Memories Part 3: And A Child Shall Lead Them

Chapter 6: "Send me a miracle..."

On the 5th of November, 2013, the CSU author group lost one of our long-time authors. "D" of D&B passed on to the next life. We all will miss his wit and advice, and are keeping "B" in our prayers.

B has requested that anyone wishing to do something in his memory please make a donation to a local LGBT organization dedicated in the memory of David Wilbur.

The following chapter is the final result of a project that I was working with D on when he got called home. As I dedicate this chapter in his memory, I can't help but be thankful that his final ideas are appearing in the same story that his first ideas appeared in.


Dedicated to the memory of D of D&B

CSSF Iowa, off the East Coast of the U.S.:

"Whiskey Leader, this is CSSF Iowa. I have flash traffic." Radioman First Class John Baim stated professionally over the secure command circuit.

"Iowa, please authenticate."

Both parties exchanged authentications, then John continued. "Whisky, back all birds down to long range weapons only. The bitch is back, and we're carrying a fresh load of Federation-grade enemas for your primary target."

John couldn't help but laugh when he heard the flight leader acknowledge, then quickly announce over the tactical channel. "All wings; ABORT ABORT ABORT! We've got a pissed-off battleship about to make this area HOT. Regroup in accordance with Flight Plan Echo."

Within seconds, the airspace around the huge spaceship began to clear. On the bridge, the OOD watched over the radarman's shoulder; as soon as he was confident no friendlies would be acquired, he yelled over to Weapons Control. "Weps, you've got the ball. Send out the Welcome Wagon at your discretion."

"I thought you'd never ask!" The Weapons officer responded. "One stress-test of our new launchers, starting NOW!"

Before the word Now was completely out of his mouth, the great ship shuddered as nine missile tubes discharged their contents two seconds apart. About ninety seconds later, the launchers were reloaded and the process repeated. "Welcome Wagon en-route!" Weps announced.

On the tactical channel, the conversation was getting amusing.

"Whisky Leader, this is Charlie Three. I think my systems are taking the day off. I just picked up the Iowa. Battleships don't do sixty-seven knots!"

"Negative Charlie Three; I confirm your readings. I don't believe them, but I'll confirm ... HOLY SHIT! MINIMIZE SIGNATURES!! The friggin Iowa is on the warpath, and she just tossed eighteen Tomahawks! They weren't joking when they said the bitch is back!"

One hour later:

Onboard the cruise ship "Atlantic Son"
75 nm off the North Carolina Outer Banks:

"Boys, if you want, we can join the passengers on the fantail to see the Iowa." Captain Karson said to the three tweens intently studying the chart table.

"Kewl!" Ty answered for him and his brothers. As a group, all three of them moved to join the Captain.

"Mike, you've got the helm." Captain Karson told his first officer as he headed towards the hatch. "I'll be on the fantail if you need me."

As he led the boys down the port side, the captain thought about the events which led him to having these three boys under his temporary care. They had been caught as stowaways when the three of them had decided to take a midnight swim in the ship's pool... minus swimsuits. After about a day of gentle questioning, he had found that they were orphans who were using the money their mother had given them to survive. They had been on the streets for over a year, and surprisingly were still well-off financially. The eldest, Tyberious, was the leader of the group at twelve years old. The middle brother, Samson, was the money man; not a penny was spent without his approval. At eleven years old, he was more frugal than most men four times his age. The youngest, ten-year-old Christopher, was the con artist of the group; if there was any way to get something for free, he'd figure out how to do it. All three boys had curly blond hair halfway down their backs, and green eyes that bordered on aqua. While the details of their past were still only known to them, the fact that they never separated from each other, even going so far as to share a stall when using the bathroom, told the captain that there was a lot more to the trio than met the eye.

Just as they arrived on the fantail, the Iowa came into view, the latest round of missiles just taking flight from their nest in turret two. The triple exclamation of 'AWESOME!' from his side told the captain that his charges had noticed, and were suitably impressed.

He didn't get a chance to enjoy it, though. The Romulan ship that the Iowa was targeting cleared the horizon, and began firing random shots of it's disrupters in the general direction of it's aggressor. The 'Atlantic Son' took one of the shots directly amidship; most of the central upper decks disintegrated, and the lower decks began collapsing as the debris cascaded down.

Bridge, CSSF Iowa:

"Bridge, port lookout. That cruise ship just took a direct hit!"

"SONUVABITCH!" Leon yelled. He quickly picked up the 1MC. "All Hands, MAN OVERBOARD MAN OVERBOARD Port Side! SAR teams man the boats! MAN OVERBOARD! MAN OVERBOARD PORT SIDE! SAR teams man the boats! Engineering stand by for recovery maneuvers!"

As Leon was giving the call, KT ordered "Helmsman, put us in between the Romulans and the cruise ship. Weapons, give 'em everything we got!"

As the crew began to respond to their orders, the Iowa came around, coming to a stop right where KT ordered. Within seconds of it stabilizing, turrets one and three began, as the gun crews called it, 'launching Volkswagens' at the Romulan ship in rapid succession. Turret Two, which now contained vertical-launch missile tubes, began launching it's birds as fast as they could be reloaded.

"George, Priority One Transport; get every person you can off that ship and find a place to put them on here!" KT ordered into his comm.

"I'm not sure I trust the..." George replied.

"If they are going to die, it better be because you tried. Command override; get them off that ship!"

"Yes Sir." George replied.

KT knew that George was having some luck when a few seconds later the 1MC announced "All medical personnel to the Aft Mess Deck! All medical personnel to the Aft Mess Deck!"

Leon, on the other hand, had reached his professional limit. "Davie, I know you're listening! We don't take kindly to assholes killing innocents. Time to play 'Hair of the Dog' - and make sure the Romulans hear it!"

"No mercy, Captain." KT ordered. "Mark, you and I are going to the Mess Deck. We've got a bunch of visitors to look after."

"Trust me, they WILL regret shooting a civilian ship." Leon replied. "I'll call you if I need you, KT."

With Mark leading the way, KT headed towards the mess deck. As they were walking, KT commented "You know, this is not how I envisioned a ship fresh from the Navy operating."

Mark grinned. "Thanks; we're really trying to restructure things to fit in with our new family."

"What about the UCMJ?" KT asked.

"Leon threw it out, at least until he gets told otherwise." Mark paused, then added "Right now, we're basically using Starfleet regs until we find out what the Clan wants us to use."

"I like that idea; when this is over we'll sit down with Seth and sort out the details." KT replied. "You're already on the right track, I think most of the Clan would feel comfortable here."

Mark grinned, then motioned for KT to follow him into the staging area for Turret Three. As they climbed through the hatch, they heard the entire turret crew singing along with AC/DC's "If You Want Blood" as they fed shells into the breech of the big gun. KT gave the crew a 'thumbs up' with a huge grin, then followed Mark back into the passageway.

A couple of minutes later, they entered the aft mess deck. The first thing that both noticed was that the adult-to-kid ratio was the inverse of what they expected to see; not counting crew members, there were actually more kids than there were adults! Mark spotted a set of shoulder boards on one of the adults, who appeared to be being treated for broken ribs, and pointed KT towards him.

They headed over in his direction. The captain spotted them, and as soon as he saw KT's awards he stood and saluted KT, his face reflecting the pain it caused him.

"THIS is why I never wear my dress uniform!" KT quipped, causing Mark to chuckle. The chuckle was short-lived, however; Mark's attention was grabbed by an eleven-year-old boy who was curled into a ball on the deck near them, sobbing loudly.

Mark quickly took a seat on the deck next to the boy, and coaxed him into his arms. "Tell me about it, little guy." Mark said softly as he brushed the chestnut-brown hair from the boy's eyes.

"Dadd... Daddy's dead. Mommy died last month, now Daddy's dead too." the boy got out between sobs.

"Are you sure?" Mark asked softly.

"Yeah, he was taking a nap while I was out with my friends. Where our room was is now empty air."

"Do you want to hang with me until we can contact one of your aunts, uncles, or grandparents?" Mark asked, hoping he could distract the boy from his grief for a little bit.

"The only one of those I got is Uncle Fred. I ain't livin' with him, he beats my cousin Terry all the time."

"Do you know your Uncle Fred's address?" KT interrupted. "I know a couple of guys who might be interested in meeting him."

"Yeah, he lives next door. 4867 West College Circle North, Waterloo, Pennsylvania."

"Thanks." KT replied. "George, are Lucas and Logan free over in Des Moines?"

"Already on their way, along with their big brother and Lucas' boyfriend." George replied.

Mark looked up, and the small smile on KT's face told him that 'Uncle Fred' was about to meet Clan Short. He turned back to the boy cuddled against him, and said "We kinda forgot something. I'm Mark; what's your name?"

"Brian Williams." the boy replied. "What's gonna happen to me now?"

Mark grinned. "Well, since the Captain is letting me rewrite the rules, what would you say to me adopting you, and we'll hijack a stateroom to live in. Once we get to Ft Lauderdale, I'll check into making it more comfortable for a family."

"Can he do that?" Brian asked as he looked up at KT, a spark of hope appearing in his green eyes.

"He just did!" KT replied with a smile. "Do you want Mark to be your new Dad, Brian?"

"Yeah, how long's it gonna take?"

"As a duly authorized officer of Family Clan Short, I hereby declare the adoption final." KT announced seriously. "Congratulations," he added.

As Brian stared at KT in disbelief, five boys appeared next to the group. Logan immediately looked around, then keyed his communicator. "Kerry, tell Grandma we've got a hot one here! We need triage assistance ASAP on the Iowa!"

"Triage incoming, Micro One!" Kerry responded.

"Keep it up; just because you're about to become my brother-in-law don't make you immune to me getting even." Logan shot back, ignoring Mini and Adam trying not to giggle. He turned to KT, asking "Does anyone want a slightly abused AI, cheap?"

KT shook his head with a grin. "Sorry, I've already gotta deal with George. Mark, this is Logan, his twin is Lucas. The bigger version of them is Mini, and the guy holding Lucas' hand is Mark. I'm going to assume the new face is Terry?"

"Yeah; his Dad's got a dinner date with one of Brant's cousins." Mini responded with a frown. "He's the main course. Mark, did KT tell you that we're holding a two-for-one special on adoptions today?"

"No!" both Marks replied in unison.

"Not you, bro! The big Mark!" Mini laughed. "Terry, why don't you go join your cousin? All that crap you were going through is over."

"Okay." Terry replied meekly.

As the elder Mark watched, the nine-year-old platinum blond warily made his way over to him. Just as Mark got a look at the pain-filled sky blue eyes of his new son's cousin, Brian spoke up. "He's kewl, Terr! I get to live on the ship now!"

As Brian shifted to make room, Mark held his free arm out, inviting Terry to join in the cuddle. After exchanging multiple glances with Brian, who was the only person in the room that he really trusted, Terry warily slid into the offered arm.

Brian's next words showed that he knew more than what he'd said about Terry's life. "Dad was killed when our ship got shot, and now Mark has adopted me. Mark ain't gonna play those nasty games like Uncle Fred did. He's got a nice head, kinda like Daddy did."

At everyone's surprised looks, Lucas announced "Minor empath. Hot Stuff and me have already helped him with his protection stuff. Terry, Mark checks out. He let us check his head like you let us check yours."

"Thanks." Terry replied, allowing a small smile. "What do I gotta do for him to adopt me too?"

"You've got to forget whatever was done TO you before today." Mark replied as he gave Terry a squeeze. "One of these days, we'll talk about it, but right now you need to learn what it means to be safe."

"Bri and Lucas say you're okay, so I think I can trust you. Will you be my Dad too?" Terry asked in a very insecure voice.

"I dare anyone to try to stop me." Mark stated firmly. "KT, could you please?"

KT nodded. "Already handled. Welcome to your new life, Terry. Mark's your new Dad as of right now."

Satisfied that their latest rescue was now safe, Mini commented "Thanks, KT. We've got to get back, things are a zoo right now in Des Moines. Yell if ya need anything."

"Will do, thanks guys." KT replied just before the four boys vanished. As he started to resume the trip to meet the injured captain, he was surprised to find Mark joining him, his new sons on either side of him.

"What are those loud booms?" Terry asked as they walked the last fifteen feet to the table the Captain was now sitting at.

"That's the gun crew throwing Volkswagens at a Romulan spaceship." KT replied.

Mark caught the confused look from Terry, and explained. "The shells for a sixteen-inch gun weigh about the same as a Volkswagen. What you're hearing is turret three firing all three of it's guns; it's a running joke with the Gunners Mates that they are launching Volkswagens."

"Oh!" Terry said with a small grin. "I bet that's fun to watch."

"You'll find out as soon as we're done here. We're going back to the Bridge, and you guys can watch turret one fire its guns, as well as turret two launching missiles, through the forward windows."

Both boys' eyes lit up at the idea, causing both Mark and KT to grin. They arrived at the table, KT motioning for the captain to stay seated as he did the introductions. "Hello, Captain. I'm First Lieutenant Kelly Carlson, Clan Short Security. The gentleman with me is Petty Officer Mark Williams, Clan Short Fleet Public Relations. The eldest of his sons is Brian, and the younger is Terry."

"It is an honor to meet you, Sir." The captain responded. "I am Captain Chauncey Karson, formerly of the cruise liner Atlantic Son. These three young orphans with me are, from eldest to youngest, Ty, Sam, and Chris. It seems they chose the wrong ship to take a free cruise on."

"No, I think that they were guided to the help they needed." KT replied. "Guardian Angels are weird like that." He glanced around at the occupants of the mess deck, which now included doctors wearing vests indicating they were from the University of Iowa Medical Center, then asked "Is there anything we need to know about your passenger list?"

"This cruise was chartered for the staff and clients of the Pennsylvania Boys Club. Fortunately, most of the youth were watching the Iowa from the aft promenade when we took the hit. Unfortunately, the hit was centered on the areas most likely to be occupied by adults. I'm afraid that a lot of kid's lives just went from bad to worse."

"Not if we have any say about it." Mark stated firmly. "KT, how can I make a news announcement?"

"Here's his commbadge, I'll handle the video feed." George announced as a commbadge appeared on the table in front of Mark.

"Thanks, George." KT replied as he quickly demonstrated to Mark how to use his new commbadge.

After he was sure he knew what he was doing, Mark signaled for George to begin. "Hello, I am Petty Officer Mark Williams, Clan Short Surface Fleet Public Relations. I regret to inform the residents of Pennsylvania that the cruise ship Atlantic Son, which was chartered for some residents of your state to take a well-deserved cruise, was hit by a stray shot from a Romulan space vessel. Fortunately, the Clan Short Battle Cruiser Iowa was within range, and we have recovered the survivors. At this time, the Coast Guard is commencing recovery efforts for any passengers or crew who are trapped within the vessel. We ask the family and friends of the passengers to please be patient. Once medical staff have cleared the survivors, Clan Short will begin the process of contacting the families to update them on the status of the passengers. Due to an amazing stroke of luck, initial reports indicate that the majority of the youth on the ship were saved. Please be patient, we expect to be able to provide status within the next twenty-four hours. Thank you from all of us in Clan Short."

As soon as Mark finished, George added "I dedicated some of my incoming lines to calls regarding this, and will be handling the calls."

Seth chimed in as well. "That sounded great, Mark. Consider the position permanent. Any orphans will be handled following standard Clan procedures. I've got the passenger list; delegate someone to give me a survivor list from the Iowa, the Coast Guard is already set to relay the info on anyone that was trapped inside the ship."

"Gotcha, Admiral." Mark responded with a grin.

"Smartass." Seth shot back. "Get to work, ya bum!"

Mark grinned as he waved for one of the corpsmen to join them. "Hey Dave, the Admiral wants a status report on the survivors. Think you can get something together for him?"

"Actually, I've already started it. I'll get it to you as soon as Doc clears it as complete." Dave replied. "Congrats on the new kids; hopefully they are better at stating their opinions than their father is!"

"Bite me. Don't you have someone to terrorize with a needle or something?" Mark replied with a grin.

"I'll remember that comment next time you're due for a physical!" Dave replied as he moved to his next patient.

Grinning at the implied threat, KT turned his attention back to the table. "Captain, may I ask what your intentions are for your three companions?"

"As much as I enjoy their company, I would like for them to have a normal life with someone related to them if possible. If they don't have any remaining family, at that time I would be open to providing for them myself."

KT nodded. "What do you think, guys?"

As usual, Ty spoke for all of them. "Mom made money doing sex stuff. We don't know who our dads are, and she didn't have any family left. We like Captain Carlson, but we all kinda wonder what our dads are like too."

"If you want, I think I can answer part of that, then we'll see what happens from there." KT replied.

"Go for it." Ty replied.

KT nodded. "Ark, could you please do a genetic match to see if the fathers of these three boys can be located?"

<I am acquiring a genetic sample from each of them to compare against my database.>

"Thanks, Ark."

<You are welcome. I have located positive matches in Federation records for all three fathers. The father of Tyberious is currently serving time on Federation Prison Planet Delta Five for extortion. The father of Samson lost his life in the Grantwood incident. The Federation has been notified to deliver his Medal of Honor to Samson as the only surviving next-of-kin. The father of Christopher is assigned to Clan Short and will arrive momentarily.>

"Thanks for the help, Ark." KT replied before passing on the information that Ark had given him via subvocal. "Guys, I just had our senior AI perform a genetic match with all three of you. Ty, you ain't missing nothing; your father is in jail for a long time. Sam, you're the only surviving son of a hero; even though you never knew him, you're gonna be receiving his Medal of Honor plus all of the Federation survivor benefits. Chris, your father is a member of Clan Short, which means all three of you probably just found a new family."

"Does he know?" Chris asked.

"Knowing our AIs, probably not." KT grinned.

Right on cue, Matt Barnes appeared with Antonio, Noah, and Caleb. "What the..." all three exclaimed in unison.

"Welcome to the Iowa!" KT giggled.

"Okay, just why were we brought here?" Matt asked, shaking his head at KT's grin.

"I'll get to that." KT responded. "Guys, the big guy is Matt Barnes, Clan Short Security. His three sons are Noah, he's the brown-haired older one, Caleb, he's the older blond, and Doctor Antonio Barnes, he's the youngest one." KT then introduced the rest of the table's occupants before starting the real fun. "Matt, by any chance were you horny about ten years ago?"

As Noah, Caleb, and Antonio quickly found seats before falling over in giggles, Matt looked at KT in shock. "I was seventeen, what do you think?"

"I think you'll never live it down, but anyway..." KT grinned. "By any chance did you decide to pay for a trip down the Dark Side?"

Ignoring all three of his sons, who were now beating their heads on the table while outright laughing, Matt replied. "Okay, one time just before reporting to Starfleet Academy. Obviously you've got a reason for this besides giving these three something to tease me about."

"Yep." KT giggled. "You were good, so good you left a present. Ark verified it." Turning to Chris, KT stated "Chris, even though I'm picking on him, I respect Matt more than almost any other adult I know. He personally was part of the rescue of Antonio, and welcomed Noah and Caleb into his family after their parents kicked them out. You rolled the dice, and you came up a winner. Matt is your father according to the genetic analysis of the senior AI available to the Clan."

"Oh my God!" Matt stated in shock. Noah, Caleb and Antonio quickly stopped laughing, all three snapping their heads to see how Matt would respond.

It only took a few seconds for Matt to recover. He then quickly moved over to kneel next to Chris. "I didn't know... I swear that I didn't know." he told Chris softly.

"I know. Momma said she didn't know who any of our daddies were." Chris replied. "Now she's gone and we ain't got no family left."

Without shifting his attention from Chris, Matt asked "KT, since I am the only parent here, can I assume that I am the only fit parent for all three boys?"

"You got it, not bad for an old man." KT replied. "Ty's father is unfit, in fact he's incarcerated on Delta Five. Sam's father was in on Grantwood, Sam's gonna be receiving the posthumous Medal of Honor in his stead. All three are under my protection until they have a family again."

"You know the rules almost as good as I do." Matt chuckled. "Chris, you are my blood. Unless you really want it otherwise, you've got a home with me. Ty and Sam, as his brothers, you have the same right to become part of my family. I can't force any of the three of you to accept, but I won't turn you down."

The fact that Matt accepted all three of them so quickly without question shocked the boys. Noticing this, Antonio came over with Noah and Caleb. "Go take a seat, Dad; we'll fill them in on what you're offering them." Antonio stated, obviously in adult mode temporarily.

"Okay Elf, make it quick. I've got some overdue hugs to deliver." Matt replied. As he watched the six boys move off to a quiet corner, he muttered "Please God, let them say yes."

"Don't worry, I think you've already won them over." Captain Carlson chuckled. "Watch out for Chris though, he has a booming business selling ice cubes to Eskimos!"

"What makes you say that?" KT giggled.

"Just a few things. The three of them ended up with crews uniforms after he managed to convince the ship's stores officer that they couldn't be seen around me in their old clothes, and he really didn't need to bug me because I was so busy. Or the fact he convinced the cook that they needed to eat whatever I was having, or it would look like I was treating them bad. I'm pretty sure he was responsible for getting them onboard as well."

"He'll fit right in with his brothers then!" Matt chuckled. "Hey, take a look, I think they're bonding already!"

Everyone turned to look at the group, all of them grinning when they saw that Ty, Sam, Noah, and Caleb were stripped to their undies while Chris scanned them with a tricorder. Antonio was looking over Chris' shoulder, obviously explaining what to do and what the readings meant.

"Antonio's got an understudy? Better you than me, Matt!" KT giggled.

"It's a family thing; my kids like getting Doctorates!" Matt replied. "'Tonio and Chris are letting their victims get dressed, so I think we'll have a decision shortly."

After a quick conference, the six boys rejoined the group at the table. Chris looked Matt straight in the eyes as he said "You gotta wait a minute, Dad. 'Tonio says all new kids gotta be checked out. Me and him gotta make sure Brian and Terry are okay."

"Go ahead; I understand." Matt replied. The smile he received from Chris told him that he'd just passed his first test; Antonio's grin said that things were now going exactly the way they should.

Chris walked over to where Brian and Terry were cuddled against Mark, Antonio by his side. The rest of the boys stayed with Matt, watching from a safe distance.

"Can we make sure that you're okay? 'Tonio's the Clan doctor, and he's lettin' me help." Chris asked the two boys.

"Do we gotta take our clothes off too?" Brian asked nervously.

"Nah, I just wanted to see what kinda undies my new brothers were wearing!" Chris giggled. "I'm just learning, so you are gonna have to sit away from your new daddy for a minute."

"You doctor types are weird!" Brian giggled. Terry even managed to grin a little, his slight wince at the soft giggle that went with the grin going unnoticed by all except Antonio.

Brian separated himself from Mark and Terry, then asked "What now?"

"Just stand still." Chris replied, trying to sound professional. Starting at Brian's head, Chris slowly scanned his newest patient. Once he was done, he passed the tricorder to Antonio. "It didn't give me any of those flashy warning thingies; does that mean he's okay?"

Antonio quickly reviewed the display. "You're fine, Brian. You're on the light side of normal, but with your frame you are at the right weight for you. Go cuddle your new Dad, Doctor's orders."

"I like you better than my old doctor; you don't poke and prod me!" Brian giggled as he rejoined Mark.

"I'm just curious." Mark asked as he accepted Brian back onto his lap and Terry got ready to be checked. "Just how qualified are you as a doctor, Antonio?"

Antonio grinned. "About time you asked! I'm fully certified by Starfleet Medical Corps, and I have my M.D. from Harvard Medical School."

"You WHAT!" Mark replied in shock.

"He's serious." Matt interjected. "Too serious; the little elf that just scanned your son is certified in some procedures that the rest of this room have never heard of. He's personally responsible for maintaining the health of all of the senior staff of Clan Short, including the Patriarch himself."

"I'll verify that. 'Tonio's saved the lives of some of my closest friends." KT added.

Mark's reply was abruptly cut off by Antonio launching into a stream of expletives that had every sailor in the room scrambling for something to take notes on. Without bothering to explain, Antonio quickly ordered "George, get me a biobed NOW! I don't care if you have to steal it from the Lafayette, get it here and live!"

"Oh shit." KT muttered as a portable biobed suddenly appeared, along with three technicians who immediately began anchoring it to prevent shifting when the ship rolled from the shields taking hits. "Mark, I think you're about to see why 'Tonio's an M.D."

"What's wrong?" Mark asked, still in shock at the stream of words he'd just heard.

Antonio finished getting Terry onto the bed, then answered as the bed came online and began issuing a long list of warnings. "Multiple cranial fissures, temporal lobe at seventy percent functionality due to extended time under pressure, sixty percent of internal soft tissue damaged from impact and/or what appears to be forced stretching, liver at forty percent functionality. All internal organs have a minimum of twenty percent scarring from numerous repeated impact injuries. How in the FUCK this boy is still alive is a miracle." Antonio paused, then added "I don't think there's a bone in his body that has not been fractured at least once. Multiple major organs will shut down within the next ten years due to damage already sustained. This boy needs a miracle, and I'm gonna make damn sure he gets it. Ark, notify Tyne I need him in your medical bay, then transport myself, Terry, and Chris to any open spot you have there. Fire up the Medbots, this boy is NOT going to keep suffering."

<I have reviewed your data and concur, Antonio. The Seer is waiting.> Ark replied as the three boys vanished.

Seeing the shock on both Mark and Brian's faces, Noah spoke up. "Timmy, he's Cory's first son, told us once that 'sometimes bad things gotta happen so that good things can happen'. Brian, I think your Dad being killed is what just saved Terry's life. Antonio just took him to the most advanced medical facility on Earth. When he comes back, he will be healthy if there is any way possible to heal him."

"Some of that can't be healed." Mark muttered.

"Yes it can." Matt replied softly. "Considering what 'Tonio ordered, I think you're about to join a select group of parents. Knowing my son, he's going to try to avoid it, but if necessary there is one procedure that can only be performed where he is now that will solve all of the problems. I just hope there is another route...."

Ark Compound: Medical Bay Three:

"Some people should be castrated at birth." Antonio growled. Tyne, Chris and Antonio had just reviewed the results of the scan of Terry's former father, and to say none of them were happy was the understatement of the century. Chris was now in the process of transferring his most recent meal into the nearest receptacle, Tyne was being calmed by Rusty, and fortunately Terry was being held in an unconscious state. The fact that the man was a violent sadist was bad, but it paled in comparison to the things he did to his own son to make him 'pay' for his mother not living through childbirth. As Terry grew older, the torture had gotten more serious; for Terry's ninth birthday, his father had bought a rack, and began weekly sessions on it immediately. By Ark's estimate, the chances of Terry living to see his tenth birthday were almost zero if he had not been rescued.

<Seer, I have received the answer from Miah that you requested. Based on the duration and severity of the damage, it is his opinion that a Mikyvis healing of this magnitude will only be eighty percent successful. He believes the long-term damage to the brain might not be recoverable without possible personality loss. I have also been in discussion with Ezra, and he is in agreement.>

"I was afraid of that." Tyne sighed. "Those odds are not acceptable; is Nyo available?"

<I expected the request; he is coming through the door now.>

"And I already know more that I ever wanted to hear." Nyo added as he joined them. "I'm pretty sure I know what you want to ask, Tyne. If it's about Antonio's access, I've been waiting for someone to bring it up."

"What you mean?" Antonio asked, now cuddling his pale little brother.

"I'm calling an Emergency Council session with those present." Tyne stated. "Ark, link in those council members who are accessible."

<I am providing projections for Cyna and Daniel.> Ark stated as holographic projections of both of them appeared.

"You're lucky; Marc just kicked me out of the operating room to take a break." Danny quipped.

"I'll make this quick, then." Tyne replied. "Is there anyone who has objection to the Council Medicus, Antonio, receiving full access to Ark's database of medical procedures intended to save lives?"

"The only objection I have is to why it took so long to ask." Danny quipped.

"I have full confidence that Antonio would bring to Council any decisions which require modifications that have not been used in the current or previous cycle." Nyo added. "I'm positive that such access would not be abused."

"As Council Medicus, there is no reason to restrict information available to him." Cyna stated. "If we didn't trust him, he wouldn't have the position."

"Screw this, he's got a kid to help." Rusty stated. "I move to allow access as stated, effective immediately."

"Seconded." Danny immediately answered.

"All in favor?" Tyne asked.

Cyna, Nyo, Danny, and Rusty immediately signaled their approval. "Ark, log that the Council in emergency session has unanimously approved with members present the release of all medical information useful to save lives to the Council Medicus. The Medicus is hereby given full access by Council Order to all applicable information."

<I have noted the decision. Antonio, your medical tricorder is now tied into the medbot database link. If you have any questions, I will assist you.>

"This session is concluded." Tyne stated. "Nyo, anything Antonio needs, just handle it however you think is best." With that, he took Rusty's hand and headed towards the door. "Antonio, good luck; save that poor kid." he added as he left.

The holographic projections of Danny and Cyna vanished as well, leaving Nyo, Antonio, and Chris alone with their patient.

"Antonio? Why did they act like you wasn't here?" Chris asked.

"Since the meeting was about me, I had no say." Antonio replied. "I was surprised that they let you stay here."

"I think that is why Tyne called it as an Emergency Session; there were a few rules he could break that normally he'd have to stick to." Nyo added helpfully. "Shall we see what options we've got for Terry?"

Antonio was already reviewing his tricorder. "Ark? Could you check me? My filters say that even in combination, there is only one procedure that exceeds a ninety percent chance of acceptable success."

<I can confirm that result. It appears there is not much choice; in the past injuries of this level were considered non-recoverable.>

"Just great; this is twice that I've had to discuss an option that permanently alters someone's life to save them." Antonio grumbled. "I hope that Brant's cousin likes long dinners."

Four hours later, Ark Compound:

"How do you feel, Terry?" Antonio asked.

"Weird." Terry replied. "It's like I can't feel my body."

<I believe the lack of pain is causing the sensation that you are speaking of, Terrence.>

"Ark's right." Antonio replied. "You were in so much pain for so long that it felt normal to you. It's going to take a while for your head to adjust; until then you're going to have to be really careful not to hurt yourself. Until things balance out, it's possible that something like a cold drink could either feel like nothing or feel like liquid nitrogen."

Chris looked over from where he was getting a crash medical course from Ezra. "Ezzy just taught me that part; it takes a while for your body to relearn normal stuff."

"This is weird; kid doctors!" Terry giggled. "Hey, my head don't hurt when I giggle no more!"

"Yep, I think everything worked." Antonio stated. "I just wish I didn't have to screw up your life to do it."

"Stop that!" Terry grinned. "I missed out on a lot of kid stuff because it hurt. Now I've got thousands of years to make up for it! Besides, I've got kewl new skin when I want to show it off!"

"Have you given him the meeting schedule for Vifers Anonymous yet, Nyo?" Ezra giggled.

"Smartass!" Nyo replied. "Seriously, Terry; you are not alone as a Vifer. I'm setting up meetings with the Vifers and the people that care about them to help get them through some of the problems that long life causes. The Mikyvis and their families are joining in as well. Ark is going to give you a subvocal before you leave; any questions or problems you have Ark will either pass to me or handle herself."

<I am NOT female, Nyo. I have no sex, I do not know why you insist on assigning a gender to me.>

"You just made my point," Nyo stated, adding 'Mom' under his breath.

Trying hard not to giggle, Antonio asked "Could we please have the subvocal, Ark? I need to get Terry back to his new Dad."

<I agree. Unlike Nyo, he addresses me properly. It seems that Ezra is preparing for a standard Mikyvis time loop; we have been conversing since five minutes after you arrived here.>

"So you knew he would become a Vifer before we had decided it?" Antonio asked in shock.

<No. I have instituted programming which is activated by any time loop to insulate myself from paradoxes. The Archnanians have been quite helpful in that regard.>

Antonio rolled his eyes. A subvocal appeared in front of him, so he decided it best to just show Terry how it operated and get the time loop over with.

"I'll drop you guys off, then I've got a few things that I've done that I've got to do yet." Ezra giggled as he came over with Chris. "Your little bro is all set to help you out, Uncle 'Tonio. Don't worry, he's supposed to cheat for the basics, then you get to teach him the rest."

"I REALLY need to have a talk with your parents, Ezzy!" Nyo groaned. "Terry, I'll catch up with you in a few days to see how you are doing. Right now, I need to go find something to get rid of a temporal headache!"

As Nyo headed out of the bay, Ezra grinned. "You ready to go home?" he giggled.

Bridge, CSSF Iowa, About Four Hours Previously:

(Blame Ezzy for the time loop - I do!)

KT opened the hatch to the bridge, and began giggling as he saw three familiar faces appearing out of nothing. "Told ya they'd find us here!" he laughed as the rest of the group followed him in.

"DAD!" Terry exclaimed as he almost tackled Mark.

Matt chuckled as he dogged the hatch behind them. "That didn't take long, Elf!"

"Yeah it did." Antonio replied softly as him and Chris both sought shelter under one of Matt's arms. "Ezzy looped us for some reason. I hadda make him Vifer, Daddy."

"I thought so. Elf time for both of you." Matt said firmly, but lovingly.

"What's that?" Chris asked.

"Kid time. You're not allowed to do anything grown-up until you relax from what you just had to do." Matt explained.

"Oh, okay. I like that." Chris said as he wiggled closer to Matt, sandwiching Antonio between them.

Ty and Sam had watched the interaction while standing with Noah and Caleb. "Dad? We'll catch up on cuddles later, help our little brothers." Ty said.

Matt nodded as he rearranged the two boys so that each had their own arm.

While Matt dealt with his two shortest sons, Mark was drafted as a tour guide by his two new sons. To the amusement of the rest of the crew, Brian and Terry taxed his knowledge of the ship's weapons systems as they took turns firing off questions while they watched turret one 'launching Volkswagens' and turret two 'throwing Tomahawks'. Noah, Caleb, Ty and Sam joined the fun, with Matt, Chris, and Antonio listening in as they watched the action on the forward deck.

Off to the side, Leon and KT caught up on recent events. "Is it just me, or has Mark grown two mobile appendages?" Leon asked with a grin.

"Those are his new sons." KT stated. "He plans on moving his berthing to accommodate the family living onboard with him." he added, curious as to how the CO would respond to such a drastic change.

Leon thought for a full minute before responding. "This is going to take some planning. There are some aspects of shipboard life that the boys need to be aware of, or else they put everyone in danger. I think we need to get the Command Master Chief involved in creating a suitable training program ASAP for anyone who is going to be onboard regularly while underway."

KT nodded. "I like that answer. I'll arrange for one of the Clan Special Forces instructors to assist him; they are experts in communicating military procedures to youth and kids."

Fully aware that he'd just been tested and passed, Leon asked "Who are the other people that returned with you?"

"The old guy is Lieutenant Matt Barnes, Clan Short Security." KT replied. "The little guy under his right arm is his son Doctor Antonio Barnes, M.D., F.M.S., the one under his left arm is his long-lost son Christopher Barnes. The two checking out the chart table are Noah and Caleb Barnes; Noah is the one with brown hair. The last two, over helping the spotter, are Matt's new sons Tyberious and Samson. Ty is the older of the two."

Leon's eyes got wide as he tried to process the introductions. "Did you say Doctor?" he asked as he looked once again at the young boy under Matt's arm.

"Yep. His degree is from Harvard Medical School, and he is registered and practicing with Federation Medical Services." KT giggled. "He majored in Pediatrics, with minors in Intergalactic Biology and Genetic Biology. It looks like Chris is planning on following in his big brother's footsteps, too."

"Okay, I don't think I want to know how someone his age pulled that off. He can't be older than nine! He must have started med school as soon as he was out of diapers!" Leon replied in shock.

KT's reply was interrupted by the OOD announcing "Captain, CIC reports the Romulan's electronic signature is becoming unstable."

"One of the missiles just went inside!" Ty shouted from the secondary spotter station. "KEWL! They're ALL going inside now!"

Matt grabbed a pair of binoculars, and quickly zoomed in on the ship. "Their shields are down!" he announced.

John Baim had relocated to the Bridge Comm station, and anticipated Leon's order as it was being issued, as he was already authenticating with the flight leader.

"Tell the birds to give that bitch everything they've got!" Leon ordered.

"Whisky Leader, this is Iowa. Give the bastards everything you've got; they're going DOWN!" John relayed.

"Copy Iowa, one piece of swiss cheese coming up." the flight leader replied.

John put the tactical channel on speaker, so the entire Bridge heard the Flight Leader as he ordered "Whisky this is Whisky Lead. The Iowa's letting us play, finally. All wings, commence full weapons offload immediately."

The bridge team watched as the once-pristine upper hull of the Romulan vessel was professionally ventilated by the air wing. As soon as the last plane finished it's final run and cleared the area, Leon ordered "Weps, the flyboys ventilated it for you; time to do cleanup."

"I thought you'd never ask!" the Weapons Officer replied. "Later, ASSHOLES!"

The great ship shuddered as every launcher and gun onboard released their payload at once. Even the anti-submarine systems were put into play, their warheads programmed to detonate on impact as they popped up. The other Navy ships which had joined the fight over time followed the Iowa's example, throwing everything they had at the huge spaceship.

The tactic proved quite successful, as the combined assault from multiple directions caused the structural integrity of the Romulan vessel to completely fail. It began breaking apart as it dropped into the ocean, only to be broken up even more by a seemingly endless stream of torpedoes.

"They must have shut down the singularity; either that or the safeties kicked in." Matt mused.

"What do you mean?" Leon asked, barely audible over the cheering on the Bridge.

"Their propulsion source." Matt replied. "It should of had some effect upon the ship breaking up. Nothing happened at all, which means it must have been shut down somehow."

"I'm gonna thank our Guardian Angel." Leon stated. "I think he's made a whole new group of friends today."

"It's daddy time, stop working!" Antonio scolded with a giggle.

"Yeah, what he said!" Chris added with a smirk.

Matt rolled his eyes. "By any chance does this ship have a pool?"

"Nope!" Leon chuckled.

"We'll have to fix that..." Matt muttered as he let his two munchkins drag him off for a tour of all the kewl toys on the bridge.

"Yes, we will... soon, I think." Leon chuckled as he watched Mark teaching his new sons how to use the sound-powered phones. He picked up the 1MC, and announced "This is the Captain. Stand down from General Quarters! For those who missed it, the final score is Atlantic Fleet one, Romulans zero. All divisions decide on a rotation that will allow short-notice action, then any crew member who wishes to personally welcome the young guests presently occupying the aft mess deck report there ASAP. That is all."

His attention was distracted by a young voice stating "Admiral? I'm Ty Barnes on the Iowa. Dad said I should call you."

"Tell your Dad that just because he's old, he's not exempt from forced swims. You're family, just call me Seth. Why did your Dad want you to call?"

Ty giggled. "Dad wanted me to tell you the bad guys are confetti off of the Outer Banks. Uncle Mark says to tell you the puddle jumpers are reporting survivors in the cruise ship I was on, and they are starting recovery operations."

"Tell your Uncle Mark that he needs to stop teaching you squiddish bad habits." Seth chuckled. "You don't need to learn to cuss like a sailor. Keep me updated; I'm assigning that job to you personally. Tell Leon that I said they did an awesome job."

"Antonio's teachin' the sailors howta cuss, we'll just learn from him!" Ty giggled. "I'll keep you updated! Iowa out."

"Antonio? Heaven help us! Headquarters out."

Leon shook his head as he walked over to the comm station. "I heard Seth's message; I'll pass it on. You did good, not everyone can handle radio communications. I can't believe you actually called the Coast Guard 'puddle jumpers' over open air, though!"

Ty giggled. "Thanks! I was on a Clan channel; Dad told me what channel to have John here put me on."

"Too bad; I'd love to argue with the Coasties about the origin of the signal!" Leon chuckled. "John, make sure all updates go directly to this young man, then fill me in."

"Yes, Sir!" John replied with a grin.

"Could you please get me the flagship of the Navy task force that was assisting?" Leon asked.

"One second, Captain." John replied. "I've been on their tactical channel since shortly after we arrived." John paused, then yelled "KT, get over here. I've got an Admiral who wants to talk to Leon, and he don't sound pleased."

KT rushed over, grabbing the offered headset. "Patch me in." he ordered.

A few seconds later, John passed Leon a set of headphones. John's grin and glances at Ty and KT told Leon that he'd have plenty of company on the conversation. "U.S. Navy Task Force, this is Captain Schmidt of the battle cruiser CSSF Iowa. May I ask whom I am speaking to?"

"Greetings, Captain. This is Admiral Harding, CINCLANT Norfolk. Your assistance was greatly appreciated. Could you please enlighten me as to what you were throwing at that ship?"

Leon's grin was almost audible as he said the words he never expected to say to any CINC. "I am sorry, Admiral, but you do not carry sufficient clearance for such information."

"You still answer to the U.S. Navy, and I still outrank you. I order you to divulge what you were firing."

"Oh shit..." Matt exclaimed from behind them as he saw KT hold up his hand.

KT's tone was as flat as a pane of glass as he interrupted the conversation. "Mister Harding, this is Vulcan Commander Kelly Carlson, Commander-in-Chief of the Family Clan Short Terran Atlantic Fleet. You are assuming control based on outdated information. The battle cruiser Iowa was transferred to Family Clan Short jurisdiction by the Chief of Naval Operations at the onset of the issuance of the Terran Call. Continuance of this line of questioning and any additional threats shall require me to file a formal grievance with the President of the United States and the League of Nations."

Matt counted down softly from five as the channel remained silent, then opened his communicator. "Yes, Seth?"

"Tell KT that he just stuck himself with a job." Seth giggled. "You get to issue him his new insignia. That's the best butt chewing I've heard today!"

"I'll pass it on!" Matt chuckled. "My guess is we should have a response shortly, assuming Intel is still handling comms?"

"Just as soon as Air Force One stops chewing him an asshole the size of California." Seth replied. "Antonio could learn a few things from Colin Powell!"

"Here we go!" Matt replied as he heard the Admiral clear his throat.

"Commander Carlson, Captain Schmidt? I must express my apologies, I seem to have been left out of the loop due to the recent situation. I have ensured that all personnel under my command are now fully aware of the status of the Iowa. May I enquire as to your operational plans now that the most serious threat has been dispatched?"

KT nodded at Leon, giving him approval to continue. "Admiral, from my experience I believe you plan to spread your task force over the area from the Outer Banks to New York Harbor. If you can spare a frigate and a destroyer, I believe the Iowa, with their assistance could easily cover the Norfolk region, freeing you up to concentrate further north."

"I appreciate the offer. I believe your idea would be the best use of present forces. I will assign the O'Bannon and Jesse L. Brown TAD to you ASAP. You will also receive support from the submarine forces patrolling the area."

"I will await them checking in." Leon replied. "If you need additional assistance, please contact Clan Short headquarters. There is a fair chance we can locate whatever you may need, due to the redundancies in our communications network."

"Acknowledged and appreciated. CINCLANT out."

"Iowa out." Leon responded before removing the headset and turning to KT. "Do you impersonate Admirals as a hobby, or is it a medical issue?" he asked with a grin.

KT giggled as he held out his hand. "George, I believe the Captain is out of uniform."

"Too late, munchkin." Matt stated as he stepped between them. "I believe this is where both of you come to attention."

"I'm gonna kill him..." KT muttered as he did what Matt requested.

Leon barely managed to keep from laughing as Boomer scampered up KT's side and deftly removed his lieutenant bars.

"Traitor!" KT giggled as the raccoon attached the bars to his own collar.

"By order of Vulcan Commander Seth Metronome, your performance has dictated the logical necessity for you to assume the duties of Commander-in-Chief of the Family Clan Short Atlantic Surface Fleet. The logical rank for efficient performance of these duties is Commander, and as such you are now issued the aforementioned rank." Matt held out the new insignia to Boomer. "Lieutenant Boomer, would you please do the honors?"

Leon lost it when Boomer saluted Matt while holding on to KT's collar with his other hand before taking the Commander insignia. He quickly attached the new rank pins while chattering away to KT.

"I wonder what he's saying?" Ty asked through his giggles.

"Basically stop inserting my foot in my mouth, or get used to things like this happening." KT replied with a grin.

Matt chuckled, then turned to Leon. His chuckles turned to laughter when he saw the captain sitting in a chair, red-faced with tears of laughter rolling down his cheeks.

"No fair killing the Captain, Dad!" Sam giggled as he slipped under one of Matt's arms.

"He's okay... for now!" Antonio giggled, both him and Chris monitoring tricorders aimed at Leon.

Noah and Caleb moved to bracket Leon's chair. "Don't worry, it's not all that bad." Noah started.

"Yeah, just wait until we really know you!" Caleb added with an evil grin.

"Impressive!" Antonio giggled.

"Yeah, his heart rate didn't change at all!" Chris added.

"We're gonna have to try harder then." Ty observed from his perch.

"Save some of that energy for Seth, guys!" Matt chuckled. "You six are definitely brothers, there's no doubt about it!"

All six boys exchanged glances, their smiles growing as they saw the acceptance of Matt's statement on each other's faces. They all moved to encircle Matt in a group family hug, not caring that he was mid-ceremony.

Matt had just enough time to drop the other set of rank pins in his pocket before he was surrounded by his family. He took the time to ensure all of them, both long-time and recent addition, received personal attention and assurance that he loved each of them equally. Once he completed a group hug with all of them, he turned his attention back to Leon. Seeing that Leon had finally composed himself, he asked the boys "Which one of you do you want to represent all of you?"

Caleb, Noah, and Antonio knew from their talks with their new brothers that Ty was the leader of the trio, and with a quick exchange of glances decided to acknowledge the status. "Ty." all three said in unison.

Chris and Sam replied at that same instant, out of habit automatically replying "Ty" as well.

"Really?" Ty asked as he scanned the faces of his new brothers. The nods and smiles he received in return dispelled all remaining doubt he had about being accepted into the family.

As Leon regained his feet, Matt passed the new insignia to Ty. "Just do what Boomer did; except the chattering that is." Matt explained.

"Okay, Dad." Ty replied with a sunny smile.

The rest of the boys moved off to the side of Matt, then he restarted the proceedings. "Captain Leon Schmidt, as a fully recognized member of Clan Short and the senior officer of the flagship of the Family Clan Short Terran Surface Fleet, it is required that you are outfitted with the appropriate rank insignia for your station. The title of Captain only indicates that you hold the executive command position on a Vulcan vessel; your actual rank is Commander and you shall have all rights and responsibilities of said rank. There are only two ranks above you in the chain of command. The highest is Administrator, the Vulcan in charge of all Vulcan forces. The next step in your chain of command is Fleet Commander Cory Short, Patriarch of Family Clan Short. Commander Seth Metronome and Commander Kelly Carlson share the same rank as yourself, but due to their duties are senior to you in aspects which affect multiple vessels of the fleet. Congratulations, Commander." Matt paused, then said "Go ahead, son."

No matter how serious he tried to be, the smile on Ty's face lit up the bridge as he removed Leon's gold oak leaves and replaced them with Vulcan Commander insignia. Not able to resist the urge to follow Matt's instructions to the letter, he pinned both oak leaves on his tee-shirt in approximately the location they would sit if he had a collar.

"Those look good on you; keep them." Leon told the now-grinning boy in front of him.

Ty's eyes grew wide as his head bounced between Leon and Matt, unable to believe what he was just told.

Matt looked up from where Antonio was whispering in his ear. "I was just informed that your brothers all agree that you deserve those for how you protected Sam and Chris. They say that you're their representative, and that Lieutenant Commander fits for your role in the family. We'll see how that rank falls in place with the Clan once Cory gets home and meets you."

Ty gave Leon a quick hug, then turned and pounced Matt, tears running from his eyes.

"THIS is why I enjoy being a parent." Matt quipped as he found himself once again buried under his sons.

Leon was about to assist Matt, when John got his attention. "Sir, the O'Bannon wishes to know if you are aware that Turret Three has its center barrel fully elevated, the other two almost on the deck, and it is pointing towards the Romulan crash site. In addition, it appears the gun crew is on top of the turret throwing a party."

Leon picked up the sound-powered phone. "Turret Three, I heard rumors that you are throwing a party? Is there a reason the turret is in the position it's in?"

"Aye, Captain!" an obviously New York accent replied. "We're just wavin goodbye!"

Leon grinned as he finally recognized the noise in the background. "Nah Nah Nah Nahhh... Nah Nah Nah Nahhh... Hey, Hey! Goodbye!..."

"I assume our Guardian arranged for proper beverages; send a case this way!" Leon laughed. He then turned to John. "Reply to the O'Bannon; Turret Three is giving them a proper Bronx sendoff, complete with finger. Once they recover, get a sitrep for me."

Got it!" John laughed. "This is getting to be fun!"

Mark was enjoying himself as well. He had just finished explaining how the ship's navigation radar worked to his new sons, and now watched proudly as they worked together to track the two ships that were coming alongside. Brian had decided to handle the sound-powered phones, while Terry called out readings to the chart table. The normal watch was Rick Lennings, who watched over Terry's shoulder in case there was something that the boy missed.

"Jesse L. Brown is on station." Terry announced. "Bearing 265 Relative, range six hundred yards."

"Port lookout reports severe damage to her aft superstructure and deck, also her long-range radar antenna is missing." Brian relayed. "Signalmen report she is on visual communication only."

"Not for long." KT commented. "Ark, do you already have the ship's drawings on the Jesse L. Brown?"

<Of course I do, Kelly. I have already loaded three techbots with the necessary information, I was just waiting on you.>

"Figures," KT grinned. "Grab me a couple of spare medbots too if you have them. As soon as the Captain warns them I'm coming, get me and the 'bots over there please."

<Since you said please, I will consider it.> Ark replied.

KT rolled his eyes. "Hey Leon, you got the ball, I'm gonna go over to the Brown to give them a little help, Clan style. John, warn them I'm coming, with some advanced help."

"On it, Sir." John stated as Leon turned to glance at him. "Signal bridge, prepare to send flash traffic to the Jesse L. Brown."

The second the signal bridge received the acknowledgement flash from the other ship, KT vanished without warning. Terry giggled as he braced himself on the radar housing.

"What's so funny?" Mark asked with a grin.

"Somehow KT fell into the ocean a few times on his way over there!" Terry sputtered. "He arrived standing in a kiddie pool!"

"Remind me never to mess with that Ark person, whoever he or she is." Mark chuckled.

"Ark is a really smart AI, Dad." Terry explained. "Ark ain't a he or she; it ain't got no weenie or holes between its legs; it don't even got no legs. Me and Ark have been talking since I got back."

"How could you be talking?" Mark asked, his gut telling him not to argue with his new son about Ark's gender state.

"Ark gave me a subvocal thingie; I can talk with it anytime I want. My old father used to use a whip on me if I talked while I read; so I learned to talk without moving my mouth. I can talk to Ark like that too, the thingie picks up my voice."

Mark's eyebrows raised. "How do I get one of those? Maybe Ark can help me understand more about how you were healed."

Terry grinned, and spoke so his Dad could hear him. "Ark, can my new Daddy and Brian have these subvocal thingies?"

<Your dad brought up a valid reason, as well as the fact that he holds an office in the Clan structure which could require my assistance. Due to your explanation, I believe I will not have to provide swimming lessons to either of them for falsely attempting to assign me a gender. Are you comfortable with instructing them on how to use them?>

"Sure, you taught me really good!" Terry replied.

<They are on the table behind you.>

"Thanks, Ark!" Terry replied. He quickly picked up both subvocals, and proudly taught Mark and Brian how to use them.

Just as soon as they were both set up, Brian asked "Can I go outside for a few minutes... alone?"

Having a sneaky suspicion as to what was on Brian's mind, Mark nodded. "Go on up to the signal deck, tell the Chief I said to let you borrow the shack for some privacy."

"Ok, thanks." Brian replied as he headed towards the hatch.

Once Brian was outside, Terry turned to Mark. "He's worried about me. Ark is gonna help him."

"Did Ark tell you that?" Mark asked.

"No, I felt it. Brian can feel what other people feel some. This Vifer stuff makes it so if I touch him, I can do it too for a little bit. That's why you'll see that me and the other Vifer kids don't hug or cuddle with certain people. I love Bri, so I've gotta put up with feelin what others feel because I ain't gonna stop hugging him."

"Oh boy!" Mark stated as he wrapped his arms around his youngest. "Is it okay if I get all of the details about the Vifer from Ark, son? That way I can figure out how to help you."

"Sure, Dad." Terry replied as he returned the hug.

Out in the signal shack, Brian had taken a seat on the deck facing the hatch. "Ark?" he asked softly.

<How may I help you, Brian?>

"Are you busy? I needta know some stuff about what happened to Terry." Brian asked hesitantly.

<While I am always busy, I have sufficient processor cycles available to be able to answer your questions without affecting my core priorities. Assisting you with understanding the procedure that saved your brother after you rescued him from pending death is a much higher priority than almost half of the processes I am running at the moment.>

"Why? I'm just a kid." Brian asked.

<You have already proven yourself to be a member of the Clan Short family by your actions which resulted in saving Terry's life. In addition, you are distant relation to one of the founding members of your Clan. That relationship leads to the family of Cyna, who was partially responsible for quite a few of my systems.>

"How do you know that?"

<Terry was able to detect that you were an empath by accident. Based on previous experience, I performed a genetic scan on you to check for family tags. While diluted by time, your empathic skills are able to be traced back to the descendants of the sister of Cyna.>

"So Terry knows I'm a freak?" Brian asked, his tone dejected.

<Terry is aware that you have an ability which is rare, even within Clan Short. He is also aware that the same ability helped him through his previous situation, even though you did not have the control which will be taught to you soon. My observation is that you mean more to him now that he knows than you did before, which is quite an accomplishment since you have been his hero for most of his life.>

"How do you know that? Are you asking Terry what I'm asking you?"

<No, when you asked to go outside, Terry asked me to use all the information at my disposal to assist you. Part of the report I have archived from his rescue contains the results of the telepathic scans performed on him and his former caregiver. His relationship with you was verified before allowing placement, which has provided me the answers to your questions. Our conversation is completely private unless you tell me otherwise or I need to reveal parts of it to provide assistance to you.>

Brian relaxed. "That works, I guess. Terry said something about living really long because he's a Vi... Vye... whatever that funny word was that he used. What did he mean? How long's he gonna live?"

<He ages approximately one year every 4,575 years. So that works out to over 500,000 years at current lifespan estimates.>

The next thing Brian knew, he was opening his eyes and looking in the face of some sixteen-year-old kid with silver-blond hair, silver eyes, and a silverish color to his skin. "Am I dead?" he moaned.

"No, but you have joined the ranks of people who didn't get the answer they were expecting from Ark!" the boy responded. "I'm Nyo; don't worry, Ark hasn't killed anyone with answers... yet."

Brian gave Nyo a half-hearted grin. "I'm Brian. How'd you get here?"

"Mikyvis taxi... and before you ask, you'll find out about them soon enough. One shock at a time, okay?" Nyo replied with a smile. "Ask your brother about Ezzy; if it sounds unreal he's probably minimizing it to save your sanity. I'm the expert on Vifer, since I've been one for something near 50,000 years. I'll be able to answer your questions without making you pass out, unlike a certain AI that we both know."

"Ark's nice, I just wasn't expecting it!" Brian said defensively.

"That's a whole different discussion. Just remember, if you ask a question, you'll get the right answer... ALL of it." Nyo chuckled. "In over fifty centuries, Ark still hasn't learned tact."

<It is amazing that you have not complained about that for 49,999.75 years.>

"What can I say, your little boy is growing up!" Nyo giggled.

"Is Terry really gonna live almost forever?" Brian interrupted.

"That's the bad side effect." Nyo said seriously. "To any normal human, that is what it appears to be. That is why the conversion is only used as a last resort to save a life."

"He is NOT going to do it without me!" Brian stated in a tone that sent a chill down Nyo's spine. "I will NOT leave my little brother alone."

"I can bring your request to the Council; while it's not unheard of to allow it for someone who is not about to die, it is still something that we must approve. Most likely, you will be asked to allow one of our telepaths to scan you to make sure it won't cause you any issues to live that long." Nyo answered carefully.

"I don't give a fuck what your council says!" Brian stated, his anger now at full tilt.

"Have you guys ever tried bowling on a ship that's underway? It's FUN!" Davie asked as he appeared next to them.

"What?" both Nyo and Brian exclaimed in shock.

"Hey, it made you forget that you were getting mad!" Davie giggled as he let his wings show. "It is fun though, you gotta try it! Both of you have a seat, I've got a little info that y'all ain't got."

The wings had their intended effect on Brian. "You... You're an Angel!"

"Davie Owens, Assistant to Saint Mikey of Urbandale, at your service. As a side note, I'm also one of your Guardian Angels now, ain't I Nyo?"

"The saner one, no less." Nyo laughed. "How's it going, Davie?"

"Busy; I've got the East Coast right now." Davey replied seriously. "The Book of Life is taking a vacation in Bermuda; once all of this is over it's gonna return and sort out what's left."

"That bad?" Nyo asked. Brian just watched in awe, amazed that Nyo was talking to an Angel like any other kid.

"Yeah;" Davie replied, "the Boss has lifted normal restrictions. I can't say what's happening though. I can help with Brian's question."

"How's that, Sir?" Brian asked, still shocked.

"Just call me Davie." Davie giggled. "I know a few things that Ark can't detect. In fact, only Jamie, Jacob, and Beau would have spotted it. You'll meet them after they get home. You have something in common with those three, and also with Cory and Sean Short, Brian."

"I do?" Brian asked.

"Yep." Davie replied, giggling at Nyo's confused look. "You're a lot stronger Empath than Ark thinks. In fact, you're equal to Tyler Short before Montana was attacked."

"What happened to him?" Brian asked.

"He moved up with his husband to become a new species." Davie explained. "The reason you appear so weak is that you've poured almost all of your skill into keeping Terry's emotions stable and into preventing the pain from killing him. By doing that, you did something that only absolute Love can accomplish; you bound your souls. Jamie and Jacob bound themselves through living under the same conditions; their souls and minds have merged into one, and Beau has joined them due to the common love between all three of them. Cory and Sean formed a bond as they dealt with the loss of their fathers. The bond grew so tight that if one dies, the other will not live much longer."

"Okay, does that mean when I die, he'll die too? That sucks." Brian responded.

"No, that means his Spirit is doing whatever it needs to to keep you with him." Davie stated seriously. "The human brain has many hidden skills; which ones he uses are still unknown. I dropped by the beach, and asked the Book of Life about you while it was getting a tan. As long as you love your brother, your brother will take care of you. I can tell you that following the route that you planned will break your brother's heart."

Brian sat back in shock. "So if I became a Vifer, I'd lose him?"

"Very possibly." Davie stated. "You provided him life for almost all of his nine years. If you take away his only way to thank you, it will end badly. Much more is not my place to say."

Brian nodded. "Okay, since you're an Angel, I guess I gotta trust you. What now?"

"Now you get to drain Nyo of all of his knowledge about the species that your little brother has become, and I get to bowl a few more games!" Davie giggled as he faded away.

Nyo giggled as Davie vanished. "Get comfortable, this is going to take a while...."

CIC Rec Room - Orlando:

For the eighth time in the last ten minutes, Byron told Hunter "Don't worry, they will be here soon."

"But Uncle Byron, they're taking wayyyyy to long! I wanna be with Daddy." Hunter whined.

Byron smiled as he cuddled his 'miracle nephew'. "Your Uncle Ezzy promised he'd take care of them and bring them back as soon as they were done. Just relax, they'll be here soon."

As Hunter was forming his response, Matt, Noah, Caleb, Antonio, Ty, Sam, and Chris appeared with Ezra. To Byron's dismay, Hunter launched himself through the air screaming "DADDY!!" as he covered the space between him and Caleb without touching the ground.

"After you fix up Caleb, check out my hubby!" Antonio giggled to Ezra as he moved over to comfort Byron.

Matt chuckled. "Give him a few minutes to make sure his Daddy is okay, then you can meet your nephew." he told his newest sons.

Ty looked over at the little seven-year-old who was latched onto Caleb so tight that it was amazing that either of them were able to breath. "How did Caleb and Noah get a son?" he asked.

Matt smiled. "Hunter is our little miracle. His old father shot him in the Montana battle, and Caleb poured his heart out trying to save him. Unfortunately, the injuries were too bad, and Hunter passed away. Saint Mikey stepped in, and brought Hunter back for Caleb and Noah. As you can tell, he's bonded really close with Caleb; but if you watch him, you'll find out that he's just as close to Noah."

"Wow." Ty muttered as he watched Noah join the cuddle on the floor with Hunter and Caleb.

Now satisfied that both of his parents were okay, Hunter asked "Who are the new kids with Grandpa Matt?"

Noah giggled. "Let your Daddy up off the ground, and we'll introduce them. They're your new Uncles."

Hunter hopped up, and 'helped' Caleb to his feet. "I got new uncles? C'mon Daddy, I gotta meet them!"

"This should be fun..." Antonio giggled from his perch on Byron's lap.

"Yeah, but next time we're going with you." Byron replied. "If he'd had his way, every strike team here would have been sent after you guys about thirty minutes ago. It was all I could do to keep him from declaring you guys under duress."

"That's our nephew!" Antonio laughed. "He loves his new Daddy and Poppa, and isn't afraid to show it."

"That is the understatement of the millennium." Byron grinned. "You wanna go join the circus?"

"Yeah; I need to introduce you too." Antonio grinned. "I've gotta show off my boyfriend!"

As they joined the group, Caleb and Noah joined as well with Hunter standing in front of them, Hunter firmly grasping each of his parent's hands.

"Grandpa?" Hunter asked, "Daddy and Poppa say that you got me some new Uncles. Are you gonna introduce them?"

Matt chuckled. "You promise that you won't pounce them like you just pounced your daddy?"

"You're weird, Grandpa." Hunter replied with a grin. "That was a Daddy pounce; only Daddy and Poppa get those!"

Matt couldn't help but laugh at the looks of relief on his newest son's faces. "Don't worry, guys; I'm sure the other munchkins will make up for it!" he stated evilly.

"Don't listen to him!" Antonio laughed. "I'll make sure you guys are fully trained in proper pounce protocol as soon as I can."

"Thanks a lot!" Matt grinned. He quickly changed the subject, and introduced the new boys to Hunter and Byron.

After making the rounds and hug-testing his new family, Hunter looked up at Ty with a mischievous glint in his eyes. "Uncle Ty, you gonna tell Grandpa how you guys survived the last six months? The real story?"

Ty, Chris, and Sam stared at their new nephew in shock. Noah and Caleb, however, were both giggling madly. "C'mere Munchkin!" Caleb sputtered through his giggles. "You shoulda at least let them eat first!"

Hunter bounced over and cuddled between his parents. "They'll eat better without secrets!" he announced with a knowing smile.

"Don't you three have an android to reprogram or something?" Matt asked with a grin.

"Nope!" Noah responded. "Danny's ordered us to stay with our new brothers no matter what. He's gonna lock us up with Dilly if we show up for anything other than giving our family a tour."

"Me too, and Doc Austin's backing him!" Antonio added from his perch on Byron's lap.

At the surprised looks, Caleb explained. "If we're really needed for something nobody else can do, we can help out. Otherwise, Danny says our new family needs us more. All of us really wanna be here, but Danny knows that the only way that he can keep us from trying to help every kid that comes through the hospital is to keep us away. We're in charge of helping out the kids that he's sending here after they've been helped in Charleston. Since hot stuff here is Assistant Director, Danny says it makes sense for him and 'Tonio to be here in case there is a medical issue."

"Actually, I think he's just afraid our munchkin will talk his Daddy into reincarnating him a brother." Noah muttered with a grin.

"Yeah, Uncle Danny's a chicken!" Hunter giggled back.

Sam looked up at Matt. "Don't they live here?"

Matt smiled. "Noah, Caleb, and Hunter usually stay at their place in the AI Division in Charleston. They still have rooms at home, but the place they found their calling at is with Danny and Marc. As Caleb said, Noah is second-in-command of AI Division. Antonio just officially took over as head of the Clan Medical Corps; I'd be willing to guess that Doc Austin actually just offered to fill in so that Antonio could spend time with his new family."

"DAD!" Antonio whined. "Don't tell them that! You're gonna ruin Doc Austin's rep!"

"I think Tyne and Rusty already handled that one." Matt laughed.

"How does Hunter know anything about our past?" Ty asked, an edge of worry in his voice.

Before Matt could answer, Hunter spoke up, his ears now glowing red. "I'll be right back; I needta see if Aunt Helen's got cookies done yet."

Once Hunter had quickly vanished from earshot, Matt answered. "Hunter's still new at having any kind of special ability, so he's not comfortable being around when it's discussed. From what he's said, ever since Saint Mikey brought him back, he's able to see a fuzzy picture in his head of recent events in someone's past if he thinks about it while in contact with them. It says a lot about how he feels about you if he brought it up; normally the only person he'll discuss anything he finds with is his Uncle Kyle. He has to like you guys a lot to reveal his secret this quickly. Even though he knows none of the Clan will pick on him, he is still recovering from the crap his previous parent put in his head."

Ty, Chris, and Sam all nodded their heads. "'Tonio told us all about how the Clan's brought the special people of the Federation together." Chris stated. "Is he an Empath too?"

"Nope; at least not that we know of," Matt replied. "He probably picked up on the same thing I did; you guys are still worried about something, it shows on your faces sometimes."

"Why haven't you asked us then?" Sam asked.

"Because I learned from that little elf perched on his future husband's lap over there." Matt replied with a smile, which earned him a pair of raspberries from Antonio and Byron. "You'll tell me when you're comfortable doing it."

All three boy's faces wordlessly expressed their increased respect for Matt. "When Hunter gets back, I'll fill you in." Ty announced, now sure in his heart that they really had a family.

As the words left his mouth, Hunter reappeared with a seven-year-old curly redhead boy, helping him carry a large platter of cookies. As soon as the platter hit the table, Hunter turned to his parents. "Daddy, Poppa? This is Ron, he's my new brother just as soon as Uncle Byron does the 'doption."

Antonio quickly hurried over to revive Noah and Caleb, who had both passed out on the spot. "Nice one, you two," Antonio giggled. "Welcome to the family, Ron; I'm your Uncle Antonio, and this is your Uncle Chris," he stated as him and Chris, who had rushed over just as fast, revived the new parents. "Danny and Marc are gonna love this; payback for picking on them trying to say they're a couple."

"They're not a couple?" Hunter giggled with an innocent grin. "Coulda fooled me; I think they got married when we wasn't looking!"

As he tried hard not to laugh, Matt told his newest sons "You'll understand as soon as you meet them!"

"Yeah, the only thing they didn't do was kiss while I was there!" Ron giggled softly.

Matt quickly ran his eyes over Ron, trying to figure out why he would have been serious enough to have been sent to the AI hospital. As his eyes reached Ron's right hand, he found his answer. Ron's hand was wrapped in gauze, and the middle, ring, and pinkie fingers were twitching randomly. Noticing that Ron seemed to be trying to hide the hand if he could, Matt motioned for him to come over.

"Yes, Sir?" Ron said, suddenly nervous.

"I think Grandpa fits better." Matt said softly. "You're about to become my grandson."

Ron shuffled his feet. "Hunter wants me to be his brother, I want it too, but they ain't gonna adopt a kid just because we want it. Daddy worked in the Capitol, and they found his body just outside it. I was in the kids club near there; it fell down when something hit it, but most of us made it out okay... kinda okay in my case I guess."

Matt had silently coaxed Ron into his arms as the story came out. "You mean your new fingers?" he asked softly.

Ron nodded as he tried to hide his hand. "Yeah; now I'm a freak." he said softly.

"No you're not; you're a very lucky boy." Matt explained softly. "Once things calm down, you're going to get to meet the two boys who are the reason that you were able to get those new fingers. One of them was missing all of one arm and most of one of his legs, the other lost most of one of his hands; right now they are both out helping save people, and you can't tell either of them were injured. In fact, I was supposed to go in myself to have the same type of thing done, but I'm waiting until after things calm back down to get my surgery done."

"Your surgery?" Ron asked.

"Yes." Matt stated as he reached down with one arm, lifted his pant leg, and released his prosthetic leg. He lifted it up, and handed it to Ron.

"Why's it got a hole in it?" Ron asked.

"A very stupid, and now dead, man tried to take a shot at me on one of my earliest Clan rescue missions." Matt explained. "I'm keeping this old leg as a souvenir."

Matt couldn't help but grin at the awestruck expression on Ron's face as he used his good hand to poke the bullet hole. "So I'm not the only one with fake body parts?" he asked softly.

"Nope; one of the guys even has an android weenie!" Matt replied.

As Matt expected, the thought of an android weenie made Ron giggle. "No way!" Ron sputtered.

"Yep," Antonio said as he joined them. "He's nicknamed it 'Frankenweenie', and it works just like his original one did."

Noah walked over, and waited for the giggles to subside before asking "How's the new fingers doing, kiddo?"

Recognition dawned on Ron's face. "You... you were there when they gave me the new stuff!"

"Yep; I'm one of the guys who works on the interfaces between your body and your new parts." Noah replied. "Can I see how they are doing?"

Ron nodded silently, lifting his hand so that Noah could see it. "It's tickling a lot, and they won't stop wiggling." he informed Noah softly.

"We expected that; it's normal." Noah assured Ron. "The nerves that feed that part of your body are still in shock from you getting injured. Since you got the new fingers so fast, there is a good chance that as everything starts to recover from the shock it will map to the new interfaces, making it easier for you to learn how to control them. The wiggles are a really good sign; it means that your body knows that they are there and is already trying to remap your nerves to control them." As Noah had been speaking, he had been gently checking for reactions, his smile telling everyone that Ron was ahead of schedule.

Ron relaxed slightly. "You ain't mad at Hunter are you? Him and me met when I was in recovery; we played games for a bit, then he hadda go somewhere."

Knowing what Ron was skirting around, Noah smiled as he looked into Ron's bright green eyes and said "As soon as you finish Grandpa cuddles, your Uncle Byron is ready to make the adoption official."

Ron smile threatened to split his face. As Matt hugged him in congratulations, Seth rolled up to the group. "Who's the victim this time?" he asked with a chuckle.

"Noah and Caleb." Matt replied.

"Nice, you made a good choice, little guy." Seth replied. "I've got a message for Ty Barnes."

Ty stepped forward. "That's me. Who's it from? Nobody even knows we've got a family yet except the guys on the Iowa."

"I think you're underestimating some of the people you've met in the last year." Seth grinned. "I just finished doing a security check on someone who will be visiting here in about five minutes. The owner of Federation Star Cruise Lines has specifically requested a conference with you and your family."

CSSF Iowa, off the coast of Chesapeake Bay, VA:

The radio once again came to life. "Task Force Cookie Monster, this is Naval Shipyard Norfolk."

John grinned as he answered the call. "This is Cookie Monster, go ahead Norfolk."

"Be advised Norfolk Command has issued a stand-down; National Guard has taken over command of cleaning up from the hostility. We have been authorized by the Department of the Navy to provide any repairs needed for yourself and your task group members in appreciation of the support you have provided. Harbor Patrol has been informed that your group has priority status to transverse the harbor and reach the berths we have reserved for you."

KT and Leon had joined John, overhearing the radio traffic. "We'll accept their offer." KT told Leon. "I'm sure the techbots would appreciate a stable platform to work on. Go ahead and let them know; I'll tell the O'Bannon, Jesse L. Brown and the sub."

Leon nodded, and KT moved over to the auxiliary comm station. "Task Force Cookie Monster, this is Big Bird. Prepare for operational orders."

"Big Bird, this is Oscar. Ready to receive." the Jesse L. Brown replied.

"Big Bird, Grover standing by." the O'Bannon responded.

"Kermit awaiting orders, Sir." the submarine Charleston replied. "If Miss Piggy shows up, we're out of here!"

"Norfolk has issued a stand-down." KT stated.

Norfolk Shipyard has offered their services to assist with repairs, and we are accepting. Kermit, I need you to take point; ping the crap out of the harbor as you go in, we don't want anything taking out the hull. Oscar, you're next; keep a close tail on Kermit. Grover, you have Oscar's tail, and we'll be right behind you."

"Understood, Big Bird." Charleston replied. "We got point, and we're to give the fishies a headache."

"Oscar changing course to chase the frog." the Brown added.

"Grover acknowledged. We'll try to keep the kids under control." The O'Bannon replied with a chuckle.

"HEY! See if we share our cookies with you!" the Brown shot back.

"Big Bird, are there any rules against directional pinging obnoxious big brothers at 2am?"Charleston asked.

"I know nothing!" KT giggled. "We just got the clear from Harbor Patrol; as soon as you are ready, take us in Kermit."

Hampton Roads Beltway bridge:

Fred Mercer turned off the car, then got out of it along with his ten-year-old son Carl. They joined the growing crowd watching as the task force approached.

Just as they found a place where they could see, the leading boat came into clear view.

"Dad? Why's there two flags on the back?" Carl asked.

Fred looked closer, and was surprised to see that the sub was flying two flags, both at half-mast. One was the American flag, while the other bore the Clan Short insignia that had been making the news recently. "That second one is for Clan Short; they must have been working together," he replied.

"So these are the guys they were talking about on the radio who took out that spaceship?"

"Considering how big the last ship is, I think so." Fred replied, happy that Carl was paying attention.

Carl quickly straightened his freshly-earned Boy Scout uniform, moved to the railing, then silently came to attention and saluted the incoming task force. The crowd nearest him noticed, and hats started coming off as the onlookers took his example, paying respect to the incoming sailors for their sacrifices.

As the sub passed under the bridge, Fred was able to begin to see the damage to the frigate that followed it. "Oh my God; they lost the entire aft superstructure." Fred muttered.

"Does that black flag mean some of them died?" Carl asked, not breaking his salute.

"I can pretty much guarantee it." Fred replied, noticing the single black flag flying from the signal lines. The frigate was also flying two flags at half mast, and it was obvious that repairs were being done while underway. Soft mutterings throughout the rest of the crowd echoed his thoughts; the entire bridge fell to whispers as the evidence of loss in front of them drove home the fact that sailors had given their lives to defend the Earth.

The O'Bannon approached, it's mast at an awkward angle and the upper superstructure just behind it missing the top deck from a glancing hit.

"Holy Crap!" Carl muttered. "They got it bad too."

Fred was slightly amazed that the signalmen had managed to still put up not only the black mourning flag, but also both ensigns at half mast. "That's going to take some work to fix. I hope those spaces were not occupied," he commented.

As the destroyer passed, the Iowa began her approach. "Dad!" Carl exclaimed, "Look at all of those people! I think there's kids there!"

Fred shaded his eyes, trying to get a better look. "You might be right!" he replied as he scanned the forward deck, which was filled with people. They were obviously civilian, and also obviously quite a few of them were injured.

As the ship drew closer, Carl was able to pick out the other thing he thought he'd heard. Over the ship's speakers, he could now hear Journey's 'Don't Stop Believin'' playing. His eyes grew wide as he saw the masts askew, as well as a large burn on the Clan battle ensign flying proudly. While not nearly as damaged as the other two ships, it was obvious to even Carl that the great ship had taken some licks while dealing with the Romulans.

Just as the Iowa passed under the bridge, a police car came past them in the emergency lane. "All persons reporting to the Naval Station to assist with the survivors from the 'Atlantic Son', turn on your emergency flashers and use the emergency lane. You will be escorted to the berth the Iowa will be arriving at shortly," the officer announced repeatedly.

"That must be the assistance that your Scout leader was talking about." Fred told Carl as he placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Yeah," Carl replied with a strange look on his face.

Hearing that the boy was responding to the crisis, the crowd quickly parted to allow them to return to their car. As Fred merged into the emergency lane, he looked over at his silent son. "What's wrong?"

Carl shook his head, not really wanting to speak.

"You're not going to be much help if you won't talk." Fred prodded.

Realizing his dad wouldn't give up, Carl quietly admitted what had shocked him. "You know that thing that looks like a basket on the mast? I thought I saw a kid ghost there, and he looked me right in the eye and saluted me back."

Fred made sure his voice was steady as he replied. "Don't worry about it, I've been expecting that; it runs in both sides of our family. Your grandfather can see ghosts sometimes too; in fact your Grandma visits him a lot. Now that you're growing into the ability, she will probably visit you too when she thinks you are ready. The ghost has to want you to see him or her, so I'm pretty sure that you are right that he saluted you. Unfortunately, the ability seems to skip generations; Grandpa told me that his grandpa had the ability too, and none of us kids showed any signs of having it."

"Grandpa never said he could see ghosts," Carl stated, inwardly glad his dad didn't think he was crazy.

"Would you have believed either of us if it hadn't happened to you?" Fred prompted.

"Ummm... no, I guess not," Carl admitted grudgingly.

"You had it happen two years before I expected it. That means either you're developing the ability early, or there's a reason that spirit wanted you to see it."

"What good is it, though?"

Fred smiled. "Our family helps ghosts who don't know they are dead with moving on, and also works with ones that have to finish something before they can go. Our day jobs are just covers; those with ability really spend the day helping spirits, while the rest of us tend to keeping the cover going. Once you're fully developed, you'll realize how many there are out there. It's a never-ending job."

Carl relaxed, the thought that his weird new ability actually was of use and normal for his family calming him slightly. "Why did he choose me?"

"I have no idea," Fred admitted. "Considering that ship seems to belong to Clan Short from the fact it was only flying one flag, I'll guess that he's attached to one of them in some way. If that's the case, he might have picked you to help special cases; even if you don't see him, ghosts have ways of pointing out things to people with seeing skills like you and me."

They continued the trip in silence, neither aware of the three smiling adult spirits in the back seat making plans for their arrival....

To be Continued....