"... Thanks for the assistance, Hampton Roads." John replied to the radio.
"Actually, thank you! I'm not sure where the Clan found those robots, but it seems that as soon as your repairs were completed they began looking for more work. As of right now, every ship in port is ready to deploy. Thanks to you, instead of being months behind before another ship comes in, we are ready for the next wave."
"We're glad to help. This was an extraordinary attack, and as citizens of Earth it's our responsibility to help however we can. If you ever find yourself needing a hand, let us know and we'll try to get you assistance."
"Thank you; Clan Short can count on us anytime we're needed. Your group has clear sailing through the harbor; Harbor Patrol is maintaining your right-of-way for departure. May you and your group have fair winds and following seas. Hampton Roads out."
"Thank you; have a great day." John replied as he switched to the task group common channel. "Task Group Cookie Monster, this is Big Bird. I hear that they're holding a cookout back home. Last one there has to do the dishes! Spin them up and let's fly; we've got clear lanes heading out."
"Big Bird, this is Oscar. Catch us if you can, you overgrown rowboat!"
Both the O'Bannon and the Charleston barely managed to reply as well, their laughter at the Brown's taunt quite audible over the comm.
"You're on, Oscar! Eat my waves!" John shot back as he signaled Leon.
"Underway! Shift colors!" echoed down the pier as the lines were pulled in from the Clan fleet.
On the pier, the volunteers watched as the Clan Short Atlantic fleet prepared to depart. All the ships were now black, matching the sub. Just below the bridge on the surface ships, as well as on the conning tower of the sub, each side now bore a dark grey Clan seal over Poseidon's trident. Below the trident, each bore an image of a Romulan spaceship with an "X" over it. The Iowa bore two, one for the common action while in port, when the group took out the renegade ship, and the second for delivering the 'kill' shot on the ship that attacked Washington. Each turret on the ships had been customized by their crews, the most popular one was turret three on the Iowa. Underneath the triple sixteen-inch barrels, in yellow sixteen-inch letters, the phrase "If you can see this, you're already dead." had been added by the gun crew.
Now clear of the pier, all the ships gave one long blast on their ship's horn. Before the echo had time to fade, the sound system that Leon had installed on all of the surface ships came online. Moments later, the song "Back in Black" rocked the harbor as the screws on three ships and one submarine began quickly relocating massive amounts of water.
Mr. Falsteen gathered his Scout troop, now minus Carl, as the cheers finally died down and the ships faded from view. "I want you all to remember today." he began as he addressed the group of kids and parents. "Today Earth was attacked; yet you just participated in the most caring recovery from a disaster I've ever been involved in. If you take what the crew of the Iowa taught us today about looking out for each other and apply it to your everyday life, others will copy you. That is how the world gets changed."
"We're not adults, who is gonna change because of us?" Milton Burns asked.
"Mil, I met the Director of the Clan Short Division that acts as the homeport for those ships," Mr. Falsteen replied. "He's younger than you; I'd be surprised if he's thirteen yet. Despite that, I saw him make decisions that nobody questioned and generally be a leader, even to the Captain of the Iowa. Age doesn't make a great leader, attitude and a desire to put your own problems aside to help others makes a great leader. You do your part, and you'll find that you've got more help than you ever dreamed of, from places that you've never expected."
Milton's parents both nodded. His dad, Frank, added "I happened to be with a group touring Turret One when some of the Director's security came in to visit. They were in Turret Three when it was called to action, and from what I heard they became an active part of the turret crew during the action. One of the sailors was explaining their part to one of his shipmates, and said something that proves the point. One of the younger boys had what I recognized as Vulcan Sub-Commander insignia on his shirt; I figured at first it was just something honorary. Instead, I found out that, even though he couldn't be older than nine, he was actually in command during that whole operation, coordinating the ships here as well as some U.S. Atlantic Fleet ships who also participated. That pre-teen boy had earned the respect of the entire gun crew on the Iowa; something I know from my own Navy experience takes a LOT of work to accomplish."
He paused to look around at the group, locking eyes with most of the parents. "I think that if that attack in Montana had not happened, we wouldn't have seen what we did today. Instead of Clan Short backing off due to the bigotry, they became stronger. All this time we've seen the news stories about how various entities have been helping Clan Short recover and locate those responsible for the attack on them. After today, I think what you're going to see is how Clan Short began paying the world back for the support they received. For those who didn't hear the announcements, Clan Short used the resources that had been given them to become the endpoint organization; ensuring that those left homeless after the attack and riots had a safe, clean, and comfortable place to call home for as long as they need it. They worked with the Red Cross and National Guard, and tonight there are a yet-uncounted number of families who are sleeping in beds, not on cots in some school gym. I'm not sure about the rest of the parents here, but after the examples I've seen today I would be ecstatic if Milton was to emulate those boys. Even though they're not Scouts, today they were the perfect example of what a Scout should strive to become."
"Hey Jerry, you gonna eat that hot dog, or just mouth it until it's all wrinkly?" Tracy asked his carmel-brown haired friend from down the street, who had took them up on the offer of free food.
"Why you worried about my hot dog, you've got Karl!" Jerry shot back with a grin. his grey eyes twinkling. "By the way, where'd all the new guys come from? I think that some Yankees slipped in when y'all weren't looking!"
Tracy returned the grin. "They're okay. You ever hear of Clan Short?"
"Yeah. They've been on the news a lot in the last couple of days," Jerry acknowledged. "I think a lot of the stuff the news is saying is made up though; there ain't no way the Gov is gonna turn over South Florida's safety to a bunch of kids."
Tracy rolled his eyes. "C'mere, I wanna show you something. Bring your wrinkly hot dog with you."
"Great, like I really need to see your new panties just after eating." Jerry prodded as he began following Tracy. "Does this mean that you'll explain how a new house appeared outta nowhere too?"
"You'll figure it out, twerp." Tracy replied, glad to be able to exchange normal banter with one of his friends. As he walked up to the door of his house, he announced "Hey Emmy, this goofball's with me."
"Okay Uncle Tracy." Emmy replied.
Tracy ignored Jerry's curious look, and escorted him inside. He took him into CIC first, where Jack Linden was monitoring the work of Emmy while eating a pair of burgers.
"Hey there, Boss. I thought that you were taking a break," Jack said as soon as they walked in.
"Yeah, and I told all y'all to take one too, yet you're in here instead of meeting the neighbors!" Tracy responded. "What's up with that?"
"Actually, I just came in to help Emrys with a problem call," Jack explained. "I figured I might as well check things while I'm here."
"I know; but that don't mean I can't give you some crap about it!" Tracy replied, his faux serious attitude destroyed by his giggles. "Jack, this is Jerry; he lives down the street. He's having some trouble with the news reports about Clan Short. You think you can give him a peek at what the news don't know?"
"Not a problem, Tracy," Jack replied. "Hey Alden! Break one of your processors away from discussing dick size! I need video and audible on the rescue that's in progress."
By this point, Jerry's eleven-year-old neck was in imminent danger of snapping as his head twisted back and forth between Tracy and Jack. He was totally speechless at how this adult seemed to be taking orders from his friend.
"My priorities are prioritized like any other dude!" Alden giggled. "Video and audio from Walter Reed, commin' up!"
Lowering the sound from Walter Reed, Alden panned the video around the room, introducing everyone; "Drew Hundser and Corey Seaver are leaders at Pacific Rim Division. The guy they're rescuing is Jay Montigua, former resident of Washington, DC, and brother of Rafe Montigua there. Chris Stokley is Jay's boyfriend. Pat O'Hara is another resident of the same apartment building. Only the latter four of them survived when a Romulan accidentally tripped and fell yesterday, blowing himself and half the apartment building to smithereens."
The Pacific Rim group were all nodding, smiling and serious as the audio was restored. The boy identified as Jay chuckled, "Let's get going then. Rafe, get off me. Guys, turn around or you'll all be getting more than an eyeful of my ass."
Scooting down off the bed, Rafe giggled, "Did you hurt your ass too?"
Jay shouted, "RAFE!", his expression causing Tracy to giggle as he watched.
As the younger boy hit the floor, Rafe huffed then asked, "Are you really that dumb? I knew about you and Chris two years ago. Chris just told you that almost all the kids hang naked there in Hawaii. Drew and Corey are married, and have two sons."
"Working on three," Corey giggled.
Shaking his head, Jay grinned, "Just because you got your first pubes doesn't mean you can have kids."
Corey cracked up. Sniggering, Drew nudged his hubby.
"What are they doing?" Jerry exclaimed as he saw Corey and Drew reach towards their waists on the monitor.
"Show and tell?" Tracy offered with a giggle.
As they watched, Jay began laughing his ass off. As the two leaders dropped their shorts, he quickly became quiet. Both Tracy and Jerry began glowing red as Alden made sure they had a good view of what Jay was seeing at the remote location.
"I see puberty hit those two early." Jack commented as he decided that watching his Director and Jerry self-combust was much more entertaining. "Alden, if I find out that you pulled this from archive, I'm setting Emmy loose on you."
On the screen, Corey giggled, "By the way, I'm eleven-and-a half. My birthday is March second, 1993."
"HOLY SHIT!" Jay laughed. "You didn't ask for the door to be closed or anything! You're all very serious, aren't you?"
As Drew got dressed again, he said "Our first son, Geoff, is five. We adopted him last Saturday night. Our second son, Lenny, is seven. We adopted him Wednesday afternoon."
Also pulling his shorts and undies up, Corey smiled, "Leo is the third son, waiting in the basement at home. We just met him yesterday, but everything's looking good for his adoption at some point today."
"Jack, you can look again, they're dressed!" Alden interjected with a giggle.
Jack turned his head back, just in time to see Jay trying to untie his hospital gown with one hand. Chris decided to help, and told Jay "Turn around, stud."
Surprisingly, Alden kept the camera angle so that the view of Chris helping Jay didn't give the viewers in Florida another free shot. After some muted comments between Chris and Jay, Chris grabbed Jay and began kissing him openly.
"Chris just explained how he thought he'd lost everything, including his parents and boyfriend," Alden explained. "Just now, Jay basically proposed to Chris by standard Clan procedures. I'm turning audio back on now."
After a furry arm that looked amazingly like it belonged to a gorilla tapped Drew on the shoulder, he turned and addressed someone outside the camera view while showing the person what appeared to be an identification card. "Nurse Torres, I'm Lieutenant Drew Hundser, of Family Clan Short Pacific Rim Division. We're prepared to take custody of Jason Montigua. Please have his discharge paperwork ready for us, including all the charges for his care at this facility. I'll sign the paperwork and pay the bill as soon as Mister Montigua is done swapping spit with his partner and gets dressed."
"Umm, Tracy? Is this for real?" Jerry asked seriously.
"Yeah, and just wait until I visit Hawaii and see those two nuts. I wonder if their Director knows they like flashing rescuees to make a point?"
"Does it matter? Prez has flashed two Heads-of-State in the last twenty-four hours!" Alden offered helpfully.
"Great, he's taking lessons from Danny!" Tracy groaned. "Am I the only sane Director left?"
"Not for long!" a chorus of AI voices answered.
Afraid to take the bait, Tracy turned his attention back to the rescue, where Chris' voice was coming from behind a now-closed curtain. ".... These clothes are shot, Drew. They're what he came in wearing; dirty and all ripped up. He didn't have anything on his feet either. His boxers are all that are semi-usable."
Corey tapped his comm-badge, asking, "Alden, can you see Jay?"
"Not behind the curtain," Alden's voice giggled.
Jay softly asked "Who is Alden?"
Chris explained, "Alden's the Division's AI; an artificial intelligence computer, but way more than the sum of his parts. So far as I know, he monitors everything on base with video cameras and microphones. A lot of the kids have really bad pasts, and with Alden watching, they all feel safer. I'll tell you something though, last night, before and after supper, me and a bunch of guys were skinny dipping at the diving well. One of the landscapers was there, an older guy, maybe forty-something, just reading a book. He only looked up from that book when he heard a kid screaming. Once he was satisfied everybody was fine, he went right back to his book again. Alden's kewl, just like everyone else there."
Once Jay understood, the curtain flew open. Standing in his underwear, Jay said, "Thirty-inch waist and mens' large shirts, loose fitting, if ya can?"
Over the comm-badge, Alden asked, "Turn in place slowly, please, Jay?" Once Jay had turned completely around, Alden said, "Twenty-eight inch waist and men's medium shirts would fit you, Jay."
"Tight clothes are uncomfortable," Jay simply stated. "I'd much rather them fitting loose."
A few moments later, Alden said, "Look on your bed and on the floor beside it, Jay. You're set now."
From their viewpoint, Jerry, Tracy, and Jack saw clothes and footwear appear out of thin air.
Chris picked up the Washington Capitols T-shirt and gave it to Jay. "Kewl," Jay chuckled, and slid into the shirt. Holding open the board shorts, Chris went to Jay and leaned forward. Steadying himself on his boyfriend's shoulders, Jay lifted his legs and got into them. Chris tied the drawstring. Glancing around, Jay queried, "This stuff is new?"
"Course," Corey answered.
Jay hummed, "Ya know, I've read about the Clan, and all the kids you guys saved. I just thought, that's a hell of a lot o' money." He sat on the bed to put the pair of sandals on.
Squatting down to help Jay get the sandals on, Chris said, "This is only the beginning. We'll be in a store later, where you'll get everything you need. Yesterday, I got all the stuff I'm wearing and a full week's worth of clothes, plus toiletries, plus an electric razor, baseball caps, belts, a poncho and a suitcase to put it all in."
Drew nodded, "That's the basics anyone needs. If you need something special for school, ask and it's yours. Once you move into the dorm, you'll have your own bed, desk, chair, and a laptop computer. Each dorm room has a television and stereo too."
Rafe gushed, "They're big rooms too, Jay. You and Chris would have space to spare." He paused then giggled, "As if you'll need that much space."
"RAFE!" Chris and Jay loudly laughed.
"That works, Alden," Jack stated. "You can go back to body designing, thanks!"
"Prez might have some ideas for that," Alden giggled. "While he's in the tub is as good a time as any!"
"Have fun, kiddo!" Jack chuckled.
Jack turned to Jerry. "I'm guessing that you at least heard about those orphanages in California?"
"Yeah, Dad wouldn't let me watch the news about them, so I snuck a peek on the Web."
Jack nodded. "We dispatched the Pacific Rim Division on the rescue that you just saw. I knew it was a quiet one, that's why you got to see it. What you saw on the Web and what the news showed was cleaned up for public viewing. I've seen the raw footage from those orphanages, and watched Drew and Corey deal with some of the orphans who lived in comparatively better conditions compared to the rest of the orphans. Even those rescues I wouldn't show to you unedited. What I've learned since joining Clan Short is that we end up seeing the best and the worst of humanity. Part of my job, even before I moved here, is to monitor the news and make sure it is accurate with the information that is cleared for the public. While Clan Short is ran by teens and tweens, in the background there are thousands of adults either officially or unofficially providing support to ensure the Clan's mission of helping others succeeds. Believe the news, but remember that sometimes less information is better; one picture shows the truth just as easy as a long movie."
Jerry thought about what he'd noticed, "That guy Jay had a cast, a bandage on his forehead, and lots of bruises." He then wondered, "What really happened to him?"
Jack sighed, "A Romulan was carrying unstable explosives, walking past the apartment that Jay, Chris, Pat and Rafe lived in. The report from the Northeast Division says he tripped, stumbled and dropped the explosives. Because of the Washington riots yesterday, Chris, Pat and Rafe were out of bed, at the opposite side of the building. Half an apartment building really did collapse, with Jay unconscious in the falling rubble. The reports say he was under the remains of his mattress and bedroom furniture. When you consider he only has a concussion, a broken wrist and some bruises, you have to think, that kind of luck doesn't happen to many more than once in a lifetime."
"Crap!" Jerry exclaimed. "He was definitely lucky. How's Tracy involved in all this?"
"Him and Karl were invited by Headquarters to join the Clan just before the Earth was attacked." Jack explained as Tracy tried to look invisible. "Their computer skills were needed due to how fast the Clan is growing. When the crap hit the fan, Tracy stepped up and proved that he had what the Clan looks for in their Division Heads, and by halfway through the battle Alligator Alley became a full Division. All the new people, even me, answer to him, and he answers to Cory Short directly."
"So that's why this house appeared?"
Jack grinned. "Actually, the house is a wedding present. This room wasn't made for how we've had to use it, but it adapts easily to the job we've took on due to the battle. Instead of just helping with Intel, we're the lead resource for every Intel officer in the Clan."
"Does this mean I can't come to your place and hang out anymore?" Jerry asked Tracy.
Tracy shook his head. "You can come down here any time you want, Jerr. Nothin's changed there; Emmy's got you in his database, and he's hearing me say it's okay."
Jack's time in the Clan, with all he'd seen, made him cautious about Jerry's home life based on his tone and phrasing. "Jerry, one of the responsibilities I have as an adult Clan member is to look out for the well-being of Clan youth and those they associate with. There was a lot that you didn't say in your question to Tracy. Could you please fill me in, and I'll be able to tell you if there is a way the Clan can help you?"
Jerry shrugged. "It's nuthin, really. Mom ran off with my little brother and vanished. Dad's really protective now. I can't go anywhere where he doesn't have friends to watch me 'cuz he's afraid she'll come back to try to get me too."
Jack's eyebrows raised. "Okay, that I know we can help with. First off, we need to get you some protection that is much better than your Dad's friends. Give me a second, I want to show you something."
"Okaaaayyyyy..." Jerry replied.
Tracy tilted his head, curious as to what was coming as well.
Jack turned to the console. "Emmy, could you please get me the Clan Protectorate guide?"
"Sure thing, Gramps!" Emrys giggled as the screen became active.
Jack smiled. "Thanks, munchkin." A few seconds later, he had a picture on the screen. "Look at this, Jerry. Do you like it?"
Jerry looked over Jack's shoulder. On the screen was a herringbone necklace made of some almost-white metal, with a small stone imbedded in the chain that almost matched Jerry's green eyes. "Yeah, that's pretty kewl. I can't afford it though; I know I ain't got the kinda money something that looks like that costs."
Jack chuckled. "Jerry, you couldn't buy one of these if you tried. They are only available to the Clan. This is a tracking necklace; it uses some tech that no modern human, not even the Clan, has the means to create. Once it's on you, it won't come off. It's tracked by an AI that will only release information to the Clan personnel assigned to protect you. If you are in danger, the AI will transport you to a safe zone on the nearest Clan installation. It won't cost you a thing; it's one of the things Clan Short does to protect kids."
"Okay, that sounds kewl. I think I'd like ... that." Jerry replied, the pause coming from the necklace appearing around his neck and then shrinking until it was small enough in diameter to not be removed.
<I have also retrieved a DNA sample from both him and his father, Jack.> Ark's voice announced over the CIC speakers.
"How'd you know I'd be asking that, Ark?"
<Logic. That is why you are human and I am not. Stand by for DNA match probabilities.>
"You stepped right into that one!" Tracy giggled. "Hey Jerr, sorry for the way I did this, but you'd never believe it if I'd told you."
Jerry tore his eyes away from the scrolling list appearing on the screen. "I'm still not sure I believe it, but you're starting to convince me!" he replied with a smirk as he ran his fingers over his new necklace.
"Hey Jack, let Emmy break the list up into something manageable while we see what the 'rents are plotting." Tracy stated. "I think the core guys would like a little DNA search to settle their lunch."
"Has anyone told you yet that you have the weirdest Division in the Clan?" Jack sniggered as he stood up. "Emmy, you wanna give us a ride to see your Grandpa Bryant?"
"Okay, Grandpa Jack. I'll yell when I've got this stuff ready."
In the blink of an eye, all three found themselves standing next to Bryant, who was mid-lesson in cat hybrid grooming, being taught by none other than Jax himself. "Hi Dad!" Tracy giggled.
"Hey, Trouble. Wheres the shadow?" Bry laughed, not stopping his brushing of Jax's chest.
"Corrupting a Starship Captain. Last I saw, they blocked off the street and had some gokarts brought it. Have you seen Mr. Gaussman?"
"Yes, he went to get a glass of warm milk for Jax. He should be right back."
Hearing the voices, Jax opened his eyes and looked at the intruders into his grooming. A few seconds later, he displayed a huge cat-grin. "Sweeet! Trace is gonna let us go out and play, Uncle Bry! Jerry, can I look in your memories so I can make sure the guys know anything they might need?"
"You... you're a c... ca... cat and you t... ta... tal... talk!" Jerry stuttered.
"Something tells me he hasn't met your new brother Jorge yet, huh Tracy?" Jack commented as he obviously tried not to laugh.
"Rwarr rarrwr?" Jorge asked from about twenty feet away.
"Yeah Jorge, we meant you. My friend Jerry's still catching up on new stuff." Tracy yelled back.
"Rawr! Rrrrw awwwar rawwaar!" Jorge replied as he rolled off of the chase he was sunning himself on and began heading towards them.
Jack responded quickly, catching Jerry as he suddenly went limp.
"Crap! You won the bet, Jorge! That's number ten that you made pass out since we came out." Jax whined. "Okay, you've got nightly tongue baths for the next month."
"Raw rr wrwaw!" Jorge laughed as he watched Bryant revive his latest victim.
"You're evil, little brother!" Tracy giggled.
"Ahh, I see Jerry's met Jorge." an older version of Jerry commented as he walked up and handed a large glass of milk to Jax. "I figured you would have warned him, Tracy."
"That would ruin all the fun!" Tracy replied with a grin.
"You really need to work on your sense of humor." the man said as he turned to Jack. "I don' t believe we've met. I'm Gary Gaussman, Jerry's father."
"Hello Gary. I'm Jack Linden, Clan Short Alligator Alley Intel Training Coordinator. If you would, please excuse my sense of urgency. Due to Director Butler being on a much-needed break, I've taken it upon myself to handle a situation which has came up. While the Clan does not consider you a threat to your son or anyone else here, we have been made aware of a safety issue that requires additional investigation. Would you be accepting of Jax performing a full scan of your memories so that we can determine the best route to follow?"
Gary nodded his head. "Bryant warned me already that I might be asked to agree to that if I spent much time here. What do I need to do?"
"Just open your mind; it goes smooth if you don't try to fight it." Jack explained.
"Are you ready?" Jax asked as he stood up.
Gary glanced at his slowly-reviving son, then nodded. A few seconds later, Jax announced "Got it."
"Report, Corporal." Jack ordered. "Mentally, please."
Jack seemed to concentrate for a second, then spoke. "You had a reasonable worry about Jerry, Gary. You don't need to worry about his safety when out of your sight any longer, he is being tracked by an Artificial Intelligence which uses technology unknown to even Starfleet. The new necklace he's wearing isn't removable except by the AI that is tracking it; I'm not really sure what might happen if someone was to forcibly try to remove it."
"I know," Tracy interjected. "If it's hostile, the person doing it will vanish. If it's not hostile, the necklace will become hot in the area contacting the person trying to remove it, to the point they will let go. If a tool is used, the tool will vanish."
"Impressive!" Gary acknowledged.
Tracy smiled. "I reviewed Jax's finding as well, Gary. As part of my job, I have to monitor his home situation since we needed to assist your family. You had a legit reason to restrict Jerry's activities for his protection, based on current evidence. I'm putting your family under Clan protection immediately. That means both of you now have any assistance you need to begin getting your lives back to normal."
"Thanks, Tracy; but doesn't the Clan have more serious things to do with it's resources?"
"Doing what is needed to help Jerry grow up without resenting a father that loves him IS the Clan's job." Jack explained. "Our job is family; either helping or providing one, but in the end it is all about family."
Gary glanced over at Jerry, who was now half-laying on Jorge and scratching his ear while listening to Jax giving him a basic rundown on the creation of Alligator Alley. "In that case, thank you."
Just then, Emrys interrupted on Tracy's commbadge. "Uncle Tracy? I've got the data sorted. Do you want me to call in the Geeks?"
"Tell them this is a volunteer job, so if they're doing something they don't need to come into CIC." Tracy replied.
"Okay Uncle Tracy." Emrys replied.
Jack spotted Adrian leading a small pack of kids jogging towards the building. "I'll stay out here, Tracy. Yell if you need me, it looks like Adrian wants to play."
"Okay, Jack. See you in a few, Gary." Tracy replied. "Hey Jerry, you and the furballs coming?"
"Sure!" Jerry replied after receiving nods from his new friends.
"What you think, bro? Three left, and out of those three this one looks the most made-up." Adrian asked Tracy while collecting a cuddle.
Tracy shrugged. "We've eliminated the rest of the possible matches, so it's worth the visit. Since Steve's got one crew out getting Jerry a new brother, you feel like taking me on my first mission?"
Adrian looked around to see who was still there. Most of the team had migrated back outside once the data mining was completed, with only a few hanging around for follow-up. "Hey Rex, you up for a little mind-sucking?"
"I thought you'd never ask!" Rex laughed.
Tracy smiled, the possibility of getting to go on a mission exciting him. "Killian, you and Kirk up for a road trip?"
"Yeah!" both boys responded after breaking their kiss. Kirk added "Emmy, get us suited up!"
Giggling at their excitement, Adrian hopped down. "Full gear here, Emmy."
"Get me whatever I'm supposed to be wearing too, munchkin." Tracy said as he stood up.
"Rawwr." Jorge added as he crawled out from under a console, where he'd been taking a quick nap.
A few seconds later, Tracy, Adrian, Rex, Killian, Kirk, and Jorge were dressed for the mission. Jon and Rick grinned at their friends. "We'll keep an eye on things from here. Colin's out in the yard, so you've got backup if you need it."
"Kewl." Tracy replied. "Lead the way, little bro," he added as he gave Adrian's shoulder a squeeze.
With a huge grin, Adrian ordered "Take us to the Philadelphia Regional Medical Center please, Emrys."
Nurse Gertrude Kennedy almost dumped her double-mocha expresso when the boys from Florida suddenly appeared in front of the desk. "Mah Ih help youh?" she asked, thinking in the back of her mind that she must need new glasses; two of the arrivals looked suspiciously like they were bears.
As he watched her take her glasses off and clean them, repeatedly, Adrian stepped forward. "Good afternoon, Nurse Kennedy. I'm Sub-Commander Adrian Jobs, Clan Short Intel. I am escorting Director Tracy Butler, Alligator Alley Division, as well as his Security Detail, to investigate a child abduction. Our information suggests the suspect, a Mrs. Yulonda Castor, is temporarily under your care. If so, we would like to verify the true identity of her, as Federal records suggest this is an alias."
Now sure that either her eyes were failing or someone had spiked her expresso, Nurse Kennedy gave up on her cleaning and replied. "Clahn Shoaht? Ohn sechond Sih, leht me lohk to seah if she is heah."
As she was looking, Adrian commented "You know, if you ever want to move back to Maine, you can contact our Northeast Division. They could use a reliable, courteous nurse on staff. Just call the Clan hotline, tell them you need to talk to Adrian and I'll introduce you to the guys up north."
"Thank youh, I'hl coshidher that sehiohsly. Youhr suhsphect is heah, rohm two twhenty sehven. Ih wihl wahn the dehsk yoh ahe cominhg."
"Thank you." Adrian replied. "Have a good day, and thanks for your help."
Once they had left the lobby and were on the elevator, Tracy seriously asked "How did you understand her so easy?"
Adrian grinned. "Surface thoughts. She'll do a lot better with Northeast; her minor speech problem mixed with a rural Maine accent will be easier to understand up there, since everyone else has the accent too. We made the biggest impression on her by not laughing or making her repeat herself, so I think she'll take us up on my offer."
"Are you sure you're only nine?" Tracy giggled as the elevator came to a stop. "Good job!"
"Hey, when Dad decided to adopt the entire Division as family, it meant I had to start working to impress all of my new brothers!" Adrian grinned. "Showtime, y'all."
They left the elevator, only to find a security guard with shoulder-length strawberry blond hair, with muscles and a build that could have easily doubled as a professional wrestler, waiting for them. "You saved me a call." he said as a greeting, his green eyes reflecting his mirth. "Doug Chambers. If what I've heard is any indication from that witch, you furry guys are going to have some fun."
Rex's brow furrowed. "Mr. Chambers, I am Rex Carr, I am a Vulcan certified telepath. Would you be willing to allow me to collect evidence from your mind to add to our investigation? It will only take a few seconds, and I am legally bound to protect your privacy."
"I've got nothing to hide; feel free young man." Doug replied. "I saw some of your Clan-mates at work earlier as I escorted some parents to be reunited with their children in Des Moines."
Rex frowned a few seconds later. "Tracy, based on his observations, I'm declaring possible infractions of Sections 12.2 and 12.3. At this point, even if this isn't our suspect I believe an investigation is needed."
"Noted." Tracy replied. "Thanks, Doug; either way this is now an open case. I'm Director Tracy Butler, Clan Short Alligator Alley Division. Since you are now involved, would you please join us?"
"It is a pleasure to meet you, Director. I would enjoy the opportunity, I was impressed in Des Moines." Doug replied.
"Thanks. Lead the way, then!" Tracy said with a smile.
As soon as they entered the room, the hairs on the back of Tracy's neck went fully erect. A spindly woman was laying in the bed, both legs in casts. A boy of about eight was sitting in a chair which had obviously been placed where he couldn't see the television. The boy had unconsciously flinched when Tracy and Doug entered, well before the rest of the group was visible to him.
"What do you want, and who is he. I've told you the boy does not interact with other children." the woman spat.
"RWARRWR!!!" Jorge said as he entered the room, standing at his full height.
The practice at making people pass out now proved its usefulness, as the occupant of the bed immediately fell silent as she went limp.
"Nice!" Rex commented. "You gonna be the second, Jorge?"
"Wrar." Jorge replied with a nod.
"Okay, let's do this. Full investigation mode."
Killian and Kirk, satisfied that the woman on the bed was under control, headed over to the boy. "Liam?" Killian asked as they knelt down next to the chair.
"Nobody's 'posed to call me that." the boy whimpered. "Now I'm gonna get spanked with a skillet."
"Kinda hard to do after I shove the skillet up their butt big end first." Killian growled. "Then I'll get mad."
"Wararwwr ra rrrwrrarw rwarr. Wraar wrrrawar." Jorge confirmed from by the bed.
Kirk rolled his eyes as Killian replied. "Cast iron? Both of them? Tracy, can I PWEEEEEZE practice my cast-iron enemas? I won't make too much of a mess, I promise!"
Tracy broke away from the telepathic conference Rex was hosting long enough to reply. "Sorry little bro, Rex says that's cruel and unusual punishment. Even if it does sound tempting."
"Spoilsport!" Killian pouted, turning back to Liam.
For the first time since they arrived, there was a shadow of a smile on Liam's face. "You're a goofy furry kid. Why are you furry?"
"Some bad guys messed with him as a baby, making him part human and part cuddly teddy bear." Kirk replied.
"Stop that! You know I can't be mad at someone when you call me a teddy bear!" Killian said with a grin. "Can you guess why we're here, Liam?"
"You like scaring people in hospital beds?" Liam replied.
"My little bro's been practicing that all day; it was a great way to get her to shut up!" Killian giggled. "We're here 'cuz your real dad and big brother miss you and are worried about you. We're from Clan Short, have you heard of us?"
"No. I'm not allowed to watch TV or listen to the radio, I just gotta do school work all the time. I'm home-schooled. SHE said they hated me and made her bring me with her. What's Clan Short?"
Kirk was about to answer when he saw Liam flinch. Both him and Killian spun around, immediately spotting a balding man entering the room, followed by a fifteen-year-old boy who was dressed in the latest upscale teen fashion.
"You boys get away from him. Nobody authorized anyone speaking with him!" the man ordered as he attempted to plow his way towards Liam.
The sound of .45 cal bullets being loaded into chambers made the man pause.
"Park it, or I let Mr. Colt here deliver high-velocity lead poisoning." Killian growled. "We're Clan Short, and you're next."
The man paled as he realized he was being threatened by three Colt .45's, two phasers, a pissed-off bear cub, and a hospital guard with a Smith and Wesson 9mm. The teen boy, on the other hand, wasn't bothered. "Clan Short? Sweet!" he exclaimed. "I'm Krane, nice to meet you guys!" With that, the platinum blond pushed by his father and began heading towards Liam.
"Where do you think you're going?" the man growled, sure that this was the one thing he still had control over in this crazy situation.
"My little brother was just rescued from a building that was bombed. I'm looking after him, even if you two assholes won't." Krane stated, his hazel eyes turning black.
"Get your ass back here boy, or you'll not sit for a year."
"Fuck you." Krane stated flatly. "By the way, Liam and me are not coming back with you; I'm requesting Clan Short adoption of us both. Thanks for all the cool shit, but you didn't buy anything but my hate of you and the witch."
"Ohhhh! Yeah, we're keeping you!" Kirk giggled, not letting his pistol drift from it's target. "Request approved, now get over here!"
Doug distracted the elder new arrival by not-so-gently installing handcuffs on his wrists while Krane joined Liam.
"Stand up, little bro. Cuddle time." Krane said gently.
"What about them?" Liam asked with obvious fright.
"We just got rid of them. I told ya before I'd look out for you, and now they can't touch either of us ever again." Krane replied confidently. "These guys are taking us back with them, and the assholes are gonna go to jail if they're lucky."
His explanation was interrupted by his father screaming in agony. Krane glanced at Kirk, who shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe next time he'll listen when told not to fight a telepathic scan." Kirk explained. "Oh, wait, there probably won't be a next time. We need cookies, any requests?"
"Liam likes peanut butter." Krane offered, now holding Liam in his lap. "Chocolate milk with them. Did I just hear that bear cub ask if he could wake up the witch by biting her? If so, I'll give a 'yes' vote!"
Killian grinned while Kirk placed the order with Emmy. "You got the language dump already? Awesome! You sure he won't catch anything from her?"
"Good point; I think she was screwed by half of my father's company. I'm pretty sure he screwed the other half, in all meanings of the word." Krane observed, Liam nodding his agreement. "You better run a full medical scan first."
All the boys broke into laughter when Jorge suddenly backed off, his front paws making a cross as he playfully whimpered.
As soon as he recovered, Krane passed Liam one of the glasses of chocolate milk and a plate of cookies from the table that suddenly appeared next to the chair. "What happened, bro?" he asked with obvious concern.
Taking a chance on speaking, since Krane seemed so confident that things had suddenly changed, Liam replied. "We were in the distributer's vault, looking at that new pickup that she wanted to try in the guitars. Her and the sales rep went out to check on some potentiometers, and they left me in the vault. I snuck a look at the pickup; it was cheaper because it's chrome plated plastic with the coils glued in with hot glue. I think she was gonna buy them, even though they were crap. There was a big explosion, and I heard stuff falling around the vault. I guess the rescuers were told by her where I was, because they dug the vault out an hour or so later, then took me to her."
"Too bad she survived." Krane muttered. "You were safe and survived, that's all that counts. I woulda liked to see that pickup; it sounds like the rest of the crap the guys sell off when the bosses ain't looking."
"I kinda goofed and put it in my pocket when things went dark." Liam admitted as he dug the part out of his shorts.
"That's my sneaky little brother!" Krane giggled with pride as he took the pickup from Liam. After taking a pocketknife out and doing a few tests he'd been taught by workers at his father's company, he exclaimed "Dude! Are these refrigerator magnets? This thing couldn't pick up a needle!"
"Did I remember the stuff you told me good?" Liam asked hopefully.
Krane smiled. "You did great, bro, this thing's crap. Once again, she proved she don't know shit. I told ya you'd remember the stuff I taught you when they weren't looking!"
Kirk and Killian had been silently watching the pair, evaluating the next move. Satisfied with what he'd seen, Kirk spoke up. "Krane, we're here because Liam's blood father and brother were suffering due to his abduction when Yulonda, as she's now called, left him. There's not much more we can do to help with his reunion, but right now you're going in blind, possibly with bad information."
"Don't worry about bad information." Krane sneered. "I was told he was an only child, and the father ran off. Liam's told me some stuff, so I'm ignoring the witch's lies."
"Good!" Kirk said with relief. "Would it be okay if I asked Rex to give you a telepathic update of what you're going into, that way you're prepared?"
"Go for it. Maybe it'll stop some fights when I'm trying to protect Liam." Krane replied.
"Thanks." Kirk replied, then turned his head. "Hey Leech! If you're done sucking, get your butt over here. We need you to put out for once!"
"You're going swimmin' as soon as we get home, brat!" Rex exclaimed as he came over. "What did that crippled cell you call a brain come up with this time, squirt?"
"You gotta make it through my teddy bear first, bro!" Kirk giggled. "Krane needs a dump about the family he's going to, since we ain't separating him and Liam."
Rex nodded. "Kewl. Krane, I'm going to do this interactively. If you have a question, ask it in your head and I'll get the answer for you if I can."
"Okay, go for it." Krane replied.
While Krane and Rex were busy, Liam sat back with a smile. Killian noticed, and asked "What you thinking about?"
"I was thinkin' about the stuff I remember about Daddy and Jerry. It ain't much, but it's what I got left."
"They're older now, and your Daddy is really protective since you were taken away." Killian advised. "You will be living a couple of houses down the street from our Division, so if there are problems adjusting to being back home, we're right there to help you through it. Jerry's friends with Tracy over there, so we'll all know how things are going."
"Yeah, Jerry's three years older, ain't he? Is he gonna be mad about Krane being a big brother now?"
Killian thought about it. "I think he's gonna like Krane since he watched out for you. Since Krane's older than him, it will be easier than if they were the same age or Krane was younger."
Rex had finished, and was listening quietly. "My furry brother-in-law is right, Liam. Jerry's worried that he'll screw up being a big brother if you came back, since he hasn't seen you for three years. We haven't told them you're coming back yet, since we had to make sure we had found you first. With Krane there, Jerry can concentrate on re-getting to know you while Krane does the big brother stuff to make you all a family again."
"Don't worry, little bro," Krane reassured Liam. "There won't be anything we can't fix by all talking, your Dad will listen as long as we can suggest solutions. Even if our solutions won't work, him seeing us trying is enough. He was worried that the witch would come back and steal Jerry too. He was going to keep Jerry under his watch all the time, but Jerry's suggestion that he would be allowed to go places where there were adults to watch him was agreed to, with the restriction that your Dad had to know them and trust them to watch Jerry. In the last three years, your Dad made a lot of new friends, and Jerry was able to get out, even though it was still a little limited. I can deal with that kinda attitude, and Rex says the Clan's helping us with being protected from someone trying to take us away from him."
Liam visibly relaxed, a few of his worries answered at once by Krane. Tracy joined them, giving the two brothers in the chair a smile. "Kil, did you know our little bro is evil? He threatened Yulonda with amputation by gnawing, without anesthetic, if she even so much as moaned."
"Ohhh! And I forgot to bring steak sauce with me, dang it!" Killian giggled.
"Nut!" Tracy grinned. "You guys ready to join us? Krane, as eldest brother, I'm going to request your input after sentence is declared. If termination is determined to be required, you have the right as eldest to perform it yourself, request clemency, or delegate it to another Clan member."
"I'll help you with making your decision and with protection of your mind if you decide to perform a termination, if required." Rex added. "This is one time where human emotions are a burden. I'm certified to help you through that."
Krane picked up on the hints being dropped; what was about to happen wasn't a game, and his participation was totally optional. "I'm ready," he stated as he stood and shifted Liam around to carry him.
"You're gettin heavy, bro!" Krane giggled as he started towards the rest of the group.
"It's your fault! You kept sneaking all the good food they wouldn't give me in, and I HAD to eat it before they caught us!" Liam giggled.
Tracy noted the verification of what the telepaths had already told him, then composed himself for his first Clan trial. Off to the side, Adrian quietly called for a Vulcan mind healer, relaxing once he was told S'pilash was en-route. Jorge moved to guard the door, while Rex and Kirk drew weapons and moved to where they had clean shots at the suspects. Noticing the actions of the security team, Doug drew his weapon, taking position near Jorge to cover the exit. Killian drew a phaser, taking station almost touching Liam and Krane to ensure their safety. S'pilash beamed in, quickly moving to a location where he was least likely to be an obstruction. Adrian then moved in next to Tracy, his phaser in his hand.
In a chillingly flat voice, Adrian began the proceedings. "I hereby convene the trials of two suspects in the abduction and subsequent abuse of the minor child Liam Lowell Gaussman. The presiding official of this trial is Director Tracy Butler, Family Clan Short of Vulcan Alligator Alley Division. The suspects are advised that any action deemed dangerous to any person on these premises by the security detail is authorized to be dealt with using deadly force. These proceedings are being recorded audibly and visually. Director Butler, you may begin."
Tracy began. "Yulonda Castor, also known as Cassandra Tracy Gaussman, born Cassandra Tracy Regan, you are on trial for the abduction and subsequent abuse of the child Liam Lowell Gaussman. Testimony has been taken by two Vulcan-trained and registered telepaths. Based on the evidence presented, I find you guilty of the following violations of the Federation Safe Haven Act. Article 10, Section 10.4: You are found guilty of withholding proper sustenance from a minor under your care. The actions of Krane ensuring proper sustenance covertly did not release you from this responsibility."
"Director, I must interrupt." S'pilash stated, a tricorder in his hand.
"Continue." Tracy replied, wondering what he was doing wrong.
"When the child Liam was returned to his feet, I performed a minor medical scan," S'pilash stated. "I have detected multiple hairline fractures of the pelvic bone structure indicative of repeated impact with a substantial object. Injuries and scarring of the respective tendons and muscle fibers in the region substantiate this observation. I find these observations to be in line with the after-effects of corporal punishment administered with an overweight object with excessive force. Article 11, Section 11.1 applies. The elder child with him also shows evidence of such impact, on a lesser level."
"Thank you, S'pilash. Your assistance is noted." Tracy replied, relieved that he wasn't screwing up.
After taking a second to incorporate the new information, Tracy continued. "The verbal testimony of the Vulcan S'pilash collaborates with telepathic testimony. You are found guilty of two counts of violation of Article 11 Section 11.1 indicated by the observation of physical damage resulting from excessive force in punishment. This is substantiated by violations of Section 11.2 and observations in accordance with Section 11.3 inclusive. It is the determination of this court that a cast-iron frying pan is not acceptable as a tool to administer punishment, and said utensil qualifies as a weapon. You are found guilty of violation of Article 12 Sections 12.2(a), 12.2(c) and 12.3. You have deliberately and maliciously deprived Liam of social interactions not only outside the home, but within the home with his step-brother and within the family with his blood father and blood brother. You are found guilty of violations of Article 16 Section 16.1(a), by maliciously interacting in the daily activities of Liam to the point that he was denied privacy. You are found guilty of violating Article 17 Sections 17.3, 17.15, and 17.19. You denied access to educational materials appropriate for Liam's age and mental capacity, withheld him from accepted schooling while performing unregistered and non-certified home schooling, and isolated him from normal family involvement. You are guilty of Article 18, Child Abduction, Section 18.2. You took it upon yourself to remove Liam from the shared custody of yourself and your husband Gary Gaussman without legal justification or proceedings being initiated. These decisions have been reached in accordance with Article 67, Sections 67.5 and 67.6 in addition to Article 68.1 inclusive."
Tracy paused. "As stipulated in Article 200 inclusive, I hereby declare full jurisdiction. You have maliciously and willingly violated twelve prosecutable laws contained in the Safe Haven Act, some numerous times. This court finds the chances of rehabilitation to be low, while the danger to Liam and Krane if you were to remain in the public domain is extremely high. In addition, I must take into consideration the plans that you have made to arrange an accident for your current partner, thereby collecting on his amassed fortune. I hereby declare you a menace to society, and sentence you to death; sentence to be carried out immediately."
Tracy turned to Krane, who could have carried out the sentence with his eyes at this point. "As eldest sibling, are you willing to and capable of suspending emotional involvement to assume the right to deliver the sentence to the perpetrator of these injuries to yourself and your sibling?"
"I defer to Killian," Krane growled. "It's too tempting to see how long I can make it last."
"That is acceptable." Tracy then turned to Killian. "Killian, Krane has deferred the right of eldest to you. Do you accept the responsibility under the stated conditions?"
"I accept and find the punishment logical. I am prepared to proceed." Killian replied as he holstered his phaser and bared his arm.
"You may execute the sentence." Tracy stated as he stepped back.
Killian told his 'morph to become visible, then pointed it at the woman on the bed. Seconds later, both the bed and her became dust on the floor.
"How'd you do that so calmly; and what is that on your arm?" Krane asked softly as Killian rejoined him and Liam.
"I'm a trained soldier, and the other answer is classified." Killian replied with a grin. "Looks like the wicked witch melted, huh?"
The answering giggles from Krane and Liam told Killian his post-battle humor was having the intended effect; the boys were now picturing 'Wizard of Oz' instead of the reality that had just occurred. 'That should get them through Round Two,' he thought to himself.
Tracy turned to the man, who was now standing in a puddle of urine. "Krane David Castor, Senior, before I begin, I must inform you that the youth Krane David Castor, Junior, has requested and been accepted for asylum within Family Clan Short. You will be informed of the effects of this action pending the outcome of your sentencing. Is this understood?"
"Yes, Sir," the elder Krane croaked.
Nodding, Tracy began. "You have been examined by two Vulcan-Certified and Registered telepaths, and I have determined under examination of the facts revealed that you have violated multiple sections of the Safe Haven Act. You are guilty of being an accessory to the violations of Section 10.4 by being aware of the situation regarding the feeding of Liam but not acting to prevent it. You are innocent of the violations of Article 11, as you were isolated from the children for periods following the violations previously stated. Your use of a belt for delivering punishment, while frowned on, is found to be within acceptable margins based on the methods, severity, and frequency of use. While being a victim yourself of the violations of Article 12, you have also been found to be an accessory as you passively assisted the woman using the assumed name Yulonda in perpetrating said isolation. You actively assisted in the violations of Article 16 Section 16.1(a), denying privacy to both boys under your care in excess of commonly accepted standards. You are found guilty of being an accessory to all three violations of Article 17. You actively participated in the abduction of Liam, and are found guilty of violating Article 18, Section 18.3(b)."
Tracy paused to make sure he'd covered everything. "These decisions have been reached in accordance with Article 67, Sections 67.5 and 67.6. As stipulated in Article 200 inclusive, I hereby claim full jurisdiction. While in some actions you were passively manipulated, in others that were more serious you actively assisted, adding your input to manipulated actions. Due to your active and willing participation in the planning and execution of the abduction of a child, I am forced to withhold any possible leniency despite the circumstances which led to the abduction. I hereby sentence you to spend the rest of your life on a Federation prison planet. Due to the request of asylum by Krane Junior, all contact with him is disallowed unless specifically rescinded by Krane Junior to an appropriate Clan officer. Your personal and business holdings are hereby awarded to Liam and Krane Junior as compensation for the violations which were directed at them. In a moment I will allow you to speak to the victims before you are dispatched; be aware that you are still on trial until you are removed from this room."
Krane Senior nodded his understanding, already frightenly aware of just how serious this boy in front of him was.
Tracy turned to Krane Junior and Liam. "Krane, as Eldest, will you please confer with your sibling to ensure that both of you find the punishment logical and acceptable?"
Krane kneeled down to be at eye-level with Liam. "Are you happy with it, bro?"
Liam thought for a minute. "Why can't he write us? He was kinda nice when the witch wasn't around."
After some thought, Krane replied. "You know, you're right. I've been mad at him for the stuff happening to you, when some of it wasn't him doing it, but him not stopping it. Some of the stuff he didn't even know about, from what Tracy just said. I can't respect him any more, but it's not fair to just cut him off. Good job! Can you think of anything else, bro?"
"No, I think Tracy's right on the rest of the stuff." Liam replied, glowing at the praise from his big brother.
Krane smiled as he stood up. "Director, we have decided the limitation on contact is not acceptable. Otherwise, the sentence is suitable to both of us."
Tracy nodded, he had hoped that the boys would make that decision. "Noted, the sentence is to be modified based on the stated wishes of the victims. Krane Senior, I am assigning you to a Level One planet; your actions at that facility will determine if you remain there or are moved to a more secure facility. You will be afforded the opportunity to still provide services to society while incarcerated. It is my sincere hope that you succeed in applying your talents in the environment the Federation has established. You may now make any statements you wish to the victims or the Court."
The elder Krane turned to the boys, immediately noticing the looks in both sets of eyes. His namesake's expression and posture told him this was his only chance; one wrong word and he was lost forever. Liam's eyes expressed hope that he'd finally hear something that made the last three years worth it. "Liam, Krane, I'm going to say two words that I mean sincerely but I don't expect you to accept right now. I'm sorry. I'm not going to make any excuses; I'm an adult and should have known better. There is a reason I participated in the isolation, but I will leave it to Director Butler to tell you."
"She was blackmailing him." Tracy explained. "She told him if he didn't do it, she would reveal her real name and publicize that he was living with a married woman."
"But if she did that, she'd go to jail for stealing Liam." Krane Junior stated accusingly.
"That is where I was stupid; I never considered that." Krane Senior admitted. "Krane, even though I couldn't show it, I was aware of your stealth visits to your brother. She had a camera array in his room aimed at the doorway and windows, but it recorded on a machine that she wasn't aware stored everything on my office computer at the shop. Since all of his clothes look the same, it was easy to replace loops when you snuck in. I'm still amazed at how many times I had to call in and say that you were home sick. For some reason, the school office kept forgetting to add her to the list of people who were allowed to check on your status or see you on school grounds, even after she personally came in and made changes."
"How'd you fix it when you wasn't at the office?" Krane asked.
"The IT team initially found the camera feed and told me about it. I explained the situation, all except how we got Liam. They didn't want to see her ruin the company, so they've been monitoring it as well, fixing it as needed."
"Is that legal?" Liam asked.
Tracy responded. "Actually, with the way it is aimed, it falls under the classification of a security camera being used within the intended usage. The telepaths were able to give me memories of the screenshots; you would have had to be standing against the wall right in front of the door or windows for anything below your belly button to be seen. My Dad and I are private investigators, and we've used the exact same setup plenty of times."
Krane Junior tilted his head. "I'll live with that, since it woulda caught her if she tried to steal Liam again."
Relieved that what could have been a nasty surprise was handled, the elder Krane continued. "Liam, I've been the worst father that you could have had. Please don't take my actions and use them as an expectation of how thing are going to be. I may be lousy at showing it, but I do care about you. If I still know Krane at all, he's never going to allow the two of you to be separated. He loves you, and I know with his help you can get back to normal. You're a great kid, even after what happened over the last three years, and I wish you were really my son."
The smiles he received told Krane he'd just healed a few wounds. After returning the smiles, he continued. "On the business front, if you decide to keep it, I'll give you two some advice. Before I do that, I figured you were teaching Liam some of the things you learned, Krane, when I noticed how he was sneaking glances at things I brought home while he was out with the rest of us. I started bringing home high-end stuff, 'accidentally' leaving them laying in places where Liam had time to look at them without getting caught. This trip was going to be my test of how well he learned; I already had an emergency scheduled at the shop while his mother did her Wednesday evening 'social obligations'. I was going to ask him then what he thought about the parts he saw."
"The pickup is a piece of cheap junk!" Liam interrupted, his surprise at actually being included in something overcoming his now-habitual quiet.
"I'm glad the purchase was interrupted without you getting hurt, Liam. Your writing made me think that you already have a really good attention to detail, I guess this just proved it. You and Krane are going to be a great team, no matter what the two of you do. I think Krane knows the customization end of the guitar business better than I do, with as much time as he's spent on the floor helping the employees. I actually hope that you two keep the company, you can probably do things with it that I haven't even thought of. Find someone you both trust to handle the day-to-day management end, keep tabs on him or her, and do what you can to build the business from the inside. If you can make the inside the best it can be, the business will come to you. That's how I started, and that's how I ran it until, as you called her Krane, 'the witch' stuck her nose in it, forcing me to spend most of my time undoing her messes before they reached a customer."
"Is there anything else we need to know?" Krane Junior asked, his tone showing that the elder Krane had earned a second chance in his eyes.
"Not that I can think of; you know the employees who know the details already. As soon as I know how you can contact me with questions, I'll get a message to the Clan with instructions for you."
After a pause, he added "Krane, you are starting over with a new family. Three years ago, you looked up to me, yet today you made the choice to disown me without a second thought as soon as we entered the room. That is absolutely my fault, a point that you drove home when you told me I had bought your hate. Carrying my name as a reminder of how I went wrong isn't baggage that you need to carry; let me live with my own mistakes, while you move on to better things with your little brother. This is just an idea, but my Uncle Glenn was the one who sparked my curiosity in how instruments are built. If you remember him, you were his favorite out of all the grand-nephews and -nieces. Glennwood Guitars is named as a tribute to him, you would be honoring a great man if you were to take his name."
A few tears were running down Krane Junior's face as he turned his head to Liam. "This is the Dad I used to be so proud of; this is what he used to be all the time."
"You can say goodbye first." Liam whispered. "I'll wait here with Killian until it's my turn."
Rex signaled Doug, who tossed him the keys so that he could quickly undo the handcuffs.
Krane moved towards his father, realizing on the way that somehow the puddle was gone and his father was now wearing clean pants. As he got close enough to shake hands, the three years of hurt, confusion, loss and anger hit him. Without even thinking about it, Krane Junior fell into Krane Senior, bawling his eyes out and squeezing his father so hard that the room heard vertebrae popping in the elder one's back. Senior wrapped his arms around his now-former son, giving what comfort he could to start him on the long road of healing.
Over where the bed used to be, S'pilash was finishing with Doug, having already ensured no ill effects with the rest of the boys, all except Killian, Liam, and the younger Krane. Adrian picked up on a stray surface thought from Tracy, and replied "Check with Liam first, but that might be a good idea. It'll be a first, that's for sure."
"You know, it's freaky when you do that, bro!" Tracy giggled as he gave Adrian a quick cuddle. "Go ahead and start checking their status; I'll see if Liam's ready."
After a quick conversation with Liam, Tracy returned. "It's a go on our end; Liam likes the idea."
Adrian nodded. "Steve's got his pickup at the AI Hospital for a quick checkup. Gary and Jerry are still in the dark, but your Dad says they are free. He'll warn them about transport before Emmy grabs them."
"Great. I saw a sign for a garden as we were coming up; let's start there, that'll give Krane time to recover. You, me, and Rex?"
"That'll work. Rex saw us plotting, and he's up to speed already. He just let Liam know the plan, so we're good to go." Adrian paused, tapping his commbadge. "Emmy, can you get me, Rex, and Tracy to that garden they have here?"
"Sure Uncle Rat! They got cameras all over the place there!" Emrys replied.
"Go for it, and let Grandpa Bry know it's time to warn our next victims!" Adrian giggled in reply.
"Okay." Emrys replied, teleporting them a second later.
The boys found themselves in a huge courtyard, next to a large fountain. A table with cushioned chairs was right next to them, perfectly positioned under the shade of a large oak tree. An occasional shimmer in the sky gave away the fact this was an enclosed area, environmentally controlled for the comfort of visitors.
"Incoming confused parent with confused son!" Emmy announced a second before Gary and Jerry appeared.
Tracy couldn't help but laugh at the shocked looks on the new arrival's faces. "Everyone, have a seat!" he sputtered.
Once everyone was seated and calmed down, Tracy began. "Jerry, while I'm going to be addressing your Dad out of courtesy, I'm talking to both of y'all. If you have any questions or comments, you've got just as much right as he does to voice them. That kewl with you?"
Tracy nodded. "Rex and Adrian are going to watch for those funny surface thoughts that don't turn into questions until hours later; they'll let me know about them so I can try to cover it now if appropriate." Seeing that they understood, he continued. "First thing. Gary, your ex-wife was located this afternoon by my team, detained, placed on trial, and terminated as a menace to society, in addition to twelve violations of the Safe Haven Act, some repeated so many times that they were too numerous to count. If you wish to pay any last respects, she will be the pile of dust in the corner when we visit the hospital room in a few minutes."
Both Gary and Jerry were suddenly pale, not so much from the news their nightmare might be over, but more from the way Tracy had told them like he was discussing a homework assignment. Gary thought back to something Parker Carr had told him shortly after Bryant had introduced them to each other. 'I'll tell you a secret about the Clan. They've suffered the loss of brothers due to not being proactive, and they'll never let that happen again. Once you're on their radar, you're either their best friend or their worst enemy. I would suggest staying on the friend list; there are multiple organizations Federation-wide who take a proactive dislike to anyone on the enemy list; in some cases a fatal dislike.' "Go ahead, Tracy." Gary stated.
"She did everything she could to make Liam a non-person in the last three years, resorting to blackmail of the man who assisted with the abduction to ensure that Liam never became visible to the public. The biological son of the man did everything he could to help Liam by providing additional food, companionship, and brotherly love; all this despite the physical abuse if he was caught. While your ex-wife actively worked to prevent such contact, the man arranged things in the background to give his son access without even his son knowing he was doing it. The man is upstairs in the hospital room with both boys and the rest of my team, awaiting my order to be transported to his new home on a Class One Prison Planet."
"Why isn't he being 'terminated'?" Jerry almost spat.
"Because your former mother was a manipulative witch who would do anything to get her way, hurting everyone she could along the way." Tracy stated factually. "He has displayed genuine remorse for his actions, and has confirmed that he was at fault to both boys who suffered through this. Both boys have requested a modification to the sentence; by their request he is allowed to contact them, and I will be ensuring that they are on his contact list as well. In at least one instance, he turned something your former mother was doing into a way to ensure Liam's safety at all times. In addition, he noticed a trait of Liam, and fostered it covertly to the point that Liam can be an active participant in the company that he is now half-owner of."
"COMPANY?" Gary and Jerry both exclaimed at once.
"Yes; we'll sort out those details later." Tracy replied with a smile. "That leads into the last thing before we go up there. Krane, as he's known until we do the name change, unless he decides to keep his father's name after all, has bonded with Liam so strongly that it would be detrimental to separate them. Krane has been updated on the full family situation, and he is already making plans to help Jerry bond with Liam just as closely as he has. He is comfortable with how you set and enforce rules, Gary, but it is Rex's opinion that if you cross the line, you'll have a fifteen-year-old standing up for himself and his brothers, not giving any ground until you back off to a place he's willing to negotiate at. Your ex-wife caused him to lose a father, both physically and emotionally. He won't let it happen again; not to himself or his brothers. Are you both willing to accept this situation, accepting Krane into your family as well? This won't be final until Liam and Krane both state their wish to be placed with you as well after interacting with you."
"Hmmm..." Gary replied. "You're telling me that, to get my youngest son back, I need to accept into my family an older version of Jerry, who has already stated his wish to get Jerry up-to-speed with Liam so that they can both corrupt him, making him just as hard-headed as they are? Why not? I still have half my hair to pull out!"
"DAAAAD!" Jerry whined. After accepting a consolation hug from Gary, Jerry answered. "Last time I saw Liam, he was like a puppy, always following me around and copying me. Maybe since I know some stuff Liam's done and Krane knows stuff I don't, the two of us can get together and make sure Liam gets all caught up on stuff he missed. Neither one of us'll have to guess that way."
"Okay, one more thing, then we go up there." Tracy replied with relief. "Gary, Steve located your Aunt Gwen's android, Javon. He was in Georgia, working for room and board in a soup kitchen. While he was quite popular there, the owners convinced him that he would be better off returning with Steve to rejoin his family line. Consider it an inheritance, you're gaining a ten-year-old android son as well. Right now Steve has him at our AI Hospital, getting him the latest updates and a full checkout. You should see him later today."
"That's good news; he just vanished when she sank into a coma. He's a good kid, I think the boys are going to like him." Gary replied.
Tracy turned to look at Rex and Adrian, who both nodded their agreement that everything that needed handled was accomplished. "Emmy, take all of us back to the room, please."
All of them appeared in the hospital room, along with the table and chairs. "Ummm, Emmy?" Tracy giggled.
"I'm keeping them as souvenirs, Uncle Tracy! I was good, I replaced them with new ones!"
"Okay, that works." Tracy admitted as he shook his head. He turned to check on Krane Senior, and found that he was still holding his son. He heard Gary tell Jerry to go reunite with his little brother while he helped the new big brother, so he decided to stick near Gary to diffuse problems if they came up.
As Tracy watched the Kranes, the younger Krane leaned his head back and said "I love you, Dad. I might never trust you ever again, but I still love you."
"I love you too, son. I understand what you mean, and I'll live with the cost of my actions."
Gary stepped up near the pair. "Krane? I'm Gary, according to Tracy I'm about to gain you as an eldest son. Both of you need to remember that trust is a fickle thing; it takes years to build, but can be destroyed in an instant. Love lasts forever as long as both parties put just a tiny bit of work into it. Just out of curiosity, which one of you boys first suggested that you keep having contact with your Dad?"
"Liam." Krane said as he started to hang his head.
"Don't be ashamed. Based on what I just saw, you just came to terms with everything that happened, and are ready to recover." Gary explained softly. "After the briefing I just received, it's going to take time for both of you to resolve things. Think of this; while you had the most to lose by cutting off contact, which of you had the most reason to never want to see or hear from your Dad again?"
"Liam; he was stolen." Krane whispered.
"You're right, yet he suggested it? That tells me two things. The first is that he saw things you missed, figuring out who was the problem early. The second is that he loves both you AND your Dad. The last time I saw him, he was a very determined boy. If he liked something, it got his full attention; if he disliked it, it didn't exist. He was starting to apply that to relationships. The ironic thing is his womb-donor was on the 'doesn't exist' list, while his brother and I were on the 'Like you' list." Gary locked eyes with the elder Krane. "Sir, you earned the love of my youngest despite what happened. He may never say it, but it's there. A word of advice, though. While Krane and Liam love you and are giving you a chance, their brother Jerry has no reason to trust you and every reason to scream FOUL at the slightest regression. He's going to be very protective of his brothers, that's his nature. Include him with Krane and Liam, be up front and honest with him, and you will slowly gain his trust that you are not as bad as he's built you in his mind."
"Thank you, Gary. I'll definitely take your advice. I'm Krane as well; at least until this blond fireball decides if he's going to follow my advice and change his name. He doesn't need the baggage the name is going to carry, and it gives him a totally clean start with his new family."
"I think that's an idea to be considered." Gary replied as he laid his hand on the younger Krane's shoulder. "Tell your Dad 'See you later', son. I think your brothers are starting to worry."
"Little brothers are a pain." Krane said with a weak smile. "Later, Dad. PLEASE write or call?"
"As soon as they let me." Krane replied as he gave his son one last squeeze. "We'll talk later, son."
They separated, with the younger Krane immediately accepting the offer of comfort from Gary as he slipped under Gary's arm. They made their way to the boys, Gary guiding Krane to cuddle on his lap as soon as they reached a chair. "Liam, Jerry, come on over here and help us stress-test this chair." Gary announced, earning him a slight giggle from Krane.
Just as soon as Jerry and Liam were added, Liam on both of his brother's laps with his arm around Gary's neck, Liam asked "Did he hurt you again, bro?"
Krane shook his head, and tried to explain. "We settled some stuff, but it makes the stuff that it's too early to fix hurt more."
"Okay, I guess I'll go say goodbye to him then." Liam replied.
"I still want a phaser." Jerry grumbled. "Nobody will loan me one."
"Hold it right there, Jerry." Gary said firmly but calmly. "You've trusted my judgement on the character of people for the last three years, is that trust still there?"
"Yes." Jerry admitted.
"Understand this, please. The one person I screwed up on determining their character was your mother. Tracy was close in his description of her; she was a dirty, scheming, manipulative whore. I barely managed to keep her under control, so you didn't see the side of her that your brothers saw. Krane over there found out the truth too late, and now he's paying for it. Krane is going to be making an honest attempt to repair the damage she caused him to create in his relationship with your brothers. You can either be part of the healing, or the reason it doesn't work and your brothers hurt for the rest of their lives. Which side do you choose?"
Jerry was forced to put aside his anger, realizing this answer could make or break the new family before it even became official. After some thought, he quietly replied "I know what it feels like to have family stolen from you. Liam and Krane are giving him a chance, and both of them know him. I'd be just as bad as mom if I ruined it without knowing him first and seeing him hurting them again."
"Thank you for thinking about it." Gary acknowledged. "We both know that your brothers might need to explain things you are taking the wrong way, but you keep your word so I trust you to make an honest effort. Why don't you take Liam over to tell his other Dad see you later?"
"Dad hates goodbye, he thinks it sounds to final." Jerry explained at Liam's confused look. "I ain't heard him say it since you vanished."
Liam smiled, climbed down, then took Jerry's hand to lead him over to Krane. As soon as they were out of earshot, Krane Junior whispered "Why did you put Jerry on the spot like that?"
"It works." Gary replied, then explained "When he's angry, forcing him to concentrate on a simple black or white question on the subject will usually cause him to think it over rationally, as long as you make it clear he needs to answer immediately. I fully expect him to ask for all of us to sit down and discuss it later tonight, now that his mind is clearing."
"I guess I need to teach my little brother better anger control." Krane observed. "At least your way keeps him from doing stuff he'll regret when you catch him, but he's gotta learn to do it himself."
"Talk to Adrian, he'll give you some ideas on things that'll help you." Tracy stated as he joined them. "He's the little guy over there field-stripping his .45 out of boredom."
While Tracy was checking on Krane and Gary, Liam finally decided to talk after standing quietly looking at Krane Senior, who had dropped to one knee to be closer to Liam's height.
"Daddy said a bunch of long words and some bad ones about the witch, and said it wasn't all your fault." Liam stated.
"He said you were being manipulated by her even when you didn't know it." Jerry added, more to help Liam than anything.
"It sounds like your Dad needs to join one of our talks soon. Maybe he can help clear up some things that still confuse me." Krane replied honestly.
Liam nodded. "Why does Krane hurt when he said you're making things better?"
"Do you remember what you felt like when you first thought you'd never see your Dad and brother ever again?" Krane asked.
"Yeah, it really hurt." Liam admitted.
"That same pain was hidden under all of his anger. He's feeling it now, since his anger is fading away. He needs both of you to help him with the pain, since only the two of you really understand it. He also needs me to keep my promise to communicate with you guys."
"You're not going to hurt either of them again." Jerry stated firmly.
"You must be Jerry. I'm counting on you to make sure of that. I won't do it on purpose, but if I put something wrong I'm expecting you to call me on it immediately. I've done quite a bit of thinking while standing here, and I'm really wondering if my head's been screwed with. I've already added a shrink to my list of things to do as soon as I'm allowed to."
"You're trying," Jerry replied. "I'll give you the same chance my brothers are giving you as long as you keep your promises. Dad called you Liam's other Dad; you better work to earn that title."
"Thank you, Jerry, that's all I can ask." Krane replied. "One of these days, maybe I will deserve the title."
Liam stepped up and wrapped his arms around Krane. "You already do, you just gotta admit it yourself," he stated softly. "See you later, Dad."
With tears running down his cheeks, Krane returned the hug. "See you later, Son."
After Liam and Krane broke their hug, Jerry held out his hand. "I'll talk to you, soon." he stated.
"Very soon, I hope." Krane replied as he shook Jerry's hand.
As Jerry and Liam stepped back, Rex stepped up. "Krane, your progress today has been noted and inserted in your permanent record. You are going to be transported to Terra Main, where you will be held pending the next transport out. Your attitude and actions once there will determine the possibility of communication while in holding. Please stand, and prepare to be transported."
Krane stood, at peace with himself for the first time in three years, and prepared to pay for his actions. "I am ready."
Rex tapped his commbadge. "Terra Main Security, this is Lieutenant Rex Carr, Clan Short Security."
"Terra Main Security, Commander Miller. Proceed, Lieutenant Carr."
"The prisoner we notified you of is ready to transport. Please flag his instructions to notify handlers of special notes in his permanent file."
"Special handling noted and approved. I show one adult male directly in front of you, is this the subject?"
The sparkles of the transporter surrounded Krane, and moments later he was gone.
"Subject has arrived and Federation Security hereby accepts custody as an agent of Family Clan Short. You will be notified when the next transport to the new Clan Short Reserved Level 1 facility is preparing to depart. Have a good day, Lieutenant."
"Thank you, Commander. Clan Short out." Rex replied.
Quick Note: This storyline will cover at least four chapters; three are done and are just being held to catch errors that pop up later, while I am still writing the fourth. It is quite possible this will extend to five or six parts, based on how things are progressing!
Please let me know what you think, and watch for more to come as soon as I'm sure there won't be any more revisions needed!