree with your observations. Effective immediately, both ships are permanently transferred to Clan Short Fleet. After this most recent conversation, why is it I get the feeling that you're behind the official notice of intent I just received? It seems the Federation has decided that ALL Armed Services personnel who participated in the defense of Earth are to receive full Federation benefits and honors."
"It is only logical that they do so, Sir." Tracy replied.
"And you've definitely got lawyer genes somewhere recent in your history, son." Colin replied. "If the rest of the Clan leadership is anything like you, the Universe is in deep shit. Take care of yourself, I want to meet you after this is done with."
"I'm looking forward to it. Clan Short out." Tracy replied.
The connection closed, and the entire group let loose the laughter that they had been holding in since the open microphone incident.