Steve had called in help from the UNIT Telepath Corps, and the crews of the two new ships were in the process of being certified for Clan Fleet duty. Repairs and upgrades to both ships were now underway, thanks to the batch of techbots that Ark had provided at Tracy's request. Tracy had sat down with both Captains, explaining to them the new structure they were under as soon as both had received their orders. It was decided that the two new Captains would meet with the Captain of the Iowa for details as to the changes being made for operation under Clan command.
With Master Chief Watson once again in the lead, the boys left the Brown and crossed the pier. The volunteers were almost all onboard, so they got in line behind the last two, a boy scout and his father. The scout kept turning and looking at Jorge curiously, and Tracy could swear the bear was giggling. As expected, as soon as the Quarterdeck spotted Tracy, the bell started ringing. "Alligator Alley, Arriving!" a surprisingly young voice announced over the 1MC.
"Why'd they do that?" the boy in front of them asked his dad.
After looking to make sure there was no vehicles pulling up, the father caught Tracy's grin. "I think it means that we've got some pretty important people waiting for you to move ahead." he replied with a chuckle.
"Oh!" the boy responded as he quickly moved up into the gap that had opened in front of him.
"He's a little nervous," the father said softly to Tracy before moving up with his son.
Tracy grinned, an idea already forming in his head. They finally reached the Quarterdeck, and Tracy was shocked to have the OOD walk up to him and hold out his hand. "Welcome aboard, Mr. Butler. KT says hang out here, he's on his way down with Leon."
"So you guys are throwing out ceremony already?" Tracy giggled. "Sounds good to me!" Tracy then looked around, and saw the Scout and his father waiting within hearing range to get an assignment. His grin grew as he said loudly "Jorge, I need a Recon. Take that Scout and his father with you to assist, let me know the full status of the rescued passengers."
"Rrrarrwr Wrar!" Jorge replied as he stood up and saluted Tracy.
Tracy watched with a grin as Jorge dropped back down to all fours, padded over to his assigned partners, stood back up long enough to give the father a wet lick on the side of his face, then dropped back down and wiggled his head under the arm of the shocked boy.
"He's telepathic!" Karl offered helpfully. "So when you hear him in your head, you're not going crazy!"
KT walked up. "Are you guys related to Cory and Sean? That was classic!" he laughed. "I'm KT, and I guess I'm in charge of the Clan's Atlantic Fleet now. Speaking of which, who is responsible for tripling the size of the Atlantic Fleet while we were being pushed around by the tugs?"
As one, the group pointed at Tracy. "You really missed it, Sir! I think Admiral Morrow and Colin Powell are still trying to figure out what hit them." Master Chief Watson chuckled.
KT's eyebrows raised, and he quickly exchanged looks with Steve. A few seconds later, he smiled. "I see! Nice one, Tracy!" He then turned to the Master Chief. "Welcome to the team, Casper. Add the words 'Atlantic Fleet' to your rank, Steve just filled me in on your history. You and I will sit down when we get back to Florida to decide who does what; you're gonna enjoy retirement!"
For the first time in many years, Master Chief Casper Watson was struck speechless. He had expected to be someone who the boys sought out for advice on occasion, with most of his time spent helping young Clan members become better than they thought they could be. Instead, it appeared that he was now the senior NCO of the entire three-ship Atlantic Fleet.
Leon joined them seconds later. "I have a message for Director Tracy Butler. Are any of you brave enough to answer to that name?"
Tracy grinned as he raised his hand. Noticing the rank insignia pinned to the collar of the green polo shirt, he took a guess and replied "That would be me, Captain."
"Call me Captain again and you'll be one of the first people landing in the pool once we figure out where to install it!" Leon replied with a chuckle. "I'm Leon."
"Aye Aye, Captain!" Tracy replied with a grin.
Leon shook his head. "Kids nowadays, don't know when to disrespect their elders!" He opened up the message in his hand, and read it aloud.
"From COMSUBNAVATLFLT. Director Butler; This is your official notice that we beat you to the punch. The multi-mission submarine Charleston has just been issued transfer orders to Clan Short based on the request of her Commanding Officer, backed by a similar request by her Chief of The Boat. We've seen what you can do with the surface fleet's leftover targets; now let's see what you can do with one of the Silent Service's state-of-the-art boats. Congratulations; NOW you have a real Navy."
Leon paused, then grinned as he opened another paper. "One of Mark's new sons, you'll meet them all shortly, took the message, and was kind enough to reply for you."
He began reading. "From CSSF Iowa: Sir, just a reminder that in Clan Short we refuse to accept the designation target. We prefer the term 'magnet for destruction of those who attempt to destroy the future of humanity'. As such, please refrain from using the word 'Target' in reference to any of our vessels. I speak for Director Butler when I say thank you for the support and the gift to the Clan of one of your finest boats. The knowledge of those onboard will assist greatly in developing the new protocols that all of the ships will operate under. Thank you, Communications Assistant Terry Williams."
"He's good... I think we'll keep him!" Tracy giggled. Further comments were sidetracked by Killian tapping on Tracy's arm.
"Bro, can Andreas and me go look at the big gun?"
Tracy pulled Killian into a one-armed hug as he looked over the rest of his group. He realized suddenly that the two boys who knew the least about being kids were being the most kidlike, and immediately decided to change that. "We're on our home turf right now. You two can go as long as you take Kirk, Marcus, and Adrian with you. I'm making you personally responsible for making sure all of you act like kids, all five of you are off-duty as of right now."
Killian thought for a few seconds before realizing that Tracy was trying to help him and his twin learn things they missed by making sure they were actively involved. "Thanks, bro!" he replied with a shy grin before breaking away. "Come on! He said yes!"
Noticing that Adrian still seemed torn, Steve prodded "You heard Tracy; get moving little brother!"
Adrian grinned, then sprinted off to catch up with the other four.
Leon tapped the commbadge that had been issued ship-wide. "Turret three, this is Leon; there are five youths in uniform heading your way. Give them the VIP tour, they have all needed clearances."
"Got it, Boss! We'll clear the circle and put up the chains."
"Have fun; something tells me a couple of those kids might stump you." Leon replied.
"Circle? Chains?" Karl asked as he decided to snuggle up to Tracy's side.
"Be glad that Ark has assisted with introductions, since KT seems too busy messing with Master Chiefs!" Leon chuckled. "As a safety precaution, any time the turret is powered up while not under General Quarters, a chain barrier is placed in a circle just outside the danger zone of the turret's swing. Rich basically warned me that they will be powering up to show the boys how it looks in action."
"Sweet! We're taking that tour too before we leave!" Karl grinned.
'I really should have resisted those psychedelic drugs when I was younger, these flashbacks are getting too realistic.' Fred Mercer thought as they approached the turret to visit the orphans camped out on the forecastle. Something about walking on a Naval Battle Cruiser owned by a group of teenagers, with his ten-year-old son Carl riding on the back of a grizzly bear, said grizzly wearing a black bodysuit and wearing a sailors hat, was stretching his perception of reality. The fact he occasionally heard the grizzly, Jorge, speaking hesitant Federation Standard in his head did not help matters either.
"Could be worse. I could be Ferret." Jorge commented with a grizzly laugh.
Fred just shook his head, not venturing to comment. They rounded the turret, and immediately began drawing attention. The sight of a grizzly bear, obviously friendly since there was a Boy Scout on his back, immediately caused a crowd to start forming.
"C'mon over, Jorge is friendly!" Carl encouraged, following the instructions he was getting from Jorge. Jorge's plan was to get the surface thoughts of the kids, that way they had a better idea of how each of them viewed their possible future.
Carl began talking to the kids as they checked out Jorge, while Fred took the information that Jorge found and relayed important bits to various volunteers so they could begin to help. He also relayed via a subvocal that Jorge got for him any family information found, which almost immediately reunited a few siblings and a couple of families.
They slowly made their way through the group, Carl and Fred's assurances that Clan Short was doing everything they could to help out making the kids all visibly relax. Carl noticed one little guy who seemed to be hanging back, and pointed him out to Jorge.
"Hey Jorge, see the kid in the green tee-shirt? Is he scared of you?" Carl whispered in Jorge's ear.
"Not scared of me. Saw mother die, drown saving him. Need help I not can give. Think know who can, KT tell me, but up at ship Bridge. See next, then finish here then visit Bridge."Jorge responded telepathically.
As planned, they headed over to the boy. As they got closer, Carl made out the fuzzy form of an adult female about five foot tall, her hands on the shoulders of the boy. Knowing now that he would be the only one who saw her, Carl studied her carefully. By the look on her face, he guessed that she was his mother, and she was trying to keep her surviving son from joining her.
"Hey little guy, I'm Carl."
"I'm Dustin," the boy replied, his voice showing the stress his mind was under.
Carl felt something new in his head; not words, but more like images guiding him. His confidence boosted by his interactions with Jorge, Carl took a chance. "Dustin, your Mom is standing with you right now, and she says that she loves her little Dustbin. She's not leaving your side until she is happy that you're safe."
"Also tell might become Guardian Angel. Clan have Saint who like to do thing like that."Jorge told Carl, not sure of why Carl was doing what he was doing, but not surprised either.
Dropping the hint to the mother by speaking to Dustin, Carl added "After you're safe, your Mom is going to Heaven to ask if she can become your Guardian Angel. That way she's always with you."
The spirit nodded her head, indicating that she had picked up on the instructions. Dustin considered Carl's words, the use of his mom's private nickname for him when he was having a bad day verifying in his mind that Carl was for real.
Fred, meanwhile, was finally involved with something he understood. Careful not to invade Dustin's personal zone, he came around Jorge so he could speak to Dustin directly. Using information that Jorge passed to him as soon as his intent was obvious, Fred addressed the young boy. "Dustin, I know that you want to know why she had to go. One of the sons of the founders of Clan Short once said, 'Sometimes bad things gotta happen so good things can happen'. A lot of bad things happened today, but as long as you don't let them make you into a bad person, you can turn it into something that is good for a lot of people."
Dustin looked up at Fred, the tears he'd been holding in on the edge of release. "Everyone keeps sayin it was her time." he stated softly.
"It might have been, but none of us have access to that list." Fred replied seriously. "Your job now is to take those memories of her, and make yourself into someone she will be proud of. My job is to make sure that you end up someplace safe where you can do that."
"Dustin-boy look five, is seven. Father short too; have heart attack three years ago. Mother short, so height normal for boy. Family not associate with mother or father. Steve say rest of family not suited to boy best chances, all look down on boy. Put on back with new big brother, you just adopt."
Ignoring Jorge's last statement, Fred got down on one knee. "Sometimes it helps if someone holds you. You'll hurt yourself if you don't cry; if you want, I can hold you."
Dustin just nodded; something about Fred and Carl just felt right to trust them. He ran over and into Fred's arms, his tears now flowing freely. Fred wrapped his arms around the boy, giving him comfort as he mourned his lost mother.
"Little brother must daddy-bond. We walk over and finish others. Then you hold little brother, I carry both." Jorge told Carl.
"You're silly; we ain't seen a judge or nothing, how can he be my little brother already?" Carl giggled in Jorge's ear.
"Ooops. Forgot to say. Welcome to Clan Short. Approved by Director before leave Quarterdeck. Tracy make official when done with these kids. I knew forgot something."
Carl giggled, not really believing it. They headed off to the last group. As they got closer, Carl realized they were gathered around his Scoutmaster, who seemed to be keeping them captivated with a story.
As they walked up, the Scoutmaster looked up and noticed Carl. "Kids, this is the youngest Scout in the Troop, Carl Mercer. I'm not sure who his furry partner is, though."
"Hi, Mr. Falsteen. This is Jorge, he's a member of Clan Short." Carl said as he slipped off of Jorge's back.
"Raaarwwrw wrr wrrarr rwer." Jorge said as he extended a paw, not standing due to the possibility of scaring the youngsters.
After shaking Jorge's paw with raised eyebrows, the Scoutmaster replied "Pleased to meet you, Jorge." He then asked Carl "I noticed that you seem to have visited all of the passengers here on the forecastle, are you able to tell these guys how you've been helping?"
"Sure!" Carl replied. "The Director of the Division the Iowa calls home asked me, my Dad, and Jorge to visit all of the passengers; making sure they had everything they needed, helping the volunteers make everyone comfortable, and reporting back to the Director on the status of everybody."
"I'm expecting the rest of the troop to want a breather from below deck pretty soon, are there any suggestions for how they could help up here?" Mr. Falsteen asked.
"Yeah, the Clan is still trying to reunite survivors; we've helped get a few together already." Carl replied. "Really, a lot of these kids need something to keep them occupied, kinda like these guys listening to you tell stories. I bet I could arrange some tours of the ship if they want to help the injured kids along and keep an eye on the little ones."
"How would you manage that?" Mr. Falsteen asked.
"He'd ask us, and we'd say yes." Karl stated with a grin as him and Tracy walked up. "Great job, Carl; the extra info has given us a better idea of who the docs have seen and what their status is. I like the tour idea; I just relayed it to the Captain and he's gonna have a few of the officers get volunteers to assist them, then start tours."
As Karl talked to Carl, Tracy introduced himself. "Hello Mr. Falsteen, I'm Director Tracy Butler, Alligator Alley Division, Family Clan Short. Thank you for the quick response of your Scouts; all of them have assisted a lot."
"It is a pleasure to meet you, Director. I'll make sure to pass on your thanks to all of the troop. Just out of curiosity, how did you choose Carl for his job? He's the first ten-year-old in my tenure to achieve the Arrow of Light, allowing him to move up into the Scout Troop, but what he's been doing would even be daunting to me."
Tracy smiled. "One of the tricks I've recently learned is that if you pick the person to do a job that seems least likely to want it, give them a little support, then set them free to do it the way they think is best, you'll get a lot better results than someone who thinks they're ready. He's proved my guess right, so much that I'm asking him and his family to join the Clan as part of my Division. If you're interested, I would be interested in setting it up so that your entire Troop is able to meet in my Division's headquarters. Besides allowing Carl to remain part of the Troop that he is used to, it would give your boys the chance to explore some things not available to the rest of the Scouts that will prepare them for possible technological and social changes in their later lives."
"How would we get back and forth?" Mr. Falsteen asked with interest.
"Instantaneous transport. One of the perks of being recognized by the Federation." Tracy giggled. "My brother just told me to also tell you we can arrange for some inter-cultural camping trips that would blow your troops minds - and they are safe for even the newest Cubs."
"I'm definitely interested. How can I contact you?"
"One of our junior Intel team was bored, so he added the info to your contact list at home and at work." Karl giggled. "You really should switch over to a Mac at home, your Mac at work took him two minutes to get into, your home computer was cracked in five seconds. You can contact us for work-related stuff as well, we can help with those open cases of abuse that you're dealing with red tape on."
"Do you guys make a habit of cracking computers?"
Karl smiled "Only when doing a background check on people we are considering for Clan membership. Arron enjoyed the break, he's got the FBI systems down to twenty-three seconds already, so a Mac was a refreshing challenge. I just cleared you as we were walking up, how would you feel about being one of our sets of remote eyes and ears up here? There's gonna be some issues popping up after a major tragedy like this, and the more people there are on the streets, the better our chances of making sure someone is able to stop it."
"Putting it that way, I can see where proactive investigation makes sense. It's hard to hide evidence if you don't know that you're being investigated. I'll accept the offer."
"Okay; Steve will catch up with you in a little bit to brief you on normal procedures and issue you communication devices." Karl said. "You can't miss him; he's the one carrying more weapons than a New York street gang! Welcome to the Clan!"
Tracy looked over from where he was comparing notes with Carl. "I hate to run, but there is a little boy waiting to find out who his new family is, and I've got to make it official."
"I understand; most people in your position wouldn't even be here." Mr. Falsteen replied.
"They manage things too much then." Tracy replied. "I'm just learning it, but if you have good people on your team, you can do stuff while they do other things. If I can't be out here helping, I'm useless."
"I'm impressed, keep that attitude, Tracy."
Jorge interrupted. "RAAArrwarr? Reawrr rr reaewewer!"
Both Tracy and Karl almost broke their necks as their heads turned towards the bear. "WHAT did you just say?"
Jorge grinned from his comfortable position laying on the deck, then gently prodded the six-year-old boy using him as his personal chair. "Rawrr!"
The little guy giggled, then said, "I'm Wayne. The Angel and teddy bear says that you're my new daddies since my old daddies moved up to Heaven."
"You're enjoying this WAYYY to much, little brother." Tracy laughed at Jorge, who was doing very impressive bear-giggle. He smiled at the little blond-haired, green-eyed angel waiting expectantly. "I'm not going to argue with an Angel, Wayne. I'm still undecided about your furry chair, though. Why don't you hop up for a piggy-back ride, and we'll decide how you want it to happen while we go visit with Carl's dad."
"Okay, Daddy!" Wayne laughed. "My old Daddy an' Poppa told me I gotta tell ya not to bother keepin' me dressed; they said its about as gooda chance at happinin' as sellin' milk to a cow!"After pausing for breath, he added "The Angel Davey is funny, he says I'm like all his little brothers so I will fit in good! Did you know Angels give awesome cuddles?"
As Tracy and Karl tried to decipher the quick-fire commentary, Davie appeared, laying on top of Jorge with his halo glowing full force. "Consider Wayne a homecoming gift; I couldn't let Peter and Quint top me!" he giggled before vanishing again.
"See, Angels are silly!" Wayne giggled as he made himself comfortable on Tracy's back.
"That's at least one of the words I'd use." Tracy chuckled. "C'mon little guy, let's see if we can go five minutes with something normal happening!"
"WrrWr?" Jorge asked with a tilt of his head.
"Sorry lil bro, you qualify as normal compared to trees that follow you." Karl giggled. "And yes, you and Carl can head up to the bridge with your friends. I'll send the rest of Carl's family up shortly."
Rich shook his head as he helped Adrian wiggle his way out of the center barrel of Turret Three. As soon as the small-framed nine-year-old was back on his feet, he turned to the rest of the boys.
"Told ya I'd fit!" Adrian giggled. "Now y'all owe me four dozen fresh cookies when we get home!"
"Your Dad is gonna kill you!" Kirk giggled.
"Naw, he'll just shake his head and grin." Adrian replied as he shook himself to loosen up. "I've done worse, one time it took him four hours to find me because I was taking a nap inside his server rack. It woulda took longer, but I musta rolled over in my sleep, because I unplugged the mail server!"
"I bet this is AWESOME when it fires!" Andreas commented.
"Yeah, can we fire it?" Marcus asked as he cuddled into Andreas' side.
"Sorry guys, but it's gotta be something serious to load up while in-port." Rich apologized. "This thing is LOUD when it fires. That dry run that we just ran through is the best I can do in-port."
Just then, the Fire Control Comm circuit came to life. "Turret three, prepare for action. This is not a drill."
"Oh, SHIT!" Rich exclaimed, just before the klaxon began sounding.
"General Quarters, General Quarters! All hands man your battle stations! All passengers, clear all weatherdecks aft of midships! Dockside personnel seek shelter immediately!"
As the message paused before being repeated, Rich heard the klaxons of their piermates, signifying they were following the sudden status change of the Iowa.
Rich looked around the turret as his shipmates began pouring through the hatches, trying to find someplace safe for his guests to stand. As he was looking, he froze; Andreas and Killian had donned mickey-mouse ears and were helping the partial gun crew wrestle the shells and powder into position on the loading rail, while the other three boys had donned sound-powered phones and were quickly updating themselves on the status.
"Fire control, I'm going to feed you real-time location data." Adrian stated. "Stand by for uplink from Clan Intel."
Deciding that now wasn't the time to argue, Rich jogged over and dropped into his seat at the master fire control station. "Status?" he asked hopefully.
"Incoming hostile; cruiser that appears to have been infiltrated by Romulans or idiots who sympathize with them." Kirk stated. "Quarterdeck has just declared aft decks are clear. CIC is transferring targeting to local using Intel uplink."
Just then, Adrian passed his phones to Marcus. "Take it, Marky; I'm on-duty." He then tapped his comm-badge. "Atlantic Fleet, this is Sub-Commander Adrian Jobs, Clan Short Fleet. As this is now an interplanetary incident, I hereby assume status as Flag Officer over this operation."
"This is Admiral Harding. Acknowledged, Commander; awaiting your orders."
"Keep them busy and try to slow them down, we're about to deliver an aerial enema." Adrian replied. "Anything that you can deliver long-range will help."
"Acknowledged, Sir. Atlantic Fleet out."
"Adrian?" Marcus interrupted. "Message from the Bridge. All Clan Short Atlantic Fleet units report uplink to Alligator Alley up and stable. Charleston, O'Bannon' and Brown report they had just completed Tomahawk on-load, and are awaiting orders. Due to civilian contingent, Iowa Turrets One and Two are offline."
"Adrian, I have local control and green lights across the board." Rich added, still unable to believe the smallest member of the group he was showing around held that high of a rank.
While taking in the information, Adrian was considering his plans, running them through Daileass to ensure they had no obvious holes. "Marky, tell the Bridge to have the O'Bannon, Charleston, and Brown heat up a salvo of birds. We'll send a few Volkswagens their way to knock out sensors, then go for the kill."
"Rich, verify you have target data from Alligator Alley?" Adrian asked.
"I'm getting it, and going by their track, I think I can give a first spread that will get their attention." Rich replied.
"You've got the ball; fire at will." Adrian ordered.
Rich smiled as he activated the in-turret comm system. "All hands stand by! Fire in the hole in ten seconds!" He began counting down, lifting the safeties on the fire switches on the count of three. "Fire in the Hole!" he yelled as he pressed all three at once.
A few seconds later, the sound of three voices yelling "CLEAR!" told Rich that reload was in progress. He turned his head, and smiled as he found that Andreas and Killian were still helping, despite the gun crew now being at full force. As the rest of the crew had seen them assisting with the first load, they integrated them into the team, assigning them positions that were usually a second duty for two of the men.
The green lights lit once again, and Rich fired the second salvo after making corrections for the course changes of the cruiser. Between the course adjustments to avoid incoming weapons from the Atlantic Fleet and the shells from the Iowa, he thought that he had a much better idea of their probable location at the time the shells would arrive, so he tightened the pattern.
A few seconds later, Marcus announced "Adrian, airborne spotters report a Volkswagen took out the target's sensor array. They're blind now."
"Atlantic Fleet, Target is blind. Tighten up targeting, they're going to become a submarine with holes." Adrian ordered. "Rich, two more salvos, make them quick."
"Yes Sir!" Rich replied as the Admiral acknowledged as well.
With the lights already green, Rich targeted and fired. As soon as the shells left the Iowa, Adrian ordered "Clan Short Atlantic Fleet, release the birds!"
The sounds of Tomahawks leaving their nests was barely drowned out by the sound of the turret as it fired it's fourth salvo. A minute later, the news came in from the airborne spotter. "Clan Short, be advised that multiple Clan and Navy tomahawks have landed on target. Target now sinking rapidly in pieces the size of a SUV."
A cheer arose from the turret crew, including the boys. "That was AWESOME!" Kirk and Marcus exclaimed.
"Great job, Turret Three. Secure for in-port when instructed by Commander Jobs." Leon announced from the bridge over the turret comm circuit.
"Atlantic Fleet, this is Sub-Commander Jobs. Awesome job, you'll be my first call next time I need a ship turned into lunch boxes. We have visual confirmation of target being destroyed; Clan sensors report no survivors. This operation was a success due to your quick and accurate response, thank you. I hereby release you to continue normal operations."
"Acknowledged, Sir. I will ensure all units are notified of your commendation. Thank you, Atlantic Fleet out."
"Adrian, I'm secured for in-port." Rich stated.
"O'Bannon, Brown, and Charleston report weapons systems in standby status." Marcus added.
"CIC reports all systems ready for in-port standby." Kirk reported as well.
"All Clan Short Atlantic Fleet units, secure from General Quarters at your discretion." Adrian ordered as he visibly relaxed.
As the 'Stand down' echoed from all the ships, Andreas looked over from where him and Killian were getting to know their new friends. "Hey Adrian; stop working or we'll use your skinny butt to clean the barrels!"
Tracy and Karl were relaxing in the Captain's Chair on the Bridge, Wayne napping on their laps. Fred and Mark were discussing their new roles as Clan parents off to the side, while their sons were in conference with Davey as the group helped Dustin, who now had decided that he would answer to 'Dusty' after meeting Steve's other half, who had joined the group on the Iowa.
Casper was deep in conversation with Kraig Owens, the Chief-of-the-Boat on the Charleston, while Leon, KT, and the Captains of all the Clan Atlantic Fleet ships, along with their Executive Officers, had retired to the Officers Mess to discuss immediate procedural changes.
Steve and Dustin were getting to know the twelve-year-old twins they had met while visiting the aft mess deck. Mitch and Jasper had both suffered serious breaks, Mitch on his right leg and Jasper on his left arm. While they had been field-healed by the medical staff, both were still in soft casts to allow their limbs to recover the rest of the way. Both boys had auburn hair and grey eyes, and were waiting to find out if their parents had survived by some chance.
The five boys who had been visiting Turret Three were somewhere in the bowels of the ship. All five had been declared "Honorary Gunners Mates", and were in the process of being introduced to every Gunners Mate on the ship, as well as getting the tour of every single weapons station.
Jorge had decided to pretend he was steering the ship, after Mark made sure everything was shut off of course. The word spread around the huge ship quickly, and the ship's store was on it's fifth restock of cameras as crew and guests made sure they had their picture taken with the grizzly 'steering' the ship in the background.
Down in the forward store, a small boy, hoping to get lost in the group of kids, slowly reached for a camera. He wanted a picture too, he wanted to fit in, but didn't have the money to buy one. Just as he was turning to put the camera in his pocket, one of the Cub Scout fathers said, "There you are son. We thought we lost you in the crowd." The man turned and paid for the camera, put his arms across the nine-year-old boy's shoulders, and led him up to the bridge where he could get a picture.
Both Steve and Dustin perked up as the Cub Scout father entered the bridge escorting the young boy and his eight-year-old son. Without trying, they both picked up on his thoughts of what had just happened, and his worry about what would happen next. Considering the circumstances, Steve decided there was probable cause, and investigated deeper. A few seconds later, he was on subvocal, setting the wheels in motion. He excused himself from the discussion with the twins and Dustin, then started towards Jorge.
As soon as the boy and the cub scout had their pictures taken with Jorge, Steve intercepted the three of them. "Will you all please join me on the signal deck?" Steve asked with a smile.
Once he had his three now-nervous escorts in a more private setting, Steve divulged what he had found. "Mr. Carmichael, I'm about to answer one of your long-standing questions. First off, I am Lt. Steve Mercer, Clan Short Intel Security. None of you are in trouble, so you can relax. I'm a telepath, and to prevent problems and assist the refugees I'm scanning surface thoughts of everyone around me right now. Due to the thoughts of little Jason here, and his worry about what is going to happen now, I dug deeper and then consulted a database which the Clan maintains. If things go like I hope they will, you're going to make this day a lot brighter."
Mr. Carmichael nodded. "Any other time, I would be extremely perturbed about such an invasion, but in view of the circumstances, in addition to the miracles I have seen today, I not only understand but heartily approve. Please continue, Lt. Mercer."
Steve smiled, having seen the man's son rolling his eyes. "First off, I will answer your questions about your family, and why you were put up for adoption. Your mother, father, and their parents were colonists to one of the failed colonies; you were born just before they were to leave, and to leave a legacy on Earth they placed you for adoption instead of taking the chance of you not surviving on a new planet. As usual for the time, the paperwork that was supposed to follow you was lost by an overworked clerk. Our Intel team is tracing it now, and we will deliver it to you once we have found it. You had a sister who ran away instead of emigrating; unfortunately she died of a drug overdose a month ago."
Having a sneaky suspicion that there was more to the story, Mr. Carmichael nodded. "Thank you. Will it be possible to get what information you have found for my files?"
"Of course." Steve replied. "My team is making sure that you get everything we can find. Now here's where fate is having fun. Jason snuck onto a bus today, not really sure where it was going. We have cameras in the store, and one of our operators had already flagged Jason as someone we needed to look into helping. There are only a few reasons that a youth will steal, most of which signal a need for Clan intervention. Instead, you intervened. Now, before I continue, I need to have the permission of all three of you to discuss something very personal. From experience, getting this out in the open helps everyone in the long run."
"I approve." Mr. Carmichael replied as the two boys nodded their heads that it was okay.
"Okay, be aware that if any reply that is given is anything but the truth, I will point it out immediately." Steve noted. "If you can't give an honest answer, it is better to say you would rather not reply."
"Understood," Mr. Carmichael replied.
"Okay," the boys acknowledged.
"Mr. Carmichael, please state your thoughts on your reaction if it was determined that your son was attracted to the same sex as himself."
"Tad is my son, and I will support and love him no matter who he is attracted to. Male, female, human, Vulcan, Andorian; it does not matter as long as he is happy and healthy."
Steve nodded. "Boys, that was the honest truth, as I would expect. Tad, same question, only apply it to an adopted brother or your father."
Tad had been shocked at his father's answer, so without thinking he blurted out "Why should I be mad when I think I like boys too?"
By the time Tad realized what he'd said, his father already had him in his arms, reassuring him that he was still loved. After a couple of minutes, they turned their attention back to Steve.
"Okay, your turn Jason." Steve prodded.
"I agree with Tad." Jason stated, his eyes showing a longing to have what Tad had, a loving father.
"Okay, now that the air is clear on that point, here's where fate stepped in." Steve stated. "Jason, while we can't figure out who your father was, even with genetic samples, I can tell you that you are looking at your Uncle and cousin."
The signal deck became completely silent, so silent that Steve was about to start looking around for a mischievous Mikyvis.
Mr. Carmichael recovered first, opening his hug with Tad by extending one of his arms. "Come here, Jason," he said softly, breaking the silence like a truck driving through a plate glass window.
Completely on automatic, Jason shuffled over and fell into the open hug. As Mr. Carmichael closed his arm around Jason, Tad wiggled his closest arm free and also held his long-lost cousin.
As Steve watched carefully, ready to step in if necessary, Mr. Carmichael comforted Jason. With gentle coaxing, as well as quite a few kisses to Jason's forehead, the boy's story came out. Jason had been the first to find his mother. Scared that he'd be put in jail because of his mom's drug use, he'd grabbed his few possessions and placed them in a backpack. Jason then vanished into the streets, surviving off of handouts from various people who he knew from experience would slip him food, or give him shelter if the weather was bad. One of those people, a local street merchant, had suggested that Jason join him when the call went out for help for the passengers of the 'Atlantic Son'. Intrigued by the thought of visiting a real Navy ship, Jason agreed. Once onboard the ship, the merchant arranged with Jason to meet before the bus left, then let him run free and explore.
"We need to find your friend so I can thank him for his assistance, then I need to call my lawyers and tell them to get off their lazy asses." Mr. Carmichael stated. "You stopped living on the streets the moment we found you in the Ship's Store; one way or another you are coming to your new home with us when we leave today."
"Are you wishing to adopt Jason, Sir?" Steve asked, knowing the answer, but also knowing that Jason needed to hear it for himself.
"Anyone who even tries to stop me is going to discover the true meaning of Hell." Mr. Carmichael stated.
Steve smiled, he actually liked the man's attitude. "Tad, would you like to gain an instant big brother?"
"Yeah! Can we share our bedroom?" Tad replied hopefully.
"I will let the two of you work that out." Mr. Carmichael stated softly.
Steve turned his attention to Jason. "Jason, Clan Short has been given authority by the Federation to step in and place kids with new families if the situation needs it. One of our core rules is that the kid being placed has to agree to it, since once it's done there is no organization on Earth that can reverse it besides Clan Short or Federation Youth Services. Since the Iowa is a Clan vessel, all events onboard are being recorded by our computer systems. You can say that you want to wait on answering, either way you can go home with them if you want to. Your Uncle Marvin and your cousin Tad have offered to allow you to become a part of their family as if you were born into the family, would you like to accept the offer?"
Jason looked between the faces of the two people holding him. As he looked back and forth, the acceptance and hope in the faces of his Uncle and cousin calmed the fears that were bouncing through his head. After confirming in his own mind that he was really wanted, he softly asked "Does that mean I can call you daddy? I've never had a daddy."
Mr. Carmichael nodded. "You've got a daddy and a little brother, son."
"YES!" Jason yelled as he did a very good imitation of a leech.
Steve watched with a smile, waiting once again for things to settle down. Finally, once he had their attention again, he made it official. "As stipulated in the Safe Haven Act, Family Clan Short hereby states that Jason Fawkes is permanently placed with Marvin Carmichael and shall take the surname Carmichael as his own. This placement is permanent, any relationships declared by any other living party are hereby declared null and void. Telepathic and verbal records are maintained by Family Clan Short, Terran authorities are to close any and all investigations regarding the minor child Jason. As the senior Security Officer of Family Clan Short Alligator Alley Division, I declare this case closed and resolved."
After a few minutes of welcoming his new son into the family, Mr. Carmichael left his two sons to bond so he could confer with Steve. "Lt. Mercer, what are the next steps I must follow?"
"Take your sons home." Steve replied. "Don't bother the lawyers, not unless you want to rub it in as to how slow they are. While you were welcoming Jason, our AI systems were updating all Terran and Federation records. As a recipient of Clan assistance, you have our help any time, day or night, just by making a call. Anything you need, even if it does not concern Jason or Tad, feel free to ask. Even if we can't help directly, we probably know someone who can."
"How can you be so sure of that?"
Steve grinned. "I'll introduce you to my Director, Tracy Butler, when we go back inside. He's half-owner of one of the most prominent private investigative services in south Florida, has direct access to Admiral Morrow of Starfleet, and is on a first-name basis with Colin Powell. Our Northeast division owns one of the largest construction companies in North America. Our Pacific Rim Division Director is personal friends with the King of Hawaii and his family. In Charleston, the AI Division is the responsible party Federation-wide for anything concerning Androids, as well as being the central hub for advanced medical procedures. Over is Des Moines, the Director is the nephew of the Governor, as well as having a seat in the Iowa Senate. In Las Vegas, they are tied to the Casinos, and have direct access to all of those resources, as well as being the center for genetic research. Our Gulf Coast division has connections to dozens of things that most of the world thinks are fiction. Our Patriarch is one of the top ten engineers in Starfleet, among his other accomplishments. Oh, we can't forget, just by being a Clan member, you are automatically a member of the British Royal Family, by declaration of Queen Elizabeth."
"By any chance is the Clan planning on taking over the world?" Mr. Carmichael asked with a smile.
"Not this year." Steve sniggered. "I think it's on the docket for discussion next year, though."
"It has been said many times that, if given the chance, the optimism of youth will radically change the world." Mr. Carmichael replied seriously. "Based on the recent reports from Russia, it seems that the Tzar has heard those words of wisdom and is acting on them. As I separate rumor from fact, I am finding that recent events are pointing towards society metamorphosing into a long overdue new culture. That which seems humorous now may soon become reality."
"Whatever you do, don't tell our Division Director in Hawaii that; he doesn't need the encouragement!" Steve laughed. "If you and your sons will follow me, we'll check with the Captain about his clothing supply."
"I assure you that I have no problem with providing for Jason."
"I know that you don't, but there are a few articles of clothing that you can't buy that the boys both get by default. It also helps you with the natural reaction of 'you don't need to spend that much money on me' that occurs when a kid moves up the social ladder suddenly."
Mr. Carmichael nodded. "That reasoning I will agree with." He turned to his sons, smiling as he found them mid-hug with huge smiles on their faces. "Jason, I think if you and Tad place arms around each other's backs, you can both make sure that the other isn't going anywhere while walking."
Stereo giggles were the only reply as they managed to switch positions without losing contact. With Steve in the lead, they went inside. Leon was over talking quietly with Tracy, so Steve led the group over to them. "Leon, we've got a brand new set of brothers who need their Clan uniforms, and someplace to change into them." Steve stated.
"We'll have Terry handle it, him and Brian just finished." Leon replied. "Mr. Carmichael, congratulations! Our furry helmsman kept us updated on your reunion."
Mr. Carmichael raised an eyebrow, looking over at Jorge. Jorge was pretending to be steaming along in a quiet sea, until Mr. Carmichael yelled out "Look out for that iceberg!"
"Wrrrarrr? RAWRR!" Jorge exclaimed as he began spinning the wheel while reaching over to put the throttles in full reverse. He then somehow managed to trigger the 1MC, announcing "Rawrrrr! Raawar rr arrwr!"
"Bridge, this is Turret One. Our Gunnery Officer has requested we send this message. We totally agree with Mr. Jobs, by the way. Message follows: Whoever gave our favorite overgrown furball the keys to the ship needs to see a shrink! Please let the Gunnery department off at the next available marker buoy. End message."
Those who were not laughing already began chuckling after hearing the message from Turret One. Jorge took a break from playing long enough to take a bow, then returned to the serious job of entertaining the onlookers.
Tracy shook his head as he checked to make sure Wayne was still asleep. "Well, we know who our craziest little brother is!" he giggled softly to Karl.
Karl nodded his head with a grin. "Our Dads will never be the same again. Serves them right for french kissing in front of me!"
Figuring it best if he didn't know, Steve introduced Mr. Carmichael and his sons to Tracy and Karl.
"Sorry for not getting up, but our little angel here has had a rough day." Tracy explained. "Wayne lost his family, and is starting to bond with us. As crude as it sounds, right now he is more important than any formality."
"That tells me more about you, Director, than a million books could ever touch." Mr. Carmichael replied as he moved to where he could place one hand on each of his boy's shoulders. "Lt. Mercer has offered your assistance if I should need it. As I find you to be honorable, I wish to reciprocate. I am sure that my company could be of assistance. Carmichael Assistive Devices has risen from its humble beginnings in my adoptive parent's garage while I was in college to its current premier position in the industry solely on my following my instincts and only dealing with those I find honorable."
"I know your company; would you mind if I refresh my memory on the details, Mr. Carmichael?" Tracy replied. He had recognized the speech pattern of Mr. Carmichael immediately due to his dealings with his Dad's customers; Mr. Carmichael wasn't old money, but he now travelled in the same circles as the old money did, which added a formality to his speech that set him apart from others. As such, Tracy addressed him appropriately.
"You may." Mr. Carmichael replied.
"Thank you." Tracy replied. "George, my Padd please?"
Seconds later, Tracy's Padd appeared on Wayne's lap. Without disturbing his son, Tracy managed to pick it up and was shortly looking at the details he needed. "Just as I thought." he muttered. "Production and design of assistive devices which allow those with disabilities or those from other planets to comfortably operate Terran technology. Current net worth: one hundred forty-two million. Currently I own one hundred shares; after meeting the owner, I think I'll triple that. Dad always says if you like the owner, support the company. Okay, buy order placed for when markets re-open."
Fully aware that Mr. Carmichael had been listening, Tracy now directed his response at him. "Sir, I accept your offer, and would suggest a visit to my headquarters in Fort Lauderdale at your earliest convenience. One of my younger brothers has some insight into the workings of the human body that I believe would be useful in the public sector as well as within the Clan medical community. A cooperative partnership with our engineers could extend the rollout of new technologies at a much more acceptable rate."
Mr. Carmichael smiled. "Director Butler, you have just made an offer I cannot refuse. I have need to visit my Winter Park facility; would it be too soon if I was to visit once you return from your visit here?"
As Tracy was about to reply, Terry walked up and addressed Tad and Jason. "Hi, I'm Terry. Leon says you guys can use his stateroom to get changed after we visit the clothes locker. He said you can even take a shower in a real Navy shower if you want to!"
Terry, of course, was testing Mr. Carmichael's response to the Clan norm of placing kids first by addressing the boys directly.
Mr. Carmichael passed the test with flying colors. "Boys, when it comes to Clan duties, all I ask is that you let me know as soon as you can that you are on Clan business. It is thanks to these young men that I now have two sons, and to prevent you from returning the favor to some other family is utterly irresponsible. Go on, and try not to flood the Captain's stateroom."
Tad giggled as he started dragging his awestruck big brother along. "C'mon Terry, we gotta shower to try out!"
The retirement ceremony for Casper was now complete, and those refugees that had not been adopted by crewmembers had been relocated to Des Moines, either in the special receiving room set up by Grandma Morrison or the children's ward at Blank Children's Hospital.
Tracy took a head count of his group. Karl was holding Wayne, who was giggling at his furry uncle. Said furry uncle, Jorge, was busily trying to convince the Petty Officer of the Watch to let him play with the bell. Killian, Kirk, Andreas, Adrian, and Marcus were busy saying 'see you later' to their new friends, all five now wearing Navy dress blues. Adrian's had been modified to hold shoulder bars, and bore the insignia of a Sub-Commander. The other four wore the insignia of Gunners Mate - Guns, Second Class. All five had duty bars stating they were assigned to the Iowa, and all five also now proudly wore Navy Sharpshooter awards.
Steve and Dustin each held a twin under their arms, as Mitch and Jasper's parent's bodies had been found in the remains of their stateroom. There had been no question as to who was going to adopt them once the news was received.
Casper, his wife Mabel, and his sons Grant and Cain stood behind Steve, watching the four boys bonding. Grant had his arm over the shoulder of his new friend/brother Larry, who had came to the ship with his abusive father. Said father was now in custody, and Larry now had a new, safe family.
Fred, Carl, and Dusty had unanimously decided to pull up roots and find a place in the new Division where they would be the most help. Helpful as ever, Carl was busy translating Jorge-speak for the amusement of the rest of the group.
Gregg and Nick had spent most of the visit on the aft mess deck, and came out of it with three new sons. Devin, Randy, and Edwin were all nine, yet not related until they had been adopted by Nick and Gregg. That made their matching strawberry blond hair and blue eyes all the more ironic, and endeared them to all who saw them.
Mr. Carmichael, along with the now-showered and clothed in Clan polo shirts with cargo shorts Tad and Jason, watched the group with interest. It was obvious which ones were armed, and even more obvious that they could be deadly at a moments notice. The interesting part was the attention that the new parents were paying to their new sons; attention that most adults would think was beneath them. As he gave his own pair a squeeze, he began reformulating his future plans; mattering on what he found when he met the parents of these young men, his plans for the future with his sons might need drastic revision.
"Rawrrrrwrarrrr arrrwrr, Rarrrrarrrwr!" Jorge suddenly announced over the 1MC after ringing the bell four times.
"Are YOU gonna tell a grizzly that he can't do that?" the Petty Officer of the Watch quipped.
"Nope!" the OOD replied as they heard the bos'n's whistles sound on the O'Bannon, Brown, and Charleston. The entire Quarterdeck almost collapsed in laughter as all three followed the whistles with "Rawrrrrwr rr rawr!"
"Little brother, you've corrupted the fleet!" Tracy laughed. "George, take us home, please!"
The group appeared in the middle of a large community room, which had banners strung throughout welcoming the various new Clan members home.
"Welcome home, Tracy, I'm Jack Linden." a mid-twentyish man said as he stepped forward to greet the arrivals, holding his hand out for Tracy to shake.
"Thanks, Jack, I'm glad to actually meet you finally." Tracy replied. "How are things in Command, and where in the heck are we?"
"Second shift just took over, and things are going fairly smooth. We are maintaining Condition Red until the aftereffects of these attacks are known. Since you never got the chance to explore your new home, we decided to meet you in your living room."
"We bear-proofed the doors to the kitchen, too," Rick giggled as he walked over. "They're made of the same stuff as a starship hull, and have the same bi-directional hinges as Starfleet shipping containers."
"Just what they need, a challenge!" Tracy giggled.
"Jack?" Karl asked, "Where is the rest of your crew?"
"They are getting settled into their new homes, as well as giving you guys a chance to settle in before you get swamped with fifty more new faces all at once." Jack replied. "If I understand the scuttlebutt, they are planning on meeting you guys over the next few days as they happen to run into you."
Tracy and Karl both smiled in relief. "Tell them all thanks; this has been a wild week these last few hours." Karl replied.
Tracy, however, turned to the group that had arrived with them. "I hate to sound like an ungrateful host, but would any of you object to a quick telepathic dump of the names and faces of everyone in the room? It will be just for the new additions that came from the Iowa; that way you can still meet and greet everyone properly on your own schedule."
The entire group indicated their approval, some with obvious relief. Mr. Carmichael verbalized his thoughts. "The quantity of persons I see makes such a method not only necessary, but more palatable socially than the accepted methods of blind conversation. With this adaptation, at least one party has an idea whom he might be addressing."
"Thank-you." Tracy replied as he motioned for Jax, Aedan, and Daivik to join him. He giggled at the stunned reactions of the new adults at seeing a redheaded Vulcan, a cat hybrid, and a kid with bright yellow hair. "Guys, can you help Steve with the data dump? Anyone who wants language lessons can have them too."
"Sure!" all three replied before joining Steve to formulate a plan.
As the introductions were handled, Tracy took a moment to stabilize his brain to the new surroundings. While the adults had grouped together for safety, they had done so in the middle of the group, and it appeared that they were interacting with the younger group without regard to who their parents were. In fact, at that very moment, his Dad was in conversation with Billy Carr.
Now that he had his bearings, Tracy decided that there was one more thing he had to do before he could enjoy the festivities. He walked over to Mr. Carmichael, who had just finished getting updated by Aedan. "Sir, may I have a moment?"
"Absolutely." Mr. Carmichael replied.
Tracy led him off to the side, then politely stated his position. "Sir, with all due respect, now that we are in my home I must ask a favor of you. Every person you see here is family, and no matter what our public faces may be, in our home we expect the freedom to be ourselves. When you adopted Jason you became part of the Clan family; I am just waiting for you to decide if it is as an active member or an extended member. Either way, there are members of my House who have suffered through things that will give you nightmares. In this house, age does not guarantee respect, actions earn it. If you want to really get to know anyone here, take off your public persona and let them see the real you that Tad loves. Even the adults here will respect you for it."
Mr. Carmichael nodded. "The more I get to know you, the more impressed you make me. I get your point. Please, call me Marv; only family ever uses that nickname, and today you have given me more family than I could have ever hoped for."
"That works for me, Marv; please just call me Tracy. I'll warn you, if you get too formal, there's a chance that you'll find yourself being pounced by a playful young grizzly bear."
"Wrarr?" Jorge asked as he padded up next to Tracy, then sat down and struck his most angelic cuddly bear pose.
"Yes, YOU!" Tracy and Marv replied in unison.
Jorge tilted his head and pretended to be looking at clouds, which would have been much more convincing if he wasn't inside. Tracy rejoined Karl and Wayne, while Marv went over to meet some of the adults to compare notes about the boys.
As they were rounding up their brothers, a brand-new case of smelling salts appeared next to Bryant and Clyde, already opened. The two dads looked at each other, shrugged, and then went back to their conversation with Parker.
Dustin, Steve, and Daivik stood off to the side, the two medically certified boys both holding their medical kits in anticipation of the response of the two dads meeting their family.
Tracy took the lead. "C'mon bros, it's time for your new parents to meet you!"
"Don't freak when they pass out," Karl added. "That includes you, hon!"
"I'm expecting it now; I wouldn't have freaked before if he'd told me," Tracy muttered in his own defense.
"Yes you would've, it's part of what makes you special," Karl stated as he used his free arm to give Tracy a squeeze. "Just try not to join them, okay cutie?"
"Okay," Tracy replied with a smile. "Everyone ready?"
"You do realize that having me run the paperwork through Cam before they knew about it was cheating, right?" Cameron asked with a grin.
"That's what they get for making out in front of me - BEFORE I knew they cared about each other that way!" Karl exclaimed with a giggle.
"Do you think our big brothers hold grudges?" Killian asked as he playfully tickled Kirk.
"Naw, they'd have to be angry," Andreas replied. "I think they just enjoy paybacks... a LOT!"
"Rorrwrrr?" Jorge growled.
"Yeah, we'll tell you if they agree to teach us!" Andreas giggled as he gave Marcus a friendly lick on the cheek.
"Hey Cam, can our AI bro run a drone down here so he's represented too?" Tracy asked.
Cameron nodded with a grin. "Yes, our twin-link seems stable, so he can use my help to keep in sync. One second, and he'll be down."
"Kewl, we've got to have ALL of our family!" Karl stated with a grin. Almost as soon as he finished speaking, a blond-haired copy of Cameron appeared next to them.
"Nice choice, Cam!" Cameron giggled.
"Thanks, bro. It appears the link is stable, I'll let you know if I sense any faults," the new arrival stated. "I've never tortured parents before, this should be interesting."
"It's one of my favorite hobbies!" Karl stated as he gently poked at Wayne's belly, causing him to giggle. "I don't know what's gonna be more fun; introducing our brothers, or telling Dad that he's a grandpa!"
"Let's find out!" Tracy said with a grin as he led the group over towards their parents.
As the group reached the parents, Tracy asked in a sweet, innocent tone "Dad, can we talk for a minute?"
Bryant closed his eyes. "Oh shit, I know that tone. Which government agency did you crash the server on THIS time?"
"We'd never do something like that!" Karl added in the same tone as Tracy.
Clyde shook his head. "I'll rephrase that... which Government did you crash this time, and does the State Department already know?"
"No faith..." Tracy giggled.
"Yeah, like we'd ever get caught!" Karl replied.
"Okay boys, just what did you get into this time, then?" Bryant asked.
"I thought that you'd never ask..." Tracy laughed. "To start things off, I'm now the Director of one of the two new Family Clan Short Divisions."
"Is it too late to move to a different galaxy?" Clyde asked Bryant with a grin.
"Bite me, Uncle Clyde!" Tracy giggled.
"He said 'to start things off'. Should I unlock the liquor cabinet now?" Bryant asked semi-seriously.
"No, you gotta be sober." Tracy replied. "Now pay attention, you'll be tested on this tomorrow. While you old people were playing shuffleboard, you kinda adopted a few kids without knowing it."
"Screw the liquor cabinet, one of my friends in Kentucky still runs a still!" Clyde quipped.
"I'll worry about marrying you to each other tomorrow." Tracy sniggered. "I'll introduce your new family in the order they were added. First on the list is our strawberry-blond twin, Cameron. He's a super-geek just like us, besides being an android."
After a few seconds pause, both adults motioned for the suddenly nervous Cameron to come closer. They both stood, Bryant speaking first.
"Welcome to the family, Cameron. You can stop worrying, as much as I joke around I'm not surprised. I think you'll fit in just fine here, and I'm happy that you found your brothers. Don't worry about your species; besides having worked with a few androids in my time, I'm on one of the teams that has been working on legislation to reverse some of the discriminatory laws still on the books."
Clyde added his opinion. "You're our son now, no question about it. Even before the Clan became involved and your clown brothers got married, if either of these two had brought you home and said they wanted to adopt you into the family we would have done whatever was needed to do it. We'll sit down and discuss things later; just know that you're wanted and loved."
Both men held their arms out, and shortly Cameron found himself in the middle of a three-way welcome hug. Tracy and Karl watched with smiles on their faces, knowing their fathers had guessed why the other boys were gathered, and had been speaking for all to hear.
"You really don't care about me being an android?" Cameron asked.
"He's an android? Sure don't hug like one, hugs like any other thirteen-year-old!" Bryant laughed.
"Giggles like one too!" Clyde added as he started poking at Cameron's ribs. "Definitely all boy!"
"HH...HH...HHEY!" Cameron stuttered between giggles, "No fair! Two against one!"
"We're your parents, fair is whatever we say it is!" Bryant laughed. "Go hide with your twin brothers, we'll continue the torture when you least expect it!"
"You're weird!" Cameron laughed as he gave both of them a squeeze and then ran for safety.
"Now we know where Tracy and Karl get it from," Steve whispered to Dustin. "It's genetic!"
"Careful, or our boys might start taking lessons!" Dustin replied as he tilted his head towards Mitch and Jasper, who were busy giving Jorge an ear rub.
Tracy giggled at the interplay of his new friends, as he figured out how to do the next introduction. "Dad, now you get to meet Cam's twin... Cameron! He's an AI on another planet outside our universe, but he sent one of his drones over so he could meet you."
Bryant shook his head in disbelief as an exact copy of Cameron, with the exception of having blond hair, came over and stood in front of him. "Cam, you were right! It IS fun doing what Gabe calls 'freaking out parents'! We really need to do this more often!"
"Crap, now we're in trouble! Trace and Karl are teaching them their tricks already!" Clyde moaned. "At least we can tell these two apart by their hair!"
"Oops!" Cam stated before flickering for a second. Suddenly, his hair was an exact match to Cameron. "Minor adjustment, it's fixed. Thanks, Pop!"
As the kids broke into fits of giggles, Bryant reached over and slapped the back of Clyde's head. "You HAD to say it, didn't you?"
"Yes!" Clyde laughed. "Welcome to the family, Cameron. Are you going to maintain a drone here, or just drop in for occasional visits?"
"I will always be able to receive and send messages over my link with Cam. As various developments are being tested with the drones, I will make occasional appearances while testing. In most cases, the appearance of the drone will be different each time."
Bryant had recovered, and replied "You're just as much family as Cameron, Cameron. Shit, that's gonna be confusing! Anyway, just let us know when you're around. You've got a family here, and also the help of your parents for ironing out details on the drones."
"Thank you. Please do not try tickling, I am not sure on the stability of the link under emotional distress, besides the fact that I really do not wish to explain my liquid cooling unit springing a leak from overpressure."
"You got it, kiddo." the two dads replied as they took turns giving Cameron a hug.
Once he was done returning the hugs, Cameron stated "I need to return this drone to me so that I can analyze the interface transcripts; I have detected unusual spikes. Cameron will keep me up to date on the occurrences of this conversation, and I will relay any comments through him."
"Go on Son, let us know how the experiment went, and keep in touch." Bryant replied with a smile.
"I think I'll interrupt Grandpa Danny and Grandpa Marc's shuffleboard game to see if they can interface me with the compound VI." Cameron mused just before vanishing.
The android Cameron broke into a fit of giggles. "Danny and Marc are going to get you for starting the 'Grandpa' thing, Tracy! Almost all of the AIs are using it now!"
"That's what they get for being crabby old teenagers!" Tracy sniggered.
"Spoken like a true tween!" Clyde chuckled as Bryant rolled his eyes.
"You didn't just go there!" Karl stated with an evil glint in his eyes. "My turn!"
After passing Wayne to Tracy, which was just fine with the giggling munchkin, Karl motioned for Andreas and Killian to join him. "Dad, since when you and Uncle Bryant get married you're gonna take his last name..."
"I am?" Clyde asked with raised eyebrows. "When was this decided, and by who? We haven't even decided if we want to go that route yet!"
"You decided it when you had the balls to swap spit and feel up each other's flabby butts in front of me!" Karl replied. "And since you old farts are so slow, Trace and me have already set everything up. Trav is coming over tomorrow to perform the ceremony, and all the paperwork is already in order."
"How in the Hell did you... wait, on second thought, DON'T answer that!" Clyde stated in shock. "What if we're not ready?"
"You're both ready, you're just too chicken to say it!" Tracy interjected. "Anyone who has any empath in them has had to wash their heads out with fire hoses after meeting you!"
Bryant smiled at the boys. "Nice one, you two. I know what you're both doing, and despite the fact that you're being extremely pushy, your hearts are in the right place. Tracy, I know that you are worried about me, and since you know that I won't let you shadow me, you're wanting to make sure I don't get hurt. Karl, you're looking out for Tracy by helping look out for me, while also looking out for your own dad. Yes, we have been discussing getting married, but we wanted to wait until we agreed that both of you were ready to accept us doing it."
"Hey Trace?" Cameron interrupted. "Cam wants to know which one of our Dads is gonna wear the dress at the wedding?"
Before either Tracy or Karl could reply, Clyde and Bryant quickly pointed at each other. Cameron giggled. "Got it! I just let Cam know that BOTH of them will be wearing dresses!"
"SHIT!" both adults exclaimed as anyone within earshot collapsed in laughter.
Once everyone recovered, Karl started again, the twins with their significant others now on either side of him, still giggling. "As I was saying, on my right is Andreas Butler, the cuddle-monster on his side is his new husband Marcus Butler, formerly Marcus Carr. On my left is Killian Butler, and his fiancé Kirk Carr."
By the time Karl finished, Bryant and Clyde had each hijacked a couple from under his arms and were in the process of sitting down while instructing the boys to take a seat on their laps.
"Boys, Parker had warned us about genetic modifications, but actually seeing it still pisses me off." Bryant explained. "Give me a minute to suppress my urge to fillet the balls of the bastards that did this to you, then we'll get to the welcoming you home."
"One of the gorillas bronzed their balls while still attached, then killed them. Does that make you feel better?" Killian offered helpfully.
Bryant stared at Killian for a second, before grinning. "You're definitely a Butler, little man! Yes, that helps. I'll have to meet this gorilla some time to shake his or her hand!"
"I think our whole Division's in that line!" Kirk giggled.
Andreas tilted his head at Clyde. "Do you care that we ain't like other boys?"
"I've got a secret for you," Clyde said with a smile. "There is no such thing as a normal boy; anyone who claims that they are normal has their head so far up their butt that they can see out their nipples. Twins like you guys, triplets... it doesn't matter, there is always something unique either in body, personality, or favorite things that allows you to tell them apart. You don't need to be like the fictional 'everybody else', you need to be the best YOU that you can be."
"What about this?" Andreas asked as he brushed his hand on his arm hair.
"That just means that, if you take after your big brothers, when you run around nude your not going to be so cold that your penis tries to hide in your throat." Clyde chuckled.
"I like that!" Marcus giggled.
"NOW you're in trouble!" Bryant chuckled as he pointed out the still-blushing pair of tweens, obviously plotting. "Trace and Karl are not going to let that one pass!" He wrapped his arms tighter around Killian and Kirk. "Guys, what Clyde said goes for you as well; I expect you guys to be the best you can be, and develop any unique gifts that you may have to their full potential."
"Thanks, Dad." Killian said as he gave Bryant a hug, causing seven vertebrae in his back to 'pop'. "I'm sorry!" he stated in panic as he tried to pull away.
"Get back here squirt; you just saved me a chiropractor visit!" Bryant said as he did his best to keep Killian from running away. "You're not in any kind of trouble since you did nothing wrong."
"But I was breaking you!" Killian replied, still in panic mode.
"No, you just put parts of my back into place better than a guy I pay twice a week to do the same thing." Bryant explained. "While I'm pretty sure that you could collapse a ribcage if you wanted to, you only used enough strength to show you cared. If you're hurting me, I'll tell you; otherwise you are doing just fine. I will say that's the best bear-hug I've ever received!"
Satisfied that he'd really not done something wrong, Killian leaned into Bryant's chest and allowed himself to relax. The other three boys followed suit with their respective seat, all now feeling comfortable with these strange new adults.
Sensing this was perfect timing, Karl play-yelled "Ohhhh JOOOORRRGGGEEEE!"
"Time to go cuddle your new daddies!" Karl giggled.
"Wrarrwr!" Jorge exclaimed as he quickly padded over, somehow wiggled his way into the opening between them, put a paw over each adult's shoulder, then exclaimed "RRarrreer!" before taking turns licking their faces... repeatedly.
"Hey lil' bro, a little less spit please!" Andreas giggled. "You're dripping on my fur!"
"Raaar!" Jorge commented before continuing as before.
In between licks, Clyde managed to stutter "You've GOT to be related to these two cuddle-sons! I'm just wondering how?"
Jorge stopped licking, and began to explain proudly. "Rawwwr, rarr wrwarrr rraereerww erwwwaree; rr rawwr rarrerwr eerwr reawerewr rrar rrr rawwww r wwrar rrawewrwar. Rwraawar rerwwar rr wwr errwr rar rr rawrwwr raawawr rrar errwr rrar rr. Rar, rrwerw rarrer rwarrer rar!"
"Okay, two questions," Clyde asked as Bryant shook his head in wonder. "First, anybody know how we can learn bear? Second, could someone PLEASE translate? I really want to know what he just said!"
"Is it okay if Jorge tells you in your head?" Andreas asked. "He does better with human speak in the head, his mouth makes it sound funny."
"Please!" Clyde and Bryant replied before realizing just what they had agreed to. The looks of surprise on their faces had the rest of the boys giggling; not only did Jorge repeat his words, but he also inserted pictures. Now fully up-to-date, both men viewed their three furry sons with even more respect, as Jorge had answered their questions during the interchange.
"I just called for assistance on the language problem." Cameron giggled. "It sounds so much better in his natural voice!"
"Rwaar!" Jorge agreed, nodding his head and slobbering more on his new dads.
"Huff!" came another sound, causing the two men to turn. Jorge twisted around and poked his face between them to see the new visitor.
It was another bear. Almost. Kinda cattish, Clyde thought. Mane, longer tail than Jorge, but definitely bear-looking. With teeth. Big ones. Very long, big ones. A little larger than Jorge. With teeth, Clyde repeated to himself. Huge, massive, sharp, wicked looking...
And a very wet tongue, he amended as I-Cheya (who did you think?) added his own kisses to those of Jorge.
Jorge was fascinated. This was a cub. He smelt young, very young. But he was BIG. Jorge was impressed. A new bear-friend! One who could understand what it was like to be like him!
I-Cheya smiled at him and then kissed him with his long tongue.
Then, in all their hearts, they heard:
Not like you, Jorge-boy. I I-Cheya. I Spirit Guardian. I am friend, though. Best Friend? Go hunt together?
This was followed by a joyful, "Huff!"
"Rawrr! Rarrr rerwerrwwr rarewr rerewarewr rerewawwwrarr!"
"Huuuff rufff uffhuff huff... huff?" I-Cheya stopped for a second, then opened his mouth wide at Clyde and breathed in his face. Then he did the same for Bryant. After this, both men had happy tears on their faces. Then I-Cheya went back to responding to Jorge (now that the two men could understand them both perfectly - it would have been very rude, you see, for I-Cheya to have held a conversation when his head was on Bryant's lap with Jorge if they couldn't)... "... hurrrrufff uff huff!"
"Raaawwaarrr! Rwaararrarrrwww raa raaarw... hrrrrwuuff?"
"Huuurff! RWAAA Rwaaarraaa!"
"Oh god," Steve groaned. "I-Cheya's teaching Jorge Sehlat-speak the NORMAL WAY!"
"RA! Huffruff! RWWWWAAAARR!" Jorge cheered (bear style) at learning another Sehlat word.
Andreas was paying close attention to this, then he and Killian also started learning Sehlat along with their brother. They were picking it up fairly well, too. "Huffff!"
"Huff huff huff!"
Clyde grinned, "So, where are you four going for a hunt, then?"
"VULCAN!" Killian giggled.
"I-CHEYA'S TAKING US FOR A LE-METRA HUNT!" Andreas laughed.
"Rawrrr ra rwaaa!"
I-Cheya then sent to all their hearts:
Be back soon, five minutes. Doctor-Boy help. I-Cheya take three bear-friend-boys to see T'Kahr - I-Cheya father.
And with that, the four of them disappeared in a shower of flower smelling sparkles.
Bryant helped himself to the case of smelling salts, grabbing a handful and quickly instructing Kirk and Marcus on their use. He did it just in time, as Tracy carried Wayne over and set him next to Kirk on Bryant's lap.
"My fuzzy uncles are silly, ain't they Grandpa?" Wayne giggled.
Kirk was fast; Bryant barely had time to start slumping before the bottle was under his nose. A few seconds later, Bryant shook his head. "Just WHEN did this cute munchkin become my grandson?" he asked as Clyde tried to avoid laughing.
"A couple of hours ago!" Tracy and Karl giggled.
"Say 'Hi' to your grandson, Dad!" Karl added.
Having been fully prepared for what happened by his dads, Wayne giggled. "I like you, Grandpas; you were nice to my fuzzy uncles!"
"And you are a lot like your new daddies." Bryant stated as he gave the giggling boy on his lap a hug. "I'll ask your Daddies to explain later what happened, right now you've got another grandpa to say hi to! More Grandpa cuddles later, okay?"
"Okay!" Wayne giggled as he leaned up, went to kiss the side of Bryant's cheek, then at the last second changed it to a lick.
"Someone's been watching their uncles!" Clyde laughed as the giggling six-year-old quickly shifted to his lap.
"Yep!" Wayne replied. "Grandpa cuddles?"
"Of course, munchkin." Clyde responded as he gathered Wayne into his free arm. "Welcome to the family, little guy."
"Thanks Grandpa! My old daddies said I'd like my new family, and they were right! You're silly!"
"And you have two very special new daddies that are unlike anyone else on Earth." Clyde replied. "They love you a lot, that's why they're holding you all the time. I can see it in their faces, thats how much they care about you. I had thought they made you our youngest son, but instead they love you so much that they kept you for themselves."
"You're a smart Grandpa!" Wayne observed.
"Thanks, Wayne. You're a smart grandson!" Clyde replied.
Wayne giggled, then leaned up and kissed Clyde's nose. "Gotta go; Daddy K needs cuddles!"
"Go ahead, munchkin!" Clyde laughed as he steadied Wayne while he climbed down.
As his feet hit the floor, the small boy was suddenly confronted by a Sehlat, a Bear, two Bearish boys, and about three tons of packaged, green looking meat.
"RWAARWARR huff RAAAWR!"
"Silly Bear Hugs!" Wayne yelled as he launched himself at I-Cheya.
As per his norm, I-Cheya sat with his back legs splayed out just like a teddy bear, and gathered the little kid into his front. He casually stripped the boy off and gave him his first Sehlat bath.
Seeing as I-Cheya was now busy, Jorge went up to his new fathers and explained about their hunt, "Rawr arrwrr rar raaawr rwaarwrrrar ra raar rwrrarr!"
"Rawrrwr?" Clyde asked.
Off to the side, Cameron commented "I'll get the meat taken care of!"
"I'll start on the Di-Valnozin shots; you want to give me a hand, Daivik?" Dustin sighed.
"Sure; fortunately I'm immune to the effects of the meat." Daivik replied.
Wayne, however, was trying to learn Sehlat. "Hufffhf?"
"Oooooh!" Wayne giggled. "Hurrhruuf! Betta', Unca 'Cheya?"
Just then, Jax wandered into the room. "Frank'll be right in, he's stopping off downtown for a snack." he commented. He then noticed who all was there. "Hey 'Cheya! Bounce on any doors lately?"
As he tossed a giggling Wayne into the air over and over, catching him with the velveted pads of his paws, the large Sehlat cub huffed his affirmative.
"Sweet!" Jax replied. Noticing the slowly-depleting pile of meat, he added "Ohhh, you brought snacks!"
"Oh, it was you and your brothers?"
"Cool! Thanks, Jorge!"
"Huff! Huff huf huffffhfff!" Wayne added mid-flight.
'What Wayne-boy said', I-Cheya sent.
"Riiiight," Jax giggled as he peeled back part of a wrapper and took a large bite out of the raw meat. At the same moment Dustin grabbed his paw and injected him with Di-Valnozin. "Thanks, bro!" the cheetah mumbled. "Mmmm... le-metra is niiiice!"
In another part of the room, Parker had finally recovered from finding out he now had five grandsons, and was now holding a 'New Clan Parent Indoctrination' class.
"I want you to take notice of something;" he was saying, "these boys place absolute trust in their Clan brothers. You just saw a perfect example; when I-Cheya appeared, the very first thing both Tracy and Karl did was look at Steve. Since he obviously wasn't concerned, they figured their son was safe with this Sehlat. I think that explains the Clan better than anything; they are a true team pooling their knowledge. I wondered for a while where my boys would fit in; they were getting training, but were not really active. That changed today, their places in the family opened up and they were ready for it."
Rick and Peter's mother, Julie, looked at her husband David then asked "They're so young though. What happens if some adult tries to grab Peter? He's only nine."
"Before he ever gets into a situation that puts him in danger, he'll be prepared." Parker replied. "One of my sons, Billy, is eight. He just earned his Marksman award with a phaser, and is continuing his martial arts training with Steve. He's been abducted from a group home, and is determined to prevent it happening to anyone else if he can help it. During the Battle of Montana, Cory's six-year-old son Timmy registered multiple kills, one of which saved Cory's life. Your sons were not as helpless as you think before the Clan; with the help of their new family they'll lose any disadvantage they still have."
"Don't you worry that they're taking on too much?" Jon's dad, Jack, asked.
"Sometimes one of them does; then another one will step up, say something about it, and they figure out a way to even out the load." Parker explained. "We're sitting in a perfect example of that. Even before the attack, Clan Headquarters was starting to be overloaded. Your sons were all actively engaged in trying to hack into the Clan's computer network, and the Clan was fully aware of it. They were tested by the very systems they were trying to access, and passed with amazing results. Until today, the list of truly skilled forced network access technicians active in the Clan was less than one-tenth of one percent of the active membership. Your boys have rare skills, skills that translate to finding needed information quickly. I was keeping in contact with Helen at headquarters; the word I got from her is that this group of boys turned a situation that was about to overload the resources at Headquarters into one that was easily managed by the staff onsite."
The questions continued, mostly along the lines of the same questions Parker had asked when he first joined the Clan parent brigade.
Martin wandered over to where the Carr boys were sitting around, their faces displaying obvious grief. "What's wrong, guys?" he asked with concern.
Rex looked up. "We just heard that some people we really look up to died in the fight in London."
Martin took a seat. "Dudes, I'm really sorry. That sucks." he said sincerely.
"Yeah, they were really great guys," Rich stated as he cuddled Scooter. "They were the ones who really taught us that our lives were different now that we were Clan. Now we ain't gonna be able to really thank them like we shoulda done."
"I totally understand," Martin stated softly. "I thought the same thing when my Dad was killed during a robbery last year. It really sucks not being able to say goodbye."
"Oh man, I didn't know. Sorry dude." Rich replied.
"It's okay; Mom told me, Mark, and the A-brats something that really helped." Martin explained. "She said the best way we could say goodbye to our Dad was to go out and do the stuff we know that he'd do if he was here. Dad never wanted us sitting around, he always said that there's time to think, and time to do. If you spend all your time thinking, then you can't do. Mom told us the time to show we were sad was at the funeral, but if we sat around for months because he was gone then all the stuff he tried to teach us wasn't worth anything and he wasted his time."
"Every time you do something that you were taught to do, you're remembering those that taught it," Teddy summarized.
Rex agreed, "So say goodbye the best you can, and do what you were taught to do with a big smile."
"That's kinda pretty much it." Martin replied. "Mom's been catching all four of us, letting us know how proud Dad would be about us joining up with the Clan. Remember how Allen and Arron took over National Guard dispatch while they were getting on-site headquarters set up in the Bronx?"
"Yeah." Scott replied with a small smile. "I thought they were gonna explode when the Commander thanked them for the great job they did."
"There's a reason." Martin explained. "Dad was in the National Guard; I listened to the transcript after I was relieved and heard the Commander tell them that their Dad must be really proud of them. Mark and I were close to Dad, but those two were his shadows. Everything they've went through in the last day was made worth it by those couple of words of praise. Honestly, they really thought they wouldn't be much help with all of us older guys around, in fact Arron actually asked me what I thought Dad would tell them to do. I told him Dad would want them to watch for any way to help, then do it without giving up. They did that, and they feel like they're a real part of the family now. You guys are a lot of the reason for that; in fact the original reason I came over is to thank you for it."
"So by doing for them like what was done for us when we joined up, we gave them the confidence to handle this mess we've been dealing with?" Rex asked as he looked around at his brothers.
"You gave them life," Martin corrected. "They faked it really good, but once out of the view of their friends and our friends, they were glued to our sides, even at night. Right now, one of them would normally be with each of us due to the crowd. Instead, they've went with Adrian to check in with his Dad. Two days ago, they wouldn't have even tried to add Adrian as a friend, and they would have been terrified to meet his Dad without us standing right there."
Scott had been thinking as he listened. As the rest of his brothers absorbed Martin's statement, his thoughts coalesced and he spoke up. "It seems that we need to listen to the Prophet Timmy. His wise words, 'Sometimes bad things gotta happen so good things can happen' can only come to fruition if we strive to find the good that comes from our loss. We cannot continue the work of those lost by mourning at the wrong time, we must mourn when proper, but act in their memory in all other times."
Scooter looked up at his big brother from his perch on his lap. "Rich? Have we found the pool yet? Scott's going all Chang on us again!"
"I'll help, Scooter" George announced over all of their commbadges. Seconds later, Scott was now standing in front of them, soaking wet and holding five large salmon in his arms. "Smart-aleck AI" he muttered as he glanced around. "I'll be right back," he announced to the smiling group. "I need to deliver a snack to our furry brothers and visiting Sehlat."
Once he finished giggling, George stated "I recorded your conversation, and am relaying it to everyone in the Clan that I can who knows someone lost in the battle. As you have helped each other, you are going to be able to help your Clan family. Martin, I have a message from Dr. Richardson. He said to tell you that you learned a lesson that even he needed reminded of, and to thank you for sharing with your new expanded family."
It finally hit Martin, he actually understood just what being Clan meant for his life from now on. "Tell Dr. Richardson I said you're welcome, but I was just doing what a brother should do if one of his other brothers needs a hand."
Scooter grinned. "That's what grownups don't get. All the Clan really does is treat everyone like family; grownups are stupid and think everyone has to be called something. I can do the same stuff Cory does without asking permission, and it's just the same as if he did it. There ain't none of us any different in this family."
Martin smiled. "You know, little brother, it's really not good to repress your feelings about adults!"
"Who, me?" Scooter grinned.
"Yeah, you!" Martin replied. "Rich, can I borrow our little brother for a kitchen raid?"
"Better yet, you take his feet, I'll take his hands, and all three of us will go!" Rich replied as he trapped Scooter.
"That works!" Martin said as he managed to grab Scooter's feet. A few seconds later, the three of them were headed towards the kitchen, Martin and Rich swinging the giggling Scooter back and forth as they walked.
Cindy Grayson and Mabel Watson were taking a quick inventory of the contents of the new kitchen. "I'm impressed, it seems that everything was provided to support the appetites of a group of teenagers," Cindy commented.
"Yes, and they even provided a book on the care and feeding of certain Clan members if they visit," Mabel replied. "I'm not sure if some of these are jokes, though. I mean, really, what are the chances of there actually being a vampire on planet?"
"According to Parker," Cindy replied, "there is actually one on-site. No need to worry though, they're on our side."
"You're joking!" Mabel exclaimed.
"You'll have to trust me until we can get you the briefing that Parker arranged for us," Cindy stated. "The short story is that one of them defied the local rules and attacked the core group of the Clan, and another one saved them by killing him. After that, when Cory Short welcomed the vampire into the Clan, the vampires as a species in Florida have aligned themselves to assist the Clan."
"That's pretty close," Rich stated as he led the trio into the kitchen. "You forgot that by helping us, they keep kids off the street and reduce the chances of them being turned by a vampire. They call those kids 'Half-lives', and they don't usually fit into normal society. Also, we help them find people who deserve to become dinner."
"Oh, Hi Mom!" Martin grinned at Cindy. "This is Rich, and the torture-toy is our little brother Scooter. You'll probably meet Frank soon, he had to slip out for a bite!"
"Yeah, I bet his dinner date's feeling really drained right now!" Scooter giggled, still trapped by the older boys.
Cindy rolled her eyes. "Hi there, guys. Let me guess, Rich and Scooter, you must be some of Parker's boys, he told us all about you. You can call me Cindy, or Mom if you want to. This is Mabel Watson, the Master Chief's wife."
"Nice to meet you, boys," Mabel replied with a smile. "Let me guess, you're looking for some snacks?"
"Yes, Ma'am." Rich replied politely.
Mabel smiled. "I'll tell you the same thing I tell the friends of my boys. There is too much formality in most military households, I don't stand for it in my own. You can call me Mabel, all of the neighborhood kids did back at our old home."
"Hey, they both pass the Clan Parent Test!" Scooter giggled.
"Now to see if you pass the Clan Kid test!" Cindy chuckled as she walked over to the boys. "Put your little brother down, guys. I promised Parker I'd help him with you guys, which means there is a munchkin here that is overdue for some cuddles."
As they sat Scooter back on his feet, Rich and Martin exchanged confused glances. Both seemed distracted for a minute as Scooter caught up on cuddles, then Martin spoke up.
"Mom?" Martin asked carefully, "Did you and Parker kinda hook up or something while we were busy?"
Cindy smiled at Martin's curiosity. "Actually, we 'hooked up', as you call it, when we were about your age back at the church camp we both went to every summer. Being young, we promised to hold out for each other until after both of us were done with school. We lost touch, and then your Dad gave me the gift of you and your brother during homecoming our senior year. Your Dad and I loved each other, and he was fully aware of the promises Parker and I had made as kids. He left a sealed letter to me with his will; telling me if anything ever happened to him, I was to find Parker and see if he was still the same loving boy I remembered from camp. If so, your Dad wanted me to keep my promise, and make sure that you boys have a male in the house to go to."
Cindy paused, her motherly instincts telling her the mental wavelengths were getting overloaded by Martin updating his brothers. "Rich, I already know that Rex is a telepath. Is he listening in and updating the rest of your brothers?"
Rich nodded, obviously trying to listen in to something being said to him mentally as well.
Giving the boys a chance to catch up, Cindy gave Scooter a squeeze. "What about you, Scooter? What do you think so far?"
Scooter giggled. "I think I like Mommy cuddles! Can I just stay here?"
"I think you'll have to share with sixteen other brothers, two furry brother-in-laws, and three nephews!" Cindy chuckled. "At least that was the last count I heard."
"They're gonna haveta wait in line! I got to you first," Scooter stated with assurance as he snuggled tighter.
Cindy laughed, then looked over at Martin and Rich. "Is everybody caught up?"
"Yes, Mom. Daivik has to help me with the Double-As; they're kinda out of range right now." Martin replied.
"Tell him I said 'Thanks," Cindy stated. She had figured out that Martin and Mark had a very active 'twin link' early in their lives, and both her and their father actively encouraged them to develop it to its full potential. When Arron and Allen had came along, their big brothers instantly started trying to 'talk' with their new little brothers. By the time the youngest pair were a year old, all four had formed a tight bond; in the process Allen and Arron began communicating well ahead of their peers.
Cindy continued her history lesson. "Parker tried to find me after he got his teaching degree, but for some reason had no luck. The only thing he knew for sure was that I was still alive. He kept his hopes up, and ended up adopting a group of boys that stole his heart. After he showed up to fill all of us in on recent changes, we recognized each other immediately and got caught up on the years we spent apart. Instead of being mad about my not holding out for him, he was happy that I'd spent most of the last twelve years with someone who loved me and gave me four wonderful boys. I told him about the letter, and he just nodded and told me it was 'Timmy's Law' in action. By the time we were asked to join everyone over here, we'd decided that we still held the same feelings for each other, and that we needed to sit down as one group to make sure it would not cause any problems with any of our sons."
By this time, Rex had drafted every telepath in the compound to assist with the group mental conference. As such, Rich and Martin were both able to reply much quicker.
"Mom?" Martin started, trying to decide how to speak for all three of his brothers as well as himself. "Adrian's dad has been kinda helping us understand; Allen and Arron are talking to him. We all like Parker, and we all miss Dad a lot. Mr. Jobs said that he thinks it would be good for us to say okay, but that we need to remember that Parker is not replacing Dad, he's a new dad that will teach us new things and help us learn to expand on the things Dad taught us. Mark and me could get by with it like it is now, having him around when we got stuff that a girl can't answer. Allen and Arron really need a dad around though, they need someone there for them they can count on. I guess what we're saying is if you're happy, since Dad already said go for it we're good with it too."
Cindy glanced at Rich, and noticed the impish grin on his face. "Do I want to know what the grin is for, Rich?"
"Oh, nothing," Rich giggled. "Just listening to the play-by-play while Taron and Billy explain to Dad why they are measuring him for a tux!"
"Get over here and join your little brother, you two!" Cindy laughed.
Both boys complied, their grins as each was updated on Parker's reactions threatening to split their faces.
Mabel smiled, having watched the entire proceeding. "I think I just figured out what Casper meant when he tried to explain the Clan family. There is an openness here that is contagious. This is the best move that we have ever made. Why don't you boys take your mom out with your brothers, and I'll see about whipping up a batch of cookies for you."
Tracy, Karl, Wayne, Cameron, and Teddy finished checking the status in the Command Center, then all five decided to take a quiet stroll through the new compound. It had taken almost an hour to sort out where each of the families was going to be living; the relocation of their belongings being the easiest part. George, the Orlando AI, had procured the empty lot next to the CIC building, and had relocated Parker's house to the center of it. Now the Carr and Grayson families were in the process of getting settled in, with the exception of Teddy, who wanted to spend some time with Cameron.
The entire lower level of the building contained more than enough lodging for the group. It was broke into reconfigurable 'pods', each able to provide a family-friendly environment that felt like a home.
Byron and Clyde, after seeing the accommodations of the new building, had decided that their homes should be turned into the 'public' access points for the Division, holding offices and overnight lodging for non-Clan visitors. Both men were now settling in with their new sons in one of the pods.
"Okay guys, there's only one area of this place we ain't seen yet." Tracy said, the toll of the day reflected in his voice.
"Yeah, let's check it out, then find a bed." Karl agreed.
"We'll second that." Cameron and Teddy said in unison.
Wayne mumbled his agreement too, the day having caught up to him as well while he was being held by Tracy.
They took the turbolift from CIC to the rec room. The room seemed huge now that it was empty. The multiple TV screens on the walls were now silent, the tables were scattered with games waiting for their players to return, and there were three huge balls of yarn randomly left in the middle of the floor.
As they left the rec room, they walked through the dining hall. The room resembled a fine restaurant dining room, with the difference being that the tables were sized for Clan-sized families. They stopped by the kitchen, grabbing a few cookies that were set out for midnight snacks along with some glasses of milk.
They then headed towards the hallway that was yet unexplored. After passing what were obviously four classrooms, they reached a door that seemed to be taken directly off of a starship.
"You are about to enter a secure area. Verifying access." the compound AI stated. "Access confirmed, you may proceed."
Karl looked at Cameron. "Bro, we really need to get him upgraded to an AI."
"I'll start on it tomorrow." Cameron agreed.
They walked through the door, as well as a second one that opened about ten feet down the hall. Once inside, they froze as they saw what could only be a living room. The floor stepped down in three circular levels; the top level was like a hall around the room, the center level held couches and tables, while the lower level held more couches, two huge-screen televisions, and a selection of games.
"Ahh, I knew there would be a note somewhere!" Teddy giggled as he spotted a tray of cookies with a piece of paper on top. After retrieving it, along with the cookies, he returned to the group.
Karl took the note, reading it aloud.
"Tracy, Karl, Cam, and Teddy:
We already had a talk with most of your crew while they were on Archnania, and made them promise to keep quiet so they wouldn't ruin the surprise. This suite is for the four of you and your families as you adopt kids. It was designed with input from all of the Division, and is a gift from them to you to celebrate what the four of you have done. We hope that you enjoy living here as much as we enjoyed building it for you.
Peter, Eli, Benji, Sammy, Sebastian, and Leg"
"In other words, don't argue, everyone wants you guys to have someplace special." Tracy summarized. "I wonder how many of the guys I can dunk at once in that pool downstairs?"
"I just calculated it, we'll have to do it in five shifts." Cameron observed. "Personally, I say take the entire group and drop them in the North Sea a few times."
"We'll discuss that in the morning, let me sleep on it, bro." Tracy replied.
"So tempting..." Karl muttered as he led the group past the living room. They found an office, complete with all of Tracy and Karl's computer equipment as well as some new additions, then a kitchenette with a small dining area. The next find was a rec room, already stocked with toys that made Wayne wake up and take notice. They continued down the hall, past a large bathroom, then reached the first of the bedrooms. A note was taped to the door, simply stating "Cam and Teddy".
Cam opened the door, revealing a suite with a sitting area, multiple study desks, and five doors off to the side. "Okay, this is interesting," Cam commented.
The boys found the first door was a family-sized bathroom. The next three, while being bedrooms, only had the essentials in them and were obviously not ready to be put to use yet. The final door turned out to be the master bedroom, complete with private bath. All of Teddy's belongings were already there, as well as some things from Archnania that had grabbed Cameron's attention.
"I guess this means the two of you are sharing a room?" Karl giggled.
"It's the first thing they've done that I'll agree with!" Teddy giggled in reply.
Cameron blushed as he nodded his head, his mind still processing the new emotions he was feeling at the idea.
"C'mon, let's check out the next room, then we can all take a break." Karl offered, figuring it would give Cameron time to recover.
Everyone agreed, so they headed to the other door in the hallway. They opened it to find a suite pretty much like the other one, with the exceptions of one of the bedrooms containing all of Wayne's belongings and a five-foot pond near the master bedroom door.
Karl ran over to the pond, exclaiming "Kermit!" as he spotted his friend sitting on the Archnanian version of a lilypad. As he was catching up with his friend, the rest of the boys investigated the suite, giggling as they found that Kermit actually had a little stream leading to a mini-pond in every room, including the bathrooms.
Their curiosity sated, the group got ready to call it a night. Tracy turned to Cameron and Teddy. "Guys, you know where we're at; if you need ANYTHING, even if it's just the security of a group cuddle, come on over. Otherwise, sleep well, have a good night."
Both Cameron and Teddy smiled at the offer. "Thanks, we'll do that. Good night, bros." Cameron replied.
"Night!" Teddy added as he took a chance at taking Cameron's hand before heading back to their suite.
As soon as they were gone, Wayne spoke up. "Daddies? Do you sleep nudie like my old Daddies did?"
Karl and Tracy both sputtered at the sudden question, before answering yes.
"Okay. Can I cuddle with you tonight? My old daddies already taught me that I'm not 'posed to touch peenies that are bigger than mine." Wayne asked.
Tracy and Karl exchanged smiles, both realizing that they were about to get their first lesson in fatherhood. "Since this is your first night with us, I think that's a great idea, munchkin." Tracy replied.
After a shared shower, Teddy and Cameron were finally about ready to go to bed. Sensing Cameron's nervousness, Teddy tried to comfort him. "Don't worry Cam; sleeping together don't mean sex stuff. If we decide to do that sometime, I'll make sure that we do it in a nice way. I think tonight we'll stick with cuddles."
Cameron smiled. "Sorry, all of this is so different. I never knew there was so much to living in a body."
"I know," Teddy replied as he took Cameron's hand and led him towards the bed. "We're part of the Geek Quads, and we gotta look out for each other. I've seen the good and the bad; I'm gonna make sure that you see the good."
Cameron got under the covers, smiling as Teddy followed him and cuddled into his side. "I'm feeling so much that I've got no idea what I'm really feeling, or what it's called."
"I understand, and I think I'm probably feeling the same things." Teddy replied. "I'm not going to put words in your mouth though; if those emotions are what I think they are, Trace and Karl are going to have to be the ones to help."
"Thanks, Teddy. At least I know I've got someone to go to." Cameron said sleepily. "Lights out."
Tracy and Karl were starting to recover from their first experience of showering with a six-year-old, both surprised that they had survived.
Wayne made up for it by showing them that he had been taught how to properly brush out long hair. He brushed both of his new daddies hair, then sat there giggling as they played at both of them trying to brush his hair at once.
With teeth and hair brushed, all three of them headed into the bedroom. Wayne hopped up on the bed, then sat down as he waited for Tracy and Karl to join him.
Tracy climbed in first, laying on his back as was his usual. Karl followed him, cuddling into his left side instantly as he pulled the covers back over them.
"I love you." Karl semi-whispered to Tracy.
"I love you too." Tracy replied, wrapping his arms around Karl and giving him a long kiss.
They forgot about Wayne, their hormones taking full control. First Karl dived under the covers, then Tracy did. After a very noisy few minutes, they both surfaced and resumed the cuddle. It was at that point that Tracy heard the giggles, and turned his head to see Wayne watching them.
"Oh crap." Tracy muttered, getting Karl's attention.
Wayne kept giggling as he crawled over to them. "You sound funny when you show Daddy-love! Is it sleep time now?"
"C'mere munchkin; we shouldn't have done that while you were in here." Tracy said.
"It's okay, Daddy-T. I didn't watch, Daddy time is not for watching, just listening. When you and Daddy-K are making funny noises under the blankets, I know you love each other lots and ain't gonna leave me."
"I think I need to ask Cam and Teddy for help before I try to argue that logic!" Karl giggled. "C'mon shrimp, sleepy time before you drive us nuts!"
"Okay!" Wayne giggled as he dived under the covers, crawled under them until he found Tracy's side, then popped back out to lay his head on Tracy's free shoulder. "Love you, Daddies," he purred as he felt Tracy and Karl's arms wrap over him.
"Love you too, Shrimp." Karl and Tracy replied in unison.
"Lights out." Tracy said as he felt the two people that now made his life complete relax into his sides.