Many thanks to Akeentia for his contributions to the beginning and end of this chapter!
To say that the last few days had been busy would most definitely be an understatement. Rylan now had a team of eight people working with him doing dispatch, and he was still working 12 hour days. But then the events as of late had been uncharacteristically challenging. What was worse was having all of the few resources he had to work with already spread out and stretched thin. Training the new people just could not go fast enough. So, everyone was already little on edge at this point.
So much so that when Gavin came storming into the Ark Control Center, with an extremely infuriated look on his face, Rylan did not really think anything of it.
"Rylan!" Gavin barked out as he approached Rylan's work station. "I..."
But before Gavin could get out what he wanted to say, Rylan's station beeped.
"Just a second, Gavin," Rylan said has he tapped his ear, "Dispatch, this is Rylan...yes, I think we can get a team to work on that...no, it'll probably be a few hours, but as soon as a team becomes available, I'll send them out. You're welcome." Rylan pressed a button on his console, to end the call, and then quickly entered the request into the system. "I'm sorry, Gavin, what were you saying?"
"Ark has been unable to..." Gavin started to say again, but again Rylan's console beeped.
"Sorry Gavin, just a second," Rylan quickly said as he tapped his ear again. "Dispatch, this is Rylan. No, the ACT Beta team hasn't been able to get there yet... I apologize, but Trevor just got back into the swing of things today, so they're moving just a bit slower as he catches up... sure, I will let them know. You're welcome." Rylan ended the call and then entered the information into the console before turning back to Gavin. "Right, sorry about that, we've been really busy."
"As I was trying to say..." Gavin started to say again, the frustration evident in his voice. But Rylan's console began to beep again.
However, before Rylan could reach up and touch his ear, Gavin screamed, grabbed Rylan by the front of his jumpsuit, and yanked him out of his seat. "Don't you dare answer another call! It's the Ark Compound, I'm sure they'll call back!"
"S-s-sorry," Rylan stuttered, in a mix of shock and fear.
"My boyfriend has been missing, for days now, and Ark can't find him!" shouted Gavin as he looked Rylan in the eyes. "People are dying, clan members have lost family. And while I'm grateful that most of my family is alive and well, my boyfriend is NOT accounted for! So I need someone to help me find him, and right now that someone is going to be you! Understand!?"
Rylan nodded quickly, "Y-yes, I understand."
"Good!" replied Gavin, as he let go of Rylan's jumpsuit, letting him fall back into his seat.
Rylan began frantically turned back to his console and began entering commands, "Ark, w-what was Josiah's last known location?"
<The last message that I received from Josiah was from the Xinjiang region of China>
"How long has it been since his last message?" Rylan asked with more confidence, as he pulled up that region on a holographic map.
<Josiah last checked in 2 days after he arrived in that region. The last I heard from him, he was still having trouble finding Geoffrey Wido.>
Rylan frowned, "Are you able to get a lock on his sub-vocal?"
<As I stated, when Gavin asked earlier, I am unable to find Josiah at all. I cannot find his sub-vocal in that region.>
"Okay, let me see what I can do to improve your ability to scan that region," Rylan replied as he brought up what looked like a command prompt on his console.
<The region is very high in iron, magnesium, and nickel.>
"I'll be sure to account for that...or at least I'll try to," stated Rylan has he started typing. "Jurst needi to ryeryourte a fewai earythu satylytes, andi guiet thuemu to swaieapi thue aryea fory thue ryyguihut syguinals..."
"What?" Gavin said in confusion.
"Sorry, was just talking to myself," Rylan replied as he told the console to compile what he and written. "Ark, used what I just created and see if it helps any."
<Running program. I am picking up a very faint signal on one of the mountains in that region.>
"Is it Josiah!?" Gavin asked in an almost desperate tone.
<The signal is consistent with one of our sub-vocal communication devices. However, the device appears to be turned off, so the signal that I am picking up is just the energy signature from the device's power source.>
"I wonder why he would have turned off his sub-vocal?" Rylan mumbled.
"If we can't pull him back because its off, then we need to go after him!" Gavin stated loudly.
Rylan shook his head, "It's not that simple, I don't really have a team to send after him."
Gavin quickly grabbed the front of Rylan's jumpsuit again, "You have dozens of teams, on two different task forces, and you're telling me that you can't send anyone!"
"I-I'm only responsible for the Archive Department, and I don't have anyone that I can send off on their own to some unknown region of the world!" Rylan replied as firmly as he could. "We don't have any presence in that part of the world yet, so we don't really know anything about the region."
"But what about Dmitry and Dominic?! Or Syris! I know they have the skills and training," Gavin cried disparately, as his grip went slack and he slowly sunk down to his knees. "Please..."
Recognizing that Gavin was not really going to hurt him, Rylan slid out of chair and wrapped his arms around Gavin.
"Look, I know that you're worried and you're frustrated. I can't send Dmitry or Dominic, because they're already busy helping other people right now," Rylan said gently, as Gavin buried his face into Rylan's uniform. "But let's go ask Syris. I can't dispatch his teams, because they don't fall under my department. But if he has someone, I'm sure he'll help."
"Way ahead of you, Rylan," suddenly came a voice from across the room.
Rylan and Gavin looked up to see Syris, and a few of his men, walking into the control room, in full Founder Task Force gear.
"What?" Rylan said in surprise.
"Ark has already briefed me on the situation, I'll lead a team to go find Josiah myself," replied Syris as he stopped in front of them and bent down. "Gavin, your boyfriend could have done a lot of good, had we been able to get in contact with him over the last few days. Sadly, we couldn't reach him and we couldn't go after him. But we have a moment now, and I'd rather have him back here with all of us sooner rather than later."
Gavin wiped his eyes on his sleeve and gave Syris a weak grin, "Thank you, Syris."
"Well, don't thank me yet," replied Syris, as he stood back up and offered Gavin his hand. "I assume you're going to insist that you come with us, so you still need to suit up, and then we need to actually find him."
Rylan smirked as Syris helped Gavin up, "And you always try to tell me you have no people skills."
"Hey, I don't... unless you're comparing me to Javyk, in that case you can sign me up for the International Affairs Department," Syris said in his defense, as he accepted a stack of gear from one of his men and then offered it to Gavin. "But my boyfriend is bound to help me expand and learn in areas in which I lack."
"So, when do we leave," Gavin asked as he accepted the gear.
"Just as soon as you've put all of that on," replied Syris, indicating the gear. "We can't issue you a Phasenmorph, so you'll need the extra protection, just in case. But as soon as you're ready, then we'll depart." Syris then turned back to Rylan, "We've already adjusted our sub-vocals to emit a stronger signal, to try and help you keep a better lock on us. But since we already know the location of Josiah's sub-vocal, I don't think that we'll be gone all that long."
Rylan nodded and then sat back down at his console, "Alright, I'll keep an eye on you from here. Good luck."
"Headquarters, this is the Iowa."
"This is Alec; go ahead Leon."
"I just thought I should let you know that we're about an hour out of our new home port, Alec. How did you guys manage to pry Seth away from the console?" Leon responded.
"Thanks, Leon. I'll let Tracy know just as soon as he's done licking Karl clean! Tell your guys to expect visitors; I know Cory wants to see y'all, and he's gonna be there if we have to steal Sean's ropes to tie him up to get him there! Seth too, once he finishes power-sliding his wheelchair on the icing all over the floor!"
"I shoulda known better than to ask!" Leon laughed. "I expect to meet you too, or I'll send Jorge to get you!"
"Ohhhhhh! A challenge!" Alec giggled. "We'll see ya soon; some of Cor's cousins showed up and this'll be a real treat for them. Catch ya in a bit, Leon."
"You better!" Leon chuckled. "Iowa out."
Alec waited for the high-race wrestling match to wind down, then spoke up. "Hey y'all, listen up!" he yelled. Once he was sure he had the attention of a good part of the crowd, he continued. "The Clan Fleet's arrivin' in Fort Lauderdale in about forty-five minutes. Wadda you say to goin' over and givin' them a Clan welcome?"
"YEAH!" most of the room yelled in unison. The ones not yelling were either Vulcan, adult, or all of the above. In their minds, the thoughts of what could go wrong with this group onboard a ship were enough to make even the Vulcans say silent prayers.
Alec smiled as he turned to Sa'ren. "Elf, you wanna handle transport? Ark's gonna back up George here while we're checkin' out the kewl ships. Everyone's goin', that includes Seth and your husbands."
"You want... me... to get everyone there?!" Sa'ren asked curiously. "Do you even know what you're asking, Alec?"
Alec paused. "Well... I kinda thought you'd order the Dragon-Brigade to round up everyone and get them there... why?"
"Oh! Oh, okay... that's doable..."
"Wait a mo..." Kyle put in quickly. "Elf? Some explanations are needed."
"Explain, and that look don't work. Ty and me invented it!"
Sa'ren sighed and stopped his 'innocent little angel' routine. "Well... I, ummm... I could, ahh.... well..."
"He took me back in time to meet baby Jesus, so he can port people like we can," Levi put in helpfully.
"Yes and no," Sa'ren corrected.
Levi blinked. "Huh?"
"You and me were touching and so you got pulled through with me. Before... yesterday.... I had to ask my Armour or Sword to port anyone I wasn't touching, but now they refuse to help that way... they want me to practice... see, I can port myself, as you kinda mean, but I've never done that with someone not physically touching me. I, however, CAN transport people I'm not touching, but I'm sure that you won't like it..."
"What, you don't provide mid-flight cookies?" Kyle asked with a grin.
With a serious look, Sa'ren simply willed Kyle ten seconds into the future, which of course meant that he vanished into a swirl of liquid air.
Tyler, the Mikyvis kids, and any others who could touch time and sense each other, gasped and started yelling at once. Cory nearly screamed as he felt Kyle disappear from his head. "What the fuck has happened to him, Elf?!" he cried out as he pulled Sa'ren over and held him by his shoulders. His eyes were wild as he stared into his youngest husband's face.
"He'll be back... now," Sa'ren answered, just as Kyle appeared in the same place the same way he left.
"WHAT THE F...." Kyle started, then he was swamped by all his sons, his hubby and a rather upset looking Quint.
Only the Doctor was, seemingly, calm.
"That sucked!" Kyle exclaimed from amid the pile.
"Actually, it pulled," Sa'ren said as Cory released him. "Tell them what you... saw," he added.
"Everything. Everywhen. Nothing. Nowhen. It was scary and wild and amazing and... it sucked that you didn't warn me, Elf!" Kyle said, his eyes far away, yet his voice a little hurt.
"Ah.... shit. Sorry, lil'bro," the Elf answered as he came over to wrestle him away from the others for a quick cuddle. "Forgive me?"
"Need you ask?"
"Then yes. I do. That was wild, Joel!"
"I know. You're connected to all places and times, but you're only superficially aware of it. Levi was touching me as I pulled him through with me that time so he wouldn't have seen or felt it, but if you want me to start porting people, as you put it, then..."
"At least I know ONE of my brothers ain't sending me to fetch pets for Timmy without help!" Sean quipped.
"Yeah... you'd know if it were me... for instance," Sa'ren grinned as Sean and Cory both vanished. Kyle and Tyler grunted at their sudden absence from their minds, but now that they were expecting it they didn't freak. Half a second later both were back. With two baby Klingon targs.
"Well... thanks for the three week holiday, but I didn't see you port out to be with us... how did you get there?"
"Now," Sa'ren giggled as he vanished and reappeared with another targ.
Wayne, Timmy, and Ricky came running over, grins on their faces. "Thanks Uncle Cory!" Wayne giggled as he retrieved Cory's targ.
"You're awesome, Daddy Joel!" Ricky added as he claimed his targ.
"OHHH! I always wanted one! Thanks Poppa!" Timmy added as he gave Sean a sloppy kiss and claimed his newest addition.
"So... do I have everyone's consent for them to see the breadth of forever?" Sa'ren giggled as he moved to collect hugs from the three boys.
"Sure", "YEAH!" "SOUNDS COOL!" came the variety of responses.
"How about you, Alec?"
"Go for it... you have my forever-permission so that I can see Time!" the boy giggled excitedly.
"Got it, Alec," Sa'ren grinned as everyone, pets and all, vanished. He alone remained with a smile on his face. "I've got to thank the Guardian for this," he whispered as he felt the joy in his Sword and Armour echo his own, before he vanished to join his family.
Steve looked around the pier, quickly ensuring the extra security he'd asked for was in-place. Almost a quarter of the off-duty Unit forces had responded to the request, not wanting to miss the chance of seeing the Clan Fleet as it officially reported for duty. It was a good thing too, since Emmy had 'accidentally' slipped and told every news outlet in the area about the impending arrivals; the civilian crowd just seemed to continue growing. The Unit teams, who had arrived in full dress, were getting the royal treatment. Parents were requesting pictures of their kids with quite a few of the Genesis hybrids, and in general the whole team of Clan and Unit kids were being treated as heroes by the civilians.
"Hey Steve, check it out!" Cam said as he pointed at the merchant ships forming a line on either side of the channel. "What're they doing?"
Steve took a closer look, and noticed the nearest ones seemed to be setting up their fire-fighting equipment on deck. "It looks like an honor guard; if they're doin' what I think, this is gonna be awesome."
"Is there any danger?" Cam asked warily.
"Not unless you're allergic to water." Steve responded, inwardly proud of Cam's concerns.
Just then, on the other side of the pier fence, a very large crowd of kids and adults appeared out of nowhere. Not expecting it, both Steve and Cam sprinted towards the gate, weapons in hand. As they got closer, Steve recognized a few faces and slowed to a walk as he tapped his commbadge. "All units, be advised Headquarters is on site... it looks like all of them." Spotting Cory and Tracy, he added "Patriarch onsite, set Security Protocol Three Delta."
"Acknowledged." multiple voices replied instantly.
Moments later, the newly-arrived group started filtering through the gate to join the rest of the waiting crowd. Wayne spotted Cam and Steve, and broke into a run to reach them. "Uncle Stevie, Uncle Cam! Lookie what Uncle Cory brought me! He got me my own TARG!" he yelled with excitement as he got closer.
"Timmy works quick..." Steve muttered under his breath as he braced for possible impact. He wasn't disappointed, as somehow Wayne managed to aim his pounce of Cam so that Steve was hit as well. Not to be left out, Timmy and Ricky split off from the crowd and 'assisted' Wayne.
More to enjoy the sight of someone else being the target than to actually help, Tracy, Cory, Karl, and Sean wandered over to watch. "You musta been practicing, Wayne; it takes skill to do a two-for-one!" Cory giggled.
"Ain't you gonna help us?" Steve pleaded from the bottom of the pile.
"Are you kidding?" Tracy sputtered, "All three of them have targs! You know how dangerous that could be?"
"Gee, thanks!" Cam groaned.
"The needs of the many exceed the needs of the few." Sean stated flatly, trying hard to keep a straight face.
"Or the one." Spock stated as he picked up Sean from behind and purposefully headed towards the edge of the pier.
By the time Sean, now soaked to the skin, returned to the group, the munchkins had decided to let their targets up and were now looking around in wonder as they cuddled their new pets. For some reason, the sight of three young boys cuddling targs seemed to deter most of the civilians from getting too close, much to Steve's relief. One little boy, however, let his curiosity override his caution and slowly walked up to Timmy. "What's that?" the boy asked shyly.
"This is Krang, he's a Cling-on Targ!" Timmy replied with a grin.
"Is he mean?" the boy asked warily.
"Naw, he promis'd to only snack on da bad guys." Timmy responded seriously.
The boy slowly reached out a hand and scratched Krang between his ear and the small spike behind it. This immediately caused Krang to emit a moan as he tilted his head to give the boy easier access.
"He likes that!" Timmy translated.
The boy's parents had finally spotted where their son ran off to, and were coming over to get him when they spotted the creature he was giving attention to, which froze them in their tracks. "Marty Jones," his mother said softly, not wanting to shock the creature, yet still not pleased.
"Mom! Dad! Look, a Klingon targ! His name's Krang!" the boy, obviously named Marty, exclaimed, ignoring the tone in his mother's voice completely.
Sensing the possibility for trouble, Tracy and Cory both headed over to the parents as Sean and Karl decided to help Ricky and Wayne overcome their shyness at meeting a new kid.
"Mr. and Mrs. Jones?" Cory said as he came to a stop. "I'm Cory Short, and this is my brother Tracy Butler. You can relax; our sons' targs won't hurt Marty."
The two adults looked at Cory and Tracy in shock for a few seconds, then Mrs. Jones stated "Cory Short? Sweet Jesus, the Cory Short?"
"Yeah." Cory replied, trying not to roll his eyes.
"Go ahead and roll your eyes, young man; you've earned it." she laughed. "I'm Darcie Jones, and the mute here is my husband Jerold. It's a pleasure to meet both of you."
"Thanks," Tracy and Cory replied in unison.
"Honey, look at Marty," Jerold suddenly stated.
All four turned to see Marty surrounded by a growing group of Tribe members, giggling as he took turns giving the three targs attention.
"I think your son's making some friends!" Tracy giggled.
"That's not like him at all, though." Darcie muttered.
"How do you mean?" Cory asked with a raised eyebrow.
"He usually tries to avoid close contact with people; he seems happier if off by himself." she replied.
Having a burst of inspiration, Tracy asked "Would you mind if we had one of our resident brain leec... I mean telepaths, take a look at his surface thoughts to see if there's an issue that you can help him with?"
"Sure; the doctors say there's nothing wrong with him, so it can't hurt." Jerold replied after exchanging looks with his wife.
Before Tracy or Cory had a chance to reply, Tracy was pounced by both Kyle and Tyler. "That's for the leech comment!" Kyle stated as both boys went for Tracy's ticklish spots. Once they were satisfied that Tracy was suitably subdued, Kyle looked up from his perch next to Tyler on Tracy's chest. "Both of you are weak subconscious telepaths. That's why you can know what the other one wants so easy. Marty's inherited it, but his is at the very bottom of his conscious level. He kinda hears an annoying buzz in his head with most people if he's close to them, and he's gotta get away from it sometimes. He just said okay, so I'm havin' Prince come over and help 'im. They'll fix him up with shields, and train him. Trace, meet me in the game room bro, we gotta talk."
"I'm already there, slowpoke!" Tracy giggled.
Tyler explained as Tracy and Kyle became quiet. "Tracy's the Director of the new Alligator Alley division, besides being one'a my big bros. One'a the kewl parts of bein' a Director is me an' Kyle have spots in his head where we can talk about stuff an' figure it out quietly."
"Ty, usually we don't..." Cory started to say with a smile.
"Just savin' time, bro!" Tyler giggled, "I don't wanna miss the ship tour because I'm trainin' new Clan parents. They're gonna say yes right about..."
"If you're inviting us to help the Clan by joining, the answer is yes." Darcie stated.
"Told ya!" Tyler giggled.
"I'm gonna have a talk with our bratty brother about the bad habits he's teaching you, Ty!" Cory giggled.
"Somehow the future is open, that gift Joel spoke about... don't blame a guy for using his super-god-like-amazing-ultra-cute gifts, now, bro!" Tyler giggled back.
"So you've been hanging around John over in Hawaii too, huh?" Cory giggled as he reached down and pulled Tyler up for a hug.
"All us super-cute-awesomely-handsome-cosmic-power-filled-in-cute-itty-bitty-bod guys have, Twerp!" the Doctor giggled from behind Darcie where he was hiding, as any bratty little brother would.
"Poor Prez!" Cory giggled. "Darcie, the brat behind you is my little brother John, you can just call him Mud, since that's what he'll be covered in when I catch him."
"Hello, young lady," 'Mud' giggled as he came around to look up at Darcie. "I hope you're behaving!"
Darcie smiled as she ruffled the Doctor's hair. "You're such a cutie!"
"I age well," the Doctor giggled. "The Doctor, at your service," he smiled with a bow.
"Playing doctor with your friends doesn't make you a Doctor, kiddo." Jerold said with a grin.
"Yeah, what you and Jay do doesn't qualify for a M.D." Cory prodded with a giggle, winking at Galli to let him know that he was just playing along.
"I've earned my doctorates, jello-head," the Ancient Man giggled at Cory as he winked at Jerold.
The man grinned and played along, "Which ones?"
"All of them," Galli smiled. "I'll be right back. I've got to get that thing you lost twenty one years ago..." he added as he stepped back into a doorway that opened in nothing. Then, as a deep toned thrumming took over, a blue British police box from the fifties seemed to be half there before disappearing entirely.
Jerold and his wife simply gaped at the empty space for a second, then the thrumming returned and the blue box appeared, solid this time. Out came the grinning Doctor, along with a Border Collie dog, about a year old.
"Boxie?!" Jerold exclaimed, tears forming in his eyes. "B...Boxie!! But..."
"He ran away when you were a kid, right? I saved him before he got knocked down. It's why you never found him. Here he is, kiddo," the Doctor said kindly as Boxie bounced over and into Jerold's arms, for the man was now on his knees sobbing and holding his arms out to the dog.
"Okay, so you're a M.D.!" Cory giggled, having been advised of Tracy's planned contribution from his spot under the two Mikyvis.
Tickling his way off the floor, Tracy approached Cory, leaned close and stage-whispered, "M.D., manic depressive and mentally deranged." Unfortunately for Tracy, the nearby telepaths shared the jokes. Tracy disappeared and reappeared seconds later, sopping wet and slightly bluish, with a baby Empire penguin. Tracy violently shivered, "Ti-im-my?"
Cory took the penguin from Tracy. "Guys, cold ain't good when we're outside!"
"Antarticia? You cruel sods!" Galli howled as Tracy folded out and back, this time with a Galapagos Tortoise. "There. A nice warm dip in the Pacific, with a brief lay over at the Islands. She's about to lay eggs, so take care of her," the Time Lord giggled.
"You're REALLY the Doctor?" Darcie spluttered, having near blanked everything else going on.
"Yup! Thanks for calling me cute. Can I hug you?" the boy giggled.
Timmy came over to retrieve the latest additions. "Thanks Unca Tracy! Yist's been waitin' for these two to come home!"
Half-watching the little redhead in wonder as he gathered the two new arrivals, Darcie muttered, "Of course, little angel. Little boys your age need all the hugs they can get."
"I really, REALLY like you," Galli giggled as he moved for a hug. "I'm older than your solar system, yet also only ten years old. You're the first, the absolute FIRST, to truly understand that. Not even Kyle fully gets it and he was the closest to do so!" he continued happily. Tears started in his eyes then, and he wasn't quite sure why. Once he had worked it out a full five minutes had passed, in which time he had been picked up into Darcie's arms as his sobbing storm worked its course. The others simply watched in awed silence, for while this happened, the Doctor had glowed. As too did Darcie, Jerold and Marty, who was standing by Ricky.
Any response was cut off by the sudden sound of the not-too-far-away volley of spotter rounds being fired by turret three on the Iowa. As one, everybody's head spun just in time to see three bright red explosions in the sky, followed immediately by the triple concussion from their activation. As the thunder of the rounds made it's way down the beach, the sound of a guitar, followed by what could only be the ship's band, blasted it's way across the harbor.
As the Clan Atlantic Fleet barreled their way down the home stretch, centered under the streams of water arching over their path from the honor guard, the entire beachfront was made aware of their arrival as all three surface ships tried out their new sound systems, synced to blast the shoreline. The main band was on the Iowa forecastle, with the Brown and the O'Bannon providing additional backup singers from their forecastles.
By this time, the fleet had came in close enough to require slowing down, carefully making their way through the water arches from the waiting ships. As they got closer, everyone could see that all three surface ships had what appeared to be every off-duty sailor on their deck participating in the concert. Also apparent were the three sailors on the conning tower of the Charleston, obviously providing lead vocals, electric piano, and the sax.
Copyright (©1974 Elton John and Bernie Taupin, off the album Caribou)
As the final chorus echoed down the beach, accompanied by the applause of the crowd assembled at the entry to the pier, the fleet slowed to a crawl and began positioning themselves for mooring. On the port side of the pier, the Charleston came in first, positioning herself fifty feet off the pier, followed by the Iowa, who also stood off fifty feet. On the starboard side of the pier, the same was repeated, with the Brown coming in first, followed by the O'Bannon. Once all were in position, the Iowa gave the command to proceed and all four used their new side thrusters to complete the docking maneuver.
The crowd watched in fascination as all four slid towards the pier, their bumpers making contact within seconds of each other. The pilot lines were tossed to the pierside personnel at the same time, and in less than a minute all four were having their first mooring line made fast. As the teams for the first line stepped back, all four 1MC systems announced in unison "Moored, Shift Colors!"
The crowd broke out in a cheer once again at the unexpected presentation. Cory's grin was huge, the display having told him without words that the four crews were not in any kind of competition, and no one unit was being considered 'better' than the others. As he watched the mooring operation completing, he was interrupted by the Petty Officer of the Watch for the pier's gate.
"Patriarch Short?" the petty officer asked as he came to attention next to Cory.
Cory turned to the petty officer, and replied "Yes, how can I help you?"
"Sir, the Captain of the Iowa sends his respects and requests that you be the first to cross the brow once mooring is completed."
Thankful that his Starfleet training covered situations like this, Cory replied "Very well. Give my complements to the Captain and direct him to prepare for the arrival of the Clan Short CNO and the Director of Alligator Alley Division as well."
"Aye aye, Sir." the petty officer replied as he turned and quickly made his way back to the shack.
"Thanks a lot!" Tracy whined as he lightly punched Cory's arm.
"Hey, we both get to make Seth suffer too, so it's worth it!" Cory giggled. "C'mon, let's go find our victim!"
"Ohhh, this is gonna be fun. He hates military protocol!" Tracy giggled.
As they searched out Seth and any other victims they could think of, the fleet established their in-port quarterdecks and ordered all non-essential personnel to man the rails. With the lead group now arranged, which consisted of Cory, Tracy, Teri, Spock, Seth, Mont, Bast, and Jorge, the gate was opened and the group led the way towards the Iowa.
As soon as they stepped through the gate, the Brown announced "Attention to port!" while the Charleston announced "Attention to Starboard!". In unison, both announced "Hand salute!" as both quarterdecks saluted the party with eight bells. As they walked past, Cory couldn't help but smile as he noticed that intermingled with the sailors in full dress uniform were occasional kids and teens, all obviously too young to have been part of the crew before today. As they neared the bow of the Brown, two short whistles were sounded, followed by dual announcements of "Carry on." from the ship and boat. Almost instantly, the Iowa and O'Bannon repeated the earlier actions of their fleet sisters, calling the crew manning the rails to attention and rendering a hand salute. On the Iowa, the Petty Officer of the Watch suddenly found himself extremely busy.
"Clan Short, arriving." (Ding-ding Ding-ding Ding-ding Ding-ding) "House Surak of Vulcan, arriving." (Ding-ding Ding-ding Ding-ding Ding-ding) "Naval Operations, arriving." (Ding-ding Ding-ding Ding-ding Ding-ding) "Alligator Alley, arriving." (Ding-ding Ding-ding Ding-ding Ding-ding) "FYS, arriving." (Ding-ding Ding-ding Ding-ding Ding-ding) At the last bell, the sideboys on the Quarterdeck issued a twenty-one gun salute as the signalmen ran up, in order, the Vulcan flag, the Clan flag, the Alligator Alley divisional flag, and the Federation Youth Services flag.
"I thought you said they'd chilled on the ceremony crap?" Cory muttered to Tracy as they made their way towards the brow.
"I'm betting Leon's putting on a show for the crowd." Tracy responded. "If not, Jorge already has orders to take him swimming!"
Overhearing the two boys despite their attempts otherwise, Spock quickened his steps until he could put a hand on each of their shoulders. "In my dealings with numerous cultures, I have determined that the emotive species' civilian population receives assurance of security by witnessing displays such as the Fleet is currently engaged in. If, in fact, he is as you stated 'putting on a show', I shall commend him on his foresight."
"Thanks, Dad." Cory replied. "What if he's not?"
"I will assist Jorge in his endeavor to instruct the Captain to, as you would put it, 'lighten up'." Spock stated with a slight raise of his right eyebrow.
Having a thought, Cory asked "Dad? What order should we board? Shouldn't you be first, since you're senior to me in the family?"
Tracy perked up, aware that he would have to deal with such matters more than Cory. Spock noticed this, and tailored his reply accordingly. "Son, your rank in the Vulcan Fleet is senior to all present, which indicates that you be given the honor of leading the party onboard. Second to you is Jason if he were present. Tracy and myself are equal in rank in the Vulcan Fleet, so our position is determined by our placement within the family. As Tracy is my son, I shall be required to precede him in the order. By tradition your mother shall accompany me as my equal within the family. Tracy, by Cory's declaration, all Directors answer to him directly, while Seth answers to whichever director is in control of the operation, only answering directly to Cory if no other directors are involved. That places you senior to Seth in the chain-of-command, so you shall precede him boarding the Iowa. If Queen Elizabeth was to join us, she would take her place behind Cory in the order of boarding, as would any other dignitary other than Vulcan officials of higher rank than Cory in the Vulcan Fleet or members of the Vulcan Council."
Tracy though it over. "So that means that if Cory wasn't here, you'd go first; but if Sarek was here he'd go first?"
"That is correct." Spock replied. "I believe it would be prudent for me to instruct your Captain on the hierarchy of his new family to ensure honors are delivered when appropriate."
"Thanks, Father," Tracy replied with relief, glad that he wasn't going to have to figure it out.
"Dad, Kyle just passed on your advice to everyone on the pier that needs to know it." Cory announced. "I guess I better get going here, before the crew decides to throw me overboard for making them wait!"
"That would be a logical course of action." Spock stated as he stepped back to rejoin Teri.
Cory grinned at the implied threat, and with Mont and Bast at his side went up the brow. As he reached the quarterdeck, he stopped and saluted the OOD. "Permission to come aboard?"
"Permission granted, Patriarch," the OOD replied as he returned the salute. The process was repeated for each member of the party, then once Seth was onboard the crew was released from their salute and ordered to return to normal duties.
Now that the official part was over, Leon stepped forward from his position off to the side. "Welcome aboard, everyone. Would you please join me below deck so we can end the horse-and-pony show for the civilians?"
"YES!" Seth exclaimed in relief before anyone else could reply.
Leon chuckled as he escorted them towards a nearby hatch. Even Spock allowed himself the luxury of raising both eyebrows as Leon seemed to walk through the bulkhead without opening the hatch.
"They got the Dimensional Doors installed, kewl!" Tracy giggled as he watched Jorge show off by somersaulting through the "hatch".
With Seth in the lead, the rest of the group followed, finding themselves on the bridge as soon as they went through.
"May I enquire as to the security precautions implemented on this entry point?" Spock asked Leon.
"Right now, Emrys is remotely clearing who can use it; otherwise they find a normal hatch leading into the ship. Once we are issued our own AI, it will all be internal." Leon explained.
"I find that satisfactory." Spock nodded.
Noticing Cory trying to act adult, Leon grinned. "Tracy, why don't you give Cory and his security the VIP tour of the bridge while us old folks get acquainted? The OOD is in the process of welcoming the rest of your party onboard, and the rest of the fleet is getting ready to commence public tours. We have already arranged for Clan Special Forces to provide telepaths on each quarterdeck as well as roaming telepathic security on all vessels."
Not giving Cory any choice, Tracy looked around the bridge to see what was going on. Spotting Mark off to the side, Tracy grabbed Cory's hand and began dragging him behind him. "Hey Mark! Nice hair!" Tracy giggled as they got closer.
Mark turned, his military haircut now a bright purple. "Hey Tracy, taken over any more fleets lately?"
"Naw," Tracy giggled. "I'm leaving the rest for my boss to do. Speaking of which; Mark, this is Cory Short. Bro, this is Petty Officer Mark Williams. His day job, when he's not trying out new hair colors, is transitioning the surface fleet to run under Clan rules."
"Nice to meet you, Cory." Mark replied with a smile as he stuck out his hand. "The hair's not my doing though; I failed to check the shampoo bottle before using it. It seems my new sons thought purple was the 'in' thing."
"Matt's got the same problem!" Cory laughed as he shook Mark's hand. "Get used to it, they sound like they like you."
Before Mark could respond, he was pounced by a brown-haired eleven-year-old and a platinum blond nine-year-old. "Hey guys, what you been up to?" Mark laughed as he pulled both boys into a hug.
"Master Chief Payton was showin' us around CIC!" the younger boy responded. "He said we get to help with the radars when we go out next!"
"Awesome!" Mark replied with a grin. "If you'll let me up, I need to introduce you to our guest."
"But we already KNOW Tracy, Dad!" the oldest one of the boys giggled as they 'helped' Mark up.
Shaking his head, Mark grinned as he stood and pulled a boy into each of his sides. "Cory, these are the two imps responsible for my new hair color. The big one is Brian, and the little guy is Terry. Boys, meet Cory Short; and yes, he's THE Cory Short, our Patriarch."
"Where's the nearest pool?" Cory giggled as both boys turned to stare at him. "Chill guys, I'm no different than you."
"You... you're REAL!" Terry muttered in awe. "You're REAL, and you're a BIG KID!"
Cory rolled his eyes as he quipped "Could the nearest AI please give Mark the VIP tour of Earth's waterways?"
"SURE!" multiple voices replied over the bridge speakers as Mark flickered a few dozen times.
Once a VERY wet Mark stabilized, Tracy sweetly advised him "Mark, I forgot to tell you that reminding our Patriarch that he's a Patriarch is a bad thing. Ooops!"
Cory giggled as he grabbed Tracy and put him into a headlock. "As for you, little brother, I'll deal with you personally!" he stated as he started poking at Tracy's armpit with his free hand.
As the 'payback' quickly turned into an all-out wrestling match, Brian and Terry exchanged glances, then jumped in. Terry went for Cory's armpits, stating "Leave our Director alone!", while Brian attempted to de-shoe the attacking Patriarch to tickle his feet.
Mark helped by calling out open spots, getting his revenge as he drip-dried. It only took a couple of minutes before the boys called a truce, with Brian and Terry taking up positions under each of Cory's arms once they were standing.
Noticing that Terry was starting to display a silverish blush, Mark asked "Cory, you wouldn't happen to be an empath, would you?"
"Somewhat, why?" Cory answered.
"You have a freshly-minted Vifer under your right arm," Mark chuckled. "Going by his grin and blush, I'd say Terry disputes your 'somewhat'."
Cory glanced at Terry, and was about to comment when three voices said in unison "Crap! We're too late, he found Cory!"
"I love you too, guys," Cory giggled. "Get over here so I can introduce you, bros."
Jamie, Jacob. and Beau made their way through the bridge and joined the group. Beau glanced at Mark, then keyed his commbadge. "Kyle? Ty? We gotta big drip up here on the bridge. You wanna pop in an' help him 'fore he 'lectricutes himself?"
As requested, the eldest Mikyvis popped in next to Beau. Ty turned, pulled a wooden stick out of his back pocket, then waved it in the general direction of Mark while yelling "Expellus Waterdropsus!"
A cloud of purple 'smoke' seemed to appear around Mark, then he suddenly found himself completely dry. "Ummm, thanks!" he stated in amazement.
"Nice one Tyler!" Tracy giggled. "Where's your wizard robes?"
"Hanging next to my cuddlebunny's superman cape!" Ty giggled back. "Hurry up Cor, we got big guns to check out!"
"Not going there!" Cory muttered. "Guys, meet our little brothers. The twin on the left is Jamie, and the one on the right is Jacob. Their partner-in-crime is their Bonded, Beau. The wizard-for-the-day is our little bro Tyler, and his cohort is his husband and our lil' bro Kyle. Bros, the glowing Vifer under my right arm is Terry, his brother Brian is under my left arm, and the former drip is their father Mark."
"Don't be surprised if I get you two mixed up next time I see you," Mark said, looking at Jamie and Jacob. "I've never been good at telling twins apart. All I ask is that you correct me; maybe someday I'll figure out how other people do it."
Jamie and Jacob exchanged glances, then glanced at Beau. Those that knew them well could tell there was a deep conference going on, one which probably covered an hour of speaking in a matter of seconds. Jamie then nodded, and turned to Mark. "One thing all twins hate is when someone asks how to tell them apart. You didn't do that, instead you were honest with us and asked for our help. Since we've learn a buncha stuff about living with Vifers, we could share what we learned to help you. Ty says Brian's an Empath, so we can help with that too. Can I go in your head an' teach you? Then if Kyle okays it I can maybe show you how to recognize people by their brain leaks. Even non-telepaths can do it if they're taught; the brain's got the wires, it's just missin' the controls to do telepath stuff."
"Why not?" Mark chuckled, "Nobody's been in my head besides me for at least a day!"
"Ohh, I get to find stuff that I can pick on other guys for not cleaning up!" Jamie stated with a slight grin. "Ready?"
"Go for it." Mark replied.
Cory smiled, glad to see a little of the personality of one of the twins sneaking back to the surface. "Jacob, could you have Jamie give him the full roster too?"
"Duhh! He did that while you were still deciding to ask it!" Jacob giggled.
Shaking his head, Cory looked around. "Okay, before we get back to having some fun exploring, Brian and Terry need to know who does what. You guys know Trace is the Director of Alligator Alley, and I got stuck with being Patriarch. Kyle is the top kid for Intel Clan-Wide, and Ty is his second-in-command. Jamie, Jacob, and Beau handle Orlando regional Intel, and our brother Justy does dedicated Headquarters Intel. Jamie, Jacob, and Beau also oversee all mind-skill training. If you're interested in learning some hand-to-hand combat, get with Beau; he teaches it on the side for stress relief."
Brian looked over at Jacob. "If you're in charge of mind-training, why did Jamie say Ty would do me?"
"Ty can give someone a stiffie from the other side of the planet!" Jacob giggled. "He knows tricks we ain't figured out yet, so unless he's busy, we let him do it."
"No way!" Brian giggled.
"Yep!" Ty interjected with a mischievous grin.
Seconds later, an obviously Russian accented young voice came across everyones commbadge. "The next person who uses me as an example when talking about Tyler is going swimming in the Baltic!"
"Sorry, Alexei!" Jacob giggled. "New Empath."
"I'm the Czar of Russia, you'd think that'd give me SOME protection!" Alexei complained before ending the conversation.
Brian and Terry exchanged glances before chorusing "You pranked the Czar? KEWL!" before breaking out from under Cory's arms and mobbing Tyler.
Kyle exchanged grins with Jacob and Beau. "You wanna help me with our new chrome brother while Ty's teachin' Brian bad habits?"
"Sure," Jacob and Beau replied in unison.
"Hello listeners, this is Marshall Harris with Channel Seven News." the athletic thirty year old man said to the camera. "Just in case you missed the loud explosions and even louder music, Clan Short has officially declared our fair city as the homeport for the newest addition to their growing support network. I have with me Commander K.T. Carlson, Commander in Chief of the Clan Short Atlantic Fleet. Thank you for joining me, Commander."
"It's a pleasure, Marshall." KT replied with a smile as Boomer scampered up his side and took position on his shoulder. "This is my assistant, First Lieutenant Boomer Carlson."
Boomer waved his little paw at the camera, then made sure his dress collar was positioned so the viewers could see the lieutenant bars attached to them.
Chuckling at Boomer's antics, Marshall asked "Commander, would you mind explaining to the viewers the roles these ships are projected to play in Clan Short as our cameraman shows them to the audience?"
"Sure." KT replied, inwardly muttering to himself about the need to be addressed by his rank. "I see he's going for the Charleston first. The Charleston is a state-of-the-art multi-mission submarine. Her main mission objective will be locating and tracking ocean craft suspected of trafficking in intelligent beings or illegal drugs. In cooperation with the Coast Guard and our land-side allies, we plan on making the Atlantic ocean lanes very unfriendly for those who think dealing in others is acceptable."
The cameraman swung to the other side of the pier, focusing on the Brown. KT noticed, and stated "The Jesse L. Brown has began their refit to Clan specifications already. Her main job is to intercept and detain vessels positively identified as trafficking in intelligent species under Federation definitions. She will also provide support for coastline operations of various costal authorities."
The camera panned to the O'Bannon, prompting KT to state her purpose. "The O'Bannon shares the same role as the Brown, with additional capabilities to help the Charleston in her mission. She will also be assisting with anti-aircraft deterrence in hostile operations."
As the cameraman turned to the Iowa, KT grinned. "The Iowa is the flagship of our Atlantic Surface Fleet. All I'll say is that if you see her go active, somebody's crossed the line and is about to meet their Maker. I'd tell you to ask the Romulans, but all of them who crossed her are now dead." Pausing, KT added in an ominous tone "What happened in Montana will NOT happen again to us or any other organization out to protect others, and the U.S. Navy has given us the Iowa to make that point very clearly."
"I'd have to agree that it makes the point." Marshall stated as the camera turned back to them. "I'm sure everyone is wondering who will be crewing the ships, however."
"They already have their permanent crews." KT replied. "Every sailor on each of them has volunteered for the duty, and we are in the process of relocating their families to the local area to join them. Clan members who wish to learn positions on them will be trained by the very people doing the job, and refits are in progress to allow families which want to live onboard proper accommodations. Several of our Fleet sailors have already adopted some of the orphans from the Atlantic Son incident, and we are expecting the trend to continue as the crews integrate themselves into Clan life."
"So once again, Clan Short is rewriting the rules?" Marshall queried.
"Why not?" KT stated. "We have three ships and a boat that are full of career sailors. They know better than anyone what works and what is bureaucratic bullcrap that just slows things down. We're just giving them the power to make those changes."
"Point taken, and I really hope that you are successful." Marshall admitted, surprised that this thirteen-year-old was fairing so well during the interview. "Would it be possible for us to tour the ships and interview some of the crew?"
Behind the smile he gave with his reply, KT was thinking 'Nice try, dude. Try to get the kid to slip up and give you unrestricted access? Not happening!' To Marshall, he replied "I will allow you and your camera crew access with an escort from our Special Forces to record a documentary to be shown after it has been cleared by our Intel Division. As with any other organization involved in protecting public safety, there are things which are not cleared for public knowledge for the protection of our sailors and their mission."
Marshall's face clearly showed his shock at KT's response, but he still continued. "I'm looking forward to that opportunity. Thank you for your time, Commander."
"You're welcome." KT replied. "If you'll excuse me, the chefs of my fleet are having a cookie competition, and I'm one of the judges."
Shaking his head as he watched KT spin on his heels and march off towards the Iowa, Marshall added, "From the new homeport of the Clan Fleet, this is Marshall Harris, Channel Seven News." Once he saw the light go off on the camera, indicating he was off-air, he added "That's the first time I've ever met a kid like that, and God-willing, I hope to never have to deal with him in an official capacity."
"Hey, Marsh, I just heard something on the feed." the cameraman interrupted.
"Those medals the kid had? Those ain't fake!" Jack replied. "The Clan sent a bio to the newsdesk; that kid actually earned Master Demolitions, Marksman, Montana Service, Distinguished Service, and even the Purple Heart."
Marshall focused his gaze on the boy he'd just interviewed, who was now jogging up the brow of the Brown. "I'm not sure I want to know how he earned those last two; but I think I'm starting to understand what the Clan means when they say that society is failing their youth. There is no excuse for someone his age bearing the emotional scars those medals carry."
"Amen to that." Jack replied as he began to stow his gear.
As crewmembers, Brian and Terry had taken over the honor of escorting Cory and family around the great ship. The group had grown slightly, now consisting of the two guides, Cory, Sean, Tracy, Karl, Jamie, Jacob, Beau, Justy, Kyle, and Tyler. They had just walked up to the launch doors of Turret Two, and were being treated to witnessing the turret crew in the process of extending the guide rails for post-launch inspections.
"Those are lots bigger than they look in the pictures!" Kyle stated as him and Ty kneeled next to one of the open hatches and looked in it.
One of the sailors servicing the rail chuckled. "Careful, guys. I don't want to have to explain to Leon how the heads of Intel fell into one of our silos. I'm Kurt Granger by the way; I know you two on sight. If you want, I can get a couple of harnesses up here and you can join me and watch while I do a check of the insides."
"Really?" Kyle and Ty both exclaimed in glee, their eyes lighting up in anticipation.
"Yep!" Kurt grinned. "Extra eyes never hurt, and you'll be the first Clan kids to be able to say you saw the insides of one of these silos." He then tapped his commbadge. "Sam, could you send up two of the youth harnesses and another pair of lines?"
"On their way." a voice replied, obviously Sam. As Kyle and Tyler bounced in anticipation, the rest of the group watched with smiles on their faces. A few minutes later, a twenty-something blond came up to the group, carrying harnesses and safety lines. "Hey guys, I'm Sam. By any chance are these for the two bouncing cookie monsters?"
YES!" Kyle and Ty yelled in unison.
"Okay guys; let me get these on you and adjusted properly, then I'll give you the quick drill on how to use them." Sam replied with a grin.
Both boys nodded quickly as they ran over to where he was standing, stopping with their arms held out like wings.
Sam carefully ensured the harnesses were put on and adjusted so that they were the proper snugness yet as comfortable for the boys as a harness can be. He then held out the block that would attach to the guide lines. "Okay guys. If something happens and you slip, this block has a speed-sensitive brake in it. If it senses either the primary or safety lines moving through it at more than a foot a second, it will progressively reduce your speed until you come to a stop. If that happens, it will remain locked until reset by a safety officer. You will also be using this support line; when Kurt or either of you two are not climbing or dropping, this is to be clamped on the designated restraint hooks. Kurt will point them out to you, and nothing will be done until all three of you are tied off and have your feet on the catwalks inside the silo. Any questions?"
Both boys shook their heads, their grins reflecting the joy they were feeling at being treated like normal kids.
"Great!" Sam replied. "Once the safety spotter gets up here, you can get started. I'll let Kurt fill you in on what you'll be doing while you wait for José."
As Kyle and Tyler quickly made their way back over to Kurt, Sam turned to the rest of the group. "If you'd be interested in seeing some of our birds, come with me and I'll give you the tour of the locker."
Even Justy's eyes lit up at the offer as Cory said, "Awesome! Lead the way!"
Gary, Doug and Jessica were busy getting better acquainted, now that the insanity had paused, while the triplets were sulking on the nearest couch because their new cuddle buddy wasn't home yet.
"Guys, they've only been gone a half hour!" Doug commented to the frowning boys. "It takes time to do a physical, especially since they didn't have an appointment with the doctor."
"They were taken there by a mickymoose!" Heath muttered. "The mooses are supermen, they gotta be done already."
Overhearing, Ezra walked over to the three boys. "Guys, you kinda got a few things wrong there, " he stated seriously, his eyes revealing he wasn't mad. "We're not really supermen, there's a lot of stuff we can't do, and even more we won't do. Also, you'd really hurt my Dad's feelings if he thought you were making fun of our species name. The name Mikyvis is a tribute to two people; the first part is for our Uncle Mikey, who got killed by a drunk about a year and a half ago. The second part is for our Uncle Levis, who just after Dad named our race went missing after taking on a bad guy who was trying to destroy Ark. We thought he was dead, but he was just unable to let us know he made it through the fight. The very first Mikyvis born is named after him, my big brother, Levi."
Heath tilted his head. "But you guys can pop in and out without transporters, and you play with time like it's a toy!"
Ezra shook his head. "It might look like that to you, but it's not what you think. Do you think Gary really understands the telepathic stuff you guys do, or are you supermen to him?"
All three boys had a quick mental conference before Heath replied. "I guess we get it; just because you can do something different don't mean you are better than everyone."
"Remember that." Ezra said with a nod. "We're just as human as you, yet with the changes that happened to Dad and Pop, we're totally different. We laugh, we cry, we love, and we love cuddles and cookies. We hurt just as much as anyone else if someone does bad things. Our gift is that we're tied into the Universe itself; we're everywhere at once, and yet we can only be seen in the one place we want to be seen at. We can affect time, but we're actually more restricted by its rules than you are. Every single thing we do, we have to check to make sure it doesn't undo something that is supposed to happen. We live our lives knowing that we will outlive every single person we ever meet, yet we allow ourselves to love them anyway, because we need their love just as much as they need ours. The only good point to that is we are able to visit them in the afterlife, thanks to a trick Dad learned before he changed."
"That sucks!" Heath, Linos, and Sawyer stated in unison as they stood and surrounded Ezra in a three-way hug.
"I get to meet kewl guys like you three, so it's worth every bit of it." Ezra replied from within the cuddle.
The adults had all listened quietly, including Greta and Barnaby, who had entered the room just as Ezra started talking. All five wordlessly exchanged glances, their expressions reflecting their newfound commitment to ensuring the timeless Mikyvis received their fair share of love and support.
As everyone pondered Ezra's words, DB, Tommy, Jerry, Liam, and Glenn rejoined them. As the boys made a beeline towards the triplets, Tommy turned towards the adults. "Why all the serious faces? We miss something?"
Gary nodded. "Yeah, it seems our Mikyvis friends have done a really good job of hiding just what they put themselves through to be with us."
"The stuff I was tellin' ya about, Uncle Tommy!" DB offered helpfully from where he was busy comparing freckles with the triplets.
"Oh!" Tommy replied. "Yeah, I gave DB some pointers from an 'old man' on how to appear you belong when really you don't. How else do ya think I manage during those award shows? You should try being chewed out by a thirteen year old squirt of a doctor for over an hour about how I'm ruining my posture!"
"Do I gotta get Granpa Marc more Geritol?" Emmy's voice giggled over the intercom speakers.
"I wish I could sign a card to send with it!" Tommy laughed. "He's too young to be that old!"
"I got ya covered, Uncle Tommy! Granpa Bry has your autograph onna CD, I just copied it! Delivery made!" Emmy announced proudly.
"Little dude, I think we'll make a great team!" Tommy announced as he quickly found a seat to avoid falling over laughing.
"Wait'll I tell Uncle Tracy I'm teamin' with Tommy Shaw!" Emmy announced proudly.
"The world will never be the same!" Tommy managed to choke out through his laughter.
"You can say that again!" Ezzy laughed, smiling at how Tommy was adapting so well to hanging around the Clan. "How'd y'all like to take a little road trip to relax? My big bro Dilly's got a little project he's working on, and he likes it when we bring people to watch how it's going."
"How long will we be gone?" Gary asked, afraid he might miss the last arrival of his expanding family.
"Silly uncle!" Ezzy giggled, "I can make it so you're already back and waiting in the dining room for yourself to leave! Don't worry, I won't let you miss anything important."
"You left yourself wide open for that one!" Doug chuckled. "Sure, let's go. After the month we've had in the last twelve hours, a little vacation sounds good."
"Can I go too, Uncle Ezzy?" DB asked hopefully, mid-inspection of some freckles that rarely saw the sun on Linos.
"Yeah, Dilly'd kill me if I didn't bring you!" Ezzy replied with a grin.
"But you said you can't die," Heath commented.
"I can be killed, and my big bro is just evil enough to stretch it over an eon or six." Ezra stated, trying to appear serious.
"Does he give lessons?" Tommy asked hopefully. "I know a few people who I'd like to practice on!"
"God help us, an adult version of Uncle JJ." Ezra muttered under his breath.
DB quickly 'helped' the rest of the boys get dressed, which consisted of all of them suddenly finding themselves in purple speedos. "Okay, we're ready!" he quipped as his own set of purple speedos appeared.
Gary looked over at Greta and Barnaby. "You're both coming with us," he stated, his tone not giving them any choice.
"I believe this could be... educational." Barnaby replied in a noncommittal tone.
Not waiting for any other commentary, Ezzy waved his hands in the air and the entire group vanished. The next thing they knew, they were in an auditorium, surrounded by what looked like thousands of yellow-blond kids, all of which were cheering at the band on the stage.
As he recovered from the sudden transfer, Tommy's jaw dropped at the sight in front of him. Just off to his right, the two lead guitarists were just going into the solo in the middle of 'Already Gone'. The older of the two was about thirteen, with sandy blond hair. Considering the notes required for the lead in that part of the song, Tommy could easily see why he was primary lead guitar. The shock to Tommy came in seeing the secondary lead; he looked to be about six, with red wavy hair down to his shoulders. The little lefty was bending the notes like no kid his age should even think about trying to do, and was keeping up with his older partner like a pro. Behind the pair, a nine year old with orangish-red hair was playing rhythm, exchanging comments with the auburn-haired nine year old bassist and the strawberry-blond eight year old drummer. The final band members on the stage, standing by a percussion area next to a second empty drum kit, were a chocolate-brown haired eleven year old, a furry orange nine year old, and a dirty-blond haired thirteen year old.
As the solo wound down, the blond thirteen year old returned to the front of the stage, the furry kid at his side.
The rest of the band provided the backup vocals as the blond picked up the lead vocals. The furry kid harmonized with him in the second stanza, with the entire band kicking in for the chorus. As they wound down, Gary muttered "Someone sign those kids to a contract, they nailed it!"
"Close," Tommy stated with a grin. "In fact, they were closer to the studio cut than a lot of the live versions the Eagles have played. Trust me, that's hard to do, no matter how many times you play it."
"You'd know it." Gary replied with a nod. They joined the rest of their group in turning their attention back to the stage, where the other instruments were being occupied by more band members. The blond picked up the mic as the applause began to die down. "Hey y'all, our little bro has been practicing the vocals on this next one, and we all think he's ready. I'm gonna grab an axe to help out the punk fireball over there, so strap yourselves down for some rock!"
For some reason, Tommy glanced over at the piano, and he spotted an eleven year old albino taking a seat at the concert grand. Even from a distance, he could tell that the glasses the boy took off and put in his pocket after he was seated had more glass in them than most juice glasses. Curious as to what part this obviously visually-impared boy was going to play in the next song, Tommy added him to the list of band members to watch. He didn't have to wait long, as the boy opened with a solo that Tommy could repeat the notes to in his sleep.
Tommy's gaze was still fixed on the pianist when the clear voice of the furry kid began singing.
Tommy's eyes quickly shot to the singer, who definitely didn't sound like any nine year old he'd ever heard; the kid's range was obviously amazing. The synth joined in, and he listened carefully to see how well the band handled the time signature change that he knew was coming. His eyebrows went up as he heard two drumsets firing up at the same time as the little redhead and the blond that had sung the previous song powered into the guitar notes. He shifted his attention, and smiled as he saw the little guy was on-key with his Strat, while the older kid played an octave higher on his Carvin. The pianist was still going, adding even more power as he accentuated the guitars in C. Along with the bass, the power level was well worth the extra effort the band was putting into the song. By the time they hit the synth solo, with the synth player handling two synth keyboards, Tommy was impressed; the band had handled the time signature change like they'd wrote it themselves. He knew the hardest part was yet to come, however, especially with the added musicians.
Boys being boys, the band made him wait, however, for a full three minutes as they did their own version of the laser light show that Styx was famous for doing during the song when playing live. Tommy's grin became a mile wide as multiple things happened at the conclusion of the second time signature change; the lasers went dead, every light the lighting tech had control over came on at full intensity, and every band member hit power chords in unison. Tommy thought he actually felt his clothes move at the power chords, it was either that or he had unconsciously jumped.
Tommy smiled as the band did what he was hoping they'd do; use the resources they had available to duplicate his guitar work. The older guitarist picked up the overdub that he'd put on the studio track, while the little redhead continued with the lead power chords through the rest of the song. The fact the audience was singing along with the chorus made it even better; Tommy had never been on this side of the stage during a cover done this well. Once the audience finally quieted to a dull roar, the little redhead announced "COOKIE BREAK! We'll see y'all 'gain in 'bout twenty minutes or so!"
Tommy was still staring at the stage when he felt a young hand tapping his arm. He turned his head to find a purple-haired boy standing next to him with a big grin on his face.
"Hey Uncle Tommy, I'm Dylan. Wanna meet them?" the boy asked once he was sure he had Tommy's attention.
"Sure," Tommy replied. "Maybe on the way down there you can explain when I gained another nephew."
Dylan giggled as the entire group found themselves appearing backstage. "You're Glenn's uncle, and since Glenn is Clan that makes you ALL of us's uncle!"
"I don't know if I should be happy or I should run!" Tommy joked.
"Running won't help," Gary deadpanned. "They'll hunt you down and cuddle you no matter how well you hide."
As if he was called, the little redhead pounced Tommy with a handful of cookies, which he somehow ensured were not damaged. "Cuddle test!" he giggled.
"Hey there little guy," Tommy laughed as he helped the boy get comfortable. "What's your name?"
"I'm Timmy!" the boy giggled.
"Well, Timmy, you looked really good up there." Tommy replied. "You and your friend handled the leads awesomely."
"He's not my friend, KC's my brother." Timmy stated matter-of-factly.
"I HEARD THAT, PUNK!" KC yelled from the drink table.
"Bite me, Crash!" Timmy yelled in response.
"Eww, baby cooties!" KC laughed as he joined them. "No way, shrimp!"
"I'm not a baby, you're just ancient!" Timmy shot back with a giggle.
"Perfection takes time, twerp." KC stated as he held out his hand. "Hey dude, I'm KC. We kinda need the little cuddle punk there, so ya can't keep him."
Laughing, Tommy replied. "Tommy Shaw; and don't worry about me keeping him. I've gained a few new nephews and future in-laws to spoil rotten in the last few hours. You sounded great up there, I like how you handled the overdub."
"Thanks; I'm still catching up on your stuff after the mid seventies; I was kinda out-of-touch for a few years." KC replied.
"Yeah, he was kissin' fishies!" Timmy giggled as he turned towards KC and made fish-faces.
Gary felt sorry for Tommy, having noticed the confused look on his face, and stated "I'm pretty sure KC's an android, so my guess is that he was offline due to an accident."
"How'd you guess?" KC asked with a tilt of his head.
Gary grinned. "First off, no mere human could possibly keep up with the little redhead in Tommy's arms. I figured that out watching him bounce around the stage. Second is that you bear a strong resemblance to the android my Aunt used to have; in fact once he's been checked out he's supposed to be joining my family. The final straw is that unless you started at Timmy's age, you shouldn't have been able to play like you were playing at your apparent age."
"Buuusssstttteeeeddddd, Crash!" Timmy giggled.
"Shaddup and eat your cookies, Shrimp." KC chuckled as he gently reached over and squeezed Timmy's neck.
"You've got yourself a great big brother there, don't lose him." Tommy stated to Timmy, which caused KC to grin in pride. "Hey KC, is that a lynch mob assembling behind you?"
"Naw, it's just the rest of our family." KC laughed as he looked over his shoulder. "Don't worry, none of them have killed anyone in the last hour or so. I'll introduce our side, then you can introduce yours."
"Sure, give me the hard job!" Tommy laughed as he helped Timmy down.
After taking a quick visual inventory to make sure that nobody was missing, KC began his side. "You've already met our favorite fireball, Timmy. He's also the reason all of us have a family now, and in a way it's his fault that you ended up here."
"Nuh-uh!" Timmy interrupted with a giggle. "It's Unca Kyle's fault!"
"You can argue it with him, shrimp; I'm stayin' outta that one!" KC laughed. "Anyway, the punk who just tried to sneak a cookie outta the stash in my pocket is my little bro, Joey. Most of the rest of these nuts are my brothers too, it's just that the punkster and me share one of the dads. His partner in crime there is Timmy's younger cookie-thief-in-training, Pauly."
"I'm not in training!" Pauly stated through a mouthful of cookie. "I'm an espert!"
"Anyway..." KC continued with a roll of his eyes, "The bigger version of Timmy is Austin, and the two guys hiding under his arms are his sons Conner, he's the light-haired one, and Leo."
Tommy held up his hand. "Conner, before I forget your name due to overload, great job on the piano work. Dennis would love what you did with it."
"Thanks!" Conner replied as he tried to bury himself deeper under Austin's arm. A few seconds later, Austin almost collapsed in laughter as Conner managed to finally reach his most ticklish spot.
"He falls for that every time!" KC giggled. "Next up are DJ and Tanner. DJ's Timmy's half-brother by blood, and Tanner's the one trying to put his hand down the back of DJ's pants." KC paused long enough to score the pounce that followed, then continued. "They were just pounced by their little brothers Beau, he's the black-haired one, and Toby, along with Beau's boyfriends Jamie and Jacob. The twins are part of the crew, at least until they pick up the set list."
"We got the set list," Jamie and Jacob yelled in unison. "It's just more fun watching our boyfriend blow his horns in public!"
"So... not... going... there!" KC yelled back. "The kid who just joined in on the tickle torture of Austin is Brandon. The littler of the two that are pointing out areas that Conner's missing on his dad is CD, and the bigger one is his brother Calen. The shy one trying to hide behind them is Ian, and the guy giving him bunny-ears is our family friend Paul. Last of the band, but definitely not least, is our favorite furry cuddle monster brother, Fife"
After a pause for breath, KC continued. "Now for the crew, who are all either in-laws or other family. The kid with bright yellow hair is Chance, who by the way is in charge of this planet. Keep it quiet though; he doesn't want his Dad, the King, to find out. His cuddle-partner is Ulysses. The two birds flying around are William and Duke, and the little guy trying to fight the urge to join his fiancé that was in your arms is Ricky. The purple-haired mischief-maker is Dylan, and his cuddle-partner is Thomas. The old man looking for his valium bottle is our alternate Dad and sound engineer Russ."
"Whose turn is it to call Marc and tell him KC's about to come in for another visit?" Russ laughed. "Tommy, welcome to insanity. Don't let the boys messing around during introductions fool you; I can promise that all of them will find a way to meet you individually."
"Oh, I caught each of them acknowledging KC's introduction." Tommy replied. "I also caught about a half-dozen telepaths doing security checks. Having triplet telepathic nephew-in-laws has its advantages."
"I KNEW I forgot something!" KC stated with an evil grin. "You passed all your checks, and have been cleared to join Clan Short."
"That's it!" Russ exclaimed as he held out his hand, "I'm revoking your status as an adult! Hand over your card!"
Tommy grinned. "Never got one; they tried to give me one when I was twenty, but I cut it up and gave it back to them where the sun don't shine."
"Told ya he's a big kid!" Jamie and Jacob giggled.
"Guilty as charged!" Tommy laughed. "Growing up is for old people." After looking to make sure none of his group had ran for cover, Tommy began his side of the introductions. "First up is Gary Gaussman, patriarch of the nuthouse I'm staying at and future alcoholic."
"Only if Barnaby leaves the keys where I can find them!" Gary quipped. "In the last twelve hours, I've aged twenty years!"
"Ahh, you've been hanging around Mikyvis too, huh?" KC giggled. "Don't worry; it doesn't cause permanent damage."
"I'm gonna hold you to that," Tommy stated to KC. "Next up is the onsite shrink, Doug Chambers, and his wife Jessica. They're the ones responsible for my three future in-laws, and now they're paying for it."
After making sure nothing was being thrown at him, Tommy continued. "Next up, my nephews. The oldest one is Glenn, the little carmel-haired eight-year-old on his shoulders is Liam, and the other carmel-haired kid trying to suck the tonsils out of all three of the strawberry blonds is my middle nephew Jerry. Missing as yet is Javon, their android brother. He's been abducted by an overbearing thirteen-year-old android medical director, and I'm about to see if I can find a strike team somewhere to rescue him."
"Hey Cam! Send Marc some more Geritol!" DJ yelled with a grin.
"Make suwe dhe Gewidol is chocowad chip fwavored," Joey giggled.
Austin sniggered, "It keeps dad coming back for more."
"Sorta like his evil and twisted director boyfriend?" KC teased.
"Ewwwwww! Ancient Android Whoopie!" Brandon sniggered.
"They should install timers to shut those parts off after the first century!" Tanner added with a grin.
Austin snarled, "If the seventy plus years nappin' by the Titanic counts, we've still got decades to go. That means dad's closer to having his biological clock run down. Suddenly, I feel sick to my stomach."
"You're all set though, Dad!" Conner giggled. "All those alien probes inserting nanobots gotta have a few benefits!"
"Thats what I thought!" Conner laughed. "Wait'll I tell Pop!"
Sadly shaking his head, KC walked further away, softly muttering. "Nano probing... someone got the size thing reversed somehow." Before he could look back over his shoulder, Austin was chasing after him, and KC took off running and wildly cackling.
When they returned, KC started to comment further, but was interrupted by Russ. "Hey KC, Prez wants to know when you're gonna take him up on the offer?"
Blushing and evilly grinning, KC tugged at the front of his shorts, giggling, "Ya never know when, how or with how many."
"He's an expert at mass acupuncture," Tanner advised as he took off running.
"Works every time!" Russ chuckled at the pair took off at full speed.
Tommy shook his head with a grin. "Gotta love brotherly love! My in-laws are keeping those two up-to-date while they're burning off extra energy, so I'll finish introductions. The three boys who just grew halos are, in order, Heath, Sawyer, and Linos Chambers, at least until they get hitched with Jerry."
Beau looked over the four boys. "Before y'all get hitched, you're sitting down with me, Jamie, and Jacob. There's a few things ya' gotta know with group families."
"Beau's not usually that shy, but he's got a point, guys," DJ interjected. "They've sorted out some of the issues that come up, and they'll save you a few arguments."
"Take them up on it, guys," Tommy advised. "Between them and me, you should miss a few of the bumps that you would normally run into."
"I'm with them," Glenn added, "since Kyle's filling me in on a few things that I'm not saying out loud. I'm starting to like having a Mikyvis in my head!"
"Yeah, and he cheats and makes rooms we can't see in!" all three of the triplets said in unison. "That's not fair!"
"Don't worry guys; we're only hiding things that you'd understand keeping private." Glenn explained. "I'm not hiding any of my stuff from you; this is all people you ain't met that I need to know about."
"No problem, bro," Heath said as he broke away and cuddled into Glenn's side. "If it was anyone else we'd be mad, but we trust you."
"Thanks!" Glenn replied.
"We now conclude this public service announcement and return you to your regularly scheduled introductions," Tommy quipped, causing a flurry of giggles. "The little purple-eyed redhead is DB, he's visiting after being born a couple of hours ago. Last but not least are Greta and Barnaby Kelsey. They actually run the house, but they're good at letting Gary think he's in control."
Tommy then did a double-take. "Ummm, Greta, I think you've grown an extra appendage or four."
Greta smiled as she gave the little boy in her arms a loving squeeze. "Little DB is so sweet; he said that we've been such good parents to Glenn that we deserved to have a son of our own, even though I can't bear a child myself. This little angel is Charlie; his parents were in the Capitol Building in DC when it was attacked. While you were doing introductions, DB and Dylan made all the arrangements so that we could adopt him."
Tommy walked over, and ran his fingers through the little six-year-old's collar length golden blond hair. "It looks like Someone had a great set of new parents just waiting for when your parents got called up to Heaven," he said softly. "If you need cuddles or someone to cry with, you've got a bunch of new family that will be there for you, Charlie."
Charlie turned his head, his blue eyes still running with tears. "You look like that guitar guy Daddy useta listin' to." he commented softly.
"I'm your new uncle Tommy, and when I'm not helping my nephews I play guitar with a band," Tommy replied. "If your Daddy listened to Styx, then that'd be me."
"Stars can't be uncas," Charlie stated factually.
"Yes we can, little guy," Tommy chuckled. "You know something? I was just told there is a set of twins who just lost their parents too, and one of my new friends thinks that if you talk with them all three of you will feel better."
Without any prompting, Jamie, Jacob, and Beau came over and joined them. "Thanks, Tommy," Jamie said softly. "We'll get even with Kyle later, but right now we're gonna go off with our favorite tree, Charlie, and his new parents to talk."
Tommy nodded. "Just so you know, I agree with Kyle. Take your time guys, all of you can use some healing, and talking it out with people who've been there is the best therapy."
"Okay Tommy. Thanks," Jamie replied as the three boys began to escort the adults and their new son outside.
Josiah groaned as he slowly opened his eyes. His head was killing him, giving him the feeling like it was packed full of cement. But as the world started to come into focus, how he felt was quickly pushed the the back of his mind.
Looking up, rather than the cave ceiling he was expecting to see, all he saw was a clear blue sky and the tall grass around him swaying in the wind.
He quickly sat up and looked around. No longer was he in the cold cave he had fallen asleep in, but in an endless green field that rustled softly as the wind bent the grass down as it blew. There we no mountains or trees anywhere to be seen, with the blue empty sky meeting nothing be the green of the field, in the far distance.
Josiah carefully got to his feet and began to check himself over. Other than his head, he could not find anything else wrong. But how could he have gotten from an extremely mountainous region, to where he was now. He knew that he was prone to doing strange things with his abilities, while in his sleep, but never had he ended up somewhere else.
As he thought the question of where he was, though, he suddenly felt as if his head was heavier and somehow he knew the answer. This world was not real. He could feel that it, no matter how much his mind was telling him that it was, he just knew that it was not.
The world seemed to spin for a moment, and Josiah was forced to sink to his knees, or risk falling over completely.
Josiah took a few deep breaths to try and help himself focus, and just as the world stopped spinning and came into focus again, a man suddenly appeared in front of him. Or at least Josiah thought that he was a man. He was giving off a light that was bright enough that Josiah had trouble looking directly at him. It reminded him of how Levis looked, when he had shifted into his energy form, when they were fighting Axon in Ark's core. But this man was at least five times brighter, and a pure white.
"Give yourself a moment, you're absorbing a lot of information as you reconnect," the man said gently, as the light he was giving off dimmed slightly.
Josiah squinted, trying to get a better look at the man, "What?"
"Do you know where you are? Do you know who you are?" the man asked as Josiah finally got a good look at him. He was younger than Josiah thought that he was, looking to be no more than 15 or 16 years olds. And the man looked very familiar. In fact, the man FELT familiar.
"Who are you?" asked Josiah, as he sat back on his heels.
"I believe within a few minutes you will remember who I am," came the reply.
Josiah stared at the man for several minutes, studying his bright purple eyes. Eyes that Josiah knew indicated that this man was indeed a Ferox, like Levis. However, the longer Josiah looked into the man's eyes, the more he felt like he knew him. And then finally a look of understanding washed over Josiah's face as he realized who he was.
"You're me," Josiah whispered.
The man grinned, "Well, I'm not you exactly, as your life is your own, but we do share the same soul. And deep inside of you, you do remember living my life. Even if you've been disconnected from that part of yourself for the last several years, it's still there."
"You're the first of me...I mean us," Josiah said as he tried to remember. "But you're...you're not human like the rest of us have been..."
The man nodded as he took a seat across from Josiah, "The monks at our temple would have you believe that we are the spirit of the earth, in human form, here for some purpose only known to us and God. But it is a common misconception that we are purely the spirit of the earth. Before us, the spirit of the earth didn't take on human form. But it's what they want to believe, because that's what they can grasp. And while it is partly true, us being the spirit of the earth, that isn't the whole truth."
"No," Josiah whispered, as the memories started to flood back to him. "We were once someone...something else. We had another beginning."
"That's right," the man said as he watched Josiah gaze down at his feet. "Our name was once Hever."
"You're Hever," Josiah stated as he glanced back up at the man. "You were not the first Navus...that title came after we were finally reborn as a human...but you were the first of us, the beginning of us."
"Yes," Hever confirmed, "We were a powerful being, who had the power to unmake and remake the universe however we wanted. And while our story is a bit more detailed than what I will go into right now, we had started to do just that. We were frustrated. We found that no matter what we did to help humanity, they still disappointed us. They were flawed, unrepairable."
"They didn't want us to fix them," Josiah said in dismay, as he rediscovered the memory.
"That's right," Hever continued, "And in our disappointment, we started to tear the planet apart, wanting to start everything over. We had the ability, the power. If we couldn't fix them then we would start from scratch. But someone from our past pleaded with us not to..."
"Zyther..." Josiah said softly as he looked up into Hever's eyes.
Hever nodded, "Yes. In our quest to fix humanity, we forgot about him."
"But we loved him," said Josiah as tears welled up in his eyes. "He completed us...how could we forgot, how could we..."
"The road to hell is paved with good intentions," Hever remarked. "And in our quest to do the right thing, we had forgotten everything that matter most to us. But he was able to get through to us in time, and in that moment we realized that if we destroyed the universe, we would lose him as well. He was able to make us see what we had become. And how by doing what we were doing, we would be no better than the humans who had created us."
"I can remember the look in his eyes as he pleaded with us..." Josiah whispered, as tears ran down his cheeks. "We had become a monster."
"Yes, we had," Hever replied softly. "So, we undid the damage that we had caused. We reversing time, turning back the clock to fix what had happened. Only Zyther, and the other three Ferox, would be able to remember what had happened. But letting our brothers and sister remember wasn't enough. We knew that they would end up with as much power as we had, once they got a little older. So, to keep it all from happening again, we would have restricted the powers of the other Ferox. But there was another problem that reversing time did not heal."
"As you looked over the earth, feeling its energy waning, you realized that there are some things that cannot be fixed," Josiah added, his eyes going unfocused as the memory of it all washed over him. "The spirits of the universe, they are not bound by time, like humans are, so when you ripped apart the planet, you gravely injured the spirit of the earth."
"That's right. But this problem presented us with a way to help restrict the others," Hever explained. "To fix the problem, and to accomplish the restriction that we wanted to place on our own people, we bound ourself to the dying spirit. The bonding came at a great cost, killed our physical body, but both the spirit and our soul lived on because we were now bound to the planet and its fate."
"And since Ferox cannot die, only be reborn, the spirit would not die either. So we saved the planet, humanity, and created the binding that would keep our people in check. But if we are Ferox, why are we reincarnated as human?" asked Josiah.
"I think that, in theory, we don't actually need a body at all," responded Hever. "The earth is our body, in a way. But we don't fully have an answer to that question, because we just don't know. Over the 600 or so lifetimes we have had, we have speculated that we are reborn with a physical body because our soul is used to having one. But we don't know why we are reborn as a human."
"Maybe it's God's way of reminding us of those we tried to destroy," Josiah speculated. "Maybe it's a reminder to us to continue to protect them rather than just let them die."
"There is probably some truth to that statement," Hever said in thought. "But helping them can be a problem in its own right."
Josiah sighed, "So to answer my own questions about why I've never tried to help humanity in the past, is that I already did and failed."
"More or less, yes, that is the answer," Hever replied sadly. "That doesn't mean that you cannot choose to help them now, but you should at least understand what the limits of your aid should be. You can help them, but don't do it for them, and don't try to change them. Let them learn how to help themselves. Don't become a god."
"So, do I have a limit to what I can do?" asked Josiah curiously. "You said that we're restricting the Ferox, but am I restricting myself? Do I still have all the same power that we once had?"
"You already know the answer to that question," Hever said as he bowed his head. "And you know what would happen if you indulged in that answer and used what you might have."
"You know, it's a good thing that I didn't figure out how to tap into everything that I can do, before all of this," Josiah stated. "I can't even imagine the...damage I could have caused."
Hever looked up and grinned, "No, you wouldn't have. Even if you were not aware of all of yourself, your past is still bound to your present. We have been doing our best to keep you in check until the time was right. You may have felt like you didn't have control, but you did. We were just holding you back in some ways, and trying to keep you from pushing yourself too far in others."
Suddenly Josiah found himself surrounded but hundreds of other people. He was about to jump to his feet, in case he would have to defend himself. But then he remembered that this world was not real, and so he looked around at all of the people. He then realized that they had really been there all along. They were his past selves.
"We are whole again," Hever said firmly as he stood up. "Now that you are reconnected with all of who you are, you are tasked with doing what you think is right. And we will be there to offer guidance, should you need us."
Josiah nodded as he finally looked back at Hever again.
"You will be waking up soon," continued Hever. "But you will awaken whole and completely in control. Poor Koushiro, though, will have carried you the rest of the way up the mountain before you wake up. He's a good boy, even if he's a bit too devoted to his tasks."
"Actually, speaking of Koushiro, and the others at our 'temple'..." Josiah started to ask.
Hever grinned, "You want to know what they are?"
"Yeah," replied Josiah. "Koushiro said something about spiritual enlightenment. But I get the feeling that isn't true."
"They are the result of us having fallen in love, over our many lifetimes, and having children," answered Hever. "Much like when those that kidnapped you tried to clone you, if we have children naturally, then they end up with abilities that are almost borrowed from our own. They have a small fragment of our own soul tied to theirs. We have done our best to always bring them back to our temple, so that they can live out their lives without causing any trouble. And we have taught them how to be at peace, so that they can keep control of themselves and let their moral compass guide them."
"So then Koushiro is a decedent of one of our past lives?" asked Josiah.
"Yes, I believe he belongs to..." Hever looked around at the different people around them before finding who he was looking for, and grinning, "Quon's bloodline."
"We aren't responsible for polluting the human gene pool, are we?" Josiah said uncertainly, not being sure he wanted to know the answer.
"I don't think so," replied Hever. "Humans have done a pretty good job of creating other subspecies themselves. We've been pretty careful to corral our own children back to our temple. But honestly, we can't be completely certain."
Josiah nodded, acknowledging that he understood. "So, if I ask for the help of those at the temple..."
"They will believe that leaving the temple will eventually lead to spiritual ruin," explained Hever. "But Koushiro, he will certainly help you, without any hesitation, just as long as you're certain of what you want to do. He isn't like our other children. He still cares for the people of the world."
"That works for me," said Josiah. "So, when do I wake up?"
Hever smiled, "I think right now would be good. May God watch over you, Josiah."
Before Josiah could reply the field, and all of the others, vanished. And he suddenly started to feel like he was waking up.