Koushiro led Josiah to a cement block building, just on the edge of town. It was a very plain looking building, with nothing really all that interesting about it, except for its lack of windows. Looking at it among the other buildings on the street, though, it really did seem to stand out, as everything else on the street looked to be traditional homes and businesses. But this building was just a great cement structure, with nothing giving it any value or worth. No one seemed to pay it any thought, though.
As they approached the building, Koushiro pulled out a key and quickly unlocked the door. He ushered Josiah inside and then quickly followed, pulling the door shut behind him, and locking the lock again.
"This is the outer chamber," Koushiro explained, as Josiah looked around the room.
The room had a mat in one corner of the room for sleeping, a small refrigerator, an open bathroom area, and a table that was covered in papers.
On the far side of the room was another door, and Koushiro silently urged Josiah towards it.
"The Monster is on the other side of that door," said Koushiro as they crossed the room. "I have taken all kinds of precautions to keep him here, so I know that he can not get out. But you must go in there to speak with him."
Josiah grinned, "I think I can handle myself."
"Of that I have no doubt," replied Koushiro. "But the Monster is not to be taken as a fool, and I do not call him a monster just for what he may or may not have done. Just please be careful."
"Okay," said Josiah as the reached the door.
Koushiro then placed his hand on the door and let out a deep sigh. The door suddenly unlocked, as if his sighing caused the lock to open. Josiah looked at Koushiro with question but the boy shook his head.
"I will answer any questions you have later," Koushiro said and he pulled the door open. "For now, go."
"And how will you know when I'm done?" asked Josiah.
"The door will let you out if you touch it," replied Koushiro. "If it can do as I ask when I ask it to, then I know that it will respond to you even more so."
Josiah nodded and then walked through the door. He quickly surveyed the room as he heard Koushiro close and lock the door behind him. The room was almost completely dark, except for a single light bulb that was on and hanging in the center of the room.
"I can seeeee youuu..." a voice suddenly said from the darkness. "I figured you would come for me one day. I take it that my young, but surprisingly skilled, jailer has led you to me? But of course he has...."
Josiah looked around, and using his ability to find energy patterns, found something on the far side of the room.
"It's been a really loooong time, have I changed?" said the voice. "Or is it you that's changed? I suppose the real question is, do you even remember me?"
"In bits and pieces," Josiah replied slowly.
"Yes, that's my fault too. You can't remember me because I didn't want you to remember me," said the voice. "I used to have that kind of power. Power of life and death, the power to change the universe. But the universe doesn't play fair."
Josiah shook his head. "You'll get no argument from me on that one."
"Heheeha, yes, I suppose I wouldn't," the voice cackled. "Now, I know you can't see me, here in the shadows, but I know that you can see my pattern, just as I can now see yours. What do you think, what have I become?"
"I expected to find Geoffrey Wido," said Josiah as he watched the pattern shift around in the dark. "But I don't think I have a word for what I'm seeing. Care to explain it to me?"
"You have no idea how nice it is to have someone use my name again," Wido responded. "But, well perhaps it's poetic justice. You can't screw the world without it asking for its own turn in the end. Everything has its price. And now here you are, you've come to collect."
Josiah's eyes narrowed, "What?"
Wido let out a chuckle that sounded more like a dying cow than a human being, "I suppose I'm not being fair. After all, you wouldn't be looking for me if you had all the pieces to this puzzle. But I'm not so sure I want to give them to you. I'm just a means to an end, am I not? What have I to gain by telling you this tale?"
"You don't really have anything to gain," said Josiah. "But you do still have something you could end up losing."
"Do I?" questioned Wido. "The Acolyte that is watching over me has taken everything from me, including my name. And after you've spoken to me, what is to keep him from no longer wishing to look after me?"
"You clearly know who I am without even asking," replied Josiah. "You could just be sitting here, not talking to me at all. But instead, you're choosing to talk with me. Doesn't that imply that you want to tell me what you have to say?"
Wido sighed, "Fine, fine, I suppose you're right. And that Acolyte doesn't ever let me say more than a few words before silencing me. Well, then for you to really understand, then I'll probably need to start at the very beginning."
Josiah leaned back against the door. "That would be best."
"Well then, I suppose our little story starts when I was about ten years old," said Wido in an excited voice. "My parents and I used to travel the world. You see, my parents were archaeologists. We would circle the globe looking for artifacts to help prove their theories."
"They used to get so upset at me back then, as I often didn't care about what they were researching. I guess they had planned on me following in their footsteps one day. However, while they were busy burying themselves in their work, I was busy reading books about adventures and dreaming of having my own some day."
"My parents, though, didn't approve. They kept telling me to get my head out of the clouds and learn something that mattered. Although I'm not sure where they thought they had room to talk. See, they had spent their entire lives studying an ancient civilization that was thought to have existed. It was one where oracle-like beings led the entire world. They controlled and predicted everything, leading the world to a peaceful, golden age."
"My parents were convinced that this civilization existed because they kept finding evidence and legends, deep in underground caverns, and in old ruins long forgotten, that supported this civilization's existence. It would have risen over seventy thousand years ago, and lasted for almost ten thousand. Which, I know that just sound like a bunch of numbers, but how can we truly comprehend how long ago that really was, or even just the ten thousand years that it lasted. That's an amazing amount of time."
"You're getting off of the point," mumbled Josiah.
"Yes, yes, forgive my wanderings. I don't get to talk to others often these days," said Wido before continuing. "Anyway, while they were looking for clues, they came across something different... something far older than what they were looking for. It was an ancient text, carved into tablets made of granite, written in a language that they had not yet seen before. The pictures that were carved into the tablets depicted the formation of the earth and some kind of being."
"Well, after a few years of work, my parents figured out the language and translated part of the text. It had been written by people that predated the civilization that they were studying. It was merely a creation story that the people of that time had copied down. But what was different about this story, as opposed to the one we hear in the Bible, was that this one showed the Earth itself as a being that walked among the people. They called this being the Navus."
Josiah gasped, "What did you say?"
Wido's grinning could almost be heard in the darkness, "Sounds familiar, doesn't it? You know that word. You knew it when I met you too, but it meant far more to you then than it does now. That's my fault, but I'm getting there."
"See, my parents were disappointed when they found this out. They were expecting something important, something grand. They spent all this time learning to translate the text they found, only to find it to be a story that was of no interest to them. They wanted to know more about the oracles that they were looking for. They thought that the being in the picture was one of these oracles and it wasn't."
"But something about that story grabbed hold of me. I took the tablets and I finished translating them myself. Who knows exactly how long ago the tablets were carved, but as it turns out, according to that text, the spirit of the Earth could take on human form. It lived among the people, teaching them how best to use its resources. However, the people of the Earth became greedy and used what the Navus taught them to destroy others and themselves. The story was about a people that lived long before what my parents were looking for, and they had wiped themselves out using what the Navus had taught them. The text I had finished translating wasn't even written by those original people, but rather those that survived that destruction. They didn't want to forget what had happened, so they wrote it down, carved it into stone. I know, what a concept."
"But that's all the story says. However, bits and pieces of it sounded familiar to things I had heard about different religious figures in the Far East. The Dalai Lama, for example. And so, as I got older, much to my parents' delight, I began a career in archeology and history. I studied everything I could get my hands on that had to do with some of these religious figures in the East, hoping that I might come across something about the Navus. I even moved here. And after years of searching, my quest paid off. I found references to the Navus. It was an ancient journal, hundreds of years old and hard to make out, but it described how the Navus was still around. That it would reincarnate once every few hundred years to see if the world was ready for it to live with them again. But each time the Navus came back, all if found was abuse, so it would go and live a secluded life, one of peace and healing."
"This isn't, however, what really got my attention. No, what really got me was what this journal described that the Navus could do. I mean I had my suspicions. And it was the spirit of the Earth, after all. But the powers described in the journal were amazing, beyond what I had imagined. The Navus was a master of life and death, of creation and destruction, and its powers could undo and remake... well, everything."
"Kind of sounds familiar, doesn't it?"
"You could say that," said Josiah as he continued to watch Wido in what might have been pacing on the far side of the room.
"Well, that part of the story ends there," said Wido. "See, I was working off of a grant, and my grant had run out. Suddenly I found myself needing a real job. My parents were dead by that point, having died in a cave in while exploring something that they had found; their bodies were never recovered. So, I enlisted in Starfleet. I was smart enough, and they would feed me and pay me."
"I spent the next several years of my life working my way up through the ranks. And then, along came Section 31. Their ideals were certainly appealing. But the real thing that got my attention was that Section 31 seemed to have unlimited funds. Well, what can I say, the wheels in my head began turning."
Josiah nodded, "So you talked them into funding your research?"
"Oh, it wasn't that easy," sputtered Wido. "I had to work at it, I had to come up with a plan that they would find appealing. See, I haven't told you why I bothered to do all of this research in the first place. I had this feeling, that the Navus was something that didn't just exist, but it was something that I could have. I wanted the power that the Navus possessed. If the Navus could be a human, then there had to be something scientific to explain how a human could have such amazing powers."
Josiah grinned, realizing exactly where the story was heading, "But you couldn't do it, could you?"
"No! I couldn't! I went through the trouble of finding you, kidnapping you! I had some of the brightest minds in the galaxy working on my project and yet we couldn't nail down what causes you to do what you do! Your secrets eluded us no matter how hard we tried. So much so that our attempts just outright failed!" shouted Wido in remembered frustration. "See, first we tried applying what we did find in your genetic structure, that was different, to kids that we acquired. Our first batch consisted of fifty kids, but none of them made it. In fact, it was as if those changes we made caused their very being to break down. We couldn't understand it! How could those changes tear them apart, but yet you had those very things within you!"
Josiah shook his head, "That's so sad. You killed all those kids by making a guess that didn't work out."
"Well, after that we had a little bit of a harder time getting kids for test subject," grumbled Wido. "Our second batch only consisted of ten. I even subjected my own son to my work when it looked like we'd only have nine test subjects. We were so careful this time, having failed on such a grand scale last time. But out of the second batch only one survived!"
"So you threw your own son's life away so that you could acquire what I had?" Josiah said with an undertone of disgust.
Wido grinned, "Who said that he died? And while he did acquire some interesting abilities, it was nothing in comparison to what you can do! I did lose my son, though, as he became the property of Section 31 after what we did to him."
Josiah sighed, "But how many people died because of what you wanted?"
"It doesn't matter how many died. They're gone now," scoffed Wido. "Results is what matters. And since I couldn't get results with applying changes to already living beings, it was suggested that we clone you. If we cloned you, and your clones had your abilities, then we could dissect them down to the point that we could figure out what made them tick."
"So my brothers were meant to be lab rats," Josiah said in realization.
"That's right, they were," chuckled Wido. "But when they got old enough none of them had your abilities! They all had their own abilities! The only thing that they all shared with you was their ability to see a person's life force."
Josiah frowned, "So I'm not seeing a person's energy pattern?"
Wido laughed for several seconds before finally replying, "Nope! Although we thought it was at first. But as I found later, you see their actual life force. As the Navus you can remake them. But not just on a molecular level. You can reshape their soul. Change good to bad or bad to good. You can change their very being. But your brothers couldn't do that. And so my funding was cut, I was cast out of Section 31 for wasting their time, and your brothers were re-purposed. Actually, you should have seen the look on some of the leaders of Section 31's faces when they saw what extremes I went through to try and achieve my goals. That's probably what actually got me thrown out of Section 31: my methods, not my madness."
"So, why can't I remember anything, then?" asked Josiah.
"Ah, that's the easiest part of this entire tale," said Wido. "I didn't want you to remember anything that had happened to you. If my funding was being cut, and my project being terminated, then it was only a matter of time before Section 31 woke you up and saw you as an asset. I didn't want you coming after me, so I erased your memory. Or rather I suppressed your memories by causing your mind to undergo so much stress that, to defend itself, it blanked everything you knew. It was one of the tricks that we learned while studying all of the genetics that we did, for the project. Although, from what I heard later, that did a good bit more damage to you than I thought it would."
"So I still have all my memories, they're just buried in my own head," concluded Josiah. "But what do you mean by more damage than you though?"
"Why do you think you struggle so much with what you can do? What do you think is keeping your mind so stressed that you can't remember who you are?" Wido asked with a grin. "What I did to you keeps that stress around so that you won't remember, but a side effect of that is that you can't control your abilities as well as you should be able to. So in doing what I did, you can't heal but you can't control yourself either."
Josiah's eyes went wide, "So you're not just the reason that I don't remember anything, or the reason I was kidnapped from my home, but you're also the reason that I can't control myself?!"
"That's right, by putting that block in your mind I've caused your control to be stunted," replied Wido as he started to move forward. "And now, here I have the Navus himself, crippled in the control of his own powers, standing before me. If I absorb you I should finally have what I want."
Josiah opened his mouth to ask what Wido meant, but before he could speak Wido stepped into the light, causing Josiah to gasp.
"See I didn't tell you what happened to me after the project had ended and I was kicked out of Section 31," said Wido as he stood up straight, so that Josiah could see all eight feet of him. "I continued my work, convincing some of the science team members that I worked with to continue the project in secret. Well, when we were ready to try again, we didn't have any test subject, so I volunteered. But once again, I didn't get what I wanted. In fact, at first I didn't look like this misshaped mass of flesh before you. I thought that nothing had happened to me at all... until I accidentally absorbed my science team. They merged right into my body, giving me more mass than I had before, but also giving me all of their knowledge and abilities."
Josiah shifted his position to ready himself just in case Wido lunged forward. "Koushiro was right, you are a monster."
"And if I absorb you then I should finally have what I want," said Wido as a grotesque grin spread across his oddly shaped face. "I'll have to thank the little Acolyte for bringing you to me, right before I tear his little spiritual ass apart!"
Suddenly, before Josiah could even move, Wido seemed to shift into a liquid-like state and threw himself onto Josiah. What had been oddly shaped masses of flesh, and what Josiah could only describe as open wounds, was now a red and tan blob, oozing gunk, and he was buried in it.
Josiah could hear the mess that was Wido laughing as Josiah was pulled into him. He could feel Wido seeping into every crevice. The whole thing seemed impossible. But this is what Koushiro had meant when he said to be careful.
He quickly shifted his attention to where it should be and started to allow his control to vanish, using his abilities to pull the energy out of Wido. But as he tried he could hear Wido laughing all around him.
"Don't fight it, Navus," Wido's voice echoed. "Just think of it as moving on to the next life. I want to be you for a lifetime. You can have yourself back after I've finished with remaking the world to what I want it to be."
As Josiah found that nothing he could do was making any difference, and as he felt Wido closing everything off, suffocating him, Josiah found himself worrying more that he would not be able to keep his promise to Gavin than about the fact that he was about to die. He promised Gavin that he would come back. And now he was going to die... no, not die, but become part of this monster. Josiah could see it all happening in his mind. Ark would report him having been killed. They would probably hold a memorial service for him. Gavin would have to endure losing the person that he loved most. Even with his family there to comfort him, he would be hurting Gavin. That's what he wanted to avoid. He went on this trip to try and learn if he could control himself, because he was worried that he would hurt Gavin. And now, he would be doing just that. Josiah wanted to cry, but....
NO. This was not going to happen. He was not going to go, not going to let it all end, not like this. He would keep his promise.
Josiah quickly shifted himself around in Wido's mass and then forcibly thrust his feet towards the ground. Wido's gunk gave way and Josiah felt both of his feet plant exactly where he wanted them to be. Rather than attacking Wido how he would normally attack someone, or something, he was going to try something different. He thought about all that Wido had told him and he held the idea that he had formed in his mind. Then, in one sudden movement, Josiah thrust his arm outward, screaming with what air he had left at the same time.
Suddenly Wido exploded, coating the walls, the ceiling, and the floor with his mess. But more importantly, Josiah knew that he had just rid the world of Wido. He did not pull energy from Wido's body, like he had tried before. Wido had mentioned that it was not energy that he saw, but a person's life force. But Josiah had realized that if he could see it, that even if he did not know how, he could change it. And that was what Josiah had done to Wido. He killed him by destroying his life force.
Josiah calmly surveyed the room, making sure that he could no longer see Wido's life force anywhere, before walking over to the door and pulling it open, allowing the door to dissolve as he did.
On the other side of the door, Josiah found Koushiro anxiously waiting for him, with a look of both worry and hope on his face.
Josiah grinned at the boy, "You wouldn't happen to have a towel, would you?"
Tracy woke up, and immediately noticed the warm body cuddled to his chest. As the sleep cleared from his mind, the events of the previous day quickly re-established themselves in his memory. "Is this for real?" he muttered, more to himself than anything.
"Don't move... feels good," Karl moaned sleepily as he pulled Tracy's arm tighter around him.
"Mornin', Karl!" Tracy giggled. "If I don't move soon, your butt-crack is gonna get power-washed!"
Now awake, Karl giggled. "Can't have that! Race you to the bathroom... wherever that is."
"I found it after you fell asleep last night, follow me!" Tracy replied as he pulled his arm loose and rolled off of the bed.
Once they had relieved themselves, they started the water running in the large heart-shaped tub in the bathroom. As he was brushing his teeth while waiting for the tub to fill, Tracy noticed something unusual on his finger. "Hey Karl, didn't we have two rings?"
Karl stopped his own brushing, and inspected the ring on his finger. "Dude! That's weird; the white gold ring and the gold gold ring melted together! Look; the side towards my hand is white gold, and the side towards my fingertip is gold gold!"
"Mine too! That's pretty weird; we're gonna have to ask about it," Tracy replied, putting it out of his mind to finish brushing his teeth.
They both finished, and after rinsing out their mouths they took the chance to share a kiss while waiting. They broke the kiss just in time to turn off the water. Tracy helped Karl into the tub, then climbed in after him; once they had themselves comfortably seated in the bubbles of the heart, they resumed the kiss for a few more minutes. They then washed each other, taking the chance to reacquaint themselves with each other's bodies. After finishing and then drying each other off, they exchanged one more kiss, breaking off with an "I love you" in unison.
They walked out of the bathroom, still nude, to find a table with two chairs set up and Cameron waiting for them. "Good morning, guys," Cameron said.
"Good morning," Tracy and Karl replied, not caring about their new friend seeing them in the nude. "Wazzup?"
Cameron smiled. "One of the information files that Daileass sent me showed the couple being served their morning meal by the staff of the place where they were staying. I thought that was very special, so I decided that you deserved to have it done for you."
"Wow! Thanks, Cameron!" Karl and Tracy replied sincerely.
"Do you wish to eat in your current state of dress?" Cameron asked.
"Hey, it's our honeymoon! If we can't eat in our birthday suits now, there's something really wrong!" Tracy giggled.
"Just don't bite the breakfast sausage!" Karl giggled as he wiggled his hips, causing said 'sausage' to flop around.
"I think you'll find what I have for you to be much more accepting of being bit!" Cameron said with a smile. "Please have a seat."
With huge grins on their faces, both boys took their seats. Once they were seated, the lights in the room dimmed and the centerpiece on the table began glowing softly. A covered silver tray appeared in Cameron's hands, which he carefully placed on a folding stand that was next to the table. He lifted the cover as the boys watched in fascination, revealing a royal-class breakfast. Cameron first filled both juice glasses with fresh orange juice, then poured milk for both boys. He then set fruit plates in front of them, followed by plates piled high with eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausage, and pancakes. Next he set two steaming bowls of grits on the table, both drowned in real butter just like the boys loved them. Finally, saucers piled with toast slathered in fig preserves were given to each of the now almost-drooling boys. "Enjoy your breakfast, sirs. I will be standing by to provide anything else you might require," Cameron said in a very professional voice as he stepped into the shadows.
Tracy looked across the table and saw Karl's face lit by the light on the table, and felt his heart flip as it finally hit home that his life was no longer his alone; it was now THEIR life. As he reached across the table, Karl reached across as well; the two of them clasped hands in the center as Tracy whispered, "It's real; it's really for real, Karl. We're married... forever."
Karl smiled and gave Tracy's hand a squeeze. "I know; it seems like a dream, I keep wondering when I'll wake up and hoping I never do."
"I love you, Karl," Tracy whispered.
"I love you too, Tracy," Karl replied warmly.
They continued to clasp hands as they ate, only breaking eye contact long enough to aim their silverware at the next victim on the plate. Without their asking, Cameron silently ensured their drinks were kept full throughout the meal. After they had finished eating, they spent a few minutes staring into each other's eyes, silently forging a bond that would last their whole life.
After a post-breakfast hug, the newlyweds thanked Cameron, then went to the bed to check out the clothes that had been laid on it while they were in the bathtub. Each of them had a pair of lightweight cargo shorts, sandals, and a fishnet mesh tee-shirt. "No underwear?" Karl giggled.
"The logs have multiple instances of your fathers commenting on your tendency to prefer genital freedom in your clothing," Cameron replied with a smile.
"How?... On second thought don't answer that!" Tracy stated with a blush.
"I'm not gonna argue!" Karl giggled as he picked up one of the shirts. "Lift your arms, hot stuff!"
Cameron watched as the pair dressed each other, amazed at how so much caring could be shown in such a simple action.
Noticing their audience once again after they were done, Karl asked, "Are you okay, Cam?"
Cameron nodded with a smile. "I have never watched a couple interact during their private moments; I'm awestruck at the emotional interplay I just saw."
Tracy and Karl exchanged smiles before Tracy replied "Thanks, Cam; that's the best compliment anyone could have given us. What kinda plans you got for the four of us today? This apartment's awesome, but we'd be bored if we stayed in here all day."
Another piece of the complicated puzzle being worked on in Cameron's core fell into place as he formed his response. "I think that a trip to the surface would be interesting for both of you, seeing as you know nothing of the planet."
"We're not abandoning our other friends, Travis, and Gabe, are we?" Tracy asked with concern.
"No, while you two were asleep, I joined into a conference remotely to discuss the options with the group. They said that since I was becoming a friend, they felt that me helping you to enjoy your honeymoon would make it a lot better than one of them interfering. Travis also pointed out that I can ensure your safety much more effectively than any one of them can by themselves. As Martin stated, 'Tell them to enjoy their honeymoon, we'll see them as soon as they're done'."
"Did you explain to them what happens on a honeymoon?" Karl asked with a mischievous grin.
"No, should I?"
"Yes, and record it so we can see their reactions!" Tracy laughed. "You explain it so much better than any teacher or parent could, even if it does make us embarrassed a little."
"I sense this is what Uncle Marc calls an 'intergalactic level prank'; yet I see a purpose in providing the instruction prior to them finding themselves in the situation that you were in. I believe I will enjoy this!" Cameron replied with a grin.
"Spoken like a true fellow geek!" Karl giggled. "Pranks ain't no fun if someone don't learn from them!"
"Do you mind if I get changed before we go topside? I'm a little overdressed!" Cameron asked.
"Only if you don't mind if we watch," Tracy giggled, getting an affirming nod from Karl. "We ain't never seen a nude android before!"
Cameron shrugged. "I have no problem with that; I am curious as to just how accurately this body duplicates a human. I know that it's supposed to be realistic, but I've never got the opinion of someone not involved in the creation of it."
"We'll be glad to help you!" Karl giggled.
Cameron stripped off his clothes, and stood still as the two boys poked, prodded, and made various suggestive remarks as they gave his body a detailed inspection. "You're definitely able to pass as a very cute human boy," Tracy announced as they finished.
"Thank you." Cameron replied with a smile as he began dressing in the clothes that had appeared on the bed. "I believe I will try the no underwear method myself; it would be interesting to tell the difference."
"You're gonna love it!" Karl and Tracy replied in unison.
"Follow me," Cameron announced as he finished dressing and headed towards one of the closets. He opened the door, and an angled tree root became visible in the back of the closet. As the boys followed Cameron up the trunk, Tracy sniggered, "Nice escape hatch!"
After what seemed like an hour of climbing, the boys reached the top, and exited underneath the trunk of a very large tree. As soon as they were clear, the tree settled down, closing off the hole that they had just exited from. "Kewl!" Tracy and Karl giggled.
"Thank you, Toor." Cameron said to the tree.
"You are most welcome, Cameron. Who are your companions?" all three boys heard in their heads.
As Karl and Tracy exchanged amazed looks, Cameron replied. "These are my friends Karl and Tracy. They carry the same clearances as me for the areas that you watch over."
"Welcome to Archnania, young princes. The grasses are relaying your status to all on the planet."
"Dude, what was in the breakfast? Talking trees?" Tracy laughed. "The purple sky I can deal with, but talking plants is just weird!"
Cameron grinned. "The ecological system on Archnania is unique; due to evolutionary developments back in pre-history, plant life on the planet is sentient at varying levels, as well as a good percentage of the plant life being mobile in some degree. You will find that the animal life is much more communicative than you are used to as well. The side effect of this is a much more balanced planetary ecological system than what my information on Earth tells me that you are used to."
Both Karl and Tracy seemed to pause in thought for a minute, then Karl said, "Since this is a planet that we've never visited or even heard of, I guess it makes sense that it's gonna be different. I know our Planetary Studies class was going into planets that have mobile vegetation that Starfleet has found last week; this actually makes sense once you take that into account."
Cameron nodded. "I thought that you guys would figure it out; that's why I didn't give you the warning speech that everyone else gets."
"Thanks, Cam." Tracy replied with a smile. "It sucks when people treat us like ten-year-olds and talk down to us like we ain't got the brains to figure stuff out for ourselves."
"You're welcome," Cameron replied before looking over Tracy's shoulder. "Uncle Marc! Uncle Danny! Over here!"
Tracy and Karl turned to see two boys jogging towards them, one about thirteen with white-blond hair and the other about the same age but with collar-length brown hair. "Uncles?" Tracy echoed.
"Yes!" Cameron replied as the newcomers joined them.
"I told ya he'd settle on the b3!" the blond stated with a grin.
"Lucky guess!" the other youth shot back with a grin.
Cameron stuck his tongue out at the pair. "Tracy, Karl; the blond is Uncle Marc Furst, the goofy one is Uncle Danny Page. Uncle Danny, Uncle Marc; these are the friends I was telling you about, Tracy Butler and Karl Harrington."
"Marc Furst? I've heard that name somewhere..." Tracy mused. "Danny, I've heard of you; you're in charge of the AI Division of the Clan."
Not content to leave Tracy wondering, Danny giggled as he replied, "Marc's just the original Vision Industries youth AI; nothing really noteworthy."
"You planning on sleeping on the porch tonight?" Marc shot back. "Great to meet you guys; don't worry about the old man here; he's been kinda senile ever since he was brought back online."
"I'll give you 'senile'!" Danny exclaimed as he twisted and began tickling Marc, starting a tickle war that had them both rolling on the ground within seconds.
Tracy and Karl giggled as they watched the two tickling androids. "They're normal, that's for sure!" Tracy commented, unknowingly letting Marc and Danny know that their antics achieved the desired results.
After ensuring that he had subdued Marc appropriately, Danny stood back up and approached the two boys. "Before anything else is said, I want to tell you guys up front that Marc and I are very protective of Cameron; we led the team responsible for him coming online."
"So I guess that you guys being here isn't an accident?" Tracy asked after shooting a reassuring grin at Cameron.
"Not at all," Marc replied as he brushed himself off. "We had a long talk with our nephew a few minutes ago Earth time. Cameron, would you like to tell the guys what you were asking?"
Cameron seemed to pause to consider how to phrase his response. "I wanted to know what it was like to be alive in a body instead of in an AI system like I am now. I never thought about it before, but now I want to be more."
"What made you think of that?" Karl asked curiously.
"I like being yours and Tracy's friend, and I want to spend time with you when you're not here," Cameron replied softly.
Speechless, Tracy and Karl moved as one to give Cameron a double-hug. Marc and Danny watched quietly, taking the chance to observe how Cameron was being treated by the two boys.
Once the hug broke, Tracy turned to Marc. "Cam coulda told us this himself; did you just wanna meet us or is there more?"
Marc smiled. "Cameron wasn't kidding when he said that you guys can think almost as fast as him. If Danny and I agree with it, Cameron is going to be unique in the AI community. He is wanting to twin himself, and move into a body while his twin takes over running of the Training Complex. It's going to mean a lot of help from you guys as he learns to interact with humanity and Earth; neither one of us is going to allow it unless we're sure that you guys are capable of being there for him."
"I'm not being a smart-ass," Tracy responded. "But what gives you two the right to make that decision? How did you become qualified?"
Marc looked Tracy in the eyes as he responded. "The fact that I am the second-oldest youth series AI ever created, and the fact that I have helped more androids perform voluntary terminations than the populations of most small to mid-sized towns. Maybe the fact that I'm the Technology Director of the remnants of Vision Industries, and directly tasked by Cory Short to be responsible for the health of any android."
"Hold on, Marc; I think I know what he's asking." Danny interrupted, sensing Marc was taking it personally. "Tracy, I'm the oldest android around, period. I'm what is known as a 'bio-image'; when I reached the end of my human life an image was taken of my personality and it was placed in this positronic matrix. I lived as an android for a long time, then got tired of the bullcrap and tried to commit suicide. It didn't work too well, I just sat on the bottom of the ocean until Marc found me and brought me back online. Since then, I've lost a logic war with Cory that made me Director and found a new purpose in life helping the androids that came after me. Marc and I share experiences that no other android has went through; things that Cameron could easily experience due to being a unique design. We helped design the systems that him and some others in the Clan are running on, so both of us are aware of some of the unique differences between the mainframe bodies and the humanoid bodies that will require relearning."
"So you're checking us out because you want to make sure that Cameron doesn't go through whatever you did, not because you are on some kinda power trip?" Tracy observed.
"That's a decent description," Danny replied with a smile. "I know that you're new to the Clan's leadership style; rule one is don't piss off Cory. The easiest way to do that is to go on a power trip, and if I catch someone on a power trip before Cory does, they'll regret ever knowing my name."
"I think I'm going to like this Cory," Tracy said as his posture relaxed. "What now? Does Archnania have a shrink on call? I haven't drove one nuts in a couple of months!"
"You forgot the guidance counselor at school last week!" Karl giggled.
"He was a team effort!" Tracy giggled in return. "That's what he gets for trying to poke into our private lives!"
"The way he was looking at you when you wasn't looking, I think our private lives weren't all he wanted!" Karl laughed. "That's why I started playing logic games with his head; I figured I could confuse him so much that he'd forget what he was thinking."
"Oh really?" Danny said with raised eyebrows. "I wonder if he'd like a lunch date with Brant?"
"I bet he's dying to meet him!" Marc quipped. "It'll be bloody amazing!"
"Stop! You are melting my audio input interfaces!" Cameron groaned.
"I didn't know the Clan had people who were into torture," Karl commented slowly.
"Brant's not into torture; in fact he's usually against it unless the person involved has done something really sick to a kid," Marc explained. "He's got a 'unique' skill set that tends to shorten the expected lifespan of people who draw his attention in the wrong way."
"I'll explain more during the training, guys," Cameron interjected. "There is some background information that you will need first for this to all make sense."
Tracy and Karl both nodded. "Thanks, Cam; that'll work," Karl replied.
Marc gave a sigh of relief; explaining vampires was not on his 'fun things to do today' list. "You asked about shrinks; actually, if it is okay with you guys, I'd like to arrange a telepathic scan for both of you. It'll finish setting your security clearances, and we'll be able to see if there are any areas where you guys would need help dealing with a newly-online android."
"I ain't letting any adults in my head!" Tracy replied with a blush.
"Me either!" Karl added.
"I agree!" Marc giggled. "Don't worry, the telepath I'm suggesting is fifteen and a Clan member. He's here with his father and twelve brothers for medical recovery."
"Twelve brothers? His family Catholic or something?" Karl giggled.
"No," Marc laughed, "all thirteen of them were adopted by Parker when he tipped off the Clan that they were in trouble. He used to be their private tutor, now he's their dad. It's been almost two weeks since they became a family; they were rescued just before the Montana attack."
"Talk about someone needing a shrink..." Tracy giggled.
"That's exactly what I said!" Danny added with a laugh. "You guys game? Rex is pretty kewl."
Tracy thought for a second. "We'll tell you after we meet him. I kinda like my head the way it is without someone else I don't know poking around in it."
"I know the feeling." Danny giggled. "Just wait until you meet Kyle...."
Marc shook his head. "Cameron, could you ask Parker to bring his family over?"
Cameron giggled. "Already done. There will be a slight delay; it seems Billy decided to climb a tree, and the tree decided it liked him."
"Again?" Marc groaned theatrically. "I thought all of the trees understood that keeping the little ones as pets wouldn't work!"
"He does not want to keep him, he is enjoying the playtime and wishes for it to continue." Toor volunteered.
"Kids!" Danny stated with a grin as he rolled his eyes.
"Hey, Cam?" Tracy interrupted. "Where did that tree over there come from, and why does it look like it's getting bigger?"
Cameron glanced towards where Tracy was pointing. "That would be Whilue; it seems that he decided to tag along with Parker and the rest of the Carr family."
"Okay, so you were not joking about mobile vegetation..." Tracy replied. "I'm beginning to like it here; I like checking out new things!"
"Famous last words..." Danny mumbled with a grin as the Carr family drew closer. A minute later they were close enough to make out the group; twelve boys were weaving around a tree which still had their brother in its branches. Next to them, walking far enough away to not be tripped by the swarming boys, an adult human was keeping pace, shaking his head constantly as the group moved forward.
As he walked up to Danny, the almost-thirty man quickly reached out and pulled Danny into a headlock. "I think I've just adopted a tree, and it's all your fault, Shrimp!" he laughed as he gave Danny a noogie.
"That's DIRECTOR Shrimp to you, kid!" Danny laughed as he broke free.
"As you wish, Ancient One!" Parker replied with a grin as he dropped to a knee and bowed towards Danny.
"Rise, Knave." Danny replied with a grin. "I swear, you just can't find servants with proper manners these days!"
Before Parker could reply, a voice spoke up from high in the tree that was now shading the group. "Hi Uncle Danny!" the voice said with a light giggle.
Recognizing the voice, and somehow not surprised in the least, Danny looked up into the tree. "Hey, Billy! What you doing up there?"
"Me and Whil are playing Pirates!" the eight-year-old announced as a beam of sunlight bounced off his long white-blond hair. "He's the ship, an' my brothers are the sharks!"
"Kewl!" Danny replied. "I'm putting you two in charge of being our lookouts while the rest of us take care of a few things, okay?"
"Okay, Uncle Danny!" Billy replied enthusiastically, Whilue rustling his lower branches in agreement. "We'll be the best lookouts ever!"
Karl and Tracy were not sure which was funnier: Danny putting an eight-year-old in charge of security, or the look on Parker's face as he watched Danny encourage his youngest son's latest game. Parker finally won the contest by taking a seat on one of Toor's exposed roots while muttering 'Why me?' repeatedly.
As Tracy glanced around the rest of the group, he noticed that one of the boys seemed to be slightly 'out of it'. The light-brown haired boy, seemingly a year younger than Tracy, was weaving slightly as he stood there watching the rest of his family. Tracy went over to him, Karl on his heels, both worried about the frail boy. "Hey dude, you okay?" Tracy asked with concern as they got closer. "I'm Tracy, this is my husband Karl."
"I'm Teddy." he replied. "I'll be okay, I just need to relax a bit," he added just as his stomach rumbled. "Okay, maybe some food will help too," he added with a weak grin.
Tracy grinned, then said as he turned his head, "I think I know someone who can help with the food. Hey, Cam! Teddy's got the munchies! You know anyplace nearby with food?"
Cameron grinned. "I will have something here in just a moment. Daileass just provided me with a list of the foods that Teddy has been observed to enjoy."
"Thanks; I didn't want to ruin my brothers' fun," Teddy replied softly.
"It'd ruin their fun more if you passed out than if they had to stop for munchies." Karl observed as he slipped into his new favorite position, glued to Tracy's side with his arm around Tracy's waist.
"That's what Uncle Marc said when he brought me back online," Teddy stated with a grin.
"When you're as old as he is, you have to have learned something!" Karl quipped.
"I heard that!" Marc stated loudly, any further comment sidetracked by the appearance of a long table loaded with food and nineteen shakes in various flavors.
"C'mon, Cam, we're gonna set up a Geek Squad section at the table, and you're a charter member!" Tracy announced, the comment Teddy made about being 'brought online' not escaping his notice. What he did miss was the look exchanged by Marc and Danny, a silent exchange which said that the boys had just earned respect points from both of them.
The boys all quickly found places after locating the shake glasses with their names on them. Even Billy joined them, giggling as he was passed down the branches to land on the ground next to his seat. As they were finding their glasses, the oldest of the boys came up to Tracy and Karl. "Hey, guys, I'm Rex. Thanks for getting our little brother to admit it is break time; he gets cranky if any of us try to get him to admit it."
"No problem, Rex," Tracy replied. "He looked like he was passing out, and I kinda figured he was being stubborn by the way the rest of you were staying close enough to catch him when it finally happened."
"I'm the telepath Marc told you about," Rex admitted. "I didn't go into your head, but the surface thoughts of both you and Karl that I picked up on told me our little brother would be taken care of. Sometimes I think he worries about us more than himself."
Tracy got an evil grin at that point, and closed his eyes as he began concentrating on something.
A few seconds later, Rex's eyes went wide as he began blushing furiously. "DUDE!" he exclaimed, causing Tracy to break into giggles.
"What?" Tracy replied, innocence oozing from his tone.
Having figured out what his husband pulled, Karl began giggling as he joined the fun, which drew Rex's attention. Unfortunately for Rex, Karl put some imagination into his own surface thoughts.
"I give! I give!" Rex exclaimed as he tried in vain to keep from blushing even more. "You win! I'll stop listening!"
Teddy giggled softly from where he was already almost finished with his first sandwich. "Told ya someone would get ya for sucking brains, Zombie."
"Whatever, Robo-twerp!" Rex replied with a grin as his blush started to subside.
"That's MISTER Robo-twerp, little brother." Teddy grinned.
"Now I'm confused." Tracy interjected. "LITTLE brother?"
Rex nodded. "Yeah, the midget is almost twenty-seven years old." he prodded.
"Hey, when you're as good as me, growing up just ruins it!" Teddy shot back.
"Now I KNOW that you're delirious, rugrat!" Rex shot back as he went over and gave the sitting Teddy a hug from behind. "Either that, or Uncle Marc crossed some circuits turning you back on."
"Love you, bro," Teddy giggled as he gave Rex's arms a squeeze.
"Love you too; now fuel up," Rex replied with care. "None of us want to have to listen to Uncle Danny's bad jokes again while waiting for you to get burned-out circuits replaced."
"I heard that!" Danny exclaimed as he took a seat across from them. "I'll have you know that my jokes are classics!"
"...from the Nineteenth Century..." Marc added with a grin as he sat next to Danny.
"Are you two married?" Karl asked with a grin. "Sure sounds like it!"
As both Danny and Marc groaned and rolled their eyes, Rex quickly sat down to keep from falling over laughing. "Less than thirty minutes, and you're already asking the same thing we've asked them!" he sputtered.
"You know, I CAN arrange for your stay here to be permanent!" Marc grumbled.
Rex stuck his tongue out at Marc, as Tracy and Karl exchanged amused glances. They took seats to the right of Teddy, and once Cameron had joined them they began eating once again. After a few minutes of general conversation, Tracy asked Teddy, "What happened to mess you up so bad?"
The table went quiet as everyone waited to see how Teddy would respond. Teddy glanced at Tracy, and at the look of concern in his eyes decided to respond honestly. "Dad rescued us from a kid sex ring. They were really stingy with the food, and it caused my body to start to break stuff because it didn't have enough energy to fix itself. I got so bad that my body shut down."
Tracy took a quick look around the table, now noticing the signs of malnutrition in the rest of the Carr boys. "So you guys are the group DJ recovered; I read the briefing on the rescue when I was trying to hack into the Headquarters computer last month." he stated factually. "What you went through really sucks." Tracy turned back to Teddy. "I'm just learning about androids, but I've already figured out that you're no different than me in a lot of ways. I've seen what happens to people who let their bodies run down in some of the cases Dad and I worked on. I ain't got a big family like you, but I know my Dad would chew my butt completely off if I didn't eat and stuff whenever I felt hungry."
"Yeah; Dad says you gotta take care of yourself to take care of family." Karl added. "Even though we've got really weird families, they're still ours."
Teddy nodded, finally realizing why his brothers were fawning over him as he recovered. "What's so weird about your families?" he asked.
Tracy and Karl exchanged glances. Cameron interrupted them before they could respond. "Tracy, if you are referring to the history of your families, I have the full information packet on them in your personnel files. If you wish, I can retrieve the data and give Teddy a detailed factual response based on the background investigation that was performed when you first tried to access Clan hardware."
At Karl's smile of relief, Tracy replied, "Please, Cam? I don't know what to believe about what Dad told us."
Cameron smiled. "I have consulted with Travis and Gabe, and the rest of your group are going to listen in as well, since they are also suffering from a lack of reliable information."
"Great idea, Cam." Karl stated with a smile. "Y'all ready to enter the world of weird?" he asked the group.
Everyone turned their attention to Cameron, even Danny and Marc. After a few seconds, Cameron began reciting the report.
"Approximately two thousand five hundred years ago Earth time, two families began working together to ensure survival of their bloodline. After a few generations, two males of the core bloodline bonded in a relationship, taking in orphaned family members as their own offspring. As orphans generally had a very short lifespan in those times, the family accorded the men a special status as the patriarchs of the bloodlines. A pattern began to develop as the years passed; just as the memory of the last pairing started to become legend, another pairing would occur. Sometimes it would be two males, other times it would be two females. The common point is that they would always be direct descendants of the core two bloodlines, and they would always take in the orphans of the growing family."
"In 32 BC, the families held a conclave, and formalized the pattern that they had noticed repeating itself in their history. It was noticed that every two hundred years as measured today, which worked out to five generations as the family marked time, a pairing would occur with no apparent outside intervention. It was also noticed that the pairs generally had a longer lifespan than the average family member. It was decided that if the pattern repeated itself, the pair would be known as the First, with the naming incrementing as a new pair was formed. When the First paired in 4 AD, the families held a conclave once again, pledging the support of the core bloodlines to each other as well as support to the extended families three levels out."
"Every two hundred years as measured by the current Earth calendar another pairing has occurred, and the families have renewed their oath to protect and serve each other. In the core bloodline, friendships between the two families were watched by the Pair, or in their absence the eldest male, and core bloodline members were assigned to watch over each other based on their friendships. Upon reaching Family maturity, which is generally accepted within the family as being fourteen years old, youth are invited to the next Family conclave and informed of their history."
"There has only been one break in this tradition; that happened immediately before the joining of the Tenth. At that time, due to the ages of the Tenth, key members of the family were given a subset of the History by their parents due to their interaction with the Tenth."
"Who are the Tenth, and how do they affect Tracy and Karl?" Teddy asked.
"Tracy and Karl are the Tenth." Cameron replied. "They are the youngest Pair by two years in the history that we have available to research."
"How do you know stuff from back in ancient times is fact?" Karl asked.
"We have access to a database which has been recording history from well before then." Cameron replied.
"So that wasn't some weird story our dads came up with to mess with our heads?" Tracy asked.
Cam shook his head. "It appears to be rare, but all of the information that I have found shows it is entirely valid for your families. What seems unusual is that, unlike the other nine pairings before you, you have gathered second cousins as your 'court'; previously the others chose direct bloodline. Based on other events that I am aware of, I believe that the two of you are not going to be following in the footsteps of your predecessors. With the history of Clan Short, I give a 89.56275 percent chance that without realizing it, you will accomplish things which the others only dreamed of doing."
Seeing the looks on Tracy and Karl's faces, Parker spoke up. "Guys, don't let Cameron's statement worry you or put pressure on you. I've learned something since DJ invaded my classroom; just by being associated with Clan Short you will find yourself doing things that you never expected. You don't even think about it, it just happens."
"Here is a good example," Danny added. "Cory 'invited' me to join him on a trip to Australia, which led to us taking a 'vacation' in Chicago. If you don't know it already, vampires are real and living on Earth; we found that out as we were walking the streets. Just by being there, the Chicago vampire group were able to 'read' Cory's intentions. Based on what they found, they declared support for the Clan, and even allowed one of their own to join us. Their rules usually sentence to death any human who is given knowledge of their species without Elder approval. Instead, as soon as they are made aware of a new Clan branch knowing about them, the vampire clans in the area contact the Director to offer their support. None of us asked for it, none of us expected it, but it happened and is still happening."
"I guess that means I don't need to stock up on crosses and garlic?" Tracy asked with a grin.
"They don't work!" Danny replied with a giggle. "If you feed Cory garlic though, it'll repel any living or semi-living creature with a nose!"
"And a few without," Cam added with a wince.
"I'll have to remember that," Tracy giggled. "So... when does Rex get to practice sucking heads?"
The entire table erupted in laughter, with Parker barely managing not to eject out his nose the drink he had taken of his shake. Even Whilue was shaking his branches in amusement. Once they had calmed down somewhat, Marc looked at Rex. "So, you ready to suck them?" he asked with a grin, causing the laughter to resume.
Rex shook his head. "Kids... all of you need to see a shrink!" he stated with a laugh. "Are you two clowns ready to be scanned?" he added to Tracy and Karl.
Tracy nodded. "Give it your best shot!" he giggled.
"Okay, you'll feel me coming in; it helps make it easier if you consciously allow me to look around," Rex instructed. "I'm starting now."
As the rest of the boys watched, Rex began scanning Tracy. They exchanged worried glances with each other when Rex muttered "Holy SHIT!" and closed his eyes in concentration. After a much longer time than it should have taken, Rex opened his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. "Give me a minute, Karl," he stated softly.
"What's wrong?" Marc asked as he came over to join Rex.
"Wrong?" Rex replied, "Nothing, as far as what you were asking about. I've never heard of anyone with a head like his; most people have a room or two; even the N-Gens have a mapped out area. Most people have a house, some have hotels... Tracy's got a friggin AIRPORT in his head!"
"An airport?" Marc asked curiously.
"Yeah; instead of storing information in specific spots, the information moves around in a big space until it reaches where it needs to be, then once it's done there it starts moving again to be somewhere else," Rex replied in amazement. "Kyle's got to see this; he never told me about anyone like this in their head when he was training me."
"Great, the Brain Leech gets another playground!" Danny giggled. "Welcome to the club, Tracy; you're gonna have a resident Mikyvis before the week is out if Kyle gets his way."
"Ummm... what?" Tracy asked with a tilt of his head.
"Don't worry; when you meet Kyle in person, he'll explain it better than I can," Danny replied. "You'll like him, he's an awesome friend."
"Danny's right," Cam added. "Kyle's a really special eight-year-old; I think you're going to like him."
Tracy nodded. "I guess I'll just have to wait until he's around. You think this comes from the dimensional stuff that Galli kid said my mom was part of?"
Rex's head snapped to look at Tracy. "Galli? No wonder, if he's been involved nothing's gonna be normal!"
"He's sure not!" Tracy giggled.
Karl giggled as well. "I'm ready, Rex; just a warning, my mom was sisters with Trace's Mom. Galli messed with me too."
"Great..." Rex replied with a roll of his eyes, "I hope the passport that Tracy issued me in his head works in yours...."
"We'll see!" Karl giggled.
Rex scanned Karl, and once he finished he shook his head in wonder. "How you two keep track of stuff is unreal! If Kyle hadn't trained me on how to leave a 'lifeline' behind me to get back out of a head, I'd be lost in there somewhere. You guys have a lot of good in there; welcome to the family!"
Danny glanced at Marc, then turned his head to Rex. "Rex, the leech wants you to do a full dump in my head. He's going to intercept if he needs to."
"Now THIS should be funny!" Rex giggled. He noticed the confused looks on Tracy and Karl's faces returning, and explained. "Kyle, or as Danny calls him, 'the Leech', is the head of Clan Intelligence. Don't ask me how, but Kyle maintains what he calls 'a room' in the heads of key Clan officers that he has close ties to. Are you guys okay with me feeding the stuff I read to Kyle?"
"I guess he'd be our boss, so he's kinda got the right to see it." Tracy commented.
Karl nodded. "Yeah, it's not like we've got stuff to hide."
Rex nodded. "Okay, thanks, guys. You ready, Director Page?"
"Proceed," Danny replied in an official tone. Once Rex was done, Danny raised an eyebrow. "To quote Uncle Spock: 'fascinating'." he stated. A few seconds later, his other eyebrow went up. "Cameron: Command Mode Charlie Whisky Oscar. Authentication Page Charlie Gamma Foxtrot Delta six four nine eight."
"Commencing genetic profiling. Identity confirmed. Local command lockout in effect while in secure mode. Proceed, Director Page," Cameron replied.
"Initiate override Kylebear six-oh-seven; Authentication Nijrthin tau seven orange khar-churin."
"Verified genetic access. Verified authentication. Override engaged, you are now in security access mode, Director Page."
Danny took a deep breath, fully aware that he had to repeat everything that Kyle was telling him in his head exactly. "Open Level Zero files. Tracy Charles Butler. Karl Simon Harrington. Execute."
"Acknowledged. File access permission granted. Personnel files for Tracy Charles Butler and Karl Simon Harrington awaiting command input."
"Verify Security Access Charlie Three." Danny stated.
"Both files verify at security access Charlie Three." Cameron confirmed. "Proceed."
"Security Access override permanent. Zulu Alpha. Confirmation Native: OHF7E95MI1 0DKK961JH8 NNO0L8HHB7 II119OMNCN NNO765B45J. Execute."
"Confirmation accepted. Checkpoint G8H5ON6B7O 76M0N6GGIA."
"Echo 31133210444311211244 break 12114200431131313320 check 2120 break 2062." Danny replied, suddenly thankful of having a positronic brain.
"Confirmed. Security Access Zulu Alpha set."
"Write and lock. Execute." Danny said with a look of relief.
"Write and lock successful. Remote stations updated successfully." Cameron replied.
"Regenerate Seed O5 key 4N. Exit command mode. Execute." Danny stated.
"Session logged and terminated successfully." Cameron stated. A few seconds later, he turned to Danny. "Uncle Danny, why did you enter command mode?"
Danny looked at Cameron with understanding. "Kyle had me adjust Tracy and Karl's security clearances."
Cameron paused for a second, then his eyes went wide. "OH! I can't set that level, I see why now."
Tracy, however, was not happy. "What is this crap of locking Cam out so that he doesn't even know what he was doing? That is bullcrap; he's alive, not some damned machine!"
Before Danny could try to justify his actions, Marc held up his hand. "Hold it. I'm the ONLY one here qualified to answer that." He paused to make sure that he had everyone's attention, then continued. "Tracy, not only are you right, but I fully agree with you as to how it appears. I have been in the situation that you describe, where a routine can take over my consciousness. Even though it looks like that happened here, I made sure that it didn't actually occur when we started the development of Cameron's base code. As a security measure, the routine that he is running to operate this body has built-in blocks on certain protocols, so any interactions through this link of security level Victor or above will not register. I promise you that once the three of you are alone again, he'll be able to perform a link reset that will open his memory routines to discussing things of your new level with you, which includes what Danny just did."
"Give me five minutes with that code and I bet I could get around it." Karl growled.
"Chill," Marc replied with a lopsided grin. "Going by the level Kyle assigned you, I'm betting that you get your chance. I'll just warn you ahead of time, this is internal Clan-only technology, and it contains code routines from multiple universes. I'm not going to say it can't be done, but there are quite a few people who would love to see how you figure it out if you can. Command mode is a security hole; if you patch it, all of us will be happier."
Tracy and Karl exchanged determined glances. "You better start upgrading our team's clearances then, without using Command Mode." Tracy stated. "Next person that puts Cam through that is gonna get an antimatter enema, I don't care who it is."
"You guys wouldn't happen to be related to JJ Richardson, would you?" Parker asked, in an attempt to lighten the mood.
"Why?" Karl asked.
"Oh nothing... that sounds like one of his lines." Parker replied. "Usually it is said just before a police station becomes a pile of rubble."
"He's gotta be distant relation," Tracy admitted with a small smile. "I'll have to ask Dad."
Teddy grinned. "He's pretty fun. I think you'll like JJ. Are you guys going to the Training Center?"
"Not today." Tracy replied. "Cam is going to show us around the area today."
"Oh." Teddy replied with a dejected look.
Karl turned to Parker. "Do you mind if Teddy comes with us? Him and Cam can talk about being an Android and all of us can learn some stuff."
Parker smiled. "I like that idea; he could use a relaxing stroll."
"Thanks!" Karl replied. "Cam, could you tell Travis and Gabe to introduce the rest of these guys to our friends?"
"Are they joining your team?" Cameron asked.
"Sure, if they wanna!" Karl replied. "I like them!"
"I'll second that, don't forget Billy's tree-friend!" Tracy added.
Cameron was silent for a second, then spoke up. "Uncle Danny, I'm going to teleport your group to Range Delta; Travis and Gabe will be joining you there with their group. Gabe will work out the details with you while the two groups get to know each other."
"That will work. Thanks, Cameron." Danny replied, fully aware that the plans for the day had just took an interesting u-turn.
"You're welcome. Uncle Marc? May I begin preparations for the activation of the clone procedure?" Cameron asked.
"Yes, you can. I think you're making a very good decision." Marc replied. "I will work with you tonight to initiate the transfer."
"Thank you. Is everyone ready?" Cameron replied.
"Yep!" the group replied in unison. A second later, the only ones left were Tracy, Karl, Teddy, and Cameron; even the food, except for one table holding the drinks all four still had not finished, vanished.
Gary Hubbell shook his head in wonder as he sat down at his desk. As expected, the Mayor's radio announcement had immediately quadrupled the crime rate. Between the Starfleet Security forces, and his own officers who had been recently reactivated, not only had the perpetrators been caught red-handed in most cases, but quite a few open cases were now being closed.
"How are you holding up, Chief?" Nancy Burroughs, his personal secretary, asked as she stuck her head through the doorway.
"This has been the strangest night I've ever had." Gary responded with a grin. "Fortunately, I don't see any way it could get any stranger."
"Hold on to your chair then; you've got visitors. They've been 'busy' since they arrived." Nancy responded. "Are you ready for them?"
"I wouldn't use the word 'ready'; but I'm expecting them." Gary replied. "Send them in, please."
"It's your sanity." Nancy chuckled. "They'll be right in." she added as she closed the door.
Gary grinned; Nancy was really the only reason his department ran as smoothly as it did. Without her, he would be swamped; she made judicious use of the authority that he delegated to her to handle minor problems before he ever knew of them. In deference to the status of his expected visitors, he stood up and moved to where he could greet them. Just as he was in position, the door opened and the detachment that had been assigned to Naples by Seth walked into the room.
"Chief Hubbell, I see his Assholishness hasn't chased you off," Steve stated with a lopsided grin at Gary as he held out his hand.
Gary shook Steve's hand with a smile. "He knew better. The City Council is on my side, and he knows that while I might not have enough evidence to press charges, I can definitely make his life miserable."
"Don't worry about that; we've got it covered." Steve replied cryptically. "By the way, those two officers that didn't respond earlier? They were in his pocket. You accepted their retirement due to chronic sudden onset anemia."
"Okay... I guess that thank you for the heads up is appropriate," Gary replied, his opinion of the suitability of Steve for the position he was in raising greatly.
"Chief, you really need to institute a fitness program for your force; they have way too much fat," Jax commented with a toothy cheetah grin.
"High cholesterol, too." Frank added as he placed an arm over Jax's shoulder. "He's clean Steve."
Steve nodded, then the three boys seemingly shifted from where they were standing to a spot to the left of Gary, this time with the full team visible.
Gary's eyebrows shot to the top of his forehead as he exclaimed, "What the Hell?"
Steve grinned. "You just passed your employment exam, Chief. I'm not playing; Naples is my responsibility now, and anyone who could put me or my team in danger is going to be thoroughly checked before being allowed on the team. Your police force has been cleared already, with the two exceptions I noted before. For now, run your department as you usually do; as I get a feel for things we will discuss improvements."
"Something tells me the shy little boy who used to beg for rides in the police cars isn't so shy anymore." Gary commented as he got his bearings.
"Shy? When were you shy, Steve?" Adrian commented from under his hood.
"You cheated." Steve shot back with a grin.
"Why do I know that voice?" Gary asked.
Adrian giggled as his cloak vanished. "Surprise!"
"Okay, now that is the last person I'd expect!" Gary commented. "Aren't you usually on the protected side of the equation, Adrian?"
"Someone had to give your guys some exercise!" Adrian giggled.
Steve laughed, knowing just how energetic his little friend could be. "Let me do the official introductions, Chief. Obviously you know me and Adrian. The blond next to me is my Second-in-Command and Chief Medical Officer, Second Lieutenant Dustin Mercer. The furry one is Corporal Jax Davies, Acquisition and Infiltration Specialist. His partner over there is Intel Specialist Frank Graves. Last but not least is Fatinah Das, Administrative Specialist. She'll be the main point of contact between your office and my team for anything that does not require immediate response."
"I have already taken the liberty of making all the arrangements with your secretary, Nancy," Fatinah stated.
"Thank you," Gary acknowledged. After watching Julio and his team in operation at Frank's house, he wasn't very surprised at the actions of Steve and his team; they seemed to be falling into the same routine as Julio's team. "It's a pleasure to meet all of you, and I'm looking forward to learning a few new things as we work together."
"You have no idea!" Steve giggled. "I hear that you want to join us while we inform my former father that he's about to have a career change?"
"Definitely," Gary replied. "I want to see his face."
"I hope you have a strong stomach." Dustin commented. "Just on what I know, this is not going to be pretty."
"C'mon, babe, you KNOW that I ALWAYS follow the rules!" Steve commented innocently.
"Exactly!" Dustin shot back with a grin.
Steve shook his head. "George, please begin 'Operation Reality Check'; we are ready for transport."
"Okay, Steve. Destination is cleared, the occupant and his relief have been delivered to Des Moines for processing per Seth. I'm tied into all feeds from premises, have fun." George replied over Steve's subvocal.
Steve exchanged amused looks with Adrian. "We will!" he replied just before they all vanished from the room.
Out in the outer office, Nancy smiled as she minimized the monitoring screen that kept her updated on the Chief's activities. He was fully aware that she actively monitored meetings in his office, and more than a few times it had resolved disputes over statements that had been made in those meetings. Due to the various reports that she had seen regarding Clan Short, she was sure that things were about to become interesting in the Naples area.
Gary looked around the room as soon as they appeared. The main piece of furniture in the dimly-lit room was a large 'C' shaped desk with two chairs. On the outside perimeter of the desk, a wrap-around bank of monitors thirty wide and four tall showed almost every square inch of the house. Touchpads in front of the two chairs allowed the operators to configure the views of the screens in front of them. The room had no windows, and the door was made of heavy steel. "Now I know why I felt watched whenever I had to visit here..." Gary commented.
"You should try living here," Steve deadpanned. "I think Security knew I had my first boner before I did."
"Lucky bastards." Dustin giggled.
"More like pervs." Adrian said in disgust. "Des Moines is gonna have 'fun' with them."
"Couldn't happen to a nicer pair of idiots," Steve replied with a smile. "You ready to play, Rat?"
"Oh yeah! You want to do the 'Triple'?" Adrian replied with a big grin.
"Yep, let's hit it!" Steve replied as he expanded one of the screens onto a large display on the side wall. "Showtime!"
Charles Matthews sat back with a satisfied smile as he finished wiping the juices from his porterhouse steak up with a slice of bread. The perks of being a mayor with 'connections' had slowly affected the former football player; most of his three hundred pounds had nothing to do with exercise unless you counted curls lifting exotic food into his mouth. At fifty-three years old, most of his light brown hair was now bare scalp. His chair groaned as he pushed back, preparing to head into his study to have a cigar and call a few 'friends' who had failed to call him at their allotted time. 'They better have a good excuse' he muttered.
Suddenly, all of the lights in the room except the one directly above him literally exploded. "What in the HELL!" he exclaimed.
"Nice choice of words," Steve wisecracked as he appeared next to the table. "I'll have to see if I can help you get an answer to that. Oh yeah... Daddy, I'M HOME!"
"I thought I told you never show your pansy face around here ever again!" Charles exclaimed. "How in the hell did you get in here? Where's Security at? I'll have their asses for this!"
"Oh, don't worry, I'm sure their asses are going to be well taken care of; trust me," Steve prodded.
"You've got quite a mouth on you, brat," Charles growled as he lunged towards Steve.
Steve just stood there, grinning as his former father went clear through him and landed face first on the floor. "Ya missed me, asshole," he laughed.
"How in the Hell?" Charles exclaimed as he rolled over, his nose now dripping blood.
"I guess you could call me the Ghost of Offspring Past," Steve laughed. "Now get your fat ass into a chair so I can get this over with; there's a line waiting to see you."
As best as he could, Charles scrambled into a nearby chair, his eyes expressing fear for the first time since puberty hit him.
Steve shook his head. "No heart attacks to try to get out of this either, asswipe. You gotta go through the whole thing, no matter how many times you get revived."
Charles nodded mutely, his voice lost as he suddenly found himself living the movie he loathed the most. As he watched, Steve seemed to concentrate for a second.
"Let's start at the beginning, more or less," Steve stated with a distasteful look. "Thirty-three years ago sounds good. Do you remember Carol? She sure remembers you!"
Back in the security room, the real Steve looked at Frank in shock. "He did WHAT!?"
Frank nodded his head, his eyes flaming. "You heard right. Rat, you got enough to make it work?"
"More than enough," Adrian growled. "I'm claiming a piece of him after the trial."
A late teenaged girl in a cheerleader outfit appeared next to the illusionary Steve in the dining room. "Hello Chucky; I see that even when you let your kids live you still mistreat them," she stated as she put her hands on her hips. "You know, that was really mean, having someone put acid in the brake system of my car just because you got me pregnant. I have it on good authority that my car's going to be found soon."
"Have a seat, Carol," Steve said in disgust as the eleven unoccupied chairs at the table suddenly jumped away from the table.
As the image of Carol took a seat, Steve shook his head. "Did you think you'd actually get away with that? Oh, that's right, your shit don't stink. Guess what? That was just the warmup. Let's move forward a few years, to your first professional job."
An elderly man appeared next to Steve, looking at Charles over the tops of his glasses. "Ah, so the mighty Charles Matthews finally gets his due," he cackled. "Just because of a few hundred thousand dollars that you appropriated for yourself, I'm dead. Burning down the accounting office while in mid-audit was brilliant; you even did a good job of making it look like an accident. You forgot the old adage though, 'what goes around comes around'. I hope you enjoyed the money."
"Not for much longer, he won't," Steve stated. "Please take a seat, Mr. Cambridge."
"Thank you, young man," the old man said as he sat next to Carol.
By this time, Charles was staring at the two 'ghosts' from his past, totally ignoring Steve. Steve shook his head as he 'decided' what was next.
In the security room, Steve looked around the group. "I knew he was bad, but those two are just sick!"
"I'm starting to wonder just how many unsolved cases on the books are because of him." Gary growled.
Jax and Dustin exchanged glances before Jax replied, "You'll have the full list on your desk sometime tomorrow, Gary."
"Hey, Jax, check me on this one. You think it'll fit?" Frank asked.
Jax paused, then grinned. "Oh yeah, that should make him feel warm inside."
Frank and Jax passed the information to Steve and Adrian. Adrian's eyes went wide as he was given information he couldn't reach himself. "If Dad knew this, he'd be SOOO pissed!" he exclaimed.
Out by the table, a man in his late twenties appeared next to Steve. "Next up is Jesse Harkens, former CEO of Firland Microproducts," Steve announced. "Go ahead, Mr. Harkins."
Jesse nodded. "You know, Charles, at one time I had a bright future. When you approached my company while you headed the Economic Improvement Board to offer a deal we couldn't refuse for relocating our headquarters, we thought we had it made. The inclusion of our assembly centers made the deal even sweeter. I thought I had a really good contact with you; I even enjoyed the times that you and your wife would invite us to your parties. Then one of my larger competitors bought a summer home here. Within a week, you managed to retroactively cancel all of the tax and utility breaks granted not only by yourself, but also the state. Six months later, the company went bankrupt; not that I saw it as I ended up hanging myself a week after you turned on us. My life's dream was totally destroyed by your greed; the only joy that I get from it is that none of my old competitors that vacation or live here have fallen into the same trap."
"Please take a seat, sir; I had a few more historical pieces to bring up, but this is making me feel sick." Steve said.
In the security room, Steve was fuming. "This was fun while it lasted; I'm gonna personally dismember him if we keep going," he growled. "Dustin, his memories showed that Jesse had a son. He's gonna need to be here for justice."
Dustin nodded as he tapped his commbadge. "George, find me Jesse Harkens Jr., son of the former CEO of Firland Microproducts."
"I have found him; he is currently preparing his thesis for his Bachelors at MIT."
"Pick a screen, connect me Priority," Dustin ordered. The rest of the team quickly moved to allow Dustin to appear alone on screen.
"Connection established." George announced.
Once the screen came live, Dustin introduced himself to the early-twenties blond college student watching the screen in amazement. "Good evening, Mr. Harkens. I am Second Lieutenant Dustin Mercer, Clan Short Special Forces. We are in the process of interrogating a suspect, and have found that there are circumstances in his past which by our regulations require us to offer the offended family member the chance to participate in the trial."
Jesse Junior was obviously shocked. "No disrespect, Sir, but what in my family history would the Clan be putting someone on trial for?"
"George, if he passes out, send Dustin there immediately," Steve ordered over subvocal before signaling Dustin to answer.
"Jesse, I am going to be blunt. The person that is directly and personally responsible for the failure of your father's company and his suicide is on trial at this moment in Naples, Florida," Dustin said with as much care as he could.
"Did you just say that you have the bastard that left me living with my grandparents? I barely remember my mom, and the only things I know about my Dad are from pictures and what my grandparents tell me," Jesse said in an agitated voice.
"Yes; if you would like to participate in his sentencing, I can arrange for immediate transport to this location," Dustin replied.
"Adrian, you got watch; stun only if needed," Steve ordered quietly. "Jax, back Adrian up."
Jesse quickly replied to Dustin. "I owe it to my parents and my grandparents. Personally I would settle for his head delivered on a trophy rack. I need a new dartboard."
"Stand by for transport," Dustin replied with a grin at his comment. "George, you got it?"
"Incoming, five second delay," George replied.
Steve couldn't help but grin at the amazed glances that Jesse was giving Adrian. "Okay, Rat, you sure it's not gonna mess you up letting all of us see what His Assholishness is seeing?"
"Naw, right now I top out at about twenty-six people before it gets shaky," Adrian giggled. "I can hit fifty if I don't haveta do voices though."
"That works; it'd suck if someone sat on one of the people he's seeing." Steve replied. "Follow me, it's time for Act Two."
Everyone nodded their acknowledgement, then Steve led the team and their guest out to the dining room. What Steve was not aware of was that Adrian had decided to add a few more people from the past to torment Charles while they were talking. He made sure he was ready, and as they walked in the doorway each of the team saw that every chair at the table was now filled. As soon as he entered the room, Steve stated "Good evening, asshole! You can call me the Ghost of Offspring Present; sorry, but the Ghost of Offspring Future is stuck in the unemployment line, so he won't be joining us."
Charles turned towards Steve, his eyes surprisingly clear for someone who has his past evils sitting at his dinner table. "Great, a pansy from the present with his boy toy and friends in costumes. I'm actually glad you're ghosts; saves me the trouble of making sure you don't visit again."
The only thing that kept Steve from jumping forward and ripping Charles' throat out was Jax telepathically repeating 'Don't let him force you into imitating him.'
"Oh, Like you did for this fine woman?" Adrian stated as Steve's mother appeared. "I've got a surprise for you. You didn't kill your second child. Dad suspected that you were up to no good, and he paid off a couple of doctors to not tell you that the child survived," Adrian's cloak vanished, as did all of the 'ghosts'. "Surprise, Asshole!" he added as every surface thought that Charles was having began acting itself out on the table in front of him. "Little brother has joined with his big brother, and we're BOTH pissed!"
"I believe that translates into 'You're screwed, dude'. In my opinion, it couldn't happen to a more deserving asshole." Dustin stated.
Glancing at Adrian, Steve suddenly realized just why the youngster had seemed so natural as a friend. That gave him the desire to go against his wishes to strangle Charles immediately; instead he now had the burning desire to extract justice for his newfound brother. "As authorized under the Articles of the Federation and the Safe Haven Act, I hereby place Charles Matthews under arrest for attempted manslaughter of an unborn child and willful and purposeful abandonment of his eldest child. Additional charges will be listed once official telepathic review has been completed. Jax, Frank; you may begin."
It only took them a few seconds, but the rest of the room got to see quite a few things that the scan brought to the top of Charles' mind being acted out on the table. As soon as Steve had the combined scan, he turned to Jesse. "Once I get done listing his offenses, you may make whatever comments you wish to make to the accused."
"Thank you." Jesse replied as he scowled at Charles.
"Charles, I find you guilty of seventy counts of direct child abuse as defined under the Safe Haven Act. I also find you guilty of seven hundred and forty-two counts of being an accessory to child abuse as defined under the Safe Haven Act. You have also been found guilty under Federation law of forty-two counts of premeditated murder, and sixty-three counts of accessory to murder. You have actioned events which have caused deaths by the results of your actions, and have embezzled at the Local, State, Federal, International, and Interplanetary levels. Based on the severity of the Safe Haven violations, you will not have to suffer the lengthy trials that the rest of your offenses would require."
"And just what is that supposed to mean? You going to slap me with your hankie?" Charles sputtered.
"I'd say that reality has just foreclosed on your ass." Jesse stated. "Grandpa always said one day the prick who destroyed my Dad would get his; I'm looking forward to watching you go down, asswipe."
"And just what is that supposed to mean?"
Jesse grinned. "It means that Steve's contacts trump your contacts. You just rolled the dice and crapped out; I just saw on the news that the State of Florida decided that Clan Short was needed to control illegal activities along Alligator Alley. Going by your history, I'm willing to make a bet that you're the first leg of the cleanup operation."
"Good call; most of his accessory charges are related to kids being used as mules for the drug trade." Steve replied. "I think it's time to wrap this up..."
"Steve? Can you wait a second? I need to get changed before we make this official." Adrian asked.
"Go ahead." Steve replied, curious as to what Adrian had in mind.
Adrian nodded his thanks, then keyed his communicator. "George, could you please outfit me in my full dress uniform?"
"Yes sir." George replied seriously, causing all eyebrows in the team to raise.
Adrian seemed to fuzz for a second, then he restabilized in full uniform. From the bottom up, he was wearing highly polished boots that reached mid-thigh. His dark green pants fit loosely, topped off with a black belt holding a sheathed sword and a phaser in a holster. His black long-sleeved tunic carried one award on the left breast, the Unit Sharpshooter citation. On the right breast, a lightning bolt over the Clan Crest superimposed on a graphic of the Galaxy signified that he was a member of the Clan Short Fleet and part of the Intelligence Corps. The part that raised the most eyebrows resided on his collar; the insignia showing that he held the rank of Sub-Commander.
Adrian picked up on Steve's thoughts before Steve could verbalize them. "You're in charge, don't even think it," he stated with a smile.
Steve nodded, understanding that Adrian had just told him that this was a situation where, despite Adrian's rank, his position as the leader of the team was not in danger. He had been told there might be situations where he had command over people who were technically above him in rank, but he never expected it to happen with a permanent member of his team. Deciding to get back to the matter at hand, he continued. "Charles, due to the severity of the charges against you, as stipulated in Federation Law and authorized by the Safe Haven Act, I hereby sentence you to death; sentence to be carried out immediately."