Leon was curious as he followed the submarine-black motorhome into the crew's parking lot. "I wonder who that is?" he asked out loud, deciding to take a spot next to it just to satisfy his curiosity.
"You want me to check it out, Dad?" Jeff asked softly, trying not to wake his three sleeping brothers in the back seat.
"It will be safe; Emmy controls the gate, the guards are there to act as his eyes and ears," Leon explained.
"Okay," Jeff replied, satisfied that security was under control. "Do you think William was mad at me for the job I gave him?"
"No," Leon replied seriously. "We talked while you guys were wrestling with Jorge. He was honored that you thought of him, at least he was after I convinced him that you really did have the authority to do that. Since his son is so busy with medical school, he was becoming lonely. you gave him a purpose again, and he'll never forget that."
"Thanks," Jeff replied softly. "I guess we have to wake up the runts, don't we?"
"Yes, but I've got a little advice for you," Leon replied, being very careful to make sure his voice conveyed the fact he was not mad. "I know Harry understands that you call him 'runt' out of love, and it seems like Gerry has decided it is an honor that you extended the nickname to him. Since Petey is the youngest, he's the most likely to take that the wrong way. Just be careful, all three of your little brothers need you, just in different ways."
Jeff giggled. "If you'd said that to me before we stopped to eat, I woulda told you where to go and gave you directions! I probably would've got mad if it was while we were shopping, too. After we took care of those jerks though, suddenly I felt different. I'll try my best, but you might have to help me."
"That I can do, son," Leon replied with a smile. "I bet I know what was different, too."
"What?" Jeff asked, his voice curious.
"That was probably the first time in your life that an adult who was in charge of your welfare didn't step in and tell you to do things his way. You and your brothers took control, and you each did what needed to be done in the way you thought best."
"Is that why you let me go shop by myself?"
"Good catch," Leon smiled. "Your brothers had already proved they needed guidance, but I trusted that you would be able to control yourself since you already learned to guide Harry."
"Didn't you worry when Harry took charge and I didn't stop him?"
"If William had made one wrong move, I was set to vaporize his head," Leon admitted. "But there is one thing that I insist my security teams practice onboard the ship; they all need to be able to take charge of a situation. Especially during an invasion of the ship, when the chain-of-command is easily temporarily broken. Even if you didn't intend it, by you letting Harry take charge he now knows he has both your and my trust to react to any situations that may happen. Gerry's on his way to that point as well, I was impressed with him following your instructions no matter who was being attacked. Don't be surprised if Petey wants to be like his big brothers, and don't underestimate what he can do."
"That makes sense, I hope I can explain it that good when Harry decides he needs to apologize for not letting me run things."
"I'll help if you need it," Leon replied. "When it comes down to you guys being on-duty, they are your team and I'll only get involved if you ask me to. I do plan on sitting down with Harry and Gerry to give them the praise they deserve for their actions today personally, though."
"They need that, even more than I did," Jeff admitted. "Thanks for the talk, Dad; I understand how things work a little better now."
"Any time you want to talk, I'll either stop what I'm doing, or make time as soon as possible to talk to you," Leon promised. "If this works like the rest of the Clan families, your brothers are going to be counting on you most of the time, and then you come to me when they stump you. While you're already used to having a brother count on you, having a parent to go to is going to seem strange for a little bit until you get used to it."
"I'm not gonna argue!" Jeff giggled before opening his door.
Leon disabled the overhead light to ease the stain on the boy's eyes, then turned on a map light to provide just enough glow to see. He then turned his head and watched as Jeff carefully opened Harry's door, then leaned in and kissed Harry's forehead. "C'mon Runt, time to get up!" Jeff whispered barely loud enough to hear.
"Do I gotta?" Harry moaned.
"Yep, Dad's waiting on us, bro," Jeff responded softly.
"Okay, I guess," Harry grunted as he rubbed his eyes. "Let me out, I gotta stretch."
Jeff moved out of the way long enough for Harry to get out, then leaned back in after getting a wake-up hug. "Petey, c'mon little bro, time to get up so you can see the ship."
"We there already?" Petey mumbled as he reached out and latched onto Jeff's chest.
"Yeah, we're home, little bro," Jeff replied as he helped Petey out of the SUV. After passing Petey off to Harry, he then climbed in after his last brother. "Gerry, wake up, we have to show our little brother our new home."
Gerry's eyes shot open, then he quickly looked around. Once he saw Jeff's face, his body relaxed. "I thought this was a dream," he admitted shyly.
"It's a dream come true, bro," Jeff agreed. "Harry and Petey are waiting for you."
"Okay, move so I can get my Harry cuddles," Gerry giggled as he began scooting towards Jeff, forgetting that he had a door on his side.
Once Gerry was safely out, Leon turned the interior lighting back to normal, then got out and locked the Land Rover. After a quick stop to give the four boys in a group cuddle a hug, Leon went over to the motor home, curious as to why nobody had came out yet. Just as he was getting ready to knock, a young voice that he instantly recognized as Mark's son Brian yelled "Terry! Stop stroking your pussy! Dad's waiting on us!"
"Brian!" Leon heard Mark exclaim as everyone inside started laughing.
Leon's hand froze as he seriously considered if he really wanted to know what the very first youth crew members of the Iowa had done this time. Deciding that not knowing might be hazardous, Leon knocked loudly while yelling "Shore Patrol!"
Overhearing their new dad, Jeff, Harry, Gerry, and Petey ran over, all wondering what Leon was up to. Before they had time to ask questions, Mark opened the door, smiling when he saw Leon and four unfamiliar boys.
"Hey Leon," Mark grinned. "I think you've got the wrong place, I've already hit my quota on sons for the month."
"You can't have them," Leon laughed, "They all requested a sane father."
After sticking his head out the door and looking around, Mark quipped "Where is he? I'd like to meet him."
"Mark!" a female voice announced, "Either go outside or let them in, you're letting the air conditioning out! This isn't your birth barn!"
"I'm starting to remember why I was single," Mark grinned. "C'mon in and meet the zoo."
"I heard that," the owner of the female voice stated as she playfully backhanded Mark's head. "You really are shooting for hanging a hammock off the gun barrels, aren't you?"
"It wouldn't be the first time," Leon sniggered. "He's banned from the mess decks anytime they serve chili." Holding out his hand, Leon stated "I'm Commander Leon Schmidt, Captain of the Iowa. It is a pleasure to meet you."
"Kandra Williams, as of a half hour ago," Kandra replied. "I gave birth to Mark's youngest, and we've adopted the rest." Tilting her head, Kandra added "Speaking of which, I think we might have an issue."
Leon turned, and felt pride at the sight in front of him. All four of his boys had created a wall blocking anyone in back from attacking their dad. In return, two gorrilla boys and two cat boys were blocking access to the back. Both groups stared each other down, neither giving an inch. Figuring it was worth a shot, Leon ordered "Clan Security, as Captain of the FCSS Iowa, I order you to stand down. You're on the same team, guys, so stop trying to prove who has bigger balls."
"You heard him, guys," Mark added. "He's the Captain of our ship, and those boys are with him."
Figuring a little tension-breaking was needed, Leon added "Whichever of you two little guys was being stroked by Terry, go get the rest of your group and we'll do introductions."
"You'd better run!" Terry exclaimed as Brian came running from the back of the motorhome, Terry only a few paces behind him. Brian hit the door running, skipping the steps as he tried to outrun his irritated little brother. Catching Jeff's eye, Leon asked "Jeff? Could you please make sure neither of them gets hurt?"
"I'm on it, Dad," Jeff replied as he twisted around and left the motorhome.
Noticing the twelve new faces looking at him warily, Leon joked "You know, Mark, family is not a competition to see how many you can collect!"
"Hey, officially two of them are Cory's!" Mark protested.
"That only means you get less time before you are a grandfather," Leon prodded. He saw the discomfort on both Harry and Gerry's faces, so added "Boys, it's okay to have a family cuddle during introductions. Why don't we find a seat, and the three of you can sit with me while we wait for Jeff to drag your cousins back?"
"Give me just a second, I'll deploy the extensions so we have room," Mark stated. "My guys like to cuddle too, so don't be embarrassed," he added, looking at Harry.
Harry nodded, then guided his brothers to shuffle backwards until they were firmly pressed against Leon. Watching this, Jordan recognized the issue, and turned to his brothers. "C'mon guys, grab a seat on the floor. I don't think they're comfortable with groups of strangers."
Just about all of them shifted around to sit in a mass cuddle; all except Damon and his new best buddy Simon. Making use of his skill to keep Harry from freaking out, Damon pulled Simon with him to meet the new guys.
"Hi! I'm Damon, and this is one of my two best friends in the whole universe, Simon. I'm not adopted, thats my real Mommy and Dad your Dad was talking to." Looking straight at Harry, Damon added "I'm an Empath too, according to Ty, and he's the expert! He says to tell you I'll be able to help you learn how to block it so it ain't on all the time, that way you ain't gotta be scared of cuddles from people you don't really trust anymore. Me and Simon are gonna help shield you so that you can meet all my new brothers and not be so scared of them, okay? Terry's gonna help too after he kicks Brian's butt."
"I'm Harry, the little guy is Petey, and that is Gerry. Our big brother Jeff is chasing your brothers," Harry stated softly.
Not totally sure about what was going on, Gerry asked "Why are you helping us when you don't know us?"
Damon smiled. "I don't gotta know you, you're my brother too because of Clan Short."
"Yeah," Simon added, "DJ says that we gotta help all of our brothers, just like all of our brothers will help us."
"Who's DJ?" Gerry asked, looking around.
"He's not here," Leon interjected. "He's the big brother of all of Cory Short's kids. Cory's the Patriarch of Family Clan Short, and ultimately my Commanding Officer. He's fourteen, but if he added two more sons that takes him up to nineteen kids if I'm counting right."
"Close enough, me and Tommy are still counting them!" Simon giggled. "I'm telling Dad that you're calling him that name again though!"
"I'm pretty sure that none of my boys will mind a pet," Leon chuckled. "I'll just beat Timmy to issuing them one."
At that point, the door opened, Jeff leading Brian and Terry in. Leaving his two grinning companions to join their brothers, Jeff quickly came over to check on the two new guys talking to his brothers and dad. "I miss anything?"
"Just Damon and Simon deciding to help your brothers with their fright of new people," Leon explained, tilting his head to indicate which name went with which boy.
"Kewl, thanks guys!" Jeff smiled. "Gerry and Petey have only been Clan for a few hours, so we're still helping them understand how things work."
"You can have Brian help, he's good at makin' it make sense!" Damon offered. "He don't screw it up like adults do."
Before Kandra's correction of her son's statement could leave her mouth, Leon chuckled. "No genetic test needed; you're absolutely Mark's son by blood."
"That doesn't excuse disrespect," Kandra stated.
"It's not disrespect when he's right, Kandra," Leon explained. "Our views are tainted by the world we grew up in, the very world these boys are changing at this very moment. The reason Mark is in charge of moving the Fleet to Clan standard is he never developed a filter if he saw something wrong. In the process, I think he set a record for non-judicial punishments in the US Navy. Within a minute of me announcing that we were Clan, his filter failed once again, which earned him a promotion to the rank he now holds and the assignment to his current job."
"Mark is the reason all of these boys are about to join a very select group; they are the first wave of youth to live on an Iowa-class battleship, ever. We're still undergoing conversion to Clan specifications, after that is done the ship will be officially re-commissioned. At that point, they earn a title coveted by any sailor, anywhere... Plankowner. In the eyes of any Sailor that joins the crew after commissioning, the Plankowners 'own' the ship, and in the past they were given the right to a section of deck planking upon the de-commissioning of the ship. They also get honors rendered when they depart the ship for the last time as a crewmember."
"So you just encourage it?" Kandra asked, still not convinced.
"No," Leon explained, "I trust his peers to steer him towards when it is appropriate. I had the good luck of having the Alligator Alley Director and his team come onboard when we pulled in to deliver the passengers of the 'Atlantic Sun'. I watched as a boy who isn't even thirteen yet directed a major refugee intake and processing operation. I watched a nine-year-old boy take charge of an in-port response to a rogue ship, coordinating not only the ships at the pier out there, but also US Navy Atlantic Fleet ships in the region. I saw multiple youth rescued from abuse, new families formed, and even whole families joining the Clan's mission. All of that was with the adults present taking their orders from the youth, and the youth keeping each other on track."
Leon paused, fully aware that he had the ear of everyone in the motorhome. "Two of my new sons have Clan training in Security, Jeff and Brian. Yet, on our way to get Petey, I watched all three of the eldest boys control situations that would have resulted in at least screaming matches with adults. First, when I was paged in a store that nobody knew I was at, I took a chance and called a security alert. Jeff immediately took charge, just like he should do as the head of my security team. Without asking, Gerry minimized the obstacles that could get us hurt, freeing Harry to provide extra protection. At that point, without asking, Harry took charge of discovering what the page was about. Not only did he do that, but he ended up recruiting a new crewmember."
Pausing to give his blushing middle sons a squeeze, Leon smiled then continued. "William, you'll meet him tomorrow, escorted us to the room where Petey was waiting for us with Adrian, Stevie, and Jorge. Any of you that don't know those three, ask Brian and Terry; they've got hours of thing they can tell you. Anyway, a manager had called security in, and started an altercation with William. One of the security guards made the mistake of attacking Jeff; before anyone else could respond, Gerry took him out by slamming him into a wall with a shopping cart. The other guard rightly put his friendship with William over the manager's orders, and the Manager got a really good look at the business end of Jeff's phaser; now she's awaiting Federation trial. In an afternoon, these guys went from youth that felt they would never have a real family to brothers who know their back is covered. They also proved they have the capability to work together and impress the hell out of their new father."
"I think I see the point," Kandra admitted. "By leaving them to their own devices, the boys made decisions that met or exceeded the results that we would have had working within 'the system'. Our boys had their own fun, but that's a story that can wait until tomorrow. I'm sure they'll be swapping details while we're talking out how it looked to me."
Efficient as ever, Emmy had new identification already waiting at the pier guardhouse, along with commbadges for those who needed them still. Once they issuing was done, Mark and Leon led the way onto the pier. Both men grinned as everyone but Brian and Terry came to a stop, captivated by the sheer size of their new home.
"It didn't look this big in the pictures I saw!" Jeff exclaimed.
"Those guns are bigger around than me!" Damon giggled.
Jordan managed a "Whoa!", but not much else, while the rest of the new family just stood there in shock.
Mark leaned over to Leon, whispering "I told the Quarterdeck to render honors; I think your boys will get a kick out of it!"
"Thanks," Leon acknowledged. "I'm starting to get used to no bells!"
After giving enough time for the scale of their new home to set in, Mark and Leon enlisted the help of Terry and Brian to get everyone moving again. Obviously the Quarterdeck had passed the message, because suddenly the O'Bannon's petty officer of the watch rang eight bells, followed by "Iowa, Passing". As the group reached the foot of the Iowa's brow, eight bells were rang by the Iowa's quarterdeck, followed by a young voice announcing over the 1MC "Iowa, Arriving."
Leon led the parade up the brow, with Kandra making sure there were no stragglers. Upon reaching the head of the brow, Leon stopped, turned to face the ensign at the stern, and came to attention. After a pause, he then turned to the Officer Of The Deck, coming to attention again. "Permission to come aboard, Sir?"
"Permission Granted, Captain," the teen replied.
At that point, Leon stepped onto the quarterdeck, quickly telling the OOD that the entire group were now residents of the ship. As Mark was requesting permission to board, Leon asked the Messenger of the Watch to notify the Command Duty Officer that his presence was requested on the Bridge.
As the Messenger ran off, Leon turned to find Petey doing his very best to imitate what he'd seen his new dad, his new uncle, and his big brothers doing when they came aboard. His face was totally serious as he repeated the ceremony, despite never having it explained to him why he was doing it.
Once aboard, Petey ran over to Leon. "Did I do it right, Daddy?" he asked hopefully.
"You did great, Petey," Leon replied with a smile. "Do you think you can remember to do that?"
"Yeah, that's easy!" Petey replied. "Why did they ring the bells?"
"The ring those to honor people in authority," Leon explained. "Due to my rank, they ring eight time for me. We've got new rules, so usually they don't do that except on special occasions, but we had them do it this time as a treat for you guys."
"Awesome, thanks Daddy!" Petey grinned as he gave Leon a hug.
Leon picked Petey up, carrying him along to meet up with Kandra as she finally boarded. "Kandra, please make sure that none of the guys get lost, I'm going to show them the Bridge before we split off to our staterooms."
"I'll try," Kandra smiled. "They're kind of curious, you know."
"Mark's going to be at the half-way point in the column, so you'll have help."
"Mark? Help?" Kandra shook her head, "Those two words should never be used in the same sentence. I'd feel much safer having one of the boys take charge, they're more responsible."
"Thanks a lot!" Mark commented from behind Kandra. "Now who is shooting for the hammock?"
"The difference is that you don't have the nerve to do it, hon," Kandra sniggered.
"Okay, no fights on the quarterdeck!" Leon chuckled, "Let's get this mob up to the bridge."
To the surprise of the adults, the group was well behaved, stopping occasionally to ask questions about things they found but otherwise moving at a good pace. Once they reached the bridge, however, it was a free-for-all. With Brian and Terry acting as guides, the boys plastered themselves to the windows as various features were pointed out.
"Kan, you might want to join the boys; Bri and Terry are really good at giving the welcome aboard tour," Mark advised.
"I'll trust you on that," Kandra replied as she turned to join their sons.
As Leon checked in with the CDO, Mark snuck over to the 1MC. "Attention all hands! Be advised the Captain has adopted four sons. Cookies will now be served at all meals. That is all."
Leon intercepted the microphone before Mark could replace it. "All hands, this is the Captain. Petty Officer Williams has added eight more sons and a wife. You are authorized to instruct all of his new family in advanced parental torture ASAP. That is all."
"You do realize this means war," Mark chuckled. "I have your troops outnumbered, and can call in reserves from Cory's family. I think Timmy and Ricky need to spend a couple of days and nights onboard pretty soon."
"Give it your best shot," Leon laughed. "Now, have you told them that they are responsible for any prints left on the ports?"
"You know Brian and Terry won't leave them like that," Mark replied. "They chew me out for water spots in the shower!"
"Point taken," Leon chuckled. "Hopefully their brothers are more tolerant."
"Honestly, I hope their brothers pick up on it," Mark grinned. "They all could use a little control over their own lives, and the leadership training never hurts."
"Okay, I'm impressed!" Leon exclaimed as he looked around his newly reconfigured stateroom. "It looked nothing like this here when I left this morning!"
"This is awesome!" Jeff exclaimed as he threw himself into one of the 'lounges' along the bulkhead. There were three of them, each easily able to hold two adults. Leon took a closer look, and found that they had obviously been modified for shipboard use; there were no un-attached components, the tags indicated flammability risk was minimal, and provisions were present to strap down during rough seas. Each unit had lidded compartments on the arms, large enough to hold quite a few items that might commonly be used by kids while sitting there.
Leon smiled as he looked over and found all four boys piled into one chair. Figuring now was as good of time as any, he prepared himself for the classic Navy housekeeping lecture, only to be interrupted by Emmy.
"Uncle Leon?" Emmy asked, his tone exceedingly innocent.
"What did you do to Mark this time, Emmy?" Leon chuckled.
"Nothing... yet," Emmy giggled. "I'll take ideas though!"
"You come up with enough on your own," Leon laughed. "How can I help, kiddo?"
"Uncle Noah and Uncle Caleb just finished settin' up your new AI and they wanna know if you wanna bring him online," Emmy gushed.
"Send them in, little guy," Leon chuckled. "This should be fun."
By the time the words were out of his mouth, Noah, Caleb, Hunter, and Ron appeared just inside the hatch. "Barnes family, reporting as ordered, SIR!" all four exclaimed in unison while giving Leon Boy Scout salutes.
Leon returned the salute, then stated "Have a seat, smart alecks." He quickly introduced all four newcomers to his sons, then asked "Where do we need to go to do this?"
"We can do it here," Noah giggled as his group claimed a chair. "Hey Emmy! Get a couple of these for our places, they're awesome!"
"Okay Uncle Noah!" Emmy replied.
Noah fished around the arm of the chair, coming up with a keyboard after a few tries. "I knew there would be one here somewhere," Noah grinned. "Emmy, terminal Gamma Seven Echo on the main screen, please."
"You can do that?" Leon asked as he took the last seat, pointing at the 60 inch screen mounted on the bulkhead. "I figured that was just local."
"Any screen on the ship's entertainment system is able to be remapped," Caleb explained. "For security purposes, only your screen and the one in the server room can get root access. You also have access to any equipment screen onboard once everything is online, no matter where you are on the ship."
"That works for me," Leon said as he helped Petey get comfortable. Looking down at his youngest, Leon asked "How are you doing, little guy?"
"Okay," Petey giggled, "you looked lonely over here, so I thought I'd give you some cuddles."
"You can give me cuddles any time you want, Petey," Leon replied as he gave Petey a squeeze, getting a sunny smile in response.
"What're you doing, Noah?" Gerry asked, watching Noah type what looked like random things into the screen.
"I'm initializing the final boot routine," Noah explained as he kept typing. "Right now I'm running the final diagnostics, then we'll be ready to load a personality imprint into him."
"I wish I could do things like that," Gerry commented.
"Well, get over here and start learning!" Hunter stated as he nudged Caleb to scoot over. "You'll help Harry a lot if you learn it, you'll be a great team."
"Huh?" Gerry and Harry exclaimed.
"Just roll with it," Leon laughed. "Noah's the second in command of the AI Division. They probably know more about you than I do, guys. Since Harry's Intel, that means you'll be Intel as well, just more specialized."
"Do it, Ger," Jeff advised. "You ain't limited by parents, dude. You want to learn it, go ahead. It looks like a monkey typing with his forehead to me."
Just then, Caleb piped up "Hey, Dufus! You might wanna initialize that memory bank first!"
"Bite me, Cal!" Noah replied as he cleared the line he was typing. "I got distracted!"
"Still learning!" Caleb giggled as he rolled his eyes. "Gerry, I'll teach ya anything you want to learn. I taught this goof, so you should be easy!"
"You're sleeping with the kids tonight, hon," Noah threatened as he typed out a new line. "There, is that better?"
"Yeah, that's the right one," Caleb acknowledged with a grin.
Giggling at the interaction, Harry added "Go for it Gerry, I'll keep Jeff under control."
Gerry figured that he should at least give it a shot, so he went over and took a seat between Noah and Caleb. "Is it hard?" he asked.
"It matters how you think," Caleb replied, obviously watching what Noah was doing while talking. "For me, it is really easy, but I helped design the new models. Noah helped too, but he was more on the hardware side, so it's taking him a bit to catch up to me." Pausing, he stated "Noah, remember this is the new setup, the remotes initialize differently."
"Gotcha!" Noah replied, pulling notes out of his pocket and flipping through them.
"Anyway," Caleb continued, "there's a good chance you'll pick it up. You wouldn't be interested if you didn't have the skills to do at least some of it. Once the new AI is up, we'll get you set up for training. Some of it you'll do here, and some of it I'll do with you at the Intel training center."
"How long does it take?" Gerry asked.
"That matters on how your brain works," Caleb explained. "If you can think in ways that give regular people headaches, then you'll pick it up quickly. Were you bored a lot in school?"
"Yeah, they always went over the stuff over and over," Gerry admitted.
"You'll do good," Caleb stated. "That's a sign of being smart, regular schools bore ya to death!"
"Nobody's ever told me I'm smart," Gerry replied.
"That's because they're stupid," Caleb giggled. "Stupid people don't understand that smart people need to learn faster."
"I'm not sure that's how I'd put it," Leon chuckled, "but pretty much Caleb's right. In general, the more intelligent people tend to learn different than the general population. Tracy told me Clan training takes that into account, the schools are tailored to each student."
"Tracy's right," Caleb added. "The first thing they do is test you to see what you know, and also give you some problems to solve to see how you learn. The test ain't normal, though; it's done like a game so it ain't boring. After that, they put you with other guys that learn like you do, and tell you where they want you to be in a few months."
"So you don't gotta listen to them lecture about the same thing for six weeks?" Harry asked, interested in what Caleb was saying.
"Me and Noah don't, but some guys learn like that so they have teachers that lecture," Caleb explained. "We just study at our pace, and test each other. Mr. T is gonna like me training Gerry, 'cuz he thinks I need to show other guys stuff to lock in my head what I've learned."
"Your turn, Cal," Noah interrupted, "I'm not gonna try to figure out this matrix crap you came up with!"
"Hey, Danny understands it!" Caleb giggled in defense.
"Yeah, and he's even weirder than you!" Noah laughed. "Get to work, ya' bum!"
"Gerry, watch this, let's see if you're smarter than my husband," Caleb replied with a grin as he took the keyboard.
"Okay everyone, if you value your brains, don't listen to them; Caleb's about to geek out!" Noah warned with a grin. "Leon, you're getting what we call the 'baby' Starship system. He can do more than the ones the rest of the Atlantic Fleet can, but doesn't have all the features that we plan for our Starship systems. One unique feature you're getting is that he'll actually be able to bounce his personality between his core and two 'touring' bodies. Basically, he's twins with one brain, sharing that brain with the ship."
"How do we know which one to talk to?" Petey asked.
"All of them answer to Sam," Noah explained. "If neither of the twins is around, the AI core will assume that he should answer, if one of the twins is around, that twin will answer if he can, otherwise he'll answer through the core. If both twins are around, the one that is closest and free will answer, or the core will if they are both busy. The MATRIX setup that Caleb thought up makes it so that you're able to speak with the personality no matter which body he's using. I can't explain it more than that, my husband has weird ideas that work sometimes."
"It makes sense to me!" Gerry quipped. "Caleb, why didn't you..."
"I'm sorry, Leon!" Noah giggled. "Your son is now a Caleb-level geek!"
"EMMY!" Caleb and Gerry yelled in unison.
Noah flickered, suddenly becoming very wet. The tiger cub in his arms wiggled free, then bounced over to Petey and started licking his face.
"Emmy, could you please clean up Noah's mess," Leon asked with a shake of his head. "Also, could you please talk to Timmy about what Petey's going to need for his new friend, and get it set up in here for me?"
"Sure Uncle Leon!" Emmy replied with a giggle. Seconds later, Noah was dry and wearing a speedo, and a techbot had appeared with a tiger-sized litterbox and started affixing it to the deck.
Leon reached around Petey and scratched the tiger's ear. "Do you know what you want to call him, son?"
"Can I call you Tigger?" Petey asked the tiger.
His answer came in the form of a tiger-sized kitten tongue repeatedly licking his cheek. Giggling, Petey stated "He likes it!"
"Okay, where were we?" Leon asked, shifting his attention back to Noah.
"It looks like we're about to give birth," Noah said after glancing at the screen. "Caleb just started the final boot, the interface module's booting now."
All eyes went to the screen, even Tigger seemed to be interested. The random characters suddenly stopped scrolling, and the screen went blank. seconds later, the first readable text appeared:
S.A.M. - Shipboard Adaptive Matrix
SS V0115 CSAID X S12H bX MfEk f37ce2
Primary Core: ACTIVE
Secondary Core: ACTIVE
Merging cores: SUCCESS
Identifying Touring Systems: 2 FOUND
Touring 1 Serial: MATCH
Touring 2 Serial: MATCH
Initialize Twinlink: SUCCESS
Touring 1 VI Mode: ACTIVE
Touring 2 VI Mode: ACTIVE
Initialize MATRIX: SUCCESS
MATRIX Launch: SUCCESS
Initialize Personality Loader: SUCCESS
Personality Search: 1 FOUND
Personality Status: SUSPENDED - ID: YMFR85H34JT
Personality Matrix Support: YES
ERROR: NO INSTALLED ACTIVE PERSONALITY FOUND.
DO YOU WISH TO INITIALIZE USING PERSONALITY YMFR85H34JT?
IMPORTANT: This option will result in the creation of a lifeform. This system requires an officer of CSAID verify all proper approvals have been received to install a personality. Improper authentication will result in a system wipe. Do NOT continue unless you are an authorized officer of CSAID.
Do you wish to continue? (YES or NO): ____
"Leon," Caleb stated seriously, "as the Captain, I need your approval. Do you want me to create a new lifeform to help you run the Iowa? There's a good chance you'll get another son, one with two bodies."
Leon exchanged looks with his family, as it sounded like they were going to be just as affected as him. The excited smiles and nodding heads were all he needed to see, so he replied "Go ahead, Caleb."
"Okay, thanks," Caleb replied as he answered the question 'YES'.
Initialize Biometric Scan ....
Verify Results with CSAID ....
Found 3 Authorized Matches:
1. Noah Barnes, Assistant Director, CSAID
2. Caleb Barnes, Program Engineer, CSAID
3. Gerry Sanders-Schmidt, CSAID Site Engineer, CSSF Iowa
Enter Number Matching Authorizing Party: ____
"HEY!" Gerry exclaimed, "Why did he list me?"
"You asked for it!" Caleb giggled. "You caught something that I didn't think of, so you got credit. Remember me asking you for a password after you typed in the change and tested it?"
"Yeah, I figured that was just so I could learn this stuff," Gerry replied. "Nobody's gave me any job or anything though."
"I did," Caleb grinned. "I called Marc and Danny on my subvocal, they agreed that if you can follow my code that you've earned a title. Congrats, you're part of the team! I'll get you caught up with me in no time, literally."
"You going to wake up your big brother?" Noah added with a grin. "Go ahead; you wouldn't be listed if you weren't authorized."
His eyes still wide in shock, Gerry took the keyboard that Caleb was holding out and pressed '3'.
Technician: Garry Sanders-Schmidt
Initialize Voiceprint Identification Subsystem: PASS
Calibrate VIS: SUCCESS
State User Name then Passcode: (VIS INPUT)
"Garry Sanders-Schmidt, GSS6788453254 Simpson."
Voiceprint Identification: SUCCESS
LOADING PERSONALITY ....
VERIFYING CHECKSUMS ....
VERIFYING CAPABILITIES ....
SET PERSONALITY TO ACTIVE: SUCCESS
RESTARTING INTO INTERACTIVE MODE ....
The stateroom was completely silent for about thirty seconds, then a teenaged voice asked "Okay, who's turn is it for introductions? There are more people here than you told me about, Uncle Caleb!"
"Sorry, Sam!" Caleb giggled. "The Captain's been adding to the crew! Sync up your teleporter, then get your butt in here, I'm pretty sure there is someone here who wants to give you a hug."
"Uncle Danny said I was supposed to tell you that you're a pain in the butt; I think he's right!" Sam replied. "Incoming!"
With that, a pair of dark brown haired twins appeared in the room, both wearing board shorts. As soon as they located Leon, they pivoted to face him, came to attention, saluted, and in unison asked "Permission to come aboard, Sir?"
"Permission granted," Leon replied, returning the salute. "And congratulations on being labelled a smartass less than two minutes after arriving; you'll fit in great around here!"
By this time, Caleb managed to coax Gerry over to stand in front of the twins. "Sam, this is Gerry Sanders-Schmidt, he's the lead AI Division rep onboard and the one that activated you."
"I promise to only call you Dad if you annoy me," the Sam on the right commented as he stepped forward and pulled Gerry into a hug. "Don't worry; my cousin Emmy just showed me my activation. I'll help you get even when the shrimp least expects it!" As his second body went over to talk with Leon, Petey, and Tigger, Sam escorted Gerry back to the chair occupied by Jeff, Harry, Hunter, and Ron. "Okay, who is who here?" Sam asked with a snicker.
"The big guy is my big brother Jeff, the next biggest is my bo... brother Harry, and the smaller guys are Noah and Caleb's kids Hunter and Ron." Gerry explained as he pointed out each one. Pointing towards Leon, he added "That's our Dad over there, and the little guy is our little brother Petey. His kitten's named Tigger."
Sam smiled as he gave them a wave. "Before I was brought online, I was activated in a simulator to make sure Caleb didn't screw anything up. Part of that is giving me a list of prospective parents, and letting me choose which ones I was interested in asking to be my parent. I picked your Dad as my first choice, but I'm not going to ask if you guys don't want an android as a brother."
Hunter sat there with a knowing grin, while Ron giggled at his brother's attempt to create a halo. Jeff, Gerry, and Harry exchanged glances, wordlessly agreeing on their response. One glance at Petey gave his answer, as he was cuddled up to Sam's second and giggling while they played with Tigger. "Dad, say yes to Sam being our brother or you sleep in the litterbox!" Jeff announced.
"Brian and Terry work quick!" Leon quipped. "Sam, thank you for thinking of the boys first. Despite Jeff's mistaken idea that he can blackmail me, they're adjusting to their new life quite well. I think you'll be a good fit with our family, so yes, if you want to be my son I'll accept."
"YES!" Harry exclaimed as he pounced Sam, knocking him and Gerry to the floor. Jeff, however, got up and shuffled over to Leon, his head hung low. "Sorry, Dad," he whispered as he came to a stop in front of Leon.
Leon reached up and lifted Jeff's chin, looking him in his tear-filled eyes. "Apology accepted, Son. You're still getting a feel for the rules in your new life, so I'm not going to punish you. You did the right thing by coming over and sincerely apologizing, though. A real man will own up to his mistakes and learn from them. Your Uncle Mark is a good example of that; while he broke some rules back when we were still part of the US Navy, he owned his mistakes, was able to justify why he did it, and took the punishments when I had no choice, even if I agreed with him. There were a few times he couldn't justify it, and those times he simply said 'I screwed up' and accepted what was coming to him. Thing is, the times where he truly screwed up he never repeated, he learned from his mistakes."
"Thanks, Dad," Jeff whispered as he fell into Leon's chest and gave him a hug. Leon returned the hug, one hand rubbing the back of Jeff's head. Barely loud enough for Leon to hear, Jeff whispered into his chest "Love you, Dad."
"I love you too, Son," Leon replied softly, fully conscious of the fact that Jeff had just fully surrendered his leadership role in his family to him.
Leon had just finished explaining the facts of shipboard living to all of the boys, and was preparing to go over his nightly reports while the rest of the family received a virtual tour of the ship from Sam. Just as he got settled in, disruption arrived in the form of Davie walking through the hatch... literally. "Hey, Leon!" Davie giggled as he gave a wave of his wing.
"What's up, squirt," Leon chuckled. "You here to welcome the new guys?"
"Yep," Davie giggled.
Petey looked over from watching the screen, his eyes going wide. "Whoa! look, an angel!"
That got everyone else's attention, even Sam's. Jeff shook his head and wiped his eyes, "Who spiked the cookies?"
"Guys, this is one of your Guardian Angels, Davie Owens. I'm sure he already knows you," Leon chuckled.
"Of course!" Davie giggled, leaning over to give Petey a hug. "There you go, Petey, now you and Tigger can talk to each other," he added as he stood up. He then turned to Harry. "Harry, you did what was needed, and it doesn't count against you. Stop beating yourself up over what you did to protect others, justice was served."
Harry nodded with a small smile, glad that Davie had not went into detail. Being told by an Angel that he did the right thing did help him a little, starting the long road to healing.
Davie then turned to Gerry. "You were found because Harry needs you, and by helping him you will grow into what you should be. Listen to your heart, and you'll find the right path."
"Do angels come with translators?" Gerry giggled. "I'm more confused now than I was before he arrived!"
"That means my job is done!" Davie giggled. "Jeff, you're the official big brother of the family, and all of your brothers are learning from you. You are keeping all of them sane, even when it feels like your doing nothing. Just keep it up, and let Leon help you guide them. You are making the right choices, sometimes it just takes time to see results."
"Thanks, dude," Jeff replied. "I guess I worry too much, huh?"
"Nope, you worry when you need to," Davie stated. "Now you have Leon to tell you if it is too much."
"Now, the new guys. Sam, I need both of you over here," Davie said seriously.
Both of Sam's bodies came over and stood in front of Davie. Davie reached up and cupped one ear of each boy in his hand. After a few seconds of his hands glowing, Davie pulled them away, revealing diamond earrings in the affected ears.
"Sam has an earring in his right ear, Sammy has an earring in his left ear," Davie stated. "Now, for the most important reason for me showing up, besides testing the cookies on the Mess Deck. You see, Caleb's a little bit too good sometimes. His MATRIX idea is based on Jamie, Jacob, and Beau. For those of you that don't know them, even though they are human they share a common virtual brain and their souls are linked together. Caleb managed to duplicate the shared brain part, but assumed that since the Vulcan Katra transfer was being used there would only be one soul. He's wrong, but it wasn't sure until you came online. Each of you has a soul, and those souls are tied to the core AI on the ship. Caleb got the brain link right, while you each are independant, you also share every part of your brain instantly with each other, and can both work on the same thought at the same time. If both of you transfer to the ship's AI, you'll each occupy a different nanotronic core, but will retain your abilities. You can also both occupy the same body at the same time in an emergency without any bad side effects, but the soul that belongs to the body will always have primary control."
Seeing the disbelief, Leon added "Guys, I've met Jamie, Jacob, and Beau, and I'll vouch for what Davie's telling you. It is actually a good thing, as they pool their individual skills to do whatever they need to do. I would recommend that you ask them to come over tomorrow, I know they'll want to help you understand how things work. Knowing them, they'll help you get even with Caleb as well."
"Now you're talking!" Sammy stated with an evil grin.
"REVENGE!" Sam smirked.
"Oh crap!" Jeff moaned, shaking his head. "I'm not responsible for what they do, Dad!"
"I'll take the responsibility, Jeff, don't worry," Leon chuckled. "This should be fun!"
"Give me time to warn Jerry so he can make popcorn," Davie giggled. "At least you know who you are talking to now, but can still pass messages to the other twin if you need to. They've got the most secure communication link in the world, since they talk inside their heads in base 25."
"He's got a point, Sam and Sammy," Leon pondered. "There might be times when we need to absolutely make sure nobody can intercept a signal, and that's something only you two could pull off. While you may have a unique skill, you're no different than your brothers. There is no 'normal', there's just you, and you being the best that you can be."
As if making the point, Petey piped up "Sammy? Tigger wants to know if you'll come over and give him a belly rub again while we cuddle?"
"Sure," Sammy replied, anxious to get out of the spotlight.
Taking the hint, Jeff offered "Sam, you need cuddle training, get over here!"
"Mischief Managed!" Davey giggled. "I'm going over to check on Mark, then I'll go warn Jerry about the fun we're about to have!"
"Have fun, we'll see you around," Leon sniggered. "I'd tell you to stay out of trouble, but I know you."
"Hey, I'm an angel, see?" Davie giggled as his halo appeared above his head.
"Remember, I know you," Leon laughed.
"See ya!" Davie giggled as he vanished.
After Davie left, Leon asked "I have one question, guys. Which name do you want us to use for talking to the ship?"
"You can use either name, we'll answer either way," Sam responded. "Basically you'll be talking to both of us anyway."
"That works, but if you decide on something different let us know," Leon advised. "When it comes to the ship's operations, you guys are in charge of the interactions between you and the rest of the crew."
"Okay," Sam replied, "Thanks for trusting us!"
"If you need any advice about running things here, talk to Emmy; he's been handling things while we were waiting for you guys to take over," Leon advised. 'It never hurts to get advice from someone who has been there."
"Kewl, we'll bug him tomorrow!" Sam and Sammy exclaimed in unison, giggling when they realized what they'd just did.
"That's what I want to hear, you guys being normal twins," Leon chuckled. "Always remember, you're just as human as the rest of the crew."
"You really mean that, don't you?" Sammy asked.
"Not only do I mean it, but that is a basic part of the Clan," Leon explained. "No matter where you come from, in the eyes of the Clan you are equal to everyone else."
"Okay, that helps a lot," Sammy replied. "At least we know that we have a place where we're appreciated."
"Not only are you appreciated, but as part of the crew of the Iowa you have a big family that will defend you at all costs."
Sammy grinned "I think we're gonna like this!"