Eric 382 Part 2

Chapter 13

9:30am PST - Tuesday, November 2nd, 2004 (8:30pm RST)

Nearly all the clone kids, in addition to the triple-t's, and the other kids that did not go to the main Utah UNIT base with Brent to get bears, were in the common room after both Brent and Lance had left, working on figuring out what to do next. Hania was doing his best to keep things in order.

"What do we do now?" one of the boys asked.

"You heard Brent," Hania offered. "Anyone that has assessment tests to do should probably get started on them."

"But what if we don't have assessment tests?" Stan asked.

Hania shrugged. "Then I guess you can hang around in here, or do whatever you want. I don't think it's going to take them that long to get bears."

A clatter could be heard as a small brown fluffy creature popped out of a nearby air vent, shouting in a squeaky voice "Or you could spend the day at The Don's very own water park, Paradise Landing!"

As soon as the odd-looking creature appeared, panic ensued. Several kids screamed as nearly everyone went diving for the closest table, chair, or couch they could find to hide behind.

"Daileass, intruder alert!" Lee cried out.

"Relax guys," Daileass's voice reassured everyone through the speakers in the ceiling. "They might be insane, but they won't hurt any of you."

"What is it?" six-year-old Rene cried as he held tight onto Avery.

"My name is Polish! And I greet you on behalf of The Don and the Great Shiny!" the ferret chirped. " I do hope you are having a shiny day, and will have time to partake in the wondrous offer extended to you."

The room was silent for several moments. "I think it's a ferret hybrid," Hania finally offered.

"Avery?" Rene asked as he continued to hold tight to the twelve-year-old. "Is Polish a real name?"

Avery shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know. Maybe it is for a ferret. I've never seen one before."

"Is he going to eat us?" Jace, one of the other six-year-olds, asked.

Polish looked at the child quizzically, then grinned. "How do you possibly think I could fit all of you into little me?"

After getting over the shock that the odd-looking ferret answered him, Jace tilted his head as he gave the question some serious thought. "I don't know, maybe you'll cut us up with a knife or something?"

"You're silly, Jace," Rene replied. "Look at him, he doesn't have a knife in his hands."

"Maybe it's in his pockets?" Another boy challenged.

"Does he even have pockets?" eight-year-old Stan asked.

"Look at him," Forth called out. "He doesn't have any clothes on at all, so he can't have any pockets."

"Maybe the knife is hidden in his fur?" Jace offered.

"Children are for polishing, for shining, not for cutting! That is not the ferret way, no, no, no!" Polish squealed, mortified. As he finished his exclamation, Alex, along with a band of three other ferrets entered the room.

As soon as the new ferrets were seen by the kids, the screaming and panic once again resumed. The few kids who had been brave enough to start peeking out of their hiding spots, quickly ducked back behind them.

"They are going to polish us to pieces!" Jace cried out.

"That doesn't even make sense," Greg called out over the screams, as he held tight onto his bear.

Alex saw the commotion that had been started and quickly tried to smooth things out. "We come in peace! We want only to bring you joy and shinyness! We promise no harm will come to any of you while we are here. He looked over to Hania, who seemed to be in charge. "Can you help calm things down?"

Hania nodded and turned to look behind him. "Guys, settle down. They are not going to hurt us, otherwise Daileass would never have allowed them in."

"What if they tricked Daileass?" Rene asked seriously.

"Yeah," Jace agreed. "Or what if they were all hiding inside a giant package that looked like a present, so Daileass brought it inside, and then they all jumped out of it."

"Guys, Daileass has super good scanners," Lee did his best to help out. "And even if they did trick Daileass somehow, if they were really going to hurt you, all of our bears would be jumping in to protect us."

Alex called for a huddle, and all five ferrets got close together, chattering amongst themselves. As they did this, several of the kids began to peak out of their hiding spots, curious as to what the Ferret kids were up to.

A minute later, Polish stepped out, bowed towards the children, and said "Polish is very sorry for scaring the shiny younglings. No one mentioned that some entrances are better than others, or that some of them, well when you use them and you pop out and you are just trying to help but you are excited and you might scare people instead of getting them excited too."

Forth crawled out from the couch he was hiding behind, and hesitantly began to approach Polish. "Well, I wasn't scared at all. I knew it all along."

"Hey," Stan called out as he popped up from behind the same couch. "If you weren't scared, then why were you grabbing onto me so tight and practically screaming my ear off?"

Forth shot Stan a dirty look for a few moments before he turned back toward Polish. "How did you get up there anyway? I thought that was just so that the rooms could be kept cool when it was hot outside."

Polish looked at the other ferrets until Alex nodded his approval. "Part of the fun of being so tiny is that you can get almost anywhere, especially where people don't expect you to be. Also, that vent may be on the ceiling, but there are plenty that are at ground level, and once you get in it is just a hop skip and jump to anywhere you want to go, without anyone else knowing you're there!"

"Cool!" Forth smiled as several other kids poked their heads out.

"Wow," Another boy called out, followed by several others.

Finally, Rene let go of Avery so that he could take a few hesitant steps toward Polish to get a better look at him. "Were you guys just swimming at the pool? You guys forgot your clothes."

"Well, being dressed tends to get in the way of things when we're on a mission, so only Alex gets to wear anything," Polish replied, nodding towards Alex's shiny cowboy hat.

Forth thought to himself for a few moments before a devilish glint sparked in his eyes. "Hey, Hania?" he asked as he turned toward the older boy.

"No!" Hania said immediately. "You have to keep your clothes on."

"But why?" Forth pleaded in disappointment at having been figured out so easily.

"Ferret boys don't need to wear clothes because they have lots of fur, and the clothes make it hard for them to move around," Hania explained. "Human boys, however, don't have lots of fur, and they can move around just fine in them."

"Fine," Forth pouted.

Rene walked close enough to Polish to start brushing his fur. "His fur feels really soft."

By now, all the rest of the kids have come out from their hiding spots, and were starting to form a circle around the five ferrets.

Alex began to address the group as a whole. "Greetings, young ones. We come to offer you good tidings and friendship. As part of an offer made to Clan Short by The Don quite recently, we have come to invite you to The Don's most glorious water park, Paradise Landing. We also hope you will allow us to participate in a cultural exchange, to both share in your culture and to help you understand the nature of the Shiny."

"Cool," all the kids began to jump up and down, followed by several of them surrounding Hania to ask about being able to go to the ferret's water park.

"I don't know, guys," Hania tried to begin, but after seeing how excited they all were, he finally gave in. "Okay, give me a moment to contact Brent and make sure it's alright with him."

As Hania walked off to the side to use his comm badge, the kids once again encircled the ferrets. "Where can we find our culture to exchange with you?" six-year-old Jace asked.

"Culture is food," Glen corrected. "I think what they really mean is they want us to share our food with each other."

Squirt stepped up and, as if quoting from an imaginary dictionary, stated "culture is the collective beliefs and behaviors of a group of people. In this case, most of us have never really dealt with any humans before, so The Don thought it would be good for us to go out and gain some experience with them, while sharing our own experience."

"Cool. We like dealing with humans too," Glen nodded.

"We are humans, Glen," Avery replied.

Eight-year-old Jude VonSchuyler, one of the triple-t's, managed to stop giggling with his brothers long enough to talk. "Um, I hate to say this Polish, but I'm not sure if this is the best group of kids to do cultural exchanges with? Most of these guys are clone kids who, up to about 2 weeks ago, have only known life inside of a laboratory."

"Jude, we're not clone kids," Rene corrected. "We're cyclones now."

"Who's The Don?" Yet another kid asked.

"The Don is our most shiny leader, who guides the ferrets from his shiny throne. He holds the wisdom of all ferretkind." Alex replied, reverently.

"His ways are sometimes mysterious, but there is usually a method to his madness." Squirt chimed in. "Perhaps he wants us to see what humans are like untainted by the real world."

Polish looked at Rene and started bouncing on his heels, saying "Can you show me how to become a cyclone!?"

Rene scrunched his face a little for a few moments before he ran back to Avery and whispered something in his ear. As soon as Avery answered him, Rene looked toward Polish and sighed. "Sorry Polish, but I don't think you can be a cyclone. You had to be born in a laboratory, and not have real parents. The reason a bunch of us look similar, like me, Avery, and Jace over there, is that we are all clones, and there are only a few master temples?"

"I think you mean, master templates," Lee corrected.

Rene nodded toward Lee, "Yeah, master templates."

"But....but..I was born in a lab without parents!" Polish cried, tears beginning to form in his


"Really?" Rene asked as he looked toward Avery and a few of the other clone kids. "Um, I guess that means you are a cyclone too."

"Actually, it's a little more involved than that," Lee jumped in. "Cyclone is shorthand for Cynthitech Clone, that's what I think Avery and Eric came up with to distinguish you guys from the Genesis project clone kids that are in the UNIT."

"But Lee," Rene pleaded. "Can't Polish be a cyclone too? Please!"

Lee looked like he wanted to say something, but instead, he sighed. "I guess?"

"Cool!" Rene cheered.

"YEAH! I GET TO BE THE VERY FIRST FERRET CYCLONE!" Polish shouted, doing a backflip in the process.

At about this time, Hania walked back to the group. "What are you guys talking about?"

Lee looked toward Hania and shook his head. "Trust me, you don't want to know."

"Um, okay," Hania replied hesitantly. "Anyway, guys, I just finished my talk with Brent. They are just about done getting bears and should be back soon. He said he was planning on taking some people to go shopping. But if you guys were wanting to go to The Don's water park instead, that's fine. We can either go shopping later or some other day. The main thing is that we need to make sure that Daileass knows where everyone is at, and that all of you keep your communicator badges on. Oh, and he said that if you do go to the water park, you have to wear swimsuits, since that is one of the water park rules, and most people wouldn't understand how we swim."

Alex nodded his head and said "If it is acceptable, we would very much enjoyify aiding you in your shopping for the clothes. The Malaya would be well suited to provide such things. We can then attend the waterpark for maximal enjoyification of this delightfully shiny day!"

"That sounds like it would be pretty cool," Hania agreed. "However, you would have to talk to Brent about that when they get back. I'm not sure where he was planning on taking the guys shopping, but I think you are right, if there are places near the water park, that would probably make things a lot easier."

"Do they have like a picnic area around there? Maybe we could have the fish fry there as well?" Daniel asked.

"Indubitably, they do. I shall notify the appropriate parties and then, we shall sate our fish lust together in this shiny matrimony of our two groups after procuring proper garments for such an affair," said Squirt.

"Woohoo!" all the kids cheered.

Alex nodded to Squirt and he dashed off to make the proper arrangements.

At around the same time, Brent and a large number of younger kids appeared near the center of the common room. Many of the kids had bears standing next to them.

"Man, am I glad to see you!" Hania exclaimed with a sigh of relief.

Brent grinned. "Aw, come on Hania, they're only ferrets."

"Let's see you say that after you've been hanging around them for a few minutes," Hania replied. "I'm not sure if the clone kids are scared or overjoyed by them. Although, I'm pretty sure the ferrets have them convinced that they want to start crawling around in the air vents."

"The what?" Brent asked with surprise.

"No, we want to go to the water park," Rene corrected.

"What water park?" Cooper asked as he and Ben walked over to investigate, both seeming somewhat sad since they returned with Brent.

"The Don's water park," Avery informed. "That's why Polish and the other ferrets are here, to invite us to go over there."

"Cool!" both Cooper and Ben stated.

"You mean Paradise Landing?" one of the street kids who just returned with Brent asked. "That costs like twenty dollars just to get in. We don't have that kind of money."

Alex piped up "It would be a pretty dull invitation if we expected you to pay for your own tickets! We will also take care of the food, if that is okay with everyone."

"Really?" Neil and a few other kids asked.

"Yup, that's very kind of The Don" Brent nodded just as Lance, Steve, and Kenny appeared. "Ah, Lance, perfect timing."

"Thanks," Lance replied as he walked over to Brent and landed a kiss on his lips, thus causing several catcalls to be made by the street kids.

"Okay guys, now that everyone is here, we should only have to go over this once," Brent began. "We were planning on taking some of you guys to the strip to get some shopping done. However, it seems that we have also been invited to go to The Don's water park. So, I guess if you guys want to do that, we can go shopping either after the water park, depending on what time it is, or tomorrow."

"We would have no problem going clothes shopping with you, especially if you acquire your attire at the Malaya. It is pretty close to our watery wonderland, and then we could have delicious fish there." Alex added in.

Brent nodded in agreement. "That works. There are some pretty nice shops over there, so I don't think anyone will have much of a problem finding stuff they like there."

With the help of the Great Hidden Shiny One, the group arrived in the middle of the large indoor shopping district within the Malaya. One of the first things that Brent and the others noticed when they began to look around is that neither Alex nor any of the other ferrets were with them. In there place stood Ryan Casey and Lincoln Hayes, two of the three personal security members that had been assigned to him, as well as two from Lance's assigned security, Ken Marri and Joshua Flint.

"Okay Daileass, we're ready to..." Ryan was in the middle of saying when he appeared, "Have I mentioned I hate it when he does that?"

"You weren't planning on going off base without us, were you, sir?" Lincoln asked as he walked up to Brent.

"No, I figured Daileass would have given us more time before teleporting us," Brent replied as he looked around his group. "Did anyone see where those ferrets ran off to?"

Everyone else in the group began looking around and shrugging their shoulders.

"I wouldn't worry about it much, Brent," Lincoln offered. "If these ferrets are anything like High Priest Dave's lot, I wouldn't be surprised if they had this entire shopping center riddled with ferret-sized are ducts, side passages, secret doors, and everything else that a ferret could ever wish for."

If anyone had been listening closely, in the background of the murmur of the rest of the shopping center visitors, a soft giggle could have been heard from a few of the near-by ferrets, since they knew just how right Lincoln was. In fact, the entire Malaya complex has been specially designed and built to provide the ferrets with the tools they needed to quickly and easily get around without being seen. This included thousands of vents, peepholes and other things that would be the envy of any ferret.

"Pssst!" Alex said, getting Brent's attention through his comm badge. "Where would you like to start your mystical journey of apparel?"

"Alex? Is that you?" Brent replied in surprise to his comm badge. "Why did you guys disappear on us?"

"Not everyone would be as accepting of us as you and the other shinylings," Alex replied. "So it is usually best for us to stay out of sight. Besides, we like it back here much more betterer."

"Right," Brent replied to the badge before he looked up to address his somewhat large group. "Okay, so where do you guys want to go first?"

Eight-year-old Clyde Blank, the mysterious boy who had shown up earlier that morning, was probably among the most surprised. "Holy cow, this is your market square?"

Hania walked over to Brent with a long face. "Brent, you do realize that you are asking a group of kids, many of whom had never been away from our compound, let alone to any stores?"

"Good point," Brent replied. "But I bet some of the newer kids will know what we are looking for."

Jackson Pham, one of the thirteen-year-olds that was from the group rescued from the police sub-station the night before, gasped in amazement. "Dude, you're not seriously bringing us to shop here, are you? These are like some of the best stores on the strip."

Lance jumped in, answering for Brent. "Why not? Most of the normal type of clothes you guys can get from the store we have back at our compound. We don't want you guys to go completely crazy, but I don't think it would be a problem for each of you to get an outfit or two that you would really like to have.'

"Sirs?" Ken Marri stated as he tried to discretely walk up to Brent and Lance, "Whatever you are going to decide on, you should probably do it soon. Not to alarm you or anything, but we are already starting to draw a sizable crowd of people looking at us."

Brent nodded in agreement. "I guess having over fifty kids, and a bunch of large teddybears could do that."

"It might be a good idea if we split up," Lance offered. "I'm not sure how many of the stores here could manage an invasion of 50 kids and 30 bears."

"Right," Brent agreed as he looked over toward Leroy Dalton who was standing next to his boyfriend. "Leroy, how would you and Herbert feel about being one of the group leaders?"

Slightly surprised that Brent called on him, Leroy shrugged. "I guess, I mean if you want me to."

Brent nodded. "Okay, then we will split off into 6 groups. Me, Lance, Hania, Lee, Daniel, and Leroy will each be responsible for a small group. Luke?" Brent turned toward the triple triplet who had become the unofficial spokesmen for all three sets of telepathic triplets, "I would like at least one of each of the triple-t's to be with one of the groups just to be on the safe side."

"Not a problem," Luke replied. "You expecting trouble?"

"Between you guys, our personal security, and our new furry friends watching over us, not really," Brent shook his head. "However, From the reading, I've done on the other clan divisions... Well, let's just say that there is a lot of history behind any clan shopping trip, especially trips that involve malls."

Luke nodded while the rest of his brothers as well as a few of the older kids that knew what Brent was referring to, giggled. They then split up into six groups of about nine kids and three bears each. To Brent's surprise, the groups each had an even number of cyclone kids and newer street kids.

"Do you think they have popcorn here?" Brent heard Forth asking Hania as their group began to walk off. With a small grin, Brent almost felt sorry for Hania.

Brent looked at his much smaller group of kids as he tried to think of where to take them. "Hey Jude," he asked the eight-year-old triplet that had stayed with his group. "Do you know if any of the other groups are going to Gap Kids?"

Jude tilted his head for a few moments. "Nope, it doesn't look like it. Daniel's group might go there after they go to Crazy Shirts."

"Cool," Brent replied. "Then I think that will be where we head to first. Come on guys."

"Sweet," A few of the newly rescued street kids commented as Brent lead the way toward their first destination.

Hania lead his group as best as he could through the slightly crowded mall. Since he had never been here himself, he made the mistake of asking if anyone had any preferences as to where they might start. Of course, Forth immediately wanted to go check out the food court to see if they had popcorn.

"I wouldn't mind going to Napolean's," sixteen-year-old Erin Hudson timidly offered, "That is, if you don't think of anywhere else to go."

Hania sized up the frosted light-ash-brown haired teenager. A single look into the boy's eyes quickly revealed a long history of hurt behind them. "Hum," Hania thought out load. "They have a bunch of good leather jackets there, don't they?"

"I believe so, sir," the teen replied.

Hania nodded and changed the group's direction to head to their new destination.

"But what about popcorn?" Forth whined as he realized they were now moving away from the food court.

"We'll see if we can find you some popcorn before we leave, Forth," Hania replied slowly shaking his head. As they walked, Hania moved a bit closer to Erin so that he could talk a bit softer. "Hey Erin, I know this clan stuff is new to you and all, but you don't really have to call me sir."

Erin nodded. "Okay, sorry."

"It's nothing to apologize about," Hania replied. "Besides, if anything, I should be calling you sir. You have to be a good three or four years older than me."

Erin shook his head. "There isn't any reason for anyone to ever call me sir," he then lowered his voice more, "I haven't ever been anything but a no good fag."

"That's not true," Hania replied, raising his own voice slightly. "There is nothing wrong at all with being gay. I don't know what your life was like before here, but I think you are going to learn pretty quickly that things aren't the way you have been taught."

Erin nearly gasped in shock when the smaller boy raised his voice so the rest of the group could hear him. Then, he was surprised when not one of them batted an eyebrow. "If you say so," he finally replied.

Hania wanted to push the conversation further, but he also realized that in the middle of the mall was probably not the best place to have that conversation. Instead, he made a mental note to follow up on this at some point when they got back home.

Walking back up to the front of the group, Hania heard Max, the ten-year-old triplet that had come with his group, talk in his head. 'Good job with that Hania, that helped a little bit.'

'Thanks,' Hania replied. 'But I fear it will take a lot more before he will be able to heal.'

'Probably, yeah. But what is it they say? Small steps?' Max sent back.

Before Hania could reply, he heard a small clicking sound from behind him followed by both Forth and Stan gasping. Fearing the worst, he spun around.

"Whoa! Popcorn!" Forth cried out as he looked down toward the ground.

Sure enough, to Hania's surprise, there was a bag of microwave popcorn laying on the floor in front of Forth. Not only that, but it was Butterworks brand gourmet popcorn, one of the more expensive brands. "Careful, Forth. We don't know where that's been."

"But it just popped up from the ground," Forth insisted.

"Yeah, like a popcorn tree," Stan added.

"Or at least a popcorn bag tree," Forth corrected which earned Stan's nod of approval.

Hania reached down to pick up the bag. Sure enough, the bag was still steaming hot as if it had just been removed from a microwave seconds earlier. "Hey, Daileass? Did you just teleport in a bag of popcorn?"

"No Hania," Daileass replied. "That wasn't me. If you don't mind, I would like to do a quick set of scans on it though."

Hania nodded. "Okay, what do you need me to do."

"Nothing, just wait right there," Daileass replied as the bag of popcorn vanished. Just as Forth looked like he was about to start complaining, the bag re-appeared. "The bag is clean. No contaminants at all in it."

"So it's safe to eat?" Forth asked hopefully.

"This is crazy," Hania said to himself. "But I guess if Daileass has cleared it, then it must be."

"I do believe I heard someone request popcorn," came a strangely squeaky sound from a nearby grating.

"Hey, who said that?" Forth asked in a surprised fashion. "Did you guys just hear that?"

"I did!" came the voice again, followed by a clinking sound. "Shimmer's the name, and sparkling's my game!" said the ferret with an audible grin. " I've been assigned to keep track of you youngsters by the little bossman. Anywhere you wanna go, I know it. That popcorn is courtesy of the theatre we have here. I didn't know what kind of stuff you like so I just got the shiniest goopy stuff they had."

"You sound like one of those cool ferrets, but I can't see you anywhere," Forth commented.

"Me either," Stan added as both he and forth began to dig into the popcorn.

"Isn't it a bit too early for popcorn?" Erin asked cautiously.

Hania sighed. "It's never too early for Forth."

"That's right," Forth agreed. "Plus this shiniest goopy stuff is YUM!"

"Bite-size is the right size, I always say, kiddo. As to not being able to perceptualize my person, well, that's something of an occupational requirement. Maybe when we're some place a little less active we can get more properly acquainted. In the meantime, what kind of stuff are you interested in looking at first?" Shimmer said.

"Oh," Forth replied thoughtfully, "Hania, can we go somewhere less active?" He quickly asked as he ate some more popcorn.

Hania smiled, "Unless you have forgotten, we are on our way to Napolean's."

"Oh yea," Forth suddenly remembered, and then spoke into the comm badge as if Shimmer wasn't able to hear Hania, "We're going to one of the stores that have cool looking jackets and stuff first."

"Spokey dokey, that one's easy." Shimmer directed the group to a somewhat small boutique around the corner. "As they arrived, they could hear a thump coming from the floor as Shimmer announced " First stop, men's apparel!"

"Not again," the middle-aged store attendant sighed to himself as he heard the sound of the thump. Then, almost as if by magic, his demeanor completely changed as he noticed the large group of teens heading into the store. "Good morning, gentlemen. Is there something I can help you all with this morning?"

"Hi," Hania began cheerfully, "Actually we are just out looking around. We heard some good things about Napolean's, and wanted to check it out for ourselves."

"Very good," the man replied as he surveyed the group and immediately noticed the small circular comm badge that each boy was wearing. "I hope that you will not be disappointed. We just received a new shipment of German and French style jackets this week which seem to appear to younger crowds."

Hania nodded, "Thanks." As he did this, he also directed the group toward the back of the store, near the displays that the man had motioned toward.

"What gives?" Neil whispered to Hania, "Is that how people normally react to the clan? Whenever I've been out with my friends and we go to a store, they usually treat us like crap."

"Actually, it's not normal for the Clan either. From what Brent has told me about the reports he has read, any time we go shopping we usually find someone that needs to be rescued," Hania shrugged, "Maybe we just got lucky this time."

As the boys continued to browse around in the store, Forth and Stan continued to chomp on the pop-corn with nearly half of it already gone.

"Pssst!" Forth heard Shimmer whisper from what seemed like the changing rooms. He curiously edged towards them until he found Stan and himself inside one. The boys saw nothing in the room, until they were somewhat startled by a rather small humanoid which had taken the liberty of drawing the heavy curtains that served as an entrance shut.

"This ain't the bestest, but it'll do. Nice ta meetcha up close-like." Shimmer put out his paw as the two boys took in the sight of a small silvery-furred humanish figure with an eyepatch over his right eye.

"Oh cool! It's another of those ferrets," Forth cheered.

"Are you like the bears?" Stan asked curiously as he moved closer to Shimmer to try to pick him up.

"Do bears bite when you try to pick them up?" Shimmer said, easily dodging Stan in the crowded room.

Stan stopped dead in his tracks to think. "Um... no?"

"Silly Stan," Forth giggled, "Everyone knows that bears are just machines, but ferrets are real."

"Oh," Stan shrugged as he grabbed a handful of popcorn.

"Would you like some popcorn, Mr. Shimmer?" Forth offered the bowl of popcorn that was now less than a quarter full. "We found it on the ground while we were walking here."

" I know! I put it there with my own two paws!" Shimmer flashed them a toothy grin. "Due to the close relationship Big Boss hopes to cultivate between our two groups, I am authorized to be a bit less than conventional in the methods at my disposal of, shall we say, welcoming our guests. Have either of you ever seen a ferret before?"

Stan and Forth looked at each other as they both shrugged. "Not before one fell out of the ceiling almost on top of us earlier this morning," Forth replied.

"Consider this a more formal greeting then. Is there anything about us you'd like to know?"

"Hum," Forth thought as Stan immediately jumped in, "Who is the big boss? Is he like a super huge ferret?"

"More like, super shiny ferret. You'll prolly hear him called The Don. You could say he's the ferret that has helped to make us who we are today."

"The Don?" Stan repeated, "That sounds like an important name."

"Hey, you two alright in there?" Hania's voice could be heard from outside the changing room.

"Um, yeah, we're fine." Forth called out.

"Uh-huh," Stan followed.

"Why are both of you in there?" Hania asked, but before either boy had a chance to reply, he continued. "Actually, never mind, I don't really want to know."

As Hania was walking away, Max walked up to him. "Hey Hania?" he began. "Just letting you know that Brent's group had a minor issue develop, and they have gone back to the compound. Brent said it's fine for the other groups to keep shopping and he will meet up with us at the water park."

"Thanks Max," Hania nodded knowing that this was going to happen to at least one of their groups. "So how many were there?"

"Huh?" Max asked, somewhat confused.

"Rescued," Hania replied. "I don't think there has been a documented case of any clan division being able to go to a shopping mall without there being a rescue of some kind, so I figured that is what happened with Brent's group."

"Really?" Max asked, "Um, only one."

Hania nodded and went off looking for the rest of his group while muttering "so... far...."

Alex prepared to lead the group to the store when he got a ping from his earpiece. "Hey, while you're in sector G do you mind checking out a situation? There appears to be a small human child left unattended by the store you're heading to. Normally I'd get one of the other guys to deal with it but doesn't this Clan group do that a bunch?"

Alex thought about it and then replied: "I'm on it."

He wondered how the clan would react, and decided against letting them know about it beforehand. He led them along the route the would cross paths with the small, dirty child that seemed impatiently waiting for someone( no surprise given the amount of time he had been waiting). "Follow me guys!" Alex said to Brent's group, surprising everyone as the ferret seemed to simply appear amidst the group before marching off towards a group of stores.

Shaking off the initial shock of the sudden arrival of the ferret, Brent motioned to the rest of his group. "You guys heard Alex, let's go!"

Alex's anticipation grew as he proudly led Brent and the rest of his group from Sector F into Sector G. Already, he could see the filthy looking boy ahead of them, standing toward the side of the walkway, looking lost and scared.

The anticipation that he was feeling quickly began to disappear as the group that he was leading were already in the process of passing the boy without anyone in the group taking any action at all.

As they walked, Jace, one of the younger six-year-old clones tugged on the shirt of one of the older brothers. "Hey Brook, why does that boy back there look so sad?"

Ten-year-old Brook stopped to look back at where Jace was pointing. "I'm not really sure, Jace," he answered. "Maybe he got dirty when playing outside?"

Seeing two of the clone kids stopping, apparently interested in something, Brent stopped as well. "What's up guys?"

Jace looked toward Brent and then back toward the boy "I was just trying to figure out why that boy over there looks so sad."

Brent looked toward where Jace was pointing and looked at the boy for a few moments before he answered. "I'm not sure, but it looks like he has been there for awhile, so I think I'm going to go find out."

Seeing most of the rest of his group following him, and not wanting to scare the smaller boy, he waved for them to keep their distance.

Alex stood back in the group, quietly watching events unfold.

"Hey buddy, you okay?" Brent asked softly as he walked toward the six-year-old.

The small boy backed up at the sight of a much taller Brent walking toward him.

As soon as he saw the fear building in the boy's eyes, Brent took a step back. "It's okay, I'm not going to hurt you. You looked a bit scared and I just wanted to make sure there was nothing wrong."

"I'm waiting for my mom," the boy hesitantly replied.

"Okay," Brent stated. "Do you know when your mom will be here?"

The boy shook his head.

Brent nodded. "Alright. Do you know how long you've been waiting here?"

The boy shook his head again. "I think for a while. But this is where mom told me to wait when I was done in the play area."

Brent sighed. He hated it when parents would try to ditch their kids like this. "What's your name? Maybe I can help you find your mom."

The small boy thought for a few moments as he tried to decide if he could trust the older boy or not. Finally deciding that it was worth the chance, he walked a step closer to Brent. "Curt Sadler," he replied.

"Okay Curt," Brent replied warmly. "What's your mom's name?

"Kathy," he answered.

"Alright, wait right here," Brent stated as he walked over to Alex and the rest of the group. "Hey Alex, is there any way you could get a page made for a Kathy Sadler? I think that's her son over there, and I think he's been waiting there a rather long time."

Alex nodded to Brent and spoke quietly into his headset.

When Brent walked back over to Curt, he knelt down in front of him. "Okay, they are going to be paging your mom in a few minutes. Hopefully, she'll hear it and let the mall staff know where she is at."

As if on cue, the loudspeakers went off as soon as Brent finished speaking. "Paging Kathy Sadler... Will Kathy Sadler please go to any mall phone and press 0 for an important message... Kathy Salder... Please go to any mall phone and press 0.... Thank you."

"You see?" Brent smiled.

"Thanks," Curt returned the smile and then became fearful.

"What's wrong?" Brent asked, seeing the quick shift in the boy's demeanor.

"You're not going to leave me, are you?" he asked seriously.

Brent quickly shook his head. "No way, me and my friends will stay right here with you until we are able to find your mom, okay?" Seeing the boy nod his head, Brent continued. "In fact, how would you like to meet my friends? I'm sure they would all like to meet you."

Curt thought for a few moments before he answered. "Are they mean?"

"Nah," Brent smiled. "They are all very nice. See that boy over there? His name is Jace, and he's six years old, just like you."

"Oh," Curt replied as he timidly followed Brent over to the group.

"Hey guys," Brent exaggerated to get everyone's attention. "I would like you all to meet Curt. We're going to wait here for a little bit until we are able to find his mom for him."

Immediately, all the other boys in the group began to warmly greet him. One by one, they began to introduce themselves and shake Curt's hand. While this was going on, Brent took out his tricorder and did a quick scan on the boy to make sure there were no immediate medical problems that they needed to be aware of.

When curt made it to Alex, he looked oddly at him, as if he was trying to figure out what he was. "Are you a space alien?" the boy finally asked.

Alex pondered this and said " I don't think so. Are you?"

Curt giggled. I'm not a space alien, I'm a person. But you don't look like me."

Alex pointed at Jace, one of the other members of the group. "He doesn’t look anything like you either. Does that mean he isn't a person too?"

Curt seemed to think about the question fairly hard before he slowly shook his head. "I guess not."

Brent smiled at the lesson Alex was trying to teach the smaller boy. It was a fairly important lesson, but wasn't sure if Curt was getting it. "Curt, do you understand what Alex is trying to say?"

Curt looked up toward Brent and shook his head. "Not really."

"Just because someone looks different than you doesn't mean that they are any more or less of a person than you are," Brent answered. "But to answer your real question, Alex is a ferret hybrid. That means he is part human, and part ferret."

"Really?" Curt asked as he looked back to Alex, "That's so cool!"

Brent smiled warmly as Curt continued to get to know the rest of the kids in the group.

"Brent?" Daileass spoke through Brent's sub-vocal instead of his comm badge.

"Yeah, Daileass?" Brent mouthed back as he distanced himself a few feet from the group.

"I'm using your sub-vocal instead of your comm badge because I didn't think Curt should hear this just yet," Daileass began. "Once I got his name and his mother's name, I began to run the name through all the various databases that I have access to."

"Okay," Brent stated, fearing what Daileass was about to tell him. "What did you find?"

"About an hour ago, police responded to a shooting that took place about four blocks away from your location," Daileass continued. "According to the report, it appeared to be a drug-related deal that went wrong. There was one woman that was found dead on the scene. Between her description, and the I.D. That was found on her, they have been able to positively identify her as thirty-three-year-old Kathy Sadler."

"Oh damn," Brent replied, "that's terrible."

"The report goes on to make mention of the woman's six-year-old son. It states that they believe the son was taken by perpetrators of the crime." Daileass finished.

"Alright," Brent sighed. "Go ahead and put in an update to correct the report. And list Curt as now being under the protective custody of Clan Short."

"You got it," Daileass stated as Brent began to walk back to the group where he knelt down behind Curt.

Sensing that something might have been wrong, Curt spun around to face Brent. "Have they found my mommy yet?"

Brent sat there, not really sure how to best say what he needed to say. "Curt, how would you like to come back with me and the rest of my friends to where we live?"

Curt shook his head. "No, I want to wait here for mom."

Brent frowned. "I don't think your mom will be coming."

"Of course she will," Curt challenged. "My mom loves me. She always comes back for me. I'm her star. She told me herself."

A tear began to form in Brent's eye. The small boy was really making this difficult to say. Finally, Brent decided to just tell him the truth. "Curt, about an hour ago the police got called to a place a few blocks away from here. They found your mom shot."

"Shot? No!" Curt began to cry. "You're lying, she has to be fine. She can't be shot."

"I'm sorry," Brent whispered.

"No!" the boy cried as he threw himself into Brent's arms.

Brent did his best to comfort the small boy, just as everyone else in the group did the same. Curt cried into Brent's chest for several minutes until the crying became sniffles. "Curt?" Brent asked softly getting the boy's attention, "I know you feel really bad right now, but how would you like all of us to be your new brothers?"

"Why would you guys want someone like me as a brother?" Curt asked through tear-filled eyes.

"Simple," Brent replied. "Because you seem like a really good person that I think I would like to get to know better. You're a strong boy who doesn't seem to mind meeting new friends, even when they are ferret hybrids."

Curt nodded. "Yeah, but now I don't have anywhere to live. Mommy always told me that if anything happened to her, the police would take me away and make me live with people who won't love me."

Brent couldn't help but think how close to the truth the small boy was. "Normally, your mom would have been correct. But you see, we are part of a special group called Family Clan Short, and we can make sure that neither the police or anyone else is ever able to take you away and make you live anywhere you don't want to."

"How can you guys do that? There are not many of you, and all of you are kids just like me."

"Actually, as you will see later, you will have a lot more new brothers than just the eleven of us that you see here."

"Yeah," Jace jumped in as he began to punch the air with his fists. "And they have some really powerful friends that can beat up the police if they ever try anything."

"Thanks, Jace," Brent smiled as he ruffled the other boy's hair. "But Jace is kind of right. We do have a lot of pretty powerful people helping us and they will make sure no one is able to hurt you."

Curt hesitantly nodded. "Okay."

"Cool," Brent smiled as he stood up and motioned to the rest of the group. "Hey guys, I know you all wanted to get some shopping done, but I think we need to cut this trip short. I would like to get Curt back to the compound and cleaned up."

'Okay... not a problem... sure...' were the types of replies he got back from everyone else that was there.

"Daileass?" Brent asked as he tapped his comm badge "Is Dr. Green available?"

"Yes, she is," Daileass replied. "She just returned from the UNIT medical center."

Brent nodded as he remembered why she had to go there in the first place, "Is Carmine alright?"

"He's in serious but stable condition. There is a very high chance he will pull through." Daileass reported.

"Is that one of your other friends?" Curt asked curiously.

"Yes he is," Brent nodded, "I'm sure you will really like him as well after you get to know him."

Curt nodded.

Brent then turned toward Alex. "Thanks for your hospitality Alex, but I think we need to cut our trip short. Do you want to come back to the compound with us, or stay here?"

Without a moment's hesitation Alex replied" I would like to come with you, if it would not be trouble. I need to report this but it would not feel right to disappear from this one so soon after we have begun our friendship!"

"It would not be any trouble at all," Brent replied seriously. "Daileass, could you teleport us to our medical center?"

"I think I can do that," Daileass replied. "One mass teleport for twelve coming up." Moments later, the entire group was gone.

The group of eleven boys and one ferret appeared in the center of a large open room that had a number of biobeds arranged in the center of the room with low shelves around the edges, although only half of the shelves had stuff on them. Above the shelves were windows as to make it easy to see anyone walking down any of the halls toward the medical center. Each of the four walls also had a door, making the center accessible from any direction.

Other than the newly arrived group of individuals, the room was otherwise empty. The only sound that could be heard was the low hum of the biobeds that were powered up in stand-by mode.

"Doctor Green?" Brent called out as soon as he saw that they were alone in the room.

Within moments, Doctor Linda Green came rushing out of her office with medical tricorder in hand. "I'm right here, what's the emergency?"

"Sorry doc," Brent stated as he looked at the panicked doctor. "There is no emergency. We just have someone that needs a checkup."

"I see," the doctor replied with a brief sigh of relief. "I know we haven't been able to really sit down yet and talk about medical procedure, but one of the policies that we use at the Utah base is that we try to limit teleports directly into the medical center for code or emergency cases."

Brent nodded, "That sounds like a good policy to me."

"That would be my fault, Doctor Green," Daileass stated from the ceiling speakers. "There really isn't a lobby area, and I didn't think twelve kids would fit inside your office."

"That's a good point, Daileass," The doctor agreed. "That is also another point that I had hoped to talk to Brent and Lance about later. Over near the south entrance, there are four offices next to each other that do not seem to be in use. I was thinking that we could possibly convert two into a waiting or sitting room, and the other into a teleport ingress area."

Again Brent nodded in agreement. "That sounds like a great idea. Unless you want to talk about the other stuff now, we could get together after lunch."

"Actually, I would prefer to talk to you and Lance privately about a few other things, so after lunch would be great," Dr. Green stated. "Now, who is it that needs the check-up, and what can you tell me about them."

Brent pointed toward the dirty six-year-old who was peaking out from behind Brook. "This is Curt Sadler. We found him abandoned at one of the local shopping centers, he had apparently been dropped off to play at the indoor play area and told to wait for his mom to return. We later found out his mom was killed about an hour ago in what appears to be a drug deal gone bad.

Alex quietly positioned himself beside Brook, intent on staying close to his new friend.

"Hello Curt," the doctor stated calmly as she knelt down near the boy. "I'm Doctor Green, how are you?"

"Fine," the boy replied timidly as he started to hold onto Brook tighter.

Sensing something was wrong, the Doctor stood up and took a few steps back. At the same time, Brent looked toward Jude and Ty, the two eight-year-old triple-t's that were with him, hoping that their telepathic skills might have picked up on something.

"Brook?" Jude asked calmly as he made eye contact with the younger boy. "Why does Doctor Green scare you so much?" After waiting for several moments and seeing that the boy wasn't going to answer, he continued. "Is it because she reminds you of your mommy?"

Instantly, a fear filled expression came across Curt's face as he nodded his head up and down.

"What did your mommy do to you Curt?" Jude asked calmly.

After a few moments of fidgeting, he looked toward the ground and answered in a whisper. "Sometimes when she would have the weird smelling stuff, she would get mad and hit me."

Linda sighed. "I promise you Curt, neither I or anyone else in your new family will ever hurt you like that ever again."

Not seeming to be convinced, Curt continued to hide behind Brook, keeping a close eye on Doctor Green, ready to bolt at a moments notice if needed.

Alex darted past brook, jumping in front of Curt, crouching down in order to look into the child's eyes. "I swear to you as your friend that anyone who would harm you will disappear."

Curt looked into deep into Alex's dark red eyes as if considering the ferret's words carefully. "You can really do that?" he finally asked cautiously. "You're just the same size as me."

"Maybe. But I have sharp pointy teeth!" The ferret flashed an overly large grin showcasing a set of rather large fangs. "Besides, there are other benefits to being small. People think being little means you aren't a threat, that you don't matter. They keep thinking that right up until they're trying to figure out how their world turned upside down."

Curt gasped in amazement at the sight of Alex's teeth as did several of the other boys that were watching the interactions between the two.

Jace looked up toward Brook. "Did you see those cool looking teeth? Do you think we could get teeth like that?"

"Probably not," Brook smiled, "Although I'll agree, they look really cool."

Alex beamed at being the center of attention. "Sorry guys, but there's only one way to get a set of chompers like these, and you're too late!"

"How can we be late?" Jace asked innocently. "We just got here." This, of course, caused the others in the group to giggle.

"Let's just say the ferret-hybrid store went out of business and it ain't coming back," Alex said somewhat mysteriously.

"Oh," Jace thought aloud

"So, what do you say, Curt?" Brent shifted the subject back. "Will you let Doc Green look you over real quick to make sure that there are no other medical problems with you that we don't know about?"

Curt looked toward Brent curiously. "What if you find any? Are you going to send me away?"

"No one will ever send you away, Curt," Linda jumped in. "You probably can't believe it yet, but you are hanging around some of the most caring kids that have ever existed. If we find any other problems with you, the only thing we will do is try to fix them for you."

"I don't believe you," Curt flatly, "But I'll give you a chance, because my stomach doesn't feel that good."

"When was the last time you had anything to eat?" Brook asked as the entire group followed Curt and Doctor Linda to one of the bio-beds.

"Last night," Curt replied.

"I'm sure after we get done here, some of the boys can take you somewhere to get some delicious food in that belly of yours," the doctor commented as she patted the top of one of the bio-beds. "But for now, how about you jump on here real quick, and we will let the bed take a look at you."

Curt looked at the doctor and giggled. "Beds don't check people out, doctors do."

Linda smiled. "Generally, you are right. But these are very special Starfleet bio-beds that can take a look at you just by laying on them. And a lot of times, if we find something wrong, it can even help fix the problem. I'll tell you what. How about you lay down on here for a few minutes for me, and then when I'm done, I'll show you the picture that the bed made of what is inside you. Okay?"

Curt thought for a few moments. This would be a perfect opportunity for him to show the doctor how she was wrong and that beds couldn't really do that, so he nodded and did as he was asked. "Alright."

Once Doctor Green had Curt laying down on the bed where she wanted him, she walked over to the side panel and instructed the bed to begin its diagnostics.

While they were waiting, Brook walked over to Alex. "Hey, Alex? So umm, I guess it's those teeth that ferrets have that make them really good at protecting their friends, right?"

"The teeth are just the polish on a VERY shiny package" Alex grinned mischievously. He then straightened up, then looked at Brook seriously. "What really makes someone good at protecting their friends," he punctuated this by pointing to Brook's chest, "is their inner shine."

"They have to cut you open to shine the inside of you?" Jace asked with concern. "That sounds like it would really hurt."

"I don't think that's what he meant," Brook replied. "But then again, I'm not sure what he did mean in the first place."

"No no no! We save that for the dull lovers, who would shine no other way. Your shine is your light, your heart. Everyone can shine, but not everyone is willing to show it. The more you let your shine forth, the more you will be able to shield your friends. Those who master their shininess can do many amazing things." Alex touched a single claw to Brook's chest drawing on the area around his heart. Brook couldn't tell exactly what Alex was doing, only that it felt sort of weird and reminded him of those he wanted to protect.

Brook and Jace looked at each other as if to ask if the other understood what was said. In some ways, both of them did, it would just take some time to work out. At the same time, all the other boys in the group also heard the small conversation that took place, and found themselves in a very similar place.

"Ferrets," Doctor Green chuckled to herself, "Just when you think they can't surprise you anymore." She then pressed a few more buttons on the side console and nodded approvingly at the information that was being displayed on the screen. "Well, other than a few older bumps and bruises, it looks like you are in pretty good health. Your height and weight is just about perfect for a healthy growing six-year-old."

"Can I see the picture of inside me now?" Curt asked as he sat up on the bed trying to get a glimpse of the side panel.

"Since you were so good at saying still while the bed checked you out, you certainly can." The doctor replied as she helped Curt down from the bed and brought him over to the monitors she was looking at. At the same time, everyone else in the group slowly walked up behind them, hoping to get a look as well.

After pressing a few buttons, the display on the screen changed to show both a front view and a side view of a person roughly the same shape as Curt.

"Is that me?" Curt asked.

"It sure is," the doctor replied. "Here you can see your skeleton, and as I turn this knob here, the resolution will shift to also show your major muscle groups and organs."

"That looks weird," Curt commented as he looked at the screen for a few moments before he turned toward Brent. "Can we go get some of that food now?"

"What do you say, doc?" Brent asked. "Is he good to go?"

Doctor Green thought for a few moments. "Other than a good shower and some warm food, he should be fine."

"Great," Brent nodded before he looked back toward Curt. "How about we go get you cleaned up, then after that we can go to a water park where there is going to be a large fish fry for lunch."

"I love fish," Curt jumped up and down. "Is it a real water park?"

"It sure is, with huge water slides and everything," Brent replied.

"Okay, let's go to the showers!" Curt called out as he grabbed Brent's hand and began to pull the older boy toward one of the doors.

"Hey, Curt?" Brent called out trying his best not to laugh.

"Yeah?" Curt called back, still insistent on pulling Brent toward the door.

"We need to go out the other door, over there," Brent replied.

"Oh," Curt stated as he changed directions and began pulling Brent in the new direction, causing several of the other boys to giggle.

Haden was so wrapped up in learning all of the new Eyryadain systems that he didn't even notice most of the techs leaving for the evening. It wasn't until they began to turn the lights off that Haden finally looked up from the panel he was working with to see Will starring down at him.

"Come on, Haden. Time to call it a night," Will smiled

Haden looked down at the panel and then back toward Will. "I'm not really that tired, can I stay here a bit longer?"

"If it were just me, I wouldn't mind," Will admitted, "However, our new Eyryadain friends have asked that all of their systems be secured when none of their techs are around to keep an eye on things."

Haden sighed and reluctantly set the stuff he was working on down.

"Don't worry," Will continued, "It will all still be here for you first thing in the morning."

Haden nodded as he spotted Evan walking toward them from the other side of the Hanger. "Hey bro, having fun?" he asked when he reached them.

"This stuff is beyond awesome," Haden smiled as he turned back toward Will. "Thanks for showing me all this."

"Thanks for being willing to help out," Will smiled back.

A few minutes later, Haden and Evan were back outside walking back around the Palace toward where the quads had been set up. "So, I take it things went well tonight?" Evan asked as they walked.

"Oh yeah," Haden nearly cheered, "I've read a little about some of the alien tech from Federation member worlds. But this stuff, it's totally unreal. It's not based on anything close to Federation tech."

"I'll take your word on that," Evan smiled as he put one of his arms around Haden's shoulder. It was a welcome sight to see his younger brother like this after everything they had gone through on the training planet over the last three years.

"Hey Daileass, you've been pretty quiet all night," Haden continued, "Don't you think the Eyryadain tech is awesome."

"Sorry Haden, I've been a bit preoccupied thinking about some decisions I have to make, and I wasn't wanting to bother you while you were helping," Daileass replied. "But yeah, the Eyryadain tech is pretty cool."

Haden stopped in mind stride and put his hands on his hips. "Daileass, you're like one of the most powerful super-computers ever created. How could it possibly take you more than a few nano-seconds to come to a decision on anything?"

"You would be surprised," Daileass retorted, "Seriously though, I would rather wait until you two get back to your dorm before I get into it any further."

Haden stood there a few more moments thinking before he finally nodded reluctantly. "Okay, fine," he half-huffed as he continued toward the quads.

The only thing Evan could do was to smile as his younger brother's antics. For the longest time he has been concerned that the training and pressure Haden was under during his training would have been too much for him. Now, however, it was starting to seem like things may have worked out for the best after all.

A few minutes later, Evan and Haden were walking into their dorm. As soon as they stepped through the door, Haden took off his GEAR and plugged it in to charge. As Haden was doing this, Evan flopped down on his bed with a sigh of relief. He was very much looking forward to getting a good night of sleep in a peaceful dorm instead of in a barracks.

"Okay, Daileass, spill it," Haden stated seriously as he plopped himself down in front of the terminal.

"Well," Daileass started, "To be honest, I'm not really sure where to begin."

"Maybe from the beginning?" Evan offered as he took out his laptop from under the bed and began to sign into it to check his mail.

"That would probably work," Daileass agreed. "You see, over the last day I've been trying to figure out the best time to ask you something, or rather offer you something."

"What do you mean?" Haden asked curiously. "You've already made me part of the clone link. I don't think I could ever ask for anything more."

"I know you wouldn't, Haden. That's one of your traits that I highly admire," Daileass admitted. "Never the less, this is something much better than anything you have been exposed to so far. And then, after you showed us what you can really do when you helped Logan earlier, then there was no question that this was something I wanted to give you the opportunity to get involved in."

"What is it? Is it another link?" Haden began to wonder out-loud.

"No, it's nothing like that," Daileass replied.

"Okay good," Haden gave a sigh of relief, "I think i'm more than happy with sticking to the links I'm in."

"Let Daileass finish, bro," Evan offered.

"Well, after things finished up with Logan, one thing led to another. We had the training planet come up, and then the Eyryadain stuff. And after seeing how well you handled that, I really think that now is the best time to ask you about this." Daileass continued.

"Ask me about what?" Haden's voice began to fill with concern. "You're not wanting me to leave you again, are you?"

"Oh god no, Haden," Daileass quickly replied. "I'll never ask you to leave me again. If it ever does happen again, it will be because it is your choice. No, it's nothing like that."

As Daileass spoke, he had at least ten other sub-processes running, trying to analyze the situation as well as analyzing the analysis. Why was this so hard for him? What was so difficult about this that was causing him to get so tripped up over what he was wanting to say. He knew exactly what he wanted to ask, but he seemed stuck on trying to find the perfect way to ask it, especially since he knew what would ultimately be at stake.

"Okay, let me try putting it another way," Daileass continued. "What I'm offering you is to be able to take another off-world trip."

"More training?" Haden asked reluctantly.

"No, nothing like that. This would be a rather special trip," Daileass continued. "You know how much you enjoyed learning about the Eyryadain tech, right? Well, imagine being able to work with and learn about tech that is easily light-years beyond that."

"Really?" Haden's interest suddenly increased. "Is this in another dimension like the training planet where time goes really slow?"

"Well," Daileass tried to figure out the best way to answer. "You could say it's in another dimension. However, it's actually out of time, so time doesn't flow there at all. At least, not as we would understand it."

"That doesn't even make sense," Haden challenged. "If time didn't flow there, everyone would be frozen, and no one would move."

"The physics involved are pretty complicated. To be honest, I don't even fully understand how everything works. I just know it does," Daileass admitted. "Either way, if this is something you think you would be interested in, I think you would be a very valuable asset to the team that is being assembled there."

"Is this another UNIT operation? I'm not going to have to be put in charge of even more people, am I?" Haden asked seriously.

"Actually, it is not a UNIT operation as much as it's a Clan operation. And you will not be put in charge of anyone beyond those that you ask to be put in charge of. And it will have nothing to do with military operations. It will be 100% geeking."

Haden's eyes immediately lit up. "You mean like computers and servers and stuff?"

"That's exactly what I mean," Daileass replied cheerfully. "You will be working with and developing computers and servers that will go far beyond anything that you have ever worked with here on earth."

"Seriously?" Haden replied, "That sounds really cool... but...",

"But what?" Daileass asked with concern as he sensed a significant change in Haden's tone.

"Well, I've never really worked with a team of other techy kind of people. I've always kind of done things on my own. What if I don't get along well with them, or what if I'm not good enough. I was way over my head in trying to learn the Eyryadain stuff earlier. If this is even higher tech than that..." Haden's voice trailed off.

"Haden, you were only exposed to the Eyryadain tech for a very small amount of time tonight. You will literally have all the time you need to catch up and learn the fundamentals of the tech that you will be building from where you are going. Besides, I'm sure you will do great." Daileass replied.

"How can you be so sure?" Haden asked, his voice beginning to crack.

There was a brief pause before Daileass replied. "Normally, it's better that the discussion not go down this road because of the confusion and issues it can cause. However, I think in this case, the benefits if you knowing will outweigh any potential time-loop issues."

"What?" Haden asked, not really sure if he heard Daileass correctly.

"Do you remember the large black boxes that you saw in Chrono's server room on the training planet? The ones you were asked to stay away from?" Daileass asked.

Haden slowly nodded. "Yeah, I know they were servers of some kind, but I just assumed they were wanting me to stay away from them because they had something to do with training."

"Each of those black server boxes you saw contained the equivalent of about a hundred of the regular servers that you saw there," Daileass stated. "They are a very high tech type of server. Although they were involved in training, they also do a lot more."

Haden nodded.

"The technology behind the servers is part of the technology that was developed on Archnania, the place where you would be going to," Daileass continued. "The reason that I know you will do great there is because you were the head of one of the teams responsible for their development."

"Huh? Me?" Haden scrunched up his face. "I was never the head of any team to make servers."

"Remember what I said earlier. The place you will be going to is out of time. As such, the rules regarding time are different. From one possible perspective, you have already been to Archnania. I would suggest not trying to think about it too much as these types of time loops can give you a headache really fast. The main point is, I know you will do great there, because, in a way, you already have."

Haden was quiet for several minutes as he tried to wrap his mind around what Daileass had told him. The entire time, Daileass was a nervous wreck, wondering if he had gone too far by sharing this information with Haden. These types of time loops and paradoxes were things that he and his brothers had learned a long time ago that you never take lightly. And, generally, it is often best to not try to explain them to people, especially before they have experienced them. With all of this in mind, Daileass was sure that Haden would be able to handle it. Or at least, he hoped he would.

"So...," Haden began after several minutes of silence, "I guess I don't really have a choice then? If it's already happened."

That wasn't exactly the response that Daileass was expecting, but it was a much better response than it could have been. "Yes and no," Daileass replied, "One day you will go in some form or another. However, you still have control over when. It could be something you choose to do now, or it could be something you do in a week, month, or year from now if you don't feel you are ready yet."

"So, I could choose to not go now, and still work with the Eyryadain stuff tomorrow?" Haden asked.

"If that's your choice, absolutely," Daileass replied

Haden nodded and looked toward his older brother, who had been silent through the entire conversation. "I'll support you, either way, bro," Evan reassured him.

"Okay," Haden stated with a bit more confidence. "In that case, I think I want to go now."

"Are you sure, Haden?" Daileass asked, already knowing what the answer would be.

"Yeah, I think so," Haden nodded. "So, what do we have to do to get there?"

"Did someone just call the Mikyvis taxi service?" a voice said as a small yellow taxi cab appeared in the center of the room and quickly morphed into Bryce, one of the Mikyvis that Haden and Evan had met before. "Hiya Haden, Evan, long time no see guys."

"Bryce!" Haden called out cheerfully.

"How's it going, little guy?" Evan added as he put his laptop away.

"Little?" Bryce giggled as he suddenly shifted his form so that he grew into the size of a sixteen or seventeen-year-old. "Are you sure about that?"

"Whoa," Evan gasped as he took a step back which caused Haden to giggle.

Bryce giggled as well as he shifted back to his normal size. "When you're an energy-based creature like we are, physical appearance can pretty much be whatever you want."

"So why are you that size? Why not just be an adult?" Haden asked seriously.

"Most adults are boring," Bryce replied as he gave Haden's question some more thought. "As to why this age, I dunno. I guess it's the age I feel most comfortable with."

Haden nodded in understanding. "I guess that makes sense."

"You guys ready to go?" Bryce asked, getting the topic of discussion back on track.

"Almost," Haden replied as he grabbed his GEAR.

"I don't think you'll need that where we are going, Uncle Haden," Bryce stated. "You're going to be totally safe there."

Haden shrugged. "I guess I just feel more comfortable with it."

Bryce smiled and nodded. "Suit yourself." He then waited a few more moments until Haden and Evan both appeared to be ready. "Okay, and we're off!"

In the blink of an eye, the room was empty as Haden and Evan were once again off on yet another adventure.

Moments after they left, Haden and Evan re-appeared in their dorm room in almost the exact same place. Only now, there were a few minor difference. In addition to both boys wearing different clothes, Haden was now wearing a backpack. The other main difference is that the GEAR device on Haden's arm was now completely different. Instead of the device that he normally wore which looked more like a hodgepodge of several smaller devices all wired together, it was now dark-silverish in color with a sleek design to it.

Evan looked around the room and noticed it was dark outside. "You could have at least brought us back when it was morning," he called out into the air.

"But then you would miss all the fun, Uncle Evan," Bryce's voice echoed around the room.

"What kind of fun is there in the middle of the night in Russia?" Evan muttered under his breath.

Haden, on the other hand, was off in his own little world. For the last several weeks, he had been working on coming up with a list of stuff he wanted to do as soon as he got back. The first item of which, he was already in the middle of doing, which was making sure that his link with Daileass and the rest of his brothers was now back to normal, and the way it should be.

Once he was convinced that everything with the link was fine, he took a deep breath and tapped his comm badge. "Haden to Brent."

A few moments later, Brent's voice replied. "Brent here. What's going on Haden?"

"Is everything alright there?" Haden asked with concern.

As Brent replied, kids could be heard briefly screaming in the background. "Unless you know something that I don't, everything seems to be okay."

"Oh," Haden answered slightly confused. "I just heard that there were some problems there, and something about a huge shoot-out going on or something."

"Yeah, that was earlier this morning. Everything's cool now," Brent replied as something that sounded like a huge cannonball slamming into a pool could be heard.

"What's all that noise I'm hearing?" Haden asked.

"Oh, sorry. We're at Paradise Landing, The Don's water park. Hey, why don't you have Daileass teleport you over so you can hang out with us for a bit," Brent offered cheerfully.

"Thanks for the offer, but maybe later," Haden answered.

"Okay, we are going to have a fish-fry later, so feel free to stop by whenever you can," Brent stated. After waiting for several seconds without Haden saying anything else, he continued. "Did you need something else?"

"No, thanks... Haden out," Haden stated as he tapped his comm badge and turned toward the terminal. "Daileass, why couldn't you tell me?"

"What do you mean?" Daileass replied. "I told you several times on Archnania not to worry about it."

"That's not what I meant," Haden stated with a hint of frustration in his voice. "You could have told me what was going on when we got back from the training planet. But you never mentioned it. Not once."

There was a brief period of silence before Daileass replied. "I'm sorry if me not telling you hurt you, but there was nothing really that you could have done."

"But Daileass, Brent, Lance and the others at the Vegas base are my family. Even before all the Archnania stuff, and before all the UNIT training stuff, they were Evan and my family. Why wouldn't you have told me?" Haden replied emotionally.

"There are a few reasons Haden, so please hear me out on this," Daileass began. "First, Colonel West and his forces had everything under control from a military standpoint. What was going on was something left over from last night that Brent and Lance needed to finish resolving. There really would not have been anything for you to do. Second, had you gone back to Vegas, you would not have been around to check out the Eyryadain tech, and as a result, would not have been ready to go to Archnania."

"I could have gone to Archnania any time. It didn't have to be right now," Haden protested.

"Actually, it did," Daileass replied. "You've been involved in enough of the planning groups to know what all is going on with the Clan right now, and where you fit into the plans moving forward. If you had gone tomorrow or Thursday, that wouldn't be able to happen, would it?"

"Probably not," Haden sighed knowing that Daileass was right. "I don't know. I guess I just don't like all the secrets that are being kept all the time."

"Haden, you know I love you," Daileass's voice was full of compassion, "Keeping that information from you was not an easy decision. You are one of the last people I would ever want to keep information from. But I think by now you should know just how complicated all this time loop stuff can get, and how easy it would be to totally mess up the future. Having the information that I did, had I told you I would possibly have been risking messing up the time-line."

"Fine," Haden replied. He still wasn't completely happy, but he could at least understand why things had to work out the way they did. Suddenly, he remembered the next item on his list. "So, does this mean that I get to help bring the Vegas A.I. online?"

"It sure does," Daileass replied.

As if the last few minutes of conversation had been forgotten, Haden excitedly hit his comm badge. "Haden to Noah."

"Noah here, what's up Haden?" Noah's voice replied.

"Hey, I was just wondering if I could still help with getting the Vegas A.I. installed and initialized?" Haden eagerly asked.

"Oh man, that's right, you're just getting back, aren't you," Noah replied with his voice seeming to be somewhat distracted. "Um, about that. Caleb and I are going to be tied up here a bit longer than we had planned."

"Oh, okay," Haden deflated.

"But hey," Noah continued. "You were handling the matrices and core logic concepts just as good as we were, so I don't see any reason why you can't do the bulk of the installation and commissioning work on your own."

"Seriously?" Haden asked.

"Absolutely. You are a lot better than you give yourself credit Haden. Even Caleb is sitting here nodding in agreement. The hardware is already en-route to the Vegas site. If you have any questions or issues, you can contact either of us at any time, but honestly I think you will do fine."

"Okay, I'll give it a try," Haden replied. "Thanks Noah!"

"No problem, Haden. Good luck, Noah out," Noah replied before the comm link went dead.

Haden sat in the chair, motionless for several minutes after his conversation with Noah. His mind torn between his fears of stepping up and taking on the installation project himself, and getting to work hands-on with the finished products of what they had developed on Archnania.

'Haden, don't forget you will also have all of us right here for additional support,' Daileass spoke inside of Haden's head.

'Oh yeah,' Haden smiled as he stood up and spoke out-loud. "Okay, let's do this."

"I'm sure you will do great," Evan added as he put his winter jacket on.

Haden tilted his head. "Arn't you coming back to Vegas with me?"

Evan shook his head. "Nah, I was going to go see if I could track down Jimmy. We were going to hang out for a bit. Besides, I'm sure you will have your hands full with the server stuff for awhile."

Haden grinned. "Probably. Okay, tell Jimmy I said hi."

"Will do," Evan agreed as he waved and walked out of the room.

Haden turned back toward the terminal. "Okay Daileass, ready when you are." Without a reply, Haden vanished.

As Brent and the rest of his group walked toward the Quads with Curt, the younger boys were doing their best to explain to Curt how cool the gang showers were.

"Oh, and then they have the big poles and each one has six different shower heads on the top and six on the bottom so you get cleaned from every direction!" Jace bubbled as they walked.

"I don't think I've ever seen a shower like that before," Curt commented as they entered one of the Quad's. "Are you sure you're not kidding me?"

"Trust me, he's not kidding, but you will be able to see for yourself pretty quickly," Brook defended.

Agreeing that he would soon be able to tell if his new friends were lying or not, Curt turned his attention toward his new furry friend that was still walking beside him. "Hey Alex, do ferrets like taking showers as well?"

"Some of us, yes. Most of us are pretty good at not getting dirty in the first place," Alex replied.

Nine-year-old Odis Diggs, one of the street kids rescued yesterday, shot Alex a questioning look. "You don't like people watching you take showers?"

"If you were a ferret kid, would you want people watching you?" Brook asked.

Alex looked at Odis, puzzled. "You want to watch me groom myself?"

"Huh?" Odis asked, even more confused.

Brent chuckled. "Odis, There are a number of creatures like cats and ferrets that will lick there fur clean, instead of dipping themselves in water."

"They lick themselves? Ewww!" Odis replied. "Um, no thanks, I don't need to watch that."

"I wanna watch," Jace called out.

"Maybe another time," Brook replied as they stepped into the bathroom.

"Well, here we are," Brent called out. "Curt, are you alright with taking a shower yourself?"

Curt nodded.

"Can I take a shower too?" Jace asked.

"I didn't have a shower today yet either," Odis informed everyone.

Brent shrugged. "I guess everyone who wants to can take showers."

"As much fun as that might be, I fear our fantastic fish feast shall not finish itself." Alex said as he walked up to Curt and bowed. "I hope to see you there, my shiny friend!"

"Fish feast?" Curt asked.

"Oh yeah," Brent replied. "When we get done taking showers, and we go to the water park, we are also going to have a fish fry there."

"Cool," Curt replied as he quickly began to strip out of his clothes.

Brook looked toward Alex. "You are leaving us? Did we do something to offend you? Are you mad at us?"

Alex scampered over to Brook and held his arm, looking up to him very seriously. "If you offended me, you would not have the chance to ask such a question. Anyways, have you ever had to get a score of ferrets ready to meet the first non ferrets they've seen in a long time?"

Brook thought for a few moments and slowly shook his head. "No. I've never met any ferrets before today. Is it hard to do? Maybe you need some help? Eric always tells us that we should always try to help our friends."

"Do you really think there are those that would brave our shiny halls?" Alex asked cautiously

Brook slowly nodded. "I've never seen shiny halls before, but I bet a bunch of people would. I know I would."

Alex stopped for a moment, taken aback that there would be a youngling willing to enter the halls of the shiny with him. However, he quickly came to the conclusion that this could be a splendifferous opportunity to share the ways of the shiny with the Clan.

"And so you shall," Alex grinned toothily. "That is, assuming you really would like to meet the other followers of the Shiny?"

"I can meet other ferrets? Really? Are they as cool as you? Yes, yes, I would love to go!" Brook cheered.

"What about showers?" Jace asked as he threw his last piece of clothing off to the side.

"Who needs showers when there are ferrets?" Brook asked seriously. "Besides, the showers should still be here when I get back."

"Oh Great hidden Shiny One, please send me and my new apprentice to the water park, so that I may introduce him properly to all that is good and Shiny." Alex muttered as if in prayer.

Moments after Alex and Brook vanished, Brent walked back in after getting the showers started. "Okay guys, everything's ready to... Where did Brook go?"

"He went to the shiny halls," Jace commented as he ran into the other room.

"The shiny halls?" Brent asked.

"The great hidden shiny one took them," Curt chimed in as he chased after Jace.

"I think he left with that other ferret kid," Odis offered as he too went into the other room.

Brent sighed. "Sure Brook, you have permission to go, thanks for asking." With that, Brent quickly followed the remainder of the kids into the showers.

Leroy and Herbert were leading their group out of Gap Kids, which was the last store they had planning on visiting. As they were walking, Roe informed them that their group was the first group that was done.

Perhaps the reason they were first was the fact that he had most of the younger kids, including Dwight, Aron, Cooper, and Ben in his group, he wasn't sure. But whatever the reason was, Leroy and Herbert both agreed that it would probably be better to start heading over to the water park, instead of trying to sit around in the shopping center, waiting for the other groups.

"Hey Daileass?" Leroy asked as he tapped his comm badge. "Do you know if they are ready for us at the water park yet?"

"That's a very good question, Leroy," Daileass answered. "Normally, I don't think anyone can truly be ready for the clan. However, these are ferrets we are talking about, so it makes it very difficult to say."

"Huh?" Leroy asked.

"Never mind," Daileass replied. "Yes, I'm pretty sure they are ready, since the park opened about thirty minutes ago. Would you like me to teleport your group over?"

"Nah," Leroy stated as he looked around his over-excited group. "I think walking there will do us good. Maybe it will help some of the little guys burn off some of the extra energy they have."

"That works. In that case, your best bet will probably be to head out the eastern exit and head south to the end of the block, then follow the block around and head west down the strip until you get to the water park entrance," Daileass informed.

"Great, thanks Daileass," Leroy stated as he tapped his comm again, closing the conversation. "Okay guys, this way to the water park."

All the little kids cheered as they followed after Leroy and Herbert, with their bears close behind them.

A group of street kids were slowly making their way down a side street laughing and joking with each other. Occasionally, one would stop to kick over a can, box, or any other loose object that would cause the others in the group to start cheering and joking more.

As the group walked past a graffiti covered bench, a chiming sound was heard. Looking back toward the bench, the kids saw the source of the chiming coming from a small dark blue cell phone that was laying near the edge of the bench.

"Ah, leave it, man," the sixteen-year-old boy, who seemed to be the group's leader, called out as a few of them began to approach the bench.

As the other kids tried to decide if they wanted to listen to the older boy or not, the phone stopped ringing.

"Aw, shit man," one of the other boys called out as they waved the phone off and went back to join the older kid. Before the group could move on, however, the phone began to ring again.

"Okay, that shit's really getting on my nerves," the leader of the group said as he strode over to the phone and grabbed it. "Yeah man, there ain't no one that wants to listen to your sorry ass," he announced after pressing the button to accept the call. This of course, caused the rest of his group to burst out laughing.

"Oh? I would beg to differ," a distorted, metallic voice replied.

"Oh yeah? Well I don't remember asking you, bitch," the leader responded. Again, causing more laughs and jabs from his group.

"Is that the only way you know how to respond, Blades, with insults?" The distorted voice replied, referring to the boy by his street name.

"Okay, who the hell is this, and how do you know my name?" the leader replied with a bit more concern in his voice.

"I'm sorry," the voice answered. "Would you prefer that I call you Trevor instead?"

Now the sixteen-year-old was getting really spooked. Not only did this person know his street name, but he also knew his real name. "Hey man, I don't want any trouble man, what do you want?"

"I only want to help," the voice replied. "Look down the street toward the strip."

Blades did as the caller suggested, and glanced down the street. As he did this, others in his group did as well, as they were not sure what the caller was saying, but they could certainly hear the concern in their leader's voice. As they looked, they saw a group of 10 kids, and 5 bears walking down the street, turning a corner away from them.

"Those look like those clan kids," one of the boys observed.

"Fuck the clan," the older boy spat. "You guys saw the news last night. They are the fuckers responsible for Pa getting arrested last night at the sub-station."

"Do I have your attention now?" the caller's voice asked.

"Some punk clan kids are walking down the street, so what?" Blades replied. "It ain't like we can do shit about it."

"But what if you could?" the voice replied. "I happen to know that they are on their way to the landing."

"Paradise Landing?" Blades asked. "No shit?"

"Assuming you and your boys are interested, I would guess that would provide plenty of opportunities to really let them know how you feel." the voice continued. "And, if you look behind the tree in front of you, you will find a small backpack."

Doing as the voice suggested, Blades looked behind the tree and found the backpack. "Okay, I see it."

"Inside the backpack, you will find a small device. Make sure it's near you and it will prevent the clan kids from being able to bring in support."

"Sweet," Blades grinned as images of kicking the asses of clan scum began to fill his head. "Just one question, why are you helping us, and what do you want in return?"

"Let's just say that you are not the only ones with an ax to grind with the clan," the voice replied. "And as far as what I want in return... trust me... seeing the clan kids get what they deserve will be more than enough for me."

Blades grinned in satisfaction. "Okay, you have my attention, tell me more."

As Leroy led his group toward the main gates of the water park, he was surprised to see how large the line was. "Isn't this suppose to be November?"

Herbert laughed. "Well, that's what happens when you build a water park that includes heated pools and water, it can be used year round."

"And how do you know so much about this place?" Leroy asked as he wrapped an arm around Herbert's waist.

"It's plastered all over the internet," Herbert replied as he looked toward the younger guys, and their growing excitement as well, "I've always wanted to check this place out. But at twenty bucks a pop, well, we never really had the money to."

"Look over there," Leroy pointed out, "Those kids look like they are wearing UNIT uniforms.

No sooner had Leroy pointed that out, one of the UNIT kids was walking toward him. "Leroy Dalton?" the thirteen-year-old asked.

"Yes?" Leroy replied.

"Lieutenant Tyson, Strike Team Silver," The boy introduced himself. "We're going to be helping to provide you guys with a little extra security today."

Leroy nodded. "Great. I'm kind of surprised to see so many people here."

"If you would like to follow me, sir, you guys are already checked in, so you guys are free to head in," Tyson replied.

Once Leroy and the rest of his group began to follow the Lieutenant, they were all given small purple wristbands along with little maps of the park. As the boys were putting the wristbands on, Tyson continued to speak. "Picnic area 2 has been roped off for clan use. Since all the picnic areas are technically outside the water park, all of you will need to make sure you keep these wristbands on so you can get back in the park. Also, remember your comm badges can easily stick on your skin, so make sure you keep them with you at all times as well."

Once he was finished speaking, and saw that no one had any questions, Lieutenant Tyson lead Leroy and his group over to one of the side gates where one of the water park staff counted their wristbands, and allowed them all through a small gate.

Once they were all inside, Leroy looked around to make sure that he still had his group with him. "So, where do you guys want to go first?"

Almost immediately, ten different hands pointed in ten different directions as each boy started calling out the name of the ride they wanted to go on.

"Okay, okay," Leroy giggled.

"Just remember, you asked them," Herbert grinned.

Leroy nodded as he admitted defeat. "Okay, well I think for now we should all stick together. So how about we make our way around the park and hit all the different rides. But first, let's hit the changing rooms. I don't think the normal clan swim attire will be appreciated here."

"What's the normal swim tire?" Aron asked.

"It's where we go swimming, but don't wear any clothes at all," Cooper replied with Ben nodding in agreement.

"Oh, I don't mind that," Aron replied right before he was pushed in the changing room along with the other little guys by the older boys.

Leroy smiled as he was rather proud of himself. Not only had he successfully convinced the little guys to wear swimsuits, but he also managed to get his entire group changed without creating a huge scene. Figuring it would be best to leave their clothes and the few bags of stuff they had bought, back at the assigned clan picnic area, Leroy was in the process of leading the group back from the picnic area toward the side re-admittance area when it happened.

"Hot damn," a voice called out behind them causing Leroy to stop and look behind him. Standing there was a group of eleven kids ranging in age from thirteen to sixteen. Standing in the middle of the group was a boy who's face neither Leroy nor Herbert would ever forget.

"When that guy mentioned we would get our revenge on clan pansies, I never thought it would be geek boy and his faggot friend," Blades taunted, causing the other guys in his group to laugh.

Herbert's stomach turned upside down as he stood a few inches away from Leroy. Standing in front of them was none other than several of the kids that had beaten them up a week ago, which ended up with them landing in the police station.

"We don't want any trouble, guys," Leroy stated confidently.

Blades grinned. "Then it sucks for you, doesn't it? Cause you just found it."

As they spoke, Aron tugged on Dwight's shirt, and the two of them took off running back toward the picnic area that they had just come from, with their bears following close behind.

Seeing this, Blades motioned to four of his guys to go after them. He then turned his attention back to Leroy and the rest of his group. "You know, I think I'm really going to enjoy this. Especially for what you clan fags did to my Pa last night."

"Father like son, I guess," Leroy grinned.

"I'll make you eat those word, fag," Blades declared as he quickly began to advance on Leroy. As he said this, the blade of a small pocket knife fell into his hand.

While Herbert and the rest of the group slowly began to back up. Leroy stood his ground and instead, began to bob back and forth, almost as if starting a dance.

"You want a round two?" Leroy asked, "Fine, but I ain't going easy on you this time."

It only took Dwight and Aron a few moments to get back to picnic area 2. Seeing the obvious distress in the two small boys, three of the UNIT kids that were standing there were already beginning to jog to meet them.

"A bunch of older kids look like they are going to try to hurt Leroy," Dwight pointed out.

One of the UNIT kids nodded. "Okay, wait here guys, we will deal with it."

After the UNIT kids jogged off, Dwight looked toward Aron. "Come on," he said, as he began walking back toward the rest of the group.

Aron looked back at the picnic tables and decided to follow Dwight.

Blades ran toward Leroy and took a swipe at him with his knife. Leroy, for his part, easily bobbed to the side, dodging the blow completely. As he swung back around, his palm landed firmly on the back of the older boy, causing him to stumble to the ground.

A few of the kids watching giggled as the move that Leroy performed seemed to seamlessly fit in his dance, almost as if it were planned ahead of time. This, of course, only further enraged Blades.

"Oh, I am so going to enjoy kicking your scrawny little ass," Blades taunted as he jumped up to kick Leroy. Instead of dodging the kick, this time Leroy caught the boy's foot with the rhythm of his dance, and as he began to twist around, he twisted the older boy's leg in the opposite direction, sending him to the ground."

"Don't just stand there, you jerks," Blades said angrily as he looked up toward the rest of his group. "Kick their asses."

Just as the group was about to move forward, another voice called out. "I don't think you guys want to do that." Standing a few feet behind them were three new boys dressed in UNIT military uniforms. They each had assault rifles drawn and pointed toward them. "I really don't think you want to do that."

"Do it now," Blades demanded. As soon as this was said, one of the other boys from his group took out a small oddly shaped device from behind his back.

"Drop it now," one of the UNIT kids demanded as he trained his gun on the boy. "Drop it or I'll shoot."

Immediately, the boy allowed the device to fall from his hands. As soon as it hit the ground, there was a small beep, and several small blinking lights began to flash on it.

"Oh, you guys are so screwed now," Blades grinned.

As soon as Dwight and Aron saw the UNIT kids stop and draw their weapons ahead of them, they both began to quicken their pace.

"There are the little rats," a large fifteen-year-old boy called out as he and three other boys jumped out from behind a large bush.

"Ahhh!" Aron screamed as he fell backward. Dwight quickly ran to his side and looked up toward the large boys in fear.

"Now we'll show you how we handle little rats like you," the boy grinned as he and his friends started to move closer to them.

As soon as the older boys began to do this, Aron's light gray teddybear, Snuggles, walked up behind the two boys in a protective position, while Dwight's light brown with patches of dark brown bear, Patches, jumped between Dwight and Aron, and the group of older boys.

"Guys. I won't allow you to hurt my buddy Aron or his friends," Patches stated in a sweet voice. "If you don't back off immediately I will have to restrain or incapacitate you."

"Holy crap, Steve, the fricken bear is talking," one of the older boys in the group observed.

The oldest boy in the group sized up the three-foot bear standing in front of them. "It's just a stupid fag toy. There ain't no toy that's going to do shit to protect them."

To demonstrate his point, the oldest boy moved to kick the bear off to the side. As he did this, Patches leaped up and out of the way, only to land a few feet to the side.

"That was different," the older boy said in surprise as he looked at the bear.

"I've never seen a toy do that before," one of the other boys commented. As soon as he said this, a set of six-inch razor sharp claws extended out of each of the bear's hands.

"Oh crap," another boy commented. "I've never seen a toy do that either!"

"Who cares?" the oldest boy replied. "It's only one stupid bear, we can take it."

"Your one warning is up, scum bags," the bear announced as it dropped into a combat stance. "Initiating full defense mode."

With that, the fight was on. All four of the older boys charged the small bear. The bear, for its part, began to not only dodge all the blows and moves made by the boys, but began to deal out a series of blows of its own.

Both Dwight and Aron sat with shocked looks on their faces, as Patches moved in ways that seemed like they would be impossible for a bear to move in.

In less than 15 seconds, all four boys were laying on the ground, incapacitated.

"Sir, we might have a problem," one of the UNIT boys announced as he kept the gun trained on Blades, "It looks like one of the guys here has deployed some type of unknown device."

"Don't waste your breath," Blades replied. "It makes it so none of your friends can transport in to help you." Once he finished saying this, he stood up to face the three UNIT kids.

"Remain where you are buddy, or I'll be forced to fire," the same UNIT boy warned.

"And kill all of us? And have a kid bloodbath on your hands? I don't think so," Blade smiled.

Within moments, about 20 more fully armed UNIT security appeared surrounding Blades and the rest of his guys.

"So much for preventing my friends from coming, huh?" the UNIT boy replied.

"Oh, that's so full of shit, the bastard lied to us!" Blades called out as he and the rest of his friends were quickly subdued and taken into custody.

"So Daileass, I'm guessing that device is just some kind of hoax?" the UNIT boy asked in his comm badge.

"I don't think we can say that just yet, Anthony," Daileass replied. "I'm unable to get any clear scans on it from any of the embedded scanners you guys have, and a safety-trip is preventing me from teleporting it out."

"Oh damn," Anthony replied. "So what do we do, boss?"

"Go ahead and deal with the combatants you have there. I'm working on getting a specialist to come take a look at the device," Daileass replied.

The desert sun was shining brightly as Haden appeared outside the East entrance of the main circular administration building.

"Man, I almost forgot what this place looked like," Haden said to himself as he looked around at the bright green grass, sidewalks, and trees between the buildings.

Deciding that it would probably be best to check in with the base commander before he started to set up a new super powerful A.I. that would have the ability to take over and operate any of the compound's systems at will, Haden made his way into the Admin building.

Haden was startled slightly as he walked past the security checkpoint and both of the security guards saluted him. "At ease," Haden spoke softly as he returned the salute. All the time he had spent on the knowledge planet around fellow engineers and computer geeks had helped him almost forget the military position he's expected to follow. Either way, that's something that he's going to have to get used to again.

As he walked down one of the halls, Haden was trying to decide if he should try going past the Colonel's office first, or look for him in the core C.I.C. As such, he wasn't paying that much attention when he nearly ran into him while turning a corner.

"Colonel West," Haden sputtered in surprise as he quickly snapped to attention. "Sir!"

Just smiled warmly as he looked down toward the smaller boy. "At ease, Haden," seeing him relax slightly, he continued. "From what I've read, I think I like the whole formality and saluting thing just as much as you do"

Haden allowed a small smile to crack as well, "Sorry, sir."

"Not a problem," Justin replied. "I hear you've had a pretty eventful day since I saw you yesterday."

"Erm, yeah," Haden did his best to stall while in his mind, he frantically tried to find some information. Having full access to the clone link meant that he potentially had access to lots of information. Finding the specific piece of information he was looking for could be another story. He knew that Colonel West was higher in rank than he was, but he also knew that security ranks and levels did not always follow military rank, and he had to be sure that he didn't mention anything he wasn't suppose to.

Finally, after what seemed like ages, but was actually no more than a fraction of a second, Haden found the information he was looking for; the security clearance level for the Colonel. With a sigh of relief in that he wouldn't have to make some story up, he smiled a bit more. "Yeah, you could say that. Camp Casey was... it was a real learning experience. But then the trip to Archnania, and those trees... I don't think I'll be jumping to take any more inter-dimensional trips again anytime soon."

Justin looked at Haden and burst out laughing. Knowing how much Haden had been through, he was glad to see that a lot of the old Haden was still there. "I think I know exactly what you mean.

Haden nodded as he tried to think of something to say next. Before he had a chance to think of anything, the sixteen-year-old base commander continued.

"So, I hear you are going to start upgrading our computer systems today," Justin commented.

"Yeah," Haden agreed as he remembered the reason he came here in the first place. "That's actually why I was coming to see you, to let you know about that. I don't think there will be any disruption in services, but you should probably be aware just in case."

Justin nodded. "Thanks for the heads up. I don't suppose you have any idea as to when the handover will happen?"

Haden shook his head. "I'm not even sure when the equipment will be showing up."

"I think I can answer that for you," Justin stated as he pulled out his datapad from his side pouch. "A lot of equipment was just teleported into the secure server room."

"Oh," Haden replied as he took the offered datapad and looked over the list of stuff.

"You sure you can put all that stuff together?" Justin asked seriously.

"I think I can manage it," Haden smiled and then quickly became serious. "Sir."

Justin ruffled Haden's hair a bit before he began to walk off. "Okay, just give me a buzz when you're ready to do the handover."

As Colonel West walked off, Haden looked down at the list once again. "Okay Daileass, let's do this. Take me down to the server room please."

Before Haden realized it, he was standing in the hallway outside of the secure underground server room. Heading through the large metal door, he immediately began to look around the room. On the left side were all the System 27 servers that were there since yesterday, or for several years ago from Haden's perspective.

It was the right side of the room that pulled Haden's attention. There he could see the fourteen rather large black boxes all neatly lined up next to each other along with a few crates of additional equipment that would be used to connect and link the new systems together and to help integrate them into the rest of the installation's network.

Although Haden knew that any one of the fourteen server boxes were easily more powerful than all the System 27 servers that were in the room and then some, that was not what Haden was really looking for. It wasn't until he walked behind the two rows of new servers that he saw the real prize. Sitting behind them were two significantly smaller blackish boxes.

It would be those two boxes that would become the brain of the A.I. that, if everything worked out, he would be bringing online. Where as the larger server boxes contained storage and peripheral integration hardware in addition to some process and external memory beds, the two smaller boxes were devoted almost exclusively to processing and internal memory. It was these boxes that the bulk of Haden's time on Archnania had been spent theorizing, developing, and refining. And now, the cumulation of all his and the rest of those that were on his team's work was sitting right in front of him.

"Pretty cool, huh?" Daileass's voice asked through Haden's comm badge.

Haden rubbed his hand across the top of one of them. "Yeah," he whispered. "You sure everything manufactured correctly? The fabrication of pico wafer-dies went fine back here?"

"They sure did. Just as we suspected, by using materials native to this universe, all the properties fit into place perfectly. Pacific Rim Division has already brought their A.I. online without a hitch, Daileass reported.

Haden nodded as he pulled his slightly trembling hand away from the server.

"Haden, is something wrong?" Daileass asked seriously.

Haden shook his head. "Wrong? Why would anything be wrong? I should start getting things setup." He then walked over to one of the creates that had the extra equipment on it and began to take off the protective wrapping.

"Haden, please stop," Daileass called out. "I don't need external sensors to tell me that something is seriously wrong with you. I would rather that we can discuss it rather than me having to look in your head, but I really don't think you should be doing anything with this equipment until we can work out whatever is wrong."

Haden looked down toward the ground as he tried to stop himself from trembling. He had tried his best to pretend that nothing was wrong and that everything was fine, and up to now he was able to pull it off, since there was always the chance that something would have gone wrong, and the installation would have been delayed. But now, there was no pushing this off, and he would be forced to deal with it.

"It's nothing..." Haden began, "nothing that we haven't talked about before."

"You're going to have to do a lot better than that, bro," Daileass replied in a comforting voice.

"Well, it isn't," Haden protested as he pulled out a package of small specially designed hand tools that he would need to use throughout the setup and installation process.

"This is about replacing me, isn't it?" Daileass asked seriously.

"How can you be so calm about that?" Haden blurted out as he sat down on the floor.

Daileass inwardly sighed as he came to a new realization about how much Haden had been allowing this to eat him up inside. "The chats we had about this on Archnania, you never really accepted, did you?"

Haden slowly shook his head. "But in those conversations, there was always a chance that we would never get to this point. There was a chance that maybe we wouldn't have to set up a new A.I. here, that it wouldn't be needed or something, I don't know."

"Oh, Haden," Daileass said softly, "I wish you hadn't kept this bottled up in you like you have. But you out of all people should know how much of my core coding has gone into the base matrices that the new A.I.'s are based on."

"It's still not the same," Haden challenged. "It doesn't matter what percent of your V.I. code elements go into it, it could never be the same."

"Why do you say that?"

"Well, because..." Haden began as he paused to collect his words. He knew what he wanted to say, he just wasn't sure how to really put it into words. He also wasn't sure if it was something he should really say out loud. So, instead, he closed his eyes and he focused on the images he wanted to convey. The same images that Daileass had previously shared with him, about how at one point before General Adams got a hold of him, Daileass and his brothers were real human boys, and how their brains were mapped onto positronic brains, and the subsequent events that followed. "Because of that," Haden nearly cried when he had finished.

For several seconds after Haden was done, Daileass remained quiet. When he finally spoke, his voice was full of compassion. "Oh Haden, Sweet Haden. I think that you are one of the very few people who will ever really be able to truly understand and appreciate what my brothers and I have gone through. But I think you are missing one very important fact."

"What?" Haden asked as he used his arm to wipe off his eyes.

"You are right that none of the new A.I.'s will be the same as I am. That has never been in question. But what you are forgetting is that you are not going to be replacing me, I'll still have full access to all of the systems here, and I'll still be able to help out whenever needed," Daileass replied.

"But it's not the same," Haden protested. "It won't be you running everything."

"Actually, if you want to get down to it, it's not me running things as it is," Daileass replied. Seeing that he had Haden's attention, he continued. "Right now, almost everything in the Vegas base, and most of our Utah base as well, is run by my V.I. slave processes. There are very few things that my core intelligence is actually focusing on." Daileass stated.

"But you are talking to me now, and that's probably coming from one of our local servers," Haden replied, although now he seemed to be a bit less sure of himself as something that Daileass had mentioned seemed to click.

"Not really," Daileass stated. "If you trace the pathways back, you will see that the actual speech generation and logic selection is coming from my central core in Utah. It's just the digital sound data that is transmitted and in this case, being played through your comm badge."

"So how is it that you can carry out hundreds of conversations at once?" Haden asked seriously, "Are you saying those are all V.I. functions as well?"

"A number of them are," Daileass answered. "For example, a lot of the phone calls I handle at the call center are V.I. controlled. When someone asks how to get to the nearest bathroom or swimming pool, those types of conversations are V.I. controlled as well. Don't get me wrong, I can actually focus on having dozens or more conversations at a time. But right now, at this moment in time, other than an important conversation I'm having with two kids in Russia, and an important medical situation that is going on in Utah, my consciousness is focused almost entirely on you."

Haden remained quiet for a long while after Daileass had finished speaking as he allowed his mind to try to make sense of what was said. Although Daileass had no intention of trying to push into, or read Haden's thoughts, he could already tell just from Haden's presence in the link that Daileass was making progress, and Haden was starting to understand. Each time this topic was brought up on Archnania, Haden never really accepted what was said, but instead pushed his true feelings inside of him. As a result, his real concerns were never discussed. Now that he was at the point that he was forced to address them, hopefully now some real progress could be made.

"Haden?" Daileass asked while Haden was still thinking. "You know I would never lie to you, right?"

"Yeah," Haden slowly nodded.

"Good," Daileass continued. "Then you know that I am not lying to you when I tell you that by setting up the new hardware here, we're bringing online a new being, based on new technologies, that are quite literally the brainchild of each and everyone of us that was there designing it. This is our son. Each of these new AI's is a piece of us. Like a family is bound together, we are networked together, to share our knowledge, our experiences and our resources, just like every family. Each of us have abilities and liabilities, but we're family, so when one needs help, the others give that help. When one gets sick, the others try to take over so he can recover and get well again. If one decides to take a vacation, the gap is filled by the rest of the family."

Haden nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I guess you're right. It will kinda give you access to more resources with all the new neuroptic pathways and pico-ware, won't it?"

"That's right," Daileass agreed, "So why are you still moping around? I want my new toys to play with, and I want to get to meet my new little brother."

"You're right," Haden smiled as he stood back up. "Let's make this happen."

Haden had been working almost non-stop on the new servers for a little over an hour. During that time he had managed to get all fourteen of the larger server silos setup and connected, and was just about to begin to connect them to the two smaller 'brain' silos, and then begin to run the bridges to the older server computers to allow the two platforms to integrate with each other.

Given how many simulations and mock-ups he had worked through during the development process on Archnania, everything had gone remarkably smooth thus far. Although Haden was pretty sure that if he was going to run into any issues, it would be when he began to work with the two 'brain' systems. Although they were smaller than the other servers, they were easily nearly a hundred times more complicated.

"Hey Haden?" Daileass's voice interrupted him through his comm badge.


"You're making really great time with the new hardware, and I really hate to interrupt you," Daileass continued. "But, I don't suppose you feel like taking a break for a few minutes, do you?"

Haden tilted his head and tried to figure out why Daileass would need him to take a break. "Sure, what's wrong?"

"As you know, most of the Vegas division is at The Don's water park, Paradise Landing. And, well, a few minutes ago there was an incident that occurred with some street gang kids trying to cause some issues with some of our clan kids." Daileass stated.

"And you need me to lead a security strike team?" Haden ask with concern.

"Nope, everything is already handled from the security side of things," Daileass replied causing Haden to breath a small sigh of relief. "However, one of the kids had an odd looking electronics device on him that he claimed was suppose to stop the clan from being able to use our transporters in that area."

Haden tilted his head. "I didn't know that was possible."

"I don't believe it is," Daileass agreed. "It didn't stop me from teleporting additional security team members there, or teleporting several of the gang kids out. Although I'm pretty sure I can safely teleport it out, one of the twenty-two backup safety systems that I use to lock onto objects is registering a possible lock fault, so if you feel like taking a short break..."

"You want me to see if I can do a better on-site analysis on it?" Haden asked.

"Yes," Daileass replied. "I'll have a constant lock on you and everyone else in the immediate area the entire time, so I'll be able to teleport you out within a nano-second at the first sign of a problem."

"Sure thing," Haden stated as he put down the hand tools that he was using. After glancing down toward his GEAR, he stood up. "Ready when you are."

Moments later, Haden was squinting as his eyes struggled to adjust to the sunlight.

"So this is what it takes to get you to take a break these days," Brent called out from behind Haden as he and Lance walked up to him.

Not really sure how to reply, Haden simply grinned.

"Whoa," Lance exclaimed as he looked down at Haden's arm, "looks like your GEAR got a few upgrades over the last few hours."

Haden's grin grew. "A few," the boy replied.

"The device is over there near the picnic tables," Brent pointed out. "We've been trying our best to keep everyone away from the area."

Haden turned himself around to look toward the place Brent pointed to. As he did, he also saw several security team members talking with a group of smaller kids, and two of them hovering over one of the teddybears. "Is everything alright?"

"Yeah," Lance replied. "One of the bears went into full defense mode and kicked the crap out of several street thugs, but they've been dealt with, and all of our guys are fine."

Haden nodded in understanding. "Well, let's go check this thing out, and see just how good my new upgrades are."

Brent and Lance both nodded in agreement as the three of them began to walk toward the picnic area.

As they walked, Brent continued to fill Haden in on the situation. "It's kinda weird. We had our telepaths scan the kids, and the only thing we could get is that the device was pointed out to them by someone that was on a cell phone they found laying on a bench. The caller was trying to use a device to disguise his voice, but Daileass was able to easily filter the distortion out. Based on the voice, we think it's a kid, male, either eleven or twelve."

Haden nodded as they approached an odd-looking disc-shaped device. It was about two inches high, and had several blinking lights flashing around it.

"Yeah, I don't think I've seen anything like that before," Haden commented as he lifted up his GEAR arm and began tapping away on the small keypad. Almost immediately, a small holo-graphic image of the device appeared over a small square display panel."

"That certainly looks new," Lance commented as he looked at the small spinning hologram of the device.

Haden nodded as he instructed his GEAR to begin a serious of electro-magnetic and spectrum scans. "Okay, this really looks weird."

"Is there a problem?" Brent asked with concern.

"I'm not sure yet," Haden answered as he pressed a few more keys. "Hey Daileass, could you access the data dump on my GEAR and run the raw scan data through a few thousand FFT filters for me? Try focusing around the 83,500 Ghz range."

"You got it," Daileass replied as Brent and Lance looked at each other, trying to figure out what Haden just said. It only took Daileass a few moments to respond. "I'm showing very strong spikes around the 83,540.450 and 83,560.350 frequencies as well as the entire lower L band from 83,900 to 84,000 Ghz. The frequency spikes are very quickly rotating on a cyclical pattern with a peak amplitude of 29 Ghz."

"Um, I don't suppose you would mind translating that for us, would you Daileass?" Lance asked as Brent's eyes were already starting to role to the back of his head."

Before Daileass had a chance to answer, Haden jumped in. "Basically, it looks like this thing might do a somewhat crappy job of partially interfering with Starfleet transporters, but that's about it. It would have no effect at all on Daileass's teleporters."

"So is it safe to move?" Lance asked.

"I'm not sure," Haden replied as he moved a little closer to the device pointing his GEAR toward it. "But I think this might help." A few moments later, a thin brownish-gold stream shot out from Haden's GEAR and hit the device. A few moments after that, all the blinking lights went out.

"What did you do?" Brent asked in surprise.

"Basically, I gave it a few thousand pico-bots, and they went in and safely disassembled the key connections of the device from the inside out. According to these scans, it's a worthless piece of junk now, totally inert."

"Nice," Brent smiled. "And we get these new upgraded GEAR's when?"

Haden sighed. "Sorry Brent, but that was one of the rules I had to agree to when we made this. I can't make any more of them."

"That's okay, bro," Brent immediately replied. "I was mainly joking. I don't really think I would trust something as powerful as that seems to be in anyone else's hands. I know I certainly wouldn't know what to do with it."

"So you're not mad it me because I can't make these for the rest of us?" Haden asked with surprise.

"Not at all," Brent replied seriously. "You were the one that originally created the GEAR. I think it's really cool that you have yourself a special GEAR that the rest of us don't. It's part of what defines you, and makes you special."

Haden smiled and wrapped his arms around the older boy. "Thanks for understanding, Brent."

"Don't I get Haden hugs anymore?" Lance asked with a fake pout.

"Of course you do," Haden replied as he moved from Brent over to Lance. "But I was right in the middle of getting our new A.I. setup, and I should probably get back to that."

Brent and Lance both nodded. "Not a problem. I know you enjoy your computer stuff a lot more than being out here, so go have fun."

Haden nodded as he stepped away from the two older boys.

"Excuse me," a short brown-haired, dripping wet ten-year-old wearing red with black stripped swim trunks ran up to the group. "Are you Haden?"

Haden looked curiously at the older boy, and hesitantly nodded his head. "Yeah."

"Wow," the boy seemed a bit surprised. "Um, some kid with really funky looking rainbow colored hair asked me to give this to you." The boy offered a slightly wet piece of paper toward Haden.

Once Haden took the paper and began to carefully open it, the boy continued. "He said that you needed to go to the Home Stead State Park in Iowa, and that the numbers on that paper would mean something to you. I think the kid was serious because he really freaked me out, and knew a whole lot of stuff about me."

"Thanks," Haden replied as he looked at the set of coordinates that were written in multi-color ink on the paper.

"No problem," the kid replied as he began to walk off. "I'm just glad he didn't try to lead me on some wild goose chase or something."

"Daileass?" Brent asked as soon as the kid was out of ear-shot.

"The coordinates on the paper do in-fact lead to a very specific spot in the eastern portion of the Home Stead State Park in Iowa."

"Multi-colored hair, huh?" Brent thought out loud. "Could it be one of those Mikyvis?"

"That would be my guess," Daileass replied. "And, if it's the one that I think it might be, I don't think this is something that should be ignored."

"Do the Mikyvis normally work like this?" Lance asked seriously. "I thought they usually just... I don't know... appear, and take you places."

"I agree Lance, this does not seem normal for a Mikyvis, However, the area is fairly out of the way, and I am not detecting any threats in the immediate area. I believe it would be safe for Haden to go, if he so chooses." Daileass replied.

"Fine, but I want a full security detail with him," Brent added.

"Hum, umm, I think this is a situation where Haden is meant to go alone," Daileass replied somewhat reluctantly.

"Why do you say that?" Lance jumped in.

"I've just tried to execute two orders to spin up a security team, and both attempts failed. It is very likely that a higher force is involved here," Daileass informed them with a serious tone.

Brent shook his head. "I don't like this. But from everything I've seen in dealing with the clan, we have some pretty heavy hitters looking out for us, so if this is something Haden wants to do, I'll go along with it."

Haden wrestled with the idea for several long moments until he made up his mind. "I think this is something I should do. So yeah, I want to go."

Brent nodded as Lance did not look as convinced. "You better keep at least two locks on him the entire time, Daileass."

"Actually, I'll be keeping a lot more than that on him." Daileass replied. "Me and the rest of my brothers will also be staying in telepathic contact with him the entire time."

"Okay," Lance replied.

"I have the coordinates loaded as soon as you're ready, Haden." Daileass reported.

Haden nodded as he pressed a button on his GEAR that would place it in special defense mode. "I'm ready."

Without another word being said, Haden was gone.

Haden appeared at the edge of a small clearing that was otherwise surrounded by a light woods. The air was crisp, even with the sun brightly shinning down from its place high in a deep blue sky that was dotted with white fluffy clouds. It wasn't as cold as Russia, but it was a lot cooler than in Vegas. Cool enough that goose bumps quickly began to form on his arms and legs.

Not sure what to expect, Haden did a quick survey of his surroundings. He was standing on a small dirt road that ran up to a make-shift shelter. The weather-beaten shelter had a single worn-down picnic table under it with only a short black grill a few feet away to keep it company. The only sounds he could hear were the birds that were singing and chirping away in the trees that surrounded the clearing that he found himself in.

The only other creature that Haden could see anywhere around him was a small brown squirrel that was also surveying the area on top of the picnic table. As he walked closer to the shelter, it quickly darted off into the woods.

Not sure what he was expected to do, Haden decided to sit down at the picnic table. As he waited, he could see all the etched carvings of initials and names of various individuals on the table's surface and sides. After several minutes of nothing happening, he finally tapped his comm badge. "Daileass? Are you sure this is the right place? There is nothing here."

"I'm positive that you are at the exact coordinates that were on the paper," Daileass replied. "Maybe you should try looking around a bit?"

"Maybe," Haden agreed as he stood up from the table and walked out from under the shelter. The problem Haden was faced with was which direction to go. All around him, the land looked the same; light woods past the edge of the clearing.

Looking down at his GEAR, Haden did a quick wide spectrum localized scan to see if there was anything at all in the area that might have been emitting any type of electrical field. As he was not expecting to get any results, he was mildly surprised when it picked up a very faint, almost undetectable reading to the east. Although the reading was too weak to tell anything else about it, he at least now had a direction to travel in.

Besides the sounds of the birds off in the distance, an eery stillness filled the air. As memories of numerous similar training exercises kicked in, Haden instinctively began walking as silently as he could while keeping his ears perked for any possible noise.

After walking through the trees for about five minutes, Haden was just about to turn around and head back toward the clearing with the shelter when he heard a twig snap to his right. Raising his GEAR arm up to a defensive position, he quickly spun himself around.

About twenty feet away from Haden stood a light-brownish-blond haired eight-year-old boy. He was wearing a white cotton pullover shirt with a button up brown cotton vest, and tan trousers. On his head sat a straw hat. In all, the boy's clothes reminded Haden of some of the costumes that people would wear to show what the early pioneers would have worn 200 years ago. What drew Haden's attention the most, however, was a small red glowing orb that was being carefully held in the boy's right hand.

"Haden?" the boy's soft voice asked with surprise. "Is that really you? You're really here?"

Haden tilted his head as he looked closer at the boy. He was just about Haden's height, and although his features were fair, he seemed to have a worn look to him, similar to the kids he had seen in Russia, but the boy in front of him certainly was not Russian. "I'm sorry, do I know you?" Haden asked cautiously.

"I'm Paterson," the boy replied. "You really can't remember me, can you?"

Haden looked deep into the boy's dark blue eyes for any signs that the boy was trying to play some type of joke on him. Seeing none, he slowly shook his head. "No, I can't, and I usually have a pretty good memory."

Paterson nodded and sighed. "That's okay. The rainbow haired boy said you probably wouldn't. That's why he gave me this," as he spoke, Paterson raised his arm holding the red glowing orb, presenting it to Haden.

"What's that?" Haden asked with concern, taking a step back.

"I'm not really sure, other than it feels a little warm," Paterson answered. "The boy said it would help you remember."

Haden raised his GEAR and tried to do a quick scan on the sphere. Although he was able to determine that the source of the electro-magnetic signal he picked up earlier was coming from the boy's pocket, he couldn't detect anything at all from the glowing orb in the boy's hand. It was almost as if it wasn't even there.

"You're GEAR looks different," Paterson observed as he tried to get a better look at it. "Does it work right for you now?"

"What do you mean?" Haden asked curiously. "My GEAR has always worked fine."

"It wasn't when we first met," Paterson offered. "I think you said something about not having any GPS satellites or something.'

"The upgraded GEAR uses an internal atomic clock for timing, but the old GEAR's used the GPS network for time syncs," Haden commented. "But how could you know that? I don't think I ever mentioned that to anyone, other than by older brother."

"You mean Evan?" Paterson asked.

The amount of information that the kid in front of him knew about his work and his family was really starting to concern Haden. "Okay, how do you know all this?"

"I don't know the right way to explain it," Paterson pleaded as he could feel the concern growing in Haden's voice. "I really think this thing that the rainbow haired boy gave me might help."

Haden walked a few steps closer to Paterson, looking closely at the glowing orb. According to his GEAR, it wasn't really there, yet the boy in front of him was holding it. Not only that, but apparently it was safe enough for him to touch, so perhaps it would be safe for Haden as well. And, if it meant possibly getting some answers to all the mysteries that were jumping up in front of him, that would be an extra bonus.

In addition to all this, although Haden couldn't really put his finger on it, there was something in the way that Paterson spoke to him that suggested that he could be trusted. Somehow, he genuinely showed a great deal of concern toward Haden.

With his mind made up, Haden walked even closer toward Paterson, and held out his arm to take the orb. As soon as he was a few inches away, the orb floated out of Paterson's hand and quickly raised toward Haden. There was a bright flash of light as the orb hit Haden's hand. From Paterson's perspective, the next thing he saw after the flash was Haden collapsing to the ground.

"Oh no!" Paterson cried out as he ran to Haden's side. "Haden? Haden!"

From Haden's perspective, as soon as the orb touched him, a flood of memories seemed to slam into him like a wall of bricks. In that brief fraction of a second, over a day's worth of memories poured into him. Memories of another Haden very similar to himself, yet different. A Haden that was whisked away to a point in time that was two hundred years in the past where life was considerably different from how it was now.

In that brief moment, Haden relived those memories almost as if they were his own memories. He remembered feeling lost and alone in a world that didn't have a single sign of technology. He also remembered the one person who was willing to reach out an arm to Haden and help him out; Paterson.

He remembered how, when he first arrived, it was Paterson who pleaded with his father to not shoot Haden on sight for showing up in their house. He remembered how over the next day Paterson stuck up for him, and helped show Haden a little bit about how to live and cope with life as it was back then. He also remembered how the two of them accepted each other as a brother.

All of these memories hitting Haden as quickly as they did caused Haden to collapse. When he opened his eyes a few moments later, he saw a very concerned looking Paterson staring down at him.

"Haden? Are you alright?" Paterson asked with a voice that was filled with concern.

Haden nodded as he sat up. "I think so," he said slowly. "Okay, that was really weird. It's like I just remembered all of these memories that I had but had forgotten about. They were my memories, but not my memories... but they were...does that make any sense?"

Paterson slowly shook his head. "Not really, other than this sounds like what that other boy said would happen."

Haden nodded as he looked off into the distance while his mind continued to try to process all the new information that it had just received. He then looked back toward Paterson. "I can remember you now," he began, "or rather, I can remember what the other me had remembered. I was... I was lost and confused, and you were there for me... even though everything you had been taught up to that point in time told you that I should be feared, you were still willing to help me."

Paterson nodded slowly in agreement. "It's what I think my brother would have done for me, if I had a brother."

"Thanks," Haden replied as he wrapped his arms around Paterson, giving him a warm hug. After the hug broke, Haden pulled back and looked seriously at the other boy. "But Paterson, how can you be here? What happened to that other Haden? Why aren't you with him?"

Paterson shrugged his shoulders. "I don't really know. The other boy tried to explain it to me, but he was even more confusing than you were. Something about unstable fractured universes and mandate and how I had met a Haden from the wrong universe or something. He said that when the time was right, Ordath would be able to explain it better to us."

"That's right," Haden remembered, "Somehow I had pulled you into my head, and you were able to meet Ordath."

"And you were able to show me Evan," Paterson smiled. "He's still your older brother, right?"

Haden nodded. "Yeah, I think everything about the other Haden was the same, except a few things really didn't seem right. Like at the start of the memories, I was working with some server hardware that was a lot lower tech than what we have access to now."

"Huh?" Paterson asked, clearly confused.

Haden shook his head as he and Paterson stood up. "It's nothing, I'm sure it will make more sense in time."

"Oh," Paterson stated as he reached into his pocket. "I almost forgot, when you left, you had to leave in such a hurry, that you forgot this." In his hand, paterson was holding a device that looked like a slightly larger version of the PADD's that they used.

"It looks like it's one of our PADD's, erm... hand held computers.... erm... oh man, you still don't know anything about 2004, do you? This is going to take awhile to explain," Haden babbled.

"Nope," Paterson stated cheerfully. "But I can't wait to learn all about it. And I can't wait to see those super tall buildings you showed me when we did that mind head thing."

"All that doesn't scare you?" Haden asked curiously.

Paterson shook his head. "Not really. It's a little different, and maybe a little scary, but still it all sounds so exciting. But what I really want to see is how water gets into the houses all by itself."

Haden smiled. His head was still trying to sort through his new memories, but he could already tell that he was going to really like Paterson. "Okay, the first person you get to learn about is Daileass."

"You mean the voice in the air?" Paterson asked hopefully.

"Yeah, you know about him already?" Haden asked with surprise.

Paterson nodded. "I got to talk to him a little bit wherever I was at before I was brought here."

"Ah," Haden stated as he tapped his comm badge, "Hey Daileass?"

"I've kept an open channel with you the entire time," Daileass replied. "Hello Paterson, it's nice to meet you."

"Hi, Daileass," Paterson replied. "You sound just as nice as the other Daileass sounded."

"Thanks, I think," Daileass replied.

"Daileass? Are there any rules or procedures for how this type of situation needs to be handled?" Haden asked.

"Not really," Daileass replied. "Even with all the insane stuff that seems to happen with the clan, kids showing up from two hundred years in the past is not something we have had to deal with that often."

"I guess that's a good point," Haden agreed.

"However," Daileass continued. "If you are looking for my opinion, I would suggest you start out at the Vegas compound. I think there might be someone else there who would be very interested in meeting Paterson."

"Really?" Both boys replied at the same time. "Who?" Haden asked.

"You'll see when you get here," Daileass replied.

"Okay, fine," Haden sighed as he looked toward Paterson. "Well, you ready?"

Paterson nodded as he looked around. "How far away are the horses?"

"Horses?" Haden asked curiously.

"Yeah, or are we going to walk there? Which I don't mind doing, by and by." Paterson answered.

"Um, we don't need to use horses or walk. Most people have cars that go a lot faster than horses. However, we have Daileass who can teleport us there faster than you can blink," Haden replied.

"Yeah, right," Paterson countered. "I can blink pretty fast, there ain't no way we can go that fast."

Haden grinned. "Oh Daileass? Paterson doesn't believe how fast we can get there."

"Don't blink, Paterson." Daileass replied as both boys vanished a moment later.